Approaching the Chaussée de Sein mark late this Tuesday afternoon, with some 125 nautical miles still to sail to the finish line off Saint Nazaire, three times La Solitaire du Figaro winner Yann Eliès (Quéguiner Materiaux-Leucémie Espoir) was holding a very slender lead over Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton). Racing through the strong currents off Ushant on the north west corner of Brittany with only very, very light winds, Goodchild continues to hold his own as he matches Eliès who he pipped to second place at the Stage 2 finish into Dunkirk. Were Eliès to cross first he would draw level with his long term rival Le Cléac’h on seven stage wins
But while the British solo racer continued his carefully measured approach through a day which was marked by a significant bounce back by General Classification Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire).
Just when observers in his native France were voicing concerns that the twice La Solitaire champion had spent all of his overall lead of 37 minutes – and maybe more as he lay 24th and some ten miles behind the pacemakers – Le Cléac’h, The Jackal, again proved his willingness to take risks.
Cutting the corner at Ushant, passing down inside the small islands of the Ile de Quemenes and Ile Molene Stage 2 winner Le Cléac’h steadily clawed back five or six miles back on the leaders. Momentarily up to second, his actual placing is of no consequence. Of more significance the move brings him to within three miles of the two leaders, in theory just about restoring his overall lead.
It is the third time in as many legs that Le Cléac’h has been bold enough to split from the fleet. Each time he has gained. On the first leg, just as today, it got the Vendée Globe winner back into contact with the leading vanguard, while on the second leg’s first night it proved to be his winning move.
But with light, offshore north easterly breezes set to remain at around nine knots or less until the finish line where the leaders are expected tomorrow morning, anything can still happen. Another small low pressure centre looks set to develop tonight centred over Lorient which will again upset the wind fields and make for lighter breezes. There appears to be more wind pressure offshore but at the expense of sailing a longer distance, and the breeze seems set to head and drop near the line.
But with the worst of the tidal gates, and the rocky, technical, tidal Raz de Sein behind them this evening and it is largely a straight line gennaker reach to the Loire Atlantique line where the winners should cross tomorrow morning. After 370 miles of racing since leaving Dunkirk on Saturday evening there are just two miles separating the top ten solo skippers, and 28 of the 33 skippers within 10 miles of the lead.
For Goodchild the battle over these final hours to the line is mainly with Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) who is second overall at 6 minutes and 29 seconds ahead of him when they left Dunkirk. The British skipper in turn had 6 minutes over Eliès who is fourth overall and Goodchild has 7 minutes and 15 seconds over Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Espoir).
Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) is nicely positioned now in eighth, 1.8 miles behind the pacemaker but within reach of the podium, just half a mile behind his compatriot Goodchild. Phil Sharp (OceansLab) is 13th alongside Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) both 3.8 miles behind the leader.