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Off the dock and down to business

In beautiful sunshine and light winds the 32 skippers who will compete on the 54th La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec left Caen’s Saint Pierre Basin this morning to head out through the locks and enter the English Channel at Ouistreham for this afternoon’s start at 1302hrs. Ahead of them Leg 1 is a very complete, pure Figaro leg – ‘pure et dure’ (pure and hard ) according to one of the French favourites, Corentin Horeau.

The 610 nautical miles leg to Kinsale will take the fleet across the Channel this afternoon and into the night to turn west at Nab Tower and pass the Needles Fairway mark to the west of the Isle of Wight before crossing back across the channel to a mark at Les Jument des Haux off Bréhat where the long climb through the Scillies to the Fastnet begins. The skippers are talking of a complicated, long challenging leg with three fronts to contend with and a long upwind to the Fastnet.

Here is what a selection of skippers had to say,

Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire): “ I don't care if people say I'm one of the favourites. I try to do my race without looking too much at others as I have been doing since the start of the season. I will try to stick to my course, favorite or not favorite. Last year, I think I was in the favorites and I was 13th. We'll see at the end. The first stage will be a real Figaro stage. You have to get into the top group. There will be twists everywhere. We will try to take pleasure in seeing the others come back individually or come back in the groups. I think there will be a lot of lead changes. We do not really know what it will be like when we arrive in Ireland. We are really in a pure and hard stage of Solitaire”.

Tom Dolan (IRL) Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan: “ The big question is between The Needles and the mark at Jument des Heaux no one really knows what will be going on there, if there might be a sea breeze coming in from England. The thing is of there is sea breeze we might end up getting stuck for six hours (as the sea breeze would kill the gradient) with no wind. I feel grand.”

David Paul, (GBR) Just A Drop: “I am nervous but focused and I suppose with experience comes an attention to detail which I am noticing. I am definitely and more prepared, readier. This will be a complicated leg but the idea is to try and keep it simple. I think the current will play a big role, initially for example at the Isle of Wight. The second point is the mark off the French coast and then at the Scillies. I did a bit of weather with Pep Costa who has helped me. I am looking to just sail a good race and the final result will be what it is.”

Piers Copham (GBR) Voiles de Anges (photo above): “As ever I am here to learn. I want to finish. My end game is to be on the start line of the Vendée Globe in 2028 and clearly La Solitaire is the best place to be learning just now. I am in the process of transitioning from sailing being a pastime to becoming my fulltime professional. I am 100 per cent committed to 2028 and so I have only spent six days on the Figaro since November last year, so this will be a Baptism of Fire. I have been doing some Mini 650 sailing too but there, too, just enough qualify me for the Mini Transat. I entered both (mini and la solitaire) the idea being to be sure I got into one, but now I am in both and I will just take one step at a time.”

Ben Beasley (NZL/GBR) Ocean Attitude, bizuth: “I feel good, I am nervous and excited but that is normal. It feels so good to have made it here to the start line. It has been a long time coming. I just want to keep it simple and not overcomplicate things, sail fast and safe. There are a couple of the weather models are lining up nicely now and so I have a decent idea of where I want to place myself on the course. The tide will play a big factor but mainly I want to stay close to the rhumb line. And at the start I think you have to stay close to the land and out of the tide. I feel like I have the determination to succeed. I just need to stay on top of my sleep and eat well and be very conservative in that.”

Alexis Loison (Groupe REEL): “We are heading out for four days with no sleep, depriving ourselves of a lot of things, all above everything to try to do well. You have so much going on in your head, to tell ourselves that we have not forgotten anything. Most of all you have to have a clear weather picture in your head it's important. It's not going to be simple, just like every start of La Solitaire. You can break it down, there is a coastal part where the land influences the wind, and a lot of current all the same. Even if for the moment we have small tidal coefficients, they will increase quickly. And then the strong current can lead to many possible stop-starts. And in terms of weather, there are quite a few small phenomena that pass with very dynamic fronts which are often poorly detailed by the models. There is a real element of uncertainty, you might see a boat be 500 meters next to you which flies away in a puff, a gust that you don’t get will have to have your eyes open. And above all, believe in your options. We are also here for that, to play with the options we will have. The ambition is present, high. It's doing something that I've never been able to do but it's quite natural to want to progress.

Elodie Bonafous (Queguiner La Vie en Rose): “I am ready. Everything is on board the boat, I have plenty of good things to eat, I have the weather forecast and clear ideas. I can't wait to leave. We are always afraid of having forgotten something, but the stress I had was more positive stress that boosts me. I feel fit. It ended well last year, started well this year. I've worked a lot mentally so I want to be pushing even more, to be at sea every night and give my all. The Solo Guy Cotten, after my recovery from injury, was quite positive so I remain on target for my objectives for the start of the season. The general objective is to finish ideally in the Top 5 to do better than last year. I hope to repeat and be back on the podium, and most of all not to make big mistake, not to take too long, not to take too many risks risky or burn myself out at the start of the race. The first stage is like a series of little coastal courses where there are currents and local effects. I like that. There will be a lot happening in terms of the weather, which will be very uncertain. I'm starting with more experience so I think it can be an advantage to be able to remain lucid and be able to make good decisions towards the end of the legs We will see ".