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First to Fastnet, first to Kinsale finish?

The leaders of La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec are due to reach the Fastnet Rock tonight, the long-awaited final turn of a 610 miles first stage from Caen, the lonely rock heralding a last 45 miles sprint into Kinsale, Ireland where they are expected Thursday morning.

photo Alexis Courcoux

All of their attentions have been focused on getting clear of a high pressure ridge and choosing their best position to get through a final front which then promises a fast, brisk final night at sea, 20kts from the SW with gusts of 25-28 kts set to finally give some fast downwind and reaching.

At the Isles of Scilly last night, Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) broke to the north east of the lead group and held the stage lead through much of the day. But the Irish skipper has spent several hours slowed in the light winds and had dropped to fourth in the late afternoon.

The main peloton, including the solo-skippers who had led in the English Channel, Guillaume Piroulle (Région Bretagne), Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire) and Basil Bourgnon (Edenred) are still tightly grouped some 30 miles to the west of Dolan, the Swiss skipper Nils Palmieri (Teamwork) and two French rookies Julie Simon (Douze) and Benoît Tuduri (Capso en Cavale) who were holding second and first places respectively a few hundred metres apart.

The western pack should be into the strong downwind conditions first but will have sailed many more miles than Dolan whose logical focus seems to be sailing the shortest distance to the rocky light he knows well.

The pretty, busy tourist town of Kinsale awaits with a warm welcome, one which should more than compensate for the forecast rain. It is the 21st time that the race has been hosted by Kinsale – making it the most visited stop in the 54 year history of the solo offshore race, and the first time since 2019 when it was the Stage 1 finish line when the race was contested in the Figaro BENETEAU 3 for the first time.

This opening leg of three seems to be very finely balanced but for sure whichever skipper or group are able to set their kites and surf directly towards the rock could gain an unbeatable advantage. The easterly breakaway are gradually converging with their westerly rivals.

Best British skipper is third timer David Paul in 27th on a Drop who is less than a mile ahead of Kiwi rookie Ben Beasley (Ocean Attitude) and Germany’s Susann Beucke (This Race is Female). The young New Zealander has sailed a solid first ever La Solitaire leg but will be disappointed to be protested for sailing into the TSS exclusion zone at the Scillies, a tough lesson to take.

They said, by VHF, Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire) 14th this afternoon, “I am with the group, my buddies, the right pack. What more can you want at this stage. We have some sunshine before the grey weather forecast for the tonight into Ireland. At the Scillies there were quite a few possible choices. We'll see what that produces at the Fastnet. But to get there, you will first have to deal with the light winds all today. We were a little ahead of the routings but it is evolving. Logically we must pass the Fastnet at tonight with fairly strong winds especially. It might be a night for the hard hat but it should be nice by morning in Kinsale.”

Loïs Berrehar (2022 MACIF Skipper), 16th “The wind has dropped a lot. It's light on this tack but I feel good I am in pretty good shape surprisingly. I just put on my gennaker, a sail for downwind work as it has lifted now. And that’s a pretty good sign. It could allow us to finally accelerate towards the Fastnet. It is going to be an interesting night.”