Why the Solitaire is a key element for future Vendee Globe success

Why the Solitaire is a key element for future Vendee Globe success

Friday August 12 2011 Author: conrad Location: United Kingdom

Leg 2 finished under a dramatic skyline, with the Irish mountains looming under some incredible lenticular clouds and gusts of 40knts roaring down the valleys. What a brilliant last 24 hours, firstly sailing delicately around the high pressure ridge, tacking on every shift and playing with each puff to then roaring down St Georges Channel for the last 100 miles with winds gusting over 30knts and surfing through the night in pitch darkness. This was a true Figaro test and one that I will remember when I need to find some inner resource for the Vendée Globe in times to come.

It is moments like this that you need to store in the memory bank, because whilst the Vendée is not a sprint like La Solitaire, and requires different skills, there are moments in the race when you need to put your foot down and be ready for 2-3 days of high intensity. The Solitaire teaches you this, how to push and keep with the pace of the fleet over 72 hours and most importantly how to manage your moods through moments of extreme fatigue, hunger, anger, frustration and joy all within a 450 mile sprint.

Whilst anyone looking at my results so far over the first two legs of the Solitaire might come to the conclusion that I’m getting my arse kicked by more experienced Figaroists and Bizuth’s; the race is a cumulative time event and at the moment I’m 3 hours behind the race leader Jeremy Beyou who is competing in his 11th La Solitaire du Figaro. After 100 hours of racing so far that is just 3%. I would be delighted to be within 5% of the leader by the time we reach Dieppe.

This Leg had 3-4 decisive moments and whilst it was a game of snakes and ladders, as Jeremy Beyou stated at the finish, “your ability to win in the Figaro is down to having the constant belief that you can always recover from a mistake”.

My first mistake was to change early to the Solent with the expectation that the wind would be a strong westerly at Balfleur. In fact the breeze was more left than was forecasted and was lighter on the headland – a wasted sail change which sapped my energy. Coming into Plymouth, I tacked early expecting to be lifted up to the Lizard, the boats that went further inshore made huge gains as the expected lift came slower. I found myself on the outside of a shorter inside track and lost some miles.

Perhaps my best moment of the race so far was tackling the high pressure ridge from the east and jumping 6 miles to be within 3 miles of Beyou. I wanted to be North to catch the westerly wind early and spent much of Tuesday morning tacking on every shift round Lands End. Whilst the boats in the west were never really slowed by the ridge, there was at least a chance that they might be caught.

The final 100 miles once the south westerly arrived produced some amazing conditions with high speed spinnaker reaches in 25-30kts. I was struggling to hold course with the kite, so dropped to close onto the Irish Coast. A big mistake, as in the final 20 miles, the breeze inshore was parallel to the coast and much of the leading pack were running down the coast in less wind than offshore. I gave up my leverage on the outside and had I held on until Dublin Bay, I could have finished around 22nd. Instead, I lost 15 places in the final approached…ouch that hurt.

So, after two legs I’m in 31st position, the other Brits are Phil 18th, Nigel 39th and Sam 43rd. More importantly, my deficit to the lead is 2 hours: 57mins: 58 secs. The next leg has a tricky high pressure dominant over Brittany with thermal sea breezes. The last 170 miles from Ouessant to Les Sable D’Olonne looks likely to be where most position changes will occur. For me Les Sables brings back special memories and I will be doing my utmost to arrive in good shape and well placed before the final leg to Dieppe.

Conrad

Start time: Sunday 14th at 11:00 (local time) 

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