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Tom Dolan in the Match as Figaro Fleet Embarks on Final Leg of La Solitaire Figaro Race

10th September 2023
Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire) leads out of the Bay of Morlaix under spinnaker in the third and final leg of the 54th La Solitaire Figaro race
Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire) leads out of the Bay of Morlaix under spinnaker in the third and final leg of the 54th La Solitaire Figaro race Credit: Alexis Courcoux

Ireland's Tom Dolan was eighth at the first turning mark in the third and final leg of the  La Solitaire Figaro this Sunday afternoon and well in the match in the race.

Last Thursday and Friday, Roscoff may have yielded one of the slowest and most frustrating finishes to a stage in the long history of the race, long hours of windless Doldrums leaving many of the pre-race favourites becalmed. In a three-week, three-stage solo race, which is usually won or lost by minutes, some of the race stars were rendered more than a dozen hours behind the top three finishers.

But today the Bay of Morlaix – one of Brittany’s most important sailing hubs which has produced solo offshore stars such as Armel Le Cléac’h, Jérémie Beyou and Nico Troussel - atoned somewhat, by giving the 54th La Solitaire Figaro Paprec fleet a great send off on to what still promises to be a slow, problematic 470 miles decisive final stage to Piriac-sur-Mer, just north of Saint Nazaire on the Loire Atlantique coast.

In 12-14kts of SW’ly wind, a warm sun lost at times behind an occasionally swirling sea mist – the fleet took on a short circuit in the Bay. And it was Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire) – who lies second on the general classification – who laid down the gauntlet with an immaculate display of round-the-buoys precision and slick, smooth solo boat handling.

In front of knowledgeable, partisan La Solitaire fans on and off the water, Horeau, 34, highlighted why he is one of the pre-race favourites, leading by a few boat lengths ahead of young Basile Bourgnon (EDENRED) – the 22 year old Stage 2 winner who is his nearest title rival and 26-year-old Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie), last year’s runner up who is one of many favourites languishing in the depths of the fleet, more than half a day behind the GC leaders.

With little to lose because the deltas through the fleet are now so big, the fleet showed some urgency on the start line, resulting first in a general recall and then three skippers jumping the gun when this concluding stage finally got away at a little after 1430hrs local time.

The opening section of the leg takes them around the headland of NW Brittany into one of the most technically challenging regular Figaro playing fields – the highly tidal Chaussée de Sein and the Pointe de Raz - whilst negotiating a high pressure ridge of light winds which will slow the leaders and compress the fleet. The southernmost turning mark is between the entrance to the Gironde and Arcachon.

Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan), the Stage 1 winner who saw his chances of an overall place on the podium evaporate in the windless, sticky mess overnight Thursday, is gunning to finish on the podium on this stage, one of many top Figarists now left to salvage their pride and their morale with a strong final leg.

“It is looking light, it is looking flukey, it is looking complicated and at the end there will still be a lot of time difference but hopefully not another 15 hours.” Smiled Dolan as he cast off, “ There is a ridge of high pressure which we have to get across in the west of Brittany and whoever gets out of that first will get rich, a ‘rich get richer’ scenario. I have only had two nights in a bed and so I am a bit tired. Last week was a busy one, but this is a new week, a new leg and now I have to just look at each leg individually, and not be emotional at all, just concentrate on the processes.”

“It's going to be interesting along this north coast of Brittany in and out the rocks, but it won't be much easier afterwards because this ridge means uncertainty on the second half of the course. We have to play with the land breeze and the sea, thermal breeze, the calm areas we can’t avoid and the currents. I think we can expect a lot of stop-starts but also very little sleep because it will be difficult to maintain any kind of rhythm.”

Dolan was eighth at the first turning mark and well in the match.

Horeau, 34, has the bit between his teeth. Despite a strong early start to the season he lost his sponsor but was almost immediately called by Banque Populaire – sponsors of Armel Le Cléac’h who won his third La Solitaire du Figaro in their colours in 2020 – who wanted to make a return to the pinncacle solo, multi-stage offshore one design race.

The French racer from La Trinite whose career best is second in 2014 on the Figaro BÉNÉTEAU 2s – had all the ingredients to win last year and was tipped to do so but finished 13th. He has podiumed on all his solo Figaro races this season, and, as he docked out said, “I am where I want to be. I am approaching this last stage in the same way as I have the first two, I was with my mental coach just now and we said to ourselves that we had to do the same thing as I have from the beginning. That is what has worked since the start of the season. The objective is always the same, to have fun. I would like to let go a little more on this stage. Physically I am as good as before the start of the first stage. Mentally I even feel better, I am less stressed, more confident.”

Top of the General Classification Bourgnon headed out today with a lead of 8 minutes and 55 seconds over Horeau whilst Loïs Berrehar (Skipper MACIF 2022) is third 32 minutes and 42 seconds behind the top placed Bourgnon, who said,

“After winning a stage I am now able to approach this final one like the other two stages, that is to say in my own way, without restrictions because I am not sure I know how to do this and that would put pressure that I do not need.”

Before the start there was a collision between Cap Horn (Laurent Givry) and J'M Garnier (Maël Garnier). Garnier damaged two aft stanchions and carried on. Givry had a damaged foil and bowsprit and returned to port for repair. He left again around 1630hrs but is racing ‘hors concours’ as he had not crossed the start line, so does not rank as a starter.

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Published in Figaro, Tom Dolan
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.

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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