After a tough, physically and mentally demanding first 24 hours of Stage 1 of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro, the solo skippers racing to Wolf Rock – to the southwest of Land’s End – will have given themselves a short time this afternoon to dry out, recover and eat a little while the wind finally eased and the sun came out.
Winds gusting to 35-40 knots during the first night made for an especially fast and challenging passage across the Channel from Deauville to the west turn at the Owers. Passing this cardinal mark at just after 0200hrs this morning, there was no respite during a wet, bumpy upwind slog underneath the southern tip of the Isle of Wight in rain and poor visibility.
The muscular conditions only relented early this afternoon as the 38-strong fleet beat upwind along the Dorset coast.
After taking a penalty during the preliminary light-wind loop just after the start because he drifted on to a turning buoy, pre-race favourite Charlie Dalin (Skipper Macif 2015) battled back and by the Owers was leading the fleet, having recovered from his early setback with surprising ease. The leaders are now preparing top pass Start Point, just east of Salcombe, one of the key headlands of this stage from Deauville to Cowes. A major tidal gate, and with high water around 1930hrs this evening, the leaders have been staying close into Start Bay looking for the first of the ebb tide and avoiding the worst of the flood.
“Get through the first night in contact with the fleet. Survive it and then wring yourself out, get some food into you, some sleep and then carry on with the rest of the race.” That was the sage advice to the Rookie sailors in the fleet from Nick Cherry, the most experienced British solo skipper on the race, taking on his fifth Solitaire. Such advice will be well heeded as light winds are now forecast for the return passage to the Cowes finish line.
Current predictions derived from the latest weather models suggest the first boats will not now finish before Thursday morning. This would make the first leg up to 24 hours longer than initial predictions and reduces the recovery time for the skippers before Sunday’s leg 2 start from Cowes.
Dalin, who has finished second and third in previous editions of the annual solo multi-stage offshore championship, was just under one mile ahead of Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat) – winner of this year’s Transat AG2R La Mondial transatlantic race from Concarneau to Saint Barths. In turn Chabagny is close to third-placed Erwan Tabarly (Armor Lux) who was his winning co-skipper on the two-handed race to the Caribbean.
The best-placed British skipper remains Alan Roberts who lies 12th in Alan Roberts Racing with Cherry (Redshift) in 14th and Will Harris 15th (Artemis 77) – the top Rookie.
“At this stage of this race, to be sailing in 12-to-15th place is just fine for the British guys,” said Charles Darbyshire of the Artemis Offshore Academy. “In many respects this is like a Keirin cycle race where the first days are just about holding the pace, managing yourself and being in a position to attack towards the end. I think the opportunities will come on the leg back from Wolf Rock when you need to be in good shape mentally. It will be a chess match in the light winds and strong tides and you really need to be able to make clear decisions. It is too easy to fry your brain looking at too many options and ‘what-ifs,’” Darbyshire added.
The first abandonment of this year’s championship was by the French rookie Aymeric Decroocq (Bretagne CMB Espoir) who retired safely into Cowes early this morning after damage to a spreader jeopardised his mast.
Rankings at 1700hrs BST