Ascension Island, time to finally set a direct course for the finish
In the ULTIM category, the southernmost course mark of this 2023 route, has led the five crews all the way down to Ascension Island. This 91 km2 volcanic island, which rises up in the middle of the South Atlantic, forms part of the British Overseas Territory along with Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha. It is an atypical destination for offshore racers and reaching it has been quite a feat for the men of Gitana Team. Close-hauled in a shifty and rather lacklustre SE’ly trade wind – between 12 and 18 knots – Charles Caudrelier and Erwan Israël have linked together a series of tacks over the past 24 hours and more: “We’re 100 miles from Ascension Island and it’s safe to say that it’s a long way away! We’re not used to doing such long beats with the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild,” revealed the skipper in a video sent from the boat shortly after 08:00 UTC.
“The good news is that the mark is around a hundred miles away now. The bad news is that two of our rivals are in the process of rounding it now! We haven’t been very successful if we look at the ranking, because one of the top boats making the rounding was still with us yesterday and Banque Populaire is behind them now. Though we can say that we’ve closed on Banque Populaire, we’ve also lost a lot of ground in relation to SVR-Lazartigue, with whom we were previously in contact. François and Tom made a fantastic comeback on the upwind sprint.”
3,000 miles of downwind conditions
Happy to leave Ascension Island in the wake of their flying maxi-trimaran and get back onto a point of sail more favourable for speed, the crew of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild would naturally have preferred to be level with today’s escapees, SVR-Lazartigue and the Maxi Banque Populaire XI. Instead, at 16:00 UTC this Wednesday, the men of Gitana Team lamented a deficit of 136 miles in relation to the leader. Charles Caudrelier reviewed the circumstances of the miles amassed over the past few hours: “Right now it’s rather nice. We’ve been under the tropics for several days and we’re flying along, which is great. The wind is a little stronger today, which suits us better, because yesterday and the day before yesterday, in a lighter wind, we were less at ease and then we attempted some slight separation, which cost us dearly. We had less breeze than our rivals and it wasn’t in the right direction so it wasn’t easy as there were a lot of cloud masses. Did we handle it badly? Were we unlucky? It’s always very hard to know. We fell off the pace at that point and afterwards those in front held onto the wind and the right rotations.”
In any case, this afternoon the leading ULTIMs passed under the barrier of 3,000 miles to go to the finish. In the meantime though, the giants will have to make the switch back into the northern hemisphere and then make their way along the north coast of Latin America bound for the Antilles arc and then on to Fort-de France, where the finish will be decided on the evening of Sunday 12 November at the earliest: “Erwan and I are focusing on what comes next now. There is still a long way to go and we’ll be sailing downwind, which is a point of sail which suits our boat quite well as far as we’ve seen since the start of the race. The battle is far from over. Plenty could happen between now and the finish. We’re eager to sail downwind so we can pick up the pace,” assured Charles Caudrelier.
At the 16:00 UTC position report, he’d got his wish and the Verdier design was powering along downwind and was polled making over 34 knots!
Position report on 8 November, 19:00 hours
1) SVR Lazartigue - François Gabart - Tom Laperche at 2 843 miles from the finish
2) Maxi Banque Populaire XI - Armel Le Cléac'h / Sébastien Josse à 8,9 miles du leader
3) Maxi Edmond de Rothschild - Charles Caudrelier / Erwan Israël at 142,1 miles
4) Sodebo Ultim 3 - Thomas Coville - Thomas Rouxel at 423,8 miles
5) Actual Ultim 3 - Anthony Marchand / Thierry Chabagny at 524,5 miles