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Irish Tom v French Tom Duel at Front of La Solitaire du Figaro Stage 1

22nd August 2022
County Meath sailor Tom Dolan is vying for the lead in the first stage of La Solitaire du Figaro
County Meath sailor Tom Dolan is vying for the lead in the first stage of La Solitaire du Figaro

Pre-race favourite Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance) and Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) are leading the 644 nautical miles Stage 1 of the 2022 La Solitaire du Figaro into the second day of racing since leaving Sunday afternoon’s start off the mouth of the Loire heading to Port-la-Forêt via a mark off the SW of Wales.

The 34-strong fleet were approaching the Chaussée de Sein this evening where the three first boats to pass a virtual mark will pick up a time bonus of five minutes, three minutes and one minute respectively. As it was shaping up, sprinting at some 6-7kts towards the line extending from the La Sein west cardinal mark, Laperche – winner of all three main solo races leading up to La Solitaire – looks set to collect the maximum time bonus, although Dolan – marginally further offshore to the west – was just one-third of a mile behind. After a career-best third place finish on the final stage of last year’s La Solitaire du Figaro race Dolan has made an impressive opening to what promises to be a complex leg with many stops and starts. But over recent hours he has matched Laperche’s pace exactly.

Speaking (in French) to the race control boat this afternoon, Dolan said, “I have slept well, ate well; I got changed because we were a little wet after the start yesterday. I am side by side with the other Tom, and it is always good to be in contact with a good competitor. I am nicely surprised to be so well placed. But from the start I knew I wanted to go west, and I'm glad it has worked out. I think we around 7 p.m - 7:30 p.m. (French time) at the Chaussée de Sein, and from then that we will have a choice of route to take to pass the Ouessant TSS. I'm starting to have my own little idea in my mind..."

His sometime co-skipper Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) – the Irish-Anglo duo paired up for the key double handed races this year – is lying fourth and will be pushing to pass third placed Robin Follin (Golfe de Saint Tropez-Territoire D’exception). The multi-skilled Follin from Sainte-Maxime in the south of France – who has raced Diam 24s, GC32s, the 2017 Youth America’s Cup, is a match racer, and an SB20 and J/70 World Champion – led through the first night before falling prey to Laperche when the fleet tacked through a trough just before nine this morning. Roberts was only 100m or so behind his French rival.

Laperche was on good form this afternoon, “It has been going well since last night. All is well, even if it is all a little grey! I managed to rest a bit. I was able to sleep this morning upwind and a little on this main tack which now takes us up to the Occidentale de Sein. The wind is quite stable and I'm in front, 27 miles from the mark right now. There, there will be a choice of route to be made which will depend on the wind we will have when passing. We will make our choices. Right now I have a few boats, about fourteen, which I see at the AIS (Automatic Identification System).”

Up ahead the passage of Ushant and the Traffic Separation Scheme there will require a strategic choice to be made. Before the start Marcel van Triest, who advises the Lorient Grand Large squad, said, “There is a very binary choice which side to go of the TSS and Ushant and that will have big ramifications on the ensuing stage to Bishop Rock. Most likely they will leave the TSS to the west however the danger is they go between the TSS and Ushant and if that is late at night the wind gets lighter towards the French coast, if the current is against them the breeze it goes too far left all of a sudden they struggle to get that far down. So I think early on the danger is to go between TSS and Ushant and the straightforward choice is to leave the TSS to starboard.”

After they get clear of Ushant they cross the Channel towards the Scillies and then Skokholm Island off the Welsh coast. For the climb across the Channel they will see 15 to 18 knots with gusts which could reach 25 knots as a front passes. Behind the front the wind will back to W and SW losing some strength. Passing Bishop lighthouse in the morning, they will cross the Celtic Sea on port tack towards the island of Skokholm.

Published in Figaro
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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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