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Figaro Sailors Preparing for Windy Start

7th August 2011
Figaro Sailors Preparing for Windy Start
The second leg of La Solitaire du Figaro got off on Sunday 7th of August in the Sein Bay, opposite Ouistreham in Normandy with  thousands of people lining the canal and outer harbour wall to wave the solo sailors off.  The start of the race was finally given under sunny skies with some 8 knots of southwesterly breeze and on a choppy sea. The course, made up of an initial 10 mile inshore preamble to the Radio France Buoy, is 470 miles from Caen to Dún Laoghaire Harbour, on the North East coast of Ireland, where the fleet is expected from Wednesday 10th of August.  Forecasts predict both strong wind and tidal currents for what unanimously agree will be a complex first 24 hours at sea.

The many spectator boats and thousands of people lining the Bay were treated fabulous conditions for the start of the second leg, which finally got underway at 16:49, some 50 minutes behind schedule.  The delay for Figaro, committee and security boats out of the lock in Ouistreham, due to an incident in the harbour, was then further increased when the committee was forced to re-set the start line.  Three individual recalls were called for Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert), Paul Meilhat (Macif 2011) and Sam Goodchild (Artemis) who were early over the start line, but managed to quickly repair.  Eric Drouglazet (Luisina) and Francisco Lobato (ROFF) enjoyed the best start at the committee boat end of the line.  Eric Peron (Macif 2009), Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat), Frederic Duthil (Sepalunic) and Jeremy Beyou (BPI) exchanged lead positions round the 10-mile windward-leeward inshore course to reach the Radio France buoy ahead of the competition.  Best performance from the international entries comes from Francisco Lobato (ROFF) who rounded in 9th followed by Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) in 11th place.

The solo sailors will now face "upwind conditions that could last 250 miles" explains Nicolas Bérenger, the experienced Figaro sailor converted to trainer, of a number of the 2011 edition competitors.  "It's going to be very technical. They must keep up the speed and make sure they reach Barfleur before the tide changes" at 23:00 tonight, continues
Bérenger.  The low pressure system that is due to sweep over the fleet tonight is forecast to bring 25 knots, with gusts of up to 35.  "The passage of the front we will get tonight over the Cotentin coastline, is going to be tough.  We should get the most wind on the approach to Guernsey but it is the passage at the raz Blanchard where we are going to have to take special care because it is where you get the strongest current in France", muses Vincent Biarnes (Prati'Bûches) just before the start.  "The interesting part of the first 24 hours of the race will be the passages of Barfleur and then the Cherbourg peninsula which you need to get right", agrees Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics).

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Quotes from the skippers prior to the start of the second leg:

Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) ready for the start of leg 2
Leg 2 is probably 100 miles longer than leg one and it is probably going to be to be upwind as well, so could take three days really.  I have taken a lot of food and a lot of tea, just to keep my spirits going!  Granny's fruit cake is coming with me and that is going to be very good ballast, much needed ballast for maximum righting moment upwind.  It has been really quite relaxing in Caen.  I have managed to get things done gradually as we had quid a few days as opposed to it being chaotically at the last minute.  It is a beautiful city to be in, the fact that we were right in the centre with the boats is quite incredible really."

Nigel King (E-Line Orthodonitics) talks just before the start
"The morning before the start I mainly need to concentrate on and check the weather.  We should have fun for the start of the race with the inshore course in the Bay.  Then the interesting part of the first 24 hours of the race will be the passages of Barfleur and then the Cherbourg peninsula which you need to get right.  There is strong current there and you really need to get passed before the tide turns.  The later you get there the worse it will be.
For my trip I am taking some "Eat Natural" cereal bars, apparently the healthiest ones!  I really just want to enjoy the leg and not se myself any targets and just to enjoy the leg, sail well and not worry about the result."

Nicolas Bérenger, seven participations in La Solitaire du Figaro, in Caen, where he now runs a group of competitors ...
Talks about what the feelings are among the sailors he trains on the morning before the start: "In general, it is always a bit difficult to wake up. Whatever the conditions expected are, you still get exited.  The muscles might be a bit stiff and especially knowing that it is going to that you head out into into what is going to be t and cold you just might stay in bed that little bit longer, sit and enjoy the breakfast a few more minutes...
The leg in a few words: "It's close, the close and still close. The upwind conditions could last 250 miles. It's going to be very technical. They must keep up the speed and make sure they teach Barfleur before the tide changes and be alert and prepared for the wind rotation.  The last point is the passage of the ridge heading up to the Irish Sea, which will need to be handled well in order to maximise and not get left behind.  This is going to be a very a complete and tough leg."

Vincent Biarnes (Prati'Bûches) summarises the conditions for the second leg:
"Weather forecasts confirmed: there will be plenty of wind and strong seas and it is going to be a matter of upwind sailing pretty much all the way to the western tip of Cornwall. It is going to be full on and although we have all been preparing for this over the past few days, the passage of the front we expect t tonight over the Cotentin coastline, is going to be tough.  We should get the most wind on the approach to Guernsey but it is the passage at the raz Blanchard that we are going to have to take special care because it is where you get the strongest current in France.  We will be sailing at night, upwind against the current and in strong wind conditions all whilst keeping a very close eye on our screens to sail round the rocks.  We could see some gaps build on the crossing of the Channel and where the lateral distance will also build.  Towards the end of the race the ridge and low breeze will need careful negotiation before the long spinnaker run, in a good breeze to the finish.  There is lots of opportunities to make the most of and I foresee a lot of helming and careful boat handling in the rough conditions.

Fred Duthil (Sepalumic) "gives me confidence"
"Compared to what happened on the first stage (note. penalty by one hour), I have no choice but to tell myself that we must start from scratch and that things can be done.  This leg looks like it is going to be windy with some very complicated passages.  One particularly dangerous one is at the Raz Blanchard.  I think we could see some boats in trouble there and therefore see some gaps build.  We have to sail carefully and be vigilant.  When you sail on a direct course in the strong win, it is fine, but then trying to get round rocky areas in 30 to 35 knots of wind at night with rain, you feel a little less confident.  The leg is long and there will be opportunities later on after the Channel crossing when further gaps could be built and where the fleet could also compress.  I am going to be careful on this leg and try and do well to finish in the top five."

Arnaud Philippe Godard (Senoble) 43rd the first stage of the race: "This leg is completely different from the first: windy, upwind racing and rough seas...Then the wind will ease off after rounding the tip of Cornwall and we will have to negotiate getting across ridge with light winds.  You really want to be up with the leaders ere because the last run could be a spinnaker run with a fresh South Westerly breeze up the Irish Sea.  We are going to just have to be alert and react well to the change of conditions on the water.

Note: Tidal seas and straits
When we speak about the raz in French, we refer to the strong tidal current between two areas of land.  The straits through which this tidal current passes is at its strongest at the peak of the high and low tides.  In France there are two important straits with very strong tidal current: the Sein strait, or "raz de Sein" as the French refer to it, and the raz Blanchard on the tip of the Cherbourg peninsula or Cap de la Hague.  The name Blanchard comes from the rough and white sea spray that covers the straits when the sea is choppy.  The current can be up to 12 knots near the Hague lighthouse on a spring tide (over 110 coefficient) and 6 knots in the slack water of the neap tide, which we have today.  The Figaro sailors will therefore have the choice of either sailing further offshore to get the least tidal current or close to coastline at the tip of the Cherbourg peninsula to avoid the strong current at the Gros du Raz

Published in Figaro Team

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The Solitaire du Figaro, was originally called the course de l’Aurore until 1980, was created in 1970 by Jean-Louis Guillemard and Jean-Michel Barrault.

Half a decade later, the race has created some of France's top offshore sailors, and it celebrates its 50th anniversary with a new boat equipped with foils and almost 50 skippers Including novices, aficionados and six former winners.

The solo multi-stage offshore sailing race is one of the most cherished races in French sailing and one that has had Irish interest stretching back over 20 years due to the number of Irish stopovers, usually the only foreign leg of the French race.

The race has previously called to Dingle, Kinsale, Crosshaven, Howth and Dun Laoghaire.

In 2013 Royal Cork's David Kenefick raised the bar by becoming a top rookie sailor in the race

In 2018, for the first time Ireland will have two Irish boats in the offshore race thanks to Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy who join the rookie ranks and keep the Irish tricolour flying high in France. 

The 2019 course is more Than 2,000 miles between Nantes, Kinsale (Ireland), Roscoff and Dieppe and is the longest in the race's history.


At A Glance – Figaro Race

  • It starts in June or July from a French port.
  • The race is split into four stages varying from year to year, from the length of the French coast and making up a total of around 1,500 to 2,000 nautical miles (1,700 to 2,300 mi; 2,800 to 3,700 km) on average.
  • Over the years the race has lasted between 10 and 13 days at sea.
  • The competitor is alone in the boat, participation is mixed.
  • Since 1990, all boats are of one design.

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