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470 Miles Upwind to Dún Laoghaire for Figaro Sailors

6th August 2011
470 Miles Upwind to Dún Laoghaire for Figaro Sailors

The second leg of the four stage La Solitaire du Figaro race starts tomorrow from Caen in Normandy to Dún Laoghaire harbour just outside Dublin in Ireland. The 47 solo sailors will set off at 16:00 local French time on the 470-mile race with key points of passage, in what forecasts show will be strong conditions for a mainly upwind leg to Ireland.  Final briefings, routing strategy, food storage and equipment are being done in Caen the day before the start.


The skippers of La Solitaire du Figaro in the Cloître de l'Abbaye Aux Hommes in Caen Photo: Courcoux/Marmara

The course to Ireland will see the fleet cover the first forty-six miles of the race on potentially reaching conditions up to Barfleur in 10 to 12 knots of South-westerly winds.  "Conditions are forecast to freshen up over the course of the evening and we could see 25 knots with gusts of up to 35 at the Cap de la Hague, where we have decided to put in a mark at La Plate tower to avoid the sailors getting too close the rocks which are not all shown on many charts" explains race Director Jacques Caraës. The fleet then head down the Gros du Raz and leave Alderney to starboard on the run past Herm Island, then round Guernsey on starboard.  "The reason we have set Guernsey to starboard is to keep the fleet out of the busy shipping lanes further north into the Channel," continues Caraës.  The wind is forecast to veer round to the North as the fleet will make headway up the Channel towards Lands Ends, 122 miles away.  The conditions should remain fresh at 20 knots, gusting 30 for this part of the race and then ease on Tuesday as the breeze will back round to West, Southwest for the final miles to the finish in Dún Laoghaire, 205 miles away from Land Ends.

Interestingly, the effects of a system of low pressure approaching over North West of Ireland on Wednesday could shake up positions and see the fleet compress on the final approach, as the breeze is likely to be felt first by those at the back end  "Two miles from the finish, we have marked that Mullins Island must be left to port in order to avoid the busy fishing area" concludes Jacques who estimates the arrival of the boats in Ireland on Wednesday.

Experience, together with physical endurance will really count for the Figaro sailors, as they face strong upwind sailing conditions for the first two days of racing , fitness and mental alertness to then tackle the final sprint up the St. George's Channel, navigate the numerous sand banks along the Irish coastline, and possibly then have to sail under spinnaker to the finish in Dún Laoghaire.

Quotes from the skippers on the eve of the start of the race from Caen to Ireland
Fabien Delahaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham) – current race leader: "The fight will be tough"
"I have reconfigured the set up on the boat for this next leg.  It is perfect, the refuelling is done, everything is ready to go.  Now I am looking at the weather to see how to set the ballast.  We have the right to carry 100 kg of material over a 20 litre container at the foot of the mast that can be filled.  On each leg we decide what we want to do, depending on the weather.  For the first, it was just over 60 kg on board.  I wanted to be light.  I left with the clothes I had on and a set of oilskins, nothing else, not even a fleece.  For the second leg, if you want to be heavy, you can take a dry suit, fleeces, three sets of oilskins... there will be lots to be able to get changed into! On this kind of leg you could see less options, as those who are used to strong conditions and like to work hard at the helm should get along fine.  It is going to be a tough leg where you need to be good technically, handle the boat well and most likely are going to wear yourself out.  We will also spend over three night at sea, sleep management is important, as is knowing how to deal with the pilot.  Those who have experience of sailing on the Figaro will definitely shine out.  People like Gildas Morvan, he is known for his ability in strong conditions.  I am going to hang in there and try to not get done over.  We are like sea wolves...the fangs are out...the fight will be tough!"

Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert): "Upwind sailing is pure happiness"
"I had a good workout a month ago in the Mistral and Tramontana.  I won two races in 25 knots so that is where I do well.  It is quite usual that on a sail up to Ireland, conditions are often strong and it tends to be upwind.  So psychologically, your mind is already prepared.  Not wishing to be overly confident and boastful, but these are conditions I like, I feel at ease in and that the boat performs the best in.  My grandfather loved it and my son loves it... I'll tell you: upwind sailing is pure happiness! "

Francisco Lobato (Roff) 36th on the first leg
"I prefer downwind to upwind sailing when it is windy.  There are three legs to go and I have mucked up the first, now I have to remain consistent and in contact with the leaders.  On the reach we could see small groups forming who will then separate on the upwind beat, some will prefer to head towards the English coastline and others further out into the Channel.  There will no way of controlling all the boats so it will be a matter of really choosing well the bunch to sail with."

Sylvain Mondon, Artemis and CEM weather support from Meteo-France :
"Rainy weather with moderately strong SW winds to begin with, veering NW later in the West part of the English Channel. It will be quite windy for English Channel crossing in the very first hours of the leg will be only 15-20 knots, but increasing very quickly after Barfleur."

Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence):
"It looks pretty hideous, it's going to be North-West, probably 30 knots, gusting more around headlands and there will be a 4-5 metre swell as well as that...It's going to be a pretty tough leg."

Conrad Humphreys (DMS):
"The main challenge for this one is going to be the strength of the wind off Barfleur and around Cherbourg and probably limiting some damage around the Alderney part of the race. The second big challenge will be this ridge of high pressure and how dominant it becomes in the Irish Sea."

Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics):
"So, the course for leg 2 is we leave Caen on Sunday early evening and then we head around Barfleur and Cherbourg peninsula. Leave Alderney to starboard, Guernsey to starboard and then head off to Land's End and then straight up to Dún Laoghaire,  It will be good to have some decent breeze, we haven't sailed in a lot of breeze all year so I think it will be nice for us to have some strong winds. Historically in the strong winds I've always done all right. So hopefully I can settle down into the race. It will be nice to be getting a bit of a kicking rather than wondering when the next puff is going to come along."

Sam Goodchild (Artemis):
"It's going to be a mix of everything - upwind, downwind, strong wind, light wind. The whole of the second leg is a challenge, there's no specific challenge. The entire race is a challenge, that's why we are here."

Published in Figaro Team

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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 celebrates 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.

The race has previously called to Dingle, Kinsale, Crosshaven, Howth and Dun Laoghaire.

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 will have two Irish boats in the offshore race thanks to Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy who join the rookie ranks and keep the Irish tricolour flying high in France. 

The 2019 course is more Than 2,000 miles between Nantes, Kinsale (Ireland), Roscoff and Dieppe and is the longest in the race's history.


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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