“ My proud ship is made of wood and wood works, but it leaks a bit everywhere”
He can’t see the skyline yet but the French solo sailing superstar Francois Gabart is now closing in on the finish of The Transat bakerly in New York where line honours, an Ultime class win and a race record await him.
This afternoon the 33-year-old skipper of the state-of-the-art 100ft trimaran Macif was just 377 nautical miles southeast of the finish and gliding along in light airs with an ETA at the line of 17.00hrs UK time tomorrow.
Gabart’s nearest pursuer – Thomas Coville on Sodebo – was 122 miles behind with the third boat in the class, Actual, skippered by Yves Le Blevec, another 345 miles astern.
Back in the mid-Atlantic, the battle for glory in the highly competitive Class40 monohull class is still raging as the leading boats make their way across an area of light winds, south of the official Ice Exclusion Zone.
The two leading boats are locked together about four miles apart and with almost the same figure - 1,612 - in the “miles to go” read-out on their GPS plotters. The more southerly of the two boats is the nominal leader, Thibaut Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires en Peloton-Arsep while the one to the north is Generali-Horizon Mixite, skippered by Isabelle Joschke, one of only two women in The Transat bakerly this year.
The remarkable story in Class40s, however, is that of Britain’s Phil Sharp in third place on Imerys who was forced to take a six-hour stop-go time penalty on Sunday that dropped him from leading to 46 miles adrift of the other two boats. But Sharp has been working hard to make up the deficit and is now only 12.6 miles behind Vauchel-Camus.
The Briton used his time well when he was hove-to, as he reported this afternoon. “I’m massively pleased to find out I’ve caught up by over 30 miles since last night,” he said. “Sitting like a duck while I lost first place was obviously quite a painful process, but I just made the most of the time to improve the performance of my boat and had ‘engineering time.’ I spent the entire six hours making fixes.”
Among the tasks he carried out was fixing a loose pin in one his boat’s rudders, mending his spinnaker pole and sorting out problems with the boat’s hydro-generator. Now Sharp will be looking to take different options to the leaders as he plans a route back to the front. “When you’re behind, I think it’s really important to continually seek any advantage possible and look for alternative routes, using transition zones (in the weather) to make gains,” he added.
In the IMOCA 60 class Armel Le Cleac’h on Banque Populaire now has a little more breathing space over his nearest rival, Vincent Riou on PRB who is 66 miles astern of him with Jean-Pierre Dick’s St-Michel Virbac 150 miles back in third place.
In the Multi50s, the huge spread in the leaders continues with Gilles Lamire on French Tech Rennes St Malo still holding the initiative in the deep south over Lalou Roucayrol on Arkema in the north. But Roucayrol - who is following the track of the leading IMOCA 60s - has been finding more breeze than his southerly rival and has now cut his deficit on Lamire from 224 miles to 160.
Meanwhile, alone and by some way the most easterly and most northerly boat, Loick Peyron is ploughing on on board Eric Tabarly’s old ketch Pen Duick II that he is sailing alongside the race in tribute to the great master of French offshore sailing.
Peyron is a born racer and has been comparing his relative performance in the same boat, and in the same trim, to that of Tabarly when he sailed to victory in The Transat – then known as the OSTAR – in 1964. Peyron is currently about 175 miles ahead of Tabarly’s equivalent position and 270 miles southeast of him as he pushes the old boat along on starboard tack in a bitterly cold northerly gale. At a position about 800 miles west, northwest of Cape Finisterre, he still has 2,053 miles to sail on a direct route to New York.
“There’s either a little or a lot and we had a storm for two days,” reported Peyron. “There is a lot of wind and it’s pretty wet. My proud ship is made of wood and wood works, but it leaks a bit everywhere.
“I hope that the coming days will be a little better, but otherwise it’s really good, the pace is quiet. I have no news from the outside world. Of course I’m a bit alone, but that was the idea of this voyage - it’s good and I have started my fourth book.
“Gales have been quite difficult to handle, but all is well,” he added. “It’s true that I’m a little bit ahead of my wonderful predecessor. Initially I did not want to compare my journey to his, but it was inevitable once the game began. Every lunchtime, I look at his position in his log book.
“On board it’s more comfortable than on one of the boats speeding to New York, even if it’s not at all in terms of the ergonomics. It leaks everywhere and there is water in every corner. The boat is wet, but the spray comes over the top a lot slower! It’s quite tolerable and there is a lot less stress onboard.
“I’m learning the limits of the boat. She has not sailed in conditions as violent as these, and she’s creaking all the time - but stands firm! It really is a pleasure to be here.”