Rounding Fastnet Rock in La Solitaire du Figaro

Published on September 1st, 2020

(September 1, 2020; Day 3) – French skipper Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) led the 35 solo skippers round the Fastnet Rock at 1830hrs local time Ireland this evening, passing the half way point of Stage 1 of the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro in a modest 10 to 11 knot southwesterly breeze with a very slender lead.

The 39 year old skipper from the Team Vendée Formation, who has never won a stage, has been in the lead since very early yesterday morning. The 642 nm course began August 30.

As 2-time overall winner Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) turned round the iconic rocky lighthouse within clear sight of rival Macaire, half a mile behind, it marked the conclusion of a spectacular recovery, rising to chase the leader’s stern at the turn, in the space of 24 hours coming back from 22nd position and 20 miles behind the leader

Le Cléac’h – who takes weather strategy advice from Dutch ace Marcel Van Triest, as did last year’s leg and overall winner Yoann Richomme – clawed back fully 10 miles and nine places as he took a more northerly route at the Scillies TSS, cutting inside the fleet on the corner entering the Celtic Sea.

The Vendée Globe winner’s track gained him more wind pressure and speed and, as he passed the rock which he first encountered on a Figaro race in 2001, Le Cléac’h is back in the game in a very strong position to challenge for the fifth stage win on his career.

As is so often the case, the passage into and out of the Fastnet brings all the leading contenders within close sight of each other, the top ten sailors all within two miles of leader Macaire. The passage, leaving the mark to port, proved a very tight turn as the fleet skirted the very edge of the forbidden traffic separation zone to their east and there were opportunities to gain and lose places.

Passing the iconic rock in his home waters in seventh place casts out the some of the ghosts of La Solitaires past for Tom Dolan. The Irish sailor was third for most of the passage across the Celtic Sea but dropped places being too high on the line approaching Fastnet letting three boats slide inside him.

That said, the 33 year old sailor from Kells, County Meath has shown again that head to head he can match speeds with the best of the fleet sprinting across the Celtic Sea in moderate 12-15 knots southwesterly winds. Until the corner at Fastnet, he lived up to his billing in France, as the ‘Irlandais Volant’ (Flying Irishman).

In 2018, when the opening leg of the race was heading to the Baie de Saint Brieuc, Dolan had to motor there from Le Havre, forced out of the leg by a damaged spreader root. Dolan was up to second, 1.1 mile behind the leader Macaire during this afternoon, but soon became another prey for the ‘Jackal’ as Le Cléac’h has been known as.

For all the 35 skippers, the big challenge now is managing themselves on a fast reach back to Saint Quay Portrieux where they left two days ago. The quick reaching will require long hours at the helm to maximize speed whilst still considering a light winds finish is forecast where the fleet is expected to compress significantly in the final miles to the line.

Race veteran Gildas Morvan, with 22 La Solitaires to his credit, observed in his lunchtime analysis today: “In the standings, Xavier Macaire and Corentin Douguet are leading the way, their trajectories are exemplary, they have sailed well right from the start, they are the ones who set the pace, they are quite impressive, these old guys still have it!

“The young guns of Crédit Mutuel Bretagne (Tom Laperche and Loïs Berrehar) are not very far behind, they keep up the pressure, we will see who will be the strongest on the return leg, because we will have to let go and push hard. Even on a pure speed drag race there are still options.”

Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is still very much in the leading group in 13th place at 2.5 miles behind Macaire. Goodchild lost places on the final approach to the turn but gained back distance on the leader as the fleet compacted. His compatriot and long time Class40 rival Phil Sharp (OceansLab) is 16th. Sharp is alongside Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire) who won the first stage into Saint Quay in 2018. But this duo have a three miles gap to make up to the next boat.

On his first La Solitaire since 2015 when he was tenth overall, Jack Bouttell (Gillot Fromagerie) is in 22nd place and reported: “Physically I am pretty good I would say, the first night was pretty tough with the light winds zone, obviously I got through it better than I thought I did, but to be 17 miles behind first place is quite a long way back and disappointing. I am hoping to catch up some miles in the next few days.

“I think the strategy I had was opposite to what happened; I did no really understand what went on as I was not in the right place and I struggled a bit with upwind speed. I think with that and a combination of things, I did not end up in the best place. The wind was meant to drop from the front of the fleet and not the back and in the end the further back you were the worse you were. The rich got richer.

“It should be good now with some faster sailing in the next few hours, to Fastnet, The breeze is a bit more left than forecast and so I hope it goes right again. I don’t really know where the leading group are. I think the we are quite lined up now. The front I don’t know where they are.”

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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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