The fleet of the European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul arrived in Bozcaada at the end of the 4th and penultimate leg of the course linking Nice to Istanbul.
The 27 solo sailors have once again been forced to sail an incredibly intense race across the Aegean Sea, at the mercy of a steady breeze and some nerve-shattering calms.
The first to step on Turkish soil, at the gateway to the Dardanelles, Erwan Tabarly (Athema) scored a fine win after a bitter struggle along the 300 mile course. In his wake was a seemingly endless stream of arrivals in quick succession, their faces marked by fatigue despite a wealth of experience, a reminder that this Trans-Mediterranean has already made a name for itself as one of the major solo events.
He gave it his all and thoroughly deserved to take victory off Bozcaada in Turkey. Tabarly battled right through the night and finally came out on top against a horde of pursuers, who were just as fired up as him after making an amazing comeback in the light conditions served up between the Greek islands of Psara and Chios. Magical surfing
Tabarly, one of the talented pillars of the circuit and a familiar face in the top spots, scored a great win at dawn today, albeit by just one solitary minute ahead of the fearsome Gildas Morvan:
'What a fight… it was more than a close shave at the end there with Gildas Morvan. It was superb. It was a really great leg with some harsh conditions. It’s fantastic to win a race in the breeze. The best part of all was the magical big surf in 35 knots of wind amidst the Cyclades!
The first night was really lively, pinned to the helm under spinnaker. I had a good lead and then all of a sudden the wind just died. In the space of half an hour, I saw my closest rivals eating into my lead but fortunately I was the first to get going again. It’s always stressful to have a racer like Gildas on your tail but it’s also highly motivating…' 20 minutes in 36 hours
Lack of sleep is a clear indicator that the Mediterranean has no reason to be jealous of La Solitaire du Figaro. Gildas Morvan would vouch for that. This strapping sailor, well honed in the art of one design racing on equal terms, has been finding the going pretty tough.
'I said before the Cap Istanbul that I sail pretty well in the Mediterranean, which seems to have been confirmed. I have to say though, that sailing here is a lot more demanding than in the Atlantic. The wind is never steady for more than ten minutes: you have to trim constantly and not let yourself fall asleep… It’s crazy!'
Indeed the great Gildas admitted afterwards to just 20 precious minutes of sleep during the 36 hours on the water!
Like the first three, this leg has really set the solo sailors’ nerves on edge. All of them are unanimous in highlighting the demanding level of this course which was littered with pitfalls and hazards and fiercely contested. Fifth into Bozcaada and decidedly still very much in the action, Thierry Chabagny is a fine example of the superhuman effort required in this competition.
'I’m shattered. Once again it was a very tense leg which left very little time to rest. I had to hammer along to get back with the bulk of the troops, control the boat in the rough weather under spinnaker and then deal with the light airs. In light conditions it’s common knowledge that if you sleep, you lose.'
Eric Peron (L’Esprit d’Equipe) knows a little about that after a bitter experience between Crete and Turkey. The recent winner of the Transat AG2R was the backmarker on this leg and crossed the finish line in last position after exhaustion hit.
'I exploded with nervous exhaustion and in my head I abandoned the race. I went for a sleep… but it was a few hours too many and this is the result…' This rare counter performance lifts the veil a little higher on the complexity of this Mediterranean event.
Leading finishing positions
1. : Erwan Tabarly - Athema
2. : Gildas Morvan - Cercle Vert
3. : François Gabart - Espoir Région Bretagne Istanbul bound
In Bozcaada, relaxation is the order of the day. On Wednesday 8th, at 0430 hours, the 27 solo sailors will motor through the Dardanelles Strait. Once they get to the other side and the Marmara Sea, they’ll sail a final 110 mile course which will doubtless have even more surprises and upsets in store…