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At lunchtime Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre starting horn was sounded and the 118 skippers in their 59 multi-coloured offshore boats weaved across the start line in front of Cape de la Hève, beating into 12-14 knots of north-easterly wind. Among them are two Irish skippers Joan Mulloy from County Mayo as Afloat reported here and Mikey Ferguson in County Down here. The Irish co-skippers are neck and neck in 26th and 27th place according to rankings here.

The biennial double-handed 4,350-mile race, the longest and toughest transat in the sailing calendar, will take them to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil.

Already the race is dishing up a fair amount of drama with the news at 06:50 (UTC) this morning, while leading the Class40 fleet, British skipper, Luke Berry and his French co-skipper, Tanguy Le Turquais, informed the race management their Class40, Lamotte - Module Creation, had dismasted. The two skippers are doing well and are safe on board the boat.

At yesterday's start, Both IMOCA and Class40 fleets were tightly bunched, but line honours appeared to go to Bureau Vallée II (IMOCA) and Aïna Enfance and Avenir, the Class40 favourite.

The Route de Café is a marathon not a sprint, but the start along the coast is never simple, especially when the blood is up and adrenaline flowing in front the crowds lining the pontoons, channel, beaches and coast. Not to mention the live TV audience. And, of course, the choppy shallow sea with plenty of current against them as they race the 16 miles of coast to round the Region Normandie buoy off Étretat. The fastest among them should take a little under three hours before they turn to head west towards Cotentin under spinnaker.

There should be an intense downwind race in the Channel overnight when the wind will continue to strengthen. Through that time and the morning, as they all exit the Channel, it will be decision time as to whether to go east, west or further west. That could provide an early test of the different trajectories the latest generation foiling IMOCA may take, although Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss has said his priority is finishing not winning, especially after being helicoptered to safety when his boat capsized four years ago. Britain’s Samantha Davies, in an older boat but with hugely upgraded foils on Initiatives-Cœur, is keeping an open mind.

“Once we’re west of Ushant then we’ve got to make a decision,” she said. “I don’t want to make a decision yet because it’s not clear enough and sometimes if you decide in your head you influence yourself when you’re making further decisions.

“We’re pretty open at the moment, (laughs) we’re going to have all the sails out on the deck to work out which one we’re going to use. We are at one with Initiatives-Cœur and super happy to be finally at sea and heading for Brazil.”

The small Class40 have the same dilemma.

“Do we go west fully, for me there is still an option, but it’s a bit of a tricky one,” Luke Berry (Lamotte – Module Creation) said. “We’re still waiting for the info from our weather routers - you’re allowed a weather router before you start - so, we’ll make our decision sometime tonight. It’s not a (Class40) group decision, there are some that are going to go their own way and we’re not here to follow the others, but we’re not going to do lone cowboy either. It’s going to be more of downwind race out of the Channel, but it’s do we go up into the Celtic sea or not?

Britain’s Sam Goodchild, one of Berry’s main rivals, on Leyton, says that the risks and rewards are not clear.

“We don’t think we have to make our decision until tomorrow morning,” he said. “We’ve got all the ideas in our head, we don’t know what the risks and the gains are yet, it’s not as straightforward as if you go west, you break or you win, and if you go south you’re safe.”

There were emotional scenes on the pontoon before departure as the said goodbye to their friends, family and partners, except perhaps for Miranda Merron and Halvard Mabire, who are partners on both land and sea.

Top ten at midnight France time

Class 40

  1. Leyton, Sam Goodchild / Fabien Delahaye
    2. Lamotte - Module Creation, Luke Berry / Tanguy Le Turquais
    3. Aïna Enfance & Avenir, Aymeric Chappellier / Pierre Leboucher
    4. Credit Mutuel, Ian Lipinski / Adrien Hardy
    5. Crosscall Chamonix Mont-Blanc, Louis Duc / Aurelien Ducroz
    6. Beijaflore, William Mathelin-Moreaux / Marc Guillemot
    7. Entraide Marine-Adosm, Charles-Louis Mourruau / Estelle Greck
    8. Banque Du Leman, Simon Koster / Valentin Gautier
    9. Linkt, Jorg Riechers / Cedric Chateau
    10. Made In Midi, Kito De Pavant / Achille Nebout

Multi 50

  1. Solidaires En Peloton - Arsep, Thibaut Vauchel-Camus / Fred Duthil
    2. Primonial, Sebastien Rogues / Matthieu Souben
    3. Groupe Gca - Mille Et Un Sourires, Gilles Lamire / Antoine Carpentier

IMOCA 60

  1. Banque Populaire X, Clarisse Cremer / Armel Le Cleac'h
    2. Groupe Apicil, Damien Seguin / Yoann Richomme
    3. Arkea - Paprec, Sebastien Simon / Vincent Riou
    4. Corum L'epargne, Nicolas Troussel / Jean Le Cam
    5. PRB, Kevin Escoffier / Nicolas Lunven
    6. Malizia Ii - Yacht Club De Monaco, Boris Herrmann / Will Harris
    7. Initiatives-Cœur, Samantha Davies / Paul Meilhat
    8. Bureau Vallee 2, Louis Burton / Davy Beaudart
    9. Prysmian Group, Giancarlo Pedote / Anthony Marchand
    10. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson / Neal McDonald

Full rankings

Published in Offshore

A look at the only Female duo made up of the international pairing of French woman, Alexia Barrier and Irish sailor, Joan Mulloy (4myplanet). The only all-female offshore pairing in this Transat Jacques Vabre, which starts this Sunday, intends to get 120% out of their venerable old IMOCA.

Seven women are competing in the 2019 Transat Jacques Vabre in the IMOCA category. Among them, we find Alexia Barrier and Joan Mulloy aboard 4myplanet, an emblematic boat, which has set sail on six voyages around the world (four times in the Vendée Globe and twice in Around Alone).

“We bumped into each other, without really knowing each other”
“I met Joan in the 2017 Solitaire du Figaro. I was racing and she was preparing a boat. We saw each other again in the Monaco Globe Series. We bumped into each other, without really knowing each other,” explained Alexia. “Joan called me up early in the year to find out whether she could race in the Rolex Fastnet Race with me. I said to myself that it would be a good idea to do the whole season sailing double-handed together, including the Transat Jacques Vabre. I didn’t have enough funding to be able to do the Fastnet Race, but here we are in the Jacques Vabre.”

Mutual respect
“In the Solitaire du Figaro, Joan was always the person who would be working late and who wanted to help everyone. She had incredible energy,” added Alexia Barrier. “That impression was confirmed when I sailed with her. Joan always a certain zest. She is extremely professional and sails really well. We are both optimists, never giving up and never getting angry. We soon settled in well together. My task is to pass on as many hints as I can, so that she can do her best on a boat that she doesn’t know that well. Joan understands things quickly. I’m learning a lot at her side too. English-speaking sailors have a more methodical and neater approach to sailing.”

Joan Mulloy also has a lot of respect for her co-skipper in the Transat Jacques Vabre. “Alexia works really hard on her project and never stops,” she said. “I’m really lucky to be with her on a well-tested boat that is very reliable. I shall learn a lot. Alexia is always very calm aboard the boat. Even when things get tough, we remain upbeat and continue to joke around on board. That is a good sign.”

A shared desire to do the Vendée Globe
Aboard 4myplanet, Alexia Barrier is well placed to be able to compete in the 2020 Vendée Globe. That is not going to be possible for Joan Mulloy, but the Irish skipper fully intends to take part in a future edition of the non-stop solo round the world race. “Last year, I took part in the Monaco Globe Series with Thomas Ruyant, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find the funding to continue on an IMOCA,” she explained. “Competing in the Transat Jacques Vabre is an excellent opportunity to allow me to continue to progress and move towards my goal of taking part in the Vendée Globe.”

“Sailing to the best of my ability”
Competing on the oldest IMOCA in the fleet (launched in 1998), Alexia and Joan fully intend to get the most out of their boat. “We have a shared goal which is to sail to the best of our ability and that of the boat,” confirmed Alexia. “We want to finish in Salvador da Bahia without any regrets and ideally leave five or six IMOCAs behind us. On paper, we have the slowest boat, but if we make the right choices and sail intelligently, we can have a great race.”

Transat Jacques Vabre begins in Le Havre on Sunday 27th October

Published in Vendee Globe

The progress of equality in sailing can often resemble the turning of an oil tanker rather than a carbon fibre offshore racing boat, but there are some new grounds for optimism at sea. The race village of the 14th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre was officially inaugurated on Saturday and hosts the latest generation of women making waves including Irish interest with County Mayo's solo sailor Joan Mulloy who bounces back from Figaro Race disappointment this summer to be on board the IMOCA 60 4myPlanet with co-skipper Alexia Barrier for an October race across the Atlantic.

There is a strong mission statement on the only all-female boat in the race. It is all about education, science and the secret is in the name of the boat: 4myplanet.

As Afloat's WMN Nixon previously reported Alexia Barrier’s cause was, and is, planetary rather than equality, and it was not part of her thinking when she chose Ireland’s Joan Mulloy as her co-skipper.

“I didn’t choose Joan because she’s a woman,” she says. “I chose her because she’s a good sailor and because she has good energy and is always smiling – those things are really important on a race like this.”

"I chose her because she’s a good sailor"

Barrier, who grew up sailing in the French Riviera, set up the 4myplanet foundation in 2010. “I’d done six or seven transats and was spending 200 days of the year at sea I was feeling very uncomfortable,” she said. “I wanted to do something to save my playground and so I thought I can make myself a tool for science.”

As well as collecting and testing water along the along the route, 4myplanet is one of three boats that will launch the two-metre long 30kg probe that will measure ocean salinity and temperature and will be tracked and picked up after three years.

Gender was not a cause that either chose, but it is one they have been confronted with, and both feel conscious of how the example they and others are setting can inspire.

“The way to change it is education and by showing little girls you can do whatever you want, you just have to go for it,” Barrier says. “We’re in France, not in Canada or Germany, it’s not such an issue there,” she says. “We’re behind in France. We just had the first conference for women in offshore sailing (with the Magenta Project in Lorient on October 11/12), but it’s a shame it’s taken this long and didn’t happen 20 years ago.”

You might have thought Ellen MacArthur would have settled this a generation ago (yes, it’s 18 years! since she finished second in the Vendée Globe at the age of 24). Sailing, particularly short-handed sailing is as much a test of endurance as anything and endurance is, at least, gender neutral (although Sarah Thomas might argue with that).

"antediluvian attitudes are still visible, worryingly close to the surface"

The 39-year-old Barrier is not alone in highlighting the sexism she sometimes faces. There are nine mixed boats beside 4myplanets among the 60 double-handed teams in the race, with the like of Sam Davies successfully skippering bigger budget campaigns like Initiatives-Cœur. But the antediluvian attitudes are still visible, worryingly close to the surface.

“When I’ve gone to meet potential sponsors, two or three have said: ‘why are you still sailing? You’re 35, you should be having babies, it’s time.’

Joan Mulloy2

“If a male skipper went to them they would never say that to him. It’s terrible.

That’s why I think we’re not there yet. But it looks like there will be six girls at the Vendée Globe, which is great. The way to change it is education and by showing little girls you can do whatever you want, you just have to go for it.”

"Why are you still sailing? You’re 35, you should be having babies"

Mulloy feels the same.

“When the Voiles et Voiliers piece came out and said there wasn’t an all-female boat, we pointed out there was,” Mulloy says. “We weren’t bothered for us but it matters. There is an impact for those coming through to see those doing this at the next level of racing.”

That impact was personal for Mulloy, 32, because she had felt it when the two skippers first met during the 2017 Solitaire du Figaro, where Mulloy was managing six boats for the Artemis offshore academy.

“I wanted to be sailing so it was inspiring just seeing her,” Mulloy says. “It does make it more accessible, but in the way that seeing someone from Ireland makes it more accessible.”

Mulloy, from County Mayo, is trying to do be that double inspiration.

Published in Vendee Globe
Tagged under

Solo sailor Joan Mulloy of Mayo has teamed up as co-skipper with France’s Alexia Barrier on the latter’s veteran IMOCA 60 4Myplanet to become the only all-female crew in the 30-strong IMOCA 60 Class in the 12,000 mile Transat Jacques Vabre, which starts next weekend from Le Havre, headed for a finish in Bahia in Brazil.

In all, there’ll be 67 boats on the line at Le Havre in three classes in an event which last month brought aboard an additional sponsorship partner in the Normandy Region. This reflects the increasingly positive corporate approach of French regional administrations to major sailing events, where the pace has been set by the Vendee Region with their pillar event, the four-yearly Vendee Globe non-stop solo round the world race, which has succeeded in raising the profile of the relatively little-known Vendee to a new international awareness.

alexia barrier2Alexia Barrier, tired but happy after completing another solo challenge. Her finish in last year’s Transatlantic Route de Rhum has already qualified her for next year’s Vendee Globe Solojoan mulloy3Joan Mulloy where she is happiest – in open water with the boat going well
In France, the regions are in competition with each other and internationally to attract such events. The Port of Brest, in one example, has taken over the historic OSTAR. But in smaller countries, it’s a case of the entire nation wheeling in support, as is being seen this morning in Malta where a major offshore race – once of interest to only a select few on the island – is now high on the priority list of the government’s promotion department.

Today, in the almost absurdly picturesque and distinctly crowded history-laden Grand Harbour of Valetta in Malta, it will take seven different starts to get the total fleet of 112 boats in the 40th Edition of the 606-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race cleanly away. From this inevitably tense and crowded start to a multi-island-rounding course in the Mediterranean, they’ll have the finishers back in port and the results declared by the time the Transat Jacques Vabre comes top of the agenda on Sunday October 27th.

middle sea start4Classic start for a classic race – the Rolex Middle Sea race tacking out of Grand Harbour Valetta in close formation. Photo Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

For devoted inshore sailing enthusiasts who think that night-time is when you should be comfortably ashore in bed after a good day’s sailing in pleasant coastal surroundings, both of these major international events are simply seen as being lumped under the general heading of “Offshore & Ocean Racing”. And their overall response is “Thanks but no thanks…..”

Yet for aficionados, not only are they long hauls which will be avidly followed throughout with total dedication, but the very different types of offshore racing which they exemplify are all part of the fascination.

For the Rolex Middle Sea Race is one contemporary version of the classic Royal Ocean Racing Club “long one”. These are the well-established events such as the Fastnet Race itself, the Sydney-Hobart, the RORC Caribbean 600 and the Newport-Bermuda, all of which fall within the 600-650 mile distance range. Also generally included is the Round Ireland, even though it clocks up 704 miles. And all – when they were founded – were regarded in their day as marathons, a title which most participants continue to happily support.

middle sea race course5The Middle Sea Race course – anyone who thinks it’s a walk in the park is often brutally surprised
But with the international ocean racing bar now being set very high by the Vendee Globe with its off-the-wall IMOCA 60s, public perception may have become more muted in response to the more traditional events. Yet the fact that the biennial Fastnet Race’s basic entry limit for 350 boats is hit within minutes of the online acceptance opening for business tells us that the mystique of these classics is strong, and for recreational sailors of competitive offshore interest, they are very much something they want to have in their CV.

Because there’s a real continuity to these events - with a shared sponsor in Rolex - part of the interest is in discerning special patterns. So although George David’s great round Ireland record-holding Rambler 88 will be seeing can she better the Middle Sea Race’s 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds record he set with Rambler 90 in 2007 (a decidedly tense-making four minutes and 57 seconds inside the magic 48-hours barrier), there’ll be every bit as much interest in how things go for Wizard, the Askew brothers’ former Volvo 70 from America.

Originally Groupama 4 and designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian for the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race - which she won for France skippered by Franck Cammas - this splendid “old” warhorse has by no means gone gently into the sweet night of retirement.

On the contrary, she reappeared under New Zealand ownership for the 2016 Rolex Sydney Hobart re-named Giacomo, owned and skippered by wine magnate Jim Delegat, who had several of his family in the crew, including the youngest race participant, 18-year-old James Delegat Jnr, as Australian rules preclude anyone under 18 doing this race. Conditions suited a Volvo 70 almost to perfection and they managed second on line honours among much larger craft, and this in time converted into the overall win.

Thus Giacomo was arguably the first of the former Volvo 70s – they initially appeared in 2005 - to make a significant input outside the Volvo Ocean Race bubble. But the former Groupama 4 was only getting going. Having won outright in what was only his third Sydney-Hobart, Jim Delegat decided to get out while still on top, and soon he sold Giacomo on to Peter and Dave Askew from America, who lavished much TLC on a craft renamed again. She became Wizard, and she lived up to her new name from the get go.

wizard at speed6The former Volvo 70 Wizard making knots. One of the world’s most successful offshore racers, since 2012 under three different names she has won the Volvo Ocean Race, the Sydney-Hobart, the RORC Caribbean 600, the Transatlantic, and the Fastnet. Photo: Rolex
Skippered for the brothers by Charlie Enright, Wizard has continued as a real life-enhancer on the international offshore scene, and with the Volvo Ocean Race and the Rolex Sydney-Hobart trophies already in the collection, she hit the 2019 programme in style, taking line honours in February’s big-fleet RORC Caribbean 600, and then correcting into the overall win.

Next outing was the RORC/NYYC Transatlantic Race with the weather in the North Atlantic in an increasingly obtuse mood, with calms later plaguing the smaller boats. But it was by no means a cakewalk for the biggies either, yet Wizard called it just right, and took the overall win.

Then up came the Rolex RORC Fastnet Race on 3rd August 2019, and in the livestream at the start, as the camera panned past Wizard somebody in the commentary box let slip a remark to the effect that this was “an old Volvo 70, not really suited to this race”, or words to that effect.

wizard at fastnet7Having made a brilliant job of the tricky outward stages to reach the Fastnet Rock, Wizard did even better on he final stage to Plymouth to win overall. Photo: RolexNow that was some hostage to fortune….not only did Wizard make such a perfect job of getting through the sticky calm-plagued patch between Start Point and the Lizard that we assumed the great Ian Moore must be the navigator on board (he wasn’t), but then when Wizard’s group arrived at the Fastnet itself, a complex frontal system was going through to baffle many. Yet Charlie Enright called the sail changes to precise perfection, they piled on the miles to a challenging position, and swept into Plymouth to correct into such a strong time that soon Wizard was declared the overall winner.

charlie enright8Charlie Enright of Wizard, a skipper of genius
david and peter askew9Sporting owners – David and Peter Askew in Antigua, February 2019, after Wizard had been declared overall winner of the RORC Caribbbean 600
By this time Wizard was so cheerfully the ambassador for American offshore racing that it was natural to overlook the fact that her take-everything victory was in fact yet another corner-stone in the French domination of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2019. But while she may have been French in her origins, it’s only right and proper to credit that David & Peter Askew and Charlie Enright, plus Jim Delegat before them, have put their stamp firmly on a record of unrivalled and varied success which extends directly back to Franck Cammas in 2012.

So with the Volvo Ocean, Sydney-Hobart, RORC Caribbean 600, Transatlantic 2019 and Fastnet Race securely under her belt, Magic is surely the boat to watch as the fleet set about exiting Grand Harbour Valetta this morning for a challenge whose name suggests balmy Mediterranean sailing, yet experience has shown that the Middle Sea Race in October plumb in the midst of Mare Nostrum can be tough and then some.

dazcat 1495 steady10Ireland’s Barry Hurley will be racing a Dazcat 195 catamaran in the Middle Sea Race today – this is how she looks in steady going……..

dazcat 1495 at speed11……and this is the Dazcat 1495 in a bit of a breeze
Ireland’s most experienced participants in it is Barry Hurley, with something like 14 tilts already logged for this circuit of islands which include - for something a little different - the active volcano of Stromboli. Former OSTAR Class winner Hurley has been well in the frame in mono-hulls in the Middle Sea Race several times, but this year he’s trying a new approach in a multi-hull, in this case the DazCat 1495 Apollo.

It requires very special skills and nerves of steel to race a catamaran flat out along a course which takes in coasting along steep mountains and through areas notorious for sudden squalls, but if the chips fall the right way the rewards are immense.

A more orthodox entry with Irish interest is ISORA Pwllheli-based skipper Andrew Hall with his J/121 JackHammer, a much roomier proposition than the vintage ultra-slim J/125 JackKnife which he raced – usually in the frame - in the Irish Sea during the 2019 season.

stromboli volcano12 How’s this four a mark of the course? There’s no guarantee that the Stromboli volcano won’t be erupting as the Middle Sea Race fleet rounds it. Photo: Rolex

His crew includes NYC sailor Willie Despard, so we have direct interest in at least two boats, and doubtless, other Irish participants will emerge as this intriguing race progresses. But anyone with an interest in the general wellbeing of world offshore racing cannot help but feel involved in the continuing extraordinary progress of Wizard. This is one well-sailed and classy boat which has given many people an immense amount of sporting satisfaction, and though it's grossly unfair to be heaping so much expectation on her prospects in the Middle Sea Race, but that’s the way it is. And we can be consoled by her string of established successes if things don’t work out to perfection this time round in a complex race in which the defending champion is France’s very special Gery Trentesaux in his JPK 11.80 Courier Recommande.

gery trentesaux13Defending champion: France’s veteran superstar Gery Trentesaux (centre) is defending title-holder in today’s Middle Sea Race
As to how things will be shaping up in a week’s time in the final countdown to the Jacques Vabre start off Le Havre, Alexia Barrier and Joan Mulloy don’t pretend that their 1998-built oldie 4myplanet – a pioneering Marc Lombard design in her day - is anything other than a sporting entry when set against the likes of Alex Thomson and Neal McDonald in the former’s latest addition to the Huge Boss line, and much is also expected of other fresh-out of-the-wrappings IMOCA 60s like Clarice Cremer and Armel le Cleach in Banque Populaire.

After all, with the basic budget of €5 million which created the new Hugo Boss, you could buy a dozen vintage IMOCA 60s…….

banque populairex14The latest – Banque Populaire X continues a long line of financial services sponsorship in French ocean racing 
new hugo boss15Ultimate racing machine? The new Hugo Boss will be using the Transat Jacques Vabre 2019 as a debut event.

Published in Vendee Globe

County Mayo solo sailor, Joan Mulloy of Westport, will sail along the River Thames to Tower Bridge, completing a special journey that replicates one made by her formidable ancestor, the legendary Granuaile, over 400 years ago.

Under black sails emblazoned with her name, Grace O’Malley Irish Pirate Queen, Joan has retraced the route from Clew Bay in Mayo to London, a journey that saw the Irish Pirate Sea Queen come face to face with the Virgin Queen in their historic meeting in late summer of 1593.

In keeping with the re-enactment, Joan will bring a special presentation bottle of Grace O’Malley Irish Whiskey on board commemorating the famous meeting which founded a mutual respect between these two formidable ladies, along with a unique friendship. The legend recalls that Grace gifted of a bottle of Irish whiskey to the Queen who was well known for her partiality to ‘uisce beatha’, having stocks of it delivered to her court.

GRACE O MALLEY LONDON 3Joan Mulloy on the Thames Photo: Rick Tomlinson

Whether the whiskey aided in appeasing her highness is not documented, but records reveal that for Grace the trip was successful in its aim. Grace received ‘clemencie and favour’ from Queen Elizabeth I, who following the meeting, released Grace’s son Tibbot, restored his lands and gave the royal assent that Grace could continue her business of ‘maintenance by land and sea’ without hindrance or interference from the Queen’s governors.

Mulloy was one of two Irish entrants in this summer's 50th edition of the arduous single-handed French marathon Figaro Race finishing 38th from 44 starters. More here

Published in Solo Sailing
Tagged under

From the highs of a top ten position earlier this week hopes have faded for a strong home waters finish for either Irish entry in the opening leg of the 50th La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro into Kinsale. Tonight Tom Dolan lies 39th and Joan Mulloy 44th in a fleet of 47 with approximately 40 miles to sail to the finish.

Meanwhile, the three-way battle to stage one deliverance at the Old Head of Kinsale was won by overall winner in 2016, Yoann Richomme who was doing all he could to hold on to a lead of just under half a mile late this afternoon, seeking to close out what would be a well-deserved victory on the first stage of the Figaro.

"Richomme, 35 from Lorient, was being chased by talented, hard driving 21 year old rookie, Tom Laperche"

First around the Fastnet Rock at 1229hrs local time, Richomme, 35 from Lorient, was being chased by talented, hard driving 21 year old rookie, Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Espoir) and Pierre Leboucher (Guyot Environement) as they race towards the finish line of the course which is to be shortened by 11 miles at the Old Head of Kinsale. There was nothing between the three as they traded gybes and a stage which has lasted four nights and four days since starting from the bay of La Baule near Nantes, hangs in the balance.

Deliverance from one of the longest and most challenging Solitaire legs of recent years will doubtless feel magical for the top trio who were 15 minutes clear of the fourth placed solo skipper when they rounded the mythical rock in very light winds. But since the turn they have made decent speeds under spinnaker and should cross the line at around 1900hrs local time this evening. 

Richomme, outstanding winner of the Route du Rhum in Class 40 last November, has come into this race feeling none of the pressure heaped on some of his rivals. After Volvo Ocean Race winning skipper Charles Caudrelier seized an opportunity to become co-skipper of the Gitana Ultime, Richomme was drafted in as a late replacement for Caudrelier for whom he started out in the Figaro as preparateur.

He and Leboucher led a group who took a middle course off Ushant and then stuck with it across the approaches to the Channel and over the Celtic Sea. Their choice allowed them to gain relative to a strong pack who went offshore to the west, which ultimately suffered last night when the wind swung more to the north.

Around three miles behind Richomme, veteran Loïck Peyron, the elder statesman of the course at 59 years old will be happy to hold on to the sixth place he was in during this afternoon's sunny slide east along the Irish coast to the finish line. Peyron is returning to La Solitaire for the first time since he was sixth overall in 2003. He had his 'roaring 50s' rivals Michel Desjoyeaux, 53, less than a mile behind in ninth place and Alain Gautier, 57, in 12th. Peyron said at the Fastnet: "I'm 30 miles from the finish. It's not bad to avoid the last vagaries of the wind on this coast to get finished tonight "

Highly fancied favourite Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire) may have rescued some of his chances of a good finish overall by recovering from being among the back markers on Tuesday to be 13th on the reach in this afternoon, but the same might not hold true for the group of top seeds who went west, led by three times winner Yann Eliès (Saint Michel). Eliès - who led during the second day of racing - was nearly three and a half hours behind at the Fastnet Rock.

Admirable recoveries appear to have been achieved by international skippers Justine Mettraux of Switzerland on course for 14th and Brit Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) who was 16th, both around one hour behind the leaders.

Published in Figaro

Irish solo racer Tom Dolan stuck to his game plan on Smufit Kappa and made a solid start to his second La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro today as the 47–strong fleet started from the Bay of La Baule in the west of France in 12 knot south-westerly winds heading for Kinsale via the Fastnet Rock and is mid-fleet in 26th place tonight. County Mayo sailor Joan Mulloy is lying 45th.

Follow the tracker here

Under grey skies on the Bay of La Baule, at the mouth of the Loire river in the west of France, Morgan Lagraviere (Voile d’engagement) lead an early breakaway trio at the head of the 47-strong La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro fleet during a showcase first hour of the 553 nautical mile, three day first stage across the Celtic Sea to Kinsale, Ireland.

Figaro fleet2The Figaro fleet start today. Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Lagraviere, who has twice finished on the overall podium for the Solitaire, the annual multi-stage solo classic offshore series, and sailed on the 2016 Vendée Globe in the colours of Safran, races this 50th edition of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro with no major sponsor.

He sailed smartly on the first two-mile sprint leg to round the first mark and forge a small escape accompanied by Gildas Mahé (Breizh Cola) and Adrien Hardy (Sans Nature Pas de Future) who also competes without a major partner.

Thousands of spectators lined headlands, seawalls and beaches around fashionable Pornichet and the bay itself to watch the 11 mile opening circuit unfold in 10-13knots of south-westerly wind, seeking their first glimpse of the new foil assisted Figaro Bénéteau 3s in full La Solitaire race mode and some of France’s best known, most successful offshore sailors going head to head.

While the little breakaway trio held their early advance to pass the Radio France Buoy in the lead, wily fox Michel Desjoyeaux (Lumibird) did not disappoint onlookers as he climbed through the fleet to pass the Radio France ranking buoy in fourth.

Britain’s Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) was in the middle of a big pack of boats in 19th at the first ranking mark.

But while the opening skirmish under gennakers gybing around the bay was the perfect start to what promises to be the most competitive Solitaire for many years, there are many challenges in store, even during the first night at sea.

Initially a rich-get-richer scenario is anticipated favouring the leaders, but a messy, not too active cold front is due to pass over the fleet just after dusk. The winds are expected to be unsettled, changing in direction and strength with some light rain on the first 57-mile stage down the Vendée coast to the Bourgenay southernmost turning mark, set by design off the home town of the boats’ builders Bénéteau.

The key stages after that mark are entering the strong tides of the Raz de Sein, passing the Traffic Separation System off Ushant – off the western tip of Brittany – the Scilly Isles, the approach to the Fastnet and the final 50 miles in to Kinsale which looks set to be light.

Well placed mid fleet was Will Harris, (Hive Energy). As a Brit he is largely unique in the field as an overseas, non-French racer who is taking on only his second La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro. But after winning the top rookie or ‘bizuth’ prize on the 2016 La Solitaire, the 25-year sailor from Weybridge in Surrey, England has managed to secure the support of an English based leading solar energy company.

Harris said as he left the dock in Nantes: “The weather is not as simple as we might have hoped it would be tonight, there are a lot of weak and broken up fronts coming through. At Ushant there will be another front which will bring quite a bit more breeze and it will be quite challenging to get through the rocky passage there and then the exclusion zone. Day 3 is less clear with a low pressure over the UK which, depending how and when that develops, can make 180 degrees of difference to the wind as we approach the Fastnet and Kinsale. But I feel like I have a good feel for what is expected to happen, I know what to look for and what to rely on.”

Harris continued: “I am really excited to be starting. I want to go out and enjoy it. This first leg is about managing risk and not splitting away on what promises to be a very open leg. That can be your Solitaire over. Look for the small gains and coming in to Kinsale can be interesting.”

The adoption of the new boat sees the return to the 50th Solitaire of three legendary French sailors all in their 50s, set to rekindle a friendship and rivalry which dates back more than 30 years.

As the fleet left the Bay of La Baule, all three musketeers were placed in the top 12. Racing in his home waters today, in front of his house, Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe winner and three times winner of The Transat, Loïck Peyron at 59 is back as the oldest participant in a race on which he was the youngest in 1980 and won a leg in 1986.

 

Michel Desjoyeaux, 54, is the most successful of the ‘roaring 50s’ with three overall Solitaire wins under his belt – 1992, 1998, 2007. After a five year break this will be Desjoyaux’s 13th Solitaire and he has never finished worse than twelfth and he can recite his year by year finishes by rote. Other than that 12th and seventh in 2013, he has always finished in the top five. He remains the only sailor ever to win the Vendée Globe three times.

“I was there for the introduction of the Figaro 1 one design and the Figaro 2 and so it is natural I am here for the new Figaro 3. I knew last year I would be here,” Desjoyeaux has told the French media several times.

“I have nothing to prove on this race. I won’t say I have to be in the top 5. I am here to enjoy myself, for my satisfaction. There is no pressure,” he contends.

Leaving Nantes this morning Desjoyeaux commented on the leg ahead: “There will be a lot of shifts in the wind, it will be quite unsettled with a lot of manoeuvring and trimming, and then the leg itself is a big job. There are so many different options through the islands and round the TSS. It is really about finding the solution which is not the worst, I don’t think there is one best solution.

“That is the goal for this leg. And it is a pleasure to be heading to Kinsale, it is a lovely place and a nice finish. It is a fun boat, although not so much on this leg which will be mostly upwind. My objective here is to try not to be too bad and to be better than I have been in the first races with the boat this year. I am starting to learn the boat and I am starting to get back into this racing programme but I will do the best I can.”

And Alain Gautier, 57, is back on his 18th La Solitaire after racing twice in 2015 and 2014 when he finished 18th and 20th after a ten-year break. Gautier, who scored his first ever leg win into Kinsale in 1987, winning overall in 1989, has named his boat ‘merci pour ces trente ans’ (thanks for the thirty years) - a double edged acknowledgement to sponsors who have supported him over the years and to rival chums Peyron and Desjoyeaux who he calls ‘les enfoirés’ (literally these ‘tossers or assholes’ but veiled as a reference to 1980s French pop collective of that name).

At 553 nautical miles this first leg is the longest yet to be sailed in the new Figaro Bénéteau 3s and the gaps through the fleet are expected to become quite large on this, the most open stage of the four legs which comprise this long awaited 50th edition.

Fans can follow the race on the official website, and through the English language Twitter account, here

Official Rankings at the Radio France Buoy, 2nd June:
1-Morgan Lagravière (Voile d’engagement)
2-Adrien Hardy ((Sans Nature Pas de Future)
3-Gildas Mahé (Breizh Cola)
4-Michel Desjoyeaux (Lumibird)
5-Alexis Loison (Region Normandie)
6-Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019)
7-Yoann Richomme (Helloworld – Groupe Telegramme)
8-Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire)
9-Alain Gautier (Merci Pur Ces 30 Ans)
10-Jérémie Béyou (Charal)

Published in Figaro
Tagged under

Today’s Sunday Business Post will carry a special preview of the first leg of the 50th La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro international race as the skippers set sail from Nantes for Kinsale.

The West Cork stopover this coming week is supported by the newspaper, which is also a title sponsor of second-time Figaro contender Joan Mulloy’s Believe in Grace/BusinessPost.ie.

The Mayo native will be sailing the 600 miles to Kinsale alongside fellow Irish skipper Tom Dolan, on Smurfit Kappa, in the first leg of the renowned offshore solo race that’s been dubbed ‘The Everest of the Seas’.

La Solitare featureThe Sunday Business Post features the race, the Irish skippers competing and the Kinsale stopover

Both are competing in new Beneteau Figaro 3 foiling craft as part of a highly competitive 47-strong fleet alongside several of the world’s top solo sailors.

The fleet is expected to sail into Irish waters on Wednesday 5 June ahead of a four-day stopover with an exciting itinerary of events (see below) expected to draw visitors to Kinsale ahead of next weekend’s SeaFest in nearby Cork Harbour.

Mulloy, whose yacht has been named after her famed ancestor ‘The Pirate Queen’ Gráinne Mhaol, will be supported by Grace O’Malley Irish Whiskey, the official spirit of the Kinsale stopover.

As one of the few women skippers competing in La Solitaire Urgo Le Figaro on an equal basis, Mulloy became the first Irish woman to take part in the race last year

“I’m nervous and yet excited,” Mulloy said, while in Nantes last week preparing to begin her stint in this year’s race. “Training has been intense and these are demanding boats to race.”

Mulloy and Dolan will sail with a small cargo of special gifts given to them From Nantes for the mayors of Cork City and County ahead of the official Grace O’Malley Kinsale Figaro launch event on Friday 7 June.

The gifts mark Cork’s support for the historic stopover, which will coincide with the city’s annual Seafest maritime festival and Ocean Wealth Conference, and is expected to deliver a significant tourism boost to the wider county.

La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro is a high-profile event on the annual racing calendar with a global media reach valued at more than €18 million across print, television, radio and web channels.

Six Irish skippers have competed with distinction in the race over the past 30 years, among them Damian Foxall, Marcus Hutchinson, Paul O’Rian and David Kenefick — all of whom will be celebrated in Kinsale.

Each of the 50 skippers in this year’s La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro will be supported by on-shore crew, including technicians and press officers, during the Kinsale stopover.

In addition to race organisers, this will bring the number of people visiting Kinsale for the stopover to more than 250.

The skippers will depart Kinsale next Sunday 9 June and cross for the Irish Sea before rounding the Isle of Man and returning to France, where they will complete the 630-mile second leg of the month-long race at Roscoff in northern Brittany.

For more info and to track the boats, visit the official website for La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro HERE

Programme of events for Kinsale Stopover

Wednesday 5 June

  • Dock in PM: The first boats to finish in Kinsale are expected sometime late on Wednesday June 5. Come cheer the boats as they finish the race and arrive at Market Square. Track Irish Skippers Joan Mulloy and Tom Dolan on georacing.com.

Thursday 6 June

  • The Figaro Historic Walk will begin at 10.30am at Kinsale Tourist Office. Participants will learn about the French and sailing influences on Kinsale through time.
  • The Musique Trail will begin at 8pm at Kinsale Tourist Office featuring a guided evening of music with participants visiting live music venues and pubs in the town.

Friday 7 June

  • Come aboard the Figaro Cruise on The Quays at 2pm for a spectacular tour of Kinsale Harbour with the opportunity to view the boats from the water.
  • The Grace O’ Malley Pirate Queen Party will celebrate the Figaro Ocean Race Kinsale Stopover. Join us for a night of celebration.

Saturday 8 June

  • The Figaro Feast will take place from 1.30pm to 4pm at Market Square, featuring a sea-feast of amazing food and drinks from well-known eateries and the chance to enjoy the many Figaro-inspired culinary delights on offer.
  • Visitors will have the opportunity to meet the offshore and Irish sailors and hear about their adventures.
  • Two prizes for the best-dressed sailor-themed fancy dress outfits will be on offer for adults and children.

Sunday 9 June

  • Dockout will take place at 11am along the quays. Join the fleet on the water or view from ashore the start spectacle and inshore coastal race from Kinsale to the entrance of Cork Harbour and from Roches Point up the south coast around Tuskar Rock and up the Irish Sea.

For more info, visit TheKinsaleExperienceCompany.com or email [email protected]

Published in Kinsale

Joan Mulloy is set to compete under the black sails of the Irish pirate queen — and fellow Mayo mariner — Grace O’Malley, the Figaro contender has announced.

Following a months-long drive to secure sponsorship for her sophomore Solitaire bid, Mulloy has now inked a deal to ‘Believe in Grace’ and showcase the Grace O’Malley whiskey brand in this year’s race as well as as in further offshore adventures as a solo sailor.

“Celebrating female leadership through rebellious spirit, this brand honours the legend of Grace O’Malley, regarded as one of Ireland’s but the world’s most inspirational and extraordinary female trailblazers,” Mulloy posted on social media today, Monday 20 May.

Joan Mulloy Racing Grace OMalley Thomas Deregnieaux 2

“Like their namesake, who earned her maintenance by land and sea, Grace O’Malley plunders fine spirits from the best of Ireland and worldwide adventures to create something truly special in and from the heart of Co Mayo.”

Mulloy’s most recent race was the Solo Maître Coq, where she placed 45th but not far behind the pack that included another Irish Figaro hopeful, Tom Dolan, in 28th.

Both will be racing in more local waters later this summer when the Solitaire URGO Le Figaro returns to Kinsale for the first time since 2009, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

Published in Solo Sailing
Tagged under

After the heavy going experienced for much of the first two stages of the Sardinha Cup for the brand new Figaro 3 boats, a significant part of the fleet had sustained such serious rig problems that the long-distance Leg 3 has been postponed until the weekend in order to allow round-the-clock working in port at St Gilles Croix de Vie in order to get the boats ocean ready once more.

Ironically, the Bay of Biscay is now experiencing extremely light winds for the time of year, but the strong breezes may have returned when the fleet puts back to sea. Ireland’s Tom Dolan and Damian Foxall on Smurfit Kappa had their own problems when they became enmeshed in fishing gear while well placed during Leg 2, and currently are well down the line with a 13th and a 20th recorded in the two legs sailed, while Joan Mulloy and Mike Golding were early victims of the technical failures and had to put into the nearest port.

Published in Figaro
Page 1 of 4

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 celebrates 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.

The race has previously called to Dingle, Kinsale, Crosshaven, Howth and Dun Laoghaire.

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 will have two Irish boats in the offshore race thanks to Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy who join the rookie ranks and keep the Irish tricolour flying high in France. 

The 2019 course is more Than 2,000 miles between Nantes, Kinsale (Ireland), Roscoff and Dieppe and is the longest in the race's history.

 

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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