The Solitaire URGO Le Figaro is proud to have always welcomed men and women on an equal footing. Pioneers such as Florence Arthaud, Isabelle Autissier, Catherine Chabaud, Karine Fauconnier, Jeanne Grégoire, and Ellen MacArthur have paved the way and proved to the world that they equal and could surpass their male competitors, others have followed and new sailors join this circuit every year. The Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, the figurehead of French offshore racing, which has been running for 48 years, is the ideal race to assert oneself at the highest level.

Even though a lot of progress has been made in the sport, there is still more to be done for better recognition of women’s sport. Especially as women represent – throughout the world – the main growth of practitioners. At the last Olympic Games in Rio, women accounted for almost 50% of the athletes with 4700 participations out of 10 500 athletes **. Despite this, the proportion of female sports broadcasting in television still does not exceed 20% ** and partners are lacking.

While gender parity is a major issue in civilian life, figures and progress remain significantly better in sport. Sailing recorded the number of female license holders increasing by 12.19% between 2008 and 2014 *. For a long time, the Olympics has offered so many women’s and men’s events and now a mixed series. In offshore racing, where mixing is the norm, there are still too few. This is a great opportunity to celebrate some of the women, who have made their mark in this discipline and those who can claim it in the future.

Florence Arthaud, sadly no longer with us. “The fiancée of the Atlantic” – the first woman to win the legendary Route du Rhum Race in 1990 against the hard nosed big names – remains the benchmark. Florence Arthaud contributed with her talent and her aura to popularize modern sailing.

Isabelle Autissier, 15th in La Solitaire Le Figaro in 1988 and 12th in 1989, has also left her mark. She is the first woman to have completed a world tour in competition, the BOC Challenge in 1991 (7th). Eight years later, during this same solo race around the world, Around Alone, she capsized and was rescued by Giovanni Soldini. This event had a deep effect and the decision-maker of her choice to stop competing singlehandedly to devote herself entirely to the writing of novels (including “The lover of Patagonia”) and to the presidency of WWF France.

Dame Ellen MacArthur, the young English woman finished second in the Vendée Globe 2000 at only 24 years of age. In 2002, she finished first in the IMOCA Route du Rhum. Three years later, she beat the solo, multihull round the world record. The British navigator was then decorated with the Legion of Honor before being ennobled by Queen Elizabeth II. She ended her career on August 31, 2010, to look after her foundation: Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, whose goal is to make sailing accessible for children suffering with cancer. She also created the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2007, which aims to encourage the public and businesses to rethink, design and build a sustainable future based on the concept of circular economy.

Sam Davies has participated 4 times in La Solitaire Le Figaro (2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006), 3 times in the Transat AG2R LA MONDIALE (2004, 2006 and 2010) and twice in the Vendée Globe (4th in 2008). For parity as much in the sport as in any other field, it is the initiative of “The Magenta Project”, which represents the first international sports network of professional female sailors. Sam Davies is the Ambassador of the Women’s Cup this year from March 10 to 12. A regatta held every year in Pornichet to celebrate Women’s Day.

Jeanne Grégoire, holds the highest women’s ranking in the history of the Figaro Bénéteau. With 10 appearances on the Solitaire Le Figaro, she took 5th place in 2008. Since 2002, she has been competing in the Transat AG2R LA MONDIALE achieving 3 mixed podiums (3rd in 2006, 2nd in 2010 and 3rd in 2012). In 2004, the female pair that marked the spirits on the Transat AG2R LA MONDIALE, Jeanne next to Sam Davies finished 5th. Unparalleled prowess.

The new wave on The Solitaire URGO Le Figaro.

Justine Mettraux, Cécile Laguette and Mary Rook were all born in 1986. They return this year on the race and expect to come back better than ever on this 48th edition. Two rookies are also starting out on their Figaro adventure. Alexia Barrier and Nathalie Criou are training hard for their first Solitaire URGO Le Figaro. All five take stock of their preparation and their feminine vision of parity in the exercise of the offshore race.

Justine Mettraux – 30 – Switzerland – TeamWork: “The Solitaire URGO Le Figaro is one of the only races where you can really make a difference. Whether you are a man or a woman, it is the same techniques that make it possible to arrive in front. Physically we can be less strong on the boat, but these are things that we will pay more attention to on the preparation to make less effort during the race. ”

Nathalie Criou – 42 – American: “Sailing is one of the few sports where men and women meet on the same field. On a boat like the Bénéteau Figaro, the applied forces are too important for a human to manage without mechanical aid. After all, in sailing, the main actress is the sea, and male or female, we are tiny on its playing field. It is true that there are more men competing than women on the Solitaire URGO Le Figaro. However, I do not apprehend this event as being a woman on a men’s race. Even a man with bare hands can not do anything against the strength of the elements – perhaps by being a woman, we are more aware of it and our approach starts from this principle.”

Mary Rook – 30 – English: “I think we have to train exactly like men. Sailing is a tough sport for women but I work very hard in the gym, which helps a lot to compensate. I believe that we can navigate smarter to maintain our energy and that we have a better temperament in decision-making in the offshore race. At present, I lack an experience that the French have. I started sailing in dinghy’s competing in short races and I still have a lot to learn and especially hone my coastal tactics. “I’m looking forward to learning more this season and getting a good ranking.”

Alexia Barrier – 37 – French – “On this race the Solitaire URGO Le Figaro we can make a difference by our determination and our experience of the offshore race. But it’s not about sex. We really have a card to play and we have the means to make a difference. For physical preparation it obviously needs rigor, it is adapted to my template because I am small but this is not a question of man or woman.”

Cecile Laguette (Deauville) 37eme de la 1ere etape de la Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro entre Deauville et Cowes (UK) - Deauville le 22/06/2016

Cécile Laguette – 30 – French – ECLISSE: “For me, it does not change anything. We are competing against every skipper whatsoever and that is one of the good things with sailing! Being a man or a woman on the Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, it does not change anything! ”

The five women who are entered and training hard will meet on June 4th for the big start in Bordeaux of this 48th edition of the Solitaire URGO Le Figaro.

Translated from:
Photo Credits @DR

Sources :
*Ministère de la Ville de la Jeunesse et des Sports – Rapport 2014 – SEMC (Sport Education Mixité Citoyenneté)
**Le Monde – Etude du CSA


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