Three options

Solitaire du Figaro fleet divides in three as they head out into the Atlantic on their final leg

Saturday August 9th 2008, Author: Sabina Mollart-Rogerson, Location: United Kingdom
Eric Drouglazet ( Luisina) just leads the fleet of 44 Figaro sailors ahead of Nicolas Bérenger ( Kone) on the final leg of La Solitaire from Cherbourg to l’Aber Wrac’h in Brittany. As the boats head west out into the Atlantic conditions are rough with 30 knots of southwesterly wind, gusting up to 40 with rough choppy seas. Overnight the fleet as split into three distinct groups from north to south, currently above Ushant, to find the best angle of approach to the Brittany weather mark some 250 miles off the Brittany coast.

“The wind came in gradually,” explains Race Director Jacques Caraës from on board the race committee boat following the competitors. “We have 30 knots from the south, southwest and it’s wet. The skies are dark and the sea is rough with a short and uncomfortable chop which is only going to worsen.” So not nice conditions for the Figaro Bénéteaus to make headway in and there is more to come. "Tthe wind continues to come in from the south, southwest with 25 to 30 knots and gusts of up to 40," predicts Richard Silvani from Météo France. "The shift to the west, southwest should come from around 23:00 tonight. It is going to get worse and worse and we could well see 4 to 5 metre waves close to Brittany Buoy.”

The width of the race course between the most northerly and southerly of competitors is 45 miles this morning and shows three the distinct options the fleet have chosen@ Spearheading the central group is former Solitaire winner Eric Drouglazet ( Luisina), leading some of the strongest contenders such as Jean-Pierre Nicol ( Gavottes), Gildas Mahé ( Le Comptoir Immobilier), Erwan Tabarly ( Athema) and Jeanne Gregoire ( Banque Populaire).

Eric Drouglazet described conditions on board: “I am sailing under Solent and am well prepared for this front, the boat is fine and I am doing well. I am ready for the battle. Right now I have 23 to 24 knots of wind. We have a short chop and it really is like being in a field of spaghetti with all the seaweed around. For now all is good and Luisina is going fast. Earlier I was close to Erwan and passed him, so my boat speed is good. The wind has freshened, but it is going to get stronger, especially with the gusts. You feel like the depression is almost stationary and is going to stay like that for some time so we all have wind. The main thing we have to be set properly and try and avoid these big floating banks of seaweed. By tonight we should pass the tip of Brittany and further offshore we should not have so much.”

But it is a southerly positioned breakaway group that is making the greatest gains on the leader. Nicolas Bérenger ( Kone) in second place at 16:00 and 0.2 miles behind de leader, is followed by Frédéric Duthil ( Distinxion Automobiles), Thierry Chabagny ( Suzuki Automobiles) in 8th and 1 mile behind, Armel Tripon ( Gedimat) and Nicolas Lunven ( Foncia). The southerly group have been able to make gradual gains on the central pack throughout the morning, using the favourable tide and current to gain ground. The wind from the southwest has also given those to the south a better angle of approach to the Brittany Buoy.

Furthest north, the third group is led by Romain Attanasio ( DCNS 97) in 34th place and 11.8 miles from the leader and followed by the overall race leader Nicolas Troussel ( Financo), Thomas Rouxel ( Défi Mousquetaires), Jean Charles Monet ( Degrémont Suez Environnement), Gerald Veniard ( Macif) and Andy Greenwood ( Imtech). This group opted for a northerly course that saw them pass above Aurigny on a route taking them closer to the cargo traffic lanes before tacking south.

The fleet will converge on the final approach to the next mark, for now however the advantage in terms of both distance to finish and boat speed lies with those placed furthest south.

The race has unfortunately seen two more retirements in Grégory Gendron ( Sopra Group 2) and Elodie Riou ( KPMG), who have chosen to head directly for l’Aber Wrac’h….Liz Wardley (Sojasun), who announced she would not compete in the last leg, has safely delivered her boat to l’Aber Wrac’h….

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