Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Slow-going off Cornwall

Solitaire du Figaro fleet divides en route to the Lizard

Tuesday June 21st 2016, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

This morning at 0900 UTC, the leaders in the La Solitaire du Figaro's first leg from Deauville to Cowes are approaching the Lizard as race leader Charlie Dalin on Skipper Macif 2015 has 42 miles to go to the next turning mark at Wolf Rock, southwest of Land's End. The leaders should reach the lighthouse between 1100 and midday if conditions remain as they are.

Yesterday evening at around 1900 UTC, the leaders clawed their way around Start Point having hugged the Devonshire coast from Berry Head and across Start Bay to keep out of the worst of the adverse in the increasingly benign conditions. Having headed offshore again on starboard tack once past Start Point, the fleet tacked pretty much en mase at around 0130 UTC. On port tack, with their bows pointing towards Falmouth they have slowly been lifted since around 0300 as the westerly wind has backed briefly into the southwest and softened.

At around 0400 the fleet divided with the leaders tacking back as the boats in the mid-fleet floundered with the breeze dying off. Heading southwest again the leaders continue to make slow progress -2-4 knots offshore to the southwest as the back half of the fleet have split tacks and are continuing on towards Falmouth. Since then the breeze has dropped off further for the leaders currently down to 1-2 knots as the boats behind are sailing faster but as now lifted in the southwesterly breeze. The southwesterly lead group has now tacked back and are apparently lying the Lizard.

At the front of the fleet, Charlie Dalin has done a remarkable job at staying ahead. Last night the 2009 race winner Nico Lunven on Generali got to within 0.2 miles of him but this morning the Skipper Macif 2015 skipper has extended very slightly but still had Lunven and former Mini Transat winner Corentin Douguet on Sofinther-Un Maillot pour la Vie within a mile of him.

This morning Dalin commented: "This leg is going pretty well for me as I have been leading from Owers. Now it is complicated because we were expecting a southerly wind and have a west-northwesterly. I am trying to keep going as best I can. At the moment we just focus on Wolf Rock and don’t think about Cowes. Across the Channel I had good speed and a good course. But it was not easy with big seas and strong winds; it was all about regulating your speed, managing the fleet and looking after your equipment. The tidal current at Portland was not easy. And now the wind is very shifty and we are going into some swell and that tends to stop the boat and when you slam into a wave and stop then you have to bear off, ease the sails and get going again. I have managed to sleep in a lot of small naps since the start. I have led at different times on the last three Solitaires - now the intention is to still lead at the finish."

Earlier this morning when he was lying in second place Yoann Richomme on Skipper Macif 2014 said: "I have had to battle to come back and so I am happy to be with the leading group. At 20 miles from the Lizard we have a zone of light southerly wind. It is very light, with 5-6kts and a flat sea. We are doing our best to escape this light wind area and make a direct course for Wolf Rock and I hope we should be there around midday (French time). This is a long leg and at the moment we are progressing slowly against the current. I ate my first meal last night. I hope the conditions get better."

Among the Brits Alan Roberts and Will Harris on Artemis 77 were leading the charge and are among the group that continued inshore this morning. Making 4.1 and 4.3 knots respectively they had pulled up to 9th and 10th places respectively, with Harris currently lead 'bizuth'.

Meanwhile French-Turkish skipper Tolga Pamir on Renova / 1 jour, 1 homme, 1 arbre explained that he has decided to retire and prepare properly for the next leg: "I had some problems with my electronics and an oil leak and something with my rudders. All that together for me means I need to stop and prepare properly for the next leg."

From Wolf Rock the fleet turn northeast towards the next mark, the Runnel cardinal mark by the notorious Runnel Stone peak just off Gwenap Head to the west of Mount's Bay and Penzance. They then turn east for what promises to be a very long and slow passage back to the Cowes finishing line with the wind looking lightest on Thursday.

Commenting on the race so far, Gilles Chiorri, Race Director of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro, said: "The good thing is that the majority of skippers took their chances to rest and recover last night. Charlie Dalin is in control, keeping himself between his rivals and Wolf Rock. Tacking upwind is very difficult because the wind is light, they are against the current and there are seas running. What is certain is that this leg will be long. It is still 35 miles to Wolf Rock and the boats are making just two-to-three knots of speed over the ground."


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