Today the Artemis Offshore Academy Brits made an emotional procession out of Cowes Yacht Haven, the pontoons sinking beneath the weight of friends and family cheering them on their way to Paimpol.
Starting Leg 2 of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro from the famous Royal Yacht Squadron start line, Cowes seafront was lined with the public armed with binoculars and cameras for the spectacle.
Cutting through a mass of coloured sails and hulls piling through the choppy Solent, British skipper Alan Roberts aboard Alan Roberts Racing looked set to take an early lead in the 430-mile race as he set himself up on an epic port flyer over the start line to the excitement of the British crowd.
The closest boat to the historic Royal Yacht Squadron, the UK’s most prestigious yacht club, out of nowhere Roberts came plowing upwind, spray flying off his Sea Cats-branded hull. Cutting across the fleet, Roberts flew across the line and extended away.
It was almost the perfect moment to end this year’s UK stopover, Britain’s top 2016 Solitaire hope leading the 39-boat fleet out of Cowes. But it wasn’t to be. A second cannon sounded and Roberts returned to re-cross the start line, his moment of glory dashed. Ever the fighter, Roberts now continues to push his way back through the fleet.
Deemed this year’s British favourite, there is a six-hour gap between Roberts and Leg 1 winner Erwan Tabarly racing Armor Lux. Speaking before the race start, Roberts was looking forward to getting back out on the water.
“Leaving through the Solent will be really fun with the wind and the current,” he said. “I learned a lot about decision-making in that first leg. This leg I need to think more long term. It’ll be interesting taking on the south coast of England again now we’ve all raced it once.”
Frenchman Vincent Biarnes aboard Guyot Environnement once again took an early lead on the leg, but it is now Gildas Morvan racing Cercle Vert who leads the fleet out of the western Solent towards Portland Bill, the first big tide gate of the stage. The first British name in the rankings after the great Solent re-start, is Redshift skipper Nick Cherry in 6th place, with Sam Matson aboard Chatham just behind in 9th.
After suffering auto-pilot issues that set him back on Leg 1, Cherry is gunning for a good second leg position: “My autopilot is now fixed, but I’m now looking at the race leg-by-leg rather than the overall results. It’s unlikely I’ll produce a star performance this year now, but I’m going to do my best. It would be nice to get a good result on a leg; I’ll be sailing as hard as I can,” he said, now racing his fifth Solitaire.
Finishing second Rookie on Leg 1, Will Harris racing Artemis 77 is looking forward to battling current Rookie leader Pierre Quigora sailing Skipper Espoir CEM for the top spot. Just five minutes separate the ambitious young skippers: “I’m really looking forward to getting out there with Pierre again,” he said before the race. “It’s made the race really interesting and I think the battle will be raging for the rest of the Solitaire.”
Leaving Cowes after just three days on shore, the Solitaire skippers face a fast but tiring leg. Zig-zagging their way out of the Solent in 20 knots on the nose with the tide on a magic carpet ride, the fleet can expect to stay in the express lane for most of the way to Paimpol, as Race Director Gilles Chiorri explained.
“On this leg, the fleet will face all of the difficulties associated with the Channel – current, wind and lots of tacking. Another difficulty will be the length of the leg, 430 miles solo is again long to race alone, the current routing shows them spending three days and three nights at sea. There will also be a lot of tactics involved. The skippers who are further back in the ranking after Leg 1 will be on the attack. The Iroise Sea will be one of the most challenging areas of the course, with big wind, big waves and lot of rocks – it will require bravery,” he concluded.
You can track the race to Paimpol here.
Mary Rook – Artemis 37
“I’m looking forward to the start of the second leg, although I don’t feel ready yet. Thankfully we still have a little more time. The stopover just whizzed by! Compared to the preparation of the first leg it feels like we didn’t have any time here.”
“I hope to be at 100% tomorrow. It’s going to be a bit scary on the startline with everyone watching. I’ll have lots of friends and family coming out on the water. I know that they’ll judge me if I do anything wrong!
“Huge gaps formed during the first leg and the rookie podium is out of reach. It wasn’t really my ambition at the start of the Solitaire. I haven’t had enough time in the boat to have that kind of ambition. For me it’s about learning as much as I can so that I can improve. I’ll be trying to get some good starts and doing well on the parts I know I can be good at.
“I’ve learned a few things about the first leg: how much you sleep and when to sleep. During the big shutdowns you feel like nothing is going on so you just want to sleep but that is when you have to stay awake and you have to be ready. I need to think more about the forecast and try to position myself before I get into that big hole. I lost a lot in the first leg by just being on the wrong side and sailing my 33-footer like a dinghy.”
Hugh Brayshaw – Artemis 23
“I feel pretty rested; I’ve been waking up at reasonable times in the morning, so I’m actually able to do things. It will be good to get back out there.
“I’m actually quite excited to get back to the race. This morning (Sunday) I went through the routing, seeing where we are going to go and that was quite reinvigorating.
“The weather is expected to be a little stronger than the last leg, which is good. The routing today is expected to be from two-and-a-half days up to three days.
“It’s going to be our third time in a week sailing along the English south coast, and I think that every time you do it you learn a little bit more. So I will be more prepared this time. I know the areas I will be trying to avoid and the one I will want to get into to get some extra speed.”
Andrew Baker – #SeaChange
“People suggested that the leg we have just completed was the toughest one in memory, so that should mean it will be easier this time! It’s good to get that out of the way. What was important in Cowes was getting enough rest to get back in the game for the next few legs and not burn out. It really was a hard leg with strong winds on the first day and then very feeble winds for the next days. It was tough physically, but nothing you can’t recuperate from with some sleep.”
Sam Matson – Chatham
“It was difficult to take positive things from the first leg. The one thing that I managed to take back was that I know I can make the right kind of calls to get back into the fleet.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back out there. The guys have worked hard to get the boat back into shape. Some of the things had to be built up from scratch, but we can’t be using that as an excuse for the upcoming races. I really want to get out there and show what I can do. Working to climb back up from the bottom of the fleet is extremely hard. I want to be at the start again and push hard properly rather than holding back because of the boat. For the next three legs I’ll be looking to nail good leg positions and let the general ranking sort its self out. I’ll finish where I will finish, you can’t change the past.
“It was difficult getting enough rest on this UK stopover. Between media commitments, family and friends it’s been a busy week and I’ve rested as much as I can. But I’m feeling fresh.”
Robin Elsey – Artemis 43
“It’s going to be an interesting leg. There will be lots of challenges including tidal gates. Timings will be crucial. We could have big splits in the fleet once more if one group catches the current and the other doesn’t. That could open up 40-mile gaps straight away. The fleet may start to get closer because people won’t want to make mistakes. We may have people starting to protect their position and becoming a bit too cautious. We know that the top-10 won’t do anything too rash. We’ll see what happens so it should be interesting.
“I have been relaxing these past days in Cowes. I like to do the weather later in the week so as to get the most accurate forecast possible. For most of us it has really been about relaxing and recuperating to be ready for the next leg.
“I slept a lot during the last leg, so I should be at 100% for the start. I think some guys pushed a little too far on the last leg and they’ll feel it in this leg. And then once more in Leg 3. This year is quite peculiar; if you don’t recuperate early enough and if you don’t sleep enough it’ll be like being hit by a brick in the face in the third leg. It’ll make things interesting!”
Will Harris – Artemis 77
“The breeze is looking relatively strong up to Wolf Rock, so a good bit of upwind which I’d say I’m fairly strong at. I’m feeling confident for that and hopefully I’ll be able to put myself in a comfortable position.
“The first leg is just an insight on how challenging this race really is and how many different factors influence it. You can make one good decision but there are so many more small ones that could be bad and could put that good decision out of play. It’s going to be a tricky race. I’ve done one leg now and I have much more experience than when I started out.”
Nick Cherry – Redshift
“I still haven’t totally recovered. That first leg was quite a hard one…”
“The first half of this leg is basically the same as the second half of the last leg. So now everyone has the same insight of the south coast of England. I’m looking forward to the tides around the headlands and some decent weather features on the first night. It should get windy around the end of the course. It should be a good mix of meteorology and tidal strategy.”
Alan Roberts – Alan Roberts Racing
“I’m feeling pretty good less than 24 hours from the start. I’m ready to go, although I’m probably not rested enough. It’ll be interesting racing the south coast of England again after the first leg.”