In the leg four start, three of the 48 skippers competing, Italian Pietro D'ALI (Kappa), Thierry CHABAGNY (Brossard) an Frank LE GAL (Lenze), received individual recalls for crossing the start line prematurely when the gun was fired at 15:00 on Sunday in the Ria de la Coruña on the northern tip of Galicia.
The traditional inshore course, just 3 miles long, was covered in less than an hour. Christopher PRATT (Espoir Crédit Agricole) reached the windward mark first ahead of Nicolas BÉRENGER on Koné Ascenseurs and Gildas MORVAN's Cercle Vert and went on to round the Radio France offset mark gate in the lead. It is the second time the 26 year old (half British half French) has competed in La Solitaire Afflelou Le Figaro race. The sight of 48 colourful spinnakers set against the stunning Galician coastline with the Hercules Lighhouse to guide the way, provided the perfect backdrop for the start of the last leg of this year's edition of the race.
The fourth leg should be a true sprint to the finish particularly as the conditions forecast should propel the small 10 metre Figaro boats speedily along the 355 miles course to the Bourgenay Mark, just south of the Sables d'Olonne. Winds of up to 35 knots, gusting 40 are forecast to sweep over the fleet tomorrow. So, 'It is going to be windy, but then it is on one tack and on a good angle' calculates the only Italian competitor, D'ALI. Gildas MAHÉ (Le Comptoir Immobilier), currently in fourth place and 45 minutes behind DESJOYEAUX sees the route as 'pretty much straight' but that it, 'will need careful handling. You never know beforehand and it is never as complicated as when it is straight over a long distance, minimal differences in degree headings can make for huge gaps at the finish.'
The Figaro sailors need to cover some 35 miles north to clear Cap Ortegal on the Galician coastline before they hustle for the best position to cross the Bay of Biscay. The wind is forecast to hold at 15 knots and then ease overnight before backing round to the west and gradually build tomorrow. Finding the best point at which to catch the high pressure when the wind shift comes in tomorrow will be really crucial for a good angle of approach to the last mark of the course. 'It is less 'straight' than initially thought. There are things to be done. We will get quite strong winds, up to 35 knots and it is going to be fast. We are going to be out on the water for just 36 to 40 hours, which means we will be in the Sables on Tuesday morning,' anticipated DESJOYEAUX before the start. 'Firstly we are going to have to get away from the Spanish coastline, which is not easy. Experience proves that the starts in La Coruña create big gaps quickly as in a light breeze it is never easy to find the best way out and above all with the swell coming in from the northwest which pushes you up again the dangerous coast. We are going to have to be really careful for the start. Then we are just going to have to go fast; I am ok in that department.'
It will be tempting to not sleep, to continue and push oneself right to the limits on a short leg, however, some rest and careful preparation will be important to maintain alert and in the right frame of mind to tackle the strong conditions that come in tomorrow. The start of this race will be tactical and the next stage one of careful strategy.