Casualties Mount in Vendée Globe
(December 18, 2016; Day 43) - French skipper Stéphane Le Diraison became the third Vendée Globe skipper to have to withdraw from the solo round the world race due to mast or rig problems when his mast snapped into two pieces on yesterday evening.
Le Diraison’s break is the most serious yet, following the mast top loss of Tanguy de Lamotte who had to return to Les Sables d’Olonne and of Japanese skipper Koji Shiraishi who lost the top third of his mast and retired into Cape Town. He is heading for Melbourne Australia, some 800 miles to his north. Twenty one of the 29 skippers who started the race on Sunday November 6th are still actively racing.
“When I break something or mess up a manœuvre, I accept the responsibility, but this is hard to take. There was 25-26 knots of wind and I was sailing cautiously with two reefs in the mainsail. The boat went surfing on a wave and I heard a bang. I thought it was an outrigger. I rushed outside to take the helm and saw I no longer had a mast. It was a loop on the backstay that had snapped. The mast broke in two.
"During the night there was a lot of slamming and the mast was banging around with the sails in the water. I did what I could to make sure I didn’t get any holes in the deck. The spreaders were rubbing. It was hell. In the end I threw everything in the water, the mainsail and mast. I started the engine and got a couple hours rest. I ate and then took care of the boom before hoisting the storm sail on the 7m of the mast that is left. I’m now heading for Melbourne.”
For skipper Thomas Ruyant on Le Souffle du Nord pour Le Projet Imagine, his future is less certain. After colliding with a UFO at 1545 UTC today, he has discovered an ingress of water in the sail locker in the bow, plus also caused damage to the starboard rudder, the bottom frame as well as some other structural damage in particular to the deck of the boat.
The sailor from NE France is fine and has not asked for assistance.
“Thomas is in the process of carrying out an appraisal of the damage and ensuring his boat can sail without suffering,” explained Laurent Bourgués, technical director of Le Souffle du Nord. “He has already prepared his safety gear in case the situation worsens. At the time of the incident, he was sailing in winds blowing in excess of forty knots and on very heavy seas. Thomas is trying to find a solution to make his way to New Zealand.”
The Vendée Globe Race Directors are in contact with the New Zealand maritime rescue authorities, in case the skipper asks for help, should the situation deteriorate.
Elsewhere in the fleet, Jean Le Cam is still on fighting form. In seventh place he is pacing his fellow members of the three musketeers posse, Yann Eliès and Jean-Pierre Dick, making his second successive racing circumnavigation on the modified, optimised Farr design of 2007 which won the 2008-9 race as Foncia. Le Cam won the Barcelona World Race with Bernard Stamm on the same boat last year and in so doing became the inaugural IMOCA Ocean Masters World Champion.
Le Diraison’s damage breaks up longstanding duel with Hungarian Nandor Fa which has been running through the Indian Ocean. Fa, responded: “I received heartbreaking news this morning: 80 miles ahead of me, Stéphane’s dismasted. We’ve been sailing hand-in-hand for more than a week, doing a private match race along the whole Indian Ocean. Sometimes he was faster, especially when there was an A7 ride, sometimes I was faster when there was tougher weather and I could push. Now I’m all alone.”
Meantime ‘Crazy Kiwi’ Conrad Colman crossed Cape Leeuwin, quipping: “As a Kiwi I cannot going celebrate going past Australia too much. I always think Cape Leeuwin is the runt of the litter when it comes to the three Capes. It does not belong in the same company as the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, it is too far away, it is too far north and not on the course really (laughs).”
The veteran 57 year old is on his fourth Vendée Globe. The reason the phlegmatic, truculent Le Cam is back doing the race is simply that he loves it and he would not know what to do with himself otherwise, as he said weeks before the start: “If I don’t do the Vendée Globe I would be at home pacing the floors. I don’t know what else I would do. I would be boring with no Vendée Globe. I do not know what else to do.”
In fact, in real terms his race bears similar hallmarks to his 2012-13 Vendée Globe when he finished fifth. At the same point in 2012 he was sixth on Synerciel (originally Gitana 80 now Newrest-Matmut) some 1500 miles behind the leading duel of François Gabart and Armel Le Cléac’h.
Le Cam’s physical prowess may not quite match that of his closest rivals Eliès and Dick, but his guile and experience is second to none among the 21 skippers still actively racing. He was part of an early round the world crew with Eric Tabarly along with a youthful Michel Desjoyeaux – who he spoke with on today’s Vendée LIVE. His nickname King Jean came when he won Le Solitaire du Figaro three times from sixteen Solitaires. It’s moniker he shies from and yet his races are coloured by the nicknames he allocates to other skippers, not least Mike Goldfinger (Golding) and ‘Vincent Le Terrible’, Vincent Riou who pipped him to overall victory in 2004 by seven hours.
Le Cam – in a forgetful moment which might chime with men and women of a certain age – announced almost sheepishly to Desjoyeaux and the Vendée LIVE audience today that he had left a ballast valve open in the system, which was designed originally by Desjoyeaux: “It’s one of those stories you don’t mention usually. There is a pipe which acts as a pump at the stern. It’s practical, so that’s fine. I discovered water inside; I wiped it up. Two hours later there was more water. I thought there was a problem with the rudder. I managed to pump and empty it. I had in fact forgotten to turn off the tap. It’s like when you leave the tap on and the bath overflows.” Le Cam battled long and hard to find a budget to race, after buying the boat which he raced with Stamm. He raised more than €140,000 via crowdfunding. More than 40 companies have supported the enigmatic skipper with sums between €100 and €25,000.
Meantime at the front of the fleet, Armel Le Cléac’h has covered 293.5 nm in the past 24 hours. And the sisterships which in 2012 were 16 miles apart in first and second on this day, SMA and Maître CoQ, are even closer today. SMA, the course record holding former MACIF, now in the hands of Paul Meilhat, is third again leading Jéremie Beyou’s ‘turbo’d up’ former Banque Populaire, now foil assisted.
Ranking (Top 5 of 29 as of 22:00 FR)
1. Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA), 8838 nm to finish
2. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson (GBR), 484.34 nm to leader
3. SMA, Paul Meilhat (FRA), 1297.13 nm
4. Maître CoQ, Jérémie Beyou (FRA), 1308.38 nm
5. Quéguiner - Leucémie Espoir, Yann Eliès (FRA), 1962.2 nm