© Pierre Bouras - TR Racing
With 1,000 miles to go on the RDR the Imoca title is in the balance
After the redoubtable 66-year-old Francis Joyon last night completed his eighth Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe in fourth place on his 105ft/32m Ultim IDEC Sport, completing his dockside interview in Pointe-à-Pitre with the words, "this may not have been my last shot of rum", the spotlight now moves to the IMOCA fleet, where one final intense battle seems set to be in prospect over the final 1,000 miles into Guadeloupe.
Outstanding pre-race favourite Charlie Dalin (Apivia) – who has led since the start - was passed this morning by Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut), who seems to have profited from a more settled, stronger trade winds breeze thanks to his westerly position yesterday. Dalin repositioned to join his long-time rival and the pair were, this afternoon, engaged in a match race just a few miles apart.
So, after nine days and 2,500 miles of hard racing, the IMOCA class is wide open and rather than being the usual drag race to the Tête à l'Anglais buoy to the north of Guadeloupe, the final two or three days look set to be a test of tactics and changing gears, predicting the small scale changes on the water ahead, and trimming to make small gains here and there.
Contrast it with the same point in the 2018 race when British skipper Alex Thomson was the best part of 100 nautical miles ahead of a mixed fleet of boats of different styles and generations. To date this IMOCA race has been engagingly atypical, because the usual initial north-westerly option was largely closed because of the predicted sea states and strong winds. And all the skippers on new boats wanted to minimise their risks at all costs.
The class winner will most likely be decided on the final 53-mile passage around the west of Basse Terre where calms often lie waiting to snare the unwary leader. This nearly always benefits the chasing rival or pack.
But in a title showdown which is increasingly being described in terms of the finale of a La Solitaire du Figaro three-day 600 mile race, who would bet against Dalin, who finished five times on La Solitaire podium in consecutive years?
Closely matched rivals on the last Vendée Globe - until Ruyant damaged his port foil and had to watch Dalin sail away - the leading duo have 30 miles in hand over Kevin Escoffier (Holcim-PRB) who is third.
Describing the messy trade winds condition Escoffier highlighted this morning, "In these trade winds, gaps open and close in a short time depending on a wind shift or squall. When you are sailing a boat, it can be quite logical, but it's also a matter of chance. If you're in the wrong place at the wrong time and you get a squall, you can lose 30-40 miles in one night. The weather charts predict things we don't necessarily get out on the water. You have to grab any opportunities and be lucky."
The west has been good for Briton Pip Hare (Medallia) who has been trucking down the right flank of the IMOCA fleet in 13th place despite a hole on the lower part of her mainsail. Having worked yesterday on a repair to limit the damage and reinforce the load paths where possible, Hare was on upbeat form today. She reported, "I have had the best night. It actually does not get much better than this, I don't think. It is warm. The sea is just right, it is not too big. I could maybe do with just a bit more breeze, please. But it is a great angle, the boat is lit up, it is incredible. It makes all of that headbanging in the first week OK again. It is great to be catching Isabelle Joschke a little bit."
Hare had slowed a little this afternoon and not going quite as quick as those to her east. Kiwi Conrad Colman (Imagine) is enjoying the race within the race of the daggerboard boats on which he is third behind Tanguy le Turquais and Seb Marsset.
Imagine skipper Colman, in 17th reported, "One problem is that my main computer has stopped working completely. And I am surrounded by images of the Microsoft blue screen of death which has got progressively worse and is now cooked. And then I had to finish reconfiguring my B computer which I have done and I am fully operational. And I have a problem on the processor on the autopilot and so I am on the back up pilot and it is a little bit less stable, less precise. I need to be a lot more attentive and a lot more on the button when it comes to potential wipeouts of which I have had several last night. I am working hard and not getting a lot of sleep at the moment."
Sam Davies (Initiatives-Cœur), has been struggling in her new boat and is in an uncharacteristic 27th place. She explained: "I haven't dared look at the rankings for three days, as I'm certainly not proud of where I am. Now I'm giving myself the task of clawing back the miles from the boats ahead. For the moment, I don't have any squalls. I'm going to grab some sleep to prepare for the days ahead, which look physically very demanding."
If the podium in the IMOCA class is in the balance and the first boats should finish Sunday night or Monday morning, the Class 40 fleet – now reduced to 38 boats of the 55 starters – has a solid leader in Yoann Richomme (Paprec-Arkea) who is more than 65 miles clear. French rival Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) had to stop and repair cracks to the front of his new boat but is back up to speed having dropped from third to eighth.
Italy's Ambrogio Beccaria (Allegrande-Pirelli) is second and hunting down Richomme, going a knot quicker tonight. Beccaria reported today, "I have the boat ready for the trade winds at last! Right now, I'm in a bit of a tight angle, so we're very fast and heeling, but if it calms down a bit here, I think tomorrow I'll take out the pressure cooker and make myself something to eat, maybe a nice risotto!
I'm very happy because the boat downwind is really fast. On the downside, I'm struggling a lot because I don't have the wind instrument to help me understand which sail to put on: depending on the intensity of the wind and the angle, there are different sails to use, but not knowing the angle, I'm having a hard time choosing what to use. Today I'm trying to rest a bit, because tomorrow the wind will be stronger and there will be some gybing to do: it will be very physical over the next four days!"
Looking ahead to the finish, Beccaria said: "The routings give me 5 days to the finish, but for now we are going much faster than the routings so it might take even less. We are finally in Transat mode! My competitors Simon (Koster, Banque du Leman) and Corentin (Douguet, Queguiner - Innoveo) are very close, we can see each other and it's super fun. It's a pity that neither of us has AIS, so I can't check on them, nor know how fast they're going or what heading thery're keeping, and consequently neither can they, but that's OK: we have the positions on Adrena and that's enough."
Switzerland's Simon Koster (Banque du Leman) is fourth and Beccaria's Italian compatriot Alberto Bona (IBSA) fifth, albeit 36 miles behind Koster. The USA's Alex Mehran is 13th on Polka Dot.
In the Rhum classes Roland Jourdain is still in the lead in Multi, Jean-Pierre Dick in the Mono. And in the Ocean Fifty class, with less than 48 hours to go before the finish, Quentin Vlamynck (Arkema), the young frontrunner, has his pursuers getting closer as the hours go by, including Erwan Le Roux (Koesio), 20 miles in his wake, and Sébastien Rogues (Primonial), who has been very fast today and who is trying to make a move by shifting slightly to the south. On the menu is constant concentration, omnipresent trimming, and little sleep for the remaining 750 miles!