The race is electric
  • Maxi Spindrift 2
November 8, 2014

With less than 1,000 miles to go, the two maxi-trimarans leading the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe have run into squalls. Under huge cloud formations the wind is oscillating between the north-east and the south-east, with speeds varying from 5 knots to 15 knots from one minute to the next. Aboard Spindrift 2, Yann Guichard is having to expend huge amounts of energy to manage the situation and prevent the boat from capsizing. In such conditions it is impossible for him to reduce the sail area quick enough, so he is moving away from the wind to bide his time, which then requires huge efforts to get his boat back on track. The Spindrift racing skipper, who will arrive in the north of Guadeloupe in around 48 hours before veering round to the west of the island, is keeping up the pace despite this instability that is testing his nerves, and his muscles.

Pointe-à-Pitre had 70mm of rainfall overnight. A yellow alert has been declared and the race village is waiting for the weather to calm down before it opens. The storm is expected to subside tomorrow, and everything will be ready for the arrival of the first boats on Sunday night or in the early hours of Monday morning, i.e. Monday morning in Europe (estimates subject to revision). The sailors have plenty of work to do before then. “There are lots of stormy areas in the belt of trade winds,” said Yann earlier this afternoon. “This morning I was sailing in 15 knot winds, then all of a sudden they died down completely. I’ve hoisted the staysail and the gennaker aback. I’m sure you can imagine that it took a huge effort for me to get the boat back on track.”

Squalls en route
The situation seems pretty simple on the face of it,” says Richard Silvani of Météo France, one of Spindrift racing’s two routers. “We should get steady trade winds of 13 to 18 knots from the east, enabling us to travel in a straight line to Guadeloupe. But it’s more complicated than that, as we have to contend with various squalls on the way, which alter the strength and direction of the wind.”

Yann had an almost sleepless night and made virtually no inroads into Loïck Peyron’s 170-mile lead, but his morale remains high: “I didn’t sleep much so that I could take the helm and gain some ground on Loïck, but all the gains I made were wiped away by the squalls. Otherwise everything is fine on board Spindrift 2 and I’m still in one piece!

A difficult run-in
The run-in to Guadeloupe will give him no respite either. Almost the entire eastern side of the island is prohibited because of nets used to limit fishing. Some prohibited areas are clearly marked, others less so. The location of these areas and the wind will dictate where the boats will have to change tack to reach the tip of the Tête à l’Anglais islet as soon as possible. This compulsory mark is 55 nautical miles from the finish line, to the north of Guadeloupe’s Basse-Terre, and must be left to port.

The boats must then leave the Basse-Terre buoy to starboard. The buoy is barely 500m away from the coastline, so extremely delicate manoeuvres are needed in an area sheltered from the wind by the 1 467m volcano La Grande Soufrière. Finally, they must pass through the Canal des Saintes, a funnel the gives the boats a sudden boost of speed for the sprint finish to the line at Pointe-à-Pitre.

Suffice to say, these final few hours, which could well take place during the middle of the night, will suck every last ounce of strength out of the sailors, who will no doubt look relieved to have reached the end. “I’m still working hard to make sure I use the right sails so I can attack,” said the Spindrift 2 skipper at around noon. “When I get to Pointe-à-Pitre I’ll be tired, but delighted to have arrived”.

Ultime class standing at 8pm CET:
1. Loïck Peyron / Banque Populaire VII, 667,2 nm to the finish
2. Yann Guichard / Spindrift 2, DTL 207,4 nm
3. Lionel Lemonchois / Prince de Bretagne, DTL 335,5 nm
4. Sébastien Josse / Edmond de Rothschild, DTL 381,2 nm
5. Sidnez Gavignet / Musandam - Oman Sail, DTL 462,8 nm
6. Francis Joyon / Idec Sport, DTL 526,9 nm
7. Yann Eliès / Paprec Recyclage, DTL 674,2
8 – Sodebo Ultim’, Thomas Coville, Abandon