The ability to repair at sea is absolutely fundamental to completing the Vendée Globe solo round the world race. Michel Desjoyeaux, the only skipper to twice win the legendary singlehanded race, which forbids any kind of outside assistance, often speaks of the skipper needing to be able to deal with one battle each day – one fix, one problem – to stay competitive on the 24,500 miles course from Les Sables d’Olonne to Les Sables d’Olonne. Of the 18 skippers still racing on Day 59 of the race four different solo skippers are having their self reliance and repairing skills tested, some of them in extremis.
Conrad Colman has made a temporary fix, re-attaching his flailing forestay to the bow of his Foresight Natural Energy using a lashing which he managed to secure despite 50kt winds and huge seas. Some 1300 miles west of Cape Horn, Colman has been making slow, but steady progress to the north east this Tuesday afternoon after the most challenging period of his race yet.
The pin which secures the primary forestay is reported to have been lost during a vicious storm between Sunday and Monday. When the forestay broke free his headsail quickly unfurled and the 34 year old Kiwi-American’s boat was held on its side for several hours in huge seas and violent gusts of over 60kts.
“He currently has the sail shredding itself in the wind as a flag from the top of the mast but the risk of dismasting has reduced. He managed to get out to put a length of 12mm dyneema as a supplementary stay from mast head to bowsprit and has 2 other lower forestays in place and a triple reefed main,” his shore team reported earlier today. The exhausted skipper told Race Direction that there came a point where he had just closed himself inside the boat and left it to take care of him. He has been recovering since. Colman is reported to have a replacement pin which he will try to replace when the winds reduce sufficiently. This is no simple task.
Eleven hundred miles west, in 13th place, the race’s youngest skipper Alan Roura, 24, had to take emergency action last night when he broke one of his rudders on La Fabrique when it was struck by an object in the water. He was able to stop and replace it with a spare relatively quickly, in spite of the 40kts winds. In 15th, due south of New Zealand, Didac Costa, the Spanish skipper of One Planet One Ocean, is running out of sails. He has had to drop his mainsail after tearing it. He anticipates it will be some time before he can have conditions suitable to make the required repair.
The stress of negotiating the narrow entrance to the bay at Port Esperance in the south of Tasmania, where Sébastien Destremau is making a short pit stop, nearly proved too much. The French skipper struggled with the pressure and admitted he found himself ‘crying like a baby’ for 15 minutes when he felt he could not pick up the required mooring under sail – as required by the race rules. He made an initial U-turn and headed back to sea despite his desperation to check over his rigging before the passage of the Pacific to Cape Horn.
The manoeuvring proved successful and Destremau has climbed his rig, discovering that he has to make a carbon composite repair to a spreader. “The stress level to come all this way and try to get in with no charts, no detailed charts - there are rocks and fish farms – and it is very narrow channel – I did not like it,” Destremau recalled today. “It was a nightmare. I even turned around this morning and said ‘I am not going in’. I thought ‘I can’t do this, I am going to smash this boat on the rocks. And believe it or not, I was so tired, so desperate, so disappointed that I cried. I was on the deck crying like a baby. I thought I am going to sail away and just take my chances. And good luck to me in the Pacific. I cried for a good 15 minutes. That was how tired and stressed I was. But now the boat is tied up I am good. I am fine.”
At the front of the Vendée Globe fleet Alex Thomson in second is 190 miles behind leader Armel Le Cléac’h. The British skipper of Hugo Boss has struggled at times to find the best of the light, fickle tradewinds. In third, Jérémie Beyou has gained more than 400 miles on the leaders since the Pacific. Now 400 miles, or about one day behind Thomson, Beyou was making 17kts this afternoon to the leading duo’s speeds of eight to nine knots.
Three times winner of La Solitaire du Figaro Beyou said: “I have narrowed the gap a little. It had been a while since I was less than 1000 miles from the leaders. It was largely down to the weather. That has cheered me up. When I’m in good weather, I can use my phone or get data down to the computer. Sometimes it takes 3 or 4 hours to get one file. On some days I have managed to get one or two and on others none at all. I don’t have any major worries on Maître CoQ and can use all my sails. I managed to sleep last night and recharge my batteries, which is good as it has been very lively since Cape Horn. It isn’t over yet, as I have a transition to deal with in a few hours from now. I don’t know how that is going to go. If things work out, I’ll be upwind after that along the edge of the high. I’ll then have stronger winds to the Equator.”
Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée): “If I manage to keep up my speed, I should reach Cape Horn as the wind shifts. I’ll arrive reaching from the north and when I go by, I’ll be close hauled for two or three hours. When the wind shifts, I’ll head further south, but I should be very close to the Horn. I don’t want to miss it. After that, there is the Lemaire Strait, then the Falklands to deal with. I got a message from the Chilean authorities warning me of the dangers down there. That makes it exciting but also stressful. I should be able to go inside the Lemaire Strait leaving the Falklands to starboard. I should be able to make the most of the current there. It should be fairly quick before I get a lot of wind to deal with off the Falklands. If things go well I shouldn’t have too much upwind sailing before picking up the Brazilian trade winds. I should be getting into the Doldrums on 16th or 17th.”
Armel le Cléac’h, Banque Populaire VIII: “The trade winds are not very well established. We’re heading north on the right tack. After tacking several times to get the right angle, we’re making headway and should get some more wind tomorrow. For the moment, we’re playing around with the squalls and clouds. We’re trying to find the best route to les Sables d’Olonne, but it’s not easy. It’s the same for everyone, as we are under the influence of the high. I have been exercising since the start. There is the physical and mental fatigue. We’re on the home run and we have to keep going. Manoeuvres seem harder than at the start; but after fifty days of racing, we know what to do. We’ll see the state of play after the Doldrums, which are the next hurdle I hope to have a good lead to be able to tackle the Doldrums with a clear head."
Fabrice Amedeo, Newrest-Matmut: "It’s getting calmer. I have 25 knots of wind and I’m going to hoist some more sail. I have just been through the toughest conditions since the start of the Vendée Globe with 48 knots of wind. I didn’t suffer any damage, but I had to weather the storm for several hours. It’s the first time I have had to do that on an IMOCA. The rankings are incidental. We’re grouped together here. It’s safer to cross the Pacific like that. The ultimate goal is to finish the Vendée Globe.”
Nandor Fa (HUN) Spirit of Hungary: “I had a beautiful sunrise and am sailing upwind in light conditions. It was tough for me when the depression hit us, I was on the east side of it and Conrad was on the west. That was tough for both of us. Maybe I was luckier because I only had 40+kts of wind. The front passed me quite quickly and then I had two small sails and no wind. I had six metres of waves and it was terrible for the boat. I could hardly move at all in the boat or in the cockpit because it was so violent. I have some software problems and the electrical problems I cannot solve. I lost some GPS antennae. I have one left and it is working. I am often frightened. You are scared, tense about losing something. Sometimes you worry about every gust, but if there is anything to be afraid of it is major damage that would not allow me to keep going. Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday when we started. When you are moving well it feels like that. But now it feels like two months away from land. Physically I am not tired but you feel it mentally.”