Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe: A sprint finish ?

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Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe

After five days and nights of tough, physical, racing which has taken them to the edge of exhaustion, there are just 1100 nautical miles of direct runway left to sail to the Pointe-à-Pitre finish line for the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe leaders.

Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild) has extended his cushion to over 100 miles ahead of the chasing François Gabart (SVR-Lazartigue) as the pacemakers can now finally contemplate a finishing sprint of faster, easier trade winds reaching. The leader may make the south of the island tomorrow night. Indeed, Caudrelier spoke this morning of potentially two days of racing left, a schedule which could take him well inside the course record which was set in 2018 by Francis Joyon at 7 days 14 hours and 21 minutes.

Gabart had a technical issue last night which cost him miles to the leader at just the wrong moment. “Last night I broke the line that lifts and lowers the port foil. I slowed down for two or three hours to repair that. I hesitated but with the team we said there was still a lot of starboard tack before the finish, but I lost quite a few miles after being pleased about my position to leeward of Charles.”

He summarises, “The pace is quite intense. Since the start, we’ve had upwind tacking, the first front with lots of sail changes, then upwind on the other tack, then some reaching, a second front in the Azores and some more reaching, and now we’re downwind. But that’s what you can expect in the Route du Rhum. I’m wondering now whether I’m really in the trade winds, as the wind is still up and down between 13 and 20 knots and there’s still a residual swell from the NW.”

Dalin leads into the light zone
Some 250 miles south of the Azores, Charlie Dalin on Apivia is leading the 34-boat IMOCA fleet into the lighter winds of the Azores high pressure zone. He is looking to exploit a small corridor of breeze which he feels would get him down into the trade winds to increase his margin significantly. Behind him, north of the Azores, a compact group have been dealing with a nasty front which was producing 35-40kts winds. Prudence saw a few tack south last night to limit their exposure to the strong winds and big seas, but relief was due this afternoon with the wind shifting to a NW direction.

“We have some fast upwind sailing on starboard tack still,” Dalin said this morning. “The goal in the next 24 hours is to find our way through a tiny gap to slip under this area of high pressure and pick up the trade winds. We’re going to have to be very careful with our route and pay attention to local wind shifts to get through this part without being slowed down too much. Once in the trade winds, there will still be 1,500 miles to sail. The boat is in good condition. I haven’t had to slow down to deal with any technical problems. It’s nice to be sailing on a boat I know well, as that means I can feel relaxed and focus on my strategy.”

Kiwi Conrad Colman is sixteenth on his 2007 VPLP-Verdier designed daggerboard boat, Imagine. Launched as Groupe Bel the boat had to abandon two successive Vendée Globes before being sailed to tenth in the last race by Maxime Sorel as V&B-Mayenne. He is about 40 miles behind Tanguy le Turquais (Lazare) who is on his first major IMOCA ocean race with the Finot-Conq design which Damien Seguin sailed to seventh on the last Vendée Globe.

A resolute, focused Colman said today, “So far so good. I have only seen 35kts upwind at the moment, and mostly 28-30, so things are fairly moderate and things are working OK. I think I have another four or five hours more then should be able to tack south through the Azores.”

Debuting Chinese racer Jingkun Xu, known as ‘Jackie’, is in 31st making steady progress in what is proving a tough very first baptism into the IMOCA class on a boat he had only really sailed for his race qualifying miles. He reported, “The start of my first RDR for me is hard, no sleep, hard to eat, fishing nets, cargos, several cold fronts, and in 24 hours the winds change from 5 to 50 knots. I nearly never stop. This is the busiest race I have done. But I enjoy it so much, to be a part of this legendary race is just amazing.”

Heer back on track
After returning to Saint Malo the night after the start because of damage due to a collision with another IMOCA, Swiss skipper Olli Heer has been back on the race course since this Monday morning. He left Port La Foret around 0630hrs UTC and has been making a steady 10kts through the early part of the day.

“The shore team worked round the clock and we managed to do a post cure overnight and launch this morning. I am mentally and emotionally quite drained but super happy to be out here again and just looking to settle in again. At the moment, I want to sail SSW before a powerful front will hit me tonight with winds to 35-38kts and I will then pass Cape Finisterre tomorrow and head south,” said Heer this morning.

Perhaps the most outstanding solo debut so far in the IMOCA fleet is Justine Mettraux. The Swiss skipper who trained many thousands of miles fully crewed with 11th Hour Racing is up in seventh place on the well proven Teamwork.net, formerly Charal.

Californian property developer Alex Mehran is in 19th on Polka Dot, the boat which won the 2018 race in Richomme’s hands. Mehran has been going well in the strong conditions and is not afraid to push himself and his boat hard. He had a minor technical issue earlier today which he was staying tight lipped about. “I was hove-to for about 45 minutes, but I got it all squared away. I was watching the season finale of The Batchelor, I did not want to miss it. (laughs) It is a good show! (jokes) No I am going along here with the storm jib and three reefs and the mainsail keeps filling with water. I have the bilge pump piped up there and every so often I go up and pump out the water which is working well. It is pretty gnarly. This storm is worse than the last one. We have 30-40kts. I have a few minor problems, I am tired, hungry and wet. I am looking forwards to getting through this one. I think that will be in about three and a half to four hours and then I will get the shift and head south towards the Azores, heading towards warmer waters. I am looking forwards to that.”

Ocean 50
Quentin Vlamynck remains cool and calm at the front of the Ocean Fifty fleet on Arkema, leading by 50 miles with his main rivals lined up in his wake. Third placed Erwan Le Roux explained today, “We should be getting into the trade winds tomorrow afternoon. It’s going to take another 24 hours to get around the area of high pressure. Then, there is a large part of the Atlantic to cross. I’m 60 miles behind Arkema and she is fast sailing downwind, so not easy to close the gap. There are still practically 2000 miles to go, and a lot can still happen.”

Summary key points this afternoon
Among the other technical problems announced today, Guirec Soudée (Freelance.com) has torn the mainsail on his IMOCA. It is too difficult to repair on heavy seas and the skipper is therefore planning to shelter in the Azores.

Matthieu Perraut, skipper of Inter Invest (Class40), collided with a UFO early this afternoon (Monday) He damaged the fairing on his keel, part of the port rudder and the base of the hull delaminated around the crash box (the area that absorbs the shock to avoid damage to the structure of the boat when there is a collision). Matthieu was not hurt, but the boat suffered too much damage to be able to continue. The skipper is currently heading for the island of San Miguel in the Azores, around 250 miles south of his current position.

François Jambou, the Mini Transat winning skipper of the Class40 A l’Aveugle – Trim Control, dismasted this afternoon. He will attempt to reach shore under jury rig

François Guiffant, skipper of the IMOCA Kattan broke the stay for his J2. The skipper, sailing 500 miles east of the Azores, is diverting to Lisbon to carry out repairs.

Jean-Pierre Balmes, skipper of Class40 FullSave announced his retirement due to problems with his ballast tanks and staysail hook. He is heading for Cascais in Portugal.

French skipper Fabrice Amedeo was rescued by the Cargo vessel M/V MAERSK BRIDA after a fire broke out aboard his Imoca, Nexans – Art & Fenêtres. Amedeo was forced to abandon his boat which sank soon after. He has not suffered any injuries. He will be taken ashore in Ponta Delgada, on the southern side of the island of São Miguel in the Azores.

118 boats are still racing, with 20 having abandoned this 12th edition of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.

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