The fourth and final leg of the 2014 miles La Solitaire du Figaro-Eric Bompard cachemire started spectacularly off Les Sables d'Olonne in a brisk 20-22kts NW'ly breeze and choppy seas. Ahead is a complex 490 miles finale which will require four key transition zones to be mastered between the start in bright Atlantic coast sunshine at 1700hrs local time this afternoon and the finish in Cherbourg-Octeville where the leaders are forecast to arrive anytime between late Wednesday and the Thursday afternoon.
La Solitaire du Figaro-Eric Bompard cachemire 2014
Race leader Jérémie Beyou (Maitre Coq) holds a cushion of just 15 minutes and 13 seconds as he seeks to win La Solitaire for the third time, after victories first in 2005 and then in 2011 when he won three of the four legs. But this final stage has the potential to be the most open of the race so far, encountering the influence of a low pressure system and then a high pressure which might ridge down to provide a real sting in the tail, as variable light winds and strong tidal currents could add a big premium to the performance of those into Cherbourg first.
For the English and Irish contingent the eyes are on the Beneteau Bizuth or Rookies prize where two of the young Artemis Offshore Academy skippers Sam Matson and Rich Mason hold second and third on the Rookies' Podium. Matson is top placed British skipper in a very creditable 14th overall on his debut and is 32 minutes behind the leading rookie, Gwenolet Gahinet on Safran-Guy Cotten.
The course take the fleet outside the Chaussée de Sein and Ushant and then draws them back in to the very NW corner of Brittany, across the Channel to the Manacles at Falmouth, upwind the Needles at the west of the Isle of Wight before crossing back to the finish off Cherbourg.
Today's start was exciting in as much as the breeze was up, the seas were bouncy and the pressure had been evident among the fleet when they prepared to leave Les Sables d'Olonne's Port Olonna. Adrien Hardy (AGIR Recouvrement) made the best start but Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) lead at the first mark. Britain's Nick Cherry (Redshift) opened well and rounded the first buoy in eighth while Sam Goodchild was up to tenth at the downwind mark on Team Plymouth.
But the breeze was due to fade through the evening, down to less than 10kts as it backs W. A light area off Belle Isle is expected, while the first key strategic decision is when to move to the west to find the new incoming breeze. Thereafter it will be the approach to the Manacles and playing the shifting winds on the long, 140 miles beat up to the Needles as the high pressure is the dominant influence which may shape the race.
Pre race favourite Yann Eliès lost his chance to win overall for the third time in a row when his rig crashed down on Leg one, but feels that the sequence of transitions will play to his strengths and, besides, he has a good history going into Cherbourg where he won his first Leg in 2002 and, ten years later, the race overall for the first time: 'It looks complicated. We will pass a sequence of low pressure and anticyclonic situations. As a result, we will have to manage the ridges. The duration of this leg should be much the same as last time and it might even be a little more complicated than Leg three with no less than four transitions to manage. It is so complex that there can be a completely different scenario develop each day, different to what we are expecting now. And it is well known that once you are into variable anticyclonic situations then nothing at all is written in stone and you have to work with what you have. And in the background there is always the possibility that Race Direction bring in Plan B and shorten the course.'
Depart de la 4eme etape de la Solitaire du Figaro Eric Bompard Cachemire 2014 entre Les Sables d'Olonne et Cherbourg - Les Sables d'Olonne le 29/06/2014
'But it is a scenario which suits me well. And the first transition itself opens up options and we know who can afford to follow the bigger risk options. I am not going to change anything in the way I sail. I have nothing to gain on the overall standings but if I win, even this time by 27 seconds, that will be enough for me. But there will be guys who will throw the dice and can do well.'
'But for me the target is just to have a good finish, just getting there worked for me well in the past. I have very fond memories winning my first leg there in 2002, and my first Solitaire in 2012.'
Corentin Horeau (Bretagne-Crédit Mutuel Performance) second at 15'13 leader: 'There are probably five of us who can challenge Jérémie Beyou. And there are plenty of tricky sections along the English coast. There is the potential for breakaways and there will be plenty of skippers out there who are prepared to play high risk options. But if I finish in the top ten I will be happy after sailing two good legs. I am not going for it, I need to not think too much of the overall standings.
Erwan Tabarly (Armor Lux-Comptoir de la Mer) fifth at 1h10'52 from the leader: 'We start with some wind and then have to tack up the coast in a breeze which will ease. Then there is a transition off Belle Isle but it is up the English coast that the game will really open up with a key point being when we pass the Fairway Buoy. The leaders might be favoured at that point in variable winds and with a lot of manoeuvring to do. This is a point that can make a big difference especially as the last crossing of the channel coinciding with the ridge extending.'
Sam Matson, GBR (Artemis 21): 14th overall: 'I am feeling alright. I am just trying to be relaxed and treat it like any other leg. With having been ill I have just tried to keep my head down and get better and I feel Ok now. The final leg is looking interesting and challenging. The thing I would have liked would have been to be able to just send it and go fast and get there. But it is not going to be like that, it will be just as challenging as the last legs. There is the potential for some breeze in the first 24 hours but things will be up in the air a lot of the time and we can’t really be too certain until we get into Tuesday when it will all become a bit clearer. The rookie award is right there in my mind because everyone has really planted it there, but every leg I have just gone out to sail as fast as I can and do as well as II can and I am not going to do this any differently. Once you are out there you can only sail as fast as you can. I am really overwhelmed by how well it has gone, I have nothing to prove but a lot to maintain, and to try and better it. With this high ridge dropping down from the Midlands of England if we are forced on to the coast of England then I will be quite happy, I can’t wait to be racing in there where I was brought up.'
Rich Mason, (Artemis 77): 'I am feeling good and have recovered from the disappointment of the last leg. I was up there. I'd like to say I had some bad luck but it seems the more you practice the luckier you are in this game. But it feels like I had a bit of bad luck on the last leg and dropped right back.
Unfortunately I think that is going to define my Solitaire. It is fine I am still on the Rookies podium and am in touch for the Top 20, I only need to make two places. So really I am happy. The leg looks difficult some very tricky decisions off the English coast. We will have breeze at the start and it will be nice to stretch the legs and do some beating into 20-25kts. We did a whole winter of between 20 and 40kts in the winter in England and so I feel confident in that and then Lorient. And we have been drifting around a lot of the time. I think all in all the experience has been more interesting off the water than I expected and on the water much more of a mental game than a physical one. I feel rested but it has been hard on the mind. But the plan now is to leave nothing on the water, come into Cherbourg and collapse on the dock. For me the key is to make sure I am fully awake and charged for when the key decisions have to be made. It is all too easy to slide along and miss the bits that feel quite subtle but are actually key points, so I think the tack on to port tonight will be key, then the Manacles depending on how you approach the English coast.'
Sam Goodchild, (Team Plymouth): 'This race has not at all been what I was hoping for. The big learning has been underestimating the preparation in every area, mentally, physically, financially, everything I think I underestimated it this time. It has come back to bite me hard. But hopefully I take this forwards to other projects. I guess I was arrogant that I had made the step forwards into the group of top half of the fleet and then I suppose I thought staying there would not be so hard. The effect is that you have to fight to stay with it. It will be quite breezy at times and hopefully we can get there reasonably quickly because if we don't it will get longer and longer.
The start will be important to get out to the west because if you can’t get out there you can’t do what you want to do, and are left with few options. So getting around Finisterre will be important to be in good shape. The timing of this first tack will be important but really you are not going to know if you have done it well or not until tomorrow afternoon. I have not written the race off though, there is no pressure to get a good result, I am not going out there needing a result to prove this is not a failure. The South Coast did not go so well on the first leg, that is where I lost so many miles then so hopefully I won’t do the same thing this time.
I think I am starting to realise more where my strengths and weaknesses are. On leg one I had a brilliant first 24 hours and then lost it all going round Belle Isle. Some of that is chance but you have to consider that Yann is always there and there are usually the same people in the second group. In some conditions I am fast, others less so. And the new sails I don't have a strong feeling one way or another, other than it would have been good to have them three months before the start and to have been able to train with them. That is entirely a financial situation.'
Henry Bomby: 'I am feeling really optimistic. There are two people behind me I am within catching distance of and 15 people in front of me who are within range for me to catch, it is a leg where that potentially there can be some big differences at the finish into Cherbourg if it drops off and with the strong tides coming into Cherbourg. I have nothing to lose and all to play for.
So I will be trying to get a good start but I am not trying to defend anything. The leg is quite tricky and it should be easier for me with opportunities to be taken. The first key thing is a tack tonight between midnight and say one or two in the morning and that will set us up on port tack all the way to the Chaussée du Sein becoming a kite leg. If you go west early then you get into the W'ly first but will be further downwind, that will be a key thing early on, and in fact it can look like the split then is really even but someone can get ahead there, and getting around Ushant there will be quite strong winds, against the tides and so there will be a bit of rock hopping there. We have had three legs with many shut downs, but this shut down is potentially nearer the finish when the ridge comes down and so there is potentially a real rich get richer situation. There are a lot of yawning, tired skippers around though. I think everyone is pretty tired but this is one last leg. My best leg was on the first leg on the South Coast when I got up to third place so I hope to be able to that again, but potentially we will be close to the shore on a 140 miles beat. The wind is going to be shifty. This is going to be my best leg so far. The positive is that if I can have a good leg here I can end up with a good Figaro overall.
At the Géolink Mark
1-Gildas Morvan à17h35'58
La Solitaire du Figaro - Eric Bompard cachemire
Standings Overall Going into Leg 4
1 Jérémie Beyou (Maitre Coq) 10 days 18hours 32secs
2 Corentin Horeau (Bretagne Credit Mutuel Performance) + 15m 13s
3 Charlie Dalin (Normandy Elite Sailing Team) +18m 57s
4 Gildas Mahé (Interface Concept) +24m 02s
5 Alexis Loisin (Groupe Fiva) +51m 30s
British and Irish
14 Sam Matson (Artemis 21) + 4h 13m 54 s
22 Rich Mason (Artemis 77) +6h 45m 20s
23 Jackson Bouttell (GAC Pindar) +6h 59m 53 s
24 Dave Kenefick (Full Irish –Le Comptoir Irelandais) +7h 8m 39s
27 Sam Goodchild (TEAM PLYMOUTH) 7h 29m 46s
28 Henry Bomby (Red) 7h 33m 48s
29 Nick Cherry (Redshift) 7h 44m 35s
30 Alan Roberts (Artemis 23) 7h 53m 47s
37 Ed Hill (Macmillan Cancer Support) +17hrs 31mi 47s