• Leg 3: 624 nm Fecamp to Bay of Morlaix

    The third stage of the 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro started on time at midday with a clean start made by the 34 solo skippers who have a 624 nautical miles stage from Fécamp to Roscoff via a northernmost turning mark at Saint Gowan off the SW corner of Wales.

    The race started in four to eight knots of easterly breeze. Because of the light winds in close to the coast the fleet had only one buoy to pass before setting a course for South Pullar buoy. The 65 miles reach to the English coast started under Code Zero headsails with over two knots of ebb tide running. Arthur Hubert, the French rookie on Monatoutenergie.fr passed this first buoy in first place with race leader Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019) in second. Britain’s Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) was well placed in fourth, making his best start of the race so far.

    Warm, hazy sunshine, light easterly winds and big crowds on the beaches, in the vibrant race village and the clifftops sent the third stage of the 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro on its way at midday today from Fécamp with race leader Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019) warning that he believes this complicated 624 miles long penultimate stage could be decisive.

    The leg opens with a light winds reach the Channel to turn west at South Pullar just as the tide changes. The local sea breeze gave decent conditions to get away from the high, white cliffs which surround Fécamp and the NE’ly gradient wind appeared to have come in early to see the fleet racing north under Code Zero at 8.5 to 9 knots.

    Strategies on the approach and rounding to the Pullar mark - just four miles out from Selsey Bill - and then the choices in the morning hours of Monday could shape the outcome of the stage. Any initial advantage could be quickly magnified if the reach to the English coast is quicker than expected.

    There is a strategic choice early on the 200 miles long leg out of the Channel, whether to invest to go south of the Casquettes traffic separation zone, that is to say close to the Channel Islands rather than to stay towards the English coast.

    Most weather gurus suggest a key gain could be made here but the risk is high to sail more miles if the timing of the E’ly wind strengthening across the course from the south does not prove as per the weather models suggest.

    The passage from Longships Light off Lands End to Lundy Island and Saint Gowan - off the SW corner of Wales - looks like it will be in a building breeze and on strong tides but it then becomes very messy on the leg towards the finish near Roscoff on the Baie de Morlaix.

    Some meteo models show very light winds and strong adverse currents such that the leaders might struggle to pass Bishop Rock at the Scilly Islands before a cut-off low pressure approaches from the south to give a light upwind finish. Options will remain open even here, the last big choice being whether to pass east or west of the Scillies TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme, an exclusion zone reserved only for shipping).

    Quiroga, who holds a lead of 1 hour and 36 minutes on the General Classification, made an excellent start and quickly overhauled the young French rookie Arthur Hubert (MonAtoutEnergie.fr) who lead the fleet at the first mark. But as the 65 miles reach north across the Channel towards the Pullar mark unfolded Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF), who lies second and won Stage 1, was almost alongside him and pacing his rival.

    Speaking to the assembled early morning crowds in Fécamp Quiroga smiled, “It is nice to have sunshine again at the start. I don’t remember having so much sun on any La Solitaire du Figaro before. It is a pleasure.”

    He added, “But I am a bit stressed because this is a complicated leg with a lot of light winds, tidal gates and transitions to manage. It will be hard to manage everything perfectly. I think this might be a decisive leg but I want to enjoy it. The forecast has got a bit better than a few days ago with a little more wind coming in.”

    Bertrand Pacé, the former French America’s Cup racer who is a coach with the Lorient training group concurred, “This promises to be a difficult stage with light winds at the start but a building breeze for the second part. And a lot will depend on the first part of the race, there is a bit of everything. There are a lot of traps, a lot of transitions and we finish on strengthening tides, the coefficient building to 100 and so there will be strong currents at the finish. The first 36 hours can be crucial.”

    Britain’s Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) who lies 18th overall has already delivered on his first pledge, leaving the dock with the promise to start better and attack hard, looking forwards to sailing through his native English waters this evening, even if it is only for a short time. He was fourth at the first buoy and passed Tom Laperche (Bretagne - CMB Performance) who had to make a penalty turn apparently for touching the mark.


    The seas are glassy, the sky tinged with purple as the sun rises with the fleet of the 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro making slow progress under spinnaker off the Dorset coast, taking care to avoid the military firing zone at Portland and soon passing about 35 nautical miles south of the 2012 Olympic waters.

    Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) leads ahead of Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019) and Alexis Loison (Region Nomandie) but there is less than half a mile between Macaire and Loison. Quiroga lost time and distance on last night’s rounding of South Pullar when he elected to carry on rather than gybe at the mark. Britain’s Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) is fifth 1.1 miles behind the leader. The tide has just turned and is against the fleet.

    Francis Le Goff, race director explained this morning

    “The fleet is moving well all close together for the moment. We are a little ahead of the routings as it was quicker on the reach to get to South Pullar. Competitors are going further west than expected, but the fleet should go to the south quickly because the tide will reverse in a few minutes. It was planned like that. They will go south in the morning. Over all of the weather files, it was more of a southern passage of the Casquets DST, but for now, they are still progressing westward. The rounding of Pullar passage was decisive for those who gybed quickly after the mark. For those who held on it was more complicated. The winds will will stay between 5-7 knots from the east all morning. “

    Niels Palmieri (TeamWork) reported on the VHF: “It’s not really okay. I stayed in a calm zone for ten minutes and everyone else sailed away The fleet regrouped as we passed the mark and I caught up a bit from behind. But as I rounded the mark, I went 30 seconds too long on starboard and got stuck in a hole. Those who gybed early did better. I tried to get some sleep but I have to stay focused. Nothing is clear to me about this race, even when the day dawns it will not be very clear. I just put the spinnaker back up ten minutes ago, it’s back to 6 knots.”

    All of the top skippers who spoke on the VHF today admitted their original strategy was to go south of this almost square exclusion zone that lies north east of Alderney, but it seems like no one was bold enough to break for the south on what was a not very appetising angle.

    It was left to Tanguy Le Turqais (Quéguiner - Innoveo), the young Catalan rookie Pep Costa (Cybele Vacances-Team Play To B) and Italian American Francesca Clapcich (Fearless - State Street Marathon Sailing) to lead a group of six round the south of the no go zone. They were making three knots faster than the leaders and pointing more directly towards Land’s End, the next waypoint on the 624 miles course to Morlaix Bay via a mark off the southwesternmost tip of Wales.

    Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) -winner of the first leg and second overall – has led since the turn at South Pullar mark at around 2230hrs last night. Race leader Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019) was leading but chose not to make the early gybe at the mark which is to the east of the isle of Wight, and lost out to Macaire and others, lying fourth this afternoon at 1.2 miles

    Racing in warm, sunny conditions the leading peloton of ten boats is tightly packed, constantly benchmarking themselves against each other. Conditions are easy – warm and sunny with six to eight knots of breeze and the prospect of carrying big spinnakers all the way to Land’s End where they should reach early tomorrow morning.

    Britain’s Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) made an excellent start to the leg and was approaching South Pullar in second position after Macaire but got caught in the bunch as the fleet compacted in the strong contrary tide and very light winds. He is still nicely in contact with the main group in 17th but two miles back from the leading line. Correspondingly Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) came back from the very depths of the fleet on Sunday afternoon’s reach across the English Channel to wriggle up to seventh on this morning’s light winds run but he is 14th at three miles behind Macaire.

    Just over a mile ahead of nearest rival Quiroga but left in a bit of a leeward position Macaire said the race is more or less re-starting from the TSS corner, “This is not what I had hoped for this morning and this afternoon. I was trying to play a wind shift and it didn’t go as planned. I was expecting an easterly wind as the files predicted and I still don’t have an easterly wind. There are rivals who are further south who have managed to get back to me, it’s not too serious. It makes a new start in a way. It’s amazing, all the weather forecasted this east wind for noon and we haven’t got it yet. We had 6 knots of wind earlier on now it’s more like 8-9 knots. It’s moving fast now so it’s not bad to be with the flow right now. I am calm, there is such a long way still to go I am happy with my start to the race, just a little disappointed with this change that did not happen. I could have scored the advantage since I broke away on my own, but it just got me back into the game. But I am calm for and will stay that way for the rest of the race! “

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Le Figaro A Go-Go started by Photoboy View original post