Leaders break away
That the gaps grow progressively bigger scanning down the afternoon rankings tells the story of this key stage of Leg 3 of La Solitaire du Figaro-Eric Bompard cachemire. As the leaders work progressively south and west towards the Odas turning mark, some 61 miles ahead of race leader Yann Eliès's bow, they were the first to break into better breeze.
Initially it appears to have been the thermal westerly – not shown on the forecasts - but it was enough to get Eliès and the three leaders moving at five to six knots while the second and third ranks, only a matter of half a mile to two miles behind, were still all but stationary.
Yann Elies, skipper of Group Quéguiner - Leucemie Espoir commented: "It's good and I am in the sunshine. It is going okay and I have had wind for an hour, going upwind. It's SE to SW. The forecast said it would be variable but there has not been much around. I'll take whatever comes. The shift will come but in my opinion there will be a few shifts. There is very little sea, very little wind and millions of jellyfish. I think they will reach the beaches. So I have rested a bit this morning, I had a good spell under pilot and so I grabbed some rest then. We will get to the west now and out to the ODAS mark tonight or early tomorrow morning but we have at least another two days at sea."
For the likes of Britain's Sam Goodchild and young rookie Richard Mason it has been a painful day, a reminder perhaps of how the very good – like double Solitaire winner Eliès - seemingly make their luck. Less than 24 hours ago as they rounded the SW corner of Belle Isle, Goodchild was in the hunt along with Eliès and Gildas Mahé.
The island which lies 14kms off the Breton coast was a British stronghold once, before it was returned to the French in 1763 in exchange for the island of Minorca. And for all that, Goodchild was staking a claim to the lead in glassy smooth conditions more akin to Mediterranean Minorca to Atlantic Morbihan, it was the double Solitaire du Figaro champion who eased away.
Goodchild, speaking to Race HQ in Les Sables d'Olonne this morning, explained how he had seemingly struggled to match their straight line speed, and half a mile became one mile became 10 miles. And on the 1500hrs local time ranking Team Plymouth was down to 19th, over 15 miles behind Groupe Queguiner Leucemie Espoir.
"Yesterday it was looking good and I had got level with Yann and Gildas and then my speed was not great in a straight line and I got back a little bit, maybe half a mile and then they got a bit more breeze than me and then half a mile becomes ten miles and I have lost contact with the leaders," reported Goodchild. "We have not really had the forecast it has been southerlies or nothing and hopefully this afternoon it will come in because at the moment we have only got three knots of wind and then we can get back on track but at the moment we are a little bit behind schedule. I have started to be careful with food and water just to be sure that I have enough for the finish. I still have about five bottles of water left and so as long as I am careful I should be okay."
For young rookie Mason on Artemis 77, the experience of being up at fifth just after sun rise this morning, 1.9 miles off the lead is one to be treasured but the slide into the pack – stuck in the east and missing out on the first of the westerly then northwesterly – has been painful.
And while the moods on the water may be bleak despite the fierce summer sunshine, it was a very disappointed Fabien Delahaye who arrived on Skipper Macif 3 into Les Sables d'Olonne. The erstwhile race leader, who will celebrate his 30th birthday just after the race finishes and who finished runner up in 2010, retired from Leg 3 after his D1 shroud failed pre-start on Sunday. He had decided that his deficit of more than 30 miles was too much to make up and so retired last night and headed for the Leg 3 finish town where he arrived in Port Olonna this morning.
But for the 35 remaining solo sailors there is still half of the 505 miles leg to sail, 60 or so miles to the turn and then 140 miles back nearly due east towards the BXA mark off the Gironde estuary before a final climb 55 miles north to Les Sables d'Olonne.
Several of the solo skippers today spoke of conserving water and the possibility of a fourth night at sea. The northwesterly breeze is forecast to hold through tonight, which should allow more regular progress to continue down to the turn. But another slow down may happen with the breeze slackening to four to seven knots.
And then tomorrow the wind will be WNW which should present a reasonable reach across towards the final turning mark, accelerating in the afternoon tomorrow with a one sided beat up to the finish. Better conditions are forecast for the finish of this third leg. A low over Brittany should provide the skippers with a 15 knot WNWerly wind to make their way to Les Sables. But the fine weather ends with occasional rain.
Erwan Tabarly skipper of Armor Lux - Comptoir de la Mer said: "I have just tacked with a S'ly wind. It is not the forecast breeze that we should have we are upwind and tacking. The sky is nearly clear save for the odd cloud. The night was difficult, without any wind, and so we did not get very far. It was pretty painful. There was some nasty chop around as well and so it was hard to keep the boat moving. But now I have about five knots of breeze and we are getting on. The wind has shifted earlier but we are still expecting the N'ly back in later and that is the goal to use it and get the spinnaker up. I am on starboad tack and just getting south almost on the direct route. The goal is to get to the N'ly but when it comes is anyone's guess. I have a few boats around me.
Gildas Morvan, skipper of Cercle Vert added: " I am in the sun and the wind has dropped we have only 3-4kts of wind and it is tricky. There are transitions there is a N'ly expected and we have a S and SW'ly so there is a transition between the N and the SW and it is not easy and we have to tack. I think there are some small ridges in the Bay which is killing off the wind and messes it up a bit. Forecasts say this will last for a while but I dont really know what will develop but I think the N'ly will come back. But at the moment its not here and so I take what there is. It is very difficult to get to ODAS and even after that it is not looking too great, it will be slow to Les Sables d'Olonne for sure, I can foresee a fourth night for sure. So I am going to start paying attention to water for sure."