#fullirish – This is probably going to be the hardest leg of the course. Its in two parts, the offshore component, 200-miles to Ild'Yeu straight across Biscay. This is real offshore sailing where an eye has to be kept on barometric pressure trends more than tidal charts. Some of our young sailors haven't really got to that chapter in their repertoire of navigation moves, but they'll know all about it in a couple of days.
Yesterday was beautifully warm and sunny in Spain, the kind of weather you would expect here in June. Overnight the clouds and the rain came back and it got really cold. The weather isn't what it should be we know that!!! This morning it was calm in Gijon but as if by magic the wind filled in during the last 20 minutes before the start. Blowing at as much as 15 knots at times and again under a loaded sky, the forty boats still competing in this year's Solitaire du Figaro got away from the start line first time in the North Westerly breeze and cool and damp conditions. The first part of the course consisted of a 1.5 mile windward-leeward course. Vincent Biarnes, sailing Pratibouches, made a majestic and picture perfect port tack start to lead the whole way around. Ed Hill started at the pin end Jackson Bouttell and Nick Cherry in the middle and David Kenefick near the committee boat.
At the first mark Jackson was in 16th followed three places later by Nick, five places later by Dave, then Ed then Henry and bringing up the rear was Sam. But none of this really means very much as what is going to happen over the next 48 hours will very soon negate any perceived advantage gained from the inshore part of the course.
The fleet must now get as far North as quickly as possible to weave their way through the complexity of a ridge of high pressure that is draped right across the Bay of Biscay. What does this mean? Well there is an imaginery line that lies SW to NE across the Bay of Biscay which represents the axis of the ridge. Above it, ie to the North, the winds are from the West and below it to the South the winds are from the East. On the line there is nothing. Twenty miles either side of the line there is nothing. As time passes and the next two days run by and the synoptic chart evolves the line will move, but not North or South, it will rotate. Confused yet? In a nutshell there is not a lot of wind out there and the skippers have to keep it moving forwards to where the best wind will be later whilst all the time worrying about where the other boats are disappearing to over the horizon left and right.
Different skippers will have different interpretations about how far North to go before deciding its safe to head for the next mark (200 miles away) without sailing into the centre of a new high that will break away from the ridge aforementioned.
Sometime on Saturday the first boats will get to the first mark of the course, the Ile d'Yeu off the Vendée Coast. This isn't deliverance. This is just the end of the first part of the leg. There then follows the long route up along the French coast through the Raz de Sein and the Chanel du Four before tackling the North coast of Brittany and the finish in Roscoff. Tide will again become a huge factor here and for sure the fleet will be relatively spread out by Yeu. There is potential for tidal gates working in both directions so it could be a cruel race and see the leaders get significantly richer in time gaps over the pursuers, or it could be extremely democratic and allow for a complete restart near the western tip of France if the tide is foul and there is no wind when the leaders get to the Raz de Sein.
We are not expecting to see much traffic at the finish line in Roscoff before sundown on Sunday. This is a real Figaro leg!!!