Figaro begins Stage 3 monster

Published on September 12th, 2020

Dunkirk, France (September 12, 2020) – The Race Director of the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro shortened the course for Stage 2 to ensure that the skippers had a full extra night of sleep before this afternoon’s start of Stage 3, a 492 miles ‘monster’ of a leg from Dunkirk down the Channel and all the way around the Brittany coast to Saint Nazaire.

Considering the light winds which are expected to prevail for much of this decisive leg, and the constant intense demands of close, side by side racing along the rocky, very tidal French coast, the 33 skippers who started today in a moderate 15 knots WSW’ly and choppy seas will have cause to be thankful they have full reserves of energy.

Although they set off in a good breeze, one which was due to build during the early evening to 18-20kts, by the first mark, Daffodil buoy at Dieppe, the winds are expected to die away and remain light for most the remainder of the course.

Britain’s Phil Sharp (OceansLab), who lies in 23rd place overall, showed the fleet the way in the early hours of the race as the fleet short tacked westwards up the Channel in a narrow lane, compressed by the shipping zone offshore of them. And Sam Goodchild (Leyton), who in third overall holds the best mid-Solitaire position ever of a British skipper, made a solid start to his leg, lying 10th very much in the heat of the peloton.

Leading the General Classifications by some 37 minutes, Armel Le Cléac’h made a more modest start to the stage. He cautioned on the dock before leaving Dunkirk, “It is a very difficult leg. The last routing shows it taking four days, so it is long and complicated. And even if I know the coast really well then so does everyone else of my direct rivals.

“There is nothing done yet, everything can change on the standings at any time. So I need to be concentrated, focused, vigilant, to make a good start and not make mistakes in the early part out from Dunkirk, and then out into the Channel it is always going to be a case of pacing yourself, saving some energy for the bit into Saint Nazaire.”

The 33 solo sailors still in the race (after the retirements of Robin Marais – Ma Chance Moi Aussi – who went aground off Start Point on Stage 2 and the injured Corentin Douguet – NF Habitat) were setting up to pass the two great capes of the Opal Coast, Blanc Nez and Gris Nez where the shipping lanes are at the busiest

The leg described by rookie Marc Mallaret (CER Occitanie) as a ‘monster’ is set to unfold tonight close to the coast as the solo racers try to cheat the tide flowing against them unto 2230hrs. The first competitors should arrive in front of Dieppe in the early hours of the morning to leave the Daffodil buoy to starboard some four miles from the shore. The wind will then drop and fill from the East and allow the spinnakers to be set as they sail across the Bay of the Seine.

Positioning out of Daffodil bouy and choices made just after will very much determine the set up for passage of the Cotentin-Cherbourg peninsula’s two tidal races, Barfleur and Blanchard. The forecasts for the Brittany coast were very conflicting and the choices off the tip Brittany, against the currents of Portsall and the Chenal de Four might very well decide the stage winner and even the General Classification winner.

Alan Roberts, the British skipper of Seacat Services who is 19th, needs to gain 38 minutes to break the top ten overall, very achievable on this leg. He explained, “How you exit that first mark can then be key to how you get past Cap de Le Hague and Alderney. And there will be a big shut down just as we arrive at Portsail just inside Ushant and that will be the big one, I think there will be big distances between the fleet by there, and that can be the area where people really get out well, or catch up there. Someone could literally leap a tide ahead here. Then there will potentially a light wind at the finish.

“It is an awesome leg. People sail conservatively to their game plans on Legs 1 and 2 and Leg 3 often decides it. I think people will be more active on this leg. It feels like that way to me. Where I am in the fleet the question is still there is a possibility to get a good, average result and so it is better to do that or take the risk and maybe get a good result or maybe end up with a bad result. For sure I don’t want to take a big risk but if there is a chance when the fleet is not behaving like the routing showed, then maybe that is the time to take some risk, but there is no point in taking risk for the sake of it.”

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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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