La Solitaire du Figaro Leg 3 - It's not over yet

Jérémie Beyou (BPI) under spinnaker - La Solitaire du Figaro 2011
© Courcoux Marmara
La Solitaire du Figaro skippers started for the third leg, 475 miles from Dùn Laoghaire to Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday 14th August and should be finishing in Les Sables d’Olonne tomorrow, Wednesday 17th August, around noon.

The 46 boat strong fleet has been progressing in light sea breeze along the Brittany coast. French skipper Jérémie Beyou is still leading, but everything could still happen on the last hundred miles to the finish.

Will it be café and croissant for the finish? Since over 50 hours, the 46 solo skippers have been playing the tough game of choosing the best route and decoding each and every little wind shift to keep speed up. That’s a game race leader Jérémie Beyou on BPI is a master at. He has been at the front for the last two days, but will he manage to fence off his competitors’ attacks up to the finish line? His pursuers, Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat), Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham) and Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat) have been chasing him and hope to get nearer, as daylight fades away and the sea breeze will give way to a light north-westerly. According to the latest position report his advantage has been reduced to 0.5 miles.

Up until the Barges lighthouse, on a tiny rock just off Les Sables d’Olonne, there will be no other course mark and the skippers will be free to choose their route, which will nonetheless be full of traps and islands to be wary of Glénan, Groix, Belle Ile, Ile d’Yeu. The match is not over yet and the coming hours will be crucial.

Jersey based Phil Sharp keeps on showing good speed and tactics, at 15:30 he was reported to have jumped up one more position and was in sixth , less than two miles from Beyou and still leading the rookie ranking, with second newcomer Morgan Lagravière in 11th one mile further back. Other UK solo sailors Sam Goodchild and Conrad Humpreys are still battling neck-to-neck in 25th and 26th respectively. Nigel King’s overnight option did not pay off and he slipped down to 32nd whilst Portugal Francisco Lobato lies in 44th.

As the Solitaire skippers were getting to Penmarch' a big blue 'monster' approached them. It was no other than maxi trimaran Banque Populaire V, that just smashed the Fastnet Race record, on her delivery journey from Plymouth. The crew waved and saluted some of the sailors, among whom they saw fellow crew members Thierry Chabagny and Erwan Tabarly, before sprinting away at full speed.

Jérémie Beyou (BPI): 'It is harder to be in front downwind.'
'It’s a textbook situation: past Penmarc’h the weather is always good. It’s nice to have some sun. There’s a breeze so we’re moving. The wind is not going to die out at least until tonight, later it will probably turn right and become north-west. We’ll have to gybe. True, when you are leading you show the way to the others. It is harder to be in front downwind. Would be great to have a bit more leeway. But they are there, close behind, and I’ll have to deal with that.'

Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat): 'It’s not over yet'
'A big blue bird just flew past my little Gedimat. It was amazing to watch Banque Populaire so close and she was so fast, the crew waved at me (Thierry has been sailing on the maxi tri for the last two years and is going to be on board next winter for the Jules Vernes Trophy record attempt, ed. note). It was such a joy. They did the same to Erwan and Jérémie. We’ve hoisted the spinnaker but the air is very light. We’re still moving so nothing to complain about, a nice afternoon is on the menu. I managed to sleep, had a good nap before passing the Four. I slept also after the Raz de Sein. Four 20 minute siestas, not bad at all, and I feel ok. We’re waiting for the wind to go right, a small ridge is coming towards us, tonight or tomorrow it’s going to become north-west and the way to manage this is what we’re all thinking about.'

Sam Goodchild (Artemis): 'So far it’s been good.'
'So far it’s been very good, I broke nothing which is the first time through the race. I had a bad bit off Land's End so I was near the back and then had a better bit off Ushant, and then I think I'm back in the middle but I'm not sure. Now is beautiful sailing with sun and a bit of wind. Hopefully the wind stays but we will have to wait and see. Maybe tonight it's a bit more difficult. At the moment I’m happy and just trying to enjoy the sailing, I’m next to Jeanne Gregoire and Gildas Morvan so it’s not too bad. I’m not 100% sure what’s going to happen first with the wind, we expect it to turn light but that may happen when it gets dark and the sun is gone, I’m not too sure. We’re waiting. We still have 117 miles to the finish, so it will probably be tomorrow afternoon.'

Romain Attanasio (Savéol): 'Some sun at last!'
'Some sun at last! I’ve to decide whether to wear shorts or not, we’re no longer used to. I’ve used a cap for the first time! Heading to Sables under spinnaker but the wind is light. Some are a bit further inshore, we’re more offshore and I’m just behind Thierry Chabagny and the leading trio. Those behind you think you’ve managed to get some lead and then bang, they come again… it’s a bit stressful. I think that something is going to happen soon, so I’ll need to be ready to take the shift. I’m not sure how that’s going to happen.'

Conrad Humpreys (DMS): 'Very difficult at the moment.'
'It's very difficult at the moment, very light breeze. We are five boats very close to each other, with Banque Populaire, Artemis, Vandee, myself and Think Blue. We try and make the most of the small amounts of wind to get to the finish but I think we're all very tired so it's quite difficult. I think we'll see the wind veer and come around a little bit more to the West and then the North-West and maybe we'll jibe back in towards the shore. But at the moment we've got 120 miles so it's going to be a very slow finish, may be take twenty-four hours at least to the finish.'

La Solitaire du Figaro website