After the unfortunate retirement from the Vendée Globe solo round the world race of third placed Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild), announced this morning, the leading duo Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII) and Briton Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) now have a substantial 1000 nautical miles cushion. As Le Cléac’h leads Thomson by just over 140 miles, racing south of the Great Australian Bight this afternoon, approaching the longitude of Adelaide, Paul Meilhat (SMA) who assumes third place today still has to sail 350 miles to pass Cape Leeuwin on the south westernmost point of Australia.
Josse’s withdrawal was the second to be announced within 18 hours and came immediately after news of the successful evacuation of French skipper Kito de Pavant by the crew of the French research and supply ship the Marion Dufresne 2. De Pavant lost the structure which supports the canting keel on his Bastide-Otio after striking an object in the water, some 130 miles north of the Crozet Islands. His boat was suffering a constant ingress of water and the keel was suspended beneath the boat only by a hydraulic ram. Around 0130hrs TU this morning he was taken by RIB from his stricken yacht and landed aboard the 120m long ship which very fortunately had been on passage some 110 miles north of de Pavant’s position.
It is the third successive Vendée Globe that de Pavant has been forced out of by damage, but the first time ever he has had to abandon his boat: “It’s hit me hard and there are a lot of different feelings.” The Mediterranean based skipper confirmed from the sanctuary of the Marion Dufresne after a full medical check, “This is the first time I have had to abandon a boat, but there was nothing I could do about it, so the decision was a quick one.”
Josse was one of the pre-race favourites had been lying in third place since the 23rd November and the approach to the Cape of Good Hope and had sailed a mature, composed race to date, regulating his speed and managing his risks prudently but still showing periods of great speed on Edmond de Rothschild. But, he confirmed today, his race was effectively terminated in a few seconds on Monday when he sustained damage to his port foil and support mechanism ploughing to a standstill in the trough of a big wave.
Josse reported today: “While surfing along, the boat reached thirty knots before slowing right down to ten knots as she dug in. It only lasted for a few seconds. I was under the protective cover between the two doors in the companionway. When the boat got going again I felt that something wasn’t right and I soon saw that there was a problem with the port foil. It was in the water, although I had been sailing with the foils up. I opened the cover to the foil housing and I could see there had been damage. The attachment to the top of the foil, which is a part made of carbon and designed for such strains, had broken.”
The retirements of de Pavant and Josse bring to seven the number of skippers who have been forced out of the solo race which started from Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday 6th November with 29 boats on the line. Of the seven sailors who have had to withdraw three have had to retire from three races. Kito de Pavant has been beaten by the Vendée Globe three out of three times. Bertrand de Broc and Vincent Riou have been forced out of three although Riou was only denied a finish in 2008-9 by his heroic rescue of the capsized Jean Le Cam 200 miles from Cape Horn and was given a third place as redress. Josse had to retire from that epic 2008-9 race into Auckland with rudder damage after being knocked down.
Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord Pour Le Projet Imagine) was this afternoon reported to be making a repair to his ballast scoop after it fractured and let water in through a hole in the hull. The skipper who is racing for his first time in the Big South and is lying in eighth place took emergency action and has sailed more than 60 miles to the north west to protect the damaged area and was believed to be making a fix this afternoon.
Six hundred miles south east of Cape Town, placed 15th, Eric Bellion (Comme Un Seul Homme) has spent the day dealing with rudder damage which he suffered yesterday. He slowed and started work around 0700hrs UTC this morning and was moving again at 1530hrs after fitting his spare rudder.
In light of the substantial margin now held by the leading duo, an impending period of hard weather and big seas and fully aware of the damage and abandons within the fleet, second placed Alex Thomson is looking to prudence and preservation over the coming days, rather than buccaneering speeds to try and make inroads into Le Cléach’s growing lead. He forecasts winds of 45 kts in a low pressure system which has all but stalled in their eastwards path, and is preparing accordingly.
“Now is the time for caution for me, trying to keep the boat in one piece,” Thomson warned. “At least I have some breathing space at the moment. I can worry about looking forwards. Everything is pretty good on Hugo Boss, a few little jobs to do, nothing too important. Sleeping has been a bit difficult with the big accelerations and decelerations. I am a little bit tired and so I need to try and catch up. I need to get my beauty sleep. Hopefully sailing into this low pressure I can get a few moments to get some good sleep. I am looking forwards to getting past New Zealand in about five days, and hopefully Cape Horn in three weeks.”
Behind the top two, there is a progressive, steady regrouping of some of the skippers who were considered top contenders. Flying super fast on his foil borne StMichel Virbac, Jean Pierre Dick has more than halved his deficit on his immediate rivals in recent days and is pressing hard in sixth now. Yann Eliès too has closed down 250 miles on the boats in front of him and Jérémie Beyou has been quickest in the fleet on Maître CoQ and has made 482 nautical miles in the last 24 hours to the 1400hrs UTC ranking. There are now less than 600 miles separating Meilhat in third from Dick in seventh.
Romain Attanasio was this afternoon reaching the sheltered bay area by Simonstown, by Cape Town where he aims to effect repairs to both his rudders in order to stay in the race. And after starting four days and more than 600 miles behind the last of the fleet, Spanish skipper Didac Costa passed Sebastian Destremau last night to take up 21st place.
Paul Meilhat (SMA): “It must be horrible having to leave your boat like that. Even if that was the only possibility, it must have been tough for Kito. For me, things are much better than yesterday afternoon. I got caught by the ridge of high pressure ahead of the next low. The wind has now got up again and my speed is up. The seas are calmer than yesterday morning, when I still had 6-8m high waves… I got knocked down on Sunday night and a lot of water came into the boat. It took some time to sort things out and get dry again. A mainsail block was broken, so I spent some time yesterday replacing it. For the next three days, things are looking better. I’m pleased to be sailing down under Australia. After Tasmania it will be the halfway point.”
Enda O Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland): “Welcome to the Indian Ocean. Wow ! The first to greet us was Rich Wilson on Great American IV. We trailed him by over 300 miles and finally caught him on the transition. I was feeling slightly smug and lucky that I was not having problems that other boats seemed to be having. The day started normal. The wind was increasing so I thought I would furl the Blast Reacher and sail with the main alone with one reef and perhaps try the second. Then all hell broke loose. In preparing the furl line for the J3 became undone and the sail opened out of control. Then the furling line on the blast reacher broke leaving me stuck with two headsails out of control in the now gale force winds. Sheets and sails flogged, all wrapped around each other in a mess, as the wind howled. Then there was an involuntary gibe. As the boom crossed it caught in the runner and the boat, with the keel the wrong way, went on its side. Eventually I got to the keel hydraulics and pulled it up the other way and released the runner in the chaos while bringing the new one on. Rather than crash gybe back and risk serious damage, I continued the wrong gybe and set out to sort out the mess below and on deck. Fortunately, after a few hours the wrong gybe, the wind moved around and it became the right gibe. And to complicate matters the radar dome, one third the way up the mast - for no apparent reason - came loose and crashed down pulling the wires out of the mast. Fortunately, we saved the unit, but I am not sure it will work again on this voyage and minus an important safety tool.”
Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild): “It’s not that the boat isn’t at 100% of her race potential. It’s that she isn’t at 100% of her safety potential. I have no way of securing the appendage which weighs 250 kg. If I had some way of securing it, I could have finished the race I think. The problem is going to be once I’m ashore and can see the others racing.”