The Solitaire to du Figaro Eric Bombard Cashmere has now come to an end with a battle right up to the finish line. After a great stopover in Torbay UK which was brilliantly managed and very active with media, from showing school children around the boats to radio shows, we left this beautiful part of the country for the final leg. Fatigue levels were high, positions were tight and the forecast tricky (to say the least!). You could sense the fleet was tiring, but the pace could not slow down. We needed one final push and you knew everyone would give everything they had got left in the tank to try and get a good result. People with higher elapsed times will try some extreme options to try make a big jump up the rankings - with light winds and lots of tide forecast, gaps of 6 hours or more could easily appear! The guys at the top will be sailing conservatively , reducing risk and hoping to position themselves well in the fleet to maintain their position.
Going into the leg I was sitting in 13th place, second Brit, with some close timings around me. With my confidence built up and additional lessons learned from the previous 2 legs, I was in a good place and ready and raring for the start. I think it is also important to mention that I was now armed with a new working laptop after the old one decided offshore sailing wasn't for it, and in true French fashion went on strike after day 1 of leg 3 and could not be convinced to work again!
Magma Structures won the starboard end of the line, but with some 'mariocarts' style racing in the offshore wind, it was tricky to keep in control of the fleet. I rounded the first mark in 5th place - I was pretty chuffed as this was actually my worst first mark rounding of the event, not bad considering the talent in this fleet!! However, a tricky leg to the next buoy at the other end of the bay saw me drop to the back of the fleet. I knew I had a bit of work on to get back in to the race.
We beat against the tide going around Land's End and got a pretty close view of the rocks, cliffs & lighthouses around this amazing part of the UK. At this point I was hanging on to the back of the top pack, sitting in the early teens. I was pretty happy with my position, waiting for the next opportunity to get into or ahead of the bunch. With a couple of ridges set to pass over the fleet in the channel when we were heading back East, I knew there would be a lot of opportunities later in the race, and that keeping in touch was the priority.
Rounding the mark at Land's End and hoisting the kite just as the tide turned to be right in our faces again meant we had to get back in to the rocks and out the tide. It was nice to see the coast for a second time . Planning the final approach to Wolf Rock anticipating the tidal direction proved to make a big difference in ensuring I got around the rock as fast as possible.
The next big step was to be inshore for the next day to take full advantage of the sea breeze that was due to fill in. Having managed to work myself towards the shore, I found myself in the nice position of being one of the first boats to get the wind. This put me in a good position which I managed to hold and extend heading to Owners buoy, gybing our way downwind playing the shifts and the turning tide. Rounding Owners buoy in the top bunch was a great feeling, as well as having a surprise visit from my parents who ventured out from Hayling Island to see the fleet go past. It was great to see a friendly face cheering me on!
Most positions stayed the same for the channel crossing and we then rounded the last mark of the course. We were pointing straight to the finish line with the kite up, travelling 10 knts towards the finish line only 40 miles away, but it would not stay like this for long...
We ended up on a beat along the coast, short tacking under the white chalk cliffs, trying to stay out the tide. This was until the wind completely disappeared and started to fill in offshore. The top group all proceeded to chase the wind out there, but making slow progress.
There was then a pretty bizarre phenomenon that occurred where a small channel of wind, 100 meters wide, appeared by the coast, and boats that had been 8-10 miles behind quickly filed past as we fought to get back in to this small localised thermal effect that was sitting under the cliffs.
Once in this channel of wind, I was taken all the way to the finish where I finished in 14th. I was quite disappointed with the change to the results so close to the finish, having been top Brit by several miles only 2 miles before and fighting for a top 6 position. However, at the same time I was pretty happy as I realised I had put a great result for the overall solitaire du Figaro Eric Bombard Cashmere, coming home in 9th overall and best Brit for 40 years!