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Ireland's Rumball & Dolan in Noon Start of Solo La Solitaire du Figaro Race

30th August 2020
Ireland has two entries in today's noon start (Irish time) of the La Soltiaire du Figaro fleet Ireland has two entries in today's noon start (Irish time) of the La Soltiaire du Figaro fleet

Dublin's Kenny Rumball and Meath's Tom Dolan can expect a fairly fast, long, and open 642 nautical miles first leg, to the Fastnet and back, in the first challenge for the 35 solo sailors who embark on the 51st edition of La Solitaire du Figaro from noon (or 1300hrs local time) today (Sunday) on the Baie-de-Saint-Brieuc.

Experienced La Solitaire observers and competing sailors alike all agree that there are no standout favourites for the podium places on what promises to be an all-consuming, very complete test of the solo sailors’ skills. The course this year is a good mix of open offshore sailing and coastal Channel style racing. There there are probably fifteen sailors in the fleet who might have realistic aspirations to finish in the top three.

Kenneth Rumball (RL Sailing)Kenneth Rumball (RL Sailing) Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Irish Rookie Ready to Rumball

Ireland’s newcomer Kenneth Rumball comes to La Solitaire not as the realisation of any longstanding ambition or desire for a big sailing adventure but very much as a means to an end.

He is one of the first of what is expected to be a growing number of international sailors moving to the Figaro Beneteau 3 as one of the best pathways into double-handed offshore racing. An accomplished offshore racer and skipper from Dun Laoghaire on Dublin Bay, his original plan was a programme to get to the Mixed Double Handed Offshore Worlds with Irish Figaro racer Joan Mulloy. 

The Irish qualification trials were to have been in the Figaro at the Solo Concarneau due to have been in May. Mulloy subsequently withdrew as she is expecting a baby at the end of this month and so Pam Lee joined.

They did one week’s training before the COVID-19 lockdown and the double-handed worlds were cancelled.

“So I was left looking at the season wondering what to do then, I did not want to waste the season and to get better at shorthanded and solo offshore sailing this is what you do.” Recalls Rumball, 33, who is a qualified accountant and pro sailor who runs the Irish National Sailing and Powerboat School and a commercial division Irish National Marine Services.

While the ‘Bizuth’ division, competing for the rookie prize, is hotly contested usually the rookies have come from solo racing in other classes such as the Mini650 or Class 40. But Rumball’s actual first solo race was the Solo Maitre CoQ three months ago and then the Solo Concarneau earlier this month.

Predictably he feels light on training with the fleet or a group. As soon as the lockdown was lifted in Ireland they took their boat back to Ireland and practised for five weeks to get used to the boat handling skills from late May until 16th June then he went to France and straight into the Solo Maitre Coq.

He made the lockdown work, though, doing French lessons, building up fitness and doing meteo lectures with Christian Dumard.

“To some degree, we really made it good for us. We were stuck at home but did a lot to prepare ourselves for being here.” Rumball recalls

“I am still a vertical learning curve. As a sailor I know I can get the boat to the Fastnet and back. I can do that. But getting the boat to the Fastnet and back and be racing in the fleet is a different thing entirely. But the whole objective is to finish, to get to the end and have learned and to enjoy it, a bit, and experience the French scene.”

“If you were to ask, yes, Olympic selection is the long term goal.” He acknowledges, “But it is one step at a time, but there are other sailors here agree, like Tom and Alan Robert agree that this is the best place to be to get better.”

Rumball has had excellent help from North Sails in Ireland who have in turn ensured he has had good help and service from North Sails in France, so the Irish skipper has built some confidence in his speed and his set up. 

Tom Dolan (SMURFIT KAPPA) Tom Dolan (SMURFIT KAPPA) Photo: Yvan Zedda

Dolan Looking For Solid First Leg

Rumball’s Irish compatriot Tom Dolan’s two previous challenges on La Solitaire du Figaro have found the Irish sol racer fighting back after massively disappointing first legs. So while he might harbour high hopes of a finish in the top fifteen of this year’s 35 boat fleet, 33-year-old Dolan who is from County Meath but has lived in Concarneau for 11 years, is looking strictly short term, aiming to sail a solid, assured first leg to build on.

“I want to do a good first leg. That is the dream. The first two years my first legs have been a disaster. Last year I was in the west on the first leg (to Kinsale) and came in six or seven hours after the leaders. So right now I am just looking to do a good first leg and then take it from there.” Dolan says resolutely.

When last year was all about learning the boat and compressing as much training in as possible before the start, the skipper of Smurfit Kappa has taken time to significantly improve his strength and stamina and to bolster his mental toughness.

“I have worked with the fitness coach in Concarneau three times a week and I really notice the difference. Don’t get me wrong I did stuff before, but it really was not enough of a priority. It came after the boat work and sailing, way down the list. And I really do notice the fatigue taking longer to affect me.” He says.

He has also worked on keeping to his game plan more and not letting frustration boil over into making risky decisions. Racing the Drheam Cup two-handed with Mini Transat winner François Jambou gave him the chance to focus solely on his strategic decision making.

Multi-Stage competition

The annual multi-stage race increasingly seems to reward the racer who makes fewest mistakes over the entire course as last year’s winner Yoann Richomme showed. Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) at 46 years old is gilt-edged podium contender, who was fourth last year and who starts the race for the 11th time notes sagely, "It's the real constant on La Solitaire, there are fifteen skippers starting out with a legitimate claim to the podium. As there are only three places, each time there are twelve disappointed skippers every year. In essence, you are trying not to be one of those. And it’s not easy. This is what gives the stage podiums and the general classification a special flavour. "

"Nobody really stands out this year, there are more than ten of us who could win it and that promises a great battle on the water.” Observes Anthony Marchand, 33, skipper of Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire, who became the local hero when he won Stage 1 into his native Baie de Saint-Brieuc in 2018 on the 49th edition, before going on to finish runner-up to Sébastien Simon.

Top picks for the podium include 23 year old Tom Laperche of the Bretagne CMB Espoir team who has been in the medals at all three warm up events. Also Pierre Quiroga who will turn 28 years old during the race who is on the Skipper Macif programme - which produced four times podium finisher Charlie Dalin and Vendée Globe winner François Gabart, whose MerConcept ecurie manages the Macif programme. Quiroga won the Solo Concarneau earlier this month, was fourth in the Solo Maitre Coq and fourth in the Drheam Cup. And Briton Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is among those tipped for the podium, returning to the Solitaire after a six year absence.

International interest is justifiably at a high as British sailors have finished on the podium in all three of the preliminary Figaro Beneteau 3 races of a foreshortened season. Goodchild lies second in the French Elite Offshore Championship after taking a second and a victory preceded Alan Roberts’ second in the Solo Concarneau race earlier this month.

But the shorter 350 to 450 miles warm-up races are a different level of challenge to the renowned La Solitaire which aggregates elapsed time over more than 1820 miles of mind blowingly intense solo racing.

Yann Eliès, who is one of three skippers local to the Baie de Saint-Brieuc, starts La Solitaire for the 19th time and if he won would be the first sailor to amass four overall wins. Despite his excellent racing record in the Figaro and IMOCA and his obvious marketability Eliès could neither find a major sponsor to back his Vendée Globe challenge nor indeed to mount a top drawer Figaro challenge this year. He is helped out by previous supporter Groupe Queguiner. At 44 Eliès says the physical challenge of the new Figaro Beneteau 3 is telling over the course of the entire race. Of the possibility of stepping clear of the other four three times winners, Poupon, Le Cam, Desjoyeaux, and Beyou. Eliès says, “It really is a big ask but it is always possible. Everything needs to fall into place. At 44 there is now a physical dimension to it that maybe wasn’t there before.”

He acknowledges. “To be honest I would be happy to be in the top five.”

As he starts his 12th La Solitaire du Figaro two times winner Armel Le Cléac’h remains tight lipped about his own prospects of joining the elite circle of triple victors. The skipper of Bank Populaire was tenth last year, one of the many big names drawn back to the race by the introduction of the Figaro Beneteau 3, and this race is his one main focus of the season.

“ I'm not fixated on that third win,” Le Cléac’h asserts, “Iif it is meant to come it will, but that's not my target at all, My goal is to sail well stage by stage and make as few mistakes as possible, like the winner Yoann Richomme last year. We'll do the count up at the end. I have concentrated 100% on this, in reality it is the second major sailing event of the year in world sailing along with the Vendée Globe. That’s why I’m really happy that the race is taking place. We have a good field and the race is going to be as demanding as any other year. Now, I will just take is one stage at a time I will not set myself clear objectives, the goal will be to make as few mistakes as possible. I made them last year, some cost me dearly, now it is up to me to be more consistent.”

Stage 1 is an open sea leg to the Fastnet. At 497 miles Stage 2 starts with open waters racing to Wolf Rock to the south-west of Land’s End but them moves east up the Channel to Dunkirk. Five hundred and four miles of Stage 3 tests coastal sailing and navigation passing westwards down the Channel, round the rocky, tidal tip of Brittany through the Raz de Sein to the entrance to the Loire estuary before a final 24 hour sprint out of Saint Nazaire of 183 miles.

At an estimated four days duration Stage 1 is the longest opening leg for many years, likely to finish Thursday afternoon. It not only has the propensity to be shape the whole race if the finishing deltas are opened wide by light winds and a change of tide but with the second stage start due on Sunday there is very limited recovery time after a long opener.

As ever from Sunday’s start gun the pressure will be relentess. Fastnet is the only mark of the course leaving the strategic options wide open. Northerly winds of 12 to 15 knots are expected at the start but the fleet will have to negotiate light winds in a ridge of high pressure off the NW corner of France. The new south-westerly breeze will fill from the left side of the course giving fast reaching before negotiating two frontal systems and the northwesterly winds towards ‘the rock’ which is Ireland’s most southerly point. But the high pressure ridge is expected to compress the fleet again as they return to the Channel which would ensure the fleet is compressed again. Maximum windspeed through the fronts is expected to be around 25knots during what Briton Alan Roberts considers a ‘boatspeed, reaching leg.’

“Whoever gets out of the light winds and into the new south westerly first will profit. Getting furthest west as quick as possible might be the key but it is how and where you cross the ridge that will be key, going to the south or north, after that there is the decision where to pass the TSS, passing to the south at the Scillies or north.” Says Roberts (Seacat Services), “It should be quite straightforward after that a boatspeed reaching test really except at the finish a calm is expected so it won't be over until the finish”.

Follow the start live on the website www.lasolitaire.com with commentary and live images in French. Race start is 1300hrs CET, (1200hrs BST)

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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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