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Route du Rhum

Nick Moloney breaks MacArthur’s ’98 record by nearly two days

Australian Trophée Jules Verne record holder finishes his first solo transat

jeudi 28 novembre 2002Redaction SSS [Source RP]

Isle of Wight based yachtsman Nick Moloney sailed his 50-foot yacht ASHFIELD HEALTHCARE into the history books today, winning class 2 of the gruelling Route du Rhum solo transAtlantic yacht race, and broke the race record at the same time.

First solo transat for America’s Cup, Withbread and Jules Verne veteran
Photo : G.Martin-Raget/Promovoile

Nick, 34, has already made sailing history this year as the only non-French crewman on the 110ft catamaran ORANGE when she set a new Jules Verne record for the fastest non-stop circumnavigation of the world, completed in May. And now Nick has done it again.

Nick has shaved nearly two days off the course record for class 2 50 foot monohulls with his overall time of 18 days, 16 hours, 23 minutes and 04 seconds. for the 3,540 mile voyage from Saint-Malo in France to Guadeloupe in the French West Indies.

The previous best time of 20 days, 11 hours, 44 minutes and 49 seconds for class 2 was set by Nick’s Offshore Challenges Sailing Team stablemate Ellen MacArthur in the 1998 race.

Nick beat this time by one day, 19 hours, 21 minutes and 45 seconds when he crossed the finish line off the town of Pointe-a-Pitre today.

Photo : G.Martin-Raget/Promovoile

"It’s totally different from anything else I have ever done but I feel totally stoked that I’ve done it. It’s an amazing feeling to have accomplished that," said Nick, orginally from Australia.

"In all honesty when I entered this race I just really wanted to finish. I’d go and do my best as I always try and do but I never dreamed I do this well. I had some big ghosts to lay to rest after my disaster in the 1999 Mini Transat, and I feel I’ve finally done it. It hasn’t been easy."

Moloney led class 2 almost from the 1245hrs GMT start gun on November 9 off Saint-Malo. Pre-race favourite Yannick Bestaven on République Dominicaine had to delay his start after he tore his mainsail, but then he stormed back into contention and challenged Nick for the lead after two days.

But Bestaven’s relentless pushing in the harsh conditions finally proved to be his downfall. "I backed off heavily in the second evening of the race because I tacked on the continental shelf [off the Bay of Biscay where the water goes from five miles deep to one mile] and I found myself in some really really rough waves," explained Nick.

"I thought if I kept pushing I’d break the boat, but he [Yannick] kept pushing and four hours later he was out of the race. That was a little bit of luck in my favour and bad luck at his end. If we both kept pushing as hard as we were then one of us would go down and fortunately for me it was him."

This was Nick’s first solo transAtlantic attempt since the ill-fated Mini-Transat race in 1999. A force 9 storm, gusting to force 11, in the first few days of the Mini-Transat damaged his 21-foot yacht and him beyond repair.

The boat inverted for four minutes, damaging the mast, he broke his arm and, at one stage, Nick was washed overboard as the boat was knocked down and laid on its side, almost dragging him underneath - it nearly cost him his life.

"I’ve thought about the Mini a lot," continued Nick. "Winning this makes me feel like I’ve won the mini."

Nick came to the single-handed racing world from a team racing environment, having competed twice for Australia in the America’s Cup and in the 1997/1998 Whitbread round the world race.

"I thought I would be really lonely but I haven’t been," he continued : "I’ve had really good communication with our land based facility [in Cowes, England] but I was quite alarmed in the storm as I had a lot of water inside the boat that knocked out a lot of my main communication equipment [Mini-M satellite phone].

"At that point I was really really concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to communicate with the outside world. That was quite frightening for me.

"Otherwise, when there is a difficult manoeuvre to do then I obviously miss a second pair of hands and I miss chatting to people you know on a regular basis throughout the day but I do speak to the Offshore Challenges mission control as much as several times a day."

Nick’s second biggest worry coming into this race was sleep deprivation. "I’ve struggled with the whole fatigue scenario and eating and all the rest of it. You have so much to do. The first few days were just brutal. I was quite stressed about the race and the weather and I’ve never been so tired.

"The second half of the race has been better, but quite stressful with the squalls really keeping me on my toes. I had some real shockers in the night, being wiped out as the big gusts came through, but after a while I learnt to throttle back a bit during the night.

"I slept on deck for most of the race, right next to the helm. The custom beanbag was a glamour, really saved me !" Nick slept outside in the cockpit of ASHFIELD HEALTHCARE so he could feel the first drops of rain, the telltale sign that a squall is about to hit.

"I’d be quite fatigued for several hours and then I’d probably nod off for about half an hour or an hour maximum [note : Nick probably averaged four hours sleep per day for the duration of the race].

The Route du Rhum has been a race of attrition right throughout. Twenty-four of the 58 starters have retired so far, most after a storm equivalent in strength and ferocity of the 1998 Sydney Hobart yacht race. The monohulls have however faired relatively well...

After the storm the fleet sailed in a high-pressure region - where there is little wind.

For a day it looked like Frenchman Luc Coquelin on FLORYS was in a better position to pick up the new north-westerly breeze but Nick pushed ASHFELD HEALTHCARE to the absolute limits and managed to keep his bow out in front.

But two days out from the finish, one of the vicious nighttime squalls that are synonymous with the southern North Atlantic almost cost him the mast, and the race.

"It was all going so well," explained Nick. "We were sailing along with the gennaker up and full main at about nine knots, pretty relaxed... then suddenly we were hit by a big squall... BANG, I ran on deck oilskin trousers half way on....I grabbed the helm, smoked the gennaker sheet, but it was too late, we literally flew into a to HUGE wipe-out, mainsail in the water....then BANG again and the tack line broke leaving the gennaker free flying ! BIG BIG wipe-out.

"I really thought it was all over. I don’t know how the mast is still up, the mainsail was totally inverted and full of water at the foot. I managed to get control of Ashfield Healthcare eventually and we bore away and took off again at I’ve no idea what speed... Couldn’t see f*** all, really s*** myself...then to really finish it off, 20 minutes later I’m sat in the middle of this cloud with absolutely no wind at all, sails flapping, wind going around 360 degrees, total despair."

But Nick held it together over the last few hundred miles and at 0108 hours local time [0508hrs GMT], ASHFIELD HEALTHCARE crossed the Pointe-a-Pitre finish line to secure line honours for class 2. The last night was hard and long, the 50 mile coastal course particularly gruelling after so many miles.

On behalf of his sponsors Ashfield Healthcare, Business Development Director, Drew Harrison said : "Nick’s achievement is absolutely tremendous !

"We’ve been following his progress daily and his strength, skill and determination has never ceased to amaze us. We were delighted to have had the opportunity to sponsor Nick‚s boat in the Route du Rhum in the first place, but to play a part in the winning of the race has exceeded all our expectations !"

"This is an awesome achievement by Nick, and completes a great double for the Offshore Challenges Sailing Team," said Mark Turner, director of Offshore Challenges. "Nick has followed in Ellen’s footsteps by winning Class 2 in the Rhum - this was the starting point for Ellen’s Vendée campaign in 1998. And better than that, he’s beaten her time by 2 days ! I know Nick had some real mental mountains to climb, and we‚re really proud of him for this result."

Monohull race winer and new 60 foot record holder Ellen MacArthur was also delighted with the Offshore Challenges double : "Awesome !" said Ellen. "Not only has he won is class, he‚s sailed a great race and best of all he enjoyed being out there. He should be really happy with his result, and its great to see him again !"

But Nick only has a few days to recuperate in Guadeloupe before he dives straight into his next project - to better his own round the world record as part of Ellen’s Kingfisher II crew.

The boat has undergone a thorough refit at the Offshore Challenges base at Cowes, Isle of Wight, and will hope to go on standby for the right weather window from mid-January. The goal is to better Nick’s current time of 64 days, 8 hours, 37 minutes and 24 seconds.

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