Tuesday 3 January
The race leaders, Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII) and Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) now 136 miles behind, are among the slowest in the fleet this morning making ten and nine knots respectively. Thomson has tacked this morning on to starboard to finally head northwards after getting into the NE’ly trade winds. Though this trade wind will progressively veer to the east and south east as they rise northwards, the trades remain light at only up to 15-18kts. But towards this upper end of this wind range Thomson should be back close to the optimum advantage for his working foil. They should reach the Equator between the seventh and eighth of January and weather routing predictions still has them only seven to eight hours apart on today’s models.
COLMAN FIXES IN STORMY CONDITIONS
From one of the most remote locations of the Vendée Globe race course, 1700 miles west of Cape Horn in the middle of the Pacific some very hostile conditions with winds still between 40 and 50kts, the exhausted Kiwi skipper Conrad Colman has reported that he has managed to make a temporary fix to his forestay on Foresight Natural Energy.
Colman told Race Direction at the Paris HQ that he has managed to secure the forestay to the bow. After working on the bow in horrendous conditions Colman is now exhausted, saying he would rest before continuing eastwards towards the Horn. He still had winds of 40kts and big seas but they should subside progressively today. Jacques Caraës, Race Director said this morning: “Conrad has really been through it. He had to fight hard to lock his stay in place. He is exhausted, but got back racing at 0200 hrs.” In the same area of the Pacific some 340 miles to the East, conditions have already improved for now for Nandor Fa (Spirit of Hungary) who said, after the same storm as Colman: “After a day and a horrible night with winds in excess of forty knots, I suddenly found myself with no wind in 6-8m high waves. It was horrible!” The heavy weather is now passed for the Hungarian skipper. “The wind is now reasonable again. There is even some sunshine. I’m fine and can start to sail again.” Back marker Sébastien Destremau has now stopped in Esperance Bay, Tasmania at around 0130 UTC to check the rig on his TechnoFirst-faceOcean. And Spanish skipper Didac Costa in 15th place on One Planet One Ocean has had to drop his mainsail to make repairs.
Like Colman and Fa, but some 960 miles behind in a different low pressure system, Alan Roura (La Fabrique), Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut), Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline) and Eric Bellion have all had some strong winds, as has Rich Wilson (Great American IV). Bellion, the skipper of CommeUnSeulHomme has consolidated his tenth place having been the sailor who sailed the greatest distance in the past 24 hours: 371 miles. Others in this group sailed between 246 and 362 miles. The Pacific is not being kind to Irishman, Enda O’Coineen (retired after dismasting off New Zealand on January 1st), whose speed is very low as he heads for Dunedin and was down to just two knots this morning. Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland will not be able to avoid the gales moving in and will have to weather another storm before finding shelter in New Zealand.
ALAN ROURA HAS REPLACED HIS DAMAGED RUDDER
Yesterday evening, Alan Roura contacted his shore team to inform them that his starboard rudder had been damaged after a collision with an unidentified floating object, which also led to an ingress of water at the stern of the boat. This morning, the rudder has been replaced, the leak is under control and La Fabrique is back sailing again.
Alan was inside his boat at around 2230hrs UTC when he heard a thud, when the boat collided with a UFO. The young skipper immediately saw that his starboard rudder had broken and that the carbon rod holding it in place had snapped. This led to an ingress of water. Alan began by securing the boat and closing the flooded compartment.
Hove to and heeled over deliberately at 60° on the starboard tack to stem the ingress of water, Alan did what he could to stem the flow, but by then a large section of the boat had been flooded. There does not appear to be any major structural damage following the collision apart from the bearing on the rudder which ensures that the part is lined up correctly, so Alan was able to think about replacing his rudder.
Remaining calm and determined to solve the problem as quickly as possible, the 23-year old Swiss sailor set about doing that. Within two hours, the spare rudder was in place.
“The low arrived and the wind just kept on strengthening. There was about 30 knots, when the boat suddenly came to a standstill. I head a big bang, went outside and saw the starboard rudder floating behind the boat. It had obviously been hit by a UFO. I had to inspect the damage. Water started to rise around my feet and then calves. I soon understand that I needed to react quickly. I got the boat heeled over to stop the water from coming in. The wind was up to 40-45 knots with a 6m swell. I did what I could to stem the ingress, but it was impossible, with very heavy seas. Ten minutes later the stern section was flooded. I was gradually sinking. Water was getting in everywhere. The boat was very unstable so I lowered the mainsail with the J3 on the wrong side and the keel to leeward to get her right over. I needed to fit the spare rudder. I threw the rudder in the water and then pulled it up to slot it into its housing. After 30 minutes of a huge struggle with the desire to save my boat, I managed to get it in place.”
“The water had created a real mess inside and covered all the bags. I don’t have any dry clothes. Everything is soaked. Fortunately the bag with the spare computer was dry, as the onboard computer didn’t like the 50cm of water in the boat. My race against the others is over. I need o take the time to carry out repairs to bring my boat home safely to Les Sables d’Olonne. I’m not giving up. If I managed to get the ruder in place in such conditions, I should be capable of making it all the way around. The weather is not going to help me in the next couple of days. I’m trying to stay north to get the lighter winds as soon as possible. If I can’t manage to carry out repairs there, I’ll shelter near the Horn before climbing back up the Atlantic.”
Louis Burton at the Horn tomorrow morning
Fortunately the Pacific and Atlantic are being kinder to others. Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) is expected to round Cape Horn on Wednesday morning at around 0400hrs UTC. He has found what he calls exceptional conditions. ”I have 23 knots of wind and calm seas. It’s fantastic! I’m really happy and it feels like one of those incredible, yet stressful moments that are so exciting.” He is making it sound easy but Burton spent the whole day at the helm on New Year’s Day, while repairing his two autopilots.
In the Atlantic, it is Yann Eliès who has had the best day on Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir. He was the fastest of the six leading boats and has got back to within 45 miles of fourth placed, Jean-Pierre Dick on StMichel-Virbac who continues to be consistently slower. Eliès is ahead of Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent) by around thirty miles. It’s been smooth sailing for Jérémie Beyou in third place with the skipper of Maître Coq gaining 70 miles on Alex Thomson, although the British sailor is still 580 miles ahead.
ENDA O’COINEEN’S BOAT DISMASTED
In a few unfortunate moments the Vendée Globe solo round the world race came to a premature end for Irish skipper Enda O’Coineen. A sudden, unexpectedly strong gust at 35kts of wind overpowered his autopilot, resulting in two crash gybes leaving no time to get a running backstay on to support the mast. In seconds the mast of Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland is broken, falling over the side of the boat.
Lying in 15th place in the famous round the world race, which represented the pinnacle of his lifetime of sailing and adventuring, O’Coineen had only just completed a series of necessary repairs 24 hours earlier, whilst sheltered in the lee of Stewart Island, at the very southernmost tip of New Zealand. Ironically only two hours previous to his mast crashing down, he had made a New Year’s video, promising to recalibrate his natural affinity for risk.
Rich Wilson (Great American IV): “We are still standing. A very bad night. The violence that the sea can heap on a boat is not describable. It was bad when the front was approaching, we were heading east, going across the seas, with a north wind, and thus a north to south sea train. Then when the front arrived, and the wind started to go from North to North Northwest to Northwest to West Northwest, we followed it around, keeping at right angles to it. The problem then is that we end up sailing directly into the sea that has been built up and the crashing gets much, much, much worse. I’m sitting at the chart table, watching instruments. The boat crashes off of, or gets crushed by, a breaking sea, or whatever, a big crash, and my finger moves off the barograph, across the keel canting control panel, and stabs the Standby button on the autopilot, which is about 8 inches away, which turns off the autopilot, so the boat then crash tacks, everything in the cabin comes flying across the cabin, the boat lays over on the other side, 4 tons of ballast water on the wrong side, 3 tons of keel bulb on the wrong side, the mainsail and boom are held by the preventer, the storm jib is backwinded into the daggerboard, the boat lies at 50 degrees of heel, and sits there, going sideways, making a bow wave with the side of the boat. Eventually crash tacked back and continued. Utterly Exhausted. Sorted the boat, got going where we wanted to go, went into the cabin, closed the door, climbed into the sleeping bag, and left the boat to do hopefully, the right thing.”
Didac Costa (One Planet One Ocean): “A difficult week comes to an end. The low to the south of Australia put the boat and me to the test. Every nm earned had a high cost, with accumulated fatigue for the equipment and some damage. Apart from the problem I already have with the sails, I have the added one of the autopilots now. You can imagine how important these are to solo sailors. Within the different parts that make up the autopilot, there is one that especially suffers wear after several weeks of sailing: the mechanical arm (piston and motor), that never stops working to maintain the course. Something similar to what happens with the sails on board has happened with them. They have begun to give worrying signs of wear. When I was replacing the original arms for the spare ones, I had an electronic problem that left me without autopilots for a few hours. It happened when I had been two days with any sleep and the solution was not so obvious. The relief was huge when I managed to fix it, because I had quickly found myself in an extreme situation: without autopilots, exhausted… Down here a small problem can quickly become a big problem.”
Jean-Pierre Dick, StMichel-Virbac: “It’s been complicated over the past 24 hours as I have had winds in excess of 40 knots. I entered an area of low pressure and am trying to cross the centre. I had to take in some reefs. It’s been tiring as there are lots of manoeuvres to do. It’s frustrating to do so much work and not be fast. Yann (Eliès) and Jean (le Cam) have narrowed the gap. The wind is now down to twenty knots, but will gradually strengthen and I’ll be upwind, which means a lot of work out on the deck, trimming and changing the sails. It’s not very easy, although I don’t have any major problems on the boat.”
Pieter Heerema (NED) No Way Back: “I am just past the south of Tasmania and it is all going well. As always you prepare a little for the New Year and then the wind got up and I was busy and the boat was bouncing around and so there was no New Year and no party. The last two days have been tough weird winds with gusts, not particularly strong but with big, big winds. I can only sail on compass mode. And so you cannot go too far from the tiller or the push buttons. That keeps you busy all the time. The wind will increase steadily over the next day or day and a half. In a couple of days I will have 30-35 knots behind the front of a depression. I have one of these new fast boats and it is a bit sad I have not been able to let it perform like it should. It has new development foils which are really superb but I have not been able to show that because I have had these problems. Only now can I start to put the foot down and go a little bit faster. I will speed up a bit but mostly I will try to stay wise and prudent.”
Highlights from an intense 8th week!: