| Hugh Brayshaw
Finally getting to the last leg of the Solitaire du Figaro is an exhausting achievement, and it is often the most painful leg of them all. But it is also the most rewarding and satisfying feeling to cross that finish line and complete it all.
We had just one nights rest after the previous 4 days and 400 miles at sea, so not surprisingly the fleet and I was subdued on our way out to the start line. This leg was just 140 miles long and we expected to be racing for only 24hrs, plenty of time for significant gains and losses. People lined the harbour walls, clapping and waving as we departed the St Gilles port. The wind was light and fickle when we got out to sea and I found it very hard to get my head around the tactics for the start which I did not like. A huge shift came in early on unexpectantly and I had to fight my way through the tight fleet to make advantage from it.
Racing up the fleet to the top mark
I arrived at the top mark in a good position and hoisted my kite quickly, because of the shift my automatic reaction was to rush in a gybe pointing inshore. I remember being pumped full of adrenaline after all the manoeuvres and loving the tight racing. When I brought my head up out of the boat to look more tactically all I could think about was my pre-race plan, head offshore for more wind. I scoured the coast ahead of us, it looked light and patchy. I looked behind and could see a good bunch of boats heading offshore on the opposite gybe. I went with my plan and threw in a gybe to head offshore.
Maximum effort on the hoist while boats around flounder.
I and 7 others, including a lot of the top 10 overall, sailed further and further offshore expecting to be rewarded with more wind. The wind increase didn’t come, and so we sailed a little further offshore, but still, it didn’t come. Compared to the inshore boats our position looked terrible and for me it was time to gybe once again and work my way back inshore. Doing this was very depressing seeing after such a short time into the race I had lost so much and to make it worse I was sailing in less wind. I did what I could to find an advantage but as the night and darkness set in, the damage had been done.
The pack of fools out in the distance.
The night was long and once again I didn’t get to sleep, but worst of all I was sailing in a pack 5 miles behind the rest of the fleet. On top of this there was very little to gain, a lot of sailing in a straight line and no shutdowns in the wind for us all to bunch back together. The sailing was fast at least as I sailed my boat with the spinnaker up as tight to the wind as possible. When the sun came up we had covered the majority of the course and the possibilities of redemption were fading. I talked to Irish rookie and friend Joan Mulloy on the radio and discussed how stupid we were for our mistake at the very start. Despite my blunder I was in good spirits, I took small chunks of rest while sailing my boat fast, now upwind, towards the finish line.
I enjoyed some close racing around the island of ‘Yeu’ with my little pack of fools and soon we had our spinnakers up again for the finish. The last 10 miles were fun and fast with afternoon sun, 18 knots and waves to surf down. I chased the boat ahead and the overall stop clock while reminiscing on the race and enjoying my solo adventure.
The final prize giving and speeches, in French!
Even though it wasn’t the position I wanted for the final leg I still smiled when I crossed the line. Happy to complete my 3rd Solitaire after a challenging year just getting to the start and still managing to be competitive against the best in the world. A 21st place overall with the highest leg finish of 7th, my best performances to date.
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