Blazing speeds close to the record, collisions, damage and technical problems: Around two and a half weeks after the start in Brest, the Arkea Ultim Challenge has already delivered everything that the organizers had promised from the premiere of this solo world regatta, but also everything that the sceptics had feared.
With the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild under solo skipper Charles Caudrelier at the helm, the race around the world is heading for the passage of Cape Leeuwin and, shortly afterwards, its halfway point. After almost 18 days, the 49-year-old Frenchman is pushing his 32-meter foiling trimaran through the Southern Ocean and has already left the first pursuer, Thomas Coville on the Sodebo Ultim 3, 1,500 nautical miles behind.
The leader, who has already won the Volvo Ocean Race twice, also benefits from the fact that his toughest rival, Thomas Laperche on the SVR-Lazartigue, reported serious damage to the main hull in the South Atlantic after a collision with an unknown object and headed for Cape Town after taking on water. It moored there on January 22. A continuation of the race seems uncertain for him. A stopover had also set Armel Le Cléac’h’s Maxi Banque Populaire XI back a long way.
But first things first: The start on January 7 went perfectly for the six trimaran skippers who embarked on this adventure. The organizers of this regatta premiere sent the maxi trimarans out on the 22,460 nautical mile course in perfect conditions. In less than 50 days, the fastest will sail from Brest down the Atlantic around the Southern Ocean and finally back to Brest. The pilots have their sights set on the record set by a solo circumnavigator in 2017, when François Gabart raced around the world on the Macif in 42 days, 16 hours, 40 minutes and 35 seconds.
Biscay and Europe were quickly in the wake
Five of the six trimarans quickly hoisted themselves onto the foils. Only Éric Péron is on the Adagio with a non-foiler. The 42-year-old quickly lost touch, while the quintet at the front meandered through the shipping traffic in the Bay of Biscay in less than two days, leaving the Iberian Peninsula behind them.
They could hardly be stopped by the Doldrums before they plunged into the trade winds. However, a navigational error off Madeira threw Armel Le Cléac’h behind the two co-favorites Charles Caudrelier and Tom Laperche early on. Shortly afterwards he also reported technical problems with his largest headsail. The 2017 Vendée Globe winner finally decided to call at Recife in Brazil to repair the damage.
During the stop, which according to the regulations must last at least 24 hours, other problems also came to light. The pulpit had to be repaired – an unavoidable safety measure off the Southern Ocean to avoid danger during maneuvers on the headsails. There were also problems with a foil.