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Displaying items by tag: Kenneth Rumball

Here I am on the ferry back to Ireland, absolutely shattered after another month of intense offshore sailing in France at the highest level, there is a lot to reflect on as always and more importantly build upon!

If you prefer a video, full video log here

We headed out for some last-minute sail testing and short course practise ahead of the Solo Maitre Coq, the first solo offshore event of the year for the Figaro Class at the beginning of the month. The time flew by and before we knew it after some rig tweaks and changes of battens in our jib, we were off up to Les Sables d’Olonne to line up for the first time this year against the rest of the fleet.

We had glorious weather for the few days of boat, sailor and meteo preparation for this event. I was very lucky to have Paddy Hutchings an experienced preparateur and future Figaro rockstar join me to make sure the boat was 110% ready for the races. Paddy was busy checking lines, re-splicing and swimming in the boat daily to make sure the underside of the hull was as clean as possible for racing! Timothy Long who had done some sailing with me as part of the Academy was also on hand to help out as he was learning all about the preparation that goes into these boats before we head to sea for a race!

Solo Maitre Coq Kenny RumballKenny Rumball in the Solo Maitre Coq Regatta Photo: Vincent Olivaud

Our racecourse was largely unchanged with the notable exception that we would be omitting the Birvedeau lighthouse from the course as there would be military firing exercises in that area while we would be racing. It would mean rounding the Island of Belle Ile would be the most northerly part of the course! As for the weather, it was looking pretty straightforward, upwind there, downwind home, a windward-leeward just 330 miles long!

The race started off as predicted by the weather with a light 10-13 knots of wind from the north, the race committee gave us a short beat to ensure the fleet got away evenly before we headed off downwind to Ile d’Re. The wind was coming from the shore and initially, those the dared go as close to the exclusion zone on the shore as possible were the early boats to gain, of which IRL 20, Kenny was…

Not more than three hours into the race, we had our first shutdown and weather transition with the new wind coming from the North West. This saw a small reshuffle of the pack but nothing to worry about. This new wind was to build for the rest of the day and shift back to the North East overnight, which it did exactly! Coming around Ile d’Re we were quickly sailing upwind in demanding conditions short tacking as close to the coast as possible, moving the 90kgs of stackable weight on every tack! Tiring work but working hard here separates the fleet!

Kenny RumballKenny Rumball was as a high as 11th a one point Photo: Vincent Olivaud

Eventually, the fleet settled onto starboard tack which would take the fleet past Ile d’Yeu, leaving it to port and all the way up to Belle Ile. From here it was a drag race of identical boats! Sail selection, setup and time spent driving would be the determining factors on speed and ultimately position! It was the first real test of speed for the fleet in 2022!

By early morning the time spent sailing the boat hard through the night was well spent with some place gains overnight and approaching Belle Ile in a good position! The wind had not really changed with around 20-24kts all the time! We were expecting it to have died to around 15 kts for the downwind kite sail back towards Les Sables! But more wind means more speed, our biggest spinnakers up and we were off heading downwind at speed to the Rochebonne plateau. 25kts of wind, big sea state saw consistent boat speeds in the high teens all the way south…. Lots more driving required meant no time for rest or food, this was turning out to be a tough race.

By the Rochbonne Plateau, we had a big sea state and winds into 30kts, taking the big spinnaker down solo was demanding especially when there is only one of them on board and we knew it was needed later on in the race! Damaging it was not an option…

If you thought there was time for rest, the intensity continued with gennakers unfurled blast reaching back in the direction of Les Sables at a consistent 15 knots or so. At this stage, I was sitting comfortably in 11th position knowing all that was a left was a 60nm loop from Les Salbes out to a weather buoy 30 miles to the South West and then back again. How hard could it be?

As is typical in the Figaro class… Very! Approaching the weather buoy, the wind died and died and we rounded it in 0kts. 30 Miles back to Les Sables, tired, hungry and being honest, a bit emotional!

Given that in the fleet we are not allowed to carry mobile phones or have any assistance from the outside world our weather information was now 48hours+ old so it was very hard to determine where to position oneself on the beat home.

Ultimately the left-hand side of the course paid with the top back having a pretty big reshuffle as well as the rest of the fleet. Frustratingly, I dropped 9 places eventually crossing the finish line in 20th position. However, I was very content with my overall performance taking into account decision making, speed and sail selection!

We now had A FULL DAY off to recover before two coastal sailing days on Saturday and Sunday. It was a joy for me as my parents came out to visit and support the last two days of the event. Saturday was very very light winds, no more than 5kts where the race officer gave us Bannane courses which are windward-leewards. Hugely unstable light and variable winds saw one messy race completed where I was consistent finishing 19th, leaving me 18ht overall in the standings going into the last day.

For the last race, we were to have a coastal race of 30 miles with a short upwind, equally short downwind before a beat up the coast past Les Sables and then back. A good start saw me around the first windward in the mix of the lead pack and I held this on the next downwind leg. However on the 11 mile upwind I started to realise something was wrong as my speed was not as good as on the long offshore race. Post-race discussion and it would be evident I had set my mast up wrongly with too much tension in the D1 shrouds. I still managed to keep the boat moving and finished this race in 20 position, leaving me 20th overall in the event.

Given this was my first solo race in two years with a considerable improvement in performance and finishing position over my last solo race, I have walked away from the event very content.

It was now time to rest, I was very fortunate that Paddy along with some members of the Malizia IMOCA team took the boat north for me to Port La Foret where it lives when not sailing. It has been a very intense few months with the boat being lifted out of the water for the first time since January!

There is now some time off before we’re off to the UK this weekend for the RORC Cervantes race this weekend with some fellow Irish sailors. It's busy busy and important to find some rest in-between these races if only for a day or two!

Lots more to come so keep tuned for next month’s exploits.

Published in INSS
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Another month has raced by in France, the UK and Ireland with projects, programmes and lectures in all countries, all dedicated to offshore yacht racing, learning and development.

March started off with the Classe Figaro Academy training race of which a full report can be read here

In essence, it was incredibly windy with Kenny Rumball and Timothy Long securing a 5th place finish across two races! When we say windy, really windy, 35-40kts coming off the start line, see a video of what the first 12 hours of the race was like below: 

Shortly after this race, there was some relocation to Port la Foret to help out a new Irish JPK 10.30 with father and son duo Justin and Nathan Burke! Enough about what I have to say, here is Justin Burke’s take on the few days I spent with them and some outside sessions we organised…

Most club sailors see racing as part training but to train efficiently you need a coach. Coaching brings structure, a wealth of knowledge and focus. A coach will also bring a measurement/review structure that is rarely done professionally after racing. If you lose the race no one wants to indulge in the blame game and if you win, it's off to the bar.

Having raced FF15 and SB20 over the past 2 decades I recently bought a cruiser-racer boat. Aside from the new format of passage racing, I was confronted with the latest range of electronics. I likened this to making a phone call 20 years ago in a public phone box with press button A and then being handed the later iPhone and expecting to learn on the hoof. You can learn by trial and error if you have the patience and time. But at some stage, you will recognise that the sport of sailing is one of the few sports that does not have a strong and broad infrastructure for coaching. Arranged by the Offshore Racing Academy, Christian Dumard gave an excellent tutorial on how to use Windy, and learn what weather to expect during your passage. Also, we received an in-depth session, on how to use Adrena the most advanced racing navigational software, coupled with this we were given a course on NKE hardware, this included racing with the autohelm. There is no way we would have been able to puzzle this out without professional help. We received on the water coaching, all the time incorporating the NKE and Adrena navigational system. All 3 together were challenging, as it's easier to think you can race by the seat of your pants but when you see what the pros are using, you see there are more options. We also received a review of calibration of equipment and boat set up, all I can say is what you don’t know won't hurt you but will lose you the race.

Cut the learning curve, get coached and enjoy the new knowledge. It might even help your results.

While in Port La Foret, we spent one evening with our initial series of talks ahead of the Irish Offshore circuit for 2022, hosting an evening on an Introduction to Offshore Sailing. This introductory talk was to break down and simplify some of the barriers and misinformation about offshore sailing. We were stunned by the sign-ups with 120 registering interest and 101 attending the online talk! A great two hours with lots of interesting questions and proof there is considerable interest in Offshore racing in Ireland!

With little to no rest, it was off to the UK for a training weekend, back in the world of IRC! Certainly was a step back to familiar territory for Kenneth, sailing back on board a boat with 5 other persons on board! Two 30 miles races Saturday and Sunday, more on this to follow in the next few months!

Back to France for one of the last training weeks before the upcoming Solo Maitre Coq…. We were back in La Rochelle for four days of sailing, mainly focusing on sail testing of the options from the different sailmakers! We had test sails from North Sails, Delta, Incidence and Technique Voile. A superbly interesting week allowing our training group to sail with and investigate the changes in the designs for 2022. This allows us to make informed decisions about our choice of sails for the upcoming season and our main focus the Solitaire du Figaro in August! Don’t worry it’s not always hard work, we treat ourselves from time to time too, see below!

Figaro sailors relaxing at a meal

To say we squeezed a lot in would be an understatement so there was a very welcome return home to Ireland due at the end of the month! To round up the month, we had our second seminar with world-renowned weather router Christian Dumard who showed the huge advantages of and how to use it to its best extent for offshore racing. Once again we had a phenomenal turnout with over eighty sign-ups on our website for the course.

Coming up next we have the Solo Maitre Coq in the month of April, we will give a full report on the race once we have completed it, but to give you a flavour of what we have coming up…

The first event of the 2022 season of the Figaro Bénéteau Class, the Solo Maître Coq will be hosted this year from April 15 to 24 in Les Sables d’Olonne the same port that the Vendee Globe starts and finishes from. This year there is a significant change in that the long offshore race will be run before the in-shore courses to better reflect current events and the return of the Fair-Expo to the Vendée Globe square between April 21 and 24. 

Solo Maître Coq

The Grande Course will take skippers around the islands of Ré, Yeu and Belle-Île. This long offshore course runs North and then back South with a length of approximately 240 nautical miles. It is expected this race will take the skippers approximately three days at sea to complete the course. 

Then, for two days, the skippers will compete on two short courses of approximately 30 miles in the bay of Les Sables d'Olonne, giving spectators the chance to see the Offshore boats and sailors compete within distance of the shore!

For this year, there will be three Irish competitors in the race. Tom Dolan will be back for his fifth turn of this course while Kenneth Rumball will be on his second attempt.  New for 2022 will be Conor Fogerty a well-known and proven offshore sailor!  The full list of sailors can be found here 

Don’t forget to track the competitors here over the course of the offshore and inshore races here

Published in INSS

The first of a number of pre-season offshore racing talks are scheduled for this coming Tuesday the 22nd of March 2022. The discussion, aimed at all levels of offshore sailing, is there to answer many of your questions and myths and provide solutions to questions you might have at whatever level you compete in offshore sailing.

The talk provided free of charge is given by Kenneth Rumball of the Offshore Racing Academy.

J109 Jedi competing in the Fastnet RaceJ109 Jedi competing in the Fastnet Race Photo: Carlo Borlenghi

Rumball has a wealth of knowledge in all aspects of offshore racing. Career highlights include a winning division in the Fastnet Race with Jedi J109, Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) wins as skipper of Keronimo Ker 40, three years and counting experience in the hardest racing of them all in the solo Figaro class in France, plus Round Ireland, Middle Sea and Sydney Hobart Races. Rumball was also awarded the RORC seamanship trophy for the successful recovery of a man overboard on Jedi in a 2018 Round Ireland race.

Below decks on an offshore racerBelow decks on an offshore racer

Topics for the first talk include;

  • Basic boat preparation
  • Crew preparation
  • Safety considerations
  • Managing sleep and watch systems
  • Navigation and routing considerations
  • New keel inspection requirements for 2022

The talk will be given via zoom as Kenneth is in France after a busy training event at the weekend. This talk is free of charge. Participants are encouraged to sign up on the Offshore Academy’s website to obtain access to the zoom link.

The link to sign up is here

Once signed up, participants will be emailed the zoom link two hours before the talk is due to start on Tuesday evening.

Published in INSS

Kenny Rumball on January activities of his newly formed Offshore Racing Academy 

The offshore shorthanded racing scene has exploded and is racing away without any signs of slowing down.

Countless numbers of IMOCAs and Class 40s are in build ahead of the upcoming Route du Rhum and also the next Vendee Globe in 2024, so where do we fit in?

We’re mainly focusing this year on the Figaro 3; the founding fleet for the best sailors in the offshore world! It’s almost a right of passage, to be considered competitive in the Class 40 or even IMOCA fleets first you have to have been competitive in La Solitaire du Figaro.

I  have completed one so far with no focused training before due to the outbreak of Covid in 2020, to even get on the start line that year was an achievement! With the learning from this, we’re fulfilling our aims and goals to lend a helping hand and guidance to rookies coming into the most demanding, competitive and intense one-design offshore fleet in the world!

"To be considered competitive in Class 40 first you have to have been competitive in La Solitaire du Figaro"

This January 2022, we have hit the ground running, before the obligatory Christmas break, we had assisted the Raw campaign of Conor Fogerty in delivering his Figaro 3 by sea and his cradle in the team van and trailer setup, early January saw us crack into fitting out, optimising and ensuring his boat was class legal for the season ahead. With this work in progress, we also focused some time on the water with Matthew Beecher of Kinsale by getting some one on one boat handling practise and coaching in Port La Foret, the birthplace of solo offshore racing in France.

Using our considerable network of contacts in the industry in France and with thanks to the victory of Yannick Besthaven in the last Vendee Globe who hails from La Rochelle, we were the first to hear of the new Pole La Rochelle Course au Large. In France the ‘Pole’s are sailing centres of excellence, combining all the necessary elements to compete at the highest level. State of the art classrooms, gymnasiums, coach boats and a boat support network, there is nothing that has not been thought about already.

Offshore Racing Academy Founder Kenny Rumball (left) with Matthew BeecherOffshore Racing Academy Founder Kenny Rumball (left) with Matthew Beecher

But don’t take our word for it, Matthew Beecher accounts on late January;

January with The Offshore Racing Academy was busy, challenging and super rewarding. I kicked off the month with a couple of days of solo manoeuvre practice in Port la Foret, "the birthplace of solo offshore racing", on my Figaro 3 in preparation for some more one to one coaching sessions with Kenny Rumball. We then got to work preparing the boat for an intense training block with Pole La Rochelle. For my first solo passage I delivered "Han" down to La Base Lorient (the current home of short-handed offshore sailing) where I met up with Kenny once again, and a day later we started the 20 hour double handed delivery down to La Rochelle. There is a few different training groups for Figarists around France, and thankfully the Offshore Racing Academy had already established a relationship with the coach and sailors in the "Pole La Rochelle" training group.

Over a week, Coach Etienne facilitated multiple small races, speed tests, manoeuvre drills and classroom sessions. There was 4 boats and 6 sailors involved, a mixture of rookies, established class members and seasoned professionals (one of them is here to train for the Vendee Globe 2024!).

As a Figaro Rookie, all of this is new and strange to me. I feel like this massive goal for me would be completely unattainable if I were here in France on my own, especially considering my lack of French, shoreside resources, local knowledge and awareness of this completely different sailing culture that exists and thrives here in France. I am here to become the best offshore sailor that I can be, and this means I need to put my pride and ego aside and trust the experience of the Offshore Racing Academy. Kenny Rumball and Marcus Hutchinson both value the sailing culture here very highly, and are always setting up valuable introductions for me to get a better awareness of how all of this works. The resources available through the Offshore Racing Academy are absolutely invaluable. Important contacts, technical sponsors, a van, a trailer, spare equipment and most importantly people to bounce ideas off of and offer well-founded advice. I am extremely grateful for the help I have received from the Academy as I begin to find my footing in this extremely competitive industry.

Kenny and Marcus also offered me lots of valuable advice on how to approach the business side of offshore racing. Finding the money to make my solo racing dream happen consumes a lot of my time, and I feel fortunate to be able to associate my campaign with an Academy which specialises in this industry. I look forward to welcoming more partners on board with my campaign, so that I can continue to engage with the Academy and take my sailing to the next level. By the way, sailing in January is absolutely freezing!

February is upon us, no time left to waste, this week, we are with Lorient Grand Large, La Rochelle at the end of the week, and there are rumours we’ll be on the start line of the Dublin Bay Spring Chicken Series on Sunday in 1720 sportsboat!

That’s all for now!


Published in INSS

Since our initial news about the launch of the Offshore Racing Academy, we thought it would be time for a quick update on our activities during the Christmas break.

We are delighted to announce the Academy has gone from strength to strength providing as per our aims, logistical support, campaign advice and sailing coaching to non-French sailors in the Figaro circuit in France.

Our team has grown with Joan Mulloy joining the Academy team to provide lots of support from her many years as preparateur and sailor in the Figaro circuit! We have also been working with Marcus Hutchinson who brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and advice to the Academy and its members! Equipment suppliers are also providing support to the Academy with Helly Hansen providing both Offshore and shoreside clothing for the team and members! North Sails Ireland with their team including Nigel, Shane and Prof are already supporting the Academy and its members!

As reported already, the Academy is looking forward to working with the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association in 2022. We will be providing training and support discussions in the early part of the year ahead of their busy season. We will continue to provide weather briefings after their success last year ahead of all the ISORA races and the lead up to the Round Ireland Yacht Race of 2022. The talks will be open to all skippers and more importantly crew to raise knowledge and awareness and therefore enjoyment for all boats and sailors in 2022.

The Academy has been down in France and back to the main Figaro hub of Port La Foret in northern Brittany. We have transported a Figaro cradle and moved our support van and trailer to France in late November. A quick return home and we have helped Conor Fogerty deliver his Figaro ‘Raw’ to Port La Foret to get it into the shed to prepare the boat for the 2022 Figaro circuit!

The Irish Offshore Racing Academy is providing logistical support to sailorsThe Irish Offshore Racing Academy is providing logistical support to sailors

We then spent a few days coaching Matthew Beecher as he explores the possibility of the Figaro circuit into 2022. A brisk 25 knots from the west gave plenty of whoops and hollers with getting the boat up and riding on its foils at 16knots +! Finally, we then put all the boats to bed ahead of the Christmas break.

Conor Fogerty's Figaro ‘Raw’ at Port La ForetConor Fogerty's Figaro ‘Raw’ at Port La Foret

Looking forward to 2022, we will be straight back out there running a training group for the Figaros in early January. We are also setting up weather and navigational briefings and classes to get Academy sailors up to speed before joining the main training groups later in the season.

Our other boat the Class40 is progressing well with the charter deal on a boat nearing the final stages. We hope to announce with main events this boat will compete in next year.

Lastly, we are developing a Figaro 3 trial week for those that might be interested in trying the boat out and seeing what all the fuss is about. This will be far more than a trial sail with a full weeks sailing, travel and tour of the main Fiagro hubs of Port La Foret and La Base in Lorient.

Published in INSS

Dun Laoghaire Harbour's Kenny Rumball and Pamela Lee of Greystones Harbour have restated their goal to represent Ireland at Paris 2024 in the new Olympic Mixed Offshores Double Class

"We're absolutely focused and excited and working towards Paris 2024, but along the way we're absolutely enjoying the journey, we're really enjoying double-handed sailing anyway and this is just giving us a really nice focus goal to work towards," Lee has told World Sailing in an interview.

Their 'rough plan' next year is to keep competing in the Figaro 3 circuit in France, because they believe it's the toughest short-handed sailing arena in the world, and they say they'd also like to have a look at doing some double-handed IRC events.

After joining forces at the beginning of the year, the two skilled offshore sailors had their eyes on the 2020 Offshore World Championship, originally due to take place in Malta this October, and were working towards qualifying themselves to represent Ireland in the event.

But after the Worlds were cancelled, they reacted quickly to ensure they were able to continue training and improving their skills on the water, both with and without each other.

"We started training in the French Figaro 3 scene, as our first event to qualify and represent Ireland in Malta was supposed to be the Solo Concarneau, a double-handed offshore race out of Concarneau in France," explained Rumball.

Read more of the interview on the World Sailing website here which tells of Rumball's participation in the La Solitaire Du Figaro and Lee's World Speed Sailing record round Ireland set this October. 

At least two other Irish campaigns have also declared to contest the single berth for Paris in the new Olympic class. Read the latest updates here.

Published in Pamela Lee

 The second stage of the La Solitaire du Figaro started on the Baie de Saint-Brieuc, northern Brittany in a light to moderate north-easterly breeze at 1100hrs this Sunday morning. The 404 nautical miles stage takes the 35 strong field of solo sailors east to Dunkirk, a new destination port for the multi-stage solo offshore race which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

The leg is expected to take two and a half days – a veritable sprint compared to the 642 miles, four-night first stage marathon to the Fastnet and back - but once again sailors and weather experts alike consider that it is this first tricky light winds night which is very likely to shape the finish order into the historic, easternmost city of France.

The tricky beat to Eddystone, off Plymouth, is followed by a long, fast 160 miles downwind run east up the channel to a mark, Antifer, off Le Havre then continuing 100 miles more on a downwind procession to Dunkirk, the fleet increasingly funnelled into a narrow lane, gybing several times down a course bounded by high land to the south and the forbidden shipping lane to their left.

“It looks very much like a leg on which the Solitaire could be lost but is not likely to be won.” Observed weather guru Marcel van Triest who, pre-start, advises several top sailors on weather strategy.

All the way through the fleet the time differentials carried from Stage 1 are tiny. Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF), the opening Fastnet leg winner held just 95 seconds of advantage over Loïs Berrehar (Bretagne CMB Performance) with Alex Loison (Région Normandie) third at seven minutes and three seconds behind. But poised in fourth is double winner Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) at 10 minutes 20 seconds behind. The top 15 are spanned by 25 minutes, the top 20 by 35 minutes.

As the fleet sailed away from the Brittany coast at around 1500hrs local time today in 10-12kts of northeasterly breeze it was the French 2012 470 dinghy Olympian Pierre Leboucher (Guyot Environnment) leading the way with Armel Le Cléac’h lurking in second after making a much stronger start than he made on Stage 1 off the same Saint Brieuc start line. Le Cléac’h is looking hungry for success and has had no other distractions this year, training hard on his Figaro after finishing 10th last year.

"The weather is looking a little complicated for the climb north to Eddystone with variable winds to negotiate then a long, important leg to the finish which will be a real speed test.” Le Cléac’h, 44, said on the race dock, “ The first night is going to be interesting tactically you have to be good here to be well placed around Eddystone as I think after that it will be hard to get places back. Much of the ranking will be set by here. There will still be little gains to be made here and there, but it will be a speed race and the finish will not be very complicated. There will be wind all the way down there and it is great to be going to Dunkirk for the first time to show our boats.”

Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is the best of the international entrants lay ninth on the overall standings and was fighting in the main group at less than a mile from the lead.

The opening 115 miles upwind passage to Eddystone lighthouse off Plymouth is set to see the sailors encounter shifting light winds affected by an occluded front and a new high pressure ridge coming in from the west which will combine to swing the breeze through three significant shifts in direction during the night. What promises to be a hard fought upwind in a decent 14-16kts of northwesterly breeze will peter out as the wind drops completely in the small hours of the morning.

Round Start Point the fleet are likely to work the Devon coast where there will be more wind pressure before calling a layline for the A8 mark off Le Havre, a difficult but necessarily accurate call given the strong tides in the Channel. The wind is set to build to over 20 knots for an express ride to the line where the leaders are now expected late on Tuesday evening.


Published in Figaro

Dublin's Kenny Rumball and Meath's Tom Dolan can expect a fairly fast, long, and open 642 nautical miles first leg, to the Fastnet and back, in the first challenge for the 35 solo sailors who embark on the 51st edition of La Solitaire du Figaro from noon (or 1300hrs local time) today (Sunday) on the Baie-de-Saint-Brieuc.

Experienced La Solitaire observers and competing sailors alike all agree that there are no standout favourites for the podium places on what promises to be an all-consuming, very complete test of the solo sailors’ skills. The course this year is a good mix of open offshore sailing and coastal Channel style racing. There there are probably fifteen sailors in the fleet who might have realistic aspirations to finish in the top three.

Kenneth Rumball (RL Sailing)Kenneth Rumball (RL Sailing) Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Irish Rookie Ready to Rumball

Ireland’s newcomer Kenneth Rumball comes to La Solitaire not as the realisation of any longstanding ambition or desire for a big sailing adventure but very much as a means to an end.

He is one of the first of what is expected to be a growing number of international sailors moving to the Figaro Beneteau 3 as one of the best pathways into double-handed offshore racing. An accomplished offshore racer and skipper from Dun Laoghaire on Dublin Bay, his original plan was a programme to get to the Mixed Double Handed Offshore Worlds with Irish Figaro racer Joan Mulloy. 

The Irish qualification trials were to have been in the Figaro at the Solo Concarneau due to have been in May. Mulloy subsequently withdrew as she is expecting a baby at the end of this month and so Pam Lee joined.

They did one week’s training before the COVID-19 lockdown and the double-handed worlds were cancelled.

“So I was left looking at the season wondering what to do then, I did not want to waste the season and to get better at shorthanded and solo offshore sailing this is what you do.” Recalls Rumball, 33, who is a qualified accountant and pro sailor who runs the Irish National Sailing and Powerboat School and a commercial division Irish National Marine Services.

While the ‘Bizuth’ division, competing for the rookie prize, is hotly contested usually the rookies have come from solo racing in other classes such as the Mini650 or Class 40. But Rumball’s actual first solo race was the Solo Maitre CoQ three months ago and then the Solo Concarneau earlier this month.

Predictably he feels light on training with the fleet or a group. As soon as the lockdown was lifted in Ireland they took their boat back to Ireland and practised for five weeks to get used to the boat handling skills from late May until 16th June then he went to France and straight into the Solo Maitre Coq.

He made the lockdown work, though, doing French lessons, building up fitness and doing meteo lectures with Christian Dumard.

“To some degree, we really made it good for us. We were stuck at home but did a lot to prepare ourselves for being here.” Rumball recalls

“I am still a vertical learning curve. As a sailor I know I can get the boat to the Fastnet and back. I can do that. But getting the boat to the Fastnet and back and be racing in the fleet is a different thing entirely. But the whole objective is to finish, to get to the end and have learned and to enjoy it, a bit, and experience the French scene.”

“If you were to ask, yes, Olympic selection is the long term goal.” He acknowledges, “But it is one step at a time, but there are other sailors here agree, like Tom and Alan Robert agree that this is the best place to be to get better.”

Rumball has had excellent help from North Sails in Ireland who have in turn ensured he has had good help and service from North Sails in France, so the Irish skipper has built some confidence in his speed and his set up. 

Tom Dolan (SMURFIT KAPPA) Tom Dolan (SMURFIT KAPPA) Photo: Yvan Zedda

Dolan Looking For Solid First Leg

Rumball’s Irish compatriot Tom Dolan’s two previous challenges on La Solitaire du Figaro have found the Irish sol racer fighting back after massively disappointing first legs. So while he might harbour high hopes of a finish in the top fifteen of this year’s 35 boat fleet, 33-year-old Dolan who is from County Meath but has lived in Concarneau for 11 years, is looking strictly short term, aiming to sail a solid, assured first leg to build on.

“I want to do a good first leg. That is the dream. The first two years my first legs have been a disaster. Last year I was in the west on the first leg (to Kinsale) and came in six or seven hours after the leaders. So right now I am just looking to do a good first leg and then take it from there.” Dolan says resolutely.

When last year was all about learning the boat and compressing as much training in as possible before the start, the skipper of Smurfit Kappa has taken time to significantly improve his strength and stamina and to bolster his mental toughness.

“I have worked with the fitness coach in Concarneau three times a week and I really notice the difference. Don’t get me wrong I did stuff before, but it really was not enough of a priority. It came after the boat work and sailing, way down the list. And I really do notice the fatigue taking longer to affect me.” He says.

He has also worked on keeping to his game plan more and not letting frustration boil over into making risky decisions. Racing the Drheam Cup two-handed with Mini Transat winner François Jambou gave him the chance to focus solely on his strategic decision making.

Multi-Stage competition

The annual multi-stage race increasingly seems to reward the racer who makes fewest mistakes over the entire course as last year’s winner Yoann Richomme showed. Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) at 46 years old is gilt-edged podium contender, who was fourth last year and who starts the race for the 11th time notes sagely, "It's the real constant on La Solitaire, there are fifteen skippers starting out with a legitimate claim to the podium. As there are only three places, each time there are twelve disappointed skippers every year. In essence, you are trying not to be one of those. And it’s not easy. This is what gives the stage podiums and the general classification a special flavour. "

"Nobody really stands out this year, there are more than ten of us who could win it and that promises a great battle on the water.” Observes Anthony Marchand, 33, skipper of Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire, who became the local hero when he won Stage 1 into his native Baie de Saint-Brieuc in 2018 on the 49th edition, before going on to finish runner-up to Sébastien Simon.

Top picks for the podium include 23 year old Tom Laperche of the Bretagne CMB Espoir team who has been in the medals at all three warm up events. Also Pierre Quiroga who will turn 28 years old during the race who is on the Skipper Macif programme - which produced four times podium finisher Charlie Dalin and Vendée Globe winner François Gabart, whose MerConcept ecurie manages the Macif programme. Quiroga won the Solo Concarneau earlier this month, was fourth in the Solo Maitre Coq and fourth in the Drheam Cup. And Briton Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is among those tipped for the podium, returning to the Solitaire after a six year absence.

International interest is justifiably at a high as British sailors have finished on the podium in all three of the preliminary Figaro Beneteau 3 races of a foreshortened season. Goodchild lies second in the French Elite Offshore Championship after taking a second and a victory preceded Alan Roberts’ second in the Solo Concarneau race earlier this month.

But the shorter 350 to 450 miles warm-up races are a different level of challenge to the renowned La Solitaire which aggregates elapsed time over more than 1820 miles of mind blowingly intense solo racing.

Yann Eliès, who is one of three skippers local to the Baie de Saint-Brieuc, starts La Solitaire for the 19th time and if he won would be the first sailor to amass four overall wins. Despite his excellent racing record in the Figaro and IMOCA and his obvious marketability Eliès could neither find a major sponsor to back his Vendée Globe challenge nor indeed to mount a top drawer Figaro challenge this year. He is helped out by previous supporter Groupe Queguiner. At 44 Eliès says the physical challenge of the new Figaro Beneteau 3 is telling over the course of the entire race. Of the possibility of stepping clear of the other four three times winners, Poupon, Le Cam, Desjoyeaux, and Beyou. Eliès says, “It really is a big ask but it is always possible. Everything needs to fall into place. At 44 there is now a physical dimension to it that maybe wasn’t there before.”

He acknowledges. “To be honest I would be happy to be in the top five.”

As he starts his 12th La Solitaire du Figaro two times winner Armel Le Cléac’h remains tight lipped about his own prospects of joining the elite circle of triple victors. The skipper of Bank Populaire was tenth last year, one of the many big names drawn back to the race by the introduction of the Figaro Beneteau 3, and this race is his one main focus of the season.

“ I'm not fixated on that third win,” Le Cléac’h asserts, “Iif it is meant to come it will, but that's not my target at all, My goal is to sail well stage by stage and make as few mistakes as possible, like the winner Yoann Richomme last year. We'll do the count up at the end. I have concentrated 100% on this, in reality it is the second major sailing event of the year in world sailing along with the Vendée Globe. That’s why I’m really happy that the race is taking place. We have a good field and the race is going to be as demanding as any other year. Now, I will just take is one stage at a time I will not set myself clear objectives, the goal will be to make as few mistakes as possible. I made them last year, some cost me dearly, now it is up to me to be more consistent.”

Stage 1 is an open sea leg to the Fastnet. At 497 miles Stage 2 starts with open waters racing to Wolf Rock to the south-west of Land’s End but them moves east up the Channel to Dunkirk. Five hundred and four miles of Stage 3 tests coastal sailing and navigation passing westwards down the Channel, round the rocky, tidal tip of Brittany through the Raz de Sein to the entrance to the Loire estuary before a final 24 hour sprint out of Saint Nazaire of 183 miles.

At an estimated four days duration Stage 1 is the longest opening leg for many years, likely to finish Thursday afternoon. It not only has the propensity to be shape the whole race if the finishing deltas are opened wide by light winds and a change of tide but with the second stage start due on Sunday there is very limited recovery time after a long opener.

As ever from Sunday’s start gun the pressure will be relentess. Fastnet is the only mark of the course leaving the strategic options wide open. Northerly winds of 12 to 15 knots are expected at the start but the fleet will have to negotiate light winds in a ridge of high pressure off the NW corner of France. The new south-westerly breeze will fill from the left side of the course giving fast reaching before negotiating two frontal systems and the northwesterly winds towards ‘the rock’ which is Ireland’s most southerly point. But the high pressure ridge is expected to compress the fleet again as they return to the Channel which would ensure the fleet is compressed again. Maximum windspeed through the fronts is expected to be around 25knots during what Briton Alan Roberts considers a ‘boatspeed, reaching leg.’

“Whoever gets out of the light winds and into the new south westerly first will profit. Getting furthest west as quick as possible might be the key but it is how and where you cross the ridge that will be key, going to the south or north, after that there is the decision where to pass the TSS, passing to the south at the Scillies or north.” Says Roberts (Seacat Services), “It should be quite straightforward after that a boatspeed reaching test really except at the finish a calm is expected so it won't be over until the finish”.

Follow the start live on the website with commentary and live images in French. Race start is 1300hrs CET, (1200hrs BST)

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Published in Tom Dolan

Eight of the 35 solo skippers who will start the 51st edition of La Solitaire du Figaro on the Bay of Saint Brieuc on Sunday are not French natives and so are eligible to compete for the Vivi Trophy which was inaugurated last year.

Representing Ireland are Tom Dolan, 33, (Smurfit Kappa), on his third La Solitaire, and race rookie Kenneth Rumball, 33, (RL Sailing) who has already written about his expectations this week on Afloat here.

GBR fields Alan Roberts, 30 (Seacat Services) who starts his seventh La Solitaire, Sam Goodchild, 30, (Leyton) who is on his fifth race, and Phil Sharp, 39, (Ocean Lab) and Jack Boutell, 29, (Fromagerie Gillot) who is half Australian. Italy has Alberto Bona, 33, (Sebago) and race rookie Nils Palmieri, 33, carries Swiss colours.

]The last ten years or so have seen high hopes of a British podium finish. But this second season of the new foil-assisted Figaro Beneteau 3 now sees strength and depth to the British challenge, one which is leant real credibility thanks to three GBR podium finishes in this season’s races so far.

On form Goodchild, in his first year in the new class, backed up a second in the Solo Maitre Coq by winning the Drheam Cup while Roberts took second in the recent Solo Concarneau Guy Cotten. Add in an excellent ninth place in that race by Bouttell, earned just days after stepping into the boat for the first time and there is some justification for high hopes.

All three very experienced and successful Brits Goodchild, Bouttell and Sharp come back to the race each after a long break, similarly drawn to the challenge of the new one design class and the high technical level offered by the multi-stage race which is the toughest annual challenge in solo offshore racing.

Six years on from his last La Solitaire this season Goodchild has impressed the top French cognoscenti and has been tipped as a possible podium finisher overall. He did four back to back La Solitaires aged 20-24, stopping in 2014 after his best result 11th in 2013. The intervening period has seen him amass substantial experience as an in-demand first choice crew on Ultime and Maxi multihulls such as Spindrift and Sodebo and Multi70s as well as Class40 successes which culminated in his second on last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre.

Goodchild has a good programme backed by Leyton who are one of the more active new sponsors in sailing and admits he has the skills and the tools to win.
“I am not sure I rank myself as one of the favourites.” Goodchild smiles in Saint Quay Portrieux, “ But, honestly, any pressure comes from me and me wanting to do well. I know that if I can do well then it will only do good things for me, it would make getting a bigger project and going further easier. This is why we go sailing, to win. When I was in the Figaro before I was looking to the top 10, now I have won an event and come second in two very different styles of event, one tactical and one boatspeed. It is encouraging but there is more to it than that.”

Goodchild has not been carried away by his successes this season, “My biggest weakness is that there are so many conditions I have not sailed in, but the light is difficult because it is hard to get a gauge, a feel, in light winds the winds are not very stable and you need a lot more time to know what works and what doesn’t. In the Figaro 2 you could always go at the same speed, now you can go a knot or two knots faster by driving, and now there are times when you can only lose 0.2 of a knot to go to sleep.”

He has fast tracked his learning of the new boat with the help of guru Pascal Bidégorry.
“I have managed to short cut to a lot of what people spent last year learning, Pascal came on board and said ‘this works, that doesn’t, it’s worth looking at this and not this’, he sailed with several boats and is a ‘details’ man. I thought I looked at the details until I met Pascal.”

He feels he is a more ‘complete’ sailor learning from some of the best, “I don’t think anyone is the perfect sailor. Sailing with Pascal, sailing with Brian Thompson, sailing with Thomas Coville, sailing with Rob Greenhalgh, when you sail with a bunch of really good guys I have had the good fortune to sail with, you put the pieces together and learn. And if all five of these good guys think the same things are important then you learn from that, you learn so much.”

Meantime Goodchild’s aim is not a number but to finish with no regrets. “It would be nice to finish and think I sailed as well as I could. It would be nice to come away with no regrets. I have the tools to win for sure, but on a race like this the stars do need to align a bit, I feel like I have a capacity to win, I have the boatspeed and I have the nav, I have made some good calls and some bad calls but that will always be the case on this race, I am capable of winning but there are many more here who are capable of winning.”

Back after four years, Bouttell

Three weeks and two days ago the thought of doing La Solitaire du Figaro had not even crossed Jack Bouttell’s mind. But the 29-year-old Guidel, Brittany based Volvo Ocean Race winning sailor, who describes himself as ‘half British, half Aussie’ will be on the start line Sunday, lining up for his fourth La Solitaire armed with a very competitive, well-prepped boat belonging to his Team Dongfeng crewmate, three times La Solitaire winner Jérémie Beyou.

When The Ocean Race was postponed recently Bouttell, whose La Solitaire best is tenth overall and was first rookie in his first edition, found himself looking for a sailing challenge.

“I wanted to go sailing. I was having one beer with Alan Roberts and he said ‘why not do La Solitaire?’ and that was it. I spoke with Jérémie and because it was a last-minute charter the price is acceptable. The boat has a new set of sails to do The Transat AG2R and obviously it was cancelled. It has fallen together quite nicely, but look last-minute stuff really is not my style. I prefer to have more time to prepare. It is a cool challenge, I have to look at the big picture and not get worried by the small details, remember what things are important.”
But Bouttell’s first race in the Figaro Beneteau 3 went well, in a craft he rather bluntly describes as ‘…..a boat after all.”

“I had done a few days sailing in the boat so I struggled a lot in the first 24 hours basically getting my head back into racing in this class, where small mistakes become big mistakes become disasters as they do in this class, but I got back into it in the first 24 hours, and then I got into it. I lacked a bit of speed upwind and so lost a few places coming into the finish. This is obviously a bigger event with more boats.”

Some three weeks after the idea dropped to become reality he is on the race dock making final prep, “I don’t think I have really thought about it yet. It has not really sunk in that I am here. It is really cool to be here doing something in my own right. The Figaro is where I had my first start back in 2013. Last time I did it my objective was the top 10 and I made it. It is such a cool race and these are cool boats because there are so many ways to sail it. When I was in the Figaro before it was so refined it was ‘you sail it like this’ and that was it and if you didn’t you were nowhere. This is a more open ball game. There are so many more options.” He adds, “I feel good. I am back to my roots. I enjoy the class, it is super professional high level. I would like to get a good result, finishing in the top half would be good, I am saying that publicly but I am aiming higher.”

And he chuckles, “Who would have thought an Aussie who grew up in Britain and now lives in France is here racing the top French solo race with a French cheese sponsor. It is amazing.”
But he drills down to the core of solo racing, “More experience removes stress. Singlehanded sailing is about managing stress, that is it. If you are going fast you need to manage it. Having done a Volvo and spending three weeks in the Southern Ocean, all the things you go through in that project, I keep going through those days in my head…’is it worse than that day, no it’s not, carry on then and get on with it!”

Sharp back nine years on

Nine years after his one and only La Solitaire du Figaro Phil Sharp is now armed with bucketloads of hard-earned offshore experience, multiple successes and a real chance of the top ten overall finish which he is aiming for.

The 39-year-old Jersey solo racer who is now based in La Rochelle, France and who won back-to-back World Championship titles in Class 40 stepped into the Figaro Beneteau 3 fleet at the start of this season looking to improve his level and to test himself in the toughest proving ground in solo racing. He has shown well in the early and middle stages of the races he has done, finishing 22nd in the Solo Concarneau Guy Cotton and 16th in the Solo Maitre Coq. With a limited background in the Figaro class, he is very much back in the class to learn and improve from the intensity and a very different style of racing to what he has been used to.

“The competition here is incredible, up against the likes of Yann Eliès and (Vendée Globe winner) Armel Le Cléac’h. This gives you a reference point to know where you at, it gives you a proper real structured training platform and it offers an incredible improvement curve, the amount I have improved over the last few months is really good. It is not easy to see in terms of results because it takes time to turn that into consistency but it has been rewarding to be part of.”

“What is interesting is looking at the level of the skippers and their experience of this racing. But that does not phase me, I relish the competition and do better if I have very highly skilled people around me, that brings out the best in me. After coming from podiums in Class40 to getting a bit of a kicking here it is a bit a of shock. But it makes sense and I am here to improve.”

Sharp joined the group in Lorient in the winter and then joined Saint Gilles training group near his home in La Rochelle where the best of that group is Xavier Macaire. “Since my first race I have focused on my weaknesses. I struggled for reaching speed and have worked on my sail trim and before I really struggled for control in strong downwind conditions. I took the rudders off to find them completely misaligned. The axes were more than five degrees off from the stock of the rudder. Since then the boat does not stall out as much. First of all to have confidence in yourself you have to have confidence in the boat and that has taken a bit of time.”

“ I am happy, the boat feels good, the sails are good, I am happy with what I have. But I am not here to do the Figaro year in year out. There are more exciting boats, more exciting ocean races out there to do. This for me is the ultimate training camp to push myself. I think I will do this year and then see how it goes, but it can be quite addictive!”

He is clear on his target, “I am aiming for the top ten. That is probably optimistic as there are probably ten guys here who can win it, but I believe in aiming high. I am used to offshore. Figaro racing is really stop, start and you have to find a rhythm and then you are back on land recovering, that is what I struggled with in 2011. On a Transatlantic race, it is about getting into your 24-hour routine, with the Figaro you have to push harder, you are getting much less sleep and then you have to recover as best you can.”

Published in Figaro

Ireland’s Kenneth Rumball is in the final preparation stages before starting his first La Solitaire du Figaro which start this Sunday, 30th August in the Bay of Saint-Brieuc. Having made the twenty-four-hour delivery up from Port-La-Foret on Sunday, Rumball’s Team RL Beneteau Figaro 3 is docked with the rest of the fleet in the marina at Saint-Quay Portrieux while any last preparations are made.

“This is my first season racing in the Figaro 3 and on courses around this section of the French coast, with all the changing schedules and restrictions due to COVID 19 I haven’t had the opportunity to do much training so I’ve found it really beneficial to do the deliveries to the race starts myself. It gives me a chance to spend real time on the water and to familiarise myself with some of the navigation in the race areas,” says Rumball.

Dun Laoghaire Harbour's Rumball was a latecomer to the Figaro 3 circuit this year, originally intending to campaign doublehanded with Irish Co-skipper Pamela Lee with the aim of representing Ireland in the first Doublehanded Offshore Worlds, which were scheduled for October in Malta. When the Worlds and the majority of the rest of the planned schedule were cancelled, Rumball quickly made the ambitious decision to take on a solo campaign for the season, culminating in Le Solitaire du Figaro.

Kenny Rumball will be racing around the Fastnet Rock next week in the first leg of the 2020 La Solitaire du Figaro Kenny Rumball will be racing around the Fastnet Rock next week in the first leg of the 2020 La Solitaire du Figaro Photo: Alex Courcoux

“It’s very clear that the best way to get better at shorthand sailing is to compete in France with the French. The Figaro circuit is incredibly competitive with the best shorthand sailors taking part every year, the Solitaire is the pinnacle of this circuit and a great challenge as a sailor. My main goal this year is to learn as much as possible and the learning curve has certainly been steep!” says Rumball.

"We are still on the vertical climb of this learning curve!"

So far Rumball has raced in the Solo Maitre-Coq from Les Sables D’olonne, the Dhream Cup (doublehanded) from Cherbourg-en-contentin and the Solo Guy Cotton from Concarneau. The Solo Guy Cotton was the last lead up race before the Solitaire and was a final opportunity to really focus on addressing a number of speed deficiencies, to test the new North Sails wardrobe, as well as experiment with managing sleep while racing – one of the biggest challenges. It proved to be a tough race with very fluky, light wind conditions. “Although disappointed with the final result, I took a lot of positives - good speed, smart decision making, good boat handling and above all strong mental power,” said Rumball of the race.

Now in the final days before the beginning of the first Solitaire leg, which is a 642-mile course to the Fastnet and back, Rumball is focusing on ironing out any last issues onboard, familiarising himself with the course and the navigation as well as analysing the upcoming weather and tidal patterns. Of course, a vital part of the pre-race preparation is mental and physical too, so there’s a strong focus on rest, eating well and exercise with an effort to be in a focused headspace on Sunday. “I’m certainly nervous,” says Rumball, “This is a long leg and a long time to be intensely racing with potentially some adverse weather coming through! So far the experience here in France has been great with all the other Skippers being extremely helpful and welcoming. This racing is tough, but that is exactly why we are here. We are still on the vertical climb of this learning curve!”

Published in Figaro
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