It proved to be an epic encounter which will be remembered for Alex Thomson’s total dominance of the IMOCA class and his last minute grounding which cost the 44-year old British skipper his first IMOCA ocean racing win. Paul Meilhat did not cross the line first but still won because of the 24-hour penalty imposed on Alex Thomson for using his engine to extricate Hugo Boss off the rocks. It was a brutally fast, tough race at the front of the fleet, the pace and stress on the skippers seeing many arriving in Pointe-à-Pitre exhausted. There was a great three-cornered race for the 2008-9 Vendée Globe generation Finot-Conq designs and solid debuts for many for whom the 11th edition of the Route du Rhum was their first big IMOCA race. At the start were 20 IMOCA sixty footers, a record for the race, ten of them fitted with foils. Fifteen finished the race.
© Alexis CourcouxThere may usually be a form book in ocean racing but history is never written in advance. The 2018 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe had a sting in the tale. Alex Thomson deserved to win but did not, and under the circumstances Meilhat was a deserving and popular winner on his last race with SMA a boat which does not have foils.
Snatching a few minutes of much needed sleep as he approached the final miles of the race, and the notorious passage around Basse Terre island, on the night of November 16th Alex Thomson and the black boat Hugo Boss ran aground at the bottom of a cliff on the north of the Grande Terre island. He started the engine to get off the rocky ground. As required to do the International Jury protested and imposed a 24 hours penalty. That handed the win to Meilhat who had fought smart and hard to stay second, ahead of Yann Eliès and Vincent Riou to the finish line.
© Alexis CourcouxThomson played to the strengths of his highly optimised, reliable boat and was the only skipper to take the more westerly, shortest most direct routing. Once in the reaching and running conditions Hugo Boss proves to be the fastest boat, sometimes up to two knots faster. He pushes hard and is more than 210 nautical miles in front of his nearest rivals when he hits the rocks off the north of Guadeloupe.
He crosses the finish line first after 11 days and 23 hours of racing making an average of 16.4 knots. But Thomson’s penalty of 24 hours directly benefits Meilhat who was second from 10th November until he crosses the line. With straight foils, his win is a result of his ability to push hard, his knowledge of his boat and its reliability.
So at two years before the start of the next Vendée Globe, the Route du Rhum is a good test, an early indicator of who is where, and the reliability and speed of the different boats. The harsh weather conditions on this 11th edition, not just the passage of two depressions for the IMOCA which meant a few very tough opening days was a good test, but also the brisk but very gusty trade winds which took the leading skippers to the edge of exhaustion.
© Yvan ZeddaFor all that the level of dropouts was not too bad. Of the 20 starters, five had to give up, 25% of the fleet, a bit below the usual average. Louis Burton abandoned because of a damaged foil aperture; Isabelle Joschke dismasted; Sam Davies with hull delamination problems; Yannick Bestaven with hydraulics concerns and finally Jérémie Beyou aboard the highly anticipated Charal, the first new generation foiler, was a victim first of problems with the steering system and then, later, charging and electrical systems.
To these abandons there are five pit stops. Cousin, Barrier, Attanasio, Amedeo and Beyou all took shelter in Brittany and Portugal but all resumes, even if some after came back on course after 6 to 7 days of stopover. That meant some big gaps between the finish times. Alexia Barrier who closed the course in 15th position took 14 days and 14 hours longer than the winner.
Qualifications, that box is checked
The result to Pointe-à-Pitre was one thing but of equal – or maybe greater importance – was to qualify for the next Vendée Globe *, this applied especially for newcomers to the IMOCA class. So that was good news for Boris Herrmann, Damien Seguin, Erik Nigon, Ari Huusela, Manu Cousin and Alexia Barrier who all finished their race.
© Alexis CourcouxSome have even did it in style like Boris Herrmann who made a nice, accomplished race. The German skipper of Malizia 2-Yacht Club of Monaco finished fifth. So it was a solid debut in the IMOCA fleet also for France’s double Paralympic champion Damien Seguin on Apicil, the plan Finot of 2008, who took sixth. Among the older skippers there is a good performance too from Alan Roura on La Fabrique who raised his game with his newly equipped foiling boat, enjoying a match race around Guadeloupe with Stéphane Le Diraison.
The job lists for winter
This proper test which lasted between 12 and 27 days is valuable experience for each of the 20 sailors who will have enough now to form their winter job list. And so too the ongoing search for performance - Jérémie Beyou is already making multiple passages out of Brittany!. Reliability is crucial. Because you can’t win a race if you don’t finish. Meantime it is back to the sheds for the winter before the resumption of the IMOCA circuit in the spring.
© Alexis CourcouxRoute du Rhum -Destination Guadeloupe 2018
1 - SMA, Paul MEILHAT finished 17/11/2018 01:23:18 ,Elapsed time: 12j 11h 23mn 18 sec average speed 11.83 knots
2 - UCAR - SAINT MICHEL, Yann ELIES finished 17/11/2018 03:38:30 , Elapsed time:12j 13h 38mn 30sec, average speed :11.74 knots
3 - HUGO BOSS, Alex THOMSON finished 16/11/2018 13:10:58 Elapsed time: (+ penalty 24 hours) : 12j 23h 10mn 58 sec , average speed : 12.33 knots.
4 - PRB, Vincent RIOU
5 - MALIZIA 2 - YACHT CLUB DE MONACO, Boris HERRMANN
6 - GROUPE APICIL, Damien SEGUIN
7- LA FABRIQUE, Alan ROURA
8 - TIME FOR OCEAN, Stéphane LE DIRAISON
9- LA MIE CALINE ARTIPOLE, Arnaud BOISSIERES
10- VERS UN MONDE SANS SIDA, Erik NIGON
11- ARIEL 2, Ari HUUSELA
12- NEWREST - ART ET FENETRES, Fabrice AMEDEO
13- PURE - FAMILLE MARY, Romain ATTANASIO
14 - GROUPE SETIN, Manuel COUSIN
15 - 4MYPLANET Alexia BARRIER
Abandons : MAITRE COQ, Yannick BESTAVEN BUREAU VALLEE 2, Louis BURTON CHARAL, Jérémie BEYOU MONIN, Isabelle JOSCHKE INITIATIVES-CŒUR, Samantha DAVIES
* Other qualified from the Route du Rhum
The sailors who did not finish the previous Vendée Globe also had to complete a transat solo this year: Vincent Riou, Paul Meilhat and Stéphane Le Diraison have done this.
Circumnavigators Yann Elies, Alan Roura, Arnaud Boissieres, Fabrice Amedeo and Romain Attanasio had to qualify their new boat. Job done.