The 42nd edition of La Solitaire du Figaro race got off to a good start on Sunday in Perros Guirec, despite the light five-knot westerly breeze and unusual downwind start. Hundreds of fans lined the cliffs and crowded onto the many spectator boats to see the fleet of Figaro sailors set off on the first 320-mile leg of the four stage month long race. Treated to a colourful downwind spinnaker start at 11 am, which was fired by Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the French Minister for the Environment, the crowds watched on as the fleet headed off to the first mark blanketed by a curtain of mist and haze.
Nicolas Lunven (Generali), winner of the 2009 edition, reached the Radio France mark first, two miles into the race, followed by Thomas Rouxel (Bretagne-Credit Mutuel Performance) and Eric Drouglazet’s shocking pink Luisina spinnaker rounding in third. Sam Goodchild (Artemis), the first British entry and youngest competitor as well as first rookie sailor, rounded in seventh, with fellow Briton, Conrad Humphreys (DMS) not far behind in the middle of the fleet at 21st position.
Conrad Humphreys: “It’s so intense, the competition is all around you, whereas for a transatlantic it’s a different set of pressures. You don’t have to win the start, you don’t have to be up at the front at the very beginning, there’s time. With this race there is no time, from the moment the gun goes you’ve got to be on your form.”
Spinnakers were swiftly packed away and genoas raised to sail with care round, leaving to starboard the rocks at the the Seven Islands or Sept Iles plateau, before the 90 mile crossing of the English Channel to Hands Deep, the next waypoint, in Plymouth Sound.
At the 1800hrs BST positions, it’s very close between three of the British sailors with Phil Sharp in 28th, Sam Goodchild in 29th and Conrad in 31st, all well placed in the middle of the fleet with all to play for as we move into the first night of racing.
It looks like the fleet will have a dark first night with little moonlight and a low gradient breeze as the damp and light front travels across the Channel from West to East and dies out on the approach to the southern English coastline. Rounding the next point of passage at Hands Deep buoy off Plymouth could be further complicated by the turning tide at 07:00.
Follow the progress of the skippers and view the position reports updated online five times a day. The next update is at 0330hrs BST - www.lasolitaire.com.