Commiserations for Foncia crew
The retirement from the Barcelona World Race of Michel Desjoyeaux and François Gabart on Foncia came as a sudden and unexpected shock this morning, but such are the cruel fates which befall short handed racers in the hostile latitudes of the Roaring Forties.
Foncia lost the top section of their mast early this morning, in conditions which were consistent with the 25-30 knots of wind and 2-5 metres swell, but which were otherwise unremarkable for the waters in which the second placed IMOCA Open 60, launched in late September last year, was engaged in a prolonged and close duel with Virbac-Paprec 3. Suspended by halyards and rigging, the topmast was left swinging in the breeze, and within a short period the duo announced that their Barcelona World Race is over.
Desjoyeaux has not only mastered adversity many times but usually gone on to win. In the 2000 Vendée Globe when his engine would not start and he could no longer generate power, he set up an ingenious system linking the mainsheet by pulleys to the flywheel to crank the engine started. He went on to win. And his comeback in the 2008-9 solo race around the world is already solo racing folklore. But this time, with some 600 miles to Cape Town, there were no possible options to complete a race he had vowed to win.
Getting beaten by mechanical failure on an IMOCA Open 60 round the world race, ironically, is an experience as new and painful to the maestro Desjoyeaux as it was to the raw but highly talented recruit François Gabart. Both fought bravely to conceal their enormous disappointment when they spoke this morning by visio-conference with Race HQ in Barcelona.
François Gabart: “It is inevitable that I am sad. I thought we would go further, but for me it was an extraordinary adventure. The boat does not go further, so that’s that. These are difficult times, it not easy to give up a race, it had to happen to me some time, but not in a race which should last three months. It is hard, it hurts, it is not pleasant to go through, but life is like this. The big moments and the difficult moments on board make appreciating the good times we have had better. I dream of making it round the world and to sail in the south, but to do it all in one fell swoop with Michel Desjoyeaux would have been too easy! But it puts it in perspective, and proves it not easy to make it round the world.
Michel Desjoyeaux: "I don’t have an explanation. When a boat is built, it is built not to break. At the moment we don’t have the pieces in our hands, therefore it is difficult to know the reasons for this breakage. The two pieces are 24 metres up hung up in the rigging. The sea is too unsettled to take the risk of going up the mast to recover the pieces for the moment. The sea was commensurate with a low pressure system. It was surely not the sea of the Bay of Quiberon. It was a bit messy with waves of 2-4metres, but the boat is made for these conditions and should be stand them. We did not change the rig in any way for last night and so we can’t understand why it happened.
"The sea has evened out a little. We have the equivalent of three reefs in the mainsail and no headsail. We have the equivalent of three reefs in the main we have the wind behind.
"In the morning we hit 20 knots surfing, but now we are averaging 12 knots. We should get to Cape Town in four days. We succeeded in taming the Solent with a rope. And we will wait until it is calmer to tidy up the mainsail. The hull is fine, the front pulpit a little twisted, but that is all. We are under pilot. There was a crisis situation to manage it with some urgency, we initially tried to gather the bits to make the situation safe.
"But now the deed is done, and there is no point in wanting for anything. This is not good because this is not what we expected. Now we need to deal with it quietly. We have four days to Cape Town to do that."
Their retirement inexorably breaks the bond with Virbac-Paprec 3 which even saw the duo stop simultaneously in Brazil to make different repairs. Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron are left to lead from the front on their own, meantime.
“We really had become inseparable, motivating each other all the time, asking ourselves each day if we could hold up this pace until the end. It’s been a great honour to have been in this battle together. Good luck for the rest of the passage. Our hearts go with you.” Was the message the Virbac-Paprec 3 duo transmitted to their erstwhile rivals.
From Estrella Damm, Alex Pella also expressed his condolences: "When these things happen you always have three feelings. The first is that you just don’t believe it. We’ve been fighting with them for a long time, a month now. We sailed together in the Mediterranean, then they escaped. When they had to stop then we managed to pass them and then they passed us again a few days ago. They were a very good reference for us. It is very sad for them because they have made a huge effort to be in the race. Furthermore, being in the lead in a race like this one is very difficult and hard and then suddenly you have this happening to you is very sad. The second feeling is to lift the foot off the accelerator. We have been sailing in the red zone for a while and you think about slowing down so you don’t suffer the same problems. The next day after something like this happens a lot of boats usually slow down and it will probably happen here too."
While the French Virbac Paprec 3 pair battle on, the chasing pack look like they may still have a say in this stage of the race. Though this afternoon Virbac-Paprec 3 were still spearing east towards the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope, some 260 miles in front of them, making between 18 and 19 knots, they will be well aware of a big high pressure system which will effectively bar progress by the weekend. And for the likes of Groupe Bel, Estrella Damm and the double Olympic medallists on Mapfre they look likely to make a wholesale dividend when the next low pressure system brings them 25-30 knots of breeze. They call it the accordion effect and there is no doubt it will play loudly, squeezed harder by the direct route to the next security gates.
Pella continued: "I'm very excited because this is the first time I'm in the south. I have spent many years looking for the opportunity to participate in a race like this, and here I am very happy and motivated. Pepe has sailed here many times and the last few days I kept asking him things about it. Yesterday we saw the first albatross. It is an impressive bird that doesn’t move its wings, and it has the size of Pau Gasol (ed note Barcelona basketball player who plays for LA Lakers). I really want to keep going and do all the Indian and Pacific. Today the sea is a bit more organized. Yesterday it was terrible with crossed waves that rolled up and under the hull of the boat. We couldn’t hold the sails fully powered up because of the sea state not because of the wind. The waves are still big but the sea is more 'synchronized'. Cutting distances to Virbac-Paprec 3 will be difficult because they are far away and sail in different conditions, but the race is very long. Mapfre is closer and between the security gates we could have our options."
Race Direction announced today that they have added two further ice-gates to keep the fleet north of the ice which prevails south of 44 deg S. The Crozet gate will be at 42°S between the 52°E and the 57°E and then the Amsterdam gate at 42°S between the 78°E and the 83°E, so keeping the fleet to the north of the Kerguelen Islands.
So there is good news in prospect for Groupe Bel and Estrella Damm, perhaps slightly less so for Mapfre, but the wait to break into the real south remains slow and painful for those towards the back. But as Hugo Boss’ Andy Meiklejohn noted today, their fighting spirit remains unbowed. The resolute Kiwi reports today how he was inspired to do this kind of race by the achievements against adversity of Mike Golding and Yves Parlier. He notes: "Our time will come."