Amid several dozens of spectator boats and under a bright blue, sunny sky and perfect flat sea conditions, at 10:12 GMT the 46 boats and their solo skippers set off on La Solitaire du Figaro's fourth and final 437 mile long leg from Les Sables d’Olonne to Dieppe.
One could not have asked for better weather for the start despite a weather forecast predicting rainstorms and light fickle winds. Just as is the case prior to the start of the Vendee Globe so Les Sables d'Olonne turned out in force lining the docks and the harbours for the long run out of the harbour to the start area.
After one general recall the Committee successfully got the fleet away the first skipper to cross the line being Laurent Gouezigoux (Valorisons). But, soon after Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement) took the lead and kept it all the way over the six mile-long initial inshore course, rounding in first the three marks and winning the Radio France prize. But race leader Jérémie Beyou, was just a boat length behind followed by Anthony Marchand (Bretagne Crédit Mutuel Espoir) and by the youngest participant to the race - Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Artemis) who was also first rookie.
Once free to choose their preferred route, the leading skippers opted to stay inshore, often just 400m from the beach, sailing upwind along the coastline in northwesterly wind of around 10/12 knots. But at the 16:00 sched it was Marc Emig (Ensemble autour du Monde) and Fréderic Rivet (Vendée1), who had taken a more extreme offshore (westerly) option, who had pulled into first and second places respectively, while most of the skippers were still closely packed east with less than three miles separated the front from the back of the fleet and with overall race leader Jérémie Beyou (BPI) in 9th. First rookie was Morgan Lagravière (Vendée) in 5th and first British skipper Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) in 14th position followed by Sam Goodchild (Artemis) in 16th, 1.80 miles from first. Portugal's Francisco Lobato (ROFF) was in the 28th with Conrad Humphreys (DMS) 38th and Nigel King 45th.
As the skippers headed north upwind, they will be forced to put in multiple tacks to reach Belle Ile, which they must leave to port sometime tonight. Progressing towards the Brittany coast the wind should veer into the northeast, thus allowing the solo sailors to ease their sails. They could then be approaching the following key point of Penmarc’h tomorrow morning.
Before leaving Les Sables Jérémie Beyou (BPI) commented: “I was quite stressed over the last two days. I’ve done all I could to hide it, to stop thinking about it. It’s the conditions for this last leg that made me worry but now the forecast is more definite and there is no time to mull over. There are going to be some key passages and it’s better to know where to go. At times it’s better to be in the lead when you have to choose. Plus, the finish will probably be downwind, in a good breeze and even if one is a bit behind, it won’t be too hard to catch up. I still hope there will be no big losses at the start and along North Brittany.”
And later, out on the race course he added: “The aim was to start well, I managed to get off the line and on the right just after the gun. Rounding the Jean Marthe was a bit chaotic so I’m happy I could pull out in the leading pack. We’re waiting for the wind to veer NE, so it will be key to be well placed. There is a fastidious chop that is not easy to handle in less than 10 knots. I’m with those more inshore: Adrien (Hardy), Erwan (Tabarly) and Fabien (Delahaye) and the sky is turning more and more grey.”
Sam Goodchild (Artemis): “It’s the start of the last leg so it’s quite exciting, everyone wants to finish on a high and I’m definitely not giving up yet. A lot could happen in this leg, there’s a shifty wind and definitely lots of tidal gates to win or lose. I’ve slept a lot in the last few days, rested and eaten well so I’m as ready to go as I think I can be.”
Conrad Humphreys (DMS) “I’m feeling really, really good actually. The weather models are starting to come into line, it could be a quicker leg than forecast - maybe under three days, possibly two and a half. The key position of this low pressure has been the difficult point. I feel in good shape, I really want to stay with the pack and to learn as much as I can going into next year. I feel really good, I feel confident, happy and relaxed with what is ahead.”
Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) “The finish is getting near, I’m confident of what I’ve learnt in the last few legs has made me stronger and there’s every chance of being in the front group again, if it all goes to plan. I’ve got nothing to lose, I’m just going to go for it. I’ve only got 40 minutes to make up on first place in the rookie class and there’s everything to play for I think.”
Jeanne Grégoire (Banque Populaire): “I can still have a good last leg. I didn’t have such great results on the previous three but this time I think can be in the game, there’s plenty of options to take, and the weather forecast is not so simple on the approach to northern Brittany. There’s a bit of this and that, and since this is not the best Solitaire in my career, I hope to play well this one…”