Final sprint to award 2020 Figaro title

Published on September 17th, 2020

Saint-Nazaire, France (September 17, 2020) – The four-leg La Solitaire du Figaro, beginning August 30, will see the solo skippers on September 19 start the final stage of the 51st edition. With Armel Le Cleac’h (FRA) holding an overall lead of 10 minutes and 43 seconds, the fleet of 35 one design Figaro Bénéteau 3s now face a 183 mile sprint around the islands surrounding the start and finish at Saint-Nazaire to crown the 2020 winner.

For this 51st edition, the COVID-19 crisis meant that there was not the usual stage to England, Spain, or Ireland, instead remaining in France with three long legs around the coast and a shorter one to please the solo sailors.

Race Director Francis Le Goff reflects on the third stage and his outlook for the finale:

Not much wind, a maximum of 25 knots and weather that was hard to predict. I loved everything in this leg. Strategy was limited at the start by the TSS in the Dover Straits. That meant many of the sailors were able to show how well they could sail their boat.

It became much more open after Dieppe, which was nice. I loved it. The racers attempted a lot of different things, adapting to the race course and the sea and wind conditions which kept changing. It was fascinating to watch and the suspense was there all the time in Seine Bay, as they passed Barfleur and the Hague headland, off the North coast of Brittany and in the final day, which was so unpredictable.

In the end, it was the final decisions which determined the outcome.

The 4-day format with 3 days of rest in between looks good to me, as it forces the sailors to manage their tiredness, sleep, and rest more than in the two-day format. In the first leg, this year we headed off to the Fastnet, and it was a long and tricky leg matching the philosophy of the race.

Three days ashore, four days at sea – that is a winning formula in my opinion respecting the history of the race. It favors strategic choices and helps the suspense build. We saw that in the third leg between Dunkirk and Saint-Nazaire.

I have a lot of admiration for Yann Eliès (Quéguiner Matériaux – Leucémie Espoir) and Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire). They have an incredible ability to build on what they know. They never believe they have it sewn up and tackle the race discreetly and with humility, as if they were just starting out.

Armel is so discreet and exceptionally professional out on the water. He’s amazing. Yann has returned to the Solitaire and at one point, it looked like he could win it. Elodie Bonafous (Bretagne CMB Océane) has also been amazing. She has been helping Marc Mallaret (CER Occitanie) and encouraged him to continue when he was feeling down. I love that attitude. There was so much going on and each racer surprised me with some astonishing decisions.”

This leg will also be remembered for all the weed. There were fields of it out there! It was like the Sargasso Sea. It must be the time of year with the big spring tides. There was weed everywhere from the Sept Iles (seven islands off Northern Brittany) to Penmarc’h and the Glénan Islands.

At night, you can’t see it, but the sailors can feel that their boat is riding on something solid. The weed gets everywhere. Around the keel and rudders. You are really slowed down.

I had hundreds of calls from the competitors warning me that they were going to sail backwards to try to get rid of it. That is an arrangement we put in place with the Figaro Bénéteau class and Christian Ponthieu, their technical director, to avoid them diving 87 times like they did last year. The sailors need to stay on their boat and not alongside. We have a system that allows them to go backwards. They just have to declare that to the Race Directors.

The fourth leg, the course for which is still to be defined due to the uncertain weather and time constraints because of the schedule planned ashore and the problem with the harbor gates. This means there is a lot of uncertainty about the final outcome.

Armel only has a lead of ten minutes. Fred Duthil (Technique Voile / Cabinet Bourhis Generali) knows these waters well and the weather and spring tides with the strong currents mean we can imagine some huge gaps developing. It is still all to play for after 1500 miles of racing.

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The four-leg solo 1830 nm race in the latest generation foil-equipped one design Figaro Bénéteau 3 is a fiercely competitive proving ground for solo sailors. 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: 404 miles to Dunkirk via the English coast (September 6 to 8)

Originally to be 497 miles to Dunkirk via the English coast, a light wind forecast shortened the northernmost turning mark to Eddystone off Plymouth and not Wolf Rock off Lands End as programmed. From the start, it will be a 120 nautical miles leg to Eddystone lighthouse followed by a long, fast 160 miles downwind run east up the channel to a mark, Antifer, off Le Havre then continuing 100 miles more on a downwind procession to Dunkirk, the fleet increasingly funneled into a narrow lane, gybing several times down a course bounded by high land to the south and the forbidden shipping lane to their left. The leaders are expected in Dunkirk after about two and a half days at sea.

Leg 3: a 492 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 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.

Source: La Solitaire du Figaro


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