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The Time Is Now

Published on 22/08/2021

For the 34 solo skippers the time to bury the nerves and slide into race mode will be around 1500hrs local time this afternoon when they will dock out from Saint Nazaire and head for the start line. The skippers will take time to make sure everything is perfect on board, do final weather checks most of all to consider where the requirements to change sails might, be and to make sure everything is absolutely to hand for what promises to be an intense first night at sea. The pressure will be on from the start on this leg. Getting across of the mouth of the Loire estuary is complicated enough and while there are no tidal gates to chase tonight, everyone is aware that the breeze will strengthen as the fleet move south south west across the Bay of Biscay.

Racing starts at 1745hrs CET/local and the start is streamed live on line here and on the social media channels (in French).

For the skippers who are super experienced, those with eight, 10 or even 15 La Solitaires under their belt, much of this is routine but still requires real attention to detail. Bear in mind there is always some minor disaster on start day befalls at least one skipper, in recent years we have seen a leading contender rip his mainsail on the way to the start, we have seen a broken main halyard and a few more years back in the final year of the Figaro 2 in Le Havre a spreader root break and that skipper’s first leg was over before the first turning mark.

Experience counts for a lot, but not everything. The guys who have done this many times might even make a point of switching themselves off for 15 or 20 minutes for a power nap, because for sure there will be no useful sleep downwind tonight.

Meantime young English skipper David Paul, 26, will be fulfilling a dream just getting to the startline. His interest in solo ocean racing was piqued by watching a DVD about Conrad Humphys’ 2004-5 Vendée Globe a few years after his non-sailing parents launched him into the sport at Hillingdon Outdoor Centre in West London. After a long spell dinghy racing Laser Radials and Lasers Paul came to the Figaro Beneteau circuit only this season after some successes in IRC racing from the Solent.

In fact his first solo sailing experience was only this January when he started with the Team Vendée group where he has immersed himself in learning and improving. He has one of Marcus Hutchinson’s fleet of Figaro Beneteau 3s on charter and has been mentored and helped initially by Damien Cloarec with whom he did the Sardinha Cup which they had to abandon, and more recently the Tour de Bretagne with Sophie Faguet.

“I suppose this has been an obsession since 2016-17, looking to get here. In partly because I was in Optimists with Will Harris and kind of thought well Will can get there so can I and so I have given everything to be here.” Smiles Paul in the dockside sunshine, “I am nervous today but not as nervous as I was before my first solo offshore race. Then I was just looking to finish. Now, well I don’t really know how I will do. The first couple of months were very hard but then you start to feel you are getting somewhere and latterly I feel like I was holding my own. I’d love this to be more than a one off.”

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