Despite being forced onto rocks shortly after the start Skandia finished just 53 minutes behind the race leader. Her boat, though, has suffered structural damage.
At 1043 BST on 9 August Skandia crossed the finish line of the first Leg of Solitaire Afflelou Le Figaro in 26th place after covering the 390-mile course in 2 days, 0 hours, 43 minutes and 20 seconds, arriving at the Spanish port of at Gexto-Bilbao 53 minutes behind Leg 1 winner Gildas Morvan. Jérémie Beyou (Delta Dore) finished 1 mins 47 secs after Morvan in 2nd, 17 seconds ahead of Laurent Pellecuer (Cliptol Sport). For those familiar with Figaro racing, this close combat is the norm but it is, nonetheless, outstanding that after 390 miles of solo offshore racing, the 45 competing skippers arrive within seconds of each other. Other race favourites finished further down the fleet than expected with Michel Desjoyeaux (Geant) in 6th having lost his leads thanks to a ripped spinnaker, Eric Drouglazet (Credit Maritime) finishing 15th and Charles Caudrelier (Bostik), last year’s overall winner, finishing in 17th.
For Skandia skipper, Sam Davies, the first leg proved to be a baptism of fire. This is Davies’ third consecutive Solitaire du Figaro and although ‘rock-hopping’ is one of many hazards the skippers face, her experience of being forced on to the rocks after the start of the race would have unnerved a seasoned pro. Thankfully, Skandia was not totally grounded and managed to sail off, but the damage was done both to Davies’ mental state and the boat.
The first leg of this four-leg 1710-mile solo marathon gave the skippers a true Solitaire experience. Leaving the French port of Perros-Guirec on the north coast of France on Sunday morning, the 45-boat fleet rounded the north-west corner of France that night with solo legend Michel Desjoyeaux leading. Only a matter of miles separated the front half of the fleet and there was constant place changing as the skippers raced flat out in 25-30 knots of breeze in pitch darkness across the Bay of Biscay under spinnaker. In the end, it was Morvan’s day, winning his first leg win since 1999. However, the key to the Solitaire du Figaro is time – cumulative time from the four legs is what decides the overall winner. Skandia skipper, Sam Davies, has her work cut out to reach her goal of finishing inside the top ten but it is not beyond her reach. Here she describes the grounding and her race.
‘When I went down below and saw my boat like that, all broken – it’s a real shock. I have had small cracks in my boat before but not like this. I think I must have just hit right on the bottom of the bulb but tapped it really hard on the solid rock and it has cracked all the structure internally. After it happened, I just looked at the floor of my boat, and where all the ring frames are inside, they are just bits of broken fibre glass and filler everywhere where the shock had just cracked everything and fired out small pieces of filler. It was just like there was a broken boat inside my boat!
‘Every ring frame was broken and that provides the stiffness around the keel. I couldn’t see the keel and I still haven’t seen it. From what I could see there was no big damage, but I think the shock of that collision has probably cracked the keel hull joint but I think the keel bolts are okay.
‘I lost loads of places because I was really stressed out – I was just panicking and I thought I was probably going to have to stop. I wasn’t worrying about the race anymore, I was more worried about what I was going to have to do, and that my whole Figaro had just been ruined in one stupid thing. So I didn’t care about the race and I lost quite a few places because I wasn’t heading in the right direction and I didn’t have my spinnaker up.
‘I didn’t settle into the race at all after that – it was really stressful. It was really hard for the whole race and I just slept a lot. I think I did the tactical part of the race really well, but in terms of speed I wasn’t as fast as I normally am so I was struggling for boat speed and to keep up with the good people – I’m sure that was because I was stressed out.
‘There were times when I sailed more conservatively – like I waited too long to put my spinnaker up and I changed down sails probably a bit early – as I was thinking about it all the time. In the Bay of Biscay, when I was inside the boat and I had my feet on the floor, I could feel the whole boat wobbling around! It wasn’t right – I was really carefully watching all the cracks and making sure nothing was developing worse than it already was.
‘I consider myself lucky that I’ve been able to finish this leg with not too much of a deficit. It was lucky at the end, the leaders stopped in the light winds which we didn’t have so badly so the actual time difference was not as big as it could have been.’
Sam has lodged a protest against Jorg Riechiers (GER) for not providing her with sufficient space to keep clear of the rocks and this decision taken by an international jury will be decided in La Rochelle.
Skandia was craned out of the water to allow her team to assess the full extent of the damage and start repair work before the start of Leg 2 on Friday, 12th August to La Rochelle, France.