Les Sables d’Olone – The skippers in the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sable d’Olonne “warm-up” for this year’s Vendée Globe have certainly been enduring a baptism of fire as the early stages of the race continue to prove tough on them and their boats.
During their second night at sea, on their way from Les Sables d’Olonne to Iceland, the fleet has been closing on the southwest corner of Ireland with the leaders coming within a couple of miles of the coast near Kinsale in a bid to get out of the worst of the weather.
It has been a long hard beat into the northwesterly wind which has been hitting 35 knots in the gusts. Throughout, the leader has remained the Frenchman Thomas Ruyant on LinkedOut – the boat named after a charity supporting the homeless.
He has set a tough pace for the leading group which has settled into a collection of four boats with Charlie Dalinon Apivia this morning in second place just one-and-a-half nautical miles behind, then Jérémie Beyou on Charal (+2.5) and Kévin Escoffier on PRB (+3.9) in fourth place.
At a position about 45 miles south of the Fastnet Rock on starboard tack, Ruyant was pushing his foiler ahead at 14 knots with about 800 miles to go to reach the IOC UNESCO waypoint off the southwest tip of Iceland.
Beyou spoke about a tough couple of days aboard his super-powerful monohull which had been crashing and smashing her way to windward in big seas which have made it difficult for the Volvo Ocean Race winner to sleep or eat or even check over the boat.
“I haven’t had much time to eat, sleep or take care of myself,” he said. “I would need to be able to stand up in the boat in order to do that. The sea must calm down and it will be more favourable later in the day. We did a lot of manoeuvering during the night off the Irish coast when the idea was to get a flatter sea and a little less wind by getting in close.”
Beyou has been sailing with two reefs in his mainsail and the J3 and he has been eyeing the challenging weather conditions that he and his rivals will have to deal with over the next few days. “We wonder how we will get to the IOC-UNESCO buoy and how we will get back,” he joked. “I don’t know if I’m going back to the coast or not. The weather is not entirely clear in my opinion.”
As Beyou indicated, the leaders should experience a moderation in conditions during the day today as the wind backs to a more westerly direction and then backs again by midnight. The weather picture is complicated by a small area of low pressure forming to the southwest of the fleet that could produce strong downwind conditions for a while but then see the fleet having to cross a large area of light winds off the west coast of Scotland.
Behind the leading group is a competitive second rank of boats lead by Boris Herrmann on SeaExplorer-YC de Monaco who is 13 miles off the lead. He is just three miles ahead of Isabelle Joschke on MACSF, with Britain’s Sam Davies another four miles behind on Initiatives-Coeur. Fifteen miles to leeward of that group is the Japanese sailor Kojiro Shiraishi on DMG MORI Global One who is nearly 30 miles behind Ruyant but has been steadily climbing through the fleet.
Behind them, the third group of boats is lead by Yannick Bestaven on Maître Coq (+31.7) followed by the top non-foiler in the fleet, Clarisse Crémer on Banque Populaire X (+32) and Fabrice Amadeo on Newrest-Art et Fenêtres (+47). Armel Tripon, meanwhile, who was the first skipper to tack onto starboard yesterday afternoon, is now holding 14th position on L’Occitane en Provence (+63).
The last 24 hours have seen a second boat return to port with Damien Seguin following the earlier example of Sébastien Simon (ARKÉA PAPREC) deciding to head for Port-La Forêt on board Groupe APICIL.
Seguin discovered that his alternator mounting had completely sheered off in the upwind conditions that were battering his boat and realised he would not have enough power to run his onboard systems without being able to use the engine.
“I quickly looked at what I could do and realised that unfortunately I couldn’t fix it at all,” said Seguin who has never retired from a professional race before. “It seemed very difficult to continue like this upwind without being able to re-charge the batteries on board, so I made the decision with the team to return to Port-La-Forêt,” he added.
Seguin was just south of Brest this morning on his way home but had not retired from the race.