Charles Caudrelier and the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild still on a pit stop in the Azores
The undisputed leader of the Arkea Ultim Challenge since 17 January, Charles Caudrelier is now just 1,200 miles from the finish in this first solo round the world race in Ultims. However, since yesterday, Wednesday 21 February at 05:00 UTC, the log has been on pause. Indeed, the skipper of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is officially on a technical pit stop in Horta in the Azores. The depressions currently rolling around the North Atlantic are blocking the way forward to Brest, forcing the sailor to bide his time, moored in the main marina on the island of Faial. With a departure on the cards for a while this Thursday morning, ultimately the return to the racetrack will have to wait until the end of the day tomorrow, at best, or even Saturday lunchtime. If the grib files provide a glimpse of an acceptable weather window, Charles Caudrelier and the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild will head back out to sea with an ETA in Brest on Monday 26 February.

Interview Charles Caudrelier, on 22 February

Why the stop in Horta? Because had I carried straight on, I would have had to negotiate the stormy tail of a depression with very strong NW’ly wind and 10-metre seas expected. I saw that some of the waves measured 11.50 metres last night already, though the forecast was for 6-7… In fact, there are some very irregular winds, that’s the issue, with very strong squalls. It’s not the average wind that causes the problem. It is often drastically under-estimated in the weather models. In any case, you can add 20% to the models in general, so for example if someone looks at the weather on land and sees 35 knots, it’s often 20% more in these conditions, plus the squalls, which can equate to winds of 100 km/h. You can see that it’s stormy over France. As such, the decision has been taken not to go for it just yet because we have a sizeable lead and we have a boat, which has already nearly circumnavigated the globe.

I have the luxury of being able to stop off, so that’s the choice we’ve made. It wasn’t easy as we’re keen to finish the race. We were also keen not to make a pit stop… I really wasn’t obliged to stop. Obviously, the boat is not in tip-top condition, but she was totally in a position to continue racing… Taking risks is a bit like Russian roulette though.

On the back of that, there is a very bad weather forecast for a few days, so the decision was taken to stop. Doubtless if we’d had a boat just 50 miles behind us, we would have attempted to keep going, but why would you do that here, aside from ego…? So, we opted for the wise choice rather than one coloured by impatience and ego. 

And we also stopped because we thought we could set sail again after 24hrs, so this morning. However, the weather has deteriorated. The models are not entirely in agreement, but they’re beginning to fall more in line. There’s a second depression, a secondary low-pressure system, which may be very vicious, and the models are struggling to say where exactly it will be. It was absolutely vital for me to leave here early this morning, from a point a little further away, to position myself behind the wind from the first depression. The problem with that is that there’s another low-pressure system rolling in, which is smaller but more virulent. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a really big storm in France on Saturday, with very, very strong winds, with lots of rotation to boot. As a result, the problem I had was that I’d already had heavy 8-9-metre NW’ly seas, but they were quite long and quite beautiful, so we thought we’d be able to pass through them as 8-9 metres is not too serious, especially if the waves aren’t too close together… The problem is that I wasn’t able to go quick enough to stay ahead of the second depression. I would have had to make headway at over 30 knots and we weren’t sure we could do it in such a sea state. Essentially, had I been caught up by the other depression, I would have had to post speeds in excess of 30 knots and we weren’t sure we could do that. Had I been caught up by the other depression, the wind would have rotated with a 180° wind shift and it could have picked up significantly. That is often what the major storms do. That means you have very strong wind over current, two seas crossing one another and hence very dangerous seas for boats.

Here we’re more geared towards the wise choice, to true wisdom, even though we feel impatient to get back out there, and instead wait till Saturday, where we have a pretty decent weather window. We can allow ourselves this option, because we’ve obviously looked at Sodebo and the boats behind us, and the weather situation means that they are still astern of us, albeit not that far, but there will be a zone of high pressure between us so there is no chance that Thomas or Armel can outperform me and overtake. There will still be a good distance between us because they’re going to have complicated weather to climb up the Atlantic and it allows me to set off in a calm sea and make the finish on Monday. We were quite quick to make the decision. There’s no point tempting fate this evening; we will wait.

And things may work out quite well because I was born on 26 February. I’ll be 50 years old and I think it will be 50 days of racing, so you have to believe in the signs. A finish on Monday would fall exactly on my 50th birthday. I thought I could win this race before I was 50. I thought I’d be able to say ‘when I was 40…’ but I won’t be doing that in principle. However, it’s a great story to tell my grandchildren!

It’s a rather strange experience but I’m with my team. There aren’t many people about so actually it’s quite nice, because it’s all part and parcel of the adventure. I was hoping to complete the course without a stopover. I’d managed to get to this point without stopping, but the weather and prudence is encouraging us not to go for it and we’re making the most of what we have. I am very happy to hook up with those close to me again who are here and firing on all cylinders and we are in the race!

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