The terrible twins, two intense mid-Atlantic depressions, continue to make their impression on the IMOCA Ocean Masters Transat St Barth-Port la Forêt boats as the bulk of the fleet approaches the Azores islands from the southwest. Thankfully, today conditions have abated, downgraded from ‘survival’ to moderate to strong following winds.
In such conditions the boats should be eating up the miles towards the finish. In the event, after the pasting they have received over the last 48 hours - conditions every bit as bad as they can expect in the Southern Ocean a year from now in the Vendée Globe - the skippers are now attempting, in the most seamanlike manner, to deal with the damage sustained to their boats or, in the case of Paul Meilhat, to himself.
Monday 14 December at 15:30 GMT, whilst lying in 2nd position in the singlehanded Saint-Barth / Port La Forêt transatlantic race, to the south of the Azores, the skipper of SMA triggered a request for assistance after seriously injuring his ribs and pelvis during a manœuvre. The very bad weather conditions on site – 50 knots of breeze, 8-metre waves – meant that he could not be evacuated by the Portuguese emergency services that same day.
This Tuesday morning, the patrol boat, Viana Do Castelo, which had been escorting SMA skipper Paul Meilhat for part of the night, headed back to the zone, around sixty miles or so to the north of Sao Miguel, the archipelago’s main island. At 13:20 GMT, Paul was evacuated via a stretcher onto the patrol boat’s rib. Ten minutes later, he was airlifted by helicopter, bound for the island of Terceira where he was taken in hand at the Santo Espirito hospital.
This evening, the Portuguese doctor in charge of the sailor was able to provide a reassuring diagnosis. Suffering from a fracture of the pelvis and a small fracture of the rib, his condition was such that he did not require an operation. Paul must remain lying down and will very quickly be repatriated. Contacted by telephone, the skipper of SMA was naturally relieved and was already casting his mind to the future.
The success story of this IMOCA Ocean Masters Transat St Barth-Port la Forêt is certainly that of Sébastien Josse and Edmond de Rothschild. The added speed of the race’s only new generation foil-assisted IMOCA 60 has helped her stay ahead of the worst of the conditions and at 1100 UTC today she held a lead of 700+ miles over Fabrice Amedeo’s Newrest-Matmut, now up to second. At that time, she was running in 30 knot southwesterlies, 290 miles west of La Coruna, with 540 miles left to sail. Her ETA at the Port la Forêt finish line is 1700 UTC (1800 local time) tomorrow (16th December).
Over Sunday night, Newrest–Matmut (ex-Gitana 80) lost two thirds of her starboard rudder. Fortunately IMOCA 60s have two rudders and on Newrest–Matmut they both kick-up. Amédéo has chosen to continue as in the mainly the downwind conditions he can sail Newrest–Matmut flat, keeping both rudders immersed. However in the early hours today he gybed on to starboard, and was able to use his fully operational port rudder. He looks set to leave the Azores islands completely to port when Newrest–Matmut passes them this evening.
However Mini Transat winner Thomas Ruyant on Le Souffle du Nord (ex-Groupe Bel) will be making a pitstop in the Azores. Again this boat suffered in the recent big conditions with some alarming movement developing in the forward bearing supporting her canting keel. After discussion with his own technical team as well as the boat’s designers, Ruyant was going to continue at a more modest pace, but with 700 miles left to sail, has instead decided he wants a more seaworthy fix for this vital part of his boat.
Safran’s skipper Morgan Lagravière is also facing keel issues and admitted that yesterday he thought his yacht’s keel had fallen off: “I heard a loud CRACK, the boat heeled right over with the masthead in the water. I eased the sails, but the boat wouldn’t recover.” In fact, the attachment between the top of the keel and the giant hydraulic ram used to cant it, had broken.
Following discussion with his technical team, Lagravière has temporarily stabilised his keel with lashings, but has chosen to stop in Horta tomorrow morning and there find a longer term solution that will enable him to complete the race, which will count as his personal qualifier for the Vendée Globe. Under race rules skippers wishing to make a technical pitstop are permitted to do so, but must remain in port for a minimum of six hours.
With the worst of the conditions having passed, generally the fleet is now on port gybe heading north, to stay in the best breeze while also converging with the great circle (shortest) route to the finish. Late morning the boats at the back of the pack were experiencing 15 knot easterly winds.
On board O Canada, Eric Holden has lost parts of his yacht’s armoury such as one autopilot and the J2 headsail, but is otherwise making solid progress on what is his first solo offshore race and Vendée Globe qualifier. Late this morning O Canada had fallen in astern of Safran.
58 miles due east of O Canada, Currency House Kilcullen is bringing up the rear as her veteran Irish skipper Enda O'Coineen deals with his own sail problems, including a recalcitrant headsail furler and two broken mainsail battens.
Rankings on 15/12 at 14h GMT and ETAs in Port-la-Forêt
1 Edmond de Rothschild, Sébastien Josse at 512,1 milles from the finish. ETA Wednesday 16/12 pm.
2 Newrest / Matmut, Fabrice Amedeo at 700 milles. possible ETA on Saturday 19/12 am
3 Le Souffle du Nord, Thomas Ruyant at 814,2 milles.
4 Safran, Morgan Lagravière at 872,3 milles.
5 O Canada, Eric Holden at 886,4 milles. possible ETA on Saturday 19/12 pm
6 Currency House Kilcullen, Enda O’Coinnen à 920,7 milles. Possible ETA on Sunday 20/12 am
Abd SMA, Paul Meilhat