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My Upcoming La Solitaire du Figaro & Reviewing the Solo Concarneau Race

21st August 2020
Kenny Rumball on board RL Sailing before the start of the Solo Concarneau Race Kenny Rumball on board RL Sailing before the start of the Solo Concarneau Race

Dublin rookie Kenneth Rumball reflects on the Solo Concarneau Race, his last lead up race before next month's Solitaire Du Figaro debut 

Our final training race before the big one in a few weeks (GULP!) was the Solo Concarneau 2020. Originally to be used on its initial date in May as the Irish qualifier for the team to represent Ireland at the inaugural Doublehanded Offshore Worlds that have obviously now been cancelled. This race, as per the original schedule would have been one of the first races of the Figaro season and my first race together with Pamela Lee as RL Sailing Team. Of course, now so late in the year, it was a solo race. Racing out of Concarneau was nice as we only had a 30 minute delivery from our base in Port La Foret and we could essentially stay at ‘home’ which cut out many days before and after a race.

The Solo Concarneau 2020 fleet(Above and below) The Solo Concarneau 2020 fleet

Solo Concarneau 2020

We had not raced since the Dhream Cup in which we had highlight speed deficiencies in a range of conditions. For the most part, we are slightly on the back foot as we have not had the opportunity to get any solid coaching due to the timescale imposed by the constraints of COVID -19. However, we have been spending a lot of time talking to our friends in the Figaros and trying to figure out how to make these little boats go faster. It should be noted, these are one-design offshore boats, where all the boats are identical, therefore it is totally up to the sailor to make the boats go faster. Most offshore sailing is done in a range of different boats where the results are based on a time factored handicap system afterwards. With the boats going at much the same speeds it leads for close, intense and stressful racing, you can never relax! For those reading who sail one-design dinghies, a dinghy race is typically 45 minutes, our races are typically 48 hours!

The 270-mile Solo Concarneau 2020 courseThe 270-mile Solo Concarneau 2020 course

Back to the race - the weather outlook was for very light conditions, the organisers had the opportunity to give 4 different length courses depending on the conditions. They decided on a course of 280 miles which brought us out of Baie de La Foret and along the coast, following it north through the incredibly tidal Point du Raz, where tides can hit up to 6 kts! From here we were to round a South Cardinal just south of Quessant before heading south to round Phare Birvideaux (Northern most rounding mark in the Solo Maitre Coq). The course then had us staying inside the island of Belle Ile and rounding a mark south of the island before heading north to home!

Kenny Rumball heads out for the start of the Solo ConcarneauKenny Rumball heads out for the start of the Solo Concarneau

Start day came and as our experience and confidence grows we are continually much more proficient with the safety and measurement checks, prop shaft seal controls etc. The wind was light, light, light for the start. I planned to simply get off the line in clear air as there was so little wind… I failed! I got pinned by a boat to leeward, who ended up ruining the start for both of us. The boat in question was definitely not thinking about overall strategy! Finding myself spat out the back yet determined to improve event after event, I set to work in the blistering heat (I forgot to mention that we are in a mid-summer heatwave in France). Taking a few educated risks and pouring lots of effort into sail trim, I picked up speed and started to claw my way back into the fleet, one boat at a time. I brought the boat so close to some of the islands that I could have tipped my weather foil off the rocks if I had wanted to!

Another drifting start for the FigarosAnother drifting start for the Figaros!

We were beating and close fetching, so there was a lot of Code 0 action or J2 with a full main. Our North Sails inventory really came to the fore here as for the first time I started to drop a boat here and there. You cannot imagine the confidence boost that comes from doing that in such a tight fleet! As dusk fell, I kept in the same groove maximising boat speed and concentrating on going fast in the right direction. As we rounded Cap Caval, I took a hitch into the shore. Before the race, I had looked at the weather from a broad perspective much more than any other race and had discussed with Pam that I need to stay close to the coast as much as possible heading north. We had learnt about some advantages to doing this from our deliveries north to Ireland and Cherbourg. My strategy paid and I got inside a lot of boats heading north, which put me in touch with the lead pack as we headed through the narrow gap at Point du Raz. Coming through here we were able to crack sheets on the Code 0 to the mark just south of Quessant.

Passage through Point du RazPassage through Point du Raz

Top Mark RoundingTop Mark Rounding

Heading South, Kites UpHeading South, Kites Up

At dawn, I rounded the top mark, gybe setting inside two boats. I was proud of myself for having a quicker hoist and getting the kite pulling before the two boats I rounded inside of. At this point, I was lying around 10th… Happy Kenny!

10th Overall, 1st Bizuth (Rookie)Tenth Overall, 1st Bizuth (Rookie)

Once the boat was settled, I rewarded myself with an Expedition Foods porridge with strawberries and a delicious Handspresso coffee! I knew my upwind speed was now better but this long downwind gave me the opportunity to check out my downwind speed. Initially, this started well as I pulled slightly from the two boats I rounded beside. Then the wind started to play funny games, dying and filling from the East before doing the same from the West. I found myself chasing the wind and losing places in doing so, lesson learnt, if in doubt point at the mark!

light weather downwind lasted for over 15 hoursThis light weather downwind lasted for over 15 hours

This light weather downwind lasted for over 15 hours with our North Sails A2 diligently pulling me along, all the way to Birvideaux. The fleet compressed as we rounded Birvideaux. All the boats rounded within 30 minutes of one another after approximately 170 miles of racing. This just shows how close and tight the racing is in this Classe! I had lost some places down this leg and was now around 20th, still happy but determined and hopeful not to loose any more before the finish. I had a good gybe and I set myself up to the next mark. I was trucking along at 9.5kts, 27 miles to go, roughly 3 hours, all was going well. So well in fact, that I decided to have a nap…Birvideaux mark rounding, before heading inside Belle -Ile.

Birvideaux mark rounding, before heading inside Belle -IleBirvideaux mark rounding, before heading inside Belle-Ile

Solo Concarneau 2020 tracker

Passage inside Belle-Ile

I should mention that sleep and rest are luxuries when solo sailing. We have lots of electronic aids to look out for other boats such as AIS, but we rarely sleep or rest because we are constantly worried about our speed, competitors or changes in weather etc. By the end of this race, which lasted 51 hours, I probably rested for 80 minutes in total. Ten minutes at a time. At this stage, I was setup with good speed and going at the right direction. I checked the nav, set the timer on my watch and the boat alarm and put my head down in the cockpit for 10 minutes… I woke up well before the alarm with my world turned upside-down. I had fallen victim to the weather phenomenon around Belle-Ile that the French call the “tampon effect,” where in certain weather conditions the island sucks all the wind away. The spinnaker was hanging limp and by quickly checking the other boats on AIS, I could see that we were all doing circles. There would be winners and losers from this! After a very frustrating, long few hours, I was one of the losers. The results had been turned upside-down and I was out the back. I was tired and frustrated. I had to do some seriously deep digging in order to get myself up and going again, but I regained my determination to catch a few boats.

Impact of the ‘Tampon Effect’ inside Belle-IleImpact of the ‘Tampon Effect’ inside Belle-Ile

There was about a 50-mile beat back to the finish but despite my best efforts and constant determination, nothing went my way. I never lost touch with the pack, but I also never took any places back. I finally finished around 1810 hrs. Although disappointed with the result, I took a lot of positives - good speed, smart decision making, good boat handling and above all strong mental power! Pam was on the dock with a few cold beers when I arrived. Later that night we joined a few of our fellow skippers, including our fellow Irish competitor Tom Dolan, who I spent a good proportion of the race beside, as well as Gildas Mahé, Robin Marais and a few others. It was great to chat about the race with hindsight and to learn from the others and their experience.

The Guy Cotton Prize GivingThe Guy Cotton Prize Giving (Kenny Ruumball second from left)

One cannot underestimate the years of experience that some of the skippers have, it is not necessarily sailing experience but this Figaro Racing experience in which we are lacking. From what we have learnt, it could take you up to seven years of exclusively racing Figaros to post a top 20 result in this highly competitive class. This racing is tough, but that is exactly why we are here. We are still on the vertical climb of this learning curve! We have about two weeks now until the start of the Solitaire du Figaro, so we are taking some time off before full preparation mode for the pinnacle of the season.

Check out the video log below

Kenneth Rumball

About The Author

Kenneth Rumball

Email The Author

Kenny Rumball is the Principal of the Irish National Sailing School in Dun Laoghaire Harbour. He is a multi dinghy champion and offshore sailor. In 2018 he was awarded the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Seamanship Trophy for a Man Overboard Rescue in the Round Ireland Race. In May 2020 he embarked on a mixed offshore doublehanded keelboat campaign with Pamela Lee.

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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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