Tired skippers near finish of Solitaire leg

The Figaro fleet is expected to arrive in St. Gilles Croix-de-Vie tonight, and the finish line won't come a moment too soon for the 52 skippers. This second leg has been one long drag race since the fleet escaped the light airs off northern Spain two days ago: a 300 mile upwind slog to SN1, the turning mark off St. Nazaire. Under grey skies and with consistently rough seas, life on board will have been anything but comfortable, the misty, humid conditions not even allowing the opportunity to get out of foul weather gear. At the front Jeremy Beyou (Bernard Paoli) has been able to protect his lead for the last 24 hours, and is expected to round the mark at about 1630 (French time). Once there it will be time to break out the spinnakers for a 35 mile downwind run to the finish.

While the separation from first to last of the main body of the fleet has increased slightly since yesterday, a distance now of about 18 miles, the racing remains remarkably close, with the 20th placed boat little more than five miles from the leader. Such intensity presents the skippers with the classic Figaro dilemma – rest and lose ground, or stay awake and risk exhaustion? Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement, in 15th place) knows the feeling: “I'm stuck to the tiller, trying to gain every possible metre. It's great to see that since we left Coruna there's very, very little separation between the boats. We're all going at much the same speed so every boat length gained or lost is really, really important. Even if there's not much to do in the way of strategy, there are always small adjustments to make. I'm just behind Brit'Air, Foncia is upwind of me… it's no time to sit back !”

After a night of fairly steady 18-20 knot northerlies, the wind has eased slightly during today and average boat speeds have fallen to between 6 and 8 knots. Once the SN1 buoy is reached the skippers will gain some relief from the turn downwind, and returning to an even keel again after two days heeled over. Sea conditions will be easier too, and even if a direct downwind run isn't the ideal angle, speeds will creep up. With an estimated time of arrival in St. Gilles of around 2300 for the winner, even at the end of this second leg there have yet to emerge any runaway leaders. Corentin Douguet (E.Leclerc Mobile, 19th place) is pleased with the open field : “I don't think there are going to be any major changes between SN1 and the finish, the leg is only going to generate very negligible differences, perhaps even closer than at Coruna. It's funny, after half the legs there's still nothing in it and that's great, both for people following the race, and for us. In the overall ranking there's everything to play for.”

British skippers Nigel King (Nigel King Racing) and Jonny Malbon (Artemis), in 38th and 43rd places at the 1600 ranking, have sailed consistent races and managed to hold onto the main body of the fleet, though losing some ground on the leaders overnight. Franco-German sailor Isabelle Joschke (Synergie), this year's only female competitor, will have gained some satisfaction from improving on her first leg performance. She is currently lying mid-fleet in 24th, six miles behind the leader.

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