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Tom Dolan Promises 'Prudence' on Leg 1 of La Solitaire du Figaro

22nd August 2021
The start of the 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro in which Ireland's Tom Dolan is competing for the fourth time
The start of the 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro in which Ireland's Tom Dolan is competing for the fourth time

Tom Dolan, the leading Irish solo sailor, started the first stage of the 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro in perfect conditions from Saint-Nazaire - on outer reaches of France’s Loire estuary - pledging to stick to his strategy but to give everything to be near the front of the peloton when the 34 strong fleet turns at La Coruna for the return upwind to the finish at Lorient where the leaders should arrive Thursday afternoon.

Starting his fourth La Solitaire du Figaro La Solitaire, the 34-year-old skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan would love to emulate the dream opening to his race last year when he was in the leading group to the Fastnet rock. But on this 300-miles downwind sprint to the NW Spanish coast will see the breeze increase as the race progresses he admits he will be happy to be in the leading group for the turn.

Three exclusion zones have been introduced by Race Direction to keep the fleet away from a French Navy exercise on the Bay of Biscay. The choice of how to pass them, in particular with regard to the timing relative to the shifts in the wind direction, may shape the leg and Dolan has a well-prepared choice of options.

“I know what I would like to do but I won’t say before the start.” Grins Dolan, “It will be all about the timing when we get there. But always I will stick to my plan, I have done my homework and learned now to be confident in my choices for the right reasons.”

“That said,” he continues, “We have to make sure we don’t get into the exclusion zones as you will be disqualified. Whoever is in front will get the increasing advantage because the boat tends to accelerate more the more wind, going downwind. With the zone of high pressure in the Bay of Biscay like this then there is always this zone of acceleration there. There could, however, be some flap-flap, light wind at La Coruna where we will round very early morning and it is very close in to the coast.”

The course has been shortened because of the possibility of light winds near the Lorient finish line on Thursday afternoon.

“Some of the weather files are showing very light winds at the finish and so we can maybe go out there and kill ourselves for three days and all end up in the same spot near the finish. Who knows? Really this is a typical Figaro leg. It will be important to be foot to the floor off the start line to get into the downwind well. It will be hard to scrape back miles on the upwind. So downwind that means a lot of driving and pushing hard. Initially not too much wind, 10-12kts on the first night, fairly calm. At Spain we will maybe see 25kts maybe 30 and so it will be important not to destroy the big spinnaker on the first leg.”

In champagne sailing conditions bright sunshine and moderate breezes Dolan was mid-fleet as the race left the bay at Saint Nazaire.

Published in Figaro, Tom Dolan
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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