Complex forecast for Figaro Stage 3

Published on September 11th, 2020

Dunkirk, France (September 11, 2020) – The third stage of the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro which starts tomorrow afternoon at 1600hrs local time is a 492 nautical miles stage to Saint Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire Estuary.

With three weather transitions on the forecasts and at least the same number of potential tidal traps lying in wait, including passages through both of the most notorious tidal races, first the Raz Blanchard – the Alderney Race – and then the Raz de Sein – between the Isle de Sein and the tip of Brittany – all compounded by an expected wind shutdown at the finish, this will very likely be the stage which proves conclusive, shaking up a very tight leaderboard.

Race leader Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire), the 2-time La Solitaire champion is the only skipper in the fleet with breathing space, having built himself a 37 minutes and 30 seconds margin over the first two legs, most of that from winning the second stage into Dunkirk.

But between second placed Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) and Fabien Delahaye (Laboratoires Gilbert) in 13th, there are only 26 minutes.

Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) lies third, the highest ever overall position of British skipper at an intermediate stop on the annual French multi-stage race. “I am trying to not let the pressure of being a good position get to me and really it is working,” said the 30-year-old. “Even when it has been going well and or even badly, sometimes, I have been really enjoying it.

“I wanted to come here and show that I have improved as a sailor and that I can sail better, and I think I have done that already. That has gone very much to plan, and now in essence I will just carry on with what I have been doing and the way I have been doing it.”

On both stages so far Goodchild has climbed steadily up the fleet, most notably passing the 3-time La Solitaire winner Yann Eliès in the final three miles to the finish gun of Stage 2. He clearly has speed and is sailing to his game plan, he adds, “The two legs I have had so far I have not found myself being overtaken, I have not found myself in a situation going backwards and thinking ‘I don’t know what to do here.’

“Tactically I have made some good calls….. and some bad calls, but everyone has, Armel included. You have to put the whole package together and there is no point at all in worrying about that now. I am confident in the boatspeed I have, in the two legs I have sailed and the way I have been sailing.”

Most of the skippers will contend there is no such thing as a typical La Solitaire. But, like last year, there are some very good La Solitaire sailors deep in the field, having made no glaring errors but finished right down the finishing order on one or other of the legs.

Goodchild reflects, “It is quite revealing to me when I read interviews with other skippers who have won legs before or won the event before and they are a long way down the standings and they are saying they are not upset or anything, they are happy with the way they are sailing. It shows how level the playing field is on this race.”

He is quite content with his situation in the fleet, considering to himself that there is less pressure on him going into this stage, “To myself and my peers here I have shown I can do good results and I can win. Now I just need to go and do it again. When I was in the Figaro before when I was 20 or 21 there was the pressure, you were thinking ‘right, I need to make a result now because it will make your career.’ I have eliminated that out of my mind now.”

From the Stage 3 start gun there is no let up for the 34 boat fleet. They have to tack upwind, against the tidal current in a narrow corridor bound by the shipping lane to their north.

The tide turns against the fleet at half an hour after the start and from there it is upwind, uptide for the next six hours until 0030hrs, certainly to the corner at Cap Gris Nez. A transition through a high pressure ridge means light winds at the end of the first night. During the early morning the wind goes from SW’ly through 180 degrees, into the east, but the transition will not be simple and will surely reshuffle the pack.

Then it is light downwind sailing in 10 knots or less down to the Raz Blanchard where they should reach early on September 14. But the race could well be decided off the Raz de Sein off Ushant where the wind is due to switch again to the south and remain very light.

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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 492 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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