Which way will pay?

Figaro fleet mid-Bay of Biscay

Friday July 31st 2009, Author: Sabina Mollart-Rogerson, Location: United Kingdom
It was a sleepless night last night for most of the 52 skippers on their way from Lorient to Coruna on the first leg of La Solitaire du Figaro. Within hours of the start, in a respectable 10 knots or so of breeze, they were stalled in the forecast light and variable conditions, and for the single-handers that means only one thing - time spent on deck hand steering and trimming sails to wring out every fraction of a knot of boat speed.

By morning the fleet had passed over the continental shelf and were well offshore, mid-way into their crossing of the Bay of Biscay. The day brought a brisker 11 knot southerly breeze and spinnakers came down in favour of gennakers, with the boats advancing at a more respectable pace of 7 or 8 knots. “There have already been some interesting strategic developments” explained Race Director Jacques Caraës: “the different timing of their tacks, to avoid the centre of the weather system, have led to quite a bit of lateral separation, fifteen miles or more between the boats grouped in the south-west and those in the north-west. It will be interesting to see later on who was right, because right now there’s everything still to play for. In the meantime they’re getting ready for the passage of a front during tonight which will bring squalls and 20 – 25 knots of wind from the south-west, with gusts up to 35”.

Leading the fleet at the 1600 position report is Charles Caudrelier-Benac ( Bostik), followed by Ronan Treussart ( Black Hawk) and Gildas Mahé ( Banque Populaire); all three have chosen to follow the rhumb-line route to Coruna, at the middle of the axis of the fleet. Of the international skippers, Cowes-based Jonny Malbon ( Artemis) is following the middle group, about 15 miles further down the track, while Nigel King ( Nigel King Yachting) has elected to follow a more northerly route, having slipped to a mid-fleet placing after a superb start yesterday. Between the two is Franco-German sailor Isabelle Joschke ( Synergie)

Racing in the Figaro class is notoriously close however, and not much more than 15 miles separates the bulk of the fleet in any direction - nothing is sure, as 4th-placed Antoine Koch ( Sopra Group), in philosophic mood, pointed out during this morning’s radio session: “We’ll need to take the opportunity to get some rest in this afternoon or miss out altogether, because tonight could be decisive. At the moment it’s too early to say whether one is well or badly placed. And for me winning is only a part of the objective, the other is to feel I’ve played the cards I was dealt to best advantage. I’ll do the best I can with what I’ve got and see how it goes.”

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