More responsive, Gitana 11 is also more flighty and the zone of squalls hitting the leading multihulls isn’t making things restful for either the bodies or the minds. Indeed the solo sailors are having to remain on permanent watch and have only allowed themselves a few minutes of fragmented sleep over the past two days. And that is exactly where the difficulty lies: how to remain sharp and able to adapt the sails to each passage of a squall whilst taking things easy for a few brief moments, not solely to sleep but also to eat and follow the routing… However Yann Guichard remains 100% alert in this beam breeze which is alternating between light patches with ten knots of wind and gusts of over 30 knots. Right now he’s having to quickly switch between putting reefs in and shaking reefs out of the mainsail to maintain a high pace and claw back the miles on the top trio.
Stormy instability on the approach to the Caribbean
“It’s a bit full-on but it’s okay! I have had wind on the beam and big seas since Saturday and there are some fairly violent squalls. Conditions are shifting a great deal and it’s not at all relaxing. I was had by a cloud last night: beneath it the wind went from 5 knots to 43. I put two reefs in the mainsail with the storm jib but it was a bit borderline. The squalls aren’t big and they hit without warning. We can’t see them on the satellite images. To my West, Francis Joyon has also had a hard night as the zone of storms is fairly extensive. I hope to be free of this zone in five to six hours time. It doesn’t seem very stable all the way to the finish, even though there are likely to be fewer squalls. You have to earn your ticket to Guadeloupe! Since the start it hasn’t been at all like the other editions. Almost right the way to the end the situation is going to be very stormy with this E’ly storm surge. Such conditions are really difficult for me and right now, with the wind on the beam and big seas, we’re slamming a great deal. I’m also having to perform a lot of manœuvres so Gitana 11 doesn’t take off when the gusts hit” indicated Yann Guichard this Sunday morning at the radio session with Race HQ.
The final 1,000 miles
“There have never been sufficiently stable conditions for me to enjoy a bit of time to myself whilst slipping along. You have to be a warrior! It’s beginning to feel like a long way and I’ll be happy when I get to the point where there are less than 1,000 miles to go” admitted the skipper of Gitana 11.
As such, in the space of a week, the trimaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild has covered two thirds of the course for the Route du Rhum-La Banque Postale, but it’s these last one thousand miles which promise to be the hardest. This is true because the fatigue is mounting up, because the zone of squalls is due to still be active for several hours, because the wind will ease considerably and even become very light and because Yann Guichard won’t really be able to relax for these last two days at sea: “The race certainly hasn’t moved into the background, but you can’t forget safety. I came close to flipping right over last night though. However, beneath one squall there’s no more than ten knots of breeze and quarter of an hour later there’s 35. I’m continuing to get the boat making headway as best I can without breaking anything. Furthermore, we don’t yet know what conditions we’re going to be dealt for the final sprint… However, even though there’s more stress involved with sailing in these conditions on Gitana 11, I’m very happy with the boat. Just now I’m tired, but like everyone else I’m keen for this reach to calm down so the seas won’t be as big. I will then be able to get a bit of rest as I’ve still got a good two days of racing ahead of me.”
However, the last few days at sea won’t change much as regards the energy the skipper of Gitana Team will need! The light airs have already begun to disrupt the progress of the two leaders who are now stumbling in the light breeze. The latter will become headwinds, forcing the competitors to tack towards the Caribbean. For Francis Joyon and Yann Guichard, the zone of storms is still very much a reality and it probably won’t be until Monday morning that the sailing conditions will become more manageable. As such uncertainty is set to colour this final sprint which is likely to be rather ponderous. The four solo sailors leading the ‘ultimate’ class won’t be spared until the finish.
Ranking for the Ultimate Category on 7th November at 1500 GMT
1- Groupama 3 some 474 miles from the finish
2- Sodebo 193 miles astern
3- Idec 355 miles astern
4- Gitana 11 some 578 miles astern
5- La Boite à Pizza 1,160 miles astern
6- Saint-Malo 2015 some 1,500 miles astern
7- Défi Cancale 1,514 miles astern
Retirement- Côte d'Or II
Retirement- Oman Air Majan