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Yoann Richomme (Paprec Arkéa) wins inaugural Retour à La Base solo Transatlantic race

by Retour à La Base 9 Dec 2023 18:45 GMT 7 December 2023
IMOCA Paprec Arkea skipper Yoann Richomme taking 1st place in the Retour à la Base, in Lorient, France, on December 9th, 2023 © Pierre Bouras / Retour à La Base

When he crossed the finish line off Lorient, Brittany at 16:03:48hrs UTC today (Saturday 9th December) to win the the inaugural 3,500 miles Retour à La Base, this afternoon French skipper Yoann Richomme marked himself as a sailor worth watching on next year's Vendée Globe solo non-stop race round the world.

IMOCA Paprec Arkea skipper Yoann Richomme taking 1st place on the Retour à la Base, in Lorient, France, on December 09, 2023. (photo by Anne Beaugé / Retour à La Base)

Despite this new single-handed Transatlantic race from Martinique to France being Richomme's first ever solo sail on his recently launched IMOCA Paprec Arkéa, the 40 year old has led the 32 strong field for more than five days.

His elapsed time for the course is 9 days 3 minutes 48 seconds. His average speed on the theoretical course is 16.19kts, his actually sailed 4256.68nms at an average of 19.7kts.

Returning to his home port and met on the dock by all his family and close friends was clearly a special moment in the career of Richomme so far, "Is the cinema closed tonight or something?' he quipped.

But he reflected on his passage across the finish line, and the win: "It was amazing doing the finishing photos, so much emotion came to the surface in those three minutes, it shows you hard that race was to live. It is such a big moment in your head."

A meticulous perfectionist who lives for the challenge of preparing and optimising his boats - fully utilising his background as a Southampton trained naval architect and his engineering nous - Richomme's first solo IMOCA race win neatly caps the second place he and Yann Eliès scored on the double handed outbound race to Martinique, the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre.

When the assembled media asserted that his second in the TJV and this solo win makes him faourite to win the Vendée Globe he responded,laughing, "It is you who set me as a favourite, it is not me! It is only the boat that is! 2,1 is good, though, I am so proud for the team. It has been hard and I have to think of Thomas who should have been in the battle but who has damage."

He paid tribute to Thomas Ruyant who won the Transat Jacques Vabre with Morgan Lagraviere but who has struggled with techncial problems on this solo race.

And asked what his immediate plans were he responded, "Party! It has been two years I have been on this project in my head or practically and the last nine months have been full on, nothing but this, so it is payback time. It has been tough, sorting out the problems with it being a new, young boat."

Clearly he believes he as the boat to do well on future races including the Vendee Globe: "It is not really a strategic win this is a victory for the boat, an exceptional design which we can push further, it is a great design,well adapted. But for example on the climb from Martinique it was not the best,there are boats better than us. But for the big winds, the big seas it is great."

He continued, "I was tired in Martinique but I left very motivated, up for the fight. But I really found my good rhythm and stuck to it. I made sure I did not get in the red because that is a no go. The boat will punish you. It would just be al kinds of hell. You had to stick to your rhythm, in the day you have to do your navigation and weather, fix the boat and make sure you sleep."

Richomme could not find funding to compete on the 2020-2021 Vendée Globe but, left ashore, he immersed himself in the minutiae of the race and streamed his own popular weather focused commentary and analysis show. But now, in winning the first of the three single-handed Transatlantic races to be contested before the legendary solo race round the world starts early next November, Richomme can be considered among the favourites to win.

Armed with a new Koch-Finot Conq design which has proven a step ahead in fast downwind and reaching conditions, Richomme has largely been able to modulate his attack in recent days and finished just over 110 miles ahead of Jéremie Beyou (Charal)

Since leaving Martinique on Thursday 30th November on the 1000 miles climb north Richomme was in the lead group. But, when negotiating the north westerly fringes of the Azores anticyclone it was a neatly executed tack to the north east for a few hours which offered him more wind and a better course angle, allowing him to progressively climb away from the fleet.

While this might be a maiden solo IMOCA race victory, Richomme has twice won the very competitive Class 40 on the Route du Rhum solo Transatlantic from Saint Malo to Guadeloupe (2018 and 2020) - both times showcasing his ability to push harder and faster for longer than his rivals. And he is a two times winner of La Solitaire du Figaro, the annual French multi-stage solo offshore race, in 2016 and 2019.

It was in only this February that Paprec Arkéa, a sistership to Thomas Ruyant's IMOCA, For People, was launched. Nine months later with just three training events, where she impressed everyone with her futuristic appearance and speeds, the 60-foot boat set off in the double-handed Transat Jacques Vabre for her first transatlantic crossing, with the highly experienced Yann Eliès alongside Richomme. They managed an incredible second place, in itself a great success. But in the Paprec Arkéa team, the main goal was to follow up with success on the Retour à La Base which is designed to give the skippers solo experience in tough December conditions, fast reaching and sailing downwind in big winds and seas akin to those expected next year in the Southern Ocean.

Richomme's race Before the start when it was pointed out that he had never been alone aboard Paprec Arkéa it did now seem to worry Richomme. Indeed it raised a chuckle. He is very much used to delivering projects against the clock, sometimes with limited budgets and boats that have only recently been launched. In that respect nothing seems to scare him, underlining his sheer determination and talent. Unshakeable he already achieved a victory of sorts even before the start of this return race. On the outbound race with Eliès his boat suffered some amount of damage. But the boat was put back in shape by the shore team with ten days of work carried out in Martinique. That success - against the clock - spurred Richomme on.

From the very first few hours of the race Richomme gave it his all, weaving his way around the South of Martinique to get in a good position when the fleet started to head North. He was in the top five, which was in fact the goal he set himself before the start. But the skipper was not going to leave it there and kept believing. As they rounded the area of high pressure to tackle the low-pressure systems moving in from the Eastern seaboard of the United States, he decided to go a bit further north and grabbed the lead in the race on 4th December. He stayed first until the finish, continuing to stay in the North before turning right to head East towards the Azores, where he consolidated, descending to place himself in front of his rivals. Then, it was straight ahead to head for home and Lorient at full speed, where victory would be his.

For all that he makes it look so and remains down to earth and good humoured, nothing was simple and no one was spared problems and difficulties.

Sleep management to begin with, which was a major problem in a large part of the race: "I find it hard to sleep... I try to lie down to get some rest with or without a podcast," he explained earlier this week. "Perhaps I do get a little sleep at times, but I can't say I have noticed."

In any case throughout the race, Richomme has shown what he was capable, achieving his first prestigious victory in the IMOCA class, his third in a solo transatlantic race. It means too that he can now look forward to next season.

2024 is an unprecedented, crazy solo ocean racing year with spring and summer's The Transat CIC, New York-Vendée to be raced before the pinnacle Vendée Globe. It is certain that Richomme will be fighting to be on all three podiums.

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