Arkea Ultim Challenge

Who will win the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest?

This Sunday 7 January, six sailors set off from Brest for the first edition of the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest, a solo Ultim round the world race. As before every major race, Tip & Shaft has brought together a panel of experts to talk about the line-up: Guillaume Rottée, the race director, Christian Dumard, Anthony Marchand’s router, Francis Le Goff, race director of the last Transat Jacques Vabre, Erwan Tabarly, coach at the Finistère ocean racing centre in Port-la-Forêt, sailor Pascal Bidégorry and the journalist Pierre-Marie Bourguinat.

The challenge is huge for the six pioneers – Armel Le Cléac’h, Charles Caudrelier, Tom Laperche, Thomas Coville, Eric Péron and Anthony Marchand – who will be leaving Brest on Sunday 7 January. This is the first time that flying trimarans will be competing in a solo round-the-world race. While the class has made progress in learning more about these Ultims, which are now “more efficient and more reliable”, according to Francis Le Goff, there are still a number of unknown factors on the scale of a race scheduled to last, if all goes well, between 40 and 50 days.

“We haven’t seen them perform in all types of conditions, particularly in very strong downwind winds, which will be the case in the Southern Ocean,” points out Christian Dumard. “Up to what conditions can they fly, and in what sea states? At what point will we have to take our foot off the gas? We don’t really know. Erwan Tabarly also wonders: “How are the sailors going to manage the pace, their physical condition and their rest? How long will they last with a boat at 100% capacity?

All these questions mean that, according to our experts, everyone has something to play for. “The race is a marathon in which there will be a lot of ups and downs,” says Guillaume Rottée, and it won’t necessarily be based on the intrinsic performance of the boats, “but rather on the ability to manage the length of the race, to preserve the boat, to repair and to find ways of sailing in degraded mode in the event of damage”, according to Pierre-Marie Bourguinat.

Collisions with an UFO and major damage will also “undoubtedly lead strategic choices when it comes to stopping and repairs“, explains Guillaume Rottée. In fact, stopovers of at least 24 hours are authorised. The ability of the teams to react quickly in terms of logistics will therefore be another key factor in their performance, as will the work of the routing units, which will be constantly on the lookout to work out weather strategies.


Advantage Le Cléac’h


For our experts, Armel Le Cléac’h, November’s winner of the Transat Jacques Vabre with Sébastien Josse on Banque Populaire XI, comes out on top, narrowly ahead of Tom Laperche (SVR Lazartigue) and Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild), who are tied. “Armel ticks a lot of boxes,” says Pierre-Marie Bourguinat. “He’s a fully mature sailor, with experience of the Southern Ocean and major events; and Banque Populaire XI is without doubt one of the most structured and strongest Ultims in the fleet. As far as the crossbeams are concerned, they’ve gone the furthest by building a double structure inside the beam, which certainly gives them a very significant safety reserve.

In terms of performancethe VPLP design also dominated downwind sailing in the Transat Jacques Vabre, “sailing faster and lower than SVR”, points out Guillaume Rottée. “On the subject of this deficit observed on SVR Lazartigue“, Pascal Bidégorry, who works at MerConcept and regularly sails with her skipper Tom Laperche, puts things into perspective: “I’m not worried! The foils, which were quite badly damaged, tended to stall, which meant they had to sail a little differently. But overall, SVR is still a boat that goes well everywhere.”

More nuanced, Pierre-Marie Bourguinat believes that SVR is perhaps less versatile than Banque Populaire or Gitana. She’s slimmer all over, a little lower with a little less volume in the floats and fairly typical foils. But it’s the one with the most carefully thought-out aerodynamics, which makes it formidable upwind in the medium.

Guillaume Rottée wonders whether the emergency work carried out on SVR Lazartigue, following a structural weakness detected on arrival in Martinique in the forward beam, will force Tom Laperche, who arrived in Brest the day before the start, “to remain on the sidelines at the start of the race. Especially as the youngest member of the fleet (26 years old) is new to round the world racing.

Not a handicap for Pascal Bidégorry, who believes “that it’s not necessary to have too much experience or too many certainties for such an extreme challenge. The fact that you’re discovering the exercise means you can stay in control and attack less. Keeping your feet under you can be a good way of doing it.

“Given the physical intensity that awaits them over the long haul, its youth, on the contrary, could be an advantage,” adds Pierre-Marie Bourguinat.


Caudrelier has his arguments


Our experts are also betting on Charles Caudrelier, skipper of a Maxi Edmond de Rothschild which Pascal Bidégorry describes as “highly accomplished”, adding: “It’s the boat which has been the most developed and optimised, whether it’s the appendages, the structure or the sails. And even though she’s a little older than SVR Lazartigue and Banque Populaire, I think that in all the conditions they’re going to encounter, she’s going to prove to be very complete.”

Pierre-Marie Bourguinat agrees: “It may not be the fastest in all points of sail, but it’s reliable and versatile.” As for Francis Le Goff, he points out that “Gitana managed to keep up the pace in the Jacques Vabre despite some major damage (port foil, rudder and steering system damaged), it’s a boat that perhaps allows you to sail a little better in the event of damage.”

What’s more, the Verdier design is sailed by a sailor, about whom our experts have nothing but praise. “Charles has stamina and will fight to the end,” says Pascal Bidégorry, while Pierre-Marie Bourguinat points out that “he has won all the major events – Route du Rhum, Volvo Ocean Race, Transat Jacques Vabre, Solitaire du Figaro – in which he has taken part, albeit sometimes after several attempts.”


Coville, the premium on experience


Behind the leading trio, our experts place Thomas Coville in ambush, even if, as Christian Dumard points out, “while Armel Le Cléac’h, Charles Caudrelier and Tom Laperche have the best knowledge of their boat in its current configuration, that’s less the case for Thomas with Sodebo Ultim 3. Even though she certainly has a lot of potential, we don’t really know where they are in terms of fine-tuning the boat, which has undergone a lot of modifications.” Since her launch in 2019, the Ultim has undergone substantial modifications: shortened floats, the addition of T-boards on the appendages, new foils and even a longer mast this year. These changes “mean that each time we have to go back to the drawing board to acquire data and learn more about the platform,” points out Pierre-Marie Bourguinat.

Erwan Tabarly points out that Thomas Coville “is made for this type of course“. Indeed, he is the only one of the six sailors to have already completed a circumnavigation of the globe in a multihull and solo – he has even completed three of them as part of the solo round the world record (eight in all!). “The psychological dimension and the self-confidence that this can bring is an important parameter, as there is a long way to go” adds Guillaume Rottée.

Novice to the exercise, Anthony Marchand (Actual Ultim 3) is nonetheless “a very good outsideraccording to Christian Dumard, who points out in passing that his boat “sailed around the world in 42 days.” That was in 2017 under the name of Macif, with François Gabart at the helm, who shattered the record held by Thomas Coville by a week. And even if, on paper, the VPLP design performs less well than the other four mentioned above“it is still in the game and has proved this by completing a more than honourable Transat Jacques Vabre, the boat is complete and its systems are reliableanalyses Pascal Bidégorry

It is likely to be more complicated for Adagio, the only non-flying trimaran (Actual Ultim 3 is a hybrid) in the race – it is the ex-Geronimo launched in 2001 and completely transformed by Thomas Coville and his team in 2013 – to challenge the five other Ultims. “Eric Péron, who has sailed Ocean Fifty quite a bit, is used to multihulls, but he got the boat back very late in the day,” emphasises Francis Le Goff. The skipper, who signed up at the last minute, only completed his qualification on 17th November. “It’s true that he won’t be able to play with the best if they are not managed”, analyses Erwan Tabarly. “But if some of them break down and stop, that could put him back in the running.”

Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Tip & Shaft est le média
expert de la voile de compétition

Course au large

Tip & Shaft décrypte la voile de compétition chaque vendredi, par email :

  • Des articles de fond et des enquêtes exclusives
  • Des interviews en profondeur
  • La rubrique Mercato : l’actu business de la semaine
  • Les résultats complets des courses
  • Des liens vers les meilleurs articles de la presse française et étrangère
* champs obligatoires

🇬🇧 Want to join the international version? Click here 🇬🇧