As it so often does La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe sees deeply contrasting fortunes on the race course between Saint-Malo and Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe this Saturday evening.
Race leader Loick Peyron just over 700 miles to go to the finish line with a lead of 180 miles over second placed Yann Guichard. Ahead there seems a fighting chance of a victory in the mythical French transatlantic, one win which has so far eluded him over six previous attempts. And the icing on the cake is a possible chance of beating Lionel Lemonchois' race record of 7 day 17 hours, which he set in 2006. Peyron's target is to cross the line before 0619hrs UTC (0719hrs CET/0219hrs local) on the morning of Monday 10th.
Heading east, nursing his shattered dreams and his hobbled, dismasted Class 40 Cat Phones is British skipper Conrad Humphreys. He has a long, lonely 330 miles to make under engine to the safe haven of Cascais by Lisbon, about four days of solitude, trying to stay positive and look forwards to his next race. Humphreys suffered some kind of rigging failure – he believes – which caused his mast to snap in two places whilst sailing in relatively moderate sea and wind conditions late on Friday afternoon. The Plymouth skipper suffered the same fate at the very start of his solo ocean-racing career on this race in 2002. Back then it was during of one of the most notorious storms of the race's history. So it hurts more when it appears to be a mechanical failure of some type.
"As you can imagine, I feel absolute devastation about what has happened," said Conrad. "But all the rigging has gone. I had to cut it all away. We've lost it all. It's very upsetting." Humphreys had fought back to 12th place in the fleet after having to pit-stop on the first night. "We'd managed to claw our way back into it after our earlier pit stop. I thought I had a good chance of getting a good result. I dreamt of finishing this race - it's such a fantastic race with a fantastic field."
"I am devastated, very very sad." He only had enough fuel on board for around 100 miles at the time so a rendezvous was arranged with the cargo ship Federal Maas, which transferred a further 200 litres to him in pitch darkness. "It was pretty terrifying," said Humphreys. "But the Indian captain was amazing. He and his crew kept getting the line on to my boat with jerry cans of diesel. They came alongside and they were obviously a long way up – around 10 metres above me – so to get the line down in those conditions and in the dark was just amazing. I can't thank them enough."
Contacted via satellite phone by the race organisers this morning, Conrad describes the moment he lost his rig and the situation he is currently in: "At the time I was reaching in 15/17 knots of breeze, I am not 100% sure of what happened. I think one of the check-stays or the runners gave way, but certainly one of the cables. The mast broke in two places, I tried to recover it, and then later I managed to rendezvous with a cargo ship. It came along side. It was pretty terrifying when they transferred the diesel. I am now motoring towards Cascais (Portugal), which is about 350 miles away. I am absolutely gutted, particularly when I had clawed by way back into the race. I was thinking I could get into the top ten and was really thinking I could finish this race, even after having to pit stop. The boat is very, very quick under reaching conditions and I had really managed to get into a good position and making good ground. I am devastated, very very sad. It is such a fantastic race and I really thought I had a good chance of getting a good result."
After a night with no sleep or food, his job now is to progressively transfer the fuel into the fuel tanks. Conrad's technical operations manager Hugh Fletcher explained: "Conrad has a load of jerry cans so has had to make a funnel from the top of a 5-litre bottle of water so he can get the fuel into the tank.
"The problem is that there is a big following sea of around 4 metres and it's breaking over the back of the boat which is making the whole platform unstable. It's also risking getting water into the fuel tank. But he's done a brilliant job so far and has managed to fill the tank. And he's motoring at six knots so he's making good progress."
For triple round-the-world sailor Humphreys the Route du Rhum still remains unfinished business ...
With just over 1000 miles to go to the finish line the two pairs of leaders in the Multi50 class and the IMOCA Class are still in the same stretch of the ocean, working on the NE margin of the Azores high pressure, racing in unsettled 15-18kts trade winds, requiring a lot of trimming. IMOCA leader Francois Gabart still has about 25 miles of advantage and is two knots fast than second placed Jérémie Beyou (Maitre Coq). Italy's Alessandro di Benedetto (Team Plastique AFM Telethon) got back under way yesterday evening after making his composite repairs to his rudder mechanism. He is still 270 miles ahead of longstanding rival Tanguy de Lamotte who beat him to the finish of last year's Transat Jacques Vabre by mere minutes and with whom he raced around the world as his nearest rival on the last Vendée Globe. De Lamotte has a newer, faster boat now and is averaging more than two knots quicker than the Italian double circumnavigator. Erwan Le Roux leads the Multi 50s by less than one mile on the late afternoon rankings!
Half of the Class 40 fleet are under spinnakers west of Madeira. The conditions may be loosely called 'Trade Winds' but in reality it is often more like the Doldrums with some squalls and big changes in wind direction and pressure. For a Sudist (southern) solo skipper it is the northern route, closer to the rhumb line which paid the top dividend for Kito de Pavant (Otio Bastide-Medical) The Mediterranean skipper from the Midi region is in control with more than 35 miles ahead of Yannick Bestaven (Curator) and Spain's Alex Pella (Tales 2 Santander). Miranda Merron, the French based English skipper, is seventh at 84 miles behind the leaders.
In the Rhum class the difference is clear. Andrea Mura (mono) is sailing well offshore, in the southeast of the Azores and Anne Caseneuve (in multi) in the middle of the first Class40 in the west of Madeira. Mura leads. And Merron's last remaining compatriot, Sir Robin Knox Johnston is ninth.
ETA (Estimated Time UTC)
Ultime: Monday, November 10 between 0300hrs and 0700hrs
Multi50: Thursday, November 13 between 14 and 22 hours
IMOCA: Friday, November 13 to 20 hours
Class40: Tuesday, November 18 at 330
Rhum Class: Sunday 23 November
Ultime Class / Loick Peyron – Banque Populaire: "We had a beautiful night. Now we are sailing in squalls and there is not much wind so we are slowing down a bit. So we are on one long port tack and we will see if I do not have to do one last gybe before the finish in Guadeloupe. It is not bad to go round the ridge of high pressure, but at some point you have to cross it and try and not get caught up in the squalls and high winds. Every night it is a little more perturbed and I just do not know why. I slept well and had a long siesta. Seeing the full moon as backdrop is pretty amazing, I have rarely seen a more beautiful moon rise, a Star Wars worthy moon!"
Ultime Class / Yann Eliès - PAPREC RECYCLING: "I have a problem with the port rudder and I hope we still have some of it at the finish, which should be in around 24 hours. There is a bit left of it and we just have to hope that will hold the next 24 hours. I am guessing there is a bit missing on the outside top art, but not sure, as there is too much swell to go and look.
The pace is very intense, as we have had a lot wind. Since Madeira, I have been enjoying it. Like everyone we had to sit tight and hold it together. There have been tough times where I lost a lot of ground because I had minor technical problems and then once the trade winds came in it is great and I am really enjoying it.
We have good conditions behind compared to those ahead that have had rather week trades. I am still not sure about the choice of sail, the trim, but then that is normal as I am new to this.
I am 200 miles behind the leaders. If I had not had technical problems at a crucial time before Madeira, I would be behind, but not by so far. That is only a small disappointment."
Class 40 / Kito de Pavant - Otio – Bastide Medical: "I have not seen the sun nor moon for a few days. We are going through an area with unpleasant drizzle that I suppose comes after the ridge of low low pressure. The weather is facetious and I am very careful not to get into a more southern area where the anticyclone is struggling to rebuild. I gybe the minute the wind dies a bit. For now, things are going pretty well for me. Whilst it is getting warmer, I am not tempted to take off a layer or two or the wet weather gear. I can't wait for the deck to be a bit drier so I can consider some major repairs that are needed.
Rhum Class / Willy Bissainte - Tradysion Gwadloup: "This is the washing machine , but it 's okay. We have 25 knots of wind, a little sea, and a crosswind but it is manageable. I 'm glad the wind like this. It is better than being becalmed like I was four years ago. I am not complaining! At the moment I have to my right the sun and to my left the clouds. We need to have clouds to have wind, so much the better for the race! I continue to duel with the Finn, Ari Huusela, who has the same boat as me, a Pogo -40, and will do so right up tot the finish..."
Multi 50 Class / Yves Le Blévec - ACTUAL: "There is one night we need to catch up on so we had better be going fast! I have a fast boat, so it is easier. It sails well and I am doing everything I can to make it go fast. There are good conditions and will try and hold on to those. The sea is nice, flat with a steady wind. We have some 15-20 knots, and will have to go into the low-pressure areas, so things will slow down. We see update reports every hour so can see the competition and work out which ones are not doing so well in the conditions.
I must be able to eat well and rest well. I have made bacon and eggs and was about to make my tea. The program for today: helm a bit, study my course, and call each other and eat / sleep to be in good shape ...."
Multi 50 Class / Pierre Antoine – OLMIX: This is one of the most rare phenomenons – Pierre Antoine was struck by lightning and rescued earlier this week. He describes the accident and rescue operation:
"I had been through severe and violent thunderstorms Monday night. The lightening struck on Tuesday morning when the squalls had passed. It came as an incredible and very violent surprise. It was as if someone had thrown a grenade inside the boat. So I went down to get the fire extinguishers and try and put out the fire, but saw that we were taking on water fast and already standing in 50 cm and that the batteries were flooded.
It was terrible and I knew I could not continue to sail and that the race was over. I ended up with 1.5 meters of water inside.
I let of the alarm to call the Maritimes Rescue Services. I have to thank the Spanish rescue services that were so quick in the salvage, particularly since I no longer had any means of communication.
It was a pretty brutal experience.
The boat was towed into the port of Corunna. We saved the boat. We managed to bring it before the big gale. It is not in good condition and pretty mashed up. It looks really but that boat is repairable, there is no structural damage. There is a big project but the boat will be able to sail once again."
Foto Alexis Courcoux
Class 40 / Giancarlo Pedote - Fantastica: "Everything is going very well, I had a pretty hard early part of the race. Now things are slow and the sky is a little cloudier. I have between 17 and 18 knots of wind, there is the odd gust, but we are not doing too badly here. I had a lot of damage on the first night but things are better. I am fine and just trying to sail at 100% holding on, not lag behind and believe that you can do it right up to the end!
There is an area of very high pressure that we have to sail round to avoid getting stuck in the area of no wind. There will also be favourable winds to sail south.
It is a matter of negotiating getting round whilst also looking to cover the least number of miles possible on the most direct course."