Leaders pass the Raz
Over the course of today the La Solitaire du Figaro - Eric Bompard Cachemire fleet has successfully ticked off two of the most significant marks of leg one: the Chenal du Four, between the island of Ushant and the northwestern most tip of France, and the Raz de Seine.
But a key moment of this leg in fact occurred before this as the boats attempted to get around the Portsall cardinal mark this morning. With the wind dying, the boats were forced to break away from the north Brittany coast and out into the powerful adverse current taking them back up the course. The lead trio of Yann Elies on Groupe Queguiner - Le Journal des entreprises, followed by Morgan Lagraviere on Vendee and Fabien Delahaye on Skipper MACIF 2012, made it round the mark virtually unscathed but after them there was major reshuffle and compression in the fleet with the fourth placed boat through to the 25th all regrouping back to within a mile of each other.
One of the hardest nights occurred for Yoann Richomme on DLBC. As he described it: "In the dark, just before Perros Guirec, it was fun, because I got into the top five and it was going well and then, around Ile de Batz, I went inshore where I hit a rock. I was thrown against the chart table and I broke the computer.” Apart from a cut and now having a defunct computer, Richomme reports he is okay and at the latest sched he is 14th.
With the wind in the southwest, the boats entered the rock strewn Chenal du Four late morning. A group led by Gildas Morvan on Cercle Verte tacked inshore but this made little impression and by noon UTC the leaders were passing Conquet and the exit to the Chenal du Four with Elies, neck and neck with Delahaye for the lead with Lagraviere just behind, the lead trio followed by Adrien Hardy on AGIR Recouvrement at the front of a deluge of boats immediately behind.
Once through the Chenal du Four and fetching due south on starboard tack, the skippers have been able to grab their first sleep of the race. But all too briefly. At 1345 UTC the leaders had reached the Raz de Sein, the famous narrow corridor between Ile de Sein and the Pointe du Raz, and one of the most significant tidal gates of the course. Fortunately they were with the tide which isn't due to turn until around 1530 UTC and this should see most of the fleet through. The effects of not making the tidal gates can already be seen with the Solitaire fleet backmarkers, Kristin Songe Moller and, unexpectedly Jean-Pierre Nicol on Bernard Controls, now 17 and 21 miles off the lead respectively, a position which in Nicol's case will be a hard position to recover from in the combined overall elapsed time scoring for La Solitaire.
With the Raz behind them, the lead skippers are back in the driving seat as they attempt to reach under spinnaker towards Pointe de Penmarch where they will be able to crack off on to a more comfortable course, assisted by the wind veering into the west.
At the latest sched, with the leaders half way to Pointe de Penmarch, there is little to separate leader Yann Elies from second placed Fabien Delahaye with Morgan Lagraviere dropping back a little in third, these three still holding a significant lead over the chasing pack.
“It's always frustrating to lose a few meters, but it's nothing compared to what we've won,” said Lagraviere, top rookie in last year's Solitaire. “It's been a beautiful beginning to the race, but there's still a long way to go and there will still be some surprises ahead. Otherwise it's grey, it's raining and we can't see very far, perhaps just 200 m.” Lagraviere said he had managed to get some sleep, in fact more sleep than he'd managed in the races earlier this season.
Conversely former Mini Transat winner Thomas Ruyant, sailing Destination Dunkerque, said he had bearly slept at all. “I'm not in the best shape. I've perhaps slept two minutes in total. I would take short naps of 5 to 10 minutes, but the fleet is tightly bunched, so you have to be careful. This leg we may not get much sleep.”
Currently in 12th place, Erwan Tabarly on Nacarat reported: "There are a lot of boats grouped close together but you can't see anything at all and it is raining. I have not really slept yet so far because there was a lot to do last night and not a lot of wind. Once we are past the Raz de Seine it will be easier to go to sleep.”
The Artemis Offshore Academy sailors have been suffering over the course of today. At the 1300 UTC polling Nick Cherry was still the leading Brit in 18th, with Sam Goodchild in 24rd and Henry Bomby 30th. Portugal's Francisco Lobato on board ROFF was holding 20th place.
Once round Pointe de Penmarch the boats will be heading for the Les Birvideaux to the east of the Quiberon Peninsula, the last mark of the course along the French coast before the boats are free to cross the Bay of Biscay to Gijon, a passage of just over 250 miles. The feature here will be the position of an area of high pressure that is moving north over the fleet during tomorrow leaving behind it a favourable band of northeasterlies to propel the boats towards the finish line at speed.