La Solitaire du Figaro 2011 started in Perros-Guirec on the North Brittany coast and visited Caen, Normandy, Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, Les Sables d’Olonne, Vendée, before finishing in Dieppe, Pas de Calais, on 28th August.
The Figaro fleet under spinnaker - La Solitaire du Figaro 2011
Jérémie Beyou dominates the 42nd edition of the event by winning three out of four legs, a year that was marked by the extremely diverse weather conditions and unconventionally primarily coastal courses. 47 sailors set off on the 1,647-mile course, 43 finished and the Vendée based rookie sailor, Morgan Lagravière impressed all winning the rookie ranking and coming in seventh overall.
Leg 1: from Perros-Guirec to Caen (293 miles)
Young Delahaye wins on home waters.
What will be remembered of the 42ndedition of La Solitaire du Figaro is that the English Channel was the principal battle-ground for the highs and lows of the race. Right from the start the 47 sailors would deal with the significant strong tidal coefficient, suffice it to say that it was over 100 at stages!
The light and variable winds, further hampered the skippers in the start of the first leg. Having passed Sept-Îles, the fleet then sailed tightly in downwind conditions to the Hands Deep mark off Plymouth. The air was barely sufficient for the fleet to keep moving along the English coast towards the Needles, within close contact, there were few obvious tactical option to capitalise on. The tide then reversed as the leaders passed the Fairway mark. Fortunately the westerly breeze picks up enough to allow for all a safe passage against the current. The long descent to Normandy seems not to cause any concern to the three leading skippers who have been alternating at the top of the leader board: Jérémie Beyou, Thomas Rouxel and Nicolas Lunven who are then chased by the rest of the fleet, packed in to a handful of miles.
The third night at sea is the most treacherous one because, as the skippers approach the Cotentin Point, the tide reverses once more and the wind dies down almost completely… Pushed back toward Barfleur, many of the sailors are forced to anchor to avoid being towed by the current…At 25 miles from the finish everything starts on again with the wind that veers round to the East. Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) is the first to extricate himself followed by Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen-Ouistreham), and Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls) as well as by the first rookie Xavier Macaire (Starter Active Bridge). Fred Duthil (Sépalumic) fails to cross the last course mark (setting him back a hefty 30 minutes penalty that will weigh him down for the remainder of the race) young Delahaye manages to get past the more experienced Morvan to win the first leg in the strengthening breeze. 60% of the fleet cross the finish line within an hour of the winner.
Ranking first leg
1-Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen-Ouistreham) in 50 hours 14 minutes and 36 seconds of racing
2-Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert), 11 minutes 09 seconds
3-Jean Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls) 11 minutes 22 seconds
4-Jérémie Beyou (BPI), 12 minutes 28 seconds
5-Xavier Macaire (Starter Active Bridge), first rookie, 14 minutes 08 seconds behind the winner
Leg 2: from Caen to Dun Laoghaire (440 miles)
Jérémie Beyou takes command.
The second leg looks anything but trouble-free: weather files forecast a minimum of 25 knots from the West, later veering to NW, choppy seas over the Channel and the raz Blanchard to cross against the current. The start is complicated by a violent rainstorm that hits the fleet just as the solo sailors complete the inshore course: 35 knots, torrential rain and the French naval patrol ship PSP Cormoran is called in to a rescue operation involving two spectator boats. The ship’s crew will be asked to intervene again a little later to assist David Sineau (Britanie Cosmétiques) who hit a rock off Hague point: a hole in the hull and water leak leaes the skipper out of the race. For the rest of the fleet, this delicate passage is particularly tricky, it’s imperative to stay close to the Lighthouse to avoid the turning current. Only the rookie sailor, Thomas Ruyant (Destination Dunkerque), risks an offshore option, which proves to be a flop. Once the fleet gets past Grand Russell and Hanois, it’s a long upwind stretch with multiple tacks in 20/25 knots from NW to Land’s End and waves as high as three metres. Impossible to relax, sleep or leave the helm if one does not want to lose ground, poor Anthony Marchand (Bretagne Crédit Mutuel Espoir) continues without a pilot or any electronics from the start!
At the tip of Cornwall the wind dies down due to the effect of a high-pressure ridge and the fleet is compressed again: almost all the skippers are lined up with Jérémie Beyou further West. And, when the wind veers to SW and reinforces, the group accelerates trying to catch up with the leader. The final stretch along the Irish coast is full of traps, the breeze going from light to gusts well over 30 knots that make spinnakers explode. Nicolas Luven (Generali) opts for a more offshore route and closes in second whilst Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement) gets stuck in a bubble of now wind inshore, yet manages to finish third… Rookie Morgan Lagravière (Vendée) gets an amazing sixth place overall.
Ranking second leg
1-Jérémie Beyou (BPI) in 65h 25’16
2-Nicolas Lunven (Generali) at 19’54
3-Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement) at 37’46
4-Thomas Rouxel (Bretagne Crédit Mutuel Performance) at 37’54
5-Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat) à 39’39
6-Morgan Lagravière (Vendée), first rookie at 41’59
Leg 3: from Dun Laogahire to Les Sables d’Olonne (477 miles)
Beyou in control.
Half way to the finish of the Solitaire nothing is carved in stone as the third leg is another tricky one, especially the approach to Brittany. Since the start, the 46 skippers that continue to compete have a mixed bag of conditions: Light airs that soon become violent gusts under a rainstorm, and almost no wind at all. Just after having passed the Radio France mark, the fleet is dispersed over 10 miles. To cross the Irish Sea first, the St George channel and the Celtic Sea later the skippers have to make frequent sail changes, from genoa, to jib, to spinnaker. 24 hours into the race at sea the leaders approach Land’s End, Jérémie Beyou is leading by a mile over Fabien Delahaye, Nicolas Lunven and Erwan Tabarly. Getting to Ushant is tricky, against the current the boats slow down, and the leaders navigate carefully through the rocks at the Four channel, others gamble by going inshore or along the Molène… But at the end of the passage, the skipper of BPI is still in front and opens the way to the raz de Sein with the tide, then to Penmarc’h before hoisting the spinnaker off Groix. In a light W/NW, there is not much good luck for skippers like Eric Drouglazet (Luisina) or Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) who try to sail north of Belle-Île to make up some places. The fleet is still packed as light falls for the third time and the breeze shifts to NE and reaches a dozen knots. When the leg winners would seem certain, an incredible thunderstorm hits the finish area. The wind comes in from all directions, and the tension is palpable. But there is no stopping Jérémie Beyou who is always in control and crosses in front of Fabien Delahaye, Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat) and Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat). Morgan Lagravière confirms his leadership in the rookie class with an excellent ninth place overall.
Ranking third leg
1-Jérémie Beyou (BPI) in 68h 39’20
2-Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen-Ouistreham) at 4’13
3-Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat) at 11’31
4-Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat) at 12’14
5-Frédéric Duthil (Sépalumic) at 15’27…
9-Morgan Lagravière (Vendée), first rookie at 19’52
Leg 4: from Les Sables d’Olonne to Dieppe (437 miles)
The last leg would appear to be less complicated than the previous ones on paper, but on the contrary, it turns out to be full of pitfalls: the raz de Sein, the Four channel, the raz Blanchard and Barfleur; Four major obstacles that threaten leaders attempting to get that podium place.
Frédéric Rivet (Vendée 1) and Marc Emig (Ensemble autour du monde) go for an offshore route close to the île d’Yeu. Tacking upwind anything can happen, but when the wind shifts NE and picks up the whole fleet is affected. Under spinnaker Jérémie Beyou still leads by a little margin on his pursuers. There are not so many options though, just small details, good speed and accurate routeing. Everyone is keeping a close eye on his adversaries whilst the pair Laurent Gouezigoux (Valorisons) and Michel Bothuon (Les Recycleurs Bretons) take an audacious option and go offshore, passing windward of Guernsey. A good hat trick but not good enough to jeopardize the leaders’ position Paul Meilhat (Macif 2011), Jérémie Beyou, Fabien Delahaye and Erwan Tabarly remain fully in control and cross the finish line in Dieppe just 35 seconds apart!
By winning in Dieppe and scoring his third consecutive victory, BPI’s skipper Jérémie Beyou is crowned overall winner of the 2011 Solitaire du Figaro, and joins the exclusive club of double winners of the event. Morgan Lagravière impressive seventh place overall, wins the rookie ranking ahead of Xavier Macaire and Britain’s Phil Sharp.
Ranking fourth leg
1-Jérémie Beyou (BPI) in 72h 37’01
2-Paul Meilhat (Macif 2011) at 12’’
3-Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen-Ouistreham) at 28’’
4-Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat) at 35’’
5-Laurent Gouezigoux (Valorisons) at 4’03…
7-Morgan Lagravière (Vendée) first rookie at 14’33
La Solitaire Du Figaro website