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53rd La Solitaire du Figaro - A Stage 2 of two halves, both of them challenging

by La Solitaire du Figaro 28 Aug 2022 08:39 PDT 28 August 2022
53rd La Solitaire du Figaro Stage 2 © Alexis Courcoux

The second stage of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro left Brittany's scenic bay of Port-la-Forêt in a gentle ESE'ly breeze and perfect warm sunshine at 1300hrs this Sunday afternoon, ideal weather to muster dozens of spectator craft on the water and thousands on the beaches and coastlines, as might be expected for only the second ever visit of the annual summer multi-stage offshore race to one of France's real epicentres of solo and singlehanded ocean racing.

The wind almost failed at times during the preliminary 5,5 nautical miles circuit in the bay, hardly a representative foretaste of what is set to prevail during the coming 48-72 hours for the fleet of 33 solo racers now on taking on a 635 nautical miles course east up through the Channel Islands, across to Eddystone Rock - 9 miles SSW of Plymouth - and south down to Royan at the entrance to the Garonne.

The stages in the Channel seem set to be muscular, with 25kts winds gusting over 30kts. After a beat to the Channel Islands it will be fast reaching and downwind for more than 24hrs, a very tough test in a busy shipping lane area when the solo racers are already tired. Sail selection - between the big and small spinnakers and the Code Zero - might be crucial to opening miles on rivals. But the weather models were still struggling to deal with the little cloudy, stormy low pressure cells drifting over the course on the south bound stage from the tip of Brittany to Royan.

Tom Laperche, (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance), one of the pre-race favourites who was third at the first turning mark, explained on the dock this morning: "I am still a bit tired after the first leg but that is the nature of this game, you don't leave at 100% again after the first start. What awaits us looks great. It's not often that we get the little spinnakers up in the Figaro and on this second stage that it is very likely the case. We're going to deal with a brisk north-easterly wind in the Channel. It's going to be pretty hard and the chances are it'll sort out the fleet a bit. But that being said nothing will be decided because the second part of the stage will certainly be less sporty and much more uncertain. There will be stormy depression with some surprises. It is possible that it will be a bit of a mess or that it will go soft, but in principle it should not last too long. We'll see. We'll just deal with whatever we get. I have no plans to change my way of doing things, even if it is true that there is a little frustration after the first stage."

Laperche is seventh at the start of the leg, 1hr 43m behind the surprise leader Davy Beaudart, the 37 year old La Solitaire du Figaro rookie who confirmed this morning that he would take the same approach as he did on the last leg even if there is a little more pressure resting on the shoulders of the semi-pro whose full time job is running his own successful boatyard near Lorient: "Yes there is a little more pressure than there was last weekend when I left Saint-Nazaire but I will treat this leg just the same, try to go fast and enjoy it." smiled Beaudart, "I am not going to think about the classification. Let's just see how I am at the at the finish. On the course, there will be areas where there will be re-groupings. There are two quite distinct racing phases. The English Channel, which is going to be very tough where things are going to go very fast, with perhaps quite significant gaps opening up in miles. But as soon as we return to the Atlantic, things will level off a bit and concertina in. At the end, towards Royan, there will be small stormy depressions. We don't really know so much about this bit. This can create big gaps such as a regrouping of the fleet before the finish."

Jorge Riechers (GER, Alva Yachts) also admits there is more pressure on him too after finishing fourth on the first leg, much higher in the fleet than even he expected, especially having been 30th of 34 at the last turning mark north of Land's End.

The German skipper who lives near Cherbourg and has a Farr designed IMOCA in build for the next Vendée Globe, grinned, "I am stressed, that is normal! This will be a big leg, it will be tough with strong downwind conditions. With the A4 it will be not too bad! But this will be about pushing and not breaking the boat. I think you can push the boats hard, very hard but I am more worried about the sails, don't trash the sails. Everyone here is good but I don't want to bank on the miles and experience I have, you just have to keep concentrating and not do anything stupid. So I need to concentrate on it like the last leg does not exist. I don't think about results at all. Maybe if I am well placed at the buoy at La Coruña then I will think about."

Ireland's Tom Dolan, skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, 12th after the first leg is unequivocal on the complexities and challenges of the leg:

"On paper the next leg looks like the toughest leg I have ever seen coming up on a Solitaire. We have 24 hours of strong winds - 25 gusting 30kts in the north of the English Channel, upwind and downwind, at night with cargo ships everywhere. So that will 24 hours without sleep and then the wind just shuts off completely at the Chaussée de Sein. With the two conditions like that you can't sleep. Twelve hours stuck the helm under spinnaker gobbling down energy bars with the brain switched off and the drysuit on. Then we sail straight into the light winds. Hmmmm"


Sanni Beucke (GER, This Race Is Female): It is going to be tough, it will be windy, I don't know how I am going to survive it, but I will. I have done nothing like this leg before in my life except maybe sailing out of Lorient in February which was nasty but then I was returning to shore at night and having good food and sleeping in a proper bed, so I really don't know how I am going to get on. This will be about staying safe, keep the crew in one piece and the sails in one piece, I am not nervous because I suppose I don't really know what I am going in to. This time I know it will be tough. You can't be nervous about what you don't know.

Pep Costa (ESP, Team Play to B-Terravia): This will be an intense leg starting with an easterly wind in the north Brittany and the south of England and so we will have to be careful of our material. I try to make some proper choices. And the second part from the Point de Brétagne to Royan will be complicated, challenging with winds which are not really established. It will be about taking one thing at a time. I feel good. My first leg sailing-wise was very good and frustrating at the end. But if I can continue to sail the same way as on the first leg then I can be in the top group. The big winds are not my favourite because the boat suffers and you cannot ever relax you are always looking after it. I am looking forwards to it. It is not going to last for I will be pushing all the time.

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