Published on 12/09/2021
Corentin Horeau (Mutuelle Bleue pour l’Institut Curie) led the fleet out of Morlaix Bay this afternoon at the start of one of the longest legs in the recent history of the French annual multi stage solo offshore race, an epic 685 miles Stage 4 taking the 34 racers to the Fastnet Rock and back to the 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro’s final finish line in Saint Nazaire on the Loire-Atlantique coast.
The stage promises to be long, mostly slow and very complex. Weather routing experts variously predict the first boats finishing any time between late Thursday and late Friday. Some models even run into Saturday. Besides the very slack pressure gradient over the Celtic Sea and the Channel meaning mostly light winds, there will be a particularly challenging low-pressure trough descending from the Fastnet rock Tuesday morning which might split the fleet.
After the 270 miles run and reach passing the Scillies and Lands End under big spinnakers the fleet leaders might be blessed with a favourable timing which allows them to transition to decent downwind conditions back towards the French coast if they come away from the mythical rock ahead of the trough.
But on the other hand, others could suffer with a conflicting, thermal breeze cancelling the new northerly breeze near the rocky lighthouse which was known as ‘Ireland’s teardrop’ as it was the last landmark the 19th century emigrants saw as when they sailed for the new world, North America. There is a good chance that the fastest boats might be able to escape and open a gap. But if the later racers might be left fighting back the tears, there will be chances to come back, compressions all the way down the course and the final outcome will likely not be decided until the final 20 miles into the finish.
In terms of following a long-term strategy the biggest problem for the solo racers is that the weather phenomena are small and evolving. As the solo racers are not allowed to receive detailed weather information beyond the most basic updates from public marine broadcasts or the race’s weather forecasts broadcast by VHF from the Race Direction boats, identifying and monitoring changes to small systems becomes increasingly difficult as the race goes on.
“I could not really dream up a more complicated leg if I tried. And it is long.” Concluded Marcel Van Triest, weather adviser to the Lorient Grand Large race group.
“It is pretty complicated. At times I am just telling my guys to keep it simple, sail the most direct gybe when you don’t know.” Christian Dumard, Van Triest’s counterpart at Team Vendée Formation, admits.
In line with Race Director Frances Le Goff’s abiding philosophies, the course is left as open as possible this time with no turning or passing marks other than Fastnet while observing the various shipping channel rules, notably the Traffic Separation schemes at Land’s End, Fastnet and Ushant. Le Goff has also notably restored the race to a real long hard-core test, eschewing the previous 24 hour sprint stages which were the finale of recent races, instead favouring one final ultra-marathon.
Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019), the leader on the General Classification who has won two of the three stages so far and finished second on the first stage, was well placed – in the main peloton – as the fleet left the Bay of Morlaix. Ninth overall last year Quiroga will have to put on hold any celebrations for his 29th birthday on Tuesday, but may well have a bigger reason to pop the Champagne corks come the end of the week in Saint Nazaire. He carries a lead of 1 hour 53 minutes and 44 seconds.
As he left the dock in Roscoff in the early afternoon September sunshine Quiroga smiled, “The crazy thing is that victory in the this super long and super tough Solitaire will be a magnificent achievement, whether it’s me or not. Today everyone has their doubts, their thoughts, their theories about the time gaps on the provisional general classification. Everyone plays with what they have and what they have to do and you have to play to your strengths. I am just like everyone in that respect in being stressed and having doubts. You have to stay humble on this stage in these kinds of conditions, where there will be little wind, current and weather systems to cross. I think the key is to have fun, and from the start I have done just that, I have had a blast on this Solitaire. In Roscoff, we didn’t have time to rest. If anything we have just managed to maintain our energy levels but we do have not increased them. We’ll make do with what we have left in the tank. “
Britain’s Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) was in tenth place, just a couple of hundred metres behind Quiroga, as the fleet started the 105 miles reach to Land’s End where the first big tactical decision will need to be made early tomorrow morning, to go east or west of the Longships Traffic Separation Scheme off Land’s End
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