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Solitaire du Figaro 2021: 'Exceptional' Course is Revealed

11th March 2021
A fleet start of the la Solitaire du Figaro 2020 from Saint-Quay- Portrieux
A fleet start of the la Solitaire du Figaro 2020 from Saint-Quay- Portrieux, a race in which Ireland posted its best ever result thanks to Tom Dolan in fifth overall Credit: Yvan Zedda

Boasting four legs and a route spanning nearly 2,500 miles, which alternates between offshore roller-coaster rides and high-voltage coastal skirmishes, the 52nd edition of the Solitaire du Figaro 2021, the third to be contested on a Figaro Bénéteau 3, is taking things to a whole new level as it unveils an ambitious course.

Set to be an exceptional edition marked by a new partnership with the Loire-Atlantique department, the race will set sail on Sunday 22 August from Saint Nazaire on France’s western seaboard and round off its journey five weeks later in the same port on 19 September.

Between these two high points, the solo sailors will have plenty to satisfy their Figaro expectations with the chance to do battle against each other as well as against the clock - the relentless umpire during their non-stop sparring - with ever-changing gains and losses expected on the leaderboard.

In the Saint-Nazaire village of the Solitaire du Figaro 2020In the Saint-Nazaire village of the Solitaire du Figaro 2020 Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Whether it’s sprinting between Lorient in the Baie de Morlaix, making a debut appearance in Fécamp, weaving along the English coast via Wales and Ireland’s Fastnet or sailing the length of the Bay of Biscay, the organisers OC Sport Pen Duick, have ensured that the Solitaire du Figaro has all the ingredients to guarantee a memorable edition.

Regions committed to working alongside the organisers and skippers

In 2020, Saint Nazaire hosted the epilogue to the Solitaire du Figaro in style, pulling out all the stops and remaining adaptable in light of the uncertain environment created by the health context.

Just after Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) was crowned champion, the Loire-Atlantique department, represented by its President Philippe Grosvalet, made an historic commitment to become the race’s major partner through until 2026, during which time it will host every event start and finish in one of its ports.

Figaros off Scilly in stage one of the Solitaire du Figaro 2020Figaros off Scilly in stage one of the Solitaire du Figaro 2020

“Legends are born in the Solitaire du Figaro and we will watch them grow in the Loire-Atlantique,” said Grosvalet. “A maritime region of excellence, the Loire-Atlantique boasts an exceptional location with its extensive coastline open to the world. There is a genuine synergy here for developing projects, which are both maritime and nautical and, together with its partners, the Department has high hopes for the future”.

This enthusiasm is shared by Joseph Bizard, CEO of OC Sport Pen Duick, as it represents a truly unprecedented move after 50 years of racing, guaranteeing the event a lasting foothold in a region by preserving its historic foundation: “The organisers believe that as a region and a major partner, the Loire-Atlantique has all the necessary qualities to enable this great race to continue to flourish. In association with the host venues and the communities doing us the great honour of welcoming us to their shores and setting up a varied and ambitious course, whilst being committed to working alongside our loyal partners, we are very enthusiastically planning for the roll-out of this 52nd edition of the Solitaire du Figaro.”

Reviving fundamental principles

2021 will therefore herald the beginning of this new format made possible by the presence of the Loire-Atlantique department as the major partner. It will be with great pleasure that the sailors and organisation teams will come back together in Saint Nazaire to set sail on an edition spanning nearly 2,500 miles, or more accurately 2,488 miles, with a race jointly planned by Francis Le Goff, Race Director, and the OC Sport Pen Duick team, in consultation with the Figaro Bénéteau Class.

Le Goff commented: “Today, we are delighted to present a route which features three legs of over 600 miles each and just one measuring a little less than 500 miles, which will predominantly comprise a coastal passage that will inevitably be even more demanding. This 2021 edition solely features French venues given the enduring health situation, but ultimately the course has been constructed as if it included overseas stopovers.”

Departing on stage three from Dunkerque / Saint-Nazaire, Loire-Atlantique Photo: Alexis CourcouxDeparting on stage three from Dunkerque / Saint-Nazaire, Loire-Atlantique Photo: Alexis Courcoux

The Solitaire du Figaro 2021 remains the must-do single-handed race for both the most experienced and rookie sailors looking to cut their teeth. For more than 50 years, it has stayed true to its fundamental principles and it remains multi-faceted event: offshore legs, pushing the sailors to dig deep and a time ranking, which is an essential and powerful marker.

Project Manager for OC Sport Pen Duick, Alex Picot, is striving to offer a package that appeals as much to the sailors as the stopover venues and the partners in this Solitaire du Figaro: “Where possible, we like to be able to offer the solo sailors long offshore legs and more days at sea. This is the direction our work has taken with our partner venues and it is reflected in this fine four-leg course we’re unveiling today. These 2,500 miles we’re offering, with these long sections free of course markers to open them up to tactical play, are just what the skippers are after. Indeed, they are the first to say that they come to the Solitaire du Figaro to put themselves through the wringer! As a result, we’ve opted for a long, tough and demanding edition, which will also enable the Figaro Bénéteau 3 to show what she’s made of on her third year of service.”

A unique passage mark in the Celtic Sea

After bidding farewell to the River Loire, the sailors will set a course for Lorient and the loyal Brittany Region for the longest chapter of the course (689 miles) and a long triangular sprint in the Bay of Biscay, via the BXA mark and a cardinal mark to be left to starboard off La Coruña.

“This choice of route means that the sailors can navigate the entire length of Biscay with very few passage marks to be respected along the way. It also has the advantage that the race can be launched in either direction according to the conditions. This will be a really big chunk of course from the outset,” advises Francis Le Goff.

After some downtime in this port in France’s Morbihan region, a hotbed for the sport which last hosted the race in 2009, the sailors will make for Fécamp, a first in over 50 years of this great classic and a venue previously synonymous with the heyday of the Orma trimaran clashes. Before sampling the Norman welcome though, the sailors will have to swallow up the 490 miles encompassing the Rochebonne plateau, the north-west tip of Brittany and the Cotentin peninsula. This is a classic segment of the Solitaire du Figaro packed with hazards and tricky sections, which generally delights observers and severely tests the sailor’s mettle.

From the cliffs of Normandy, a course would not be complete without a Channel hop and a foray into the waters along the English coast which, for the very first time, will include a turning mark at Saint Gowan off the Pembrokeshire coast, before finishing in the Baie de Morlaix.

“The competitors will make their first passage across the English Channel, respecting the South Pullar cardinal mark to the east of the Isle of Wight before powering along the English coast towards Land’s End, then on towards the island of Lundy and the Saint Gowan mark in the Celtic Sea, before dropping down towards the Scillies,” explains Le Goff. “The course will have all the typical UK ingredients with treacherous bays and local effects, rounding off with another fine segment.”

Finally, in a nod to Armel Le Cléac’h, reigning champion and triple winner of the event, the start of the fourth and final leg will take place around his home waters of Morlaix. Saint Nazaire will welcome the skippers back for the finish, but not before they race via Ireland and the Fastnet to round off a complex, demanding and exciting Solitaire du Figaro

The course of the 52nd Solitaire du Figaro

  • Leg 1: Saint-Nazaire/Lorient (689 miles) - from 22 to 26 August
  • Leg 2: Lorient/Fécamp (490 miles) - from 29 August to 1 September
  • Leg 3: Fécamp/Baie de Morlaix (624 miles) - from 5 to 9 September
  • Leg 4: Baie de Morlaix/Saint-Nazaire (685 miles) – from 12 to 16 September
Published in Figaro Team

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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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