The first night at sea of La Solitaire du Figaro's third leg proved to be as demanding as expected, with the skippers fighting strong winds, cold weather, drizzle, fog and powerful seas. There were several blown spinnakers but the whole fleet is now sailing fastly towards Ireland. After holding the lead for more than 24 hours, Thomas Rouxel, has lost first place to Armel le Cleac’h and BritAir, winner of the first two legs. Yet, nothing is carved in stone as the first 26 boats are only 5 miles apart with 150 miles to go to the finish.
Armel Le Cléac'h reported: "After rounding Wolf Rock there was a huge wind shift, more than 100°, from SW to NE, the breeze is coming from everywhere… The night was all right, I was happy to have left Brest in a good position, I was afraid of getting stuck somehow in the gulf. The sea is confused, we have a long stretch upwind tacking to the Fastnet, it won’t be easy to find the best track to Kinsale. I keep my fingers crossed.”
Last night’s Channel crossing from Portsal to Wolf Rock was wet and bumpy for the 44 skippers. “Several skippers reported breakage,” said Race Director Jacques Caraes from aboard the race management catamaran following the fleet’s progress across the Celtic Sea. The conditions cost at least a dozen spinnakers in the fleet, but this probably will no longer be relevant for the rest of the race to Ireland because, in theory, the skippers will not need them to sail to Fastnet Rock and their final destination, Kinsale.
The damage on Armel Tripon’s Gedimat looks more serious as her hull is damaged following a collision after the start in Brest. “On starboard tack there is a leak,” Tripon reported, at the same time saying that the situation seems under control and his spirits are high. No doubt that shore teams, sail makers, riggers and builders will be busy over next week in Kinsale.
The long, uncomfortable reaching conditions in winds of up to 25 knots, came to an end in the morning when the leaders rounded Wolf Rock lighthouse and entered the Celtic sea. The first skipper to reach midpoint to the finish was Thomas Rouxel (Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne). The fleet later had to deal with a sudden 90° wind shift, thanks to the quick passing of a front - the wind from the southwest veered northeasterly. Sure enough there will be more shifts to negotiate before they reach the Fastnet Rock, as confirmed by Meteo France’s weather expert Sylvain Mondon: “the wind will be shifty and unstable, coming from the northern sector”. No big news there, since before leaving Brest all the skippers stated that they very particularly wary of the Celtic Sea and its tactical tricks.
Corentin Douguet on E.Leclerc Mobile gave his take: "The wind shifted by 90° all of a sudden, it nearly got me by surprise. I had to tack quickly and now we are on port. We were heading to target on starboard before and we are doing in now on the opposite tack! We are approaching the Fastnet faster than expected, We’ve been busy since the start, no waiting game and it should be like that to the Rock, a tight schedule. It’s windy but the swell is more annoying, rough and the autopilot is not working 1005 in these conditions. You must steer. Typical August day in the Celtic sea. I’t getting better, the visibility is improving, until a hour ago you can’t see anything. Still, I like to be here.”
The tricky sea and hard tactical choices don’t seem to be a major problem for Armel Le Cleach now ahead of Thomas Rouxel (Credit Mutuel de Bretagne) and Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls). Yet the skippers are sailing in a very compact group, with only 4.5 miles separating the leader from 26th placed Italian Pietro D’Alì (I.NOVA.3). Yet another brilliant performance is being put in by Portuguese sailor Francisco Lobato (ROFF/TEMPO-TEAM), who’s been in the leading pack since the start and now lies in 12th position only two miles behind Le Cleac’h and first in the bizuths ranking.
The leaders should at the Fastnet tomorrow between 0900 and 1200 GMT while the leaders could be crossing the finish line at Old Head of Kinsale.