Arkea Ultim Challenge Brest

Guided Tour of Banque Populaire with Armel Le Cléac'h

And they’re off! Sunday January 7th at 13:30 local time, six sailors set off single-handed from Brest aboard the fastest offshore sailing machines for a round-the-world voyage via the great capes, no less!

This challenge is being finally contested almost 20 years after it was first imagined. It will be one of the most demanding events, perhaps dethroning the unbreakable Vendée Globe (which follows the same course, but aboard 60-foot monohulls). This time, we’re talking about 100-foot-long (30 m) foiling trimarans capable of speeds in excess of 40 knots! This could well be the race of the century!

Although conditions at the start were very favorable, with a good northeasterly flow and plenty of sunshine, the weather forecast does not augur well for what’s to come. Quite the contrary, in fact, as the competitors will have to adapt from day to day, which has nothing to do with a prepared and discreetly orchestrated start as part of a record – as a reminder, the famous solo record via the great capes without stopovers has been held since December 2017 by François Gabart on Macif in 42 days 16 hours 40 minutes and 35 seconds. The challenge, perhaps more than sailing a little faster than the other competitors, will undoubtedly be not to break anything: “Whoever manages to finish will have a good chance of winning”, predicts Charles Caudrelier, one of the four skippers who is (despite everything) playing to win. Eric Péron, who signed up at the last minute aboard an old Ultim “that doesn’t fly”, shares the same analysis: “This competition isn’t going to be decided on a strategic move. We’re starting out together, but we’ll have to wear blinkers. It’s up to each of us to manage our machines. Finding the right balance, knowing how to repair breakages, and when there’s no trouble, anticipating so that a breakage and prevent it from happening!

But what awaits the winner? A magnificent trophy, eternal respectability and a check for €200,000 (the cost of the entry ticket to the race) all the same.

Just ahead of the start, we got the chance to meet Armel Le Cléac’h, who invited us aboard his sea-going giant Banque Populaire XI. He confided to us that he had taken on board 50 days’ worth of supplies... After two years of sailing now perfectly reliable Ultim, the Breton sailor declared himself serene. To maneuver his Ultim alone, his cockpit features two helm stations, two pairs of winches and all the hydraulic controls on board - raising and lowering appendages, sail trimming, rig tension... Inside, Armel can count on a very complete chart table to port. Opposite this, his living area allows him to prepare meals - which, as you’d expect, are very basic - and rest on his beanbag mattress, which hugs his body and guarantees a certain degree of comfort even in heavy weather. Beneath the skipper’s feet, a vast locker stores sails and equipment at the lowest, most central point. Fair winds Armel!

The competitors:

Charles Caudrelier – Maxi Edmond de Rothschild
Thomas Coville – Sodebo 3
Tom Laperche – SVR-Lazartigue
Armel Le Cléac’h - Banque Populaire XI
Anthony Marchand – Actual
Éric Péron - Adagio 

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