As he finished third in the highly competitive Class40 division of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe solo transatlantic race, British skipper Phil Sharp did all he could to hide his feelings.
The smiles and jokes with the media and VIPs who greeted the skipper of Imerys Clean Energy after arriving at the dock in Pointe-à-Pitre masked acute disappointment.
After a two-week head-to-head match race against French rival Aymeric Chapellier on Aina Enfance et Avenir, Sharp was coming to terms with having lost second place only in the final hours of the 3,542-nautical mile race which started from Saint Malo on November 4th.
“Maybe it will feel better tomorrow, but not right now,” Sharp grimaced. “To have been second for most of the race and then lose it like that hurts for sure. I set out with the aim of being on the podium and soon realised that the win was out of reach but I was second for so long, but I am on the podium in the end.”
The intensity of the Anglo-French duel reprises most of their encounters in offshore races over the last two years. “Thanks for ruining my day today,” Sharp quipped when Chapellier, 38, climbed on board to give the 37-year-old Jersey skipper a hug and compare races.
“As soon as we were out of the channel and we were lined up together I thought, ‘here we are again, this is how it’s going to be,’” Sharp recalled
Chapellier, who has now beaten Sharp in two successive transatlantic races, passed the English skipper only on the approach to Guadeloupe. As the trade winds eased the French skipper’s newer more powerful boat proved quicker.
But Sharp admitted that losing his main autopilot on just the third day of racing had compromised his race, particularly towards the end when he was brutally tired and the autopilot lost control of his yacht several times.
And Sharp’s luck deserted him during the final circuit of Basse Terre before the finish. Whilst in other such duels leads have been overturned, in the moderate easterly winds and sunshine, it was plain sailing to the finish for Chapellier who crossed the line one hour and 45 minutes before his British opponent.
“Aymeric really pushed me. It was great to have someone to keep you on your toes all the way. But I knew from day three this would be a match race to the bitter end. He kept coming back every time and in the end the transition into the island suited his set up better,” concluded Sharp who finished nine hours and 39 minutes behind Class40 division winner Yoann Richomme on Veedol-AIC.
While the top-three Class40 skippers all have justified aspirations to move on to the next level in the Vendée Globe, achieving overall victory in the Rhum Mono division on his 50ft Café Joyeaux was the perfect sign-off to Sidney Gavignet’s 25 years of professional racing. Gavignet finished more than 140 miles ahead of the IMOCA 60 of Sébastien Destremau who should claim second place today.
Having raced round-the-world in 1993 with Eric Tabarly, Gavignet won the Volvo Ocean Race in 2005-6, raced in the America’s Cup challenger series and latterly sailed MOD70 and ULTIME maxi multihulls. Now 49, he hangs up his seaboots setting his sights on a business coaching career, having taken time out from his Masters in business to do the race.
Gavignet, who had to be rescued in the Atlantic from his damaged maxi trimaran in 2010, said of this race: “It is not a course for beginners, it is not a course for amateurs. And it is hard and it is dangerous in the multihulls. I started this project only in June and it took a lot of energy, a lot of work to get here. But here I am; I am glad to finish here. It is a good way to finish. It is super to win the Class Rhum. I was happy in this boat.”
He added: “I enjoyed the tough parts. The trade winds were not so easy because I broke my fractional spinnaker and so I could not push the boat the way I wanted to. It is shame because this boat is just asking to be pushed hard. I have no regrets about stopping my professional sailing career. I am happy to win. It is a long course that I am stopping now but it is time to have a change of life. I am proud of myself and proud of the things I have done. But this is a good note to move on from.”
On his sixth Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe French round-the-world record star Thomas Coville took third in the ULTIME class, bringing Sodebo Ultim across the finish line at 20:46.35 UTC yesterday.
After cracks appeared in the crossbeam and a fairing of his giant trimaran within 24 hours of the start, Coville had to stop in La Coruna where his five-man team worked for 100 hours to repair Sodebo. He finishes third more than nine days after winner Francis Joyon, admitting that re-starting the race was an especially tough challenge:
“To start again was the most difficult thing mentally I have ever done,” Coville announced in Pointe-à-Pitre. “I did it for this extraordinary team, for my sponsor, but most of all because in our sport it is what we do. We finish. We get to the end.”
Despite race-ending damage to two of the giant ULTIMEs, including a capsize for Armel Le Cleac’h, Coville – who has a new boat in build – insists there is a bright future for the class in the foiling era.
“When Armel capsized it made all the more sense to repair my boat and go on, so that there are three ULTIMEs at the finish. There is nothing more extraordinary than sailing on board these boats at 38 knots, on a foil. We are building the future. Soon we will race around the planet with boats like this.”