Hugely experienced on La Solitaire du Figaro but a relative novice in the Beneteau Figaro 3 that he had only sailed four times before the start on the Baie de Saint Brieuc ten days ago, Fred Duthil (Technique Voilse/Cabinet Bourhis Generali) scored an opportunist’s victory today when he took the winning gun for Stage 3 on the 51st La Solitaire de Figaro off Saint Nazaire.
At the end of an epic, extremely tiring 492 miles stage from Dunkirk, which was punctuated throughout by very light winds, strong tidal currents and many changes in wind direction Duthil – at 46 the oldest skipper in the 33 strong field – added the fourth stage win of his La Solitaire du Figaro career which spans 17 years and ten previous editions which have rewarded him with three overall podiums, second in 2007 and third twice in 2008 and 2009.
The combined effects of very light winds, tidal currents and the multiple transition zones allowed many skippers to make big recoveries from deep in the fleet, including both Duthil and series leader Armel Le Cléac’h.
At his lowest, Duthil was 33rd more than 12 miles behind the leaders. At 0900hrs this morning, approaching the Baie de Quiberon, he was 32nd and nine miles behind the established leading pair Yann Eliès (Quéguiner Materiaux) and Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton).
When, ahead of him the fleet slowed and split, he was one of three skippers who stayed south, offshore, sailing outside Belle Isle While the others were making between one and four knots in the glassy smooth calm where the thermal sea breeze and the gradient fought and cancelled each other out, Duthil’s phoenix act was unfolding as he made between five to eight knots in the original gradient breeze. He made back good miles to cross the finish line at 17:45:43hrs French time, 14 minutes and 34 seconds ahead of second placed Marc Mallaret (CER Occitanie) who is provisionally first rookie, with Adrien Hardy (Ocean Attitude) third at 18:37:57hrs. All three went south of Belle Ile.
Duthil admitted he would never has chosen that same routing had he been with the lead group but had recalled the pre-start advice of his weather adviser Christian Dumard,
“It is an unexpected win. I was very afraid of the winds at the island in the early morning. But we had talked about it with Christian I did well to listen to him! If I had ever been in front, I wouldn't have done it. But there at the time it was worth trying,” recalled Duthil. “I believed in this option. I scanned the horizon through binoculars and knew I was ahead. I then stopped for a while and was worried it would not come back, but it held! This victory is unexpected. I had only sailed four days before departure on this boat loaned by Charles Caudrelier.I would never have bet on this victory! Everything looked very was complicated this afternoon as was the whole stage. The start of the race was difficult, full of uncertainties, calms and transitions. The night off North Brittany was horrible, with all that weed. After Ushant I was very tired and actually dozed off for an hour. But I thought to myself, 'You never know, there will be shots to play towards the end!' From Penmarc’h, being behind, I said to myself that we had to go under (south of) Belle-Ile I came a bit on a whim. I had two great first stages and saw that I was not off the pace. I do not think of the general classifications, I am happy with this success.”
Twice overall winner Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) was on typically predatory form during the ‘bloodbath of Belle Isle’. He stayed focused and threaded his way through the islands to take fourth. With 1hr 2 mins and 57 seconds in hand over Duthil before the start, when Le Cléac’h crossed the line at 18:37:57hrs he retained the top spot on the General Classification by 10 minutes and 43 seconds over Duthil, declaring the Technique Voiles skipper his number 1 rival going into the 24 hours 185 miles decider starting Saturday night.
Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) kept his head through the final hours crossing seventh, the best finish of his La Solitaire du Figaro career. Tenth on the first stage, 11th on the second, Dolan is up to fifth overall, just reward for his good allround speed, tenacity and consistent, minimal risk choices. Dolan wins the VIVI Trophy award for the best overseas, non French skipper to finish.
Dolan said: “To be honest with you I am a bit surprised because I really have not been doing anything different in the way I sail the boat, I trim the sails the same way and everything else but I really have made an effort to get my head sorted and so I don’t lose the plot a bit the way I maybe used to. And I really don’t focus on the other boats I just concentrate on my speed and trim and don’t get wound up where I am. But fifth overall, I better get some sleep before the last leg.”
Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) crossed eighth, just behind Dolan. His best finish of the race so far elevates himself to tenth overall.
“I am happy with that result, I found I had good speed and found myself working my fleet through the fleet really well. So I am happy. The weather was always very unsure for the end of the race and so based on the scenarios we saw developing you had to be able to adapt,” Roberts said. “But in the end it was a Figaro classic leg. It was pleasurable, punishing, rewarding. It was everything you could want it to be. I gave it my all and I am literally broken right now. I did not sleep since Jersey and was so, so tired. I had one little five minutes nap and I woke up so disorientated I did not know who I was, what I was doing. It took me 40 minutes to come to my senses. I had to narrate to myself who I was and what I was doing. But now I have to eat, sleep, eat, sleep as much as possible before the restart.”
Disappointment for Yann Eliès and Sam Goodchild
Yann Eliès and Britain’s Sam Goodchild were the hardest hit by the voracious calms which were largely unexpected. The two steady leaders were among the first to head inshore, Eliès baling out to fight to the finish in the pack, crossing 17th two hours and six minutes behind the winner, while Goodchild dropped to 29th nearly three hours after Duthil.
Stage 3 results and overall standings: https://www.lasolitaire.com/en/rankings