Bristol Channel Currents Give La Solitaire du Figaro Fleet The Monday Lundy Blues

Published on 07/09/2021

Racing this afternoon in waters which are not at all well known to most racers on La Solitaire du Figaro, the outer reaches of the Bristol Channel – along the north Cornish and Devon coastline – are presenting a new set of challenges on a very intense leg towards Lundy Island. There the leaders should turn North West towards the Saint Gowan turning mark off the tip of Wales.

It is the strong tidal current which have seen the fleet compact and stretch, compact and stretch again since early this morning when Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) led the fleet at Carn Base and then Longships light off Land’s End. Stopped by the turn of the tide Macaire hit the buffers and saw a three miles lead evaporate. As they struggled to find breeze to punch against the current there was a constant battle along the rugged, rocky north Cornwall coast. Inshore where the current was slacker there was less wind and it was more interrupted and shifty because the Easterly was blowing off the land. Offshore the contrary flow was stronger.

Among those who made an excellent gain was Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) who got himself back into contention when he found a spell of favourable breeze offshore and got himself up to fifth around midday. Dolan was religiously sticking to the rhumb line – the most direct straight line course to the island nature reserve of Lundy - less than a mile behind the overall General Classification leader Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019).

“To be fair I know the Celtic Sea quite well but this is very much the Bristol Channel and the tides are strong here. There was a restart this morning in very light winds and strong tides. And these English winds half an hour ago there were 6 knots. Five minutes ago, there were 25, then 16 ... suddenly, you never get time to settle to any settings. Everyone ended up in more or less the same place, I sailed offshore to get a bit more wind. It seemed to have worked well but there are a whole group of boats on the coast it is hard to know what will happen with them. The wind is just opening up the angle so I am going to change sails.” Dolan told the TV crew on the guard boat this afternoon.

These two were more than four miles to the west, offshore of the main pack. At 1530hrs CET/1430hrs local time they were racing in an ENE’ly breeze passing offshore of the popular Cornish resorts of Saint Merryn and Padstow where they are more used to see holidaying British MPs and minor celebrities than Figaro Beneteau 3s racing on the French annual solo offshore classic. With just over 25 nautical miles to the turn at Lundy Island the leader should pass at around 1900hrs local time (2000hrs CET/France) but there is no clear indication who that might be.

Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) remains upbeat, cool headed and objective despite twice seeing a lead disappear on this 624 miles Stage 3 passage from Fécamp to Morlaix Bay. He is looking to claw back time on runaway General Classification leader Quiroga who started the leg with a cushion of 1 hour and 37 minutes over Macaire.

Alexis Loison (Région Normandie) was leading at one point after, also, taking the offshore option. He is in the main group at less than a mile from the lead, there being just two miles between first and 14th.

Loison said, “This is messed up! I like this position. The wind should pick up at the end of the afternoon, still from an easterly sector. We should get to Lundy pretty quickly, especially since the current will be with us. There is so much current in this area. The leaders, especially Xavier (Macaire) got stuck and everyone came back. We were smart, with Pierre Leboucher we went offshore to look for wind because on land I could see that there was nothing. But hey there is nothing to brag about because the gaps are tiny.”

With a cut off low pressure messing up the weather in Biscay but evolving to join a main, small depression to the west of and moving north, the leaders should have a quick tight reach tomorrow back from Saint Gowan towards the Scilly Isles where it still looks light. For sure this stage is not going to be decided much before the finish line.


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