Solitaire du Figaro 2015 – On Sunday 31st May, the Artemis Offshore Academy was proud to share one of its finest moments with the cheering crowds of Pauillac – watching Jack Bouttell (GAC Concise), leading the 39 boat fleet 30 miles down the Gironde River and out into the Bay of Biscay.
It was an exciting day for Artemis Offshore Academy Sailing Team Manager Charles Darbyshire, who has watched and helped the British Figaro skippers grow since 2010: “It was a pleasure to watch the top Rookie from 2013 ‘come good’ and race Maitre Coq’s Jérémie Beyou his training partner from the Pôle Finisterre Course au Large at the front of the fleet, but as significant was that close behind was Chatham skippered by last year’s top Brit Sam Matson, remember these names, we’ll be hearing a lot about them, in this race and well into the future.”
Crossing the leg one start line at 1700 CET, British skippers Jack, Sam (Chatham), Alan Roberts (Magma Structures) and Rookie Rob Bunce (Artemis 37) all started the 2015 Solitaire du Figaro in style, choosing the correct side of the river as the fleet quickly formed two packs of almost equal size. Sam and Jack quickly established themselves in second and third and Alan fifth, setting themselves up well for the race to open water. Rookie Rob, the youngest of the Solitaire du Figaro fleet at just 20, was out to prove he was a contender, making his way down river battling to break the top 10. An OCS from Nick Cherry’s Redshift left him chasing the pack, a tough start for the inshore expert who just pushed the line a little too hard, there were audible groans from his supporters watching as ‘56’ was called over the radio, he was in good company, however, with Alain Gautier (Generali 40) also being recalled.
“I’ve never been tactically that strong, so I’ve been working to develop and improve on that,” Jack explained ahead of the race. “It’s my third Solitaire and I’ve built on my experience every year, so I’m hoping it’s all going to come together in this one. I’ve had quite a good season so far, I’ve had a few days training before the race with new sails and that went well – hopefully if my speed, tactics and experience comes together, I should be ok.” So far, so good.
Jack maintained his lead all the way to Biscay, where the option for the leaders open up a little bit. The super quick Charlie Dalin (Skipper Macif 2015) and Vendée Globe skipper Jérémie Beyou (Maître Coq) took advantage of these options and overnight Jack held his top three position, with barely a boat length between him, Jérémie and Charlie – all battling for the lead. The 39-boat fleet used a break in the wind to get some rest and eat, ready for a complicated day of challenging light winds today.
This morning Jack sails as part of a tight top six-boat group led by Charlie Dalin, also including last year’s top Rookie Gwenole Gahinet (Safran Guy – Cotten) and Yann Elies (Groupe Queguiner – Leucémie Espoir). Sailing south of main leading pack on the Rhumb Line, British Rookie Robin Elsey is battling to break the top 10. Warned to stay in better breeze away from the land ahead of the race, Robin will need to decide whether to drop south with a number of sailors currently making good miles on the fleet – including Alexis Loison (Groupe Fiva), once again in contention for the lead. Or should he stay north in the safer breeze offshore with the majority of the fleet. An ambitious young Rookie, Robin won’t be afraid to make a risky call. It’s paid off for him already this season, seeing him on top of the Rookie podium. It could do again: “I want to finish first!” Robin enthused talking about the Rookie competition ahead of the race. “That’s always the goal at the end of the day, no matter what anyone says. But I do really just want to go out there and enjoy it – you never know what result you’re going to get, so the best way to approach the race is to get out there and enjoy yourself, and just see what happens.” We’ll see what happens for Robin today.’
With lumpy seas and a weakening wind, progress through the Bay of Biscay is hard – concentration and trimming is now key. Today (Monday 1st June) the wind is set to drop off completely, leaving a windless hole blocking the way to Cape Finisterre and initiating a game of Figaro musical chairs. There are currently 4.5 nautical miles separating the fleet, with a split between north and south that looks set only to grow.
The fight to Sanxenxo promises to be a long one, you can track the skippers on our home artemisoffshoreacademy.com.
British leg one positions as of 0700 CET Position/Skipper/Boat name:
1. Alexis Loison/Groupe Fiva
2. Charlie Dalin/Skipper Macif
3. Yann Elies/Groupe Queguiner – Leucémie Espoir
5. Jack Bouttell/GAC Concsise
14. Robin Elsey/Artemis 43*Rookie
15. Sam Matson/Chatham
20. Henry Bomby/Rockfish Red
23. Alan Roberts/Magma Structures
28. Nick Cherry/Redshift
33. Rob Bunce/Artemis 37*Rookie
34. Andrew Baker/Artemis 23*Rookie