As the ARKÉA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest multihull solo race round the world passes into its fourth week since leaving Brest on Sunday 7th January most of the skippers have their own problems to deal with, some bigger than others. Since the start, four of the six skippers who started have had to make technical stops and today came the confirmation of the first official retirement from the race.
Tom Laperche (SVR-Lazartigue) and his SVR Lazartigue team realised 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.
Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3) and Armel Le Cléac’h (Maxi Banque Populaire XI) have to deal with a nasty low pressure system to their south, Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild) is not finding the Pacific any more peaceful than the South Indian Ocean and Anthony Marchand (Actual Ultim 3) is looking to deal with an anticyclone.
On board these ULTIMs, the giant multihulls which are the pinnacle of sailing technology pretty much everything is driven or controlled by numbers. Speed, windspeed, foil and daggerboard settings, rig loads, routing and performance analysis not to mention dozens of alarms Everything is related to statistics and data. But really ocean racing is so much more than that. Behind the theories, the measurements, the algorithms, there are the humans……the solo sailors and their feelings, their aspirations and their emotions which all ebb and flow. The human condition is not measured by figures and numbers. Every minute of every day of every week there are an infinite number of feelings, sensations, perceptions, worries, and huge measures of passion and enthusiasms. All these have been reflected in some way or another over recent hours.
“This is part of the harsh beauty of these races” (Laperche)
First hard hitting words come not from the ocean but from the land. From the dockside in Cape Town there is Tom Laperche speaking in a statement released mid-morning by SVR-Lazartigue. The title tells the story “The end of a dream”. Laperche and SVR Lazartigue today confirmed there is no eay they can repair the giant blue ULTIM and continue the race.
Laperche says, “I wanted to believe it, to hope that we could repair it quickly by just looking at all the possibilities. Unfortunately that just wasn’t realistic.” The 26 year old concludes, “It’s hard but it’s part of the harsh beauty of this race. But I remain convinced that sailing solo on these trimarans is extraordinary and exciting”
And he looks to the future….Laperche, above all, is a competitor and a fierce fighter so they already have plans for the future. They will bring the boat back to Concarneau by the end of March. They will launch a three-month repair and refit before putting the boat back in the water this summer. And the next gaol will be the Jules Verne Trophy (all comers round-the-world record) with a stand-by planned for October 2024. “What helps me the most today, what brings back the desire and motivation is t thinking about what’s next, imagining what we can do with this boat.” Laperche concluded today.
“There’s not a moment’s rest” (Le Cléac’h)
You have to think of the future to be able to accept the present. Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3, currently second) and Armel Le Cléac’h (Maxi Banque Populaire XI, 3rd) have both been in that mindset before with the need to look to new challenges ahead to be able to keep pushing hard. For the moment though, they are having to give it their all in the Indian Ocean, which Charles Caudrelier crossed in ideal conditions ahead of a front. They however, will be facing a series of low pressure systems to their South. Thomas Coville was the first to head north after passing Cape Leeuwin, iin order to preserve his boat as best he can. Armel Le Cléac’h also gybed earlier today.
Plenty of things to do, but time for some words as well. Firstly, Armel Le Cléac’h in the French newspaper, Ouest-France: “The Indian Ocean relentless. Heavy seas and lots of wind. The boat accelerates, slows down and it is not at all comfortable. There is not a moment’s rest. I have a good week or so with these conditions.” The skipper of Maxi Banque Populaire XI added: “It’s not that great. We’ve seen better times.”
“Without our foil, we are like a clumsy albatross”
Thomas Coville talked a bit more after passing Cape Leeuwin which he did at 0035hrs UTC. “We went through a lot in the Indian Ocean. We had too many technical problems to stay ahead of the fronts and behind, there were heavy seas,” he explained. After a worrying and tricky repair job, he was able once again to get the full use out his foils. “Without a foil, we are like an albatross on the deck of the boat, clumsy and with no energy.” Coville is always clever with words and able to describe things perfectly. “For three days, we have had heavy seas and strong winds, which put a lot of pressure on the boat. This is not smooth sailing. It is far from pleasant, but that is the Indian Ocean for you.”
** “We’ll be getting record low temperatures”**
Thomas Coville also spoke about the Pacific, “It’s an ocean that is like sandpaper, which gets you down physically and mentally.” Charles Caudrelier is currently on that ocean, more than 2500 miles East of Sodebo Ultim 3. The skipper of Maxi Edmond de Rothschild probably shares Coville’s opinion. “The Pacific has welcomed us with a nice little low-pressure system,” explained the leader. “The seas aren’t that bad, although heavy, but we are doing fine. As long as the wind is blowing from the North, it’s OK. When it comes around to the South in a few days from now, we will be getting some record low temperatures.” Caudrelier is passed half way on his race and he will maybe starting to think about Cape Horn, which he should reach in less than a week. He will be passing Point Nemo, the furthest distance from land, on Thursday morning.
“We’re on our way East” (Péron)
There was news direct too from Actual Ultim 3, but the story was rather different. Anthony Marchand in fourth set off again from Cape Town on Saturday and is heading East at high speed. “It’s amazing how in such a short space of time, we have left behind our shorts and tee-shirt and back in the wind and cold in the South.” He said today.
He will now have to deal with a high-pressure system ahead of the boat. As for Éric Péron (ULTIM ADAGIO, 5th), he set off again on Sunday and passed the Cape of Good Hope at 0421hrs UTC. “Conditions are rather quiet at the moment. The skies are gradually clouding over with the arrival of a cold front, which is coming up behind us and we are on our way East.”
And finally back to Sodebo Ultim 3, with a final thought from Thomas Coville. “When you are at sea, you don’t really know which week it is and what day it is. Each day, there are choices to make, fears, sad moments, laughter and tears.” In other words, while there are plenty of figures provided and showing what is being achieved, this challenge is more of a human endeavour than ever with a wealth of feelings and emotions, sweeping over the sailors.