This Wednesday 4 May, Sebastian Josse suffered a violent gybe due to unexpected failure of the boat tiller. This happened off Cape Finisterre in 25 to 30 knots of north-easterly wind and in relatively manageable seas.
As a result, IMOCA60 Edmond De Rothschild's 160m2-mainsail was seriously damaged.
Both solo sailor Seb Josse and his boat are safe, but no longer in a position to be competitive in The Transat bakerly. Sebastien Josse has decided to retire from the race and is headed for Vigo in Galicia where he will be joined by Gitana Team's shore crew.
Leaving Plymouth on Monday 2 May at 14:30GMT+1, Sebastien Josse raced well and was able to exploit the full potential of his latest generation foiler to twice take the lead in the IMOCA fleet ahead of Vincent Riou (PRB) and Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire VIII). The pace was set and the top three made the most of wonderful weather conditions on the initial part of the transatlantic race and make fast progress towards Cape Finisterre. It is at this point, well known for frequently having strong winds and rough seas, that the incident took place.
When contacted by the shore crew, Sebastien Josse struggled to hide both his disappointment at having to retire from this wonderful transatlantic race and his frustration at not being able to continue the battle he had been embroiled in since the start with both Vincent Riou and Armel Le Cléac'h. "Sail battens and the top of the mainsail have broken following a violent gybe as a result of the tiller being released suddenly. Despite every precaution it is something that can happen at these key pressure points. It all happened so quickly, in just 10 seconds perhaps. There is no major damage but the sentence is final. Without a mainsail it is impossible to race and undeniably there is a lot of disappointment. It is always quite complicated when things come to an end so suddenly. I was very much in the race, sailing in contact with Vincent and Armel. The boat was throughly prepared and was really showing just what she is capable of... It is even harder because I think the first part, which is the toughest part, was already behind us. We had strong wind all afternoon, over 30 knots, and things were calming down progressively and were due to ease even more over the following three hours. I dumped all the sails and am now making headway to Vigo which is roughly 80 miles away. Without a mainsail it is hard to make more than 8 to 10 knots, so I won't make landfall until tomorrow afternoon," explained the Gitana Team skipper.
Abandoning after just 30 hours of racing whilst fighting it out in the lead... Sadly appears to be a repeat of 6 months ago. The similarities end here though. In the Transat Jacques Vabre, the latest Gitana boat had just been launched two months earlier (in August) and had not been fully prepared due to teething issues. The team, led by Cyril Dardashti, had immediately set to work on getting the boat prepared for the Sebastien Josse to be able to set sail again in optimal conditions. The hard work paid off since the solo sailor would go on to dominate the return transatlantic race from St Barth's to Lorient and thus gain the all-important qualification for the Vendée Globe. Following work over the course of the winter that focused on optimisation the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild would finally be ready to show what she was made of. However, breakage is inevitable in what is becoming an increasingly mechanical sport in offshore racing and with the technological advances on these kinds of boats.
Like last November, true to the sailor and Gitana Team, spirits will not be dampened and there will be no giving up. The objective is to repair the damaged sail as swiftly as possible so that Sebastien can set sail for North America. The Transat bakerly may now be behind him but he has the New York - Vendée (Sables d'Olonne) race ahead. He will maintain his racing schedule for 2016. The eastbound transatlantic race sets off on 29 May.