La Solitaire du Figaro - Beyou leads in decisive leg

Beyou (BPI) at the raz de Sein - La Solitaire du Figaro 2011
© Courcoux Marmara
La Solitaire du Figaro’s fourth leg is currently underway and at the halfway mark, Jeremie Beyou and crew are out in front. With little to no margin for error, Beyou and crew sail hard towards the finish line with competitors nipping at their heels.

After the first day and night at sea, and two key points of passage, the solo sailors are halfway to the finish of the fourth and decisive leg of La Solitaire du Figaro, that left Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday bound to Dieppe. Shortly after 4 am the overall race leader Jérémie Beyou climbed up again in the lead of the final leg with Fabien Delahaye and young rookie Morgan Lagravière practically 'glued' to his stern.

While the front of the fleet is tacking upwind towards the Four Channel to round the Brittany Point, the skipper of BPI is reported to have a half-mile advantage on Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham) second placed in the overall ranking. The two look more than determined to stay up in the leadership over the remaining 260 tricky miles to the finish. But their pursuers are all but giving up hope and tension runs high as the first thirteen boats are all in a tiny two and a half mile range.

Undoubtedly, the final stage of La Solitaire du Figaro so far has met the skippers’ expectations with fifteen hours of demanding upwind sailing to Belle Ile followed by an equally stressful reaching spell with continuous sail changes. At approximately noon Monday, the first skippers faced the difficult passage of the raz de Sein against the tide, incredibly close to the Plate lighthouse. This coastal course split the fleet in different small groups.

Jérémie Beyou is in command of a troupe of twelve sailors lined up over a stretch of less than 2.5 miles among which Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham), surprising first rookie Morgan Lagravière (Vendée), Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat), Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls), Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement), Fred Rivet (Vendée 1)… another group made of eight boats is following the leaders’ tracks, albeit with more lateral separation and another two miles behind the rest of the fleet is scattered over a broad area with skippers taking different options, like Nicolas Lunven (Générali) and Thierry Chabagny (Gédimat) who went for a far more offshore route.

According to the position report, Portuguese Francisco Lobato (ROFF) lies in 11th, less than two miles behind the leader and showing good speed, a good morale boost for the Lusitanian sailor who, up to now, had quite a disappointing race. Jersey’s Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) too, has been consistently sailing in the top group and is reported to be in 15th place, Conrad Humphreys (DMS) managed to climb back some places and is 28th while the youngest competing sailor Sam Goodchild fell back in the ranking and is 31st at seven miles from the top while Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics) who suffered some electronics problems is 36th at 7.3 miles.

Late afternoon the fleet was heading to Ushant in a very variable and shifty NE. In theory the breeze should increase and veer left after Brittany Point and when the 44 skippers will have to set the course to the Channel Islands they will be faced with a last dilemma: go offshore to get the shift or not?

Two skippers abandon racing: In the morning Damien Guillou (La Solidarité Mutualiste) and Louis Maurice Tannyères (St Ericsson) warned the Race Direction that they were forced to abandon. Tannyères’s decision was due to technical issues with his ballast system, while Guillou, who sprained his right ankle during the stopover in Les Sables d’Olonne, reported that manoeuvring and moving had become too painful and he reluctantly resolved to stop and head to his homeport of Lorient, where he arrived shortly after 16:30. The skippers still racing are thus down to 44.

Skippers’ quotes:

Jérémie Beyou (BPI): 'I’ve never enough of getting past the raz de Sein, because every time it’s closer and closer to the Plate lighthouse. There the current was against us, then we had to stay on starboard to cross and not to end up in the flow again. It’s a classic and some of us know the trick well, I managed to come out in front and I’m some lengths ahead now. The Solitaire this year is really close racing…

We’re back into the same group with Fabien Delahaye, the two Vendée boats (Morgan Lagravière and Fred Rivert), Adrien Hardy and Jean-Pierre Nicol. Only Gildas Morvan who went further offshore is missing. It’s going to be tougher after the Four: more chop and a good twenty knots of breeze. Plus, we’re expecting the wind to go left (to the NE) and we’ll have to decide whether to go for a long tack offshore or stay inshore. And it is going to be jib or genoa? At the moment the air is more easterly and then I’ve decided to stay close to shore, to enter the Four channel on a single tack. And after that...it’s going to be a gymkhana to the finish! »

Frédéric Duthil (Sépalumic): 'All good onboard, I can see the guys in front, they’re not too far away, so I’m still in the game. I wasn’t so happy about my start yesterday. Then the night was tricky, with all those wind shifts. I slept, because the fatigue we accumulated over the first three legs starts to seep in. The passage of the raz de Sein was not bad, in that boiling sea! The wind is lighter than we thought, I’m not sure was we’re going to have. We’re waiting for the NW to come, but first, is a long series of tacks upwind…'

Marc Emig (Ensemble autour du monde): 'I know the raz de Sein, even if I’m from Marseille! I’ve passed through it twelve times with the Tour de France à la Voile… But, normally it’s in the opposite way. We had to go well inshore to get the good tide and then go right to get out of the raz. I’m not the fastest on the planet, but I still manage to stay close to the ones in front. I’ve already had a thirty minutes nap since the start in Les Sables d’Olonne: battling with the best ones is a good drive and I want to show that I deserve more than my place in the overall ranking.'

Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement): 'The last hours of the night were quite easy, reaching in fifteen knots, and I had some sleep crossing the Alderney bay. I managed to have three 20-minute siestas as there wasn’t much else to do. When we entered the raz de Sein there were at least three knots of current, which compressed the fleet back together. Now we’re heading straight to the Four channel. The tide is going to reverse and it won’t be easy to make the good choice. I will try and grab some food and some sleep because you need to be in top shape. Conditions are really nice now, it’s warm, ten knots of sea breeze and flat sea.'

La Solitaire du Figaro website