Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Solitaire fleet heads for the English Riviera

Leg three due to finish in Torquay tomorrow

Tuesday June 16th 2015, Author: Ed Gorman, Location: United Kingdom

For the second year in succession the Solitaire du Figaro – Eric Bompard Cachemire, is coming to a British port and in two days the skippers will start to arrive. Last year the British stopover port was Plymouth. This year Torbay is doing the honours with what promises to be an unmissable few days in Torquay Marina, before the 39-strong fleet heads off on the final leg to the finish in Dieppe.

Leg 3 is presently on to get to Torbay first. Alan Roberts on Magma Structures made a lightening start from Concarneau and was in the top-three during the early stages of another shortened 400-mile leg that looks set to be dominated by light winds. The leg started yesterday with some coastal sailing off the Brittany coast before the fleet turned north to cross the Channel to Wolf Rock off Land’s End from where the boats would then turn east towards the finish at Torbay.

So as La Solitaire enters its second half, there are five Brits stacked up in the overall rankings inside the top-20, with GAC Concise skipper Jack Bouttell leading the way in 12th place. The big question is whether any of them can find a way in the next week to secure a top-10 finish overall. Consistent and unflappable, Bouttell (40 minutes off 10th place in the accumulative elapsed time results) is certainly capable of it, as is Matson (17th) who has shown good judgment in lights airs, though he is another hour behind Bouttell in the rankings. For Artemis' Robin Elsey the challenge is to carry his strong start into the second half of the championship and secure the rookie title.

Rockfish skipper Henry Bomby was naturally delighted to finally score a top-five finish for the first time on his fourth Figaro. The secret was sailing more conservatively than usual – not for nothing is Bomby known in the Figaro as the “chien fou” (mad dog) – and his consistently good speed downwind in the light airs that predominated across the Biscay.

Speaking on the dockside in Concarneau, Bomby was modest about his achievement. “I don’t really know how I did it, but I just kept taking places the whole time,” he said. “I didn’t really have confidence in the beginning – there were about four or five guys in front of me and the plan was just to stick with them for as long as possible. Then I started to overtake one, then another, and then I just thought ‘Oh, what the hell, I’ll just go for it.’ I just kept trying and then I’d see what happens.”

Bomby was so close to the podium and he knows it is possible for him or one of his fellow countrymen to get there. “When I got into fourth I did think ‘well, can I do the podium?’ But unfortunately it was just too far off and not really possible. But it does leave it open for another Brit to one day make it onto the podium and hopefully it will be in Tor Bay.”

Alan Roberts is competing in the Figaro for a second time. A technically gifted and talented sailor, who knows how to be competitive in a one-design fleet, Roberts has never done himself justice in this company. His 10th place on leg two came after he set out with a clear objective to get as much rest as possible during daylight and to work hard during the hours of darkness when in the past he has struggled to maintain his speed with the best sailors in the fleet.

“I slept before the night time came and ate beforehand too,” he said. “I really tried to be ready for it as much as I could be. It all paid off because I was able to actually make a good stab at it all night.”

Elsey, meanwhile, knows he could have been in the top-10 to follow his 16th on leg one, but for an error late on when he was late with a course change. Asked what the biggest challenge of the second leg had been for him, the 22-year-old from Truro replied: “Not being too frustrated about the fact that I lost out a bit. I needed to remind myself a lot that it wasn’t a massive error and that these things happen – I dealt with it eventually and moved on.”

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