The world's solo sailing greats have gathered in Lorient to compete on the 40th Anniversary year of what is considered to be one of toughest events of the sailing season, La Solitaire du Figaro. 52 competitors will take part and six previous winners, with a total of ten years' worth of wins return to test and hone their offshore racing skills against the world's leading solo sailors and upcoming talent. Among the fifteen rookies keen to leave their mark is Johnny Malbon (Artemis), while fellow Briton Nigel King (Nigel King Yachting) and Franco-German sailor Isabelle Joschke return to make up the fleet's international contingent. Jérémie Beyou (Bernard Paoli) defied superstition by winning the Suzuki Prologue race in Lorient.
The entry list for the 2009 Solitaire du Figaro reads like a who's who of solo sailing for the 40th anniversary year of France's oldest yacht race. The Figaro comprises four stages over a month of racing between France, Spain and Ireland and gathers the best short handed sailors to compete on the one design Bénéteau Figaro II boat. The competition is fierce with the likes of two-time winner, and defending champion, Nicolas Troussel (Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne); three-time winner and record holder, Michel Desjoyeax (Foncia); the 2005 winner, Jérémie Beyou (Bernard Paoli); 2004 winner Charles Caudrelier (Bostik); the 2003 winner, Armel Le Cleác'h (Brit Air) returning to his roots after an impressive podium finish in his first Vendee Globe, and Eric Drouglazet (Luisina), winner in 2001 – past masters of La Solitaire du Figaro returning to size up the new competition.
Jérémie Beyou (Bernard Paoli) grabbed the lead of the Suzuki Prologue in Lorient and never looked back to win the race in a little over 3 hours. Closely following in second place, a mere 7 boat lengths behind at the finish, was Fréderic Duthil (BBox Bouygues Telecom) with Nicolas Bérenger (Koné Elevators) less than half a mile back. This trio held the first three positions around every mark of the 16-mile course, sailed in bright sunshine with a gentle 8 – 12 knot south-westerly breeze. The 52-boat fleet made an impressive sight as they sailed the last downwind leg under spinnaker, stretched out over five miles of the bay outside Lorient.
Fabien Delahaye brushed off the competition from his fellow rookies, being the first of them to cross in a very respectable 16th place ahead of Christophe Espagnon (GROUPE LEGRIS INDUSTRIES) in 22nd and Joseph Brault (SAMSUNG Mobile) in 24th.
On the international front, Franco German sailor, Isabelle Joschke (Synergie) crossed in 38th whilst Nigel King (Nigel King Yachting) beat fellow countryman Johnny Malbon (Artemis) to the finish line to take 42nd and 43rd places respectively.
The start of the first leg, 345 miles from Lorient to La Coruna, is set for 13:00 local time on Thursday 30th July.
Top ten on the Suzuki Prologue
1. Jérémie Beyou (Bernard Paoli)
2. Frédéric Duthil (BBox Telecom)
3. Nicolas Bérenger (Koné Elevators)
4. Charles Caudrelier-Bénac (Bostik)
5. Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert)
6. Jean-Pierre Nicol (Gavottes)
7. Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia)
8. Erwan Tabarly (Athema)
9. Thomas Rouxel (Défi Mousquetaires)
10. Armel Tripon (Gedimat)
Quotes of the Day:
Jérémie Beyou (Bernard Paoli), winner of the Suzuki Prologue
“What a great day! Sun, wind, in the lead from start to finish…pretty good. I have found what I came to look for on the Prologue; check on my performance and tune up against the others. We had a nice battle going on with Fred (Duthil). I am not superstitious, that is a thing of the past. The day I stopped being superstitious was the day I started winning races.”
Johnny Malbon (Artemis)
“That was really good fun! It is very impressive seeing so many boats. I have not sailed against that many of the fleet before, so it was very interesting to get a look at the opposition. I am very happy with the boat, she is in really good shape. I think she has got good pace upwind and I was well up the fleet in the early legs, though perhaps a little slow downwind which may have lost me some places, especially on the last leg. I was pleased with the way I sailed, reading the tide right and going in close to the island which gave me a boost when I saw some of the others struggling a bit. All in all a good first day!”
Nigel King (Nigel King Yachting)
I had an absolute shocker of a start! I wanted to be at the port end of the line but did not really judge it right, and got caught in the pack with a load of dirty air. Probably my worst start in 20 years! So after that I was always going to be playing catch up, and though I don't think there were that many tactical decisions to be made, I managed to pick up a few places. The boat is on great form; I think she is right on the pace upwind and downwind, so that is a big improvement on my first Figaro when I felt I only really had one gear. It was a great day to go yachting though and I am optimistic for when we really get underway.”