Tricky last night at sea
The third leg of the 2011 Solitaire du Figaro is set to finish in Les Sables d’Olonne on Wednesday around noon. The 46 boat fleet has been progressing in light sea breeze along the Brittany coast today. French skipper Jérémie Beyou on BPI is still leading, but everything could still change on the last 100 miles to the finish.
Will it be café and croissant for the finish? For over 50 hours, the 46 solo skippers have been playing the tough game of choosing the best route and getting the most of each and every little wind shift to maintain their optimum speed. That’s a game race leader Jérémie Beyou is a master at. He has been at the front of La Solitaire's third leg for the last two days, but will he manage to fend off his competitors’ attacks up to the finish line? His pursuers, in particular Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat), Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham) and Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat) have been chasing him and hope to get nearer, as daylight fades away and the sea breeze will gives way to a light northwesterly. According to the latest position report his advantage has reduced to just 0.5 miles.
Jérémie Beyou commented: "Past Penmarc’h the weather is always good. It’s nice to have some sun. There’s a breeze so we’re moving. The wind is not going to die out at least until tonight, later it will probably turn right and become north-west. We’ll have to gybe. True, when you are leading you show the way to the others. It is harder to be in front downwind. Would be great to have a bit more leeway. But they are there, close behind, and I’ll have to deal with that.”
Up to the Barges lighthouse, on a tiny rock just off Les Sables d’Olonne, there are no other marks of the course and the skippers are free to choose their route, which will nonetheless be full of traps and islands to be wary of - Glénan, Groix, Belle Ile, Ile d’Yeu. The race is far from over and the forthcoming hours will be crucial.
Phil Sharp keeps on showing good speed and tactics. At 15:30 he was reported to have jumped up one more position to sixth , less than two miles from Beyou and still the leading rookie, with second newcomer Morgan Lagravière in 11th one mile further back. Other UK solo sailors Sam Goodchild and Conrad Humphreys are still battling it out, neck-to-neck in 25th and 26th respectively. Nigel King’s overnight option did not pay off and he slipped down to 32nd while Portugal's Francisco Lobato lies in 44th.
Sam Goodchild commented: “So far it’s been very good - I broke nothing which is the first time through the race. I had a bad bit off Land's End so I was near the back and then had a better bit off Ushant, and then I think I'm back in the middle but I'm not sure. Now is beautiful sailing with sun and a bit of wind. Hopefully the wind stays but we will have to wait and see. Maybe tonight it's a bit more difficult. At the moment I’m happy and just trying to enjoy the sailing, I’m next to Jeanne Gregoire and Gildas Morvan so it’s not too bad. I’m not 100% sure what’s going to happen first with the wind, we expect it to turn light but that may happen when it gets dark and the sun is gone, I’m not too sure. We’re waiting. We still have 117 miles to the finish, so it will probably be tomorrow afternoon.”
Conrad Humphreys: "It's very difficult at the moment, very light breeze. We are five boats very close to each other, with Banque Populaire, Artemis, Vandee, myself and Think Blue. We try and make the most of the small amounts of wind to get to the finish but I think we're all very tired so it's quite difficult. I think we'll see the wind veer and come around a little bit more to the West and then the North-West and maybe we'll jibe back in towards the shore. But at the moment we've got 120 miles so it's going to be a very slow finish, may be take twenty-four hours at least to the finish.”
Savéol skipper Romain Attanasio added: “Some sun at last! I’ve to decide whether to wear shorts or not, we’re no longer used to. I’ve used a cap for the first time! Heading to Sables under spinnaker but the wind is light. Some are a bit further inshore, we’re more offshore and I’m just behind Thierry Chabagny and the leading trio. Those behind you think you’ve managed to get some lead and then bang, they come again… it’s a bit stressful. I think that something is going to happen soon, so I’ll need to be ready to take the shift. I’m not sure how that’s going to happen."
As the Solitaire skippers were starting their channel crossing yesterday a big blue 'monster' approached them, in the form of the maxi trimaran Banque Populaire V, on her was to smashing the Rolex Fastnet Race record. The crew waved and saluted some of the sailors, among whom they saw fellow crew members Thierry Chabagny and Erwan Tabarly, before sprinting away at full speed.
Thierry Chabagny commented: "A big blue bird just flew past my little Gedimat. It was amazing to watch Banque Populaire so close and she was so fast, the crew waved at me (Thierry has been sailing on the maxi tri for the last two years and is going to be on board next winter for the Jules Vernes Trophy record attempt, ed. note). It was such a joy. They did the same to Erwan and Jérémie. We’ve hoisted the spinnaker but the air is very light. We’re still moving so nothing to complain about, a nice afternoon is on the menu. I managed to sleep, had a good nap before passing the Four. I slept also after the Raz de Sein. Four 20 minute siestas, not bad at all, and I feel ok. We’re waiting for the wind to go right, a small ridge is coming towards us, tonight or tomorrow it’s going to become north-west and the way to manage this is what we’re all thinking about.”