Racing in very light and variable easterly winds, progress this Sunday afternoon has been as slow for the 33 solo skippers racing on Stage 3 of La Solitaire du Figaro from Dunkirk to Saint Nazaire at the entrance to the Loire estuary.
With the fleet spread almost side-by-side along a north-south line 25 nautical miles long, gains and losses appear mostly temporary. The choice of staying offshore in the stronger ebb current and better breeze seemed to have paid a very welcome dividend for three times winner Yann Eliès (Quéguiner Materiaux-Leucémie Espoir) and Britain’s Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) who came back to take the top positions in the middle of the afternoon, but with the fleet racing side by side off Le Havre at 1600hrs this afternoon that gain appeared to evaporate again and there was nothing in it as the fleet race slowly westwards towards the headlands of the Cherbourg peninsula, Barfleur and then Cap de La Hague at some 45 miles ahead of them across the Baie de la Sein
“This is how we expected this stage to be,” commented Race Director Francis Le Goff this afternoon. “Now the combination of light weather and the tides of the Cotentin (Cherbourg) will now push the sailors to make big choices. The seas are like a lake meantime, but a lake with a lot of seaweed.”
Le Goff, who accompanies the fleet on one of the three guardboats, considers there is a good chance for the leaders to still catch the last of the favourable current at Barfleur and the Cap de la Hague on the east of the peninsula but they may then be stopped at the Raz de Blanchard at Alderney, a tidal gate which proved crucial during last year’s race.
Meantime the focus is to stay on the pace with the group and try to keep rested and hydrated in the strong sunshine, looking ahead to a long second night at sea which should see the wind shift more to the north-east as the fleet start to escape a sticky ridge of high pressure centred in the east of the Channel.
Roberts and Eliès continue to take the offshore track and may well continue to profit, the French skipper who was third on Stage 2 is looking to back up that decent finish with another top five, whilst the British skipper Roberts is seeking his first top ten finish of a La Solitaire du Figaro on which he was tipped among the top favourites.
Meantime in terms of distance to the next waypoint there are just five nautical miles between first and 30th place but that picture will almost certainly be very different come Monday morning. Patience and focus will be key requirements tonight.