After 50 hours at sea on leg two of the 2016 Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro, Yoann Richomme on Skipper Macif 2014 is holding onto the lead he grabbed earlier in the 430-miles stage from Gildas Morvan on Cercle Vert.
This afternoon Richomme led a tight top-group of four boats through the notorious and spectacular, rock-strewn Chenal du Four off the Brittany coast south of Ushant in brisk conditions, with a two-nautical mile advantage over Morvan.
Hot on Morvan’s heels was Charlie Dalin on Skipper Macif 2015 in third place and Nicolas Lunven on Generali who was just under three miles adrift of Richomme.
With 130 tricky miles left to sail to the stage finish at Paimpol, Richomme is doing his utmost to press home his advantage, knowing he has an opportunity to establish a strong race-leading position when he crosses the leg finish line early tomorrow.
The key for him is that leg one winner Erwan Tabarly, who started the stage seven minutes ahead of him, is back in sixth place on Armor Lux, nearly 10 miles behind. Assuming Richomme holds on, his closest pursuer by Paimpol is likely to be Dalin who started the second stage only four minutes behind him.
In the meantime Richomme, who is on his seventh Solitaire and has a best overall finish of fourth in 2013, is watching Morvan in his wing mirrors. “It is not going to be easy,” he said on the sat phone from his boat. “Gildas is moving well and I must not get complacent, despite the current standings. But I’m going for the win on this leg; I’m not going to go home with any regrets.”
Lunven in fourth place, feels as though Dalin is connected to him by wires. “I’m sailing side-by-side with Charlie,” he reported. “It seems like every time one of us tacks, the other one follows suit. We can’t seem to drop each other. It’s not going to be easy to catch the boys up ahead and we certainly can’t rely on them making any errors.”
The last sector of the course is hugely challenging for exhausted sailors who have to pick their way through the navigational dangers of the Iroise Sea before returning north through the Chenal du Four and then following the coast round to Paimpol. The strong westerly-southwesterly breeze will make it a fast passage with the boats beating south, then running and reaching in the last stages of the leg.
After the top-four, Tabarly is racing alongside Alexis Loison (Groupe Fiva) and Corentin Douguet (Sofinther-Un Maillot Pour La Vie) in a group of three boats, about nine miles off the lead. Then four miles further back comes Sebastian Simon on Bretagne-CMB Performance, in eighth place and the leading boat in the main peloton which stretches south-north over nine miles, as far back as the rookie Marc Noesmoen (Team Vendee Formation) in 36th place.
The 39-strong fleet had remained quite compacted up until the Lizard on the west-going opening section of the leg, taking the fleet from the start at Cowes on the Isle of Wight to the Carn Base turning mark off Land’s End. But then in a reverse of what happened at the Lizard on leg one, the boats inshore got a jump on those offshore and the gaps started to appear.
“The coast of England showed the treachery of the country,” quipped race director Gilles Chiorri. “With extremely variable winds and tidal currents…the coast of England certainly came up with all the ingredients necessary to create gaps, which can never be closed.
“Since Monday, the fleet has stretched out,” Chiorri added. “During the night things paid off again for the leaders with slightly more favourable winds and better tidal opportunities and the rich just got richer. Those chasing the two front-runners lost a lot of miles between the Lizard and Carn Base, allowing Gildas Morvan and Yoann Richomme to make their getaway.”
“The wind will remain fairly strong until the finish, so the gaps in the fleet will narrow slightly, although in terms of distance they remain important and the overall rankings are likely to be shaken up,” summarised Chiorri.
Among those who found the English coast a tough test was Benjamin Dutreux (Team Vendée), currently eleventh and nearly 15 miles behind Richomme: “I was pulling my hair out along the English coast; it seemed like each time I tacked the wind would change,” he said as he approached Ushant. “I don’t really know this area very well, I only go through the Chenal du Four twice a year for the Solitaire. I’m going to try and catch some of the boys whilst staying safe and not taking any unnecessary risks.”