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RS Sailing 2021 - LEADERBOARD

53rd La Solitaire du Figaro Stage 1 - Relentless, restless, play on 'repeat'

by La Solitaire du Figaro 27 Aug 2022 09:40 PDT 27 August 2022
53rd La Solitaire du Figaro Stage 1 © Pilpre Arnaud

Stage 1 of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro was marked by intermittent periods of light winds which allowed catch ups by the pursuing packs, offered opportunities to those prepared to take a 'flyer'.

By contrast the second leg of 635 nautical miles, which starts Sunday 1300hrs CEST from Port-La-Forêt heading to Royan via the Channel Islands and Eddystone Rock, looks set to be an initial tough, demanding test of raw speed, seamanship and self-preservation followed by another relatively light winds finish into Royan which lies to the south of La Rochelle near the mouth of the Gironde.

Since they finished Thursday morning rest and recovery has been of paramount importance. The routine is sleep, eat, hydrate, repeat. After hours spent tensed up in awkward positions on board the physically tough, wet Figaro Beneteau 3s massage and physiotherapy are not a luxury, they are essential and often the only reasons for the solo skippers to leave their apartment other than for obligations such as the prize-giving and today's briefing.

In order to ensure the fleet finishes on time to allow the skippers to recover in Royan the original Stage 2 has been reversed to allow the course to be shortened whilst still allowing a good range of points of sail.

A relatively slow start out of Port-La-Forêt is expected to be followed by a climb north in a building breeze passing the Raz de Sein and the Chenal de Four then heading 100 nautical miles east up the Channel to the Channel Islands fast reaching 90 miles NW to Eddystone before turning south towards the finish nearly 350 miles away, again passing inside Ushant down the Brittany and Vendée coasts.

Yann Chateau, Race Director summarises "We will start the first day, Sunday, and the first night with a light to moderate easterly flow of wind. At the tip of Brittany the tidal currents will therefore be very important. The fleet get to the English Channel with a fairly steady North-Easterly flow, around 25 knots, perhaps gusts to 30, and a swell of 2 to 2.5 meters. The sailors will have to tack to the north of Jersey before crossing the Channel on a reach. This is going to be 36 hours really of really committed hard work, a big stage for the big guys. Then descent towards the Chenal du Four should be very fast, downwind with a favorable swell, enough to hit some high speeds and really trouble the speedos. And then back into the Bay of Biscay, there are still a few uncertainties, with probably stormy instability. To date, the models are not yet completely connected, but this final part will certainly be very interesting."

Nico Lunven, router for the Pôle Finistère Course au Large adds: "On La Solitaire, there are always a lot of difficulties. The start will not be easy. In light winds with a transition not to be missed at the end of the day to pick up the gradient northeasterly wind which will set in at dusk when the thermal effects diminish. Then, the whole part in the Channel will perhaps be less strategic but very demanding in terms of sailing well. Progressing close-hauled in 20/25 knots of wind, then on a tight reach, can create speed differences. The last key point will perhaps be the stormy situation which can potentially redistribute the cards varying between periods of calm and large gusts. The last part of the course is likely to be very random. And don't forgetting the finish into the Gironde with current which might either compress the fleet, or on the contrary widen the gaps."

Briton Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) said after the weather briefing, "It is looking like a fun leg, a real slog up the English Channel to the Channel Islands and then a good fast bit of reaching to Eddystone and then across the Channel to the Chenal du Four. The start will be tricky, difficult getting up to the Raz du Sein and then once up through there the breeze will start to really pick up. Initially it might be rich get richer up the north coast of Brittany and then whoever can push the hardest, picking the right sails (between big kite, small kite and Code Zero) for the Channel crossings will make a big difference. The biggest speed differences will be on the two Channel crossings. If you can push hard under the right sails, you can see a good few miles can be pulled out. These 'skiffy' type conditions will suit me quite well."

Only 33 starters, injured Irishman Conor Fogerty withdraws

Following his leg injury sustained during the final night of Stage 1 Ireland's Conor Fogerty ( has taken the medical advice of the race medical experts and has officially withdrawn from the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro. The entrepreneur from Dublin, a very experienced crewed offshore racer who has taken part in many of the classic long offshore races over his long career, says he will take stock from here and consider what his next moves are with the Figaro Beneteau 3 which he owns.

This morning in Port-La-Forêt: Fogerty said " It is a question of safety and that decision is largely out of my hands. So I am quite gutted. The class doctor says I am not fit enough to race. It is an expensive operation to come over and do La Solitaire and then not be able to complete it. My sponsorship does not cover all the costs so it has cost me quite a lot of money. That is tough. This muscular lesion will not repair itself on time."

He added: "I have learned a lot but am not used to being down the back of the fleet. But the Figaro is such a high level you have to immerse yourself in the culture in France and live it and breath it 24/7 to even be in the middle of the fleet. So I will reflect where I go from here. My original plan is to do the Caribbean 600 on the boat as I believe the boat is a reaching boat and I would enjoy that course. So I will put a plan together to do the RORC Transatlantic and then the Caribbean 600 doublehanded. Next season on the Figaro? Well I am feeling pretty low and ego bashed at the moment and where I am just now. I need to build myself back up again."

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