A battle of the giants in the Route du Rhum

14 Nov

Francis Joyon celebrates his Route du Rhum win in Guadeloupe


It was a battle of the giants right up until the last few miles of a rough and wet Atlantic crossing as François Gabart on his Ultime trimaran Macif fought off a last minute challenge from Francis Joyon on his Ultime trimaran IDEC Sport. In the end it was Joyon who prevailed after a cat and mouse crossing where IDEC was always behind, but close enough and ready to pounce at any time. And he pounced just as Gabart fell into a wind shadow on the leeward side of Guadeloupe and took a line honors victory and setting a new course record. In the end it was local knowledge, a little luck and a nod from the karma gods that got the legendary Joyon his win. 

Francis Joyon owns a cruising boat which he keeps in Martinique and he is very familiar with this stretch of the Caribbean and well aware of the long wind shadows that these volcanic islands throw. Gabart, while wily and smart, underestimated the reach of the wind shadow and fell into a windless zone. After a week where his boat speed barely dropped below 20 knots he found himself sailing at less than one knot and was unable to fend off a challenge as IDEC Sport did an end run around him.  In the clammy Caribbean heat Joyon glided across the finish line at 23:21.47 local time (03:21.47 UTC) to pip Gabart on Macif by just seven minutes and eight seconds. It was a thrilling finish to a dramatic race.

François Gabart faces the media after finishing second

In a fleet of six Ultimes sailed by some of France’s highest profile most successful skippers, Joyon was considered very much the outsider. His boat is three tons heavier than Gabart’s newer foil-assisted Macif but his lifetime of ocean racing and record-setting experience was a perfect combination for his 103-foot trimaran, the same boat in which he and five crew set the current 40-day, non-stop, round-the-world record in 2017. Gabart, by the way, holds the record for the fastest single-handed circumnavigation at around 42 days. With his win in Guadeloupe Joyon takes the course record away from another legendary French sailor Loïck Peyron. Peyron won the race four years ago after deciding at the last minute to skipper the Ultime trimaran, Banque Populaire. Joyon’s time of 7 days, 14 minutes and 21 seconds shaves just under an hour off Peyron’s record time.

The two rivals discuss the race

Further back on the racecourse British sailor Alex Thomson aboard Hugo Boss consolidated his lead in the IMOCA 60 fleet. After taking a well reasoned flyer soon after the start that propelled him into the lead, Thomson found himself well to the north and west of his competitors but closer to the finish to put him in first place.  Like a seasoned dinghy sailor Alex knew that he was out on a limb and needed to put himself between his closest competitor and the finish line, in other words he needed to ‘cover’ them and that’s exactly what he did. He rocketed south and once on the same latitude as his closest rival, Paul Mielhat on SMA, he gybed and was in a perfect position to fend off any challenge. As of this morning Thomson holds a healthy 190 miles lead over Mielhat.

Hugo Boss with skipper Alex Thomson

Further back in the fleet there was a mid-ocean collision between Sébastien Destremau and Ari Huusela. Huusela was sailing on a westerly course while Déstremau was heading south in search of stronger tradewinds when the collision happened in the early hours of the morning. Both boats were running on auto-pilot and neither skipper was keeping a good lookout. Fortunately there was only minor damage. Destremau has damage to his bowsprit and according to race management Huusela has some minor hull damage. A good lesson there; despite the size of the Atlantic there is a lot out there to hit including, in this case, a fellow competitor.

The trade wind section of the Route du Rhum is often thought to be the easy part, but this morning came the news that one of the most experienced and successful skippers in this race has capsized in a violent squall about 1,000 nautical miles east of Guadeloupe. The Multi50 skipper Lalou Roucayrol, who is sailing his fourth Route du Rhum, was caught out by a sudden and violent spike in the easterly wind and was unable to prevent the boat flipping over. Fortunately he is safe and well inside the main hull of his boat and was able to alert both his shore team and the race director and a rescue plan is underway. 

Multi50 skipper Lalou Roucayrol

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Brian Hancock – Owner Great Circle Sails


This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog

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