Elies noses ahead
Just a few hours of sailing are left in La Solitaire du Figaro 2013 and the competition for the overall lead remains wide open with Xavier Macaire on Skipper Herault, Yann Elies on Groupe Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir and Morgan Lagraviere on Vendee all jockeying for overall honours.
After a slight lull in the middle of the day wind speeds are back up to 30 knots and gusting closer to 40.
This morning the fleet completed its run down the south coast of the UK. By 0800 this morning the first boats were already rounding the Needles Fairway buoy off the western end of the Solent having completed the 167 miles passage from Wolf Rock in just 12 hours at an average speed of 12.9 knots – very respectable for a 33ft monohull being sailed singlehanded.
First around the Needles Fairway cardinal mark was Xavier Macaire on Skipper Herault, just 1.3 miles ahead of Yann Elies and Adrien Hardy on AGIR Recouvrement, while Lagraviere had dropped to sixth place, 7.5 miles off the lead.
At present all eyes remain fixed on the overall results, based on cumulative elapsed time across all four legs. Going into this final leg, Fred Duthil on Sepalumic was leading, 29 minutes 56 minutes ahead of Morgan Lagraviere, 32 minutes 28 seconds in front of Yann Elies and 45 minutes 35 seconds ahead of Xavier Macaire.
However, for reasons as yet unknown, Duthil’s position plummeted overnight: 12th at Wolf Rock, 5.1 miles behind the leader, while by Needles Fairway he had dropped to 18th, 22.4 miles from first place. This has put him out of contention for overall victory, and is also unusual as Duthil is considered one of the top performers downwind in big conditions.
Similarly Morgan Lagraviere’s small advantage over Yann Elies disappeared when he made the mistake of going inshore both before and after the Lizard, leaving him trailing the leader by 6.2 miles at Needles Fairway Buoy, although he has since reclaimed some of this.
Heading southeast back across the English Channel bound for the Antifer turning mark off Le Havre, the battle for overall honours was between Elies and Macaire. Two sail reaching across the Channel, conditions were deteriorating with the wind once again piping up to 30+ knots and the wind against westbound tide kicking up the sea state. While Macaire was first around the Needles Fairway buoy he was subsequently overtaken by Elies. At 1340 UTC Elies was leading him by 1.7 miles (with Adrien Hardy having pulled into second) with 73 miles to sail to the finish.
Once around the Antifer mark, the boats will be dead downwind again in 30+ knots. This will be their last blast, as they cover the final 47 miles to the finish off Dieppe under spinnaker, where the first boats are due at around 2000 UTC tonight.
Among the Brits, Sam Goodchild on Shelterbox-Disaster Relief continues to put in a sterling effort. He rounded the Needles Fairway buoy in 10th with Cherry 13th. Mid-afternoon, while crossing the Channel, Goodchild had dropped to 12th with Nick Cherry poised once again, holding 13th just 0.5 miles behind him.
Going into this leg two titans of the race, three time winner Michel Desjoyeaux on TBS and two time winner Armel le Cleac’h on Banque Populare, were respectively one and nine minutes behind Goodchild, but both are now ahead of him on leg four. However the 23-year-old Brit still remains well placed to better Phil Sharp’s 18th place in 2011, the highest British result in the event’s recent history.
Artemis Offshore Academy scholarship winner Jack Bouttell similarly looks in good shape to become the first British skipper ever to win the coveted rookie prize for Solitaire du Figaro first timers. He was in 21st at Needles Fairway Buoy with his closest competition astern of him.
Ireland’s David Kenefick on Pure Irish has also distinctly been on a charge and has pulled up to 26th. Meanwhile Henry Bomby on Rockfish has pulled up to 24th and Artemis Offshore Academy rookie Ed Hill is 30th.
This afternoon Corentin Horeau on Bretagne-Credit Mutuel Espoir lying in 10th place reported: “I’m 45 miles from Antifier and there are 28 knots of wind and it is very wet! Last night, I was next to Damien [Guillou] when he dismasted. Otherwise I had a good night, on the offense under spinnaker even though it was tough. Now we must give it our all, because many miles remain to be sailed on this last leg. From Antifer we’ll be back under spinnaker."
The first boats are due in from 2000-2100 UTC.