At precisely 12:00 the start gun of the third leg of the Solitaire du Figaro fired: 477 miles from Dún Laoghaire to Les Sables d’Olonne. The public crowded the pier to wave goodbye to the 46 skippers. But soon the sunny, warm, pleasant conditions sunny gave way to the rain, wind gusts and a roulette game for the solo sailors.
This morning on the pontoons of Dun Laoghaire, an unusual fatigue marked the sailors’ faces, as everyone talked about the latest weather forecast. The hint was “to be wary” of the apparent simplicity of the 477 miles to Les Sables. And wary they had to be since the very first minutes of the inshore race the situation appeared to be not the simplest one.
In extremely tricky conditions, with the breeze shifting and coming from all directions, going from 5 to 15 knots in a matter of seconds, it was hard for the sailors to 'read' on the water where the next puff was coming from and going from the top to the bottom of the fleet was just a question of not be stuck in a patch of light air.
At the Radio France mark a trio of Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham), Vincent Biarnes (Prati’Bûches) and Jeanne Grégoire (Banque Populaire) had pulled out a huge lead on the rest of the fleet, but then soon after everything changed dramatically. As Jeanne Gregoire put it: “For once I started well, but now I’m trailing at the back of the fleet. It’s a, mess but you have to have fun anyway…When I was going downwind under spinnaker to the Radio France mark, I crossed Isa (Isabelle Joschke) and I told her: don’t worry there is always the CLS ranking. I had two or three miles lead on her but she just flew past me… Now I’ve got 25 knots and two minutes ago I had 2!”
According to the latest position report, at 16:00 it was Portugual's Francisco Lobato (ROFF) that was marginally ahead of the experienced Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) and on overall leader Jérémie Beyou (BPI). First British skipper was reported to be young Sam Goodchild (Artemis) in 14th position and third in the special newcomers’ 'rookie' standings, chased by Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence). Conrad Humphreys (DMS) was in 21st position while Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics) in 42nd.
The next mark is Wolf Rock (at the tip of Cornwall), of over 180 miles away and it is likely that the fleet will keep on sailing on a long starboard tack. For now it’s impossible to say which side of the track will prove the best option. The answer will only be known tomorrow, around noon, when the sailors will be approaching the Scilly Islands.
Before the leg one winner Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham) commented: “Another Irish kind of start… Actually it’s like starting all it over again. We had light wind, current, rainstorms. It’s not so funny, I’m no longer in the lead. I hope this is going to settle and the wind stops to do the yo-yo, as long as we’re we’re sailing leeward of the Irish coast you have to get what you get.”
Vincent Biarnes (Prati’Bûches) added “The breeze has been increasing since we passed the Radio France mark. Fabien and I we had such a lead, but now, it is gone. The wind turned so quickly, could not manage to take the spinnaker down and the boat was going her own way! It’s very shifty and the air coming down the cliffs is strong and gusty. Fabien overtook me just before the mark, he got a better puff and jumped ahead, no more than ten seconds enough to cross the line in front of me.”
Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) on the eve of the start said: “I’m quite pleased for how things are going actually. It’s great to be up there with the front group, I’ve had a bit of a heck just before the finish of the last leg, lost lots of places there but I’m very confident on how things have gone. I’ll try and keep it going, hopefully finish in the top ten another couple of times, it would be very nice. Keep things clean, that’s what we have to do in this race. Keep the pace and be consistent, make the right decision make sure you don’t burn yourself up for the finish. We’re probably going to have south westerly so it’s going to be reaching or close reaching, not much chance to use our spinnaker, not until we get to Brittany, and it’s going to be tactical all the way. Some very interesting choices to make and particularly when we look at the time we will be approaching the raz de Sein which are crucial points to go around. That tack could change everything in the race, if you make a mistake there it can be very costly. Hopefully the tide will be with us, otherwise we won’t be moving very quickly. I think you have to do a strategy to minimize the risk. I’m going to go for speed but keep risk very light. It’s just not all or nothing. Having yourself in the top ten near the finish and making sensible decision to keep in there… Better than going for a wild strategy early on and then find yourself in the back of the fleet and be forced to make up two hours.”
Sam Goodchild (Artemis) added: "Looks like there will be less wind so it will be more racing than survival. That should be good, hopefully we keep moving all the time, but it’s not guaranteed at the moment. I've got my spinnakers back. I don't really know why they keep breaking. We've reinforced everything we know that might break it and we've just got to try not to break them through Leg 3. I’ve learned a lot about management in the previous leg, learning about yourself, the boat, how to go fast, get the right way, it’s a steep learning curve. Generally it’s enjoyable, it’s up and downs, you try to enjoy it, sailing is what I want to do so….”