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Carnage Mounts in Route du Rhum

This 11th edition of the Route du Rhum solo transatlantic race has been a challenging one for the competitors and their boats. Autumn has set in across western Europe and the North Atlantic ocean, and the weather pattern has been one depression after another. With gale-force winds and the accompanying sea state followed by light-air zones with even more chaotic seas, keeping boats in one piece and making good progress has been extremely challenging. After just over three days of racing, the majority of the Ultime trimarans have sustained damage. In the IMOCA 60 monohull division, just 11 of the original 20 starters remain on course and racing as of this writing.

Ultime Trimarans

When the race started on Sunday, all eyes were on the Ultime division of maxi-trimarans. One by one, however, the competitors have fallen by the wayside, leaving a two-boat maxi-trimaran match race. After getting off to a cracking start, Seb Josse’s new full-foiling trimaran Gitana 17 ripped the bow off her starboard float and retired to Spain.

Gitana 17's damaged ama
Extensive damage on Seb Josse’s Gitana 17. Before the boat broke, Josse was leading the race overall and was more than 30 miles ahead of François Gabart in a stunning display of speed.
© 2018 Sebastien Josse

Less than a day later, current Vendée Globe champion Armel le Cléac’h capsized when one of the hulls on his new foiling boat broke off at the crossbeam. Le Cléac’h has been safely rescued by a fishing boat; his team is organizing a rescue for the boat. His brand-new trimaran Banque Populaire IX has now capsized twice this year, leading one to wonder if this may be the end of the boat. Currently, François Gabart on MACIF is maintaining a narrow lead over Francis Joyon on IDEC Sport, though we suspect François will light the afterburners once the duo reaches the trades.


The IMOCA 60 division saw a record 20 entries, and right off the bat Briton Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss made a gutsy navigational move and split from the fleet to assume an early lead. Flush with boat speed, the perennial Vendée Globe competitor and 24-hour IMOCA distance record holder has continued to build a cushion over his main rivals, though Alex may see much of his 80-mile lead evaporate when he crosses the next ridge of high pressure before reaching the trades. Behind him, the young sailor Paul Meilhat onboard SMA is sailing incredibly well to remain in second place on what is likely the fleet’s quickest boat to be fitted with conventional straight daggerboards. Vincent Riou on PRB, Yann Elies on Ucar – Saint Michel and Boris Hermann on Malizia 2 round out the top five.

IMOCA 60 start
The Route du Rhum’s fleet of 20 IMOCAs at the start. The boats at the front of the fleet in this photo still figure prominently and should be among the first into Guadeloupe.
© 2018 Route du Rhum

Class 40s

The record-setting 53-boat Class 40 division has handled the challenging conditions better than most fleets. Nevertheless, third-place British sailor Sam Goodchild has dismasted after a phenomenal start. Fellow countryman Phil Sharp on Imerys Clean Energy has assumed third place. Sharp’s own challenges include a blown fractional spinnaker halyard that required two trips aloft and a blown water-ballast tank. Pre-race favorite Yoann Richomme has a scant lead over Aymeric Chappellier and Sharp.

Dismasted Class 40
Sam Goodchild’s Class 40 Narcos: Mexico dismasted while running in third place. The young Briton has made a name for himself the past few years, and his brief return to the class left everyone duly impressed. One can only hope he gets an IMOCA soon.
© 2018 Sam Goodchild

Boats not near the front of the pack will continue dealing with low-pressure system after low-pressure system. Meanwhile, ports all over western Europe — particularly in Northern Spain — are filling up with boats whose skippers are licking their wounds and contemplating whether to retire or resume racing after repairs. As a result of the brutal conditions, the race committee has already extended the finish deadline by five days with the possibility of more.

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