After a first night spent dodging all manner of traps and obstacles, it would seem this third leg of the 2009 edition of La Solitaire is so far living up to its billing as the most tactical yet. The calm conditions of the start gave way to a night requiring full attention on every skippers' part, as they made their way along the Breton coast towards the final mark of the course before the finish line in Dingle, the Cap Caval bouy off Penmarc'h Point, at the south-western end of Brittany. With plenty of islands and other rocky hazards to dodge, local knowledge was at a premium, and it was Port La Foret denizens Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia) and Charles Caudrelier-Benac (Bostik), sailing on their own back doorsteps, who passed the mark seconds apart this morning before heading neck-and-neck into the Western Approaches.
Having left St. Gilles in what Marseilles' Jean-Paul Moren called ‘the best conditions so far' – blue skies, flat seas, gentle breezes and perhaps most importantly for the southerner, bright sunshine – the evening was no less idyllic, with the addition of up to 15 knots of wind to propel the 52 boat fleet on its way. Only the shifty nature of the breeze could have borne improvement, with the west to north-west fluctuations threatening a physically demanding night of tacking – of particular concern to Jean-Pierre Nicol (Gavottes) who was mortified to find he had forgotten to pack his energy bars at just the moment he might need them most. In the event it stabilised somewhat and settled into the north-north-west, leaving the skippers to concentrate more on the delicate business of navigation and tactics.
The first major decision was whether to pass inside or outside of Belle Ile, mid-way along this coastal portion of the course, and it would seem that the larger group who chose the inside track here did better. The small gains in time may have been at the expense of some shredded nerves however, as they then dodged the islands of the Glénan archipelago, some approaching perilously close to the shore. Yann Eliès (Generali) had a particularly close call, literally shaving the rocks : “the tightest squeak I've ever had – and the sort of thing I certainly wouldn't risk on a pleasure trip !” Among other hazards, at least one skipper – Gildas Mahé (Banque Populaire) – had to take an unplanned dip to clear his rudder and keel of unwelcome weed.
Although the fleet has so far remained reasonably compact, with the first 30 boats still within 2 miles of the leaders, it was ultimately Michel Desjoyeaux who passed Cap Caval first, at 09H35 and 24 seconds this morning. He was followed 25 seconds later by Caudrelier-Benac (Bostik), with Erwan Tabarly (Athema) – yet another local hero – 3 minutes behind in third. Desjoyeaux, embarked on his 11th edition of La Solitaire, feels he is beginning to recover his form: “Up to now I haven't had the best of legs, so I'm beginning to find myself again somewhat. All the same, it's impressive to see the whole fleet right behind you. We had two hours of light wind at Penmarc'h, then a quarter of an hour when I needed to load up the ballast, and now it's fallen again. How do I see the future ? Grey. We won't see the sun again before Dingle. It's not very cheery but that's the way it is !”.
British skipper Nigel King (Nigel King Racing), having opted to pass to the outside of the islands was lying in 40th place at the 16H00 position report, 3.7 miles from the front, while fellow Briton Jonny Malbon was 48th, five miles further back.