The Solitaire du Figaro, originally called the Course de l’Aurore until 1980, was created in 1970 by Jean-Louis Guillemard and Jean-Michel Barrault.
In 1980, Le Figaro newspaper bought the event and it has carried the name ever since.
Its founders wanted to create a solo race with two stages and without assistance for the skippers which was open to both professionals and amateurs. Over the years, it has become one of the most prestigious sailing races in France, and is considered the ‘unofficial world championship’ of solo offshore sailing.
The race historically starts from France with a total course between 1,500 and 2,000 miles. The first twelve participants had to cross the Bay of Biscay twice, from Brest to Laredo (then Santander in 1971), before going back to Pornic. Two years later a third stage was added to include a Channel crossing and even the Irish Sea before the Bay of Biscay. The race continued to develop with with four stages between France, Ireland and Spain introduced in 1977.
Over half a decade since it was launched, the race has created some of France’s top offshore sailors. In 2019, the latest generation foiling Figaro Beneteau 3 was introduced which elevated interest in the race once again.
Recognised as the unofficial world championships of solo offshore racing, the race is fiercely competitive. In 2020, as many as 30 skippers are expected on the start line in Saint-Brieuc in north-west France to take on 1,830 miles of Europe’s roughest waters, including some of world’s best ocean racers as well as ambitious young Rookies.
Hull length: 9.75 m
Waterline length: 9 m
Max beam: 3,47 m
Deep: 2,5 m
Light displacement: 2 900 kg
Mainsail: 39,5 m²
Genoa: 30,5 m²
Large spinnaker area: 105 m²
Large top rigging spinnaker area: 78 m²
Gennak code 5: 65 m²
Mast: 13,76 m
The kind of boat used over the 51 years of La Solitaire has changed to reflect advances in boat design and boat building technology. Since the early 1990s all boats have been built by just one builder, Bénéteau, the biggest sailing boat and power boat builders in the world. Their first boat was called the Figaro Bénéteau One Design and was used until 2002 when it was replaced by the Figaro Bénéteau 2 which was used until 2018. This year not only is the event celebrating its 50thbirthday but there is a new class, the Figaro Bénéteau 3 making its debut. At time of writing there were 48 boats entered in the competition.
The Figaro Bénéteau 3, is a very fast boat and features a new system compared to most sailing boats; foils. These are like small curved keels that stick out the side of the boat and when it is going fast they produce more power for the boat allowing it to go even faster. When it is windy they are capable of sailing at speeds greater than 20 knots for extended periods of time; that is as fast as a decent motor boat. But remember, these boats are powered just by the wind and the waves.