Photo: Courcoux-Marmara/Le Figaro

Rock hopping around the Cherbourg peninsula

Jean-Pierre Nicol into the lead of leg two of La Solitaire du Figaro

Monday August 8th 2011, Author: Sabina Mollart-Rogerson, Location: France

There has been plenty of action in the first 24 hours of racing on the second leg of La Solitaire du Figaro from Caen to Dún Laoghaire, Dublin.

Jean-Pierre Nicol, racing on board Bernard Controls moved into the lead following the bold decision to race in close to shore through the rocky area round the Cherbourg peninsula this morning, while David Sineau on Britanie Cosmetiques has been forced to abandon the race as a result of the damage suffered after hitting the rocks close to Barfleur. 20-25 knots of WNWerly wind continues to propel the fleet on the upwind slog across the English Channel towards Land's End, where the leaders are expected late Monday into the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Soon after Sunday's start the fleet was hit by a strong squall which left Louis Maurice Tannyères on St. Ericsson with a ripped genoa and the accompanying French Naval Patrol ship, PSP Cormoran salvaging some drifting paddlers and holidaying fisherman from being swept out into the Channel.

Overnight the solo sailors covered the first 120 miles from Caen across the Cotentin coastline, round the Cherbourg peninsula and down between Sark and Hern to round Guernsey a relatively strong 25 knots of wind, gusting 35. Local knowledge of the tricky tidal currents and rocky seaboard came in handy as the fleet negotiated the complicated passages; Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls) being the boldest to sail on the inside of the Gros du Raz lighthouse through a very narrow channel in rough seas. The gamble paid off to give him a mile advantage over the chasing pack.

14 miles now separate the fleet laterally, with Eric Peron (Macif 2009, 17th and 2.6 miles from the leader) positioned furthest out to the west and Sam Goodchild (Artemis, 36th and 5.4 miles from the leader) out on the eastern side. Average boat speeds have slowed to just over 6 knots as they make headway to Land's End.

“We have clear blue skies this afternoon with a swell and choppy seas, 20 to 25 knots of established breeze ” described Jacques Caraës, Race Director, from the sea. “I imagine that now is the time for the solo sailors to try and get some rest in, let the autopilot do its job for a bit in the upwind conditions. There will be one more tack to realign and pass round Land's End which we should reach late tonight or early hours of the morning Tuesday."

Jérémie Beyou (BPI), Frédéric Duthil (Sepalumic), rookie sailor Morgan Lagravière (Vendée), in 4th, Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat), Eric Drouglazet (Luisina), Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert), and a list that reads like the Who's Who of Figaro sailing race are within a few hundred yards of each other as they continue to make inroads on the 290 miles that remain to the finish in Dún Laoghaire. Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) is the first British sailor, currently lying in 15th place and just 2.2 miles from the leader. Anthony Marchand (Bretagne Crédit Mutuel Espoir), who reported a non-functioning autopilot shortly after the start, holds to 28th with a 4.3 mile deficit. With 12 miles now separating the leader from the trailing boat, Sébastien Picault on Kickers, the time gap under the current 6 knots of average boat speed, has built to two hours.

Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls) commented: "It has gone well for me so far: the first part of this leg was important off Cherbourg when I had to come in close to shore to shelter from the tidal currents. Then I went through the rocky are, which was pretty hairy. I just stayed below deck and used the autopilot and concentrated on watching the nav screen to get through the narrow passage. I did not want to be outside, it was too frightening! Now we are pretty much all on a port tack. It feels good being in the leading position, lets hope it lasts! This afternoon, we are making progress with the wind to the left (west) and in the coming hours, we should have a new rotation to the right (Northwest). We are expected to reach Land's End (tip of England) in the night or early morning ... "

Anthony Marchand (British Espoir Crédit Mutuel) reported: "I have had a few problems which started just outside Ouistreham. Firstly it was no electronics whatsoever. I have basically been stuck at the help since the start. The inshore start racing with the spinnaker was not easy at all in the waves. Then the night was difficult because I had no wind information. But all that is old news now. I have to limit the damage and keep the time deficit down to a minimum. Now I have changed to the solent jib, which means that there are 25 knots and it is shaking out here!”

Eric Drouglazet (Luisina) said: "These are my kind of conditions and it was nice to go race in through the rocky area. We did that for the Tour de France à la Voile, but there, all alone with the screen on your knees, it's quite something to be right in the middle of the rocks and race round inside the lighthouse at La Hague. But then at night, you see nothing, so there is less fear! Since then, I have put the solent jib on and I have managed three short naps. Currently we are on a port tack. No glitches to report on board: it's pretty good and normal, but then conditions should ease off a little. The only real issue is the seaweed which you have to keep clearing from the rudders.”

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