The second week of the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest has been a busy one, with Armel Le Cléac’h’s stopover in Recife, damage to SVR Lazartigue and Charles Caudrelier, who has just passed Good Hope, almost setting a new 24-hour record. To analyse these events, Tip & Shaft interviewed Sébastien Josse, winner of the last Transat Jacques Vabre with Armel Le Cléac’h, meteorologist Jean-Yves Bernot, member of SVR-Lazartigue‘s routing team, and Gildas Morvan, race director of the last Finistère Atlantique.
This second week of racing began with the first blow, Armel Le Cléac’h’s stop in Recife, his Maxi Banque Populaire XI suffering from a broken balcony and a deficiency in the hydraulic system for raising and lowering the starboard foil. “It was clearly unavoidable to stop. Without the balcony, Armel could no longer use his J0, which was very penalising,” explained Sébastien Josse, who was part of the team sent to Brazil. “There was already no real doubt about the need to stop, but then he suffered foil damage a few hours later, which only confirmed the choice of a stopover.”
The skipper of Banque Populaire XI has stopped for just over 24 hours between Monday and Tuesday, with, according to his co-skipper on the last Jacques Vabre, a state of mind that is far from resigned: “Armel has incredible composure; it’s true that it’s no longer a contact race as he imagined, but we know very well that, even if we don’t wish it on them, the other teams may also have to stop, that’s part of the deal, as we’re seeing with SVR. We’re aware that we’ve burnt a joker and that there won’t be two, but Armel has now switched to round the world mode and his objective today is first to finish and then to be on the podium.”
Laperche’s momentum halted
The second twist came on Thursday morning when Tom Laperche, who was battling it out at the head of the fleet with Charles Caudrelier, reported that he had suffered a collision with SVR Lazartigue‘s daggerboard, which caused serious damage to the daggerboard casing and an ingress of water. The skipper, who was very emotional as he recounted the collision, is now heading for Cape Town, which he hopes to reach on Monday. “We knew it was part of the game, but we’re still hoping it won’t happen to us,” says a fatalistic Jean-Yves Bernot. The frustration is all the greater for the SVR Lazartigue team as “up until then, everything had been going pretty well for us“, adds Bernot. “The impact at 35 knots must have been very violent, it’s clearly not due to Tom having attacked too much or made a mistake, it doesn’t take anything away from his performance, it’s just bad luck,” adds Gildas Morvan
Since the start, the skipper of SVR Lazartigue had been virtually faultless, engaged in a breathless duel with Charles Caudrelier, with the two sailors having closed the gap on their pursuers before the equator. “The elastic continued to tighten between them and the rest of the fleet as they passed through the Doldrums at an average speed of 25 knots, the Doldrumst became more complicated after that for the others,” analysed Jean-Yves Bernot.
The difference of conditions was “almost insolent and hard to take for the sailors behind them, who were seen brooding quite a bit”, commented Gildas Morvan. For their part, the two leaders lengthened their stride along the Brazilian coast, staying in contact virtually all the time, which led the former Figaro racer to say: “We had the impression of witnessing an Ultim version of the Solitaire du Figaro, they were impressively in control, with an incredible tempo imposed by Tom, but without having to force themselves on the boats or take excessive risks. They were then able to take the southern oceans train with a nice, well-established southern low.”
A repair that can take a long time
This enabled the two leaders to lengthen their stride and reach impressive speeds as they entered the forties, to the extent that Charles Caudrelier came close to breaking the 24-hour record, covering 828 nautical miles at an average speed of 34.5 knots, the second best single-handed performance of all time behind François Gabart’s 851 miles in 2017 during his record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe. “I think Charles could have beaten the record, but after Tom’s breakage, he probably had to ease off a bit,” says Gildas Morvan.
What are Tom Laperche’s chances of setting sail again? “It’s not for me to say, but it’s a complicated damage, because it’s not just a broken daggerboard,” replied Sébastien Josse. “We went through this in the last Route du Rhum and we were lucky enough to be able to repair it at our base in Lorient. In this case, there’s already the fact of joining Cape Town, which is a long way to go, then you have to transport the equipment and possibly take the boat out if that’s necessary because there’s an ingress of water, which can take time. We did it in four days without any water in our base.”
A tough Indian Ocean
Now alone in the lead, Charles Caudrelier, who rounded the Cape of Good Hope this Friday after 12 days and 1 hour at sea, has a lead of nearly 1,000 miles over his now runner-up, Thomas Coville, who, according to Gildas Morvan, “has had a bit of bad luck with the weather. With just a few hours to spare, he would have been on the same train as the two frontrunners, but he ended up being unhooked and now finds himself in the front, with a disgusting cross sea”.
The same punishment, or even worse, for the next two boats now neck and neck, Anthony Marchand and Armel Le Cléac’h, whose restart was complicated. “He hasn’t had easy conditions and the St Helena high has shifted to the south, which, with Anthony, is forcing them to round it more south and sail a longer distance,” according to Jean-Yves Bernot. “Armel’s goal now is to slip between the high and the ice zone and stay in an acceptable wind corridor to be able to fly. The only problem is that as he’s VMG, he’s going to have a lot of gybing to do,” adds Sébastien Josse. “He knows he’s going to have to be patient to find a weather system close to Charles’.”
For the time being, the skipper of Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is therefore benefiting from “a comfortable cushion which will enable him to manage his pace“, according to Gildas Morvan. But according to our observers, the match is far from over! “His Indian Ocean is not going to be easy, there is a lot of cyclonic activity, as we saw on Reunion Island”, points out Jean-Yves Bernot, who sees the leader “bumping into the anticyclone, he’s going to have to deal with the problem of the ice exclusion zone”. “If the stragglers find a good low-pressure train, with these boats, they can come back quickly,” reminds Gildas Morvan.
Photo: Yann Riou – polaRYSE / Gitana S.A.