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9 November 2005, 07:02 am
Cold Front Hits Hard On Fleet
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Transat Jaques Vabre 2005

Yesterday morning the cold front hit hard on the Transat Jacques Vabre fleet of multi and monohulls, and a series of incidents occurred throughout the day. In the monohulls, the first boat to get over to the west nearer to the direct route, Virbac-Paprec with Jean-Pierre DICK (FRA) and Loïck PEYRON (FRA) has taken over the lead, whilst Franck CAMMAS (FRA) and Franck PROFFIT (FRA) on Groupama-2 led the multihulls.
The weather conditions at the time when the incidents occurred on Tuesday are summarized saw a low pressure system without particularly violent winds for the time of year, which however generated very big seas with pyramidal waves whipped up by the rapid wind shift from the southwest 35-45 knots to the northwest 25-30 knots. It was more this combination of weather, which brought about the kind of sea-state upon which Sodebo, Orange and Foncia, all fully reefed down sailing at less than ten knots boat speed, suffered serious damage.

Sequence of Events:

1. 2200 GMT Tuesday night, Brossard, with Yvan BOURGNON (SUI) and Charles CAUDRELIER (FRA) onboard, taken under motorboat tow with major rupture along central hull by Laurent BOURGNON and reached Guernsey at 2300 hours.

2. 0315 GMT CROSS and MRCC informed that Thomas COVILLE (FRA) and Jacques VINCENT's (FRA) Sodebo and Orange Project with Steve and Yvan RAVUSSIN (SUI), had set off their EPIRB distress beacons.

3. Sodebo skipper COVILLE reports to Race HQ that the port float has broken up, resulting in a dismasting. Sodebo located 150 miles off Brest in 35-45 knots of wind and very rough sea state of seven metre waves. They are safe but can no longer control boat.

4. Orange Project skipper Steve RAVUSSIN reports to Race HQ that a beam had broken, resulting in capsize.

5. 0615 GMT Project Manager Alain GAUTIER informs Race HQ that Foncia has capsized 220 miles off French coast lying second in fleet at the time.

6. Armel LE CLEAC'H (FRA) reports to Race Doctor that Damian FOXALL (IRL) has injured his ribs and has a possible broken collarbone.

7. 0930 GMT Sodebo skippers report that a French fishing boat has taken the boat under tow and they are safely onboard the fishing vessel, heading for Brest.

8. 1000 GMT Galileo Open 60 monohull Brazilian skipper Walter ANTUNES reports broken boom, they are derouting to Spanish port before deciding whether to continue.

9. 1000 GMT Multihull Open 50 boats Victorinox and Branec heading for French coast as Victorinox reports broken bowsprit and Branec a broken port hull

10. 1030 GMT CROSS took over rescue operation, and French Navy helicopter from Brest lands on aircraft carrier Jeanne d'Arc in the zone of operation to refuel and then set off to rendez-vous first with Foncia and then Orange to evacuate the skippers.

11. 1230 GMT Navy helicopter rendez-vous with Foncia, and both crew safely winched off boat with help from diver. Orange Project only six miles away from Foncia so French Navy helicopter flies directly to evacuate the Swiss skippers.

12. 1400 GMT All four skippers from Foncia and Orange safely winched off and in helicopter en route to Jeanne d'Arc.

13. 1500 GMT All four skippers will be onboard the Jeanne d'Arc to receive immediate medical assistance, after which they will all be helicoptered to Brest.

IMOCA 60 And Open 50 Class 2 Update

The Open 60 monohulls were further south than the trimarans on Tuesday morning, but they also experienced the brunt end of the cold front, but with less violent seas. They are all now back on starboard tack heading south passing Cape Finisterre in a 25-30 knot north westerly breeze, and the seas have therefore become more manageable. The first boat to get over to the west nearer to the direct route, Virbac-Paprec with Jean-Pierre DICK (FRA) and Loïck PEYRON (FRA) has therefore taken over the lead from Roland JOURDAIN and 2005 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Ellen MACARTHUR (GBR) on Sill et Veolia, even though the Anglo-French duo are the furthest boat south in the fleet. Mike GOLDING (GBR) and Dominique WAVRE (SUI) on Ecover hold third position now as they are positioned to the east of the leading two boats. Only 14 miles separates the top three in terms of distance to finish, and their boat speeds are right back up to surfing rate, averaging 16+ knots, but clocking up to 23-25 knots on the plane.

Brian THOMPSON (GBR) and Will OXLEY (AUS) on Skandia having been clocking some of the fastest instantaneous boat speeds in the whole fleet, and are working and surfing hard to make inroads into the top three now from fourth position. Bonduelle with Jean LE CAM and Kito DE PAVANT (FRA) chose to dive south earlier on, and is even further to the east than Ecover, although on the same latitude, and now in fifth.

Amongst the Open 50 monohulls, Artforms reached Lorient after their mainsail ripped, in order to pick up their old mainsail. Skippers Kip STONE (USA) and Merf OWEN (GBR) are deliberating as to whether to continue racing. Therefore Josh HALL (GBR) and Joe HARRIS (USA) on Gryphon Solo now have a 51m lead on Vedettes de Bréhat as the boats still head west to escape the low pressure system.

Multihull Update

At 0315 GMT Tuesday morning, the CROSS and MRCC Falmouth Maritime Rescue Services were informed that the trimarans Sodebo and Orange Project had set off their EPIRB distress beacons. Skippers COVILLE and VINCENT contacted the Race HQ in Paris for the Transat Jacques Vabre to inform them that the port hull of their 60 foot trimaran had broken, which lead to the boat dismasting. The boat was positioned 150 miles to the west of the French port of Brest in 35-45 knots of wind and a very rough sea state. These two skippers were both safe and sound, but could no longer control the boat.

COVILLE later recounted their incident on Sodebo, 'The seas were immense. We were around the edge of the continental shelf when the wind rose to its highest point. A huge wave suddenly slammed violently into the boat and the port float opened up in two right in the middle. We took furled the mainsail immediately and fought to get the boat facing downwind, to be less exposed. But the mast fell down, breaking the beam and smashing on the leeward float. The fishing boat which is towing us right now was actually really close, on stand-by. So when this happened they came alongside very quickly.'

A few minutes later, it was the Swiss team of the RAVUSSIN brothers, until now dominating the fleet of ORMA 60 multihulls, who contacted the Race HQ as well to inform them that the beam between the hulls had broken, which also led to the Orange Project capsizing. The Swiss brothers are unscathed from the ordeal, and the boat was lying 220 miles from Brest.

At 0715 hours local time, Alain GAUTIER contacted the Race HQ for the Transat Jacques Vabre: the Project Manager for Foncia informed the organization that the trimaran had capsized whilst in second place in the ORMA multihull fleet rankings, quite near to the leader Groupama-2. It was during the passage of the second, worse cold front that the accident happened. Foncia was progressing upwind at an average speed (about ten knots) heading west in a 35-45 knot southwesterly breeze, waiting for the wind shift to the North West.

Armel Le Cléac'h liaised with the Race Doctor, Jean-Yves Chauve, because his co-skipper, Irishman Damian Foxall, had injured his shoulder and it seems that his collarbone is broken. The rescue operation was then handed over to the French Navy &Coastguard to locate and pick up the four skippers on Foncia and then Orange Project as the two boats were only 6 miles apart: a helicopter from the French Coastguard flew out from Brest to refuel on the Jeanne d'Arc, an aircraft carrier ship operational in the zone, at precisely 1030 GMT today, as the two trimarans were located outside their fly-zone 220m from the coast.

Rendez-vous was made with Foncia at 1230 GMT. The diver onboard the helicopter evacuated FOXALL first using a special stretcher lowered on a winch and then pick up LE CLEAC'H. Next the helicopter flew directly to Orange Project and winched off the two Swiss skippers Steve and Yvan RAVUSSIN. At 1400 GMT all four skippers were onboard the helicopter and on an hour's flight to the Jeanne d'Arc first to receive medical assistance. The skippers are expected then to be flown to Brest later on. It is still too rough for any tow to be effected on either trimaran at this moment.

There are six multihulls still racing in the ORMA fleet.

Quotes from the Boats…

Franck CAMMAS (Groupama): 'Last night was a real baptism of fire for this boat in these conditions. The wind was from all over and fluctuated from 15-50 knots in seconds.'

Ellen MACARTHUR (Sill et Veolia): 'Well, bilou and i are pretty tired and wet, after a night with winds to 50 knots. we were quite shocked to hear of the multi's this morning, I hope that everyone is OK, and that everyone gets in OK. The front was very aggressive, and difficult to predict last night. This morning alone for us when we thought we were through we had a squall of over 44 knots - our boat speed was fairly high at that stage, and the sea state horrible. Once again we have slept on the floor, and now the northwest wind is in the air is much colder. We can't have had more than a couple of hours between us last night, but the ambience on board is great which is massively uplifting!'

Mike GOLDING (Ecover): 'The vibrations were so bad that the box holding our power supply ripped off the wall, the boat went backwards on her side briefly as the autopilots cut out. Dominique had to steer in 45 knots of wind upwind, while I was in the back of the boat fixing the problem. It was a pretty scary moment. A wet and wild time, but now we're surfing south very fast and staying awake the whole time to get the best from the boat.'

Will OXLEY (Skandia): 'Ocean racing can be HARD CORE very hard core. I was reminded of that last night in a big way. The bay of biscay last night turned it on for us...pitch black driving spray and occasional rain.6m waves and Skandia constantly dropping off waves. We drive with a crash helmet and spray visor. it is the only way we can see anything. Working on the bow changing sails is like being in the dumper zone of the surf as you get rolled around whilst wrestling a sail to the deck. Hand signals with the deck light on are the only way to communicate with Brian.'

For all the news on the Transat Jacques Vabre CLICK HERE.

Mary Ambler (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Leader Virbac-Paprec:© Yann Zedda
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