close enough for ya?

close enoughThis 45th edition of La Solitaire du Figaro continues to live up to the hype with ridiculously close racing, shit-hot young guns mixing it up against seasoned vets and stunning twists and turns that not even Hollywood could dream up. A leading boat dismasting or suffering a rigging failure seems to have become a pre-requisite to competition on the Figaro circuit over the past couple years and the recently completed third leg of this year’s race was no different.

Compiling impressive and consistent scores of 2-4 in the first two legs of competition, Fabien Delahaye on Skipper MACIF 2012 held a narrow lead over Maitre Coq skipper Jeremie Beyou for the overall race lead entering the penultimate stage. Unfortunately, Fabien didn’t even make it to the starting line before becoming the latest skipper to fall victim to the dreaded curse of the failed D1. Back to the docks to replace the failed shroud, Fabien re-started 2 hours later only to end up on the wrong side of a tidal shift and retire from the leg. For the second time in just three stages of this race, the overall leader has been knocked out of the race by rigging failure.

The drama didn’t end in the pre-start. No, in typical Figaro fashion, it lasted all the way to the finish. First it was a long, tedious light-wind coastal course filled with gnarly currents and rocky horrors that gave the fleet virtually no opportunity to sleep. One boat tagged a rock and busted some stringers loose while the rest of the fleet struggled to reach Belle Ile before parking up and getting split into two when the wind filled.

Again becalmed in Biscay before drag racing back to the coast, our man Yann Elies worked his way into the lead, seemingly able to will-power his way to the front in almost any conditions. The two-time defending Figaro champ maintained the skinniest of margins over Gildas Mahé on Interface Concept, who is finally hitting his stride again after five years out of the game. Becalmed again at 2 in the morning near Ile de Ré, Mahé and Elies worked zephyrs towards the finish until reaching a westerly. Positioned just meters to windward of Elies, the Interface Concept skipper picked up the breeze first and stayed on top to the finish, winning the 505-mile stage by an incredible 27 seconds! Huge one-design fleets, top-tier talent and the closest offshore racing in the world… this is why we pimp the Figaro circuit so hard.

Going into the fourth and final leg of the race, two-time Figaro winner and IMOCA skipper Jeremie Beyou has used quiet consistency and three consecutive podium finishes to pull out to a 15-minute lead in the overall ranking over Mich Desj protege Corentin Horeau, with former Mini Transat winner Charlie Dalin less than four minutes further back. Can Yann Elies come back in Leg 4 to tie Jean Le Cam’s all-time record of 10 stage wins? Can Beyou win Figaro #3, placing him in the same über-elite category as Phillippe Poupon and JLC? Can Gwénolé Gahinet hold off Briton Sam Matson to claim top rookie honors?

Stay tuned, the finalé starts Sunday. – Ronnie Simpson.