Two girls lead the Figaro

Liz Wardley's westerly option reaps dividends as boats near Dingle at the end of leg three of La Solitaire Afflelou le Figaro

Monday August 21st 2006, Author: Sabina Mollart Rogerson, Location: France
Since the early morning two girls, for the first time in Figaro history, lead the fleet of 44 competitors taking part in La Solitaire Afflelou le Figaro race. Jeanne Grégoire ( Banque Populaire) and Liz Wardley ( Sojasun) have had tongues wagging among Figaro pundits. Jeanne Grégoire is competing for the fifth time in this effective world championship of singlehanded offshore racing. Wardley, originally from Papau New Guinea, was 39th yesterday morning and less than 24 hours later by taking a westerly option she has moved into second place - an impressive climb! Just 0.2 miles separate the two sailors at 1100GMT with only 25 miles left to go to the finish.

Jeanne Grégoire has remained either within close range or in the lead since the start of this leg from Les Gilles Croix de Vie last Friday.

Armel Le Cléac’h on Brit’Air, with the leaders yesterday, had dropped to 20th place by 1100 today. “I did not negotiate the crossing of the front very well last night, so I've taken two wind shifts badly and been passed by lots of boats - two very expensive mistakes. It was hard to see, it was raining and the visibility was not good, but then it is not all over yet.”

The Figaro visits Dingle on the southwest coast of Ireland for the third time. It is a stopover that is popular and eagerly awaited by both sailors and shore crew alike. “Ireland is magnificent, I remember we came here three years ago but it was at night and in a dead calm so it’s nice to see this in the daylight. I am looking forward to the southwest coast and the Bay of Dingle, which is stunning.” sia dle Cleac'h earlier. “I did not know there were two girls in the lead, which I think is just perfec - it would be good to have a girl win a leg of La Solitaire, it has not happened for a long time.”

32 years to be exact. The last and only time a woman has won a leg of La Solitaire was in 1975, when a young 28-year old English rookie sailor by the name of Clare Francis created furore by winning the third and final leg on her boat Bergasol.

“Jeanne is clearly in among the leaders on each race and she has really negotiated the course well and not made many mistakes and deserves a win. I went further to land and it looks like I made a mistake. It seems to be going well out west to for Liz,” continued le Cleac'h who adds that his“objective is to not lose too much time on the water and my third place. I am keeping a look out on Yann (Eliès on Groupe Generali Assurances) who is ahead of me and Gérald (Veniard on Scutum) who has gone off closer to shore.” These two are his closest rivals to his third spot in the overall results.

Hours from the finish, there is still all to play. Nicolas Troussel ( Financo) has made a move out to the west past Leck Rock in order to have the tide with him on his approach to Great Skellig Lighthouse, whilst the two leaders, passing Dursey Island close to shore, risk losing ground as they head to Puffin Island against the tide. Yann Eliès ( Groupe Generali Assurances) and Thierry Chabagny ( Littoral) have moved into 5th and 6th places respectively. Again they have chosen to position themselves further east to have the tide with them.

It promises to be a nail biting finish for the leaders as they cover the final miles to the finish in the Bay of Dingle expected around 8 pm.

Comments from the boats at lunchtime today:

Nicolas Troussel ( Financo): “The end of the leg will be quite stressful and lots of things can still happen. I am okay and have had rest whenever I could, so all has gone well up to now and lets hope it carries on like this. It is not over yet, but for sure it is going well on the water and I am pleased with my race to now, the trajectory was ok without too many risks.

Liz had nothing to lose, so she has just gone for it and deserves it and Thierry has also made a daring move yesterday to realign which puts him back in the match. We will have to keep an eye on him because he is going to go for the attack. Jeanne is a grafter, she goes and does weights alone in the gym and never stops. Her position therefore does not surprise me, it’s great. I have a feeling that some of the favourites must be quite down the pan, Yann, Charles …”

Jeanne Grégoire ( Banque Populaire): “I am a bit scared because up until now I have sailed well and been enjoying the racing. I think I came out on the wrong side, but then maybe it's not all bad. It could finish differently and I am going to have to put all my energy into it. I have not had any boat speed problems since the start. I was the only one with my genoa up last night and pushed really hard. I don’t think we will have that Guinness for at least another four hours. The tide should change which could shake up the positions. I have been at it all morning but there is no way of saying what is going to happen. Nico (Troussel) has gone offshore, which makes me slightly worried. We had 3 or 4 knots and now it is more like 5 to 6…it looks like we will finish with a spinnaker run. There will be time to talk about all that later tonight at the bar and time to tune the sails.”

Liz Wardley (Sojasun): “I am pleased after seeing the latest ranking report…it’s cool. Before the start I saw that it could work out in the west. I had a few doubts but then but this morning I am really pleased, but there is still a lot to do. I have not slept but I can’t either.”

Erwan Israël ( Delta Dore) in 17th place position at 1100GMT: “Whatever - Ireland is truly beautiful. You can see the landscape and it is quite magnificent. If all goes well we will come in with some wind. Finally we will be able to breathe because it is beginning to get really tough. I did not handle the night in the calm off Ireland well. It is really quite fantastic for Jeanne, she has blown me away since the start, since the first leg she has been quite impressive. It is quite a thing to have two girls in the lead on the toughest leg. They both train like mad at Port La Foret. I am with a little group made up of Thomas Rouxel, Gildas Mahé and Gildas Morvan. This race is going to stick in our minds as being really great from start to finish. Under the rain at night you never really know where you are, back or front…then it is reassuring to see Armel Le Cléac’h close by.”

Christophe Lebas ( Armor Lux): “It is quite fun, I am not unhappy where I am. It can’t be to bad for Liz (Wardley) either. There is a lot at stake and yet again the weather models do not agree with each other. It is always tricky arriving in Ireland so I am trying to get some sleep before and hope that all the little bars won’t be closed before I get in tomorrow night!”

Gildas Morvan ( Cercle Vert, 14th and 5.6 miles from the leader): “It is what we had forecast: the passage of the front and ensuing trough once passing the Fastnet…it is calming and becoming very light, there is drizzle and not much visibility but then we have to just make do with it. I put the autopilot on in wind mode and keep an eye on the sails and make the most of the time to tidy up the boat and feel ready for the finish. Yesterday I was in a tacking duel with Delta Dore and it went well. I am not sure if you should be on the left or on the right, at times one side is better than the other…I just do not know, we just have to wait and see…when we get out of this calm area! The weather system is moving slowly and I think that the wind could gradually build and come in from the west.”

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