“ I'm still in the remnants of the gale, there are still gusts of up to 35 knots, and I saw 56 knots on the anemometer last night.”
While this week’s news has been all about the Ibiza temperatures set to scorch the UK this weekend, The Transat bakerly skippers last night faced their toughest and roughest night of the 3,050-mile race yet.
Between early evening on Friday and the early hours of this morning, the fleet was shaken by a deep depression sweeping across the Atlantic. Braving 35 to 45 knots of wind, gusting 50 knots overnight, the fleet has come through the other side with no major casualties to report.
Starting to feel the affects of the low pressure at around 1600pm yesterday, the storm peaked at 0300 this morning, with conditions now easing off a little as the centre of the system continues southeast.
The nine Class40 monohulls remaining in the race were left most exposed to the storm. Not fast enough to outrun it, eight of nine boats held tight their northerly route, making the most of the following winds in that sector of the system.
The class was being led by Britain’s Phil Sharp on Imerys this morning with the previous leader Thibaut Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires en Peloton-ARSEP, dropping back to third, 17 miles behind.
A big winner in the storm is one of the only two women in the class – and in the entire Transat bakerly fleet – Isabelle Joschke on Generali-Horizon Mixite - who has climbed from fifth to second place, just seven miles behind Sharp.
Contacted by satellite phone early this morning, Vauchel-Camus reported: “I’m still in the remnants of the gale, there are still gusts of up to 35 knots, and I saw 56 knots on the anemometer last night. I made it through the night with two reefs in my sail and saw a top boatspeed of 27 knots. We had winds of up to 45 knots and gusting 55. It was a complicated and sleepless night on board. Today I need to rest and try to dry everything out – it’s time for a cheese fondue!”
The most southerly boat in the Class40 fleet, Armel Tripon on Black Pepper found himself in the direct path of the storm and made a dramatic dive south towards the Azores to avoid the worst of the weather, reporting that he has some unspecified breakages on board. For Tripon the depression has been a big setback, dropping him from disputing the lead to seventh place, 185 miles behind the leader. “I had to flee,” he explained this morning. “I’m heading south.”
At the front of the fleet, the Ultimes continue their magic carpet ride towards the finish in New York, now with just 1,500 miles to go. Having reached the most southerly point of their course, class leaders Francois Gabart on Macif and Thomas Coville on Sodebo have begun a physical series of gybes in a southeast wind of around 20 knots – each gybe taking up to an hour to execute aboard their giant ocean racing machines.
Speaking this morning, Gabart said he was hoping to reach the finish in a total time of under eight days. “It’s going pretty well, we went around the depression. It’s been a good 48 hours and the conditions have been ideal. Now we look towards New York, we’re finally on the road to Manhatten. It won’t be straightforward, but we are looking at an ETA of early morning on Tuesday and I’m still in crocs and shorts!”
In the wake of the Ultimes, the Multi50 leader Lalou Roucayrol on Arkema felt the full force of the depression while the chasing boats further south - Gilles Lamiré on board French Tech Rennes St-Malo and Erik Nigon, on Vers un Monde sans Sida - stayed clear of the depression.
The IMOCA 60 front-runners Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) and Vincent Riou (PRB) also faced a challenging night but are now in a lighter patch and only 250 miles southeast of the eastern edge of the ice exclusion zone. This will force the two skippers, locked together in a fascinating battle every bit as compelling as that between Gabart and Coville, to head more southwest to keep clear of the zone’s southern edge.