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Solitaire du Figaro - Hellish final leg for Jean-Pierre Nicol

by Alexandra Fontaine on 24 Jun 2013
Jean-Pierre Nicol - Bernard Controls - 2013 Solitaire du Figaro © Jean-Marie Liot
In the final leg of the Solitaire du Figaro, Jean-Pierre Nicol finished in 17th place last night. It was shortly before midnight in Dieppe (2356hrs local time), with Adrien Hardy winning this race and Yann Eliès becoming the overall winner of the event. Bernard Controls finished in 18th place in the overall rankings.

Tired and exhausted, hardly able to stand up… but happy (and rightly so) to have completed this hellish final leg, the skipper of Bernard Controls tells us more….

Jean-Pierre, how would you describe this final race?

'It was a great leg. It was very tactical with the rocks and nasty conditions towards the end. A good leg for the tough Breton sailors, who are used to battling it out like this. Well done to the frontrunners, who set an incredible pace. This was a leg where the leaders were able to extend their lead with conditions favouring those at the front. I don’t know how, but I got stuck with a small group off the tip of Brittany and that’s when they made their getaway. But there’s not just the result to consider, but the way we sailed too: we needed to finish in good condition, both the boat and the sailor and that is already quite an achievement. This is the sort of leg, where the positions don’t worry you too much, as there is always something to do: there were a lot of little tactical plays, and we were busy manoeuvring and steering all the time. You don’t get to choose if you want to keep the boat on track. The advantage is that you don’t start asking yourself whether you need to get some rest: you just have to keep going all the time. It’s crazy. This is the type of leg that we won’t easily forget.'

What do you mean?

'It’s not every day that you fight like this. The Channel is always tricky, but when the wind is blowing at forty knots… We’re going to have some great memories, but there were times when we really asked ourselves what we were doing out there. (Laughs) It was very, very wet with the salt getting in your eyes all the time. It’s like a fire hose out on deck with the water coming straight at you. The boat is swamped, the equipment taken to the limit and the skipper too. I am completely worn out after that and looking at the others, I get the impression that I’m not the only one like that.'

The long leg under spinnaker along the English coast must have been particularly crazy?

'Ah yes… If you were out enjoying yourself, you’d simply bring down the sail, hoist the genoa, but as everyone is fighting so hard, you just have to hoist the spinnaker and go for it. It’s amazing: average speeds of 18-20 knots, with peaks of 22 knots regularly reached. I’ve hardly ever sailed as fast as this before on the boat. I love speeding along, and taking advantage of the surf, but sometimes it does feel like you’re close to the edge…'

'Showing our strengths'

What is the atmosphere like on board in these conditions in the dark of night?

'It’s quite crazy. You can’t see what’s going on, you just stare out at your rivals. You can’t see the waves or the gusts. You just try to sail quickly and avoid getting knocked down. When you slam into the waves it is incredibly violent. You don’t know what’s happening up there and it is quite a shock. Imagine driving along at night in bad weather in your car with your foot down and the headlights off… The adrenalin is really pumping and that’s just as well, as it means you don’t experience fear. This leg will remain with me rather like the Bay of Biscay in 2007. Two really big moments.'

Looking at the Solitaire overall, where you made it to the podium in one leg and end up in 18th place overall, how do you feel?

'I’m surprised by what happened in these four legs with some huge time differences, while a few years ago, everyone used to finish within a few minutes of each other. The weather was fairly unpredictable. In the two final legs, it’s amazing to see how much the frontrunners were favoured, as they just benefited from better winds and currents. As for the final result in terms of the numbers, I’m a bit disappointed, as when you finish in third place in Porto with a lead of one hour over a lot of your rivals, you start to think that you can really pull it off. And I did well in the second leg when with Gildas Morvan, we managed to make our getaway… until 20 miles from the finish in Gijon, when something happened that I still don’t really understand. I went from feeling euphoric to coming back to Earth with a bump. But I’m not unhappy with the final leg: once again, the most important thing was bringing the boat and the skipper here safely and I really think I sailed well. The result is simply down to that moment of being becalmed off the tip of Brittany and that was something no one could have foreseen. That’s what sailing is all about and you just have to accept that. In the end, I have finished ahead of a little group including people like Frédéric Duthil, Fabien Delahaye, Nicolas Lunven… so up with some great guys. I have learnt that you must not merely look at the result on paper, but also the way it was achieved. And from that perspective, I believe I have been able to show my strengths.'
JP Nicol website

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