Forty five solo racers will take the start line on Sunday afternoon at 1700hrs local time, heading out from Kinsale, Ireland on the 615-nautical mile second stage of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro to Roscoff via the Irish Sea with a turn at the Isle of Man.
Enjoying the Irish stop-over, the sailors were ashore in Kinsale's Market Square where they got a chance to meet the locals as Bob Bateman reported here.
The course comprises four waypoints after the start; Coningbeg off Wexford so the south-east corner of Ireland; Chicken Rock light which is to the south of the Isle of Man; the Isle of Man to starboard and a cardinal buoy, Astan, on the approach to Roscoff and the Morbihan bay.
There is a prologue of about 11 miles, which in essence is the same format as last Sunday’s start from La Baule. From the start out in the Bay, there is a first mark towards Black Head, a second at Bulman which is up the estuary a little, and then to the Radio France buoy which is Daunt Rock, midway to the entrance to Cork Harbour.
The weather for this long leg initially promises more of the same; upwind in light winds, difficult transitions, some thermal influences close to the coast and strong tidal currents on the points, but there seems a good prospect of a fast run back down the Irish Sea at least to the Channel. Going towards the low pressure system(s) in the north will means a strengthening breeze for the leaders, with initial gains magnified by the slingshot downwind. A rich get richer scenario perhaps?
The first stretch up to the Isle of Man is 240 nautical miles. Although the island, famous as a tax haven and for its motor bike TT (which finished yesterday), has featured on stages of the Solitaire du Figaro before, those have always been shortened. So this will be the first time that the race has ever been round the Isle of Man, and in so doing at 54 degrees north, it will be the furthest north that the race has ever been.
But although the leg is the longest of the race, the fleet will be much more constrained, there being no more than 50 or so miles of Irish Sea between Ireland and mainland UK. The tidal coeffiencts are low but the currents are tricky and there many sandbanks on the Irish coast especially which limit the options to go too close in.
The reward for climbing to the Isle of Man should be a fast descent with 25 knots expected during Wednesday night, meaning an express 275 miles downhill ride to Wolf Rock, the first chance for the skippers to really put themselves and the new Figaro Beneeau 3 to the test for such an extended period.
For the start on Sunday, a shallow depression to the north of Ireland will generate a pretty unstable SW’ly flow of around 12knots. Monday into the Irish Sea promises a transition into weak, unstable, variable winds caused at the intersection of two depressions, the one over Ireland moving south and one forming over Central Europe. Tuesday and Wednesday the unstable northerlies should build to be moderate to fresh.
The initial stages of the northwards climb will be contested in unstable breezes, perhaps with some taking an option to gybe further offshore. As the low pressure system moves north, the SW’ly will veer more to the west. A messy, weak front will then bring a shift to the NW. On Monday late morning it will be very light with the risk of calms in a transition area between the two depressions. The question here is which depression will prove the dominant influence and how to position for the future.
Two sailors will not start. The ever popular Gildas Morvan will take no further part on his 22nd La Solitaire. He hit a rock off the Ile de Yeu and suffered structural damage to Niji. He monitored the two cracks all the way to the finish but on inspection by the Beneteau expert in Kinsale, Morvan was advised to retire because the composite repair will take several weeks. He has made a request to the jury to use a replacement boat for the final two stages from Roscoff. The other skipper who will not start is Cassandre Blandin who retired into Brest after hitting a cargo ship.
At the top of the standings after Stage 1 the top three sailors are within four minutes of one another after a leg which lasted four days and three hours for them. Yoann Richomme (Groupe Telegramme-Hellowork) leads rookie Tom Laperche (CMB Bretgane Espoir) by one minute at 13 seconds. The top nine skippers, to Martin Le Pape (Skipper Macif 2017) are within 25 minutes of the leader but then there is a 25 minutes gap to tenth. Of the international competitors, Switzerland’s Justine Mettraux (Teamwork) in 14th is one hour and three minutes behind the leader. Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) is 16th at one hour and 49 minutes behind and Kiwi Conrad Colman (Ethical Power) is two hours and seven seconds behind as well as being third-placed Rookie.
There is a one hour gap between 18th and 19th. Three times winner Yann Eliès (Saint Michel) finds himself in 22nd three hours and 54 minutes off the leader’s time and the delta between Richomme and Jérémie Beyou (Charal) is eight hours and 29 minutes.
Still very much in touch are the likes of past winners Armel Le Cléac’h in 11th at +55 minutes, Michel Desjoyeaux in eighth at +24 mins and sixth placed Loick Peyron at +21 minutes.
On a long stage like this second one, big breakaways are possible and similarly the approaches to Roscoff are never easy. Just as some of these deltas may appear big just now, they can easily close just as much on the second leg.