Saturday, 14 November 2009

TJV: Artemis Ocean Racing Takes a Pounding but Decides Against Pit-Stop

Sidney Gavignet on board Artemis earlier in the race. Image copyright Sam Davies/Artemis Ocean Racing.

by Tim Kelly and Camilla Green

The storm-force conditions (55 knots of wind and boat breaking seas overnight) have inflicted further damage to Artemis Ocean Racing.

Sam called the shore team at 1030 GMT this morning to report: “We have lost a mainsail batten (third down from the top) which flew out of the sail, the third reef pin on the boom has gone and our main Iridium satellite phone handset is broken – either water-logged or from the shock of the boat pounding through the waves.”

None of the damage is terminal but the loss of the mainsail batten will compromise their race performance, and with 75% of the race remaining, Sam and Sidney considered making a pit stop at either the Azores (300nm upwind) or Madeira, 400nm to the south-east. However, Sam called the shore team at 1700 GMT this afternoon and confirmed Artemis Ocean Racing would not stop:

“We did consider a pitstop either in the Azores or Madeira as now we have a list of problems and we know we are not going to sail the rest of the race at 100% all the time because of that. But we’ve now had a look at it and think we can do a better repair at sea and although we will lose some time, we won’t lose as much as if we deviate to Azores or Madeira. So we’ve taken the decision to carry on - a little bit handicapped but knowing that we are probably not the only ones in the fleet who are struggling a little bit.

"Right now, we’re still in 40+ knots of wind so we can’t do anything to start the repairs but the wind should ease off quite quickly tonight. So we’re eating and sleeping so we’re ready to attack the repairs as soon as the conditions will let us do that and we should be up and running and back on the right route tomorrow morning.”

Artemis Ocean Racing is in 11th place having covered nearly 1,000 miles of the 4,730-mile race to Costa Rica. Sam continues: “It’s been a full Atlantic winter storm and the size of the waves are absolutely massive. You couldn’t see that last night because it was pitch black and you couldn’t see anything because of the spray. It was only this morning when you realised how mountainous the waves were. The wind strength in itself is impressive when you have over 50 knots because it’s not something you see very often but the thing that is really dangerous is the waves.”

Others in the IMOCA 60 fleet are not faring well either with the worst news coming from the BT IMOCA monohull which activated its distress beacon having suffered major damage to the coachroof following a night battling it out in fierce seas and winds reaching 60 knots at times. The skippers, Sébastien Josse and Jean-Francois Cuzon, are in regular contact with the Race Direction team as a rescue operation gets underway. Sam commented: “It’s always the same when you hear that another competitor is in serious trouble and especially when we heard this morning about BT and although we’re having our own problems, they suddenly seemed insignificant compared to what Jo Jo and Jeff [Sébastien Josse and Jeff Cuzon] are having to go through. You fear for their safety as even if they are fine their boat is dangerous, and we’re in the right place to know what they are going through. It’s pretty heinous even when your boat is in one piece, as Artemis is, and going along safely, it still feels dangerous.”

It has also been confirmed that Veolia Environnment (Roland Jourdain and Jean-Luc Nelias) are also heading to the Azores to try and repair damage to their mast track – the same damage incurred by Brit Air in the opening stages of the race that resulted in their retirement. Damage to other boats is expected to be revealed over the coming hours as well.

Once the IMOCA fleet has got through this latest storm, conditions will moderate a little. The fleet is starting to converge again, with all the southern fleet heading west now, and the middle pack heading south-west. The middle group has got into some north-west winds which means they are reaching along, and rather than doing 11 knots they are doing 16-18 knots in the right direction! This is where these boats can press an advantage today. Currently it looks like the middle route has been the way to go, with the extreme northern or southern boats not making an impact.

Artemis Ocean Racing
Transat Jacques Vabre

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