Photo: Courcoux-Marmara/Le Figaro

Second consecutive win for Beyou

BPI looking good for La Solitaire du Figaro victory

Wednesday August 17th 2011, Author: Sabin Mollart-Rogerson, Location: France

Crossing the line today 08:39, Jérémie Beyou on BPI won the third leg of La Solitaire du Figaro, his second victory in a row. Leg one winner Fabien Delahaye on Port de Caen Ouistreham followed just four minutes later while Erwan Tabarly won a final tacking duel with Thierry Chabagny to take the third place on the podium.

There was an eerie atmosphere in the early morning hours off Les Sables d’Olonne, amid a huge thunderstorm with dark skies, heavy rain, thunder and lightning illuminating the grey sea. But the brightest light of all was that of Jérémie Beyou, crossing the finish line of the third leg of the Solitaire du Figaro first. The Lorient-based skipper of BPI won his second consecutive leg, leading for over 400 of the 477 total miles and further consolidating his overall position as race leader.

“I didn’t manage really to escape ever since the start and sailing down the Irish Sea my competitors were always close behind chasing me," commented Beyou. "At times I thought that I was doing all this hard work and then only going to get second place. I didn’t start well, but I pushed like mad to get nearer the front of the fleet, it was quite nerve-wracking all whilst trying to control my adversaries. Winning a leg and having been in the lead for nearly the whole time is just brilliant. The hardest parts were the start and the finish, both with rain and thunderstorms. I tried to stay focused. Being pursued is not the situation I like most, because it’s psychologically very tiring, especially downwind. The gybe off Belle-Île was a crucial point: I gybed first but Erwan (Tabarly) and Fabien (Delahaye) didn’t follow suit. So I tried again and they all did: Nicolas (Lunven) a bit too early and Jean-Pierre (Nicol) was too offshore… Only Fabien Delahaye and Erwan Tabarly followed and they were less than half mile back, with fifty miles still to go! One more leg to go and for some of the competitors, like Gildas Morvan, the race is pretty much over but there are so many left in the game…”

His adversaries, Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen-Ouistreham), Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat), Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat), Nicolas Lunven (Generali) and Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls) tried to play catch up by staying close behind, but eventually none managed to overtake him, as Fabien Delahaye lamented: “We just could not keep his pace - he was simply too fast”. The young sailor from Normandy is however the rising star in La Solitaire: having won the first leg in his home waters, his finish on this leg has elevated him to second overall 34 minutes and 15 seconds behind Beyou.

Delahaye commented: “I couldn’t be first, so I finished second: I’m happy. Jérémie Beyou did everything right, was always in the right place and when the wind was shifting, those in the back coming closer, he kept his nerve and his leadership. I was unable to keep the pace in the Irish Sea; he was just too fast. But I did manage to get past Erwan (Tabarly) under spinnaker last night; maybe I was just not as tired as he was. And then there were the thunderstorms: lightning, thunder… it was really scary, one hit really close to the boat! I switched all the electronics off and just took real care not to touch anything. Winning in the end always comes down to the accumulations of lots of small things, when the wind veers you have to be there and ready, not tack fifty metres too late, as was the case for me at the Four. You tack too late, and it takes a whole day to get back those precious metres… There were some moments of gains, like when we gybed last night, passing the Four and the raz de Sein. It’s my second podium in this Solitaire du Figaro, it’s my best result on the Figaro so far. Now we will have to wait to see how I do on the last leg, what is for sure is that Jérémie is the king of the Figaro he is simply the best!

The leg from Dùn Laoghaire to Les Sables d’Olonne consisted of reaching conditions, just a short stretch on an upwind tack and downwind stretch along the Brittany coast, always in light to medium breeze, allowing the boats to keep on the move all times. No extreme conditions then, no big strategical options to take, but a series of passages and wind transitions to be handled with great care. Speed and routeing where key too. The effects of careful navigation and maintaining maximum speed are evident in the provisional overall ranking. After leg three skippers like Frédéric Duthil (Sepalumic), Paul Meilhat (Macif 2011), Morgan Lagravière (Vendée) and Xavier Macaire (Starter Active Bridge) jump up the overall scoreboard by 10 and 20 places.

Paradoxically, a leg that on paper did not look particularly difficult ended up creating huge gaps in the overall ranking. Among the biggest losers, are the early favourites, Eric Drouglazet (Luisina), who finished in 30th and is now over two and a half hours behind, and race veteran Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) whose option to stay windward of Belle Ile proved catastrophic, finishing 37th 3 hours and 36 minutes behind the leader, he slipped down to 29th in the overall ranking.

Britain’s Phil Sharp on The Spirit of Independence, upon his arrival to the pontoon seemed more annoyed than disappointed. After being in the leading pack since the second day and having been first among the rookies, he ran out of luck when a big lump of seaweed got stuck round his keel. The Jersey sailor lost many places, finally crossing the line in 20th.

“I ended up with a big clump of weed and I didn’t know what it was," he fumed. "I was in fifth place before we gybed, and when I gybed I couldn’t get any speed out of the boat. I thought it was me, I was quite tired and I wasn’t thinking too rationally, I thought I did something wrong with my trim. I was going slowly maybe for about one hour. But eventually I looked under the keel and there was a huge mass of seaweed. I was losing about one knot of boat speed. Then I looked for my weed stick and I didn’t have it, it must have fallen off the boat so I tried using a line to get the weed off and that didn’t work. Then I decided that the only thing to do was to stop the boat, take the spinnaker down, reverse the boat and put the spinnaker back up. I managed to free the weed, and then the boat was going instantly much faster again. I managed to get some places back, finish fast. I am disappointed but very encouraged at the same time, annoyed that I couldn’t put all that work into a result. I was playing quite a conservative game because it’s very easy to loose, I was quite happy with my tactics. It really worked, I was in a hunt for a top finish and one of the problems was when it went light off of Penmarch’, the people from behind had a bit of an advantage because they could get inshore more easily, where there was more breeze, and then a better angle of sail. Needless to say, by the time we all have gone out and gybed I was in fifth place and definitely thinking of a chance to be in the top five… but it was much more complicated than that. I was very tired during the race, I didn’t get much sleep on the first night, I slept about one hour and a half each night otherwise I could not function and then yesterday I was falling asleep at the helm. I think that the tiredness just catches up on you, cumulatively, leg four will be even worse…”

British Sam Goodchild (Artemis), the youngest sailor competing in the Solitaire, finished 27th, but confirmed that he’s a fast learner. His fellow countrymen Conrad Humpreys (DMS) and Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics) crossed in 29th and 39th respectively. It was another leg  to forget for Portugual's Francisco Lobato, who after a good start, slipped progressively back in the fleet and finished in 40th with a huge time deficit of over 4 hours.

Goodchild commented: “Much better, I’m improving all the way which is good, I still could have done better but I’m happy, I didn’t break anything and I made mistakes like you normally do but I enjoyed it, it was a good race.... Yesterday was downwind and was quite encouraging. I managed to find a few good guys and keep up with them, which was quite a good morale boost for me.”

Conrad Humphreys added: “That was a real tactical toughie, actually. I got really stuck at the beginning, a group of 6 or 7 of us went a little bit offshore and we got becalmed and we just watched everyone sail away. I lost a little bit of time twice, I slept and forgot to put the alarm on and I lost some tactics so there’s a valuable lesson to be learned there. There was an amazing thunderstorm this morning. I had lightening and thunder simultaneously over my head, I was amazed the rig didn’t get hit, flashes were hitting the water either side of the boat, it was quite terrifying actually.”

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