Menu
Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

In association with ISA Logo Irish Sailing

Tom Dolan to Challenge for La Solitaire du Figaro Podium Tonight

19th September 2020
Tom Dolan to Challenge for La Solitaire du Figaro Podium Tonight

County Meath's Tom Dolan will have his chance to seal Ireland's best ever La Solitaire du Figaro this evening after completing three stand-out legs to be in striking distance of a podium result.

The final, deciding stage of the La Solitaire du Figaro is usually billed as a 24-hour sprint, quite literally designed to test who still can best draw on the remaining reserves of energy for one last day-long no holds barred battle to the final finish line but this evening it may well be a drifting match according to the weather forecasts.

Looking at this light winds all or nothing scenario does not fill Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) with too much joy. The 33-year-old racer, on just his third La Solitaire, lies in an excellent fifth place overall, ready to challenge for the podium. He is within 28 minutes and 22 seconds of third-placed Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Espoir) but resolves to carry on with his same low-risk approach and to not get overwrought by the challenge that faces him.

“I feel grand, my back is a bit sore but then I am sure everyone’s is at this stage. It looks like a very complicated stage, light winds, strong tides. I am a bit worried to be honest because you could lose everything you have done good on this last stage. But I will just do as much as I can in terms of the prep. I have a couple of ideas in terms of strategy but I will work like I have these first three legs and see how I go. It would be a dream to hold on to fifth. I am definitely so much more confident in the way I am approaching things and sailing well enough.” Said Dolan, “But I have not really looked to closely at the standings, I am not sure I will. I think better to go out and sail own race as best I can.”

According to the weather gurus who advise the solo skippers on the fine detail strategies and the sailors themselves, the decisive Stage 4 of the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro looks set to be a drifting match for the most part of the proposed 83 nautical miles passage out from Saint Nazaire to round the Ile de Yeu. In winds predicted to be between one and just over six knots use of the tidal currents (coeff 113) could decide the race.

"It's a short course, because there is no wind," says Francis Le Goff, the race director bluntly. In terms of contingencies there will be a buoy set 12 miles north of the island to allow intermediate times to be taken in case they cannot finish. And, after the 1915hrs Saturday evening start time, if the leaders have not yet passed the south of the Island by 1000hrs Sunday morning the race will be abandoned. The stage must be at least 50 miles long.

Le Goff asserts “La Solitaire du Figaro is not a coastal race, this stage must be at least 50 miles long to uphold the ethos of racing on the open sea. And similarly, if there is not sufficient wind on the water by 2030hrs the race will be cancelled as the rules do not allow a start in the dark.”

Having been postponed by more than 24 hours to allow the skippers enough rest because Stage 3 overran on time, the schedule requires the race to be decided by Sunday afternoon.

It is perhaps not the ideal scenario to settle the destination of this year’s La Solitaire title. But the tension between leader Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) and nearest challenger Fred Duthil (Technique Voile/Cabinet Bourhis Generali) was notable at today’s – virtual- weather briefing. Both in turn queried the finer details of the race planning.

Le Cléac’h is 10 minutes 43 seconds up on Duthil and victory in this edition was the sole focus of this year for the 44 year old two times overall winner whose La Solitaire career includes wins in 2003 and 2010 and is neatly punctuated by three consecutive Vendée Globe podiums, second in 2008 and 2012 and winning in 2016.

In contrast Duthil, at 46 the oldest sailor in the fleet, with three La Solitaire top threes to his name, came into this La Solitaire for the sheer fun of it, not having raced the Beneteau Figaro 3 before and having only sailed his borrowed boat four times before the start.

But his cheeky victory on Stage 3, allied to a solid 14th on the first leg at 14 minutes behind Le Cléac’h and eighth on Stage 2 48 minutes behind Le Cléac’h gives Duthil a fighting chance of lifting the overall title.

“Of course, this is the most complicated scenario for me, with very uncertain weather, little wind and a lot of current, I hope that this last stage can be contested under normal racing conditions”, confirms Armel Le Cléac'h who knows how small the winning overall margins can be having beaten Alain Gautier by just 13 seconds in 2003.

"I won’t be losing sleep, I have seen races like this before. As long as it stays as sport and we are all in the same boat, we will have to be good right until the end to get this victory. "

Frédéric Duthil is determined to mount a strong challenge. “Second, third, fourth, fifth, tenth in the standings, for me, that's not going to change my life. I have already made three podiums on La Solitaire, once second, twice third, a fourth would be great, but the past has taught me that you only want to be the winner. What interests me is trying to make up for those ten minutes and fight Armel. "

He continues, “Entering the last stage ten minutes behind the leader means that I'm no longer in a position to just tell myself that I'm going to sail for fun. I'm still going to sail for fun, but also to sail to win. I see that my speed is fine and so is the way I've been sailing from the start, so I am saying to myself: why not? I'm really leaving with a frame of mind to try to catch up.”

Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is ready to fight to finish on a high note after the huge disappointment of being in the top three for most of Stage 3, leading into the final 30 miles before being caught in a calm which saw him drop from third to 17th overall.

He said “It is so annoying to come so close to getting a really good result and then falling at the last hurdle. But that is sailing. That is La Solitaire and why you come back to La Solitaire again and again. You come back to do better than last time.” Said Goodchild, “I have been on good form generally so hopefully I can re-find that form for this last leg. “There is such a small window to get this leg in. The positive side is if you are trying to protect a position then it could be quite stressful. Unfortunately, now I am not doing trying to do that. I might sail a little more freely than on the last leg where I knew the weather was unstable and light and so I did not take too many risks and go into corners.”

Like others, Goodchild found the last leg extremely tiring and that may have affected his decision making towards the end. “I don’t think I have been that tired before. And them with the frustration and the adrenalin mix of the final 24 hours of that leg, there was not much sleep. But right now when I look back with hindsight I can’t see or say what I would have done differently. We were going straight for the finish line and the plan was not to get too close to the island. But we sailed into a hole and everyone sailed round us. I hung on for a bit too long when Yann chose to cut his losses earlier. But basically everyone sailed round us. But it is history. I will just have to do the Figaro again. It is great racing, there is nothing like it, in one design like this there is no hiding place and no excuses.”

Stage 4 is due to start 1915hrs local time Saturday.

Rankings https://www.lasolitaire.com/rankings/live
Tracker: https://lasolitaire.geovoile.com/2020/tracker/

Published in Figaro
Afloat.ie Team

About The Author

Afloat.ie Team

Email The Author

Afloat.ie is Ireland's dedicated marine journalism team.

Have you got a story for our reporters? Email us here.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading Afloat.ie than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open.

Afloat.ie is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

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.

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

leinster sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Car Brands

subaru sidebutton

Featured Associations

ISA sidebutton dob
ICRA
isora sidebutton

Featured Events 2021

vdlr21 sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton

quantum sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton
https://afloat.ie/resources/marine-industry-news/viking-marine

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
mansfield sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
sellingboat sidebutton

Please show your support for Afloat by donating