My job as a boat dealer has, as every job I´d reckon, some very nice sides and also some downsides, which I had described quite intimately in a recent article. One of the unbeatable aspects of my occupation surely is the travel. And not just any travel, but my obligation to travel to the most interesting places when it comes to sailing. One of them being Les Sables d´Olonne at the French Atlantic coast.

Sunrise in Les Sables d´Olonne

I´ve already done a declaration of love to this sailing city and here´s another one. Last week I arrived very early after a 10 hour drive from Cologne in Germany at Les Sables, the sun was barely up and since I was sure that our hotel wasn´t going to have our rooms prepared and ready, I parked my car at the Port Olona parking, just to enjoy the first light of the new day and maybe see some nice boats. And boy, did I see some!

First visit in Les Sables d´Olonne: Race Pier Port Olona!

I strolled down to the “racing pontoon” and discovered that a proud fleet of Beneteau Figaro 3 racing yachts had been occupying almost all of the berths. Apparently, there was a race about to start. Racing yachts, just like Formula One race cars, do have a very special effect on people. Surprisingly enough, even non-sailors or, as in my case my dear colleague who is a die-hard power boat fan, seem to appreciate the dramatic lines and the brute bareness of pure power in race boats.

The Figaro 3 fleet

The Figaro 3 is no exemption from that: She might be a very small boat compared to the mighty Imocas, but she packs quite a punch! This third generation of Figaro racers was developed by renowned naval architects of VPLP and is made by a special dedicated Beneteau factory in Nantes which I was happy to be visiting and getting a tour by Gianguido Girotti (now Beneteau brand director) and Vincent Lauriot Prevost in person. Now, here we are, a full fleet of them. Amazing!

Home of Imoca 60 race boats

Before I focused my attention to the legendary Figaro class, I strolled up to the very end of the pontoon because a very tall mast had caught my attention. And my serendipity hadn´t fooled me: It was a grown-up Imoca 60 racing yacht! A flat, aggressive black carbon-monster, unmistakably and immediately identifiably by the huge outriggers.

A true race machine

Now, for the Imoca 60 fleet Les Sables d´Olonne isn´t the hot spot, here in this small coastal town only a few of them are based. Most of the Imoca racers can be found at “La Base” in Lorient. There the bunkers of the German World War 2 U-Boats had been turned into the working sheds for most of the Imoca-teams.

GUYOT Imoca 60 at the pontoon

So it´s a quite rare sight to see an Imoca 60 in Les Sables, especially when it is one of the newer models like the GUYOT I stood in front of that mild morning. Of course, the GUYOT isn´t one of the brand new designs. Many of you might remember the lines of this boat. Of course, it´s no other less than Alex Thompson´s (in?)famous HUGO BOSS from his 2015 Vendée Globe campaign. By the way, she is as well a VPLP design.

The mighty foils

I know my pictures will never transmit the awe-inspiring sight onto a boat like this. This is pure racing, brutal speed and a vehicle that is touching – surely sometimes crossing – the limits of what is possible in sailing today. Standing next to those nimble, but surprisingly rigid, foils and imagining how these are plowing the seas and cutting the white caps at speeds we will never reach with our boats is an absolutely insane feeling! It is something that Les Sables d´Olonne is bestowing upon its visitors. For free. No entry fee. No guards. No nothing: Just me and this incredible machine.

Harbinger of hot November: Vendeé Globe!

For me as a German this is ultra-motivating. We do not have a sailing culture as vivid and traditional like the one found here at the Vendée. Of course, we have our sailing clubs and regattas and even Kiel week is the biggest sailing event of the world, but we certainly have no place like this, surely no record like this.

Sleek, aggressive and impressive!

GUYOT, like many other boats and skippers, is preparing for the one single handed sailing event in the world: The Vendée Globe around the world. This “Mount Olympus” of the sailing world will take place in November this year and you can bet, this time I try to be there for the start, which is an absolutely crazy occasion. The contrast couldn´t be bigger to this intimate, quite morning though …

Ready for Vendeé Globe 2024

My power boat colleague has already left me alone as he had found an interesting yacht for him to take a thorough look at. There was not a single puff, the water was as flat as a mirror, nobody on the pier except for me. The boat didn´t move an inch at the pontoon, just a flat, calm black beauty ready to cast off. I´ve seen Imoca racing boats for many times in real live and it always amazes me again like the first time. Unimaginable how this boat will fly around the Earth in less than seven months. My colleague is waving energetically from afar. I should come over …

Trends, prototypes & new yachts

Les Sables d´Olonne, just as La Rochelle, is an epicenter for the big French boatbuilders. Beneteau has their headquarter just a few kilometers away and most of their dozen production plants are situated in less than 50 kilometers away. So naturally, Les Sables d´Olonne as it provides all technical support, a large marina with many berths and the skilled labour, is a hub. Not just for newly produced yachts for commissioning and handover, but also for prototypes.

Swift Trawler 54 prototype!

I join my colleague at another jetty and we discover that a hull #001 of a brand new yacht – a power boat – of Beneteau was moored there. This new Swift Trawler 54 is the second (after the Grand Trawler 62) of a new generation of those displacement long-haul power boats and she looks absolutely gorgeous! He is delighted and full of joy, I honestly would have preferred a brand new sailing yacht, just as the other day when I discovered the then brand new First 44 at this very pier and did one of the first walkthroughs. Anyway, power boat fans will get to see her in Cannes this year. Another familiar sight at the pontoon vis-à-vis …

Jeez …

You might have read my article about the Jeanneau Yachts 55 when I did my walkthrough during Boot Duesseldorf boat show. Here she is, in the water, freshly commissioned to a British owner. She looks as massive and awkward (both in appealing and repelling ways) as I had her in my memories. A huge boat for sure and a head turner in every sense. But back to the Figaros …

Walking the Parc Fermé

We returned to Les Sables the same day after check-in and completing our first appointments in the forenoon. I had to check one of our stock catamarans nearby and wanted to take a look at the Figaros. But what a different sight! The pontoon was bristling with people, teeming around preparing their boats. Checking the internet and the Classe Figaro website the reason became quite clear: Maitre CoQ Solo race!

Race preps for Solo Maitre CoQ

This race is a big five day event that functions as a qualification race for the legendary and well known “Solitaire”. During this qualification event the Solo Maitre CoQ contenders will race on three days in different courses outside and in front of Les Sables. Two smaller offshore courses on the first two days, a “grand course” offshore sailing well out into the Bay of Biscay on the third day.

Busy people on every boat

Sails had to be checked and stored, lines, fittings and gear. Some boats with well-known sponsors on colorful stickers surrounded by a team of three to four people, all dressed up in team gear, some other boats still in plain gelcoat-white without any sponsors, worked upon by their skippers solely. I think I also saw a mother bringing sandwiches to her son. This is Figaro racing, this is why this class is so popular and powerful in France.

Parc Fermé? Open to public

The Classe Figaro is what the French Revolution has brought to this wonderful county: Egalité. The boats are made powerful but affordable for “everyone”. Their power and the quality of racing events attracts the most prominent and high class sailors of the professional sailing circus. Most of the past Vendée Globe winners are Figaro racers. It´s like racing a one-design car against Lewis Hamilton. Skippers like Jeremy Beyou on CHARAL Imoca 60 is a regular participant in Figaro racing. Imagine being able to race against Beyou & co – in exactly the same boat! This is the power of Figaro racing, no other regatta class has this exceptional mixture of professionals and ordinary spare-time skippers. And all on a very high level.

Spotted another prototype?

I could stand here, watch and listen the whole day. So amazing to see people living their passion and following their dreams. Something that can be felt in the vibrations of Les Sables racing pontoon the best way. Motivated and with a high spirit we leave for Saint Gilles, Beneteau headquarter, to meet some prospects whom we will show the shipyard: Trying to convey some of this unique culture of sailing that is so deeply interwoven with the Vendée region of France.

This is where I work

I feel blessed and happy, every time I have the chance to come here. It´s an honest place, not overly crowded with (German) tourists, merely a hidden gem for people who know. It´s the place to get the freshest and most varied seafood, local specialties and tasty craft beers. Most of the best know shipyards and brands are situated along this coast, there is no time of the year when you shouldn´t come. The mild climate and the breathtaking power of the Atlantic Ocean make for an overwhelming location to spend some days – preferably with a boat!

Home and birthplace of Beneteau

This is where I work and it makes me proud to be a part of this venture. A small and surely rarely counting part, but that doesn´t matter. France makes me happy. Sharing my time with people who have the same passion about boats, sailing and nature. We don´t have something like this in Germany and wherever your location is, reading this article: Come here, experience the magic of Les Sables and the Vendée yourself, breath and taste real honest French sailing culture. Maybe we meet here? Maybe in November?


You might as well be interested in these related articles:

Visiting the (secret) production site of the Figaro 3

The magic of Figaro-boats

Figaro 3: Riding the bull