here or click the article titleNews feed from Afloat - to read these in AFLOAT read
Paul Meilhat’s IMOCA victory in the Route du Rhum over the weekend is all the sweeter as he achieved it in the same boat he’d feared lost on an earlier transatlantic crossing almost three years ago.
The French yachtsman had been airlifted off SMA on 15 December 2015 and the 60-footer SMA was abandoned in the Azores — though it drifted towards Ireland in the following weeks and was eventually recovered some 100 miles off the coast and berthed in Crookhaven.
“It’s amazing to think that our efforts three years ago to recover that boat against pretty tough odds have now resulted in the boat and Paul winning the Route du Rhum,” says Kinsale-linked offshore specialist Marcus Hutchinson, who was Paul’s project manager for the first three years of his IMOCA campaign.
“He was a successful Figaro sailor when he turned to the IMOCA scene then and is now clearly in the top flight there, too,” Marcus adds.
Despite that serious incident in 2015, which left Paul with a fractured pelvis, Marcus said the Frenchman only grew with confidence over the years he was in charge of the project.
That was most obvious when, before a keel ram failure forced retirement in January last year, Paul sailed his way into third place in the Vendée Globe without the foils and newer boat technology employed by the rest of the field since his boat, in the hands of Francois Gabard, previously won that circumnavigation challenge.
Later in the year, Paul secured second in the Transat Jacques Vabre, again putting his foiling competitors to shame. It was at this time that his boat’s sponsor SMA decided to withdraw from offshore racing, meaning the most recent 12 months would be the last under their livery.
It’s quite the capper on that relationship that Paul
French solo skipper Paul Meilhat at the helm of SMA was crowned the unexpected winner of the IMOCA class in the 2018 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe solo transatlantic race today from Saint Malo in Brittany to Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe.
The 36-year-old French yachtsman from Lorient took the race win after benefitting from a 24-hour time penalty imposed on British sailor Alex Thomson who crossed the finish line first on Friday morning on Hugo Boss while holding a margin over Meilhat of more than 140 nautical miles.
However, the British sailor who had led the race almost from the start on November 4th, was penalised for using his engine to extricate himself from a rocky headland some 70 miles from the finish line of the 3,542-mile single-handed race which is staged every four years.
When Paris-born Meilhat crossed the finish line himself at 20:23:18 local time (01:23:18CET today) after enduring some frustrating calms on the west side of the Basse Terre island, he had been at sea for 12 days, 11 hours 23 minutes. More importantly he was some 11 hours and 48 minutes inside the British skipper’s total elapsed time, that included the 24-hour penalty.
This is the biggest career win for Meilhat who started in sailing in Laser and 49er dinghies and has previously won the Transat AG2R La Mondiale double-handed transatlantic race alongside Gwénolé Gahinet. He retired from the last Vendée Globe in 2016 while in third place in the southern Pacific and a year before that had to be rescued from his boat in mid-Atlantic after suffering serious rib and pelvic injures during a storm.
This win in the 11th edition of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe comes at a timely moment, underlining Meilhat’s class just as his four-year relationship with SMA comes to an end as the French insurance company withdraws from sailing. It is a bitter irony that he will leave Guadeloupe with neither a boat nor a sponsor for the next Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race for which he would undoubtedly be a favourite, given the right machinery.
An emotional Meilhat told the French and international media
The British yachtsman Alex Thomson stood on board his damaged yacht, Hugo Boss, moored to the quayside in Guadeloupe this morning and told the assembled media that he did not deserve to win the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.
Thomson had been leading the 3,542-nautical mile solo transatlantic race almost from the start on November 4 off Saint Malo and was approaching the Guadeloupe archipelago when he over-slept, allowing his boat to hit the rocks on the northernmost tip of Grande Terre island.
In order to save his boat from being wrecked the 44-year-old sailor from Gosport in England, had to start his engine to get back into deeper water. Although he managed to complete the race and was the first in the 20-strong IMOCA class to cross the finish line earlier today, he was subsequently handed a 24-hour time penalty by the race jury for using his engine.
This means that Thomson is not only very unlikely now to win the race, he is also likely to drop out of the top-three with Paul Meilhat on SMA – the likely winner - Yann Eliès on UCAR-Saint-Michel and Vincent Riou on PRB all capable of finishing before his total elapsed time with his penalty added.
A clearly hugely disappointed and at times emotional Thomson put a brave face on his fate. The grounding that caused apparently only superficial damage to the bow, stern and one foil on the starboard side of his boat, came in the closing stages of what would have been a thumping victory and his first major race-win in his 20-year professional career.
“It’s a real shame for me and the team to be in the position that we are in,” said Thomson who has been third and second in consecutive Vendée Globe solo round-the-world races. “The jury has decided that I have a 24-hour penalty which will mean I will not win the race. How do I feel about that? Well, I think that is very fair because I don’t think I should win the race after hitting Guadeloupe.” This was greeted with spontaneous applause from his audience.
“This sport is about detail and, in the final last minutes, I didn’t get the detail right. Like I say, to be last night grounded on the rocks, I just feel very lucky to be here with the boat with very little wrong with it – a few holes but I sailed here
The British sailor Alex Thomson has today crossed the finish line of the four-yearly solo Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe transatlantic sailing race, as the first in the IMOCA Class.
However, following an incident last night in which Thomson ran aground in his all-black Hugo Boss boaton the north end of Grande Terre, the focus is on the race jury who will have to decide whether he should receive a time penalty for using his engine.
Thomson crossed the finish line at Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe at 08:10:58 local time (13:10:58CET) after 11 days, 23 hours 10 minutes and 58 seconds at sea.
His elapsed time for the 3,542-nautical mile course could be a new class record for IMOCAs if his finish is allowed to stand.
A total of 123 sailors started the race on November 4 off Saint Malo in Brittany. Thomson is the fourth sailor to finish it after the two ULTIME skippers, Francis Joyon and François Gabart, and the Multi50 class winner Armel Tripon.
Further updates will follow
Between 21:45-22:00 AST on Thursday, November 15th Alex Thomson’s IMOCA 60 race boat grounded at the north end of Grande Terre, just south of the Grande Vigie lighthouse on La Pointe à Claude. At the time, Thomson was sailing at around six knots.
In order to ensure the safety of himself and the boat, Thomson was forced to use his engine and manoeuvre the boat safely away from the coast. Once away from the coast, Thomson re-sealed the engine and re-commenced racing.
Upon closer inspection of HUGO BOSS by the Alex Thomson Racing technical team, the boat appears to have sustained only minor superficial damage.
Thomson is continuing on, and his focus remains on winning the race.
The team anticipates HUGO BOSS will cross the finish line at approximately 07:00 local time today (Friday, November 16).
Following initial reports that Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss had grounded on rocks during the final miles of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe while leading the IMOCA class, Race Direction has contacted the British skipper to check his status.
They have ascertained that while sailing on port tack at the north end of Grande Terre island, Hugo Boss ran aground on rocky cliffs around 21:45hrs (local time/0145hrs UTC Friday).
The accident occurred at the north end of Grande Terre, just south of the Grande Vigie lighthouse on La Pointe à Claude.
Upon hitting the cliff, Alex Thomson had to lower his sails and start his engine to reverse his boat from the rocks. He was able to extract himself from the reefs before re-hoisting his sails to resume his passage. Thomson stopped his engine and then set a new seal on the propeller shaft.
The skipper was not injured but there is