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Another tough night on the solo race track to the Caribbean

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The Bay of Biscay and waters of the western Atlantic have dealt another beating to the smaller boats of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe fleet
The Bay of Biscay and waters of the western Atlantic have dealt another beating to the smaller boats

The Bay of Biscay and waters of the western Atlantic have dealt another beating to the smaller boats of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe fleet during the fourth night of racing, with 45-50kt gusts reported by fatigued Class40 skippers. 

While the Class40 fleet are relishing the thought of finally escaping the succession of three malicious Atlantic depressions, knowing they have a fourth in store, the race-leading ULTIMEs have broken into modest, unsettled trade winds nearly 900 nautical miles further south at the latitude of the Canary Islands. 

The fleet is now spread far and wide from François Gabart’s pace-setting MACIF all the way back to Dominque Dubois, the boss of the Multiplast yard which built two of the ULTIME raceboats, racing on through the storms on his 57ft one–off, Gheo. This morning Dubois is still at the latitude of La Rochelle with more than 3,000 miles to go to the finish. 

Gabart’s night’s work on MACIF has been productive in the first of the northeasterly trade winds. In 12-15kts of irregular breezes the ever-consistent French superstar had the better of a spell up to just before dawn, finally easing to over 100 miles ahead of his tenacious rival Francis Joyon on IDEC Sport.  

The Multi50 fleet leaders continue to have an impressively close race whilst belying many expectations that they would not be up to the brutal conditions predicted for the early stages of a classic Rhum. They, too, saw 45-50kts during the frontal passage in the early hours of this morning, 400 miles west of Cape Finisterre. 

It is largely a two-sided contest at the front of the class which still has six boats racing from six starters. As they pass the latitude of Porto, the duel is between newcomer to the division, Thibaut Vauchel-Camus, the consistent leader on the new Solidaires en Peloton-Arsep and Erwan Le Roux on FenêtréA-Mix Buffet, the winner of the 2014 Multi50 race and three-times winner of the Transat Jacques Vabre. 

In fifth place Thierry Bouchard sustained damage to the mainsail headboard car which was ripped off the mast track in a 55-knot squall. He is sailing under headsail only on his Ciela Village, heading east and awaiting advice from his shore team. 

In the IMOCA fleet meanwhile, Alex Thomson may have lost miles to his nearest rivals as he races more directly south, but his objective is choosing the best line through a messy transition around an expansive Azores high pressure zone of light airs. This is always a high wire act. Too far to the west, close to the anticyclone’s centre and the British skipper would be in lighter airs and potentially lose his hard won miles. 

The skipper of Hugo Boss is still around 60 miles ahead of Paul Meilhat on SMA, but the British sailor has confidence in his speed edge racing downwind during the second half of the course and so will bide his time. The younger former Figaro ace Meilhat is the biggest threat short-term. His non-foiling IMOCA is highly optimised as a result of working with Michel Desjoyeaux’s Mer Agitée team, but without foils it should be no match for Hugo Bossin the trade winds. 

Germany’s Boris Herrmann is up to third place by virtue of his westerly track on Malizia II-Monaco Yacht Club. On his first solo IMOCA ocean race, the three-time circumnavigator Herrmann has sailed an assured race so far on the Yacht Club of Monaco IMOCA. Herrmann’s course looks like he will pass close to the Azores though his speed is lower than the two leaders. 

Yoann Richomme holds the most westerly course as he leads Class40 by 20 miles on Veedol-AIC, lined up nicely with second and third-placed Phil Sharp and Americ Chappelier following in his wake. British hope Sharp, twice class champion in Europe on IMERYS CLEAN ENERGY, has eked out a few miles ahead of his perennial rival Chappelier (Aina Enfance Et Avenir) in an Anglo-French duel that is one of the most engaging head-to-heads in the race.  

Mediterranean veteran Kito de Pavant is playing the long game on Made in Midi. His more conservative, easterly route sees him in contention in fourth place, but looking forward to the better weather ahead. 

“We still took a beating last night,” De Pavant told this morning’s radio calls from Saint Malo. “It was painful to be in the front, the seas were very difficult, I broke my J2 and so I am going slow under storm jib. I am often slower than my rivals but I hope that I will be able to make some miles back today. 

“We were expecting 50 knots behind the front but it has been a little less than expected, averaging 30 knots. It will drop a little but, hey, this is normal for winter in the Atlantic. After this last front things should ease off a bit and get nicer and we will forget this appetiser of the Route du Rhum 2018.

“I am pretty happy with the way it’s gone, happy with my southerly route, I wanted to be away from big wind and sea conditions. I am getting tired because it is impossible to sleep in these sea conditions in these little boats. When you get hit by a big one it is awful, you feel you will bend into two. Ahead now it is alright up to the trade winds.”

Alan Roura IMOCA (La Fabrique): “It is going well off Lisbon. The wind is very unstable both in strength and in direction, but we are going OK and so I am happy. We are getting out of the worst and the winds should ease. There is a lot happening behind and so I am glad to be getting out of it. I am a little tired but nonetheless I am going well. And tonight we should get into lighter winds and that should be a bit more relaxing, so that is good. 

“There is a big transition phase which will be sticky and so it will not be easy to get down to the trade winds. We have suffered enough and so have our boats. My boat is fine, a few little things to deal with, but to have been through what we have and have the boat in this condition is great. And I am OK too even if it was hard to manage sometimes.”