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The Transat Paprec favorites and strategies according to Spain's Pep Costa and Ireland's Tom Dolan

by Transat Paprec 28 Apr 06:03 BST 30 April 2023
Corentin Horeau and Pauline Courtois among the favourites on Mutuelle Bleu © Alexis Courcoux

On Sunday eleven 'mixed doubles' teams will set off on Beneteau Figaro 3s to race 3089 nautical miles from Concarneau to Saint Barth's. The Transat Paprec celebrates the 16th edition of a renowned two handed race across the Atlantic which this year becomes the only all mixed two handed race.

Principal sponsors Paprec and race organisers OC Pen Duick are committed to a long term future developing the race to offer an accessible pathway for more women to compete offshore at a high level. Here, top international Figaro sailors Pep Costa of Spain and Ireland's Tom Dolan - who both raced in 2021 - talk about the course and who they see as favourites.

Spain's Pep Costa sailed the last Transat en Double in 2021 with Will Harris. He is preparing to race the Pro Sailing Tour this season on the Ocean 50 multihulls and is looking for sponsors to race on his third La Solitaire du Figaro.

"The Transat on the Figaro is fantastic as the racing is so, so close and it was tight right to the finish. It was amazing. The boat is great for this race, it is fast and sails good angles downwind but it is tough as it is quite wet and there is no outside protection. I would love to do it again, no hesitation."

On the course

"You have to pass a gate at the Canary Islands and so the course is split in two. In the beginning it is about getting out of the Bay of Biscay but into the trade winds off Portugal. Basically if I remember we hoisted the spinnaker off Lisbon and kept it up to Saint Barth's."

"There can be that difficult decision if the fleet splits, do you stay south and get the constant trade winds. Last time the north option paid off. Last time we went south, that was the conservative option and it was not so good."

The fleet and mixed gender

"It is a pity there are not so many boats this time but I am sure it will be bigger next time, there are more women getting interested and their skills are going up to be able to be competitive. It is good. There are some very good women at the front of the Figaro fleet, the fact they are women changes nothing, if you are good you are good."

Pep's tips

Corentin Horeau and Pauline Courtois are my standout - Corentin is very talented, he knows the boat perfectly and I think this season he can win La Solitaire. He and Pauline fit well together and they will enjoy the race together. But Guillaume Pirouelle and Sophie Faguet will be super strong too. I don't think we will know who will win until the end.

Ireland's Tom Dolan raced to eighth place in 2021 with Gildas Mahe on Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan. He is in Ireland waiting to challenge for a new solo round Ireland record.

On the course

"It is like a normal passage across the Bay of Biscay but this is May. Generally speaking first across the Bay of Biscay can normally expect to get the big advantage of getting into the Portuguese trades winds first then its about gybing at the right time. Across Biscay just now there is no typical scenario. Often there will be a front to negotiate. And in the trades you need to be able to push on hard but not break anything."

"Across the Atlantic the further you stay to the north the less distance you do, stay south and generally you should get the more consistent trade winds."

Last time there was a lead group but the boats in the north got a big right shift and gained. But in the middle of the Atlantic the GRIB files are no where near as accurate as they are closer to the land. When you leave you have good accuracy on the Arome or Arpege models but in the middle of the Atlantic where it rarely does what it is meant to. Close to land when we look at forecasts for the coming days during La Solitaire for example you likely have between 85 and 95 per cent accuracy and in the middle of the Atlantic it more like 65 or 75 per cent."

He cautions:

"A weed strategy is important, the weed is unbelievable and you have to be able to deal with it mentally as well as physically. Everyone will have their things and be practiced. We had reinforced the luff of our kite so we could back down quickly to get weed off and it would not chafe the luff"

Tom's tips

"I think Corentin Horeau will win with Pauline Courtois. Then it will be close between Guillaume and Sophie, Pierre Leboucher and Camille Bertel and Macif. Guillaume and Sophie have done the most miles I think but overall the level is so high and so close."

Ireland's Marcus Hutchinson is Vice President of the Figaro class

"I believe the weed is very bad on the other side of the Atlantic especially and the duos will have to deal with it as best they can. That alone can be very debilitating towards the end of a long race like this."

Their five to watch

Mutuelle Bleu

Corentin Horeau, 33, from La Trinité has five La Solitaire du Figaros under his belt, best finish 2nd in 2014. He was seventh on this race sailing with Elodie Bonafous in2021. He is one of the favourites to win La Solitaire this season, starting 2023 by winning the Solo Maitre Coq.

Pauline Courtois, 34, from Le Havre is European match racing champion with less offshore experience. They finished second on the 320 mile Trophée Laura Vergne in early April.

Région Bretagne CMB Océane

Hugo Dahllene, 32, from Lorient is the winner of the last Mini Transat, He was born in Saint Malo and his father crewed with Eric Tabarly. A qualified expert marine electrician he has worked with Maxime Sorel, Louis Burton, Thibaut Vauchel-Camus and Luke Berry. His sailing experience includes Formula18, Diam24, Class40 and Multi50. After success in the Mini he is now focusing on the Figaro. In the Mini he won three from four starts in the same season. And he won the first race of the Figaro season this year at the Solo Maitre Coq.

Chloe Le Bars, 25, from Port La Foret, is the winner of the Région Bretagne CMB Océane skipper trials which gives her a boat and top level training and puts her on an elite pathway. She is a past match racer who went offshore in the Mini class before pursuing selection to this talent programme. She finished second rookie on last year's La Solitaire.

Région Bretagne CMB Performance

Gaston Morvan, 26, from Port La Foret, already has a fifth and seventh in La Solitaire on his CV from his first two participations. After being a top youth Laser sailor he moved swiftly to the Figaro and in the first season of the Beneteau Figaro 3 sailed two handed with his father Gildas, one of the most experience Figaro sailors ever.

Anne Claire Le Berre, 41, is an specialist engineer as well as a top level sailor. She originally sailed with Marie Riou in the 420 winning European and world titles before campaigning in the 470 for 12 years and match racing for 2012. As an engineer she worked for eight years with the Initiatives Coeur team starting with Tanguy de Lamotte and then with Sam Davies as Technical Director. But she has more recently chosen to do her own thing. Campaigning in the Mini, juggling being a mum, finding sponsors and training she finished fifth in the series division on the 2021 Mini Transat. She is also on The Ocean Race taking time off from the Guyot environnement Team Europe team to do this race.

Région Normandie

Guillaume Pirouelle, 28, from Port La Foret is a former 470 campaigner and Youth World Champion who grew up in Le Havre. He has been widely tipped to follow in the footsteps of Charlie Dalin. Between Olympic sailing and moving into offshore he raced three Tour Voiles on the Diam 24 winning with the Beijaflore team in 2019. He won Normandy talent search and had a season double handed with Alexis Loison. Together they finished fifth on this race in 2021. Last year Pirouelle pushed Tom Laperche hard to the finish but had to settle for second on La Solitaire du Figaro, joining a very elite group of rookies who podiumed on their first solo year. He is already a favourite for this season's La Solitaire du Figaro.

Sophie Faguet, 36, from Granville has passed through many of sailing's disciplines, starting offshore in crewed racing on the Tour Voile back in 2007 whilst also J/80 racing inshore and match racing. For 2015 and 2016 she is on the Région Normandie Figaro programme. Unable to maintain a budget thereafter, she has since specialised in 'mixed doubles racing' and won medals in the European championships. Now she is back in the Figaro aiming to have a 2026 project for the Route du Rhum, while this year she also want to do The Transat Jacques Vabre.

Cap Ingélec Pierre Leboucher, 42, from Lorient represented France at the 2012 Olympics where he finished seventh in the 470. After a dozen years on the Olympic circuit in the 470 he moved to offshore racing and established himself among the top four or five skippers. In 2021 he took two race podiums before winnin the final leg of La Solitaire but more importantly for this race he was fourth racing with Thomas Rouxel. An adaptable sailor who now sails all classes from Class40 to Ultim with wing foiling and Waszp sailing in between he brings the rigour and drive from Olympic sailing to offshore racing.

Camille Bertel 26 from La Rochelle is a Mini sailor who worked with the Lalou Multi team for four years before racing the MiniTransat in 2021. She has now chosen to move on to the Beneteau Figaro class.

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