The 11th edition of the Route Du Rhum started from France and there has been much carnage. In addition to two of the Ultime trimarans sustaining hull damage that forced them out of the race, there has been damage on many of the other boats. Overnight the much-anticipated storm in the Bay of Biscay hit the fleet and two boats were dismasted. British skipper Sam Goodchild was dismasted while lying in third place on his Class 40 Narcos Mexico. “Sam was in third place and going well in 30 knots of south-southwesterly wind,” Goodchild’s team manager Marcus Hutchinson commented. “He has no idea as yet why the rig failed. He has cut the mast and rigging free but has saved the boom and will try to set a jury rig.” Shortly after Godchild dropped his mast there was a report that the Franco-German racer Isabelle Joschke aboard her IMOCA 60 Monin had also been dismasted. Both skippers are safe and are heading for port.
Then around noon local time, the Ultime trimaran Banque Populaire IX capsized. The boat appears to have capsized following the breakdown of her port float. The French skipper Armel Le Cléac’h triggered his distress beacon and made contact with his technical team who, along with the race organizers, are mounting a rescue and salvage effort. At the time of the capsize Banque Populaire IX was roughly 340 miles northeast of the Azores Islands and dealing with winds of around 30-35 knots with higher gusts. Le Cléac’h is safe inside the boat waiting to be rescued.
Route du Rhum Race Director Jacques Caraes summarized things with a statement. “It has been a difficult night with 40-45 knots of wind with cross seas of five to six meters. The problems we have heard of from skippers have mostly been with their autopilots. But it has also been very difficult to make maneuvers in the seas and wind and changing sails has been very hard work for all the sailors.”
The strong winds of 40-45 knots are associated with the passage of a cold front. So far it is the light, powerful Multi50s that have borne the brunt of the bad weather. Class leader Lalou Roucayrol has chosen to be prudent and was heading for shelter in Portugal. During the night Roucayol reported winds of 55 knots gusting to 60 with seas around five meters.
Meanwhile, the two leading boats of Francois Gabart aboard Macif and Francis Joyon on IDEC Sport have managed to outsprint the worst of the weather and are averaging 20 knots as they passed the latitude of Cape St Vincent, the most southwesterly point of Portugal this morning. Gabart has lighter winds ahead of him and has been unable to shake off Joyon, the sailing legend who, along with a small crew currently holds the record for the fastest circumnavigation of the world. At 62 Francis Joyon is one of the older skippers in the race and he is also one of the most tenacious pushing Gabart every mile and closing to within 30 miles. At the speeds, both boats are sailing this puts IDEC Sport about an hour and a half behind Macif.
Alex Thomson has had a tough night aboard Hugo Boss. His lead in the IMOCA division has shrunk to just eight miles, down from over 20. He is still battling to get south on a very different course to that of his French rivals who are already further to the south. He will also have had bigger seas to contend with. Second-placed Vincent Riou on PRB and Paul Meilhat, third on SMA are now 135 miles to the southeast of the British skipper and on distance-to-finish, they are 30 and 40 miles astern respectively.
It looks like the bulk of the Route du Rhum fleet will have strong westerly winds for the next couple of days before they get into the Trade Winds which should form south of the latitude of the Strait of Gibraltar. This is about the weather that was expected and not out of place for a late Fall start from the north coast of France.