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'Nervous' Irish Rookie Kenny Rumball Embarks on La Solitaire du Figaro Challenge This Sunday

27th August 2020
Dun Laoghaire Harbour's Kenny Rumball Dun Laoghaire Harbour's Kenny Rumball

Ireland’s Kenneth Rumball is in the final preparation stages before starting his first La Solitaire du Figaro which start this Sunday, 30th August in the Bay of Saint-Brieuc. Having made the twenty-four-hour delivery up from Port-La-Foret on Sunday, Rumball’s Team RL Beneteau Figaro 3 is docked with the rest of the fleet in the marina at Saint-Quay Portrieux while any last preparations are made.

“This is my first season racing in the Figaro 3 and on courses around this section of the French coast, with all the changing schedules and restrictions due to COVID 19 I haven’t had the opportunity to do much training so I’ve found it really beneficial to do the deliveries to the race starts myself. It gives me a chance to spend real time on the water and to familiarise myself with some of the navigation in the race areas,” says Rumball.

Dun Laoghaire Harbour's Rumball was a latecomer to the Figaro 3 circuit this year, originally intending to campaign doublehanded with Irish Co-skipper Pamela Lee with the aim of representing Ireland in the first Doublehanded Offshore Worlds, which were scheduled for October in Malta. When the Worlds and the majority of the rest of the planned schedule were cancelled, Rumball quickly made the ambitious decision to take on a solo campaign for the season, culminating in Le Solitaire du Figaro.

Kenny Rumball will be racing around the Fastnet Rock next week in the first leg of the 2020 La Solitaire du Figaro Kenny Rumball will be racing around the Fastnet Rock next week in the first leg of the 2020 La Solitaire du Figaro Photo: Alex Courcoux

“It’s very clear that the best way to get better at shorthand sailing is to compete in France with the French. The Figaro circuit is incredibly competitive with the best shorthand sailors taking part every year, the Solitaire is the pinnacle of this circuit and a great challenge as a sailor. My main goal this year is to learn as much as possible and the learning curve has certainly been steep!” says Rumball.

"We are still on the vertical climb of this learning curve!"

So far Rumball has raced in the Solo Maitre-Coq from Les Sables D’olonne, the Dhream Cup (doublehanded) from Cherbourg-en-contentin and the Solo Guy Cotton from Concarneau. The Solo Guy Cotton was the last lead up race before the Solitaire and was a final opportunity to really focus on addressing a number of speed deficiencies, to test the new North Sails wardrobe, as well as experiment with managing sleep while racing – one of the biggest challenges. It proved to be a tough race with very fluky, light wind conditions. “Although disappointed with the final result, I took a lot of positives - good speed, smart decision making, good boat handling and above all strong mental power,” said Rumball of the race.

Now in the final days before the beginning of the first Solitaire leg, which is a 642-mile course to the Fastnet and back, Rumball is focusing on ironing out any last issues onboard, familiarising himself with the course and the navigation as well as analysing the upcoming weather and tidal patterns. Of course, a vital part of the pre-race preparation is mental and physical too, so there’s a strong focus on rest, eating well and exercise with an effort to be in a focused headspace on Sunday. “I’m certainly nervous,” says Rumball, “This is a long leg and a long time to be intensely racing with potentially some adverse weather coming through! So far the experience here in France has been great with all the other Skippers being extremely helpful and welcoming. This racing is tough, but that is exactly why we are here. We are still on the vertical climb of this learning curve!”

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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