HomeSAILINGArmel Le Cléac’h third in the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE - Brest

Armel Le Cléac’h third in the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE – Brest

Armel Le Cléac’h, winner of the 2016-17 Vendée Globe, maintained his record of finishing on the podium on all three of his solo round the world races so far when he crossed the finish line to complete the ARKÉA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest solo multihull race round the world race at 20:31:31hrs this Sunday evening to take third place sailing the ULTIM Banque Populaire XI.

Le Cléac’h’s elapsed time for the course is 56 days 08hrs 1min 31secs. He finished 5 days 12hrs 53mins 49 secs after winner Charles Caudrelier.

Third this time is a just reward for his resilience, stamina and dogged determination rather than the  proven abilities which have been his trademarks: sustaining high average speeds, wily, assured weather strategies complemented by a deep desire to win.

As he took his finish gun, his face creased into a broad smile and he punched the air, revealing the French skipper’s huge measure of relief that he had finally finished the 22,640 nautical miles course.

But while he has quietly revealed his disappointment and frustrations in recent days, tonight his abiding feeling is a keen sense of satisfaction that he and his technical team overcame a series of frustrating technical problems which marred the race of Le Cléac’h and the flagship Banque Populaire team whose skipper was widely tipped as a potential winner.

Le Cléac’h was forced to make two technical stops and only a few days ago had to repair a major leak on the foredeck of the boat which had filled the main hull with water. Of the six strong entry which started from Brest on Sunday 7th January he was the first to pit stop. On the way south he made a technical pitstop in Recife starting on January 14th to fix a foil problem, his tack fitting and damage to his pulpit.

Then, more painfully, on the return ascent of the Atlantic, on February 16th, he went into Rio, Brasil where he ceded second place to Thomas Coville who finished back in Brest on Thursday afternoon.

More recently his delay behind Coville increased when he had to slow right down last Wednesday night into Thursday when he had to make a composite repair to the foredeck of Banque Populaire XI after damage caused by big waves caused a significant ingress of water.

High hopes Pre start hopes and expectations of success for Le Cléac’h and the Banque Populaire XI were raised when the 46 year old and co-skipper Seb Josse won last November’s  Transat Jaques Vabre race from Le Havre across the Atlantic to Martinique, unveiling a new significant speed edge downwind.

But whilst Banque Populaire XI showed signs of endorsing that potential in the early days of the race, the first technical stop left Le Cléac’h a long, long way behind eventual winner Charles Caudrelier and Coville as he had to struggle with light winds and a very circuitous route round the west of the South Atlantic anticyclone.

He was more than 1500 miles behind Coville when he finally passed the Cape of Good Hope and passed Sodebo Ultim 3 when Coville had to pitstop into Hobart to lead him round Cape Horn but the second pitstop terminated his hopes of second place. Approaching Tasmania he made the fastest 24 hours distance of the race at 842 miles, just short of the 851 miles record held by Francois Gabart.

Whilst Coville had to stop for 48 hours to repair his foil down system and his starboard trampoline in Hobart, also missing the worst of a big Southern Ocean storm, Le Cléach also took avoiding action and routed north of New Zealand to avoid the stormy sequence. But when Armel rounded Cape Horn on February 11th for his fourth time solo, his first time on a multihull,  after an otherwise fast and furious Indian Ocean and Pacific, he was over 200 miles ahead of Coville. He set the fastest 24 hours on the race, covering 842 nautical miles on the last day of 2023.

“I feel that we are finally leaving the Southern Ocean, that we are getting out of these sometimes difficult conditions that I had for several days. It feels good to find a little bit of civilization, to be nearer land. Now I know that we are going to sail in an area where we are closer to rescue, to be closer to possible logistical support for our boats. That is reassuring.”

That second stop in Brazil

After a tough, laborious climb up the South Atlantic Le Cléac’h was forced to make a second technical stopover, in Rio de Janeiro. He had built a margin of over 500 miles over Coville but then he suffered not one but two different successive blows, one to his main rudder and then to his port float rudder, losing the use of both.  The port rudder was destroyed and lost on February 13 following a collision with a log of wood and on the 15th, the main rudder disappeared. After just over 48 hours he was back on course.

The compromised performance of his ULTIM and the long periods unfavorable weather conditions tested the exhausted Le Cléach’s patience and strength of character. Whilst he remained resolute and determined on Wednesday February 28, the deck of the central hull, probably exhausted by continuous shocks from wave action, gave way after an impact.

The water really rushed into the central hull. There was a lot of water,” he reported, The boat had to be stopped, the sails furled and lowers and I had to empty it of water. That took a very long time, almost ten hours, then I had to fill the hole, sand it, apply carbon and epoxy. It was a big job.”

And so whilst Le Cléac’h might not have managed to live up to his hopes and dreams of winning the ARKÉA ULTIM CHALLENGE – Brest has proven one of the toughest tests of his career, a real mix of had competition and adventure. His rewardis another podium which further enhances his record as France’s top solo racer of the last 25 years.

Armel Le Cléac’h’s race in numbers

  • Finish time 20:31:31hrs UTC Sunday 03/03/24
  • Elapsed time: 56 days 08hrs 1min 31secs
  • 5d 12h 53m 49s after first placed Charles Caudrelier Sailed 32,290.79 nautical miles c/w 28,938.03 miles for Caudrelier and 31,217 miles Coville Average speed on the great circle 23,88kts
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