Leaders due in at midnight
After more hours of exhausting sailing, in choppy seas and strong breeze with gusts at 30 plus knots, Armel le Cléac’h has imposed his supremacy once again at Saint Nazaire on the second leg of La Solitaire du Figaro to Brest. Jérémie Beyou and François Gabart keep alternating in second position, ready to launch the final attack. The latest ETA for leaders is around midnight - brilliant performances by the newcomers to the race, Francisco Lobato and Anthony Marchand.
At 2157 last night, Armel le Cleac’h Brit Air’s skipper and winner of La Solitaire's first leg, rounded SN1 mark with the young François Gabart (Skipper Macif 2010) and Jérémie Beyou (BPI) followed him. The fleet then took on the long stretch up the Brittany coast. Tacking upwind towards Brest in a northerly/northwesterly breeze, the 45 solo skippers had their best helming, manoeuvring and strategic abilities put to the test on the last 115 miles.
“I try to sail as I want to, after SN1 we’ve been upwind, tacking frequently," commented Le Cleac'h. "I do my best to keep at bay my nearest competitors Jerem and François (Beyou and Gabart ed. note). It’s stressful, that’s for sure. The game is not over and you can’t be somewhere else, we made our choice. Feels fine to be in the lead once again but Brest is still way to go. Physically I’m all right, I ate, changed my clothes, dried the boat that was pretty wet, there was water everywhere, actually… I will concede myself one or two naps before Penmarch to be ready to deal with the Bay d’Audierne, the raz de Sein and the final miles to Brest.”
As was anticipated before the start Francisco Lobato is putting in a superb show. He might have finished last into Gijon after a catastrophic leg for him, but on this second leg, the naval architect from Lisbon aboard ROFF/TEMPO-TEAM seems to have quickly recovered in an exceptional way. His sixth place overall, second among the newcomers say it all. He is being duelling with fellow Solitaire first timer Anthony Marchand on Espoir Region Bretagne to be first rookie into Brest and at the latest position reports they were less than one mile apart They not only fight for the honour of being the best young skipper, but also for the Bénéteau special ranking that awards each winner’s leg with a cheque worth 800 Euros.
Lobato commented: “I feel good, it’s a weird sensation to be in the leading pack. Yet, there is still a long way to go. I broke my spinnaker boom, made some temporary repairs with what I could find on board but I guess we don’t need to use it to get to Brest. I’ve been sailing in Armel’s group since the start, then he sped away and now I can see Fabien and Anthony Marchand… The first night was hard, didn’t sleep much and, all in all, I never slept for more than 15 or 20 minutes in a row. I’m starting to feel tired.”
Italian veteran Pietro D’Alì on I.NOVA.3 has just left the scoreboard top ten and is now 11th, but well into the leading group only 4.50 miles form the leader.
Other non-French skippers are double Velux 5 Oceans winner Bernard Stamm on Cheminée Poujoulat who is 19th, leading Isabelle Joschke (Synergie) by just 0.10 miles and under 10 miles from the top while Jonny Malbon (Artemis) has fallen nearly 17 miles behind. Malbon has informed the race management that he has an autopilot problem, which explains his last place. The Artemis team are unable to clarify whether the pilot is working at all or not but Jonny is in for some extended helming periods, and will clearly be off the pace.
There has been a major setback for Frédéric Duthil on BBox Bouygues Telecom. Strong French skipper at 0803 today called Race Direction to announce that he was abandoning and was heading to Lorient. Duthil decided to take part to this years' La Solitaire du Figaro despite having broken his right elbow some weeks previous to the start. He made every possible effort to be on the line in Le Havre and to race. But last night his condition worsened and the pain being nearly unbearable, he decided to abandon La Solitaire. The race is undoubtedly losing one of the race's favourites.
Race Management issued the newest ETA for the leaders who could sail past the finish line, placed just a few hundreds metres from shore and the Oceanopolis Aquarium in Brest, at around midnight, which could mean a huge public waiting to welcome the sailors on the pontoons.