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Ireland's Solitaire du Figaro Sailor Tom Dolan Sees Multiple Challenges, Multiple Fronts Caen – Kinsale Leg

26th August 2023
Tom Dolan solo sailor - 'I have been trying not to think too much about the finish line of this stage, which takes me home to Ireland'
Tom Dolan solo sailor - 'I have been trying not to think too much about the finish line of this stage, which takes me home to Ireland'

After a week in Caen, Normandy, the 32 competitors competing in the 54th edition of La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec will head out to the English Channel on Sunday to make ready for a challenging first leg to Kinsale, Ireland. This first of three legs starts off Ouistreham at 1302hrs local time.

Caen – Kinsale

The first stage of this Solitaire du Figaro Paprec 2023 starts from the Côte deNacre, crosses the English Channel three times before rounding the Fastnet Rock and heading into the beautiful Irish haven of Kinsale.

“This will be a very varied, challenging stage with lots of twists and turns.” Says Yann Chateau, race director who has drawn a course that mixes coastal passages before a more open, offshore passage across the Celtic Sea to Ireland. 

As they start this 610-mile (1,130 km) long leg the 32 solo opens with a short, inshore preliminary course, for the Trophée Paprec, which is designed to salute the city of Caen, which has hosted the start week.

The stage should begin with a northwesterly wind of 12-15knots as they reach across the Channel to Nab Tower, where they turn west past the Isle of Wight. An occluded front – the first of three - is likely to see the breeze drop away here and make it difficult as they near the Needles Fairway mark. From there they head for the Héaux de Bréhat at the northern tip of Brittany. As tiredness starts to bite, decisions need to be taken how to deal with the currents and the maritime traffic.

“Tuesday, we are expecting the arrival of a depression which will pass in the North of the British Isles during the day of Tuesday. This new system will bring a sustained flow from the South, strengthening up to 25 knots as it turns right to settle in the North-West. But then the scenario becomes more uncertain. The models still diverge a lot on the conditions of this end of the course in the Celtic Sea, around the Ireland of and the Fatsnet that the first should wind between Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning," comments Yann Chateau.

It seems likely then that this will be a course full of opportunities right to the finish.

Ireland's Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) said: “For the past week, I have been trying not to think too much about the finish line of this stage, which takes me home to Ireland. It's a stage just like the others with the weather and the competitors to manage, but I really try not to lose focus by thinking too much about the final result and where we are going. Three occluded fronts will pass over the fleet between here and Ireland. We will race mainly upwind, but we will also have to manage shifts in the wind, especially when we have to negotiate the TSS (traffic separation scheme) of the Scillies. We could see the fleet heading in all different directions. This will certainly be a key moment, just like the Needles, which we risk passing right through the front, then with light winds with a lot of current. And plenty can happen there, just like in West Scilly. Also, when to really aim for the Fastnet, the timing of that move might prove key.

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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.

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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