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Following the inspection of the on-board computers of all the Figaro BENETEAU 3s after the final finish of La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec in Piriac-sur-Mer, the jury of the French Sailing Federation (FFVoile), chaired by Georges Priol, took the decision on Saturday afternoon to exclude Benoît Tuduri (CAPSO – En Cavale) from the race and to disqualify Pierre Daniellot (Team Vendée Formation) from the second and third stages of the race.

Race organisers released the following statement:

"In contravention of the race rules, which strictly prohibit phone connections off the boat during the race, the two sailors actually downloaded GRIB (weather) files during the race, which is prohibited by the class rule and therefore also contravenes World Sailing Rule 69 (damage to the image of the sport). These decisions mean a modification of the General Classification of the race, the Beneteau des Bizuths classification and the Beneteau des Bizuths Trophy.

Following an inspection carried out on Saturday, two boats were the subject of a jury report: CAPSO – En Cavale and Team Vendée Formation.

"The race rules strictly prohibit phone connections off the boat during the race"

“The skippers of these two boats downloaded weather files during the race. We summoned these two racers who appeared before the jury. The documents provided to us prove that they actually downloaded files,” explains Georges Priol. During the investigation, the skipper of CAPSO – En Cavale “admitted that he had taken a second phone on board allowing him to benefit from an Internet connection, which absolutely contravenes all the rules of the race on which the means of reception on board are prohibited. Following his hearing by the FFVoile jury, Benoît Tuduri is therefore excluded from the event. “Given the seriousness of the facts, a report will be sent by the jury to the FFVoile, which could lead to additional consequences for the racer.”

The case of Pierre Daniellot is a little different: due to the limited number of files downloaded, one in England, the other in Vendée and without proven proof that he had a telephone on board, the sanction is not as heavy. He was disqualified from stages 2 and 3. He dropped from 9th to 28th place in the general classification, knowing that any person disqualified on a stage is credited with the last person's time to which three hours are added.

The fundamental principle of La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec is simple: sailors fight on equal terms on one-design boats. Therefore, it is the sailor who makes the difference. The rules of sailing racing were applied, and those who deviated from them were sanctioned".

On stage 3 the new podium is as follows: 1 Jules Delpech (ORCOM) 2 Elodie Bonafous (Queguiner - la vie en rose) 3 Gaston Morvan (Brittany Region - CMB performance)

New rookies ranking: 1 Victor Le Pape (Région Bretagne - CMB espoir) 2 Romain Le gall (Centre d'excellence voile - Secours populaire) 3 Julie Simon (Douze)

New overall rankings here

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Crossing the finish line of the third and final stage, a 470 miles leg from Roscoff, in sixth place at 03:44:27hrs (local time) this morning off Piriac-sur-Mer, Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire) is the overall winner of the 54th La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec (subject to jury).

The 34-year-old from La Trinité sur Mer, racing his seventh La Solitaire du Figaro, passed his nearest title rival Basile Bourgnon (Edenred) on Wednesday afternoon on the downwind section to the southernmost turn of the course.

Horeau was then able to extend far enough ahead on the long beat back up the Vendée coast today to make good on the 8 mins 55 seconds deficit he was behind 22 year old Bourgnon when the final stage started Sunday. After all three stages, totalling eleven and a half days of racing, Horeau’s winning margin over Bourgnon is 10 mins 52 secs. Third overall is Lois Berrehar (Skipper MACIF 2022) 27 minutes and 11 seconds behind Horeau.

After finishing 15th into Kinsale at 20 minutes and 49 seconds after Stage 1 winner Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan), Horeau really laid the foundations of his overall triumph when he ghosted into Roscoff some 3 minutes and 24 seconds behind Basile Bourgnon, the stage winner. With Berrehar third another 27 mins and 06 secs behind him, the top trio immediately gained more than two hours on the next finisher when the wind died. As the tidal current built, big gaps were driven through the fleet, some top seeds losing 12-14 hours on the top three in a painfully slow finish which will go down in Solitaire du Figaro history,

Horeau finished second overall in 2014 when the pinnacle annual solo offshore race was still raced in the Figaro Beneteau 2. He took a five-year break from La Solitaire du Figaro between 2016 and 2021 to experience other classes and areas of the sport, notably a Trophée Jules Verne attempt with Spindrift, sailing on Sodeb’o Ultim with Thomas Coville, as well as racing the Tour Voile in the Diam 24.

Coming back into the Figaro Beneteau 3, he finished eighth and then 13th last year. After losing his sponsor in the middle of this season, he was snapped up by Banque Populaire, whose support added an extra level of confidence as well as the technical and logistical support of a program which last won the race in 2020 when Armel Le Cléac’h triumphed for the third time.

“With the support of Banque Populaire at the last minute that added a dose of confidence. They are the sponsors in sailing. I sailed to be consistent and take the minimum of risks, to stay with the fleet. That is not the way I normally sail but that is way you sail to win La Solitaire.” Said a delighted Horeau in the glare of the spotlights on the winner’s dock in the small hours of this morning in Piriac-sur-Mer.

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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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Jury decisions have changed rankings on the first stage of La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec, which means Ireland's Tom Dolan has won the leg to Kinsale.

The rankings for the first stage of the 54 La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec were altered this morning after decisions made by the International Jury.

The French rookie skipper who crossed the finish line first yesterday morning into Kinsale, Ireland Benoît Tuduri (CAPSO - En Cavale), received a 30-minute penalty after a protest against him from the Race Committee for breaking a class rule. He retains his position as the first rookie on the Beneteau Bizuths ranking but drops to fourth.

Following this decision, without appeal, the Irish skipper Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa -Kingspan) becomes the winner of the 610-mile first stage of the 54th edition of the race.

He becomes the first Irish skipper to win a stage of the annual multi-stage solo offshore race since compatriot Damian Foxall won in 1998 on the third leg from Gijon into Concarneau.

It is a remarkable success for Dolan, whose first-ever race was around the Fastnet only ten years ago.

Other Jury decisions affect Julie Simon (DOUZE), who was third across the line but received a 17-minute penalty. She is now 17th in the stage.

Switzerland’s Nils Palmieri(TeamWork) and Robin Marais (Ma Chance Moi aussi) are now second and third)

In summary

Tom Dolan moves to the top of the provisional general classification of the 54th Solitaire du Figaro Paprec.

Julie Simon goes from 3rd to 17th place after jury.

Edouard Golbery and Ben Beasley(NZL) each receive a 15-minute penalty

Winner of the first stage and leader of the provisional general classification, Tom Dolan emerged from his post-race Physiotherapy session this morning to be told he has become the stage winner. He said:

“ It feels weird right now; it will take time to sink in, and it is not the way I would want to win a stage. I feel sorry for Benoit, but I guess as a rookie he didn't know the rules. I had a tough start to the season with doing my Round Ireland record attempt and not making the time I needed, and otherwise, I have not really been on top form, I was worried about this leg because it is home waters, and I am coming home and the last time I came here I did terribly –I was down in the 30s – and so winning this first leg of La Solitaire du Figaro with all these things going on in my head it feels great.”

“I believe I am the first Irish sailor to win a stage of La Solitaire since Damian Foxall in 1998, and considering my first ever race was the Mini Fastnet in 2013, just ten years ago on a Pogo 1, it’s not bad, is it…..”

He added, “This will give me a lot more confidence, but it will not affect the way I approach or prepare for the next two legs”

Édouard Golbery (Race for Science – Verder) received a 15-minute penalty for entering the DST at the Saint-Marcourf islands. He is now ranked 24th. “It’s a bit frustrating but at the same time, it’s a mistake on my part because I didn’t update the road book with the amendment in the race document. I had re-imported everything just before departure and thought everything was up to date. In fact, the zone had to be created manually. I will know next time. I don't doubt my mistake, but 15 minutes is not insignificant. That’s how it is, I’m a rookie, I won’t make the same mistake next time.”

The same penalty for New Zealand skipper Ben Beasley (Ocean Attitude), who entered the same TSS for the same reasons. “It’s disappointing, but the jury’s decision is fair. The amendment came late, I didn't see it. Just the French version, and I didn't understand. I thought they were going to update the Adrena files they gave us initially, but they didn't. It's a hard lesson, but I'm learning. In the end, it doesn’t change anything in terms of ranking, but it means more time to make up compared to those who are ahead,” he declared. He nevertheless retained his 29th place in the first-stage ranking.

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Irish sailor Tom Dolan, aboard Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, had been leading the pack in the first stage of La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec. However, after breaking to the northeast from the top group at the Isles of Scilly, he spent several hours slowed in the light winds and dropped to fourth in the late afternoon.

Meanwhile, the main peloton, including the solo skippers who had led in the English Channel, were still tightly grouped some 30 miles to the west of Dolan. The western pack is expected to hit strong downwind conditions first, but will have sailed many more miles than Dolan, who appears to be focusing on sailing the shortest distance to the iconic rocky light at Kinsale, Ireland.

"Fast, wet Fastnet passage in prospect"

The final 45-mile sprint into Kinsale is highly anticipated, with the town being the most visited stop in the 54-year history of the solo offshore race. The first leg of the race seems to be very finely balanced, but whichever skipper or group is able to set their kites and surf directly towards the rock could gain an unbeatable advantage. 

The best British skipper, David Paul, currently sits in 27th place on Sailingpoiint.co/Just a Drop, less than a mile ahead of Kiwi rookie Ben Beasley (Ocean Attitude) and Germany’s Susann Beucke (This Race is Female). However, the young New Zealander has sailed a solid first-ever La Solitaire leg but will be disappointed to be protested for sailing into the TSS exclusion zone at the Scillies, a tough rookie lesson to take.

They said, by VHF…….

Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire) 14th this afternoon, “I am with the group, my buddies. The right pack. What more can you want at this stage? We have some sunshine before the grey weather forecast for tonight in Ireland. At the Scillies, there were quite a few possible choices. We'll see what that produces at the Fastnet. But to get there, you will first have to deal with the light winds all today. We were a little ahead of the routings but it is evolving. Logically, we must pass the Fastnet tonight with fairly strong winds especially. It might be a night for the hard hat, but it should be nice by morning in Kinsale.”

Loïs Berrehar (2022 MACIFSkipper), 16th: “The wind has dropped a lot. It's light on this tack but I feel good. I am in pretty good shape, surprisingly. I just put on my gennaker, a sail for downwind work, as it has lifted now. And that’s a pretty good sign. It could allow us to accelerate towards the Fastnet finally. It is going to be an interesting night.”

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With 152 miles to the finish line of leg one at Kinsale, Ireland's Tom Dolan leads the Solitaire du Figaro race on Wednesday morning (0630 hrs) as the fleet races across the Celtic Sea.

Land's End, which the Solitaire du Figaro Paprec leaders passed around 2000hrs on Tuesday evening, proved a decisive section of the 610 nautical miles first stage from Caen in France to Kinsale.

Dolan's decision to position himself to the west alongside Tuesday leader Basil Bourgnon of Edenred was vindicated early on Wednesday when the Irishman took to the front of the fleet.

The Solitaire du Figaro Race shows Ireland's only competitor, Tom Dolan, leading leg oneThe Solitaire du Figaro Race shows Ireland's only competitor, Tom Dolan, leading leg one

Since 3 am, the skipper of Smurfit Kappa Kingspan Group has been leading. 

For his entry into the open sea home to Ireland, the fleet split, and Dolan chose the northerly option and the shortest route to the Fastnet Rock. 

Dolan has previously sailed to the Fastnet many times as a sailing instructor in Baltimore with the Glénans school, giving him an advantage in this leg of the race.

As they climbed NW across The Channel this afternoon – their third transit since Sunday lunchtime's start – there was still only one third of a mile between the top four solo skippers. Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire) had benefited from being first to tack west late this afternoon and took the lead from Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie) by a matter of 400 metres or so. But Land's End and the Traffic Separation lanes at the Scillies shook up the leading peloton.

The first hurdle around 1700hrs on Tuesday was a high-pressure ridge of lighter winds that the fleet tacked through when the wind headed to the WNW ahead of them. Being closer to the English coast should allow a quicker passage through the light winds zone but encountering more adverse tidal flow at Land's End.

The medium-term aim on Wednesday is positioning to get through a front and into the wind direction shift to the SW in the Celtic Sea for more favourable, fast spinnaker- reaching approach to the Fastnet. 

Two women are currently in the top ten.

Top ten positions at 0630 France

1. Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, Tom Dolan, 162.1 nm to finish of leg 1
2. Capso en Cavale, Benoit Tuduri, 0.8 nm to leader
3. Douze, Julie Simon, 5.9
4. Banque Populaire, Corintin Horeau, 8.5
5. TeamWork, Nils Palmieri, 8.7
6. Edenred, Basile Bourgnon, 8.7
7. Skipper MACIF 2022, Lois Berrehar, 8.9
8. Region Normandie, Guillaume Pirouelle, 9.1
9. Queguiner La Vie en Rose, Elodie Bonafous, 9.9
10. Region Bretagne CMB Performance, Gaston Morvan, 10.3

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The leaders in the Solitaire Figaro Paprec 2023 came round the turning point off the North Brittany coast at 0215 this morning with Tom Dolan very much among them, and after a brief period of windward work along the Breton shore, the west wind backed to enable them to lay the course across the English Channel to pass the Isles of Scilly on their way to the Fastnet Rock, the final major turning point in Stage 1 before heading for Kinsale.

It’s likely that they’ll have more windward work before The Rock, as the indications are of the next wind move being a veer to a northwesterly. But meanwhile, at 13:00 hrs today (Tuesday), although there’s not enough pressure to make the foils on the Beneteau 3s serious contributors to speed, the boats are showing a healthy 10 to 11 knots right on track.

Thus, the leaders starting going through the psychologically-significant 300-miles-to-finish stage shortly after 10:00 hrs, and though Guillaume Pirouelle continues to hang onto the lead in Region Normandie, it's only by 0.2 sea miles head of Corentin Horeau in Banque Populaire.

Meanwhile, Tom Dolan in Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan has moved up to sixth from seventh and is 1.8 miles astern of Pirouelle, making between 10.5 and 11 knots.

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The Solitaire du Figaro has been a significant feature of the European sailing scene for 54 years now, and today it is well established as La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec, supported by the 1985-founded French re-cycling and green energy conglomerate.

But although the Beneteau-built foiling Figaro 3s which currently contest this great French offshore classic are more powerful and potentially faster than any of their predecessors, the organisers – several of them former contenders and thus entitled to privileges in setting special Figaro challenges – seem to delight in offsetting contemporary speed and power improvement by continually increasing the number of the course’s hot-spots and locally tricky problems.

This year’s event is a classic, as it gets racing from Caen in the Calvados department of Normandy tomorrow (Sunday, 27th August) with a fleet of 32 boats, including our own Tom Dolan’s Smurfit-Kappa Kingspan. But before the starting signal at 13:02 hrs, the action will have been under way since shortly after 08:00 hrs with a parade afloat towards the start zone.

The fleet’s in port: The lineup for the 54th Figaro Solo on show in Caen this weekThe fleet’s in port: The lineup for the 54th Figaro Solo on show in Caen this week

SHORESIDE PRESSURES

The sailors – rugged people who tend to happiest far at sea and sailing fast, rather than being in the midst of admiring but demanding fans in the pre-start Tented Village which has been open since Wednesday – will additionally have had to withstand the problem that their hosts in Caen and Calvados will expect them to conspicuously approve and ideally consume (responsibly, of course) the most famous local product, the eponymous apple brandy which has long been elevated to Appellation d’Origine Controlle (AOC) status.

It means that Calvados is up there with Waterford Blaa, Connemara Mountain Lamb, and Timoleague Brown Pudding, to name but three Irish food and beverage exclusivity qualifiers. But while the blaa, the lamb and the pudding are reasonably innocuous, the mighty Calvados really should come with a health warning. Yet its ferocious power in potential abundance is just another hazard that Les Figaristes have to negotiate before they take on the deceptively simple course.

The basic 2023 Figaro Solitaire Paprec course is spiced with many extra local twistsThe basic 2023 Figaro Solitaire Paprec course is spiced with many extra local twists

BASIC ROUTING ONLY HINTS AT COMPLEXITY OF COURSE

For the basic routing of the complete three-stage race is Caen to Kinsale, Kinsale to Morlaix on the north coast of Brittany, and Morlaix to Piriac-sur-Mer on France’s Biscay coast. Which, in its bare outline, would be quite enough for many a fully-crewed boat, let alone a solo sailor. But the course-setting sadists additionally have their battle-hardened fleet going round various buoys and other major markers on both sides of the English Channel before finally heading for Ireland - leaving the Isle of Scilly to port - to provide a total distance of 610 miles.

In the groove – Tom Dolan gets a good clear-air start at the outer end of the lineIn the groove – Tom Dolan gets a good clear-air start at the outer end of the line

Back in July, we suggested that the up-coming 50th Fastnet Race – in which our own Fastnet Rock is now the only remaining feature of the original 1925 race – should go the whole hog on the already heavy Cherbourg involvement, and have the start from the French port as well as the finish, with the Isle of Wight reduced to a mere early mark of the course, to be left to port.

ISLE OF WIGHT IS MARK OF COURSE – BUT WITH OPTION

Well, the Wicked Wizards of the Figaro Course-Setting Department are running with that idea in an even weirder way, as their fleet are to head west from Caen along Normandy’s north coast to a turn off Cotentin before going across channel to leave the Nab Tower to the east of the Isle of Wight to port. Then the next mark is the Needles Fairway buoy to the west of the island, likewise to be left to port. But in between there’s a major choice. For it’s up to the competitors whether they chance their arm with good tidal luck going through the Solent with the island to port, or else head south on the clearer track round the island via St Catherine’s Point.

The Young Hopeful. Tom Dolan as seen at a pre-race briefing during the early days of his career in FranceThe Young Hopeful. Tom Dolan as seen at a pre-race briefing during the early days of his career in France

Seasoned campaigner – Tom Dolan in 2023, a recognised performer on the solo offshore racing sceneSeasoned campaigner – Tom Dolan in 2023, a recognised performer on the solo offshore racing scene

It will be an excruciating choice for skippers, but hugely entertaining for those following the race by tracker and other means. Then from the Needles Fairway, they’ve to head cross-channel for the next turn at Brehat off Northern Brittany. But even then, they can’t shape their heading directly for Kinsale, as the track indicates they leave the Isles of Scilly to Port and then, once across on the Irish coast, the Fastnet Rock is to be left to starboard before heading eastward – by now decidedly salt-stained, boggle-eyed and almost numb with exhaustion – to round the Old Head, with the leaders hoped to be in the welcoming embrace of Kinsale possibly by Wednesday, but more likely Thursday.

KINSALE IS HOSTING 21st FIGARO

You’ll be getting the flavour of the organisers’ thinking by now, so it will be no surprise to learn that after a couple of relaxing days of R&R in Kinsale – where “Ireland’s Gourmet Capital” will be hosting its 21st Figaro visit – there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of being allowed to race straight to Morlaix.

On the contrary, after re-starting on Sunday, September 3rd, they’ve a lot of sailing to do in the Celtic Sea, St George’s Channel, and the Irish Sea before they even think of heading directly for Morlaix, as the course-setting megalomaniacs have planned a marathon 630 nautical miles route along the south coast of Ireland, and then north up the Irish Sea to round the Isle of Man (leaving it to starboard) before heading south to Brittany.

The Figaro Fleet of 2019 starting Stage 2 off KinsaleThe Figaro Fleet of 2019 starting Stage 2 off Kinsale

For your average Irish local skipper, for whom sailing in home waters with a couple of ships and some fishing boats at a distance suggests that the sea is getting crowded, it looks like the Sailing Course from Hell. Not only do you have to avoid the 31 other nearby boats in the Figaro fleet, but a course likes this inevitably funnels the racers through areas of special concentration in shipping and tides, with all the hassle of avoiding the soul-destroying TSS setups at every major shipping focal point, negotiating everything and keeping to schedule relying solely on wind power and your own solitary skills.

That said, past experience shows that with extensive shoreside entertainment and turbo-charged publicity setups in place at the ambitious key ports, the Figaro Solitaire powers-that-be are well-experienced in ruthlessly shortening the stages if the winds go light, in order to keep things reasonably on track for the razzmatazz-laden shoreside element. It’s yet yet another factor which the already stressed competitors and their support teams have to anticipate as the race progresses and develops.

Being the starting port for the 54th Solitaire du Figaro Paprec is a mini-industry in itself – the team that set up Caen to put the show on the road is Malo Le Peru (OC Sport Pen Duick project manager), Augustin Boeuf (Regional Councilor of Normandy, Nautical Delegate), Amandine François-Goguillon (Deputy Mayor of the City of Caen, in charge of Education and Equality Opportunities, Family and Early Childhood), Mélanie Lepoultier (Vice-President of the Department of Calvados in charge of boating), Dominique Rose (Advisor of the Calvados Department), and Stéphane Nevé, (Head of Sailing Projects at Paprec) Photo Alexis CourcouxBeing the starting port for the 54th Solitaire du Figaro Paprec is a mini-industry in itself – the team that set up Caen to put the show on the road is Malo Le Peru (OC Sport Pen Duick project manager), Augustin Boeuf (Regional Councilor of Normandy, Nautical Delegate), Amandine François-Goguillon (Deputy Mayor of the City of Caen, in charge of Education and Equality Opportunities, Family and Early Childhood), Mélanie Lepoultier (Vice-President of the Department of Calvados in charge of boating), Dominique Rose (Advisor of the Calvados Department), and Stéphane Nevé, (Head of Sailing Projects at Paprec) Photo Alexis Courcoux

ADDICTIVE SERIES

After 54 years, the shared and personal Figaro experience is vast and complex, for it’s an addictive series to which some hardened offshore veterans have devoted most of their active careers. And even widely experienced sailors such as Michel Desjoyeaux, winner of two Vendee Globes and three Figaros and other majors, have been recorded as saying that the endlessly stressful, hugely concentrated and continuously focused Figaro is the toughest of them all.

Over the years, Irish sailors have been involved with differing levels of success, with those making their mark including George Kenefick, Joan Mulloy, Marcus Hutchinson and Damian Foxall, with the latter achieving the highlight of a stage win.

TOM DOLAN HAS RAISED IRISH INVOLVEMENT

That particular distinction has also been achieved in other races by Tom Dolan. Originally of Meath but for many years Brittany-based in Concarneau with a core commitment to the special French solo scene that goes back to 2011, he has raised Irish involvement to a new personal level. And his experiences with his Figaro 3 Smurfit-Kappa Kingspan have soared the heights and plunged the depths in that roller-coaster ride which is the story of everyone in the Figaro circus.

Tom Dolan receiving the Vivi Trophy for the best-placed non-French entrant at the 52nd Figaro finish in St NazaireTom Dolan receiving the Vivi Trophy for the best-placed non-French entrant at the 52nd Figaro finish in St Nazaire

In Tom’s case, the current heights were reached with a seventh in 2022 and a personal best of fifth in 2020. But with tomorrow’s first international post-Pandemic staging of the race, there’s an extra edge further sharpened by the fact that the renewed international element is a stopover in Ireland, thereby adding emotional loading to an already pressure-cooked scenario.

So much and all as Tom is now a battle-hardened veteran and accustomed to the Figaro demands coming at him every which way, people respected his wish to have a few days of chilling at home with the family in Corncarneau before launching himself into the maelstrom of Caen where his race-ready boat has been waiting.

Equally, we can only hope he has minders in place in Kinsale, though a compact oceanic island like Ireland has shown that it can take events like this more comfortably in its stride, whereas France has a huge yet interested population at some distance from the sea, thereby making top-level solo offshore racing something very special indeed, with every competitors a star.

Either way, as the old saying would have it, the dogs bark but the caravan moves on. And in this case, the caravanserai up and down the Irish Sea looks simple only on paper, as you’ve tides and rocks on both sides of channel and sea which make a fair stab at matching the challenges of Brittany itself.

The Figaro fleet capture the joy of sailing as they make the best use of ideal conditions off KinsaleThe Figaro fleet capture the joy of sailing as they make the best use of ideal conditions off Kinsale Photo: Bob Bateman

And for the first two stages, they up the ante in the distance stakes. If the full course is sailed from Caen to Kinsale, they’ll have covered 610 nautical miles. Then Kinsale to Morlaix, with that Isle of Man dogleg thrown in, is 630 miles. And though the final stage of Morlaix to Piriac-sur-Mer is back to a “mere” 620 miles, it gets that total through a there-and-back across the Bay of Biscay to a turn off the north coast of Spain, just as the notorious Bay – or the Gulf of Gascony if you look at it from France - is starting to experience its interesting Autumn weather.

This is serious sport, and not at all for the faint-hearted. 

Published in W M Nixon
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Tom Dolan is from a farming family in Meath, and started his sailing on Lough Ramor plumb in the middle of Ireland, but thanks to Glenans Ireland (now Glenua) he has been totally committed to France’s challenging solo and two-handed offshore circuit for a dozen years now. With the reputation of being L’Irlandais Volante (The Flying Irishman) in this rarefied world, in September, he added to his laurels with sixth overall and the Vivi Trophy for the top non-French participant in the Figaro Solo 2022.

 

 

Published in Sailor of the Month
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With just over 100 nautical miles to the finish line of the 655 miles Stage 2 of La Solitaire du Figaro at 17.00hrs French time this late afternoon, the leading group are tightly packed, the solo skippers doing all they can to sniff out the best of the breeze.

Light winds and a patchwork of calms have now prevailed for 24 hours since the leaders slowed first, punching first into contrary tidal current at the Occidental du Sein and the big, beautiful Audierne Bay. The chasing pack came down on the remaining breeze and after a beautiful, almost glassy evening yesterday by this morning, there were less than five miles between first and 16th.

Three solo racers have largely profited inshore, closer to the Vendée coast. Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) wriggled clear of 20-year-old rookie Basile Bourgnon (EDENRED) around lunchtime, making between two and five knots through periods of the day, almost 20 miles further east than the main peloton and is the nominal leader.

Dolan and Bourgnon were still holding first and second places but their boatspeeds were a crawling 2.5 to 3kts each while their rivals offshore seemed to have the new breeze and were making more than seven knots. The inshore duo still had three miles in hand but it appears the breeze offshore , perhaps thermally enhanced, did not appear to have rolled in far enough for them to profit.

The top three French skippers in the peloton have been glued together since before the turning mark at the Channel Islands on Monday evening, Achille Nebout (Amarris-Primeo Energie) leading rookie Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie) and Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance) being less than 0.2 of a mile apart as they hunt together as a pack.

The first boats are due into Royan, at the mouth of the Gironde estuary, Thursday morning after an exhausting leg which started Sunday afternoon from Port-la-Forêt, Brittany and has taken the 32-boat fleet to the Channel Islands, to Eddystone and now back down the Brittany and Vendée coasts.

A NW’ly breeze should in theory push in the late afternoon heading a bit to West-North-West at 5 to 10 knots and by evening the leaders should be sailing downwind, under a North-Westerly flow increasing to 8 to 13 knots, off the Charente coast. But the forecasters say this wind will weaken again back to 5-10kts with stormy showers close to the land but by morning, this North-Westerly should be reasonably regular for the finish into Royan.

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.

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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