Groupe Bel retires
At 17:23, Kito de Pavant, the skipper of Groupe Bel, hit by a trawler this morning off the coast of Portugal, officially announced his retirement to the Vendée Globe race organisers.
"I am cursed. The Vendée Globe is not for me,” commented de Pavant, who was unharmed, but his boat has suffered serious damage when the collision occurred while Groupe Bel was holding 11th place, around 45 miles off the Portuguese coast about 75 miles NW of Cascais at around 0900 UTC this morning.
It is ripped open on the port side, on the level of the deck spreader and the bowsprit has been torn off. Groupe Bel is making progress towards Cascais, which she will reach this evening. Two members of the technical team are currently on site to welcome the devastated skipper and his mangled boat.
“The Vendée Globe stops here for me, for the Bel Group and all the people who followed me in this adventure,'' said a despondent de Pavant during a video tour of the carnage.
A little earlier, de Pavant reconsidered what had happened: “We encountered a lot of vessels through the night. I kept a look out for cargo ships. Our AIS system works very well. The alarm goes off, which allows you to change the boat's course in the event of there being a risk of collision. The problem is that we cannot detect boats that are not equipped with the system.
"I was sailing at between 15-18 knots. After having checked that there was nobody for miles around, I went to lie down for a few minutes and even if I had been up, it was a time at which you look at the weather on the computer and I wouldn't have seen the trawler. Five minutes is enough. There no was call on the VHF. I think that the fishermen were not watching.
"I woke with a jump with the impact. I leaped on deck and did what was necessary to prevent a dismasting.
"The boat is seriously damaged. She has no bowsprit any more, there's a hole at the front of the hull, but the boat has been made safe. All the energy spent for years preparing all this, it's terrible. To leave the Vendée Globe again, after just two days of racing, is not even possible, not even possible.”
Faced with the extent of the damage, the skipper quickly knew that the race ended here for him: 'To repair such damage, you need to be in port, dry-docked and have time ahead of you. To go back up to Les Sables d'Olonne with Groupe Bel in this state would be impossible and the Vendée Globe rules are very clear. Stopping in another port means retiring.”
Four years ago, the severe weather in the Bay of Biscay had already got the better of Groupe Bel's Vendée Globe, causing Groupe Bel to dismast. This year, de Pavant was fully motivated to return to the race. ''Since the start, I placed myself in the position of a racer who wants to do well. I really saw to it that I sailed very carefully, determined to do the best possible with the goal of completing this round-the-world, for me, but also for Bel, with whom I have spent eight wonderful years. I am gutted, since I really wanted to offer them a good Vendée Globe."
For Groupe Bel, which follow de Pavant and their boats from the group's 30 subsidiaries around the world, they share their skipper's frustration and are fully supporting de Pavant who like so much for his generosity, courage and commitment.
Groupe Bel reached Cascais at 19:00 UTC. De Pavant's technical team is set to establish a plan of action for the next few days.