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Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe - Day 5

by Route du Rhum 8 Nov 09:17 PST 8 November 2018
Thibaut Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires En Peloton-Arsep is leading the Multi50 fleet in the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe © Pierrick Contin

Day 5 round-up of the fleet's news

Way down south, more than 1,800 nautical miles southwest of Saint Malo, in the warmer climes and flatter seas west of the Canaries, François Gabart continues to blaze a trail to Guadeloupe chased by Francis Joyon.

But as the days and hours tick by in the 2018 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe solo transatlantic race, Joyon has found it harder to stay in touch with his younger rival. The skipper of IDEC Sport is now trailing Gabart's blue and white rocketship, MACIF, by over 120 nautical miles.

The two leading boats in the ULTIME class in this four-yearly 3,542-mile race are now more than halfway to Pointe-à-Pitre and the routing shows that Gabart should be able to add yet another victory to his glittering CV sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning. This means the seven-day, 15-hour record set by Loïck Peyron four years ago is very much under threat.

Gabart is now moving into the trade winds and the downwind phase of the race and he is enjoying himself. "Things aren't going too badly – I'm pleased with what I managed to do during the night," he said earlier today. "I'm well positioned in comparison to IDEC...I'm not easing off and I am giving it my all...I'm obviously going to keep it up until the finish, although I am not about to go crazy either.

"In theory there aren't any tactical choices here in terms of my course," he added. "It's just about settling in the trade winds now, but I need to avoid getting too tired...I don't know exactly when we'll be in the real trade winds – but it shouldn't be too far away now."

In the Multi50 contest the huge geographical spread of the fleet is continuing with leader Thibaut Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires En Peloton-Arsep approaching the Azores, chased by second-placed Erwan Le Roux on FenêtréA-Mix Buffet. Third-placed Armel Tripon on Réauté Chocolat is 475 miles south-southeast of the leading pair as he glides past Madeira.

The front-running IMOCAs, meanwhile, are now out of the worst of the weather in the north Atlantic and heading towards the Canaries with Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss still leading around 145 miles west of Madeira. Behind him the German sailor Boris Herrmann on Malizia II-Yacht Club De Monaco is listed as second on the Tracker because he is further west than Thomson but he is also 400 miles north of the British sailor.

In reality the race for the podium in this highly competitive fleet still looks to be between Thomson, Paul Meilhat on SMA, Vincent Riou on PRB and fifth-placed Yann Eliès on UCAR-Saint Michel. The next challenge is to get through a light airs patch before they hook into the northeast trade winds that will propel them downwind to the Caribbean.

Herrmann has been looking at the endgame of this race as he prepares for the light-wind phase to come. "The high is a bit dangerous," he said. "The others in the east are heading for a good trade winds situation but then after the trade winds they will be dead upwind of Guadeloupe. I am trying to position myself a bit more on the rhumb line so when I leave the trade winds, I have a better routing angle."

Unfortunately for the slower monohulls, among them the Class40s, the next 48 hours will be dominated by another west and southwest gale when the already tired and cold skippers will have to beat into more big seas as they try to get west and south and out of the disturbed air in the north Atlantic.

Yoann Richome has continued to extend his lead on Veedol-AIC with Britain's Phil Sharp on IMERYS CLEAN ENERGY in second place and Aymeric Chappellier third on Aina Enfance Et Avenir. Behind them and now in 8thplace 24-year-old Jack Trigger from Britain, on his first solo transatlantic, is sailing an impressive race on Concise 8, having climbed from the mid-20s to the top-10.

"It's good," he said in his first media contact since the start on Sunday. "It has been tough. Last night was particularly hard to the point where I saw four knots of boatspeed and 40 knots of wind. I am having problems with my autopilot but I think I have fixed that. I am happy with my race from the beginning – very conservative so far, just slowly ramping it up and still holding back as I have another big depression coming through tonight and tomorrow."

Trigger is hoping that his radical Class40 design will fly once he gets south into the trades. "That was always the plan to keep the boat in one piece and to keep me in one piece, then get into the more downwind conditions that the boat is suited to. Then I will try and up the pace a bit. I feel good," added Trigger who is a Type 1 diabetic and has to continually monitor his condition. "The race is not easy," he said. "It takes a toll on your body. It is possible to get some sleep but it is quite squally, but I feel pretty good and ready to go for it."

One hundred and fifty miles north of Concise 8, the 52-year-old American sailor Michael Hennessey on Dragon in 14th position is ready for one more big bash into tough autumn Atlantic weather. "Looking down the track, it seems as if the 580 miles between here and the Azores creates one more chance for a beating," he reported. "The weather turns nasty again in the early hours of Friday and should stay that way until Sunday at which time I should be at, or approaching, the islands for a southern fly-by."

In the Rhum Multi class the big news of the day is the dismasting of Fabrice Payen's blue and white trimaran Team Vent Debout, 230 miles off the Portuguese coast after the starboard chainplate gave way. Payen, who lost a leg in a motorbike accident four years ago and represents a charity that helps hospitalised children get involved in sport, was holding second place when his race came to an end. He is now motoring towards the Iberian coast.

The class continues to be led Pierre Antoine on Olmix who is passing the latitude of Lisbon. He is more than 220 miles ahead of Étienne Hochedé in the trimaran PIR2 with Jean François Lilti on his home-built catamaran École Diagonale Pour Citoyens Du Monde up to third, a few miles back.

In eighth position, more than 450 miles off the lead, Loïck Peyron on the small yellow trimaran Happy is making steady progress around the northwestern corner of Spain after setting sail again from Gijón yesterday. In a survey conducted on the race by Odoxa-Groupama for RTL, Peyron emerged as the favourite competitor among the French public. The same survey revealed that more than 1.3 million spectators visited the race village in Saint Malo in the 10 days up to the start and that more than 13 million people in France were planning to follow the race online and in the media.

In the Rhum Mono class Sidney Gavignet is in a world of his own, nearly 200 miles ahead of his nearest pursuer as he also passes the latitude of Lisbon. "Last night was colder but soon we will be into the warmer stuff," he reported from on board Café Joyeux.

"I've been dreaming a lot. I understand that many people ashore are inspired by what has been happening. It's not easy to be completely immersed in the here and now out here. I'm trying to do that, just be in my bubble, and it's enjoyable. But sometimes I talk to myself when my mind starts wandering into the future and say loudly 'get a grip, Sid.' And it's good to use the vocal chords when you are alone."

It is still not clear when the 20-30 or so skippers – mainly from Class40s, and the two Rhum classes - who have sought refuge in French and Spanish ports will re-emerge onto the racecourse. They will all be studying weather models for the Bay of Biscay which describe a very disturbed picture at least until Sunday, but then matters calm down on Monday.

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Top three skippers in each category at 1600CET on Thursday:

ULTIME
1 François Gabart (MACIF) 1,705 nautical miles (NM) to the finish
2 Francis Joyon (IDEC Sport) +114
3 Romain Pilliard (Remade – Use It Again) +1,483

MULTI50
1 Thibaut Vauchel-Camus (Solidaires En Peloton-ARSEP) 2,470 to the finish
2 Erwan Le Roux (FenetreA-Mix Buffet) +79
3 Armel Tripon (Reaute Chocolat) +133

IMOCA
1 Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) 2,499 to the finish
2 Boris Herrmann (Malizia II-Yacht Club de Monaco) +57
3 Paul Meilhat (SMA) +65

CLASS40
1 Yoann Richomme (Veedol AIC) 2,679NM to the finish
2 Phil Sharp (IMERYS CLEAN ENERGY) +29
3 Ameryic Chappelier (AINA Enfance Avenir) +39

Rhum Multi
1 Pierre Antoine (OLMIX) 2,670NM to the finish
2 Etienne Hochede (PIR2) +229
3 Jean-Francois Lilti (Ecole Diagonale Pour Citoyens du Monde) +246

Rhum Mono
1 Sidney Gavignet (Café Joyeaux) 2,760NM to the finish
2 Wilfred Clerton (Cap au Cap Location-SOS Village) +195
3 Sébastien Destremau (ALCATRAZIT-FACEOCEAN) +223

Today's update from François Gabart - "Pushing myself into the red zone a little, but not too much!"

This Thursday morning, just as the MACIF trimaran reached the halfway mark between St. Malo and Point-à-Pitre, and still in the lead, François Gabart considered the Ultime's Route du Rhum and admitted how much he admires Francis Joyon and how sorry he is to see the other trimarans in difficulty.

What do you think of these first few days of racing?

François Gabart: "The start was absolutely wonderful. I couldn't have dreamt of a better first series of tacks, reaching upwind, and then with the angle opening up a little until I reached Bréhat. I hope the pictures were good! I was really with it. I had a good start in the match. I did see that Gitana was going really fast. There's no hiding it. However, I manoeuvred better and things went pretty well around the tip of Brittany. I am happy with the way I got into this Route du Rhum. After that, the race did not turn out how I had imagined at all. The major damage to for Sébastien Josse's boat and then to Sodebo a few hours later changed the mood. I did not expect that at all, even though we all know that with the speeds that we reach, damage can happen. But it is surprising that it should happen to these boats in particular. Despite this, I haven't slowed down, because there's no point. I did not come off unscathed. I had some small technical problems and I spent a good part of the first few days trying to carry out repairs whenever the conditions made that possible. It was energy-intensive, since the wind was strong, and we suffered relatively little damage, except on the first night and I think that the Ultim class was the hardest hit."

And then, Armel Le Cléac'h capsized.

F.G.: "Armel's route was fairly tricky and it occurred to me that he would probably come back in our direction if it had worked out. Unfortunately, there was the accident. I know that he is okay. I hope that they'll be able to recover the boat and that Armel will get over it quickly."

How have the last few hours gone?

F.G.: "We're halfway through the course, this Thursday, and we are still under the influence of the big cold front that swept across the fleet. Clearly, we are not yet in the trade winds. We just need to get away from this front to pick up the trade winds and then the wind is with us. I'm really happy with the night I spent. I worked hard and the boat surfed well. I'm also delighted to be racing with Francis Joyon!"

Have you managed to stave off the pressure a little, from IDEC Sport?

F.G.: "I was a little worried yesterday, when I came to a halt and had the wind below. I was frightened that he was in a better position above and, in these instances, this can create huge distances between us. I managed to pick up the wind again and to position myself ahead and below. That's where I prefer to be. But it's going to be difficult. Francis knows his boat by heart and he also knows how to make quick speed with any multihull boat. I really admire what he can do with his boat with a minimal amount of preparation. It's crazy! I am amazed that we are in this race together. I know that it will be hard and that he won't let go. I am going to have to find the right balance, pushing myself into the red zone, but not too much. I don't want to make any mistakes in the trade winds. I will need to keep the boat flat. When you see what happened in the first half of the race, it makes you more vigilant in the second. There will be Sargasso seaweed, weather traps and FADs (fish aggregating devices), large blocks of metal or plastic installed to attract fish. If we touch them then..."

There's pleasure in everything you've shared about what's happening in this race.

F.G.: "It's quite hard to talk about the start of the race, with everything that happened, but at the same time, I'm delighted to be where I am, competing at close quarters with Francis. I'm having a ball pushing forward with this wonderful boat. I have set my pace and I have kept it since the start of the race. I'm really proud of this. All that remains is to win this second challenge, which means remaining extremely focused and precise right to the end. It will mean sticking "with" it. You can count on me for that."

Today's update from Alex Thomson - HUGO BOSS on top in debut

A brutal Atlantic low pressure system has torn the fleet apart with many of the starting 20 IMOCAs already experiencing technical issues or breakages.

Alex however, onboard HUGO BOSS, has continued to lead, profiting from the pursuit of a more northerly course than that taken by his closest rivals.

Today's update from Boris Herrmann - Great start to race for Malizia II

For his first solo transatlantic race, Boris has made a very good start. He is fighting hard in extremely difficult conditions, hitting winds of up to 45 knots last night, causing a small breakage in the J3 level tack, which he managed to repair. The first three days were very selective. Many IMOCAs were forced to turn back; it is a real satisfaction that Malizia is holding on. Everything is fine on board, we are very proud of Boris," says a delighted YCM Vice-President Pierre Casiraghi, who initiated the Malizia-Yacht Club de Monaco project. A reminder that this is the first time the Monegasque Yacht Club has enrolled a boat in this prestigious race.

After crossing the starting line in Saint-Malo last Sunday in third place, Boris Herrmann has always remained in the top group of the 20 IMOCA contenders.

Faced with weather conditions that hardened on Tuesday with gusts of over 45 knots and 5-10m troughs, causing numerous breakages to the entire fleet of 123 boats (all classes combined), Boris continued to advance having opted for a more northerly option, taken also by the current leader, British sailor Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss).

It is not over yet. There are still some 2,500 nautical miles to Point-à-Pitre and as the Trade Winds approach, a new battle lies ahead including against Paul Meilhat (SMA), Vincent Riou (PRB) and Yann Eliès (UCAR-Saint-Michel).

Today's IMOCA analysis by Jean Le Cam

In the next few hours, Alex Thomson, Paul Meilhat, Vincent Riou and Yann Eliès will have to deal with a ridge of high pressure before picking up the trade winds. They should make it across to the south of this ridge without having too many problems. It is going to be more complicated for those chasing them, as the way through is about to close...

Alex Thomson is still benefiting from his westerly option and is galloping away in the lead. He has always gone for extreme options and in this Route du Rhum was the only skipper to pass the Ushant TSS via the north, even though that meant even more unpleasant and demanding wind and sea conditions. He has clocked up some incredible speeds and managed to head back south at the right moment. He has repositioned himself, as he now needs to get below the area of high pressure. It is logical that the gap from east to west between him and his rivals has narrowed. Alex, Paul, Vincent and Yann will be getting plenty of wind and taking advantage of downwind conditions today. The wind will slowly come around and those who are further south may well gain a small advantage. But I think that in the end, there won't be much between them when they leave the ridge of high pressure behind them. In my opinion, three of these four sailors will make it to the podium at the finish.

Once they have passed the ridge of high pressure, it will be all about speed between these skippers, who appear in great form. Yann Eliès is very consistent. He is always fast and knows his boat well. The same goes for Vincent Riou, even if he does not have quite as much experience of his PRB as a foiler. In any case, it is clear that he is able to sail quickly. What more can I say about Alex Thomson? Paul Meilhat is performing very well with his boat equipped with straight daggerboards. In the trade winds, it will logically be harder for him and he is likely to lose ground to the IMOCAs fitted with foils. But having seen what he has already achieved, we may well be in for another surprise. It will also depend on whether the other boats are still fully capable or not. It may well be that some have problems they are not talking about... In any case, we're in for a fantastic match.

As they get further south, the sailors will be able to enjoy themselves more. It is really a weight off your shoulders when you have more decent conditions and downwind sailing. You can breathe again, get everything dry, get some rest, look around the boat and repair what needs to be repaired. On these boats, there's always something to be done. Having said that, you mustn't run away with the idea that the trade winds are always steady, as there can be squalls. It is more relaxed, but it is not really smooth sailing either.

For the moment, Boris Herrmann is still in second place in the rankings, as he is close to the direct route, but in theory, that will change in the next 24 hours. In my opinion, heading off west was a good option early in the race, but it is less interesting now. Boris is still a long way north. He will have strong winds until he slams into the ridge of high pressure.

Over the next 24 hours, this ridge will become settled blocking the path. The first four will manage to make their getaway, but it will be harder for the little group chasing after them comprising Stéphane Le Diraison, Alan Roura and Damien Seguin. All three have had a very nice race. I'm particularly pleased with Damien Seguin's position, as I've been supporting him. His performance is remarkable, particularly when you see that he is sailing with sails that were used in the last Vendée Globe. It looks like he hasn't had too many problems aboard, and he is doing well for his first transatlantic race on an IMOCA. I'm proud of him."

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