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IMOCA 60 skippers soldering on with another severe gale forecast

Photo: Onboard Enda O Coineen - Currency House Kilcullen
Photo: Onboard Enda O Coineen - Currency House Kilcullen

Following Sébastien Josse and Edmond de Rothschild’s brilliant victory in the IMOCA Ocean Masters Transat St Barth-Port la Forêt, roaring across the finish line yesterday evening at 22 knots, meanwhile the war of attrition continues out on the gale-strewn North Atlantic. The forecast shows storm force winds with hurricane force gusts due north of the Azores tonight.

At present technically two boats remain at sea with Fabrice Amédéo’s Newrest-Matmut likely to be next home, 470 miles due west of Vigo, Spain at 1200 UTC. With a large chunk of starboard rudder missing, Amédéo is nursing his boat along at 10 knots. Thankfully at present Newrest-Matmut is on starboard tack using her still complete port rudder. Her ETA into Port la Forêt is Saturday at midday local time and fortunately the wind is forecast to remain either in the southwest or to back slightly, enabling Amédéo, in theory, to lay the finish line without requiring his starboard rudder.

Despite being the oldest competitor in the race, this IMOCA Ocean Masters Transat St Barth-Port la Forêt being his first singlehanded IMOCA 60 race in 25 years and then having started 24.5 hours late, Enda O’Coineen on Currency House Kilcullen finds himself in the unexpected position of lining up for a podium finish.

However his voyage has had its terrifying moments. On Tuesday night, mid-gale, the Irish skipper was up on deck about to drop all sail when the boat was picked up by a wave, overpowering her autopilot and throwing her into a crash gybe. “All hell broke loose – real mast breaker stuff,” recounted O’Coineen. “The main locked against the runner, the keel was the wrong way and she lay on her side. Like falling off a 14ft wall, I crashed down from the high side and ended up with my feet in the water at the aft quarter and, luckily, a guard rail saved me from eternity – which momentarily I saw before my eyes…”

Currency House Kilcullen skimmed the east side of Flores, the westernmost Azores island in the early hours yesterday morning and last night gybed east. However O’Coineen is not out of the woods as tonight and into tomorrow as intense depression is rolling through to his north. According to French forecaster Christian Dumard: “This very deep depression will arrive tomorrow north of the Azores with winds of 60+ knots near its centre with gusts of up to 70 knots and waves of 10 to 11m.” Currency House Kilcullen is near enough to the depression’s centre to still experience 40-45 knot winds with 55 knot gusts.

Personally O’Coineen is reeling from his voyage so far. “I have never experienced so many deep depressions, one after the other, on the Atlantic. In many cases the best I could do was go around them and take the safe corner and avoid the middle bits… The most wind I saw on the instruments was 46 knots which is very scary territory and you feel kind of helpless staring at it and listening to the crashing of the boat. I have never seen wind do so much damage to a sail.” Otherwise, he says the boat (formerly Mike Golding’s Ecover/Gamesa) is mostly fine, as is he. “Personally I have no injuries, just a lot of small cuts and bruises. My system is shaken, but otherwise I’m in good shape.”

Three IMOCA 60s are currently residing in the Azores, all suffering keel issues. Thomas Ruyant’s Le Souffle du Nord is in Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel, while Morgan Lagravière’s Safran is in Horta on Faial some 150 miles to the WNW, where in the early hours of this morning she was joined by Eric Holden on O Canada. On Safran the joint between the keel head and end of the hydraulic ram used to cant the keel has broken, but this should be the most easily remedied by fixing the keel centrally in a permanent enough way to get to the finish line. On Le Souffle du Nord and O Canada, the bearings supporting the keel are showing signs of movement that may require more serious repairwork that will involve lifting out their respective boats.

Following Paul Meilhat’s rescue from SMA on Tuesday after sustaining a serious injury, a salvage team, comprising Marc Liardet, Anne Liardet, Antoine Brunel and Jerome Solem, is now aboard the ship, Tsavliris Hellas. This was due to rendez-vous with skipper-less SMA this afternoon some 150 miles from the Azores. Her new crew – assuming they can get on board - will determine whether the state of the boat and the conditions will permit them to press on back to France or double back to the Azores. Meanwhile Paul Meilhat is due back in Lorient tonight to start recuperation from his injuries.  

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