The leaders of the Retour à La Base solo IMOCA race from Martinique to Lorient, France are now completing their curve around the north Atlantic high pressure system and starting to head towards the east, seeking to find the best entry point to catch a ride on the train of fast moving low pressure systems set to carry them rapidly towards Europe.

Speeds Monday and Tuesday could be high enough to threaten the solo 24 hours record which has been held for five years by Alex Thomson at 539.71 miles.  Jéremie Beyou (Charal) was on top of the leaderboard, seemingly always around 17-19 nautical miles ahead of Briton Sam Goodchild (For The Planet) and Yoann Richomme (Arkéa-Paprec).  But in the late afternoon Goodchild has taken the lead as Charal gybed north. 

But at four days into the 3,500 miles passage from Fort-de-France, the pace is already telling on boats and skippers, Goodchild warned today that he hoped to get some much needed rest this afternoon before a week’s onslaught with successive, deeper and more malicious low pressure systems due through to the finish, which should be Saturday according to latest estimates. 

“To be honest I don’t know what I am doing right really, I am just happy the boat is going well. But I am a bit tired so I need to start to be a bit careful. Last night was a bit full on and so I did not get much sleep. I have been trying to catch up on sleep but it really is not easy. It is nicer now, the wind is more stable and so we had the big sail change this morning which went relatively well. We are heading more to the east now which is nice, I am trying to eat properly and get some rest and keep going fast. The last two nights have been bad for sleeping, painful to be honest with unstable winds and bad sea state, so I am hopeful. I have put some rice and fish curry on for my Sunday lunch to eat, I am looking forwards to it and then try and get a nap after that.”

Goodchild was very much in the wake of Beyou on the inside of the curve whilst Richomme and Seb Simon (Groupe Deubril) are more on the outside, positions more fancied by Will Harris, the co-skipper of Malizia-Seaexplorer and a renowned weather expert, “Going slightly wider will take them north earlier and may mean one less gybe, and they should have a little more pressure.” Says Harris who believes the solo record could well fall, considering 550 miles a realistic mark. “The thing here is if they need to gybe in the 24 hours. Really to maximise the record run it needs to be straight line, especially solo.” 

“Between Monday morning and Tuesday, there can be some very nice runs,” explains Christian Dumard, the race meteorologist. “They must manage to sail at more than 22.36 knots to beat the record,” specifies Jacques Caraës assistant to the race director. 

The daggerboard boats will also start to accelerate and turn to the right.  Louis Duc (Fives Group – Lantana Environnement) is positioned slightly further East than his competitors. Often happy to do his own thing, Duc says he is liking passing through the South-East of Bermuda – “I would have liked to stay to see how it is there. 

Problems, problems….

And while more and more boats seem to have small problems, Pip Hare (Medallia) and Kojiro Shraishi (DNG MORI Globeal One), Clarisse Crémer (L’Occtane en Provence)m Denis Van Weynbergh (D’Ieteren Group)  among them,  French skipper Antoine Cornic (Human Immobilier) is diagnosed as suffering from dengue fever: “I've had it for two days and they say it's the third day that is the  worst”. Cornic reported. His team is in regular communication with the race doctor. He talks about the symptoms, the aches, the fever, and how hard it is to manoeuvre,  "There's not much I can do you have to wait for it to get better"

Belgian skipper Denis Van Weynbergh (D’Ieteren Group) had a technical scare In a squall being caught in a 40kts squall with full main and J2 headsail: “ I luffed, I reduced sail, I luffed up again to get through it. Otherwise this squall was taking me to Bob Marley’s house!” 

Pip Hare (Medallia) discovered a fairly significant leak from the hydraulic system of her keel, “It has been pretty hectic for me overnight. The sailing is great the breeze is up and we are at an angle where the boats can really fly, I am really enjoying that. And all night I have had an amazing battle with Romain Attanasio, it has been immense, I overtake him, he overtakes me, he has just popped up on the AIS again! He was doing 30kts and won’t lie down. But on top of that I have discovered a pretty bad leak in the hydraulics on my keel. So I have been trying to sort that out. I have lost about 3 litres of oil. Cleaning that up was a major mission  and trying to find out where it is coming from, I found one loose connection. I need to have another look. It is an interesting doing that on a boat moving at 20kts in a slightly erratic manner. And trying to clean up an oil spill, covered in oil all the way up to your elbows and trying to get fingers on to spanners on tiny nuts in a small space. I was head down for two hours and can’t focus on any thing else. And because we are so close anything like that means you are slowing down and losing miles. I am a little but worried about the keel. I have enough oil to do one major top up but after that I need to start re-cycling oil. At some point today I am going to have to get in there again and work out where the leak is coming from. The sailing is just fantastic, just being able to let the boat go and in such close proximity to everyone else, it gives me such positive feelings about the future trajectory of the campaign.” 

So too DMG MORI Global One skipper Shiraishi reported a water ingress from the keel ram pin. On top of that his PC screen wouldn't turn on so he was sailing blind for a while. 

“I couldn’t see the charts weather forecast or anything. But with a bit of work nearly everything is in back in order since this morning. I am a little disappointed at losing some positions but I really am  pushing the boat now to make some progress.”  He said, 

In third, the problems for Yoann Richomme (Paprec Akréa) were more transient…. “In the cross seas and the 'gusty' wind last night, I spilled my plate of pasta on my keyboard and on my seat. My meal was  gone and a cleaning operation ensued.” 

They said:
 “Conrad Colman, NZL, Mail Boxes ETC: “It was a crazy, crazy night when the sun went down the show got going. We were meant to have 22 knots of wind and I had 38 and the sea was screaming and splashing all over the place. The routing had me with full main and Code Zero and in real life I was reefed down and J3, and honing along. The keel I have now maybe needs a big of work as at 18kts of boat speed it starts humming and when it goes over 20 kts it starts screaming. So it sounded like a crazy banshee choir! Otherwise good wind means good progress towards the north. In terms of latitude from the Equator we have now doubled our distance since leaving Martinique. And you feel it, it is more temperate. Tomorrow night I will need to get the sleeping bag out. But I am excited to get closer to the wintery north.