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Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan made the solid start he wanted to open the 51st La Solitaire Figaro, the annual French multi-stage solo offshore race when he brought Smurfit Kappa across the finish line on the Baie de Saint Brieuc in 12th place early this morning, only narrowly missing out a top ten finish.

Dolan, 33 who originates from Kells, County Meath, set off from the same bay in Northern Brittany on Sunday in the 35 strong fleet for the 642 nautical miles race around Fastnet Rock. He started with the main objective of giving himself a decent foundation result to build from into the next three stages.

At the end of what is one of the longest legs in terms of distance of the 50 years of La Solitaire the finish was extremely close. The top ten solo skippers finished within 20 minutes of the winner, French ace Xavier Macaire’s elapsed time of 3 days 17 hours and 17 minutes.

In 12th Dolan finished only two minutes and 28 seconds outside the top ten and in good shape for the second leg which starts on Sunday and takes the race to Dunkirk via Wolf Rock off the southwest tip of England.

It is the Irish racer’s best result since the circuit moved into the faster, lighter Beneteau Figaro 3 last year, an initiative which has seen the level of competition and interest rise significantly since Dolan’s career best La Solitaire score, 11th on Stage 3 in his rookie, debut year when racing the Figaro 2.

Tom Dolan at the Fastnet Rock on Tuesday Photo: Thomas NewmanTom Dolan at the Fastnet Rock on Tuesday Photo: Thomas Newman

There was an element of disappointment that he was not able to retain the three-position which he held on the approach to Fastnet on Tuesday evening. A small tactical error allowed three boats to pass inside him during what was a rounding made complicated by the traffic separation no-go areas. And on the fast reach back across the Celtic Sea, he dropped another few places. “They are saying the Fastnet has a special magnetism drawing me there fast on the way there and holding me back sailing away from it.” Quipped a weary-eyed Dolan on the dock in Saint Quay Portrieux after finishing at 06:40:02hrs French time this morning. “Someone joked ‘Well, Tom you were in a hurry to get back to Ireland and not so much of a hurry to get back here to France.”

He was second international sailor to finish, just one minute and 54 seconds behind Briton Sam Goodchild (Leyton).

Dolan concluded, “I lost a bit coming back across the Irish Sea. I had planned to stay to windward of the fleet. I made a stupid mistake with autopilot (left it on wind mode) when I went to sleep one time and ended up losing all that I had gained. I lost a bit at the rock too missing the group coming in from the east and lost eight or nine boats. But I am overall very happy, happy with the speed and it is good to have been up racing with the leaders it is more fun and gives you a bit of confidence.” He added, “On the first night when it was very complicated in the light winds I did OK because I ‘geeked’ the weather, I had really spent a long time doing my homework and from there I was OK.”

The second stage starts Sunday afternoon, 497 miles from Saint Brieuc to Dunkirk via the English coast.

Published in Figaro

After three days of racing, County Meath's Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) was pipped on the line this morning by Britain's Sam Goodchild two seconds, the Irish skipper taking 12th in the first leg of the La Solitaire du Figaro. 

It means Goodchild takes the top international to lead the standings for the VIVI Trophy.  Up in third on the approach to the Fastnet Rock on Sunday, Dolan lost places on the approach but delivers a solid result on which to build some consistency in the next leg.

Dolan said “It was great to see Fastnet and it was nice to be up the front for a bit but I just messed up a bit coming across the Irish Sea. We had all sorts of conditions. The last two years my first legs have been a disaster. But 12th is OK and I am in touch with the leader. But at this stage, it is all about time, not so much about placings.”

Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) crossed the finish line on the Baie de Saint-Brieuc at 06:17:55hrs French time this Thursday morning to win the 642 nautical miles first stage of the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro. His elapsed time is 3 days 17hrs 55mins, finishing only 1 min 35 seconds ahead of second-placed Loïs Berrehar (Bretagne CMB Performance). Alexis Loison (Région Normandie) completed the podium at 7mins and 3 seconds after Macaire.

It is the first-ever stage win for 39-year-old Macaire on a Figaro solo racing career which spans ten years and which includes two overall podiums, second in 2013 and third in 2016.

He was denied a leg victory on the last leg in 2015. After finishing first across the line into Dieppe he was judged to have sailed inside a forbidden zone some 18 miles from the finish and was penalised an hour by the jury.

Macaire is based out of Les Sables d’Olonne and races with the Team Vendée Formation. He took the lead of the 35 boat Figaro Beneteau fleet of solo racers during a very challenging first night in very light and unstable winds and was never passed.

On the quick spinnaker return from the Fastnet lighthouse, the midpoint of the stage which was rounded on Tuesday evening, Macaire retained almost metronomic consistency when under constant pressure from the chasing pack he held his ground to secure the narrowest of victories this morning.

The final miles into the finish line of Saint-Quay-Portrieux had all the intensity of an inshore championship finale, Macaire covered young pretender Loïs Berrehar, 27, through a dogged match race in a lightening breeze but the older sailor prevailed by just one minute and 35 seconds.

Macaire said on the dock in Saint-Quay-Portrieux, " What a relief! The finish was quite tense, because the more we approached the line, the more the wind eased, I saw everyone getting closer and closer, I was really scared of getting caught and losing this victory just on the line. I've been waiting for it for a long time, for this stage victory, I visualised the others with the champagne and was wondering if I will ever make it after winning before and being downgraded on jury, this time it’s for me, for real! "

On what is his first La Solitaire stage in the new Figaro Beneteau 3 design introduced last year Britain’s Sam Goodchild finished in 11th place, after lying eighth for much of the second half of the leg he lost three places in the final miles to the line, but is pleased with his result, finishing within 20 minutes of the winner who heads a very tightly packed Top 12.

Goodchild reported “I made a few mistakes which cost me time here and there which I can do better next time, but on the whole, I think I sailed pretty well. It was not very easy weather conditions but I just think if I did some things a bit tidier and easier but that is my first Figaro back in six years, my first in the Figaro 3 and so these are not big surprises to me. I am within 20 minutes at the end of the leg so that is not too bad. It is funny to race so hard for days and earn 10 miles of advance on people and then finish within minutes of them but that is the Figaro. I lost these silly places and times. During the race, I had some seaweed around the keel which everyone gets but I faffed around not sailing properly, I should have got rid of it, stopped the boat and gone backwards and got on with it. And I was not so clear on the weather and my choices and spent too long zigging and zagging around. I did not fully manage the weather properly.”

As top international to lead the standings for the VIVI Trophy, he pipped Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) on the line by two seconds.

On his return to La Solitaire for the first time for four years, Australia/Britain’s Jack Bouttell (Gillot Fromagerie) was 25thafter being up to 19th. Having been 37 miles behind the leader on Tuesday in 31st place morning Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) made a decent recovery in terms of time behind the leader. As Macaire crossed Roberts was 3.7 miles behind to finish 28th with a deficit of 1 hour 1 minute behind the winner. He finished just ahead of compatriot Phil Sharp (OceansLab) who was 29th.

Among those who recovered best was Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019) who marched through the fleet to seventh after rounding Fastnet 21st, nearly 10 miles behind Macaire at the turn for home.

Finish order, before jury, of the first stage of La Solitaire du Figaro (642 miles) : All times French local.

1. Xavier MACAIRE (Groupe SNEF), finished at 6h17’55 after 3 days 17 hours17 minutes and 55 seconds
2. Loïs BERREHAR (Bretagne CMB Performance), finished at 6h19’30 after3 days17 hours19 minutes and 30 seconds (at 1’35’’ from first )
3. Alexis LOISON (Région Normandie), finished at 6h24’58’’ after 3 days17 hours 24 minutes and 58 seconds (at 7’03’’ from first )
4. Armel LE CLÉAC’H (Banque Populaire), finished at 6h28’15 after 3 days 17 hours 28 minutes and 15 seconds (at 10’20’’ from first )
5. Fabien DELAHAYE (Laboratoires Gilbert), finished at 6h30’50’‘ (at 12’55’’ from first
6. Tom LAPERCHE (Bretagne CMB Espoir), finished at 6h31’26’‘ (at 13’ 31"from first )
7. Pierre QUIROGA (Skipper Macif 2019), finished at 6h33’15’‘ (at 15’20” from first )
8. Tanguy LE TURQUAIS (Groupe Quéguiner - Innoveo), finished at 6h36’48’‘ (at 18’53"from first)
9. Corentin DOUGUAND(NF Habitat), finished at 6h37’04” (at19’09” from first )
10.Fred DUTHIL (Technique Voile / CabinandBourhis Generali), finished at 6h37’36” (at19’41” from first )
11. Sam GOODCHILD (Leyton), finished at 6h38’08’‘ (at 20’13” from first ) (1st for Vivi Trophy)
12. Tom DOLAN (Smurfit Kappa), finished at 6h40’02’‘ (at 22’7” from first )
13. Eric PÉRON (French Touch), finished at 6:41:20 (at23’25” from first )
14. Yann ELIÈS (Quéguiner Matériaux - Leucémie Espoir), finished at 6:41:46 (at23’51” from first)
15. Pierre LEBOUCHER (Guyot Environnement), finished at 6:43:19 (at25’24’’ from first )
16. Martin LE PAPE (Fondation Stargardt), finished at 06:45:15
17. Achille NEBOUT (Be Green Ocean), finished at 06:46:12
18. Adrien HARDY (Ocean Attitude), finished at 06:46:35
19. Gildas MAHE (Breizh Cola), finished at 06:48:48
20. Anthony MARCHAND (Groupe Royer - Secours Populaire), finished at 06:53:44
21. Nils PALMIERI (TeamWork), finished at 06:55:36
22. Benoit MARIETTE (Génération Senioriales), finished at 06:56:06
23. Violette DORANGE (Devenir), arrivée à 06:59:37
24. Elodie BONAFOUS (Bretagne CMB Oceane), arrivée à 07:01:20
25. Jack BOUTTELL (Fromagerie Gillot), finished at 07:08:49
26. Alberto BONA (Sebago), finished at 07:09:05
27. Marc MALLARAND(CER Occitanie), finished at 07:14:16
28. Alan ROBERTS (Seacat Services), finished at 07:14:17
29. Phil SHARP(OceansLab), finished at 07:18:07
30. Kevin BLOCH (Team Vendee Formation), finished at 07:27:33
31. Erwan LE DRAOULEC (Skipper MACIF 2020), finished at 07:29:4032. Robin FOLLIN (Ville de Sainte-Maxime), finished at 07:37:58
33. Robin Marais (Ma chance Moi aussi), finished at 07:43:35

Published in Figaro

Passing the iconic rock in his home waters in seventh place casts out some of the ghosts of La Solitaires past for Tom Dolan. The Irish sailor was third for most of the passage across the Celtic Sea but dropped places being too high on the line approaching Fastnet letting three boats slide inside him.

That said the 33-year-old sailor from Kells, County Meath has shown again that head to head he can match speeds with the best of the fleet sprinting across the Celtic Sea in moderate 12-15kts southwesterly winds. Until the corner at Fastnet, he lived up to his billing in France, as the ‘Irlandais Volant’ (Flying Irishman).

In 2018 when the opening leg of the race was heading to the Baie de Saint Brieuc, Dolan had to motor there from Le Havre, forced out of the leg by a damaged spreader root. Dolan was up to second, 1.1 mile behind the leader Macaire during this afternoon, but soon became another prey for the ‘Jackal’ as two times, overall winner, Armel Le Cléac’h Le Cléac’h is known.

French skipper Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) led the 35 strong fleet round the Fastnet Rock at 1830hrs local time Ireland this Tuesday evening. The 39 year old skipper from the Team Vendée Formation, who has never won a stage, has been in the lead since very early yesterday morning. He passed the half way point of Stage 1 of the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro in a modest ten to 11 knot southwesterly breeze with a very slender lead.

Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) turned round the iconic rocky lighthouse within clear sigh of rival Macaire, half a mile behind, it marked the conclusion of a spectacular recovery, rising to chase the leader’s stern at the turn, in the space of 24 hours coming back from 22nd and 20 miles behind the leader

Le Cléac’h – who takes weather strategy advice from Dutch ace Marcel Van Triest - as did last year’s leg and overall winner Yoann Richomme - clawed back fully 10 miles and nine places as he took a more northerly route at the Scillies TSS, cutting inside the fleet on the corner entering the Celtic Sea.

The Vendée Globe winner’s track gained him more wind pressure and speed and, as he passed the rock which he first encountered on a Figaro race in 2001, Le Cléac’h is back in the game in a very strong position to challenge for the fifth stage win on his career.

As is so often the case the passage into and out of the Fastnet brings all the leading contenders within close sight of each other, the top ten sailors all within two miles of leader Macaire. The passage, leaving the mark to port proved a very tight turn as the fleet skirted the very edge of the forbidden traffic separation zone to their east and there were opportunities to gain and lost places.

Passing the iconic rock in his home waters in seventh place casts out some of the ghosts of La Solitaires past for Tom Dolan. The Irish sailor was third for most of the passage across the Celtic Sea but dropped places being too high on the line approaching Fastnet letting three boats slide inside him.

That said the 33 year old sailor from Kells, County Meath has shown again that head to head he can match speeds with the best of the fleet sprinting across the Celtic Sea in moderate 12-15kts southwesterly winds. Until the corner at Fastnet he lived up to his billing in France, as the ‘Irlandais Volant’ (Flying Irishman).

In 2018 when the opening leg of the race was heading to the Baie de Saint Brieuc, Dolan had to motor there from Le Havre, forced out of the leg by a damaged spreader root. Dolan was up to second, 1.1 mile behind the leader Macaire during this afternoon, but soon became another prey for the ‘Jackal’ as Le Cléac’h has been known as.

For all the 35 skippers now the big challenge is managing themselves on a fast reach back to Saint Quay Portrieux where they left Sunday afternoon. The quick reaching will require long hours at the helm to maximise speed whilst still considering a light winds finish is forecast where the fleet is expected to compress significantly in the final miles to the line.

Race veteran Gildas Morvan, with 22 La Solitaires to his credit, observed in his lunchtime analysis today: “In the standings, Xavier Macaire and Corentin Douguet are leading the way, their trajectories are exemplary, they have sailed well right from the start, they are the ones who set the pace, they are quite impressive, these old guys still have it! The young guns of Crédit Mutuel Bretagne (Tom Laperche and Loïs Berrehar) are not very far behind, they keep up the pressure, we will see who will be the strongest on the return leg, because we will have to let go and push hard. Even on a pure speed drag race there are still options.”

Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is still very much in the leading group in 13th place at 2.5 miles behind Macaire. Goodchild lost places on the final approach to the turn but gained back distance on the leader as the fleet compacted. His compatriot and long time Class 40 rival Phil Sharp (OceansLab) is 16th. Sharp is alongside Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire) who won the first stage into Saint Quay in 2018. But this duo have a three miles gap to make up to the next boat.

On his first La Solitaire since 2015 when he was tenth overall Jack Bouttell (Gillot Fromagerie) is in 22nd place and reported “Physically I am pretty good I would say, the first night was pretty tough with the light winds zone, obviously I got through it better than I thought I did, but to be 17 miles behind first place is quite a long way back and disappointing. I am hoping to catch up some miles in the next few days. I think the strategy I had was opposite to what happened I did no really understand what went on, I was not in the right place and I struggled a bit with upwind speed. I think with that and a combination of things I did not end up in the best place. The wind was meant to drop from the front of the fleet and not the back and in the end the further back you were the worse you were. The rich got richer. I t should be good now with some faster sailing in the next few hours, to Fastnet, The breeze is a bit more left than forecast and so I hope it goes right again. I don’t really know where the leading group are. I think the we are quite lined up now. The front I don’t know where they are.”

Tracking

Published in Figaro

Ireland's solo sailor Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) is in third position as the 35-boat La Solitaire du Figaro race to the Fastnet Rock off the County Cork. 

Dolan left the Baie de Saint Brieuc start line on Sunday with one avowed intention to exorcise the ghosts of the two 'disastrous' first legs which ruined both of his first two La Solitaire du Figaro.

In 2018 he was forced back to Le Havre when a spreader root failed less than one hour after the start - he did not even make it to the first buoy - while last year he was one of many who went west on the beat to Fastnet and he finished many hours after the winners.

Lying third the 33-year-old from County Meath who has based himself in Concarneau for 11 years and has finished fourth in the MiniTransat is making a decent fist of the first part of this stage, best of the eight international, non-French sailors, just 1.2 miles behind Macaire and seemingly well established within this main peloton.

The current Figaro leaderboard showing Ireland's Tom Dolan lying thirdThe current Figaro leaderboard showing Ireland's Tom Dolan lying third

After the first night at sea which proved painfully slow and frustrating at times, the leaders on the 642 nautical miles Stage 1 of La Solitaire du Figaro had got their noses into the first of a forecasted new southerly breeze and by mid-afternoon this Monday, some 27 hours after the start, the pacemakers were intermittent periods of promising speeds, back up to 7knots.

French skipper Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) has led the 35 solo skippers since 0530hrs this morning, a middle track close to the most direct, shortest course proving most profitable. The 39- year-old from the Team Vendee Formation training group already has two overall podiums to his credit, second in 2013 and third in 2015, but in nine previous challenges has not yet won a stage.

Leading the fleet out of The Channel approaches this afternoon he had stretched from 0.3 to 0.7 nautical miles ahead of Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) over a 90 minute period. The fleet are contemplating the passage of the Scillies and tonight and choose their passage around the forbidden zones marked by the Traffic Separation Schemes there.

Into the second night, the breeze was expected to build to present a rich-get-richer scenario for those in the vanguard of the fleet, gennaker reaching in 13-16kts of breeze towards the Fastnet, which is just under 200 miles from Macaire this afternoon.

Tracking

Published in Figaro

Tom Dolan has had a great start to the 51st La Solitaire Du Figaro, the County Meath man's third attempt at the solo marathon race.  Dolan is lying in seventh place this morning, mixing it with the all-important top ten and just two miles behind the early fleet leader. Rookie rival Kenny Rumball from Dublin is lying in 28th place after the first night of an estimated one month of racing ahead over four legs. The first leg includes a voyage to Ireland and a rounding of West Cork's Fastnet Rock.

The 35 solo sailors who started the 642 nautical miles first stage of La Solitaire du Figaro on Bay of Saint Brieuc on France's northwesterly Channel coast enjoyed a spirited send off in perfect 15-18 knot northerly winds.

With sunshine threatening to finally split the leaden skies, the lone skippers set their course for Fastnet Rock, 300-odd nautical miles to their west- north-west, knowing that the first 24 hours of the out-and-back passage, will be battling through a ridge of complicated light winds in strong tides. This first night may yet prove decisive not just in terms of the first stage results but the whole four leg race.

France's Tom Laperche (Team Bretagne CMB Espoir), who won the Solo Maitre Coq and was second in the Drheam Cup, was leading the fleet on the beat out of the bay towards the turn left turn where sheets would be eased. Britain's solo skippers made solid rather than spectacular starts, Phil Sharp (OceansLab) recovering quickly back into the fleet after being called as being over the start line before the gun.

Solidarity between skippers in the Figaro fleet is well known in the world of sailing and it was exhibited again when Gildas Mahe (Breizh Cola), runner up last year and local favourite on his home waters, tore his mainsail doing an emergency gybe to avoid a collision with another boat crossing his path. Friend and rival Xavier Macaire immediately proposed to lend him a previous mainsail of his Groupe SNEF. With the rapid response and collaboration of other support teams Mahe had the replacement set. He reached the start on time keeping intact his aspirations of winning Stage 1.

As the fleet negotiate the rocky north Brittany, English Channel coast this evening and into the night ortherly wind is due to fade, heralding the arrival of a high pressure ridge of very light, unstable and unpredictable winds.

See Tracker here

Published in Figaro

Dublin's Kenny Rumball and Meath's Tom Dolan can expect a fairly fast, long, and open 642 nautical miles first leg, to the Fastnet and back, in the first challenge for the 35 solo sailors who embark on the 51st edition of La Solitaire du Figaro from noon (or 1300hrs local time) today (Sunday) on the Baie-de-Saint-Brieuc.

Experienced La Solitaire observers and competing sailors alike all agree that there are no standout favourites for the podium places on what promises to be an all-consuming, very complete test of the solo sailors’ skills. The course this year is a good mix of open offshore sailing and coastal Channel style racing. There there are probably fifteen sailors in the fleet who might have realistic aspirations to finish in the top three.

Kenneth Rumball (RL Sailing)Kenneth Rumball (RL Sailing) Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Irish Rookie Ready to Rumball

Ireland’s newcomer Kenneth Rumball comes to La Solitaire not as the realisation of any longstanding ambition or desire for a big sailing adventure but very much as a means to an end.

He is one of the first of what is expected to be a growing number of international sailors moving to the Figaro Beneteau 3 as one of the best pathways into double-handed offshore racing. An accomplished offshore racer and skipper from Dun Laoghaire on Dublin Bay, his original plan was a programme to get to the Mixed Double Handed Offshore Worlds with Irish Figaro racer Joan Mulloy. 

The Irish qualification trials were to have been in the Figaro at the Solo Concarneau due to have been in May. Mulloy subsequently withdrew as she is expecting a baby at the end of this month and so Pam Lee joined.

They did one week’s training before the COVID-19 lockdown and the double-handed worlds were cancelled.

“So I was left looking at the season wondering what to do then, I did not want to waste the season and to get better at shorthanded and solo offshore sailing this is what you do.” Recalls Rumball, 33, who is a qualified accountant and pro sailor who runs the Irish National Sailing and Powerboat School and a commercial division Irish National Marine Services.

While the ‘Bizuth’ division, competing for the rookie prize, is hotly contested usually the rookies have come from solo racing in other classes such as the Mini650 or Class 40. But Rumball’s actual first solo race was the Solo Maitre CoQ three months ago and then the Solo Concarneau earlier this month.

Predictably he feels light on training with the fleet or a group. As soon as the lockdown was lifted in Ireland they took their boat back to Ireland and practised for five weeks to get used to the boat handling skills from late May until 16th June then he went to France and straight into the Solo Maitre Coq.

He made the lockdown work, though, doing French lessons, building up fitness and doing meteo lectures with Christian Dumard.

“To some degree, we really made it good for us. We were stuck at home but did a lot to prepare ourselves for being here.” Rumball recalls

“I am still a vertical learning curve. As a sailor I know I can get the boat to the Fastnet and back. I can do that. But getting the boat to the Fastnet and back and be racing in the fleet is a different thing entirely. But the whole objective is to finish, to get to the end and have learned and to enjoy it, a bit, and experience the French scene.”

“If you were to ask, yes, Olympic selection is the long term goal.” He acknowledges, “But it is one step at a time, but there are other sailors here agree, like Tom and Alan Robert agree that this is the best place to be to get better.”

Rumball has had excellent help from North Sails in Ireland who have in turn ensured he has had good help and service from North Sails in France, so the Irish skipper has built some confidence in his speed and his set up. 

Tom Dolan (SMURFIT KAPPA) Tom Dolan (SMURFIT KAPPA) Photo: Yvan Zedda

Dolan Looking For Solid First Leg

Rumball’s Irish compatriot Tom Dolan’s two previous challenges on La Solitaire du Figaro have found the Irish sol racer fighting back after massively disappointing first legs. So while he might harbour high hopes of a finish in the top fifteen of this year’s 35 boat fleet, 33-year-old Dolan who is from County Meath but has lived in Concarneau for 11 years, is looking strictly short term, aiming to sail a solid, assured first leg to build on.

“I want to do a good first leg. That is the dream. The first two years my first legs have been a disaster. Last year I was in the west on the first leg (to Kinsale) and came in six or seven hours after the leaders. So right now I am just looking to do a good first leg and then take it from there.” Dolan says resolutely.

When last year was all about learning the boat and compressing as much training in as possible before the start, the skipper of Smurfit Kappa has taken time to significantly improve his strength and stamina and to bolster his mental toughness.

“I have worked with the fitness coach in Concarneau three times a week and I really notice the difference. Don’t get me wrong I did stuff before, but it really was not enough of a priority. It came after the boat work and sailing, way down the list. And I really do notice the fatigue taking longer to affect me.” He says.

He has also worked on keeping to his game plan more and not letting frustration boil over into making risky decisions. Racing the Drheam Cup two-handed with Mini Transat winner François Jambou gave him the chance to focus solely on his strategic decision making.

Multi-Stage competition

The annual multi-stage race increasingly seems to reward the racer who makes fewest mistakes over the entire course as last year’s winner Yoann Richomme showed. Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) at 46 years old is gilt-edged podium contender, who was fourth last year and who starts the race for the 11th time notes sagely, "It's the real constant on La Solitaire, there are fifteen skippers starting out with a legitimate claim to the podium. As there are only three places, each time there are twelve disappointed skippers every year. In essence, you are trying not to be one of those. And it’s not easy. This is what gives the stage podiums and the general classification a special flavour. "

"Nobody really stands out this year, there are more than ten of us who could win it and that promises a great battle on the water.” Observes Anthony Marchand, 33, skipper of Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire, who became the local hero when he won Stage 1 into his native Baie de Saint-Brieuc in 2018 on the 49th edition, before going on to finish runner-up to Sébastien Simon.

Top picks for the podium include 23 year old Tom Laperche of the Bretagne CMB Espoir team who has been in the medals at all three warm up events. Also Pierre Quiroga who will turn 28 years old during the race who is on the Skipper Macif programme - which produced four times podium finisher Charlie Dalin and Vendée Globe winner François Gabart, whose MerConcept ecurie manages the Macif programme. Quiroga won the Solo Concarneau earlier this month, was fourth in the Solo Maitre Coq and fourth in the Drheam Cup. And Briton Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is among those tipped for the podium, returning to the Solitaire after a six year absence.

International interest is justifiably at a high as British sailors have finished on the podium in all three of the preliminary Figaro Beneteau 3 races of a foreshortened season. Goodchild lies second in the French Elite Offshore Championship after taking a second and a victory preceded Alan Roberts’ second in the Solo Concarneau race earlier this month.

But the shorter 350 to 450 miles warm-up races are a different level of challenge to the renowned La Solitaire which aggregates elapsed time over more than 1820 miles of mind blowingly intense solo racing.

Yann Eliès, who is one of three skippers local to the Baie de Saint-Brieuc, starts La Solitaire for the 19th time and if he won would be the first sailor to amass four overall wins. Despite his excellent racing record in the Figaro and IMOCA and his obvious marketability Eliès could neither find a major sponsor to back his Vendée Globe challenge nor indeed to mount a top drawer Figaro challenge this year. He is helped out by previous supporter Groupe Queguiner. At 44 Eliès says the physical challenge of the new Figaro Beneteau 3 is telling over the course of the entire race. Of the possibility of stepping clear of the other four three times winners, Poupon, Le Cam, Desjoyeaux, and Beyou. Eliès says, “It really is a big ask but it is always possible. Everything needs to fall into place. At 44 there is now a physical dimension to it that maybe wasn’t there before.”

He acknowledges. “To be honest I would be happy to be in the top five.”

As he starts his 12th La Solitaire du Figaro two times winner Armel Le Cléac’h remains tight lipped about his own prospects of joining the elite circle of triple victors. The skipper of Bank Populaire was tenth last year, one of the many big names drawn back to the race by the introduction of the Figaro Beneteau 3, and this race is his one main focus of the season.

“ I'm not fixated on that third win,” Le Cléac’h asserts, “Iif it is meant to come it will, but that's not my target at all, My goal is to sail well stage by stage and make as few mistakes as possible, like the winner Yoann Richomme last year. We'll do the count up at the end. I have concentrated 100% on this, in reality it is the second major sailing event of the year in world sailing along with the Vendée Globe. That’s why I’m really happy that the race is taking place. We have a good field and the race is going to be as demanding as any other year. Now, I will just take is one stage at a time I will not set myself clear objectives, the goal will be to make as few mistakes as possible. I made them last year, some cost me dearly, now it is up to me to be more consistent.”

Stage 1 is an open sea leg to the Fastnet. At 497 miles Stage 2 starts with open waters racing to Wolf Rock to the south-west of Land’s End but them moves east up the Channel to Dunkirk. Five hundred and four miles of Stage 3 tests coastal sailing and navigation passing westwards down the Channel, round the rocky, tidal tip of Brittany through the Raz de Sein to the entrance to the Loire estuary before a final 24 hour sprint out of Saint Nazaire of 183 miles.

At an estimated four days duration Stage 1 is the longest opening leg for many years, likely to finish Thursday afternoon. It not only has the propensity to be shape the whole race if the finishing deltas are opened wide by light winds and a change of tide but with the second stage start due on Sunday there is very limited recovery time after a long opener.

As ever from Sunday’s start gun the pressure will be relentess. Fastnet is the only mark of the course leaving the strategic options wide open. Northerly winds of 12 to 15 knots are expected at the start but the fleet will have to negotiate light winds in a ridge of high pressure off the NW corner of France. The new south-westerly breeze will fill from the left side of the course giving fast reaching before negotiating two frontal systems and the northwesterly winds towards ‘the rock’ which is Ireland’s most southerly point. But the high pressure ridge is expected to compress the fleet again as they return to the Channel which would ensure the fleet is compressed again. Maximum windspeed through the fronts is expected to be around 25knots during what Briton Alan Roberts considers a ‘boatspeed, reaching leg.’

“Whoever gets out of the light winds and into the new south westerly first will profit. Getting furthest west as quick as possible might be the key but it is how and where you cross the ridge that will be key, going to the south or north, after that there is the decision where to pass the TSS, passing to the south at the Scillies or north.” Says Roberts (Seacat Services), “It should be quite straightforward after that a boatspeed reaching test really except at the finish a calm is expected so it won't be over until the finish”.

Follow the start live on the website www.lasolitaire.com with commentary and live images in French. Race start is 1300hrs CET, (1200hrs BST)

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Published in Figaro

Eight of the 35 solo skippers who will start the 51st edition of La Solitaire du Figaro on the Bay of Saint Brieuc on Sunday are not French natives and so are eligible to compete for the Vivi Trophy which was inaugurated last year.

Representing Ireland are Tom Dolan, 33, (Smurfit Kappa), on his third La Solitaire, and race rookie Kenneth Rumball, 33, (RL Sailing) who has already written about his expectations this week on Afloat here.

GBR fields Alan Roberts, 30 (Seacat Services) who starts his seventh La Solitaire, Sam Goodchild, 30, (Leyton) who is on his fifth race, and Phil Sharp, 39, (Ocean Lab) and Jack Boutell, 29, (Fromagerie Gillot) who is half Australian. Italy has Alberto Bona, 33, (Sebago) and race rookie Nils Palmieri, 33, carries Swiss colours.

]The last ten years or so have seen high hopes of a British podium finish. But this second season of the new foil-assisted Figaro Beneteau 3 now sees strength and depth to the British challenge, one which is leant real credibility thanks to three GBR podium finishes in this season’s races so far.

On form Goodchild, in his first year in the new class, backed up a second in the Solo Maitre Coq by winning the Drheam Cup while Roberts took second in the recent Solo Concarneau Guy Cotten. Add in an excellent ninth place in that race by Bouttell, earned just days after stepping into the boat for the first time and there is some justification for high hopes.

All three very experienced and successful Brits Goodchild, Bouttell and Sharp come back to the race each after a long break, similarly drawn to the challenge of the new one design class and the high technical level offered by the multi-stage race which is the toughest annual challenge in solo offshore racing.

Six years on from his last La Solitaire this season Goodchild has impressed the top French cognoscenti and has been tipped as a possible podium finisher overall. He did four back to back La Solitaires aged 20-24, stopping in 2014 after his best result 11th in 2013. The intervening period has seen him amass substantial experience as an in-demand first choice crew on Ultime and Maxi multihulls such as Spindrift and Sodebo and Multi70s as well as Class40 successes which culminated in his second on last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre.

Goodchild has a good programme backed by Leyton who are one of the more active new sponsors in sailing and admits he has the skills and the tools to win.
“I am not sure I rank myself as one of the favourites.” Goodchild smiles in Saint Quay Portrieux, “ But, honestly, any pressure comes from me and me wanting to do well. I know that if I can do well then it will only do good things for me, it would make getting a bigger project and going further easier. This is why we go sailing, to win. When I was in the Figaro before I was looking to the top 10, now I have won an event and come second in two very different styles of event, one tactical and one boatspeed. It is encouraging but there is more to it than that.”

Goodchild has not been carried away by his successes this season, “My biggest weakness is that there are so many conditions I have not sailed in, but the light is difficult because it is hard to get a gauge, a feel, in light winds the winds are not very stable and you need a lot more time to know what works and what doesn’t. In the Figaro 2 you could always go at the same speed, now you can go a knot or two knots faster by driving, and now there are times when you can only lose 0.2 of a knot to go to sleep.”

He has fast tracked his learning of the new boat with the help of guru Pascal Bidégorry.
“I have managed to short cut to a lot of what people spent last year learning, Pascal came on board and said ‘this works, that doesn’t, it’s worth looking at this and not this’, he sailed with several boats and is a ‘details’ man. I thought I looked at the details until I met Pascal.”

He feels he is a more ‘complete’ sailor learning from some of the best, “I don’t think anyone is the perfect sailor. Sailing with Pascal, sailing with Brian Thompson, sailing with Thomas Coville, sailing with Rob Greenhalgh, when you sail with a bunch of really good guys I have had the good fortune to sail with, you put the pieces together and learn. And if all five of these good guys think the same things are important then you learn from that, you learn so much.”

Meantime Goodchild’s aim is not a number but to finish with no regrets. “It would be nice to finish and think I sailed as well as I could. It would be nice to come away with no regrets. I have the tools to win for sure, but on a race like this the stars do need to align a bit, I feel like I have a capacity to win, I have the boatspeed and I have the nav, I have made some good calls and some bad calls but that will always be the case on this race, I am capable of winning but there are many more here who are capable of winning.”

Back after four years, Bouttell

Three weeks and two days ago the thought of doing La Solitaire du Figaro had not even crossed Jack Bouttell’s mind. But the 29-year-old Guidel, Brittany based Volvo Ocean Race winning sailor, who describes himself as ‘half British, half Aussie’ will be on the start line Sunday, lining up for his fourth La Solitaire armed with a very competitive, well-prepped boat belonging to his Team Dongfeng crewmate, three times La Solitaire winner Jérémie Beyou.

When The Ocean Race was postponed recently Bouttell, whose La Solitaire best is tenth overall and was first rookie in his first edition, found himself looking for a sailing challenge.

“I wanted to go sailing. I was having one beer with Alan Roberts and he said ‘why not do La Solitaire?’ and that was it. I spoke with Jérémie and because it was a last-minute charter the price is acceptable. The boat has a new set of sails to do The Transat AG2R and obviously it was cancelled. It has fallen together quite nicely, but look last-minute stuff really is not my style. I prefer to have more time to prepare. It is a cool challenge, I have to look at the big picture and not get worried by the small details, remember what things are important.”
But Bouttell’s first race in the Figaro Beneteau 3 went well, in a craft he rather bluntly describes as ‘…..a boat after all.”

“I had done a few days sailing in the boat so I struggled a lot in the first 24 hours basically getting my head back into racing in this class, where small mistakes become big mistakes become disasters as they do in this class, but I got back into it in the first 24 hours, and then I got into it. I lacked a bit of speed upwind and so lost a few places coming into the finish. This is obviously a bigger event with more boats.”

Some three weeks after the idea dropped to become reality he is on the race dock making final prep, “I don’t think I have really thought about it yet. It has not really sunk in that I am here. It is really cool to be here doing something in my own right. The Figaro is where I had my first start back in 2013. Last time I did it my objective was the top 10 and I made it. It is such a cool race and these are cool boats because there are so many ways to sail it. When I was in the Figaro before it was so refined it was ‘you sail it like this’ and that was it and if you didn’t you were nowhere. This is a more open ball game. There are so many more options.” He adds, “I feel good. I am back to my roots. I enjoy the class, it is super professional high level. I would like to get a good result, finishing in the top half would be good, I am saying that publicly but I am aiming higher.”

And he chuckles, “Who would have thought an Aussie who grew up in Britain and now lives in France is here racing the top French solo race with a French cheese sponsor. It is amazing.”
But he drills down to the core of solo racing, “More experience removes stress. Singlehanded sailing is about managing stress, that is it. If you are going fast you need to manage it. Having done a Volvo and spending three weeks in the Southern Ocean, all the things you go through in that project, I keep going through those days in my head…’is it worse than that day, no it’s not, carry on then and get on with it!”

Sharp back nine years on

Nine years after his one and only La Solitaire du Figaro Phil Sharp is now armed with bucketloads of hard-earned offshore experience, multiple successes and a real chance of the top ten overall finish which he is aiming for.

The 39-year-old Jersey solo racer who is now based in La Rochelle, France and who won back-to-back World Championship titles in Class 40 stepped into the Figaro Beneteau 3 fleet at the start of this season looking to improve his level and to test himself in the toughest proving ground in solo racing. He has shown well in the early and middle stages of the races he has done, finishing 22nd in the Solo Concarneau Guy Cotton and 16th in the Solo Maitre Coq. With a limited background in the Figaro class, he is very much back in the class to learn and improve from the intensity and a very different style of racing to what he has been used to.

“The competition here is incredible, up against the likes of Yann Eliès and (Vendée Globe winner) Armel Le Cléac’h. This gives you a reference point to know where you at, it gives you a proper real structured training platform and it offers an incredible improvement curve, the amount I have improved over the last few months is really good. It is not easy to see in terms of results because it takes time to turn that into consistency but it has been rewarding to be part of.”

“What is interesting is looking at the level of the skippers and their experience of this racing. But that does not phase me, I relish the competition and do better if I have very highly skilled people around me, that brings out the best in me. After coming from podiums in Class40 to getting a bit of a kicking here it is a bit a of shock. But it makes sense and I am here to improve.”

Sharp joined the group in Lorient in the winter and then joined Saint Gilles training group near his home in La Rochelle where the best of that group is Xavier Macaire. “Since my first race I have focused on my weaknesses. I struggled for reaching speed and have worked on my sail trim and before I really struggled for control in strong downwind conditions. I took the rudders off to find them completely misaligned. The axes were more than five degrees off from the stock of the rudder. Since then the boat does not stall out as much. First of all to have confidence in yourself you have to have confidence in the boat and that has taken a bit of time.”

“ I am happy, the boat feels good, the sails are good, I am happy with what I have. But I am not here to do the Figaro year in year out. There are more exciting boats, more exciting ocean races out there to do. This for me is the ultimate training camp to push myself. I think I will do this year and then see how it goes, but it can be quite addictive!”

He is clear on his target, “I am aiming for the top ten. That is probably optimistic as there are probably ten guys here who can win it, but I believe in aiming high. I am used to offshore. Figaro racing is really stop, start and you have to find a rhythm and then you are back on land recovering, that is what I struggled with in 2011. On a Transatlantic race, it is about getting into your 24-hour routine, with the Figaro you have to push harder, you are getting much less sleep and then you have to recover as best you can.”

Published in Figaro

From what proved to be a very closely fought, light winds psychological roller coaster Ireland’s Tom Dolan returned a solid, middle of the fleet 14th place in the Solo Concarneau Trophée Guy Cotten which finished Saturday.

For Kenny Rumball, Ireland's second entry in the solo race, it was a tough debut before September's Figaro Race.

After two days and three hundred nautical miles of racing Dolan on Smurfit Kappa finished 32 minutes after race winner Pierre Quiroga on Skipper Macif 2019.

Dolan was especially pleased that he had stuck rigidly to his pre-race plan and had not allowed his concentration to be derailed early in the offshore race when he found himself deep in the pack.

Between four and five hours after Thursday’s start Dolan had to stop Smurfit Kappa, to back up to try and remove clumps of weed off his appendages. In the end he had no alternative than to dive in and pull the weed clear.

“I lost about ten places and then was pretty much last but I really did not let it upset me and just stayed cool knowing opportunities would come my way. I really stuck to what I knew was my strategy, my road book and everything just worked out progressively. So 14th may not be brilliant but I am very pleased that I held it together and that gives me a lot of confidence for La Solitaire.” Dolan reported.

“It was pretty light all the way, never more than 13 kts at any point in the race. One thing now with these boats is that until they get a bit lively at 14kts of windspeed everyone is pretty much going at the same speeds now. It is so much down to the little things which are making a difference here and there around the course.” Dolan recalls, “I am happy this time not to have made any stupid mistakes. In this case, I could have done better but it was one of those races you could have sailed really well and still done worse than 14th.”

Looking ahead to La Solitaire du Figaro which starts 30th August in the Baie de Saint Brieuc, Dolan feels he is in decent shape, “I will do a little work on the boat between then and now and I’d maybe like just a bit more reaching speed but I am happy with the way I am sailing and the choices I am making. You can spend days looking for the perfect sail shape or tenths of a knot here and there but if you go the wrong way or lose your focus when it goes wrong then that is worth nothing. So I am pleased with my mental preparation and can’t wait for La Solitaire.” He concludes

Published in Figaro
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Irish solo sailors Kenneth Rumball and Tom Dolan are both looking for the advantage in this afternoon’s Solo Concarneau race, the final warm-up event before the 1830 miles, four-stage La Solitaire du Figaro which takes place at the end of this month.

Rumball is a Figaro rookie and among six novices into this year’s race. Today’s 270-miler represents the Dubliner's third event in the foiling Figaro3. A full list of the 32 entries is here

Similar to the Drheam Cup start a fortnight ago, light winds are expected around the 1500hrs start time and are likely to prevail at least through the first part of the race.

Dolan, has given some predictions for the Solo Concarneau and claims to have a new magic race strategy, read more here

Hervé Gautier (Race Director) has detailed the conditions of the course: "We launch them on course 3, the 270 nautical mile route that takes them to the Green Stones to go down to the buoy of South Guérande. The first part of the course will definitely be pretty soft, with less than 5 knots expected on the starting area and the first evening. After Penmarch passes, a thermal wind will settle down. The descent to Yeu Island will be fast on the other hand in a 15-20 knot flow at reaching in a fast northeast flow. This will be established until arrival, scheduled for early afternoon Saturday. "

The race will feature Yellow brick trackers with 30-minute updates below. Expect more on the race Facebook page here

Solo Concarneau 2020 Yellowbrick Tracker

Published in Figaro
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Ireland’s Tom Dolan sailing Smurfit Kappa is looking to the 380 nautical miles Solo Concarneau Trophée Guy Cotten, which starts Thursday, to confirm that he has everything in place for the season’s pinnacle solo event, the 1830 miles, four-stage La Solitaire du Figaro which takes place at the end of this month. The Solo Concarneau is the final key check-in for the solo fleet of Figaro Beneteau 3s before the annual La Solitaire.

Dolan will concentrate most on strategy and keeping a cool head during the three day long offshore which will take the fleet north to the notoriously rocky, very tidal Raz de Sein and south to Belle Ile as he seeks to follow up an excellent Drheam Cup last month when he finished second in the two-handed class and eighth overall. Racing then with his friend, Mini Transat winner François Jambou, “I am quite confident in the way I am handling the boat and my speed all round but the key is just to stay focused and not let things run away if I make mistakes. Racing with François we were able to sail up through the fleet after a less than perfect start, just making the right choices and taking things boat by boat. I have worked quite hard now on the mental side of the game and am definitely moving in the right direction.” Dolan commented as he returned Smurfit Kappa to the water this week after re-setting his rudders and routine maintenance and checks following the Drheam Cup. “Definitely I know that if I can keep my head together I can go fast enough to do well.”

Light winds are expected again around the 1500hrs start time Thursday and are likely to prevail at least through the first part of the race. “For sure that will make it interesting and challenging. That means lots of opportunities all the way through the race. I feel really good. Really, compared to this time last year it is just night and day, I feel fit and fresh whereas going into La Solitaire last year I was just exhausted with all that went into getting the new boats ready and learning them.” He explains, “I am sailing so much better than then, for sure, but the truth is that the fleet is getting faster and better all the time and you have to keep up. But here I can’t make stupid mistakes. That is the prime objective this time. I am not feeling under pressure to nail a result I just want to put together all the elements of a good race so I go to La Solitaire with confidence, knowing I can compete well.”

Dolan says he has also improved his starting and his first leg skills, claiming a ‘magic’ new strategy he believes can help launch himself from a stronger position rather than playing catch up too often.

If might seem to be the added comfort of starting out from home, Concarneau being his adopted home town, the race actually passes through the regular practice waters off Port La Fôret where almost all the top Figaro sailors have trained.

Thirty-two solo racers will compete in the Solo Concarneau which will see the timely return of French three times winner Yann Eliès. The race should finish Saturday afternoon.

Published in Figaro
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Page 3 of 17

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