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Figaro 3 Championship in Spi Ouest Provides Fierce Inshore Competition for Round Ireland Record Holders  

14th October 2021
Serious stuff. The Figaro 3 Championship in the Spi Ouest Regatta
Serious stuff. The Figaro 3 Championship in the Spi Ouest Regatta

Almost exactly a year after we set off on the Around Ireland World Record blast with the Figaro 3 RL Sailing from Dun Laoghaire last year reports Pamela Lee of Greystones, I joined forces again with Cat Hunt to undertake a key campaign project with her newly-acquired Figaro 3. Our objective this year was very different from the Round Ireland Circuit, but we kicked off the reunion with a nice blustery, blistery, bouncy ride out from the Solent over to France.

I had travelled out to the UK to assist Cat in bringing her newly commissioned Figaro 3 Racing By Gardens to France for the Figaro 3 Championship in the Spi Ouest Regatta at La Trinite sur Mer, ahead of her training for her 2022 La Solitaire du Figaro campaign. We skipped across the channel in 30+ knots and then hopped our way down the Brittany coast from Roscoff and Lorient to La Trinité sur Mer, taking cover from the series of powerful fronts passing over at the time. It was a timely opportunity to reminisce on the fantastic achievement of last year, which was supported by so many of the Irish sailing community to whom we’ll always be grateful, and to reflect on how much we have both learned and progressed as sailors in a year.

The summer lasts longer in the inner reaches of the Bay of Biscay The summer lasts longer in the inner reaches of the Bay of Biscay

This year our project again linked up with The Magenta Project in an effort to encourage and facilitate greater female participation in the sport, but it took on quite a different format, competing in the French Figaro Nationals as part of the Spi Ouest- France Regatta. 

The regatta had well over three hundred boats racing on the water each day, across twenty-five different fleets.

The Nationals - as part of the event - avoided the usual Figaro, offshore, shorthanded racing style, and instead it was four crew to a boat, with a series of windward-leeward inshore races. Certainly it was a different skill set from the usual, but the format provided plenty of opportunity to practice manoeuvres and close-quarter tactics, as well as giving the Class the opportunity to introduce new sailors in a welcoming and fun manner.

This was something that we took on whole-heartedly, and invited two non-Figaro sailors from the Magenta Project to join the Racing by Gardens team for the event. Our additional crew members were Portuguese/American sailor Leah Sweet, and Spanish Sailor Aina Bauza.

Tough Learning curve…..it was the first opportunity to compete boat-for-boat with a fleet of Figaro 3s, but the pace was ferocious with more than a dozen superstars racing.Tough Learning curve…..it was the first opportunity to compete boat-for-boat with a fleet of Figaro 3s, but the pace was ferocious with more than a dozen superstars racing.

They’re both well-accomplished sailors in their own right, with Leah in the thick of the TP52 circuit and Aina a previous Laser Olympic campaigner and now Mini 6.50 sailor. It was all given an extra edge through being the first time that Cat would be lining up with her new Figaro 3 in a Class fleet, having spent the summer racing and training in the Solent in IRC double-handed classes with boats of other types.

The all-up weight of Racing by Gardens’ crew was less than half that of some of the leading boatsThe all-up weight of Racing by Gardens’ crew was less than half that of some of the leading boats

A number of factors such as those dominated the outcome, including the remarkably high-level of top sailors packed into the rest of the Figaro fleet, sometimes with four super-stars in one boat including the likes of Armel L’Cleach (4 time Solitaire champion and Vendee Globe winner), Pierre Leboucher, Clarisse Cremer, Alan Roberts……well, the list just goes on and on.

It meant racing was challenging and unforgiving in every way. That said, our newly formed team worked hard together, pushed through all the tough patches, pulled off some great starts (blocking out Armel himself in one – a high point), started to improve boat speed day on day, and most of all, we had a whole lot of fun!

Racing a Figaro 3 is always a battle to transform the foil from a hindrance into an advantage……..Racing a Figaro 3 is always a battle to transform the foil from a hindrance into an advantage……..……and sometimes it seems to be working better than others……and sometimes it seems to be working better than others

Our manoeuvres were on point, particularly considering we had only half the combined bodyweight of the majority of the fleet, and we learnt a lot about getting a newly commissioned Figaro closer in line with a long-standing and highly-tuned fleet of boats. Unfortunately, we didn’t pull off any amazing results, but as usual, every opportunity to sail is an opportunity to learn – I’m looking forward to looking back again in a year’s time to see how we have improved from here.

Spi-Ouest is a fantastic regatta and I recommend any interested Irish sailors to make the trip over for next year. I’m very grateful for my teammates who joined me on the water, for the chance to fly the Magenta flag and for the support of Cat’s sponsor Gardens of Eden and Ross Farrow for the support.

Published in Figaro, Women in Sailing
Afloat.ie 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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