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Meath's Tom Dolan in Seventh Place as Figaro Fleet Head for the Fastnet Rock

31st August 2020
Tom Dolan is currently lying in seventh place after the first night at sea  in the 51st Figaro Race from France Tom Dolan is currently lying in seventh place after the first night at sea in the 51st Figaro Race from France

Tom Dolan has had a great start to the 51st La Solitaire Du Figaro, the County Meath man's third attempt at the solo marathon race.  Dolan is lying in seventh place this morning, mixing it with the all-important top ten and just two miles behind the early fleet leader. Rookie rival Kenny Rumball from Dublin is lying in 28th place after the first night of an estimated one month of racing ahead over four legs. The first leg includes a voyage to Ireland and a rounding of West Cork's Fastnet Rock.

The 35 solo sailors who started the 642 nautical miles first stage of La Solitaire du Figaro on Bay of Saint Brieuc on France's northwesterly Channel coast enjoyed a spirited send off in perfect 15-18 knot northerly winds.

With sunshine threatening to finally split the leaden skies, the lone skippers set their course for Fastnet Rock, 300-odd nautical miles to their west- north-west, knowing that the first 24 hours of the out-and-back passage, will be battling through a ridge of complicated light winds in strong tides. This first night may yet prove decisive not just in terms of the first stage results but the whole four leg race.

France's Tom Laperche (Team Bretagne CMB Espoir), who won the Solo Maitre Coq and was second in the Drheam Cup, was leading the fleet on the beat out of the bay towards the turn left turn where sheets would be eased. Britain's solo skippers made solid rather than spectacular starts, Phil Sharp (OceansLab) recovering quickly back into the fleet after being called as being over the start line before the gun.

Solidarity between skippers in the Figaro fleet is well known in the world of sailing and it was exhibited again when Gildas Mahe (Breizh Cola), runner up last year and local favourite on his home waters, tore his mainsail doing an emergency gybe to avoid a collision with another boat crossing his path. Friend and rival Xavier Macaire immediately proposed to lend him a previous mainsail of his Groupe SNEF. With the rapid response and collaboration of other support teams Mahe had the replacement set. He reached the start on time keeping intact his aspirations of winning Stage 1.

As the fleet negotiate the rocky north Brittany, English Channel coast this evening and into the night ortherly wind is due to fade, heralding the arrival of a high pressure ridge of very light, unstable and unpredictable winds.

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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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