La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro – The Halfway Stage

At the halfway point with two of the four stages completed in this 49th edition of La Solitaire du Figaro 2018 race, the fleet has already completed 1,100 nautical miles of the course, taking in two English Channel crossings, rounding iconic landmarks such as Wolf Rock, Brest Peninsula and Cape Finisterre. Brutal conditions for the fleet on the first night saw six retirements after the fleet received a battering of 35+ knots in the English channel only hours into the race - Nick Cherry was one of those unfortunate to sustain damage, snapping the starboard rudder hours into the leg and took the decision to pull into The Offshore Academy base in Cowes to affect a repair and change the rudder.

Two French teams - Gildas Mahé 'Breizh Cola' and Fred Duthil 'Technique Voile' also pulled into The Offshore Academy’ base where Figaro spare parts and technical knowledge facilitated a quick repair to them both over the bank holiday weekend sending them off on their way to rejoin the fleet, ready for Stage two.

Back in the race, Hugh Brayshaw representing The Offshore Academy put his boat speed to good effect along the south coast of England, working the tidal streams on a stretch of coast which he knows well. After some windless hours drifting south of the Cornish coast, Hugh was in touch with the leading bunch, rounding Wolf Rock in 11th place. On the final miles into Saint-Brieuc Hugh managed to gain some places,  finishing Stage One in seventh position  (a personal best) on what was a tough leg,  with conditions ranging from 0 - 40kts. Fellow Brit Alan Roberts also secured a personal best result in fifth position making it the first Solitaire stage to have two Britons inside the top 10!

On the dock Hugh commented: "I feel so good. It was such a tense last day. So tense. You just knew that it was so close, people were going to pass people at every point and so I was just hanging on in there. And to be in ahead of a lot of very fast boats feels really good. And I managed to hold my speed and stay with them. It is amazing to have a top ten result. I managed to stick to my game plan and stay rested to the end. I had enough energy and brain power to make a good result. I feel like I just worked through the fleet without taking too many risks.”

Stage Two was a 530-mile leg from Saint-Brieuc, heading west to Ushant before transversing the Bay of Biscay, rounding Cape Finisterre and into Ria De Muros-Noia. With all boats and sailors repaired and rested 36 Figaro skippers lined up on the start line. Initially, a slow downwind leg along the Brittany coast passing Roscoff and shallow rock-strewn coastline of the Brest peninsula. Leading the fleet initially Gildas Mahé opted to take the Westerly route in expectation a build in wind further offshore – half the fleet opted to take the offshore route chasing down Mahé, including Brayshaw and Cherry, and so a 50:50 split in the fleet unfolded. Unfortunately, this was not to pay off with the westerly group not seeing the expected increase in wind or favourable shift.

The easterly group including Alan Roberts had benefited from more favourable tide and a shorter distance sailed allowing a 10-mile lead, and once established it would prove impossible to recover from. On the dock, Hugh summed up the situation “There was not much I could do from there. You could see the others to the east were sailing ten degrees lower and two knots faster. I cocked up there and after that, there were no real opportunities to get back into it."

As the fleet crossed the Bay of Biscay the sailors enjoyed the fast downwind sailing conditions - but this did not allow much rest for the solo sailors, on finishing Hugh reported that he’d had the least amount of sleep he has ever had during an offshore race. Hugh commented: “A solid 25 knots and big waves out in the Bay of Biscay. Surfing down a wave at 15 knots a whale the size of my boat surfaced in front of me and I had to take avoiding action so not to hit it square in the middle. The first whale I have ever seen but perhaps way too close for comfort”

Once across the Bay of Biscay the fleet still had the infamous Cape Finisterre to contend with, synonymous for big sea states and accelerating winds the sailors prepared themselves, changing sails and trying to get some sleep, Alan Roberts was unfortunate to get ‘knocked over’ in 30kts under spinnaker close to Cape Finisterre costing him a couple of places on the approach to the finish. Yet still rewarded him with a 2nd top 10 place, 7th for Stage2, leaving him 7th Overall and 49mins behind race leader Seb Simon BRETAGNE CMB PERFORMANCE.

Hugh and Nick lead the ‘westerly’ group into the sheltered bay of Ria de Muros Noia to finish in 21st and 22nd position, Nick leading Hugh by 12 minutes on the water.

At the half way stage the current standings for The Offshore Academy Team:

Hugh Brayshaw “KAMAT” - 19th
Nick Cherry “REDSHIFT” - 30th (Counting a Retirement from Stage 1)

Overall after 2 Stages
1st Seb Simon "BRETAGNE CMB PERFORMANCE" - 6d 0h 4mn 48sec
2nd Xavier Macaire "GROUPE SNEF" - 26min 31sec to Leader
3rd Anthony Marchand "GROUPE ROYER - SECOURS POPULAIRE" - 30mins 51sec to Leader

7th Alan Roberts "SEACAT SERVICES" - 49min 13sec to Leader
15th Justine Mettraux "TEAMWORK" - 1hr 21min 48sec to Leader
19th Hugh Brayshaw "KAMAT" - 2hr 30min 18 sec to Leader
27th Joan Mulloy "TASTE THE ATLANTIC - A SEAFOOD JOURNEY" - 10hr 49min 7sec to Leader
30th Nick Cherry "REDSHIFT" - 14hr 4min 49sec to Leader
31st Tom Dolan "SMURFIT KAPPA" - 15hr 9min 26sec to Leader
36th Nathalie Criou "RICHMOND YACHT CLUB FOUNDATION" 1d 3hr 53min 37sec to Leader