“ My overriding feeling right now is one of happiness and relief”
The arrival of IMOCA 60 skipper Paul Meilhat (SMA) and Multi50 runner-up Lalou Roucayrol (Arkema) in New York today, brings the total number of competitors to have successfully crossed the Atlantic in The Transat bakerly to nine.
Crossing the finish line at 14:35:14 local time, Meilhat is the fourth and final IMOCA 60 skipper to reach New York, after winner Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire), runner-up Vincent Riou (PRB) and third-placed Jean-Pierre Dick (St Michel-Virbac).
Completing his first solo transatlantic race in a time of 14 days, five hours and five minutes, Meilhat sailed a total of 4,112 miles through the water, at an average speed of 12.06 knots. The voyage means he has now qualified for the 2016 Vendée Globe.
Using The Transat bakerly as a test ahead of the 24,000-mile, non-stop round-the-world race in November, The Transat bakerly is also the first race for Meilhat since he fractured his pelvis and several ribs during the Transat St Barth Port-La-Forêt in December last year.
Following that serious incident, that left the skipper hospitalised and his boat drifting in the Atlantic ocean for several weeks, simply getting to the start line in Plymouth, and now finishing the race in New York, are major achievements for Meilhat.
“My overriding feeling right now is one of happiness and relief,” he said on the dock in New York. “Knowing that I am qualified for the Vendée Globe is a big step.
“The race was really intense and the end of the course was especially hard. The weather systems were very unstable.”
“Getting to New York is fabulous. This morning I was still 60 miles from the finish and I saw the first building, I think it was the Freedom Tower at One World Trade Centre. To arrive and have the city in front of you is amazing. It’s incredible,” he concluded.
Just two hours after Meilhat, Roucayrol sailed his 50ft trimaran Arkema across the line to claim second place in the Multi50 class. Despite a broken daggerboard earlier in the week, that forced him to change his routing to avoid upwind work, Roucayrol put in a determined performance over the final 1,000 miles of the race.
“Apart from losing my daggerboard, the boat is perfectly intact,” said the skipper on his arrival. “The autopilot worked very well, and all of the changes and improvements I made to the boat this winter were validated during the race. Taking the more northerly route we experienced harsher conditions, but the boat tried really hard.
“Things got more difficult after the damage to the daggerboard - it was a bit of a hassle!” he continued. “Daggerboard free for six days, the boat just does not handle in the same way. I managed to find a setting that worked in 25 to 30 knots of winds under two reefs ORC with the mainsail a little open. This set up helped to balance the boat, but the central hull was always glued to the water. Like this the shocks of hitting a wave are much harder, it was pretty violent onboard.
“The arrival was slow, the last few miles were like a deliverance!” he concluded.
Roucayrol’s total time was 14 days, seven hours and 13 minutes – just one day, 23 hours and 53 minutes behind class winner Gilles Lamiré (French Tech Rennes St Malo). Roucayrol sailed a total distance of 4,199 miles at an average speed of 12.23 knots.
While the latest two arrivals enjoy the thrill of docking in Manhattan, the race continues to grow in intensity for the nine competitors still out in the field. Battling against strong upwind conditions, the remaining Multi50 and Class40 skippers are desperately trying to preserve their boats over the final few hundred miles of the race.
“It’s like a rodeo on board with the choppy sea state,” said Pierre Antoine on the Multi50 Olmix who is currently in fourth place and just 35 miles behind third-placed Erik Nigon on Vers un Monde Sans Sida. “I’m into the final phase of the race, but Erik is not very far away. It promises to be a full-on battle to the end.
“The conditions on the water change really quickly, it’s unstable and not easy to get a good idea of the forecast. It’s now been two weeks at sea and I’m getting anxious to see land and the sooner the better,” Antoine added.
In the Class40 fleet, harsh Atlantic conditions are starting to take their toll on the 40ft keelboats and their gutsy skippers. As the finish line nears, the competitors are making daily repairs – no mean feat in the crashing Atlantic waves – and dreaming of a city skyline on the horizon.
“What has struck me most about this race is not so much the physical effort it requires, but the intense fear of breakages that will prevent you from finishing,” said the Région Normandie skipper Edouard Golbery. He is currently in fifth place and struggling with damage to his sails.
“I’ve had some issues with my mainsail and although it’s not been too violent on board these last few days, I know that with every wave the boat is damaged a little more. Keeping motivated has been hard, but I’m beginning the approach to the finish now, and that is great news.”
Frenchman Thibaut Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires en Peloton–Arsep still leads the Class40 fleet by over 30 miles, with British skipper Phil Sharp on Imerys in hot pursuit and Louis Duc on Carac in third.
Sharp is trying to repair a tear in his mainsail. “I was trying to relieve the pressure on the mainsail, to conserve the boat as the wind was increasing,” he explained. “Before I knew it, the sail just ripped. The damage is at the top, so I can’t reef it. If I leave it, the rip will continue down the sail, so I am going to try and repair it now, but I am worried that there isn’t enough material on board - I’ve used so much of it, repairing the other sails during the race.”
The remaining Multi50 skippers look set to finish late on Wednesday and the Class40 fleet on Thursday.