Class 40 keel lost

Bad news for Tanguy de LaMotte and Eric Peron in the Transat Jacques Vabre

Sunday November 6th 2011, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

While the crews in the IMOCA Open 60 fleet in the Transat Jacques Vabre race were today taking the chance to build up their reserves of energy and rest in anticipation of a very active low pressure system which was set to test the fleet through Sunday night and Monday, with winds widely expected to top 50knots, in turn Class 40 competitors had tough conditions of their own and were also setting up for a wild night.

So far the big, often confused seas have been the cause for more concern than sheer windstrength and they have taken their toll on the race fleet. The latest to retire with damage this afternoon was the Class 40 Initiatives-Alex Olivier.

At a little after midday today, Sunday, French duo Tanguy de Lamotte and Eric Péron reported that they had suddenly lost their Class 40's keel. They were sailing at 12-14 knots in 25 to 30 knots of wind with well formed seas when they heard a quiet, popping sound. The boat became uncontrollable quickly and the pair dropped the solent and mainsail, stacked all the heavy gear and unused sails low in the middle of the boat and filled the water ballast tanks to their maximum 750 litres, and set a storm jib.

Positioned some 450 miles to the west of La Coruna, Spain and 490 miles approximately NE of the Azores, the duo were making steady progress to the northeast in the southerly winds. Both have on lifejackets and have their all their safety and survival equipment immediately at hand. Skipper Tanguy de Lamotte was keen to stress that the crew of Initiatives - Alex Olivier are not in distress and have not requested assistance.

De Lamotte, who trained as a yacht designer in Southampton and co-designed his Class 40, reported almost immediately on a radio vacation with Paris Race HQ: "Things happened quickly with no noise. I was inside, Eric on watch but the boat was under pilot because the boat it was too wet. We were on port tack on a reach making about 12-14 knots with one reef and the Solent. We heard a popping sound, nothing loud. The pilot pulled the helm hard to the corner but the boat became unsteerable. The boat went in to a broach. It was Eric who said he thought we had lost the keel. I looked to see if there was something orange under the boat (the keel is painted fluorescent orange) and I could see nothing. We dropped the mainsail, dropped the Solent and set the storm jobs and filled the ballast tanks. The helm did not feel right at all. We stacked all the gear in the middle of the boat and gybed on to starboard gybe.”

In the IMOCA Open 60 Class Alex Thomson and Guillermo Altadil on Hugo Boss have topped the leaderboard since the morning the sixth duo to do so from a fleet of 12 still racing. While the British skipper was keen not to take any great store from their position he did say that they were entering the next period of stormy conditions with a certain apprehension given that two years ago the same type of conditions put paid to his race, and that of the boat they are racing.

Thomson recalled: “Two years ago we were in a similar situation with another storm, knocked the boat down and damaged the hull. Obviously the boat we are sailing on now in the same storm the coach roof was smashed in and the boat pretty much sank. So there is a kind of apprehension going in to the storm. It is approaching a lot quicker. We are expecting a much smaller sea state and not as much wind as well. So there is a bit of apprehension. But we are just preparing the boat, trying to get across the front and get south.”

Thomson, whose best finish in this race was second in 2003 with Roland Jourdain, played down their lead, remarking that their gains in the north and west of the leading pack are as much because they have moved progressively closer to the rhumb line course, cautioning that it is the situation in a week’s time which could be the deciding factor in the IMOCA Open 60 race.

“It is nice to see us at the top of the rankings for sure, but we should not be getting carried away with it. The reason we are at the top of the rankings is because we have chosen a different strategy than the other people. We have struck off to the west and going west is the closest to the rhumb line to the mark. That is why we are closest to the front. Let’s see if it proves to be faster to be to the south then we will lose first position but if we manage to get across this front and south enough, quick enough then maybe we can hold on to first for a while.

“I think considering Guillermo and I have not sailed this boat very much together before, then we are very happy with where we are. The rankings show us in first place, but really we have to wait and see how the strategies play out but generally we are happy that we have managed to sail well in the leading pack, and that was what we wanted to do, to stay in contention. We have made a few mistakes, nothing major, and we have had a few problems on board but nothing that is stopping us from going fast. We are just trying to play it cool, not do anything stupid, play it cool, just through this storm and head for the sunshine.

"I think the people need conserving more on this boat, not the boat! Certainly Guillermo and I have struggled to get any proper sleep, in fact last night was the first time either of us got more than a couple of hours sleep. So we are both feeling quite fresh today, and the plan is to get some more rest today ready for quite possibly more than 50kts tonight. I think we have been feeling the strain more on ourselves than the boat has. Sunday lunch? I don’t think there will be a Sunday roast today, Guillermo might open a packer of jamon (ham) apart from that it will be freeze dried and a lot of rest. Tonight there could be a lot of wind, it is quite an active front. So we are just making sure the storm jib is ready and preparing. You have to be looking a week ahead, and in a week’s time how we cross the area of quite light winds before we get to the Caribbean, that is going to the really tricky part, will it be to the west or to the east? We are looking at it being best to the west.”

With more than 160 miles of lateral separation between Hugo Boss and Virbac-Paprec 3 in the northwest and MACIF in the southeast, the next two low pressure systems will be critical, but – as Thomson warned – with a light winds zone in to the Caribbean and barely established trade winds, this is increasingly proving a tactical race rather than a boat speed test.  Hugo Boss lead Jean-Pierre Dick and Jérémie Beyou on Virbac-Paprec 3 by 13 miles.

Elsewhere in the IMOCA 60 fleet Mike Golding on Gamesa reported: “We are okay we have had a mixed bag day because we started the day with no instruments, no speed instruments and no wind gear. We have two, one is on top of the mast and one lost its wind vane on the first day and the second wind vane went last night. We basically didn't have any wind data which makes life difficult when you are trying to steer by the wind, so quite difficult to manage a boat like this without wind data. Anyway we have managed to rig up a rudimentary one on the back of the boat and we are resuming sailing properly now. We changed over our log so now we are working ok at the moment.

"North or south? To be honest we have decided we are caught in it, there was no intention to be north, I think the boats behind just ended up north and then there was an opportunity to move forward in the fleet, but in fact we have moved ourselves south rather than doing that.  I think we are all eyeing the weather ahead with a certain amount of confusion, which is a the tracks are going everywhere, everyone is trying to find a route out it, but I think there is no escaping it, you might be able to reduce it, but you can't really escape it.”

From Virbac-Paprec 3, Jérémie Beyou said: “We are about to get into the big depression ahead and tomorrow night promises to be tough. We try to sleep and we have been in a good rhythm, we are well fed with hot food. This depression is quite deep and violent we won’t have too big seas but it will get up at the back of it. We know we will have winds of 40kts and so you don’t want to make any mistakes in manouvres. The other try to get around it to the south a bit, but we are here. What we will get is quite complicated. There are two hared days ahead, then a high pressure that you can’t really see how to pass it. The weather is just not that simple. We lost a bit at the beginning and so we have had to work as hard as we could, we have arms like truck drivers, we don’t stop much to eat and have been through the sail inventory completely over the last two days. The squalls are violent and so you need to be vigilant. But, at the moment, the conditions are manageable with flat seas and blue skies."

In Class 40 the two leading boats and Concise 2 were still just eight miles apart in terms of the distance to finish, with eRDF – Des Pieds et Des Mains some 85 miles behind now in third and Hannah Jenner and Jesse Naimark-Rowse on 40 Degrees up to fourth place. Four of the 16 Class 40s have retired from the race.

Standings at 1700:

1 - Hugo Boss (Alex Thomson - Guillermo Altadill) : 3505,6 milles to finish
2 - Virbac Paprec 3 (Dick - Beyou) : 12,2 milles to leader
3 - Cheminées Poujoulat (Stamm - Cuzon) : 23,3 milles to leader

1 - Actual ( Yves Le Blevec - Samuel Manuard) : 4112,4 milles to finish
2 - Maitre Jacques (Loïc Fequet – Loïc Escoffier) : 17,1 milles to leader

1 - (Yannick Bestaven-Eric Drouglazet) : 3813 milles to finish
2 - Concise2 (Ned Collier-Sam Goodchild) : 8,1 milles to leader
3 - ERDF Des Pieds et des Mains (Seguin - Richomme) : 84,1 milles to leader

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