Having taken the lead late last night as the fleet passed offshore of Devon’s Exe estuary, Yoann Richomme (HelloWork-Groupe Telegramme) pushed hard to profit through a brutally testing second night on stage 2 of La Solitaire Urgo Le Figaro.
By this afternoon, Richomme had established a 12-minute cushion as he led the other remaining 38 solo skippers at the Needles Fairway turning mark in much more benign conditions.
With the northerly winds last night gusting between 35 and 38 knots and in short, steep seas, conditions proved a sustained test for the solo skippers and their new Figaro Beneteau 3s.
Among three skippers who were forced to retire due to water ingress around the foil aperture, were top seeds Martin Le Pape (Skipper Macif 2017) and Thomas Ruyant (Advens-Fondation de la Mer), who have headed directly to the finish in Roscoff.
When the wind relented at around 0900hrs this morning before a final 35-mile beat to the Isle of Wight mark, Richomme , who won Stage 1 into Kinsale last Thursday night, kept his nearest rivals Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) and Morgan Lagravière (Voile d’engagement) in check when tacking in on the Dorset coast.
As ever, overall race leader Richomme is concerned about protecting or extending his elapsed time margin rather than pushing to win the stage.
“I’m motivated and pushing hard,” Richomme said just after the Needles mark. “I am having fun. It’s far from over. We’ve seen people win three legs before but not triumph overall in the Solitaire. If I get a good result in this leg, I think I’m well placed.”
Working more offshore, Adrien Hardy (Sans Nature pas de Future) and Gildas Mahé (Breizh Cola) both gained to put themselves in the match for the 170-mile leg back down the Channel to round the Portsall mark off the tip of the Finistere peninsula where they turn back to Roscoff.
Whether it is the familiarity of racing in home waters or just determination and hard work, both British solo racers competing in this year’s 50th anniversary edition have given a great account of themselves as they raced east along the English coast.
Will Harris (Hive Energy) was ninth around the Isle of Wight mark this afternoon, only just with the upper hand over fellow Brit Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) who was less than half a mile behind. Roberts made up from 16th at Bishop Rock, Harris 15th at more than 12.5 miles behind the pacemakers, to be 8.5 miles astern on what looks to be another Code Zero or gennaker reach in a building northerly breeze.
Harris said: “I had a really tricky first 24 hours and I am happy to be back towards the front pack. There is some gap to catch up but I am just trying to take time on the guys behind me, just keep pushing, pushing all the time. It has been a while since I sailed here, the Needles being my home waters, so it is very cool to be sailing here.”
Continuing to talk about the conditions on board, Harris said: “Conditions were quite extreme and that showed for the guys who have done more training in those conditions. I was really quick and took some time off everyone else. For sure the Figaro 3 is a very wet and wild boat but was fast and rewarding. But the aim is to be recovered and ready for the wind tonight. Now I have the kite up and will grab some food.”
Roberts, who got separated from the fleet with some technical issues, explained: “Last night I fared not too badly but had an issue with the Code Zero and with a lot of water coming in to the boat. Other than that I was going quickly for the second half of the course.
“It will be another tricky night though trying to keep the rhythm going all the way in to Brittany. Last night my issues meant I got alienated from the fleet but it turned out OK. The aim tonight will be to work hard, trimming and not get too far away from the fleet.
“I am in the right group, the top group and now the aim is to stay here. I am not going to make any big wins from here; the objective is no big losses.”
Racing into the third night, the reciprocal leg back down the Channel has already seen different tactics emerge, with Gildas Mahé (Breizh Cola) choosing to dip south towards the French coast where the breeze might be more easterly, looking to come in south of the Traffic Separation zone off the Cherbourg peninsula.
Track the fleet here: https://www.lasolitaire-urgo.com/en/