There has been a huge upset in the race between the IMOCAs. Comfortably leading the Route du Rhum and on his way to a clear victory, British sailor, Alex Thomson ran aground last night at the foot of a cliff in the north of Grande-Terre (Guadeloupe), just 75 miles from the finish. To get his Hugo Boss out of this predicament and away from the rocks, the British skipper was forced to use his engine. While he was the first to cross the finish line at 1210hrs UTC this afternoon in Pointe-à-Pitre, Thomson then had to wait for the decision of the international jury, who gave him a penalty of 24 hours. This judgement cannot be appealed. Consequently, the closely fought duel between Paul Meilhat and Yann Eliès has probably turned into a race for victory. Earlier today, one of the giants of the IMOCA class, Jean-Pierre Dick gives us his comments on everything that has been happening.
“Alex Thomson sailing at full speed into a cliff… what an incredible incident in the race! He was probably suffering from something that hits all exhausted solo sailors at some point. They drift off a bit and fall asleep without being able to do anything about it. Maybe he fell asleep with the autopilot in real wind mode. If the wind shifted a little, it would have taken Hugo Boss towards the coast. It must be difficult for him to come to terms with that. We can but feel sympathy and regrets for Alex.
The good news is that he is not injured and that Hugo Boss can be repaired. Such a collision can do serious damage to the man and the boat. The bowsprit must have absorbed the shock acting like a safety fuse. The crash box (the forward section of the bow) fulfilled its role. The boat was able to complete the race in decent conditions. Alex was in fact quite lucky in this unfortunate incident.
“Even Hitchcock couldn’t have imagined such an ending”
Alex Thomson has a black cloud over his head. Whenever he is well placed to win a race, a major upset prevents him from doing so. He is having a hard time trying to win a major IMOCA race. Technically, he may yet be crowned. Alex crossed the finish line in first position and the jury will have to decide. It is the jury who will determine the outcome of this race. There are penalty scales, but it is bound to be hard to come to a decision in such a context. The skipper made a mistake, but then you might say he acted as a good sailor by trying to get his boat away from the coast. I don’t want to come up with all sorts of theories, and the final decision will be down to the members of the jury. I would not like to be in their place. Even Hitchcock couldn’t have imagined such a plot!
“Winning is everything”
It’s particularly strange as behind Alex, Paul Meilhat and Yann Eliès, who thought they were fight for second place, may be battling it out for victory. This changes the situation, as our dearly departed Michel Malinovsky said, “Winning is everything”. You can say whatever you like, but winning is what we are all aiming for.
I am of course closely watching Yann’s race aboard my former IMOCA. Yann made some good choices in the trade winds. He was particularly smart and managed to pick up winds that were a little stronger when he was close to the Canaries. After that he weaved his way up and down. But obviously one of the key factors was the speed of the boat, which has been able to express herself throughout the voyage down to Guadeloupe. Yann overtook Vincent Riou, who has been handicapped by problems with his wind instruments. And he is catching up Paul Meilhat, who is sailing at slightly lower angles , but also with slightly less speed. Yann appears to have found a good compromise. The deciding factor now will be the stretch leeward of Basse-Terre and the passage through the Saintes Channel.
“Battle of nerves between Paul Meilhat and Yann Eliès”
It is often believed that it all happens to the leeward side of the island. It is true that it is complicated to pass the Basse-Terre buoy. But that is not the end of the matter. There can be major upsets in the final stretch, as we saw with François Gabart and Francis Joyon. They need to watch out for the many fishing nets in the area. Each time I was in that area, I got something caught up in the rudders and keel.
This is going to be an incredible battle. Paul has a boat from a generation allowing him to have a slightly taller mast, so potentially should be more at ease in lighter conditions. But it may all be down to that extra puff of air, so Yann is in with every chance still. There is nothing certain about the outcome of this duel. Both of these lads know all about close contact sailing. They need to give it their all now, while keeping a clear head to be able to take the right decisions and avoid having any regrets. They need to believe in it right up until the end. It’s a battle of nerves!”
Some of Jean-Pierre Dick’s achievements in the IMOCA class:
– Twice winner of the Barcelona World Race (in 2008 and 2011)
– Four times winner of the Transat Jacques Vabre (in 2003, 2005, 2011 and 2017)
– Four attempts at the Vendée Globe (4th in 2013 and 2017, 6th in 2005)
– Two attempts at the Route du Rhum (3rd in 2006, 4th in 2010)