Armel Le Cléach loses two rudders

Published on February 18th, 2024

(February 18, 2024; Day 43) – After having to pitstop in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil because of the loss of two of his rudders, 2024 Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest skipper Armel Le Cléac’h is eager to resume racing.

At the end of the day yesterday, the boss of Le Cléac’h’s Banque Populaire team, Ronan Lucas, explained that two replacement rudders were “in transit”, confirming that he is hopeful that Le Cléac’h would be able to leave today.

Le Cléac’h arrived on February 16 after suffering two major rudder damages in 48 hours.

“On Tuesday February 13 around midday UTC the Maxi Banque Populaire port float had a collision,” reports the team. “Maxi Banque Populaire XI was sailing at more than 30 knots on starboard tack when the port rudder hit a log, causing the complete loss of the appendage.

“While there were still nearly 6,000 miles to go to reach Brest, the equivalent of two transatlantic races, Armel Le Cléac’h sailed for a few hours on starboard on the central rudder and confirmed his desire to continue the race without making a stopover, despite the absence of the port rudder which would have been mainly used on the route to Brittany. Without this appendage, safety on board was not in question and the boat was okay, although this required slower speeds.”

Le Cléac’h describes the collision: “I was sailing along Argentina, downwind, in always fast conditions. I was emerging from a very busy 24 hours with a depression which had deepened with very unstable wind and gusts which reached up to 50 knots. I heard a violent impact on the port rudder. I caught a glimpse of a wooden log.

“The impact was very violent; the rudder was largely torn off. It was a real setback. But even if that was a difficult moment, we knew that it was possible to continue sailing without a rudder. The weather would not have been so bad and we could still get to Brest.”

But then on Thursday February 15 around 0830hrs UTC, Le Cléac’h experienced a sudden breakage of the central rudder of the Maxi Banque Populaire XI off the Brazilian coast, without any shock being felt on board. “I heard a loud “crack”, mechanically the rudder had just given way,” he explains. “Quickly, we had to adapt because on board everything had become so much more complicated.”

These two successive damages now require the skipper of the Banque de la Voile to make this technical stopover so the team can precisely diagnose the situation and to consider the next possible steps for their round the world race. “Now the boat is difficult to control with only one rudder allowing us to steer,” explains Le Cléac’h. “We have no other option than to put the race on hold and stop.”

Le Cléac’h was in second place when arriving in Rio, and is the first competitor requiring two stopovers, having previously diverted to Brazil on January 16 for repairs during his descent of the Atlantic. He will be in third place if leaving today, having been passed by Thomas Coville on Sodebo Ultim 3.

“If he wants to stay in the match for second place with Thomas (Coville), he needs to be able to leave today,” underlines Guillaume Rottee, the race director. “The sooner he leaves, the less significant the gap with Sodebo Ultim 3 will be.”

In the middle of last night Thomas Coville returned to second place. After having bypassed a small depression barring his course. Coville is climbing towards the Equator and will start to hook into the trade winds which are not very strong. His passage across the Equator might be next Thursday.

UPDATE: Le Cléac’h docked out from Rio today at a little after 1630hrs UTC and resumed racing in third place at 1738hrs UTC.

Race leader Charles Caudrelier is expected at the finish line in Brest on February 23. But the skipper of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is staying very cautious: “I only have one fear, and that is that this will stop. We deserve the race win but we have to finish it.”

He worries about fatigue and wear and tear of the boat and equipment.

“My boat is not perfect, I had problems which I will show you soon,” he revealed. “I’m flying but not as well, the appendages are damaged, the aerodynamics are not perfect. We’re at 80%.”

“This prudence on Charles part is completely normal and does not surprise me at all,” explains Rottee. “We know that in a fraction of seconds, everything can change or stop. The race will only be won when he crosses the line. The risk of material damage is increased to the extent that the boats are all very tired. We must not forget that the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild had never sailed so far.”

Caudrelier will have to be vigilant especially as he will have to face complicated weather before the finish with strong northwesterly winds. The skipper of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild spoke of a Bay of Biscay with eight metre seas and 40 knots of wind. “I’m not going there with my boat.” He could wait for the depression to pass before him, as he had done before Cape Horn.

“The Azores anticyclone blocks his path and to his north, there are low pressure trains,” explains Rottee. “Either he crosses the anticyclone as quickly as possible and he will have no wind, or he goes out west to bypass it but that takes him closer to this particularly bad low pressure system. So as to look after his boat and himself Charles could decide to slow down next Tuesday or Wednesday (Feb. 20-21).”


The Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest is a solo, non-stop round-the-world race for Ultim Class trimarans which have a maximum length of 32 meters and a maximum width of 23 meters.

The solo speed record around the world was set in 2017 by François Gabart (FRA) on the 30m Macif trimaran in a time of 42d 14h 40m 15s for an average speed of 21.08 knots. This yacht has been rebranded and will be raced by Marchand.

• Charles Caudrelier (FRA), Maxi Edmond de Rothschild (2017 Verdier 32/23)
• Thomas Coville (FRA), Sodebo Ultim 3 (2019 VPLP/others 32/23)
• Tom Laperche (FRA), Trimaran SVR-Lazartigue (2021 VPLP 32/23)
• Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA), Maxi Banque Populaire XI (2021 VPLP 32/23)
• Anthony Marchand (FRA), Actual Ultim 3 (2015 VPLP 30/22)
• Éric Péron (FRA), Trimaran Adagio (2014 VPLP 31/21)*
* Only entrant without foiling appendages

January 29: Tom Laperche on Trimaran SVR-Lazartigue and his team realized they don’t have the facilities or the means to complete the complex, difficult repair needed, and they have no option but to retire and get their boat back to Concarneau. Laperche incurred damage on January 18 when his daggerboard in the main hull collided with an UFO (unidentified floating object). He had arrived in Cape Town on January 22 in hopes to repair the damage.

Five rules from the Sailing Instructions:
• The start is January 7 from Brest, France. The start line is kept open for 168 hours and the finish line is closed after an elapsed time of 100 days after the start time, that is to say April 16, 2024.

• The skippers can communicate and exchange with their teams on shore, so they have the freedom to get weather information and be routed by their team on shore and get technical help and advice to help with technical problems.

• The solo skippers can stop but there are two distinct operations. A technical stop is unassisted and requires the sailor to drop anchor, take a mooring, or tie up alongside an anchored or moored boat with no external help. There is no time penalty for a technical stop. But for a technical stopover (escale technique) where one or more crew or technical team come on board to help, there is a mandatory 24 hours minimum. This does not apply to the start port of Brest where all means are authorized to reach or leave the port within a radius of 50 miles.

• For the first time in ocean racing, zones where there are known to be a high concentration of whales and sea mammals are determined. Establishing these zones should both protect the marine wildlife and reduce the chance of a collision. These zones are around the Azores, the Canaries, south of South Africa, the Kerguelens, and parts of the Antarctic.

• There are ice exclusion zones to protect the skippers and their boats.

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