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Paul Meilhat’s IMOCA victory in the Route du Rhum over the weekend is all the sweeter as he achieved it in the same boat he’d feared lost on an earlier transatlantic crossing almost three years ago.

The French yachtsman had been airlifted off SMA on 15 December 2015 and the 60-footer SMA was abandoned in the Azores — though it drifted towards Ireland in the following weeks and was eventually recovered some 100 miles off the coast and berthed in Crookhaven.

“It’s amazing to think that our efforts three years ago to recover that boat against pretty tough odds have now resulted in the boat and Paul winning the Route du Rhum,” says Kinsale-linked offshore specialist Marcus Hutchinson, who was Paul’s project manager for the first three years of his IMOCA campaign.

Meilhat Paul Meilhat (SMA) Route du Rhum's winner Photo: Alexis Courcoux

“He was a successful Figaro sailor when he turned to the IMOCA scene then and is now clearly in the top flight there, too,” Marcus adds.

Despite that serious incident in 2015, which left Paul with a fractured pelvis, Marcus said the Frenchman only grew with confidence over the years he was in charge of the project.

That was most obvious when, before a keel ram failure forced retirement in January last year, Paul sailed his way into third place in the Vendée Globe without the foils and newer boat technology employed by the rest of the field since his boat, in the hands of Francois Gabard, previously won that circumnavigation challenge.

Later in the year, Paul secured second in the Transat Jacques Vabre, again putting his foiling competitors to shame. It was at this time that his boat’s sponsor SMA decided to withdraw from offshore racing, meaning the most recent 12 months would be the last under their livery.

It’s quite the capper on that relationship that Paul has sailed SMA to victory in the Route du Rhum, says Marcus.

“I’m very happy for the team. I’m no longer a part of that group, but it is a small world and we see each other almost every day. Paul’s boat captain, for example, is a lodger in my house.”

Looking closer to home, Marcus sees the achievements of people like Paul Meilhat as an inspiration for Irish sailors with offshore ambitions, particularly with a new Olympic class on the cards for Paris in 2024.

“Irish offshore sailing is pretty well placed to step up to the next level and prepare to be competitive in 2024,” he says. “The kind of boat that will be used for that regatta is not really relevant to understanding and improving at the top end of offshore racing.

“The racing circuit in France, with the super competitive Figaro circuit in particular, is the place to be if you have any ambitions. Joan Mulloy and Tom Dolan are currently fundraising in Ireland for next year’s Figaro circuit and potentially an Irish stopover for that race, too.”

Marcus adds that 50 Figaro Beneteau 3s have already been sold and will be released in January.

“I have two of them in my academy. These are the platforms to train on. Anyone who has ambitions for 2024 should start to consider getting involved in this type of racing.”

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French solo skipper Paul Meilhat at the helm of SMA was crowned the unexpected winner of the IMOCA class in the 2018 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe solo transatlantic race today from Saint Malo in Brittany to Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe.

The 36-year-old French yachtsman from Lorient took the race win after benefitting from a 24-hour time penalty imposed on British sailor Alex Thomson who crossed the finish line first on Friday morning on Hugo Boss while holding a margin over Meilhat of more than 140 nautical miles.

However, the British sailor who had led the race almost from the start on November 4th, was penalised for using his engine to extricate himself from a rocky headland some 70 miles from the finish line of the 3,542-mile single-handed race which is staged every four years.

When Paris-born Meilhat crossed the finish line himself at 20:23:18 local time (01:23:18CET today) after enduring some frustrating calms on the west side of the Basse Terre island, he had been at sea for 12 days, 11 hours 23 minutes. More importantly he was some 11 hours and 48 minutes inside the British skipper’s total elapsed time, that included the 24-hour penalty.

This is the biggest career win for Meilhat who started in sailing in Laser and 49er dinghies and has previously won the Transat AG2R La Mondiale double-handed transatlantic race alongside Gwénolé Gahinet. He retired from the last Vendée Globe in 2016 while in third place in the southern Pacific and a year before that had to be rescued from his boat in mid-Atlantic after suffering serious rib and pelvic injures during a storm.

This win in the 11th edition of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe comes at a timely moment, underlining Meilhat’s class just as his four-year relationship with SMA comes to an end as the French insurance company withdraws from sailing. It is a bitter irony that he will leave Guadeloupe with neither a boat nor a sponsor for the next Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race for which he would undoubtedly be a favourite, given the right machinery.

An emotional Meilhat told the French and international media assembled on the victory pontoon: “This is my first big win, I wanted to sail a good race as a reward for all the support I have had. This is payback. Before the start I knew what I could do and what I am capable of. And I wanted to profit from the course, to feel like I am moving forwards.”

Meilhat paid a warm tribute to Thomson whose error – failing to wake-up before Hugo Boss sailed into a rocky cliff under auto-pilot - handed him his first transatlantic solo race win. “I can’t believe this has happened,” he said. “Alex’s mishap leaves us chilled because we were all attacking so hard, like mad things. When we put ourselves in situations of extreme fatigue mistakes can be expensive. And in this case for the sake of 100 metres it could have been so much worse. I am just happy he is OK and the damage to his boat is not too bad.”

“I'm a big fan of Alex,” he added. “He's sailing incredible races with the choices he makes, his speed, his style and he's a great guy. What you need to remember is the talent he has. You have to absolutely remember what he did on the racecourse. He is the extraordinary character, whether he won or not. It's really good to have guys like that with us on starting lines."



Then Meilhat returned to his own future. "In 2019, ideally, I want to continue to progress towards my goal of being at the start of the Vendée Globe 2020. I am open to any proposal! Build a new boat, modify this one, everything is possible!"

Meilhat can take considerable satisfaction in having won this race with an IMOCA boat which is not a foiler, that is to say it has conventional straight daggerboards. Keeping two of France’s most experienced, talented solo racers behind him is no mean feat.

Yann Eliès who finished in second place behind him just over two hours later on UCAR-Saint-Michel and 2004 Vendée Globe-winner Vincent Riou, who is on course to be the next finisher on PRB, pressed Meilhat all the way across the Atlantic.

Indeed Eliès was fighting until the very last few miles to get past Meilhat as they sailed slowly along the west side of Basse Terre island which is blanketed from the easterly trade winds by the 1500-metre La Soufriere volcano.

From being 20 miles behind, Eliès was at one point less than three miles adrift. But it was not to be for Eliès who desperately wanted to win for the same reasons as Meilhat. He too is looking for a major sponsor to help him build a new boat for the Vendée Globe and will also lose the use of his current one as it is already sold.

"I am going back to Paris early, the time trial for the next Vendée begins with Paul,” Eliès explained. “We are in the same situation, we need sponsors. After this race, I hope that we both get that for 2020."

Reflecting on the race, Eliès said: “I'm broken. The IMOCA demands a lot of crazy energy. You have to manage your time, your sleep, your strategy, your mind and your physical effort. These are dozens of tasks to negotiate a day, which make it difficult.

“This Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe has been amazing. The first days, I thought I could forget the podium! I was in an area without wind on Monday 5th, I saw Paul and Vincent escape. When I pulled myself out, I was 80nm behind.”

“Alex Thomson executed his race masterfully,” he added. “To make a mistake is part of the game. He showed that he was the boss.”

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The British yachtsman Alex Thomson stood on board his damaged yacht, Hugo Boss, moored to the quayside in Guadeloupe this morning and told the assembled media that he did not deserve to win the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.

Thomson had been leading the 3,542-nautical mile solo transatlantic race almost from the start on November 4 off Saint Malo and was approaching the Guadeloupe archipelago when he over-slept, allowing his boat to hit the rocks on the northernmost tip of Grande Terre island.

In order to save his boat from being wrecked the 44-year-old sailor from Gosport in England, had to start his engine to get back into deeper water. Although he managed to complete the race and was the first in the 20-strong IMOCA class to cross the finish line earlier today, he was subsequently handed a 24-hour time penalty by the race jury for using his engine.

This means that Thomson is not only very unlikely now to win the race, he is also likely to drop out of the top-three with Paul Meilhat on SMA – the likely winner - Yann Eliès on UCAR-Saint-Michel and Vincent Riou on PRB all capable of finishing before his total elapsed time with his penalty added.

A clearly hugely disappointed and at times emotional Thomson put a brave face on his fate. The grounding that caused apparently only superficial damage to the bow, stern and one foil on the starboard side of his boat, came in the closing stages of what would have been a thumping victory and his first major race-win in his 20-year professional career.

“It’s a real shame for me and the team to be in the position that we are in,” said Thomson who has been third and second in consecutive Vendée Globe solo round-the-world races. “The jury has decided that I have a 24-hour penalty which will mean I will not win the race. How do I feel about that? Well, I think that is very fair because I don’t think I should win the race after hitting Guadeloupe.” This was greeted with spontaneous applause from his audience.

“This sport is about detail and, in the final last minutes, I didn’t get the detail right. Like I say, to be last night grounded on the rocks, I just feel very lucky to be here with the boat with very little wrong with it – a few holes but I sailed here under my own steam so I feel very fortunate,” Thomson added.

Brandishing a piece of rock that he must have found inside the boat which he said would be a souvenir of his collision with Grande Terre, Thomson explained that he had gone to sleep knowing he would soon come close to a gybe point off the coast. However, a wristwatch that he wears that is designed to give him an electric shock to wake him, failed to go off because it was out of charge and he slept through the audio alarm.

“I slept through – I didn’t hear it – and when I woke up the alarms were going and the boat was strange,” said Thomson. “I went up on deck and I could see Guadeloupe – I didn’t know it was Guadeloupe – I couldn’t understand what was happening until I looked at the chart and then I could see I was on Guadeloupe…haha...I had arrived!”

In his predicament and having to explain what happened Thomson could have been forgiven for struggling to keep his composure, but he did that and not only spoke fluently but saluted Meilhat who at that stage had about 150 miles to go on a boat that does not have foils.

“I hope Paul will win,” said Thomson, his voice momentarily cracking. “You know, he has done a really great race on a boat without foils and I look forward to welcoming him tomorrow. He should be the winner.

“For me,” he continued, “all I can do is live and learn – it’s the land of hard knocks as we say in England. You have to try and stay strong; you have to learn, you have to be better and ultimately, obviously, I wanted to win this race. But the aim is to win the Vendée Globe and I think I’ve proved in this race that I can win the Vendée Globe.”

So Thomson’s last competitive outing in this spectacular Hugo Boss yacht has come to a very unsatisfactory conclusion. The Briton charged out of Saint Malo at the start and then took a lone course to the north of the fleet that was typically courageous and then never looked back. He pushed hard almost all the way, setting a pace that no one else could match. Now his focus is on his new boat that will be delivered to his team next summer.

Elsewhere on the racecourse the French sailor Lalou Roucayrol who capsized in his Multi50, Arkema, about 1,000 miles east of Guadeloupe has now been safely picked up by Pierre Antoine whose Olmix is leading the Rhum Multiclass.

Meanwhile, Erwan Le Roux on FenêtréA-Mix Buffet has become the second Multi50 skipper to finish the race behind class winner Armel Tripon on Réauté Chocolat.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the female skipper Claire Pruvot on Service Civique has been rescued by a cargo ship after she crashed into it, seriously damaging her Class40 yacht about 460 miles due west of Cape St Vincent. She is said to be safe and well.

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The British sailor Alex Thomson has today crossed the finish line of the four-yearly solo Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe transatlantic sailing race, as the first in the IMOCA Class.

However, following an incident last night in which Thomson ran aground in his all-black Hugo Boss boat on the north end of Grande Terre, the focus is on the race jury who will have to decide whether he should receive a time penalty for using his engine.

Thomson crossed the finish line at Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe at 08:10:58 local time (13:10:58CET) after 11 days, 23 hours 10 minutes and 58 seconds at sea.

His elapsed time for the 3,542-nautical mile course could be a new class record for IMOCAs if his finish is allowed to stand.

A total of 123 sailors started the race on November 4 off Saint Malo in Brittany. Thomson is the fourth sailor to finish it after the two ULTIME skippers, Francis Joyon and François Gabart, and the Multi50 class winner Armel Tripon.

Further updates will follow

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Between 21:45-22:00 AST on Thursday, November 15th Alex Thomson’s IMOCA 60 race boat grounded at the north end of Grande Terre, just south of the Grande Vigie lighthouse on La Pointe à Claude. At the time, Thomson was sailing at around six knots.

In order to ensure the safety of himself and the boat, Thomson was forced to use his engine and manoeuvre the boat safely away from the coast. Once away from the coast, Thomson re-sealed the engine and re-commenced racing.

Upon closer inspection of HUGO BOSS by the Alex Thomson Racing technical team, the boat appears to have sustained only minor superficial damage.

Thomson is continuing on, and his focus remains on winning the race.

The team anticipates HUGO BOSS will cross the finish line at approximately 07:00 local time today (Friday, November 16).

Following initial reports that Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss had grounded on rocks during the final miles of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe while leading the IMOCA class, Race Direction has contacted the British skipper to check his status.

thomson alexHugo Boss ran aground at around 21:45hrs (local time/0145hrs UTC Friday). Thomson is reported safe and uninjured but has reported damage to his boat. Photo: Alexis Courcoux

They have ascertained that while sailing on port tack at the north end of Grande Terre island, Hugo Boss ran aground on rocky cliffs around 21:45hrs (local time/0145hrs UTC Friday).

The accident occurred at the north end of Grande Terre, just south of the Grande Vigie lighthouse on La Pointe à Claude.

Upon hitting the cliff, Alex Thomson had to lower his sails and start his engine to reverse his boat from the rocks. He was able to extract himself from the reefs before re-hoisting his sails to resume his passage. Thomson stopped his engine and then set a new seal on the propeller shaft.

The skipper was not injured but there is damage to his boat. The crash box in the bow is damaged and has taken in water but it is contained, and the bowsprit is damaged. The water is contained by the forward bulkhead.

The starboard foil is also reported to be damaged. According to Thomson’s conversation with the Race Director, the keel and its structure are certainly also affected. But it has not been possible to establish a more precise diagnosis during the hours of darkness.

Currently, the boat is sailing at a speed of 7 knots and continues its passage around the island towards the finish line.

Approaching the small island at Tete à l’Anglais he has about 50 miles to go until the finish line.

The International Jury was immediately informed by Race Direction of the accident and it will file a protest against Alex Thomson for using his engine during the race.

A safety boat has been sent and will accompany Hugo Boss in case it is needed.

More information to follow.

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The ninth day at sea in the 2018 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe solo transatlantic race saw the second capsize in this 11th edition of the four-yearly classic when a 50ft trimaran flipped over about 1,000 nautical miles east of Guadeloupe.

The first capsize came at the end of day two of the 3,452-nautical mile race a week ago when one of the biggest yachts in the 123-strong fleet, Banque Populaire IX, turned over after a major structural failure in a gale midway between the coast of Spain and the Azores. The boat’s skipper, Frenchman Armel Le Cleac’h, was quickly rescued by a Spanish fishing boat.

This time the yacht going upside down is the Multi50 class trimaran Arkema skippered by Lalou Roucayrol, another French sailor who is based near Bordeaux. Roucayrol is one of the most experienced solo offshore racers in big multihulls and was competing in his fourth Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.

In an initial message to his shore team he said the boat became over-powered by a sudden and violent spike in the easterly trade wind as he ran downwind towards the finish at Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe. He did not have time to stop his yacht tipping over but was able to keep safe within the main hull.

Giving further details today, the Team Arkema spokeswoman, Marie–Astrid Parendeau, said Roucayrol spent about four hours cutting the rig away from the boat and had spent time in the water doing this. The hull has not been damaged by the mast and Roucayrol has managed to salvage one of his sails. He is now safely back on board and has enough food for three or four days and water supplies for 10 days.

Ms Parendeau said a cargo ship has been diverted to his position but Roucayrol has made it clear he does not want to be rescued and is staying with his boat until a tug chartered by the team from Martinque reaches him in four days time.

Roucayrol was racing in fourth place at the time of the capsize and was about 400 miles behind the class leader, Armel Tripon on Réauté Chocolat. Tripon on his brown trimaran is now just over 500 miles from the finish and is expected at the line at around mid-day Universal Time tomorrow.

He has also been experiencing alarming variations in windspeed and has elected to take it easy to avoid suffering a similar fate as Roucayrol. "It could be better,” said a tired Tripon this morning. “That has been the most complicated, difficult night I've had since the start with gusts of 33-34 knots under gennaker. The sea got big quickly; it was really hard, so a tense night. So this morning, I rolled away the gennaker and it is away until the seas subside - it is a really difficult end to the race.”

About 12 hours after Tripon is expected to reach the line, the next finisher is expected to be Britain’s Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss who has led the 20-strong IMOCA monohull class almost continually from the start on November 4th. Thomson is just over 700 miles from the finish and about 160 miles ahead of his nearest pursuer (Paul Meilhat of France on SMA) and can’t wait to complete what will be his first victory in an IMOCA race.

"I am on my final gybe,” he said in a radio call this morning as Hugo Boss surfed at up to 20 knots in the boisterous trade winds. “I managed to get a bit of sleep over the night, not that much but I am really looking forward to getting in. There is not long now, less than a couple of days. That’s one Fastnet, one Fastnet race, that is all that is left. I should get in in daylight which is good timing really.

“I am a little nervous, yes, but the gap should be big enough,” added Thomson who has a group of four boats chasing him. “I am just trying to sail my normal race really, trying not do anything differently and keep things in the best shape I can. I don't need to push; on the other hand these boats do go fast. It is quite hard to make them go slow. I am not going to go super-slow; I will sail my normal race and I look forward to getting round the island and in." 

A long way behind him the only Finnish sailor in the IMOCA fleet and indeed in this 40th anniversary edition of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, Ari Huusella on Ariel II, has provided more detail about the brief and glancing crash between his boat and the monohull of French sailor Sébastien Destremeau who is lying in second place in the Rhum Mono fleet.

The incident happened in the early hours of yesterday in darkness as Huusella was heading west and Destremeau on board Alcatraz It FaceOcean was crossing his path while heading south at a position about 400 miles west-southwest of the Canary Island.

The Finn admitted today that he could see Destremeau approaching using the Automatic Identification System (AIS) that all boats in the race carry, but he had his screen on the wrong setting and did not realise how close the Frenchman – who was asleep and under auto-pilot – would be until it was too late.

“I was inside the boat and saw on the AIS that there was some traffic coming,” said Huusela who, like Destremeau, has been able to continue racing. “I saw the name of the boat and I knew who it was. I called him three times on the VHF but there was no reply. I checked that we were not going to hit on the AIS but our speeds were varying a lot because of the gusts. Sometimes we were going 10 and sometimes 17 knots – it was the same for both boats.

“The thing I did not realise was the scale on my AIS was only at 0.75 miles so the full screen was at less than a mile when he came into my screen. Normally I use the 15-mile scale. I was a bit tired and a bit disorientated and did not realise he was so close. When I realised he was so close, I went outside and I saw the nose of his boat coming at me at 17 knots. I thought ‘oh god, this is going to be the end.’ But luckily I managed to get under him so he hit the back corner of my stern, his bowsprit came into my pushpit, and it came off.”

Huusela said he initially thought the damage to his rigging might bring his mast down but he released the mainsail to ease the load and managed to save it. The sailors then spoke on VHF and Destremeau told him he had been asleep at the time of the crash and that he had some damage to his bowsprit. “We exchanged some e-mails last night and we are both happy,” added Huusela. “We are lucky because it could have been so much worse.” 

In the Class40 fleet the lead remains firmly in the hands of Frenchman Yoann Richomme on Veedol-AIC who has a margin of around 100 miles over second-placed Aymeric Chapellier on Aina Enfance Et Avenir. Chapellier reported today that he blew-up his spinnaker in a squall and has had to spend hours repairing it, turning the inside of his boat into a sewing workshop.

The 38-year-old sailor from La Rochelle was asleep when the boat broached in about 18 knots of breeze. “The sail literally exploded. I had to transform the interior of the boat into a sailmaker’s workshop and I worked on it all day, from sunrise to sunset. It was not easy because I had to leave the boat under the autopilot, with the big spinnaker,” he said.

“But I managed to repair my spinnaker and it held this morning when I used it. That being said, I walk a little on eggs now. I am trying to preserve all my spis, especially in this strange seaway. At times, it is really very short and it requires a lot of manoeuvres, which tires a little man.,” Chappellier added.

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As she faced very rough seas in the depression sweeping the Bay of Biscay yesterday, Sam Davies diagnosed a delamination of the bottom of the hull of her 60ft monohull, Initiatives-Cœur. Given the expected weather conditions off the Iberian Peninsula in the next few days and the nature of the damage, the option of a stopover in La Coruna to try and make a repair has been ruled out. It has been impossible to conceive of a scenario where Davies could consider her boat in a satisfactory and safe enough condition to re-start. It is with enormous sadness that Davies has decided to give up her first Route du Rhum. The difficult decision was made to abandon the race and head back to the Initiatives-Cœur team base. The damaged monohull is expected in Lorient tomorrow afternoon.

“I discovered the structural problems yesterday. The first thing I noticed was that the skin of my ballast had delaminated. As I was making a tack, I was mopping up water in my living area and I heard the same noise as the one from the ballast, a creaking that came from the hull around the longitudinal reinforcement. Whenever that was slammed, I heard a creak. I looked everywhere, there was no sign of a leak. I assessed with my team that I could continue.

Once I regained some speed, I found myself on starboard tack and so I was leaning on the damaged port side. Whenever the boat slammed, I could see the hull bending under my feet, with folds appearing on the inner skin – that’s a little scary. I contacted the team to make an analysis with the boatbuilders. I was not feeling that relaxed. The problem is that we still had four days of these conditions, with a lot of wind and four days upwind, that’s a long time...I wasn’t very keen on attempting it, especially as the damaged area is in my living area, not far from the batteries. If there is any kind of tear in these conditions, I will find myself without battery power, communications and energy. So, I decided to turn around and head back to Lorient while the wind was pushing me in the right direction. I’m hoping to be able to protect the damaged area in the time it takes to get to Lorient. We went pretty well last night, there were still 50 knots and huge seas.”

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With such a big fleet now spread over a large area of ocean, skippers in the solo transatlantic Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe are beginning to experience wide variations in weather conditions after three very challenging days at sea.

While there are still around 35 boats taking refuge on the French or Spanish coasts, out on the racecourse the leaders in the two fastest multihull fleets – the ULTIMES and Multi50s - and in the IMOCAs are starting to see easier conditions after the pasting everyone got on Tuesday.

But the weather picture looks very difficult for later in the week for the slower monohulls, especially the Class40s, which will be bashing into another full gale by late on Thursday. Those already exhausted skippers will be in tough racing conditions throughout the weekend before things ease down early in the week.

The question for many of the sailors who are currently in port remains when do they risk venturing out into the Bay of Biscay again as this second major weather system comes down the track? Some of them may well not reappear until late on Saturday or early Sunday and they will be delighted that the Race Director has extended the deadline for finishers in Pointe-à-Pitre by five days until December 7.

On the racecourse the battle at the front of the ULTIMES continues to be an absorbing affair between pace-setter François Gabart on MACIF and Francis Joyon still on his tail in IDEC Sport.

Gabart has revealed that he has incurred some damage to his mainsail battens but otherwise his passage into the northeast trade winds is unhindered and he should be into them by tomorrow.

“Now we are in the transition zone in the north winds which are not too strong, like 10-20 knots,” he reported from a position well to the west of Madeira. “They are quite unstable with a lot of trimming required. The sky is grey. We have one day (until) we catch the trade winds and go downwind. I have been able to check the boat and to make some repairs – I broke two battens in the main.”

The Multi50 battle is equally interesting with early leader Lalou Roucayrol on Arkema having now set sail from Porto on the Portuguese coast after taking shelter there. However Armel Tripon on Réauté Chocolat, who chose not to stop, is now around 240 miles ahead of him and in second place.

Ahead of him, Thibaut Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires En Peloton-Arsep is the current leader on the Tracker, but he is 350 miles north of Tripon. He is longing to get out of the cold and wet weather in the north Atlantic. “We are going to deserve these trade winds because this is the third front that I am dealing with in the west,” he said.

“It’s time to reach the heat! It’s too cold here, too wet and it’s very physical. During the day it’s fine, but at night I have to put on my survival suit to keep warm. I am looking forward to reaching the Azores where the sea will be warmer, flatter and where I can eat properly. I have only been able to eat one freeze-dried meal since the beginning of the race – the rest of my diet is based on energy bars and cereal bars.”

In the IMOCA fleet the longtime leader Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss is still making his more northerly and westerly option pay, with a margin of around 70 miles over Paul Meilhat on SMA who has now overtaken Vincent Riou on PRB to hold second place after a remarkable few days of tenacious racing from the SMA skipper. Behind them the 25-year-old Swiss sailor Alan Roura on La Fabrique is sailing an impressive race in seventh place, as is Boris Herrmann of Germany two places ahead of him on board Malizia II-Yacht Club De Monaco, the former Gitana.

Thomson looks as though he will hold onto stronger breeze for longer than those to the south of him and he could emerge with a useful lead once the top three boats settle into downwind conditions. Thomson has seen gusts of 50 knots and had some minor gear failure – he broke a lazy jack in his sail management system – but his main concern is that he doesn’t get trapped in light airs on his way past the Azores.

“The game is to get south, to the high pressure and the trade winds and the first person to do so will make the gain,” he said. “There is no doubt about that. There is a very strong possibility that all of us, or me, or the guys behind, are going to get stuck in the big ridge of high pressure, so that is a big thing at the moment – get south and try and pass the ridge.”

There were 12 IMOCAS on the racecourse today while in the smaller Class40s there were 35 out on the race track. The lead is still being held by Frenchman Yoann Richomme on Veedol AIC but there is an interesting north-south split in the top bunch with Richomme nearly 170 miles north-northwest of fifth-placed Kito de Pavant on Made in Midi.

Britain’s Phil Sharp in third place on IMERYS CLEAN ENERGY says the next few days are going to be challenging. “It was a tough night,” he said, reflecting on his second night at sea. “It was quite windy, there was quite a lot of swell and the boat was slamming pretty violently, so it was difficult to keep pushing the boat and it was difficult to try and find a compromise between safety and speed.

“My gut feeling is to get south,” he added. “Not just because it is warmer and sunnier and really nice, but because I don’t think it is going to work up north and it is looking like anti-cyclonic conditions will resume so yes, that is why I am going south.”


In the Rhum Multis there were just nine boats on the racecourse as most of the remainder continue to await improved conditions before venturing out. The first to re-join the race is Loïck Peyron who has now set sail on Happy from Gijón. The leader in that class, Pierre Antoine on Olmix, is now well south of the Spanish port of Vigo and making excellent progress.

In the Rhum Mono fleet eight boats are currently racing with the leader, Sidney Gavignet on Café Joyeux, now heading south about 270 miles west of Cape Finisterre.

After his capsize in the maxi-tri Banque Populaire IX on Wednesday, French sailor Armel Le Cléac’h, who is in good health, is on his way to Spain in a fishing boat which came to rescue him. His team, meanwhile, is working on plans to retrieve his stricken yacht which flipped over after its port hull broke away in big winds and seas.

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#FerryNews - Brittany Ferries final Ireland-France seasonal sailing saw a former flagship cover for routine route flagship Pont-Aven, which otherwise was engaged in Route du Rhum duties, writes Jehan Ashmore. 

This year, Cork-Roscoff which achieved the best performing service of the French company's route network (incl. UK, France and Spain) saw the return of former flagship Bretagne to Irish waters. The 1989 built Bretagne first operated on the Irish service until 1992. The ferry normally operates St. Malo-Portsmouth was redeployed to the Roscoff-Cork (Ringaskiddy) last Saturday morning before returning overnight to Brittany arrival on Sunday morning.

On that same day, fleetmate Pont-Aven, given it's flagship status is required as the official Route du Rhum start vessel to depart St. Malo where the race began in the afternoon. Earlier upon completion of Bretagne final end of season from Cork, disembarked passengers and vehicles in Roscoff. From the Breton port is where the cruiseferry carried spectators to the race start further along the 'Granite' coast off St. Malo.

The practice of deploying a different ferry on Cork-Roscoff's final sailing is a routine occurrence every four years as this is to facilite the start of the Route du Rhum. Since its inception in 1978, Brittany Ferries have been an official partner. This year is also significant as it aptly coincides with the 40th anniversary of establishing the Ireland-France link, when the Armorique made the maiden sailing as Afloat reported earlier this year.

Roll on 40 years, as when Bretagne reached the waters off St. Malo for the Route du Rhum, the near 30 year old cruiseferry joined Pont-Aven. In addition, Afloat having tracked ferry activity, noted the specially reactivated, Normandie Express having departed Cherbourg, Normandy, is from where the fast-ferry also ended seasonal service to Portsmouth albeit back in September.

The trio of ferries were all chartered to allow spectators and sponsors of the Route du Rhum watch the start of the race spectacle. The yachts headed off on a transatlantic spectacular as the loan skippers brave the elements in a dash to Guadeloupe, an insular region of France located in the Caribbean Sea.

Following the departure of the main flotilla heading further west into the English Channel, Normandie Express it was noted was the first ferry to leave the sailing scene by returning to Cherbourg, while Pont-Aven proceeded to St. Malo. The flagship then began sailings on the company's cross channel crossing to Portsmouth. This service otherwise operated routinely by Bretagne which returned to Roscoff to disembark race followers.

For the first time the Port of Cork continues with a Brittany Ferries presence year round, as in the summer a newly launched 'direct' Ireland-Spain (Santander) service began. The économie branded service is operated throughout the year. 

As for traffic figures (click here) this is where the Irish-Iberian link's use of chartered-in ropax Connemara has contributed. The next scheduled departure from Cork is this Friday.

Published in Ferry

At the end of the second day of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe an Atlantic storm that had been forecast at the start has been making itself felt across the whole fleet with one boat capsized, two dismasted and many sailors electing to seek shelter in French and Spanish ports.

The most serious incident of an action-packed 24 hours, as the fleet continued west and south out of the Bay of Biscay into the Atlantic proper, was the capsize by French former Vendée Globe winner, Armel Le Cléac’h, on board Maxi Solo Banque Populaire IX.

The big blue and white trimaran was running in third place in the depleted ULTIME class when its port float snapped off in 30-35 knots of wind and five-metre waves. The boat then turned over but Le Cléac’h was reported to be safe inside his central hull about 340 nautical miles northeast of the Azores.

As the maritime rescue coordination centre (CROSS) at Griz Nez in northern France took control of the operation to rescue Le Cléac’h, Jacques Caraës, the Race Director, explained how Le Cléac’h’s second capsize this year in this boat unfolded - his first one came during a training sail off Morocco in April.

“We received a call from CROSS at 13.23hrs French time after Armel activated his distress beacon,” he said. “Ronan Lucas the Banque Populaire team manager informed us that the boat has capsized and that Armel is inside and safe in the central hull. He is gathering all his safety and survival equipment while he is waiting for rescue.

“He is 450 nautical miles from Lisbon and 320 nautical miles from Punta Delgada, so slightly closer to the Azores,” added Caraës. “It is too far away for a helicopter to go to the site, but we know via the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre that a plane is flying over to check out the situation. Armel is OK and is getting ready to be evacuated.”

Earlier in the day there were two dismastings. In the IMOCA division the Franco-German sailor Isabelle Joschke lost her rig when holding seventh position and had to turn back towards the French coast. Then the same fate befell the British skipper Sam Goodchild on board Narcos Mexico in the Class40 fleet.

Goodchild, one of the pre-start favourites in the 53-strong fleet of Class40s, was making up ground and had climbed to third place when the rig suddenly gave way in 30-35 knots of wind and big seas.

“I had just picked up a few places,” Goodchild reported. “I went down below and started to tidy up and then there was a big bang. I came up on deck and the whole rig was in the water and we were drifting over the top of it.”

Goodchild has now erected a jury rig using the boat’s boom and stormsail and is heading to the French port of Brest. “I’m massively disappointed,” he added. “My aim for the Route du Rhum was not to have any regrets and I honestly don’t think there was something I could have done differently in hindsight.”

British skipper Sam Goodchild dismasted during the second night of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe whilst racing in third place in Class40 on Narcos: Mexico. Image: Sam Goodchild
While the majority of the 123 skippers continued blasting their way along the 3,542-mile course towards Point-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe, there were nearly 50 boats that were either seeking shelter along the French and Spanish coasts or heading back towards the French coast with technical issues that were preventing them from continuing at this stage.

These include three in the ULTIME class, six IMOCAS, 12 Class40s and a total of 27 in the combined Rhum Mono and Multi classes. Among them in the IMOCA fleet is the French skipper Jérémie Beyou whose brand new Charal has developed issues with its steering system and Beyou is heading for Lorient.

Racing wise the fleet continues to be led by François Gabart on MACIF in the ULTIME class who is now passing to the north of Madeira and is almost completely through the worst of the weather with around 2,600 miles to sail.

Gabart has been going fast but he has not been able to shake off his fellow countryman Francis Joyon on IDEC Sport who has been tracking his every move in an older boat and at 62 years of age is showing that he has not lost his competitive edge. Joyon was just over 40 miles behind MACIF after 48 hours of racing.

In the Multi50 fleet the early leader Lalou Roucayrol opted to take refuge in a port close to the Spanish-Portuguese border. Behind him Armel Tripon on Reaute Chocolat looked to be heading in too but as he got close to the coast he changed his mind and has now headed off out to sea. Currently fourth, this could be a potentially race-winning move for Tripon.

In the IMOCA class, whose skippers will be contending with more rough weather conditions overnight, the chess game at the front between the three leading boats continues to unfold, with leader Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss still prospering from his lone move to the north of the fleet.

Thomson is currently about 200 miles north of second-placed Vincent Riou in PRB and 30 miles ahead of him in terms of distance to the finish. Paul Meilhat in SMA continues to hold a very impressive third place, 15 miles behind PRB.

Like the IMOCAs, the Class40 skippers have got a lot of tough sailing ahead of them with gale force winds and big seas on the menu overnight. The leader continues to be Yoann Richomme of France on Veedol-AIC with Aymeric Chappelier on AINA Enfance Avenir now in second after trading places with Britain’s Phil Sharp on IMERYS CLEAN ENERGY who has also had to deal with a broken spinnaker halyard.

Sharp revealed today that he had to climb his mast to retrieve the halyard after it broke on Sunday night. “The sail dropped straight into the water, so I stopped the boat and caught it quickly before (I hope) any damage,” he reported.

“This halyard is essential for flying our most important foresails in this race – the small and medium spinnaker, so I had to find a solution, and quickly. The only option was to climb the mast, and with the wave height expected to increase significantly for the next few days I had to get the job done.”

The 52-year-old American sailor Michael Hennessey has been enjoying his first solo transatlantic race and is holding an excellent 21st position in the Class40 fleet on board Dragon.

“After yesterday's transition through the ridge into the northerlies, then back into the southerlies, last night was a classic,” he said. “Winds built to sustained 35 knots and gusts to 40. Sea height was four metres and Dragon took flying lessons. And while her launch is pretty good, her landing needs some work.

“No damage,” he added, “but there was some clean-up to do this morning when the winds settled down a bit. I’m taking a short hitch south, then back west. Getting ready for another rough one tonight.”

In the amateur Rhum Multi class Pierre Antoine on Olmix is out on his own, 70 miles ahead of his nearest pursuer, Alain Delhumeau on Rayon Vert.

In the Rhum Mono division Sidney Gavignet on Café Joyeux has an even bigger lead of just over 100 miles on fellow Frenchman Wilfrid Clerton on the big monohull Cap Au Cap Location-SOS Villages D’Enfants.

Published in Offshore
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The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.

Competitions

The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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