Six months ago Paul Meilhat (SMA) was airlifted off his boat to the Azores and hospitalised after fracturing his pelvis and rib during a sail change in big seas during the Transat St Barth/Port-La-Forêt. His yacht was located in the Atlantic by Marcus Hutchinson and towed into Crookhaven and repaired in Kinsale. Today the 34-year-old Vendée Globe rookie from Brest finished in 4th place in the inaugural 2016 New York – Vendée (Les Sables d’Olonne) Race.
Meilhat crossed the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne this morning at 09:59:27 (French time). He covered the course in 10 days 12 hrs 19 mins and 27 seconds. He finished 19 hours 21 minutes and 35 seconds behind the winner, Jérémie Beyou, (Maître CoQ).
Meilhat sailed 3,682 miles at an average speed of 14.59 knots. The theoretical racecourse was 3,100 miles, but Meilhat has sailed the furthest of the finishers so far, 220 miles more than Beyou.
He has just completed his first two solo Transats in an IMOCA in just over a month - after racing to New York in The Transat – and has finished fourth in both.
“We’ve done two transats in just over a month – that’s happiness,” he said. “I still have work to do but I’m starting to have fun. The mid-Atlantic was true to its reputation with strong winds, and having to manage a depression. That was something I hadn’t done before and it will resemble what we’ll be going through in a few months in the South Seas (for the Vendée Globe).”
SMA is the former Macif, which smashed the Vendée Globe record in 2012-13. It is the first non-foiling boat home – foilers have won the last three transatlantic races now – and was never quite able to keep pace with the lead group of three, who finished yesterday. But given his relative inexperience, and recent trauma, he sailed his own race impressively. He has been alone, sometimes separated by over 150 miles, since he moved into 4th place on Saturday as Vincent Riou (PRB) and Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives Coeur) suffered technical problems.
The group chasing him have had to take a similarly northern route up to the Brittany coast, in glassy flat seas and erratic winds, before they descend to Les Sables d’Olonne. At the 13:00 UTC ranking, Riou, in 5th, led de Lamotte by 22 miles, with Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh) a further 30 miles back. Today’s easterly winds will rotate north in the night and northwest tomorrow and will be fluky to the finish, so nobody will be relaxing quite yet.
“It’s amazing, we’re all battling it out together,” de Lamotte said. “Kojiro really surprised me, the way he’s sailed so cleanly, he’s got good speed for not having the boat for so long. It’s a great performance for him. I’m quite used to the light winds – and it is summertime in the Bay of Biscay. I did six tacks yesterday, which was really demanding, but it’s quite fun getting the boat going.”
Riou is predicted to arrive anywhere between 04:00 and 10:00 on Friday morning with the other two coming in between 12:00 and 17:00. And Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest - Matmut), in 8th keeps eating up the miles, making another 25 so far today to come within 35 of Shiraishi.
“I’ve got 3 knots of south-east wind at the moment and I really, really, really want a Code 0, can you send me one? Will the Race Office allow that?” Shiraishi asked plaintively earlier. “I think it’s the same for everyone out here. If I had a Code 0 maybe I could compete with Tanguy, but I’ve got an A3 up…”
500 miles behind them, in the battle of the wounded boats, Morgan Lagravière (Safran) leads Yann Eliès (Quéguiner – Leucémie Espoir) by just 10 miles and has gybed away toward the north coast of Spain. After the gamble of heading deep south of the Azores did not pay out, Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel - Virbac), keeps losing ground and is now almost 90 miles behind Eliès. But the race is not over and the gaps are likely to reduce in the coming days. Their westerly wind is forecast to gradually turn south-west and then ease off for their arrivals, which are now predicted to be overnight on Saturday and into Sunday.
Behind them the two backmarkers are finally into a good stride, with south-westerlies driving them up to 18 knots, as they try to stay ahead of a front as long as possible. Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) is just 5 miles behind Conrad Colman (100% Natural Energy). They are predicted to arrive on Sunday in the late afternoon.