2015 Solitaire du Figaro – At 03:53 CET this morning (Thursday 4th June), Jack Bouttell sailing GAC Concise was the first British skipper to finish leg one.
After a cracking start to the race that saw Jack leading the fleet for 30 miles away from Bordeaux, the 24-year-old skipper racing just his third Solitaire, stuck fast to the stage leaders; Thierry Chabagny, Yann Elies, Jérémie Beyou, Charlie Dalin and Alexis Loison – all great company to keep, and fellow team members from Port La Foret’s Pole Finisterre Course au Large.
Never slipping further down the ranks that early 20s despite complicated wind transitions and exhausting light airs, Jack worked hard to stick with the ‘in’ crowd and maintain his good position through to the end. In the early hours of this morning, Jack mustered up one final push of determination, strength and endurance to see him finish the 461nm leg 11th overall – a great start to the four-stage 2185nm race. Thierry Chabagny eventually won the leg overall in a time of three days, nine hours and 11 minutes, holding second place Yann Elies off by just 15 minutes. Alexis Loison was third.
A tired but proud Jack reported after the leg: “I’m not really sure what happened at the start, but it went bloody well. It was really good, it was the first time I’ve lead the fleet, so I learned a lot from that – actually being in the front and leading, rather than just following someone else as I’m used to doing.
I managed to keep my lead on the fleet and then at least stayed in the top five for the first 24 hours. I sailed ok and made some good gains on Jérémie Beyou. Then we changed to the spinnaker in the morning, light reaching with the spinnaker. The whole season I’ve not been very good at that. It’s there that I fell back from Jérémie. That was pretty annoying, if I could have stayed with him then I think I could have for the rest of the leg because my boat speed was ok. I was a bit frustrated with myself for not being able to stay up there. But I learned a lot.
The weather was quite stable for the first 24 hours, then we had a transition the second day that was really hard – the race turned into a full drift off. I had an idea of what would happen, but it didn’t really play out that way. I put myself in the wrong spot because of that.
From then we had a long upwind leg towards Cape Finisterre. Motivationally I was quite low at that point, I was down to the 20’s and I couldn’t see any of the rest of the fleet and the VHF was out of range. I thought I was fully stuffed, but it all came right. Cape Finisterre was really fun with 30 knots under spinnaker – real Pol Roger Champagne sailing conditions. That was the highlight of my race.”
Top 15 for Sam Matson
Chatham skipper Sam Matson was the next British boat over the line, also following a great start to the race in the top three. Admitting that he struggled to find a rhythm during the first leg, Sam made major gains while rounding Cape Finisterre on the third day of racing. With 30 knots downwind, sunshine and waves, this was a very popular part of the course with the Artemis Offshore Academy squad: “My start was a great confidence boost early on, but it’s always about having the confidence that you can get back into the mix – by the middle of Biscay I was in a bit of a dark spot. There wasn’t any AIS information, so you couldn’t see where the fleet was. I was basically sailing blind. Every move I made was an uncertain one. I was tacking and I knew it was for some reason or another, but I wasn’t exactly sure why. You just have to hope it’s the right decision to make!
It was quite windy generally. We had two light patches – one was a major shut down where the whole fleet was within two miles of each other and that was on the second day. But in between those patches it breezed up quite a lot – it was all quite upwind and choppy. Then there was the second light patch, but after that it all went super windy downwind around Cape Finisterre which was good. The last section of the race was super light though, which is a shame, a tedious end.
Going round Cape Finisterre was good – it was full on. I made a lot of gains just by driving really hard and pushing the boat as hard as I could. It was probably a little bit on the edge at times, but it was really good fun!”
Winning Rookie, Robin Elsey
British Rookie Robin Elsey sailed a really solid first race, working his way up from the back of the fleet in the first 24 hours to top ten over the next two days. In the early hours of this morning, experience and tiredness got the better of Robin and he traded places with Jack – 11th to 16th. Still, this is an amazing result for the ambitious young skipper, who has been working for three years towards the Solitaire du Figaro. To win a Rookie leg is a dream realised for Robin: “I’m feeling pretty good right now. It’s been three years of hard work trying to get to the Solitaire du Figaro and on the Rookie podium, but it’s only leg one of four. We’re only a quarter of the way through, but that’s 400 odd miles ticked off! Leg one was longer than any of the races I’ve sailed before. It’ll be interesting to see how the other Rookies get on and how they feel about it, because I definitely felt a difference. I think you had to pace yourself a lot more, and the more miles definitely suited my sort of sailing a lot more.
I could see Benjamin (Dutreux, third Rookie)chasing me, which really kept me going. Although I didn’t see Benoit (Mariette, second Rookie) for a long time! I heard that he was about five miles back and thought, ‘Great! He’s not coming back from that!’ but oh yes he did… he’s an excellent sailor. He knows what he’s doing – he’s a mini guy (Classe Mini).”
The British results
Henry Bomby (Rockfish Red), nick named “le chien fou” (the crazy dog) by the rest of the fleet also sailed well, making his way up from the back of the fleet over the course of the race to finish 18th. Alan Roberts (Magma Structures) wasn’t far behind in 24th. Racing only his seventh offshore race, Alan put his mistakes on the course down to a lack of experience that he knows will come with time. Nick Cherry (Redshift), racing his fourth Solitaire du Figaro, finished 28th five hours and 30 minutes behind the leader. Although he made his way up from 34th to 28th over the course of the morning, it’s still a tough pill to swallow for Nick who expected much more. British Rookies Rob Bunce finished 33rd, six hours and 26 minutes behind the overall leader, and Andrew Baker finished 36th, six hours and 42 minutes behind the leader – getting to grips with the longest and most challenging offshore race they have sailed to date. And there are still three longer legs to go.
The fleet will now rest in Sanxenxo, Spain for the next four days, preparing to restart the race on Sunday 7th June. A full leg report to follow this afternoon.
Position/Name/Boat/Elliot Brown Elapsed Time
1. Thierry Chabagny/Gedimat/3 days, 9hours, 11’, 36”
2. Yann Elies/Groupe Queguiner – Leucemie/3 days, 9 hours, 26’, 39”
3. Alexis Loison/Groupe Fiva/3 days, 9 hours, 28’, 13”
11. Jack Bouttell/GAC Concise/3 days, 11 hours, 53’, 34”
15. Sam Matson/Chatham/3 days, 12 hours, 35’, 18”
16. Robin Elsey/Artemis 43/3 days, 12 hours, 37’, 29”
18. Henry Bomby/Rockfish Red/3 days, 12 hours, 39’, 44”
24. Alan Roberts/Magma Structures/3 days,13 hours 35’, 15”
28. Nick Cherry/Redshift/3 days, 14 hours, 42’, 30”
33. Rob Bunce/Artemis 37/3 days, 15hours, 38’, 25”
36. Andrew Baker/Artemis 23 /3 days 15 hours, 53’, 59”