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Youngest Skipper Basile Bourgnon Wins Stage 2 of La Solitaire du Figaro

7th September 2023
Champagne time for La Solitaire du Figaro Stage 2 winner Basile Bourgnon
Champagne time for La Solitaire du Figaro Stage 2 winner Basile Bourgnon Credit: Alexis Courcoux

Under pressure from one of the title favourites, Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire), 21-year-old Basile Bourgnon (EDENRED) held his nerve in very light wind conditions on Thursday evening (7 September) to win the very challenging second stage of the 54th La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec, crossing the finish line Roscoff on the Bay of Morlaix at 17:59:44 local time.

Finishing on a near windless glassy sea — the only ripples made by the wakes of their Figaro Bénéteau 3 one designs — Bourgnon’s impressive victory, just 3 minutes and 24 seconds ahead of Horeau, was all down to the last gybe and layline to the finish line.

The youngest skipper triumphed in a slow motion match race which had his rival progressively closing him down over the final nerve racking hours of what has been very tough 570-nautical-miles leg from Kinsale where the 32-strong fleet started last Sunday afternoon.

The leg has been marked not only by numerous stop-starts and five different leaders including both Bourgnon and Horeau, but significant gains and losses in the strong tides of Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea and St George’s Channel.

At the northernmost turn of the passage, Chicken Rock lighthouse just to the south-west of the Isle of Man, Bourgnon was 21st at 37 miles behind the then leader, French rookie Hugo Dhallene (YC Saint Lunaire).

Even last night Bourgnon was still in 13th place, nearly four miles behind leaders Gaston Morvan (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance) and Horeau, who is racing his seventh La Solitaire. But once again Bourgnon had done his homework and stuck to his own plan, going rock=hopping round Land’s End from where he emerged with a small lead over Horeau which he held to the finish.

Fifth on Stage 1, some 14 minutes behind winner Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan), Bourgnon has worked tirelessly in training this winter and spring.

He now follows in the wake of his late father Laurent, who went on to become a legendary Swiss ocean racer before he was lost in a diving accident in 2015. The first ever rookie to do so, Laurent Bourgnon won the Solitaire in 1988 at the age of 22, going on to win the Transat Jacques Vabre and the Route du Rhum in the colours of Primagaz.

Laurent’s La Solitaire win shares a common theme with his son’s. It came in similar light winds, but Laurent’s was at the end of the third and decisive final stage from Kinsale. Racing the oldest half-tonner in the fleet, he crossed the line into Quiberon whereupon the breeze died and he secured victory ahead of Alain Gautier while the rest of the fleet struggled to finish.

Basile Bourgnon talks to the media after his arrival in Roscoff | Credit: Vincent OlivaudBasile Bourgnon talks to the media after his arrival in Roscoff | Credit: Vincent Olivaud

Basile Bourgnon’s first stage win (subject to jury and any protests) gives him the overall lead on the General Classification. And with a slow, painful finish into the night in prospect for many rivals, he may carry a useful margin into Stage 3 from Roscoff across the Bay of Biscay and back to the final finish into Piriac.

As he told Le Figaro last year, during his debut in the race, Basile only learned of his father’s successes later in his youth: “I really learned more about his career after his tragic death in 2015, meeting people in the sailing industry and his friends like Thomas Coville who inspired me and told his stories. Before that he was not a top sailor but simply my dad.”

Warmly welcomed in Roscoff by the crowds from the towns and villages around the Bay of Morlaix, where La Solitaire aces such are Armel Le Cléac’h, Jérémie Beyou and Nico Troussel all grew up, Baaile Bourgnon — who like Horeau is from La Trinité — said: “I was pleased to get back up to the front. I tried something early on that I thought would make all the difference, but on the first morning’s rankings I was a long way back. But as time went on, the further we went, the better it got for me.

“Looking at the weather, I saw there were opportunities and that those in front would be slowed down. I was incredibly lucky in a corridor of wind off the English coast. I started to fly. I caught Corentin and then it was all match racing. It was scary right to the finish. The wind dropped off in Morlaix Bay.”

Overall runner-up in 2014 and winner of the Solo Concarneau in the weeks leading up to this race, Horeau (34) said: “It was a stressful race, as when you’re out in front, you know the others are chasing you. I would have liked to win the leg, but he was better. I tried to catch him right to the finish and it was very close, so well done to him!

“There isn’t much time between us in the overall rankings. We talked it over on the VHF when we were some way back. He said in 2019 Armel was back in 19th place but ended up fifth. It’s exciting looking at the rankings. Gaston was up there and went straight on, while the others went around him I think. I felt relaxed and sailed well.

“I’m pleased to have got back in the game from a long way back. I really worked hard from Land’s End to leave the others behind me. At the finish I thought I would pull it off, but I got stuck just before the finish line. I so wanted to win!”

Skipper MACIF 2022’s Lois Berrehar took third place, finishing 30 minutes and 30 seconds after Basile Bourgnon. He said: “I had a hard time with this race and this stage. It really is a thankless race. This really is the finish line, and until it is crossed, anything can happen. You have to stay hyper-focused and give your all at all times. That's why it's tough.

“The last time I stood on a stage podium in La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec was in 2020. I must admit that I missed this a lot! I have often been at the front but rarely rewarded. From the start, I was a bit behind but I knew that the course was still long so I had a pretty good feeling There is still one stage left. Lots of things are going to happen. I will do everything I can to do even better.”

At 2100 local time the best positioned international skipper is David Paul (sailingpoint.co/Just A Drop) in 20th with a little over 14 miles to the finish line. Tom Dolan is 25th with 16 miles to sail — like all the sailors around them both were making less than one knot boat speed.

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Published in Figaro
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Ireland & La Solitaire du Figaro

The Solitaire du Figaro, was originally called the course de l’Aurore until 1980, was created in 1970 by Jean-Louis Guillemard and Jean-Michel Barrault.

Half a decade later, the race has created some of France's top offshore sailors, and it celebrated its 50th anniversary with a new boat equipped with foils and almost 50 skippers Including novices, aficionados and six former winners.

The solo multi-stage offshore sailing race is one of the most cherished races in French sailing and one that has had Irish interest stretching back over 20 years due to the number of Irish stopovers, usually the only foreign leg of the French race.

What Irish ports have hosted The Solitaire du Figaro?

The race has previously called to Ireland to the following ports; Dingle, Kinsale, Crosshaven, Howth and Dun Laoghaire.

What Irish sailors have raced The Solitaire du Figaro?

So far there have been seven Irish skippers to participate in La Solitaire du Figaro. 

In 1997, County Kerry's Damian Foxall first tackled the Figaro from Ireland. His win in the Rookie division in DHL gave him the budget to compete again the following year with Barlo Plastics where he won the final leg of the race from Gijon to Concarneau. That same year a second Irish sailor Marcus Hutchinson sailing Bergamotte completed the course in 26th place and third Rookie.

In 2000, Hutchinson of Howth Yacht Club completed the course again with IMPACT, again finishing in the twenties.

In 2006, Paul O’Riain became the third Irish skipper to complete the course.

In 2013, Royal Cork's David Kenefick raised the bar by becoming a top rookie sailor in the race. 

In 2018, for the first time, Ireland had two Irish boats in the offshore race thanks to Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy who joined the rookie ranks and kept the Irish tricolour flying high in France. Mulloy became the first Irish female to take on the race.

Tom Dolan in Smurfit Kappa competed for his third year in 2020 after a 25th place finish in 2019. Dolan sailed a remarkably consistent series in 2020 and took fifth overall, the best finish by a non-French skipper since 1997 when Switzerland’s Dominique Wavre finished runner up. Dolan wins the VIVI Trophy.

Dolan finished 10th on the first stage, 11th on the second and seventh into Saint Nazaire at the end of the third stage. Stage four was abandoned due to lack of wind. 

Also in 2020, Dun Laoghaire’s Kenneth Rumball became the eleventh Irish sailor to sail the Figaro.

At A Glance – Figaro Race

  • It starts in June or July from a French port.
  • The race is split into four stages varying from year to year, from the length of the French coast and making up a total of around 1,500 to 2,000 nautical miles (1,700 to 2,300 mi; 2,800 to 3,700 km) on average.
  • Over the years the race has lasted between 10 and 13 days at sea.
  • The competitor is alone in the boat, participation is mixed.
  • Since 1990, all boats are of one design.

2023 La Solitaire du Figaro Course

Stage #1 Caen – Kinsale : 610 nautical miles
Departure August 27 (expected arrival August 30)

Stage #2 Kinsale – Baie de Morlaix : 630 nautical miles
Departure September 3 (expected arrival September 6)

Stage #3 Baie de Morlaix – Piriac-sur-Mer : 620 nautical miles
Departure September 10 (expected arrival September 13)

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