Underway for Stage 2 sprint of La Solitaire du Figaro

Published on September 6th, 2020

Saint-Brieuc, France (September 6, 2020) – The second stage of the La Solitaire du Figaro started today in a light to moderate north easterly breeze at 1100hrs. The 404 nautical miles stage takes the 35 strong field of solo sailors east to Dunkirk, a new destination port for the multi stage solo offshore race which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

The leg is expected to take two and a half days – a veritable sprint compared to the 642 miles, four night first stage marathon to the Fastnet and back – but once again sailors and weather experts alike consider that it is this first tricky light winds night which is very likely to shape the finish order into the historic, easternmost city of France.

The tricky beat to Eddystone off Plymouth is followed by a long, fast 160 miles downwind run east up the channel to a mark, Antifer, off Le Havre then continuing 100 miles more on a downwind procession to Dunkirk, the fleet increasingly funnelled into a narrow lane, gybing several times down a course bounded by high land to the south and the forbidden shipping lane to their left.

“It looks very much like a leg on which the Solitaire could be lost but is not likely to be won, ” observed weather guru Marcel van Triest who in pre-start advises several top sailors on weather strategy.

All the way through the fleet the time differentials carried from Stage 1 are tiny. Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF), the opening Fastnet leg winner, held just 95 seconds of advantage over Loïs Berrehar (Bretagne CMB Performance) with Alex Loison (Région Normandie) third at seven minutes and three seconds behind. But poised in fourth is double winner Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) at 10 minutes 20 seconds behind. The top 15 are spanned by 25 minutes, the top 20 by 35 minutes.

As the fleet sailed away from the Brittany coast at around 1500hrs local time today in 10-12kts of northeasterly breeze, it was the French 2012 470 dinghy Olympian Pierre Leboucher (Guyot Environnment) leading the way with Armel Le Cléac’h lurking in second after making a much stronger start than he made on Stage 1 off the same Saint Brieuc start line. Le Cléac’h is looking hungry for success and has had no other distractions this year, training hard on his Figaro after finishing 10th last year.

“The weather is looking a little complicated for the climb north to Eddystone with variable winds to negotiate then a long, important leg to the finish which will be a real speed test,” Le Cléac’h, 44, said on the race dock. “The first night is going to be interesting tactically as you have to be good here to be well placed around Eddystone. I think after that it will be hard to get places back. Much of the ranking will be set by here.

“There will still be little gains to be made here and there, but it will be a speed race and the finish will not be very complicated. There will be wind all the way down there and it is great to be going to Dunkirk for the first time to show our boats.”

Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is the best of the international entrants in ninth on the overall standings and was fighting in the main group at less than a mile from the lead.

The opening 115 miles upwind passage to Eddystone lighthouse off Plymouth is set to see the sailors encounter shifting light winds affected by an occluded front and a new high pressure ridge coming in from the west which will combine to swing the breeze through three significant shifts in direction during the night.

What promises to be a hard fought upwind in a decent 14-16kts of northwesterly breeze will peter out as the wind drops completely in the small hours of the morning.

Round Start Point, the fleet are likely to work the Devon coast where there will be more wind pressure before calling a layline for the A8 mark off Le Havre, a difficult but necessarily accurate call given the strong tides in the Channel. The wind is set to build to over 20 knots for an express ride to the line where the leaders are now expected late on September 8.

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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: 404 miles to Dunkirk via the English coast (September 6 to 8)

Originally to be 497 miles to Dunkirk via the English coast, a light wind forecast shortened the northernmost turning mark to Eddystone off Plymouth and not Wolf Rock off Lands End as programmed. From the start, it will be a 120 nautical miles leg to Eddystone lighthouse followed by a long, fast 160 miles downwind run east up the channel to a mark, Antifer, off Le Havre then continuing 100 miles more on a downwind procession to Dunkirk, the fleet increasingly funneled into a narrow lane, gybing several times down a course bounded by high land to the south and the forbidden shipping lane to their left. The leaders are expected in Dunkirk after about two and a half days at sea.


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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