The 51st edition of La Solitaire du Figaro — the single most competitive solo sailing event on Earth — has come to a close in France with current Vendée Globe champion Armel Le Cléac’h claiming overall victory by a very narrow margin of just 10.5 minutes. The one-design offshore regatta was contested in the new 33-ft Beneteau Figaro 3s for the second time since switching to the new hydrofoil-assisted monohulls at the beginning of last season. Consisting of four stages, the Solitaire is essentially like the Tour de France bicycle race, but in sailboats, with cumulative time taken after each stage. It is not uncommon for a sailor to stitch together three good legs and then be on the wrong side of a wind shift in one leg to find themselves knocked off the podium and deep down the rankings. That’s exactly what happened in this thrilling edition, which was defined by light winds and fluky breeze.
Le Cléac’h, the 43-year-old Banque Populaire skipper, managed consistent finishes, including a resounding win in Leg 2. He then worked his way to the top of the main group of boats at the end of the thrilling third leg to finish fourth and help preserve his victory after a small breakaway group of sailors threatened to fully upset the rankings.
It’s Armel’s third overall victory in 19 participations in the event, and his first since 2010, which puts him among an ultra-exclusive group of sailors that includes many legends of the sport. Since winning the Vendée Globe in early 2017, Le Cléac’h has paved a rough road, with two unfortunate capsizes in his new maxi-trimaran, resulting in the eventual loss of the boat. With another maxi-trimaran, Banque Populaire XI, now nearing completion, this win in the Solitaire is sweet redemption for the champion sailor, who was in need of a confidence boost.
The third leg of the race proved to be critical to the overall rankings. While racing from Dunkerque in Normandy out the English Channel and around the northwest corner of France before descending the Breton coast to a finish in Saint-Nazaire, the fleet became becalmed in a large wind hole. Incredibly, Frederic Duthil on Technique Voile / Cabinet Bourhis Generali managed to go from dead last to first on the stage after a gutsy southerly routing option paid big dividends for him.
Winning the stage and vaulting himself from 10th to second in the overall rankings, Frederic moved himself to just 10 minutes behind Le Cléac’h after more than 1,500 miles and 10 days of competition. When the fourth leg was first shortened and then abandoned entirely due to light wind, his runner-up position was finalized. Tom Laperche, 23, on Bretagne CMB Espoir rounded out the podium a further 50 minutes back of Duthil. Irishman Tom Dolan finished fifth as the top foreign sailor. Kevin Bloch won the Bizuth division as the race’s top rookie sailor.
This year’s Solitiare also saw the emergence of a new crop of British sailors who were very much on the pace and immensely competitive, none more so than young Sam Goodchild. Competing in the Solitaire for the first time in four years, the 30-year-old Goodchild managed an incredible second place in the second leg. He led the entire third leg until the end when he went from first to 29th during the late-race reshuffle, which sent him tumbling down the rankings. With Goodchild, the legendary Phil Sharp and the young Alan Roberts all putting in solid results, and Ireland’s Tom Dolan finishing an outstanding fifth overall, it will likely only be a matter of time before a non-French sailor claims overall victory, a feat that has never yet been achieved.