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It’s a wrap! Thank you Torbay - Sunday 21st June: the Solitaire du Figaro – Eric Bompard fleet departed Torbay in spectacular style.
Sunday 21st June. the Solitaire du Figaro – Eric Bompard fleet departed Torbay in spectacular style. Docking out from Torquay Harbour at 1400, the 39 skippers made their way out to the start line waving goodbye and thank you to the local crowds lining Haldon Pier. Out in the Bay, the fleet was blessed champagne conditions – sunshine and a good breeze filling their sails. At the start gun fired by Alain Sibiril Honorary French Consul from Plymouth at 1600, it was a bittersweet start for local boy Henry Bomby (Dartmouth) – over the line before the start gun and having to re-cross the line. Utilising his local knowledge of the Bay and pushing to the brown cliffs and rocks closer than anyone else, Henry was soon back in the mix by the time the skippers dropped their spinnakers at Berry Head – the cliff top lined with the silhouettes of supporters and well wishers. British skipper Alan Roberts, 9th into Torbay on Wednesday 17th June, led the charge from the off, steaming over the starting line down to the first mark at Corbyn Head – challenged by Leg 3 winner and overall leader Yann Elies. Southwest sailors Sam Matson (Exmouth) and Rookie Robin Elsey (Truro) also had a solid start, both skippers pushing into the top ten around the first mark. But in the end it was French skipper Vincent Biarnes who took charge, leading the fleet around the first set of marks in Tor Bay and offshore around Berry Head. The turn out for the start of Leg 4 was the perfect end to a great week in Torbay for the Solitaire du Figaro fleet, chased around the bay by a flotilla of supporters on RIBS, speedboats and yachts – as well as hundreds of people still eagerly watching and listening to the live commentary from Palm 105.5 on the Harbour Wall. Sailing on a shortened 400nm course from Torbay to Dieppe via Lands End, the Solitaire du Figaro is expected to finish in France on Thursday 25th June. You can track local sailors Henry, Sam Matson and Robin Elsey and the rest of the fleet to the finish line here.

Thank you to Torbay for hosting the Solitaire du Figaro – Eric Bompard fleet in Torbay and to all event partners and suppliers for their support. Here are some of the week’s highlights.

Wednesday 17th June:

The Solitaire du Figaro fleet raced into Torbay before the Race Village on Beacon Quay had even opened! While tents were being erected and PA systems being tested, Leg 3 leaders Yann Elies and Chalie Dalin battled through the crystal clear waters of Tor Bay – speeding toward the finish line just 30 seconds and 0.1nm apart after nearly 500 miles. The photo finish for 41 year old Yann, racing his 16th Solitaire, and 30 year old Charlie, racing just his fourth, was very exciting for just after 0900 in the morning, giving the people of Torbay a taste of what was to come ahead of the official opening ceremony.

As the fleet began to trickle into Torquay Harbour, redecorating the skyline with lines of vertical fluttering race flags, Torbay’s Elected Mayor Gordon Oliver and CEO of Race Organiser Pen Duick Pierre Bojic together cut the ribbon and welcomed the public to the Race Village.

Wednesday evening marked the start of a week of live music and entertainment. Local band ‘Harbour’ kicked off the programme with a lively performance on day one, with performances from Mafia 4, the Torbay Brass Band, the Torquay WI, Max Hutton, Karl Morgan, Robbie VS Ollie and Ruby Washington over the five-day stopover.

Thursday 18th June:

Ladies Day! In line with the Royal Ascot Gold Cup, Palm 105.5 hosted Ladies Day in the village – inviting local ladies to don their best headgear and get down to the Race Village. Alongside the day, the Torbay Hospital of Friends ran a raffle for a range of great prizes – from theatre tickets, to Rockfish cooking books, to x2 VIP spots on a VIP spectator boat and a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne. A few brave ladies turned out in their finest millinery, but none as brave as Chatham sponsored and local skipper Sam Matson’s family – crafting some creative sun hats out of Chatham shoeboxes! The ladies enjoyed a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne for their efforts.

Thursday also marked the start of the Solitaire du Figaro UK education programme, with 180 local school children swarming the Race Village. Starting their visit in the Royal Torbay Yacht Club, the children learned all about the race and what happens aboard a solo yacht from the British skippers themselves. They even got to try freeze dried race food, their reaction? “It looks like puke”, “my dog wouldn’t eat that” and “my Mum’s cakes are far worse…” The kids then took a special tour of the British Figaros, talked through the boat by members of the Artemis Offshore Academy. In return for their school trip to the Race Village, the children were asked to perform songs and dance routines in the Race Village – drawing in crowds of cooing public! The UK Solitaire du Figaro education programme was one of the biggest successes of the event and will hopefully inspire the children of Torbay to try sailing. One of the most exciting parts of the tour for the kids was discovering that the Figaros don’t have a toilet…

Friday 19th June:

On day three of the Solitaire du Figaro – Eric Bompard Cachemire in Torbay, 33 professional skippers and guests took to the water for the Pro-Am race. The Pro-Am race came as an opportunity to show the people of Torbay just how exciting and intense solo sailing really is. For the spectators on the wall, it was a chance to see the Figaros in action without them disappearing over the horizon. For the lucky few selected to race with the skippers, it was a chance to sail one of these nimble keelboats and try solo sailing first hand. Starting from Torquay, the competing boats were plagued with light and patchy winds all the way to the first mark at Berry Head, resulting in a dramatic pile up around the buoy. From there they caught a lively knots breeze, seeing the fleet blast back into Torquay in the new breeze. Using his local knowledge to his advantage, Rockfish Red skipper Henry Bomby climbed through the ranks chasing the top spot. In the end, Henry and his crew took a worthy third of 33 Figaros – followed by a dramatic photo finish that left spectators gasping for British skippers Jack Bouttell and Alan Roberts. In true Figaro racing style, the professional skippers and their amateur crew saw every type of condition, with light and patchy sailing down wind, to hard and physical racing upwind.

The Pro-Am didn’t count towards the overall race results. However, there was pride at stake, and some great prizes too – so the professional skippers were working their crews hard, most sitting out on the rails and letting their passengers do the work! In the end it was 2015 Rookie and Frenchman Benjamin Dutreux who took line honours, winning a custom made Elliot Brown Watch, crafted to his own specification. As an incentive to take part in the race, the 16th boat in the middle of the fleet won £850 of high end Danish outdoor furniture courtesy of Cane Line – going to Solitaire du Figaro giant Gildas Morvan racing his 20th Solitaire onboard Cercle Vert, with Artemis Offshore Academy race coach Marcus Hutchinson. The last boat over the line was awarded a case of Pol Roger Champagne, a fizzy treat too tempting for some of the skippers…dawdling and stalling all the way up the course, in the end the case was split between the final two Figaros – including British Figarist and Rookie Andrew Baker.

Saturday 20th June

On Saturday 20th June, a total of 643 Torbay locals and visitors broke the world record for the World’s Largest Cream Tea party in the Solitaire du Figaro – Eric Bompard Cachemire Race Village. With the current world record standing at 536, organisers of the Torbay event sent out a call to arms over social media, with over 1000 people invited to attend on Saturday 20th October at 1500. On the day, the crowds poured into Beacon Quay in droves to collect their English delicacies – West Country Original Blend Tea from Sam Burton and ‘Miles Coffee and Tea’, coupled with beautifully baked scones, cream and jam from Tania Mahon and Michelle Hampson at ’Torre Abbey Tea Rooms’.

Locals, tourists, family, friends, children and even dogs queued the length of Torquay harbour wall to collect their cream tea, making a £2 donation going to the Torbay Youth Sailing Trust. With over 600 people attending, organisers of the cream tea world record attempt anticpate over £1000 raised for the local charity – an organisation set up in conjunction with the Royal Torbay Yacht Club to introduce children to sailing. Set up in 2007, the charity aimed to get one million children out on the water by 2012. The Torbay Youth Sailing Trust was chosen as the Torbay Solitaire du Figaro stopover’s official charity due to it’s affinity with the event and with the Artemis Offshore Academy – the UK’s only training centre for British solo skippers, with eight currently competing in the Solitaire. The Torbay Youth Sailing Trust’s work is giving the next generation of British solo sailors an opportunity to get out on the water, an opportunity that they otherwise may have never had.

Riding high on the shared success of the world record, the crowds gathered at the stage for the Leg 3 prize giving. Stage winner and current overall race leader Yann Elies took to the mic to thank Torbay for their hospitality, and their fish and chips. He also joked that he would love to win the Mayor’s colourful tie, before commending Event Organisers and the progress of the Artemis Offshore Academy and their British sailors on the Classe Figaro Bénéteau Circuit. Unable to drink his winners champagne ahead of the race, instead Yann popped the cork on his Jereboam and hosed the supporting crowds – an exciting finish to a usually formal affair. The Race Village then celebrated the race in Torbay with a grand fireworks display set off from Corbyn head.

Sunday 21st June

Race day. In a humbling service wishing the Solitaire du Figaro competitors god speed and safe passage, friends, family and public supporters joined Reverend Canon John Herve for a multi-faith blessing in the Race Village. In a relaxed service supported by Torquay’s WI choir, the scale of the challenge ahead was made real by the faces of Mum’s of the British skippers – singing and praying for their sons sailing over 2000 miles solo aged between just 20 and 30 years old.

Keeping the crowds entertained until the time came for the boats to dock out, the Shaolin Martial Arts display team wowed the public with their precision and control. At 1400, the Solitaire du Figaro skippers began to make their way down to their boats, saying goodbye to loved ones before being cheered out of the habour for the last time by the people of Torbay.

A big thank you to all who visiting the Race Village over the five day event and to all in Torbay for embracing the race and making the skippers welcome.

Photo : © Lloyd Images
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