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Charlie Dalin: “This edition exemplifies the very definition of La Solitaire”

Published on 03/09/2021

Consistent, long time leader of the last Vendée Globe Charlie Dalin famously broke the finish line in first place but had to settle for second overall after time compensations due to the rescue of Kevin Escoffier. His relentless drive and discipline set him apart as well as his will to win. Dalin honed his particular art and his science of solo racing on La Solitaire. Dalin marked out his talent with five consecutive podiums on La Solitaire between 2014 and 2018. So he is a great touchstone, a sounding board to speak with about this 52nd edition of La Solitaire du Figaro. And Dalin rose through the Skipper Macif programme to be supported by APIVIA, a Macif brand for his IMOCA. And, of course, the leader of La Solitaire du Figaro is Pierre Quiroga who is the leading sailor on the Skipper Macif programme.

Charlie what does La Solitaire du Figaro represent for you?

“Like a Route du Rhum, a Transat Jacques Vabre, or the Vendée Globe, the Solitaire is one of the great classics. It’s like a grand slam tournament in tennis. This race which is on equal terms is extremely difficult to win. We sleep very, very little. In recent years, I took naps that rarely lasted more than ten minutes. We arrive totally exhausted at the end of the stages. It has been the foundation, the proving ground a lot of sailors; and La Solitaire made me. I learned a lot from this race in fact almost everything about solo sailing. If you want to win the Vendée Globe or the Route du Rhum, it is, for me, it is a race that you cannot miss out on. It’s a bit like “pass your baccalaureate first”, “pass your Solitaire first!”

Why is this race formative?

“On each stage, your result depends on what you do on the water. Every time you have to put everything on the line. And beyond that on the Figaro circuit, there are a lot of races and a lot of training sessions. Unlike IMOCA (the Vendée Globe class of boat’s circuit, editor’s note), you cannot rely more on technology. You spend a lot of time on the water to sail, race, practice. The maneuvers, the positioning, the trimming and the optimisation all just works its way into your being, your the bloodstream. There are no secrets, no shortcuts. It takes hours and hours to develop this instinct which builds the real, true temperament as a solo sailor. “

What strikes you about this 52nd edition which we imagine you are following with interest?

“During the first two stages, I noticed that this new one-design, the Figaro Beneteau 3, creates classifications with bigger time gaps. Beyond that, I find that this edition is well calibrated in the length and type of the stages and the level of difficulties. The Solitaire has to be a race, with stages lasting three or four nights. This edition meets the definition of a hard race with very little recovery time at stopovers between courses that mix rock hopping, tidal currents and some more oceanic phases. There is just no respite, and we see that everyone has to stay on top of keeping their boat fast, efficient and sorted all the time. You have to keep up or you will be overtaken immediately. It’s very clear on the second stage that when the skippers had to do many tacks without thinking. They had no choice. It was a bit like on a Solo Le Havre, where I made 207 tacks to get round the Isle of Wight from East to West… ”

Which skippers stand out in your eyes on the second stage between Lorient and Fécamp?

“The winner of the stage, Pierre (Quiroga), who of course I support because he is also Skipper Macif, which I was deserves the stage he win he was looking for. He opened the gap at the level of Guernsey. There I thought to myself that it looked good for him when he was at the level of the raz Blanchard, Barfleur, where in terms of currents, it seemed to be falling together for him, even if things can always happen in the bay of the Seine. He sailed in his own way, following what you would say are his trademarks. He is an attacking guy who likes to push out and enjoys doing something different. And we see that this was the best strategy to follow rather than trying to go against his nature. And Gaston Morvan who was 5th on only his second ever stage on La Solitaire, ended with a great result. However, I am really necessarily very surprised. He seems mature, stable and calm to me. And, above all, he trained a lot, with this idea foremost in his head that to reach a certain level, you cannot just rely on your talent.“

And as well as Pierre, Erwan Le Draoulec (Skipper Macif 2020) finished with a good result too, the . Macif programme is in good shape?

“Each skipper runs it the way they want to really and adapts the program according to his personality and his way of sailing. And each skipper find their way of working. This training program allows you to evolve and progress in a good way. In order to be selected in the first place you have to have already proven yourself and in essence it is a good springboard for competition at the highest level of ocean racing. For us the edition of 2016 was exceptional Yoann (Richomme) and I finished one and two respectively on the Solitaire and so we see that each year one of the two Macif skippers finishes the race in a good position. It is a bit like a Formula 1 team, with two drivers where a little internal competition make their level go up and up but with real collaboration and exchanges during training. Two good mornings engaged in the pursuit of the same goal can be so productive with a great, positive dynamic.“

So, the big question is will we see you at the start of this race again?

“I often think about it. It is always in the back of my mind. During the Vendée Globe I thought to myself that I could perhaps do it this year, but it is taking place at a time that is too close to the start of the next Transat Jacques Vabre, which I will race with Paul Meilhat aboard APIVIA. Last week, I took part in a solo race on a small, fast, lightweight boat which I raced and won on Lake Geneva. I had the real pleasure of rediscovering some of the sensations of Figaro. To stay sharp I feel like spending back racing there and it can only do me good. I will be back on La Solitaire when the opportunity arises.”

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