Alain Gautier with Armel Le Cleac'h

Alain Gautier with Armel Le Cleac'h

Gautier retires

Ocean racing veteran hands over the helm of Foncia to Figaro winner

Wednesday September 29th 2004, Author: James Boyd, Location: France
Alain Gautier, skipper of the 60ft trimaran Foncia and winner of the second Vendee Globe singlehanded non-stop round the world race has announced his retirement at the age of 42, from offshore racing. He is handing over the helm to one of France's most talented up and coming sailors Armel Le Cléac’h, winner of last year's Solitaire du Figaro and a leg of this year's.

Gautier has had an extraordinary career in offshore and singlehanded racing. He was an early starter. Aged 17 he gave up school to compete in the Solitaire du Figaro, but was told he was too young. He sailed alongside the fleet anyway. Five years later he won the first leg of the event ahead of the great Route du Rhum and OSTAR winner Philippe Poupon and on his tenth attempt in 1989 he finally won the Solitaire du Figaro having finished second the previous year.

His position in Figaro fleet in the late 1980s was high enough to secure him sponsorship for an Open 60 and he took part in the first Vendée Globe Challenge aboard one of the first beamy surf-board shaped Finot designs, Generali Concorde finishing sixth having experienced rig problems. Two years later sailing this boat he was pipped at the post in BOC Challenge by Christophe Auguin.

With one Open 60 under his belt, Gautier was able to secure sponsorship from Bagages Superior for a new boat in 1992. This was the time of the Whitbread ketches, a style of rig that filtered through (briefly) to the Open 60 class. With his new ketch Gautier sailed his third solo round the world race impeccibly and won ahead of great names like Poupon and van den Heede.

In the mid-1990s Gautier moved into the slowly growing 60ft trimaran class with the van Peteghem-Prevost design Brocéliande cobbled together from various existing moulds. In this boat, renamed Foncia following a change of sponsor in 2000, he did well finishing second in the 1998 Route du Rhum, fourth in the Europe 1 New Man STAR two years later and winning the Challenge Mondial Assistance in 2001. Gautier was also part of the design team that conceived Ellen MacArthur's Open 60 Kingfisher.

Like many in the ORMA multihull class Gautier had a new boat built for the 2002 Route du Rhum, but this boat suffered a number of major technical problems including a dismasting and a capsize. Last season with the advent of the new Figaro boat, Gautier staged a return to the Figaro class, finishing a respectible second in the Solitaire du Figaro.

Gautier will continue for the rest of this season as skipper of Foncia, but will pass over the reigns to Armel Le Cléac’h for next season.

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