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6 women in the Solitaire 2017

Published on 31/05/2017

We remember the leg victory and 5th place posted by Clare Francis in 1975 when the race still went by the name of the Course de l’Aurore.

Written by Camille El Beze - Text from the Event Magazine 2017 - At this time of the interview Sophie Faguet wasn’t registered

We also remember Isabelle Autissier and Samantha Davies signing up to it to learn the ropes before going on to excel in Round the World races. Karine Fauconnier and I managed to make the famous Top Ten and Isabelle Joschke boasts six participations, while many more have added their flair to this great classic. On average, the Solitaire has a contingent of between zero and five women at the start of every edition out of some forty or so competitors. All of us have had to answer repeated questions about a woman’s place in offshore racing; but how then do we answer the question “why are there so few women in the Solitaire?” Or how, when we’ve never been a ‘man’, do we answer “is it easier for a man to perform well than for a woman?” Instead of asking them about what they’re not, ask the candidates for 2017 about what they are, about their objectives, their training sessions and their concerns as a female sailor. And let’s rejoice the fact that offshore racing is one of the top three mixed sports together with horse riding and motor racing. Sports coloured by a long career or physical capability are not the key to success.

The five women that make up our 2017 vintage are aged between 30 and 42, which is the average age of the racers. They are between 1.55m and 1.80m tall, mirroring the differences in build between the men. They are pretty, smiley and approachable until such time as the competition requires their full concentration and commitment. Cécile, Justine and Mary are back for their second shot this year. Alexia and Nathalie are rookies; all are young Figaro sailors!

Why are you coming to compete in the Solitaire?

Mary: Competing in the Figaro Bénéteau circuit is an opportunity to step up my game in offshore racing. In solo configuration, you have to manage everything in what is an incredible race with a lot of boats. I hope to compete again when the Figaro Bénéteau 3 comes out.

Alexia: I’ve been wanting to do the Solitaire for years. This race is a big challenge, highly technical and a good way for me to prepare for my objective: the Vendée Globe 2020. I finally have the budget to line up for the start of the 2017 edition. Today, I’m also sailing a Diam 24 for the “Pays de l’Or-Hérault” project and a 35-metre Farr design ketch. I’m sailing every day to get the maximum amount of experience and because I really get a kick out of it!

Cécile: I’ve sailed in crewed configuration on the Maxis and the timing was right to come and do some singlehanded sailing to learn more about all the posts. I hope to compete on the Figaro Bénéteau 3 too. In France, if you sail singlehanded, it is to participate in the Vendée Globe. My personal goal is to do the Volvo Ocean Race!

Nathalie: I’m an informed amateur who has just realised an adolescent dream! When I began sailing with my parents, Eric Tabarly and Loïck Peyron were my idols. I’m fond of one-design sailing where it’s the sailors that make a difference. I’d like to compete in the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe, the Fastnet and the Sydney – Hobart! This year is also special on a personal level because I’m celebrating ten years of being in remission from cancer. It’s a celebration of life!

Justine: I love the Figaro Bénéteau circuit and the Solitaire for the one-design format and the high standard of the racers. I’m keen to make as much progress as possible in this series because it validates a true level. In the future, I hope to discover the Figaro 3.

Sophie : It is the next logical step for me. I have done four or five years of crewed racing on the Tour de France a la Voile and these were the first offshore races for me. Then after having sailed in all the key roles on the boat except nav and helmign I wanted to challenge myself as the fully rounded, complete sailor and so test myself solo.

How are you approaching the Solitaire URGO Le Figaro 2017?

Mary: 2017 will be my second year. Compared with last year, I know what awaits me. I know that the race will be incredibly hard. I don’t even remember how I placed in the legs that made up the 2016 edition! I just want to continue learning!

Alexia: I’m coming to the Solitaire URGO Le Figaro free of hang-ups. My 3rd place in the Transat Ag2r LA MONDIALE with Laurent Pellecuer, back in 2014, makes me think that anything’s possible. Naturally, my sights are on the rookie ranking, but I don’t want to put myself under any pressure.

Cécile: It’s my second season and I have a sponsor! That in itself is a massive victory compared with last year. I can focus on the athlete!

Nathalie: Everything’s new to me; the boat and even the playing field. Though I spent 2 days in the Glénans archipelago and I’ve crossed the Channel once, that’s the most amount of time I’ve spent in Brittany or Normandy!

Justine: Over the winter, I’ve been able to digest my 2016 season and set myself some new goals for 2017. I know where I’m going for this second year. The only thing is that the days are too short to hone all the little elements related to performance as much as I’d like!

Sophie : I feel better and more comfortable than I did two years ago the last time we started from Bordeaux. I have a bit more experience in the race. And now I know the area and waters a bit and above all I feel more prepared and calm, better prepared myself and the boat. I have a preparateur now who does the prep of the boat which two years ago I was doing all by myself. So now I am freed up to concentrate on the strategy, weather and nav options which is great.

How have you prepared? What are your strengths?

Mary: Through my Match Racing experience, I’m confident in my start and the first upwind sections. I even completed last year’s start course in fourth place so I was very happy. My next hurdle is learning how to keep up my stamina during the legs! I’ve been training in Cowes with Nick Cherry, Will Harris and Sam Matson. We’ve been exchanging ideas as much as we can to benefit from each other’s experience.

Alexia: I have experience of sailing offshore and I’m confident about my instinct. At the same time, I know it’s not going to be easy. I’ve been lucky enough to get to train at the CEM (Mediterranean Training Centre) with experienced people like Laurent Pellecuer and Mike Cohen. As we were a small group, we were able to exchange a lot of ideas under the leadership of Kito De Pavant, Christopher Pratt and Julien Gayraud.

Cécile: I have a huge passion for it and I love tapping into my reserves. I made some rookie errors last year, which I’ve since been able to analyse and that is bound to help me this year. I’ve been training at the Centre d’Entrainement Finistère Course au Large with some of the top sailors and it’s very hard to stay in contact with them!

Nathalie: The 20,000 nautical miles I’ve raced mean I can be quietly confident when managing the autopilot and equipment for example. I’ve experienced situations which give you confidence in your ability to deal with things. I’ve been focusing my training on 2 key areas. Firstly, finding speed on every point of sail. Secondly, with regards to the strategic element, I’ve been racing in San Francisco Bay and conditions are more akin to those in Brittany than Malibu Beach! I poke around the internet searching for information on the currents, the weather and the race zones where we’ll be sailing. I have also been picking the brains of Figaro sailors like Pascal Desmaret and Corentin Douguet, so thank you to them.

Justine: I’m fairly at ease with my speed and I’ll check that element in the opening races this season. I’ve been training in Lorient with Tanguy Leglatin, who I’ve been working with for a long time. In human and technical terms, I really trust him. We had a rich training group with Adrien Hardy (several leg victories to his credit) and Vincent Biarnes. And then there was Tanguy Le Turquais, who’s a rookie this year and who I trained with for the Mini Transat.

Sophie : For sure the boat is one strength. I got it from England and it is better than what I had these past two years. It is a very clean, well sorted boat which has great speed potential. I did not quite get the full training I wanted in Port La Foret because we got the budget quite late but i have done the Solo Maitre Coq and the Solo Normandie and one or two good deliveries between events. So, yes, I have not had the hard training I would have wanted but it is good enough.

The Solitaire is often marked by ‘meaty’ legs or massive calm spells, which are exhausting for the nerves. Are there conditions you’re fond of or others that you’re apprehensive about?

Mary: I have a good feeling in light wind, just before you start transferring ballast (in under 8kts). I also like lively conditions, where I’m full-on physically. For me the hardest bit is medium airs!

Alexia: I adore downwind sailing; it reminds me of our Transat Ag2R LA MONDIALE and the hours I was able to spend at the helm getting the boat making headway. For now, I’m not enjoying close reaching. It’s a very technical point of sail where I haven’t yet got a feel for the boat.

Cécile: I don’t have favourite conditions; I just adapt to the weather ‘programme’.

Nathalie: Northern California is a very windy region and I’ve already managed to enjoy 3-4 days under spinnaker in 35 knots of breeze, surfing along at between 17 and 19kts. I have great feeling for my Figaro at times like that. I’m more fearful of calm conditions where the autopilot helms badly and you have to be focused! In any case, the greatest unknown for me is managing the coastal course and the strategy…

Justine: I make do with the conditions I have. Either way, windy and hence hard manoeuvring or calm and hence stressful strategy, the weather is the same for everyone!

Sophie : I like the long legs under spinnaker even in 25/30kts I feel comfortable. I like a bit of everything. I really don’t mind, a bit of everything is nice.

Do you have some references in the circuit? And who inspires you among these sailors?

Mary: I’m keen to sail against Yann Eliès, who’s just back from the Vendée Globe and has won the Solitaire no fewer than 3 times! Last year, I was particularly impressed by Charlie Dalin. He works hard, seems amazingly calm and is totally in control of his boat. Even when he gets off to a bad start, he’s capable of picking his way back up through the fleet.

Alexia: It’s got to be Nicolas Lunven for his talent, his clean, reasoned navigation. He’s got real ‘class’!

Cécile: I’m very inspired by Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier’s careers. Winning the Solitaire and then going on to win the Volvo Ocean Race or performing well there is the ultimate dream!

Nathalie: I don’t know anyone! Just via the specialist press, I’ve followed François Gabart, Armel Le Cléac’h and Yoann Richomme. I’ve seen reports where François Gabart explained how he prepared the weather, so I’m trying to copy him!

Justine: A report on François Gabart and the Port La Forêt training centre taught me a lot and inspired me. Now, when I realise how difficult it is to win the Solitaire, I can’t fail to be impressed by the fact that Beyou and Eliès have won it 3 times.

Sophie : I have a few after Port La Foret, I suppose maybe Adrien Hardy because of the way he sails, it is a little bit different he makes moves which are maybe bolder but assumed and well thought out.

Your sponsors and you…

Mary: With my sponsor Inspire +, the aim is to encourage children and little girls in particular to get into sport. If I can inspire them through my commitment, I’d be very proud.

Alexia: Piqd.com, a German company, has decided to follow me and encourage me in my desire to make the start of the Vendée Globe 2020. And I’m also proud to hoist a spinnaker emblazoned with hearts for the association “Sauvez le cœur des femmes” (Save women’s hearts).

Cécile: Eclisse supports my approach to sport, my enthusiasm and my desire to share my daily life as an athlete. I think they’re also happy to be supporting a woman in this race, where there are so few of us.

Nathalie: I have one partner, the Richmond Yacht Club Foundation of San Francisco Bay, but I’m still looking to flesh that out (ITW date 13/03). I have a rather atypical profile. The media will inevitably focus on my past cancer, but in my life as an entrepreneur, I’ve seldom taken the easy option. Today, I’m a product manager in the technology field; I’ve chosen the business branch of an engineering job.

Justine: Together with Teamwork, who have been following me since 2013, we’ve come to the Figaro Bénéteau circuit with an approach geared towards learning and performance. We knew we wouldn’t get results straightaway so we’re working and learning.

Sophie : Porsche are the main partner of the boat joined me two years ago and have carried on and I hope will continue into other projects too. What is greta about them is that they support me and if I chose to go into another sailing project tomorrow I think they would come with me. They are very supportive and really follow the whole project. And then the other main sponsor of the boat is Corben who joined since the Solo Maitre Coq. They are a very dynamic family, Haitian company that have been operating for 11 years and so it was great to have them here for the baptism of the boat.

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