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Rookie Kenefick Makes a Poor Start But Figaro Leg One is Well Underway

2nd June 2013
Rookie Kenefick Makes a Poor Start But Figaro Leg One is Well Underway

La solitaire du Figaro - the big race - started today at 13:00 and for young David Kenefick it was indeed a big occasion. 10,000s of people had come to see the 41 solo sailors head off on the first leg which takes the fleet down the Gironde estuary from Pauillac and out across the Bay of Biscay to Cape Finisterre and down Spanish and Portuguese coast to Porto, 535 miles. After weeks of horrible weather summer switched on this morning, the temperatures soared into the mid-20s and the sun burnt everyone who ventured outside.

The Gironde Estuary is a bit like the Solent only three times as long. The race start was set for just before high tide to allow the fleet to start and do some local round the cans racing in slack water for the crowds, sponsors and live TV show, before heading down the river with the start of the ebb. But as everyone knows the tide never turns evenly in a river or narrow arm of the sea. It always turns on the edges first and it was to the edges that the fleet split for the first mile and a half beat upwind against the tide.

David had a terrible start and was amongst the backmarkers off the line, which put him in a poor position for the first beat as he tried to hang in. He was amongst good company though with some big scalps near him. The problem is there are big scalps all over the fleet. This is a race of attrition and just finishing every leg is a major sailing and seamanship achievement. The goal for David now is to settle himself down and stay in a low risk mode for the rest of the Gironde Estuary and once out in the Atlantic with the kite up start to get rested and get into a routine that will see him lucid enough to make the right decisions at the right time further down the track.

The first casualty of this rather unusual early part of the course is a fellow rookie competitor and perhaps favourite rookie Frenchman Simon Troel. He was having a great race and was in 12th place but has gone aground on a mud bank and will have to wait out the tide before he can get off. That will cost him the race as this race is ranked by cumulative elapsed time, not points and a 12 hour deficit this early in the race will be hard to recover from.

The fleet will see spinnakers set as the pass the Pointe de Grave and head out into the Bay of Biscay. They are expected to have downwind sailing all the way to Cape Finisterre in a building breeze before a complex low slows the game down as they head south towards the Portuguese finish port of Porto. They are expected to finish sometime late on Wednesday night or early on Thursday morning this week.

We'll keep regular updates going on www.afloat.ie page over the next three weeks.

Published in Figaro
Afloat.ie Team

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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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