An endless wait, mixed with impatience and anxiety. Sunday evening, in the nocturnal humidity of the bay of Fort-de-France, the entire Banque Populaire team, at sea or remaining at the marina, awaited the deliverance, their ears glued to the news on the radio. “As long as the line is not crossed, we fear a technical glitch or an external event, a locker or a wooden pallet being hit. Everything can collapse in seconds. If I could stop the time until the finish and be propelled after crossing the line, I would sign straight away,” said Ronan Lucas, the team director on the arrival village pontoon, his eye on his smartphone, on the lookout for any news from his two skippers.
Approaching Martinique when the sun had set, the 32-meter flying giant of the Armel Le Cléac'h-Sébastien Josse tandem was expected around 1 a.m. (around 8 p.m. local time) on the line 'arrival. Barring a catastrophe, their coronation was no longer in doubt given the lead over their hunter, SVR Lazartigue (François Gabart-Tom Laperch) pushed back to 177 miles. Third at ten o'clock for the winner Maxi Edmond de Rothschild (Charles Caudrelier-Franck Cammas) in a 2021 edition marked by the riots tearing apart Martinique, Banque Populaire XI was preparing to take a tasty revenge after the bitter failure of the Route du Rhum last year, finished in seventh place, the fault of a broken centerboard under the hull forcing Le Cléac'h to make a stopover in Lorient.
But since the start of the event on October 29 in wild conditions in Le Havre while storm Ciaran was rearing its ugly head, the “Jackal” and his friend Sébastien Josse have, this time, been spared bad luck. For two weeks, the two men were able to exploit the full power of their machine, regularly exceeding 35 knots in the Atlantic, or more than 65 kilometers per hour!
Of the five other boats in the category, only SVR Lazartigue was able to compete almost to the end with the hellish pace imposed by the leaders. And what a fight between the two challengers in the Atlantic ring! The “Little Prince of the Oceans” and his sidekick even managed to take control of the race four days ago after having circumvented Ascension Island by “doing the inside” of Banque Populaire, like a pilot of Formula 1 in a hairpin bend. A masterstroke but “Banque Pop'” calmly recovered its throne at the start of the final sprint towards the “island of flowers”. Victim of a damaged helm on Friday and technical problems almost from the start, the title holder, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild and her crazy peak speeds of 45 knots, let go just before crossing this British island lost in Atlantic. Sunday evening, Charles Caudrelier and Erwan Israel were 1083 miles behind the leaders, condemned to the podium behind SVR Lazartigue, second as in 2021. Further, Sodebo (Thomas Coville-Thomas Rouxel, 4th) and Actual (Anthony Marchand and Thierry Chabagny , 5th) had to be content with the fight for the place at the foot of the podium behind the three big favorites.
The announced coronation of Le Cléach and Josse rewards two skippers eager for revenge at the helm of this trimaran launched in 2021. Winner of the Vendée Globe in 2017 with an Imoca (Banque Populaire VIII) and of the Solitaire du Figaro in 2020 , Armel Le Cléac'h had had bad luck in the Ultim in recent years (abandonment on the Route du Rhum in 2018 before another failure last year). His brilliant return to the forefront is linked to that of Sébastien Josse, removed in 2019 from the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild project after disappointing results. However, the duo will have to separate. In a few weeks, Le Cléac'h will once again find himself alone at the helm of his maxi-trimaran at the start of the Arkéa Ultim Challenge, a solo round-the-world trip reserved for the giant trimarans present in the Transat Jacques Vabre. We take the same ones and start again, for a marathon this time and not a transatlantic sprint. The five wild animals will be released on January 7, 2024 from Brest.