With some 50 miles left of a boisterous, bruising opening leg of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro in the late afternoon of Monday, 2009 overall race winner Nicolas Lunven remains on course to be first into Gijon of the 43 solo racers who started Sunday afternoon from the Gironde estuary just north of Bordeaux.
Lunven (Generali) was this afternoon holding a lead of just on half a mile after more than 380 nautical miles of racing with Adrien Hardy (AGIR Recouvrement) second. At just less than one mile further back Sébastien Simon (Brétagne-Credit Mutuel Performance) is tightly grouped with Charlie Dalin (Skipper Macif 2015), Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) and Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucemie Espoir) who was sixth. For Lunven to win the first stage would be an important signal of intent, but on this annual multi stage solo race which is decided on aggregate time, the most important aspect is to be as close to the stage winner on elapsed time. Winds are forecast to continue to ease during the night as a high pressure ridge pushes up from the south, but it is expected that the winners should be into Gijon before the worst of the predicted shut down. Race Direction predict the first exhausted skippers should cross the line around 2300hrs to midnight local time (2100hrs-2200hrs TU).
Monday afternoon has seen the winds easing after a malicious cold front passed over the fleet last night not long after the fleet negotiated the most northerly turn on the course, the Plateau Rochebonne mark just 30 nautical miles SW of Les Sables d’Olonne. Among the top seeds who had to withdraw with damage are Erwan Tabarly (Armor Lux) who suffered a broken spreader and Anthony Marchand (Ovimpex Secours Populaire) who along with Damien Guillou (Domino’s Pizza) also had to head for the Vendée port with sail damage. Three times winner Jérémie Beyou lost the use of his headsail on Charal and is 22nd some nine miles, or about 90 minutes behind Lunven.
Swiss racer Justine Mettreaux (Teamwork) has hung in through the difficult conditions and is on the verge of finishing in the top ten, five miles back from Lunven. Britain’s best is Alan Roberts in 22nd on Seacat Services. He is 11 miles back from the pacemakers. Hugh Brayshaw (The Offshore Academy) is 27th and Mary Rook 30th.
Nicolas Lunven (Generali) : “It was a bit chaotic with waves in every direction. Some very strong winds and severe gusts. Plenty to keep us busy. Things aren’t too bad for the moment. We’e up at the front with Adrien Hardy and Yann Eliès. There are other boats not far behind. It was very close between the leaders in this first leg. The wind is still stronger than forecast, which is a good thing and if it doesn’t ease off too quickly we’ll make good headway to Gijon. I hope we’ll finish in the SW’ly wind early tonight before the wind drops off. It’s going to be tight and we have to keep moving now.”
Sébastien Simon (Brétagne-Credit Mutuel Performance): “It was a fairly rough night and quite tough at times. We had to be careful not to break anything. But I seem to have made it through reasonably well. I got through it quite well given the wind. I wanted to gain ground over the others. I planned the manoeuvre well. They gybed very early and were a bit surprised by the wind, which meant I was able to catch them. I had it all planned with the solent ready. As soon as the wind got up I took in a reef. After that, I kept up with my close rivals. Some headed off to pick up the wind shift earlier. But it took some time for the wind to shift. There were some really strong gusts. I tried to prevent the sails from flapping around as I don’t want to damage them. It’s very tiring as we have to stay at the helm, as the autopilot can’t cope in these seas. I’m soaked and would like to change my clothes, but I’m determined to keep at it over the final 90 miles. We’re likely to finish in the middle of the night and possibly with less wind.”
Yann Eliès (Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir) “ My eight eggs were all broken. I managed to get enough together to make an omelette, to build myself up and running again and get my stomach sorted out. I hadn’t eaten for a while. We have a long tack under spinnaker with some choppy seas. It’s better to have something in your stomach, when it’s like that. It’s improving a bit and we are starting to tidy up the boat, clean out the water down below, looking after myself and the boat, keeping my fingers crossed that nothing is broken. For the moment, it looks fine about from the broken eggs in the tupperware box. It was quite rough during the night. We all had a bit too much sail up to pass the front. We didn’t have much time getting into the spinnaker tack to prepare for things with gusts of 40-45 knots. Ideally, we should have taken at least a reef in the solent, but once into those seas, it was practically impossible and too dangerous. I think that’s why there has been so much damage to the sails. I managed to get my dry suit on, but it was a bit of a struggle. It was dangerous last night and we really need to clip on. These are small boats and in such heavy seas, you really get thrown around. For the moment, it looks like I have made it through with the boat and myself more or less in decent shape. The two frontrunners sailed low to pick up the front, but I didn’t really believe it was the right thing when we were on the port tack. In terms of sheer speed, Sébastien Simon (Crédit Mutuel Performance) and Charlie Dalin (Skipper Macif 2015) are very, very fast. I eased off somewhat given the conditions, but we’ll try to catch them in the final stretch off Asturias.”
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