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News Feature//Great Expectations?

Published on 01/09/2018

520 nms Stage 2 La Solitaire URGO Saint Brieuc to Ria de Muiros Noia Starts Sunday If the first 465 nautical miles stage of the 49th La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro proved to be classic Channel race, full of twists and turns, big winds at the start, a tactical mid section in light airs which compressed the fleet and a very close finish, the second leg whichs starts Sunday is a classic late summer downwind sprint across the Bay of Biscay. From the coastal modes of Leg 1 which was enriched by multiple cross channel legs and tidal gates, Leg 2 opens with a tactical light winds leg to Ushant where the southwards turn begins a 370 nautical miles downwind motorway to Cape Finisterre.

At the infamous NW corner of Spain, graveyard most Autumns to many ocean racers’ hopes and aspirations, there will likely be a typical 40kt kicking awaiting the La Solitaire racers. And then, possibly a lighter passage in to the finish line on the Ria Muro Nia, some 30 nautical miles south of La Coruna. The leaders are expected Wednesday morning.

T
ime differences between the top 20 after the first leg are negligible. Six minutes between the top ten and 18 minutes separating first from 20th. Most top skippers consider that this leg into Spain may prove decisive with a delta in hours, rather than minutes, between first and 20th after this leg.

British skipper Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) says he has drawn a line under the career best fifth he secured on Stage 1 and is looking at the next leg as a different race. He is one who believes this true offshore stage can open up the game,

” This could be a key leg on this Solitaire with the arrival in Spain. There could be five or ten boats get away and open up a four or five hour lead on the fleet.” said Roberts, 28-years-old whose fifth La Solitaire this is, ” The arrival at Cape Finistere in a NE’ly with some acceleration around the Cape Finisterre depending on when we arrive. Best case we arrive at midday and have a nice thermal to take us in. Worst case is the leaders arrive on the end of the thermal and get in and the others are left until ten oclock next morning.”

To a great extent this stage is very much about managing expectations, about putting all memories of the last stage on hold, taking forwards added confidence and positive learning.

That applies equally to those who secured top results, like stage winner Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer Secoure Populaire) , the local hero has been feted in his home town Saint Brieuc for winning his first ever stage on his eighth attempt. But also the likes Alexis Loison (Custo Pol), the favourite of many Solitaire observers, who came into this race after winning two of the key build up events. Loison is eighth but only just less than ten minutes behind winner Marchand. And it’s a new race too for Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) who arrived at the finish bitterly disappointed at his 13th after leading the stage twice.

The same holds true for British duo Roberts (Seacat Services) and, especially 25-years-old Hugh Brayshaw (KAMAT). Brayshaw’s seventh brings confidence in his ability, especially having paced some top guys through the final hours of the race and holding them off, but just ten minutes separates him from 20th and that delta can be lost within the first few miles in light winds and strong tides on the 100 or so miles to the turn at Ushant.

Stage 2 Course
Stage 2 Course



Those seven skippers who had to abandon Stage 1 are perhaps the keenest to get under way. Among them Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) and Nick Cherry (Redshift), who had to pull into Cowes with a broken rudder.

Looking relaxed and rested Cherry said,
” I feel like I have not even started my Solitaire yet because I did not do that much racing. I have just stayed focused on the next leg as much as I can. It has been good seeing the Brits doing so well on the first leg. Now I want to go and get a piece of that action. I like these conditions. You can make or lose big distances downwind. If nothing goes wrong I could be near the front.”

After finishing 27th on her first ever La Solitaire leg Irish rookie Joan Mulloy is also just looking to manage her own expectations, to hang on to a competitive part of the fleet and keep learning,
” I am trying to temper my expectations a bit for Leg 2. I am trying to take some quiet, useful confidence into the next leg. It should be a bit more straightforward. Because I managed to hang in there on the first leg now I want to hang in better and be a bit more competitive. I really have to be on my game for the first coastal section along the coast of Brittany because I don’t want to be at the back of the pack as we head across Biscay. I need to be just the most prepared and organised as we get away tomorrow and try and have a game plan, a good start.”

Finistere to Finisterre, a speed test?
The course for Stage 2 is 520 nautical miles long, from Saint Brieuc to Ria Muros Noia. Crossing Biscay there is no real options to shorten it. From the start at 1400hrs (CEST/UTC+2) there will be a light NE’ly veering E’ly breeze racing west along the north Brittany coast with the first of the ebb tide. With around 5-10kts of relatively fickle wind the key will be to stay with the pack unless the any risk taken comes with a relatively certain reward. The leg is expected to take between two days and 16 hours and three days, according to leading skippers.

The breeze will gradually strengthen at the tip of Brittany and as the 36 strong fleet plunge south downwind - out on starboard gybe, back on a layline for the corner of Spain on port - the wind will progressively increase, giving an increasing advantage to the leaders. At the corner itself there is the option to cut the corner at Ushant and go inside through the rocky, very tidal Chenal de Four and the Chenal de la Helle, or outside into the stronger breeze.

“That in itself can immediately open the game a lot.” says Martin Le Pape (Skipper Macif 2017), “There are places there where there is counter currents and even slack water. The Chenal de Four is much shorter but you have to play the game like an accountant, manage the fleet, how many are going which way? I dont feel like I want to make a move there, I just want to be in the top 10. The first 100 miles to the Iroise Sea (just after Ushant) is quite strategic then it is boat speed test. The first to get to that breeze after Ushant will be away.”

According to Gildas Mahé (Breizh Cola), the beginning of the Bay of Biscay should not be really decisive: “Downwind in 20 knots, where we try to find the best VMG (angle and speed giving the best net gain towards the mark). Here there is not much gain to be made on he helm because you’re not surfing. But soon after that in 25kts that does not hold true. At the start of Biscay you will still be able to sleep.”
Thereafter it will be about an accordion effect, expansion as the lead group descend into the stronger winds.
“There are small differences in speed under spinnaker, down to the cut of the kites and their controllability on the helm. And with big ocean swells and wind waves on top and you cannot pace yourself against others in sight. A lot is down to feel and reflexes.” Says Eric Péron, the skipper of Finistère Mer Vent.
Tuesday will see 25kts during the approach to Cape Finisterre. The maxim at the notorioous Cape is to double what you had on the approach.
” We call it tax free. On the weather files, we see 25 knots, and Cape Finisterre is actually 35-40! With a thermal depression round there and the hot air being sucked up off from Spain, the isobars compress and there is a lot of wind usually at the point.” So explains Alexis Loison of Custo Pol.But after the Cape there is often nothing. The northerlies are blanketed by the high gound and so the final miles in to the finish line may yet be a real sting in the tail
Brit Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) concludes: “It also depends when you arrive in the day. By day, it’s ok, you can have thermal between noon and eight at night but At night, it’s weaker, sometimes you have nothing.”
They said:
Alan Roberts (Seacat Services): ” The game we play is a risk management game. We make decisions on very small percentages. You analyse the risk and put a value on it. You know may say I think it is 51 per cent to be there. There are a lot of sailors who would be good in the stock markets or making risk management decisions. But for me it is not about money, that is why I am here. I am here to race. I am here to win. I am here to learn.”

Joan Mulloy (Taste the Atlantic A Seafood Journey): “I still really enjoyed the first leg and so I am still on a bit of a high. So I am trying to temper my expectations a bit for Leg 2. I am trying to take some quiet, useful confidence into the next leg. It should be a bit more straightforward. Because I managed to hang in there on the first leg now I want to hang in better and be a bit more competitive. I really have to be on my game for the first coastal section along the coast of Brittany because I don’t want to be at the back of the pack as we head across Biscay. I need to be just the most prepared and organised as we get away tomorrow and try and have a game plan, a good start. The current will be quite a big factor and we will have to be quite reactive as to how we play that.”

Hugh Brayshaw (KAMAT): It seems like I have a lot to live up to now. And to be honest I am trying to forget about the last leg as much as possible. And so I am just trying to go into this next one fresh, as it were. It will be quite windy, nice and fast in the middle and at the end some big winds at Finisterre so that makes me a bit nervous. After the meteo briefing you are always a bit more nervous. But for me the last leg, not only was the result good but I felt really comfortable up against some of the really good guys, so if I can replicate that I can do well again. The result is amazing but there is no real time difference between us and so this one, with potentially a very light last 30 miles, I think we can see some time gaps. It is very important leg.

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