La Solitaire du Figaro first leg victory for Delahaye

Left to right: Jean-Pierre Nicol, Fabien Delahaye, Gildas Morvan - La Solitaire du Figaro 2011
© Courcoux Marmara
La Solitaire du Figaro 2011 is a 1695-mile course over four stages, starting in Perros-Guirec on the North Brittany coast and finishing in Dieppe, Pas de Calais, on 28th August. The first leg of the event is now over with Fabien Delahaye of Normandy sailing across the line in first place.

The Normandy skipper sailing on Port Caen Ouistreham took just over two days, or 50 hours 14 minutes and 36 seconds, at an average 5.83 miles an hour to cover the 293.1 miles course that was full of surprises.

The final stages of the race were played out overnight on Monday in the light conditions and currents off the Cotentin coastline. Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert), the highly experienced Figaro sailor, finished just behind to take the second place whilst Jean Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls) takes third to complete the podium. Xavier Macaire (Starter Active Bridge) comes in first rookie in fifth place, barely a minute ahead of Phil Sharp (Spirit of Independence), the first British sailor to finish, crossing the line in seventh and just 15 minutes and four seconds behind the leader. The first thirty skippers to cross the finish line are within a 60-minute time deficit on the leader.

The first leg win goes to a native Normandy sailor, Fabien Delahaye (he lives in Caen). At only 27, this fresh -faced blond man with piercing blue eyes wins his first ever leg on a Solitaire race. In 2009, Fabien made his mark on the Figaro by winning the rookie or newcomer rankings. Over the past two participations Fabien has improved thanks to his very methodical work, clear mindset and is regarded as one of the young hopefuls who will set their mark on La Solitaire du Figaro race. This win at home could be the first of more to come.

On the finish line in Ouistreham, the tension was palpable as nothing had been decided and all was to play for over the final miles of the race. The very low and variable wind direction together with the two knots of current from the tides brought the fleet back together. Fabien managed to control his opponents and beat them to the finish over the final miles of the race. Seasoned sailors, Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) and Jean Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls) finished second and third respectively.

The first rookie to finish, a mere 14 minutes behind the winner in fifth place is Xavier Macaire (Starter Active Bridge) being pursued by Britain's Phil Sharp on Spirit of Independence, who finishes seventh overall and just under a minute behind the first rookie. The Franco-German sailor, Isabelle Joschke shines out for her consistency on the leg; she finishes 15th and 40 minutes from the winner. Conrad Humphreys (DMS) from Plymouth finished in 22nd place and 45 minutes from the leader.

The turning tide and dropping breeze have made it a real struggle for the second half of the fleet. Portugal's Francisco Lobato finishes 36th at 16:30:35, whilst Nigel King from Lymington, sailing on E-Line Orthodontics finishes in 39th at 17:09:28. The British sailor, Sam Goodchild (Artemis), youngest competitor this season, crossed the line at 18:36:47 in 45th place.

Phil Sharp - La Solitaire du Figaro 2011
© Courcoux Marmara

Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen-Ouistreham) winner in Ouistreham-Caen: 'This is the first time I win a leg and to top it off I do it at home! Last night was key for the race. You really had to keep on top of things and position yourself well and I just grabbed any opportunity that came my way. I managed to position myself well throughout the race, except maybe at the passage at Portland Bill, which I found difficult.

Then I managed to climb back up to the leading pack on the return Channel crossing with Gildas Morvan and then built my lead after the Cussy cardinal mark. When everyone had to anchor this morning to avoid going backwards in the current I had 48 metres of depth so just had to fight it out and look for the puffs of wind. This is probably played in my favour as I managed to get away, so I would not say that it was just a matter of knowing my home waters!'

Gildas Movan (Cercle Vert) – second in Caen and 11 minutes and nine seconds behind the leader: 'The whole first leg has been really quite tough because although we had a nice first night sailing under spinnaker to cross the Channel, it has been nothing but easy. From Hands Deep the wind would just come and go and then it just got really soft. It was a matter of constantly having to gybe and do manoevers.

The worst bit must have been last night as we were crossing the Channel and the wind just completely dropped and went all over the place. I tried to hang on with the spinnaker up because the minute you go and anchor it takes forever to get started again. I then hooked on to a thread of breeze that got me off on the approach to Cussy, the same one Fabien grabbed on to and then the tide was favourable and the wind picked up. If you look at the time deficit I have on the winner it is not all that much, but then each and every minute counts!'

Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls) – third place on the first leg Perros-Guirec to Caen: 'What a leg! There were so many pitfalls and you just had to be constantly on guard to not get caught out. When you look at the course on paper it seems easy, but then doing it is something else. I am shattered and found it so hard to mange my sleep. It was snakes and ladders, each time I nodded off I would lose ground, so would have to work my way back up and fight against the exhaustion. It has not been the easiest way of getting in to the race, but then last night everything just went like a dream...I managed to get away whilst everyone else was just stuck. I have managed to limit the time deficit on the leader by just a few minutes so am really happy.'

Xavier Macaire (Starter Active Bridge), fifth overall and first rookie: 'I had a great climb up the fleet last night which all started from the Fairway mark. I did some good gybes and I must say that Phil Sharp set the bar very high for the rookie rankings. I had to get after him. I did have to anchor last night, but it just would not hold, so just fought against drifting too much. Finishing in this position is just fantastic and I am so pleased. I had set myself the target of getting to be among the top three in the rookie ranking, so that is a good start. This is just an amazing event with 47 great sailors, wonderful organisation and to have the French naval ship, PSP Cormorant with us, is a real honour.'

Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence), seventh overall, 15 minutes and four seconds behind the winner and first Briton to finish: 'I’m feeling great, It’s kind of incredible really, the whole race, I didn’t expect to be so near the front and tussling with some of these top guys. I’ve learnt so much., it’s been incredible excitement all the way through. I’m so pleased to have got my first decent Figaro result. Top 10 was way above my expectations you know. Consistency is the name of the game but it’s always great to have one result. It’s going to be hard to keep getting top ten’s now!'

Conrad Humphreys (DMS): 'It was an incredible race, it had everything in it, absolutely everything, from calms to some good wind, lots of sail changes and the fleet were so close all the time. I don’t think the first twenty boats were ever more than three miles apart. I didn’t sleep very much this race and I think it caught up with me on the last day. It’s difficult to get into a routine in this race and I think for the next leg I need to be a little more disciplined about my sleep.'

Francisco Lobato (ROFF), 36th overall and with a three hour and 15 minute time deficit on the leader: 'I was doing ok from the start and then just lost contact with the leading pack along the South coast of England. Those following hours were tough because you end up doing radical things to try and catch up and I got caught out in Lyme Bay and then just lost further ground. It has helped me see where I need to improve, but honestly I know I can be there and improve for the next events. On the positive side, I am really happy with the manoevers and general boat speed.'

La Solitaire du Figaro website