A memorable 11th edition of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, the solo transatlantic race from Saint Malo to Guadeloupe, which takes place every four years, concluded on Friday December 7th at 1300hrs UTC when the finish line off Pointe-à-Pitre was officially closed.
The 3,542-nautical mile course from northern Brittany, France to the French Caribbean island was completed by 79 of the 123 solo skippers who started on Sunday November 4th. When the line closed, only two skippers were still on the course and did not finish within the time limit.
The classic singlehanded race, which has run every fourth year since 1978, celebrated its 40th year with this edition, attracting a record sized fleet racing in six different divisions.
Fittingly this landmark 40th anniversary edition will be remembered for its incredible intensity during the first few days of gales on the Bay of Biscay and a remarkably close finish between wily, experienced 62-year old Francis Joyon (IDEC Sport) and France’s most outstanding ocean racer of the modern generation 35-year old François Gabart (MACIF), Joyon taking overall line honors in the final minutes of the race.
And it will be remembered for the dramatic finish to the IMOCA division race, with long time leader Alex Thomson grounding his black Hugo Boss yacht on cliffs on the north of Guadeloupe. Because he had to use his engine to get his IMOCA sixty footer off the rocks, Thomson was given a 24-hour time penalty. Consequently, he dropped to third place and handed the division win to Paul Meilhat (SMA).
After a magical opening to the race off Saint Malo in perfect conditions with Autumn sunshine and moderate south-southeasterly winds sending the giant armada on its way, the first four or five days saw brutal conditions on the Bay of Biscay, with many skippers electing to take shelter on the French or North Spanish coast.
Racing the ULTIME IDEC Sport, which had already won the two previous editions in the colors of different sponsors in the hands of Franck Cammas and Loïck Peyron, Joyon set a new race record of seven days, 14 hours and 21 minutes when he crossed the line first.
Some 24 days later the last to cross the line before it closed was Christophe Souchaud on Thursday (Rhum Solidaire-Cap Handi) who finished ninth in the Rhum Mono class after 32 days 8 hours 40 minutes at sea.
Only two solo racers are left at sea, Eric Bellion on the Rhum Mono class yacht Commeunseulhomme who should complete his course on Sunday, while Loïc Le Doyen (Class40 Saint Cast-Le Guildo Terre Exotique) had about 140 miles still to sail on the morning of Saturday 8th December.
Because of the time delays caused by the conditions on the Bay of Biscay which saw many solo skippers stop to avoid the worst of the weather, the time limit for the course was extended by five days from the original cut off on Sunday 2nd December.
Of the 123 solo skippers who started on November 4th, 42 abandoned the race and with two out of time, 34% per cent of the fleet did not finish.
Breakdown by Class:
ULTIME: 6 starters, 4 finished, 2 abandoned (33%)
Multi50: 6 starters, 5 finished, 1 abandoned (17%)
IMOCA: 20 starters, 15 finished, 5 abandoned (25%)
Class40: 53 starters, 34 finished, 1 out of time, 18 abandoned (34%)
Mono Rhum: 17 starters, 9 finished, 1 out of time, 7 abandoned (41%)
Multi Rhum: 21 starters, 12 finished, 9 abandoned (43%)
The race at a glance…
The start gun was sounded on Sunday, November 4 at 14:00hrs local time off Saint-Malo. The 123 starters first had to deal with a depression off Ushant, but it was a very active low pressure system on the Tuesday which saw many solo racers head into the Breton ports and to northern Spain.
While the fastest ULTIME multihulls largely outran the storms escaping to the South, most skippers had to face up to the harsh weather on the Biscay, and even for some as far south as the Azores. This succession of fronts, which is typical of this time of the year, saw big, unruly seas north of the latitude of Lisbon to Sao Miguel in the Azores.
There was no let up for the division leaders as the trade winds proved very unstable and also situated further to the south than normal, and moving south progressively. The ULTIME trimarans went south to the Tropic of Cancer (23° North), others as far south as 15° North, so as far south as the Cape Verdes. There was an advantage then to each of the class leaders who could sail less distance. So some sailed more than 5,000 miles while the direct course (great circle) is only 3,542 miles.
The maritime rescue services (CROSS) had to intervene three times: for the grounding of Willy Bissainte (C ‘Guadeloupe) before Perros-Guirec on the first night of the race, during the capsize of Armel Le Cléac’h (Maxi Solo Banque Populaire IX) off the Azores and Lalou Roucayrol (Arkema) some 1,000 miles, or three days, east of Guadeloupe and the finish.
2018 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe podium positions
1-Francis Joyon (IDEC Sport)
2-François Gabart (MACIF)
3-Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim’)
1-Armel Tripon (Réauté chocolat)
2-Erwan Le Roux (FenêtréA-Mix Buffet)
3-Thibaut Vauchel-Camus (Solidaires en peloton-ARSEP)
1-Paul Meilhat (SMA)
2-Yann Éliès (UCAR-StMichel)
3-Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss)
1-Yoann Richomme (Veedol-AIC)
2-Aymeric Chappellier (Aïna Enfance et Avenir)
3-Phil Sharp (Imerys Clean Energy)
1-Pierre Antoine (Olmix)
2-Jean-François Lilti (École diagonale pour citoyens du monde)
3-Étienne Hochedé (PiR2)
1-Sidney Gavignet (Café Joyeux)
2-Sébastien Destremau (Alcatraz IT-FaceOcean)
3-Luc Coquelin (Rotary-La mer pour tous)
Image credit: Yvan Zedda
The French superstar sailor Armel Le Cléac’h capsized his maxi trimaran, Banque Populaire IX at 11.00hrs UTC while sailing at a position about 340 miles northeast of the Azores. At the time Le Cleac’h was contending with winds of 30-35 knots – which would have been gusting far higher – and five-meter waves.