Leg three shortened, leg one winner penalised

Gerald Veniard's Figaro found to be too heavy

Thursday August 17th 2006, Author: Sabina Mollart-Rogerson, Location: France
The Figaro sailors embark tomorrow on the third leg La Solitaire from Saint Gilles Croix de Vie to Dingle in Ireland. The route is 479 miles long and the 44 strong fleet of Bénéteau one-design boats will leave the French coastal port in the Vendée for a 1pm start to round a mark off the Ile de Ré before heading direct to Ireland.
Two depressions will influence the conditions forecast for the upwind leg to Dingle; it will be reaching in some heavy swell for the first 24 hours with predominantly 15 knots of southwest in an uncomfortable 2 to 2.5 metres swell.

Once passed Ushant, the wind should gradually veer northwest, so more close hauled upwind sailing for the first day before the wind lifts on Saturday afternoon. For Sunday, the singlehanded sailors should find themselves level with the Scilly Isles where the situation could get complicated: There is a small developing low, moving fast and whose path is not fully clear, except that at present it is set to pass over the fleet. It is therefore hard to forecast what the sailors will get in terms of the strength and direction of the wind. Coming in behind this depression a cold northwesterly wind will fill in and build and could see the sailors being hit with 30 knot winds and a big sea swell. The Irish Sea will no doubt live up to its reputation.

For Monday, the conditions should calm and the westerly breeze could slacken and see the fleet into Dingle. The optimistic ETA is for a late Monday to early Tuesday arrival.

The course of this third leg has been reduced by approximately 70 miles. The fleet of Figaro boats will therefore leave the French coastal port in the Vendée to round a mark off the Ile de Ré before heading direct for Ireland. The start time has also been delayed by two hours to 1300 (French time) because as Race Director, Christian Gout explains: "the second leg took much longer to cover and was much tougher than initially forecast. So we have decided on a format that gives the competitors a chance to set off on a relatively direct course for Ireland and benefit from the favourable wind conditions coming in from the southwest for the first hours of the race. Delaying the start by two hours also gives the skippers a chance to have two full nights rest to gather their strengths for the start of the third leg. Both the current and wind should be favourable for them with a 1 pm start.”

The race's only British skipper Sam Davies on Roxy, currently 26th overall gave an update on her progress:: “I am really happy with the way I sailed sticking with the good bunch. Looking at the overall ranking, I was a little behind after the first leg and did not want to take a big risk, an option where perhaps I would gain heaps but then most probably have lost lots. It was a really unsafe choice. The safest and best way was to go right, because you can go right with the wind shifts correct on the route. It was not my plan to get stuck with no wind!”

“I had the most fantastic sunrise just close to the island of Houdic. On this race I actually preferred the part where I was sailing alone, not in stressful contact, and was really happy. I ate well managing a hot meal every night, but then on the day with no wind I ate all the sweets and anything sugary just to give me a morale boost. On a windless day, you need something to make you feel better.

“La Solitaire Afflelou Le Figaro is a race about endurance and testing your limits, it needs to stay like this because otherwise anyone would give it a go. This, the shortest leg, has been exhausting, you arrive tired and have little recovery time, but then that is what this is all about!”

Liz Wardley 23rd overall commented: “I am pretty happy with my decisions and where I am sailing in the fleet with some of the good boats.”

During the leg Wardley experienced autopilot programs forcing her to sail her Figaro Sojasun on a direct programmed heading which meant she spent most the three nights and days at sea constantly tending the pilot or helming herself. Exhaustion, lack of appetite and stress can all take their toll on this long and very competitive race.

“That was such a bizarre race, right from the start the weather was strange, the conditions bizarre and the wind from the outset was odd, veering north so you just kept on the east tack," Wardley continued. "The west option was there, but there was nothing substantial or even the slightest hint on the morning of the start. I had checked three different models and none gave the same information. Two people did see it though and they took it, well done to them!

"I decided to stick with the fleet. Any strategy before the start was left aside as the forecast on the first day at sea was different yet again. I am pretty happy with my decisions and where I am sailing in the fleet with some of the good boats.

"After the first night we hit no wind and you just get stuck, in this huge swell which is hard to get out of. Le Comptoir Immobilier managed to get a thread of wind which I latched on to and managed to pull through. At one point I came over hundreds of dolphins which was incredible. Then the run down from the Birvideaux [Belle Ile] again, was just bizarre with completely different condition. We had this huge rain storm and strong winds which actually really hurt your face and had to do four sail changes. There was quite a bit of separation in the fleet with the little visibility.”

At the prize giving Nicolas Troussel ( Financo) collected all the silverware: for the most distance covered over 24 hours (153 miles over 15-16 August at an average 6.4 knots), thus winning the Record Hublot, the official timekeeper for La Solitaire Afflelou Le Figaro. He also won the Grand Prix Suzuki, for reaching the first mark in first place.

Armor Lux skipper Christophe Lebas , won the ARGOS prize for the climbing up the most places between the Radio France buoy (the last mark of the inshore race in Santander) and the finish. From 35th he gained 22 places to finish 13th in Saint Gilles-Croix-de-Vie.

Christopher Pratt on Espoir Crédit Agricole won the Beneteau rookie prize on the second leg. A 12th place at the finish, puts him into the lead of the Solitaire's first time skippers.

Conversely leg one winner Gérald Veniard on Scutum went before the international sailing jury at Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie and has received a 24 minute penalty for breaking the race rule RC 4.3.1.2.

At the start in Cherbourg-Octevile, Scutum was one of three boats to chosen at random to undergo a weight check of all material taken on board. The results showed his boat's weight to be 3,850kg 100kg over the class limit. he thus concedes his first leg win to Gildas Morvan on Cercle Vert. “I held out hope that the jury would take into account the condition of the items and be lenient,” commented Veniard this morning. “But they applied and stuck to the word of the rule. I am really disappointed, even though deep down, I am convinced that sportingly, I truly won this leg. Now, I am not going to get too tied up in all that and I am going to concentrate on this third leg which could be quite tough. My continued intention is to finish in the top ten and I am going to fight tooth and nail to do so.”

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