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Thread: Solitaire URGO Le Figaro: The Oceanic Single Handed Tour d' France

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    despondent correspondent Photoboy's Avatar
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    Solitaire URGO Le Figaro: The Oceanic Single Handed Tour d' France

    36 single handed sailors, mostly French, departed on Sunday on the 570 nm long 1st leg of the
    Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, a 4 stage tour of France and the English Coast, in 33' Beneteau Figaro's in what is
    considered on of the premier single handed races in all of Europe. Embed in the bunch, San Francisco's Nathalie Criou,
    currently bringing up the rear, after taking a flyer after rounding the Owers and finding herself in bad current and low wind
    while the rest of fleet short tacked up the British southern coast. Great reporting in this event, even in english for us non french speaking luddocks...
    Here are some highlights!

    The first stage of the 49th Solitaire URGO Le Figaro started on time at 1300hrs local time (CET/1200hrs BST) in a brisk 15kts breeze. At the top of the first short leg it was Frederic Duthil on Technique Voile who passed the first mark in the lead ahead of Xavier Macaire (SNEF Groupe) and Pierre Leboucher (Guyot Environnement). After the turn on to a tight reaching leg the leader was Eric Peron (Finistere Mer Vent) with Briton Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) in second with Switzerland’s Justine Mettreaux (Teamwork) in fifth

    Images Yvan Zedda & Alexis Courcoux

    Published on 26/08/2018

    Only six and a half hours after leaving the La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro start line in Le Havre the leaders have already turned west, upwind at the Pullar mark, to the west of Owers. Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire) lead at South Pullar at 1930h French time (1830 BST) being chased hard by Gildas Mahé (Breizh Cola), Tanguy le Turquais (Everial), Sébastien Simon (Bregagne Crédit Mutuel Performance), Eric Péron (Finistère Mer Vent), Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF )and Vincent Biarnès (Baie de Saint-Brieuc). Brit Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) is tenth at 1.3nm behind leader. The fleet now race upwind leaving the Isle of Wight to starboard. Low water at Saint Catherine’s point was around 1720 BST/1820 French time and so they will be sailing against the building flood tide.

    Published on 26/08/2018

    The tough, windy conditions that have blown through the Channel since the start of the first leg of the 49th edition of the Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, racing between Le Havre and the Bay of Saint-Brieuc, have continued to cause damage through the fleet.

    After passing the South Pullar cardinal mark in second place Gildas Mahé, one of the pre race favorites told race direction of his decision to abandon the leg after the breakage of Breizh Cola’s spreaders. The racer who finished 5th of the 2017 edition has reported no need for assistance and is diverting to Cowes or Hamble.

    Then shortly afterwards the strong winds and seas cause damage for Frédéric Duthil who reported a broken halyard. The skipper of Technique Voile is diverting to a sheltered bay on the southern English coast but reports he intends to repair and carry on if possible.

    Problems for other skippers:
    - British skipper Nick Cherry (Redshift) is fighting on at the back of the fleet after suffering a problem with his starboard rudder,
    - Calliste Antoine (ImmoNew) and Pierre-Louis Attwel (Mayoly Spindler Laboratories - MSD France) have both blown up their heavy spinnakers
    - Thomas Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) and Eric Delamare (Region Normandie) have already been forced to retire from this first stage
    **Retirement from a leg means the skipper receives the elapsed time of the last skipper plus two hours

    Published on 27/08/2018

    Five Skippers Abandon Stage 1 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro. Macaire Leads. The leaders on Stage 1 of the 49th edition of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro are through the worst of the first evening and night’s gale force winds which have resulted in damage for several key solo skippers.

    As the head of the fleet races upwind, tacking ten miles offshore of Portland Bill at Weymouth, on England’s south coast, around 0630hrs (BST) this morning it is Xaxier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) – overall French solo racing champion in 2015 – who leads.

    Macaire is closely matched by two title favourites, both of whom recovered fro modest midfleet starts. Second placed Sébastien Simon (Bretagne CMB Performance) and Charlie Dalin (Skipper Macif 2015), who are within quarter of a mile of the leader in the 18-20kts SW’ly breeze.

    The tough conditions have seen the retirement from the stage of five of the 36 skippers who started yesterday at 1300hrs (local time) in Le Havre.
    Among them are favourite Gildas Mahé (Breizh Cola) who was lying second before his spreaders broke, Frédéric Duthil (Technique Voiles) and English skipper Nick Cherry (Redshift) who suffered a rudder failure.

    After a rapid crossing of the Channel and the passage of the South Pullar mark around 1830hrs (BST) in 30kts of wind yesterday evening, the fleet had a fast, bumpy upwind race outside of the Isle of Wight, passing Saint Catherine’s Point in confused seas around midnight (BST).

    Briton Alan Roberts lead the fleet away from the Radio France Buoy just an hour after the start yesterday. He was in fifth during the early morning when passing offshore of Christchurch Bay but is in a solid ninth place less than two miles behind the leader.

    Swiss skipper Justine Mettreaux (Teamwork) is 12th, British racer Hugh Brayshaw (Kamat) is 15th and Irish soloist Joan Mulloy (Taste the Atlantic A Seafood Journey) is 29th at some 10 miles off the lead during her first leg ever on a La Solitaire.

    A disappointed Nick Cherry arrived in his home port of Cowes, pledging to replace his damaged rudder and make to St Brieuc to start the second stage. Retired from the leg he receives the elapsed time of the last Stage 1 finisher plus two hours as per the race rules.

    The Redshift skipper reported “After slight mis-timing at the start I felt I was going well on the reach, making inroads back into the fleet. The reach was fast and exciting until the rudder went with a big bang snapping at the stock! After having spent time attempting to make the situation better, it was apparent the boat speed and manoeuvreability was bad. So so I was bitterly disappointed to take the decision to pull into my home port of Cowes to effect a repair and to change the rudder.”

    Winds are due to ease through this morning which might allow a little recovery time, some micro naps of a few minutes at a time, and the opportunity to return the 32 foot Beneteau Figaro 2 yachts to better order. Top rookie this morning is Loïs Berrehar on Bretagne CMB Espoir in 21st place

    American skipper Nathalie Criou struggled with headsail problems during the night. The Richmond Yacht Club Foundation skipper declared herself “exhausted” on the VHF and reported she was considering stopping to stop. But after a few hours of rest she has resumed her pursuit of the fleet.

    Stage 1 ABD (Abandon)
    Thomas Dolan (Smurfit Kappa): Broken spreader, arrived back in Le Havre yesterday afternoon.
    Eric Delamare (Normandy Region): Diagonal D2 shroud broken and big tear in mainsail. Returned to Le Havre Sunday evening
    Nick Cherry (Redshift): broken rudder. Arrived Cowes during night
    Gildas Mahé (Breizh Cola): Broken spreaders. Arrived Cowes during night
    Frédéric Duthil (Technique Voiles): Broken mainsail halyard. Arrived Cowes during night.

    Published on 28/08/2018

    In the long history of Figaro racing there might not have been many more difficult passages of the famous Wolf Rock, a regular fixture mark on La Solitaire stages. Since last night Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) has been a solid leader and arrived at Wolf Rock with the first of the breeze

    He passed the mark at 15:49 :41h (CET/French) in the lead. The remote rocky islets are always impressive and the swell and light winds held the skipper from Nantes for long, tantalising minutes, watching in his wake the speedy arrival of Sébastien Simon (Bretagne Crédit Mutuel Performance) who passed exactly 10 minutes later. The two competitors finally left on starboard tack while their pursuers on the horizon were still on port. Chasing hard were Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) and Anthony Marchand (Group Royer-Secours populaire) and Alan Roberts (Seacat Services). With the wind disappearing Macaire and Marchand were taken past the rock on the current, letting the Brit through in third place. From the rock the sailors have 260.5 miles from the finish at Saint Brieuc. The posse of boats arriving at Wolf Rock from the south come in with extra speed from the tidal current taking them NW

    The Race
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    Published on 30/08/2018

    Nathalie Criou, the Franco-American skipper who this morning was still at sea, looking to complete Stage 1 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, called Race Direction at midday to say she is abandoning the first stage and is now heading directly to Saint Brieuc where she is expected this evening

    To be given a finish time the solo skipper of Richmond Yacht Club Foundation needed to cross the line before 23:29hrs this evening, which was looking increasingly unlikely given the light winds on the Channel in to Saint Qaui-Portrieux. So she is now heading to join the 35 Figaros already docked in the pretty basin in Saint Brieuc. She expects to be in around 22:00hrs this evening but it will be another big disappointment for the very determined solo racer.
    Her decision to retire actually slightly benefits the six other skippers who had to abandon Stage 1 – including England’s Nick Cherry (Redshift) and Ireland’s Thomas Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) - as the elapsed time they are allocated will be a nominal 3 days 21 hours 49 minutes, two hours more than the last finisher, Pierre-Louis Attwell who crossed the finish at 08:49.04hrs this morning.


    Published on 30/08/2018

    When Joan Mulloy (Taste the Atlantic A Seafood Journey) crossed the finish line off Saint Quai Portrieux to finish the first stage of the 49th La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro in 27th place crossing the finish line at 03:00.33hrs French time(UTC+2)this Thursday morning she became the first Irish woman to start and finish a leg of La Solitaire. She is fourth Bizuth (Rookie) of the eighth which started in Le Havre and her elapsed time for the course is 3d 14hrs 33secs. Mulloy is 3hrs and 49mins behind Thomas Cardrin (Team Vendee Formation) who finished top rookie on the stage. Three abandoned Stage 1 including her Irish compatriot Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa).

    On the dock she said, “I am very happy to have finished but I am a little disappointed with my result. The first 36 hours were really tough, a bit of a baptism of fire but then the last few days were really brilliant, I really enjoyed them even if I did not do very well. I loved the sailing, the conditions and the challenge. It was pretty much what I expected. You always imagine how tough something is going to be, and then when you are there you are, ‘this is what it means to be difficult’. I learned so much. It is funny because I have watched a lot of people do this race. I have told a lot of people about it, how unforgiving it is. But it is not until you go, and you make a tiny mistake and you are spat out the back. It is really unforgiving. I think I learned some new places to make mistakes. You think you are sorted and then two miles is lost. You need to be on your game, looking after every area of the boat, the sails on your strategy. Whenever it stopped being 30kts it was like ‘yes! This is amazing!’ Going across the channel with the kites up in 30kts on Sunday afternoon was pretty intense, but it was amazing. I was on that line between I’m crapping myself and this is amazing. I remember thinking ‘this is amazing except I now have to be in these wet clothes for the next four days.”

    Being first Irish woman to finish a leg?
    Finishing it was the hard part, starting was easy! I am disappointed in the result a wee bit, but then you just have to look at what our goals were at the start of the year and where we are now, it is great to have been on the start line and now at the finish line.


    Published on 30/08/2018

    For Anthony Marchand, who won the 464 nautical miles Stage 1 of La Solitaire du Figaro at 22:54:28hrs (French Time/UTC +2hrs) this Wednesday night, there is something a Hollywood fairytale to his first ever Leg win, coming as it does on his eighth attempt at the legendary multi stage solo offshore race.

    Marchand, 33 years old sailing Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire clung on to a tiny lead to score dream into his own home waters when the famous race visits the town of his birth, Saint Brieuc, for the very first time in its 49 year history, triumphing in what was one of the closest finishes for many years.
    Triumphant Marchand said on the dock, “It was only in the last mile that I started to think of winning. But now I am satisfied. You see everyone behind you and say, ‘it is not possible’ Now you just want to start again and not to stop.”

    “ A month or so ago on the Solo Normandie (race) I parked up off Saint Quay-Portieux and so to come back here now and to win my first ever stage win of La Solitaire is great. I was still worrying about a re-start in the bay and so I am still stressed. I am so happy it is great. This year has been great I have been doing La Solitaire for seven or eight years and now I feel like the experience is paying off. It was my first time with the kite up in 40kts and I ripped the fleet. I was happy with myself. It’s my second podium.”
    After 3 days 09hrs 54mins 28 secs of racing since leaving Le Havre on Sunday, Marchand finished just three minutes and six seconds ahead of second placed Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat) and 3 minutes and 38 seconds ahead of Charlie Dalin (Skipper Macif 2015) who staged a remarkable recovery from 11th at Wolf Rock to lead 90 miles later at Portsall off the north tip of Brittany.

    British skipper Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) and Hugh Brayshaw (KEMAT) secured their best ever finishes. With 28 year old Roberts crossing the line off Saint Quai-Portrieux in fifth, six minutes and 18 seconds behind Marchand and Brayshaw, 25 years-old in seventh, eight minutes and 32 seconds behind the winner, it proved an historic night for British solo racing, the first time two British skippers have made the top ten on any Le Figaro stage.
    Roberts lead the race out of Le Havre last Sunday, recovered from 12th to round the mid race turn south at Wolf Rock in third place on Tuesday evening, less than half a mile behind the leader Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) who finished 13th tonight. The British skipper, racing on his fourth La Solitaire, then took
    the lead again early on Wednesday morning, racing in towards the finish tonight with Brayshaw, last year’s Amateur winner, hard on his heels.
    Roberts smiled, “I feel good. I knew that I have had solid top ten, top five finishes in the races I have done this year including one podium finish, and in two of the races that I have finished I have been solid top five, top four until the final miles to the finish when I have dropped a bit, so it is not too much of a surprise. It is good to get it on this race track.”

    He added, “ I was very aware of what my strengths were and what my weaknesses, the upwind in the wind is a weakness and I still don’t have a solution to that on the first night. In the breeze upwind I can not get it going. But as soon as it goes light, tactical, flukey and fiddly, then I am good. I seem to have good speed. I am really happy to finish top five for the first time ever in my La Solitaire career. There were points when I thought I would lead it in but it was not to be, not this time”
    Both successful British skippers stuck to their pre-race plans. Roberts utilised his meteo homework and knowledge of the south coast of England to make an assured move to the north to find better wind on the edge of a high pressure ridge, against the strategy of his French rivals – other than Douguet – to get himself back from 12th into the leading pack.
    And Brayshaw stayed disciplined, maximising his rest, to ensure he was much better towards the end of the long leg than on previous races.
    The skipper from Dorset, England said, “ I feel so good. It was such a tense last day. So tense. You just knew that it was so close people were going to pass people at every point and so I was just hanging on in there. And to be in ahead of a lot of very fast boats feels really good. And I managed to hold my speed and stay with them. It is amazing to have a top ten result. I managed to stick to my game plan and stay rested to the end. I had enough energy and brain power to make a good result. I feel like I just worked through the fleet without taking too many risks.

    For Marchand the win exorcises memories of having had to abandon Stage 1 last year when his mainsail ripped on the leg from Bordeaux to Dijon. He has had to abandon before because of injury. Only once has he finished on the podium before. His success comes finishing on the waters he sailed for nearly 20 years, starting in what he calls his ‘soapbox’ – diminutive Optimist dinghy at the age of nine, before moving to the Laser. He vividly recalls, as a youth, going to Saint Brieuc and on to the bay to see Figaro and Vendee Globe racer Yann Elies, the town’s most famous and successful sailing son, preparing for his races.

    “I sailed a lot here until I was twenty between Saint-Quay and Tournemine. And so I feel like it is my destiny a bit, but to win this one is great because it was hard.
    On average though I think I am going well with the boat. My goal is not to win La Solitaire but to finish on the podium would be a dream. I always seem to have stages when I tore my mainsail or I hurt myself or there was one bad leg that pullled me down. With Alexis (Loisin) we worked together and that is away to get better. I have not had a break since January all we have done is Le Figaro, whether that is boat work or training.” Marchand recalled.
    At one point during the final stage of this first of four legs, 25 of the 29 solo racers were compacted on to a 1.4 nautical miles long patch of water. The top ten finished tonight within seven short minutes. With so little time between the top skippers the second stage, which starts Sunday racing 520 nautical miles to Ria de Muros-Noia in NW Spain, will ensure this will be the most open race for years.

    Stage 1 Finishers, Le Havre to Saint Quai/Saint Brieuc.
    1- Anthony Marchand / Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire, finished at 22h 54m 28s
    2- Thierry Chabagny / Gédimat at 22h 57m 34s
    3- Charlie Dalin / Skipper Macif 2015 at 22h 58m 06s
    4- Sébastien Simon / Bretagne CMB Performance at 22h 58m 53s
    5- Alan Roberts / Seacat Services at 23h 00m 41s
    6- Erwan Tabarly / Armor-Lux at 23h 02m 01s
    7- Hugh Brayshaw / Kamat at 23h 03m 00s
    8- Alexis Loison / Custo Pol at 23h 04m 18s
    9- Tanguy Le Turquais / Everial at 23h 04m 27s
    10- Xavier Macaire / Groupe SNEF at 23h 05m 27s
    11- Pierre Leboucher / Guyot Environnement at 23h 05m 36s
    12- Martin Le Pape / Skipper Macif 2017 at 23h 07m 22s
    13- Corentin Douguet / NF Habitat at 23h 07m 58s
    14- Vincent Biarnes / Baie de Saint-Brieuc at 23h 09m 11s
    15- Ronan Treussart / Les Perles de Saint Barth à 23h 10m 25s
    16- Benjamin Dutreux Sateco / Team Vendée Formation à 23h 11m 01s
    17- Thomas Cardrin / Team Vendée Formation at 23h 11m 33s
    18- Justine Mettraux / TeamWork at 23h 12m 06s
    19- Romain Baggio / Maison Meneau - Les marins de la Lune at 23h 12m 24s
    20- Pierre Quiroga / Skipper Espoir CEM - CS at 23h 12m 32s
    21- Damien Cloarec / SafeRail at 23h 12m 34s
    22- Lois Berrehar / Bretagne CMB Espoir at 23h 15m 48s
    23- Sophie Faguet / Corben Porsche at 23h 21m 17s à 23h 21m 17s
    24- Eric Péron / Finistère Mer Vent at 23h 26m 56s


    Published on 30/08/2018

    With 35 La Solitaire URGO Figaro solo skippers arrived tired and – at best – half slept this morning in the otherwise sleepy, picture postcard haven of Saint Brieuc the big challenge now for the sailors is to maximise their rest, recovery and, later, their preparation for Sunday’s start of Stage 2, 520 nautical miles across the Bay of Biscay to Ria de Muros-Nia.

    Around the compact dock basin and the Solitaire URGO Race Village locals and visitors are browsing the booths. As the famous annual race, a well known fixture on the French summer sporting calendar, visits Saint Brieuc for the first time, hopes of a fleeting encounter with a skipper will be in vain. Today’s typical skipper’s agenda is simple: get away from the boat sleep, eat, sleep, recover.

    Boat work and repairs are ideally left to the highly skilled ‘preparateurs’, technicians who work through the skipper’s job list to ensure the near identical 32 foot one design Beneteau Figaros are back to 100 per cent for the next leg.

    A Complete Figaro Leg
    Recovered, the skippers will review a Stage 1 which proved to be a very complete Solitaire test, an intense, tight inshore circuit before leaving Le Havre last Sunday, a fast, super demanding spinnaker reach in a building 30kts across the channel, an upwind slog along the English coast in a diminishing breeze.
    Strategy was tested through a messy high pressure ridge. There were several key wind shut downs in the breeze prompting significant regrouping. Five different skippers led at key times, there were several big comebacks – notably Charlie Dalin (Skipper Macif 2015) who came back from the dead twice to finish third, moving up through the fleet with impressive speed.
    Favourites who finished disappointed included Alex Loison – winner this year of both the Solo Normandie and Solo Maître CoQ and Stage 1 winner in 2014 – who finished eighth and even Corentin Douguet, leader at Wolf Rock who dropped to 13th.
    Loison, top title tip of many French insiders this year, said last night, “If they had told us we would have to go through all that for nothing… You start to wonder whether it is worth the pain. This leg will remain in the history books for many reasons. The conditions were extremely varied and we really got hit hard from the start. For the first Channel crossing, I’m pretty sure I’ve never experienced such conditions. After that a long tack upwind with the boat slamming and then, we end up with I don’t know how many boats within twenty minutes of each other.”

    After 465 miles of racing since Sunday the top ten are separated from race leaders Anthony Marchand by just six minutes and five seconds, and the top twenty are within 12 minutes and 38 seconds. Considering the magnitude of gains and losses possibly on an open ocean Stage 2 to NW Spain these deltas are next to nothing.

    The Big Sleep?
    There is both art and science to sleep and recovery, much of it down to personal preference. Usually there is a big catch up to start with. Former racer turned coach, program manager and consultant
    Marcus Hutchinson suggests, “In fact I am more of a believer in the shorter stopover because it is more of a continuous race and the sailors don’t lose the rhythm too much. We say maximise sleep, eat and then debrief. With the debrief we look at the race and take key points, not too many, then draw a line under the stage and never mention it again.”

    He observes, “I think we are looking forwards to the Figaro 3 (introduction of a new boat with foils) next year. Right now there are some top French guys who are amazingly quick, the best sailors are impressive how they can come back through the fleet.”

    The two British sailors who finished in their personal best finishes, Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) in fifth and Hugh Brayshaw (KEMAT) should adhere to the same philosophy, analyse the strengths and weaknesses of their leg, go forwards with renewed confidence, but still draw a line under the leg.

    For Brayshaw, at 25-years-old on his second La Solitaire, he has not yet had the benefit of a year-round French training programme such as Roberts has with the Pole Finistère where he lives, his seventh is key, but more important is knowing he had the speed to stay with the very top guys for hours on end under pressure.

    “Alan knows exactly where he is going and how to get there. His French is fluent like a native, his home number starts with +33, he is integrated with the top, race winning French programme. He has been chosen to sail IMOCAs with Yann Eliès (three times La Solitaire winner, fourth in Vendée Globe 2016-17). He is totally at the top end of the game and wants to get to the top and win a Vendée Globe,” emphasizes Hutchinson.
    This morning and today Roberts has been managing his recovery. His full spectrum approach, schooled in the science of marginal gains, has seen him improve the effectiveness of his sleep on and off the boat working with a hypnotherapist.

    Before the start in Le Havre he explained, “Outside of diet and nutrition I’ve also been working with a hypnotherapist following some alternative ideas. I wanted to be a bit more open he approached me and so we did some work. My aim is to be able to sleep better both on and off the boat. I was a bit sceptical but stayed open minded. We don’t really target one area, and I do think it helps more subconsciously all across the board. I see it more as a type of meditation. What it does is to help the body truly relax. If that can heal the body through being truly relaxed and I gain in some areas then it’s all good.”
    “The aim with sleep is that it is such an important thing. I’ve been working to switch off at the most useful and effective time that you can when you’re on the boat.” He explains, “And it is also to sleep as best as you can when you’re on shore in order to be able to recover in between the legs”

    “I definitely feel a lot better and whether it’s down to that or maybe just down to doing a huge amount sport and being very fit and strong at the moment or eating well its hard to really know.”
    They said:
    Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) 13th after leading twice: “It isn’t so much the rankings that disappointment me as much as what happened towards the end. I had to go into the water at île Vierge to remove some weed from the keel. I was up with the frontrunners, Thierry (Chabagny), Charlie (Dalin) and Seb (Simon). I lost a little time, but I don’t know whether it was because I got my head in the cold water, but after that I was crap. I just couldn’t get anywhere. The time difference isn’t that much much, so I’m up there with the others and nothing has been decided. This leg could have been decisive, but it wasn’t to be like that. I’ll try to remember the first few hours of the race and forget the rest….”
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  3. #3
    Hopefully Nathalie can get some traction in the next 3 legs!

  4. #4
    Give em elle Nat!

  5. #5
    despondent correspondent Photoboy's Avatar
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    Leg 2 Nears Finish For Solitaire Sailors

    520 nms Stage 2 La Solitaire URGO Saint Brieuc to Ria de Muiros Noia Started Sunday. If the first 465 nautical miles stage of the 49th La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro proved to be classic Channel race, full of twists and turns, big winds at the start, a tactical mid section in light airs which compressed the fleet and a very close finish, the second leg whichs starts Sunday is a classic late summer downwind sprint across the Bay of Biscay. From the coastal modes of Leg 1 which was enriched by multiple cross channel legs and tidal gates, Leg 2 opens with a tactical light winds leg to Ushant where the southwards turn begins a 370 nautical miles downwind motorway to Cape Finisterre.

    all images ©alexis-courcoux-

    At the infamous NW corner of Spain, graveyard most Autumns to many ocean racers’ hopes and aspirations, there will likely be a typical 40kt kicking awaiting the La Solitaire racers. And then, possibly a lighter passage in to the finish line on the Ria Muro Nia, some 30 nautical miles south of La Coruna. The leaders are expected Wednesday morning.

    Time differences between the top 20 after the first leg are negligible. Six minutes between the top ten and 18 minutes separating first from 20th. Most top skippers consider that this leg into Spain may prove decisive with a delta in hours, rather than minutes, between first and 20th after this leg.

    British skipper Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) says he has drawn a line under the career best fifth he secured on Stage 1 and is looking at the next leg as a different race. He is one who believes this true offshore stage can open up the game,

    ” This could be a key leg on this Solitaire with the arrival in Spain. There could be five or ten boats get away and open up a four or five hour lead on the fleet.” said Roberts, 28-years-old whose fifth La Solitaire this is, ” The arrival at Cape Finistere in a NE’ly with some acceleration around the Cape Finisterre depending on when we arrive. Best case we arrive at midday and have a nice thermal to take us in. Worst case is the leaders arrive on the end of the thermal and get in and the others are left until ten oclock next morning.”

    To a great extent this stage is very much about managing expectations, about putting all memories of the last stage on hold, taking forwards added confidence and positive learning.

    That applies equally to those who secured top results, like stage winner Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer Secoure Populaire) , the local hero has been feted in his home town Saint Brieuc for winning his first ever stage on his eighth attempt. But also the likes Alexis Loison (Custo Pol), the favourite of many Solitaire observers, who came into this race after winning two of the key build up events. Loison is eighth but only just less than ten minutes behind winner Marchand. And it’s a new race too for Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) who arrived at the finish bitterly disappointed at his 13th after leading the stage twice.

    The same holds true for British duo Roberts (Seacat Services) and, especially 25-years-old Hugh Brayshaw (KAMAT). Brayshaw’s seventh brings confidence in his ability, especially having paced some top guys through the final hours of the race and holding them off, but just ten minutes separates him from 20th and that delta can be lost within the first few miles in light winds and strong tides on the 100 or so miles to the turn at Ushant.

    Those seven skippers who had to abandon Stage 1 are perhaps the keenest to get under way. Among them Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) and Nick Cherry (Redshift), who had to pull into Cowes with a broken rudder.

    Looking relaxed and rested Cherry said,
    ” I feel like I have not even started my Solitaire yet because I did not do that much racing. I have just stayed focused on the next leg as much as I can. It has been good seeing the Brits doing so well on the first leg. Now I want to go and get a piece of that action. I like these conditions. You can make or lose big distances downwind. If nothing goes wrong I could be near the front.”

    After finishing 27th on her first ever La Solitaire leg Irish rookie Joan Mulloy is also just looking to manage her own expectations, to hang on to a competitive part of the fleet and keep learning,
    ” I am trying to temper my expectations a bit for Leg 2. I am trying to take some quiet, useful confidence into the next leg. It should be a bit more straightforward. Because I managed to hang in there on the first leg now I want to hang in better and be a bit more competitive. I really have to be on my game for the first coastal section along the coast of Brittany because I don’t want to be at the back of the pack as we head across Biscay. I need to be just the most prepared and organised as we get away tomorrow and try and have a game plan, a good start.”

    Finistere to Finisterre, a speed test?
    The course for Stage 2 is 520 nautical miles long, from Saint Brieuc to Ria Muros Noia. Crossing Biscay there is no real options to shorten it. From the start at 1400hrs (CEST/UTC+2) there will be a light NE’ly veering E’ly breeze racing west along the north Brittany coast with the first of the ebb tide. With around 5-10kts of relatively fickle wind the key will be to stay with the pack unless the any risk taken comes with a relatively certain reward. The leg is expected to take between two days and 16 hours and three days, according to leading skippers.

    The breeze will gradually strengthen at the tip of Brittany and as the 36 strong fleet plunge south downwind - out on starboard gybe, back on a layline for the corner of Spain on port - the wind will progressively increase, giving an increasing advantage to the leaders. At the corner itself there is the option to cut the corner at Ushant and go inside through the rocky, very tidal Chenal de Four and the Chenal de la Helle, or outside into the stronger breeze.

    “That in itself can immediately open the game a lot.” says Martin Le Pape (Skipper Macif 2017), “There are places there where there is counter currents and even slack water. The Chenal de Four is much shorter but you have to play the game like an accountant, manage the fleet, how many are going which way? I dont feel like I want to make a move there, I just want to be in the top 10. The first 100 miles to the Iroise Sea (just after Ushant) is quite strategic then it is boat speed test. The first to get to that breeze after Ushant will be away.”

    According to Gildas Mahé (Breizh Cola), the beginning of the Bay of Biscay should not be really decisive: “Downwind in 20 knots, where we try to find the best VMG (angle and speed giving the best net gain towards the mark). Here there is not much gain to be made on he helm because you’re not surfing. But soon after that in 25kts that does not hold true. At the start of Biscay you will still be able to sleep.”
    Thereafter it will be about an accordion effect, expansion as the lead group descend into the stronger winds.
    “There are small differences in speed under spinnaker, down to the cut of the kites and their controllability on the helm. And with big ocean swells and wind waves on top and you cannot pace yourself against others in sight. A lot is down to feel and reflexes.” Says Eric Péron, the skipper of Finistère Mer Vent.
    Tuesday will see 25kts during the approach to Cape Finisterre. The maxim at the notorioous Cape is to double what you had on the approach.
    ” We call it tax free. On the weather files, we see 25 knots, and Cape Finisterre is actually 35-40! With a thermal depression round there and the hot air being sucked up off from Spain, the isobars compress and there is a lot of wind usually at the point.” So explains Alexis Loison of Custo Pol.But after the Cape there is often nothing. The northerlies are blanketed by the high gound and so the final miles in to the finish line may yet be a real sting in the tail
    Brit Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) concludes: “It also depends when you arrive in the day. By day, it’s ok, you can have thermal between noon and eight at night but At night, it’s weaker, sometimes you have nothing.”

    They said:
    Alan Roberts (Seacat Services): ” The game we play is a risk management game. We make decisions on very small percentages. You analyse the risk and put a value on it. You know may say I think it is 51 per cent to be there. There are a lot of sailors who would be good in the stock markets or making risk management decisions. But for me it is not about money, that is why I am here. I am here to race. I am here to win. I am here to learn.”

    Joan Mulloy (Taste the Atlantic A Seafood Journey): “I still really enjoyed the first leg and so I am still on a bit of a high. So I am trying to temper my expectations a bit for Leg 2. I am trying to take some quiet, useful confidence into the next leg. It should be a bit more straightforward. Because I managed to hang in there on the first leg now I want to hang in better and be a bit more competitive. I really have to be on my game for the first coastal section along the coast of Brittany because I don’t want to be at the back of the pack as we head across Biscay. I need to be just the most prepared and organised as we get away tomorrow and try and have a game plan, a good start. The current will be quite a big factor and we will have to be quite reactive as to how we play that.”

    Hugh Brayshaw (KAMAT): It seems like I have a lot to live up to now. And to be honest I am trying to forget about the last leg as much as possible. And so I am just trying to go into this next one fresh, as it were. It will be quite windy, nice and fast in the middle and at the end some big winds at Finisterre so that makes me a bit nervous. After the meteo briefing you are always a bit more nervous. But for me the last leg, not only was the result good but I felt really comfortable up against some of the really good guys, so if I can replicate that I can do well again. The result is amazing but there is no real time difference between us and so this one, with potentially a very light last 30 miles, I think we can see some time gaps. It is very important leg.



    The latest routing done by Race Direction on the Etoile, their fleet escort vessel shadowing the leaders, suggest the first boats will be off Cape Finisterre around midnight tonight. That would mean a finish at between 0200hrs and 0300hrs - so another night arrival. The NE'ly wind is at 25-30kts with gusts up to 35kts this afternoon. In the lead since this morning's ten o'clock ranking Sébastien Simon (Brittany CMB Performance) is two and a half miles ahead of Eric Péron (Finistere Mer Vent) with Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) and Pierre Leboucher (Guyot Environnement) neck and neck in third and fourth. Stage 1 winner Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire) is seventh at 5.6 nautical miles behind Simon. A stormy low which has risen north from Portugal is expected to weaken the unstable wind flow when the fleet get closer to Galicia but over northern Cape Finisterre the winds will still be strong NE'lies. And then on Wednesday the winds will be more unstable as the depressions pass nearby. Later today though the leaders will get rain and stormy gusts of between 30 and 35 kts on the approach to Cape Finisterre with northerly swell running at 3 metres. But as some forecast before leaving the Bay of Saint Brieuc, the strong winds are forecast to drop by tomorrow morning and this could potentially create some bigger gaps in the fleet.

    A stormy low which has risen north from Portugal is expected to weaken the unstable wind flow when the fleet get closer to Galicia but over northern Cape Finisterre the winds will still be strong NE’lies. And then on Wednesday the winds will be more unstable as the depressions pass nearby.
    Later today though the leaders will get rain and stormy gusts of between 30 and 35 kts on the approach to Cape Finisterre with northerly swell running at 3 metres. But as some forecast before leaving the Bay of Saint Brieuc, the strong winds are forecast to drop by tomorrow morning and this could potentially create some bigger gaps in the fleet.
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  6. #6
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    Light Winds Plague Leg 3 Le Solitaire

    Leaders Change Throughout Light Winds Sunday But Overall Leader Simon is Poised, Ireland’s Dolan Top Rookie, Lying 11th. It may be Fred Duthil (Technique Voile) and Alexis Loison (Custo Pol) who share the lead after just over 28 hours of a very light wind, slow Stage 3 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, but lying in fourth place Sébastien Simon (Bretagne CMB Performance), the overall race leader, is perfectly poised at less than half a nautical mile behind the leading duo. His assured strategic choices and speed in the light airs are further evidence in the growing belief he is on course to win this edition overall come Friday of this week.

    Cape Finisterre and the north west corner of Spain is one of the most feared areas on European ocean racing routes. On Stage 2 of this 49th edition of La Solitaire weather advisers warned the solo skippers to, typically, expect up to twice as much wind as on the approach. It might appear that the reverse is true on the reciprocal passage. Only this evening were the leaders starting to climb the lower reaches of the Bay of Biscay and free themselves of the calms of A Coruña,.

    Through a long, dark first night the breeze was never more than five knots from the north. The offshore route paid initially for Éric Péron (Finistère Mer Vent) who led at Cap Villano, the Radio France buoy.

    Then Vincent Biarnes (Baie de Saint-Brieuc) was passed again by Péron off the island of A Gagada Grande where the fleet split into groups, heading offshore, sticking close to the direct line or some, like the British pair Alan Roberts, Hugh Brayshaw, Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) and Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Espoir CEM) taking their time to climb north and paying a heavy price, sailing over a knot slower for a long period.

    Finally climbing clear of the capricious winds and strong tidal currents of the Spanish coast the fleet are into the northerly breeze which should veer more east during the early hours of Monday morning. But once again the night will be marked by very light, unstable airs and – again some 11 hours of darkness with hardly any moon. The conservative strategy will be to ascend northwards close to the rhumb line staying with the making, most direct angle. But there will be more bubbles of calm. The breeze in the east and south of the bay is forecast to diminish.

    Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) has stuck to his game plan, paced himself against his key rivals and made better strategic plays than on Stage 2. His choice of listening to comedy routines to keep himself awake and focused through the long, intense hours in the light winds may be contributing to what appear to be consistently decent speeds, well in touch with the lead group.
    He has worked offshore, in the west, and has avoided the worst of the light winds potholes, to lie 11th, top Rookie.

    all images ©Alexis Courcoux

    After having to retire from the first leg due to rig damage which threatened his mast, just 90 minutes out from the Le Havre start, followed by a poor strategic decision at the key point on Stage 2 which cost him 10 miles on the leaders and a dozen places, Dolan is in a strong position just 2.6 nautical miles behind the leading duo and three nautical miles up on the overall leader of the Bizuth or Rookie Division, Thomas Cardrin (Team Vendée Formation).

    Dolan told the media team aboard the Race Direction’s motor catamaran L’Etoile, “I’m happier right now than last night. I made a terrible start, as usual. All night long, with Justine (Mettraux), Éric (Delamare) and Xavier (Macaire), we made a good recovery by staying offshore. My night was long and sleepless but I’m happy to be up here in the lead group. It’s nice. At one point, we will have to tack before getting too much to the South because there will be no wind. I aim to I stay between Thomas Cardrin and the leading group if I can. “
    While Dolan is going well, it has been a bitterly frustrating opening 24 hours for the British duo Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) and Hugh Brayshaw (KAMAT). They were caught out inshore in lighter breeze and has suffered relatively heavy losses in terms of the distance that they now both trail behind the pacemakers.

    Roberts’ chances of holding on to his seventh place overall look to be severely compromised as he is just under 20 nautical miles, or on this course at least two hours, behind the leaders in 33rd place.

    And, equally as painful, he and Brayshaw have some thirteen miles to make up to break back into the top 20 in the 36 strong fleet. Roberts has proven able to climb back through the fleet on both previous legs, to a lesser degree, but now needs an overnight slowdown by the leaders.
    The 415 nautical miles stage to Saint-Gilles-Croie-de-Vie, home of Beneteau, builders of the Figaro, should see the winners finish Wednesday morning.

    They said:
    Frédéric Duthil (Technique Voiles): “Last night, we had to be very focused on the choice of when to tack. I was one of the last to go further offshore and it paid off. We are on the edge of the ridge and the wind is coming from the left. You have to reposition each time above the fleet to keep with the best of the breeze. It is getting us in the right direction. We must get north as quick as we can. I’m pretty happy because I have good speed. But the Bay of Biscay is full of pitfalls and traps. “

    Charlie Dalin (Skipper MACIF 2015):“This morning, I was not very fast and now it’s better. In fact, I had strands of weed or something, I do not know what stuck on the keel and it was impossible to remove with the flossing rope. The only solution was to dive. I waited for daylight and there was not much wind. I warned the race direction that I was going to dive. I put the boat head to wind slow the boat. I jumped into the water from the front of the boat wearing my diving mask. As the boat is a wee bit ahead of us, we jump and we catch the keel passing. Once you’ve cleaned it you go up the ladder at the back. To be sure I always stream the knotted rope out the back in case I miss the ladder. Currently, there is little wind to South. The breeze will shift right and we must find the right compromise going East and North.”

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