The last and longest Figaro leg – 825 miles

La Solitaire du Figaro
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The third and final leg for the 2008 edition of La Solitaire du Figaro will set off tomorrow from Cherbourg-Octeville to L’Aber Wrac’h in Brittany. The course is 825 miles long from the start all the way up to the Irish Sea, round the Isle of Man and back down to the finish in Brittany.

This is the longest leg in the history of the race. It will be the equivalent to two traditional legs, as the 39th edition will not be stopping in Ireland this year. All the same, the single-handed sailors will spend a long time in Irish waters, as they set course to round the Isle of Man, North-east of Dublin.

Race Director Jacques Caraës runs us through the course that can be divided into four parts: 'Firstly there is a short 1.5-mile inshore course to the Radio France Mark before the open run to the Western Point of Cornwall. Some will sail inshore between Longships and the Scilly Isles; others will prefer to leave the Scilly isles to starboard. We will have simple start procedure and some 15 to 18 knots of NW breeze for the first day', explains Caraës.

The next part is when the fleet sail a Northerly course towards the famous Saint-George Channel, 42 miles wide; it is the narrowest passage between Wales and Ireland. The sailors then leave The Smalls lighthouse, known for its strong currents, to starboard before setting course for the Isle of Man (572 square kilometres and 53 kilometres long) to round it and it on the port side. 'Conditions here will be more tricky as the Météo France forecasts show 20 to 25 knots, gusting 35, strengthening Saturday morning as the fleet is expected at Lands End. This should back to the West and then southwest with the passage of the front providing downwind conditions for the run North,' foresees the Race Director.

The third part will be a straight run South with several options: 'The run can either be along the Irish coast, following the sand banks of Kish Bank, Codling Bank or Arklow Bank. These sand banks are well known for their accelerated currents; or the run can be on the Welsh side, sailing back to The Smalls lighthouse before joining the Celtic sea South of the Saint-George channel. The single-handed sailors will be free to choose how they pass the Scilly isles. Some will pass west whilst others will opt for following the Cornish coast. From Monday, the wind is due to back round to the South and lighten for the descent and veering west for the last part of the race. Continues Jacques.

For the competitors, the Vierge Lighthouse, whose light beam, flashing every 5 seconds, is visible up to forty miles away and from the middle of the English Channel, guide the sailors to the finish. Once completing the 825-mile course, the fleet will reach the pretty and rock strewn harbour of l’Aber Wrac’h.

The course for this final leg, although long is for going to run, for the most part, close to shores. 'It is going to be busy, basically you are in shipping lanes the whole way, the Channel, then round Lands End and the ferries from Wales across to Ireland, so the alarm will come in lots of use', foresees Andy Greenwood on Imtech, one of the few sailors with experience of sailing in the area. 'We are going to have to be extra vigilant and of course we are going to be more tired than on the other legs, but then saying that it should be quite fast and its more comfortable sailing downwind than having to bash your way up in 40 knots', he concludes. 'I think we will have quite a lot of traffic and also have to take into account the wind effects of the land, you can see these on 3D chart but they are hard to anticipate' ponders Liz Wardley, who like most of the skippers, face unchartered territory.

Nigel King, who competed on last year’s edition of La Solitaire has come to Cherbourg on a flying prior to the start on Friday to give some useful information on sailing close to the Isle of Man. Information he carefully gathered from personal experience and also on a recce trip to the area in preparation for the race he would then not do. His fellow training companions from La Rochelle, Gerald Veniard, Didier Bouilfunnelinglard and Frederic Rivet will benefit from this inside knowledge and the tidal and current charts specific to the unfamiliar territory that is the Isle of Man. 'There are various headlands and two particular mountains that produce a funneling effect with the wind and then there are some areas of particularly strong currents on both the North and South sides of the island,' he explains. 'You also need to consider what options there are in terms of security as there are very few places to take shelter and virtually no harbour on the west coast.'

The fleet of 47 boat are due to start in the Grande Rade de Cherbourg at 14:00 local French time Friday 8th of August.

What the skipper’s say:

Pietro D’Alì (McCool): 'I started having problems with my eyes on the first leg and it got worse on the second. I have seen the doctors and was hoping the medicine would improve my condition in time for the third leg. The condition is stable, but there is not sufficient improvement to sail on the third leg. It is very painful and although it affects one eye, the other is also sore. It was a difficult decision and I am disappointed but then I have a busy season ahead of me. The plan is to have lots of rest get my eyes back into shape and then deliver the boat to La Rochelle and on the Med for the Cannes Istanbul race.'

Andy Greenwood (Imtech): 'I have done a few races from Liverpool to the Isle of Man and then a couple of Round Ireland Races. For this race though, we should up closer to the Welsh coastline, passed Cardigan Bay. I remember having similar conditions to those forecast for this race on a delivery trip for the Round Ireland Race when we had 40 knots round Lands End, so it could be quite hairy! We will be relying heavily on the morning weather bulletin and then for once, I will have the shipping news in English, so it should work in my favour for a change! It is going to be busy; basically you are in shipping lanes the whole way, the Channel, then round Lands End and the ferries from Wales across to Ireland. We are going to have to be extra vigilant and of course we are going to be more tired than on the other legs, but then saying that it should be quite fast and its more comfortable sailing downwind than having to bash your way up in 40 knots. I am definitely going to take my spare spinnaker pole! There are some strong tides but it feels nice to go into the race knowing the area having done a fair bit of racing around there and knowing of a few tricks and places where you can make some gains and then also some losses.'

Laurent Gouezigoux (Boistech, 22nd and 11 hours and 27 minutes from the leader):'Once between to Figaro participation I ended up spending 10 months on 'Indomtable', a trawler in the St. Brieux bay. Tanguy Lagadeuc de Dahouet taught and trained me in sailing. With him I experienced 50 and 60 knots of wind, 8 metre waves in the south of Ireland and we would still continue to work…I learnt a lot about the weather and other things. With Tanuy we talked about this leg and he has briefed me a Briton how to tackle the ride up the Celtic Sea and then the St. Georges Channel where you have some strong current and can get fog at times, but also you have quite rough sea, heavy cargo and oil tankers, fishing boats…We have run through a list of places where I should try and get some rest and especially the list of places where I must not fall asleep. We ended up talking for over an hour and half…so there was a lot to say! I am really happy with my 22nd spot on the ranking and am not going start thinking this is it when we still have half the race to do and lots of things can change.'

Isabelle Joschke (Synergie):'The course is really great and I would like to do well. It is long and all the Figaro sailors are going to new t