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24 August 2005, 04:39 pm
They are off!
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La Solitaire Afflelou Le Figaro 2005
Cork, Ireland - La Rochelle, France

The 43 skippers crossed the start line at 11:00 yesterday morning for the final and decisive leg of La Solitaire Afflelou Le Figaro race. Under a dark and increasingly menacing sky, the single handed sailors set off on a direct course for France, in 20 knots of South Westerly wind.
After a unanimous decision approved by all the skippers at the skipper's and weather briefing, the fleet will no longer round the Fastnet Rock, where stormy conditions are already being felt, and will take the direct course to Port Bourgenay.

The fleet then faces a shortened course of 428 miles, which might be cut again should the Race Committee decide to finish with a mark off the East Coast of the Ile d'Yeu. The single handed sailors all agree that a leg with tough weather conditions lies ahead. They will be sailing in front of an approaching front, with a gradual increase in wind strength to an average forecast 30 knots, gusting to 45, with moderate and later rough seas with up to 3 metre waves.

Conditions will be tough and anything could happen in the general overall rankings. Only 12 minutes separate the leading three skippers: Laurent PELLECUER (Cliptol Sport), Jérémie BEYOU (Delta Dore) and Pietro D'ALI (Nanni Diesel); whilst the top eleven are all within an hour of the current leader.

The short 6,7 mile inshore course saw Cercle Vert, helmed by Gildas MORVAN, rounding the AGF mark in first place and Armel LE CLÉAC'H, on Foncia TBS, in the pole position at the Radio France mark. When the starting gun was fired, the boats were grouped at either end of the start line, with the strong outgoing tide forcing several boats off the pin end of the line. The fleet moved off on starboard, to tack onto port shortly after to head for shore to take advantage of the current and look for a possible lift.

Closing in on the western shore, the whole leading group tacked on to the starboard lay-line. At the windward AGF mark several boats came in on port tack and created some lively moments as they jockeyed for a favourable rounding position. On the leading edge of a small squall the fleet ran down to the final Radio France leeward mark which was left to starboard, and then headed off on a very close reach into the grey Celtic sea.

The boats should cross the Celtic Sea on a long upwind reach. The conditions will surely favour those in the lead. A fast developing second low in the Bay of Biscay could reshuffle the cards before Thursday's forecast arrival in Port Bourgenay.

We shall no doubt know the name of the Solitaire Afflelou Le Figaro winner for 2005 in less than 24 hours!

ETA and organisation for the finish

Due to the weather conditions forecast for the fourth and final leg of La Solitaire Afflelou Le Figaro, the competitors are expected from Thursday morning on the finish line in Port Bourgenay.

The Race Direction has also announced that entry to the port in Port Bourgenay could be difficult due to the strong South West swell; the fleet could therefore be re-routed to the port in Les Sables d'Olonne once having crossed the finish line.

Sabina Mollart-Rogerson
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