Pedal to the metal overnight, singlehanded downwind in 30 knots
The Figaro sailors are mid-way through a downwind sleigh ride along the south coast of England, a ‘yeehaa’ ride in 30+ knot winds and a building sea, they will be telling their grandchildren about. However the blustery conditions have so far cost one rig.
As Groupe Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir skipper Yann Elies explained this morning: "We have 30-35 knots, gusting to 40. I’m under two reefs and my little spinnaker. At times, it's a bit too exciting!"
Morgan Lagraviere on Vendee led the fleet around the Wolf Rock at 2000 UTC last night with Elies and Yoann Richomme on DLBC right behind him. At this point the nearby Sevenstones Lightship was already registering 26 knots of wind (average) from the southwest.
Once around it was blast off for the 32ft long Figaro Beneteau 2s, their large spinnakers set, regularly making peak speeds into the high teens.
As the leaders regrouped to pass the Lizard at 2200 UTC, locked together at the front were a group of five with Elies having pulled ahead of Adrien Hardy on AGIR Recouvrement, Lagraviere, Richomme and Xavier Macaire on Skipper Herault. They had pulled out a lead of almost three miles over those behind.
Lagraviere lost out by going inshore en route to Start Point. This next major headland on the Devonshire coast the leaders passed at 0215 UTC, by which time Macaire was neck and neck for the lead alongside Elies, with two time Solitaire winner Jeremie Beyou on Maitre CoQ having pulled up to fifth.
The skippers were no doubt relieved that last night was technically the shortest night of the year, as they crossed Lyme Bay with boats speeds regularly into the high teens, with Macaire and Richomme taking a more inshore course to Elies and Hardy.
Macaire had nosed in front of the offshore boats as the leaders passed Portland Bill at 0600. At 0700 UTC Macaire had 17 miles to go to the next turning mark at Needles Fairway Buoy having made, for 32ft long Figaro Beneteau 2s, a record breaking run along the English south coast.
Among the Brits, Sam Goodchild on Shelterbox-Disaster Relief had a tough opening to the night, dropping to 19th at one point while due south of Plymouth, but picked up to 15th by Start Point. Conversely Nick Cherry on Magma Structures was loving the blast and had overhauled Goodchild to pass Start Point in 12th. Crossing Lyme Bay, Goodchild once again surged past and at the time of writing the two boats were south of Portland Bill with Goodchild 12th and Cherry a mile behind him in 14th.
Overnight rookie leader Jack Bouttell on Artemis 77 has picked up two places, having rounded Wolf Rock in 23rd. Ireland’s David Kenefick on Pure Irish in particular has been on a charge. Having rounded Wolf Rock in 33rd he’s now up to 22nd. Meanwhile Henry Bomby on Rockfish has remained in 25th and Ed Hill on Artemis 37 in 28th.
The last few hours have really shown up which skippers have been happiest pushing and keeping their big spinnakers up for as long as possible overnight in the strong winds. Substantial gaps have now opened up in the normally very compact Solitaire fleet. This morning 27 miles separate first from 20th, compared to less than three at the same yesterday. Sadly the boat in 20th place at the latest sched is Fred Duthil’s Sepalumic, and as a result Duthil now looks to have lost his overall lead.
Going into this leg Duthil’s cumulative elapsed time was 29 minutes 56 minutes ahead of second placed Lagraviere, 32 minutes 28 seconds ahead of Elies and 45 minutes 35 seconds in front of present leg 4 leader, Xavier Macaire. At the time of writing the battle for first place overall would seem to be between Elies and Macaire, Elies holding a 13 minute advantage, but Macaire being 1.5 miles ahead on the water.
The big conditions have taken their toll. At 21:40 UTC last night while due south of Land’s End, Damien Guillou’s La Solidarite Mutualiste dismasted. At the time Guillou reported winds of 26-30 knots. The mast broke in the middle and Guillou cut everything away to avoid it causing further damage to the boat. “I'm not hurt," he reported this morning. "There is a bit of sea and the boat without a mast, is not balanced of course, so everything moves in all directions. I'm heading to Falmouth under engine. The wind will continue to freshen and the sea too. I don’t have electronics any more, as all cables are cut but we must have 27-30 knots."
Race Director Gilles Chiorri who is following the fleet reported: "We spent last night at Wolf Rock in the dark, just before the bulk of the fleet rounded, led by Vendee. From that time the conditions have deteriorated so is in the southwest sector blowing 25 knots, gusting to 30.
“It was quite difficult conditions - it was very dark night in the beginning and the sea rose fairly quickly with a cross sea. The boats were sailing very fast under spinnaker: averaging 12-15 knots.
“Currently we are in the expected weather pattern with gusts of up to 35 knots, but on average the wind is oscillating between 25-28 knots, the wave state demanding that the boats be handsteered.
“There has been a lull this morning, but it will build against this afternoon when we will cross the Channel from the Isle of Wight to Le Havre, when we should see the strongest winds - 30-35 knots, gusting to 40. So it will again be very difficult and the sailors won’t have had much time to rest.
“ETA into Dieppe is still in the middle of the night, between 2300 and 0200 (French time)."