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The Arkea Ultim Challenge, the Global Solo Challenge, and ethical lapses in the OGR

by David Schmidt 16 Jan 16:00 GMT January 16, 2024
SVR Lazartigue during the Arkea Ultim Challenge - Brest © Guillaume Gatefait

The saying goes that if you don't like the weather, wait a minute—it'll change. Well, the Pacific Northwest has been setting records for extreme cold this past week, and while I keep waiting for a change, it's been slow to materialize. This, of course, is because I'm effectively standing still, refreshing my Wunderground app, and waiting for big-picture weather systems to sweep overhead. But now imagine that you're sailing aboard a vessel that can oftentimes outrun the wind. Forget sitting static and waiting for big-picture change—instead, you can employ a bit of weather outing and gain greater control over your destiny.

Such is the case for the six brave singlehanded skippers who are engaged in what can only be described as one of the coolest sailboat races in history.

The Arkea Ultim Challenge began on the waters off of Brest, France, on January 7, 2024, when six mighty Ultim trimarans crossed the starting line of this around-the-world-alone-via-the-great-capes contest.

I note with serious envy that these skippers began their challenge in France in the winter, but, within days, were at or near the equator. As of this writing (Monday morning, January 15), skipper Tom Laperche, sailing aboard the mighty SVR-Lazartigue, was in the pole position somewhere off the coast of Brazil, hauling the mail at almost 35 knots.

We're back to that cliche about waiting a minute for the weather to change.

But one thing that isn't changing in this race is the breathtaking level of competition that's been unfurling. At times, the leaders have been within sight of each other, despite having raced across several thousand miles of offshore brine and through at least one serious low-pressure system.

According to the leaderboard, only 45.7 nautical miles separate Laperche's SVR-Lazartigue from Charles Caudrelier, who is sailing aboard Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. Given the speeds involved, this isn't buying Laperche much breathing room, and it begs the question: Will this epic around-the-world Ultim race morph into a massive version of this year's Sydney Hobart Race, where only 51 seconds separated line-honors winner LawConnect from second-to-the-barn Comanche over 628 nautical miles?

While it's way too early to call the Arkea Ultim Challenge a fight between two skippers, the next fastest gun, Thomas Coville, who is sailing aboard SODEBO Ultim 3, is a "comfortable" (from Laperche and Caudrelier's perspective) 416 nautical miles astern.

In fact, a whopping 1,875 nautical miles separates Laperche and Caudrelier from Eric Peron, who is sailing aboard Adagio.

Also of note is the fact that the first blood of the race has been drawn before the competitors even reached the windswept Southern Ocean. Word broke today that skipper Armel Le Cleach, a former Vendee Globe winner who is sailing aboard Maxi Banque Populaire XI, is going to make a stop in the Brazilian port of Recife to repair damage.

While the fist Ultim has yet to reach the Southern Ocean, selfishly, it already feels like this contest will be over before one really has time to get comfortable in one's armchair. So, be sure to soak up the spirit and excitement of this amazing race, as it will almost certainly be done before spring's warmth and longer days wash over the Pacific Northwest (or Brest, France).

Sail-World wishes Le Cleach good luck in making his repairs, and we wish all competing skippers safe and fast passage.

Meanwhile, in the Global Solo Challenge, race leader Philippe Delamare (FRA), racing aboard Mowgli, has rounded Cape Horn and is climbing his way back towards the equator (there's a chance that he might see the southbound Ultims on his AIS display).

As of this writing, Delamare has some 6,040 nautical miles to go before the finishing line.

American Cole Brauer, racing aboard the Class 40 First Light, should be the next skipper to round the Horn. As of this writing, she was 9,193 nautical miles from the finishing line and sailing a more northerly course than the one that Delamare chose.

Careful readers will note that Brauer isn't far from Point Nemo, which is considered the most remote point on the planet.

While it remains to be seen if Brauer has enough chronological and physical runway left to catch Delamare, all can agree that Brauer is rapidly proving herself as a fast and capable high-latitude sailor with a bright future.

Switching from the Global Solo Challenge to the Ocean Globe Race 2023, I am disappointed to have to report a sad note from an otherwise great race. Word broke late last week that the race leader of the Ocean Globe Race 2023, Translated 9, was penalized for breaching the race's NOR by sending three sails out to be repaired, and for lying about this when questioned on a formal race declaration document.

Vittorio Malingri, who was Translated 9's captain, has resigned over the incident, but no matter how one looks at this, Translated 9's actions are a shameful breach of ethics unbefitting of the global sailing community.

The part that I can't quite work out is the why.

Perhaps I'm too far removed from the race as I sit here in the Pacific Northwest, waiting for the weather to change, but, to me, this action is antithetical to the race's values.

The Ocean Globe Race is a retro race that's contested aboard old boats using sextants and paper charts, not hydrofoils and sat comms-derived weather routing. Winning matters insofar as it motivates a crew to work hard, but the real prize is to circumnavigate the planet using traditional navigation skills while earning the respect of one's competitors and the global sailing community.

Translated 9, under Malingri's leadership, failed this basic test of honesty.

While bad, this sadly isn't the first time that race organizers have instituted penalties in this retro race.

Skipper Marie Tabarly, who hails from sailing royalty (her father is Eric Tabarly), and her Pen Duick VI crew got into trouble at the Cape Town stopover when it was discovered that the seal on their crew comms bag was broken and that Tabarly's WhatsApp account had been used to send messages after the start.

Worse, when contradictory statements emerged and when Tabarly was pressed, she reportedly commented: "I don't know what I said and so what!"

It turns out, this is a massive "so what", at least in my book.

Ocean sailing is much like mountaineering. There are often no witnesses, just a small group of people alone in the wilderness with their truths. It boils down to honor and trust.

When these are lost, one must ask, what's left?

Sadly, sport's history is rife with cheaters, however I believe that it's up to the community to dictate what tactics are fair game, and what breaches the trust.

Tabarly and Malingri should kindly be reminded that their passage times will be months off of the record times established in the Vendee Globe, the Arkea Ultim Challenge, and certainly the Jules Verne Trophy record. No one is watching the Ocean Globe Race 2023 for sailing performance.

Rather, we're watching to see human character tested, and to see old-fashioned leadership and seamanship applied.

While I can't speak to the level of seamanship displayed aboard Translated 9 or Pen Duick VI, I can't say that I'm too impressed with the snippets of human character that I've seen from these two skippers.

Finally, in happier sailing news, the newly reconfigured United States SailGP team finished in third place, astern of Australia and New Zealand (respectively), at last weekend's Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix. Also, Jason Carroll's MOD70 Argo took line honors in the RORC's Transatlantic Race.

And, in Olympic sailing news, the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for sailing have now concluded on the waters off of Miami. As a result, Stuart McNay and Lara Dallman-Weiss will be representing the USA in the Mixed 470 class, while Ian Barrows and Hans Henken will be representing the country in the 49er. Noah Lyons and Dominique Stater are the men's and women's iQFoil representatives, while Markus Edegran will be representing the Stars and Stripes in the Men's Kite competition.

Sail-World sends our congratulations to these athletes, and we send them our best wishes as they prepare to do battle at this summer's Paris 2024 Olympics.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt North American Editor

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