Slow start for La Solitaire du Figaro

Published on August 31st, 2020

(August 31, 2020; Leg 1) – After first night at sea which proved painfully slow and frustrating at times, the leaders on the 642 nautical miles Stage 1 of La Solitaire du Figaro had got their noses into the first of a forecasted new southerly breeze and by mid-afternoon today, some 27 hours after the start, the pacemakers were intermittent periods of promising speeds, back up to 7 knots.

French skipper Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) has led the 35 solo skippers since 0530hrs this morning, a middle track close to the most direct, shortest course proving most profitable. The 39- year-old from the Team Vendée Formation training group already has two overall podiums to his credit, second in 2013 and third in 2015, but in nine previous challenges has not yet won a stage.

Leading the fleet out of The Channel approaches this afternoon he had stretched from 0.3 to 0.7 nautical miles ahead of Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) over a 90 minute period. The leaders are contemplating the passage of the Scillies this evening and tonight and choose their passage around the forbidden zones marked by the Traffic Separation Schemes there.

Into the second night the breeze is expected to build to present a rich-get-richer scenario for those in the vanguard of the fleet, gennaker reaching in 13-16kts of breeze towards the Fastnet, which is just under 200 miles from Macaire this afternoon.

Trying to work through the very calm, sticky zone of the high pressure ridge, last night definitely saw elements of bad luck come into play. Solo skippers only tens of metres from their rivals being left behind, unlucky to miss out on local zephyrs of wind, especially among those who chose the inshore option, closest to the north Brittany coast. As expected off Roscoff speeds dropped to zero for periods.

Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) left the Baie de Saint Brieuc start line on Sunday with one avowed intention, to lay to exorcise the ghosts of the two ‘disastrous’ first legs which ruined both of his first two La Solitaire du Figaro.

In 2018 he was forced back to Le Havre when a spreader root failed less than one hour after the start – he did not even make it to the first buoy – while last year he was one of many who went west on the beat to Fastnet and he finished many hours after the winners.

Lying fifth the 33 year old from County Meath who has based himself in Concarneau for 11 years and has finished fourth in the MiniTransat is making a decent fist of the first part of this stage, best of the eight international, non-French sailors, just 1.2 miles behind Macaire and seemingly well established within this main peloton.

In contrast Brit Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) had a terrible first night, finding himself going backwards in the current at one point. He was down in 33rd place this afternoon with a deficit of 23 miles on the leaders.

Top British hope Sam Goodchild (Leyton) recovered well after a modest first couple of hours and lies eighth on his first La Solitaire du Figaro stage for six years.

As he did on the equivalent first leg last year, twice winner Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) has underlined his self confidence in doing his own thing, working well to the north of the group. The sailor previously known as The Jackal for his ability to hold pace with the leaders then pounce when they made mistakes, appeared to have lost 20 miles on the leaders and was 22nd but some forecasters suggest there will be more wind pressure to the north of the rhumb line as the high pressure moves away.

But as fellow two-times overall winner Nico Lunven cautioned in his lunch time analysis written on land today, the new Beneteau Figaro 3s are lighter and faster than their predecessor Figaro 2s and under gennaker against a Code Zero or vice versa, a sustained 3 knots speed differential is not unusual.

Similarly not to be written off is the French ace Yann Eliès (Queguiner Materiaux-Leucémie Espoir) who could become the first skipper to win outright four times. Eliès was also working a very northerly routing compared with the peloton and was 23rd, the same distance behind the leader as his long time rival Le Cléach.

Before leaving his native Baie de Saint, Brieuc Eliès told the local Le Telegramme in an interview:
“Maybe I’m wrong, but it is getting harder and harder. There were of course other difficulties back in the days when my father was racing. But I don’t know if I will be able to enjoy myself without having that desire to win… just getting out there to sail around.

“In the past, there was the idea of going on a trip, sailing off to Kinsale for example. But this time, Saint-Quay, Dunkirk and Saint-Nazaire. No point in going there if you’re not aiming to win… It’s tough, hard work and the boat is difficult too… But that is one of the reasons why we keep coming back. People think we must be crazy, but when you get back ashore, you tell yourself, “We have done something incredible.”

He adds, “It is a question of motivation, commitment and the result of being in a group… During the delivery trip, we got up to 15-20 knots under spinnaker, or maybe more. We could have taken it easy with the gennaker and stayed in our bunk. But of course we didn’t. I needed one more shot to make sure I was ready.

“I’m still in my prime, but it doesn’t feel like it did when I achieved my third win. I felt I was that bit better and that it was easy. Here, I’m simply in the group of contenders, but I’m not head and shoulders above everyone else. To get three wins, I had perfect control of the boat and it was so easy getting out in front. I felt relaxed and didn’t have to suffer…

“Now even to be up at the front means I have to push extremely hard. You have to give so much and I’m not sure I can do that throughout the Solitaire. I feel I am capable of getting a win in one leg, but will my body be able to cope with all that effort? I just can’t recover and recuperate so easily. There is the question of preparation. I have a great partner, but when I see the lads with Macif, Bretagne CMB and how they have been hard at work since November……”

Race detailsSkippersTrackerFacebook

The four-leg solo 1830 nm race in the latest generation foil-equipped one design Figaro Bénéteau 3 is a fiercely competitive proving ground for solo sailors. Analysis of the race course by the Race Director:

Leg 1: a 642 mile voyage to the Fastnet and back (August 30 to September 2)

“The only waypoint in this first long leg will be the Fastnet Rock, which they will have to leave to starboard. It is going to be very open for the solo sailors from the start, with everyone attempting to find the right tactics and avoid the traps in the Channel and Celtic Sea,” explained Francis Le Goff. Once they have left Saint-Brieuc Bay, the skippers will head for Ireland while avoiding the rocks around the Isles of Scilly and respecting the various shipping lanes (TSS) to the West of Cornwall on the way out and back. Anything is possible. They can go inside or outside the islands, so we can look forward to an exciting tactical game…

Leg 2: 497 miles to Dunkirk via the English coast (September 6 to 9)

They will have to watch out for all the shipping and sandbanks. “From Saint-Quay-Portrieux, the fleet will head for the Wolf Rock to the South West of Land’s End, and then make their way towards a waypoint close to Antifer light near Etretat before heading for the finish off Dunkirk. In this leg, they are going to have to make sure they are able to remain alert and focused over the final miles. “This is a leg, where keeping a clear head for the final few miles will be key to the outcome,” explained Francis Le Goff. In this second leg, it will all be very open between Wolf Rock and the Alabaster Coast of Normandy, but there will also be a lot of traps lying in store, such as the TSS, which means the room for manoeuvre will be limited all the way to Dunkirk. There is all the cross-Channel shipping between Calais and Dover, and then the tidal currents and sandbanks all the way to the finish. They will have to manage their sleep and that is going to be vital in this leg for them to be able to stay fresh for the final stretch…

Leg 3: a 504 mile coastal leg from Dunkirk to Saint-Nazaire (September 12 to 15)

There are going to be some great sights along the way in this third leg with a wide range of backdrops. The Opal, Alabaster, Mother-of-pearl coasts of Normandy and the Pink Granite coast and craggy cliffs at the tip of Brittany, the Megalithic Coast of Southern Brittany, the Love Coast and Jade Coast of the Loire Estauary area. So many brilliant things to see, yet the leg is full of hurdles: tricky headlands and capes, tidal currents, islands and rocks, fishermen… 500 miles of high-tension sailing, with one eye on the charts, and the other on the sails with some sleepless nights ahead.

Leg 4: a 24 hour and 183 mile sprint between the islands for the Grand Finale (September 19 to 20)

After three hard, testing stages, the solo sailors will have to draw deeply on their reserves for for 24 hours of racing, a loop which should take them between the Ile d’Yeu and Belle-Île via the Ile de Groix before seeing them return to the Loire-Atlantique to crown the big winner of this 51st edition which promises to be full of twists and turns.

Source: La Solitaire du Figaro

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