Yesterday, Sunday 4 August, saw the start of La Soliatire du Figaro, the single-handed four-legged event taking the sailors from France to Ireland, to Spain, and back to France.
The 38 sailors crossed the start line at 1200 hours yesterday, ready for their first channel crossing, but were faced with light and extremely shifty wind and rain, to open with a slow start off Boulogne en route to Crosshaven, Ireland.
It was Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) who took the lead straightaway.
Yesterday morning, at 0930 hours on the pontoons of Boulogne-sur-Mer, the feverishness, the nervousness and the impatience of doing battle was clear to see amongst the sailors, as they boarded their boats and prepared for the start. The time for a last little dive for those preparing the boats and give a parting polish to the hulls and then Yvan Martinage (Société Général - CAB - Boulogne-sur-Mer), the local of the leg, opened the departure ball. He had the honour of leading the fleet into the race zone in the harbour of Ambleteuse.
Half an hour later, the skippers were concentrated together eyeing up the wind. What awaited them in front of their bows wasn't a heartening prospect. The forecasts which predicted a certain amount of instability were right, as the weather vane didn't know what to do. It was thus under spinnaker that the fleet prepared to carve a route towards the English coast. But first of all they had to finish the accepted parade lap.
The rainbow-coloured hulls of the Figaro Bénéteau closed in on the start line. All of a sudden the Opale coast, rather " pale " on this dull day, took on a beautiful hue. As the canon fired, on the line the fleet was already strewn everywhere and they were finding themselves dividing up into two groups : the open sea for the first ones, whilst the others hugged the coast. Gildas Morvan, though parting with the second wave, played with great finesse to take command not far from Wimereux. For he had decided to stick in close to the left so as to wind up to the clearance buoy in the lead. The " géant vert (green giant) " was then followed by Corsican Laurent Nabart (Ajaccio - southern Corsica) providing a fine performance in the northern waters. On their sterns, everything was mayhem and each of them had their setbacks - making it very difficult to pump the sails so as to get back to the buoy on the leeward side, situated to the south of the Gris-Nez cape.
Some breakdowns later, to pile on the pressure, then things became even more difficult for the skippers : the wind suddenly dropped right out for a moment. Amongst the tangle of hulls it was difficult to distinguish their positions. Solely Gildas Morvan and Antoine Koch (Saunier Duval) were seen to extricate themselves from the masses. It just remained to get back to the Radio France buoy, on the outskirts of Boulogne, before crossing the Channel and slaloming between the freighters. Very at ease, it was once again the green cap which took the honours on the passage to the marker. He capers about Gildas ! He already had a good lead on his closest ensuers : Antoine, the youngest of the race and Ronan Guérin (Saint-Nazaire-Escal Atlantic), who also knows the ropes of his monotype. The race has to be underway and there is everything to play for. But after a leading the prologue from start to finish (despite the superstitious responses) and this first part of the course, Gildas Morvan remains in the lead in the face of his rivals. Psychologically this is everything though the light winds, anticipated for the first night at sea, promise to set the nerves on edge. That's a place where a skipper never lacks air!