Figaro – Pirouelle pushing leader Laperche hard

After two of the toughest, fastest and most demanding spinnaker reaching legs of recent editions of La Solitaire du Figaro – totaling nearly 220 relentless nautical miles – accomplished in winds gusting to over 30kts, only one minute separated the top two leading skippers, Tom Laperche and Guillaume Pirouelle, as they passed the Cardinale Chaussée de Sein buoy mid afternoon today.

Laperche, the 25 year old prodigy who has won all the preliminary solo Figaro races this season, has held the Stage 2 lead since the first morning after leaving Port-la-Forêt Sunday afternoon, but today has been constantly pressed by rookie Pirouelle, a past 470 Olympic junior world champion and Tour Voile winner.

Last night’s fast, bumpy 90 miles reach from the Desormes mark between Jersey and Guernsey to round Eddystone at around 0400hrs this morning ended with a critical gybe round the light before an equally long fast, slightly broader reach back towards Ushant. Average wind speed through a dark, difficult night was 27-28kts with gusts to well over 30, kicking up a short steep two metres sea.

By this afternoon, entering the Mer Iroise – between Ushant and the île de Sein the E’ly wind had dropped away and there has finally been a chance for the leading group to dry out, get some proper sleep and focus on deciphering the weather for the final 250 miles to Royan and the finish line which lies the mouth of the Gironde, where the winning group are expected in the small hours of Thursday morning.

One of the quickest skippers overnight was Irishman Tom Dolan on Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan. He was 19th to round the Channel Islands mark last night but by Eddystone – nine miles south of Plymouth – had taken 11 places, sailing fast on a smooth direct course. Others, probably with big kites, sailed low and struggled on the tight reach to the turning mark off south Devon.

Twelfth on the first leg Dolan is up to sixth this evening having made up four miles on the leader since Eddystone. He is more or less side- by-side with his Spanish counterpart and Lorient Grand Large training partner Pep Costa (Team Play 2 B-Terravia) who has not been out of the top ten since Sunday where he sailed well at the point of Penmarch.

But there will be nothing straightforward about the final miles which will be sailed in unsettled, unpredictable light breezes and so there will opportunities for changes right to the finish line.

Young British skipper David Paul (Just a drop) has confirmed he has retired from this La Solitaire du Figaro after damaging his boat in the first few hours of this stage. He struck a rock off Penmarch light on Sunday evening and retired back to Port La Forêt.

“I am absolutely gutted.” Paul commented, “It is on me. I was so focused on laying the point I didn’t think of the rock. I was doing about six knots. The boat is not badly damaged but the big problem is getting access into the keel box to repair it. You have to kind of pull the boat to bits to get access. Anyway I want to be back in the future. I need to find a way to get more time in the boat, more training and have a sustainable project.”

They said

Britain’s Alan Roberts (Seacat Services), in 16th this afternoon explained:

figaro stage2

“We had a pretty busy night under spinnaker crossing the English Channel twice. It was quite welcome after yesterday’s long beat to the Channel Islands on which I didn’t go very well. Since then I have taken a few places. It’s really going fast so far. I managed to sleep before the Désormes buoy so I was fresh to attack on the helm and under pilot to properly trim the sails. I was going fast and I managed to gain a few miles on the boats around me. The wind will ease when we get to the coast and especially when we pass the Chaussée de Sein. Then things will compress again. And then it will be complicated with the stormy clouds at the end of the leg. So there will be options between offshore and inshore. Mentally to be honest I have had a hard time on this stage but then let’s be honest I have never really known an easy stage on the Solitaire! »

Corentin Horeau (Mutuelle Bleue), in 17th this afternoon reported:

figaro stage2

“We have just finished with the strong winds episode which was about 24 hours. It was hard last night and yesterday afternoon, but it was still quite reasonable. Now as we get towards Ushant the more the wind will ease. We should have a good transition zone at the Occidental du Sein this afternoon. And then after that anything could happen in the stormy low coming in. Really though I haven’t sailed very well, I’ve done everything a bit backwards. I am not happy with the small tactical and strategic moves. But I had a good night which allowed me to get closer to those in front.”

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