Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Major compression

Yoann Richomme continues to lead leg 3 of La Solitaire du Figaro as frontrunners are all but becalmed

Monday July 4th 2016, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: France

Monday afternoon has been cruel to the leaders of leg 3 of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro. As they negotiate a messy ridge of high pressure that stands between them and the most southerly turning mark of the 410 mile leg from Paimpol to La Rochelle, there has been a compression of the fleet.

The chasing pack has caught up miles on the ‘famous five’ – the five overall leaders of the Solitaire who had been sharing out the top places on this leg between themselves. But as the leaders have been slowed in very light, patchy, unsettled airs which have required multiple sail changes - spinnakers up and down, headsails up and down - the top-five have struggled at average speeds of around 1.8 to 2.3 knots. In the meantime the chasing groups have been making 4.6-5 or even 6 knots in some cases.

The biggest beneficiary has been Xavier Macaire on Chemins d’Oceans who has wriggled downwind making over nine knots at times to move from 12th this morning, 11.2 miles behind the leaders, to be challenging for second and third. This afternoon Macaire was calculated to be just half a mile or less behind the leg 3 leader, Yoann Richomme on Skipper Macif 2014.

The gains have been wholesale. Correspondingly the frustration among the leaders has been bubbling to the surface. As examples of the afternoon gains, 22nd placed Will Harris on Artemis 77, was a distant 20 miles behind the pacemaker at 1100 this morning. At 1500 he is still 22nd, but is back in touch, 6.5 miles astern of the frontrunners. In 18th this afternoon Nick Cherry on Redshift has lost six places, but gained seven miles to be a much more respectable 4.3 miles behind Richomme.

Clearly the solo skippers are all tired as the Solitaire starts to eat into their energy reserves. The fleet has spread out laterally and so it is near impossible for the leaders to break east to cover any advances. The top guns will likely stick to their nearest competition in the overall rankings – each other – rather than speculate on the arrival of the new northeasterly breeze coming from inshore of them.

Macaire – who would have won the 2015 Solitaire were it not for a punitive time penalty for sailing into a prohibited zone 18 miles from the finish – is back in the game, sailing alongside the two Skipper Macif boats, in fourth place.

Race leader Yoann Richomme who saw his stage lead slip away in the variable weather and said he was fed up and tired, is not giving up:
“I’m not marking anyone. I’m sailing my own way. The route is following Charlie’s, so he’s setting the pace for me. During the night, we sailed well towards the west to reach the ridge of high pressure. Now, we’re about to gybe to head directly for the BXA mark. Am I in the dream position? Yes, but it took a lot of effort to get here, as yesterday I was way out in front, but I lost a lot of that lead. Coming out of the Channel, I got the shifts wrong, as I was feeling tired. I hadn’t slept or eaten enough. I managed to get back up with the frontrunners and hang on to Charlie before those ahead got away off the Occidentale de Sein mark.

"For the moment, the gaps are quite big, but Charlie is behind, so that’s fine with me. The conditions meant I got some rest last night. And I hope to get some more this afternoon. I’m trying to get in shape for the fourth leg, but I’m focusing on getting a good result in this leg too.”" At 1500hrs it was reported that some ripples appeared on the water. The northeasterly wind had started to blow. The BXA mark, where the fleet turns for the home straight to La Rochelle, is still 100 miles away, but the leaders, at least, have been released. Richomme is still in front but with only a paper-thin margin. Erwan Tabarly on Armor Lux, the winner of the first stage, has been left four miles behind the leaders

His team mate Charlie Dalin on Skipper Macif 2015 added: “We’re currently around 70 miles offshore to the southwest of St. Nazaire and the weather is still dull, as it has been since the start of the Solitaire. There are lots of dolphins around us and we’re moving along smoothly. I managed to get quite a lot of rest during the night by setting alarms to indicate changes in the strength or direction of the wind. The aim is to gybe ahead of our old friend, Yoann Richomme. We’re going to have to find the right time to gybe this morning. We’re a bit behind what the routing was indicating with less wind off the tip of Brittany. I can’t see many boats out here: Yoann, Gedimat, Generali and Erwan Tabarly. I’m one of the boats off to the west and I’m getting in position to gybe in the ridge of high pressure. The ridges we read about only happen in books. The wind has veered to the west-northwest. A few degrees more before gybing. The bearing to the BXA mark is 124°, and I’m on a bearing of 160°. On the port tack, I’d be faster approaching the mark, but I think it’s still too soon. I’d like to gybe once the wind gets to 310° to have a good angle on the other side.”

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