Gearing up for the Solitaire du Figaro

Mark Lloyd /
45 solo skippers sail set on Tuesday. Among them will be Artemis' Jonny Malbon
The big one is coming up next week – the annual Solitaire du Figaro, the effective world championship of singlehanded offshore racing starts next Tuesday, 27 July from Le Havre. Raced as ever in the 10.1m long Figaro Beneteau 2 one designs, conceived for the purpose by Marc Lombard, the course this year is divided into four legs:   Leg one: Le Havre, France to Gijon, Spain (515 miles) Leg two: Gijon to Brest, France (418 miles) Leg three: Brest to Kinsale, Ireland (349 miles) Leg four: Kinsale to Cherbourg-Octeville (435 miles)   This year 45 boats are competing, similar to last year but down from the 70-80 strong fleets of the mid-1990s. The Figaro class is one in which skippers tend to participate in year in year out (something of a fixture in the event, Jean-Paul Mouren will be racing his 24th Solitaire this year) with several skippers from the IMOCA or ORMA fleets dipping back into it including this year – Kito de Pavant, Armel Le Cleac’h, Yann Elies, Jeremie Beyou and the return after a long absence racing her ORMA trimaran, having babies and then skippering Dona Bertarelli’s D35 Ladycat of Karine Fauconnier. The line-up this year includes five past winners of the Solitaire du Figaro – Armel le Cleac’h, Jeremie Beyou, Eric Drouglazet, Kito de Pavant andlast year’s winner Nicolas Lunven. Disappointingly there is no Nicolas Troussel this year, who won the Solitaire in 2006 and 2008.   We reckon that there are about 10-15 skippers who are in the frame for winning, which makes it as competitive as an Olympic class. This year there are some oddities to the fleet. Compared to the 16 ‘bizuths’ or Solitaire first timers last year (a relatively high number) there are just eight this year. Among them are some highly potent entries including Portugal’s Francesco Lobato, who readers may remember