Upwind into 30 knots
The second leg of La Solitaire du Figaro got off today in Baie de Sein, opposite Ouistreham with thousands of people lining the canal and outer harbour wall to wave the solo sailors off.
The start of the race was finally given under sunny skies in some 8 knots of southwesterly breeze and a choppy sea. The course, starting with a 10 mile inshore leg to the Radio France Buoy, is 470 miles to Dún Laoghaire Harbour, on the east coast of Ireland, where the fleet is expected from Wednesday.
Forecasts predict both strong wind and tides for what unanimously has been agree will be a complex first 24 hours at sea.
The many spectator boats and thousands of people lining the Bay were treated to a fabulous spectacular for the start of the second leg, which finally got underway at 16:49, some 50 minutes late. The delay was due to getting the Figaros, committee and security boats out of the lock in Ouistreham, due to an incident in the harbour. This was then further increased when the committee was forced to re-set the start line.
Three individual recalls were called for Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert), Paul Meilhat (MACIF 2011) and Sam Goodchild (Artemis) who were OCS, but managed to quickly recross. Eric Drouglazet (Luisina) and Portugal's Francisco Lobato (ROFF) got off to the best starts at the committee boat end of the line. Eric Peron (MACIF 2009), Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat), Frederic Duthil (Sepalunic) and Jeremy Beyou (BPI) exchanged the lead round the 10 mile windward-leeward inshore course to reach the Radio France buoy ahead of the competition.
The best performance from the international entries was that of Francisco (ROFF) who rounded in ninth followed by Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) in 11th.
The solo sailors will now face "upwind conditions that could last 250 miles" as Nicolas Bérenger, the experienced Figaro sailor and now coaches, explained it. "It's going to be very technical. They must keep up the speed and make sure they reach Barfleur before the tide changes at 23:00 tonight."
The low pressure system that is due to cross the fleet tonight is forecast to bring 25 knots, with gusts of up to 35. "The passage of the front we will get tonight over the Cotentin coastline, is going to be tough. We should get the most wind on the approach to Guernsey but it is the passage at the raz Blanchard where we are going to have to take special care because it is where you get the strongest current in France", muses Vincent Biarnes (Prati'Bûches) just before the start.
"The interesting part of the first 24 hours of the race will be the passages of Barfleur and then the Cherbourg peninsula which you need to get right", agrees Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics).
Prior to the start, skippers gave their opinions:
Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence): "Leg 2 is probably 100 miles longer than leg one and it is probably going to be to be upwind as well, so could take three days really. I have taken a lot of food and a lot of tea, just to keep my spirits going! Granny's fruit cake is coming with me and that is going to be very good ballast, much needed ballast for maximum righting moment upwind. It has been really quite relaxing in Caen. I have managed to get things done gradually as we had quid a few days as opposed to it being chaotically at the last minute. It is a beautiful city to be in, the fact that we were right in the centre with the boats is quite incredible really."
Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics): "The morning before the start I mainly need to concentrate on and check the weather. We should have fun for the start of the race with the inshore course in the Bay. Then the interesting part of the first 24 hours of the race will be the passages of Barfleur and then the Cherbourg peninsula which you need to get right. There is strong current there and you really need to get passed before the tide turns. The later you get there the worse it will be. For my trip I am taking some Eat Natural cereal bars, apparently the healthiest ones! I really just want to enjoy the leg and not se myself any targets and just to enjoy the leg, sail well and not worry about the result."
Nicolas Bérenger (now a coach): "In general, it is always a bit difficult to wake up. Whatever the conditions expected are, you still get exited. The muscles might be a bit stiff and especially knowing that it is going to that you head out into into what is going to be t and cold you just might stay in bed that little bit longer, sit and enjoy the breakfast a few more minutes… The leg in a few words: "It's close, the close and still close. The upwind conditions could last 250 miles. It's going to be very technical. They must keep up the speed and make sure they teach Barfleur before the tide changes and be alert and prepared for the wind rotation. The last point is the passage of the ridge heading up to the Irish Sea, which will need to be handled well in order to maximise and not get left behind. This is going to be a very a complete and tough leg."
Vincent Biarnes (Prati'Bûches): "Weather forecasts confirmed: there will be plenty of wind and strong seas and it is going to be a matter of upwind sailing pretty much all the way to the western tip of Cornwall. It is going to be full on and although we have all been preparing for this over the past few days, the passage of the front we expect tonight over the Cotentin coastline, is going to be tough. We should get the most wind on the approach to Guernsey but it is the passage at the raz Blanchard that we are going to have to take special care because it is where you get the strongest current in France. We will be sailing at night, upwind against the current and in strong wind conditions all whilst keeping a very close eye on our screens to sail round the rocks. We could see some gaps build on the crossing of the Channel and where the lateral distance will also build. Towards the end of the race the ridge and low breeze will need careful negotiation before the long spinnaker run, in a good breeze to the finish. There is lots of opportunities to make the most of and I foresee a lot of helming and careful boat handling in the rough conditions.
Fred Duthil (Sepalumic): "Compared to what happened on the first stage (note. penalty by one hour), I have no choice but to tell myself that we must start from scratch and that things can be done. This leg looks like it is going to be windy with some very complicated passages. One particularly dangerous one is at the Raz Blanchard. I think we could see some boats in trouble there and therefore see some gaps build. We have to sail carefully and be vigilant. When you sail on a direct course in the strong win, it is fine, but then trying to get round rocky areas in 30 to 35 knots of wind at night with rain, you feel a little less confident. The leg is long and there will be opportunities later on after the Channel crossing when further gaps could be built and where the fleet could also compress. I am going to be careful on this leg and try and do well to finish in the top five."