La Solitaire du Figaro - Preparations are underway for the start of the fourth and decisive leg, to Dieppe, which starts tomorrow, Sunday 21st August 2011.
The 46 skippers will undoubtedly play their best cards over the 430-mile long course, because nothing is for certain and the outcome could well be a surprising one.
Race leader Jéremie Beyou (BPI) seems to be securely on top, with his solid 34 minutes plus lead on second placed Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham) and over 40 minutes on Nicolas Lunven (Generali), and despite the psychological supremacy he showed so far, his competitors will not just be quietly watching. Among the rookies too, the ranking could still change dramatically as first placed Morgan Lagravière (Vendée) can count only on 17 minutes on his immediate pursuer Xavier Macaire (Starter Active Bridge) and a little more than 44’ on Jersey based Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) in third position. Nothing is carved in stone yet.
As confirmed by Race director Jacques Caraës, who lives in Aber Wrach’ and has sailed in the area since when he was a kid. He described the 430 mile-long leg as: 'It’s a long coastal course and it won’t be easy for the skippers to get sleep or relax. There are four crucial points to be tackled with extreme care, where the tide flow will play a central role: the passage of Raz de Sein, the Four then Aurigny and finally the Raz Blanchard. One can’t really say it’s an easy leg. Two thirds will be upwind, in light to medium breeze, and maybe we’ll have a final stretch upwind. True it’s a tough, tricky last leg. But the competitors’ level is so high that it will keep the suspense high up to the finish…'
British sailor Samantha Davies, four times participant to La Solitaire du Figaro and one in the very exclusive group of women to have completed the round-the-world single-handed Vendée Globe, is in Les Sables with her partner Romain Attanasio skipper of Saveol. When asked about the race, she commented: 'For me it’s probably the hardest sailing race that’s available on the planet. The fact that it’s single-handed obviously makes it pretty extreme to start with. But I think it’s the intensity of the race, you’re just accumulating fatigue, mental and physical tiredness from thinking about tactics, strategy and weather all the time.' Leg 4 The Course
Les Sables d’Olonne – Dieppe 430 miles
The fourth leg is the race decider. Unlike the first three, this leg is 100% inshore, the Île d’Yeu and Belle-Île to be left to port, with 180 nautical miles to race to the isle of Ushant, compulsory to be left to port. The passage will be the decisive moment where the different options can still change the overall results: passage via the Sein undertow or not, passage via the Fromveur or closer to shore via the Four channel. Though coastal, the course will be very open and with plenty of twists and turns as the sailors make way.
The second part of the race from the Brittany point to the Cotentin, 130 nautical miles, will once again require careful navigation and vigilance. The course is free, the only course mark to be followed being the Île d’Aurigny, to be left to port, before taking on the raz de Blanchard at the entrance of the Cotentin. Prior to this, there may be different options like following a course further offshore at the Channel Islands could be possible. Nevertheless, Guernsey being on the direct course, it is very likely there will be two groups: those following the northern course North of the island and those following the southern course, aiming for the little or great Russel, the inner channels between the islands.
The last part of the course can be complicated by the raz de Blanchard with its strong undertow and Barfleur. The Cotentin point may prove problematic with fickle winds. The first skippers to complete this passage will certainly savour their crossing in the bay of Seine - 90 nautical miles to be covered. The very last miles along the coast approaching the cape of Antifer will be the last obstacle of the race.
In the event of a light wind, the high cliffs could prove to be a barrier for the sailors as they make their way to the finish. Skippers quotes:
Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) – 20th overall and third rookie
'There’s only 40 minutes between me and the leader of the rookie class and a lot could happen in this last leg. If you miss a tide gate then potentially you could lose two hours, so it’s going to be important to be in touch with the front of the fleet as we go around, and capitalise on any change in the weather we see.' Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham) – Second overall at 34’15' from the leader
'The night before the start I usually go to bed early, because I need to be quiet and relax. I don’t look too much at the weather forecast, we’ve already had two briefings earlier and I make one very last call to my my weather router David Lasnier, who used to be my coach on the 470 class. This fourth leg, apart from a small storm system, looks like it won’t be so complicated, won’t be one to take risks but instead one will have to be opportunistic, be in the leading pack and navigate well.' Conrad Humphreys (DMS) - 32nd overall
'The final leg is an epic coastal challenge. Both Ile de Yeu and Belle Ile must be left to port which limits the option to head more offshore and keeps the fleet together close to the coast. The main decision will be when to leave the North Brittany coast to head offshore towards Alderney as the routeing suggests that the weather models are not in agreement.' Race veteran Jean-Paul Mouren (Groupe SNEF) at his 25th participation
'This is going to be the leg where everyone will do their utmost, fire their very best bullets. The level of the competition will be even higher this time. There will be upwind sailing, rocks to be avoided up along the Brittany coast, no piece of cake really… I’m frightened of rocks, simply because I don’t know the area well, never sailed or went fishing there. Frankly, I’d rather be in a better position in the ranking, but I guess this is where I deserve to be. But I’m going to try and sleep less!' Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics): 'A different atmosphere'
'It was the start of the Vendee race in 2004 that really inspired me to try to do a Figaro. I want to, in the future, do a competitive Vendee Globe campaign, that’s always been the ambition from day one, that was the ambition when I got a Figaro and this was the training. There’s definitely a different atmosphere at this port, there’s a special connection to offshore sailing here. Everywhere you go there are videos, photographs, the restaurants, the bars have pictures of Vendee skippers, so it’s a nice pick-you-up to everyone who aspires to that race.' Sam Goodchild (Artemis) – youngest skipper of la Solitaire, 36th overall and seventh rookie
'It’s good to be racing against some of the top guys who are here and learning from them, it just makes the experience a whole lot more beneficial for me as far as what I take away from it. It’s not just another sailing regatta, it’s got so much more to it than that: Learning about your boat, learning about yourself, learning about everything. It’s got so much more to it than I ever imagined, it’s gone way over my expectations.' La Solitaire du Figaro website