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First Night of La Solitaire Du Figaro Performance May Shape Stage 2 Finish Order

6th September 2020
Keeny Rumball from Dun Laoghaire is competing  for the first time  in the La Solitaire Du Figaro Keeny Rumball from Dun Laoghaire is competing for the first time in the La Solitaire Du Figaro Photo: Alexis Courcoux

 The second stage of the La Solitaire du Figaro started on the Baie de Saint-Brieuc, northern Brittany in a light to moderate north-easterly breeze at 1100hrs this Sunday morning. The 404 nautical miles stage takes the 35 strong field of solo sailors east to Dunkirk, a new destination port for the multi-stage solo offshore race which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

The leg is expected to take two and a half days – a veritable sprint compared to the 642 miles, four-night first stage marathon to the Fastnet and back - but once again sailors and weather experts alike consider that it is this first tricky light winds night which is very likely to shape the finish order into the historic, easternmost city of France.

The tricky beat to Eddystone, off Plymouth, is followed by a long, fast 160 miles downwind run east up the channel to a mark, Antifer, off Le Havre then continuing 100 miles more on a downwind procession to Dunkirk, the fleet increasingly funnelled into a narrow lane, gybing several times down a course bounded by high land to the south and the forbidden shipping lane to their left.

“It looks very much like a leg on which the Solitaire could be lost but is not likely to be won.” Observed weather guru Marcel van Triest who, pre-start, advises several top sailors on weather strategy.

All the way through the fleet the time differentials carried from Stage 1 are tiny. Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF), the opening Fastnet leg winner held just 95 seconds of advantage over Loïs Berrehar (Bretagne CMB Performance) with Alex Loison (Région Normandie) third at seven minutes and three seconds behind. But poised in fourth is double winner Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) at 10 minutes 20 seconds behind. The top 15 are spanned by 25 minutes, the top 20 by 35 minutes.

As the fleet sailed away from the Brittany coast at around 1500hrs local time today in 10-12kts of northeasterly breeze it was the French 2012 470 dinghy Olympian Pierre Leboucher (Guyot Environnment) leading the way with Armel Le Cléac’h lurking in second after making a much stronger start than he made on Stage 1 off the same Saint Brieuc start line. Le Cléac’h is looking hungry for success and has had no other distractions this year, training hard on his Figaro after finishing 10th last year.

"The weather is looking a little complicated for the climb north to Eddystone with variable winds to negotiate then a long, important leg to the finish which will be a real speed test.” Le Cléac’h, 44, said on the race dock, “ The first night is going to be interesting tactically you have to be good here to be well placed around Eddystone as I think after that it will be hard to get places back. Much of the ranking will be set by here. There will still be little gains to be made here and there, but it will be a speed race and the finish will not be very complicated. There will be wind all the way down there and it is great to be going to Dunkirk for the first time to show our boats.”

Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is the best of the international entrants lay ninth on the overall standings and was fighting in the main group at less than a mile from the lead.

The opening 115 miles upwind passage to Eddystone lighthouse off Plymouth is set to see the sailors encounter shifting light winds affected by an occluded front and a new high pressure ridge coming in from the west which will combine to swing the breeze through three significant shifts in direction during the night. What promises to be a hard fought upwind in a decent 14-16kts of northwesterly breeze will peter out as the wind drops completely in the small hours of the morning.

Round Start Point the fleet are likely to work the Devon coast where there will be more wind pressure before calling a layline for the A8 mark off Le Havre, a difficult but necessarily accurate call given the strong tides in the Channel. The wind is set to build to over 20 knots for an express ride to the line where the leaders are now expected late on Tuesday evening.

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Published in Figaro
Andi Robertson

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Andi Robertson

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Andi Robertson is an international sailing journalist based in Scotland

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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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