La solitaire du Figaro - the big race - started today at 13:00 and for young David Kenefick it was indeed a big occasion. 10,000s of people had come to see the 41 solo sailors head off on the first leg which takes the fleet down the Gironde estuary from Pauillac and out across the Bay of Biscay to Cape Finisterre and down Spanish and Portuguese coast to Porto, 535 miles. After weeks of horrible weather summer switched on this morning, the temperatures soared into the mid-20s and the sun burnt everyone who ventured outside.
The Gironde Estuary is a bit like the Solent only three times as long. The race start was set for just before high tide to allow the fleet to start and do some local round the cans racing in slack water for the crowds, sponsors and live TV show, before heading down the river with the start of the ebb. But as everyone knows the tide never turns evenly in a river or narrow arm of the sea. It always turns on the edges first and it was to the edges that the fleet split for the first mile and a half beat upwind against the tide.
David had a terrible start and was amongst the backmarkers off the line, which put him in a poor position for the first beat as he tried to hang in. He was amongst good company though with some big scalps near him. The problem is there are big scalps all over the fleet. This is a race of attrition and just finishing every leg is a major sailing and seamanship achievement. The goal for David now is to settle himself down and stay in a low risk mode for the rest of the Gironde Estuary and once out in the Atlantic with the kite up start to get rested and get into a routine that will see him lucid enough to make the right decisions at the right time further down the track.
The first casualty of this rather unusual early part of the course is a fellow rookie competitor and perhaps favourite rookie Frenchman Simon Troel. He was having a great race and was in 12th place but has gone aground on a mud bank and will have to wait out the tide before he can get off. That will cost him the race as this race is ranked by cumulative elapsed time, not points and a 12 hour deficit this early in the race will be hard to recover from.
The fleet will see spinnakers set as the pass the Pointe de Grave and head out into the Bay of Biscay. They are expected to have downwind sailing all the way to Cape Finisterre in a building breeze before a complex low slows the game down as they head south towards the Portuguese finish port of Porto. They are expected to finish sometime late on Wednesday night or early on Thursday morning this week.
We'll keep regular updates going on www.afloat.ie page over the next three weeks.