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Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d'Olonne Race update: A turn of the screw

by Julia Huvé 7 Jul 14:32 PDT 7 July 2020
Jérémie Beyou on Charal leads the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d'Olonne Race © Jérémie Beyou / Charal

Beyou (Charal) has snatched control of the fleet this Tuesday after skirting around the western edge of a low pressure system, which shook up the bulk of the fleet throughout the night.

Committed to the same course, Charlie Dalin (Apivia) is 2nd, whilst previous race leader Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut), doesn't appear to have reaped the rewards of his gamble on an option due north. Further down the leaderboard now after being forced to make further repairs, Kévin Escoffier has lost some ground.

The second low pressure system, which the Vendée - Arctique - Les Sables d'Olonne fleet tackled yesterday, proved to be a tough nut to crack for some. Indeed, still the leader of the fleet on Monday, Thomas Ruyant believed the way out lay to the north in a passage coloured by breeze, speed and the likely negotiation of one tricky passage... A tempting option then. With a stormy night on the cards, Thomas Ruyant really thought his daring gamble would pay off. Alas, at the end of this breezy spell of 30-knot winds, gusting to 35, a ridge of high pressure sprawled across his route, dishing out heavy penalties.

Meantime, Jérémie Beyou and Charlie Dalin played the comfort card in a very high-speed dash around the low pressure system and came out on top. This morning, the skipper of Charal had moved up to the front of the pack, the solo sailor on Apivia not far behind as her skipper explains: "We had to deal with some strong wind again last night. There's a lumpy sea and the succession of wind shifts are giving us cross seas. My rivals had closed on me, but we're beginning to take different options. We'll see which of them pays off in a few days' time. I'm not getting on too badly for my first time in solo format. Let's hope it lasts! Apivia is slamming the whole time. There isn't really a comfortable point of sail where we can calm things down a bit, especially when the seas are heavy, but that's part and parcel of our job. With the speed comes discomfort, and I'm ready to pay the price if it means I can go faster". Kévin Escoffier loses ground.

Hanging onto the coat-tails of the top trio of brand-new IMOCAs, Kévin Escoffier, 4th yesterday, had lost some ground this Tuesday morning. In the very light airs of the ridge of high pressure, the skipper of PRB slowed, braked, stopped and even 'moonwalked' backwards for a while (at 9 knots)! However, it proved to be beneficial since the skipper not only managed to consolidate the temporary repair on his mainsail, which he'd managed to puncture the day before, but he also completed a partial repair of his mainsheet track bulkhead, after noting that it had separated. He intends to complete the latter repair during the next calm spell.

Really raising his game with every passing hour, Boris Herrmann (Seaexplorer - Yacht Club de Monaco) has hoisted himself up into fourth place, ahead of Isabelle Joschke (MACSF), who was being given a rough ride in the storm yesterday but remains solid in fifth place ahead of Samantha Davies (Initiatives Cœur), who is also posting a strong performance. In 7th place, Kévin Escoffier (PRB) has managed to squeeze himself in between the British skipper and Clarisse Crémer (Banque Populaire X), now 8th. Evidently, the female trio are certainly going to be worth watching in the upcoming Vendée Globe!On the softly, softly up to Unesco

With the leaders exiting the low pressure system and then negotiating the ridge of high pressure and its calm winds, the top trio has managed to break away from the rest of the fleet now. Boris Herrmann laments a deficit of 35.9 miles in relation to Jérémie Beyou, but how long will this split last? The forecasts indicate that the light airs will soon make their presence felt, likely forcing the first three boats onto a long arched course out to the west at low speed to make the IOC-Unesco mark at 62 degreesN 25W, to the south-west of Iceland. The winds will also be light for the chasing pack, but their trajectory may be more direct, potentially reshuffling the cards. Nothing is certain in the world of offshore racing of course and the weather may well play out differently for the various runners and riders in this IMOCA fleet. Watch this space...

Quotes from the boats:

Isabelle Joschke (MACSF), 5th
"I clearly didn't expect this. It's fabulous, but equally it's not simple. I'm as surprised as anyone about my provisional 5th place. Conditions were very trying last night. It was impressive. I even decided to ease off the pace because it was unbearable. Out on the water, it was quite indescribable. The boat was going too fast for me, I couldn't bear to be aboard anymore. That didn't last long, it calmed down, which was fortunate because I was wondering how I was going to stand it for such a long time. Something clicked during my sail training back in January and February, in the depths of the winter. I set sail all on my own and racked up a massive amount of experience, without which I clearly wouldn't have been able to keep up this pace".

Maxime Sorel (V and B - Mayenne), 10th "The first 24 hours, I played it safe so as not to damage the boat. They were boat-breaking seas. I've managed to keep up the rhythm, albeit a little outpaced by my playmates up front. For the last two days, I've been rehoisting the sail area and incorporating some tactics in the Irish Sea, which have been rewarded in part. The seas are less boat-breaking now and it's safer. In the sea, the boat barely has time to land before she's taking off again. I'm beginning to stoke her back up now. There are a lot of foilers making fast headway and I'm not unhappy to be in the thick of things".Armel Tripon (L'Occitane en Provence), retirement (cracks in the bow stringers).

"We're in good spirits and on the up again. The disappointment has been digested so it's onwards and upwards now. Seeing the boat injured, retiring her, having to turn back and retrace my steps across the battlefield are all part and parcel of an ambitious project when you're setting sail on a new boat. We still have time to do some great things, it's not so bad. It wasn't the noise that alerted me to the damage as it's noisy the whole time. I've been constantly doing the rounds of the area that was damaged last month (the bow), which is when I noticed the cracking. In the early hours, I saw the two stringers with fairly clear-cut cracks. We'd planned to put the boat in for a substantial refit so as to reinforce the boat as a whole - all the new boats are reinforcing their hull bottoms -, and these initial passages are showing that, with flight added to the mix, we are discovering forces we didn't know about before. We are trail-blazers. Everyone is advancing step by step. I'm returning to La Trinité-sur-mer, where the team is waiting for me with the same energy and the same desire (as in late June for the express repair). We're counting on a refit of four weeks at least, so we can set off again in late August in a bid to qualify for the Vendée Globe".

Retirements: Armel Tripon (L'Occitane en Provence), Damien Seguin (Groupe APICIL), Sébastien Simon (ARKÉA PAPREC)

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