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The Arkea Ultim Challenge - Brest, which starts from Brest, France, on Sunday, 7th, January, will be the first-ever solo race around the world on giant Ultim trimarans, the biggest and fastest ocean-going sailboats in the world.

There are many different round the world challenges under sail – solo and crewed – but this challenge sees six solo skippers preparing to push the boundaries of singlehanded racing to a new extreme.

Sailing around the world by boat was initially just done on monohulls.
It was Sir Robin Knox Johnston who really threw down the gauntlet when he won the Golden Globe Race in 1967, 313 days. But not long after that came the time of the multihulls, and the solo records have increasingly become the domain of the big multis.

Now, in Brest, some six years later, six sailors are getting ready to conquer the oceans singlehanded. The six competitors of the Arkea Ultim Challenge - Brest are Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild), Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3) Tom Laperche (SVR - Lazartigue), Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire XI), Anthony Marchand (Actual Ultim 3) and Éric Péron (ADAGIO) - subject to qualification.Now, in Brest, some six years later, six sailors are getting ready to conquer the oceans singlehanded. The six competitors of the Arkea Ultim Challenge - Brest are Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild), Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3) Tom Laperche (SVR - Lazartigue), Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire XI), Anthony Marchand (Actual Ultim 3) and Éric Péron (ADAGIO) - subject to qualification

Colas, forever the first

It was some 50 years ago, in 1973, that one man attempted the solo challenge aboard a multihull. The pioneer’s name was Alain Colas, and he retains an important place in sailing history, especially as he only discovered the sea at the age of 22, training alongside the legendary Éric Tabarly, from whom he bought the 1968 built 20.8m aluminium trimaran Pen Duick IV. Colas dreamed of being the first to complete a round-the-world passage on a multihull. He started at the same time as the competitors in the first Whitbread (the crewed round-the-world race with stops) Despite technical problems, carbon dioxide poisoning, a month-long stop in Sydney and crossing “the land of misery” as he described the Southern Oceans, he returned to Saint-Malo in 169 days

Thirteen years later, two different sailors set off to tackle this record: Philippe Monnet and Olivier de Kersauson. Monnet was the first to set off and got to the finish with two stops, but he lowered it by no less than 40 days. De Kersauson then also stopped twice and also got snared by the Doldrums but lowered the record by 4 days.

The 21st century, and the record drops all the time

Actually it is the 21st century when a meaningful solo non stop multihull record benchmark is set and the solo round the world challenge really gained momentum. After it was sailed fully crewed to the Trophée Jules Verne record as Sport Elec a few years earlier, Frances Joyon defied the sceptics in February 2004, sailing on the same powerful 90ft trimaran to become the first solo non-stop circumnavigator on a multihull when he laid down a record of 72 days 22hours. He set out looking to better Michel Desjoyeaux’s solo record of 93 days and smashed it.

After her Vendée Globe success British sailor Ellen MacArthur had built a 75ft trimaran to challenge for the all out record and went on to lower Joyon’s record by 32 hours. Joyon had IDEC II built and lowered the solo record to a seemingly remarkable 57 days 13 hours.

Then came Thomas Coville, who made no fewer than five attempts, including two complete circumnavigations, without breaking the record (2009, 2011) before he lowered the mark to 49 days 3hrs, finishing in Brest on Christmas Day 2016, declaring that "ten years of work have come to fruition". Coville had developed a formula for his setbacks: “I tried, I failed, I fell, I got up, I rebuilt myself”.

That record stood until 2017 when the 34-year-old François Gabart set the current record at 42 days, 16 hours, and 40 minutes on his first attempt. He had the winning touch, triumphing in the Vendée Globe (2013), the Route du Rhum (2014), the Transat Jacques Vabre (2015) and the Transat (2016). With sponsor Macif, he built a new boat: the cockpit is closed for the first time, the tri is much lighter (14 tonnes), and it is built for solo sailing. “In order to beat the record, you need good weather, luck and success,” explained Gabart on his arrival in Brest. He got all three and the record stands today.

Non stop records

  • 2017 42d 16h 40m 35 François Gabart (FRA) Macif Trimaran 100 ft, Finished 17/12 Still the second fastest outright circumnavigation time.
  • 2016 49d 3h 7m 38s Thomas Coville (FRA) Sodebo Ultim ( previously Geronimo) Trimaran 102 ft Finished on 25/12/2016. 

  • 2008 57d 13h 34m 06s Francis Joyon (FRA) IDEC 2 Trimaran 97 ft, Finished on 19/12/2008

  • 2005 71d 14h 18m 33s Ellen MacArthur (UK) B&Q/Castorama Trimaran 75 ft Finished 08/02
  • 2004 72d 22h 54m 22s Francis Joyon (FRA) IDEC (formerly Poulain) Trimaran

Now, in Brest, some six years later, six sailors are making ready to conquer the oceans singlehanded. Bear in mind record attempts inherently wait – often many weeks – for the perfect weather window, whereas the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE - Brest, in theory, starts on an arbitrary day at a fixed time, and so it is unlikely that Gabart’s record will be broken.

The six competitors of the Arkea Ultim Challenge - Brest

  • Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild)
  • Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3)
  • Tom Laperche (SVR - Lazartigue)
  • Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire XI)
  • Anthony Marchand (Actual Ultim 3)
  • Éric Péron (ADAGIO) - subject to qualification.

Five rules from the Sailing Instructions

The start line is kept open for 168 hours, and the finish line is closed after an elapsed time of 100 days after the start time, that is to say, 16th April 2024.

The skippers can communicate and exchange with their teams on shore, so they have the freedom to get weather information, be routed by their team on shore, and get technical help and advice to help with technical problems.

The solo skippers can stop but there are two distinct operations. A technical stop is unassisted and requires the sailor to drop anchor, take a mooring, or tie up alongside an anchored or moored boat with no external help. There is no time penalty for a technical stop. But for a technical stopover (escale technique) where one or more crew or technical team come on board to help there is a mandatory 24 hours minimum. This does not apply to the start port of Brest where all means are authorized to reach or leave the port within a radius of 50 miles.

For the first time in ocean racing zones where there are known to be a high concentration of whales and sea mammals are determined. Establishing these zones should both protect the marine wildlife and reduce the chance of a collision. These zones are established with Share The Ocean and are around the Azores, the Canaries, south of South Africa, the Kerguelens and parts of the Antarctic.

There are ice exclusion zones to protect the skippers and their boats.

Published in Ultim Challenge
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The weekly Global Sailing Highlights show, the World on Water, for the week ending December 22, 2023, features six "Giants of the Seas" to set off from Brest, with a solitary skipper on board, who will attempt to complete a circumnavigation of the world from West to East, via the three capes (Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn).

A human and technological challenge is carried by the sailors of the Ultim 32/23 Class accompanied by their shipowners and partners.

Some of them have already completed the journey in a multihull and single-handed: Francis Joyon, Dame Ellen MacArthur, Thomas Coville, François Gabart, notably as part of solo round-the-world record sailing campaigns, but no one has ever done it in a race!

Published in Maritime TV
Tagged under

After passing Madeira, out of a high-pressure ridge and speeding up in the trade winds on Thursday (2 November), the five Ultims on the Transat Jacques Vabre race from Le Havre to Martinique are now into good weather with pleasant seas.

The leaders are speeding south to the Cape Verde islands, which they were expected to pass on Friday (3 November).

Armel Le Cléac'h and Tom Laperche on Maxi Banque Populaire XI, which gained the lead yesterday off Madeira, is still in front clocking up speeds of around 35 knots and extending their lead.

In conditions that are ideal for higher speeds, the duos on are working hard to get the most out of their machines, which continue to impress everyone as they make their rapid passage down through the North Atlantic. In these trade winds, they can rely on the autopilot.

The chase is on as they head towards the doldrums, which they should reach on Saturday (4 November) on their way towards the islands of São Pedro and São Paulo, almost exactly in the middle of the Atlantic on the axis between the north-east corner of Brazil and Sierra Leone in Africa.

“The sun is coming up. It’s nice, as we are in our T-shirts with the little fan going in the bunk,” said Anthony Marchand aboard Actual Ultim 3. “We have 1.5m high waves with at least 20 knots of wind getting up to 25-27. The boat is speeding along at full pelt, dancing around and slamming down violently, which is her normal behaviour.” In spite of the relatively straightforward conditions, however, they need to be on high alert.

Stress at high speed

“There is a stressful aspect to this,” said Marchand, who has the support of Thierry Chabagny to keep up the pace set by the boats ahead, which are all capable of higher speeds because they are newer than their boat which was previously the first maxi tri Macif.

“Just now, we reached a peak speed of 40-45 knots. Everything vibrates and creaks. You can feel that the boat is working hard. She raises herself up on one float from time to time taking us high up on one hull. This means a lot of trimming and quite a bit of stress. We settle into the watch seat. We have a wheel, which we keep turning to control the trim. We are under autopilot and we take care of the altitude we fly at.”

In third place in the rankings, the pair on SVR Lazartigue — which lost the lead off Madeira — are still hard at work. At this point in the race to Martinique, with the gaps widening and narrowing as the Ultims advance, it is all down to the little details.

In permanent contact with Jean-Yves Bernot and their weather team in Concarneau, François Gabart and Tom Laperche — who are now just over 90 miles behind the leaders on Maxi Banque Populaire XI — have plenty to do. Particularly as Sodebo Ultim 3 is ready to pounce, too, very close in terms of distance to the next waypoint slightly off to the east.

“François and I are seeing each other more often, as the watches are shorter, so that we can stay alert,” said Laperche, who admitted that in this race where speed is all, finding a precise trajectory is the key factor. “At the moment, we are having a lot of discussions with the routers. We’re talking about the trade winds, how they vary. People often think that in the trade winds it is easy, and you don’t have to do much, but when they are variable, you need to gybe and manoeuvre.”

The tracker shows that aboard the blue giant, they were busy Friday morning tacking away to get in line with those in front as they head for the Cape Verde islands, in order to avoid the wind shadow and stay in the north-westerly winds blowing at around 20 knots.

712 miles in 24 hours

The fleet is clearly so much more closely matched than before. And now tactical plays are key, with the crews maintaining speeds of 30-35 knots without any apparent problems.

Charles Caudrelier and Erwan Israël would not disagree, as they are keeping up the pace in second place aboard Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. It is now a matter of dealing with attacks from those behind, while trying to cope with Banque Populaire XI getting away from them after covering 712 miles in the last 24 hours. Chasing and being chased at the same time, they have put their foot down on the gas.

Looking ahead to the Intertropical Convergence Zone that they should all be entering on Saturday more towards the west, this Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre is so far going smoothly for the five Ultim boats as time slips by with each passing island.

After Cape Verde, on Sunday (5 November) they are expected to pass São Pedro and São Paulo, the Brazilian islands in the middle of the Atlantic, which are quite close to the Equator. Yet more proof of just how quickly these flying maxi-multihulls are sailing.