Sailing: final sprint for the most difficult race in the world



“I was warned, I thought I knew what to expect, but it’s even worse than I expected. “ At 24, Charlotte Yven, one of the most promising sailors of her generation, took the start of the fourth and final stage of the Solitaire du Figaro on Sunday, September 12 at 4 p.m. After an experience that she will remember all her life: in sight of the coasts of Roscoff (Finistère), Thursday September 9, at the end of a third stage where she occupied an unexpected fifth place in a bay of Morlaix that she knows by heart she hit a rock. “I was in tears, I wanted to give up everything, I felt bad, she says. Then I slept and understood what had happened to me. “

To sleep. Everything is there, in this merciless race of four navigations of three, four or even five days, as for this fourth stage, announced as one of the longest in history (between the bay of Morlaix and Saint-Nazaire, via the lighthouse of Fastnet all south of Ireland). “One night, I was so exhausted that I had hallucinations, said the sailor (1). I also realized that I had barely eaten. I was in a daze on arrival, both euphoric and too exhausted to understand that I was lacking lucidity, hence this error. But that’s it, the Solitaire: a ruthless race, where only the very best manage to manage. “

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In fact, the winners of this race launched in 1970 make you dizzy. All the big names in sailing over the past forty years have signed an overall victory, a podium or at least one stage. Philippe Poupon, Lionel Péan, Laurent Bourgnon, Jean Le Cam, Michel Desjoyeaux, Alain Gautier, Armel Le Cléac’h, François Gabart, Charlie Dalin and many others shone on the Solitaire. “People are more familiar with the Vendée Globe, which remains incomparable, but for sailors, it’s the best”, Yann Eliès often says triple winner, who repeats like a leitmotif: “Go Solitaire first.” “

Less adventure but more sport than in the Vendée Globe

Seen from the land of neophytes, these four stages never very far from the French, Irish or Spanish coasts do not seem very bad, in the light of the heroic epics around the world. “There is not the adventure side that makes the general public dream, it’s true, concedes Alex Picot, deputy director of the race. But in terms of sporting performance, the Solitaire is second to none. ” Unlike the great oceanic races where sailors set off with unequal weapons on boats with very different performances, the Solitaire is contested on identical boats: the Figaros 3, 10m monohulls from the famous Bénéteau shipyards in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de -Life (Vendée).

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The few minutes often separating the first to finish are won or lost at the helm. Or on a tiny road option or a tack triggered too early or too late. “We sail by sight, we see what others have done, resumes Charlotte Yven. Sometimes, when they are not on the bridge, we tell ourselves that they are preparing something inside or that they are resting for five minutes, so that we will be able to attack them. EThey say the same thing to each other, it’s thrilling but exhausting. “

“The fact of sailing in a fleet and seeing others makes things complicated, because sailors are constantly tempted to modify a small setting, to give a little boost to make a difference”, continues Alex Picot, who compares the Solitaire to a four-day marathon run at the pace of a 100m. ” One hour, one day at this rate is fine, but from the first night, it becomes very hard. “

The new wave of skippers

The competition is very high this year, since three quarters of the entries have the level to win. And this 52e This edition is particularly well attended, because none of the historical bosses is at the start: the one who will put his name on the prize list will therefore open a new chapter in the history of ocean racing. “We are all in full swing all the time, even if the very best are able to let slip a place or two on one stage to reserve for the next. Recovery is the secret, in any case it is what I will remember from this first participation, explains Charlotte Yven. Until he has made a Figaro, a sailor does not really know who he is and how far he can go. Me, I made a big mistake, I did not think that could happen to me. Now I know, I think I know myself a little better, it’s a force for the future. “

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Pierre Quiroga, on his way to becoming the new star

At almost 29 years old, the Mediterranean Pierre Quiroga has won so far, in the middle of the squadron of sailors from the Atlantic or the Channel, winning two of the three stages already run. Supported by the Macif group, which is banking on him after having ceased its partnership with François Gabart, he is on his way to the Vendée Globe 2024. Before the start, Sunday 12th, for a final stage announced without much wind (therefore very long and hazardous), he had a mattress of less than two hours on the second, Xavier Macaire. After more than ten days in three stages, the first five were held in just over three hours.

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