Gitana trimaran

The Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest under the expert’s microscope, week 7

With just a few days to go before the arrival of the top three finishers in the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest, expected in Brest from Monday, Tip & Shaft analyses the week’s events, in particular Charles Caudrelier’s stopover in the Azores, in the company of sailors Loïck Peyron and Franck Cammas, and weather routing specialist Christian Dumard.

In an ideal world, it would have been this Friday that Charles Caudrelier would have crossed the finish line of the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest as the winner after around 47 days at sea, which would have been the second fastest solo time in history, behind François Gabart’s 42 days and 16 hours at the end of 2017. With a lead of more than 2,000 miles over his immediate pursuer, Thomas Coville, the skipper of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, faced with very rough weather in the Bay of Biscay, made the choice with his routing cell to stop in the Azores at 0600 hours on Wednesday, to allow two big lows to pass over on the way to Brest.

“It was very complicated to arrive in the conditions generated by the storm Louis, which has just passed over France, i.e. 8 to 9 metres of seas offshore and winds of 40 knots, gusting to 50 or 60,” explains Christian Dumard. “There was the possibility of slipping between the two lows, but the timing wasn’t easy to find and the sea state was still very bad. And if anything went wrong, he would have been stuck with this second low, so it was a wise decision. It’s a bit like a Formula 1 car that’s one lap ahead and has a minor technical problem, and then stops in the pits to repair, restart and win the Grand Prix.”

Loïck Peyron agrees: “It’s all about managing the lead and the equipment, the very principle of good sailors and good teams. Charles also has the luxury of choosing when to stop, which is even better than having to, as has been the case for the others.” 

For Franck Cammas, co-skipper of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild with Charles Caudrelier until 2021, Charles had nothing to gain by taking risks in a depression which, as we saw in Brittany, was quite powerful.” And the man from Aix-en-Provence added: “The racing incidents of his rivals also allowed him to make this choice. He’d already been in this frame of mind by slowing down 48 hours before Cape Horn, he doesn’t have a record to beat. But it’s certain that if they had been close, no one would have stopped!


“A weird situation”


None of the six sailors setting out from Brest on 7th January will have completed the circumnavigation of the globe without a stopover, which led Franck Cammas to say: “Knowing Charles, he must have thought about it, it must have been close to his heart not to make a stopover. We’d have liked to see boats sail around the world without touching land to prove they were capable of doing it, but in this case, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is, she’s not stopping for damage.”

What might Charles Caudrelier’s state of mind be, having been at a standstill for almost two days after being alone at sea for the previous 45? “It’s quite a weird situation,” replies Loïck Peyron. “I’ve actually made a stopover like that at the head of a race, with Jean-Pierre Dick in the Barcelona World Race (2010/2011), when we stopped in the Cook Strait. We had enough of a lead and the right to do so (48 hours minimum), so it was a strange feeling to have a little glass of red wine on the terrace after a shower and a night in the hotel, while still being in the lead of the race.”

In a press release sent out on Thursday, the Gitana Team announced a departure from Horta “late on Friday, or even Saturday morning” in conditions which, according to Christian Dumard, don’t look easy: We’re still in some disturbed systems with complicated transitions, so there’s a lot of work for the routers. They have to find a good window to sail downwind from start to finish, even if that means covering more miles. The aim is to avoid having to make an upwind transition in fairly strong north-north-easterly winds, because even though they’ve no doubt taken advantage of the stopover to do a little refit, we can see that all the boats are extremely tired and not sailing fast. When you see 30 knots, it’s miraculous, when normally that’s the basic speed.”

And Actual Ultim 3’s router added: Charles could even wait until Monday to have the same conditions as Sodebo, which is going to round to the west and whose arrival is scheduled for the 28th or 29th. He would then climb to the north and line up ahead of Thomas Coville on the same route, but his aim is no doubt to keep more of a margin.” Charles Caudrelier and his team seem to have everything well in hand, even if Loïck Peyron warns: “We mustn’t imagine that having to stop necessarily makes things easier. On the contrary, it breaks the pace and makes it all the more difficult to get back into the swing of things.’


“The consecration of a boat”


If all goes according to plan, Charles Caudrelier is expected in Brest on Monday after 50 days at sea… on his 50th birthday. In other words, he would be giving himself a nice birthday present if he were to win, which our experts refuse to say in advance, although they do emphasise the great mastery of the skipper and the Gitana Team“If he wins, it will be the victory of a skipper/boat pairing that knows each other perfectly well,” analyses Loïck Peyron. “It would also be the consecration of a boat, the first flying ocean-going Ultim, and therefore a fine symbolism to see him win the first solo round the world flight. But it’s also the reward for a job well done over a long period of time, a real investment and to have believed in it a little before anyone else, that’s beautiful!”

For his part, Franck Cammas isn’t surprised to see his former team-mate in the lead so close to the finish: “Charles managed the pace very well, he was able to push the boat and ease off when he needed to. It’s a lot easier when you’re 1,500 or 2,000 miles ahead and it’s clear that the pace changed a lot from the moment Tom (Laperche) dropped out. We would have liked to see what would have happened if he’d stayed in contact, but in a race, that’s exactly what you have to do, you manage according to the competition. It was a challenge for Charles to get it right, and he knew it was going to be something new in relation to the pace adopted in the transatlantic races”. The winner of the 2010 Route du Rhum (among others) adds: I think that at times, he must have found the time long, because he feeds off the competition, there wasn’t much of that in the end, the sporting stakes quickly disappeared, I think he regrets that, as do all the people who follow the race.” 

Asked about the absence of any real sporting suspense for a large part of the race, Christian Dumard replied: “It’s true that when there are so many distances between the boats, it’s less exciting. It’s a bit of a shame, but we knew it would be complicated for the boats to sail around the world without breaking. And for the moment, there are still five competitors in the race out of six, which is the first time that these boats have raced around the world, and even more so solo. This race will allow us to make them more reliable, to better understand their weaknesses and one day, a flying boat will circumnavigate the globe in 35 days.”

Photo: Marin LE ROUX – polaRYSE / GITANA S.A.

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