Cheminées Poujoulat has announced their official retirement from the race. They arrived in Sanxenxo, Spain at around 2300 hours on Wednesday night to assess the damage to their starboard rudder system. Branec IV officially retired from the race after suffering extensive damage to her port float during the heavy weather.
At approximately 1750 GMT on Thursday night, the 60 foot multihull Groupama-2, skippered by French sailors Franck CAMMAS and Franck PROFFIT, capsized in a sudden squall 40 miles to the north of Palma, heading towards the Canary Islands.
The prevailing conditions at the time were classic trade wind 25-30 knots from the north east. The trimaran was sailing downwind and it is presumed that therefore the hull pitchpoled on capsize but this is not confirmed. What is known is that PROFFIT was at the helm and was thrown violently forward, and has possibly broken his ribs. A helicopter has been sent from the Canaries to the zone to pick up PROFFIT from the boat in order to give him immediate medical assistance.
CAMMAS is uninjured, he was inside at the time, and is staying on board in order to commence a salvage operation for the boat with his shore team. Groupama-2 had been pushing hard all day after their five hour pit-stop in Santo Porto at Madeira between 0400-0900 on Thursday morning to repair their steering and rudder systems, and had been clocking average boat speeds over 25+ knots. In the latest positions polled at 1646 GMT just one hour before, Groupama-2 had nosed ahead of Géant into second place by 2.6m and was positioned at 29 41 N, 17 59W on a heading of 207.
This makes a total of eight abandons in the race out of 35 boat which crossed the start line. In the ORMA multihull fleet there are now five boats still racing, lead by Banque Populaire.
Banque Populaire have an 81m lead over Michel DESJOYEAUX (FRA) and Hugues DESTREMAU (FRA) Géant after Groupama-2 had relinquished their lead to make a their pit-stop in Porto Santo, Madeira. These boats have a tactical race ahead as they are positioning themselves to pass through the Canaries, heading towards the Ascension Islands eventually, which accounts for perhaps why TIM Progetto Italia is still over in the east of the course.
Whilst Groupama-2 was on a pitstop, Banque Populaire, new leader of the ORMA class, had a bit of bother, which resulted in Lionel LEMONCHOIS (FRA) having to climb the mast. Skipper Pascal BIDEGORRY (FRA) recounts the tale, 'The gennaker halyard was blocked at the head of the mast. So Lionel had to climb 30 metres up the mast to fix it.' Despite this fairly tricky and well-controlled operation, Banque Populaire did not lose any distance as the wind was dropping at the time although the sea was still quite lumpy.
For the Monohull 60 class, the lead is by no means clear, and the top four new generation boats, lead still by Jean-Pierre DICK (FRA) and Loïck PEYRON (FRA) on Virbac-Paprec, engage in a battle of boat speed as they follow the direct route either side of Madeira. A week of surfing ahead in the northeast trades on the route to the Equator has changed the rhythm of their race, spinnakers and full mains up, pulling these ocean racing greyhounds at speeds of 20+ knots.
Virbac-Paprec were the last to gybe on Wednesday and now control the fleet to leeward sailing in the 25-30 knot northeast breeze generated at the eastern edge of the Azores high pressure system. The Farr-designed 60 is in a position to luff up and reposition in front of rivals Sill et Veolia with Roland JOURDAIN (FRA) and Ellen MACARTHUR (GBR) in second place. Bonduelle has moved into third place just five miles ahead of Ecover, leading the pack east of the islands of Madeira on Thursday afternoon.
Just behind these two another duel is raging between Pro-Form and Skandia, just two miles separating as they both have had to drop their spinnaker and reach with solent and one reef in the mainsail to keep to windward of Madeira. Still 160m behind, Roxy are also engaged in close match race with UUDS heading to windward of Madeira as well.
Bernard STAMM (SUI) and Yann ELIES (FRA) on Cheminées Poujoulat earlier became the seventh boat to officially retire. STAMM explains what happened, 'In fact, the starboard rudder took the brunt of whatever it was that caused the big noise we heard after passing the second front, we still don't know what that was. The rudder came out of its stock and was only held on by the bottom fixture so it didn't fall. The part of the rudder inside the hull began to pivot by 50 degrees and damage the bottom of the hull. We took the rudder out and suddenly the water came in right up to our knees. Too late, the pilot was soaked and the damage done so we could only make for the nearest port on the other tack.'
Open 50 Gryphon Solo of Joe HARRIS (USA) and Josh HALL (GBR) has opened up a 57 mile lead on Servane ESCOFFIER (FRA) and Bertrand DE BROC (FRA) on Vedettes de Bréhat, and Open 50 multihull Crepes Whaou ! has a staggering 173m lead over Acanthe Ingenierie, both these Class 2 fleet leaders now leaving the Portuguese coast behind. Victorinox and Artforms are bringing up the rear in both fleets, after effecting pitstops in Roscoff and Lorient respectively. Polarity Solo skipper, Paul METCALF (GBR) sent in their first communication of the race after problems with their original Iridium phone were resolved. METCALF reports no significant damage during the bad weather, except the bow lights and a small diesel leak.
The weather still forecasts more pressure nearer to the African coast, with the winds established for Thursday between 20-25 knots, rising perhaps to 30 knots, for the leading pack, and the wave crests reaching two metres. In a few days the wind will drop and then rise again around ten degrees north, shifting more easterly. The Doldrums are four days ahead of the fleet and seem for now moderately active and not very developed.
Jean-Pierre DICK (Virbac-Paprec) : 'All's well, we're in a good breeze, but it's still relentless and physical as ever. We can't let the autopilot helm, so we're awake a lot relaying each other on the helm. We're trying to keep a controlling position, and search for more favourable winds to the West, but we'll see whether our option is going to work out soon.'
Roland JOURDAIN (Sill et Veolia): 'We had quite a variable wind from 17-35 knots last night, it's stabilized at 25/30 knots now and the sky is clear blue, much more pleasant. My accomplice and I were saying to each other that we'd love to peel off the oilskins but once we'd tried, two hours later, bosh, 50 buckets of water on the head, so we've had to put them back on. We probably smell a bit now, but we're happily oblivious to this. I've started getting the odd hallucination, you know, funny stuff..!'
Jean LE CAM (Bonduelle): 'It's certainly more fun out here but we've got to stay on the helm 24 hours a day. Often we actually stay on the helm together. I was just saying to Kito that with three, one can rest but with just two, the helmsman doesn't have much company! I don't really like the position the lead boats are in, they'll begin to create a bigger gap between us relatively soon. But, hey, were ahead of the Brit [Mike GOLDING], which is already something.'
Mich DESJOYEAUX (Géant): 'The boat is incredibly noisy because we are going so quickly in 20-30 knot trade winds. The sea is a little choppy, we're rarely below 25 knots boat speed, it's pretty humid on deck. We're really surfing hard, trying to keep an eye on things too, but it's fast going. For now, we're looking at a route to the west of the Canaries before we get more southing in our route.'
Giovanni SOLDINI (Tim Progetto Italia): 'The rudder is not repaired fully yet. We're trying to make the most of the trade winds but it's not easy to navigate with very open sailing angles and there is still quite a sea running. We went too far east and we'll pay, but we didn't have a choice. We'll try to pass through the Canaries as best we can, the farther over to the west the better.'
Franck PROFFIT (Groupama 2): 'For three days we had a big problem with one of the float rudders. It was only after we gybed that it became dangerous. We also broke a piece off the foil, we must have hit something, so helming was also getting a bit precarious. But the technical team has put the boat back to brand new and we're now reaching 26 knots average boat speed. This is as much a technical sport as it is anything else, that's now part of the game. We're back on the case and 100 miles is not too much, the Doldrums will slow the leaders up ahead.'
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