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Irish sailor Tom Dolan is currently in fourth place on the second day of the 54th La Solitaire du Figaro race, which is taking place in France.

Dolan, who is representing Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, had a strong and safe start to the first stage of the 610-mile race off Ouistreham on Sunday afternoon.

A good first night for Tom Dolan sees him in fourth placeA good first night for Tom Dolan sees him in fourth place

He is not typically known for his performance in the short, opening round the buoys courses, but he surprised his competitors with his early success. Dolan is now heading across the Channel towards Nab Tower, the Isle of Wight, and the Needles Fairway buoy, before making his way to his native Ireland.

According to Dolan and his fellow competitors, the journey is expected to be filled with surprises and challenges.

The race began on Monday, and the leaders are expected to reach Kinsale, County Cork, early on Thursday morning.

Published in Tom Dolan
Tagged under

The 54th La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec, a renowned solo sailing race, kicked off its first stage today at Ouistreham beach off Caen on France's Normandy coast. The 32 solo skippers were given a purposeful but relatively straightforward start on a 610 nautical miles leg, which passes down the English Channel. The racers will giant slalom across the Channel three times before turning northwest to the popular, pretty haven of Kinsale on Ireland's south coast.

Gaston Morvan, a young sailor from Région Bretagne CMB, broke the start line first and built a decent lead around a short upwind-downwind inshore course. He earned the Trophée Windchaser by Bollé for his start and the Paprec Trophy for leading round the first circuit. The moderate to fresh breeze was both shifty and puffy, keeping the solo racers on their toes from the gun. The racers were blown away by the built-up nerves and stress of a week of countdown, waiting in Caen city, with an immediate surge of adrenaline.

A sharp rain shower hit the racers, which was heralded by a sudden drop in the wind. However, as soon as the little front blew over, the fleet headed out into the Channel, heeled sharply. The first cross-channel section on Sunday afternoon and evening should be a speed race to Nab Tower in a heading, fading breeze. The leaders will likely stay south, outside of the Isle of Wight, unless there is enough north in the breeze to make it through the Solent on one tack with the new, favourable tide. 

The course crosses back to Les Jument des Haux off Paimpol on the north Brittany coast, where the long climb through the Scillies to the Fastnet begins, passing the tip of Lands End. The leaders should be into Kinsale first thing Thursday morning. Early on the stage out of the bay this afternoon, a collision occurred between Loison and Hugo Dahlenne from YC de Saint Lunaire, a top Bizuth prospect. However, neither skipper was injured, and the damage is described as "not performance affecting."

Overall, the start of the race was purposeful, with Morvan leading the charge and the fleet experiencing a mixture of shifting and puffy breezes. The racers will now continue on their journey, with the leaders expected to reach Kinsale by Thursday morning.

A true Figaro ‘full fat, no holds barred’ edition

This 54th edition of the pinnacle French annual solo offshore race – the first of five editions to be sponsored by giant French recycling and alternative energy group Paprec – comprises three long stages, all over 600 miles (usually four days and four nights) – totalling 1850 nautical miles. After the Kinsale opener, which starts with tiring tidal, coastal, channel sections moving into a more open offshore stage up the Celtic Sea, the 630 miles second leg goes to Roscoff via a passage up the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man and down into the mouth of Bristol Channel round Land’s End to the Bay of Morlaix.

And before the finish in Piriac sur Mer there is a big, ‘standard issue’ open, offshore across the Bay of Biscay and back. Race Director Yann Chateau, an accomplished offshore racer in his own right, has drawn a course that maximises time on the water, minimises recovery periods to a sensible level and should fully test all of the different key attributes required by a deserved winner.

Who’s who?

Of the young guns, on paper one of the outstanding talents is Le Havre’s 28-year-old Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie). The former 470 Olympic campaigner, a youth European champion in the class, was second overall last year and won the second stage and has just won the Solo Concarneau Guy Cotten. Gaston Morvan shows great promise and is consistently in the top group, fifth overall in 2022, but is still looking for his first stage win but could make it onto the overall podium this edition.

Corentin Horeau, 34, returns for his seventh La Solitaire du Figaro. After a six-year break, Horeau came back in 2021 and has finished eighth and 13th but is very much on form this year. He races now in the colours of Banque Populaire, who are back in La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec and won the early season Solo Maire CoQ. And Alexis Loison is back for his 17th La Solitaire at the age of 38 with a new sponsor Groupe REEL. He is the veritable Jedi master in the Channel tides and currents and has been sailing fast. Has has finished fourth twice and many times in the top ten.

And Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) has worked hard to become a regular fixture near the front of the peloton. He was seventh last year and fifth in 2020 and has the potential to finish on the podium. Briton Alan Roberts is, of course, engaged in an IMOCA programme and misses the race for the first time in ten years. There are five women racing this year, including Élodie Bonafous (Queguiner La Vie en Rose), who finished eighth last year and was third on the last leg last year, the first female to do so since Clare Francis. Bonafous already has a 2028 Vendée Globe programme under way with her sponsors Queguiner which supported Yann Eliès on the 2016-17 race.

Overseas, non French

As well as Dolan and Swiss skipper Nils Palmieri (Teamwork), there are four other international racers. Susann Beucke (This Race is Female), Germany’s 49er FX Olympic silver medallist in Tokyo, returns for her second challenge, more experienced – not least after time with the Holcim-PRB team winning Leg 2 of The Ocean Race – she has hopes of a solid, competitive race.

Celtic adventurer 61-year-old Piers Copham has designs on the 2028 Vendée Globe with the Voiles des Anges charity, which supports bereaved parents and families who lose infant children. Brit David Paul (Just A Drop) is into his third race, aiming to finish every leg with a decent performance to build a platform for the future. And Kiwi Ben Beasley (Ocean Attitude), 23 is one of the ten rookies competing this year for the Beneteau Trophée.

They said:

Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire): “ I don't care if people say I'm one of the favourites. I try to do my race without looking too much at others as I have been doing since the start of the season. I will try to stick to my course, favorite or not favorite. Last year, I think I was in the favorites and I was 13th. We'll see at the end. The first stage will be a real Figaro stage. You have to get into the top group. There will be twists everywhere. We will try to take pleasure in seeing the others come back individually or come back in the groups. I think there will be a lot of lead changes. We do not really know what it will be like when we arrive in Ireland. We are really in a pure and hard stage of Solitaire”.

Tom Dolan (IRL) Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan: “ The big question is between The Needles and the mark at Jument des Heaux no one really knows what will be going on there, if there might be a sea breeze coming in from England. The thing is of there is sea breeze we might end up getting stuck for six hours (as the sea breeze would kill the gradient) with no wind. I feel grand.”

Alexis Loison (Groupe REEL): “Most of all you have to have a clear weather picture in your head it's important. It's not going to be simple, just like every start of La Solitaire. You can break it down, there is a coastal part where the land influences the wind, and a lot of current all the same. Even if for the moment we have small tidal coefficients, they will increase quickly. And then the strong current can lead to many possible stop-starts. And in terms of weather, there are quite a few small phenomena that pass with very dynamic fronts which are often poorly detailed by the models. There is a real element of uncertainty, you might see a boat be 500 meters next to you which flies away in a puff, a gust that you don’t get will have to have your eyes open. And above all, believe in your options. I am aiming for a podium, at the minimum”

Elodie Bonafous (Queguiner La Vie en Rose): “I am ready. Everything is on board the boat, I have plenty of good things to eat, I have the weather forecast and clear ideas. I can't wait to leave. We are always afraid of having forgotten something, but the stress I had was more positive stress that boosts me. I feel fit. It ended well last year, started well this year. I've worked a lot mentally so I want to be pushing even more, to be at sea every night and give my all. The Solo Guy Cotten, after my recovery from injury, was quite positive so I remain on target for my objectives for the start of the season. The general objective is to finish ideally in the Top 5 to do better than last year. I hope to repeat and be back on the podium, and most of all not to make big mistake, not to take too long, not to take too many risks risky or burn myself out at the start of the race. The first stage is like a series of little coastal courses where there are currents and local effects. I like that. There will be a lot happening in terms of the weather, which will be very uncertain. I'm starting with more experience so I think it can be an advantage to be able to remain lucid and be able to make good decisions towards the end of the legs We will see ".

Published in Kinsale

The course for 2023's 54th edition of La Solitaire du Figaro will be contested over three stages over the period August 27 to September 13 and will call to Kinsale in late August.

As Afloat reported earlier, the route was unveiled today at the Hôtel du Département de Loire-Atlantique in Nantes with the news that Ireland will have at least on entry in the race thanks to County Meath sailor, Tom Dolan.

This time, the perennial pinnacle solo race of the French Elite Offshore Racing Championship covers a monumental 1,850 nautical miles over three successive, demanding stages.

It starts from the Channel port of Caen (Calvados) and finishes three weeks later on the Loire Atlantic coast at Piriac-sur-Mer (Loire-Atlantique). It takes the solo racers to stopovers in Kinsale (Ireland) and the Bay of Morlaix (Finistère). More than 30 solo skippers are expected to compete on what remains the ultimate annual solo racing multi-stage offshore race.

La Solitaire du FigaroLa Solitaire du Figaro course 2023

The course passes through the English Channel, Celtic Sea, the Irish Sea, Iroise Sea and out and back across the Bay of Biscay. So La Solitaire du Figaro 2023 promises to be as demanding as it ever has been, each stage this time requiring the skippers to spend up to four nights at sea.

“We have kept true to the DNA of the race with varied types of course. After a start in the English Channel from the city of Caen, the Figarists the stages will combine an almost equal mix of inshore coastal and open, offshore racing. " says Yann Chateau who is the race director of La Solitaire of Figaro.

The race moves to a stopover outside of France for the first time since the global helath crisis. And the intermediate time bonuses for the podium positions at the sprint markers now get 5 minutes subtracted from their elapsed time for the first to pass the mark, the second gets three minutes and the third one minute.

Ireland's Tom Dolan competing off Kinsale in 2019 - the County Meath Irish solo sailor harbours a strong ambition for a top result when the race returns to Kinsale at the end of the first leg of the 2023 Figaro Race this August Photo: Bob BatemanIreland's Tom Dolan competing off Kinsale in 2019 - the County Meath Irish solo sailor harbours a strong ambition for a top result when the race returns to Kinsale at the end of the first leg of the 2023 Figaro Race this August Photo: Bob Bateman

Kinsale, Ireland hosts a race stopover for the 21st time in history

After leaving the City of Caen, which hosts the Grand Départ of the race for the third time after 2004 and 2007 there is a very technical opening to a first course mark at the Saint-Marcouf Islands which are left to starboard followed by a passage across the Channel to the Isle of Wight passing the Nab Tower, east of the Isle of Wight and the Needles Fairway, the west of the island, where the first intermediate sprint marker is.

"Bypassing the Isle of Wight, either down the Solent to the north of the island or offshore outside depending on the current and the strategy of each, could well open the game here," says Yann Chateau.

He continues, " The fleet will double back across the Channel a second time towards Bréhat where a new tactical choice needs to be made at Guernsey depending on the current and the weather forecas before making the long tack to get the Fastnet then heading back east along the Irish coast to get to the beautiful haven of Kinsale, a great classic stop which will host La Solitaire du Figaro for the 21st time”.

Concentration and maximum focus will be required until the finish, the topography of the Irish coastline and the different headlands points can create local wind effects and in 2019, last time there, the top three into Kinsale were separated by just 3mins and 47 seconds, Yoann Richomme winning the stage by 1 min 13 seconds ahead of a debuting rookie named Tom Laperche.

Roscoff - Baie de Morlaix in 2021 Photo: Alexis CourcouxRoscoff - Baie de Morlaix in 2021 Photo: Alexis Courcoux

An unprecedented second stage between Kinsale and the Bay of Morlaix via the Isle of Man

La Solitaire du Figaro will then head for Brittany, the scenic Bay of Morlaix, which will welcome the Figarists for the 6th time in its history, with one single waypoint at the Isle of Man and an intermediate sprint at Chicken Rock.

“La Solitaire du Figaro has planned to go north to the Isle of Man before but it has never happened yet, usually because of the weather. But our recent experience of the 3rd leg of the 2022 race underlined again that the Figaro BENETEAU 3s are very seaworthy and can withstand strong weather conditions. This course is therefore feasible in September." says Yann Chateau. "It is a stage that can be considered as coastal knowing that the Irish Sea is not very wide. There are sandbars, lots of fishing boats and points to pass.”

The other difficulty of this stage includes the current at the passages of Land's End, the south-west tip of England. And of course fatigue really accumulates for the sailors as they arrive back towards the Breton coast on a leg on which there is really no let up and very little time to rest. 

A finish in Piriac-sur-Mer, in Loire-AtlantiqueA finish in Piriac-sur-Mer, in Loire-Atlantique

The major partner of the event, the Department of Loire-Atlantique sees the finish of La Solitaire du Figaro into a new host city: Piriac-sur-Mer. The finale stage, will once again arrive in the Pays de la Loire region and is a more open, offshore sailing stage.

The first course mark at the Chaussée de Sein will open up the field of play from the start in the Iroise Sea where choices need to be made, among other things, between the Chenal du Four and the Passage de Fromveur, before crossing the Bay of Biscay to a buoy off Gijón, Spain which will also act as a gate for the third intermediate sprint.

“This stage can be quite tricky knowing that at that time, there can be high pressure ridges in the Bay of Biscay with only little mouse holes of wind to use ,” says Yann Chateau. "It's a stage on which the fleet should be more spread out than on the previous one and the potential gaps greater. The finish into Piriac-sur-Mer will offer a technical 'sting in the tail' with the Four plateau, the prohibited areas and the potential windshadows and puffs of the islands."

The course is very much specified to the strengths of the Figaro BENETEAU 3 as well as the expectations of sailors and stopover cities. All in all there should be a great, engaging race on the water until the final finish line as well as a very popular celebration on land.

IN BRIEF

Stage #1 Caen – Kinsale : 610 nautical miles
Departure August 27 (expected arrival August 30)

Stage #2 Kinsale – Baie de Morlaix : 630 nautical miles
Departure September 3 (expected arrival September 6)

Stage #3 Baie de Morlaix – Piriac-sur-Mer : 620 nautical miles
Departure September 10 (expected arrival September 13)

Published in Kinsale

A lot of planning and preparation went into this year's Solitaire, from as early as January, I was out in France training, primarily in the Centre Excellence Voile in La Rochelle under the tutelage of coach Etienne Saiz while also under the watchful eye of project manager Marcus Hutchinson. The early season events and performances results-wise and on the water were very promising, with solid results in the Solo Maitre Coq, Allmer Cup and Solo Concarneau.

Not to mention great sailing in other classes, primarily in the 1720 class in Ireland and an offshore campaign on Darkwood the J121, which yielded a class win in the SSE Renewables Round Ireland earlier in the season.

As a result, I felt better prepared than ever going into the Solitaire. Well thought out sail selection, a great backup team, weather analysis with Christian Dumard and coaching from Etienne, all with significant ingredients necessary for a different format this year. Three as opposed to four legs, all 600nm with then two days ashore to rest before heading out on the next leg. This meant stopovers would be as important as the actual races.

Kenny Rumball Reflects on La Solitaire du Figaro 2022

Leg one was north from St Nazaire around Bishop’s Rock to a virtual waypoint halfway to Stockholm Island before heading south to Port La Foret. A very light start had us drifting north under gennaker before the wind settled in from the North West, bringing the fleet North with the wind eventually shifting to the North East giving solid speeds towards Bishop’s Rock. At Bishop’s Rock, we had our first transition with the wind dying before filling in from the South West. Up to 25 knots in the night gave fast speeds to the waypoint. The next day we encountered the next transition with no wind leaving the fleet drifting to the north of the Scillies. Eventually, in the late afternoon, the wind filled in from the North West to propel us south to Port La Foret. Many weather forecasts said we would get a North Easterly so I took a route to the South East to capitalise on this.

Approaching Quessant, I had the first of what would turn out to be persistent electronic issues. The wind instruments displayed an error as we were screaming downwind in 25kts through the night. Essentially this meant hand steering the last 16 hours of this leg. I arrived in Port La Foret with the pack, shattered but relatively content with my performance. Straight into much-needed rest, I left Guillaume, my preparateur, to look after the boat and seek clarity from NKE on the issues with the wind instruments.

Kenny Rumball Reflects on La Solitaire du Figaro 2022

Leg two would bring us North again from Port La Foret to a mark just west of Guernsey, across to Eddystone lighthouse and then all the way south to Royan, which is just North of Bordeaux. Starting in a sea breeze in the afternoon, there was a good breeze at the start before the wind went light and fickle all the way to the Pointe du Raz. Initially, in the light airs approaching Penmarch, I was not fast but knowing the wind would fill in from the East through the night, by the ‘Raz’ I was back in the mix with the pack. In a building Easterly with winds of 25kts and gusts touching 30kts, the fleet was beating all the way to the Channel Islands. Rounding the cardinal mark to the South East of Guernsey in the wee hours of the morning, it was a tough call for the sprint to Eddystone between the big spinnaker, small spinnaker or gennaker. Initially, starting off with the small spinnaker, it was fast and very wet but obvious that it was near impossible to stay high enough to make Eddystone. Peeling to the gennaker, speeds were much the same and easily making Eddystone. By then, winds had built to 28-32 knots, so the pace was rapid! Approaching Eddystone and for the leg from Eddystone back to Quessant, we were expecting gusts of 35 kts. Around Eddystone, it was a peel back to the small spinnaker. Some boats around me hoisted big spinnakers and found themselves overpowered and on their sides very quickly, so it was the right call!

Approaching Quessant, the wind was due to die, and we were expecting a transition with North Easterly winds all the way to Royan. This being the Solitaire, life was not to be so easy, and so with many transitions and the fleet spread widely out over the West Coast of France, we drifted around for nearly 24 hours, desperately seeking any tiny bit of breeze. The wind eventually filled in from the North West, and, frustratingly, after being in the middle part of the pack, I found myself in the latter half of the pack as we approached Royan. However, with another leg done with no major breakages and having survived the 35 knots in the channel in one piece, it was rest time again before the last leg! The instruments had behaved well; it was one tough leg to go!

Kenny Rumball Reflects on La Solitaire du Figaro 2022

Leg three was shaping up to be the toughest: a nice spin to the Farallones Islands off the North Coast of Spain with a building sea state up to 4m and wind speeds between 28 and 38 knots for a fast but challenging sail home to St Nazaire. In good spirits and feeling ready, I left Royan, staying very much with the pack to the safe water mark off Arcachon. Sailing fast through the night, I was in a good position in the fleet the next day and sailing fast in the lighter winds. Everything was going well on board until I was awoken from a quick nap to a wind warning message from my instruments at around 3 pm.

Having encountered these issues before, I followed the instructions I had been given from TEEM and NKE to restart the system to see if the issue would resolve itself. Monitoring the instruments, the issue became more persistent, and I started to have doubts as to whether I would be able to continue the leg given the forecast for the return leg of 35knts and 4m seas. A call to the race director Yann who allowed me to call TEEM on the satellite phone to get advice on potentially fixing the issue at sea. Remember in Solitaire, we do not have our mobile telephones and are forbidden from receiving outside assistance while racing. I also discussed the problem with fellow Irish competitor Tom Dolan. Unfortunately, the prognosis from TEEM was that my wind speed and direction sensor at the top of the mast was failing, and the situation would get worse…

With the forecast and a lack of reliable wind instruments, after much deliberation, I made the difficult decision to retire from the last leg and end my Solitaire for 2022. Whether or not it was the right decision, I will never know. However, when you are on your own with little to no outside assistance coupled with the stresses of racing, keeping the boat and yourself in one piece and given the circumstances at the time, this is the decision I took.

And so I started a lonely 200-mile delivery back to Lorient. Messages from the other skippers came in one by one on the VHF after the race committee informed the fleet of my decision. I phoned Marcus to let him know the situation and my family on the sat phone and pointed the boat at Lorient.

Suddenly it was all over, 9 months of training, racing, logistics, fitness, nutrition and a goal; the solo season was over. I spent two days in Lorient putting the boat away, which given how much sailing had been done on number 20 over the last three years, was not an easy task. I headed down to St Nazaire to celebrate with the other skippers, and go to the prizegiving to wrap up the event.

Then it was time for a much-needed holiday, away from sailing boats; the wind, sun and seas of Naxos were calling for a kitesurfing holiday…

What is next for Kenny?

I’m certainly in need of a good rest from offshore sailing and the intensive training and sailing regime that goes with it. However, I will continue to develop the Offshore Racing Academy to help in building and supporting the skills of all levels of offshore racing in Ireland. Stay tuned for some developments for next year in this area!

With that in mind, there is still the opportunity for young Irish offshore sailors interested in the Figaro to join Kenny to compete in the Figaro Nationals in Lorient from the 6th-9th of October….

Please email Kenny [email protected] if you are interested; just remember this is only if you are seriously interested in competing on the Figaro circuit in 2023. This event is sailed with 4 persons on board each Figaro. There is a mixture of short inshore races and a tour of Ile de Groix the island off the coast of Lorient. It is a nice end to the season and an opportunity for those seriously interested in competing in the Figaro circuit next year to gain valuable insight into the class, and skippers and learn what is required to compete in this professional class.

I am looking forward to doing some different sailing for the tail end of the season. The RS 21 World Championships are on the cards for November, and I am looking forward to the DBSC Turkey Shoot in the familiar surroundings of the 1720.

After 11 Middle Sea races, despite many offers, I am taking a break from heading to Malta for this year…

Published in Figaro

Top Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) has taken seventh overall on the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro, the three-stage French solo offshore race which finished last night in Saint Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire estuary on the Atlantic coast.

Crossing the line at 21h49 last night, an exhausted Dolan was objective, pleased to have again finished inside the top 10 of the 34 starters who set off from the same waters three weeks ago. Still a 15th on the final 640-mile stage across the Bay of Biscay in strong winds and big seas did not allow him to hold on to the fifth place that he started the final leg with.

The Irishman again showed he is one of the best in the fleet, leading this stage after the first turning mark last Sunday night and Monday morning as the race set out across the Bay of Biscay. A tactical error in the middle of the Biscay leg, when passing through two successive weather systems, cost him dearly. By the time he sailed around the rocky Los Farallones islets on Spain’s north coast, he was down in 19th and only managed to gain four places on the 240 miles tough downwind stage to the finish line.

Twelfth on the first leg to Port La Foret, Dolan excelled on the second leg into Royan when he was fifth and the fastest on two high winds in the English Channel before the wind died and the race restarted 140 miles from the finish line.

"I feel disappointed in the last leg; I made a stupid mistake"

After a last leg which saw winds of 35kts and big Biscay seas, which meant 24 hours of steering with no sleep, Dolan said in Saint Nazaire, “I feel disappointed in the last leg; I made a stupid mistake. I made a point of positioning myself to the south of everyone, so I would be to windward when the change came and then chickened out to stick with the leaders and that is exactly what I should not have done. I should have stuck to my guns.”

“But seventh is good, it is a top 10, but it’s not fifth!” he smiled ruefully, “But I am sailing so much better. I was more free in my thinking in what I did and not worrying so much about the others. My starts have been better which is pleasing after all the work we did this winter and then I just need even more confidence in myself.”

Managing his limited sleep times is also an area he sees for improvement, “I need to get that sorted then I can start winning these things. I think I took sleep for granted and made bad decisions at tired times of the race. But seventh overall is top 10, and it was close. I am pleased to have been up front a lot and to show that 2020 (when he was fifth overall) was no fluke. That is good. Now I just want to sleep and go home to see my mum in Ireland.”

Published in Figaro

When French solo skipper Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne – CMB Performance) crossed the finish line off Saint-Nazaire at the entrance to the Loire estuary this blustery Wednesday evening at 18:54:48 hrs local time to win the third and final stage of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro  (provisional ranking before jury) he punched the air with delight, knowing that his stage win by a comfortable margin has provisionally secured him the overall title.

With his nearest title rival, Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie), 13 nautical miles behind, the 25-year-old pre-race favourite Laperche soon eclipsed the 14 minutes of time advantage that Pirouelle had held going into this final 640 nautical miles stage which started on Sunday and took the 32 strong fleet across the Bay of Biscay to a mark off Galicia, Los Farallones, before a fast roller coaster downwind back across the Biscay in winds gusting to 40kts at times.

Winner of all three solo events this season leading up to the annual solo racing pinnacle, this three-stage La Solitaire du Figaro, Laperche had finished third in the last two La Solitaires. He first came to prominence in his rookie year when he finished second into Kinsale in June 2019, just 33 minutes behind stage winner Yoann Richomme. A qualified engineer and meticulous technician, Laperche was soon snapped up by Vendée Globe winner Francois Gabart as the co-skipper of his Ultime trimaran.

Laperche was widely tipped to win this year, not least on the strength of these wins in the Solo Maître Coq, the Le Havre All Mer Cup and the Solo Guy Cotten. Although he consistently led the peloton on the first two stages, both times, he was thwarted by outlying groups catching up and passing. Content and with a maturity beyond his years, he was content to bide his time, Laperche was ninth in Etape 1 and third in Etape 2, to start 14 minutes behind Pirouelle, the former 470 Olympic campaigner, who won stage 2 into Port La Foret.

He grew up on the Bay of Quiberon and quickly tasted success in a number of different classes winning the Open Bic world title, a windsurfing world title and in the Open 5.70. As a youngster, through his father, he met great sailors like Laurent Bourgnon, Steve Ravussin, Erwan Le Roux and Thomas Coville before winning the Brittany talent trials, which gave him support since his rookie year of 2019 when the new Figaro Beneteau 3 was launched.

Just as he has often been the first to initiate a key move this race so too yesterday after being one of the most northern boats through a transition in the morning – where Pirouelle separated to the south - he was first to tack SW to the South Farallones mark after a small front crossed. He was able to lead around that mark yesterday evening, perfectly rested and prepared for the heinous, edge of control, 24 hours run back to France.

From here, it was a high-speed, down-hill blast back towards the finish line three miles out from Saint-Nazaire. With average speeds of 13 knots and sustained surfing to 16 and 18kts, the front of the fleet put the pedal-down through turbulent, south-westerly winds and seas of 3.5-4m. But with a lead established immediately after the turn at the Spanish coast all those chasing Laperche could do was to try to beat his boat speed and pray that he would make a mistake that would let them slip past. Laperche, a leading light at the Pole Finistere training group, which produces most La Solitaire winners, he has said several times he feels especially confident at speed and under stress after spending so much time on Gabart’s Ultime. At the moment, he seems like Gabart’s perfect first lieutenant and perhaps in time an heir apparent.

For a large proportion of the leg, his racing and training companion Gaston Morvan (Région Bretagne - CMB Espoir) – last year’s top rookie - was fighting hard to be in a position to pounce, should any opportunity occur. At one stage Morvan was only 3.5 miles behind and matching speeds until 0430hrs this morning when Laperche outsailed him, leaving him to finish second.

Laperche said after the line, “ I can't believe it, considering the names that have won this race this for me is quite incredible. I've been third twice. I've used a lot of energy but this is my best Figaro race. This third leg went really well for me and I think I have won the overall (editor's note: provisional rankings before the jury) because I must have more than a quarter of an hour's lead over Guillaume (Pirouelle), unless he's sailing at 50 knots to get here! Coming back across Biscay went well the whole time in the end the wind wasn't that strong and I didn’t mess up, but I had left a lot of energy to go fast. Things didn't pay off in the first two stages when I was leading the fleet before, but this time it should be good.”

Published in Figaro
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The destination of the 2022 La Solitaire du Figaro title hangs in the balance and will be decided over the course of one 270 nautical miles long, thrilling marathon downwind sprint across the Bay of Biscay from the Los Farallones mark on the north Spanish coast – where the leaders turned this evening – to Saint Nazaire, at the mouth of the Loire where the first skippers are expected around 1800hrs Wednesday afternoon.

After tacking at 1250 hrs today on a near perfect layline Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance) was first around the Galician turning mark at 1650hrs – the southernmost point on this 640 nautical miles Stage 3, and indeed of this year’s race.

Critically Laperche, who many considered the pre-La Solitaire favourite – was 29 minutes up on his title rival, Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie), who led the General Classification by 14 minutes going into this third and final stage of the race.

Conditions for the upwind approach to the Los Farallones mark were already rugged, with the wind gusting to 30kts at times and a building sea. The strong conditions are forecast to continue through tomorrow – certainly for a W’ly breeze in the high 20s – and so it will be an acid test of the ability to keep pushing hard and fast downwind when the body and mind are at the very limit of tiredness.

Most of the skippers who were spoken to in the previous 24 hours had spoken of banking as much rest as possible before this massive sleigh ride. Correspondingly Race Director Yann Chateau – who was on patrol at the turning mark on the guard boat – encouraged a safety first approach down the long run back across Biscay. But with everything to gain, skippers will push to the edge of reason on this last leg.

Having led earlier on this leg Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) rounded 18th just ahead of Briton Alan Roberts (Seacat Services). Dolan was the fastest skipper on Leg 2’s big breeze in the Channel when he made 11 places over two legs. Meantime Spain’s Pep Costa (Team Play 2 B-Terravia) has sailed an exceptional leg so far – also leading earlier in the leg – but he was well placed tonight in ninth while Switzerland’s Nils Palmieri (Teamwork) was second.

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Monday 1700hrs: With just over 120 nautical miles to sail to the Farallones turning mark which lies just off the rugged north Spanish coast near to Gijon, the two leading title contenders on the third and final leg of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro continue to race sid- by-side, in clear sight of each other after over 30 hours of racing since the fleet left Royan on Sunday lunchtime. Ireland's Tom Dolan, who led the race on Monday morning has dropped back to tenth place this evening.

The Normandy region’s Guillaume Pirouelle left the start line on Sunday carrying a 14 minutes aggregate lead over Brittany’s second-placed Tom Laperche. This afternoon as the leading peloton race upwind towards the most southerly turning mark of the 640 nautical miles stage to Saint-Nazaire, rivals Pirouelle and Laperche remain no more than 100 metres apart, watching each other’s every move.

Last night when the Arcachon buoy – the first mark of the course - was reached Pirouelle collected his first Intermediate Sprint bonus of the race, gaining five minutes, Laperche getting three minutes in second. So close are these two adversaries racing on this race-deciding third leg it is not inconceivable that the net two minutes of bonus Pirouelle collected over his rival may yet prove decisive. They are that close.

With the lead group showing a lateral separation of over ten miles north to south late this afternoon the windward group in the new NW’ly breeze – Pirouelle and Laperche among them – seem to have got the new wind first and so moved forward on Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) who was leading through the early part of the day along with Spain’s Pep Costa (Team Play 2 B-TERRAVIA). They are now tenth and 12th respectively.

Pirouelle, a 28 year old former Olympic 470 campaigner, has largely kept Laperche behind him downwind yesterday night and this morning, and now upwind.

He reported today to the race media boat, “Since the start we've had more wind than expected, and the first night was faster and sportier under the big spinnaker. This allowed me to progress well. I got first in the Intermediate Sprint my first one out of the three in this Solitaire, it's always good to take. In terms of the weather we have a front coming our way this afternoon. It’s not very active, but he'll still back the wind. We should tack when we have more headers then head towards a small anticyclone which will also change the wind with a few tacks getting us down to the southwest wind which will allow us this fast downwind to Saint-Nazaire. Tom (Laperche) is racing just behind behind me and and I need to focus on resting a little looking at this big downwind final, which will be physically difficult. For the moment, the conditions are quite cool, the pilot is steering well, it allows us to sleep a little. If all goes well, we could pass Los Farallones tomorrow in the early afternoon. We are waiting for the South-West for the end of the ascent towards the Spanish mark. But it's on the final leg downwind where it will be decided.

And so self-management, ensuring the solo skippers reach the Galician turning mark in the best possible shape, rested and with as much energy as possible, will be vital for the 270 miles final sprint to the line.

Published in Figaro

French rookie Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie) crossed the finish line off Royan at the mouth of the Gironde estuary at 06:28:26hrs (CEST/FRANCE) in this morning’s breaking dawn to claim victory on the 655 nautical Stage 2 of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro. After Davy Beaudart (Nauty’mor) won the first stage into Port La Forêt, Pirouelle’s is the second consecutive stage win by a rookie skipper.

Pirouelle sailed a perfect mix of fast, controlled off-the-wind surfing between Monday and Tuesday, in the big breezes which prevailed for two Channel crossings, sailing in winds of 30kts and 2m seas from a Channel Islands mark to Eddystone before turning south back down the Brittany and Vendée coasts where the breeze dropped away to leave the fleet with a challenging final 170 miles navigating a network of calms and light airs. He was fifth at the Channel Islands mark and fourth at Eddystone before breaking clear of the peloton yesterday night after the latitude of La Rochelle. Pirouelle was sixth on the first stage.

Before choosing to pursue a career offshore racing, winning the Normandy region talent trials to take over the helm of their Figaro Beneteau 3, Pirouelle, now 28, was one of France’s leading Olympic 470 class helms - including a title as 2015 470 Junior World Champion – before going on to win the Tour Voile in Diam 24s steering for the Beijaflore team.

He was apprenticed last year through the regional support programme to veteran Alexis Loison - who originally scouted the talented young Norman small boat sailor to ask him to consider trying out for the offshore programme. After sailing as co-skipper with Loison last year – including a Transatlanric - Pirouelle’s first season solo immediately highlighted his potential this Spring when he took second in the early season Solo Maitre Coq finishing second to Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance) and then third in the solo All Mer Cup on his home waters,

A native of Le Havre who is a qualified engineer, Pirouelle shows every sign of following in the wake of Charlie Dalin, who is from the same town and club and is now the dominant IMOCA skipper of the moment, even if as an Optimist fanatical child Pirouelle said ‘never’ when asked if he fancied becoming a Vendée Globe skipper.

At the finish line this morning he was followed 3 minutes and 19 seconds later by Achille Nebout on Amarris Primeo Énergie. Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Performance) took the final place on the podium finishing 15 minutes and 48 seconds behind the winner.

Finishing in fifth place, Ireland’s Tom Dolan on Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan was the first non-French sailor to finish. Dolan led the race during yesterday afternoon and into last night after making a bold move inshore. He was on terms with Pirouelle for a long time but dropped places in the early hours to finish fifth. Improving from his 12th on the first stage, the Irish sailor who has a career best of fifth on La Solitaire, will have moved up the general classification.

Guillaume Pirouelle said after finishing: “I’m really pleased and know deep down now that I’m capable of achieving something special, but actually getting there is another thing. I was well placed since the start. We can see that in each leg there are lots of changes in leadership. They catch up from behind. It’s always a bit complicated, but I kept at it until the end and I’m going to have to do that again in the third leg. It’s in my character to want to control what is happening. I don’t like it when people move in from everywhere, but preventing the others from doing what they do is something you can’t achieve. In fact, on the AIS, I couldn’t see what was going on behind me. They all went for their own strategies like in the first leg, except this time, we managed to stay in front, so I’m pleased about that.”

He continued, “I’m someone who thinks a lot and I try to avoid making the same mistakes twice, even if that isn’t easy in our sport, but that is the goal. Two wins for rookies is a good thing. Now we have the third leg to look forward to.I think I slept less than in the first leg. Conditions were stronger, but more random too. As for whether I’m tired, when you finish, it’s always fine. It hits you a few hours later and I think I’m burned out. But we have three days to recover, which is not going to be too many.”

Of his inshore breakaway from the fleet Dolan said, "Basically it wasn't planned for me to to take that option I just wanted to be upwind of the fleet. I had seen on the files that there was more wind to the north, well I had the impression. During the night, the fleet broke up and I lost everyone a bit. I ended up with 2 or 3 boats, I told myself that I was going to stay on this plan and stay with the North-East wind. Overall the leg was a tough one. In strong winds, I spent 14 hours sitting at the helm, it was a bit hard. But I had anticipated well, I had slept well on the upwind leg. When it came, I had my pockets full of protein bars and bottled water and off we went! It was mental, under small spinnaker, incredible. That was the most intense part, it was awesome! I was a little on edge, I hadn't had a long day at the helm like that since the Mini I think. But it was so cool. Otherwise, it was good The boat goes so fast that it is super stable. Once planning it goes by itself. There was water everywhere, I took some videos. It was crazy! Luckily things calmed down a bit when you arrived near Eddystone, because there are still a lot of rocks, you arrive at 20 knots, it's pretty hot….But it calmed down for the manoeuvre!”

“ Sailing alongside Erwan (6th placed Le Draoulec, Skipper MACIF 2020) it was fun because we fought in the strong wind together, we were both side by side and we still found ourselves side by side at the finish. We did years of Mini 6.50 together so it was nice to be stuck with him. Especially since I'm in front this time!”

Dolan concluded, “I was dead, exhausted, like everyone, I think. We never had a break, we had 12 hours of fighting and then straight into the dead calm so it was manoeuvring, changing sails, strategy. And apparently I was first for a long time, I didn't know; I didn't have the classification; I found out this morning during the safety session. It's good to hear that after six hours of mental anguish, I was out leading”.

Leg 2 provisional:
1. Guillaume PIROUELLE - Région Normandie 6:28’26, 3d 17hrs 28mis 26secs.
2. Achille NEBOUT - Amarris Primeo Énergie 6:31’45 3d 17hrs 31mis 45sec, + 3mins 19secs.
3. Tom LAPERCHE - Bretagne CMB Performance - 6:44’14 3d 17hrs 44mins 14sec Time behind the winner: 15mins 48sec.
4. Benoît MARIETTE - Génération Senioriales - 6h 52’10, + 23mins 44 secs.
5. Tom DOLAN – IRL, Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan - 7:19’33, + 51 mins 07 secs.

Published in Figaro

The second stage of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro left Brittany’s scenic bay of Port-la-Forêt in a gentle ESE’’ly breeze and perfect warm sunshine at 1300hrs this Sunday afternoon, ideal weather to muster dozens of spectator craft on the water and thousands on the beaches and coastlines, as might be expected for only the second ever visit of the annual summer multi-stage offshore race to one of France’s real epicentres of solo and singlehanded ocean racing.

The wind almost failed at times during the preliminary 5,5 nautical miles circuit in the bay, hardly a representative foretaste of what is set to prevail during the coming 48-72 hours for the fleet of 33 solo racers now on taking on a 635 nautical miles course east up through the Channel Islands, across to Eddystone Rock – 9 miles SSW of Plymouth – and south down to Royan at the entrance to the Garonne.

The stages in the Channel seem set to be muscular, with 25kts winds gusting over 30kts. After a beat to the Channel Islands it will be fast reaching and downwind for more than 24hrs, a very tough test in a busy shipping lane area when the solo racers are already tired. Sail selection – between the big and small spinnakers and the Code Zero – might be crucial to opening miles on rivals. But the weather models were still struggling to deal with the little cloudy, stormy low pressure cells drifting over the course on the south bound stage from the tip of Brittany to Royan.

Tom Laperche, (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance), one of the pre-race favourites who was third at the first turning mark, explained on the dock this morning: “I am still a bit tired after the first leg but that is the nature of this game, you don’t leave at 100% again after the first start. What awaits us looks great. It's not often that we get the little spinnakers up in the Figaro and on this second stage that it is very likely the case. We're going to deal with a brisk north-easterly wind in the Channel. It's going to be pretty hard and the chances are it'll sort out the fleet a bit. But that being said nothing will be decided because the second part of the stage will certainly be less sporty and much more uncertain. There will be stormy depression with some surprises. It is possible that it will be a bit of a mess or that it will go soft, but in principle it should not last too long. We'll see. We'll just deal with whatever we get. I have no plans to change my way of doing things, even if it is true that there is a little frustration after the first stage.”

Laperche is seventh at the start of the leg, 1hr 43m behind the surprise leader Davy Beaudart, the 37 year old La Solitaire du Figaro rookie who confirmed this morning that he would take the same approach as he did on the last leg even if there is a little more pressure resting on the shoulders of the semi-pro whose full time job is running his own successful boatyard near Lorient: “Yes there is a little more pressure than there was last weekend when I left Saint-Nazaire but I will treat this leg just the same, try to go fast and enjoy it.” smiled Beaudart, “I am not going to think about the classification. Let’s just see how I am at the at the finish. On the course, there will be areas where there will be re-groupings. There are two quite distinct racing phases. The English Channel, which is going to be very tough where things are going to go very fast, with perhaps quite significant gaps opening up in miles. But as soon as we return to the Atlantic, things will level off a bit and concertina in. At the end, towards Royan, there will be small stormy depressions. We don't really know so much about this bit. This can create big gaps such as a regrouping of the fleet before the finish.”

Jorge Riechers (GER, Alva Yachts) also admits there is more pressure on him too after finishing fourth on the first leg, much higher in the fleet than even he expected, especially having been 30th of 34 at the last turning mark north of Land’s End.

The German skipper who lives near Cherbourg and has a Farr designed IMOCA in build for the next Vendée Globe, grinned, “I am stressed, that is normal! This will be a big leg, it will be tough with strong downwind conditions. With the A4 it will be not too bad! But this will be about pushing and not breaking the boat. I think you can push the boats hard, very hard but I am more worried about the sails, don’t trash the sails. Everyone here is good but I don’t want to bank on the miles and experience I have, you just have to keep concentrating and not do anything stupid. So I need to concentrate on it like the last leg does not exist. I don’t think about results at all. Maybe if I am well placed at the buoy at La Coruña then I will think about.”

Ireland’s Tom Dolan, skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, 12th after the first leg is unequivocal on the complexities and challenges of the leg:

“On paper, the next leg looks like the toughest leg I have ever seen coming up on a Solitaire. We have 24 hours of strong winds – 25 gusting 30kts in the north of the English Channel, upwind and downwind, at night with cargo ships everywhere. So that will 24 hours without sleep and then the wind just shuts off completely at the Chaussée de Sein. With the two conditions like that you can’t sleep. Twelve hours stuck the helm under spinnaker gobbling down energy bars with the brain switched off and the drysuit on. Then we sail straight into the light winds. Hmmmm”

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Tom Dolan, Solo Offshore Sailor

Even when County Meath solo sailor Tom Dolan had been down the numbers in the early stages of the four-stage 2,000 mile 2020 Figaro Race, Dolan and his boat were soon eating their way up through the fleet in any situation which demanded difficult tactical decisions.

His fifth overall at the finish – the highest-placed non-French sailor and winner of the Vivi Cup – had him right among the international elite in one of 2020's few major events.

The 33-year-old who has lived in Concarneau, Brittany since 2009 but grew up on a farm in rural County Meath came into the gruelling four-stage race aiming to get into the top half of the fleet and to underline his potential to Irish sailing administrators considering the selection process for the 2024 Olympic Mixed Double Offshore category which comes in for the Paris games.