With a hundred miles still to race this morning to the finish at Saint Gilles Croix de Vie on France’s Biscay coast, the shortened 410 miles Stage 3 of La Solitaire URGO Figaro 2018 from northwest Spain is even more of an endurance test of light wind skills and patience than was anticipated when the 36 boats finally started – after delay by total morning calm - at 1343 hrs on Saturday afternoon writes W M Nixon.
Back then, it was anticipated that it might take as long as 72 hours to complete the leg. But having come through light winds and fog off the northwest corner of Spain, while they may have been rewarded with some reasonable windward sailing on Sunday, it was in the knowledge that a slack high pressure area sat in the northeastly part of the Bay of Biscay like a giant spider’s web, yesterday making it an area of ever more flukey and often lighter winds from forward of the beam the nearer they got to the finish.
At an early stage of the long cross-Biscay transit, a small group led by Thierry Chabagny (Bretagne CMB Performance) which broke away to north of the fleet were doing best, and until this morning Chabagny was overall leader. But the experienced favourites in the tight-knit southern group – which includes Ireland's Tom Dolan in Smurfit Kappa – were playing the long game, and this morning they have seen Chabagny’s lead steadily whittled away until now it has evaporated, taken by Sebastien Simon.
Currently, star of the southern show, Sebastien Simon (Bretagne CMB Performance) showed a sudden burst of extra speed early this morning to put a two mile gap between himself and the rest, who are so tightly packed that Tom Dolan – currently shown as 12th – is only four miles astern. Such gaps can open and close remarkably quickly as local breezes briefly freshen and then fade, and during the past 24 hours Dolan has seen himself up in 5th place, while mostly he has been between 8th and 11th.
As they slowly near the French coast through today, late summer onshore sea breezes may become another factor in the final stages, as the Bay of Biscay is currently well clear to the south of the Jetstream which is currently making Ireland’s weather so Autumnal. Off the French coast by contrast, summer continues as the localised high pressure system seems to have life in it for a while yet.
While Tom Dolan has the stimulus of being among the leaders, 14 miles further back Joan Mulloy of Mayo in Taste the Atlantic may be placed at 30th overall, but she has seen herself in distinguished company during this long battle, and currently she is ahead of both the highly-regarded Scottish sailor Alan Roberts, and his fellow-challenger Hugh Brayshaw.
Race tracker here