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Route du Rhum IMOCA-class leader oversleeps, finishes third

Dec 31, 2018

The Route du Rhum Race starts in France and ends in the French island of Guadeloupe.

Comfortably ahead in the Route du Rhum race, British sailor Alex Thomson paused for a short rest while approaching Guadeloupe. He awoke as his IMOCA-class yacht Hugo Boss grounded off Grande Terre Island’s northeastern tip.

Thomson used engine power to get back into deep water, a no-no in the race. The transgression earned him a 24-hour penalty and made victory impossible. Hugo Boss crossed the finish line at Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe, the next morning, about two hours ahead of the next finisher. Thomson ultimately placed third with the penalty.

Frenchman Paul Meilhat, who won the IMOCA class aboard SMA, finished Nov. 16 at 1923 with a race time of 12 days, 11 hours, 23 minutes and 18 seconds. Fellow French sailor Yann Elies placed second aboard UCAR-Saint-Michel with a race time of 12 days, 13 hours, 38 minutes and 30 seconds.

Thomson finished the solo trans-Atlantic race on Nov. 16 at 0710. His adjusted race time, however, was 12 days, 23 hours, 10 minutes and 58 seconds.

In a post-race interview, Thomson told reporters the 24-hour penalty was “very fair.” He did not deserve, he added, to win the race.

 “This sport is about detail and, in the final last minutes, I didn’t get the detail right,” he told race organizers. “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 under my own steam so I feel very fortunate.”

The 40th anniversary running of the Route du Rhum began Nov. 4 when 123 yachts in six classes departed Saint-Malo, France, for Pointe-a-Pitre. The race, held every four years, covers 3,542 nautical miles.

Francis Joyon finished first overall aboard the Ultime-class trimaran IDEC Sport, defeating François Gabart on MACIF and setting a new record in the process. Joyon, 62, finished the race in seven days, 14 hours and 21 minutes — just seven minutes and eight seconds ahead of Gabart.‚Äč

Armel Tripon, from Nantes, France, won the Multi50 class and finished third overall aboard the trimaran Réauté Chocolat. His race time was 11 days, seven hours, 32 minutes and 40 seconds.

Thomson was running fourth overall behind Tripon when Hugo Boss grounded at about 2145 on Nov 15. The accident occurred near Grand Vigie Lighthouse on La Pointe à Claude, according to race organizers. He was not hurt, but the vessel sustained extensive damage.

After impact, Thomson lowered his sails and backed away from the rocks. He re-hoisted the sails once Hugo Boss reached deeper water, placed a new seal over the prop shaft and continued toward Pointe-a-Pitre on the island’s southern side.

After finishing the next morning, Thomson told reporters he knew the vessel’s position approaching land when he paused to rest. However, it’s clear he didn’t intend to sleep that long. Thomson dozed through an audio alarm, and his watch capable of delivering a small jolt of electricity lacked sufficient charge.

Thomson praised Meilhat, the official IMOCA-class winner, and vowed to press ahead toward the Vendee Globe in 2020. “For me, all I can do is live and learn,” he said. “You have to try and stay strong. You have to learn, you have to be better and ultimately, obviously, I wanted to win this race. But the aim is to win the Vendee Globe, and I think I’ve proved in this race that I can win the Vendee Globe.”

As of Thanksgiving week, dozens of sailors were still competing across multiple classes. For more details on the race, visit routedurhum.com.

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