After the Ultims and the minis, Tip & Shaft continues its ‘back to school’ round up with a look to the Figaro Beneteau 3 season, which will be marked in particular by the Transat Paprec for the first time in mixed doubles sailing, the first edition of a new Tour Voile in the class and of course La Solitaire at the end of August. And there are many incoming newcomers.
After a 2022 season which saw the domination of Tom Laperche, winner of all the solo events including the Solitaire du Figaro, the 2023 season for the Figaro class will begin again in early March in Les Sables d’Olonne with the Solo Maître CoQ. It is a solo event which will be the first of five counting towards the French Elite offshore racing championship along with the Transat Paprec, the Tour de Bretagne, the Solo Guy Cotten and the Solitaire du Figaro.
The preparation for this season has just started at the three main training centers, the Finistère offshore racing center in Port-la-Forêt (about ten boats expected this year), Lorient Grand Large (7 for the moment are registered) and the Center Excellence Voile de La Rochelle which, according to coach Etienne Saïz, will welcome “between 10 to 13” and more than half of these are newcomers to the circuit like Malo Wessely (20) to Anthony Quentin (42), and Romain Bouillard (31), Camille Bertel (26) or Romain Le Gall (29) who was selected by the La Rochelle structure to sail in their colors for two seasons.
Even if they will not all do the entire season there will be around fifteen rookies this year on the circuit which, alongside those just mentioned will also include Julie Simon (32 years old), Arnaud Machado (38 years old), Hugo Dhallenne (32 years old), comes from the Mini class (like Camille Bertel and Romain Le Gall), but also Pierre Daniellot (22 years old), successor to Charlotte Yven – now Skipper Macif – who sails in the colors of Team Vendée Formation, along with the Mediterranean sailor Benoît Tuduri (29 years old). Victor Le Pape (24) takes the helm of the Figaro Bretagne CMB Espoir, Colombe Julia (25), winner of the Espoir Mer Entreprendre selection, will accompany Arthur Hubert on the Figaro 3 of the Saint-Malo structure BE Racing.
A shorter time on the circuit
At the same time, the class has lost sailors who have left for other pastures – Achille Nebout, Tom Laperche, Erwan le Draoulec… once again highlighting the phenomenon seen over the last two years, that sailors campaign on the circuit for a shorter timespan. Most of the newcomers that Tip & Shaft interviewed say they expect to be on the circuit for 4-5 years maximum, before planning a Route du Rhum, or even a Vendée Globe. “My career plan is to perform in the Figaro, so I give myself 4-5 years before dreaming of bigger things,” explains Malo Wessely, a laser technician by training, while Romain Bouillard, who has chosen to change his life after eight years as a tourist guide on a motorbike in Paris, believes that his time in Figaro is “a springboard“.
Corentin Horeau who, at the height of his 33 years, finds himself among the older sailors now in the fleet, regards this phenomenon as “an Mbappé syndrome, young people no longer have limits, they need to quickly move on to something else, to go bigger. I must also admit that the boat is physically tough, you have to be a little masochistic to stay on the circuit for ten years.”
Former marine commando Philippe Hartz, who is starting his third season on the circuit, notes: “Before, those older, experiences sailors ran a Figaro program and as well, from time to time, a Vendée Globe or a Route du Rhum, because these projects were less time-consuming and professional than they have now become. There is also the fact that the other circuits, Class40, Imoca, have structured their circuits and so have gradually tapped into the pool of people who sailed in Figaro so the class has become more of a transition stage.“
First for the Tour
Jean-Bernard Le Boucher, the president of the Figaro Beneteau class, believes that the class must stay in step with this evolution, hence the launch in 2022 of the Figaro Academy. “The objective is to facilitate access to our circuit to make people want to come and sail in a pure one design on a boat that is certainly demanding, but which trains the best. We have a great example of this with Tom Laperche who is well into the wider world of offshore racing.”
This season, four events are on the program for the Academy, a double-handed or crewed offshore race at the beginning of April ahead of the Spi Ouest-France, also on the calendar, the Tour Voile and the National Equipage in October. The Tour Voile is reborn and will be raced for the first time in the Figaro, under the aegis of the French Sailing Federation, which has acquired the rights from ’ASO. The event organization has been entrusted to Ultim Sailing for three years, with a first edition at the beginning of July in two parts: the first on the same route as the Tour de Bretagne (see our article), the second will undoubtedly go to Vendée and Charente -Maritime – the notice of race will be published at the end of February -, with a program of races in the bay and rallying stages.
Mathieu Sarrot and Emmanuel Bachellerie, co-founders of Ultim Sailing, mention a budget “around 400,000 euros“, with a title partnership valued at 150,000 euros, for this first edition, whose race director will be Jean Coadou (also running the Tour de Bretagne). “We are hoping for between 10 and 12 boats, or even 15, we are trying to work with the class and the Federation to allow crews to set up with an accessible budget of 35,000 to 40,000 euros, boat charter included”, they say
While many professional skippers will favor the double-handed Tour de Bretagne (35 boats expected), some are interested in this alternative project. Philippe Hartz thus wishes to set up a team with Pierre Leboucher, Alexis Loison is looking to a Cherbourg project under the leadership of Maxime Mesnil, while the event arouses the interest of certain leagues as well as amateur projects – Albane Dubois, from Olympic sailing, is looking to set up a 100% female team in Marseille – or abroad, as confirmed by Marcus Hutchinson, vice-president of the Figaro class, who mentions potential programs in Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Great Britain and Ireland.
Eleven entries to date for the Transat Paprec
Following this philosophy of being open and accessible the class has also included in its program existing races: the ArMen Race, the Transmanche, the Grand Prix de l’Ecole Navale and the Fastnet. “We have to get out of our own bubble”, adds Jean-Bernard Le Boucher who hopes “to reconnect to have more than 40 registered in our races within the next three years.” Particularly on the flagship race of the circuit, the Solitaire (34 in 2022), which, in 2023 will start at the end of August from Caen – the formal announcement is scheduled for Tuesday – and will finish in Loire-Atlantique, with a possible stopover outside of France.
But the immediate objective is to present a sufficiently credible line-up for the Transat Paprec (ex AG2R) which, this is a great first, will be raced in mixed doubles. To date, Clément Faisnel, project manager for the double-handed transatlantic race for OC Sport Pen Duick, talks of 11 entries, while hoping for “about fifteen.” This includes Skipper Macif (Loïs Berrehar/Charlotte Yven), Bretagne CMB Performance (Gaston Morvan) and Espoir (Choé Le Bars), Quéguiner-La Vie en Rose (Elodie Bonafous), Atout Energie (Arthur Hubert/Colombe Julia), Edenred (Basile Bourgnon), Mutuelle Bleue (Corentin Horeau), Ageas Team Baie de Saint-Brieuc (Maël Garnier), while Piers Copham, Camille Bertel and Arnaud Machado (with Lucie Keruel) have confirmed that they intend to start , not all of whom have completed their budget.
The cost of doing the event around a hundred thousand euros, put some people off, like Philippe Hartz or Tom Dolan, who also point the finger at the ecological cost of the return by cargo ship, an additional reason in their eyes for not entering. Does the switch to the mixed format also explain this rather modest participation (18 boats in 2021)? In the midst of a search for a female co-skipper, Corentin Horeau believes that “a lot of talented girls are on The Ocean Race, which doesn’t make things any easier”. Alexis Loison, who won’t be at the start, wants to be confident: “It’s a transatlantic race that will be outstanding, I’m sure that the format will be popular and that the race will gain momentum. Often, when you change things, at the start it is difficult, for example I wouldn’t be surprised if there were not a lot more Imoca on the next Ocean Race.”
Director of the Finistère offshore racing Pole, Jeanne Grégoire also believes in the race but believes that the transatlantic should be promoted more in the media. “On the last edition, there were magnificent images that were not exploited, it’s a shame. In general, we must succeed in giving more space to the Figaro class which is not as well exposed as others, Tom Laperche’s victory in the Solitaire last year almost went under the radar.” Philippe Hartz, member of the board of directors of the class concedes “We did not put enough energy into the comms and it is so important to explain the place of Figaro in the landscape of offshore racing.”
Photo: Vincent Olivaud