Photo: Maxime Flipo

Tight finish anticipated...or not

Solitaire du Figaro sets sail today from Deauville

Sunday June 8th 2014, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: France

The latest forecast for the 38 solo skippers who will start Leg 1 of La Solitaire du Figaro-Eric Bompard cachemire today (Sunday) from Deauville at 1300 local time suggests the fleet will arrive at the finish either very tightly grouped or spread over dozens of miles - the predictions and routings are that uncertain. Several transitions will be required over the 484 miles passage from Deauville across the Channel to the Owers mark east of the Isle of Wight, west to Wolf Rock, to Roscoff and then to the finish off Plymouth.

It all depends on the timing and positioning of the various systems which will prevail over the coming days influencing the course which is broadly split into 80 miles to Owers, 200 miles to reach the lighthouse at Wolf Rock, 100 miles to Roscoff, and 100 miles to the finish at Plymouth.

A gentle start Sunday is expected with a light E'ly wind to start with which will build during the afternoon which should allow the fleet to extricate themselves with relative ease from the Seine basin area.

“The NE'ly winds will get up to about 12kts once they are out past the point at Le Havre. In fact there is a little thermal low pressure over central France with a small high pressure bubble in the east of the Channel, it just has to fall into place,” says Cyril Duchesne of Meteo Consult.

The course to the first mark is pretty much due north which means a reach with the leaders getting to the Owers turn around 0300 or so on Monday morning, just around the time of low water. And so the first there will probably start pushing against the first of the contrary flood tide. By 0600 there can be as much as 3 knots of current against them.

This first stage might be a train, with some early gains to the north and east, getting into the NE'ly shift first, but after that it will be a straight line with few options, mainly under genoa but perhaps a little tight spinnaker reaching if the wind veers slightly.

A Dotted Line

The second stage will start off in light to moderate breezes against the current. Under spinnaker there will be the chance to shave St Catherine's Point on the southern tip of the isle of wight or to go offshore to be less adversely affected by the tide, or to look for more seabreeze on the coast. The fleet may well split apart here.

"The high pressure cell will go to the North Sea, leaving behind little wind ... a southerly breeze will come in but weaken. At the same time a high pressure ridge will develop from Cotentin to Portland Bill and that will bring a shift to the NW and W. But this will be transitory as a low pressure system which becomes installed off Britain brings in a shift and a general SSW'ly regime,” continues the Meteo Consult forecaster.

Monday midday might be the key times on this first leg. Especially when the leaders should be between Needles and Portland Bill or more offshore when the tide will turn again. A number of skippers will recall anchoring here off Portland Bill where the tidal current can exceed 5 knots. But after this the wind should strengthen and move to the SW with 12-15 knots for the passage out to Wolf Rock which they should reach in reasonable seas rounding upwind Tuesday night into Wednesday.

From there it is ‘only' 200 miles and some elastic expansion and contraction with some closing up at the Brittany coast to the mark off Roscoff but from there there will be few options on a final downwind into Plymouth. The most complex phase does look like between Cowes and Lizard Point between sunrise and sunset Monday. And the finish into Plymouth is predicted between sunrise and midday Thursday.

Nick Cherry (GBR) skipper of Redstone: “Leg1 is going to be pretty interesting, there's going to be quite a range of conditions, it's looking potentially quite thundery at the start, predominantly 10-15kn from the East, maybe lighter at the start. When we get to Owers buoy, when we turn along the South coast basically for there for all of Monday it's going to be light winds. There's going to be a transition, at some point at the end of Monday we're going to have a southwesterly - that's the only guarantee, that it's going to be light for quite a while on Monday and that will be one of the key parts of the race - who can get into the south westerly first heading towards Wolf Rock will win the leg. After that it's fairly straight-forward - could have 25kn going around Wolf Rock, pretty challenging, fairly bumpy at times and then it dies again once we head back across the Channel to Roscoff. It goes light again for the last channel crossing approaching Plymouth, getting the tides right for that when we're tired we be the other key part of the leg - chance if you've had a bad first part to make some gains at the end there.

"I think dealing with the patch between Owers and the middle of the channel will be tricky because looking at various weather models there's the potential to tack out and come almost as far South as France but there's a traffic separation scheme in the middle that we're not allowed into, that is kind of in the way of the course so you have to make a decision which side of it you go. I think it would be quite risky to go South of it. Basically, Monday afternoon is when the race is going to be decided.

"It looks as if (the leg) is going to take 3 days. The latest word is that they're not looking at shortening the course. So I've packed enough food for 3.5 days. It's going to be as long a leg as I've done so fatigue will be big factor at the end."

Erwan Tabarly, skipper of Armor Lux - Comptoir de la Mer added: "It is a course riddled with coastal strategy We will play the current, shifts, maritime traffic. It will be difficult to sleep when you want, because it has a lot of buoys to pass and the legs are short. You need to stay sharp but also to rest but not necessarily when we're tired, rather at strategic moments. There will be many different legs. The English south coast is often full of surprises. "

Alain Gautier, skipper of Generali: "This leg will be broken into quite short sections broken by the current. This can happen quite a lot. It will be very special with a pretty tricky weather."

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