US solo sailor Ryan Finn gives us his perspective on the Route du Rhum.
There is plenty Rhum race left even though, as I write this Frank Cammas has won the first Route du Rhum open to the Giant class in over a decade. His time of just over nine days isn’t a record, but the conditions weren’t close to what the ORMA fleet experienced in the 2006 event in which Lionel Lemonchois set a seemingly impossible record of 7 days and 17hours on a the then shorter Gitana 11. However like Groupama 3, Cammas’ win is huge. One needs to only see the vast number of maneuvers he has made in the last three hundred miles to see that he has worked his ass off for this win.
Behind him several races are unfolding that are worth following. Firstly the race between Coville and Joyon, two rivals who, as far as I know, have never faced off solo on the same course. Their race has heated up in almost mythical ways. The only way it could be hotter would be if Cammas hadn’t showed up with a bigger gun. But between these two big red Irens trimarans we get to see a fascinating battle surface that has been around for years. To sum it up Coville went north with Oman Air (now abandoned) and Joyon went south, between Groupama and Gitanna 11. It was a huge split, and it’s the same split that has created drama in every transatlantic race to the islands ever. For much of this event Coville led Joyon, but now, right at the very end, it looks like Joyon is going to be in front. Of course they still need to get around the island of Guadeloupe to Point a Pitre, but I know where I’d put my money.
In the IMOCA Class the split seems to have worked out the other way, with the lead guys having an almost Figaro style race in the North, and with underdog, Arnaud Boissieres and overdog Michel Desjoyeaux, racing next to each other in the south. There is a fantastic race here between leader, and 2006 race winner, Roland Jourdain and Brit Air skipper Armel Le Cleac’h who is rubberbanding his distance to leader at every sched, and much farther south than Jourdain. Jourdain has to get south to seal the deal. The question is can he before Armel closes the gap between the race leader and Point a Pitre? Also will the deep south play out last minute for Boissieres and Desjoyeaux?
Split/Demolition Derby, disparate class race 5000 in the Multi 50 fleet! There is too much going on here to reduce to a coherent paragraph, but essentially, it’s bad luck to lead the Multi 50 fleet. Whoever is in the lead one mile from the finish will probably spontaneously combust, or a plane full of shore crew and race organizers will crash on them right at the finish line. Either way, there is a great race unfolding up to that point. Basically the three race favorites have all had problems while leading this class. First Lemonchois, while opting for the northern route early in the race, had a halyard lock problem that put him out of contention as he headed back to Spain to fix it. He managed to fix it and rejoined the race, but was well behind the two leading southern boats Crepes Whaou!, and Actual. Crepes had a comfortable lead on Actual, but after the bow FELL OFF! of his central hull he’s had to kind of slow down a bit. Actual took the lead quickly, but then had central hull flooding that led to the overloading of the structure, or something like that, and he discovered cracks in his forward beams. Basically he too is now nursing his boat to the finish with seamship, not racing, as the new agenda. So the race is now being led by ex-Banque Populaire skipper Lalou Roucayrol on his self designed 50’ tri with Lemonchois on Prince de Bretagne, in hot pursuit on his very fast Irens design. So, can Lalou hold off Lemonchois’ relentless attack on a faster boat? They are both ORMA skippers, and with 1000 miles left, they have about 150 miles to volly back and forth before getting to Point a Pitre. Watch this one.
Now, race of the centry, because the boats are so much slower, and there are so damn many of them: The Classe 40’s. 600 miles separates the 42 remaining boats in this class, north to south. At the Northern most position is my co-skipper for the GOR, Conrad Colman sparing with another GOR entry Marco Nannini. Arguably Marco has a better name than both of us put together, but hopefully that won’t have much of an effect on the race. At the extreme southern end, Vendee Globe hero and all round nice guy Pete Goss, who is banging the southern corner hard. In between is the real meat of it though with Thomas Ruyant speeding away to the north, and Figaro ninja Nicolas Troussel leading the southern contingent. What should be noted about Troussel is that besides winning the Figaro Solitaire twice, has also won the Transat Ag2r and Trophee BPE, both Figaro races ending in the islands from France.
So he knows how to get a production boat to the Caribbean quickly and is sailing a new Pogo 40’ for this event. In between Ruyant and Troussel is Yvan Noblet who is doing a fantastic job of covering the middle. It’s a difficult position to win from traditionally, but it’s the one with the most options at this point. There is a fleury of activity behind them with boats fighting onboard issues and trying to stay in the race. I’m closest to Conrad’s battle, and know he has been working very hard to fix his large spinnaker which has been out of commission for days now, and has kept him pinned out to the north much longer than he wanted. If that’s what’s happening on the only boat I’m keeping tabs on, you know there is a whole world of shit going on within the remaining 40+ boats negotiating this very complicated course. Plus, the longer you stay out there, the more stuff happens, and that fleet is barely halfway across the Atlantic! So, will Nicolas Troussel close the door on the rest of the fleet as he has before, or can the cool and focused Thomas Ruyant hold him off to Guadeloupe while negotiating the more complicated Northern route?
Finally, the traditionalists in the Rhum Class. This is a much more personal class than what you see at the top of the fleet, and closer to what you see as the origins of this race. It’s the only class where multihulls and monohulls race together, and you have the most variety amongst them. There are three Walter Green trimarans up to 40’ including the only American, Etienne Giroire on ATN.inc and the immaculate and storied trimaran of Charlie Capelle, Acapella, easily the most beautiful boat in the entire fleet. The Rhum category is also the new home for the now defunct Open 50’ class with three of these boats banging away within the top five. This fleet is well mixed within the Class 40’ fleet, and interestingly, although some of them are faster boats they are well behind the leading Class 40’s. It’s just the nature of having guys pushing each other in bigger fleets. Some would call this the adventure class, but the truth is, whenever a boat leaves the dock singlehanded, no matter how professional the team or how expensive the boat, they are part of an adventure. That is the endearing legacy of this race, and it always will be.
So for those of you who aren’t already, tune in and enjoy the many layers of action this race has brought us for over thirty years This is history. Thanks to ThMartinez/Sea&Co for the photos.