After the first day and night at sea, and two key tactical hurdles passed, the 46 sailors are halfway through the fourth and final leg of La Solitaire du Figaro, that left Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday bound for Dieppe. Shortly after 0400 the overall race leader Jérémie Beyou on BPI took the lead with Fabien Delahaye and young rookie Morgan Lagravière practically glued to his stern.
While the front of the fleet is tacking upwind towards the Chenal du Four to round the northwestern tip of Brittany, the skipper of BPI is hold a half-mile lead over Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham) who currently lies second in the overall results. The two look more than determined to retain their positions on the leadership over the remaining 260 tricky miles to the finish. But their pursuers are not giving up hope and tension runs high with the first 13 boats all within two and a half miles of them.
Jérémie Beyou commented: “I’ve never enough of getting past the raz de Sein, because every time it’s closer and closer to the Plate lighthouse. There the current was against us, then we had to stay on starboard to cross and not to end up in the flow again. It’s a classic and some of us know the trick well, I managed to come out in front and I’m some lengths ahead now. The Solitaire this year is really close racing… We’re back into the same group with Fabien Delahaye, the two Vendée boats (Morgan Lagravière and Fred Rivert), Adrien Hardy and Jean-Pierre Nicol. Only Gildas Morvan who went further offshore is missing. It’s going to be tougher after the Four: more chop and a good twenty knots of breeze. Plus, we’re expecting the wind to go left (to the NE) and we’ll have to decide whether to go for a long tack offshore or stay inshore. And it is going to be jib or genoa? At the moment the air is more easterly and then I’ve decided to stay close to shore, to enter the Four channel on a single tack. And after that...it’s going to be a gymkhana to the finish!"
The final leg of La Solitaire du Figaro has lived up to skippers’ expectations with 15 hours of upwind sailing to Belle Ile followed by an equally stressful reaching stage with continuous sail changes. At approximately noon on Monday, the first skippers faced the difficult passage of around the Raz de Sein against the tide, passing incredibly close to the Plate lighthouse. As a result this along the coast has split the fleet in different small groups.
Jérémie Beyou leads a group of 12 sailors lined up over a stretch of less than 2.5 miles, including Fabien Delahaye, first rookie Morgan Lagravière (Vendée), Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat), Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls), Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement), early leader Fred Rivet (Vendée 1)… Another group comprising eight boats is following the leaders’ tracks, albeit with more lateral separation and another group,two miles behind the rest of the fleet, are scattered over a broad area with skippers taking different options, such as Nicolas Lunven (Générali) and Thierry Chabagny (Gédimat), who chose a more offshore route.
According to latest position report, Portuguese Francisco Lobato (ROFF) lies in 11th, less than two miles behind the leader and showing good speed, a good morale boost for the talented former Olympic and Mini sailor after a disappointing race for far. Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) too, has been consistently sailing in the top group and is in 15th place, Conrad Humphreys (DMS) managed to claw back some places and is 28th while the youngest competing sailor Sam Goodchild fell back and is 31st, 7 miles from the leader while Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics), who has suffered some electronics problems, is 36th 7.3 miles from first.
Late afternoon the fleet was heading to Ushant in a very variable and shifty northeasterly. In theory the breeze should increase and back after Ushant and when the skippers will have to set the course towards the Channel Islands. There they will be faced with another dilemma: to go offshore to get the shift or not?
This morning Damien Guillou (La Solidarité Mutualiste) and Louis Maurice Tannyères (St Ericsson) informed the Race Direction that they wre retiring. Tannyères’s decision was due to technical issues with his ballast system, while Guillou, who sprained his right ankle during the stopover in Les Sables d’Olonne, reported that manoeuvring and moving had become too painful and he reluctantly resolved to stop and head to his homeport of Lorient, where he arrived shortly after 16:30. The skippers still racing are now down to 44.
Frédéric Duthil (Sépalumic) reported: “All good onboard, I can see the guys in front, they’re not too far away, so I’m still in the game. I wasn’t so happy about my start yesterday. Then the night was tricky, with all those wind shifts. I slept, because the fatigue we accumulated over the first three legs starts to seep in. The passage of the raz de Sein was not bad, in that boiling sea! The wind is lighter than we thought, I’m not sure was we’re going to have. We’re waiting for the NW to come, but first, is a long series of tacks upwind…”
Marc Emig (Ensemble autour du monde): “I know the raz de Sein, even if I’m from Marseille! I’ve passed through it twelve times with the Tour de France à la Voile… But, normally it’s in the opposite way. We had to go well inshore to get the good tide and then go right to get out of the raz. I’m not the fastest on the planet, but I still manage to stay close to the ones in front. I’ve already had a 30 minutes nap since the start in Les Sables d’Olonne: battling with the best ones is a good drive and I want to show that I deserve more than my place in the overall ranking.”
Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement): “The last hours of the night were quite easy, reaching in 15 knots, and I had some sleep crossing the Alderney bay. I managed to have three 20-minute siestas as there wasn’t much else to do. When we entered the raz de Sein there were at least 3 knots of current, which compressed the fleet back together. Now we’re heading straight to the Four channel. The tide is going to reverse and it won’t be easy to make the good choice. I will try and grab some food and some sleep because you need to be in top shape. Conditions are really nice now, it’s warm, ten knots of sea breeze and flat sea.”