In the 44th Solitaire du Figaro, the 40 skippers competing left Gijòn on the northwestern coast of Spain today at noon local time, bound for Roscoff in Brittany, for the third of four legs. Getting to the finish could be a long and painful affair as the weather forecast looks set for very light winds on the 436 miles to the finish.
Before saying their final goodbye to the Spanish town, the 40 skippers were set on a windward/leeward coastal course, just off the Cimavilla cape. The start signal went off at exactly noon local time, with a good breeze of around 12/15kts. Best start was by Vincent Biarnes (Prati'bûches), who went for the bold move to choose the pin end of the line on port tack while the rest of the fleet was packed at the signal boat end.
Biarnes, crossed in front of the whole fleet, got to the layline and the upwind mark with only one tack and a margin good enough to escape the chaotic rounding that ensued, with tens of boats fighting for water.
The wind increasing a little more, the downwind leg turned into a fast and spectacular gybing match. Thanks to his edge on the rest of the fleet, Vincent Biarnes managed to round the Radio France mark still in first, followed by Julien Villion (Seixo Habitat), Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert), Michel Desjoyeaux (TBS) and Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ). The first non-French skipper on the Radio France mark, that is the last compulsory waypoint before heading offshore to the Bay of Biscay, was Nick Cherry (Magma Structures) in 14th and the first rookie Simon Troel (Les Récycleurs Bretons) in 11th. All in all it took the fleet no more than half an hour to cover the 5,5 miles long course.
A mere three hours after the start, the race tracker showed the fleet progressing upwind with a shifty and unstable 8/10 knots breeze. And, contrary to what had been forecasted the wind slowly veered to the NW, whilst everyone was expecting it be from the East... No more than 12 miles from Gijòn, the fleet already started to spread out with a lateral separation of some eight miles between the most offshore and inshore skippers, Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls) and Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert), who opted for speed in spite of a more direct heading, with the provisional leaders staying on a more central route. According to the 3pm position report, the top spot was still occupied by Vincent Biarnes (Patri'Bûches) with Michel Desjoyeaux (TBS), Xavier Macaire (Skipper Herault), Morgan Lagravière (Vendée), Nicolas Lunven (Generali) close on his tail.
The trio Jackson Bouttell (Artemis 77), Nick Cherry (Magma Structures) and Sam Goodchild (Shelterbox – Disaster Relief) were neck and neck and best placed non-French skippers in 25th, 26th and 27th respectively with Bouttell also leading the rookies. Further behind were David Kenefick (Full Irish) in 31st, Henry Bomby (Rockfish) in 34th, and Edmund Hill (Artemis 77) in 36th.
The skippers are now faced with the leg's big dilemma. Which way to go to cross the bay of Biscay with such uncertain and different weather forecast. The first, and only, compulsory mark, the île d'Yeu, to be left to port, is some 240 miles but how to get there remains an enigma. Moreover, weather and routing models seem to differ very much and the skippers will have to make shrewd strategic calls to avoid getting stuck in windless areas whereas their adversaries benefit from a different breeze, meaning big gains or losses that could turn the second part of the leg into playing catch up or a solitary run to the finish.
Sam Goodchild (Shelterbox – Disaster Relief), in ninth overall is determined to reach his target of being the best placed British skipper since the race switched to one-design boats in 1991, doing better than Phil Sharp finishing in 18th in the 2011 edition. Nick Cherry (Magma Structures) could also succeed in the feat, being 14th overall and having showed extreme consistency and focus.
If young Jackson Bouttell will manage to keep his most dangerous contestant Claire Pruvot (Port de Caen Ouistreham) at bay, he could also become the first Anglo-Saxon to excel in the rookies' category. The way to Dieppe and a potential historical result, though, is still long and full of traps.
Vincent Biarnes (Prati'Büches): 'I started on port tack, in front of the whole fleet. A bit risky but I'm really happy because I only made up my plan to minutes earlier! Plus, with the wind going to the NW, I was heading straight to the mark, with just one tack and, volià! I was in front. Now we're on route to 'île d'Yeu and everyone is charging on... there is a lot of lateral separation, we can expect some very radical options, this afternoon already'.
Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls): 'I have this idea turning over in my mind, the wind was not coming from a 'normal' direction at the start and this means that the situation is different from what we thought. So I went West, more West than the others, but the latest weather models tell me it might be the right choice. I want to get around the wind-hole from the North so I set a waypoint to do that. But we will have to adapt to the situation to keep boat speed'.
Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert): 'We're into a front over northern Spain that is not moving, and the wind is coming from everywhere... there is some fog and some swell that makes it hard to trim and we have manoeuvre nonstop. The air is a NW now and I'm looking for a NE, that's a big 90° shift to the right. The plan is to be fast, stay lower to the direct route to benefit from the wind shift as soon as possible. It should become more stable in a few hours...'
La Solitaire website
by Marie Le Berrigaud Perochon
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5:16 PM Thu 13 Jun 2013GMT
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