European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul. It has been fairly commonplace to hear of Figaro races in the west but this time around it was the east which opened up ahead of the bows of the solo racers on the circuit.
With the added pressure of being the final stage of the French Solo Offshore Championship, the race has been fierce with a number of upsets in the ranking.
It also marked a fine human adventure symbolized by a small caravan of préparateurs, organisers and media, all joining forces and all ‘in the same boat’ in a figurative sense.
One thing is already certain: this race has been a demanding one. We look back at the five stage course between Nice and Istanbul, via Cagliari (Sardinia), Marzamemi (Sicily), Agios Nikolaos (Crete) and Bozcaada (Turkey)… Nice-Cagliari: sprint under spinnaker
The first leg led the competitors from Nice to Cagliari to the south of Sardinia. It began at a moderate pace but was quickly transformed twenty hours later into a crazy stampede off the coast of Corsica and Sardinia.
Under spinnaker in thirty to thirty-five knots of wind, the competitors in the 'European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul' devoured the miles with greed.
Positioned at the head of the fleet at the end of the first night’s racing, Paul Meilhat (TS Régate-Créteil Val de Marne) confirmed the true level of his talents, whilst the big names in the race began to creep out of the woodwork. Eric Drouglazet (Luisina), well positioned on his W’ly option, took victory ahead of a group battling hard and led along the direct course by Nicolas Bérenger (Koné Elevators), who was already a familiar face amongst the frontrunners. Cagliari-Marzamemi: fortunate rescue
We will retain two things from this second leg. The first is obviously the incredible rescue of Christophe Bouvet (Sirma), picked up under the cover of darkness over four hours after he’d been ejected from his yacht into the water. And the rescuer was… Paul Meilhat (TS Régate-Créteil Val de Marne) who will doubtless have a wealth of memories from his first participation in a race on the Figaro circuit.
What eventually took precedence over this episode though was the unanimous solidarity of the racers and the professionalism of everyone concerned, racers and organisers alike, who enabled Christophe to be recovered safe and sound.
Another great surprise was the victory of Antonio Pedro da Cruz who, after several years racing the Figaro circuit, put in a blinding performance and took victory thanks to an audacious option. Marzamemi-Aghios Nikolaos: female victory
This was the longest leg of the race, an ocean-going course filled with danger and spanning 540 miles (1,000 km) between Sicily and Crete. Barely had they made it into the Ionian Sea which separates Italy from Greece when the 28 solo sailors broke ranks to spread out latitudinally and forming two groups.
On the one side, a group hovering around the direct course and the other, 50 miles lower down, involving the more opportunistic sailors, who saw and believed in the more established downwind conditions.
A stormy low then manhandled the fleet which was forced to hunker down on a beat across a highly changeable Ionian Sea. Isabelle Joschke (Synergie) at the controls of the fleet for over 24 hours, was first to round the Antikythira gate to the north-west of Crete and went on to take a much deserved victory.
She became the first woman to achieve such success as a leg victory on a Figaro circuit, famed for forging some of the best solo talent. Her faultless performance will certainly create waves across the solo sailing world... Aghios Nikolaos-Bozcaada: some close finishes
Initially scheduled for Friday 3rd October at 1100 hours, the start of the 4th leg was postponed until the Saturday at 1600 hours. One skipper was absent from proceedings: Eric Drouglazet who injured himself during a bad fall from a scooter.
The fleet didn’t delay in getting to the Cyclades. In the early hours of Sunday 5th October, Erwan Tabarly (Athema) was leading the way between Karos and Amorgos. The deficits were minimal and just 10 miles separated the frontrunner from the back of the fleet.
Detached, at the front of the fleet since exiting the bay of Aghios Nikolaos, Erwan Tabarly hit a windless zone between the islands of Psara and Chios. Despite the capriciousness of the wind and the bunching of the fleet, he just held onto his lead. 63 seconds separated him from Gildas Morvan, 2nd on Cercle Vert, the latter tailed by François Gabart (Espoir Région Bretagne) who completed the podium. Gallipoli-Istanbul: the Bosphorus welcomes its winners
The stakes were high on this leg, which was set to reveal the final winner of this solo Trans-Mediterranean race. After a 60 mile delivery under motor through the Dardanelles and a brief respite in the competition which everyone appreciated, the fleet made it to the start zone of this 5th leg, 5 miles to the east of Gallipoli, prepared for the conquest of Istanbul!
In a light 6-7 knot ENE’ly air flow, the 27 solo sailors got back into race mode. Ahead of their bows were a little over 100 miles across the Marmara Sea and a beat across short, choppy waters with 1.5 to 2 metre waves. The competition was still as fierce as ever which led to a grand finale.
Tightly bunched, the fleet made headway in very close ranks and it was a brave man who could have predicted the winner. We now know the rest of the story: Thierry Chabagny (Suzuki Automobiles) was given first refusal at the top spot in the Bosphorus, which he graciously accepted.
Nicolas Bérenger (Koné Elevators) took victory in the general ranking and Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) and François Gabart (Espoir Région Bretagne) completed the podium… www.capistanbul.com