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Bon Depart as 2011 Solitaire du Figaro Heads for Dun Laoghaire

31st July 2011
Bon Depart as 2011 Solitaire du Figaro Heads for Dun Laoghaire

The 42nd edition of La Solitaire du Figaro race got off to a good start on Sunday in Perros Guirec, despite the light five-knot westerly breeze and unusual downwind start.  Hundreds of fans lined the cliffs and crowded onto the many spectator boats to see the fleet of Figaro sailors set off on the first 320-mile leg of the four stage month long race. 

Treated to a colourful downwind spinnaker start at 11 am, which was fired by Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the French Minister for the Environment, the crowds watched on as the fleet headed off to the first mark blanketed by a curtain of mist and haze.

The fleet is headed for Dun Laoghaire and a special festival is planned around the fleets arrival on August 12th. The local council has installed a special marina to greet the fleet who will be based at the Carlise pier in front of the National Yacht Club.

In conjunction with Alliance Francaise the National Yacht Club will hold a reception on Friday 12th August to celebrate the stopover.

Nicolas Lunven (Generali), winner of the 2009 edition, reached the Radio France mark first, two miles into the race, followed by Thomas Rouxel (Bretagne-Credit Mutuel Performance) and Eric Drouglazet's shocking pink Luisina spinnaker rounding in third.  Sam Goodchild (Artemis), the first British entry and youngest competitor as well as first sailor rookie, rounding in seventh.  Notably Isabelle Joschke (Galettes Saint Michel), the Franco-German sailor competing on her fourth Solitaire with a new sponsor, fought her way out of the busy start line and rounded in sixth place.

Spinnakers were swiftly packed away and genoas raised to sail with care round, leaving to starboard the rocks at the the Seven Islands or Sept Iles plateau, before the 90 mile crossing of the English Channel to Hands Deep, the next waypoint, in Plymouth Sound.  It looks like the fleet will have a dark first night with little moonlight and a low gradient breeze as the damp and light front travels across the Channel from West to East and dies out on the approach to the southern English coastline.  Rounding the next point of passage at Hands Deep buoy off Plymouth could be further complicated by the turning tide at 07:00.

Follow the progress the skippers make with the position reports and rankings will from 16:00 local French time, updated 5 times a day and are available on www.lasolitaire.com.

Sam Goodchild (Artemis) before the start in Perros Guirec:
"The weather forecasts look slightly better this morning, so I think we could have a bit of breeze for the start.  I am going to focus on keeping up with the fleet, but that is not to say that I will not do my own thing.  I do not agnate to take major risks and finish in Caen six hours behind the leader having to play catch up for the rest of the race.  There are four Brits, so it would be nice to beat them and a few French too!  The main thing I need to try and manage is sleep well balance the timing and not sleep too much or too little.  For some good luck and energy I have my special Grenada Chocolate Company bar!"
Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics):"This is the first Figaro race start without my wife, so it is a bit strange, but hopefully together with a bunch of friends she can come and see the boats sail past Fairway at the Needles.  Looking forward to starting and getting off now.  Not got any special snacks on board, just lots of green apples! "
Phil Sharp (Spirit of Independence) being seen off by his father, :"Ready now to get racing and taking my granny's special "go fast" fruit cake.  I have a quarter for each leg and it is enormously good and keeps the morale going. The pressure is on to do well, but I am feeling driven."
Conrad Humphreys (DMS): "I always get a little nervous before starts. Probably, in many ways more so for this race because it is so intense and the competition is all around you, whereas for a Transatlantic it's a different set of pressure."

Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat) upon leaving the dock this morning in Perros-Guirec: "I slept very well! Given the conditions we have to start, I am not going to get stressed at this point. On the contrary, I am feeling quite serene. It is going to be calm, but the stress will be trying to be up at the front from the start and then things will be ok.  I am not worried about the calm conditions so long as the boat is moving.  If we end up going backwards, then it is not going to be much fun!  I just really want to do well this year.  That is pretty much how I am feeling before today's start."

Eric Drouglazet (Luisina) on his 19th participation speaks before the start: "This first leg is not looking all that clear, the conditions are not all that endearing!  When you train all winter in windy conditions you get to be good at boat handling.  When you have such light conditions, it does not come down to how you handle and anyone can do well.  The rookies and young ones can do well.  There should also be lots of seaweed, which again raised the uncertainty.  The English coastline is going to be the toughest part and we will all find out pretty quick who handles it best.  We could see puffs of wind just a few metres away allowing for some getaways and gaps to build.  So having a good handle and understanding the weather will be key.  It is likely we will have to anchor as the tidal coefficients are so high."
Yannig Livory (One Network Energy): "It is not going to be too windy out there!  The weather forecasts are not all that clear and the tides have a big coefficient...There are lots of people here who want to win this first leg.  The most complicated thing is going to be sailing along the South coast of England because there are a number of headlands to round.  There won't be much time for sleep, but then there should be just three nights at sea."

Published in Figaro
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Ireland & La Solitaire du Figaro

The Solitaire du Figaro, was originally called the course de l’Aurore until 1980, was created in 1970 by Jean-Louis Guillemard and Jean-Michel Barrault.

Half a decade later, the race has created some of France's top offshore sailors, and it celebrated its 50th anniversary with a new boat equipped with foils and almost 50 skippers Including novices, aficionados and six former winners.

The solo multi-stage offshore sailing race is one of the most cherished races in French sailing and one that has had Irish interest stretching back over 20 years due to the number of Irish stopovers, usually the only foreign leg of the French race.

What Irish ports have hosted The Solitaire du Figaro?

The race has previously called to Ireland to the following ports; Dingle, Kinsale, Crosshaven, Howth and Dun Laoghaire.

What Irish sailors have raced The Solitaire du Figaro?

So far there have been seven Irish skippers to participate in La Solitaire du Figaro. 

In 1997, County Kerry's Damian Foxall first tackled the Figaro from Ireland. His win in the Rookie division in DHL gave him the budget to compete again the following year with Barlo Plastics where he won the final leg of the race from Gijon to Concarneau. That same year a second Irish sailor Marcus Hutchinson sailing Bergamotte completed the course in 26th place and third Rookie.

In 2000, Hutchinson of Howth Yacht Club completed the course again with IMPACT, again finishing in the twenties.

In 2006, Paul O’Riain became the third Irish skipper to complete the course.

In 2013, Royal Cork's David Kenefick raised the bar by becoming a top rookie sailor in the race. 

In 2018, for the first time, Ireland had two Irish boats in the offshore race thanks to Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy who joined the rookie ranks and kept the Irish tricolour flying high in France. Mulloy became the first Irish female to take on the race.

Tom Dolan in Smurfit Kappa competed for his third year in 2020 after a 25th place finish in 2019. Dolan sailed a remarkably consistent series in 2020 and took fifth overall, the best finish by a non-French skipper since 1997 when Switzerland’s Dominique Wavre finished runner up. Dolan wins the VIVI Trophy.

Dolan finished 10th on the first stage, 11th on the second and seventh into Saint Nazaire at the end of the third stage. Stage four was abandoned due to lack of wind. 

Also in 2020, Dun Laoghaire’s Kenneth Rumball became the eleventh Irish sailor to sail the Figaro.

At A Glance – Figaro Race

  • It starts in June or July from a French port.
  • The race is split into four stages varying from year to year, from the length of the French coast and making up a total of around 1,500 to 2,000 nautical miles (1,700 to 2,300 mi; 2,800 to 3,700 km) on average.
  • Over the years the race has lasted between 10 and 13 days at sea.
  • The competitor is alone in the boat, participation is mixed.
  • Since 1990, all boats are of one design.

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