Figaro - Novices and old timers

There are some familiar faces on the Figaro circuit whose days spent wearing out their foulies on the school benches of ocean racing are far from over. There are also newcomers for whom this Cap Istanbul is reminiscent of the first day of the new school year.

In the race village of the 'European Capital of Culture - Cap Istanbul' which has just opened its quaysides in the Vieux Port in Nice, everyone is mixing together amidst an atmosphere of great camaraderie. And yet it’s in the day to day gestures and in the way the day is managed that the differences can be measured.

Louis-Maurice Tannyères has accumulated a great deal of experience in the business world, but here he is like a child at the foot of the Christmas tree, unwrapping the toy he has dreamt of for years. At 50, this former senior executive of a multinational business specialised in electronics has opted to make a fresh start and launch into the adventure of the Figaro Bénéteau circuit.

Used to managing a team of a thousand people, today he finds himself running every which way in a bid to find his marks and prepare himself for start day: 'I don’t have a préparateur, instead the family is taking care of things along with a few friends. We’re just discovering all the different tasks which need completing.'

Highly determined, Louis-Maurice wanted to give himself every possible advantage: training session in the art of preparing a boat at the Grande-Motte, (southern France), shrewd counselling from more experienced skippers, but Louis-Maurice freely admits that he’ll be heading into the unknown nonetheless. 'We’re going to be sailing single-handed for four weeks. For me this is something completely new and I don’t yet know how I’m going to get used to it.'

If there’s one person who isn’t a novice to solo sailing it’s French legend Eric Drouglazet.

The sailor from Nevez has been part of the ‘furniture’ on the Figaro Bénéteau circuit for nearly twenty years (it has to be said that he started young…) For the skipper of Luisina this third edition of Cap Istanbul is a rejuvenating experience.

'It’s a race, but it’s also a fine adventure. In this case, we’re going to be discovering ports we’ve never been to before. We’re also here because we love nature and open spaces.' He has also been able to assess the development in the circuit over the past two decades:

'Is the level higher than before? I’m not so sure about that but with professionalization things have certainly changed. When I started out, we sailed at weekends and during the week you had to find ways of making a living. Today, those who are lucky enough to have a budget spend their time on the water. They train more, so they’re better.' Whatever happens, the skipper of Luisina will certainly be counting on his experience to outwit the young seadogs.

Though he’s in no way a beginner, Eric Péron still considers himself to be a youngster on the Figaro circuit. The skipper of Esprit d’équipe knows that the path to success is paved with massive doses of patience and abnegation.

'It’s only my second year on the circuit, but I know just how difficult it is. To get good results from the outset is becoming increasingly difficult. Moreover, we haven’t been able to find a sole partner and we seem to spend more time getting money together to race rather than train. And when you get to the races, you pay.'

Yet Eric began the 2008 season in triumphant form with third place in the Transat AG2R thanks to a daring option. In the end though, aside from the additional entry on his list of wins and a slight boost to his credibility, luck hasn’t yet shone on the sailor from NW France.

This in no way affects his enjoyment however as he realises that every mile he devours along the racetrack bumps up his experience and leads him another step closer to sailing on a par with the top names in his field. 'Nico Troussel, it’s his seventh season and Jeanne Grégoire’s sixth. Personally I have just two Figaros to my name.'

At the end of the day, the old timers fear the young rising stars, who themselves are on their guard against the experience and savoir-faire of the sailors with years of racing behind them. In short, everyone is afraid of everyone else. Isn’t this the best possible proof that the game is wide open?

Quotes from the pontoons of the 'European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul'

Eric Péron, on Esprit d’équipe:

'It’s a great race with an original course. I really like the fact that the préparateurs are on the water too so that everyone experiences the same adventure… Even though I believe that all the top names will still end up at the head of the pack, the sea may well have some surprises in store. The most important thing is to be strong mentally and be ready for any upsets in proceedings.'

Eric Drouglazet, Luisina:

'This race is like a breath of fresh air in relation to the more formatted races like the Solitaire du Figaro or even the Transatlantic races. Here, we’re going to discover some unknown areas and we’re going to have to get used to the strokes of both good and bad luck the Mediterranean enjoys serving up. Added to that, even if you take eight hours on the first leg, you still stand a chance of getting up with the leaders again. You have to be solid.'

Louis-Maurice Tannyères, Nanni Diesel

'It’s my first race so I’ve come here with a great deal of humility. I’m going to try to get used to the race rhythm. Being a Mediterranean the chances are that I might not feel quite so out of place and Istanbul is a great destination.'