Published on 29/08/2020
A fairly fast, long, and open 642 nautical miles first leg, to the Fastnet and back, is the first challenge for the 35 solo sailors who embark on the 51st edition of La Solitaire du Figaro from 1300hrs local time on Sunday on the Baie-de-Saint-Brieuc
Experienced La Solitaire observers and competing sailors alike all agree that there are no standout favourites for the podium places on what promises to be an all-consuming, very complete test of the solo sailors’ skills. The course this year is a good mix of open offshore sailing and coastal Channnel style racing. There there are probably fifteen sailors in the fleet who might have realistic aspirations to finish in the top three.
The annual multi stage race increasingly seems to reward the racer who makes fewest mistakes over the entire course as last year’s winner Yoann Richomme showed. Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) at 46 years old is gilt edged podium contender, who was fourth last year and who starts the race for the 11th time notes sagely, “It’s the real constant on La Solitaire, there are fifteen skippers starting out with a legitimate claim to the podium. As there are only three places, each time there are twelve disappointed skippers every year. In essence you are trying not to be one of those. And it’s not easy. This is what gives the stage podiums and the general classification a special flavour. “
“Nobody really stands out this year, there are more than ten of us who could win it and that promises a great battle on the water.” Observes Anthony Marchand, 33, skipper of Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire, who became the local hero when he won Stage 1 into his native Baie-de-Saint Brieuc in 2018 on the 49th edition, before going on to finish runner-up to Sébastien Simon.
Top picks for the podium include 23 year old Tom Laperche of the Bretagne CMB Espoir team who has been in the medals at all three warm up events. Also Pierre Quiroga who will turn 28 years old during the race who is on the Skipper Macif programme - which produced four times podium finisher Charlie Dalin and Vendée Globe winner François Gabart, whose MerConcept ecurie manages the Macif programme. Quiroga won the Solo Concarneau earlier this month, was fourth in the Solo Maitre Coq and fourth in the Drheam Cup. And Briton Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is among those tipped for the podium, returning to the Solitaire after a six year absence.
International interest is justifiably at a high as British sailors have finished on the podium in all three of the preliminary Figaro Beneteau 3 races of a foreshortened season. Goodchild lies second in the French Elite Offshore Championship after taking a second and a victory preceded Alan Roberts’ second in the Solo Concarneau race earlier this month.
But the shorter 350 to 450 miles warm-up races are a different level of challenge to the renowned La Solitaire which aggregates elapsed time over more than 1820 miles of mind blowingly intense solo racing.
Looking for a fourth win
Yann Eliès, who is one of three skippers local to the Baie de Saint Brieuc, starts La Solitaire for the 19th time and if he won would be the first sailor to amass four overall wins. Despite his excellent racing record in the Figaro and IMOCA and his obvious marketability Eliès could neither find a major sponsor to back his Vendée Globe challenge nor indeed to mount a top drawer Figaro challenge this year. He is helped out by previous supporter Groupe Queguiner. At 44 Eliès says the physical challenge of the new Figaro Beneteau 3 is telling over the course of the entire race. Of the possibility of stepping clear of the other four three times winners, Poupon, Le Cam, Desjoyeaux, and Beyou. Eliès says, “It really is a big ask but it is always possible. Everything needs to fall into place. At 44 there is now a physical dimension to it that maybe wasn’t there before.”
He acknowledges. “To be honest I would be happy to be in the top five.”
As he starts his 12th La Solitaire du Figaro two times winner Armel Le Cléac’h remains tight lipped about his own prospects of joining the elite circle of triple victors. The skipper of Bank Populaire was tenth last year, one of the many big names drawn back to the race by the introduction of the Figaro Beneteau 3, and this race is his one main focus of the season.
“ I’m not fixated on that third win,” Le Cléac’h asserts, “Iif it is meant to come it will, but that’s not my target at all, My goal is to sail well stage by stage and make as few mistakes as possible, like the winner Yoann Richomme last year. We’ll do the count up at the end. I have concentrated 100% on this, in reality it is the second major sailing event of the year in world sailing along with the Vendée Globe. That’s why I’m really happy that the race is taking place. We have a good field and the race is going to be as demanding as any other year. Now, I will just take is one stage at a time I will not set myself clear objectives, the goal will be to make as few mistakes as possible. I made them last year, some cost me dearly, now it is up to me to be more consistent.”
Stage 1 is an open sea leg to the Fastnet. At 497 miles Stage 2 starts with open waters racing to Wolf Rock to the south-west of Land’s End but them moves east up the Channel to Dunkirk. Five hundred and four miles of Stage 3 tests coastal sailing and navigation passing westwards down the Channel, round the rocky, tidal tip of Brittany through the Raz de Sein to the entrance to the Loire estuary before a final 24 hour sprint out of Saint Nazaire of 183 miles.
At an estimated four days duration Stage 1 is the longest opening leg for many years, likely to finish Thursday afternoon. It not only has the propensity to be shape the whole race if the finishing deltas are opened wide by light winds and a change of tide but with the second stage start due on Sunday there is very limited recovery time after a long opener.
As ever from Sunday’s start gun the pressure will be relentess. Fastnet is the only mark of the course leaving the strategic options wide open. Northerly winds of 12 to 15 knots are expected at the start but the fleet will have to negotiate light winds in a ridge of high pressure off the NW corner of France. The new south-westerly breeze will fill from the left side of the course giving fast reaching before negotiating two frontal systems and the northwesterly winds towards ‘the rock’ which is Ireland’s most southerly point. But the high pressure ridge is expected to compress the fleet again as they return to the Channel which would ensure the fleet is compressed again. Maximum windspeed through the fronts is expected to be around 25knots during what Briton Alan Roberts considers a ‘boatspeed, reaching leg.’
“Whoever gets out of the light winds and into the new south westerly first will profit. Getting furthest west as quick as possible might be the key but it is how and where you cross the ridge that will be key, going to the south or north, after that there is the decision where to pass the TSS, passing to the south at the Scillies or north.” Says Roberts (Seacat Services), “It should be quite straightforward after that a boatspeed reaching test really except at the finish a calm is expected so it wont be over until the finish”
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