Alex Thomson and Neal McDonald are working on the safest place to navigate their damaged 60′ monohull, ‘Hugo Boss’, after announcing their withdrawal from the 14th edition the Transat Jacque Vabre.
Earlier in the day they informed the race office that they were withdrawing from the race with the keel of their brand new 60ft monohull attached only by the hydraulic ram after hitting something in the water whilst travelling at around 25 knots.
Hugo Boss had completed just over a third of the 4,350-mile course of this biennial double-handed race to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil – the longest and toughest in the sailing calendar. It will be little comfort to Thomson that his situation would appear to be a lot better than when he was helicoptered to safety after capsizing his previous boat in 2015.
Both skippers were working with their technical team on the best destination. The newly-launched and much admired ‘Hugo Boss’ is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, about 420 miles southwest from Madeira and 380 miles northwest of the Canary Islands.
Thomson and McDonald, the ‘Hugo Boss’ performance manger, had said that this race was about finishing and learning rather than winning. No one will be more disappointed than them that none of these things are possible now.
It has not been the happiest week for ‘Hugo Boss’. They had only just emerged from a ridge of high pressure that had left them 500 miles from the leaders. On Wednesday, in his first communication from the boat since the start on Sunday, October 27, Thomson said that it was sail damage at Ushant after the first night at sea rather than strategy that had forced them to choose the route.
They were not alone in what was perhaps a more extraordinary divide than ever seen in the previous 13 editions of the Route de Café. Four others (‘Malizia II Yacht Club de Monaco’, ‘Bureau Vallée II’, ‘Maître CoQ IV’ and ‘Prysmian Group’) also saw an opportunity to get a slingshot ride south from the great depression coming from the Azores. These western IMOCA were joined by ‘Advens for cybersecurity’.
Any lingering hope that the investment in the west would pay off appeared to close last Wednesday as the ridge of high pressure seemed to dissipate for the leaders in the South whilst another bubbled up for the westerners.
At the front of the race, the leader, ‘Charal’, which has now completed half the race course, was the only one of the leading group of 11 IMOCA to risk the wind shadow of the Canary Islands, threading between Tenerife and Gran Canaria. They lost nearly 20 miles in four hours to ‘Apivia’ from the 11:00 UTC – 15:00 UTC.
The leading group are now in 14-16 knots north-easterlies plunging south towards the Cape Verde islands, which they will pass overnight (UTC time that is). The three Multi50 are already there, with ‘Primonial’, unfortunately forced to stay for a pit-stop in Mindelo with energy problems. As ever, the Doldrums looms and all the skippers are looking for the best way to get west. But they are “thinning and getting organised” according to Richard Silvani of Météo France. A picture which can change by the hour.
Charlie Enright / Pascal Bidegorry on the 2015 foiler, ‘11th Hour Racing’, are in fifth and were just a mile behind ‘PRB’ at the 15:00 UTC and 95 miles behind ‘Charal’. “We’re doing everything we can just to push,” Enright, competing in his first Transat Jacques Vabre and making his first short-handed Atlantic crossing, said. “It’s crazy trade wind sailing, so it’s push, push, push while we can. The pace has been pretty insane and obviously I’ve been doing a lot of stuff on the boat that (laughs) – I haven’t done sailing like this before, it’s been good.
“In a couple of days, we’ll move over to the west. Once you’re in the east it’s hard to get west, so we’re kind of just setting it all up. That’s the goal (a podium finish) certainly, from where we are, catching the other two boats certainly isn’t far-fetched and even the ‘Apivias’ and ‘Charals’ of the world if the Doldrums covered up, but in 14-16 knots and calmer sea state conditions those guys are pretty untouchable.”
If there is less surprise at the identity of the two leading 60ft monohulls – ‘Charal’ and ‘Apivia’ are both latest generation foilers – the speed the 29-year-old Frenchwoman, Clarisse Crémer and Vendée Globe winner, Armel Le Cléac’h (‘Banque Populaire IX’), is stunning as they have not upgraded their 2010 boat with foils and just have the old daggerboards.
In the smaller monohulls of the Class 40, now a third of the way to Salvador de Bahia, the leaders have been facing exactly the same picture as the IMOCA around them, west is best . Kito de Pavant (‘Made in Midi’) summed up the situation in his morning message: “The wind did not meet our expectations (by a long way), which made our option catastrophic.” The former leader is now in seventh position – ‘Made in Midi’ lost two more places overnight – and by his side, ‘Crosscall Chamonix Mont Blanc’ has not fared much better.
Banque du Léman took full advantage of the situation in the west, rising four places in one day, with a speed boost that looks promising for the rest of the race. But as they positioned further the west the three in front plunged south in better breeze and have escaped a little.
‘Crédit Mutuel’ still leads with Britain’s Sam Goodchild on ‘Leyton’ keeping pace in second just a mile ahead of ‘Aïna Enfance’ and ‘Avenir’ at the 15:00 UTC.
The Class40 race will enter a new phase this evening. The leaders should gybe and start to lengthen their stride south under spinnaker.
As for those at the back, still north of Casablanca, their progress could be hampered by the aftermath of the enormous swell generated by the storm ‘Amélie’, which is currently sweeping France.