It's sounds incredible, but that is the La Solitaire du Figaro race! Efforts invested in the past 48 hours could come down to very little for the 46 skippers participating on the second leg of the famous single-handed race. At 166 miles from the finish (on the 16:00 position report), the notoriously tricky navigation through Celtic Sea could change everything. The race could start all over again, with some twenty boats lines up laterally across 30 miles from East to West.
Further East, Alexis Loison (Port Chantereyne Cherbourg Octeville, showing as leader on the position ranking at 16:00 is equidistant to the finish with Jérémie Beyou (BPI), positioned furthest West. Soon the solo sailors are going to find radically different conditions on the water. With the breeze is due to back from North to Southwest, the spinnakers will be hoisted and likely stay up for the run to the finish in Dùn Laoghaire, where the fleet is expected to arrive on Wednesday morning. The skippers must dig deep and concentrate, despite the exhaustion that has surely seeped in over the past two days of tough upwind racing, as they face a whole new weather scenario comes in for the final hours of the leg.
It was a two-day long and tiring passage for the sailors to reach the Celtic Sea. First to cross the virtual line placed between the tip of Cornwall and the Scilly Islands and thus winning Grand Prix GMF Assistance was Jérémie Beyou (BPI) at 7:13 this morning, after a long, tactical night ahead of Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat) and Nicolas Lunven (Generali). The sailors are opting for different routes according to a weather pattern which is all, but easy to decipher. The big question on everyone's mind is whether there will be a speedy rotation of the wind from the North backing to the Southwest and then South quickly or not. The sailors are await this rotation to set them off on a speedy downwind delivery ride to the finish.
Skippers have reported improved conditions on the water today, with welcome sunny spells and some 15 knots of westerly breeze allowing for the fleet to ease out the sails a little after tacking. This transition period, marked the end of the fight against the elements, strong winds and choppy seas, to a final, fast surf to the finish. The first ones to hoist their spinnakers will probably benefit from higher speeds and increase their lead.
Will it be Alexis Loison (leading at 16.00), Jean-Charles Monnet (Paris 15e), rookie sailor Xavier Macaire (Starter Active Bridge), the group further West with Jérémie Beyou (BPI) second in today's ranking, Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat) third, Nicolas Lunven (Generali) fifth or even those who took a very radical offshore option like Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls) and Thierry Chabagny (Gédimat) come out in the lead? Could it be a no-match situation? Not unlikely, if one considers that 30 out of the 46 competitors are sailing within 4 miles of each other, that is to say only 2% of the way to Dùn Laoghaire!
The ever-consistent Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) has maintained his position in the top part of the fleet and was reported in 15th position, only 1.7 miles behind the leader. Conrad Humphreys (DMS) from Plymouth has been climbing his way up progressively going from 39th to 25th and just 3 miles behind the leader. The youngest competitor, Sam Goodchild from Southampton, who started prematurely and who spent the first day playing catch up, is 2.5 miles ahead of fellow countryman, Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics) in 39th place. Francisco Lobato (ROFF) from Portugal, not one to follow the pack, has opted for the most eastern position of the fleet, climbing 5 places since midday.
Apart from tactical options, a major role will be played by the skippers' ability to resist the fatigue from setting in over the final miles of race, as since Sunday's start in Caen they have grabbed very little rest. To be fast downwind they will need every single drop of energy and pay maximum attention to helm almost continuously in a damp and uncomfortable environment. Who will be the toughest one? The answer to this question will probably be given only tomorrow, close to the finish line...