Gentle conditions expected as La Solitaire du Figaro fleet heads back to France

The second stage of the 2009 La Solitaire du Figaro gets underway from Coruna at 1400 (local time) tomorrow, the 52 boat fleet re-crossing the Bay of Biscay in a 365 mile passage to the port of St. Gilles Croix de Vie in France's Vendee region. Early indications are that conditions will be relatively light in comparison to the robust weather encountered on the first leg from Lorient, but too little wind can present just as many challenges as too much in this tightly contested class.

Before getting back to the business of sailing tomorrow, the skippers were entertained this afternoon by Senor Enrique Tello, Deputy Mayor of Coruna, at the first leg prizegiving, held in the grand surroundings of the city's Palacio Municipal. Coruna is an old friend to the Figaro, this being the event's eleventh visit, and the stopover has been a relaxed and cheerful one. Large crowds have passed by the marina each evening to see the colourful fleet of Beneteau one-design yachts crammed onto the pontoons, and watch the activity of the skippers and shore crew as they repair the breakages of the first leg and fine-tune for the next.

In the expected light conditions the inshore portion of the course is likely to be fairly short tomorrow, before the fleet heads offshore on their way to the turning mark at the entrance to the shipping channel of St. Nazaire. From there they head down to Ile d'Yeu, and a tight squeeze into the gateway presented by the island and “La Sablaire” buoy before the finish at St. Gilles Croix de Vie.

The weather forecast is for a start in light, 5-10 knot south-westerlies, after which the wind will veer into the north and stay there until the boats' arrival in port, presently estimated to be overnight on Thursday. The final miles could well turn into a gybing duel under spinnaker, but the decisive moment is likely to come considerably earlier. Much depends on how the skippers negotiate a corridor of little or no wind positioned just to the north of Coruna – a successful strategy here will be vital for a good result: get it wrong and the consequences will be dire. “The first night could be decisive” explained Race Director Jacques Caraes “a boat that doesn't find consistent breeze could end up stuck, and watching his competitors sailing away from him very quickly. I think we'll see some much bigger gaps appearing on this leg than the first. And even if it looks like being a long upwind beat on port tack, with about 10 knots of breeze, there will still be plenty of little shifts to play to keep on the pace.”

Jeanneau JY55
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