Cape Horn cannot come fast enough for the Vendee skippers
Cillian McGovern updates on the latest trials and tribulations of the remaining solo skippers competing in the Vendee Globe.
Point Nemo. A part of the world between New Zealand and Cape Horn. A place where you're closer to a satellite than terra firma. That you won't find cargo ships here tells its own story. That you may hit a container that's been washed off a ship a few hundred miles to the north, tells another.
It's one of the most inhospitable places on earth - like the crossing of The River Styx, it marks a definitive transition in the life of an ocean racer.
It's where the pace setters in this edition of the Vendée Globe find themselves. It's where Paul Meilhat on board the IMOCA 60 SMA is as his race comes to an end.
The boat was always going to break before he would. Such is the strength of character that's intertwined in Paul Meilhat's DNA.
Sitting in 3rd place, holding off Jeremie Beyou's challenge while keeping the pressure on a wounded Hugo Boss - Meilhat was fighting a war on both fronts. History has taught us that such an act is unsustainable and on Tuesday, his IMOCA 60 felt unstable under the strain.
On inspection, the cylinder for the keel ram had a 40cm crack. With the housing compromised, hydraulic fluid leaked out and gravity worked the keel down to leeward. Stabilizing the keel is now the priority as he heads north at 6.5knots
Les Bizuths are rookies no more...
If Thomas Ruyant's race showed us anything, it's the mental toughness of this new breed of rookies or 'les bizuths'. For in the Vendée Globe, there is no hiding.
Morgan Lagraviere's Safran was knocked out south of Cape Town, the first of Les Bizuths to bite the dust. Of those three, you'd be hard pressed to bet against one of them winning the next edition of the race. With Meilhat's retirement imminent, the race will be shorn of its rookies. All of whom dreamt of sailing down the canal at Les Sables D'Olonne. All of whom we expect to see back in 4 years time.
The VPLP - Verdier stable...
SMA had a proven pedigree as the former Macif, with which Francois Gabart become the youngest ever winner of the Vendée Globe and taking the record to 78 days. Beyou too, on Maitre Coq - a refit of the Banque Populaire raced by Armel le Cléac'h to second place in the same race. Now refit with foils, his duel with Meilhat was worth the entry fee alone.
Indeed, were it not for Meilhat's injury and subsequent rescue from his boat during the 2015 Saint Barth - Port La Fõret race, it's safe to assume he too would have refit his IMOCA 60 with the generation 2 foils, akin to those on Beyou's Maitre Coq.
At this juncture, we must acknowledge the tremendous work done by Marcus Hutchinson and the Mer Agitée/SMA Team to produce such a competitive package - between the boat and the sailor.
Approximately a year ago (Dec 15th), Paul Meilhat was awaiting an airlift after fracturing his pelvis and damaging ribs during a manoeuvre about 20nm south-west of the Azores as he worked his way through a low pressure system without electronics for three days.
That particular low had brought 8-metre waves and 50 knot winds and the rest of the fleet suffered multiple knock downs, autopilot failures and sail damage. The toll on Meilhat was the most severe. Weeks later, when the IMOCA 60 was rescued, an extensive refit would begin. The delay put paid any ambition of replacing the straight boards with foils.
Steel would crack before Meilhat would...
Loaded up, charging hard and holding third place eventually took it's toll. Something had to give, and after Meilhat endured to get to the start line, it wasn't going to be him.The 40cm crack on the cylinder of his keel ram told all.
From Point Nemo to a safe haven in New Zealand, for several skippers the dream of rounding Cape Horn is on hold for another 4 years.
*** UPDATE*** Reports are that the SMA shore team have sourced a spare ram from the Maitre Coq squad and plan to rendezvous with their boat somewhere in the antipodes to swap out the faulty unit. As this procedure constitutes outside assistance Meilhat will have to retire but - like Bernard Stamm four years ago - he is planing complete the course.