Last night in Stage 1, La Solitaire du Figaro

Published on September 2nd, 2020

(September 2, 2020; Day 4) – French skipper Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF), holding a lead of 2.3 nautical miles with 120 miles to the finish of Stage 1 of the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro, may be on the threshold of his first ever leg win of his decade of Figaro racing.

If Macaire’s margin was under threat yesterday night when he led around the Fastnet Rock, he has modulated his fast spinnaker reaching return leg well. The 39 year old who races out of Saint Gilles Crox de Vie with the Team Vendée Formation, has sailed a textbook race, not least showing ample speed during what has largely proven a drag race back across the Celtic Sea.

Passing the Scillies today, he was slowed and saw his margin cut to just over one mile, but the French Solo Offshore Champion of 2015 had doubled that in recent hours.

Known as Le Marcassin (the boar) for his ability to push hard under the big spinnaker in big winds, Macaire is chased by Alexis Loison (Région Normandie), 36, – who won Stage 1 into Plymouth in 2014 in second and Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire), 43, in third.

Age and experience seems to have prevailed thus far, as Loison has 14 participations and Le Cléac’h has 11. Lois Berrehar (Bretagne CMB Performance), 26, and Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Espoir), 23, are the best of the young guns in seventh and eighth who may yet come good tonight.

The best of the internationals is Briton Sam Goodchild (Leyton) in eighth poised four miles behind the leader, Swiss rookie Nils Palmieri (TeamWork) is tenth while Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) is half a mile back in 11th.

Increasingly, there seems the chance of a relatively straightforward and quick re-entry into the finish at Baie de Saint-Brieuc. According to forecasters, the breeze will build to 18 knots for a finish which is expected to be some time tomorrow after 05:00. The good news for the chasing pack is that an increase in the SW’ly breeze will mount from the west and so compress the fleet

Indeed, weather routings this afternoon even suggest the top 30 boats might yet finish within one hour, which might partially salve the tattered nerves of some of the top hopes who had found themselves deep in the fleet with big deltas as a result of the combination of bad choices made during the first night’s very light winds and an out and back course which has largely been devoid of tactical options.

This last night will doubtless prove who can sustain their performance through the fog of fatigue and increasing stress as the finish line approaches. At 642 nautical miles, this opening stage has been a very long three and a half day test of speed, stamina, and personal management. And in the very essence of La Solitaire du Figaro, there are really just 48 hours to recover before Stage 2 to Dunkirk via Wolf Rock.

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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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