Marcus Hutchinson. Image copyright Artemis Offshore Academy
by Marcus Hutchinson
Probably the most complex part of the Solitaire du Figaro for just about everyone is getting out of the Gironde Estuary. This might sound straight forward, but I wouldn’t like to bet on it being easy. I have just sailed a boat up the river and I now look at the estuary, all 35 miles of it in three stages. The first is the simple round the cans windward leeward component, which will be sailed just before highwater. The second will be sailing down the middle reaches of the estuary through a narrow channel with land on one side and islands on the other side in a building ebb tide or favourable current. The third will be the corner at the top near Royan and the transition from fluvial sailing in lots of current to offshore sailing clear of the land and finally, really on their way to Porto.
It is a 35-mile stretch, the wind will be shifty regardless of strength and direction, the current will also be either stronger or weaker than the ‘average’ mentioned in tidal atlases, quite simply because this is a river estuary with two of France’s largest and most prolific rivers pouring their contents down hill to the Atlantic. The leg across the Bay of Biscay may be seriously straightforward after this and the order coming out of the river, I believe, will be nearly reflected in the finishing order some 500 miles later, just off the estuary of another of Europe's great rivers, Porto’s Duaro.
For sure there is Cape Finisterre to tackle on the way and who knows at this range what the weather will be like and whether there will be fronts or ridges to tackle or thermal winds around the cliffs of Galicia. But watch for the gaps between boats to be large at the BXA buoy, the last mark before the open ocean.
Three days isn’t much of a stopover after a real Figaro leg, one that will last at least three days and three nights. The teams that can get back in the saddle and push hard again straight into leg two and the coastal speed test back up to Cape Finisterre will surely be able to maintain their positions once away from Spain to the ODAS buoy and then back to Gijon. This is going to be a speed leg I believe, and speed means steering without a pilot for as long as possible. That of course means as little sleep as possible. But then the skippers will have to balance burning themselves out for potentially little gain against the reality of only two days stopover in Gijon before Leg three, a leg where there could be huge gaps opening up in the favour of the sharpest and most lucid skippers. But more on the final two legs later in the week.
Artemis Offshore Academy
Solitaire du Figaro