Photo: Alexis Courcoux

MACIF dust-up

As the Green Giant leads La Solitaire Bompard du Figaro leg four out of La Rochelle

Wednesday July 6th 2016, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

Leader of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro, Yoanne Richomme, has pledged to stick close to his nearest rival and teammate Charlie Dalin during the tense last leg of the race that started this evening from La Rochelle.

Richomme, on Skipper Macif 2014, needs to preserve or improve his margin of 14 minutes and eight seconds over the 24 hour, 130 mile coastal leg, if he is to win the annual multi-stage solo offshore racing championship for the first time.

“I didn’t cover Charlie on the third leg and lost a quarter of an hour to him,” said Richomme. “Once we are out under the bridge to the Ile de Ré I won’t let him get too far away.”

The Skipper Macif duo have at least one hour in hand over third-placed Nico Lunven on Generali, or about 5-7 miles at the usual speeds of the 32ft one design Beneteau Figaro II in normal sailing conditions.

Over such a short sprint course, which is effectively a windward-leeward loop paralleling the Charente Maritime and Vendée coast to the Isle de Yeu and back, Richomme or Dalin look the only competitors capable of claiming the overall Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro title for 2016. Dalin was third overall in 2014 and second in 2015. Richomme’s best was fourth in 2013.  

Richomme left the La Solitaire race village dock in La Rochelle’s Vieux Port with only one thought in his mind: “I cannot imagine not winning,” he said. “There is no scenario B for me. One thing is certain: I’m looking forward to tomorrow night and no matter what the outcome is I am very satisfied with the level I have maintained over the three stages. I continue to progress.”

The last leg began as the fleet passed under the one-and-a-half mile-wide bridge that links the Ile de Ré to the mainland in beautiful evening sunshine and 12-15 knots of northwesterly breeze.

20-time Solitaire veteran Gildas Morvan on Cercle Vert, who has performed way below his usual high standards this season, and lies 15th overall, eight-and-a-half hours off the lead, set the early pace. Britain’s Nick Cherry on Redshift made another strong start in sixth while Alan Roberts was holding 11th place over the first few miles.

On this deciding leg there are two new variables added to the mix: Warm summer sunshine, and extreme tiredness.

Managing both will be key to success for all the skippers after three long stages, totalling nearly 1,400 nautical miles of racing over nine days.

Temperatures of 22-25°C contrast with the many hours of drizzle, rain, cloud and poor visibility that have dominated weather conditions in the first three legs between Deauville, Cowes, Paimpol and La Rochelle. But around the leg 4 loop, which is relatively close to the coast, it will be the skill of predicting the evolution of the thermal sea breeze, produced by the warm sun heating the land, that will be key to success.

The sea breeze off La Rochelle usually fills in from the west while, further north, it comes more from the southwest. The question is when it will fill – on Wednesday it was in by 1100 and Thursday is likely to follow the same timing – and how it will evolve.

Some weather models show the wind veering from the gradient easterly, dragging it clockwise. Others have the gradient dying out, creating a no-go zone of calm before the thermal arrives. Also, how many miles offshore will it fill in from? The high risk option is to go searching for it.

Managing the effects of tiredness, still being able to make lucid, accurate decisions at key times, will be another vital asset. That will mean banking short, ten-minute cat-naps at quiet moments. Usually skippers are granted two nights sleep after each Solitaire leg. This time it has only been one night in a dry bed, and that comes after three particularly gruelling stages.

The two first stages in the English Channel generated big time differences because of the successive tidal gates. Indeed the top five overall going into the final stage was really established early on Stage 1, from Deauville to Cowes. There are dozens of skippers who start the final sprint seeking salvation in the form of a podium result. They will be the ones who are prepared to push the high risk options hardest.

At the 1900 start gun for leg four, the Brits made it count. Heading upwind in around 10 knots of breeze, Redshift skipper Nick Cherry was the first boat with a red ensign at the mark in eighth, after favouring the left side of the course.

Speaking ahead of the race, Cherry said: “Everyone’s in the same boat going into this leg. It’s only a 24-hour leg, but we’ll all be tired so it’s going to be interesting. Personally I like the start of a leg, so I’m hoping I can start well and get a good result.”

After three legs and 1,365 grueling solo miles, 22-year-old Will Harris crossed the Leg 4 startline on Artemis 77 with an 11-minute advantage at the top of the Rookie division. Earning second place on Leg 1, a first on Leg 2 and third on Leg 3 in the Rookie division, the young sailor from Surrey has a marginal edge over the chasing Frenchman Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Espoir CEM). However, even after so many miles, it all comes down to the final 100 and it’s all to play for.

Currently 19th in the overall standings, with Quiroga just behind in 20th, Harris was ready for the final battle. Despite feeling tired after yesterday’s Leg 3 finish, the British skipper was in good spirits ahead of the start – still with his eyes fixed firmly on the prize.

“My ambition is to beat Pierre and win the Rookie division,” he stated. “It’s been my aim since the start and I can’t believe it has come down to 11 minutes and 14 seconds. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the times after Leg 3. It’s all there to play for, but either way I’m going to come back on the docks and be happy with how the Solitaire has gone for me.”

He continued: “I’m also fighting for second Brit in the overall rankings, only 30 seconds behind Nick (Cherry) in 18th. Finishing second Brit would make me very happy.”

Leading the British skippers in the rankings in 16th, Alan Roberts was not underestimating the intensity and impact the final leg would have on the race: “I think it’s going to be really interesting,” he enthused on the pontoons. “It’s going to be a tricky little leg with thermal breezes moving across the course. The tide will also play a key part in the race, with high tidal coefficients at the moment. This will add a bit of extra pressure and the element of surprise. Although the race is short, it’s not going to be easy. It’s still another Figaro leg."

Sustaining damage to his forestay at the start of Leg 3, British Rookie Hugh Brayshaw delivered his boat Artemis 23 from Paimpol to La Rochelle and is determined to finish his first Solitaire. Having only started keelboat sailing in September, and at the same time learning to sail solo, Brayshaw has been on a steep learning curve. With his quote after the first leg ringing in his ears “you can’t understand the Solitaire until you’ve raced it", the skipper has one final objective for the race.

“I would like to be able to race this whole leg with the fleet,” he said. “That would be a race I would enjoy. I have had some pretty high aspirations for each leg, but so far something out of my control has happened and they have not yet come to light. I just want to sail a nice final race and be able to play the game on this leg.”

With light-to-moderate breeze forecast for the final stage, the 2016 Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro is expected to conclude late afternoon tomorrow in La Rochelle.

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