For his first solo transatlantic race Yann Guichard has made it through a gruelling race, which involved an intense battle to extract himself from the calms and squalls that have accompanied him from Cape Finisterre to the finish line in Guadeloupe. As such Gitana 11 finishes in fourth place after taking 11 days 11 hours 56 minutes and 38 seconds at sea to cover the 3,539 miles separating Saint Malo from Pointe-À-Pitre.
Whilst he managed to round the Basse-Terre mark at 17h59’ GMT on Thursday, Yann Guichard took nearly six hours to cover the twenty or so remaining miles to the finish line! Indeed it was in an evanescent wind that Gitana 11 made headway at less than two knots at times, to complete the circumnavigation of Guadeloupe: the trimaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild finished the Route du Rhum-La Banque Postale at 23 hours 58 minutes 38 seconds GMT on Thursday 11th November, which equates to an average speed across the water of 15.79 knots, since Yann Guichard covered 4,356 miles in total…
D-1: Saturday 30th October
Over a million and a half spectators come to stroll along the quays of Saint Malo to wish the 84 competitors in this ninth edition of the Route du Rhum-La Banque Postale a safe journey. Gitana 11 is ready to take to the open ocean and Yann Guichard is working with his router Sylvain Mondon to hone their strategy for the first days of racing.
“All the members of the Gitana Team have been working towards this Route du Rhum for nearly two years and I was really keen to share with them the moment where the general public pay homage to us in some way. It’s a mixture of stress, as you’re always fearful of knocking into something, and emotion” indicates Yann Guichard, as he passes through the lock gates; the trimaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild opening the way to the sea for the other solo sailors.
D: Sunday 31st October
This Sunday lunchtime there are massive crowds, both on the water and lining the headland of Cap Fréhel, for a race start bathed in perfect weather conditions: SE’ly wind of around a dozen knots and flat seas. However, the overriding anxiety for all the solo sailors remains a collision with a yacht as Yann Guichard sets off in the wake of Franck Cammas, overtaking him a few moments later and then rounding the mark at Fréhel in second position. Gitana 11 heads offshore to free herself of the pressure of the spectators and her skipper lines her up for exiting the English Channel…
“The first night promises to be studious with a fair number of manœuvres to perform, but there aren’t that many options to be had: you just have to go fast from the start because the leaders will be more favoured by the upcoming weather conditions” indicates the skipper just before the starting gun sounds.
D+1: Monday 1st November
Ranking on 1st November at 1100 GMT
1- Sodebo 3,119 miles from the finish
2- Oman Air Majan 30 miles from the leader
3- Idec 55 miles from the leader
4- Groupama 3 some 58 miles from the leader
5- Gitana 11 some 74 miles from the leader
The tone has been set during the night: after a series of manœuvres along the Breton coast, Gitana 11 enters the Atlantic with a steady NW’ly. Conditions are so full-on that Yann Guichard is forced to ease off the pace so as to avoid the risk of breakage from a very chaotic sea. Inexorably the three larger ‘ultimate’ multihulls are able to push hard at an average of over 25 knots whilst the trimaran in the colours of Edmond de Rothschild Group seeks to keep pace with them. With the exception of Sidney Gavignet, who opts to follow the direct course, the other ‘ultimates’ pick their way towards Cape Finisterre, with Thomas Coville the furthest offshore and Franck Cammas the furthest inshore.
“I haven’t had the chance to rest since the start, between the manœuvres along the North coast of Brittany and the situation served up by the Bay of Biscay. The most annoying thing about the Bay isn’t the wind but the sea state. Last night the waves reached four metres and were very close together. In conditions such as these, I had no choice but to ease off the pace as, with each wave, Gitana 11 was flying and then ploughing into the next one. It’s a bit frustrating when you see the competitors ahead getting away. However, we’re not even 24 hours into the race yet: you have to preserve the boat above all else.”
D+2: Tuesday 2nd November
Ranking on 2nd November at 1100 GMT
1- Groupama 3 some 2,803 miles from the finish
2- Sodeb’O 23 miles from the leader
3- Oman Air Majan 69 miles from the leader
4- Idec 123 miles from the leader
5- Gitana 11 some 137 miles from the leader
Franck Cammas has made good his escape: he’s already at the latitude of Gibraltar, still being pushed along by some steady tradewinds, whilst Yann Guichard and Francis Joyon, neck and neck, are off Lisbon in a light wind. The differential in speed equates to ten knots! The two sisterships skippered by Coville and Gavignet are still positioned further to the NW, whilst at the back of the ‘ultimate’ class, Bertrand Quentin (Côte d’Or) has to be airlifted to hospital by Spain’s emergency services.
“The first issue was to pass below 42° North on Monday evening. With that done Yann can now slip along the southern edge of the zone of high pressure. However the winds are not very strong and are pretty unstable at between ten and fifteen knots… Gitana 11 will continue downwind for several days. In fact, if possible, we’ll avoid him having to put in some gybes, but he will probably have to reposition himself towards the South at a given point if the breeze eases too much, so as to keep hold of good wind pressure” explains Sylvain Mondon from Météo France.
D+3: Wednesday 3rd November
Ranking on 3rd November at 1100 GMT
1- Groupama 3 some 2,355 miles from the finish
2- Idec 225 miles from the leader
3- Gitana 11 some 236 miles from the leader
4- Sodeb’O 266 miles from the leader
5- Oman Air Majan 303 miles from the leader
While Franck Cammas is already beneath the Azores (25°W) and still at least three knots quicker, his four pursuers are virtually on the same line, at 20°W over 220 miles behind! Sodeb’O and Oman Air have clearly opted for the N’ly route where they are having to confront a steady SW’ly wind whilst the ‘southerners’ are being pushed along by moderate tradewinds, which are still proving to be more powerful further along the track.
“I’m sailing downwind with good conditions, albeit very shifty. It’s not as easy as all that because the breeze is fluctuating a great deal in terms of strength and direction! We’re slipping along nicely though, so it’s rather pleasant. I didn’t see Francis Joyon this morning, even though we crossed tacks within four miles of each other. We may see one another when next we cross paths as I’m slowly making ground up on him. It’s good to be staying in contact. When there are two of us on the water, it’s better than being out on a limb on your own.”
D+4: Thursday 4th November
Ranking on 4th November at 1100 GMT
1- Groupama 3 some 1,854 miles from the finish
2- Idec 328 miles from the leader
3- Sodebo 333 miles from the leader
4- Gitana 11 some 344 miles from the leader
5- La Boîte à Pizza 657 miles from the leader
Still being accompanied by Francis Joyon, Yann Guichard is being increasingly put upon by highly variable downwind conditions. He’s having to link together a series of manœuvres and take the helm a lot so as not to get caught out by a squall. Franck Cammas is continuing to hurtle along in a wind which has switched round to the South whilst Thomas Coville is traversing a front which is sprawling right across the Atlantic. Meantime Sidney Gavignet has been picked up by a cargo ship after the forward beam of his trimaran breaks, causing the mast to fall.
“I got caught in some stormy squalls which came out of nowhere and there was no wind beneath them! There was no indication of any storms coming in from the South. I’m not yet clear of the zone either. Since the start, the wind hasn’t been steady and the automatic pilot is finding it hard to keep up. As a result I’m very often having to helm. I’m still in the SE’ly tradewinds and I’m going to hunt down a depression which is ahead of me. I’ll have to put in a long port tack. Groupama 3 has constantly been faster since the start and it’ll take something pretty big to get back within reach of her. I’m going to have to keep an eye on Thomas Coville, to the North, as he’ll soon pass through the front and will then pick up pace.”
D+5: Friday 5th November
Ranking on 5th November at 1100 GMT
1- Groupama 3 some 1,421 miles from the finish
2- Sodebo 278 miles from the leader
3- Idec 329 miles from the leader
4- Gitana 11 some 400 miles from the leader
5- La Boîte à Pizza 862 miles from the leader
Yann Guichard is being subjected to more and more squalls, which are ensnaring him for hours on end whilst Franck Cammas has already got through the front, as has Thomas Coville, the latter now dropping down towards the West Indies at pace. Not everyone is suffering the same fate, indeed Francis Joyon has also managed to traverse the front. In fact this Friday 5th November marks the day the two solo sailors split as the storm isn’t dishing out the same punishments within a radius of ten miles or so! The next stage in proceedings takes Gitana 11 through a zone of what are at times very violent storms, preventing her from getting back into the thick of the action.
“Midway through this Friday afternoon, Gitana 11 is still making headway beneath the stormy squalls of the front, which have really slowed her down over the past few hours. The wind is struggling to make a clear shift round to the NNE, whilst Francis Joyon passed through this barrier without mishap in the early hours. Yann Guichard should escape the zone himself but it’s a bit like the Doldrums: it can take a turn for the worse very quickly. Idec and Gitana 11 didn’t follow the same trajectory yesterday as each of them were hoping to get the best out of the weather conditions in relation to the potential of their boat” explains Sylvain Mondon from Météo France.
D+6: Saturday 6th November
Ranking on 6th November at 1100 GMT
1- Groupama 3 some 961 miles from the finish
2- Sodebo 235 miles from the leader
3- Idec 239 miles from the leader
4- Gitana 11 some 514 miles from the leader
5- La Boîte à Pizza 1,102 miles from the leader
It’s a hard day for Yann Guichard who sees his three rivals open up a sizeable lead over him whilst he’s left stuck under the clouds. Thomas Coville makes a very strong comeback via the North with peak speeds of over 35 knots and uncertainty reigns as to the last 1,000 miles to go since a tropical depression, by the name of Tomas, has formed to the North of the West Indies.
“Since leaving Saint Malo, I’ve had to take the helm a great deal. The fact that Gitana 11 is lighter and shorter makes the boat more unstable in the very changeable conditions we’ve had. I think I’ve had to put in more manœuvres than my heavier rivals, who are able to carry more sail area for longer. I’m a bit disappointed at being caught up in the calm conditions yesterday because I’d managed to position myself nicely to the South in relation to Francis, and then I spent ten hours making just three to seven knots while the others were steaming along at over 25 knots. My spirits took a knock after that. I’m better now though: we’re powering along!”
D+7: Sunday 7th November
Ranking on 7th November at 1100 GMT
1- Groupama 3
some 517 miles from the finish
206 miles from the leader
375 miles from the leader4- Gitana 11 some 601 miles from the leader
5- La Boîte à Pizza
1,125 miles from the leader
Gitana 11 is jerking forward between the storm squalls, which have been seemingly endless over the past two days. Yann Guichard is beginning to accumulate considerable fatigue, but he continues to give his all so as not to risk capsizing. For the two leaders, the weather conditions have changed dramatically as the NE’ly breeze is beginning to run out of puff. As such the final sprint could still go either way…
“It’s a bit full-on but it’s okay! I have wind on the beam and big seas and since Saturday there have been some fairly violent squalls. Conditions are shifting a great deal and it’s not at all relaxing. I was had by a cloud last night: beneath it the wind went from 5 knots to 43. I put two reefs in the mainsail with the storm jib but it was a bit borderline. The squalls aren’t big and they hit without warning. We can’t see them on the satellite images. To my West, Francis Joyon must also have had a hard night as the zone of storms is fairly extensive. It doesn’t seem very stable all the way to the finish, even though there are likely to be fewer squalls. You have to earn your ticket to Guadeloupe”.
D+8: Monday 8th November
Ranking on 8th November at 1100 GMT
1- Groupama 3 some 230 miles from the finish
2- Sodeb’O 286 miles from the leader
3- Idec 350 miles from the leader
4- Gitana 11 some 578 miles from the leader
5- La Boîte à Pizza 1,058 miles from the leader
Even though he’s having to deal with light headwinds, nothing now seems able to put a curb on the expected victory of Franck Cammas. Indeed Thomas Coville is also having to put in some tacks in a light wind, to the extent that he is worried that Francis Joyon will make a comeback via the East! For Yann Guichard, there’s nothing new beneath the squalls: the wind is still just as fickle, as the storm zone has spread southward.
“There isn’t a lot of air this morning, but I’m finally clear of the squalls. The last of them is twenty miles to my North. My course was lit up throughout the night by the lightening! I sailed along a line of squalls and managed to get through them, but the spectacle of lightening in every direction was something else. It was reminiscent of the doldrums, with some very unstable wind. It wasn’t easy to sleep with the storms. I spent four hours with zero knots of wind and I was forced to take the helm because the seas were still big. As Gitana 11 is beamy and sits quite low on the water, she gets carried away by the waves and you have to try to guide her along as best you can so she doesn’t suffer.”
D+9: Tuesday 9th November
Ranking on 9th November at 1100 GMT
1- Groupama 3 some 50 miles from the finish
2- Idec 144 miles from the leader
3- Sodeb’O 183 miles from the leader
4- Gitana 11 some 554 miles from the leader
5- La Boîte à Pizza 1,048 miles from the leader
Ultimately the N’ly course didn’t manage to upset the leadership of Franck Cammas, who makes landfall in Guadeloupe after nine days at sea. Thomas Coville sees Francis Joyon get ahead of him after a blinding comeback in a light beam wind, whilst Yann Guichard still has to battle on in an asthmatic breeze. The tropical depression, Tomas, has totally absorbed the tradewinds across a band spanning over 500 miles around the West Indies.
“It’s not a storm; I’ve had between three and six knots of breeze for the past two days! When I hear that my three other direct rivals are in the process of finishing it’s a bit tough to take onboard. The hardest thing is that Francis managed to get through the squalls and not me. In this transatlantic, I’ve had to deal with more storms in the past week than I have in my entire lifetime. It’s been crazy, especially as I haven’t once had the opportunity to slip along since the start. At the end of all that it’s Francis that gets into a fast reach in ten knots of breeze whilst I’m stuck fast even though they’d have been the best possible conditions for Gitana 11!”
D+10: Wednesday 10th November
Ranking on 10th November at 1100 GMT
1- Groupama 3 finished on 9/11 at 15h16’ GMT (9d 3h 14’ 47’’)
2- Idec finished on 10/11 at 01h52’ GMT (9d 13h 50’ 48’’)
3- Sodeb’O 39 miles from the finish
4- Gitana 11 some 367 miles from the finish
5- La Boîte à Pizza 954 miles from the finish
Franck Cammas has been greeted by a host of spectators whilst Yann Guichard is making headway in a host of calms! Added to that the light breeze has taken it upon itself to shift round to the East, forcing Gitana 11 to link together a series of gybes to set a course towards Guadeloupe, further extending the course. Meantime Francis Joyon finishes the race with a ten and a half hour deficit to take second place.
“From the start we could see Groupama 3 was really very quick, even in the light airs at Saint Malo, and in the Bay of Biscay nobody was able to keep up. It couldn’t have been easy for Franck Cammas: to maintain such average speeds for so long is something else! Of course he didn’t suffer the shifting breezes and squalls that Francis and I had to endure, which put a lot of pressure on us for a week, but what a trajectory and what a masterfully driven race!”
D+11: Thursday 11th November
Ranking on 11th November at 1100 GMT
1- Groupama 3 finished on 9/11 at 15h16’ GMT (9d 3h 14’ 47’’)
2- Idec finished on 10/11 at 01h52’ GMT (9d 13h 50’ 48’’)
3- Sodebo finished on 10/11 at 15h15’ GMT (10d 3h 13’ 11’’)
4- Gitana 11 finished on 11/11 at 23h58’ GMT (11d 11h 56’ 38’’)
5- La Boîte à Pizza 765 miles from the finish
Finally Guadeloupe appears over the horizon at daybreak. Yann Guichard passes the islet of Tête à l’Anglais early morning local time, but the circumnavigation of the island still remains a high risk exploit as the wind is deflected by the mountains. Furthermore you have to graze Basse-Terre to round the final course mark prior to the finish. Ultimately it took more than six hours to finally get to Pointe-à-Pitre at nightfall local time!