La Solitaire du Figaro 2011’s first leg will span 320 miles from start to finish. The fleet of 47 Figaro sailors will take to the water on Sunday 31st July at 11:00 on a course that will take the fleet across the Channel to Plymouth Bay, then eastwards along the south coast of England to Fairway Boy off the West of the Isle of Wight before the return channel crossing to the finish in Caen.
The forecast of light wind together with the strong tidal coefficient for the coming days has led the Race Committee to leave out one of the early marks, close to the pink granite Armor coastline. Whilst the 320 mile leg is the shortest of the 42nd edition of the race, it is likely too complex to sail.
The general consternation among the sailors is going to be how best to negotiate the strong current and tidal effects together with the light winds predicted for the race and how to limit the loss of ground to these and fellow competitors to a minimum. It will be a matter of keeping guard and grabbing each and every opportunity to make gains.
'Anything could happen on this leg' explained Romain Attanasio (Saveol) at this morning's Eric Bompard Prologue prize giving. 'I remember that in 2004 I got stuck and had to anchor in Portland Bay. Everyone else got past except for me.
I was stuck in turning tidal currents. It was awful…and will not forget that for the rest of my life! I am going to avoid that at all costs.' What paradoxically is the shorts leg of the four stage month long regatta, could be the longest spent at sea.
The Race Director of La Solitaire du Figaro race, Jacques Caraës explained that there will be a slight change to the course of the first leg between Perros Guirec and Caen due to the light wind conditions and Sunday's tidal coefficient. The change will apply in order to avoid the sailors having to spend the first 10 to 12 hours of the race stuck close to the Armor coastline.
'The first mark, the 'Roche Gautier' cardinal, north east of Perros Guirec, has been removed from the course. The solo sailors will therefore head direct to the Radio France mark. Note that the start will be on a fixed position; the line will be set perpendicular to the axis of the buoy and not in relation to the axis of wind.' Continued Caraës.
In other words, we could see boats crossing the start line under spinnaker, which would not be traditional for a start. The remainder of the route continues as previously planned: across the Channel towards the English coastline, along which two marks to be left to starboard, Hand Deeps at the entrance to Plymouth Bay and then a hundred miles further east, the Fairway buoy (western tip of the Isle of Wight). before the return crossing across the Channel to the finish in the Bay of Caen.
In total, the length of the course (320 miles) remains the same. The current ETA estimates the first arrival for around noon Wednesday, August 3. This first leg, the shortest of the four on paper, may be, paradoxically, the longest at sea!
Nicolas Lunven (Generali) on his fifth participation and winner in 2009: 'We are going to have to put the sun cream on for this first leg and most likely prepare the anchor…The good thing is that we get the race started in gentle conditions and should not break anything. Things should be safe unless we hit the rocks off Perros! Sometimes it is easy to sail in 25 knots than five. Especially here in the Channel where there is a lot of current, and tidal coefficient. We are all in the same boat though so we will just have to try harder to find our way out and be more clever than the next. It is not going to be an easy leg and at the end I think we could see quite big gaps built at the finish in Caen.'
Jérémie Beyou (BPI) on his 12th participation and winner in 2005: 'This promises to be a very technical stage, big tidals changes and little wind. If we do not get chances to get away on the first part of the race to England, we will have a chance along the rung at Star Point, Portland Bill and the approach to the Needles…We are going to have to be patient and remain alert. It is not going to be a matter of winning at all cost but more of controlling and reducing the time deficit to a minimum. I can possibly see getting a bit of rest on the two channel crossings but it is going to be a physically exhausting leg!'
Francisco Lobato (ROFF) from Portugal on his second participation: 'This race is especially difficult and you have to remain alert and deal with so many obstacles in the best way possible. There is the danger of the shore navigation, keeping alert on the tidal and currents and all whilst controlling a big fleet of almost 50 competitors on the water. My primary objective this year to to be up with the leading pack and be consistent with my performance and get the best result possible whilst avoiding mistakes to do well in the overall ranking at the end of the race.' La Solitaire du Figaro website