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Ultim Challenge: The Optimism of Le Cléac’h, the Prudence of Caudrelier

18th February 2024
Ultim Challenge race leader Charles Caudrelier may slow down to optimise his timing to account for a complicated low-pressure weather situation at the end of next week
Ultim Challenge race leader Charles Caudrelier may slow down to optimise his timing to account for a complicated low-pressure weather situation at the end of next week

After having to pitstop in Rio because of the loss of two of his rudders, third-placed Ultim Challenge skipper Armel Le Cléac'h is hopeful of returning to the race course sometime today.

At the end of the day yesterday, the boss of Le Cléac'h’s Banque Populaire team, Ronan Lucas, explained that two replacement rudders were “in transit”, confirming that he is hopeful that Le Cléac’h would be able to leave this Sunday.

At the same time, as he moves into his last week of racing, Ultim Challenge race leader Charles Caudrelier is particularly cautious. He may slow down to optimise his timing to account for a complicated low pressure weather situation at the end of next week.

“Our goal is to finish. If we manage to leave again, that will make up for the disappointment,” explained Armel Le Cléac’h when he arrived in Rio de Janeiro. “With the Banque Populaire team, we are quite confident in our ability to get Maxi Banque Populaire XI back on the course.”

Interviewed yesterday on the race’s Ultim Live show, Ronan Lucas, team director, explained,

“I am hopeful that Armel will be able to leave”.

Two rudders are being transported by the team to the Brazilian port. “These are substantial pieces, it was not easy to get them to Brazil,” he explained, thanking the French Embassy in Brazil and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for facilitating their task. Now everyone is working hard so that the multihull can set off again as quickly as possible, perhaps as early as today, Sunday.

“If he wants to stay in the match for second place with Thomas (Coville), he needs to be able to leave today,” underlines Guillaume Rottee, the race director. “The sooner he leaves, the less significant the gap with Sodebo Ultim 3 will be.”

In the middle of last night Thomas Coville returned to second place. After having bypassed a small depression barring his course. Coville is climbing towards the Equator and will start to hook into the trade winds which are not very strong. His passage across the Equator might be next Thursday.

“I only have one fear, that this will stop” (Caudrelier)

Charles Caudrelier is expected next Friday at the finish line in Brest. But the skipper of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is staying very cautious: “I only have one fear, and that is that this will stop,” he said on the Ultim Live show. “We deserve the race win but we have to finish it.”

He talked about living with a sword of Damocles hanging over him, he worries about fatigue and wear and tear of the boat and equipment.

“My boat is not perfect, I had problems which I will show you soon,” he revealed. “I'm flying but not as well, the appendages are damaged, the aerodynamics are not perfect. We're at 80%.”

“This prudence on Charles part is completely normal and does not surprise me at all,” explains Guillaume Rottee. “We know that in a fraction of seconds, everything can change or stop. The race will only be won when he crosses the line. The risk of material damage is increased to the extent that the boats are all very tired. We must not forget that the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild had never sailed so far.”

Caudrelier will have to be vigilant especially as he will have to face complicated weather before the finish with strong northwesterly winds. The skipper of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild spoke of a Bay of Biscay with eight metre seas and 40 knots of wind. “ I’m not going there with my boat.” He could wait for the depression to pass before him, as he had done before Cape Horn.

“The Azores anticyclone blocks his path and to his north, there are low pressure trains,” explains Rottee. “Either he crosses the anticyclone as quickly as possible and he will have no wind, or he goes out west to bypass it but that takes him closer to this particularly bad low pressure system. So as to look after his boat and himself Charles could decide to slow down next Tuesday or Wednesday.”

In the Pacific, more than 8,000 miles further west, Anthony Marchand (Actual Ultim 3) and Éric Péron (ULTIM ADAGIO) continue their progress. The situation still favours Péron who is advancing on the leading edge of a front while Marchand is in lighter breeze. And so the ULTIM ADAGIO continues to gain ground on their rival. Less than 600 miles on the direct route now separate them and the gap should narrow further, although Actual Ultim 3 should accelerate again as Marchand approaches Cape Horn. Éric shares his humor: in a video yesterday, he put a video of a roaring fireplace fire on his computer, saying “It’s warming up a little, we’re fully equipped for the big South!”

Published in Ultim Challenge
Andi Robertson

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Andi Robertson

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Andi Robertson is an international sailing journalist based in Scotland

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About the Ultim Challenge

The ULTIM CHALLENGE – Brest, which starts from Brest, France on Sunday, 7 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.

The inaugural 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)
  • Éric Péron (ADAGIO) - subject to qualification.