La Solitaire du Figaro 2011’s first leg is nearing its end as more skippers are crossing the finish line. Jean-Pierre Nicol has been showing signs of someone set to have a bright future for some time now and has crossed the line in Caen to finish the first leg in third place.
Now, by putting up a worthy performance in the first leg of the Solitaire du Figaro battle, the skipper of Bernard Controls has straightaway confirmed that he’s one of the protagonists who will be writing the scenario for this 42nd edition. On the third step of a bitterly contested podium, 11 minutes and 22 seconds astern of the winner, Fabien Delahaye, and just 13 seconds astern of second placed Gildas Morvan, the Breton has once more demonstrated that he has become a force to be reckoned with after his intensive training in the Mediterranean.
Risky, difficult, testing... there were very few adjectives to give the impression that this leg would be easy as the fleet set off from Perros Guirec on Sunday. Well aware of the danger and the potential deficits that could be racked up at the finish in Norman waters, Jean-Pierre Nicol knew that this first slice of the action was the kind that could see even the top names tumble.
True to form the enlightened racer was keen to get off to a careful start despite really sailing his own race to England. 'These starts are always special with so many boats. There are a fair amount of risks involved. Ultimately I came off really well by opting for the middle of the road with some strong breeze. I sailed simply but efficiently, which meant that I was in on the action from the outset. I had a good Channel crossing, even though I got a bit greedy.'
Up in the Top Ten at that point, Jean-Pierre then tackled the main obstacle in this first act of the Solitaire du Figaro, the negotiation of the English coast, with a rather timid breeze and a particularly strong current. It was a frugal meal that was shared by all but a technical problem made it indigestible aboard Bernard Controls:
'Night fell over the English coast and that’s when I realised that my alternator wasn’t working anymore. It was panic stations at that point as that meant no batteries and hence no automatic pilot. I really didn’t want to helm constantly. Frédéric Rivet, who knows a bit about mechanics, helped me find a solution with my secondary alternator. It wasn’t as efficient as the main one but at least it worked. The problem was that this incident upset me quite a bit and I’d begun to lose ground. At Start Point, I decided to go for broke by heading inshore. I lost even more ground then and things were turning catastrophic... At that very moment, I said to myself that I couldn’t have got off to a worse start!'
Down but certainly not out, Jean-Pierre then had to gather all his strength and draw on his experience and the precious lessons learnt during recent confrontations to come back strong. The solo sailor didn’t delay in playing his instinctive card, pulling off a masterstroke in the process:
'I got some sleep so that I could get things straight in my head. That took nearly all night and in the meantime I was continuing to lose places. However, once my clarity had returned, I gave myself a shake and my goal then was to get as close as possible to the frontrunners and focus on not compromising my chances of ranking well in this Solitaire. I managed to get back level with them and ultimately rank amongst them, that is until the end of the night where I pulled off a move which made the difference. Whilst the others were kedging, I’d anticipated the tide turning and I’d hoisted my spinnaker. I ended up creating my own wind and crossed through the fleet at three knots whilst the others were at a standstill. I was literally slaloming between them, it was magical! Moving up through the fleet got my adrenalin levels pumping and I wasn’t going to give anyone an inch from then on!'
At the finish, extremely happy and in surprisingly good form, Jean-Pierre Nicol was able to savour the ground he’d covered between the 42nd position he’d held at 0400 hours on Monday morning and this third place he took in Caen after a fantastic comeback. 'I’m very happy. It proves that I have real ambition and that I have what it takes to fulfil it. There are already some deficits with some of the sailors and that will influence the way I sail. I know that I’m intent on winning. I won’t be sailing the same race now. I can’t wait to be racing in the second!'
However, before the next stage in this Solitaire du Figaro and the renewal of ties with the open ocean, Jean-Pierre Nicol will be able to enjoy a well-earned rest with his nearest and dearest. The kick-off for leg two is this Sunday at 1600 hours, when the fleet set sail for Ireland. Needless to say, you’ll be able to count on the skipper of Bernard Controls! Jean Pierre Nicol website La Solitaire du Figaro website