First night of La Figaro stage 2 may shape the leaderboard

The second stage of the La Solitaire du Figaro started on the Baie de Saint-Brieuc, northern Brittany in a light to moderate north easterly breeze at 1100hrs this Sunday morning. The 404 nautical miles stage takes the 35 strong field of solo sailors east to Dunkirk, a new destination port for the multi stage solo offshore race which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. 

The leg is expected to take two and a half days – a veritable sprint compared to the 642 miles, four night first stage marathon to the Fastnet and back – but once again sailors and weather experts alike consider that it is this first tricky light winds night which is  very likely to shape the finish order into the historic, easternmost city of France. 

The tricky beat to Eddystone, off Plymouth, is followed by a long, fast 160 miles downwind run east up the channel to a mark, Antifer, off Le Havre then continuing 100 miles more on a downwind procession to Dunkirk, the fleet increasingly funnelled into a narrow lane, gybing several times down a course bounded by high land to the south and the forbidden shipping lane to their left. 

“It looks very much like a leg on which the Solitaire could be lost but is not likely to be won.” Observed weather guru Marcel van Triest who, pre-start, advises several top sailors on weather strategy. 

All the way through the fleet the time differentials carried from Stage 1 are tiny. Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF), the opening Fastnet leg winner held just 95 seconds of advantage over Loïs Berrehar (Bretagne CMB Performance) with Alex Loison (Région Normandie) third at seven minutes and three seconds behind. But poised in fourth is double winner Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) at 10 minutes 20 seconds behind. The top 15 are spanned by 25 minutes, the top 20 by 35 minutes. 

As the fleet sailed away from the Brittany coast at around 1500hrs local time today in 10-12kts of northeasterly breeze it was the French 2012 470 dinghy Olympian Pierre Leboucher (Guyot Environnment) leading the way with Armel Le Cléac’h lurking in second after making a much stronger start than he made on Stage 1 off the same Saint Brieuc start line. Le Cléac’h is looking hungry for success and has had no other distractions this year, training hard on his Figaro after finishing 10th last year. 

“The weather is looking a little complicated for the climb north to Eddystone with variable winds to negotiate then a long, important leg to the finish which will be a real speed test.” Le Cléac’h, 44, said on the race dock, “ The first night is going to be interesting tactically you have to be good here to be well placed around Eddystone as I think after that it will be hard to get places back. Much of the ranking will be set by here. There will still be little gains to be made here and there, but it will be a speed race and the finish will not be very complicated. There will be wind all the way down there and it is great to be going to Dunkirk for the first time to show our boats.” 

Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is the best of the international entrants lay ninth on the overall standings and was fighting in the main group at less than a mile from the lead. 

The opening 115 miles upwind passage to Eddystone lighthouse  off Plymouth is set to see the sailors encounter shifting light winds affected by an occluded front and a new high pressure ridge coming in from the west which will combine to swing the breeze through three significant shifts in direction during the night. What promises to be a hard fought upwind in a decent 14-16kts of northwesterly breeze will peter out as the wind drops completely in the small hours of the morning. 
Round Start Point the fleet are likely to work the Devon coast where there will be more wind pressure before calling a layline for the A8 mark off Le Havre, a difficult but necessarily accurate call given the strong tides in the Channel. The wind is set to build to over 20 knots for an express ride to the line where the leaders are now expected late on Tuesday evening. 


They said : 

Leader Xavier Macaire (SNEF Group) : “The first phase to England, there are quite a few transitions until you pass Start Point and you go downwind, after that it will be mostly driving and a little bit of positioning, we will have to manage all the transitions, even getting out of the Bay here. There is a small transition this afternoon and then in the evening it is more unpredictable. You will have to be alert to what is happening. I think the first 24 hours will be quite decisive. 
I have no sailed off Dunkirk before but it is not going to be rocket science other than we have quite compact areas limited by the TSS, but I don’t see anything especially tricky.”

25th Jackson Bouttell (GBR/AUS) : “I have had a good rest and am well recharged. This stage looks like one that if it is not exactly decided on the first night it will be not far. Once we are east of Start Point and the English coast it is downwind, straight line. It will be about tonight will be all about managing the shifts, the transitions, the light wind zones around Eddystone. I have a clear picture of the weather but really it is going to be about seeing what the actual reality is and then managing the fleet. I have only had the boat three weeks and probably only sailed it ten times so it is all so very new. I really struggle in the upwind, light wind conditions because the boat is really hard to get a grip on how to sail the boat well in these conditions. The first leg was a bit frustrating after the first night but where I am at something like 45 mins behind this is effectively a restart in my head.”

Yann Eliès (Quéguiner Matériaux-Leucémie Espoir) : “At first sight this first stage seems quite simple  but when you look at the small details, there are lots of little things happening before Eddystone. At one point there is a big header, like 90 degrees, which has us going due east or even south east. So there can be a big change there. But I think it will have the ranking for the stage by tomorrow afternoon because it will be more straight forwards after that. There won’t be much tactical after that, a few gybes here and there, but no big gaps opening up. I would like to be up the front but I know that the start and the first bit is not always my best bit, these short legs to the clearance buoy but in the English Channel tonight there will be plenty of opportunities to catch up. I will play it Jean Le Cam, not start too quickly but just catch up and try to be first by Eddystone. I was in Dunkirk for the Tour Voile and during a Figaro Beneteau 1 event. I remember being there for the 1998 World Cup football. I was taken by the warmth of the people there. They are people of the sea, cod fishermen, offshore seamen, many boats left from there to trade with North America, and so it is remains a region of sailors. It is those from there who say that when we arrive there we cry and then we end up crying again when we leave. It is an expression which has a ring of truth.

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