The fourth and final leg of La Solitaire du Figaro 2013 sets sail at 1100 UTC tomorrow from Roscoff bound for Dieppe.
Yesterday a severe forecast predicting winds gusting to gale force 9 caused the race organisers to shorten the course for leg 4, but today conditions are looking improved, albeit with winds still gusting to 30+ knots ahead of a front scheduled due to cross the forty singlehanded sailors on Saturday.
Leg 4 now takes the Beneteau Figaro 2s from Roscoff around and down the western side of Ouessant, then 23 miles south to the turning mark, the Chaussee de Sein buoy (off the Raz de Sein), before returning north through the Chenal du Four between Ouessant and the French mainland. From there the boats cross the English Channel to Wolf Rock off Land's End, before heading east along the coast of the UK, shaving the Lizard and Start Point. Next they round the Needles Fairway Buoy off the western end of the Solent before recrossing the English Channel to a mark off Le Havre before continuing east to the finish off Dieppe. Total mileage for this course is 520, with the boats set to arrive on Saturday night.
Currently in 10th overall, Sam Goodchild on Shelterbox-Disaster Relief is still gunning to achieve the best British finishing position since Clare Francis' 5th place in 1975. In the race's recent history Sam Davies finished 19th twice in 2003-4 while Phil Sharp was 18th in 2011.
Goodchild, 23, is in the unenviable position of having two of the biggest players in the sport gunning for him: in the overall cumulative elapsed time results three time winner Michel Desjoyeaux on TBS trails him by just 1 minute 41 seconds and two time winner Armel le Cleac'h on Banque Populaire is 9 minutes 15 seconds back. “I will try and approach it like every leg, but it is going to be quite hard to try and hold my position with Mich and Armel, who have only just come back to the Figaro but are getting stronger and stronger each leg.”
Whether or not strong conditions will be a help or hindrance for Goodchild remains to be seen. “It only takes one little error and you have a massive disaster,” he reckons. “Experience pays – in theory you have less chance of disaster, but Armel broached out and lost his small kite on the first leg and he has quite a bit of experience!”
On leg one the boats saw 35 knots as they rounded Cape Finisterre in big seas, resulting in several blown up spinnakers and broken spinnaker poles. “It is about trying not to do anything stupid,” Goodchild continues.
Jack Bouttell on Artemis 77 is in a slightly stronger position defending his lead in the Bizuth class for the Solitaire du Figaro first timers. In this he's currently a comfortable 3 hours, 4 minutes and 45 seconds ahead of second placed Benoît Hochart on ADOCIS / IB-Remarketing after his rivals Simon Troel and Claire Pruvot bombed.
“Going down the Channel in 25-30 knots could be quite entertaining and if it is kite-able, then it will be good fun, a pretty quick leg,” says Bouttell. He maintains that he isn't going to change his tactics given his position. He will just attempt to stay with the fleet, sail the boat as fast as possible and minimise risks.
In 20th overall, Nick Cherry on Magma Structures is punching above his weight considering he is running an 11th hour campaign for La Solitaire. He is in a tight group with boats just minutes ahead and behind him.
“It looks like it could be windy on the approach to Dieppe,” Cherry warns. “We may have wind against tide on that coast - it could be another foam-up like we had at Cape Finisterre. It always spreads the fleet when it gets windy.”
However the multiple British match racing national champion says those are the conditions he relishes. “It was great going around Cape Finisterre [on leg 1] and I came out in good shape. So given it is right at the end you can put up your big kite and let nature bring it down!”
Rockfish skipper Henry Bomby also likes the big conditions. “I've had my best races when it is really windy and my worst when it is really light and variable. I am quietly confident, hoping that I can get a few places on the guys who are in front of me.”
He observes that if it does turn gnarly then there could be some opportunities if some of his competitors have problems. “I'll be taking both of my spinnaker poles and looking just to get through the race cleanly.”
The race passes Start Point and the entrance to Dartmouth harbour where Bomby's backer, restauranter Mitch Tonks, has his award-winning Seahorse restaurant.
Unfortunately if the conditions are brisk, Bomby feels there won't be any homewaters advantage. “It isn't going to be a tactical race. It will be about sending it for as long as possible.”
Artemis Offshore Academy rookie Ed Hill is also hoping for bigger conditions. “Balls to the wall and hang on - what a great way to finish La Solitaire. It could open up opportunities. Some people will certainly be struggling - hopefully not me.”
Ireland's David Kenefick on Full Irish is hoping for a strong finale to his first Solitaire du Figaro. “I am disappointed with where I am going into the last leg, but that's life I guess.” At 22, Kenefick is the youngest competitor in the race and is lying 31st out of 41 starters.
“It is amazing to be here and be part of it,” he says. “I have followed the race for years so it is quite funny to be here. I have always wanted to do this race and it is very different when you are in it.
“I am very surprised how friendly all the competitors are. You walk along the dock and everyone says hello to each other. And the competition is unbelievable: There is no one missing from this event. There are no better sailors than Yann Elies, Michel Desjoyeaux, Armel le Cleac'h, Jeremie Beyou, Morgan Lagraviere, etc.”