La Solitaire du Figaro off to a good start

Perros Guirec Start - 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 visiting Caen, Normandy, Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, Les Sables d’Olonne, Vendée, before finishing in Dieppe, Pas de Calais, on 28th August.

The 42nd edition of the race got off to a good start on Sunday in Perros Guirec, despite the light five-knot westerly breeze and unusual downwind start. Hundreds of fans lined the cliffs and crowded onto the many spectator boats to see the fleet of Figaro sailors set off on the first 320-mile leg of the four stage month long race. Treated to a colourful downwind spinnaker start at 11 am, which was fired by Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the French Minister for the Environment, the crowds watched on as the fleet headed off to the first mark blanketed by a curtain of mist and haze.

Nicolas Lunven (Generali), winner of the 2009 edition, reached the Radio France mark first, two miles into the race, followed by Thomas Rouxel (Bretagne-Credit Mutuel Performance) and Eric Drouglazet's shocking pink Luisina spinnaker rounding in third. Sam Goodchild (Artemis), the first British entry and youngest competitor as well as first sailor rookie, rounding in seventh. Notably Isabelle Joschke (Galettes Saint Michel), the Franco-German sailor competing on her fourth Solitaire with a new sponsor, fought her way out of the busy start line and rounded in sixth place.

Spinnakers were swiftly packed away and genoas raised to sail with care round, leaving to starboard the rocks at the the Seven Islands or Sept Iles plateau, before the 90 mile crossing of the English Channel to Hands Deep, the next waypoint, in Plymouth Sound. It looks like the fleet will have a dark first night with little moonlight and a low gradient breeze as the damp and light front travels across the Channel from West to East and dies out on the approach to the southern English coastline. Rounding the next point of passage at Hands Deep buoy off Plymouth could be further complicated by the turning tide at 07:00.

Follow the progress the skippers make with the position reports and rankings will from 16:00 local French time, updated five times a day and are available on the event website.

Sam Goodchild (Artemis) before the start in Perros Guirec: 'The weather forecasts look slightly better this morning, so I think we could have a bit of breeze for the start. I am going to focus on keeping up with the fleet, but that is not to say that I will not do my own thing. I do not agnate to take major risks and finish in Caen six hours behind the leader having to play catch up for the rest of the race. There are four Brits, so it would be nice to beat them and a few French too! The main thing I need to try and manage is sleep well balance the timing and not sleep too much or too little. For some good luck and energy I have my special Grenada Chocolate Company bar!'

Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics): 'This is the first Figaro race start without my wife, so it is a bit strange, but hopefully together with a bunch of friends she can come and see the boats sail past Fairway at the Needles. Looking forward to starting and getting off now. Not got any special snacks on board, just lots of green apples!'

Phil Sharp (Spirit of Independence) being seen off by his father: 'Ready now to get racing and taking my granny's special 'go fast' fruit cake. I have a quarter for each leg and it is enormously good and keeps the morale going. The pressure is on to do well, but I am feeling driven.'

Conrad Humphreys (DMS): 'I always get a little nervous before starts. Probably, in many ways more so for this race because it is so intense and the competition is all around you, whereas for a Transatlantic it's a different set of pressure.'

Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat) upon leaving the dock this morning in Perros-Guirec: 'I slept very well! Given the conditions we have to start, I am not going to get stressed at this point. On the contrary, I am feeling quite serene. It is going to be calm, but the stress will be trying to be up at the front from the start and then things will be ok. I am not worried about the calm conditions so long as the boat is moving. If we end up going backwards, then it is not going to be much fun! I just really want to do well this year. That is pretty much how I am feeling before today's start.'

Eric Drouglazet (Luisina) on his 19th participation speaks before the start: 'This first leg is not looking all that clear, the conditions are not all that endearing! When you train all winter in windy conditions you get to be good at boat handling. When you have such light conditions, it does not come down to how you handle and anyone can do well. The rookies and young ones can do well. There should also be lots of seaweed, which again raised the uncertainty. The English coastline is going to be the toughest part and we will all find out pretty quick who handles it best. We could see puffs of wind just a few metres away allowing for some getaways and gaps to build. So having a good handle and understanding the weather will be key. It is likely we will have to anchor as the tidal coefficients are so high.'

Yannig Livory (One Network Energy): 'It is not going to be too windy out there! The weather forecasts are not all that clear and the tides have a big coefficient…There are lots of people here who want to win this first leg. The most complicated thing is going to be sailing along the South coast of England because there are a number of headlands to round. There won’t be much time for sleep, but then there should be just three nights at sea.'

La Solitaire du Figaro website