In La Solitaire du Figaro - Eric Bompard cachemire 2013, there are only a few hours that remain and the competition for the overall lead remains wide open with Xavier Macaire (Skipper Herault), Yann Elies (Groupe Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir) and Morgan Lagraviere (Vendee) all jockeying for overall honours.
Les Figaros au passage du phare de Wolf Rock lors de la 4eme etape de la Solitaire du Figaro-Eric Bompard cachemire 2013
For the singlehanded skippers, conditions since last night have been all they were forecast to be with a monster spinnaker run along the south coast of the UK in winds at times exceeding 30 knots. Thankfully this coincided with the shortest night of the year.
Still there was one dismasting. The rig came down on Damien Guillou's La Solidarite Mutualiste at 21:40 UTC last night while lying due south of Land's End. Guillou was unhurt in the incident and after cutting away the broken mast, motored to Falmouth.
It has also shown up which skippers have felt brave enough to hold their big spinnakers for longest in the strong winds. As a result substantial gaps have opened up in the normally very compact Solitaire fleet. This afternoon 26.7 miles separates first from 20th, compared to less than three yesterday morning.
Leg 3 winner Morgan Lagraviere (Vendee) led the fleet around the Wolf Rock at 2000 UTC last night with Yann Elies and Yoann Richomme (DLBC) right behind him. At this point the nearby Sevenstones Lightship was already registering 26 knots of wind (average) from the southwest.
By 0800 this morning the first boats were already rounding the Needles Fairway Buoy off the western end of the Solent having completed the 167 miles passage from Wolf Rock in just 12 hours at an average speed of 12.9 knots – very respectable for a 33ft monohull being sailed singlehanded. First around the mark off the Isle of Wight was Xavier Macaire (Skipper Herault), just 1.3 miles ahead of Yann Elies and Adrien Hardy (AGIR Recouvrement), while Lagraviere had dropped to sixth place, 7.5 miles off the lead.
At present all eyes remain fixed on the overall results, based on cumulative elapsed time across all four legs. Going into this final leg, Fred Duthil (Sepalumic) was leading, 29 minutes 56 minutes ahead of Lagraviere, 32 minutes 28 seconds in front of Elies and 45 minutes 35 seconds ahead of Xavier Macaire.
However, for reasons as yet unknown, Duthil's position plummeted overnight: 12th at Wolf Rock, 5.1 miles behind the leader, while by Needles Fairway he had dropped to 18th, 22.4 miles from first place. This has put him out of contention for overall victory, and is also unusual as Duthil is considered one of the top performers downwind in big conditions.
Similarly Morgan Lagraviere's small advantage over Yann Elies disappeared when he made the mistake of going inshore both before and after the Lizard, leaving him trailing the leader by 6.2 miles at Needles Fairway Buoy, although he has since reclaimed some of this.
Heading southeast back across the English Channel bound for the Antifer turning mark off Le Havre, the battle for overall honours was between Elies and Macaire. Two sail reaching across the Channel, conditions were deteriorating with the wind once again piping up to 30+ knots and the wind against westbound tide kicking up the sea state. While Macaire was first around the Needles Fairway buoy he was subsequently overtaken by Elies. At 1340 UTC Elies was leading him by 1.7 miles (with Adrien Hardy having pulled into second) with 73 miles to sail to the finish.
Once around the Antifer mark, the boats will be dead downwind again in 30+ knots. This will be their last blast, as they cover the final 47 miles to the finish off Dieppe under spinnaker, where the first boats are due at around 2000 UTC tonight.
Among the Brits, Sam Goodchild (Shelterbox-Disaster Relief) continues to put in a sterling effort. He had a tough start to the night, dropping to 19th at one point while due south of Plymouth, but had recovered to 15th by Start Point. Conversely Nick Cherry (Magma Structures) was loving the blast and had overhauled Goodchild to pass Start Point in 12th. Crossing Lyme Bay, Goodchild once again surged past Cherry rounding the Needles Fairway buoy in 10th with Cherry 13th.
Going into this leg two titans of the race, three time winner Michel Desjoyeaux (TBS) and two time winner Armel Le Cleac'h (Banque Populare), were respectively one and nine minutes behind Goodchild, but both are now ahead of him on leg four. However the 23-year-old Brit still remains well placed to better Phil Sharp's 18th place in 2011, the highest British result in the event's recent history.
This afternoon, while crossing the Channel, Goodchild has dropped to 12th with Nick Cherry poised once again, holding 13th just 0.5 miles behind him.
Jack Bouttell (Artemis 77) similarly looks in good shape to become the first British skipper ever to win the coveted rookie prize for Solitaire du Figaro first timers. He rounded Wolf Rock in 23rd but had pulled up to 21st by Needles Fairway Buoy.
Ireland's David Kenefick (Pure Irish) has also distinctly been on a charge. 33rd at Wolf Rock at one stage last night he had got up to 22nd, but is now back to 26th. Meanwhile Henry Bomby (Rockfish) has pulled up to 23rd and Artemis Offshore Academy rookie Ed Hill is 29th.
This afternoon Corentin Horeau (Bretagne-Credit Mutuel Espoir) lying in 10th place reported: 'I'm 45 miles from Antifer and there are 28 knots of wind and it is very wet! Last night, I was next to Damien [Guillou] when he dismasted. Otherwise I had a good night, on the offense under spinnaker even though it was tough. Now we must give it our all, because many miles remain to be sailed on this last leg. From Antifer we'll be back under spinnaker.'
The first boats are due in from 2000-2100 UTC.
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