It’s been a wild week of ocean racing in the once-per-quadrennial Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, which is taking singlehanded sailors on a 3,542-nautical-mile course from St. Malo, France, to the finishing line off of Guadeloupe’s Pointe-à-Pitre.
While the massive Ultime trimarans finished their North Atlantic speed runs last week, this week the focus has been on the IMOCA 60 monohulls and the Multi50 class, both of which have now posted their winners, as well as some serious high-seas drama.
In the IMOCA 60 class, skipper Alex Thomson (UK), the proverbial bridesmaid of offshore racing, sailing aboard his iconic Hugo Boss, had been executing a brilliant and utterly untouchable race, until calamity struck, just miles from the finishing line. On November 16, Thomson overslept his alarm and hit the north end of Guadeloupe’s Grande Terre.
While Thomson thankfully wasn’t hurt, his boat sustained some damage and the 44-year-old skipper made the vessel-saving decision to fire up the iron jib and extricate himself from the bricks. Thomson then went on to cross the finishing line later that same day, only to learn that he was awarded a 24-hour time penalty for resorting to auxiliary power.
“It’s a real shame for me and the team to be in the position that we are in,” said Thomson, who has been third and second in consecutive Vendée Globe solo round-the-world races, in an official Route du Rhum press release following his arrival in Guadeloupe. As for his time penalty, Thomson wasn’t looking for scapegoats. “How do I feel about that?” he asked, referring to his 24-hour penalty time. “Well I think that is very fair because I don’t think I should win the race after hitting Guadeloupe.”
As for the circumstance of his grounding, Thomson was equally honest. “I slept through–I didn’t hear it–and when I woke up the alarms were going and the boat was strange,” continued Thomson. “I went up on deck and I could see Guadeloupe – I didn’t know it was Guadeloupe – I couldn’t understand what was happening until I looked at the chart and then I could see I was on Guadeloupe…haha…I had arrived!”
“For me,” said Thomson, “all I can do is live and learn – it’s the land of hard knocks as we say in England. You have to try and stay strong; you have to learn, you have to be better and ultimately, obviously, I wanted to win this race. But the aim is to win the Vendée Globe and I think I’ve proved in this race that I can win the Vendée Globe.”
As a result, Paul Meilhat (FRA), sailing aboard his non-foiling SMA, took top honors in the IMOCA 60 class with a total elapsed time of 12 days, 11 hours, and 23 minutes, which included a light-air waltz on the west side of the Basse Terre Island. With Thomson’s 24-hour correction, Meilhat’s elapsed time put him 11 hours and 48 minutes clear and free of Thomson’s official time.
“This is my first big win, I wanted to sail a good race as a reward for all the support I have had,” said Meilhat in an official Route du Rhum press release. “This is payback. Before the start I knew what I could do and what I am capable of. And I wanted to profit from the course, to feel like I am moving forwards.”
Sadly for Meilhat, however, his sponsorship deal with SMA has concluded, putting him in the awkward position of leaving the Caribbean with the top Route du Rhum prize, but sans boat or sponsor to take on the next Vendee Globe, which starts on November 8, 2020. While this seems like a distant horizon, it’s not much time to design and build a boat and sufficiently develop the systems before lining up against the world’s best singlehanders.
Meilhat was joined on the IMOCA 60 results board by second-placed Yann Elies (FRA), sailing aboard UCAT-StMichel, and Thomson.
Meanwhile, there was also high drama in the Multi50 class, where skipper Lalou Roucayrol (FRA) capsized his Arkema some 1,000 miles east of Gaudaloupe. Roucayrol was eventually rescued by skipper Pierre Antoine (FRA), sailing aboard his RhumMulti Olmix, before transferring to a ocean-going tug that Roucayrol’s team hired to salvage his overturned trimaran.
Ultimately, Armel Tripon (FRA), sailing aboard Réauté Chocolat, took top Multi50 honors with an elapsed time of 11 days, seven hours, 32 minutes and 40 seconds, which was just two hours and 19 minutes off of the class record for the route (which was established in 2014 by Erwan Le Roux).
Attention now swings to the Class 40s, the RhumMulti, and the RhumMono classes.
In the Class 40s, Yoann Richomme, sailing aboard Veedol – AIC, is-at the time of this writing-just 9.2 nautical miles from the finishing line. (Michael Hennessy [USA], sailing aboard Dragon is currently siting in 12th place, with 1,052.7 miles separating his bows from a level horizon, while John Niewenhous [USA], sailing aboard Loose Fishhas retired from the course.)
In the RhumMulti class, Pierre Antoine (FRA), sailing aboard Olmix, crossed the finishing line with an elapsed time of 15 days, 21 hours, 15 minutes and 5 seconds to take top honors. He is followed some 554 miles astern by Jean-Francois Lilti, sailing aboard Ecole Diagonale Pour Citoyens Du Monde, and another (ballpark) 150 nautical miles in front of Etienne Hochede, sailing aboard PIR2, who is currently sitting in third place.
Finally, Volvo Ocean Race veteran Sidney Gavignet (FRA), who is sailing aboard Café Joyeux in the RhumMono class, has just 63.8 miles (again, at the time of this writing) to go before crossing the finishing line with a comfortable lead over his next fastest rival.
May the four winds blow you safely home.
by David Schmidt