51st edition of the Solitaire du Figaro
Published on April 1st, 2020
The Solitaire du Figaro is a solo multi-stage race created in 1970 which has become the playground for amateurs and proving ground for professional shorthanded sailors. The unique character of the annual event has made it one of the most cherished races in French sailing. Raced in one design Bénéteau yachts, the 2020 edition will use the Figaro Bénéteau 3 foilers.
The programme has four legs, three of which are 500 miles long and more, with a final 24-hour run to complete this three-week long marathon. Among the highlights, the Fastnet and Wolf Rock stand out in this race course with several Channel crossings, the need to deal with the shipping lanes and sandbanks all the way to Dunkirk, and then the rocks and tidal currents all the way down to Loire-Atlantique.
Francis Le Goff, the Race Director, has once again decided to leave things very open with few marks along the way, in order to allow the solo skippers to find their own strategy. This looks like being a classic edition with an exciting finish in prospect at the mouth of the Loire…
With some keen newcomers aiming to discover the delights of the Figaro Beneteau circuit (Robin Follin, Erwan le Draoulec, Elodie Bonafous, Estelle Greck…), some who are used to the event (Xavier Macaire, Anthony Marchand, Alexis Loison…) and some previous winners, including the winner of the last Vendée Globe, Armel le Cleac’h.
More than thirty competitors are expected to line up for the start on August 30 in in Saint Brieuc Bay.
Competing in Figaro Bénéteau 3 foilers, the skippers are going to have to remain determined and focused to try to win the Holy Grail of sailing in Loire-Atlantique at the finish of the third and final leg. This year, the Solitaire du Figaro will be returning to the Pays de la Loire region, which proved so popular during the fiftieth edition in 2019 with the start in Nantes.
Analysis of the race course by the Race Director:
Leg 1: a 642 mile voyage to the Fastnet and back (August 30 to September 2)
“The only waypoint in this first long leg will be the Fastnet Rock, which they will have to leave to starboard. It is going to be very open for the solo sailors from the start, with everyone attempting to find the right tactics and avoid the traps in the Channel and Celtic Sea,” explained Francis Le Goff. Once they have left Saint-Brieuc Bay, the skippers will head for Ireland while avoiding the rocks around the Isles of Scilly and respecting the various shipping lanes (TSS) to the West of Cornwall on the way out and back. Anything is possible. They can go inside or outside the islands, so we can look forward to an exciting tactical game…
Leg 2: 497 miles to Dunkirk via the English coast (September 6 to 9)
They will have to watch out for all the shipping and sandbanks. “From Saint-Quay-Portrieux, the fleet will head for the Wolf Rock to the South West of Land’s End, and then make their way towards a waypoint close to Antifer light near Etretat before heading for the finish off Dunkirk. In this leg, they are going to have to make sure they are able to remain alert and focused over the final miles. “This is a leg, where keeping a clear head for the final few miles will be key to the outcome,” explained Francis Le Goff. In this second leg, it will all be very open between Wolf Rock and the Alabaster Coast of Normandy, but there will also be a lot of traps lying in store, such as the TSS, which means the room for manoeuvre will be limited all the way to Dunkirk. There is all the cross-Channel shipping between Calais and Dover, and then the tidal currents and sandbanks all the way to the finish. They will have to manage their sleep and that is going to be vital in this leg for them to be able to stay fresh for the final stretch…
Leg 3: a 504 mile coastal leg from Dunkirk to Saint-Nazaire (September 12 to 15)
There are going to be some great sights along the way in this third leg with a wide range of backdrops. The Opal, Alabaster, Mother-of-pearl coasts of Normandy and the Pink Granite coast and craggy cliffs at the tip of Brittany, the Megalithic Coast of Southern Brittany, the Love Coast and Jade Coast of the Loire Estauary area. So many brilliant things to see, yet the leg is full of hurdles: tricky headlands and capes, tidal currents, islands and rocks, fishermen… 500 miles of high-tension sailing, with one eye on the charts, and the other on the sails with some sleepless nights ahead.
Leg 4: a 24 hour and 183 mile sprint between the islands for the Grand Finale (September 19 to 20)
After three hard, testing stages, the solo sailors will have to draw deeply on their reserves for for 24 hours of racing, a loop which should take them between the Ile d’Yeu and Belle-Île via the Ile de Groix before seeing them return to the Loire-Atlantique to crown the big winner of this 51st edition which promises to be full of twists and turns.