The second Cape for Caudrelier, a slender hope for Tom Laperche
At the start of this Thursday evening, Charles Caudrelier should be the first skipper on the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE – Brest to cross Cape Leeuwin, and in so doing should shatter François Gabart’s 2017 record by more than a day. Much further away, in Cape Town, Anthony Marchand should arrive tonight. There he will be met by his team and that of SVR-Lazartigue who communicated today. “There is a small possibility of continuing” assures Tom Laperche.
Caudrelier is quietly and efficiently maintaining an impressive average speed to the point that is would be all too easy to overlook his achievement so far. On a race like this one can become preoccupied with damage and the daily battles to keep going, especially in the chilly wastes of the Southern Ocean where man does not really belong. But Caudrelier is enjoying his passage, not least taking his giant, Verdier designed 32m ULTIM around a 12 or 13 gate slalom course of gybes along the Antarctic Exclusion Zone over the last 24 hours.
On the cusp of a new record at Cape Leeuwin
While most of his rivals have all had to deal with significant technical problems, Caudrelier continues to go well, steady and constant in his efforts, and all the time taking care of himself and his machine. “He must be very tired out there,” Guillaume Rottee the race director laughed this morning.
“It was very active with all these manoeuvrers in a very unstable wind, you have to trim the sails all the time and it’s not easy,” confided Caudrelier, skipper of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild yesterday.
He has been sailing NE closing a bit to the Australian coast. Early this evening he is preparing to pass Cape Leeuwin. In all likelihood, Caudrelier should smash the record held since 2017 by François Gabart. His time between Ushant and Cape Leeuwin was 19 days, 14 hours and 10 minutes, which until now has been the solo reference time. And bear in mind that Macif skipper Gabart took a much more southerly course back then than the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. Caudrelier should be around one day ahead of Gabart’s mark.
Tom Laperche: “We did something exceptional and we have to remember that to bounce back.”
At the same time, more than 3,800 miles further West, the reality is very different for Tom Laperche. In a press release published at the end of the morning, SVR-Lazartigue reviewed the situation.
After suffering damage to the main daggerboard and the daggerboard case whilst lying in second place on the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest, the first solo round-the-world race for Ultims, Tom Laperche and the Trimaran SVR – Lazartigue arrived in Cape Town at the beginning for the week. The entire technical team are on site and are now taking time to study all the possible options over the next few days. A week after hitting an unidentified object on the night of Wednesday to Thursday, 1300 miles from the Cape of Good Hope, the Trimaran SVR-Lazartigue is now in Cape Town which is a relief for all as the major damage to the daggerboard caused a serious ingress of water at the level of the daggerboard well.
The damage to SVR-Lazartigue the Arkéa Ultim Challenge – Brest – photo © Guillaume Gatefait
And the four days of hard sailing needed to reach Cape Town were particularly tough with 30 knots of wind and heavy seas. Once near the port, Laperche then had to wait a little longer as there was much too much wind, and too much sea to allow the tech team to get on board. After a long wait, five members of the MerConcept team were able to get on board the giant blue trimaran to meet up with Tom Laperche. There were some big hugs and high emotions, but not many words. There was little to say:. “You made us dream, Tom,” said one of the team members to the skipper, who had been leading the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest for a long time and was still at the front of the pack at the time of the collision.
Since Tuesday morning the team have been to assessing the extent and severity of the damage and to study the various options.
Tom, how are you?
“I’m not really great to be honest but it’s okay. It’s better than just after the collision and the ensuing 24 hours were complicated from a morale point of view. As time went on, it all got a little better, I tried to think about something else, to remember the good moments at the beginning of the race. Looking ahead to what’s next also helped. Even if it’s hard to get my head out of it, you can’t just spend your time forever ruminating and lamenting what could have been. And during the four days it took to reach Cape Town, I regained my confidence because I could see that it wasn’t getting worse and that I was going to get there. It was do-able because even though the central hull was ripped open and full of water, there were still two floats on each side and the boat was not going to sink. But I was especially anxious not to damage the boat further. It was still nerve-wracking because the motion of the boat were very peculiar. There was between 5 and 8 tonnes of water! The damaged area is made of carbon and all the parts were no longer that well secured. It all made really weird creaking noises as soon as there was a bit of wind and waves. Anway I managed to preserve it until the end. We are now well into the diagnosis of the boat, the preparation for the lift out of the water, and reflecting on what we can do. I’m all surrounded by a good team. We all have a very strong bond of friendship with one other. There is bound to be a lot of disappointment all round, but we are in a good spirit.
Tom Laperche on the ULTIM SVR Lazartigue during the Arkea Ultim Challenge – Brest – photo © Guillaume Gatefait
Do you have any idea of the cause of this crash?
It’s always hard to know because it’s going fast and you can’t see what you’re hitting. And it was dark and at the speeds I was doing we quickly moved away from the area. The shock was quite brutal and hard. It did a lot of damage. I’m more thinking it might be container. I don’t feel like it was an animal, although we can’t be 100% sure. Obviously, if that’s the case, it’s painful. As sailors, we are sensitive to the environment around us. This year, the race organizer has even defined exclusion zones that we cannot cross into because many cetaceans are counted there. KRESK, the owner of the Trimaran, has also created a Kresk4Oceans fund which acts for the protection of the oceans. I am obviously also very sensitive to this cause. I had never been confronted with a crash that destroyed my boat. It’s super hard for you and your boat. It is even often said that the boat has a soul. For me that’s kind of true. You resonate with it, you have feelings for her and you even talk with it from time to time. We need to make more progress on systems for detecting animals and objects in the water. It’s not easy, but it’s essential. Especially since we now have faster and faster boats and the energy is proportionately more and so the crashes are inherently greater and more destructive.
You’ve said that this is the hardest time of your life…
Of course, we can always put things in perspective when it comes to life. But on a personal level, in everything I’ve done, it’s clearly the hardest moment. I’m only 26 years old but I’ve already done a lot of things. Over the past few years, everything has gone really well in all areas. Whether it was in family relationships, friendships, in the sports project, in studies, everything has gone very well. This is a first failure. Of course, I hope there won’t be more, but I suspect it will happen again. I received a lot of messages. A lot of people told me it would make me stronger. It’s building and strengthening me for later, that’s for sure. But right now there is not much at the moment to make the disappointment dissipate.
SVR-Lazartigue (Tom Laperche) arrives in Brest for the start of the Arkea Ultim Challenge, January 6, 2034 – photo © Alexis Courcoux
Do you have a sense of injustice?
There’s a little bit of a sense of injustice because if I had pass two centimeters either side you continue on your way. A round the world race is a big thing and damage is part of ocean racing. And more generally, things that we don’t control, such as the weather, the mechanics and there, this are crashes. This part of the unknown is also what is attractive and makes us want to do something that makes us dream. And I think we’ve managed to make a lot of people dream.
We want to go all the way. Continuing is a small possibility. It’s not easy. When I saw the damage, I immediately knew it was going to be complicated. I didn’t want to believe it. Several times during the 24 hours after the collision, I told myself that I was going to find a solution to continue this race. I wanted to fight. I went back to look, I opened all the hatches, I bent down to observe this daggerboard well, but I could see that it was huge and that I must focus on trying to reach Cape Town. And yet I kept going back to try to find a solution. Eventually, I came to terms with the facts.
It’s important to understand that here in Cape Town, nothing is easy. We have an Ultim for which it’s hard to find a big space. You have to find the right crane, have the permits, the logistics, nothing is easy. We work a lot with local knowledge but it’s not easy. It’s not going as fast as we’d hoped, but we’re fighting and putting a lot of energy into it.
What are the options?
There is the small possibility to continue. Otherwise, either return the boat by cargo ship or repair it quickly with a kind of bandage to make the boat watertight and bring it back by sea at reduced speed without daggerboard.
In any case, I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do. We managed to launch the boat two days before the start of the round-the-world race, and to be at the top of our performance from the start of the race. We have always been at the front of the pack and had ten days at the head of the fleet. The whole team can be proud. This accident happened but no one made a mistake or did a bad job. We did something exceptional and we have to remember that to bounce back.
Follow the race tracking on www.arkeaultimchallengebrest.com/en
by Arkea Ultim Challenge – Brest