La Solitaire du Figaro - A fight to the finish

Jeremie Beyou, Fabien Delahaye and Paul Meilhat, Boats sailing in the fog - La Solitaire du Figaro 2011
© Courcoux Marmara
La Solitaire du Figaro’s 44 skippers competing in the final leg had a very complicated second night at sea, the finish line in Dieppe is approaching but they still will have to deal with the tricky last part of the course. The winner will be crowned tomorrow, but who will that be? Hard to say 100 miles from the finish.

The winner of the fourth leg of the Solitaire du Figaro Eric Bompard is expected to cross the line in Dieppe on Wednesday at around noon. But, twenty hours from the grand finale, it’s nearly impossible to say who will be crowned king of the Solitaire 2011. Everyone’s eyes are fixed on the overall ranking, Jérémie Beyou (BPI) is still in a secure position, in fourth, to keep at bay young Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham), but for the lower step of the podium nothing is sure yet, with both Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat) and Nicolas Lunven (Generali) still in the game… and for some others a leg win could represent a nice reward.

After a night plagued by continuous wind shifts and light and fickle airs, at the centre of a high pressure ridge, it was only in the early hours of the third day at sea that the breeze materialised again on the race course, giving some respite to the tired sailors. Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat) has moved in the lead closely followed by Paul Meilhat (Macif 2011) and Nicolas Jossier (Entreprendre en Pays Granvillais). But overall race leaders Jérémie Beyou (BPI) and Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen-Ouistreham) are just a few hundred metres behind. Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement) and Isabelle Joschke (Galettes Saint-Michel) managed to climb back up to the front, same as first placed rookie Thomas Ruyant (Destination Dunkerque).

Two skippers hit the news this morning: Michel Bothoun (Les Recycleurs Bretons) and Laurent Gouezigoux (Valorisons), whose risky offshore option proved to be a hat trick. Whilst the leaders were stuck in an area of very light and shifty winds, and speeds decreased dramatically, the pair never lost their momentum. And, deciding to stay west of Guernsey, Bothoun and Gouezigoux didn’t feel the leeward island effect and managed to keep their speed up. So much that, according to the latest position report, the first climbed up 32 places in the overall ranking and went from 42nd to 10th and the latter did even better going from 42nd to sixth, that is to say 35 places!

The non-French skippers had a hard time extricating themselves of the currents and the unstable winds, the best position is that of Portugal’s Francisco Lobato (Roff) who was reported 18th place, less than 2.5 miles from the top of the fleet and still sailing pretty fast at an average of 7.5 knots. The British troupe is led by experienced Conrad Humphreys (DMS) in 28th, while Jersey’s Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) lost ground overnight and fell down to 33rd, young Sam Goodchild (Artemis) lies in 38th and Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics) in 43rd.

The 44 skippers now face their last night at sea, a bit more than 100 miles to the finish in Dieppe, the last, delicate run to the finish line, with a minefield of traps and tricks and a forecast that predicts the wind to continue veer left and possibly increase to 12/15. Given this outlook, any prediction on the leg winner or the final podium is still uncertain and risky, it will probably a matter of a few minutes. Just wait and see.

Skippers’ quotes:

Jérémie Beyou (BPI): 'I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. A storm just passed over me and I went from upwind to downwind in a matter of seconds. It’s a bit of a yo-yo with this light, shifty air. You have to be careful of those behind… the breeze is going NE and then NW and it’s tough: I’m just behind Nacarat (Erwan Tabarly), Macif (Paul Meilhat), Pays Granvillais (Nicolas Jossier). And right next to me, Fabien (Delahaye) who got stuck in a bubble with no wind. I try to keep an eye on the others because it’s easy to fall back and lose ground. As everyone else I’m waiting for the wind to set from the NW. It’s still blustery now and I guess we are not far from the centre of the low pressure…'

Michel Bothuon (Les Recycleurs Bretons): 'I’m windward to Guernsey in a ten knots northerly and a good tidal flow. The weather files said that the wind was going to shift N/NE and having chosen a more direct route I have less ground to cover. Laurent (Gouezigoux) is the only one near me! I believe we went the right way because the rest of the fleet is leeward to Guernsey. I think we will reach the raz Blanchard at around 5pm, but then we’ll have to deal with the reverse current at Barfleur. For the moment, I feel okay: I’ve eaten but I haven’t slept much because of the chop.'

Laurent Gouezigoux (Valorisons): 'I am sailing with around 12 knots on the beam on a direct course to the raz Blanchard which I should reach around 16:30 with the tide helping. I made a tactical decision, risky for sure, but really looked at the signs off Guernesey and just went with it. I managed to sleep a bit last night on a starboard tack north and managed to catch up a bit.'

Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham): 'So many things happened since we passed the Four: we’ve been tacking upwind in light air, then the wind went up to 20 knots. It was very shifty and I got one shift wrong, so Erwan (Tabarly) got past me! Jérémie (Beyou) is still sailing very well, but there is not only one target in this leg, one has to finish in the top of the pack. I think that the wind will take some time to veer and it won’t be before the raz Blanchard.'

Isabelle Joschke (Galettes Saint-Michel): 'This second night was not easy, tactically speaking because we had to deal with the passage of a low pressure. The wind was coming from all over the place, I’m happy to have come out of it and I’m with the front pack, off Guernsey. The wind died under a big cloud and now we’re upwind! The main thing is not to end up in a bubble of light air. I hope we’ll get to the raz Blanchard at the right time, don’t want to have to anchor… '

La Solitaire du Figaro website