Tackling the light again
The race set sail under grey skies, in a light SSW 8 knot breeze and in a confused sea state with a six mile coastal course in the bay of Porto, just off the mouth of the Douro River. On a very crowded line, there was one general recall, with the youngest skipper in the fleet, David Kenefick and his Full Irish making a brilliant start. However it was the more experienced Figarists who powered through with Jérémie Beyou on Maitre Coq taking the lead on the first upwind leg and retaining it for most of the coastal course.
At the Radio France mark, the last mark before the boats exited the Bay of Porto, Beyou was first, followed by Adrien Hardy on AGIR Recouvrement and Anthony Marchand on Bretagne-Crédit Mutuel Performance.
Among the Anglo-Saxons, it was a good start for Sam Goodchild on Shelterbox – Disaster Relief, crossing the windward side of the line to round the first weather mark in 6th, before climbing to second as the 41 strong fleet rounded the next leeward mark.
Fellow Artemis Offshore Academy Graduate Nick Cherry repeated his fine Leg 1 start, making a clean getaway.
At the Radio France mark, Goodchild was the first non-French skipper lying 10th while the first rookie, Simon Troel on Les Recycleurs Bretons was doing well in sixth. Nick Cherry on Magma Structures was 17th, followed by Jack Bouttell on Artemis 77 in 26th, Ed Hill's Artemis 37 in 32nd and Henry Bomby's Rockfish in 34th. Despite his brilliant start, David Kenefick lost momentum and plummeted to 41st.
Once past the Radio France mark, the fleet started to spread out some staying inshore, the majority heading offshore gambling on where the best breeze would be, attempting to cover the most miles before the wind shut down completely.
According to Meteo Consult's latest weather forecast, the first stretch north along the Portuguese coast will see the 8-10 knot breeze progressively veer right into the NW by mid-afternoon but still around 8/10 knots. During the evening and the the night the wind is expected to drop, and visibility deteriorate because with overcast skies and cool, damp air close to shore and so it is likely that the skippers will also be confronted with fog.
Sadly the situation does not look like it will improve much on Sunday and Monday when the wind will still be very light and variable. In such light conditions it could take the fleet as long as three days to get to Gijòn.
Yet, the skippers' main concern seems to be how to tackle the section along the northern Spanish coast. With its huge wind shadow effect and fickle, shifty air, options which are either too conservative or too radical option could mean big gains and losses, especially on the last miles to the finish line to Gijòn that are notoriously difficult. The skippers are not expecting to have much time to rest and are set to spend many long hours at the helm.
After only 48 hours of resting and refuelling in Portugal after the finish of leg 1, taking the start line today were Artemis Offshore Academy rookies Ed Hill on Artemis 37 and Jack Bouttell on Artemis 77 plus Sam Goodchild on Shelterbox-Disaster Relief, Nick Cherry's Magma Structures and Henry Bomby on RockFish.
Conditions for the start were light and dreary, with a meager 5 knots of wind building to 10 under a grey sky of rain-laden clouds. Light conditions look set to be the main feature of this Leg - the course was already shortened to 298 miles by the organisers yesterday, cutting out a course mark in the Bay of Biscay.
“It’s going to be a difficult Leg with light a variable winds for the duration,” said Goodchild ahead of today’s start. “It’s going to be important to stay safe, hunt for the breeze and not to lose too much time round the course. The light, shifty and variable winds of the Spanish coast will make this a very tactical and mentally exhausting race. Again my aim is to finish in Gijon in the top 20 and to finish inside the top 10 would be a bonus.”
The second stage of the 1,938 mile Solitaire du Figaro will see the 41 skippers retracing their steps south over Leg 1, taking them back up the Spanish coast to, once again, take on the tricky patches of no wind that burned so many skippers on the approach to the Leg 1 finish line. After getting trapped in an area of no wind, this dropped Ed Hill from 3rd to 30th overnight. A once bitten, twice shy Hill is now looking forward to a second chance at negotiating the tricky area of coastline: “I’ve been building on what went wrong in the first stage, which was mainly getting caught out by a wind hole, but hopefully it’s something that I’ve learned from and won’t happen again. This is going to be a tough race mentally, with so many decisions to be made that could result in the smallest gain, or a huge loss – it’s one extreme or the other in the Figaro.”
Magma Structures Nick Cherry continued: “It's going to be hard to stay sane for three days in no wind, especially on the back of a good start in Leg 1, but I'm aiming just to sail conservatively and try and keep a view of the bigger picture wind wise.”
For rookie, Jack Bouttell, the aim is to once again win the rookie prize, as he did in leg 1 (and previously in the Solo Arrimer). Bouttell was fortunate that the favourite for rookie prize, Simon Troels, had a race knobbling experience at the start of leg 1 when he ran aground at the exit of the Gironde river. At present Bouttell holds a deficit of 5 hours 58 minutes 3 sec over the Frenchman and is only 41 minutes 28 seconds ahead of team mate Ed Hill.
Bouttell commented: “I’ve received my huge novelty cheque last night, which is going straight on my bedroom wall, but I’m not celebrating too soon. There’s still three Legs to go and I’ve got to prove winning the Rookie class in Leg 1 wasn’t just luck, or a fluke! Leg 2 will be tough, but I look forward to each start more and more each time.”
Academy graduate Henry Bomby is also keen to show what he can overcome a disappointing result in Leg 1: “I’m so ready for this race, I’m desperate to prove that I’m better than my first Leg result. The race will be hard and staying tighter inshore, especially around Cape Finisterre will be the quickest route, but also will catch many of the fleet out.”
With the skippers now on their way, Goodchild and Cherry are both hoping to maintain their positions within the top 20. After an average start over the line, Hill, Bouttell and Bomby will be playing catch up on the remaining 293 miles to Gijon.
“The shorter course of just 298 miles will see the fleet working a balancing act between trying to sail the shortest distance along the coast whilst not getting too close that they run out of wind,” the AOA's Race Coach Marcus Hutchinson concluded. “The west and north coasts of Spain are delineated by high ground and cliffs, making a huge buffer zone in several wind directions. There will be many, many traps to fall into. The trick is going to be to stay strong to the end, be fast and never believe you are safely in the best breeze."
Leg 2 of the Solitaire du Figaro is expected to finish in Gijon on Tuesday.
More from Brian Carlin / Artemis Offshore Academy / www.cubeimages.com