© Vincent Olivaud / RDR 2022
RDR, Oliver Heer: I had my doubts I would make it back into the race
Swiss skipper Oliver Heer (Oliver Heer Ocean Racing) crossed the finish line of the 12th Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe at 01:37:55hrs TU this Wednesday morning. He is the final IMOCA skipper to cross the line of the solo Transatlantic race from Saint-Malo to Guadeloupe.
His actual elapsed time for the 3,542 nautical mile race is 20d 12h 22m 55sec. He crossed the line in 34th place of the 38 starters in the IMOCA class. But because of a collision with another competitor during the first evening of the race - which was not his fault and which required him to return to port and make repairs - Heer received 84 hours of time redress and so rises to 32nd overall with a corrected time of 17d 0h 22m 55s. He finishes 5d 6h 46m 30s after the class winner, Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut).
The 34-year-old solo racer was previously Alex Thomson's boat captain and four years ago was contemplating the repairs needed to Thomson's boat which was damaged when he hit the north end of the island when he failed to wake up towards the end of his own Route du Rhum. Now Heer has qualified himself and his boat for the 2024 Vendée Globe.
A collision with Japanese competitor Kojiro Shiraishi at the Cape Fréhel mark during the first evening of the race meant boat skippers had to return immediately to the start port of Saint-Malo with damage.
The race was over for Shiraishi who admitted responsibility for the mistake and was in the wrong. But for Heer, whose boat had suffered damage to the bow, the bowsprit and some underwater hull marking and delamination where Shiraishi's foil had scraped the side of his boat, there started a race against time to get back out on the race course.
Shiraishi's DMG MORI Global One technical team joined forces to help where they could. Heer flew in composites and design ace Pete Hobson from the UK and they worked around the clock to make the necessary repairs. Finally Heer had to sail the boat down the coast to Port La Foret where the IMOCA 60 was lifted out the water for the hull repairs to be completed.
Oliver Heer Ocean Racing re-joined the course at 0630hrs on the Monday morning after the start on Wednesday 9th November and the Swiss skipper immediately faced some of the toughest conditions of the race with up to 50kts passing Cape Finisterre. With a deficit of 1,250 nautical miles on leader Charlie Dalin (Apivia) and even 540 miles to the next IMOCA, from the moment he re-joined the fleet, the 12th Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe was going to be a true solo race, battling against the clock and his routings to get finished as soon as possible.
Following his request to the International Jury for redress, Heer was granted 84 hours of compensation – the equivalent of the three and a half days he was repairing.
After the tough conditions at Cape Finisterre and just after, Heer was granted good, fast conditions into the trade winds but the further south he got the more the winds eased and whilst his rivals had 20-30kts trade winds, Heer only had 12-17. And two and half days before the finish he had significant electrical surge which damaged his autopilots to the point that he has had to hand steer almost continuously to the finish line this evening.
Heer smiled, "I am just glad I made it to be honest. Right after the collision I had my doubts about whether I would be able to continue my race and make it to Guadeloupe. I had some amazing guys helping me doing some amazing work to get me going again, a couple of patches on the side you can still see and a new bowsprit and it all held. So, I am delighted, I managed to get the Vendee Gobe qualifier in my pocket and that was the main aim. And I would be up for this race again, for sure, but with a little less drama."
He added, "It was a fantastic opportunity to get to know the boat, I only got the boat six months ago and I learned loads. I have a job list for the next few months but rest assured it is not easy to keep pushing the boat when you are on your own, just completely out there on your own. So it was not a normal race in any sense. I enjoyed it."
Right to the end, Heer had to contend with technical problems. "I have had twice only 30 minutes rest in the last two and a half days. I had some kind of electrical failure on the boat and my systems failed, my AIS failed, my B&G failed, my compass failed. So no autopilot. You only appreciate these things when you don't have them. It is a handy tool to have!
"It was really exhausting but the last two days, to be fair, have been brilliant conditions 20kts downwind with some nice swell, I had the masthead gennaker up with one reef and it was lovely. But some rest would have been nice. It is so good to be in. I had my doubts, I really did, And I am in within the time limit."
4 Class 40s are still racing in this 12th Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, while 5 Rhum Multi and 9 Rhum Mono solo skippers are still very much racing.