This first leg was one for the history books with 43 sailors lining up. They encountered some harsh conditions between Pauillac (near Bordeaux) and Gijón (Spain). Even the most experienced Figaro racers could not remember worse weather with massive seas and severe gales. After 2 days and 7 hours of racing, Nicolas Lunven (who hopes to compete in the 2020 Vendée Globe) achieved a magnificent win. Adrien Hardy and Sébastien Simon also made it to the podium, ahead of Charlie Dalin and Yann Eliès (fifth).
At the finish in Gijón, Yann Eliès was pleased about the start to this event. “In the end, what I will remember is that in this first part of the race I was really out in front and enjoyed myself with some good routing choices. I really sailed like I wanted to.” For a while leading the fleet, Yann lost his place in the strongest gales. “After Rochebonne, I saw that the wind was getting up to over 45 knots with some crazy seas,” explained Yann. “I told myself to reduce the sail and to avoid any risks out on the bow. For eight hours, I got pounded. At that point, in spite of being well equipped, I admit I had a moment of weakness, which is only human in such conditions. Of course, I never wanted to give up, but that’s the way it goes.” At the finish, Eliès was just under forty minutes behind the winner. “A reasonable gap,” he added. “Ideally, I should have finished third. I lost out by five or ten minutes. The leg really sorted us out. Unfortunately there was some damage. I’m thinking of Erwan Tabarly and Anthony Marchand, who were forced to retire and of Jérémie Beyou, who clearly had some technical issues, as I didn’t ever see him in front.”
Jéremie Beyou not one to give up…
Yann Eliès was right. If Jérémie Beyou was not up there fighting alongside him, it was because on the second night of racing, he suffered some serious damage, which cost him dearly. The headsail halyard (which allows the sail to be hoisted and lowered easily) split in two, just as the wind shifted in the worst conditions. Jérémie explains. “When I tried to lower the jib in 45 knots of wind, it flew away and fell into the water under the keel. I reversed the boat after gybing to try to recover it and it was quite nasty. I finally got it aboard, but I’m not sure how much I have recovered. I tried to hoist it again, but it happened again and fell down. It was impossible given the conditions to try anything else, so I was forced to sail throughout the night just under mainsail doing six knots, which cost me a lot of places in the rankings. A great pity. I may not have been in front, but there was still the possibility of finishing in the top ten. It wasn’t a mistake, but the consequences are the same.”
Now with a serious deficit from the winner of the first leg, Jérémie Beyou knows his chances of winning a fourth title in the Solitaire du Figaro are slim. “But I’m not giving up. That’s now what I do. My immediate goal is to repair the boat, then put this leg behind me and focus on the three legs that are to come, remembering the things that went well between Bordeaux and Gijón, in particular my good downwind speed in light airs. The aim is to do well in the next leg and to attempt to get the sort of result I was hoping for and why not a win. If that happens, that may allow me to get in the top ten by Concarneau and then aim higher.”