A formidable group of sailors is taking part La Solitaire Afflelou Le Figaro which starts tomorrow from Caen

A formidable group of sailors is taking part La Solitaire Afflelou Le Figaro which starts tomorrow from Caen.

Last year’s winner, Armel Le Cleac’h is back, sailing on Foncia-TBS, launched days earlier by his fellow countryman Alain Gauthier, whom he beat by only 13 seconds in last year’s event to take overall first place. Armel will face some tough competition in the form of Kito de Pavant (Navy Lest) both the 2002 winner and Afflelou Prologue winner this year, and Eric Drouglazet (Crédit Marititme-ZeroTwo) the 2001 winner.

There are some serious contenders to watch out for, some who are very experienced in the Figaro circuit and others who have recently made their mark. Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert), Jeremie Beyou (Delta Dore), Erwan Tabarly (Thales), Ronan Guerin (CAMPUS Immobilier), Jean-Paul Mouren on M@rseille Eneterprise (who has taken part a record 17 times in this event) and Bertrand de Broc (Aigle) to mention but a few.

Returning for the second time is British sailor Sam Davies on her Figaro Bénéteau Skandia. Finishing second in last year’s ‘Newcomer Class’ she is aiming to come through in the top ten after a very successful Figaro season. Being selected, as one of the top 15 Figaro sailors, to train at the prestigious Pole Finistere Course au Large, in Port la Foret in Britanny, she has moved up the ranks to become one of the most promising sailors around and a top contender.

Three female sailors join Sam, all are fresh recruits to the Solitaire race. Jeanne Gregoire, her partner for the AG2R transatlantic race, who will be racing on Banque Populaire, on loan from Pascal Bidegorry in a true act of kindness, upon having to withdraw his entry due to injury. This is particularly heart warming as Jeanne had pulled out days earlier due to lack of funding. Marie-Albane Daniel (Acadomia) is very pleased to have made it to the start, commenting: “? it is a dream come true. My first objective is therefore fulfilled.” Liz Wardley (KOOKAÏ) from Australia and Papa New Guinea originally, at 24 is the youngest of the female skippers. No stranger to professional sailing, she has been competing from the age of 12 on Hobbie Cats, moving on to crewed racing in the Volvo Ocean Race and has now embraced solo sailing like a fish to water.

Ages of the skippers range from 24 to 55 years, Olivier Krauss (Espoir Crédit Agricole) is the youngest with an impressive sailing cv, his biggest worry is: “to fall asleep and to run aground” he adds, and will “try to remain lucid, it is like this that you get good results.” Alain Delord (TAT Aviation Service) returns after a 29-year break from the Solitaire. At 55, he competes for the second time in his life and is also the veteran of the race.

The four non-French sailors are; previously mentioned Sam Davies and Liz Wardley and from Holland Sander Bakker (Stern Groep) and Pascal Desmarets (Tetrakys) from Belgium. The race is fiercely competitive, combining speed and endurance over a 1,373-mile long course. Three new ports of call have been introduced this year (Caen, Porstmouth and Saint Gilles Croix-de-Vie).

The popularity of the event is constantly growing, evident by the number of newcomers to the race. There are 17 skippers registered this year who have not competed before, ensuring there will be a race within a race. Jean-Luc Nélias (Chauss-Europ), known for his giant catamaran and hi-tech trimaran feats, is not hiding the fact that he aims to win, commenting: “At 42 years old, it was about time I gave it ago.”

Others in the ‘Newcomer Class’ out to succeed are: Armel Tripon (Gedimat), Fred Duthil (All Mer) Gerald Veniard (Scutum) and Benoit Lequin (Nanni Diesel). Lequin commented: “I have lots to learn from the locals in Caen, and I am pretty pleased with my boat and the comparative speeds she holds against the others. It would be not bad at all to win the ‘Newcomer Class’, however, whatever the outcome I will have no regrets! Being here it great and taking pleasure from the sea is how you get good results.”

La Solitaire Afflelou Le Figaro would not be the same without the amateur sailors that have taken part since the race was first conceived 35 years ago. The chance to race against some of the world’s top single-handed sailors is one not to be missed by those passionate about the sport. Jacques Einhorn (Connivence), Stéphane Sevaux (Sarthes), Jean François Bulot (Crédit Mutuel de Normandie – Ville de Caen) are out to enjoy the experience.