18th of December 2016
Day 44: Le Diraison heads to Australia, Colman at Leeuwin and in the Court of King Jean
French skipper Stéphane Le Diraison became the third Vendée Globe skipper to have to withdraw from the solo round the world race due to mast or rig problems when his mast snapped into two pieces on Saturday evening. Le Diraison's break is the most serious yet, following the mast top loss of Tanguy de Lamotte who had to return to Les Sables d'Olonne and of Japanese skipper Koji Shiraishi who lost the top third of his mast and retired into Cape Town. He is heading for Melbourne Australia, some 800 miles to his north. Twenty one of the 29 skippers who started the race on Sunday 6th November are still actively racing.
“When I break something or mess up a manœuvre, I accept the responsibility, but this is hard to take. There was 25-26 knots of wind and I was sailing cautiously with two reefs in the mainsail. The boat went surfing on a wave and I heard a bang. I thought it was an outrigger. I rushed outside to take the helm and saw I no longer had a mast. It was a loop on the backstay that had snapped. The mast broke in two. During the night there was a lot of slamming and the mast was banging around with the sails in the water. I did what I could to make sure I didn't get any holes in the deck. The spreaders were rubbing. It was hell. In the end I threw everything in the water, the mainsail and mast. I started the engine and got a couple hours rest. I ate and then took care of the boom before hoisting the storm sail on the 7m of the mast that is left. I'm now heading for Melbourne.”
Jean Le Cam is still on fighting form. In seventh place he is pacing his fellow members of the three musketeers posse, Yann Eliès and Jean-Pierre Dick, making his second successive racing circumnavigation on the modified, optimised Farr design of 2007 which won the 2008-9 race as Foncia. Le Cam won the Barcelona World Race with Bernard Stamm on the same boat last year and in so doing became the inaugural IMOCA Ocean Masters World Champion.
Le Diraison's damage breaks up longstanding duel with Hungarian Nandor Fa which has been running through the Indian Ocean. Fa, responded: “I received heartbreaking news this morning: 80 miles ahead of me, Stéphane's dismasted. We've been sailing hand-in-hand for more than a week, doing a private match race along the whole Indian Ocean. Sometimes he was faster, especially when there was an A7 ride, sometimes I was faster when there was tougher weather and I could push. Now I'm all alone.”
Meantime ‘Crazy Kiwi' Conrad Colman crossed Cape Leeuwin, quipping: “As a Kiwi I cannot going celebrate going past Australia too much. I always think Cape Leeuwin is the runt of the litter when it comes to the three Capes. It does not belong in the same company as the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, it is too far away, it is too far north and not on the course really (laughs).”
Le Cam can
The veteran 57 year old is on his fourth Vendée Globe. The reason the phlegmatic, truculent Le Cam is back doing the race is simply that he loves it and he would not know what to do with himself otherwise, as he said weeks before the start: “If I don't do the Vendée Globe I would be at home pacing the floors. I don't know what else I would do. I would be boring with no Vendée Globe. I do not know what else to do.”
In fact, in real terms his race bears similar hallmarks to his 2012-13 Vendée Globe when he finished fifth. At the same point in 2012 he was sixth on Synerciel (originally Gitana 80 now Newrest-Matmut) some 1500 miles behind the leading duel of François Gabart and Armel Le Cléac'h.
Le Cam's physical prowess may not quite match that of his closest rivals Eliès and Dick, but his guile and experience is second to none among the 21 skippers still actively racing. He was part of an early round the world crew with Eric Tabarly along with a youthful Michel Desjoyeaux – who he spoke with on today's Vendée LIVE. His nickname King Jean came when he won Le Solitaire du Figaro three times from sixteen Solitaires. It's moniker he shies from and yet his races are coloured by the nicknames he allocates to other skippers, not least Mike Goldfinger (Golding) and ‘Vincent Le Terrible', Vincent Riou who pipped him to overall victory in 2004 by seven hours.
Le Cam – in a forgetful moment which might chime with men and women of a certain age - announced almost sheepishly to Desjoyeaux and the Vendée LIVE audience today that he had left a ballast valve open in the system, which was designed originally by Desjoyeaux: “It's one of those stories you don't mention usually. There is a pipe which acts as a pump at the stern. It's practical, so that's fine. I discovered water inside; I wiped it up. Two hours later there was more water. I thought there was a problem with the rudder. I managed to pump and empty it. I had in fact forgotten to turn off the tap. It's like when you leave the tap on and the bath overflows.” Le Cam battled long and hard to find a budget to race, after buying the boat which he raced with Stamm. He raised more than €140,000 via crowdfunding. More than 40 companies have supported the enigmatic skipper with sums between €100 and €25,000.
Meantime at the front of the fleet the delta between Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) and leader Armel Le Cléac'h is largely stable at 440 miles, both top two skippers making around 16kts. And the sisterships which in 2012 were 16 miles apart in first and second on this day, SMA and Maître CoQ, are just 36 miles apart today. SMA, the course record holding former MACIF, now in the hands of Paul Meilhat, is third again leading Jéremie Beyou's ‘turbo'd up' former Banque Populaire, now foil assisted.
THE 1400 UTC RANKINGS
EXTRACTS FROM TODAY'S RADIO SESSIONS
Sébastien Destremau (TechnoFirst-faceOcean): “A lot has been going on since four this morning We've been busy. We had to stop the boat in an emergency situation, as I thought we were losing the mast! The J3 padeye was ripped off and the port backstay exploded, and a mainsail car came away. A lot of acrobatic work to do. But I don't feel like it for now. The mainsail is still on the deck after two hours of work getting the backstay in place, lowering the mainsail and hoisting just the J3. We're gradually back on course at reduced speed, but the mast is still there.”
Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy): “The creaks and groans, slams and bangs that are part of my daily life took on a more ominous tone last night with the news that Stéphane had lost his rig. What would it sound like to have your dreams come crashing down around your ears?! I have been friends with him since 2009 when we did the Mini Transat together and have always found him to be a fast, but safe, competitor so it's doubly disappointing. I'm happy to have the good wind as it will allow me to press my advantage over Arnaud but the ghost of Stéphane's mast clearly passed along the message that even after 40 days at sea it's still a long race and we're a long way from home! I still have a few problems with my pilots. Last night the pilot put my into a Chinese gybe. It was dramatic with a lot of wind. I almost put the rig in the water. It was difficult to get it up. After the experience with the knock down after the fire, I am getting better at getting the boat back up.”
Pieter Heerema (No Way Back): “The weather is very strange, super humid, extremely warm. Which is really strange because usually you would expect cold and damp, not warm and damp. The last 24 hours have been really good because I have been focusing purely on sailing with no jobs to do. I have been running and making some big steps. I have been making big progress and I am happy with that. I have a little north in my course. Most of the information I have about the next week is that everything south of 40 degrees will be really strong and with big gusts. I am just above 40 degrees south and I intend to keep a little north in my course. Thirty five to 40kts is too much, these boats are so uncomfortable I can't bear it. I found out the problem was not the pilot itself nor the wind instruments, it was the mast angle corrector. The masts twist and turn on these boats and then everything needs to be corrected. That thing goes wild sometimes and completely screws up the information the pilot gets. We have bypassed it with a manual setting. It s a bit tedious to do especially if you have to gybe in a front, it is the only way to do. It is messy but it will get me home again.”
Michel Desjoyeaux: “To Kiwis who are big offshore racers then singlehanded offshore racing maybe seems a bit unintelligent but if Conrad makes this race and is able to finish it then maybe it will pass the idea to other New Zealanders that it is possible to make solo offshore races, which is just not part of their mindset, then hopefully Conrad will inspire more.”
Louis Burton, Bureau Vallée: “When we were on the starboard tack, the ballast system was weakened, so I have had to do some laminating in the bilges. My port daggerboard housing was also damaged. Some water came in, but I have been laminating that. This morning's surprise was that two of my stanchions were ripped off. I don't know if it was the force of the water of whether I hit something. The low has finally overtaken me and I now have a 20-knot WNW'ly. We've had quite a few minor problems over the miles, but no major worries…”
Nandor Fa (Spirit of Hungary): “From “my fleet”, only Louis is ahead of me. He still has a similar boat to mine, maybe a bit faster, but all the rest ahead is space technology, who I cannot beat by just sailing. They are either the last generation birds with the wings, or the nest before that - designed by VPLP Verdier -, which are super light and fast. Oh, and there's Jean Le Cam, who's a separate establishment within the fleet.”