Equipped with only the most limited means of communication with the outside world, life can be full of surprises for the solo skipper in La Solitaire du Figaro – and not all of them welcome. Just one such bolt from the blue was delivered last night by a small disintegrating low pressure system, taking an unexpected dive south from its confidently predicted trajectory to land squarely on top of the front runners in the 52 boat fleet as they neared the southern coast of Ireland. Bringing a whole new array of light airs and windless traps to add to an already fluctuating regime, the result has been a comprehensive shake-up to the pack, with some notable slides down the rankings, and some narrow escapes. With the leaders expected to arrive in Dingle around 1900 (local time) this evening, there is little runway for dramatic comebacks.
The picture this morning was a very different one to that expected by the skippers. Jérémie Beyou (Bernard Paoli) doubtless spoke for many at the 0430 radio session: “I'd love to know what's happened, there was a drop in pressure which has turned everything on its head. I was waiting for the south-westerly, which I certainly haven't got, instead the wind ended up dying. It's difficult not knowing what you're going to have locally in terms of strength and direction.” The effect of the change to the forecast conditions was most marked on the two rival groups which were tussling for the lead yesterday; a southerly group led by Armel Le Cleac'h (Brit Air) and Charles Caudrelier Benac (Bostik), and that in the north led by Antoine Koch (Sopra Group) and Armel Tripon (Gedimat). In the event it is the southerly group, seemingly best positioned to take advantage of the predicted change in wind direction, who have suffered most. Bostik now lies in 13th, while Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia) is 20th, and Armel Tripon, who yesterday was savouring the new experience of being at the front of the fleet, has tumbled to 24th. Only Le Cleac'h seems to have borne a charmed life, pressing on regardless to fight it out with Koch for the top spot.
To add to the entertainment the Figaro fleet has crossed paths with that of the Fastnet Race, the need to keep a close look-out in the poor visibility adding yet another dimension to the harassed solo skipper's lot. The night has also produced more significant gaps between boats that has previously been the case. Now only eight other skippers are within five miles of leader Antoine Koch, with only Le Cleac'h right on his coat tails, 0.8 of a mile behind. Included in this group though are the likes of Nicolas Lunven (CGPI) and Yann Eliès (Generali), currently first and second in the overall cumulated rankings. The second significant group are now six or seven miles down the track, while many of yesterday's proponents of the westerly option are in yet a third rank, eight to ten miles from the front. From first to last the distance is some 60 miles, the largest yet seen in this edition of the race, the bottom end of the fleet unlikely to reach Dingle before Friday morning.
British skippers Nigel King and Jonny Malbon have continued to lose ground, if not places. King is 43rd at the 1600 position report, 26.8 miles from the leader, while Malbon is in 45th, with a deficit of 30.2 miles.