Published on 23/08/2021
Half way across the Bay of Biscay on the 305 miles downwind to a turning mark at La Coruna, Stage 1 of the 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro the lead is being traded between young favourite Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Performance) and Olympian turned solo racer Pierre Leboucher (GUYOT Environnement - Ruban Rose) as the 34 strong fleet start to feel the wind build in advance of a fast, bumpy rounding of the most southernmost buoy en route for Thursday’s finish in Lorient, Brittany.
Since the race started from Saint-Nazaire on Sunday at 1757hrs Sunday the first night at sea was relatively gentle with the wind shifting to the NE as forecast to produce a dead downwind sprint from the Rochebonne plateau mark – off Les Sables d’Olonne – which Laperche led round at 0256hrs last night.
If the overnight wind was light at 10-11kts it proved unsettled in strength and direction requiring the skippers to maximise their concentration and focus, but by afternoon today it had settled. Timing of the gybes, slaloming either side of the rhumb line, was mostly where the transient gains and losses were made. But, typically of a La Solitaire du Figaro downwind speed race, there is still nothing between the top 10 boats. Leboucher was just 0.2 NM up on Laperche this afternoon but there was only 1.5 miles between first and 10th though the leaders should stretch as they descend into stronger breeze tonight.
Rest opportunities have been few and far between, a few minutes snatched last night. But with the forecast showing just over 30kts off the Galician coast, most will try to bank something before they take on these fast, challenging miles into and out of this notorious stretch of water, not least because the Farralones buoy is very close into the land.
Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa - Kingspan) was in good spirits today despite ruing a couple of small errors which were compounding a slightly lacklustre start to a downwind which is offering few tactical opportunities. The Irish skipper was in 16th, picking up a few places here and there.
Dolan told the race media team, “I will soon prepare myself for the stronger wind that we will have down off Spain. Otherwise, I didn’t get off to great start and did a bit of a mistake by gybing too early to reach Rochebonne. That is already two little mistakes…. But it could be worse and my morale remains good! I was hoping to gain getting down to the Southwest as soon as possible, where we expect more wind. But here I am a little shifted to the left compared to the main body of the fleet and I will have to make a small gybe to reposition myself. For the moment we are very close to each other, but the wind shifts are so obvious that there are not so many tactical choices available to us. But it won’t be the same story when the wind fills in. So here I am, I try to store up my reserves for tonight.”
The leaders are a little ahead of the routings and should be at the turn between 7 am and 9 am Tuesday morning. The most pressing issue will be the leftover sea from an old, strong westerly which will make it harder to sail low angles while keeping the angles up means sailing more miles. After La Coruna the long climb back upwind to Lorient will offer some respite before a very light winds finish into Lorient early Thursday morning.
Britain’s Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) was lying 20th, 3.8NMs from Leboucher. The American rookies Francesca Clapcich (Fearless State Street Marathon Sailing) and Jesse Fielding (Opportunity State Street Marathon Sailing) were 28th and 30th respectively.
They said :
Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) : “We have some wind forecast for the finish in La Coruña. Therefore, it will be more sporty. We will have to put on the heavy wet weather gear and prepare the boat well. We expected this. We already knew before leaving those conditions will strengthen as we approach Spain. It is not a surprise ! I try to save some energy for tonight in order to steer as much as possible. I have had a little picnic, sandwich and fruit in the modest conditions we have this afternoon. Even if, for the moment, we are progressing bunched up together, we still have two gybes to do and the game will likely open up a bit from here on to Spain. Then, after a rather rough climb at the start, there will be options to take in the middle and end of the course which may generate gaps.”
Francesca Clapcich (Fearless – State street marathon sailing) : ”The start was OK, I had a few issues. I have tried to push a little bit to get together with some other boats, it would be nice to have some company, to sail with some other boats again. Conditions do seem to be getting better and better and soon we will have a little more breeze. It is pleasant sailing. I had a good start and good speed but then I had a few issues. I had the tackline strip from the kite and then I had an incident at the buoy, that was not how I wanted to start this race but I will fight all the way to the end”.
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