In Fort-de-France

It has long been said that giant trimarans are fragile machines, at the mercy of a log, drifting ice or a container that could shatter their carbon structure. “There were five boats at the start and five at the finish,” rightly notes Cyril Dardashti, the director of the Gitana team which is preparing the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. This is also the only class in the race which did not have any retirements out of the four at the start even though the conditions were very tough, particularly at the start. Before setting off on January 7 in a solo marathon around the globe, the Ultims have become robust and reliable even if Maxi Edmond de Rothschild and Sodebo (see elsewhere) have typed an OFNI. But breakage will be inevitable during the Arkéa Ultim Challenge, over a distance three times greater than that of the Transat Jacques Vabre.

The five teams in the Ultim class were amazed by the speed with winds downwind of Banque Populaire XI. A little extra that could give Armel Le Cléac’h a definite advantage for the world tour. “We found some little things, but I’m not going to tell you what,” said the “Jackal” mischievously, not wishing to say more about his miracle recipe. But SVR Lazartigue, second in Fort-de-France, also has an asset up its sleeve, its ability to perform upwind. “It is light and extremely comfortable when winds do not exceed 15 knots. He has an advantage over us,” confides to Le Figaro Ronan Lucas, the boss of Banque Populaire.

Banque Populaire Armel Le Cléac’h is delighted, recalling that it was “extremely difficult and time consuming to find the right settings” for these flying machines above the water. Let us be careful not to draw too hasty conclusions on the hierarchy of the three favorites on paper because Charles Caudrelier’s trimaran, considered before the start of the event, on October 29, as the most accomplished in the class and capable of reaching 45 knots, was also handicapped by numerous problems (damaged helm system and port foil in particular) while he was in the match for victory. Last year on the Route du rhum, Charles Caudrelier did not have to take out the toolbox once! “We were the first to open up the flight with the big boats in offshore racing. Our trimaran is the oldest but it has no reason to be ashamed of its performance compared to the others. He will show it later, I am sure,” assures Cyril Dardashti, the team director.

In terms of pure performance, the three at the front of the ranking seem to be in a higher division than Sodebo (4th) and Actual (5th). The latter were removed quite quickly from the three-way fight. Thomas Coville put his trimaran in the yard for four months this year to try to eliminate its faults (it struggled to take off in winds below 15 knots) and make changes. In particular, he had a new mast (two meters longer) and new sails but he was not really able to test them due to damage to the starboard rudder in Cape Verde. “We were never really able to take advantage of the modifications made to the boat for close range in the medium because when we arrived on the edge where it was useful, we had already had our damage… But we learned a lot” , he confided upon arrival. However, nothing says that these improvements will allow him to play for victory next year. But this eternal optimist keeps repeating: “I have an incredibly reliable boat.” However, victory in the Arkéa Ultim Challenge could be decided in this area.

Actual (ex-Macif), launched in 2015, is an old generation boat recently equipped with new, longer foils, which cost the tidy sum of one million euros. A big financial effort for this team which does not have the same means as the top teams. These appendages were to allow the boat to take off faster and for longer without having to rework the structure of the boat. “We saw that they were strong and we continue to learn how to adjust them properly. We feel that there is potential and that it makes us move forward faster,” confided Anthony Marchand, who arrived during the night of Tuesday to Wednesday. Enough to allow it to make up the significant speed deficit? Not sure, but Anthony Marchand, like Coville, showed that his boat was extremely reliable. “These platforms are reliable, made to cover miles, navigate. Apart from small glitches, we don’t tear any sails, we don’t dismast, there are no cracks…” concluded the outsider from Saint-Brieuc.