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Competition time for Gwénolé Gahinet on the Figaro Safran-Guy Cotten
At 1700hrs (French time) on Sunday, the Figaro Bénéteau Safran-Guy Cotten and the 38 other competitors on the 46th edition of La Solitaire du Figaro – Eric Bompard Cachemire set off from Pauillac for 461 miles (854 km) solo sailing to Sanxenxo in Spain. Determined to give his best, Gwénolé Gahinet knows that this first stage will be tough and it will set the tone for this intense month of competition. The objective for Safran-Guy Cotten skipper: to be in the top 5.

Gahinet and the 38 soloists take centre stage
A few hours before the starting signal of his second Solitaire du Figaro this morning, Gahinet wore his perpetual smile, but the pressure had still gone up a notch. “There is a bit of stress this morning, but that's normal,” Gahinet said. “This first stage will be difficult. But I'm much more rested and focused than last year. As a rookie, I was going into the unknown, but now, I know what is ahead of me and I’m really looking forward to being back in the race. It's a positive pressure.” After a last weather check with Christian Dumard*, the young skipper cast off for the starting area in front of Pauillac. At 1700hrs, in a wind of around ten knots, the starting signal of the 46th Solitaire du Figaro was given on the gentle and grey water of the Gironde. The 39 competitors are now masters of their own race.

No risks
For his second season on the Figaro Bénéteau circuit, Gahinet has ambitious goals. While he is aiming for the top 5 in the race, he knows he must take the stages one at a time. “On the first stage, you have to make sure of the start, show that you are in the game and not intimidated by the other competitors,” he says. “But this is not the time to try options that are too radical. On this stage, the idea is not to take too many risks. You have to strike the right balance.” Tactical and strategic, La Solitaire du Figaro is an endurance race that is won over time. “In a month of competition, you can’t ever take your foot off the pedal. There are a dozen contenders for victory this year and it’s clearly going to be mental battle. I'm a competitor, so yes, I leave telling myself that I can be in the Top 5. If not, I would not even bother to start.”

The film of the stage by Gwénolé Gahinet:

Tacking on the Gironde
This first stage of 461 miles between Pauillac and Sanxenxo in Spain, is the shortest of La Solitaire du Figaro 2015. But shorter does not mean simpler. “For the first 30 miles, it’s going to be important to be focused, so you don’t get tied up in knots, because there are many pitfalls, particularly the sandbanks on the Gironde. Two hours after the start, the tide will change, which will help us get out but we’ll be upwind in pretty light breeze. We’ll come out of the Gironde on the southern side. In theory, there will not be too much swell but there are some shoals. These can undo you, so you have to be careful.”

The Bay in all its faces
By mid-evening, the 39 competitors will enter Atlantic waters. “The Bay of Biscay will be quite complicated with several transitions: two fronts and two ridges of high pressure to pass through. We should take a fairly northern path to get the first front tonight. We’ll sail downwind in around 15 knots before negotiating a ridge of high pressure, which will arrive from the west. The wind will ease, there will be important route choices to make as it’s right in our path. Upwind, in a southwest wind, Tuesday during the day will not be pleasant, but we’ll have to manage our sleep to keep some strength for the home straight.”

A challenging glide in Cape Finisterre
The last act, but not the least, before arriving in the Galician port of Sanxenxo: the Cape Finisterre passage. “On Wednesday the wind will strengthen and we’ll sail downwind again. At Cape Finisterre, the forecasts give us 20 knots of wind, but with the accelerating effects there, 30 knots are expected. It will be challenging. As for the home straight, it will be played out at night in an easing wind. We’ll also have to deal with the effects of coast of the Pontevedra estuary. It’ll be very technical and we’ll have to stay alert, as we’ll already be on our fourth night at sea,” the skipper of Safran-Guy Cotten concludes.

The 39 competitors of La Solitaire du Figaro – Eric Bompard Cachemire are expected in Galicia overnight from Wednesday to Thursday. A little touristic town of 17,000 inhabitants, Sanxenxo is welcoming La Solitaire du Figaro and its sailors for the first time.

*Christian Dumard: Gwénolé Gahinet’s weather analyst.

Photo : Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI
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