La Solitaire – where there is a Will, is there a way? Harris in lead group with 40 miles to Owers

With 40 nautical miles still to sail to the Owers turning mark off Portsmouth at 1500hrs BST this afternoon, racing within a gradually fading southwesterly breeze, it has been a long, laborious day fighting in the main pack on Stage 4 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro. Fog accompanied by constant drizzle has added to the generally unpleasant English summer conditions as the 500-mile Grand Final showdown from Roscoff to Dieppe passed its theoretical midpoint this morning.

On familiar waters, Britain’s Will Harris (Hive Energy) has proven well capable of staying with the most accomplished sailors in this highly competitive fleet. Since breaking into the leading trio after a move south early this morning – during which the 26-year-old English solo racer from Surrey self-effacingly admitted he mostly caught up on some sleep, Harris has been trading the lead with the leg 3 winner and last years’ runner up Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire), and Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat). But it is incredibly tight after 48 hours of racing and the top five are within half a mile of the lead with the top ten within a mile.

There is still over 200 miles to race to the finish line in Dieppe where the 46 boat fleet are expected to arrive Wednesday. Harris, along with all of the top sailors, including General Classification leader Yoann Richomme (HelloWork-Groupe Telegramme), have been trying to maximise sleep and rest as they prepared for the coming hours when the wind is set to go very light and thunderstorms are predicted.

Almost amongst those top sailors is Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa), who has been in the top 10 all day after profiting from a bold move, staying inshore on the Devon coast last night as he and three rivals profited to pass Start Point on a route close to the shore.
Harris, who finished top rookie in 2016 on his one and only previous La Solitaire, sounded relaxed but quietly focused on the goal of delivering a second top-ten stage finish after his seventh place on Stage 3, reported: “As soon as we arrived in England we could tell we were here because it started raining. It’s not too normal to have this much fog but it is pretty dodgy, and a bit scary at times sailing in it with so many boats in the fleet, we only have about ten metres of visibility and we are going quite fast and so you always have to keep your eyes open and ahead. I have had a few near misses with other boats which I haven't seen, we are gybing up and down going along, changing direction all the time. So it is very interesting weather.”

Not fully realising he was doing so well, Harris took his placing in his stride when told by the on-water reporter over the radio: “It is still so open. We are just at Weymouth so there is a long way to go and the forecast just gets crazier and crazier. We are hearing of lightning and very little wind up ahead. It is going to be a real challenge working out the best way to go. For now I am going to stay relaxed, think ahead and know there are still a lot of miles to go. It could get quite intense so I am going to relax and then hopefully when it gets intense I will have a bit more energy than the rest.

“I went down to the south a bit last night, away from the fleet. In fact I spent a long time sleeping, and when I came back in I was ahead of the group I was chasing. So I am pretty happy about that. I am well rested and well fed and I managed to gain some places.” 

Richomme is 15th at 1.6 miles behind the leading trio this afternoon, saving his energy for the final push in what are expected to be light and random conditions. He said: “It’s quite foggy out here. There are a lot of us grouped together at the front of the fleet. As forecast, there was a front during the night. I’m sailing calmly. There are no real options. It’s going to be complicated with the area of high pressure and thunderstorms moving in. I managed to get a lot of rest, so I am ready to go on the attack later, as it’s going to be long and looks complicated. On board the boats, a lot of us are sleeping, as energy levels are low. I’m just trying to keep up with the frontrunners without necessarily leading the race.”

The fleet are expected to arrive at Owers at around 2am tomorrow morning, before heading back across the Channel to Ouest Saint-Marcouf in Normandy in north-western France, and onto the finish in Dieppe.  

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