At the end of the second day of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe an Atlantic storm that had been forecast at the start has been making itself felt across the whole fleet with one boat capsized, two dismasted and many sailors electing to seek shelter in French and Spanish ports.
The most serious incident of an action-packed 24 hours, as the fleet continued west and south out of the Bay of Biscay into the Atlantic proper, was the capsize by French former Vendée Globe winner, Armel Le Cléac’h, on board Maxi Solo Banque Populaire IX.
The big blue and white trimaran was running in third place in the depleted ULTIME class when its port float snapped off in 30-35 knots of wind and five-metre waves. The boat then turned over but Le Cléac’h was reported to be safe inside his central hull about 340 nautical miles northeast of the Azores.
As the maritime rescue coordination centre (CROSS) at Griz Nez in northern France took control of the operation to rescue Le Cléac’h, Jacques Caraës, the Race Director, explained how Le Cléac’h’s second capsize this year in this boat unfolded – his first one came during a training sail off Morocco in April.
“We received a call from CROSS at 13.23hrs French time after Armel activated his distress beacon,” he said. “Ronan Lucas the Banque Populaire team manager informed us that the boat has capsized and that Armel is inside and safe in the central hull. He is gathering all his safety and survival equipment while he is waiting for rescue.
“He is 450 nautical miles from Lisbon and 320 nautical miles from Punta Delgada, so slightly closer to the Azores,” added Caraës. “It is too far away for a helicopter to go to the site, but we know via the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre that a plane is flying over to check out the situation. Armel is OK and is getting ready to be evacuated.”
Earlier in the day there were two dismastings. In the IMOCA division the Franco-German sailor Isabelle Joschke lost her rig when holding seventh position and had to turn back towards the French coast. Then the same fate befell the British skipper Sam Goodchild on board Narcos Mexico in the Class40 fleet.
Goodchild, one of the pre-start favourites in the 53-strong fleet of Class40s, was making up ground and had climbed to third place when the rig suddenly gave way in 30-35 knots of wind and big seas.
“I had just picked up a few places,” Goodchild reported. “I went down below and started to tidy up and then there was a big bang. I came up on deck and the whole rig was in the water and we were drifting over the top of it.”
Goodchild has now erected a jury rig using the boat’s boom and stormsail and is heading to the French port of Brest. “I’m massively disappointed,” he added. “My aim for the Route du Rhum was not to have any regrets and I honestly don’t think there was something I could have done differently in hindsight.”
While the majority of the 123 skippers continued blasting their way along the 3,542-mile course towards Point-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe, there were nearly 50 boats that were either seeking shelter along the French and Spanish coasts or heading back towards the French coast with technical issues that were preventing them from continuing at this stage.