“ The game is actually open with those who are very, very far south and they may also have difficulty getting back to the north.”
One thousand miles due west of Cape Finisterre and about 1,300 miles due east of the coast of Nova Scotia – in the middle of the liquid desert that is the Atlantic ocean – British sailor Phil Sharp is this afternoon taking his penalty in The Transat bakerly.
Having strayed into a prohibited area in the opening hours of the race off the Brittany coast at Ushant, Sharp has been sanctioned by the official race Jury with a stop-go penalty of six hours. This is especially painful for the British skipper of Imerys who has been leading the Class40 fleet, on and off, ever since the beginning of the race a week ago.
The penalty is being executed by way of a virtual gate – a north-south line in the ocean - established in Sharp’s path by the race director. Sharp must cross this line and then return to the east of it. Then he has to heave-to for six-hours, after which he can cross the line again and resume racing.
Imerys is already tumbling down the leaderboard as his two closest companions on the water, Thibaut Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires En Peloton-Arsep and Isabelle Joschke on Generali-Horizon Mixite, surge ahead at average speeds of 10-11 knots. The question for Sharp is whether he will fall out of the top-three and behind the current fourth-placed sailor, Louis Duc on Carac, who is 70 miles astern of the leaders.
Ahead and slightly south of the Class40 front-runners, the leaders in the IMOCA 60 fleet are entering an area of light winds that will test already tired skippers to the limit. Armel Le Cleac’h on the foiling Banque Populaire still has the initiative with a 30-mile lead over second-placed Vincent Riou on PRB. But with 1,399 miles still to go to New York, the gap is narrowing in this classic match race between two of the world’s top solo racers.
The leading Multi50 is still Gilles Lamire on Frenchtech Rennes St Malo who is 183 miles in front of Lalou Roucayrol on Arkema, 500 miles southwest of him. Although in different part of the ocean, both skippers will come under the influence of the same high pressure zone in the coming hours, with the northernmost boat possibly gaining in this phase of the race.
In third place, 240 miles northeast of Arkema, Pierre Antoine on Olmix likes his position compared to the boats a long way south of him. “The game is actually open with those who are very, very far south and they may also have difficulty getting back to the north,” said Antoine. “We’ll see, but in any case it’s nice to be on this road here…although obviously it is a little colder.”
Meanwhile the Ultime trimarans are storming towards New York with Francois Gabart on Macif now less than 800 miles away and expected at the finish at around lunchtime local time on Tuesday. This afternoon Gabart was about 240 miles east of Bermuda and travelling at 24.5 knots. Moving five knots faster was Thomas Coville on Sodebo in second place, 155 miles behind but closing the gap again.
Yves Le Blevec is the third-placed competitor and is 436 miles behind Gabart. Le Blevec has been enjoying his first transatlantic aboard his big tri, Actual. “This is the first time I have raced solo aboard this boat that I have been working on for a year and it’s true, that I’m enjoying myself. But I can also see that there are lots and lots of things that I can improve,” he said.