The six intrepid skippers who will compete on the first ever solo multihull race around the world, the ARKÉA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest are expecting light winds and some winter sunshine for their send off from Brest on Sunday when the 24,220 nautical miles race starts 1330hrs local time.
The NE’ly wind of around 10-12kts will scarcely be enough to power the 32m x 23m flying multihulls on to their foils to get them flying and indeed the first hours are likely to be more about finding the strongest strands of breeze as they head out on to a relatively benign Bay of Biscay heading for Cape Finisterre some 340 miles away.
But while the winds are likely to be quite modest, the stress levels will be high from the start. A low pressure trough – with no wind at its centre is lurking off the Portuguese coast representing the first opportunities for a leader to jump ahead but conversely also being the first feature where any losses could have long term effects. The long term objective is to be first on to the train of eastward moving low pressure systems in the Southern Ocean and any initial losses on these high speed, giant ULTIMs can be problematic on this course. And a much bigger low pressure trough is out in the Atlantic which has broken up the prospects of any trade winds to take them south towards the Equator at high speeds.
Veteran weather router Marcel van Triest who advises one of the favourites Armel Le Cléach (Banque Populaire) and has the longest list of honours on round the world races and records cautions: “It is pretty tricky to get down to the Cape Verdes because winter is arriving and you get a blocking situation and lots of low pressure systems mid Atlantic. You can go there but it’s upwind. And if you go too far it gets wavy and windy or you can stay east which is tricky with little lows forming in front of the Iberian peninsula which could be upwind or downwind depending on 50 miles difference. So that is somewhere where you could be left behind – maybe even if you have issues – and that can have consequences which persist until you get towards the Southern Ocean and, say, the Falklands.”
He adds, “What you really want to be doing is making sure that at the entrance to the Southern Ocean that you are in the right carriage (on the train of lows going east) and you are not left behind. That puts the onus on this beginning to make sure you don’t miss something at the Cape Verdes that would make you miss the carriage.”
And then there were six
The battle against the clock to have Tom Laperche’s blue hulled SVR Lazartigue race ready, a challenge which has gone on since late November when structural damage was discovered after the Transat Jacques Vabre was finally won this afternoon when the Ultim of the race’s youngest skipper docked in Brest, taking her place alongside the five other Ultims with less than 24 hours to go before the start gun.