On the eve of her 60th birthday, sailing the famous ‘Cigar Rouge’ – the boat on which she became the first woman to complete the Vendée Globe in 1996/7 – Catherine Chabaud completed a successful, popular return to ocean racing when she finished the 12th Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe in second place in the Rhum Mono class. The only woman competing in the class – and one of seven in the race – Chabaud crossed the finish line at 23:33:43hrs Monday evening 28/11/2022, 2d 20h 20m and 52s after the class winner Jean Pierre Dick on his modern, faster Verdier designed 54-footer Notre Mediterranêe-Ville de Nice.
Upset by the amount of pollution and debris in the oceans, Chabaud halted her prolific ocean racing career in the early 90s to ‘find solutions’. She became an environmental campaigner starting and popularising many different initiatives. Her return to the Route du Rhum – unfinished business since abandoning in 1998 – is prompted by the support of a French business school in helping promote her ‘Ocean As Common’ programme, which takes messages to major sporting and economic platforms.
Before the start in Saint-Malo she said, “I stopped competing in the early 1990s after seeing the amount of waste at sea. For the last 20 years what has interested me is talking about solutions.” She has become a European Commission deputy minister since 2019, a specialist adviser to the French ministry for social and environmental economics and writes widely on sustainable and environmental topics.
Chabaud finished sixth on the 1996/97 Vendee Globe and was dismasted on the next edition. This was her fifteenth Atlantic crossing, and her fifth race including two The Transats and one Mini Transat. Her famous slender ketch rigged 60-footer – nearly 2m narrower than Alan Gautier’s Bagages Superior – was designed in 1991 by Philippe Harlé for Jean Luc Van Den Heede. Finishing into Gaudeloupe last night her boat is the perfect counterpoint to Dick’s design which is the ultimate fast modern racer cruiser.
“I’m happy to be here. I enjoy these times at sea. I love of all that it teaches me and it is absolutely wonderful,” she said on the eve of her finish into Pointe-à-Pitre. “I am absolutely horrified to sail through sargassum (weed) fields. They are really everywhere it was really mind-blowing. When you think that all this is going to wash up on the beaches of the West Indies or the Caribbean, it’s really scary. And we would like to really know and understand why this is happening.”
Exhausted but happy, Chabaud was given a big welcome on the dock, where she took the time to talk. “I’m exhausted, really tired. I have rarely been to this point of exhaustion before. Maybe you can’t be an MEP and a sailor! Physically I have suffered but you just don’t have the choice out there, you have to do your manoeuvres. You drive yourself with your head. Today you had to keep pressing with gusts to 35kts right into the Saintes channel. You have to reef when you need to you have to keep your head in the game until the end.
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“And a podium? Yes! Yes, Jean-Pierre and I had faster boats, but I don’t think we sailed too badly. I’d like to thank Eric Mas who did my weather routing. Maybe not when I had three reefs in a storm maybe that bit was not so good, but it did not last long. Meantime it is good to challenge yourself. Our children age us quicky and so it is good to go out there and remind them what we are capable of.”
Read more from Chabaud here.
Third place in the Rhum Mono class went to the solo skipper from La Rochelle Wilfred Clerton (Cap au Cap Location) whose elapsed time is 19 days 22 hours 11 minutes and 45 seconds, 3 days 8 hours 13 minutes and 54 seconds after Jean-Pierre Dick.
Fourth in the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe in 2014 and fifth in 2018, Clerton sails the 1980 Maury design which was Kriter 8, a renowned upwind performer. He took a very north and westerly option early in the race and led for a time. “My objective is very clear: to be on the podium and to win,” he said at the time, and now he is rewarded with a good third.
After 20 days of racing, 90 solo skippers have now finished the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, with 28 abandonments and 20 still racing. Swiss sailor Oliver Heer (Oliver Heer Ocean Racing) is ticking off his final miles, with around 85nm to go to the finish to wrap up the IMOCA race, while there are 5 skippers left in the Class40, 5 in the Rhum Multi and 9 in the Rhum Mono.
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