Arkea Ultim Challenge

What you need to know about the first arrival of the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest

Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild) won the first edition of the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest at 08:37 on Tuesday after 50 days 19 hours 7 minutes and 42 seconds. Just over two days later, Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3) succeeded him on Thursday in Brest, where Tip & Shaft spent the week. Here’s a look back at these arrivals, with some of the experts we met on the Quai Malbert.

The day after his 50th birthday, Charles Caudrelier inaugurated the prize list for the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest, winning on Tuesday in just under 51 days. The timing of the finish was well regulated by the Gitana Team, who had announced 08:30 the day before. The sailor, who arrived in flying mode in the Narrows of Brest at sunrise, crossed the line at 08:37, before being welcomed a little over an hour later by the Brest crowd. How many were there? “5,500 to 6,000“, replied Joseph Bizard, Managing Director of OC Sport Pen Duick, the company organising the round-the-world race.

Just in front of a somewhat crippled Verdier design, Cyril Dardashti, managing director of the Gitana Team, was delighted: “This victory was not at all written in stone, all the competitors were likely to win, but it was achieved with all the tenacity and competitiveness of Charles on a tried and tested boat which has shown that it is capable of sailing around the planet. It’s a reward we’ve been waiting for for years.” Charles Caudrelier, at the press conference organised at 2.30pm in the village’s partners’ area, spoke of a “ticked box”, after those of the Solitaire du Figaro, the Volvo Ocean Race (twice), the Transat Jacques Vabre (three times) and the Route du Rhum, among others. “The lines are beautiful” adds the hero of the day.

Some fifty hours later, on a rainy Thursday afternoon, Thomas Coville took his turn to capture some fine images of the finish, at nearly 30 knots on a foil, prompting Yves Le Blevec, director of Anthony Marchand’s Actual team, who was on the water in the Brest Narrows, to say: He put on quite a show crossing the line in full flying mode, it was full of emotion”. The skipper of Sodebo Ultim 3 also received a standing ovation from a slightly smaller crowd than on Tuesday, but won over by his ability to share his emotions.


“Thomas is dreamlike”


“It’s a moment of excellence, of crazy sharing, it’s immense. You have to imagine 52 days during which you haven’t spoken to anyone or seen any faces, and then it overwhelms you”, he comments, his eyes reddened by salt, fatigue and emotion, before addressing his team, Patricia Brochard, co-president of Sodebo, his routers Philippe Legros and Dominic Vittet, as well as Olivier de Kersauson, in the front row on the pontoon, with whom he completed the first of his nine circumnavigations in 1997

“Thomas is a very special character in ocean racing. He stands out because of the way he talks about adventure, not just sporting feats, whereas Charles is more into performance and technique, but just as interesting to listen to,” comments Luc Talbourdet, founder of Avel Robotics and former team manager to Jean-Pierre Dick. “Thomas is dreamlike, and there’s a real bond between him and the public”, adds Emmanuel Bachellerie, a member of the Ultim class (of which he was general delegate)

How did it feel to see the sailors after more than 50 days at sea? “It’s interesting to see their faces, I found them physically marked by the commitment of the race”, answers Charlie Dalin, second in the last Vendée Globe and present on Tuesday and Thursday. “As the race went on, you could feel that they became more and more tired and that the nervous tension was wearing the sailors down; the high speeds and the sword of Damocles of capsizing, it’s exhausting.”


Tired boats


The sailors aren’t the only ones to have finished this Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest tired: on their arrival at the pontoon, the boats are also showing the scars, particularly the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, which, according to Charlie Dalin, “tells its own story”, deprived of several fairings, notably at the front of its starboard float (from the fourth day of racing), but also of a rudder’s elevator, lost in the Indian Ocean. Charles Caudrelier also describes “a hole in the cockpit under the starboard helm”, problems with the watermaker and starboard foil and, above all, having torn his mainsail just after rounding Cape Horn, to the point where he considered a technical stopover in Brazil. “My team told me they had a solution to repair it, at first I didn’t really believe in it, but it turned out to be brilliant, it just took me a few hours of work.”

And Sodebo Ultim 3, which had stopped mid-course in Hobart (Australia) to repair the pulpit and the foredeck, and to consolidate the work carried out at sea by Thomas Coville on the foil lowering systems? An unusable J1 and the loss of the daggerboard’s elevator after the Horn, prompting Renaud Banuls, one of the boat’s architects to say: “Thomas isn’t the only one to have lost it. We’ll have to analyse whether it’s the result of an impact or a strain. As for the foils systems, it’s surprising, it hadn’t happened at all during the life of the boat, other competitors have also encountered problems of this type. But these boats represent years of experience and breakage, so the challenge next time will be to sail around the world with a more intact boat.”

Charles Caudrelier also said on Tuesday:“We built a pretty strong boat because we had this round the world objective, so we’ll no doubt have to make it even stronger. There are a lot of little details we had to battle over in terms of weight, I’m thinking in particular of the aerodynamics. We made fairings out of aircraft canvas, because it was ultra light, but when you get to the finish, there are holes everywhere. As a result, I was down to 80-85% of the boat’s polar fleece because of this aerodynamic loss for a few kilos gained.”

In front of the two Ultims moored at the foot of Quai Malbert, Yves Le Blevec is analysing the situation: “I’m not surprised by the amount of damage, as we’d already seen in the Transat Jacques Vabre: after two weeks of racing, all the boats had arrived with a good job list, so there was no reason for that to change over a two-month race. There are a lot of lessons to be learnt, these Ultims have enormous potential, but it’s clear that not one of them can keep up with the pace of a round the world race; they’ve all been much slower in the last ten days than the first ten. There’s still a lot to do to try and be more consistent, but we’d all have signed up to have, if all goes well, five boats out of six at the finish.


“We are finding it extremely difficult to
communicate about our problems”


Thanks to the authorised technical stopovers, which involved five of the six boats that set out from Brest on 7 January, but the suspense of the race was quickly reduced, especially at the front of the fleet after Tom Laperche suffered damage after eleven days of racing that forced him to retire. Hence the reduced media interest? “We had the impression that Charles was taking it easy, when in fact it was anything but easy,” replies Yves Le Blevec. “We all find it extremely difficult to talk about our problems, but that’s what gives these round the world races their flavour. We need to find the right balance, and there’s no doubt a bit of work to be done there.”

An opinion shared by Emmanuel Bachellerie: “One of the lessons to be learnt is perhaps to give more freedom to the sailors, not that they are forbidden to be themselves, but perhaps that they censor themselves a little, even though what they are experiencing is unique. When Thomas (Coville) was adjusting his foil above the water, he explained that it was as if he was in a car, with his head outside, without headlights, at 110 km/h on a steep road with 250 metres of cliff and torrents of water. This kind of story makes you realise what these sailors went through 24 hours a day for more than 50 days.”

Charlie Dalin believes that the races take time to become part of the landscape. In the first Vendée Globe, the attention was undoubtedly different to what it is today. This race was a trial gallop, and it’s going to get bigger as the years go by, so it’s safe to assume that the next one will get a lot more media coverage.

Photo: Vincent Curutchet

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