La Solitaire du Figaro 2011 is a 1695-mile course over four stages, starting in Perros-Guirec on the North Brittany coast and visiting Caen, Normandy, Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, Les Sables d’Olonne, Vendée, before finishing in Dieppe, Pas de Calais, on 28th August.
Thirty hours into racing on the first leg of La Solitaire du Figaro, 320-miles from Perros-Guirec in Northern Brittany to Caen, lower Normandy, and the leaders are positioned just five miles from Fairways, off the Needles, on the western tip of the Isle of Wight fighting against the tidal current. Thomas Rouxel (Bretagne Crédit Mutuel Performance), moves into the lead ahead of his two closest rivals, Nicolas Lunven (Generali) and Jérémy Beyou (BPI), in what has been a cat and mouse game for the pole position since yesterday's start. Britain's Phil Sharp (Spirit of Independence) punches his way up to sixth place overall and leads the rookies on their first Solitaire race. What remains to be seen is if the light easterly thermal breeze will hold up for the sailors as they battle against the strong tidal current to get round the Fairways mark for the Southerly course back across the Channel to Caen.
The light conditions for Sunday morning's start gave way to moderate southerly breeze to allow the 47 competitors a Channel crossing towards Plymouth and the Hands Deep course mark under spinnaker in relatively good seven to eight knots pace. The fleet then made the most of the favourable tide on the run along the South coast of England, where the sailors each chose how best to negotiate rounding the various headlands and associated current on course for the Fairways. The wind gradually died out this afternoon just off Anvil point, 12 miles from the turning point, leaving the skippers the choice of either attempting to fight their way against the three knots of tidal current and dying breeze or dropping anchor to sit it out until the tide turns.
The leaders (Rouxel, Lunven, Beyou) on the direct heading are followed by a group made up of Eric Drouglazet (Luisina), Fred Duthil (Sepalumic), Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat) and rookie sailor, Phil Sharp (Spirit of Independence). Further north, a breakaway group looking for the shelter of Poole Harbour and hoping for a thermal breeze to propel them round the Fairways and into the favourable current is made up of Laurent Pellecuer (Atelier d’architecture JP Monier), Frédéric Rivet (Vendée 1), Morgan Lagravière (Vendée), Charlie Dalin (Keopsys) and Jean-Pierre Nicols (Bernard Controls). If their gamble does not pay off, they could pay with a costly time deficit on the leaders. Others have opted for more southerly and offshore course in the hope that a veering wind could provide a good angle of approach to the mark, but for now Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat), Etienne Svilarich (Volkswagen Think Blue) and Alexis Loison (Port Chantereyne-Cherbourg-Octeville) can just hope as they see themselves fall back on the position reports.
The situation is not so clear for the sailors, led by Michel Bothuon (Les recycleurs bretons), who have not passed Anvil Point, where the tidal effects are strong. Sam Goodchild (Artemis), Francisco Lobato (ROFF) and Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics) caught up in this bunch can only hope that the leaders are forced to drop anchor to reduce the distance.
Phil Sharp (Spirit of Independence) from Jersey has made an astounding climb over the course of the last 24 hours, having started in the bottom half of the fleet, he is now well positioned 1.1 miles behind the leading trio in sixth place overall behind Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat) and is currently heading the rookie rankings. Phil has gradually progressed and moved his way up the fleet opting for a more offshore course just south of the rhumb line and is well placed to round the Fairways mark, just five miles away at 15:30. Devon's Conrad Humphreys (DMS) stays within reach of the leaders at just 2.2 miles in 18th place.
British skipper, Sam Goodchild (Artemis), enjoyed a brilliant start in Perros Guirec on Sunday, to round the first course mark in seventh place, holding on the the race leaders throughout the day. This morning the Race Committee reported that Sam had torn his spinnaker, which would explain the loss of ground on the lead and his current 41st place and 9.4 mile deficit on the leaders.
Weather conditions have been better than anticipated since Sunday's start in Perros Guirec, allowing for the solo sailors to keep up a pace that could see them arriving into Caen from Tuesday afternoon. Skipper's quotes over the VHF today:
Eric Drouglazet (Luisina):
'We could well be anchored about ten miles from the Fairway buoy. I did not sleep all that much last night, so have not sailed all that badly. The leading boats are going to get round the next mark with the favourable current, but for those left behind it is only get to get worse and worse…' Paul Meilhat (Macif 2011):
'This is a beautiful leg with a lots of chances. And there will be more to come! It's a bit like having a fresh start, this passage from Portland Bill. We had light conditions and everyone came back from behind. I am very happy right now and everything is going well…I have good boat speed. I have been playing it bit by bit and think I'll try to continue with this strategy. I'm in shorts and a T-shirt: it's very nice after night in the drizzle. But there will be another difficult night. As soon as the thermal wind is going drops we are just going to come to a standstill…'
Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert):
La Solitaire du Figaro 2011 - © Courcoux Marmara
'It was not all that great at the start. Then I managed to get back by sailing well up to Hand Deeps. Overnight got in too close to shore. It was not a good idea trying to go in close round Start Point. Now, I have come back a pit on round Portland Bill further out. For now we have eight knots from the West, but it is is going to drop and it is going t be really very painful getting the turning tide at the Needles!' Thomas Rouxel (Bretagne Crédit Mutuel Performance):
'There is a real battle going on with the three of us, Jérémy Beyou, Nicolas Lunven and myself. All is going well but it is not over yet! We are making slow progress with the wind we have, but from 14:00 onwards we should have the current against us to deal with too. I think that it is going to be complicated and a whole lot of things could happen…' Isabelle Joschke (Galettes Saint Michel):
'For me, I see that there has been a turnaround. The first group was caught in the calm. A large group came back on this leader group. We are all under spinnaker, the wind is getting up in the bright sunshine and flat seas: it's very nice. The first night is always difficult to rest. I had a few naps and I ate well. It's hard to let go of the pressure because we are all in contact. I'll try to go take a nap now that the wind is established and before it once again becomes complicated. We will find ourselves facing the current to get passed the Isle of Wight. If we are forced to anchor, where I am, there a 30 metres of depth… It will not be very nice!' Morgan Lagravière (Vendée):
'I had a good first 24 hours and then about two hours ago mucked up the getting passed the transition area which needed special care and managed to loose quite a few places. Not easy to decide on which position to take but I am feeling good in terms of keeping up the pace. I am annoyed with myself and so will have to work out my anger and climb my way back up the fleet.'
Official opening of the Race Village in Caen at 17:00 local time
The official opening of the village of La Solitaire du Figaro Eric Bompard Cashmere in Caen will be held at 17:00 in the presence of Philippe Duron, Mayor of Caen and president of the Urban Community Caen la mer, Laurent Beauvais, President of the Region lower Normandy and Jean-Léonce Dupont, Chairman of the General Council of Calvados. La Solitaire du Figaro website