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Strangford Lough's Andrew Baker 13th in Solo Normandie

16th May 2016
Academy Alumni Andrew Baker (Artemis 64) was 13th Academy Alumni Andrew Baker (Artemis 64) was 13th

Northern Ireland solo sailor Andrew Baker finished 13th in the Solo Normandie race. Baker, from Strangford Lough, is part of the British Artemis offshore team.

British Figaro racer Alan Roberts secured third place, his third top-10 finish of 2016 on Saturday ahead of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro in June. 

After sailing 284 miles of some of the most challenging French Atlantic coastline, from Granville to Le Havre, Roberts finished the Solo Normandie in third place on Vasco de Gama.

The British solo racer from Southampton was just 17 minutes behind race-winner Alexis Loison (Groupe Fiva) and eight minutes behind Damien Cloarec (Saferail) in second. Fifteen competitors took part.

This podium finish for Roberts follows his 10th place in the Solo Concarneau and 6th in the Solo Maître Coq and it continues his impressive build-up to the Solitaire where he will be looking for a second consecutive top-10 finish overall after coming 9th last year.

Ahead of the Solo Normandie, Roberts was looking forward to tackling a challenging tidal course – at the finish he said the race didn’t disappoint.

“It was cool,” said Roberts on the dock at Le Havre. “We got to play through some interesting tide effects and rocky areas and sail next to some giant lighthouses. It was a great race, and it delivered exactly what I had expected, if not more.”

After rounding the first mark in the top-four boats, Roberts then found himself at the back of the fleet on the first beat after an incident with another boat. Getting very little sleep during a challenging two-day race, he then worked hard to establish himself back with the front-runners.

By the final hours of racing, Roberts was back in the top-five – and he then enjoyed a brisk final run to the finish line, helped by playing the tides at Raz de Blanchard (the famous Alderney Race), to take his podium finish.

“Being one of the first at the Raz de Blanchard is what won the race in the end,” he continued. “The Solo Normandie was pretty difficult and tiring. I had to work really hard to move back through the fleet which has been the story of all of my races this year so far.”

Asked about his feelings ahead of this year’s Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro, Roberts sounded confident: “I’m feeling happy with my speed. These first three races have shown me that I am able to pull back through the fleet when I need to.”

The next British skipper into Le Havre was Robin Elsey aboard Artemis 43 in 7th. Recently returned from the 3,890-nautical mile Transat AG2R La Mondiale, a double-handed transatlantic Figaro race, Elsey threw himself in at the deep end with the Solo Normandie – his first solo race of the season.

“It was a difficult race and I made a lot of rookie mistakes,” Elsey admitted. “I’m just glad I finished it and didn’t come last! After a bad start – I’m never really a good starter anyway – I found myself back with the fleet on the second leg of the race; I managed to claw it back.”

On the challenges of the course Elsey said: “The tides were difficult. Will (Harris) and I entered the Raz de Blanchard at the same time and I ended up sailing away and leaving him behind. I felt a bit bad doing that. But in the end we finished next to each other anyway – that boy is like a bad rash, you can’t get rid of him!”

Staying true to form, Harris was the first British rookie to finish. He was 8th overall and second rookie behind Justine Mettraux (Teamwork), making this Harris’s third rookie podium position of the season, the Harris/Mettraux battle will make for an interesting Solitaire rookie competition.

“That was probably the most difficult of the three races we’ve had so far,” said the skipper of Artemis 77. “There was never a good time to sleep and the tide, the wind and the position of the fleet was constantly changing. You had to stay reactive.

“I’ve learned a lot this season. You take so much away from every race. I go into each race knowing more, but I also come out of the other end having learned more – I think that is the case for all of the rookies. We have a few weeks of training now to get ready for the Figaro,” he concluded.

Next over the line was Academy Alumni Andrew Baker (Artemis 64) in 13th, then rookies Hugh Brayshaw (Artemis 23) in 14th and Mary Rook (Artemis 37) in 15th.

The next race for the rookies is the big one; the 1,425-mile Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro, that starts on 19th June from Deauville.

The Solo Normandie 2016 results
Position/Skipper/Boat name/Time at sea

1. Alexis Loison/Groupe Fiva – 1d, 19h, 34m, 10s
2. Damien Cloarec/Saferail – 1d, 19h, 43m, 50s
3. Alan Roberts/Vasco de Gamma – 1d, 19h, 51m, 10s
7. Robin Elsey/Artemis 43 – 1d, 20h, 17m, 17s
8. Will Harris/Artemis 77 – 1d, 20h, 17m, 45s – 2nd Rookie
13. Andrew Baker/Artemis 64 – 1d, 20h, 59m, 25s
14. Hugh Brayshaw/Artemis 23 – 1d, 21h, 32m, 49s
15. Mary Rook/Artemis 37 – 1d, 22h, 12m, 35s

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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