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Phil Sharp Leads Out Of Dunkirk on ‘Monster’ Stage 3 Leg of La Solitaire du Figaro

Published on 12/09/2020

The Race Director of the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro shortened the course for Stage 2 to ensure that the skippers had a full extra night of sleep before this afternoon’s start of Stage 3, a 492 miles ‘monster’ of a leg from Dunkirk down the Channel and all the way around the Brittany coast to Saint Nazaire.

Considering the light winds which are expected to prevail for much of this decisive leg, and the constant intense demands of close, side by side racing along the rocky, very tidal French coast, the 33 skippers who started in a moderate 15 knots WSW’ly and choppy seas this afternoon will have cause to be thankful they started today with full reserves of energy.

Although they set off in a good breeze, one which was due to build during the early evening to 18-20kts, by the first mark, Daffodil buoy at Dieppe, the winds are expected to die away and remain light for most the remainder of the course.

Britain’s Phil Sharp (OceansLab) who lies in 23rd place overall, showed the flee the way in the early hours of the race as the fleet short tacked westwards up the Channel in a narrow lane, compressed by the shipping zone offshore of them. And Sam Goodchild (Leyton), who in third overall holds the best mid-Solitaire position ever of a British skipper, made a solid start to his leg, lying 10th very much in the heat of the peloton.

Leading the General Classifications by some 37 minute Armel Le Cléac’h made a more modest start to the stage. He cautioned on the dock before leaving Dunkirk, “It is a very difficult leg. The last routing shows it taking four days, so it is long and complicated. And even if I know the coast really well then so does everyone else of my direct rivals. There is nothing done yet, everything can change on the standings at any time. So I need to be concentrated, focused, vigilant, to make a good start and not make mistakes in the early part out from Dunkirk, and then out into the Channel it is always going to be a case of pacing yourself, saving some energy for the bit into Saint Nazaire.”

The 33 solo sailors still in the race (after the retirements of Robin Marais - Ma Chance Moi Aussi – who went aground off Start Point on Stage 2 and the injured Corentin Douguet - NF Habitat) were setting up to pass the two great capes of the Opal Coast, Blanc Nez and Gris Nez where the shipping lanes are at the busiest

The leg described by rookie Marc Mallaret (CER Occitanie) as a ‘monster’ is set to unfold tonight close to the coast as the solo racers try to cheat the tide flowing against them unto 2230hrs. The first competitors should arrive in front of Dieppe in the early hours of the morning to leave the Daffodil buoy to starboard some four miles from the shore. The wind will then drop and fill from the East and allow the spinnakers to be set as they sail across the Bay of the Seine.

Positioning out of Daffodil bouy and choices made just after will very much determine the set up for passage of the Cotentin-Cherbourg peninsula’s two tidal races, Barfleur and Blanchard. The forecasts for the Brittany coast were very conflicting and the choices off the tip Brittany, against the currents of Portsall and the Chenal de Four might very well decide the stage winner and even the General Classification winner.

Alan Roberts, the British skipper of Seacat Services who is 19th needs to gain 38 minutes to break the top ten overall, very achievable on this leg. He explained, “How you exit that first mark can then be key to how you get past Cap de Le Hague and Alderney. And there will be a big shut down just as we arrive at Portsail just inside Ushant and that will be the big one, I think there will be big distances between the fleet by there, and that can be the area where people really get out well, or catch up there. Someone could literally leap a tide ahead here. Then there will potentially a light wind at the finish.

He concluded, “It is an awesome leg. People sail conservatively to their game plans on Legs 1 and 2 and Leg 3 often decides it. I think people will be more active on this leg. It feels like that way to me. Where I am in the fleet the question is still there is a possibility to get a good, average result and so it is better to do that or take the risk and maybe get a good result or maybe end up with a bad result. For sur I don’t want to take a big risk but if there is a chance when the fleet is not behaving like the routing showed, then maybe that is the time to take some risk, but there is no point in taking risk for the sake of it.”

They said:

Third overall, Yann Eliès (Quéguiner Matériaux - Leukémie Espoir): “incredible stuff! “

“We do incredible things. We see incredible stuff. We experience incredible things. We almost live with our other competitors. We’re in his living room. We do amazing stuff, full speed spinnaker gybes. I’ve rarely seen England like it was at StarPoint, incredible picture postcard scenery, with ripe berries calling to you saying; ” Come and see ! On vacation, that would be magic. But here we come back to La Solitaire because we are alive there, full of emotions. It is not just about the victory and the result why we participate in it. The day I get too stupid, too old and too grumpy, I’ll have to stop! The pleasure on this 3rd stage will be in the glorious uncertainty. We will have to create, anticipate, imagine, do our best with what is given to us. You have to do your best with the present moment, depending on the conditions of the day. Unfortunately, Brittany, which we all know well, well this time we risk seeing it for quite a while “.

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