First four in within four minutes after 230 miles
After two night and three days non-stop, two of France's top singlehanded fleets, the Figaro and the Mini, have just completed the 320 mile long Solo Figaro Massif Marine from Les Sables d'Olonne on a complex course looping Ile d'Yeu, Belle Ile down to ile de Ré and back to LSD.
As impressive as ever, in the Figaro fleet the first four boats finished within four minutes of each other, Portugal's Francisco Lobato on ROFF beaten to the line by Nicolas Lunven on Generali, followed by Anthony Marchand on Espoir Région Bretagne and Fabien Delahaye on Port de Caen Ouisterham.
After winning the Mini Transat in 2009 and last autumn's Route du Rhum in the Class 40, Thomas Ruyant on Destination Dunkerque came home sixth (behind Jeanne Gregoire and Banque Populaire) to claim the prize for the first bizuth/rookie finisher.
Four boats failed to finish including former Mini sailor Charlie Dalin who, aboard Keopsys, was forced to abandon the race after he went down below for a moment to check his charts while his yacht collided with a fishing vessel, damaging the crash box. A further three competitors retired due to equipment failure.
Brits taking part included Sam Davies on the aptly named Because I'm A Girl and Conrad Humphries on Blue Climate and Oceans Project who finished 17th and 18th respectively in the 21 boat fleet.
For Sam Davies, this was her first Figaro race in five years following, of course, her highly successful Vendee Globe, this being a stop gap from the IMOCA class until some wise corporate entity sees the sense in backing her for the next solo non-stop round the world race (generous offers of sponsorship here).
According to Sam, held in 20-25 knots the race was a brutal opener to the season and very physical. "I have become such a lazy arse sailing Open 60s for too long!" In fact she spoke to other competitors who admitted that for they too had had no time to eat, drink or rest. "It was the same for everyone which was very reassuring."
Sam admits that she nearly had to abandon when her autopilot stopped working on the way up to Belle Ile. "I didn’t have any spares and in the Figaro you can’t tie the helm because it is not balanced. You are stuck to the helm like an idiot!" Miraculously she managed to locate the fault to the wire connecting the rudder reference unit to the ram. "You wouldn’t want to look at my track for the hour I was trying to diagnose the problem and fix it."
Earlier two of the favourites nearly found their races over. Sam was just behind Jeanne Gregoire and Francisco Lobato approaching one mark - a concrete column beneath the bridge going across to Ile de Re - when the two boats ahead of her were involved in a nasty crunch. The rounding was going to be exciting in any case given that there was 20-25 knots of wind at the time plus two knots of current and they were heading into this rather robust mark under kites, singlehanded. For Gregoire and Lobato it was a little too exciting.
"You can imagine - with the incoming speed and dropping their spinnakers Jeanne and Francisco pushed it a bit hard, they ended up crashing, because they were too close and next to each other. When you have to put your autopilot on to drop the kit you need a few degrees each side to handle the conditions and they hadn't left enough gap. Jeanne was pretty cross - her boat had a lot of damage." Yet both boats managed to finish.
Physically the hardest part of the race was the 80 mile long tight reach up to Belle Ile when Sam says everyone thought it was going to lift. "It was really full on. A lot of people struggled. But Adrien Hardy he hoisted his kite and he took two miles out of me on that 80 mile reach. He must have been sailing it really physically. He was sailing the same angle as I did. I had my small kite and he may have managed to keep his big one."
More pics of Sam...and more on her program for this year next week.
According to Conrad Humphrey's people: "Conrad’s goal was to finish and come away from the race having learnt more about the boat and himself. After an initial poor start, his recovery back to mid-fleet was encouraging and for most of the race he was never more than a few miles adrift of the leaders. He lost ground on the long downwind leg back to Les Sables and eventually crossed the finish in 18th place amongst 25 starters this morning at 08:33 hrs (French time)."
Conrad said: “That was brilliant. I loved the intensity. One mistake and you’re punished by 5-10 places. The top French guys and girls are amazing sailors. It was great to line up with them. I’ve learnt a huge amount.”
Commenting on his result he said “I was pleased with my performance in the first half of the race. I stuck to my strategy, my tactics and speed were good as were the manoeuvres (tacking and gibeing). However, I didn’t sleep at all on the first day and started to suffer the fatigue on the second day. I have learnt that I must grab a bit of sleep when I can. The competition is amazing, everything they do is finely honed. They are certainly the Olympians of the offshore sailing world”.
Figaro finishing times
1- Nicolas Lunven (GENERALI) in 07h04 46 sec
2- Francisco Lobato (ROFF) in 7h05 56 sec
3- Anthony Marchand (Espoir Région Bretagne) in 07h07 52 sec
4- Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen - Ouistreham) in 07h08 39 sec
5- Jeanne Grégoire (Banque Populaire) in 07h20 17 sec
6- Thomas Ruyant (Destination Dunkerque) in 07h23 33 sec – 1st Bizuth
7- Morgan Lagravière (VENDEE) in 07h29 38 2nd Bizuth
8- Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement) in 07h30 12 sec
9- Laurent Gouézigoux (Trier c'est préserver) in 07h36 33 sec
10- Yoann Richomme (DLBC) in 07h39 49 sec
11- Laurent Bourgues (Prim'Soins) in 07h48 47 sec 3ème Bizuth
12- Xavier Macaire (Starter / Active Bridge) in 07h48 47 sec
13- Isabelle Joschke (Galettes Saint Michel) in 07h51 20 sec
14- Loïc Le Garrec (500 pour 100) in 07h58 18 sec
15- David Sineau (Rabbits Forever) in 08h03 03 sec
16- Nicolas Jossier (Impulsion - Entreprendre en Pays Granvillais) in 08h05 51 sec
17- Samantha Davies (Because I am a girl) in 08h12 43 sec
18- Conrad Humphreys (Blue Climate and Oceans Project) in 08h33 48 sec
19- Giancarlo Pedote (Prysmian) in 08h38 17 sec
20- Michel Bothuon (Les Recycleurs Bretons) in 9h17 48 sec
21- Olivier Caplain (Jaidimat) ) 10h15 24 sec
Photos: Bernard Gergaud