In decidedly autumnal conditions, the opening leg of La Solitaire du Figaro – Eric Bompard Cachemire set sail from Paimpol on the north coast of France at 1300 local time (1100 UTC) today, with Cercle Vert skipper Gildas Morvan, at the head of the 37-strong fleet.
Earlier the singlehanded skippers bid farewell to their families and loved ones dockside in Paimpol before casting off to cheers from the crowd that had assembled, despite the persistent drizzle.
“I am feeling pretty excited,” commented Artemis Offshore Academy sailor Nick Cherry. “It is a pretty miserable day here and there isn’t much wind, but I am just excited to get stuck into it, to get around the corner and go and anchor off the French coast for a few hours! I am feeling a little bit nervous, but less than I was yesterday. I am just excited to get going and to put some Frenchmen behind me!”
Before leaving, the Artemis Offshore Academy’s Henry Bomby, at 21 the youngest skipper in the race, admitted he was a bit nervous too. “I just want to get a good start, to get away from the Bay cleanly with no major disasters and go from there.”
Unlike the majority of the fleet, Norway’s Kristin Songe Moller slept on board last night and admitted that it had taken her a while to get to sleep. “I am a bit nervous. I just want to get started. After the in-port race I will be alright…”
With a substantial spectator and press fleet out braving the grey conditions, along with the 37 singlehanded Figaros, so the race committee set up a long start line which at least half of the fleet nailed spot on, in the light northwesterly breeze.
Jean-Pierre Nicol on Bernard Controls made the best of the first beat and led around the top mark ahead of Vincent Biarnes on Prati’Bûches and Fred Duthil on Sepalumic. Holding fifth place, was the first of the three Artemis Offshore Academy skippers, Nick Cherry.
Nicol bombed at the start of the first run allowing Duthil to take the lead with Biarnes up to second ahead of Cherry and Portugal’s Francisco Lobato on ROFF.
The situation changed yet again on the second beat when Gildas Morvan and Cercle Vert, along with Adrian Hardy on AGIR Recouvrement, edged in front of Duthil after those on the right encountered an unfavourable shift. Finally after another downwind leg, it was Morvan who passed the Radio France buoy ahead, to lead the boats out to sea with Hardy still in second and Generali skipper Nicolas Lunven up to third ahead of Damien Guillou on La Solidarité Mutualiste and Vincent Biarnes. The top non-French sailors were Francisco Lobato in sixth with Nick Cherry in eighth. Having rounded the first leeward gate with team mate Henry Bomby around 20th, so Sam Goodchild had picked up ground on the second beat and at the latest sched is up to 14th.
Prior to the departure all the skippers were anticipating a difficult first 24 hours ahead of them. “We will be playing a tidal game” said Goodchild, indicating to the times the tidal direction changes, which he had written in large letters on his cockpit bulkhead. “There’s quite a high chance of anchoring. It is going to be light all the way to the corner of Brittany and with 2-3 knots of tide if you try and go offshore and it doesn’t work you are definitely going to be anchoring.”
Goodchild confirmed the feeling of most skippers that there will be no sleep for at least 24 hours, until the boats are through the Chenal du Four, between the island of Ushant and mainland France, at some point tomorrow afternoon.
“I am expecting to expect the unexpected,” said Henry Bomby of the first 24 hours. “It is going to be variable, which means it could be anything along the north Brittany coast and, with the tides, it is going to be difficult.” This being his first Solitaire, Bomby said he wasn’t going to take any radical tactics and was planning on just sticking with the pack.
Bomby reckoned it was likely they would anchor tonight to halt their backward progress on the eastbound tide as the wind died, however the latest forecast indicated there being slightly more breeze, so anchoring was now more ‘possible’ than ‘definite’, as the forecast yesterday made it seem. Kristin Songe Moller said that she had never used the kedge anchor on her Figaro, however she has previously anchored a lot in her native Scandinavia. “But I am not used to pulling it up without the engine, so if it stops you can motor past it. I have heard horrible stories about cutting anchor chains and it taking 20 minutes to get the anchors up. I don’t like hearing those stories…”
Keopsys skipper Charlie Dalin thought it more likely that they would be anchoring in the early hours of tomorrow morning rather than this evening. “We might get a night breeze tonight and we are very likely to just keep short tacking along the coast. I don’t think we will be able to sleep at all for the first 24 hours at least. There are too many tacks along the coast and the wind will be too shifty to sleep so mentally I am ready not to sleep for the first 24 hours.”
Generally Dalin said he was feeling more relaxed than last year, which was his first Solitaire du Figaro. Since then he has won the Transat AG2R LA MONDIALE with Gildas Morvan. “I know the boat much better and I have learned a lot from Gildas. I think in the Figaro class it is important to be mentally prepared and relaxed, because it is the most confident guy who is going to win.”
ETAs into Gijon are still looking like Thursday, but the area of high pressure in the Bay of Biscay is now being forecast to reach the boats sooner, just after the boats pass Les Birvideaux, the last turning mark off the southwest Brittany coast.