Published on 02/05/2019
This years’ 50th anniversary edition of The Solitaire URGO Le Figaro has attracted an exceptional line-up with some of the biggest names not only in French sailing, but in French sport, preparing to take to the start line. Amongst them is 41-year old Armel Le Cléac'h. Known as ‘The Jackal’ for his ruthless ability to hunt down his opposition, Le Cléac’h has won the Solitaire twice, first in 2003 and again in 2010. In 2016/17 he set a new Vendée Globe solo round the world record of 74 days, 3 hours and 35 minutes. To say his single-handed offshore credentials are rock solid would be an understatement. In 2019, he’ll return to the Solitaire with his long-term partner Banque Populaire supporting him – and just to keep him busy he’ll also be involved in the construction of the Maxi Banque Populaire XI and work alongside Clarisse Crémer this summer in the IMOCA.
How does the Figaro 3 handle?
“I have been sailing since the end of February in Port-la-Forêt. I took part in training courses at Finistère Pole and have already spent a lot of time on the water to find my feet, test the sails and electronics, try manoeuvres ... The boat feels good. I did not participate in the Sardinha Cup (the first race for the Figaro 3, double-handed), because I am focused on solo sailing. The number one objective of the season is the Solitaire du Figaro. But I continued to train a lot. Like all our competitors, we faced technical problems with rigging. These teething problems are now all being dealt with.”
What are your first impressions of the new boat?
“It is a lively boat even in the light weather thanks to the large asymmetric spinnaker. From 15 knots of wind, the sensations are really nice with the foils and you can quite easily get some good speed from it.
In the Figaro 2, we all had our bearings on board. With the Figaro 3 you have to relearn, work hard to find the little details that make the difference, especially since there are many settings. Nobody has found the key yet to move the boat quickly at all speeds. This is the challenge here at La Solitaire.”
Is the Figaro 3 more demanding than its predecessor?
“Yes, it is clearly more physical. When the Figaro 3 goes fast and relies on its foil there is a real gain to stay at the helm. It does not pay to put the boat under pilot and to rest… There is also a sail more than in the Figaro 2 and it is necessary to change the sails more often between the gennaker, the little spinnaker and the big spinnaker. The deck plan is very low, which is not easy for big guys like me. But we adapt!”
Your commitment on this circuit marks a return to your first love…
“Yes, it’s a real pleasure to come back to Figaro. On the Solitaire, despite the difficulty of the stages, I learned a lot about myself - how to manage sleep, the mind ... I was able to then more onto events like the Route du Rhum and the Vendée Globe.
I’m excited to return because we will alternate between offshore navigation and passages along the coast in the rocks, the current, with many competitors. We sail on equal terms, only the sailor makes the difference.”
How are you approaching the Solo Maître CoQ?
“This will be the first solo test for everyone, with more than 40 competitors. There will be two days of technical training to get into the rhythm. Then we will leave (May 2) for a big race close to the format Solitaire du Figaro. At the end of this course, we will be able to make a first assessment of peoples’ form. I’m looking forward determining my place in the fleet in terms of preparation and speed. Then there will be Solo Concarneau. My goal on these preparation events: to sail well, to gain strength and to gain maximum experience, all with a view to the Solitaire.”
What are your ambitions for your 11th participation in La Solitaire?
“The game will be very open. The competition is going to be intense with fifty sailors, including those who are returning and experienced, as well as new heads. Each will come with their strengths and weaknesses. For my part, I have some experience of demanding, physical and fast boats. I hope it will help me. I will do everything to win but there are many competitors who share this desire. Nothing is an advantage for anyone, even if you have won twice the Solitaire and won the Vendée Globe! It will be as always a race by elimination, the one who will make the least mistakes will prevail. This year, there will be two stages in Roscoff, in Morlaix Bay, where I grew up and learned to sail… and I will have the heart to figure “at home”.”