After a big night in fierce headwinds and rough seas off the northwest corner of Spain, Jérémie Beyou on Charal has been forced to turn round and head back towards Les Sables d’Olonne.
Beyou set sail as the widely-regarded favourite for this ninth edition of the Vendée Globe, but an impact by a floating object on one of his rudders and various other problems forced the triple winner of the Solitaire du Figaro to head for port.
The decision is a huge blow for Beyou who came into the race in arguably the most well-proven of the new generation of foiling IMOCAs after winning the Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne Race and the Défi Azimut 48 Hours.
The damage to Charal occurred as the fleet tackled a big frontal system off Cape Finisterre that saw the boats pounding to windward in winds gusting to 40 knots and confused seas.
Charal is not the only boat with issues. Armel Tripon on L’Occitane en Provence was heading to the Spanish coast to sort out a broken halyard lock, but finally, having evaluated all possible technical solutions to replace the J3 Hook with the technical team of the boat, Armel Tripon resumed his route having secured his mast; he will wait until light conditions to proceed with the repair at sea.
This morning too, Kevin Escoffier on PRB was coping with a large ingress of water as a result of a faulty valve on the self-draining system of one of the boat’s foil casings.
The race remains poised at a fascinating stage with the nominal leader once again Maxime Sorel on V And B Mayenne who is part of a group of mainly non-foiling yachts that headed inshore past the Finisterre Traffic Separation Scheme to try to avoid the worst of the sea conditions in the frontal system.
But the real battle for the initiative looks to be continuing 175 nautical miles northwest of Sorel where Thomas Ruyant on LinkedOut is now leading a tight group of three boats that are hammering southwards in a northwesterly air flow. Ruyant is being chased by Sébastien Simon on ARKEA PAPREC and Louis Burton on Bureau Vallée 2 who are both within 25 miles of him.
To leeward, and also looking good, are three more foilers led by Charlie Dalin’s APIVIA who has Alex Thomson on HUGO BOSS close by to windward and Escoffier not far behind. About 25 miles astern of Dalin, Sam Davies on Initiatives-Coeur looks to be the well-placed too.
The weather picture has been complex and challenging and in the next few days that pattern looks set to continue as the leaders focus on crossing a patch of light airs and then have to make a big strategic decision on how to deal with Tropical Storm Theta. This is currently blocking the direct route south and is centered about 700 miles west of Funchal in Madeira.
Marcel Van Triest who has been working with several of the Vendée Globe skippers in the build-up to the race – among them both Beyou and Escoffier – says the first thing the sailors need to focus on is not getting trapped in light airs to the west of the Atlantic trough.
“The goal is to get south as quickly as possible because the high fills in behind this trough,” he told the IMOCA website earlier today. “The brief I gave my guys is, once you get through the trough, it is a complete change of mindset because it is all about getting south first before it goes light coming out of the west. Once you’ve cleared that high, then you can start worrying about the next low.”
As regards Theta, Van Triest believes the leading boats will have no option but to roll over the top of the system in favourable and strong northeasterlies and, in doing so, sail more miles to the west to link up with the northwest trade winds. He does not see a viable route to the east of the storm system.
“If you try to go to the east, then you are putting yourself in the path of harms way basically, because if the system comes a little bit further your way, then all of a sudden, you’ve got very strong upwind conditions,” said Van Triest. “If you go around the top and you see it get deeper or its nasty, you can always go further east and get away from it.”
Escoffier sent perhaps the most interesting video to come from the boats overnight. On the face of it looks as though PRB is full of water, but the former Volvo Ocean Race winner, who is one of the most self-sufficient sailors on the pro solo scene, seems far from concerned.
“It is ‘option Jacuzzi’ this morning,” said Escoffier. “I realised when I was doing my morning check up front, it is easy to see what the problem is and, et voila, I am mopping up. I don’t know how it happened; I am sure I did not kick it…in five knots it would be easy to fix but not in 40, but in an hour I will tack and do it on starboard tack.”
The British sailor Pip Hare, who is in 29th position on Medallia, offered a graphic description of life on board as she tackled the rough conditions off northwest Spain. She said this experience was a sharp reminder that sailing around the world in this Vendée Globe is not going to be, as she put it, a “walk in the park.”
“It’s sort of strange to be sitting here, typing away while the world rages around outside,” she wrote in an email from on board. “The wind is gusting up to 38 knots at the moment, the sea state is quite aggressive and we are slamming into waves, causing the whole boat to judder. I’m down to three reefs and the no 3, no storm jib yet, as we are driving nicely with this set up, but it’s at the top of the stack ready to come out.”
Photo Credit : Gauthier Lebec / Charal
– Ed Gorman/ IMOCA –