Less than 24 hours after the start of the 450-nautical mile third stage of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, Alex Loison, (Region Normandie), is currently leading a breakaway trio which has earned a cushion of 18 miles since they escaped through a key tidal gate off the north eastern tip of the Channel Islands.
Loison made a clear pass of the point at the Alderney lighthouse at around 1130hrs this morning, the light on the Channel island marking the west side of the notorious raz Blanchard as the French call the Alderney race, where the tide can run to 12 knots. Only Gildas Mahé, (Breizh Cola-EquiThé), and Anthony Marchand, (Groupe Royers-Secours Populaire), made it past with Loison who had led all the way from the dawn rounding of the Videcoq mark at Granville, in the south east corner of the bay of Saint Malo, early this morning.
As the three musketeers made their getaway at between five and seven knots, their stricken rivals tried all they could to wriggle free of the tidal currents grip. Some tried to sneak in and out of the rocks on the Alderney shore seeking relief from the fast flowing water. Others worked painstakingly to the north and east only to be sluiced back south again.
At 1700hrs this Tuesday evening, Loison still had around 45 miles to sail to the most northerly turn of the course, Hands Deep by Eddystone Rock to the south of Plymouth. Three times winner Michel Desjoyeaux (Lumibird) was leading the chasing pack, but with nearly 20 miles of advantage, the podium for this stage may already be set.
Several boats touched the rocks. Worst affected was Tanguy Le Turquais (Groupe Queguiner-Kayak) who was trapped for more than two hours before he was helped off by a RIB from the Race Direction’s Etoile, the media and safety boat for the race. Le Turquais is currently heading to shore to check his boat, although there was not thought to be serious damage.
“I’m still suffering from shock,” the solo skipper reported. “There were a lot of boats in between two lots of rocks off the eastern tip of Alderney. I joined them moving in behind them just ten metres or so in but the tide was going out. And I just got caught out. Those in front got across, but I got stuck there. The bulb got stuck in between two rocks. There was hardly any wind as I tried to move backwards. Now, the tide is going out further, so I’m well and truly stuck on the rocks. It’s not very comfortable. The current is strong here with lots of whirlpools in the water. And the boat is moving around on the rock with the current. It’s horrible to watch. I can’t see any leaks, but there are some nasty cracking noises. I’m afraid the boat is going to be damaged with me in it.”
It is a particularly stressful time for overall race leader Yoann Richomme, (HelloWork-Groupe Telegramme), who is in seventh place. The saving grace for Richomme is that the three leaders are a long way behind him on the general classification. Loison left Roscoff Sunday with a deficit of 10hrs 31 mins, Mahé is more than 10 hours off the lead and Marchand more than 11 hours.
Before he escaped the clutches of the race, Richomme aired some of his frustration: “The tidal current changed just as Alex (Loison) was passing. We were 200-300m behind him and the door shut in our face. It was like a conveyor belt. Sheer hell. I thought I could get through close to the rocks, but it didn’t work out. It’s a good way to test the boat in this current, going to port then to starboard. It’s very physical. In the rankings at 1500hr Alex was about twenty miles ahead. We’re still stuck here, so he’s extending his lead. It’s not good for us at all. I don’t know what is going to happen later though. The wind could get up. We never know. I must admit, I prefer not to spend time looking at that and calculating how far behind we will be.”
In his favour, Richomme had second overall Pierre Leboucher five miles behind him and third placed Armel Le Cléac’h, was 12 miles behind in 35th place.
The international competitors, who are vying for the Vivi Trophy, are having a tough leg. At 1700hrs, Brit Will Harris, (Hive Energy), was the top ranked amongst them in 14th place with fellow countryman Alan Roberts, (Seacat Services) in 26th. Irishman Tom Dolan was 33rd after reportedly touching the rocks earlier this afternoon, while the others struggle in the currents to get out of the bottom 10.
Keep up to date on the tracker here (https://www.lasolitaire-urgo.com/en/cartographie).