Published on 17/09/2020
Francis Le Goff is the Race Director for the Solitaire du Figaro for the fifth year in a row, after being the deputy to the previous director, Gilles Chiorri, for five years. He knows all there is to know about the concept and the traditions of the race and the importance of ensuring a level playing field. It was down to him to draw up the race course, defining the length and difficulty of each leg. For this 51st edition, the Covid 19 crisis meant that there was not the usual trip to England, Spain or Ireland.
In the end there were three long legs around the French coast and a shorter one to please the solo sailors. Francis enjoyed the third leg with its ups and downs for everyone and thanks to the quality of the line-up, the final outcome was always going to be uncertain.
Surprise after surprise in this leg
“We had an incredible third leg. 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 favours strategic choices and helps the suspense build. We saw that in the third leg between Dunkirk and Saint-Nazaire…”
Young and old, equally impressive
“I was very impressed with Kevin Bloch (Team Vendée Formation). A breath of fresh air and what enthusiasm! He was always up there with the frontrunners. He has very clear relations with the Race Directors, as if he had been there for decades, whereas in reality, he is just learning about all this. He never dramatises. Among the most accomplished sailors, Sam Goodchild (Leyton) performed well. The older guys that I have known for years are still impressive. 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.”
Complete uncertainty about the final outcome
“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 harbour gates. This means there is a lot of uncertainty about the final outcome. Armel only has a lead of 10 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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