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Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe - Day 7

by Route du Rhum 10 Nov 11:49 PST 10 November 2018
Onboard Groupe APICIL © Damien Seguin / Groupe APICIL

IMOCA analysis by Michel Desjoyeaux

On the sixth day of racing in the Route du Rhum, British skipper Alex Thomson is still leading the fleet of IMOCAs. In the trade winds, he is being chased by three skippers, Paul Meilhat, Vincent Riou and Yann Eliès. It looks like being a fascinating battle right up to the finish in Pointe-à-Pitre.

For the moment, there are still 2000 miles left to sail and we may not have heard the last from Boris Herrmann, who chose a northerly option. Further back, a contest between three skippers sailing Finot-Conq designed baots from the 2008 generation is equally exciting with a possible top five place for Stéphane Le Diraison, Alan Roura or Damien Seguin... Today, it's twice winner of the Vendée Globe, Michel Desjoyeaux, who gives us his expert analysis of the Route du Rhum in the IMOCA class.

"At the start, there was a choice that was not easy to make between an option close to the Great Circle route in strong winds and heavy seas or a longer route offering greater certainty about the pace it would be able to keep up. Alex Thomson went for the first option and was successful. At one point, his lead became considerable when we looked at the theoretical route planners without taking into account the sea state. But in practice, when Alex was in the north in heavier seas, he didn't manage to keep up the pace indicated on the route planner. That was when we saw that the southerly option was a wise one.

However, Alex coped very well and was a bit lucky when passing through the ridge of high pressure, which enabled him to position himself in front of Paul Meilhat, Vincent Riou and Yann Eliès. I think that Alex is the one who is really on the attack in the trade winds. He is pushing hard. Now that he is in front he wants to increase his lead. I sometimes ask myself how he manages to speed along like that. He is managing to keep up high speeds without losing in terms of VMG (Velocity Made Good, the compromise between bearing and speed),which is astonishing, as his boat is a bit heavier than the others. It's going to be hard to catch him. Before the start he talked about the Bretons being the best in the world and is probably determined to try to do better than them... If the trade winds aren't too strong, we'll be seeing a race where speed is everything between the first three (Thomson, Meilhat, Riou). Yann Eliès is a bit further back and it will probably be difficult for him to catch up in conditions where his boat does not have a greater potential than the others.

I think that PRB has a problem on the starboard tack, maybe a damaged foil or maybe it cannot be pushed out. Or maybe Vincent cannot adjust it as he would like. It could also be a problem with the keel. In several phases, Vincent was unable to keep up the pace on the starboard tack racing against Paul, in conditions where he didn't need to ease off on the gas. I would not be surprised at the finish in Guadeloupe to discover that something is wrong aboard PRB. When that happens, there are two schools of thought in terms of communication. There is the school of thought we saw with Ellen MacArthur, who only talked when something was broken and never when she was carrying out repairs. Then, there is the school of thought that prefers to be more discreet and even keep everything hidden. I know something about that way of doing things, as you may have seen...

Paul Meilhat is having a fantastic crossing. I haven't seen him make any mistakes. In strong winds, he coped with the conditions and kept up the pace. As far as I know, he doesn't have any major problems, maybe a few minor worries like everyone, but nothing serious. Physically, he is far from being exhausted and remains clear-headed, which is very promising for what lies ahead. It was important to reach this point in the race while remaining in relatively good shape, as you have to spend a lot of time at the helm in the trade winds, which are far from offering smooth sailing and require a careful approach. For Paul, this Route du Rhum offers a great opportunity to show what he can do and to show off his skill, especially as he is getting to the end of his contract with SMA, and this may encourage a sponsor to look more closely at him.

There is still a great deal of uncertainty about Boris Herrmann up north, who defiantly remains close to the Great Circle route. If he manages to get across the ridge of high pressure which is blocking his path, he may well upset things for the four racing in the south. It would be very surprising, as his option is not what we usually see, but why not? We need to keep an eye on him. For Alex, Paul, Vincent and Yann, there is little they can do before Boris gets down with them sometime on Sunday night.

Further back, Stéphane Le Diraison, Alan Roura and Damien Seguin are suffering more with the ridge of high pressure, which is tending to move down with them. They are doing what they can and having a fine race. Alan got off to a very good start early in the race. Since he has been downwind in light winds, he is probably suffering more with his foils. Stéphane has done well to look after the gear in the strong winds. What an incredible performance from Damien! Holding on in such nasty conditions where really you need two hands to hold on tight, when you only have one, is incredible. Well done! We knew that he was someone who shows determination and is full of energy. Arnaud Boissières is doing what we have come to expect from him. He isn't really going on the attack much, but he is still sailing. It's going to be tough to catch the three ahead of him. But as Morgan Lagravière said yesterday, it's already an achievement to be out there sailing still. They should enjoy themselves. People tend to think that crossing the Atlantic has become routine, but it is still far from that.

I should add that so far there have only been three boats retiring in the IMOCA class (Sam Davies, Louis Burton and Yannick Bestaven), and probably a fourth shortly with Isabelle Joschke, who dismasted. That's a very reasonable figure out of the twenty boats at the start. Five competitors are due to set sail again shortly after their pit stops. We sailors always show determination."

Gabart on course to smash the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe record

With less than 800 nautical miles to sail to the finish of the 2018 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe solo transatlantic race - from Saint Malo in Brittany to Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe - the French sailor François Gabart is on course not only to win the ULTIME class but to smash the outright race record.

After just six days at sea Gabart, at the helm of the maxi-trimaran MACIF, is now within a day-and-a-half of finishing the 3,542-nautical mile race and at his current pace he could break the existing seven-day, 15-hour record by as much as 10 hours.

Gabart is a sailing superstar in France - he has many victories to his name in single and double-handed ocean racing and has won the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race and also set a new non-stop solo round-the-world record.

But the diminutive 35-year-old from La Forêt-Fouesnant in Brittany wants this win in the ULTIME class to follow his victory in this race four years ago in the IMOCA division. He knows that his fellow Frenchman Francis Joyon on IDEC Sport has been on his tail all the way across the Atlantic and that - at around 120 miles behind - Joyon is ready to pounce on any mistake.

This race is being contested in six classes and while Gabart heads serenely on, hundreds of miles behind him there are intriguing battles going on in the smaller boats in the 123-strong field.

In the Multi50 class, the early race leader Thibaut Vauchel-Camus (Solidaires En Peloton-Arsep) has now made a very quick and efficient pit-stop in the Azores where his shore team fixed his broken mast-track and mainsail.

He has now rejoined the race in second place behind the new leader, Armel Tripon in Réauté Chocolat who is nearly 200 miles ahead and a whopping 600 miles further south than Vauchel-Camus.

In the IMOCA monohull class, the leading group is south and west of the Canary Islands and well into the trade winds with Alex Thomson now comfortably ahead on Hugo Boss, from Paul Meilhat on SMA and Vincent Riou on PRB.

In the Class40 fleet, the leading bunch is following the IMOCAs south towards the Canary Islands before the skippers turn west under the Azores High. Yoann Richomme on Veedol-AIC continues to set a fierce pace ahead of second-placed Phil Sharp on IMERYS CLEAN ENERGY who is around 70 miles behind.

Lalou Roucayrol and his Multi50 Arkema chasing hard five days into the Route du Rhum

The solo skippers taking part in this 11th edition of the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe knew that the start would be tough in terms of weather conditions... and they had their work cut out! Plenty of instances of damage and retirement have indeed been reported, 4 days into the race. Building on his experience and that of his routing cell, and despite his leading position in his fleet 24 hours into the race, Lalou Roucayrol opted for caution by seeking shelter from the storm in Porto. After an 18-hour pit-stop in the Portuguese port, the Aquitaine-born skipper and his Arkema trimaran, both "rested", headed back to sea for Pointe-à-Pitre on Wednesday morning. Now back in the race, Lalou is working hard to catch up with his racing buddies!

Stopping over in mid-race is a particularly difficult decision to take for a skipper who is a born competitor and has set off for several days of solo racing. Such a decision impacts the mind, the body and, of course, the race. An experienced sailor taking part in his 4th Route du Rhum after 3 podium places, Lalou Roucayrol has endured many storms, in particular in 2002 when the weather reaped riot in almost the entire ORMA trimaran fleet of the time! Lalou finished 3rd, with no pit-stop, behind skippers who in some cases had had several stop-overs on their way to Guadeloupe.

And yet, when the members of his routing cell (Éric Mas, Karine Fauconnier and Quentin Vlamynck) raised the scenario of taking a pit-stop to seek shelter, Lalou agreed immediately: "I have worked with Éric Mas since 1999 and he has always sent me into battle... But here, he didn't want me to do that. I tend to listen to Éric, who has never hesitated in the past and this time thought it would be better to keep out of it. Since we had that wind shift after the start, we have always had to contend with 30 to 35 knot winds approximately, but above all it was the sea that was really rough. Yesterday I mentioned 4 meter waves, but as I got closer to the shore, the swell was more like 5 to 8 meters. It's not easy to go fast in those conditions!"

After an 18-hour stop-over in Porto where he was joined by his technical team, Lalou headed back to sea on board his Multi50 Arkema. His five competitors, all in the race still, were not waiting for him, but the skipper and his routers are busy setting out the best course to Pointe-à-Pitre. Quentin Vlamynck, the boat captain, shares his thoughts: "Since he set off from Porto yesterday, the conditions have been in line with the plan, and Lalou has been holding his course. Last night he had to sail across a zone with no wind, then he veered in a south-westerly wind. There were some squalls overnight, around the Lisbon Traffic Separation Scheme, and since then the wind has been slowly shifting right. As forecast by the weather data, speed has been picking up again since 8 o'clock this morning. Arkema is sailing in 15 to 17 knot westerly winds that will gradually turn in our favor. It's all going to plan for the moment, it's perfect. So, the trimaran should sail downwind right through to the finish line: these are Lalou's favorite conditions! He's leaving the bad weather behind, heading for warmer climes, and determined to put in every effort to overtake his rivals one at a time! The real Route du Rhum begins now."

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