La Solitaire Le Figaro first leg drags on and on

Erwan Tabarly

Stage 1 of the 2016 Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro from Deauville to Cowes looks set to be one of the longest and most taxing of recent memory according to Yoann Richomme who is pacing Erwan Tabarly the stage leader. (See update at foot of page – Tabarly wins.)

Tabarly, 42, nephew of the legendary French ocean racer Eric, sailing Armor Lux has a tiny lead of just two-tenths of a nautical mile over Richomme on Skipper Macif 2014. But the leading duo are in the early stages of what promises to be an exceptionally slow finish.

Most weather forecasts predict a complete shut down of the breeze through this Wednesday night into Thursday. The leading duo were 17 miles from the Needles Fairway buoy at 1600hrs this afternoon, some 52 miles from the finish line and making under three knots. The race directors, who shadow the fleet on the water, predict that the leaders could be at the Bembridge Ledge mark, close to Cowes at around 0300hrs Thursday morning. The full course – entering the Solent from the East – through the Forts – still stands.

The duration of the leg is already one of the longest for some years, as is the geographical spread of the 37-boat fleet from front to back which is significantly bigger than usual. The last boats were just passing the Lizard this afternoon, some making less than one knot of boatspeed when the leaders were approaching the Isle of Wight.

The two leaders made a breakway off Start Point this morning pulling away at 5-7 knots when their rivals were slowed to just three knots. This created a small cushion of two-to-three miles to third-placed Charlie Dalin (Skipper Macif 2015). In turn he has three miles on the fourth-placed boat. Similar gaps have been inserted into the fleet by the tidal currents and the fluctuating, light winds. On the one hand this sets a useful buffer for the top-10 sailors straight in a four-stage race which is often decided by minutes. It will be tough for some of the sailors finishing mid-fleet with a deficit of 40 miles or more – equivalent to more than five hours at 7 knots of boat speed.

“We’re about 20 miles from the entrance to the Solent. We’re right alongside Macif et Yoann Richomme. The wind is gradually getting lighter. We’re also up against the tidal current,” Tabarly reported this afternoon. “During the night we saw three or four boats suddenly stop downwind of us, so we gave a nudge to the helm to move away from there. They were only 100 metres away but we managed to keep going. We’re in the fog but can’t always see each other, even though we’re only 50-100 metres apart. At one point Yoann was ahead then me, but now we’re more or less neck-and-neck.”

Richomme adds :

“We managed to make our getaway in a transition just off Start Point during the night. Our friends were closer to the coast and I saw them stuck in a calm. With Erwan we were a bit further off and we managed to get away from them. I lost sight of Charlie (Dalin), so it was a real getaway. So the two of us have been battling it out. I was ahead, but made a slight mistake and he overtook me. “This is going to be one for the history books as one of the longest legs in the Solitaire,”

Richomme continued. “With such varied conditions, so many changes of leader, the difficulty of staying in front…That’s rare, but it is really pleasing, as it is a great race with a very high standard in the eight front-runners. I get the feeling that the gaps between us are going to be huge. We’re exhausted. It’s really hard keeping an eye out. One or two boats might get back in the game, but taking into account the gaps, that seems to be hard to imagine, unless the transition moves around. Or if there is some sort of disaster for us out in front, but I don’t expect that to happen. But you never know. We’ve had plenty of surprises already in this leg.”

Standings at 100hrs UTC
1 Erwan Tabarly (Armor Lux) 52 miles to finish
2 Yoann Richomme (Skipper Macif 2014) + 0.14 miles behind leader
3 Charlie Daline (Skipper Macif 2015) +3.16 miles behind leader
4 Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat) +6.32 miles behind leader
5 Corentin Douget (Sofinther Un Maillot pour la vie) +11.30 miles behind leader

18th Alan Roberts (Alan Roberts Racing) +40.53 miles behind leader
19th Will Harris (Artemis 77) +41.75 miles behind leader

They said :

Will Harris (GBR) (Artemis 77) : “The guys who went offshore basically got that new breeze and that was it. I was really happy to be leading the group. I had a bit of an issue this morning and fell asleep and missed the kite hoist I dropped back in the group. But this is the longest time I have been offshore and to have conditions like this, I am looking forwards to having a nice long cold drink. But this split in the fleet is all from tidal effects. Last night we hit a tidal block and I was the first to hit that. And then through the night I had a computer issue, trying to avoid rocks in the pouring rain. I was 20 or 30m off the rocks and so I did not get any sleep at all last night and so I think that is what caught up with me when I slept through the alarm. I have caught up a bit now. We have a bit of breeze from the southwest but it is very misty and we are expecting thicker mist, potentially some thunderstorms and absolutely no wind tonight.”

Nick Cherry (GBR) (Redshift) : “It was a bit dire to get stuck again at the Lizard fighting against the tide. And now we are fighting along just waiting for the wind to disappear for a while. I had an autopilot problem and so the first night I did not have a pilot at all and then I managed to get ‘wind’ mode working. But I can’t get much sleep at all because of that. But now even though it is only 90 miles to the Needles Fairway buoy I am not even going to think about it because it is going to take a long, long time.”

 UPDATE: Tabarly wins stage

Erwan Tabarly, solo skipper of Armor Lux, finished first of the gruelling Stage 1 of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro when he crossed the finish line at the Needles Fairway buoy to the west of the Isle of Wight at 21:27hrs and 57 secs BST(TU +1) this evening (Wed). 

Tabarly’s elapsed time is three days, nine hours, 25 minutes and 54 seconds for the passage from Deauville, France on a course that started on Sunday and took the fleet out to Wolf Rock, by Land's End, and back.

When he crossed the finish line, second-placed Yoann Richomme (Skipper MACIF 2014) was within sight at less than half-a-mile behind. The duo made a key breakway from the other fleet leaders this morning off Start Point when they escaped into a stronger breeze. The duo swapped positions at one point but Richomme made a small mistake and slipped behind into second again.

Since winning the Transat AG2R LA MONDIALE two-handed transatlantic race from Concarneau to Saint Barth's, sailing with co-skipper Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat), in late April this year, Tabarly has been considered one of the favourites to win the 2016 Solitaire. He has been trying to win the annual multi-stage solo race since 2000 but has never finished better than third overall.

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