Just three days after reaching Cowes on the Isle of Wight after one of the toughest opening legs in the long history of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro, the fleet set sail this afternoon on what promises to be another exceptionally tough leg.
Stage two takes the 39 solo skippers in their Figaro Beneteau II one-designs back down the English coast to Land’s End before they head south to the Brittany coast off Ushant and an appointment with the notorious Chenal du Four before heading to the finish at Paimpol.
Going into the 430-nautical mile stage the overall lead is held by Frenchman Erwan Tabarly on Armor Lux who has a seven-minute advantage over Yoann Richomme in second place on Skipper Macif 2014 and just 11 minutes over Charlie Dalin on Skipper Macif 2015 in third place.
As the skippers prepared for the start in a gusty southwesterly breeze, they were facing a long beat to the west starting with a bumpy ride down the Solent with the wind against tide kicking up short seas. Once safely through the Needles Channel the next goal will be to make the first tide gate at Portland Bill.
At the gun the early leaders were Vincent Biarnes on Guyot Environment closely followed by Dalin and then Nicolas Lunven on the deep red Generali who is lying fifth overall, one hour behind Tabarly. The leading British skipper – Alan Roberts who is in 17th place but more than six hours adrift of Tabarly – was too eager at the line and was adjudged to have crossed before the gun, requiring him to turn Alan Roberts Racing back and start again.
By Hurst Point on the approach to the Needles Channel, one-and-a-half hours into the race, the runaway leader was the veteran racer Gildas Morven. His record-breaking 21st Solitaire got off to a disastrous start when he went the wrong way on Cercle Vert soon after the start of leg one from Deauville. Having reached Cowes in 20th position, this four-time overall podium finisher with a best performance of second overall in 2008, is clearly on a mission.
At that stage in the race the best-placed Briton was Nick Cherry on Redshift in eighth place whose goal for the remainder of the championship is to try and score as highly as possible in each of the three remaining legs, after finishing leg one seven-and-a-half hours adrift of the leader.
Cherry’s fellow British skipper, Sam Matson on Chatham, was one of many skippers raring to go after a disappointing first leg that left him in 25th place and more than nine hours off the pace, his chances of finishing in the top-10 overall, severely dented.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back out there,” said Matson who is on his third Solitaire. “The guys have worked hard to get the boat back into shape. I really want to get out there and show what I can do. Working to climb back up from the bottom of the fleet is extremely hard. I want to be at the start again and push hard properly rather than holding back a bit.”
Frenchman Sebastien Simon on Bretagne – CMB Performance who is in 12th place overall was of a similar mindset. “I can’t wait to get back out there,” he said. “Here we go again! This stage should not have the same big gaps as the first one and it should be faster too with the routing programmes suggesting we will finish on Wednesday morning.
“The start looks exciting and I and looking forward to the section along the English coast when we'll have to manage a succession of weather fronts and many wind shifts…in my view, the first 24 hours will be decisive,” added Simon.
Yet another sailor with a point to prove is the 23-year-old rookie from Dunkirk, Aymeric Decroocq, who was one of two sailors who retired from leg one. In his case a rigging failure on Bretagne – CMB Espoir forced him to head for Cowes early in the stage.
“The advantage for me is that compared to others, I am a little more rested and relaxed,” said Decroocq. “I really want to take advantage of having the chance to continue doing this Solitaire and enjoy myself…it will be tactical and that's good. We will have to stay focused on our navigation along the English coast but then, in the Chenal du Four and along the Brittany coast we will have to be careful not to hit the rocks because in this area, no one will be safe.”