Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Tough leg ahead

Solitaire du Figaro's leg two sets sail from Sanxenxo

Sunday June 7th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: Spain

At 1100 UTC, the 39 boat Solitaire du Figaro fleet, including Brits Henry Bomby (Rockfish Red), Nick Cherry (Redshift), Jack Bouttell (GAC Concise), Sam Matson (Chatham), Alan Roberts (Magma Structures), Robin Elsey (Artemis 43), Rob Bunce (Artemis 37) and Andrew Baker (Artemis 23), set off on the shortened 515 mile Leg 2 course from Sanxenxo, Spain to La Cornouaille, France.

Light airs forced the start line to be moved and a postponement of the start by 30 minutes before Nick Cherry, gunning for a good start to Leg 2 after the being OCS on Leg 1, led the British skippers over the line from the pin end followed closely by Henry Bomby, Jack Bouttell and Rookies Rob Bunce and Andrew Baker in a moderate sea breeze.

Wrestling for the top spot with Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) and Corentin Douguet (Sofinther – Un Maillot Pour La Vie), Cherry rounded the first mark in second. After the first mark the wind died out completely, leaving the skippers drifting around the glassy waters – although they are well practiced at this now after the finish in Sanxenxo. However, the light winds of the Spanish coastline should be short lived, with Leg 2 set to be characterised by strong winds on the nose, rolling swell, a physical upwind leg for over 500 miles. The British skippers will be strapping their possessions down and themselves in for a long and uncomfortable drive through the first night, starting with a rough upwind ride in 30 to 40 knots around Cape Finisterre.

“This is going to be the windiest upwind Figaro race I’ve ever done,” Cherry observed ahead of the race. “There are three distinct stages – light and interesting for the first night, then really windy round the corner, then that last part is quite oceanic, crossing Biscay – it should be interesting.”

“The start is going to be tricky,” Bomby continued. “It’s going to be very important to get a good start so you’re in a good position by the time we start going upwind.”

Leaving the hot and sunny climes of Spain behind them, the skippers will have their wet weather gear and boots close by – pockets stuffed full of fuelling snacks to keep them going through a sleepless first 36 hours. An exciting sleigh ride on the way south, Cape Finisterre on the way back up looks likely to be one of the toughest areas on the Leg 2 course as Bouttell explained: “It’s going to be tough and we’ll be very much in ‘saving the boat mode’, rather than pushing to win mode. We’ll have to play the Cape by ear and look at how the fleet’s doing – if the fleet’s still pushing, we’ll have to push something. The big thing is to get through it and keep the boat in one piece, the sails in one piece and yourself in one piece. If you damage something at that point, after the next mark you still have 300 miles to go upwind – you’d be pretty stuffed. It’s a preserve your gear game planned for the Cape.”

After a light and tactical crossing from France to Spain during Leg 1, the Bay of Biscay is then set to show its true colours in this leg. With 50 knots forecast offshore, Race Director Gilles Choirri changed the course to take the sailors into the east of the bay to a ‘virtual’ mark off Gijon, Spain – keeping them out of the worst of the weather. From there, the skippers will bypass Ile d’Yeu and head straight for the finish line in Corncarneau. The forecast out on the course is still anything between 20 and 40 knots upwind for the duration, making for a wet and physical race and taking as long as four days to complete.

“Wild, wet and windy summarises the forecast for the leg perfectly,” Matson reported ahead of the race. “It’s not going to be particularly nice out there. In terms of timings, it’s not going to be quick. It’s going to be pretty drawn out because it’s constantly upwind. It’s going to be pretty extreme, especially around Cape Finisterre. There’s quite a lot going on with the weather, so it’ll be wet, rough and tiring. It’s going to be really, really windy out there, especially with a compression off Cape Finisterre – here we could see up to 40 knots upwind. We won’t see less than 20 knots for the duration of the race.”

For British Rookies Rob Bunce, Andrew Baker and Robin Elsey, Leg 2 will be something of a baptism of fire. Again, the longest race they have sailed solo, the forecast is also the most extreme they have seen yet. Elsey excelled himself in Leg 1, finishing 16th overall and top Rookie. Not phased by chasing competitors Benjamin Dutreux and Benoit Mariette, Elsey stated: “I’m just going to sail like I always do and go out and enjoy myself – it worked for me the first time!” Elsey is also anticipating seasickness on this leg… “I was horrendously sea sick during the last leg. I’ll be surprised if no one is sea sick in this leg because it’s going to be horrendous. Hopefully we’ll be able to push through though!”

For Bunce and Baker, the experience of racing with a 39 boat fleet is no longer unknown, but it is still new. Bunce, the youngest skipper in the fleet, was left with mixed emotions after Leg 1: “I enjoyed parts of it, but I can’t say I enjoyed the whole thing. Not just because of the result – there were some pretty annoying moments, especially with light winds, which I usually quite enjoy. I think I’ll enjoy some of the challenges in this leg.”

Learning from Leg 1, there are few new tactics he plans to implement: “During this leg I’m not going to just stick with the whole fleet, but a couple of boats in particular – I’m going to try and lock onto them. With short tacking, I think the boats are going to struggle to get away from each other, so it’ll be a very close race until we get around the Cape and this is where I’ll need to stay close.”

The shortened 515 mile Leg 2 from Sanxenxo, Spain to La Cornouaille, France is expected to take up to four days to complete.

Sam Matson, skipper of Chatham, commented: “Cape Finisterre will certainly be the most extreme part of the course, it is a really exposed area. There are high cliffs as well so you get a lot of rebound from the waves. It’s going to be really confused sea state, already routing to be at least a mile or two miles off to get into the better swell. Yeah, it could potentially be a bit of a washing machine – a bit like hell for 24 hours as we get round the top. Hopefully it’ll be all right and quite fun.

“The harsher weather will be good, you can get stuck into it. I get into the zone and sail as fast as I can through the rough stuff and then see where I pop out on the other side. I know that a lot of people will struggle – we’ll all struggle at times – but we’re all in the same race and it’s just part of the challenge.

“I’m looking forward to getting into more familiar waters. It’s quite an open water leg again with crossing Biscay – we’re going diagonally across the bay, so in terms of crossing it’s the longest route across, which will be interesting. There’s probably going to be quite a lot of dark spots and blind spots where there won’t be many boats on the AIS. You’ll just be sailing by yourself, but once we approach the coast again it should be all familiar – around the Lorient area where we’ve been training, and then up to the Glenans.”

Henry Bomby, skipper of Rockfish Red, added: “They’ve changed the course a bit to keep us as far east as possible, to stop us hitting the worst of the weather to the north of Cape Finisterre. We’re not going round Ile d’Yeu anymore – we’re just going round this buoy and then straight to Concarneau, so we should be in Thursday afternoon.

“We’re going to be short tacking in probably 30 knots. That’s just going to be insane. It’s probably going to be five or six hours of hell, but it’s only five or six hours of your life so just got to grit your teeth and do it. It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be comfortable. We’ve just got to make sure that we don’t lose a lot because there are some guys that are very very good at short tacking. Doing it in 15 knots is hard work – doing it in 30 is going to be full on. The first night will be quite hard because we’ll be tacking every ten minutes, but at Cape Ortegal we could potentially be tacking every couple of minutes.

“I felt I was really conservative on that last leg. I felt like I wanted to go north with the northern group, but instead I put myself on the middle of the two groups, and it was a good thing I did because the northern group was bad and the southern group was good. It was a bit of a lesson on being conservative.”

Jack Bouttell, skipper of GAC Concise said: “This leg is going to be very very different. We had some windy, upwind conditions on the way south, but never more than 25 knots, and then we finished with strong downwind conditions and a lot of light weather. This one is going to be upwind all the way, probably very windy around Finisterre – potentially upwards of 40 knots. Very rough, big waves, windy – hard.

“I took a lot away from the first leg, but a lot of it doesn’t apply because the conditions are so different! On the last leg I had fairly good speed – I’m pretty confident with that. It’s just going to be seeing how it goes. For me, I’m just going to try not to make any big errors, sailing conservatively to keep the boat together around Finisterre, and then if everyone gets through that in one piece, then we’ll see what happens after that and try to keep the body going. It’s going to be a longer leg, time-wise, than the first leg and it’s in much harder conditions all the way round the course. It’s definitely going to be harder – sleeping’s going to be hard because you’re upwind all the way. It’s much harder to drive in those conditions. If you’re reaching or downwind, your angle of error is much bigger, but when you’re upwind, the angle of error is much smaller and there’s a big difference in speed if you’re driving well or driving badly. In the first leg I had the pilot crash tack four times or five times and that was in 20 knots and it was a mission – if that happens in 40 knots, it’s an even bigger mission.”

Nick Cherry, skipper of Redshift said: “I hope this leg is going to be different to the last one! There was quite a bit of horrible upwind in the last one but this is going to be quite a lot worse. Going round the corner, this is going to be the windiest upwind Figaro race I’ve ever done. There are three distinct stages – light and interesting for the first night, then really windy round the corner, then that last part is quite oceanic, crossing Biscay – it should be interesting.

“They’ve put a mark in for safety reasons, just north of the Spanish coast. It’s going to be a lot windier in the west, so the idea behind it is to keep us a bit closer together and away from the worst of it. The way it’s actually looking now is that we’re sailing into quite a light patch so there’s been uproar amongst the sailors, suggesting the mark be moved so we haven’t got less wind – who knows where it’s going to be tomorrow?!

“There are some similarities to the first leg though. I really need to not have such a bad start. I had a bad patch on the first night of the last leg where my head wasn’t in the right place. I’ve had a good word with myself this stopover, I just need to do everything a bit better – it’s another leg, a fresh start, so hopefully it won’t go so badly!

“The waters around Concarneau, whilst they are familiar to us, are more familiar to the French guys. That bit should be fairly mellow too by then, I think the race will be decided and it’ll just be about delivering the boat in. I think the main split will happen in the first two days when we’re going round the corner when it’s rough, then maybe there could be some tactical bits in the second half but I think it’ll just be about avoiding rocks and coming in safely.”

Alan Roberts, skipper of Magma Structures said: “This is going to be a completely different race. It’s all upwind at the moment. We’ll have quite light winds to start, a kind of thermal breeze here in the bay, then transitioning into some thunderstorms around Cape Finisterre – it’ll be quite hard to predict anything and a bit of luck as to who really bounces forward. I just need to try not to get hit by lightening! Then around the corner we’ll probably have quite a bit of breeze – we’ll probably have about 25 to 30 knots – then picking up a bit more gusting, maybe into the 40s. It’s basically going to be a real fight, basically getting our heads kicked in around the corner. I’ve been testing all my heavy storm sails to make sure everything’s okay before this one.

“It should get a bit nicer up to Concarneau, but I don’t think we’re going to have much time to sleep. We’re going to be on the helm quite a lot, so any time when the boat can steer itself, we’re going to try to get down and sleep. I think we’ll probably arrive pretty knackered and pretty battered into Concarneau. It’ll be nice to arrive into a port we recognise, but I’m not sure that will even make much difference.”

Robin Elsey, skipper of Artemis 43 said: “It’s going to be wet and wild and difficult. It’s not going to be very different to the last leg, but it’s going to be very upwind. We’re not going to be using spinnakers for any of the leg. It’s going to be a pretty unpleasant, but we’ll get there eventually. Once we get there, it’s going to be a matter of chilling out and relaxing because this leg is really going to stress us out!

“It’s going to be horrible – about 30 knots upwind, maybe even 40s if we’re really unlucky! We’ll have to survive that – it’s going to be pretty tough. Once we get past Finisterre, it all starts to calm down a little bit. It’s still going to be 20 knots all the way there, but it’ll be a little more manageable.Really really really windy, followed by really windy, followed by windy! It’s not going to be much fun, this one!

“I’m just going to sail like I normally do, and go out there and enjoy myself. It worked really well for me in leg 1, so I don’t really want to change anything. There’s a long way to go and I don’t want to mess up! I was horrendously sea sick in the last leg. I’ll be surprised if no one is sea sick in this leg because it’s going to be horrendous. Hopefully we’ll be able to push through though!”

Rob Bunce, skipper of Artemis 37 said: “It’s a similar course to Leg 1, but backwards! The first couple of days are going to be pretty tricky – we’re going to have winds up to about 40 knots, huge waves, some pretty iconic, notorious headlands and coastlines we’ve got to get round in one piece. We’re heading to a waypoint just north of Gijon in northern Spain – an idea by the race committee to try to keep us out of the worst of the weather. Then it’s just a massive straight line all the way to Concarneau. I think it’ll be a race of two stages because sleeping’s going to be basically impossible for the first two days. We’re going to be short tacking up the coast to stay out of the worst of the weather and tide, but then once we get to the top of Spain, we should be able to reach across to this buoy and catch some rest. Then it’s just one long leg up to Concarneau – hopefully that part will be a bit of a sleepathon!

“I enjoyed parts of the last leg, but I can’t say I enjoyed the whole thing. Not just because of the result – there were some pretty annoying moments, especially with light winds, which I usually quite enjoy. I think I’ll enjoy some of the challenges in this leg. It’s hard – I enjoy it when it’s windy and I enjoy it when it’s challenging… I think it’ll certainly be quite scary at times in the first couple of days, but it’ll be a nice thing to get through. You usually enjoy it more once you’re able to look back on it.”

Andrew Baker, skipper of Artemis 23 said: “It’s going to windy – very very windy. It’s going to be quite a different race because we’re not trying to go A-B. They’ve changed the course – we have to go along the coast then it’s literally straight north, one tack I think, trying to get as far away from the windy stuff as we can. It’ll be pretty simple. I think it’ll be about trying to function like a normal person during the rubbish weather – keep eating and trying to sleep – so that come day 3 and 4, you’re not completely useless. It’s an endurance game.

“Cape Finisterre is going to be the worst part. It’s going to be upwind in 40 knots at times. Most races you go to in the world will stop you at around 25 knots – not this one! They just let you carry on and plug away at it – it’s not going to be easy! You just need to man up and get the first bit done, then once you’re through it, then you can change your kit and relax a little bit.

“I need to stop over analysing things. I sail fast but I’m constantly trying to beat the fleet. I branch off and take risks, and by doing so I sail further distance. I need to learn to stay with the fleet, sail fast and stop trying to win the race in one hit.”


British results going into Leg 2

1. Thierry Chabagny/Gedimat/3 days, 9hours, 11’, 36”
2. Yann Elies/Groupe Queguiner – Leucemie/3 days, 9 hours, 26’, 39”
3. Alexis Loison/Groupe Fiva/3 days, 9 hours, 28’, 13”
11. Jack Bouttell/GAC Concise/3 days, 11 hours, 53’, 34”
15. Sam Matson/Chatham/3 days, 12 hours, 35’, 18”
16. Robin Elsey/Artemis 43/3 days, 12 hours, 37’, 29”
18. Henry Bomby/Rockfish Red/3 days, 12 hours, 39’, 44”
24. Alan Roberts/Magma Structures/3 days,13 hours 35’, 15”
28. Nick Cherry/Redshift/3 days, 14 hours, 42’, 30”
33. Rob Bunce/Artemis 37/3 days, 15hours, 38’, 25”
36. Andrew Baker/Artemis 23 /3 days 15 hours, 53’, 59”


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