Cap Istanbul: Mister 'Droug' on a flyer

Eric Drouglazet on board Luisina

Decidedly it's becoming a habit in the small world of solo sailors on the Figaro circuit. A seemingly innocent introductory stage on paper turns into daggers at dawn. The result is a man who stuns his rivals, some greatly vexed favourites and some outsiders discovering new ambitions. The first stage of the 'European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul' has already made its mark…

But what is happening to ocean racing? For some years now we've got used to certain archetypes having to be respected: in this way there have been adventurers who have gone for a radical option and been the authors of some brilliant but at times risky trajectories. We've also had those who've enjoyed making small gains along the course and have been brought up in a culture of prudence.

Eric Drouglazet, a formidable fighter and a pillar of the Figaro circuit had always laid claim to this way of sailing and was at the risk of appearing to be a bit of a killjoy in front of some of his rivals' piercing qualities. Here though we've seen another side to 'Droug', one who has relished the great move he's just pulled off and is elated about coming off so well from a daring option.

'One of the keys to this stage occurred off Corsica on Sunday night. We were all becalmed to the NW of the island. Whilst the fleet headed down towards Corsica close-hauled on starboard tack, I decided to head off on port tack to gain westing and hunt down the remnants of the Mistral. To be precise, I didn't do this in a single move but rather I re-centred myself using a series of small tacks, and gradually shifted across. As a result I was one of the first to pick up the wind…'

After that it was a different story because we know that Eric Drouglazet excels in brisk conditions. As is often the case in these situations, the sailor from Trégunc on France's NW coast, stretched out an impressive lead. To get 10 miles ahead of such tenacious sailors as Christopher Pratt (DCNS 97) and Nicolas Bérenger (Kone Elevators) shows extraordinary determination at the very least.

Clearly though, the skipper of Luisina wanted to ram the point home. 'From the moment I hoisted my spinnaker as far as the SW tip of Sardinia, I didn't let go of the helm. It was impossible to eat, sleep or go to the loo! You're just running on empty. I still managed to get peaks of 21-22 knots though…' Eric Drouglazet has set the tone: he has gained control and fully intends to do all he can to keep hold.

A match within a match
Naturally there are others who were able to smile at the finish of this first stage. Nicolas Bérenger, already a winner of the Alpes Maritimes Trophy for the race prologue, can be satisfied with having settled the account fair and square with all his rivals on the direct course. The aggressiveness, the speed and the talent of the sailor from La Grande Motte means that he is still well positioned for potential victory. Even though he has a deficit of nearly 90 minutes on today's winner, he knows that in the Mediterranean, the entanglements from one day can easily be unravelled the next.

Another racer who can be satisfied with his performance despite finishing in seventh place and three hours behind Eric Drouglazet is Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert). The leader of the provisional ranking of the French Solo Championship has consolidated his first place by ensuring a lead of a little less than two hours over Fred Duthil and Erwan Tabarly, his two successors. It proved to be a very disappointing run for Nicolas Troussel (Financo) and Thierry Chabagny (Susuki Automobiles) however, the duo relegated to places which were far from worthy of their status. Thierry was particularly disappointed after being trapped in a light patch of breeze to the south of Sardinia and having to watch helplessly as the fleet got ahead of him: 'It feels like I've been run over by a train…'

One thing for sure is that everyone was drawing on their reserves. From Isabelle Joschke (Synergie) who was on the helm all day long, to Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement) in search of a good bed to recuperate, everyone was feeling the effects. It is said that the big races build their reputation on a collection of stages. The grand cavalcade along the coasts of Corsica and Sardinia should go some way to edifying the legend of the race which aspires to become the Mediterranean version of the Solitaire du Figaro. The 'European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul' is in the process of demonstrating that it has nothing to be envious about as far as its Atlantic counterpart is concerned.

Quotes from the Boats.

Jeanne Grégoire, Banque Populaire
'I wanted to go and play in the west straightaway but it wasn't the right option. The result of that is that I'm tagging along behind at the start of the race. Twenty-ninth at the start I ended up coming sixteenth. Added to that, it's the Mediterranean… Five hours is a big deficit, but there could still be all manner of upsets in the rankings.'

Eric Péron, L'Esprit d'Equipe
'I'm not pleased with myself. I didn't sail well. My computer went on the blink and I suddenly wanted to make provision for that whilst all the rest of the fleet were continuing to attack. Not having the positions of my playmates is clearly one less motivation, but I've got no excuses. I'll just have to do better on the next stage.'

Mathieu Girolet, Entreprendre Laffont Presse
'It was a good lesson. The first day was physical, but I was pretty much on the pace. Last night I tore my spinnaker, but I'm really happy despite all that: I came to find out what it was like and I've seen that I'm not behind the times. It's plain to see that I've still got a lot to learn though: the way the boat behaves under spinnaker in the breeze for example. I sail totally differently in relation to the leaders.

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