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La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro Stage 3 - Convergence and catch up, Chabagny clings to small lead

by La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro 11 Sep 2018 20:44 BST 11 September 2018

Prior to the start of the 49th La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro it was Stage 1 and Stage 2 which were expected to be the longest and the toughest. Both measured over 510 nautical miles long and were enriched by techncial passages along the English and North Brittany coasts - dodging and using the tidal currents and dealing with local wind effects. Both also offered sections of fast downwind sailing, Stage 1 across the channel and Stage 2 across Biscay to Galicia.

But it is Stage 3 of 4, a mere 415 miles back across Biscay to Saint Gilles Croix de Vie which is really testing the stamina and focus of the 36 solo skippers who enter their fourth night at sea on a painfully slow, light winds passage which has probably seen a dozen different leaders at inervening times. An errant high pressure ridge has been the cause of the painfully slow and at times unpredictable progress. This Tuesday evening, with some 50 nautical miles still to sail to the Perrins Chiens turning mark t to the west of the Isle d'Yeu, where there will be 18 nautical miles to the finish off the Vendée port, the overall race leader Sébastien Simon (Bretagne CMB Performance), in second place has lined himself up nicely for the turning mark and the expectation that the breeze will now fill from the left, the WNW.

The long term strategy of Simon, the 28-year-old from Les Sables d'Olonne, finally got the better of breakaway leader Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat) this morning. The 44-year-old from Concarneau, on his 17th La Solitaire finally ran out of breeze, losing speed has he bumped up against the high pressure ridge's light winds. Stage 2 winner Simon took the lead on the mid morning rankings.

All but becalmed in the west, sailing two knots less than Simon - and all of his his advancing, closely grouped band including other title contenders like Charlie Dalin (Skipper Macif 2015), Stage 1 winner Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire) and Gildas Mahè (Breizh Cola) - Chabagny not only lost his lead early this morning, but had plummeted to 27th at 6.6 nautical miles behind the leader.

"It's not much good thing to be leading in the middle of Biscay when the finish is so far away in Saint Gilles. The little group who went by the coast did well. But i did not fancy it. I don't regret my choice." remarked Chabagny who finished runner up overall in 2006.

The expectation, shared by skippers who spoke on today's Radio calls, is that the breeze will build from the WNW and therefore open an easier, faster angle to the final turn to the right. Routing estimates have the leaders at the Isle d'Yeu between 0630hrs and 0700hrs tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. But it may well be the final 18 nautical miles in a building ebb tide and lightening, heading breeze which will decide the final outcome of this marathon leg which started from Ria de Muros Noia on Saturday afternoon.

Britain's Nick Cherry, the 33-year-old former Match Racing champion whose first sailing experience was on a Birmingham lake, expects this, his fifth attempt at La Solitaire to be his last. This afternoon the skipper of Redshift had wriggled his way up to fifth in the fleet, in close company with top contenders such as Dalin and Marchand. Chasing his career best Stage finish of 11th in 2013 on the stage between Bordeaux and Porto, Cherry will be doing all he can to match himself with Dalin and co and give himself a fitting final result. Cherry reported, " I am going to try and stay with this group and to sail fast at Ile d'Yeu. I can't get my head around which side will have more pressure and so I will just try and sail towards Ile d'Yeu. I have Tom Dolan probably just about to overtake me, and I have the group with Dalin and Dutreux about a mile below me, they are just sailing away from me a bit so I must have fallen asleep at the helm or something and gone into this hole. It does not look like there be much chance to rest before we finish."

Ireland's Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) sounded a little more upbeat than Cherry, even if he too complained of an acute lack of sleep. He was sticking to simple, fundamental tactics to hold on to his postion as top rookie so far on this stage, in 12th place this afternoon.

"The wind went crazy around one or two o'clock in the morning and so I had no sleep in the second half of the night and that is always the hard part. I will sleep when I am dead, as we say in Ireland. Strategy? Well the forecast says the wind will shift left and so I want to try and get left, and most importantly keep to the left of Thomas and Seb, the two other rookies just behind me. The whole fleet has regrouped quite a bit. That is the plan, stay between them and the mark and stay to the left. I am happy, but it is not over yet, there is another 73 miles to go."

Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) has continued to pull back miles on the main group of leaders, in fact just 1.7 nautical miles behind the unfortunate Chabagny on the late afternoon rankings. The British solo racer will be hoping to continue his comeback, but most of all that there is breeze in to the finish in order that his time deficit is minimised.

Estimates are of a finish at Saint-Gilles-Croie-de-Vie around 0900-1000hrs Wednesday morning. The possibility of late finishers several hours later may yet see Thursday's 1300hrs start time for Stage 4 delayed.

Standings at 1800hrs CEST: (UTC+2hrs)

1 Pierre Leboucher (Guyot Environnement) 66.9nms to finish
2 Damien Cloarec (Saferail) +1.4 nms behind leader
3 Sébastien Simon (Bretagne CMB Performance) +2.0nms
4 Eric Perron (Finistere Mer Vent) +2.4 nms
5 Nick Cherry GBR (Redshift) +3.3 nms
6 Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Espoir CEM) +3.5 nms
7 Charlie Dalin (Skipper MACIF 2015) + 3.9 nms
8 Erwan Tabarly (Armor Lux) + 3.9 nms
9 Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire) + 4.0 nms
10 Gildas Mahé (Breizh Cola) +4.1 nms
Other international
14 Thomas Dolan IRL (Smurfit Kappa) + 4.1 nms first rookie
29 Alan Roberts GBR (Seacat Services) + 7.6nms
31 Joan Mulloy IRL (Taste the Atlantic-A Seafood Journey) + 8.4nms
32 Hugh Brayshaw GBR (KAMAT) + 9.7 nms
36 Nathalie Criou USA (Richmond YC Foundation) + 30.1 nms


Charlie Dalin (Skipper Macif 2015): "It is very hot but the morning has not been too bad. I was side by side with Seb but missed a gust by a few metres. He got away and I was reeled in by the guys behind. I hope the wind will go left as I expect, without going around the dial first. At the moment the NW'ly swell is slowing me down a bit. I have a NW'ly now but it is not spinnaker time yet. I have Erwan (Tabarly) on the right and Gildas (Mahé) too, with Antho Marchand just behind. On the other hand, I still did not see Chab '(Thierry Chabagny) at AIS. The wind is still building and I'm trying to think about the strategy. It's not easy to think clearly. The routing we had at the start is no longer useful. Right now it is trim, work on the weather and try to grab a nap or two. "

Nick Cherry (Redshift) "I am pretty tired, there has not been much opportunity to sleep since last night. The wind is very light right now, between one and five knots. There are big holes in the wind but sometimes you can sail and I am making three knots towards target roughly. The wind has been shifting all the time and so I am just trying to keep on pushing through the holes. At the moment I am going OK but half an hour ago I felt like I was making a good move but I have run into a bit of a hole, but there is all to play for and there are boats coming up from behind as well and so anything can happen in the next however many hours. I think the high pressure is just over the Vendée and is hopefully moving away but we are sailing towards it, and so the rate we get towards it versus the rate it moves away will determine how much wind we get and how long it is takes"

Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa): "I can maybe still see half of the fleet, maybe ten, twelve 15 boats around. It is nice to be in the compact group of the fleet. I have Charlie (Dalin), Gildas (Mahé) and Antho (Anthony Marchand) all to my left, and Nick Cherry to my right and my two rival bizuths, Thomas and Seb just behind me and I'm trying to keep there. There are lots and lots of whales. It is nice sunshine, nice sea. Last night early on when the wind was stable I got some sleep but not since then."

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