A tough Figaro opener gives a confidence boost.

A tough Figaro opener gives a confidence boost.

Wednesday August 3 2011 Author: conrad Location: United Kingdom

I crossed the line at 13:59, around 45minutes after Fabien Delahaye. The final positions changed a lot in the  last 12 hours with the wind shutting down near Balfleur and many boats choosing to Anchor in over 45m of water. I decided to keep sailing, which may have cost me a few boats, but there was at least an opportunity without tying myself to the shore to make up some places.
What a fantastic leg. I've never felt quite so tired and after nearly two days of helming, I've mastered the art of driving with my eyes closed. There was not much opportunity to sleep. The changeable conditions kept us working throughout the race and the gap between the first thirty boats was never much more than three miles. The eventual winner was just a few miles away after 45 hours of racing....that's how close this was.
Looking back at the leg, my tactics and speed were good, and the weather forecast was accurate. I think the difference between the top 20 was fatigue. I didn't find a rhythm for resting during the race and during the final 12 hours I lost a few places. But when you can see the whole lead pack for 50 hours, it's hard to go and sleep!

Huge thanks to my title sponsor DMS and race partners partners, Hemisphere Rigging, Musto, Noakes Habermhyl & Kerr, Plymouth Yacht Haven, Predict Wind, Tidetech and Crunch Creative. Also a big thank you to the Artemis Academy, Max, Simon and Romain for preparing "DMS" for the race and CEM (Franck, Nico and Sylvian) for pre-race weather and race strategy.
Here's a breakdown of Leg 1.
Perros Guriec-Hands Deep
My start was awful, I was at the pin end and late but I managed to find a lane of clear air and pulled through. At the first mark, my jib sheets got tangled and the drop was a mess. Not the best of starts. I passed close to Sept Iles, just a few metres from the rocks, Nigel King was inside of me and held his nerve, but he looked to be too close! Fabian Delahaye was just behind.
As the wind backed, we hoisted the big spi and settled down to a 80mile reach to Plymouth. It was edgy and my pilot was struggling to steer, so I stayed at the helm for most of the leg. My pace was great and I pulled up the fleet to round Hands Deep just after 2100 inside the top twenty.
Hands Deep to Needles Fairway
Amazing night off Plymouth. Lights all around and the whole fleet within touching distance. I sailed low to Start Point and squeezed inside a few boats. The wind remained constant and I managed to squeeze round the headland before the worst of the tide turned. I was going well, just behind Jeanne Gregoire. Phil Sharp was just inshore.
The breeze shut down across Lyme Bay and we drifted with the current around Portland Bill. I stared to head inshore a little as I could see the clouds forming over Weymouth and thought I could pick up the sea breeze. It came in early and from over three miles out, the first to get it was Phil Sharp and he moved from our group to the lead pack. The breeze built and I worked hard to move back up to 15th, gybing in towards Poole to get out of the current. In hindsight this was the time to sleep. I noticed that Jeanne Gregoire was not on deck for much of the downwind leg to the Needles.
Needles Fairway to Cussy
I rounded Needles just behind Macif and well positioned for the reach across the Chanel towards Caen. I was struggling for height and speed and thought I had some weed on the keel as many boats rolled over me. In my tiredness, I must have accidentally filled the leeward ballast tank, because it was half full! It cost me a lot of places so I was really annoyed.
The wind shut down as predicted and I remembered in our weather briefings that it would come in from the east. I pointed the bow east and moments later a tiny zephyr arrived, which I picked up early. At this point tiredness became a problem and I was struggling to keep the boat moving. I was desperate to sleep but the wind was so unstable and I was well positioned to take advantage on the eastern side of the pack.
When the tide turned to run west, the wind dropped away again and boats started to anchor. I got everything ready to go and started to drop the kedge when the boat started moving. Instead I pulled up my spinnaker. I wasn't making any ground, but felt there was more opportunity to overtake the boats that were anchored. I closed my eyes and slept for 20minutes. It was the best sleep of the race!
Cussy to the Finish line.

The race committee shorted the course at Cussy.  I'm glad I got some rest because the final twenty miles to the finish was upwind with a dying land breeze being replaced by an early sea breeze. I managed the transition ok, and reached in to the finish 22nd just behind Morgan Lagraviere to finish at 13:59.
Overall, I was very pleased with my pace and tactics. I still need to find time to sleep as decision making when tired was really key. The leg has really built confidence and I think I can improve further on the next leg to Ireland. At the start I said, I'd be amazed if I could get into the top twenty. This leg had proved it's possible. Congrats to Phil for finishing 7th, bring on the next one which starts on Sunday 7th at 1400.

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