Champions on top of Leg 1 in La Solitaire

Two of the most accomplished names in the fleet lead the first 430 nautical miles stage of the La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro as the top group close to within 20 miles of the most northerly turning point of the course from Bordeaux to Gijón but two other pre-race favourites have been forced to fight their way up through the fleet since making errors since Sunday afternoon’s start from the Gironde estuary. 

Three times winner Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucemie Espoir) may have sought to play the underdog card before the start in Bordeaux, claiming to have been ring rusty and less prepared than he would have liked to have been, but the 43 year old is making the pace with a lead of 0.2 nautical miles on the hard driving, cool headed Nicolas Lunven, the 2009 winner.

For the 43 solo skippers who started from the estuary in light breezes, the pace has picked up progressively as the breeze increased. A low pressure moving in to the NW of Ireland is creating brisk 20kts SW’ly winds which are due to increase with a cold front tonight. The key for all will be to be around the Plateau Rochebonne mark – by the Ile de Ré – before this front arrives as it is due to bring poor visibility, heavy rain, big confused seas as the wind shifts rapidly into the NW.

While Eliès and Lunven are well positioned at the vanguard of the fleet, rivals Charlie Dalin (Skipper MACIF 2015) and Jérémie Beyou (Charal) have been pushing hard to recover places lost not long after the start line. Beyou, also a three times La Solitaire winner, started poorly and was 39th early on. With just on 24 hours of racing completed of the leg which should finish between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, Beyou was 14th at + 4.2 nautical miles behind the leaders. Dalin, who many considered the outstanding pre-race favourite, admitted today that he had sailed the wrong side of a mark and had to retrace his course. He was 13th, just ahead of Beyou this afternoon.

I passed on the wrong side of a mark so I had to go back to pass it in the right direction. So I wasted some time. This has never happened to me before in the Figaro. But I made a good course between the G mark and the BXA marks and so initially caught a lot of boats, but unfortunately on the downwind to Arcachon the leaders got a way a bit. But I am at it, working hard, working hard.” Dalin reported today.

The big question is if we will reach the Rochebonne buoy before the front, before the shift or not. It dictates a lot about how the spinnakers will be set on the next leg. The fleet is climbing above course for the strong wind coming in, it will go up to 30-35kts. On the other hand you will be headed before you get to the mark if it comes in before we are there.

Briton Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) this afternoon was in good company, beside Beyou and Dalin, lying in 15th place although he will be disappointed to have dropped from 12th position earlier in the day.

After the Rochebonne turn – just SW of Les Sables d’Olonne – early this Monday evening it should be a fast, bumpy and testing 220 miles reach towards Gijon, but the winds are expected to drop away for the hours before the finish as a high pressure ridge moves in to dominate the area.

Flash: The Franco-American solo skipper Nathalie Criou (Richmond Yacht Club Foundation) has contacted Race Direction to signal her decision to abandon Stage 1 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro for safety reasons. She had already accumulated a significant time deficit on the leaders and so in light of the stormy weather conditions expected and the need for the race organisers to provide safety cover for the whole fleet it was decided she should head directly to Gijon without passing the Rochebonne turning mark which the leaders were approaching early this evening.

She has been advised of the best course of action to remain safe in the most manageable conditions possible with the race fleet informed of her positions and course in order to monitor her progress. Her elapsed time for the stage will be equivalent to the time of the last finisher plus two hours. 

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