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The Solo Guy Cotten Concarneau: A Chapter of Figaro Beneteau Class History

Tuesday, march 12, 2024

At the foot of the walled city of Concarneau, 35 skippers, including 15 rookies, have been competing since Monday in the first race of the Figaro circuit season: the Solo Guy Cotten. This sporting event, which has marked the opening of the French Elite Offshore Racing Championship since 2017, celebrates its 48th edition this year! An exceptional longevity in offshore racing, which highlights the richness of this regatta, emblematic of the Figaro Class in more ways than one.


There have been arrivals in the early hours, skippers with tired faces, epic battles right up to the channel, moments of great fear and immense joy playing out in this wonderful playground that is the Finistère coast, with its countless currents and rocks... For all sailors who have passed through the "Figaro" stage, the "Solo Guy Cotten" is a must in the season, one of those races that is marked in the calendar every year almost reflexively. But how did this race become a staple of the Figaro calendar to the point of being constitutive?


It all began in 1976, under the lovely name of the "110 miles of Concarneau." The Concarneau Sailing Society (SRC), initiated by Patrick Morvan and driven in part by the dynamism of some young wolves eager for competition, launched this new regatta, immediately conceived as "family-friendly and easy to access," emphasizes Marie-Astrid Parendeau, now the event's press officer.

Half-tonners and conviviality


The race was then open to cruisers of all kinds, with a strong emphasis on half-tonners, boats built like prototypes from 1967 onwards, whose motto has entered the legend of sailing: "Half a ton, twice the fun"!
From the very first editions, "the big names of French offshore racing, such as Michel Desjoyaux or Jean Le Cam," were already found on the starting line, recounts Pierre Gautier, the current director of the Solo Guy Cotten. The race, relatively short but always fiercely contested, became a key step in the preparation of sailors who then tackled the Course de l'Aurore, renamed the Solitaire du Figaro in 1980.


Edition after edition, an entire atmosphere was built, with a wealth of exploits that fed its legend. In this small Breton fishing port, there is a love for the "simple and accessible" aspect, recalls Marie-Astrid. The pontoon where the competitors moor is opposite the restaurant where they come to share a final "little black" before the start, and above all to celebrate the arrivals and replay the race until late into the night... "Conviviality is part of Concarneau, and has naturally become a key ingredient of this regatta."


Over the years, the Figaro Class has grown, with the arrival of the half-tonner Figaro Beneteau designed by Finot in 1990. With it came the concept of monotype, as well as professionalism. But this new audience quickly adapted to the customs of Concarneau, and "even though the sporting level has increased year by year, the DNA of this race has remained unchanged, with the desire to remain inexpensive and open to all," explains Pierre Gautier.


A specific course

But ever more popular, the Figaro Class, whose Figaro Beneteau 2 was launched in 2003 thanks to the stroke of architect Marc Lombard's pen, has increasingly significant needs for its competitors. In 2009, a step was taken by offering for the first time "a course specifically for Figarists, different from the 110 miles," recalls Pierre Gautier.


The "Solo Concarneau" is born, in a slightly extended format to allow sailors to spend two nights at sea. "With always the idea that they arrive during the day, it's one of the principles of this race, and that's why the course is always delivered at the last moment, depending on the weather," he points out.


In 2013, the support of Guy Cotten

The skippers responded, adhering to the spirit as much as to the event itself. Faced with this success, the volunteers of the SRC sought the support of one of the most prominent companies in the region: the equipment manufacturer Guy Cotten, whose historic cradle is in Concarneau. In 2013, as the legendary founder of the Breton company had just passed away, "the partnership came naturally, strong in this attachment to this beautiful Figaro Class, where the learning dimension is so important," recalls Julien Betholom, responsible for sailing partnerships at Guy Cotten.
The first edition was then won by a certain Paul Meilhat, ahead of Nicolas Lunven and Armel Le Cléac'h, after about twenty hours of relentless struggle to take advantage of every wind shift. "A great memory of racing and strategy on a knife edge, clinging to the helm," recalls the man who has now moved on to the IMOCA class and is preparing to compete in his second Vendée Globe in November, but still remembers these Figaro races "where the level was insane, and so formative."
This arrival "is an incredible memory for Guy Cotten, because Paul was also a skipper we supported at the time, so it was really a double coup," recalls Julien Bertholom with happiness, whose company is preparing to celebrate its 60th anniversary this year, more assured than ever of this partnership "fully anchored in our identity. It's the sailor who makes the difference more than the boat, and at Guy Cotten we particularly love beautiful human stories."

Arrival at dawn, meteor showers or red moon

Resolutely attached to its "pressure-free" side, the Solo Guy Cotten is no less "highly adaptable, and evolves according to the needs of the skippers and the Figaro Class," recalls Marie-Astrid. Historically solitary, it opens up to doubles during transatlantic years, or moves in the calendar according to imperatives. "Two years ago, we also evolved the race format by offering two additional days of coastal racing before the main race. The sailors were asking for it, we worked with the Concarneau Sailing Society, the city of Concarneau, and the Figaro Beneteau Class to best meet their expectations," the organizer recalls, delighted to have "the boats at the quay longer, which also creates more animation."
Logistical ease, thanks to its army of volunteers, ensures the longevity of the event, and promises the Figaro Class sailors editions that are always memorable. The names of the winners engraved on the cup continue to dream and embody all the vitality of this Figaro Class: Yann Eliès, Charlie Dalin, Corentin Horeau, Anthony Marchand... "I have a particularly strong memory of the 2019 edition, with a dawn arrival in the magnificent lights of Armel Le Cléac'h, just four minutes ahead of Martin Le Pape after 270 miles of racing, it was incredible," recalls Marie-Astrid.
Race anecdotes also populate the memories of the sailors, like Pierre Quiroga, who in 2020 won his first race victory in a Figaro Beneteau. "I waited a long time for it, and it unlocked a lot of things for me in terms of confidence," says the man who, the following year, won the Solitaire du Figaro, still keeping in mind of this Solo Guy Cotten "a meteor shower the first night, an exceptional red moon the second, and then thunderstorms!" A pure pleasure of being at sea that we also wish to the sailors of the 48th edition, and all those that will follow...