Despite a broken foil around Madeira which fatally compromised their chances of victory in this edition, the Gitana Team crew gave their all throughout this race and were rewarded for their excellent endeavours with a fine second place.
Review of a race characterised by attack and commitment
Start amid light air
Having set off from Le Havre on 4 November in light air, conditions not best suited to Gitana 11, Lionel Lemonchois and Yann Guichard – in agreement with their meteorologist Sylvain Mondon – immediately opted to take a very northerly course for the exit from the Channel, thereby deliberately choosing to enter an anticyclonic bubble and letting the lighter boats outstrip them. But their strategy proved to be effective when the wind returned as promised, allowing Gitana 11 to move to the head of the fleet come Monday evening.
However, at dawn on Tuesday in the ocean off Cape Finisterre, a loud cracking sound was followed by another, leading to an inescapable conclusion: Gitana 11 had just lost her starboard foil. Instead of giving way to negativity, the crew kept on racing and continued to advance at a rate in excess of 25 knots a day, before choosing the best spot to make a pit stop for repairs. In order to optimise their relaunch, the Canaries were finally chosen instead of Madeira, and the Gitana Team on standby in Gran Canaria did some sterling work to complete the operation in little over two hours. Soon back in the thick of it, the Gitana 11 crew were then pegged back by a windless zone caused by thick cloud on leaving the Canaries, forcing the dynamic duo to adopt an all-out attacking approach heading towards the doldrums.
Doldrums: the acid test
This area formed by exceedingly complex and unpredictable weather systems characterised by storms, highly violent squalls and windless zones turned out to be especially active and extensive on this transat. At a stage of the race where fatigue had already begun to take its toll, the sailors faced a challenge where clarity would be at a premium. And it was there that the Route du Rhum winner and his co-skipper Yann Guichard mustered all their mariner's talent, human determination, and competitive edge. Applying a brilliant offensive strategy and deploying every ounce of their energy in manoeuvring, the two navigators pulled off a masterstroke by making an “easterly” crossing along two main lines. First, they found a passage at the tip of the infamous Atlantic windless triangle, then negotiated the squally area by surfing the ridges in optimum style. Thanks to this strategy, the trimaran managed to emerge from this sensitive area in record time and most importantly to find herself at a perfect angle to attack the trade winds of the Southern Hemisphere, finishing the last section of the race on a reaching leg, the ideal pace for Gitana 11. Lionel Lemonchois, supported by Yann Guichard, did what only he can do: to dare to travel at unbelievable speeds. The gap between 11 and the winner Groupama 2 was thus whittled away hour on hour, but alas not enough to snatch final victory. Pascal Bidégorry, meanwhile, saw his chances of securing second place gradually disappear over the horizon.
Before the start of the race, Yann Guichard said of Lionel Lemonchois : “what I like best about him is that he never ever gives up.” So the performance of Gitana 11 can today be hailed, as it is also the performance of two exceptional sailors whose tenacity was total, even in moments of misfortune. Moreover, it is the performance of a united team, all fully focused on the success of the boat, not to mention the sound, prudent and committed advice of “the third man”, Sylvain Mondon from Météo France, the vital “grenouille” to whom the two sailors owe so much.
Benjamin and Ariane de Rothschild, along with all the staff of the LCF Rothschild Group, salute the two sailors for allowing them to experience this superb race packed with panache, intensity and twists and turns aplenty.
Loïck Peyron, the Gitana Team director who is still at the helm of Gitana Eighty, took time out to heap praise on the Gitana 11 crew recently arrived at Salvador: “Lionel and Yann surmounted their technical difficulties and sailed a superb race. It wasn't quite enough but they still made a magnificent showing. A job well done!”
Lionel Lemonchois : "It was by no means an easy race, more of a good scrap. As usual I'd like to say thanks to Benjamin! Teaming up with Yann was just great. I got to know this superb sailor a lot better. He's a larger than life figure, always there when it matters and like me he never stops talking! " Yann Guichard also congratulated the great team working alongside Lionel Lemonchois. Racing at speeds of 37.6 knots, the duo took Gitana 11 into unknown territory to claim a superb second place. Both sailors also expressed their gratitude to Sylvain Mondon for his unstinting support and hard graft.