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French rookie Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie) crossed the finish line off Royan at the mouth of the Gironde estuary at 06:28:26hrs (CEST/FRANCE) in this morning’s breaking dawn to claim victory on the 655 nautical Stage 2 of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro. After Davy Beaudart (Nauty’mor) won the first stage into Port La Forêt, Pirouelle’s is the second consecutive stage win by a rookie skipper.

Pirouelle sailed a perfect mix of fast, controlled off-the-wind surfing between Monday and Tuesday, in the big breezes which prevailed for two Channel crossings, sailing in winds of 30kts and 2m seas from a Channel Islands mark to Eddystone before turning south back down the Brittany and Vendée coasts where the breeze dropped away to leave the fleet with a challenging final 170 miles navigating a network of calms and light airs. He was fifth at the Channel Islands mark and fourth at Eddystone before breaking clear of the peloton yesterday night after the latitude of La Rochelle. Pirouelle was sixth on the first stage.

Before choosing to pursue a career offshore racing, winning the Normandy region talent trials to take over the helm of their Figaro Beneteau 3, Pirouelle, now 28, was one of France’s leading Olympic 470 class helms - including a title as 2015 470 Junior World Champion – before going on to win the Tour Voile in Diam 24s steering for the Beijaflore team.

He was apprenticed last year through the regional support programme to veteran Alexis Loison - who originally scouted the talented young Norman small boat sailor to ask him to consider trying out for the offshore programme. After sailing as co-skipper with Loison last year – including a Transatlanric - Pirouelle’s first season solo immediately highlighted his potential this Spring when he took second in the early season Solo Maitre Coq finishing second to Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance) and then third in the solo All Mer Cup on his home waters,

A native of Le Havre who is a qualified engineer, Pirouelle shows every sign of following in the wake of Charlie Dalin, who is from the same town and club and is now the dominant IMOCA skipper of the moment, even if as an Optimist fanatical child Pirouelle said ‘never’ when asked if he fancied becoming a Vendée Globe skipper.

At the finish line this morning he was followed 3 minutes and 19 seconds later by Achille Nebout on Amarris Primeo Énergie. Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Performance) took the final place on the podium finishing 15 minutes and 48 seconds behind the winner.

Finishing in fifth place, Ireland’s Tom Dolan on Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan was the first non-French sailor to finish. Dolan led the race during yesterday afternoon and into last night after making a bold move inshore. He was on terms with Pirouelle for a long time but dropped places in the early hours to finish fifth. Improving from his 12th on the first stage, the Irish sailor who has a career best of fifth on La Solitaire, will have moved up the general classification.

Guillaume Pirouelle said after finishing: “I’m really pleased and know deep down now that I’m capable of achieving something special, but actually getting there is another thing. I was well placed since the start. We can see that in each leg there are lots of changes in leadership. They catch up from behind. It’s always a bit complicated, but I kept at it until the end and I’m going to have to do that again in the third leg. It’s in my character to want to control what is happening. I don’t like it when people move in from everywhere, but preventing the others from doing what they do is something you can’t achieve. In fact, on the AIS, I couldn’t see what was going on behind me. They all went for their own strategies like in the first leg, except this time, we managed to stay in front, so I’m pleased about that.”

He continued, “I’m someone who thinks a lot and I try to avoid making the same mistakes twice, even if that isn’t easy in our sport, but that is the goal. Two wins for rookies is a good thing. Now we have the third leg to look forward to.I think I slept less than in the first leg. Conditions were stronger, but more random too. As for whether I’m tired, when you finish, it’s always fine. It hits you a few hours later and I think I’m burned out. But we have three days to recover, which is not going to be too many.”

Of his inshore breakaway from the fleet Dolan said, "Basically it wasn't planned for me to to take that option I just wanted to be upwind of the fleet. I had seen on the files that there was more wind to the north, well I had the impression. During the night, the fleet broke up and I lost everyone a bit. I ended up with 2 or 3 boats, I told myself that I was going to stay on this plan and stay with the North-East wind. Overall the leg was a tough one. In strong winds, I spent 14 hours sitting at the helm, it was a bit hard. But I had anticipated well, I had slept well on the upwind leg. When it came, I had my pockets full of protein bars and bottled water and off we went! It was mental, under small spinnaker, incredible. That was the most intense part, it was awesome! I was a little on edge, I hadn't had a long day at the helm like that since the Mini I think. But it was so cool. Otherwise, it was good The boat goes so fast that it is super stable. Once planning it goes by itself. There was water everywhere, I took some videos. It was crazy! Luckily things calmed down a bit when you arrived near Eddystone, because there are still a lot of rocks, you arrive at 20 knots, it's pretty hot….But it calmed down for the manoeuvre!”

“ Sailing alongside Erwan (6th placed Le Draoulec, Skipper MACIF 2020) it was fun because we fought in the strong wind together, we were both side by side and we still found ourselves side by side at the finish. We did years of Mini 6.50 together so it was nice to be stuck with him. Especially since I'm in front this time!”

Dolan concluded, “I was dead, exhausted, like everyone, I think. We never had a break, we had 12 hours of fighting and then straight into the dead calm so it was manoeuvring, changing sails, strategy. And apparently I was first for a long time, I didn't know; I didn't have the classification; I found out this morning during the safety session. It's good to hear that after six hours of mental anguish, I was out leading”.

Leg 2 provisional:
1. Guillaume PIROUELLE - Région Normandie 6:28’26, 3d 17hrs 28mis 26secs.
2. Achille NEBOUT - Amarris Primeo Énergie 6:31’45 3d 17hrs 31mis 45sec, + 3mins 19secs.
3. Tom LAPERCHE - Bretagne CMB Performance - 6:44’14 3d 17hrs 44mins 14sec Time behind the winner: 15mins 48sec.
4. Benoît MARIETTE - Génération Senioriales - 6h 52’10, + 23mins 44 secs.
5. Tom DOLAN – IRL, Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan - 7:19’33, + 51 mins 07 secs.

Published in Figaro

With just over 100 nautical miles to the finish line of the 655 miles Stage 2 of La Solitaire du Figaro at 17.00hrs French time this late afternoon, the leading group are tightly packed, the solo skippers doing all they can to sniff out the best of the breeze.

Light winds and a patchwork of calms have now prevailed for 24 hours since the leaders slowed first, punching first into contrary tidal current at the Occidental du Sein and the big, beautiful Audierne Bay. The chasing pack came down on the remaining breeze and after a beautiful, almost glassy evening yesterday by this morning, there were less than five miles between first and 16th.

Three solo racers have largely profited inshore, closer to the Vendée coast. Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) wriggled clear of 20-year-old rookie Basile Bourgnon (EDENRED) around lunchtime, making between two and five knots through periods of the day, almost 20 miles further east than the main peloton and is the nominal leader.

Dolan and Bourgnon were still holding first and second places but their boatspeeds were a crawling 2.5 to 3kts each while their rivals offshore seemed to have the new breeze and were making more than seven knots. The inshore duo still had three miles in hand but it appears the breeze offshore , perhaps thermally enhanced, did not appear to have rolled in far enough for them to profit.

The top three French skippers in the peloton have been glued together since before the turning mark at the Channel Islands on Monday evening, Achille Nebout (Amarris-Primeo Energie) leading rookie Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie) and Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance) being less than 0.2 of a mile apart as they hunt together as a pack.

The first boats are due into Royan, at the mouth of the Gironde estuary, Thursday morning after an exhausting leg which started Sunday afternoon from Port-la-Forêt, Brittany and has taken the 32-boat fleet to the Channel Islands, to Eddystone and now back down the Brittany and Vendée coasts.

A NW’ly breeze should in theory push in the late afternoon heading a bit to West-North-West at 5 to 10 knots and by evening the leaders should be sailing downwind, under a North-Westerly flow increasing to 8 to 13 knots, off the Charente coast. But the forecasters say this wind will weaken again back to 5-10kts with stormy showers close to the land but by morning, this North-Westerly should be reasonably regular for the finish into Royan.

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Twelfth after Stage 1 of the 2022 La Solitaire du Figaro, Ireland’s solo racing sailor Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) sees the 635 miles second stage, which starts Sunday at 1300hrs local time in Port La Forêt, Finistère, Brittany, as a great opportunity to play to his strengths and experience as he seeks to reduce the 1hr 23min deficit he has to the podium of the three-stage race.

Since finishing Thursday morning, Dolan has been super vigilant and disciplined in his rest and recovery. Even though he lives only a ten-minute's drive from the La Solitaire race village, he has chosen to rent an apartment locally to ensure he stays absolutely in the ‘zone’.

He asserts, “Anytime I have gone home during a race, I have not done well on the next leg, so it is important to stay in the zone, in the race, in the rhythm. I don’t know if others who live round here have done the same because I literally have not seen anyone. It is sleep, eat, weather, drink water and drink more water.”

"24 hours of strong winds ahead – 25 gusting 30 knots"

With the benefit of hindsight and rest, he is happy with his Leg 1 performance, “It was positive. Overall I think I sailed well. I even led the race for a couple of hours – even if nobody noticed – but it is positive to have been up there. And from there, you can only control the controllables as they say. I don’t feel like I made mistakes and finished with the group I was with. I could do nothing to respond to the boats which were miles behind and then went way west; that was their opportunity. And I finished within fifteen minutes of the top of the lead group, so that is good.”

But while Leg 1 was stop-start and allowed the fleet to compress many times, this second stage is going to be a big test of big winds sailing, “On paper, the next leg looks like the toughest leg I have ever seen coming up on a Solitaire. We have 24 hours of strong winds – 25 gusting 30kts in the north of the English Channel, upwind and downwind, at night with cargo ships everywhere. So that will be 24 hours without sleep and then the wind just shuts off completely at the Chaussée de Sein. With the two conditions like that you can't sleep. Twelve hours stuck at the helm, under the spinnaker, gobbling down energy bars with the brain switched off and the drysuit on. Then we sail straight into the light winds.”

The prospect of the fast sailing is one Dolan is looking forwards to, not least after a high proportion of drifting around on Leg 1, even if he was up front until the final third of the course from Saint Nazaire to Port La Foret. He concludes. “I am a little excited by it. I like it and manage alright. This will be a test of seamanship, don’t explode the spinnaker. And going through Guernsey with big wind over tide. It will be about looking after the boat and myself, making good manoeuvres and doing them slowly and well. And it is not the kind of stage where you absolutely have to be in the lead group. Even if they get away from you every GRIB file says we will sail into a hole at the end. It is important not to be completely left behind, it is about keeping up a high average and looking after the boat and the kit.”

Follow the race here

Published in Tom Dolan

Irish solo racer Tom Dolan remained in a positive, upbeat mood in the post-race sunshine of Port La Foret, Brittany after finishing 14th on the first 559 miles stage of the 2022 La Solitaire du Figaro. Racing Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, he sailed a very strong opening half of the race, lying second and pacing France’s pre-race favourite Tom Laperche to the most northerly turning mark of the race, which started Sunday afternoon from Saint Nazaire.

But almost the entire 34-boat fleet regrouped in calm airs yesterday morning spread between the Scilly Isles and Lands’ End. The Irishman’s fortunes fluctuated a few places here and there, but he was always within the tightly packed peloton, keeping true to his pre-race strategy of staying with the pack and trying not to make mistakes.

Tom, and the peloton around him, could do nothing to respond when some of the lower placed solo sailors gambled and went to the west in search of a new, strong northerly wind behind a frontal system. While they profited and took many of the top 10 places, Laperche squeezing into ninth, Dolan lost a few spots in the early morning coming into the finish line in the scenic Breton haven which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and is one of the centers of elite solo and shorthanded racing in France.

Speaking before heading for some much-needed sleep Dolan said: “I did say before the start that this would be a typical La Solitaire du Figaro leg, where we all worked our backsides off and we would all restart in the same place, and that is what happened yesterday. It was incredible. We were all catching up with the front, so there was this big cloud line going towards France and we were at the same speed as it and so all the boats lined up, it was mad. After three days of hard work, we all end up in the same place except for these boats which went west. I am happy enough with the result. I controlled the controllables as they say and sailed well enough. I had a bad phase this morning when I lost some places but I had good speed I think. It was cool to be up the front with the other Tom (Laperche) and watch him to see how he does stuff, how much he sleeps. On the long reach when we were neck and neck for hours I was too excited, trimming and trimming and trimming. He did the right thing and said ‘there is not a lot going to happen here’ and went to rest and eat. He seems to go quickly when he is resting. I need to look after myself better, and I ran out of water again!”

Ireland's Kenny Rumball (IRL, Offshore Racing Academy) finished the stage in 29th place : “It was tough. The start and the light stuff I did not get free. And then I caught back a few times but it was not enough. I had a lot of electrical problems after the TSS at Ushant and could not rely on my autopilot at all. I hand steered from Ushant and though I thought I would have ten to 15 knots I had 25 to 30! I am totally bollocksed".

Ireland's third entry in the race Conor Fogerty from Howth retired with a series of technical issues. 

Stage 1 results provisional:
1 Fred Duthil (Le Journal de Enterprises) finished 10:04:59hrs in 3 days 18hrs 24mins 59secs
2 Davy Beaudart (Nauty’mor) 10:06:00hrs 3d 18h 26m 00s + 1min 1 sec
3 Philippe Hartz (Marine National Fondation de la Mer) 10:09:05hrs 3d 18h 29m 5 s + 4mins 6 secs
4 Jorg Riechers (GER, Alva Yachts) 11:10:36hrs 3d 19h 30m 36s +1 hr 5 min

Irish placings:

14th Tom Dolan 12:00:15, 3h 20m 20s +1hr 55min 16secs behind the leader

29th Kenny Rumball

Retired  Conor Fogerty

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With 150 nautical miles still to complete of the Stage 1 course shortened to 559 miles Swiss skipper Nils Palmieri (Teamwork) has established a break at the head of the 34 strong La Solitaire du Figaro lead after he made a big gain by sailing to the east of the Seven Stones traffic separation zone at Land’s End, very early this morning.

Whether by virtue of extra wind pressure or favourable tidal current, the 35-year-old Swiss racer who is on his third La Solitaire du Figaro, made a sizeable advance when he led a posse of five skippers to the east of the no-go zone whilst the main peloton stuck together out west and drifted at the Scillies in next to no breeze.

In the light downwind conditions this Wednesday afternoon Palmieri – winner of last year’s Two Handed Concarneau Saint Barths race with Julien Villion – was more than four miles clear of the second and third placed skippers, French rookies Romen Richard (Passion Santé-Trans forme) and Laurent Bourges (Unis Pour L’Ukraine 56-Devenis Partenaire).

But while Palmieri appeared to have banked his initial dividend the forecasts still show a high pressure ridge of light airs in front of the fleet which may yet prove a barrier to progress tonight, whilst the meteo experts still expect a new breeze to come in from the west.

Long time leader Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance) has dropped to tenth alongside ninth placed Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) of Britain and 13th placed Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) who are all in a very tightly packed group about ten miles further offshore from Palmieri.

Laperche reported this morning: “I imagine that there are people behind who have gone to Land’s End. And how it looks here, where we are, well it could be almost favorable but I don't really know. Here we are with no wind at the Scilly Isles and of course I got here and ran into the calm first. I lost my lead. I had 3 miles yesterday afternoon. I expected that there would some kind of regrouping which was not going to be easy to manage. Fortunately the current is helping us for the moment in a good way. We'll see how it goes today after we get a little wind. I am waiting impatiently for the the broadcast of the weather report of the day but it seems like it is all restarting.”

An engaging final night at sea is promised and – as many skipper predicted before they left Saint Nazaire last Sunday – there seems every chance this marathon leg will be decided in the last miles into Port La Forêt where they are expected Thursday morning. As veteran Figaro skipper Alexis Loison warned the Figaro class website today, “But in a northerly wind at the end of the night a windless bubble could very well be present at the coastal level and the race might restart once again.”

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With the course now shortened by 85 miles to 559 nautical miles because of intermittent periods of light winds, the leaders on Stage 1 of the 2002 La Solitaire du Figaro should round a virtual waypoint at the mouth of the Bristol channel late this Tuesday night where they will turn for the finish line in Port-la-Forêt, Brittany some 230 miles to the south.

The stage winners are expected some time on Thursday morning, the course being shortened to ensure that all 34 competing solo racers get sufficient time to recover before Sunday’s re-start for Stage 2.

Pre-race favourite Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance) who has two overall podium finishes already has slightly extended his lead, moving out to be 2.7 nautical miles ahead of Ireleand’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) who in turn is just over one mile ahead of audacious French rookie Basile Bourgnon (EDENRED). The 20-year-old, whose Swiss dad Laurent won the 1988 La Solitaire on his first attempt, made a big move to the west last night and gained 19 places, stealing third from Brit Alan Roberts (Seacat Services). Roberts is in a tightly spaced group alongside Corentin Horeau (Mutuelle Bleue) both tussling over fourth and fifth place.

Laperche led at Bishop Rock, 16 minutes up on Dolan and 27 minutes ahead of Bourgnon.

Speaking just before Bishop Rock this morning before the Scillies, Roberts had pledged to stay conservative, “It is certainly good to be up near the front of the fleet. There is a long way still to go. So now I am just looking to play the race course and take the options I can to move forwards but making sure I don’t make any mistakes. So now it will be conservative sailing to the finish line. Conditions at the moment 10-12 knots under spinnaker. It was a really difficult night with an agitated sea and it was really dark so it was nearly impossible to helm when you have no boat in front, it is a little easier with a boat in front of you. It is good. I had a good bit of sleep yesterday on the approach to the Chaussée de Sein and now looking to Bishop.”

Bourgnon, the youngest skipper on this 53rd edition of the race, was delighted with his option, taking advantage of the inevitable ‘herd mentality’ to be expected on the first leg of the three stage race: “Yesterday there was a decision to be made how to position ourselves for the Scillies TSS. I felt that the wind was not coming in from the left as expected. And so I told myself it was worth the risk. I went out all on my own which is never very reassuring. I did not really know what the outcome would be but it was worth the punt. I am pretty satisfied even as Jeanne (Grégoire, director of the Pôle Finistère Course au Large) says ‘rookies will try anything’ Now I need to try and maintain the position.”

While the winds remain quite light they are due to build overnight with a southerly building to 15-18kts through the night with stronger gusts.

Catalan solo racer Pep Costa (Team Play to B-Terravia) remains firmly in the top 10 in ninth, five miles behind the leaders, Swiss skipper Nils Palmieri (Teamwork) is 17th, Germany’s Jorg Riechers (Alva Yachts) is 27th on his first La Solitaire since his one and only effort in 2005.

The tracker is here

Published in Figaro

Pre-race favourite Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance) and Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) are leading the 644 nautical miles Stage 1 of the 2022 La Solitaire du Figaro into the second day of racing since leaving Sunday afternoon’s start off the mouth of the Loire heading to Port-la-Forêt via a mark off the SW of Wales.

The 34-strong fleet were approaching the Chaussée de Sein this evening where the three first boats to pass a virtual mark will pick up a time bonus of five minutes, three minutes and one minute respectively. As it was shaping up, sprinting at some 6-7kts towards the line extending from the La Sein west cardinal mark, Laperche – winner of all three main solo races leading up to La Solitaire – looks set to collect the maximum time bonus, although Dolan – marginally further offshore to the west – was just one-third of a mile behind. After a career-best third place finish on the final stage of last year’s La Solitaire du Figaro race Dolan has made an impressive opening to what promises to be a complex leg with many stops and starts. But over recent hours he has matched Laperche’s pace exactly.

Speaking (in French) to the race control boat this afternoon, Dolan said, “I have slept well, ate well; I got changed because we were a little wet after the start yesterday. I am side by side with the other Tom, and it is always good to be in contact with a good competitor. I am nicely surprised to be so well placed. But from the start I knew I wanted to go west, and I'm glad it has worked out. I think we around 7 p.m - 7:30 p.m. (French time) at the Chaussée de Sein, and from then that we will have a choice of route to take to pass the Ouessant TSS. I'm starting to have my own little idea in my mind..."

His sometime co-skipper Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) – the Irish-Anglo duo paired up for the key double handed races this year – is lying fourth and will be pushing to pass third placed Robin Follin (Golfe de Saint Tropez-Territoire D’exception). The multi-skilled Follin from Sainte-Maxime in the south of France – who has raced Diam 24s, GC32s, the 2017 Youth America’s Cup, is a match racer, and an SB20 and J/70 World Champion – led through the first night before falling prey to Laperche when the fleet tacked through a trough just before nine this morning. Roberts was only 100m or so behind his French rival.

Laperche was on good form this afternoon, “It has been going well since last night. All is well, even if it is all a little grey! I managed to rest a bit. I was able to sleep this morning upwind and a little on this main tack which now takes us up to the Occidentale de Sein. The wind is quite stable and I'm in front, 27 miles from the mark right now. There, there will be a choice of route to be made which will depend on the wind we will have when passing. We will make our choices. Right now I have a few boats, about fourteen, which I see at the AIS (Automatic Identification System).”

Up ahead the passage of Ushant and the Traffic Separation Scheme there will require a strategic choice to be made. Before the start Marcel van Triest, who advises the Lorient Grand Large squad, said, “There is a very binary choice which side to go of the TSS and Ushant and that will have big ramifications on the ensuing stage to Bishop Rock. Most likely they will leave the TSS to the west however the danger is they go between the TSS and Ushant and if that is late at night the wind gets lighter towards the French coast, if the current is against them the breeze it goes too far left all of a sudden they struggle to get that far down. So I think early on the danger is to go between TSS and Ushant and the straightforward choice is to leave the TSS to starboard.”

After they get clear of Ushant they cross the Channel towards the Scillies and then Skokholm Island off the Welsh coast. For the climb across the Channel they will see 15 to 18 knots with gusts which could reach 25 knots as a front passes. Behind the front the wind will back to W and SW losing some strength. Passing Bishop lighthouse in the morning, they will cross the Celtic Sea on port tack towards the island of Skokholm.

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In light drizzle and a gentle southerly breeze Corentin Horeau (Mutuelle Bleue) made the best start to lead the 34-strong 2022 La Solitaire du Figaro fleet away from the mouth of the Loire estuary, opening a 648 nautical miles Stage 1 which – if the winds play ball – will take the solo racers north past Bishops Rock at the Scillies around Skokholm Island, a tiny bird sanctuary two miles off Wales’ Pembroke coast where they should turn south toward the stage finish in Port-la-Forêt where they should finish Thursday morning.

Only light to moderate winds are forecast for this, the first of three legs. With multiple small, weak fronts and many transitions expected only that southwards, returning leg to the finish seems relatively straightforward. There will be several chances for comebacks, transitions or light ‘park ups’ which should allow those who have lost early miles to make good their deficits. Certainly the first 24 hours will keep the solo sailors on high alert as they seek to interpret and respond to the small changes in wind conditions.

Britain’s top hope Alan Roberts (Seacat Services), a renowned inshore dinghy racer, was in the early fight, seeking to stay fast and clean in what proved a scrappy, intense departure circuit off Saint Martin Chef Chef. One hour after the start gun Roberts was seventh. Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) made his most accomplished La Solitaire start yet and was in the early mix too in 11h, as was German rookie Sanni Buecke (This Race Is Female) still very much in her comfort zone as a Tokyo Olympic 49er FX silver medallist. Spain’s Pep Costa (Play to B-Terravia) was 12th.

Before leaving the dock in Saint Nazaire this morning early leader Horeau had said: “The weather forecast looks very complicated but that will leave everything open. Overall, we won't have any big conditions to manage on this first stage with a few fronts to manage. You will have to be opportunistic. We need to keep something in reserve so as not to burn yourself out from the start because there are strategic decisions to be taken in Northern Brittany. But then we shouldn’t stress too much if you lose a bit under a small cloud, or in a little front. After Skokholm island there will be a nice slide downwind when we get into the North-North-West wind. We will run downwind well to Port-La Forêt ETA Thursday morning. It is not going to be easy but hopefully I can make my experience tell.”

Unstable weather

‘The light weather of the start should give way to a southerly wind of eight to 12kts, veering to the SW and maybe picking up to 12 to 15 knots’ says the race meteo specialist Cyrille Duchesne of Meteo Consult, “It should stay fairly tight and direct along the coast with some maybe opting to go offshore looking for more wind.”

The Lorient Grand Large team’s weather adviser Marcel Van Triest summarises,
“There are multiple, multiple fronts. Even before the Chaussée de Sein there will be two or three low activity fronts. The first one will be around midnight around Quiberon and Belle Ile. There is a choice there. Then a second one where they tack at the south of Glenans. The first part of the race is not going to see any big changes, just a sequence of little lines coming through, all tacking at the same time. It is more interesting thereafter, a binary choice at Ushant at the Traffic Separation zone. To me it is 55 per chance in between the TSS and Ushant, 45 per cent outside.”

He continues, “Across the Channel it is lighter with a frontal boundary between Ireland and Wales, a vast area of not a lot of wind. It will eventually be cleaned up and becomes more like a proper front. At Bishop Rock it gets complicated as there is no wind straight on, so the routes become complicated and there is a good chance to catch up.”

The tidal ranges across the Bristol Channel are relatively low at the moment. The new front around Skokholm brings a NW’ly wind which will remain stronger for the boats behind.

“The exciting stuff as far as the watchers are concerned at the TSS zone Ushant and what happens straight after Bishop Rock.”Concludes Van Triest.

Back among the favourites

After a four year break Horeau, 33, returned last year and finished eighth. After three legs he was fifth and set to hit his target result before a disappointing final leg. He is widely considered a podium contender this season. Part of the reason he took a break was because he was ‘eternally dissatisfied’ with not being able to better his second place on the 2014 general classification but now he is even hungrier for the elusive win.

Sprints for time bonuses

New on this 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro are sprint bonuses which on Stage 1 come into play at the West Cardinal Buoy Chaussée de Sein. First to pass gets a time bonus of five minutes, second three minutes and third one minute.

They said:

Tom Dolan (IRL,Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan): “It is looking a lot lighter than it was originally expected. The rebounds, the compression and expansions, are going to be even more pronounced. There will be a lot of opportunities to catch up right to the finish. And I am pleased that the start is not having a lot of circuits before we leave as I don’t like them, I like a clean start. That should suit. I feel great, excited and ready to go. Now on my fifth race I know what to expect and I think I get into the race rhythm earlier, how I manage the boat and myself, all comes earlier. The key in the first 24 hours up to the Chaussée de Sein is looking a bit complicated, there are little fronts with different windshifts, so no time to rest, eat and sleep. There can be big speed differences between offshore where the breeze might be and inshore, but getting to the west might be the hard part. All the changes are coming from there but it is complicated to get there.”

Sanni Beucke (GER. This Race Is Female): “I am very, very nervous as there seems to be things going wrong on race start morning. I have been running late because I could not get the weather files, the GRIB files, loaded into my computer. But this will be a very long leg, four nights, but there will be many chances to catch up which is great for me. The whole situation could not be better for me. For a start if you told me in February this year I would be here doing the first leg of La Solitaire du Figaro I would have said ‘No way’ My key watchwords are ‘speed, speed, speed.”

Alan Roberts (GBR, Seacat Services): “I feel great, on form. Over the leg the wind will likely average 10-14kts, but light at the start with not much chance of the thermal coming in. That might let the gradient wind come through or it could be light and we will need to ‘sniggle’ out through the first 24 hours. I like this kind of leg but it will be hard to know what to do. There are so many islands and there are so many options, a little bit of rest crossing the Channel.”

Basile Bourgnon (EDENRED), 1st participation: “This is my first Solitaire. I don't quite know what to expect. I'm not really stressed. Is that good sign or not? I don't know but I am going into this with some confidence surrounded by my friends. It will be an opportunity to visit England and Skokholm Island. The conditions are going to be light. For me that is not a problem. We will have to be good in all conditions. I had a good pre-season with good places. There are things that are possible, even if La Solitaire is a special case. I haven't really set myself a goal, except for the Rookies ranking. Guillaume Pirouelle is my main rival and he was very strong at the start of the year. We'll see how we both go. And for the general classification, we will see at the end of the three stages”.

Published in Figaro

The 34 skippers of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro and their Figaro Beneteau 3s left Nantes on Saturday, August 20th lunchtime and to sail down to Saint-Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire. They docked there for the night making ready for Sunday’s start off Saint-Michel-Chef-Chef at 1540hrs local time.

Winds for the start of the 644 miles Stage 1 north to Skokholm island off Wales Pembroke coast look set to be light, the precursor to what looks like a complicated leg with many transitions and several small weather features to negotiate.

As previously reported, Ireland is fielding three (not two as reported elsewhere) for the marathon solo race.  French-based Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) moved to France 12 years ago to pursue his dreams of top level solo racing. He scored a fifth overall in 2020, the best finish by any non-French skipper for nearly 20 years and is looking to go better this time after a disappointing 16th last year.

Dun Laoghaire’s sailing coach, sailing school owner Kenny Rumball (Offshore Racing Academy), 35 is back for a second attempt after racing as a rookie in 2020. And Howth entrepreneur and amateur offshore racer Conor Fogerty, 51, ( is out to complete La Solitaire du Figaro for the first time as a learning experience.

Yann Chateau, 43, is the new Race Director of La Solitaire du Figaro taking charge of this edition after the baton was passed from Francis Le Goff with whom he served as Assistant for many years.

Yann Chateau says, “The conditions will be quite calm at the start with a moderate to weak wind flow from west to southwest between 6 and 10 knots. The boats will move west and west of Sein with a first night that is still fairly calm. Then, they will progress a little more quickly towards the Celtic Sea in winds of 10 to 15 knots. For the moment, there is a little uncertainty on the return with a transition phase which is not well modelled".

Published in Figaro

Tom Dolan, the Irish solo offshore sailor, will start the 400 miles Solo Guy Cotten race on Thursday with high hopes of repeating or bettering his fifth place result in this final ‘dress rehearsal’ race before La Solitaire du Figaro which starts in less than three weeks time.

The offshore race starts from and finishes back in Concarneau the Breton sailing town that Dolan has called home for more than ten years. He will start the race fully rested and refreshed after a ten day cycling holiday which has been followed by two days of fine tuning and preparations in readiness for what looks like a tough, breezy race similar to what it was last year.

All thirty four solo skippers who will take on this year’s three stage La Solitaire du Figaro are set to take part in the Solo Guy Cotten and so it represents the perfect last check in before the annual pinnacle annual solo offshore event which starts from Nantes on Sunday 21st August.

“It was really windy last year and it looks like it might be windy again. I seem to like that and do well, so here is hoping.” Said the skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan on the eve of racing, “I am nice and rested, more so than I ever remember and so I am looking forwards to this race. It will be a good final test of the systems and the sails before La Solitaire.”

“The objective is to finish as high as possible but the standard is very high. It may look the case that because some of the big names have moved on then it leaves things more open but that is just not the case, there are ten or so skippers who might win this race and indeed La Solitaire and I have as good a chance as any.”

Dolan feels he has learned a lot from this season’s two handed races sailing with Brit Alan Roberts, not least the Sardinha Cup to Portugal and back where the Irish-Anglo duo were usually in the top three or four on both outward and return legs of a very light winds race.

“I learned a lot from Alan in terms of starting well and fast and most especially about staying calm at sea when things are not going your way. He is very cool and calm and patient always waiting for the next opportunity.” Dolan concludes.

The course is likely to be northwards or southwards out of Concarneau between 350 and 400 miles. Racing starts at 3 pm local time and the race can be followed on here

Published in Tom Dolan
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Great Lighthouses of Ireland

St John's Point, Co Donegal 
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Rathlin West Light, Co Antrim
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Wicklow Head, Co Wicklow
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Hook, Co Wexford
Ballycotton, Co Cork
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Loop Head, Co Clare
Clare Island, Co Mayo
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