In the Vendee Globe, Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutkowski (Energa), bowed to the apparently inevitable and announced his retirement from the race on Wednesday at 1330hrs (French time) after days trying to find a fix for his autopilots.
Gutek, almost 2,000 miles behind the leader, Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) had been sailing east, running tests on his two autopilots after his wipe out on Saturday. He said that electronic issues and the autopilots have been the problem from the start and he and his team have been working with B&G, the makers, who also have their autopilots on Gamesa, Hugo Boss, PRB, Acciona 100% EcoPowered, Initiatives cœur, Akena Verandas, Virbec Paprec 3, Synerciel, Mirabaud, Banque Populaire, Macif and Cheminées Poujoulat.
'Today I need to officially announce what I’ve been thinking about for days,' Gutek said. 'Being brave is not only about fighting, it is also about knowing where to stop. I know I did everything I could, working on my electronics issues for many days. I know my team and friends did their best as well. And I am extremely grateful for the huge support I got. But I can’t carry on like that. When there is big wind and when the boat is going over 15 knots the autopilot starts to live a second life, doing whatever it wants.
'Having no autopilot means I can’t race, and if I can’t race, I have to retire. When I joined the Vendée Globe I was not interested in being the 15th skipper to finish. That’s a tough decision, one of toughest in my life. But that’s Vendee Globe, that’s the power of the ocean and you can’t fight it.
'I cannot go without an autopilot in the Southern Ocean, that is impossible. I need to keep the boat in one piece I don’t want to lose it and maybe my life in the Southern Ocean.'
'It’s like driving at night on a road you don’t know, a road with many turns, surrounded with trees. Suddenly your lights go off and you can’t slow down. How many chances do you have to survive? That’s what is happening with my autopilot, if you replace the road and the trees with the ocean and the waves.'
Gutek was 100 miles from the Canary Islands yesterday afternoon and said he intended to head to Tenerife and get some sleep.
Following a protest from both Hugo Boss and the Race Committee, seven skippers were expecting the international Race Jury's decision regarding the way they sailed in or through the Finisterre Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS). The jury's decision is as follows: Synerciel, Mirabaud, Acciona, Initiatives Cœur and Energa (who withdrew from the race shortly after) have been given a two-hour penalty. Gamesa has a 30-minute penalty and Virbac Paprec 3 has a 20-minute penalty.
Details regarding the penalty implementation will be determined by the race management in consultation with the skippers. Grounds for the decision can be found in the race's official notice board.
'I’ve just crossed the equator and I’m drinking champagne, with a toast to Neptune, the boat and the skipper,' Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) said after leading the fleet across the Equator at 0820hrs (French time). 'Now going south to Brazil. I’m not too drunk. I’m happy to be ahead, but there’s only a very small gap, 40 miles is nothing in the Vendée Globe.'
As the rest of the fleet pass into the Southern Hemisphere we will find out what offerings and ceremonies they have made as offerings to Neptune.
After being separated by no more than two miles in the Doldrums and with Francois Gabart (Macif) saying they all had visual contact, the five boats chasing Le Cléac’h began to divide yesterday. There were 24 miles between Gabart and Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) in sixth at the 1600hrs ranking. But Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat) moved into third place by taking a far more easterly route.
But the positions may be a little deceptive as, with the St Helena high looking active, Stamm will not be able to cut any corners as they all race to catch the first low pressure system in to the Southern Ocean.
The only other mover on the ranking was Javier Sansó (Acciona 100% EcoPowered) moving into 12th past Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives cœur) after the best 24 hour run of the fleet – 338.1 miles.
After days together Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud) lost touch with Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) and Mike Golding (Gamesa) ahead of him after taking his two-hour penalty almost immediately.
If they were rinsed literally and figuratively by the Doldrums and thunderstorms, the leading skippers are now being cooked in one of the hottest places on the planet. They have to be careful not to burn and dehydrate, particularly during sail changes.
Le Cam, the fleet wag, has not even passed the Equator and he is letting it all hangout. 'I’m sitting in the cockpit, naked,' he revealed.
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss, GBR): I finally exited the doldrums yesterday (Tuesday) early afternoon and am now in the South Atlantic trade winds tight reaching in 12-15 knots of wind and will have similar conditions for at least the next few days. It is a relief to have some stability after the first ten days of the race but also after the Doldrums, which have left me feeling like I went 12 rounds with Wladimir Klitschko. I entered the Doldrums in the morning and much of that first day was very light and variable winds, I had caught up to PRB so I had a boat visually to race which was motivating. We played snakes and ladders for much of the day and sometimes he was as close as a mile ahead. Then the evening came with big black clouds and he disappeared into one and was gone.
In the black night it is impossible to predict the next wind speed and direction. To top it all it rained like a monsoon for most of the night.
At one point the rankings had me in third place so despite not having slept for 36 hours I felt pretty good about myself. A couple of times the wind direction changed to the south or south east and I thought I am out of this hell hole only to be swallowed again by the clouds
It is going to take 10 days or so to get to the southern ocean and the route to the south is extremely important. Sometimes the fastest route is to head more south east away from where you want to go to get stronger wind that can propel you round the outside of everyone. Trouble is a forecast that far in advance is unreliable so for now my strategy is to get south as quickly as I can.
As soon as I stop typing I have to repair the hydrogenerator brackets and get the hydro back in the water. Apart from not having enough fuel to finish the race charging the batteries with the main engine heats up an already unbearable living space down below.
Mike Golding (Gamesa, GBR): Blisteringly hot onboard, but quite pleasant, not much we can do, we just need to keep trucking along.
I think we have made some definitive gains, a very successful Doldrums crossing, sometimes you have to sit and wait to get back into the game. It was a pretty straight forward Doldrums crossing, I did stop a couple of times, maybe three times, but each time it was only very short and I was able to get moving again within an hour. The difficulty for the guys in front is not they went to the wrong place, they went right place for them, but being further behind when we arrived we had a different right place.
I think the next phase is quite important, the Doldrums is quite divisive, the South Atlantic ridge is quite crucial and how you track the course down into the Southern Ocean and into the Southern Ocean weather. If you are too far behind at that point then it is quite hard to make the catch-up. Where we are now is fine, and in terms of the overall race this probably matches my expectation on where we should be at this time.
We have special drinks to handle the heat and drinking water is as good as anything, but we also have drinks with the right minerals to replace the salts that you lose. The main thing is staying out of the direct sun as much as you can. When you get into a round of sail changes that is pretty hard. The hardest thing for yourself is the salt water, it is extremely salty here and that, in combination with the heat, means you get heat rashes and salt rashes and any little cuts, nicks or grazes you picked up in the earlier part of the race are by now are starting to get very very sore. You are almost longing for the Southern Ocean when the temperature goes down in the cooler weather.
Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire, FRA): I’ve just crossed the equator and I’m drinking champagne, with a toast to Neptune, the boat and the skipper. All is fine on board, now going south to Brazil. I’m not too drunk from the champagne. I’ve been in the southern hemisphere since 8AM and now heading to St Helena. I’m happy to be ahead, but there’s only a very small gap, 40 miles is nothing in the Vendée Globe. I’m carefully looking at the forecasts because a single little strategy mistake could cost a lot. Mornings and evenings are all about cleaning up the boat and fixing a few things. During the day, the temperature is too hot for that. So I get some rest when I can. I’ve started reading a book by Camilla Läckberg, it’s pretty good. The next few days will be about sailing around the St Helena’s anticyclone, or sailing through it the right way. Let’s see how things evolve. It will be very important for the rest of the race. Four years ago, it had been a key area and a key moment.
Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud, SUI): I’m doing great, there’s blue sky all around and the autopilot is doing all the work. Sailing through the Doldrums wasn’t as easy as it may look. There’s been heavy rain, but it was still easier for us than for the skippers ahead of us. Having other boats right next to me is really nice, you feel less alone. And I’m satisfied with my boat’s performances. I’m sure the contrast is huge with Paris, the temperature here in the cockpit is 31°, 10-12 knots of wind, clear blue sky, beautiful blue sea…
Arnaud Boissières (Akena Vérandas, FRA): I can tell the Doldrums have been complicated for the leaders, and easier for the ones coming after them. To me, it’s kind of in-between. I’m trying not to get too nervous and mad, I need to relax. Things have been fine for a couple of hours but last night was different. The boat was sailing fine but then all of a sudden, it stopped. And then the same thing again. It’s a succession of bad weather and nicer one… It’s quite hard to deal with. So far, I had been sailing pretty much the same route as the three guys in front of me but it’s not the case anymore.
Tanguy De Lamotte (Initiatives-Coeur, FRA): Hi all, the weather is really nice here, hot temperature for a few days, even though it’s been cloudy. I’m not complaining, really. I have Javier and Bertrand close to me, my goal was to avoid problems and have a steady pace, and that’s exactly what I’ve managed to do so far. It looks like the Doldrums are going to be easier for us than for the leaders. But let’s see what it’s like once we get there. I have two stuffed mascots out on the deck so far because we’ve helped two children. I’m looking forward to letting other mascots out, so please click to help children with heart conditions! My current speed is 14.6 knots because the wind is up now, much better than last night.
Tanguy De Lamotte (Initiatives-Coeur, FRA): The other guys took risks, but we’re behind them, that helps. They’re the prey, we’re the hunters with guns, and they’re running all over the place! They’re a tight group, one shot would be enough to hit them all (laughs). The wind has been more stable, so we could all get some rest. Last night, I could hear the skippers snore, Golding was so loud! (laughs). I haven’t named new parts of my boat. I haven’t been thinking too hard about it. Maybe one day I will wake up with a great idea for a name. We’re doing fine, things could be worse. I’m sitting in the cockpit, naked, I need to clean up the boat. I’m looking forward to the sunset because it means the air gets a little cooler.