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Marcus Hutchinson's Leg 4 Figaro Blog – Roscoff to Dieppe, 520 miles

19th June 2013
Marcus Hutchinson's Leg 4 Figaro Blog – Roscoff to Dieppe, 520 miles

#fullrish – Well Leg 3 didn't go as well as David Kenefick would have liked. He has had a tendancy to treat 200-mile long legs like the first beat of a windward leeward and want to immediately tack to clear his air if he is in dirty air. The problem is that that usually means leaving the fleet and even compromising the side of the course that you want to be on which in a boat speed race, which the Figaro often is, means losing valuable distance and then being on the back foot for the rest of the race.

Leg 3 from Gijon to Roscoff was to be sailed in two parts, the first a 200-mile section across the bay of Biscay to round the Island of Yeu off the Vendée coast, and the second another 240 miles up the French coast through the Raz de Sein around the tip of Brittany and along to Roscoff.
The first part was sailed under a complex ridge of high pressure straddling the whole Bay and the second in the influence of the South Westerly winds to the North of the ridge and an approaching front and depression. The ridge should have been slow and tedious to cross with long periods of light and no wind with skippers watching their barometers to know whether they were to the North or South of the ridge axis. In fact it all turned out differently and the switch from SE to W winds came very quickly and with more pressure the race stayed quick all the way to the finish.
On the wrong side of the fleet David suffered and then had to hang in there knowing that there were going to be no strategic opportunities later and that it would be all about speed and staying awake to drive the boat hard in the freshening conditions. To cut a long story short David finished early on Sunday morning in Roscoff quite far down the rankings and about 6 hours behind the leg winner Morgan Lagraviere. However, other Rookies also had a tough time and one of the favourites Claire Pruvot had to retire from the leg with a broken spreader. The time penalty means that David has moved up a place to third place amongst the seven first timers, and hour and ten minutes off second place and four and a quarter hours off the lead.

The fleet has had four days in Roscoff, a fascinating new port has been built here recently and as we normally just get off the ferry and head for the motorway when passing through we have all had the chance to discover this enchanting small town and the environs. David's partner in this adventure the Comptoir Irlandais, held a drinks reception for him and their guests on Tuesday night in the race village and hopefully the relationship that is being built will lead to further adventures later this year and next. This is after all a commercial proposition and David's success and his boat's coverage here with its Comptoir Irlandais branding on it is promoting the sale of Irish products in the company's 42 shops the length and breadth of the country.

So enough of Leg 3 now its time for the fourth and final leg of this year's race. Roscoff, outside Ushant, via the Chausee de Sein, through the Chenal du Four and up to Wolf Rock, along the South Coast of England to the Needles Fairway, across to a buoy off the port of Antifer near Le Havre and then up the coast to Dieppe and the finish. Five hundred and twenty miles of coastal, cross-channel, tidal, rockhopping and weather driven racing lies ahead. The start is Thursday at 13:00 local and will be in a medium North Westerly breeze. The North Brittany coast is rocky and when the tide is against, you need to get in amongst them to find some shelter and when the tide turns find it inshore first. Outside Ushant and downwind to the navigation mark at the Western extremity of the Sein archipelago will be highly boatspeed dependent. The return North through the Chanel du Four will again be hugely dependent on the state of the tide and again the chances are that the rich will get richer as the leaders get through before the tide turns foul for the followers.

The leg North from here to the Wolf Rock off the Cornish coast is probably going to be upwind and will sort out the men and women from the boys and girls. What's more there is the chance of a tidal gate here with the east going flood tide heading up the Channel ready to whisk away the leaders and give them another advantage. The wind should be piping up strongly at this stage on Friday evening and the fleet will be set for some high speed downwind sailing overnight and into Saturday as the legendary headlands of The Lizard, Start Point, Portland Bill and Anvil Point are ticked off. The Needles Fairway buoy will be a right turn for the fleet into a freshening SSW breeze meaning a wet 100-mile jib reach slog back to the French side of the Channel and a landfall buoy off the oil tanker harbour of Antifer near Le Havre. The final 50-odd miles will again see spinnakers blossom and a high speed chase continue to the conclusion of this year's event.

There isn't much upwind sailing, there are several tidal gates, it will be fresh for at least half of the course and there wont be too many opportunities to sleep. This will be physically the toughest of the four legs of this year's race and we expect to see the leaders finishing in Dieppe in the small hours of Sunday morning. Spare a thought for them all over the next few days!!!

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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