Spare spinnaker poles and second reefs
An overcast sky, light drizzle, light wind and a foul tide marked the start of the fourth and final leg of La Solitaire du Figaro 2013. With a tactical first 24 hours ahead with tidal gates to deal with before a depression brings 30-40 knot winds it on Saturday, tension was palpable among the competitors as they left Roscoff’s newly opened Port de Plaisance marina ready for the 1100 UTC start.
There was drama even before the gun when Xavier Macaire’s Skipper Herault was T-boned by Amaiur Alfaro’s Region Aquitaine-Ateliers de France. Macaire is vying for first place in this race, currently fourth overall, just 45 minutes and 35 seconds astern of overall leader Frederic Duthil (Sepalumic). The damage mid-ships on her starboard side ruptured the hull to the extent that it is believed no longer possible to fill the water ballast tank on the starboard side. Macaire has elected to continue but realistically this will compromise his chance of victory.
Magma Structures skipper Nick Cherry enjoyed a moment of glory at the start when the UK National Match Racing Champion successfully crossed ahead of the fleet on port tack, just as Vincent Biarnes (Prati'Buches) did at the start of leg 3. However in the 6-8 knots winds, it was the Michel Desjoyeaux-skippered TBS that broke through the mist to round the windward mark of the 6.5 mile long in shore race in first place.
Among the Anglo-Saxons, Nick Cherry remained on top at the first mark in 12th place with Artemis Offshore Academy scholarship winner Ed Hill lying 17th, David Kenefick (Full Irish) 19th, Sam Goodchild (Shelterbox-Disaster Relief) 21st and Henry Bomby (RockFish) 32nd. However after the solo skippers had hoisted kites on the run, Ed Hill overhauled Cherry to move up to 11th place.
At the Radio France mark to the east of Ile de Batz, off Roscoff, three time Solitaire du Figaro winner and the Vendee Globe’s only double victor, Michel Desjoyeaux, was still leading.
From here the skippers have a difficult 24 hours ahead of them. The forecast indicates the first part of the race will be light to moderate, partly upwind as the boats round the outside of Ouessant.
Lead rookie, the Artemis Offshore Academy’s Jack Bouttell predicted for today: “It will be light wind and mostly upwind, so there will be a lot of rock hopping. It will be tide against for the start so really pressing the shore, and tide with us from about 1700 local tonight. We will be a few miles down the coast by then, but the tide will be against us again later around Ushant, so we’ll be trying to hug the coast at night, which will be nice!”
Once round Ouessant the fleet heads down to the turning mark at Chaussee de Sein mark before returning north through the Chenal du Four between Ouessant and the northwesternmost tip of France tomorrow.
Throughout the first 24 hours there are tidal gates to tackle – immediately out of the start, off Ouessant tonight and then on the return up the Chenal du Figaro with opportunities equally for the slow to get left behind or for the leaders to get caught.
As Artemis Offshore Academy scholarship winner Jack Bouttell put it: “Yesterday the weather was favouring the leaders all the way around. But at the moment it could favour the people behind to catch up a bit.”
Sam Goodchild believes going north up through the Chenal du Four could be a significant moment. “We might all bunch up again there. At the moment we are supposed to get there before the tide turns favourable, so the guys who are there early will slow down allowing the guys behind to catch up.”
The crossing of the English Chanel to Wolf Rock looks like being upwind on one tack.
“It is going to be a wild ride down the south coast,” says Magma Structures skipper, Nick Cherry of this next section. With the wind building from 25 to 30+ knots it will be kites up and hang on as the Figaros blast ENE towards the Needles Fairway Buoy off the west end of the Solent. By this time the wind is forecast to have built to 35 knots, gusting to 40+, ready for the reach back across the Channel towards the next turning mark off Le Havre.
“The GRIBs are showing 30 knots and normally you can add 10 in gusts, so maybe 40 knots around the Needles area,” warns Jack Bouttell.
Sam Goodchild agrees. “There’s 35 knots on the GRIBs and they normally under-read. The most wind will be just before and just after the Needles.”
The crossing back to France is set to coincide with six hours of wind against the tide, the steep seas crashing into the boats on their port side. Artemis Offshore Academy sailor Ed Hill anticipates: “That will be wavy and very very wet, two sail reaching in 25-35 knots - that will be a tough part of the leg for getting absolutely slammed.”
The boats then head on to Dieppe where their ETA is Saturday night.
“This will be the hardest leg for sure,” predicts Rockfish skipper Henry Bomby. “We will see quite a lot of wind. There is going to be a lot of keeping everything together. We’ll try to be as well rested as possible. I don’t imagine anyone will sleep from Fairway to the finish. It is the last leg, so you can put everything into this one - there is no need to hold back anything in reserve. I think we’ll all arrive in Dieppe absolutely exhausted.”
Prior to casting off, Sam Goodchild admitted: “I am pretty nervous, but I am looking forward to it. It is going to be about trying to keep safe. It will be breezy, but I am more worried about my position in the race, trying to hold on to that and not do anything stupid.”
Nick Cherry summed up the challenge lying ahead: “It is going to be a good finale. It is going to be the toughest leg for sleep - we’ll all be quite broken getting into Dieppe. I can’t wait...”