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Figaro Stage 2: A Tale of Two Halves, Both of Them Challenging

29th August 2022
The start of the second stage of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro leaving the bay of Port-la-Forêt
The start of the second stage of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro leaving the bay of Port-la-Forêt Credit: Alexis Courcoux

The second stage of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro left Brittany’s scenic bay of Port-la-Forêt in a gentle ESE’’ly breeze and perfect warm sunshine at 1300hrs this Sunday afternoon, ideal weather to muster dozens of spectator craft on the water and thousands on the beaches and coastlines, as might be expected for only the second ever visit of the annual summer multi-stage offshore race to one of France’s real epicentres of solo and singlehanded ocean racing.

The wind almost failed at times during the preliminary 5,5 nautical miles circuit in the bay, hardly a representative foretaste of what is set to prevail during the coming 48-72 hours for the fleet of 33 solo racers now on taking on a 635 nautical miles course east up through the Channel Islands, across to Eddystone Rock – 9 miles SSW of Plymouth – and south down to Royan at the entrance to the Garonne.

The stages in the Channel seem set to be muscular, with 25kts winds gusting over 30kts. After a beat to the Channel Islands it will be fast reaching and downwind for more than 24hrs, a very tough test in a busy shipping lane area when the solo racers are already tired. Sail selection – between the big and small spinnakers and the Code Zero – might be crucial to opening miles on rivals. But the weather models were still struggling to deal with the little cloudy, stormy low pressure cells drifting over the course on the south bound stage from the tip of Brittany to Royan.

Tom Laperche, (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance), one of the pre-race favourites who was third at the first turning mark, explained on the dock this morning: “I am still a bit tired after the first leg but that is the nature of this game, you don’t leave at 100% again after the first start. What awaits us looks great. It's not often that we get the little spinnakers up in the Figaro and on this second stage that it is very likely the case. We're going to deal with a brisk north-easterly wind in the Channel. It's going to be pretty hard and the chances are it'll sort out the fleet a bit. But that being said nothing will be decided because the second part of the stage will certainly be less sporty and much more uncertain. There will be stormy depression with some surprises. It is possible that it will be a bit of a mess or that it will go soft, but in principle it should not last too long. We'll see. We'll just deal with whatever we get. I have no plans to change my way of doing things, even if it is true that there is a little frustration after the first stage.”

Laperche is seventh at the start of the leg, 1hr 43m behind the surprise leader Davy Beaudart, the 37 year old La Solitaire du Figaro rookie who confirmed this morning that he would take the same approach as he did on the last leg even if there is a little more pressure resting on the shoulders of the semi-pro whose full time job is running his own successful boatyard near Lorient: “Yes there is a little more pressure than there was last weekend when I left Saint-Nazaire but I will treat this leg just the same, try to go fast and enjoy it.” smiled Beaudart, “I am not going to think about the classification. Let’s just see how I am at the at the finish. On the course, there will be areas where there will be re-groupings. There are two quite distinct racing phases. The English Channel, which is going to be very tough where things are going to go very fast, with perhaps quite significant gaps opening up in miles. But as soon as we return to the Atlantic, things will level off a bit and concertina in. At the end, towards Royan, there will be small stormy depressions. We don't really know so much about this bit. This can create big gaps such as a regrouping of the fleet before the finish.”

Jorge Riechers (GER, Alva Yachts) also admits there is more pressure on him too after finishing fourth on the first leg, much higher in the fleet than even he expected, especially having been 30th of 34 at the last turning mark north of Land’s End.

The German skipper who lives near Cherbourg and has a Farr designed IMOCA in build for the next Vendée Globe, grinned, “I am stressed, that is normal! This will be a big leg, it will be tough with strong downwind conditions. With the A4 it will be not too bad! But this will be about pushing and not breaking the boat. I think you can push the boats hard, very hard but I am more worried about the sails, don’t trash the sails. Everyone here is good but I don’t want to bank on the miles and experience I have, you just have to keep concentrating and not do anything stupid. So I need to concentrate on it like the last leg does not exist. I don’t think about results at all. Maybe if I am well placed at the buoy at La Coruña then I will think about.”

Ireland’s Tom Dolan, skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, 12th after the first leg is unequivocal on the complexities and challenges of the leg:

“On paper, the next leg looks like the toughest leg I have ever seen coming up on a Solitaire. We have 24 hours of strong winds – 25 gusting 30kts in the north of the English Channel, upwind and downwind, at night with cargo ships everywhere. So that will 24 hours without sleep and then the wind just shuts off completely at the Chaussée de Sein. With the two conditions like that you can’t sleep. Twelve hours stuck the helm under spinnaker gobbling down energy bars with the brain switched off and the drysuit on. Then we sail straight into the light winds. Hmmmm”

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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.

2023 La Solitaire du Figaro Course

Stage #1 Caen – Kinsale : 610 nautical miles
Departure August 27 (expected arrival August 30)

Stage #2 Kinsale – Baie de Morlaix : 630 nautical miles
Departure September 3 (expected arrival September 6)

Stage #3 Baie de Morlaix – Piriac-sur-Mer : 620 nautical miles
Departure September 10 (expected arrival September 13)

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