La Solitaire du Figaro leg 3 a game of roulette?

Start of Leg 3 - La Solitaire du Figaro 2011
46 skippers started the third leg of the Solitaire du Figaro, a 477 mile course from Dùn Laoghaire (Ireland) to Les Sables d’Olonne (France), via the Scilly Islands and Ouessant.

Grey sky but pleasant temperatures greeted the sailors as they left the dock and with a westerly breeze around 12 knots, the weather conditions looked ideal for the start of the third leg. The forecasted wind appeared to be quite shifty along the Irish coast, and it could well be that the skippers will take different options after the initial coastal course.

However the sunny, warm, pleasant conditions soon gave way to rainstorms, wind gusts and light air bubbles: a roulette game for fleet.

Fabien Delahaye on Port de Cahen Ouistreham rounded the Geoling mark in first, closely followed by Vincent BIarnes on PratìBuches and by Jeanne Gregoire on Banque Populaire.

The first three boats to reach the Radio France mark were Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham), Vincent Biarnes (Prati’Bûches) and Jeanne Grégoire (Banque Populaire). Portuguese Francisco Lobato (ROFF) was seventh and the first rookie was Alexis Littoz-Baritel (Savoie Mont-Blanc) in ninth position.

Jeanne Grégoire (Banque Populaire): 'For once I started well but now I’m trailing at the back of the fleet. It’s a mess but you have to have fun anyway…When I was going downwind under spinnaker to the Radio France mark, I crossed Isa (Isabelle Joschke) and I told her: don’t worry there is always the CLS ranking. I had two or three miles lead on her but she just flew past me… Now ’I’ve got 25 knots and two minutes ago I had two!'

Vincent Biarnes (Prati’Bûches): 'The breeze has been increasing since we passed the Radio France mark. Fabien and I we had such a lead, but now, everything is gone. The wind turned so quickly, could not manage to take the spinnaker down and the boat was going her own way! It’s very shifty and the air coming down the cliffs is strong and gusty. Fabien overtook me just before the mark, he got a better puff and jumped ahead, no more than ten seconds enough to cross the line in front of me.'

Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham): 'Another Irish kind of start… Actually it’s like starting all it over again. We had light wind, current, rainstorms. It’s not so funny, I’m no longer in the lead. I hope this is going to settle and the wind stops to do the yo-yo, as long as we’re sailing leeward of the Irish coast you have to get what you get.'

*La Solitaire du Figaro's third leg is a long run full south of over 300 nautical miles to the Brittany point. Once the Saint-Georges channel is crossed, between Ireland and Wales, and Wolf Rock lighthouse has been left to port side, east of the Scilly Isles, a further 90 nautical miles will remain to reach the coast of Finistère.

The Portsall Grande Basse buoy marks the entrance of a coastal part of the course as the skippers then need to round the Brittany point leaving Ushant to starboard. Careful and good tactical choices will be of utmost importance. Some skippers will undoubtedly attempt the passage by the Fromveur leaving the Molène archipelago and the Isle of Sein to port; others, depending on the weather windows and the currents, will opt for the Four channel and the raz de Sein, aware that these passages are marked by strong currents that can really get in the way of making progress.

The course is then clear to sail to the south of Brittany and reach the Vendée: a further 130 miles of long-distance racing to Les Sables d’Olonne. The options should remain open however as some may decide, in the event of weak winds, to take a more easterly course, looking for coastal breezes between the isles of Groix, Bell-Île or Yeu. Others shall opt for following the more direct course, more offshore, to reach the cardinal South mark Le Nouch, that has become legendary thanks to the Vendée Globe.

La Solitaire du Figaro website