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Laura Vergne: a soul that resonates throughout the Figaro Beneteau circuit.

Friday, march 22, 2024

An iconic figure in the Figaro Beneteau Class, Laura Vergne was known for having "an iron fist in a velvet glove." As Plaisance Director of La Concorde insurance, later acquired by Generali, she possessed dynamism and a passion for sailors that helped initiate some of the biggest names in offshore racing. From amateur to professional, in the 1980s, the circuit owes its springboard and the rise of sponsorship in sailing to her. As President of the Figaro Beneteau Class from 1994 to 2000, Laura Vergne unquestionably remains an icon of the docks, her memory engraved in the minds of all who had the chance to know her.

In tribute to her, after her passing in 2022, the Figaro Beneteau Class chose to name the first race of the Figaro Beneteau Academy "Trophée Laura Vergne." This year, for the second edition, 70 sailors will be on the water in La-Trinité-sur-Mer to shine a light on her name and her legacy.


From an Amateur to a Professional Circuit


The story begins in 1974 when the Course de l’Aurore, later known as La Solitaire du Figaro, wanted to see a racer who had already competed in one of the previous editions on the starting line that year. Contacted, Laura Vergne, then Director of Pleasure Craft at La Concorde insurers, agreed to rent a boat for the 1975 edition. "In 1975, La Concorde signed with Bruno Lunven, its first commitment as a skipper sponsor. It was the beginning of a great story with the Course de l’Aurore," recalls Marie Christine Lanne, Communication Director at Generali, the successor of Laura Vergne.


Second in the previous edition, it was indeed Bruno Lunven who was offered to skipper the first boat named La Concorde. "I had just returned from the first Whitbread round-the-world race, and I was doing my military service. La Solitaire wanted a competitor to participate in a second edition, so they offered me to skipper La Concorde, and I accepted. I met Laura the day before the start; it was very brief, I had to focus on this boat that was lent to me and that I didn't know. I finished third in the race."


Until 1980, too few sailors could make a living from their passion. Almost all amateurs in La Solitaire du Figaro, the racers participated in events often at a loss before returning to their day jobs. "We didn't make any money; there was no financial return at that time. Some shipyards or companies rented boats, and the sailors took advantage to participate in races, while others financed everything themselves. Real sponsorship with branding on hulls and sails began in the 1980s and flourished during the first Vendée Globe. Laura was there with Alain Gautier, on Générali – Concorde," recalls Bruno Lunven. Before this opportunity, Alain Gautier also raced as an amateur. The story of his encounter with Laura Vergne came at a pivotal point in his career. "In 1986, during a conversation about his upcoming projects, while I was in a phase where I was hesitating between continuing sailing and returning to my job, Laura offered to support me. At the time, we were not professionals; we did La Solitaire during our vacations. My first six years on the circuit cost me a lot of money."


If today, amateurs racing on the Figaro Beneteau circuit are rarer, in 1970, companies' marketing strategy was not to put their names on sails. Democratizing sponsorship in offshore racing, Laura initiated the possibility for sailors to turn professional. For Nicolas Lunven and many others, she set an example and motivated partners to follow projects. A visionary for all who knew her, many owe their careers to her today. "Laura brought me everything, at least the essentials. Before she asked me to be skipper for La Concorde, I had just rented a boat and was planning to participate in La Aurore as a newcomer; I wasn't ready to make it my profession. Today, I am still here, and it is thanks to her," says Pascal Bidegorry.


The Icon of the Docks, the "Mother" of Sailors


A tall, charismatic woman with a frank manner, that's the description given by everyone who knew her. Sailors who had the chance to know her still admire her unflappable demeanor in a predominantly male and demanding environment. "She stood out for her confidence and short hair, which is still controversial to this day," notes Yann Elies. "Laura had a very general, enthusiastic vision, an incredible dynamic. She was unstoppable, moving mountains with her unique frankness," adds Alain Gautier.


More than just a sponsor, she provided moral and human support to the skippers she "loved and defended." Pascal Bidegorry, who remembers a woman with a "simple, healthy, and frank" approach, highlights the respect that sailors had for her, who "understood the rigor of this environment and the management of the small business around it." "She is a notable figure in French sailing; she could call the President of the Beneteau Group, the President of the French Sailing Federation, or Figaro without hesitation," adds Yann Elies.


This knowledge and expertise, combined with her empathy and humility, even gave Laura Vergne the nickname of "mother" of sailors. Considering them all "her children," according to Didier Ravon, journalist at Voiles et Voiliers and friend, she legitimized her place and role by serving as President of the Figaro Beneteau Class from 1994 to 2000.


"Beyond work, she became the mother of sailors. We accompanied 25 skippers in their offshore racing careers, from Bruno Lunven to Nicolas Lunven, her son, through Yann Elies, Isabelle Joschke, or Alain Gautier," emphasizes Marie Christine Lanne. "She was like a little mom at times; she made me grow in this sailing environment; she taught me everything I needed to get where I am. She respected our mistakes; she knew how to understand the people around her," adds Pascal Bidegorry.


"An Extraordinary Flair"


"Laura wasn't a sailor, but she had an extraordinary flair for spotting the best. She was very discreet, loyal, and frank, with a strong personality. She will always be part of the great offshore racing family."

Didier Ravon, Journalist at Voiles et Voiliers and friend of Laura Vergne


No less than 25 talented sailors were part of the Générali saga between 1975 and 2017. Until her retirement in 2008, Laura Vergne managed to spot the best talents from their early days on the circuit. In 1988, Laura decided to trust Alain Gautier, who had been battling in La Solitaire du Figaro since 1980, for two years. He won 3 stages of the event in 1988 and the overall victory in 1989. After a first year on the circuit as Espoir Crédit Agricole in 1997, Laura supported Yann Elies, in memory of what his father had done for the Group when he raced under its colors. He would go on to win La Solitaire du Figaro three times in his career. The following year, it was Pascal Bidegorry's turn to represent the Group for one year. He won the Course des Légendes in 2000.


Because it is important for the new talents on the circuit to know her work, the Figaro Beneteau Class chose, in 2023, a few months after her passing, to name its first race of the Figaro Beneteau Academy Trophy after her. The race takes place in La Trinité-sur-Mer, a city she loved so much. "The tribute to Laura Vergne on this Figaro Beneteau Academy Trophy is a beautiful link between different generations. It's important for young people to be interested in this woman, to know everything we owe her: a circuit that transitioned from amateur to professional from 1980 to 2000. She fought for skippers to be paid and for sponsors to believe in it," concludes Yann Elies.


Join us starting Sunday, March 24th, at 10:10 am in La-Trinité-sur-Mer for the start of the big race. Who will succeed Guillaume Pirouelle and Sophie Faguet, winners in double in the 2023 edition, and win the Laura Vergne Trophy? Find out on Wednesday, March 27th!


Boats registered in double (Trophy at stake):

-       OC 15 // Thomas Dupont de Dinechin ; Thomas André

-       Faun // Adrien Simon ; Ulysse David

-       Skipper Macif // Charlotte Yven ; Loïs Berrehar

-       Région Bretagne – CMB Espoir // Victor Le Pape ; Yann Elies

-       Région Bretagne – CMB Océane // Louise acker ; Gaston Morvan

-       Dunkerque Voile // Arthur Meurisse ; Basile Gautier

-       CEV – Secours Populaire // Léo Bothorel ; Federico Norman

-       Queguiner – La Vie en Rose // Elodie Bonafous ; Corentin Horeau

-       Bled Runner // Thomas Bled ; Pierre Guyader

-       Selencia – Cerfrance // Maël Garnier ; Ronan Treussart

-       Région Normandie // Jules Ducelier ; Christian Ponthieu

-       Nemo // Anaëlle Pattusch ; Hugo Cardon

-       Smurfit Kappa – Kingspan // Tom Dolan ; Paul Morvan

-       ALOFI Sailing // Thierry Levayer ; Pierre Grenié

-       Navaleo // Tom Goron ; Yvon Larnicol

-       Actual // Jacques Delcroix ; Julie Simon

-       Espoir Mer Entreprendre // Colombre Julia ; Nicolas Ferellec

-       Décrochons La Lune // Romain Bouillard ; Vincent Domand

-       DEAN RACING TEAM// Pier Paolo Dean ; Malo Wessely


Boats registered in crewed:

-       CER 1 // Valentin Gauthier

-       CER OFFSHORE 2 // Guillaume Rol

-       ORCOM La Réunion // Aurélien Barthélémy ; Jules Delpech

-       ORLABAY //Pep Costa ; Estelle Greck ; Basile Bourgnon ; Alix Schouller

-       MARS’ELLES (vainqueur en titre) // Albane Dubois 

-       CAP HORN // Sophie Faguet ; Nine Rault

-       RAW // Marcus Hutchinson


All the information is available on the race website.