Cheminées Poujoulat, experience is the key to speed
The story of Cheminees Poujoulat's race
Finishing their first attempt at the Barcelona World Race with overall victory in just over 84 days, Bernard Stamm and Jean Le Cam set a fast, new reference time for two handed, round the world race. For the Swiss-French duo the experience has been richly rewarding, a highly valued triumph even if the loss or compromise of their nearest rivals to techncial problems ensured their leading margin at the finish line is over 1000 miles. Early leaders Hugo Boss had to abandon when their rig crashsed down off Brazil, and a lot of the suspense was reduced when second placed Neutrogena had to pit-stop into Bluff, New Zealand with a power charging fault. But the win of Cheminées Poujoulat is a result of a carefully controlled, well executed race, always under control from start to finish.
Mediterranean, express departure for the leaders
After a slow start off the line on 31st Decemeber 2014 in beautiful sunshine, the passage out of the Mediterranean proved quick and relatively pain free for the leading group and the peloton. Leaders Hugo Boss crossed a few hours ahead of Neutrogena, Cheminées Poujoulat and GAES Centros Auditivos. But behind this group the wind died and the chasing pack became trapped in the Alboran Sea. This proves to be the first split, and a key one, for the Barcelon World Race.
The descent of the North Atlantic brings no big changes. The battle is to get west to cross the Doldrums around 27 deg W but the high pressure blocks the route. Cheminées Poujoulat have a bite to the west and lose, dropping back into line, their only small tactical error of which Stamm and Le Cam spoke of subsequently. The leaders pass through or west of the Canaries, with the exception of race leaders Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson and Pepe Ribes, which passes to the east of the island group.
Act 2, Drama in the South Atlantic
Even in the southern hemisphere the situation remains pretty steady, almost static with the top four boats. Hugo Boss lead but their margin always remains tenable.
But on January 15, Alex Thomson and Pepe Ribes are dismasted and leave the battle wide open between the pursuing trio, Neutrogena, Cheminées Poujoulat and GAES Centros Auditivos. From there the battle in the South Atlantic was typically a balance between strategic choices and being able to set the cursor to the red line when it really was required, an asset which Stamm and Le Cam showed often, the result of their long, hard years of IMOCA 60 racing. The net gain? At the longitude of Cape of Good Hope, Cheminées Poujoulat are ten hours ahead of Neutrogena which has built a decent margin on GAES Centros Auditivos.
A tropical storm in the Indian
Despite their techncial problems, loss of wind information, mast track problems, genoa hook, Bernard Stamm and Jean Le Cam do extend their lead ahead of Neutrogena, and they are over 300 miles ahead when a tropical depression looms large on their horizon, 60kts and massive seas. They take an unprcedented decision to throttle right back and let it pass. Under triple reefed main and no headsails they wait for the system to pass, allowing Neutrogena to recover miles, but the key objective - staying safe - has been acheived.
New Zealand pit stop for Neutrogena
It proves to be the turning point of the race a few days later when, on February 11, Neutrogena reveal they will divert to Bluff, South Island New Zealand for a technical stop. Their electrical power charging system, driven by their main engine, finally failed. Cheminées Poujoulat fight on in the Pacific and within a few days have a lead of over 1,000 miles on Guillermo Altadill and José Munoz. From there Bernard Stamm and Jean le Cam are able to control and manage their own race: stay focused, stick on their race pace, are the fundamental watch words to the finish line.
Cape Horn, safe passage
On 24 February, Cheminées Poujoulat pass Cape Horn. They route eat for an ascent of the South Atlantic which proves to be very rapid, sliding past an anticyclonic cell which threatened to block their path, linking nicely to the SE'ly trade winds in a position well to the east. In doing so, the duo set a new reference time for all IMOCA races, between Cape Horn and the equator ... and built the foundations for their new reference time for this round the world race.
North Atlantic, slightly one dimensional
The passage of the Doldrums is quite easy, scarcely slowed at all. There is only the last two weeks of racing to negotiate, mainly upwind in the NE'ly trade winds. Only a small depression in the Gulf of Cadiz spices up the game by allowing the Cheminées Poujoulat duo to complete their Atlantic miles downwind, but in very unstable conditions: storms and strong gusts prevail. From there, there is only the Mediterranean to swallow. This is done tonight after a little more than 84 days of racing ... roughly the same time it took Michel Desjoyeaux to win the Vendée Globe in 2009 on the helm of the same boat.