La Solitaire du Figaro fourth and final leg underway

Action packed start of leg 4 - La Solitaire du Figaro 2011
© Courcoux Marmara
La Solitaire du Figaro fourth leg started at 12:12 precisely today, Sunday 21st August from Les Sables d’Olonne.

Among several dozens of spectator boats, under a bright blue, sunny sky and in perfect flat sea conditions the 46 skippers set off for the 437 mile long final leg to Dieppe, where this year’s champions will be crowned.

One could not have asked for a better day for the start of the last and decisive leg of the 42nd Solitaire du Figaro. Despite negative weather forecast announcing rainstorms and flimsy winds, sailors and organizers woke up today to discover Les Sables d’Olonne bathed in sun, a pleasant summer temperature and a perfect, cloudless blue sky. Once again as tradition in the Vendée Globe hometown, since the early hours the pontoons were packed with public watching the sailors dock out, several spectator boats accompanying them to the start area and waving them goodbye.

After a general recall and a second procedure, the Committee fired the start gun at 12:12 precisely, as the first skipper to cross the line was Laurent Gouezigoux (Valorisons). But, shortly later Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement) took the lead and kept it all the way over the six mile-long inshore course, rounding in first the three marks and winning the Radio France prize. Race leader Jérémie Beyou, was distanced by a boat length and followed by Anthony Marchand (Bretagne Crédit Mutuel Espoir) and by the youngest participant to the race, Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Artemis) who was also first rookie.

Once free to choose their preferred route, the leading skippers opted to stay inshore, as close as 400 metres from the beach, sailing upwind along the coastline in a north-westerly air, still around 10/12 knots. But, as per the 16:00 position report Marc Emig (Ensemble autour du Monde) and Fréderic Rivet (Vendée1), who took more extreme offshore westerly option, were in first and second position respectively, most of the skippers were still closely packed east and less than three miles separated the front from the back of the fleet, with overall race leader Jérémie Beyou (BPI) in ninth. First rookie was Morgan Lagravière (Vendée) in fifth and first British skipper Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) in 14th position and second rookie, fellow countryman Sam Goodchild (Artemis) was 16th and 1.80 miles from the top. Portuguese Francisco Lobato (ROFF) occupied the 28th place, Conrad Humphreys (DMS) the 38th and Nigel King was 45th.

As the skippers head North upwind, they will probably be forced to multiple tacks to reach Belle Ile (a course mark to be left portside) during the night. Progressing towards the Brittany coast the wind should veer right, NE, thus allowing the solo sailors to ease their sails. They could then be approaching the following key point of Penmarc’h later tomorrow morning.

Skippers’ quotes:

Jérémie Beyou (BPI)
before leaving Les Sables commented: 'I was quite stressed over the last two days, I’ve done all I could to hide it, to stop thinking about it. It’s the conditions for this last leg that made me worry but now the forecast is more definite and there is no time to mull over. There are going to be some key passages and it’s better to know where to go. At times it’s better to be in the lead when you have to choose. Plus, the finish will probably be downwind, in a good breeze and even if one is a bit behind, it won’t be too hard to catch up. I still hope there will be no big losses at the start and along North Brittany.' And later, contacted on VHF for the traditional radio vac: 'The aim was to start well, I managed to get off the line and on the right just after the gun. Rounding the Jean Marthe was a bit chaotic so I’m happy I could pull out in the leading pack. We’re waiting for the wind to veer NE, so it will be key to be well placed. There is a fastidious chop that is not easy to handle in less than 10 knots. I’m with those more inshore: Adrien (Hardy), Erwan (Tabarly) and Fabien (Delahaye) and the sky is turning more and more grey.'

Sam Goodchild (Artemis)
'It’s the start of the last leg so it’s quite exciting, everyone wants to finish on a high and I’m definitely not giving up yet. A lot could happen in this leg, there’s a shifty wind and definitely lots of tidal gates to win or lose. I’ve slept a lot in the last few days, rested and eaten well so I’m as ready to go as I think I can be.'

Conrad Humphreys (DMS)
'I’m feeling really, really good actually. The weather models are starting to come into line, it could be a quicker leg than forecast - maybe under three days, possibly two and a half. The key position of this low pressure has been the difficult point. I feel in good shape, I really want to stay with the pack and to learn as much as I can going into next year. I feel really good, I feel confident, happy and relaxed with what is ahead.'

Paul Meilhat (Macif 2011)
'Everybody feels like the Solitaire started just the day before yesterday and it’s almost over! Everything happened in a flash and this last leg could also be very fast. It’s going to be very close, the overall ranking and this leg too… we’re all a bit insane at the end.'

Damien Guillou (La Solidarité Mutualiste)
'I feel okay: I’ve had a good night’s sleep and for now the ankle is not hurting too much (Damien sprained his right ankle two days ago ed. note). It will all depend on the conditions we’ll have. I’ve no problems moving around but I guess manoeuvring will be a bit of an issue. Especially when tiredness will come. But my mother gave me a chocolate cake, so all is good!'

Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence)
'The finish is getting near, I’m confident of what I’ve learnt in the last few legs has made me stronger and there’s every chance of being in the front group again, if it all goes to plan. I’ve got nothing to lose, I’m just going to go for it. I’ve only got 40 minutes to make up on first place in the rookie class and there’s everything to play for I think.'

Jeanne Grégoire (Banque Populaire)
'I can still have a good last leg. I didn’t have such great results on the previous three but this time I think can be in the game, there’s plenty of options to take, and the weather forecast is not so simple on the approach to northern Brittany. There’s a bit of this and that, and since this is not the best Solitaire in my career, I hope to play well this one…'

Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat)
'I like to be quiet on the start day, and everything is ok today. I try not to follow any special ritual, I’m not superstitious and that’s stressful. It’s different when you know you are going to have a windy start, which was not the case during this Solitaire aprt from the second leg. You don’t have to think too much about the result and stay calm…'

La Solitaire du Figaro website