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Finishing into Dieppe today 22nd place less than 45 minutes after Stage 4 winner Eric Peron (French Touch) after just under four days of hard racing Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) finishes in 25th place overall on the 50th La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro.

For his second participation at the famous French multi-stage solo offshore race, Dolan is taking away the positives which have been evident throughout his season so far and throughout an unrelenting edition – one of the longest and hardest courses ever – which saw the strongest, most competitive entry ever. He has proven fast in the breezy conditions, able to match the best in the fleet. He needs to work on the start lines and in the light, random conditions. Crossing the finish line into Roscoff in eighth place was the high point of the race for the French-based sailor who is originally from County Meath.

During the concluding miles of the first stage from Nantes to Kinsale, as he rounded the Fastnet he was given to reflect that less than ten years previously he was a sailing instructor working out of Baltimore. Dolan is pleased with the learning from this race.

"Crossing the finish line into Roscoff in eighth place was the high point of the race"

Red-eyed from the extreme lack of sleep and visibly wearing the fatigue of three weeks of racing over the four stages, Dolan said, 

“I was fairly happy with the start, to be honest. It was a good first night we were screaming along, I was with the lead group. Then I had a set back at the south of England after Wolf Rock. Then everything was all over the place, we fell backwards. I took a little chance on the race course. We were okay along the coast and we were with the lead group until we got done at Owers mark. The wind came in from the north and then we struggled to make it back up.”

Assessing his race overall, Dolan concludes, “It was hard, when there was wind I seemed to figure it out. But it was a particularly hard race and I am learning, I’m getting there. It’s my second solitaire. I could’ve done with more rest days before the start of it, more preparation- physical and mental- so I was more rested. There was plenty of times in the races where I was up there with the best and I had a hell of a speed so that’s positive.”

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Tom Dolan started the fourth and final leg of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro this afternoon off Roscoff, looking to finish inside the top 10 on the stage, just as he did on the previous stage finishing into the Bay of Morlaix.

“The body is holding up but only just. It is like doing three Fastnet races one after the other. On your own!” cautioned the Irish skipper from County Meath with a smile as he left the dock in Roscoff’s Port Blocson. “This will be another mainly light winds leg with lots of tide, lots of transitions and lots of opportunities. I just want to make sure I finish with no regrets having given my best. For sure the pressure is off slightly after that last leg. I had been doubting myself and my ability and now I just want to go out and fight for another good result.”

"It is like doing three Fastnet races one after the other. On your own!”

The final leg start was delayed until the fitful SE’ly breeze filled in and remained settled enough to allow the 47 strong fleet to be sent on their way on a 500 miles finale to Dieppe via the Great Bass Portsall 40 miles to the west of Roscoff, to Wolf Rock at Lands End, to the South Owers mark by the Isle of Wight, St. Marcouf and Roche d'Ailly.

"It will be tricky along the south coast of England where we will be in a transition zone from Start Point to the Owers. And there will be different options emerging. Even the last miles to the finish will see some different options so there will be plenty going on and once again the chance for big splits to occur.” Explains the solo skipper of the Figaro Bénéteau 3 which is supported by Smurfit Kappa.

“ I do think the whole fleet will regroup between Start Point and the Isle of Wight but I am looking forward to the race across the Channel to Wolf Rock where we should finally get some downwind stuff in a nice 20-25 knots.” Says Dolan who is in 34th place overall. The leg should finish late Tuesday night or Wednesday.

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Ireland's Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) achieved his best result of this, his second La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, as he took a provisional eighth place, just ten seconds ahead of British rival Will Harris (Hive Energy) in ninth when he crossed the stage three finish line.

British and Irish friends and rivals Will Harris and Tom Dolan had a great match race to the finish line, Dolan in eighth place pipping Harris by just ten seconds after 400 miles and three days and four hours of racing.

"The keel must have hit twenty times"

Dolan however, now faces a jury decision as to the penalty he expects for using his engine to get away from the rocks in the tidal race at Alderney. 

“The keel must have hit twenty times,” Dolan recalled. “Tanguy got stuck and I was so lucky not to. I expect to get a penalty, maybe 25 minutes or something like that, but what else could I do?”

"That’s the maddest thing I have ever been through"

Dolan, whose career best before today was his ninth in the third leg last year, continued: “That’s the maddest thing I have ever been through. I had a terrible start as usual, a real Tom Dolan start, and the fleet were gone. There was no wind at the coast and I managed to skip around them and get into the top 10 and then I got all excited saying, ‘I am doing well, I am doing well.’

“I missed the tide at Alderney by no more than ten minutes, I would say. If there had not been that general recall at the start I would have got through and then there was a whole load of us ended up in this washing machine. The tide was pushing us back and the wind was taking us forwards and Tanguy and I got sucked into this thing. The boat was hopping off the rocks and so I turned on the engine to get out. Tanguy ended up getting stuck.

“After that I had to put my head back together and I was going to give up, I said ‘what am I doing here’, the whole fleet got through and I thought this is useless. But I thought I might as well keep going. And then luckily, or not, most of the fleet tried to go around the TSS to the north but the ridge of high pressure was moving north, so I anchored and I got this weird sea breeze, a night breeze along the coast of Alderney and managed to crawl west. Then the wind came in from the west and I was back in the top ten again. From there it was a battle of wills to stay there. 
It was a mad race. I have never had so many ups and downs in the one race. 
That was the hardest race I have ever done. 
This was the same as the Solitaire last year; two terrible first legs and then a good third one which dragged me back from the brinks of giving up sailing and going back to delivering pizza or whatever. It is a mad sport.”

At the top of the leaderboard, crossing the Stage 3 finish line at 18:16.54hrs local time, Yoann Richomme finds his lead cut to just 1 hour 26 minutes and 14 seconds over the new second placed skipper Gildas Mahe (Breizh Cola-Equithe), who finished second on Stage 3 this morning.

Finishing in to Roscoff, emotionally drained at the end of an incredible Stage 3 on which he finished 13th, but nonetheless delighted to have held on to his overall lead in the 50th edition of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, Yoann Richomme (HelloWork-Telegramme Groupe) admitted that after the leading trio broke away at Alderney, he had no idea of how much time was ahead of them at the start of the leg.

As it was, the margins of between ten and 11 hours that he had in hand over Gildas Mahe (Breizhe Cola-Equithe), Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire) and Alexis Loison (Region Normandie) pre-start were enough, although Richomme has had his cushion cut to one hour and 26 minutes and 14 seconds. Mahe is now second overall and Loison is third at two hours and 22 minutes 12 seconds behind Richomme who has led since the end of Stage 1 in to Kinsale.

Leg four Baie De Morlaix to Dieppe (500 nm) starts Saturday 22 June.

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Following a general recall which really underlined how competitive and keyed up the 46 strong fleet was to get under way, the 460 miles Stage 3 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro started this afternoon from Roscoff on the famous Bay of Morlaix in the north of Brittany.

After some early disappointments, Irish solo skipper Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) is hoping the course which is much more confined will offer him the opportunity to post his best result so far of the four-stage race.

Stage 3, Roscoff to Roscoff, started in 12-15 knots of SW’ly wind which proved perfect for the initial 10 miles circuit on the bay. With thousands of spectators watching in one of the crucibles of French solo offshore racing, the home waters of Vendée Globe winner Armel Le Cléac’h, the first 10-mile circuit was fast and intense.

The challenging course comprises a loop across the Channel to Hands Deep mark by the Eddystone Lighthouse and down to the west of the point of Brittany before a 40-mile leg to finish back to Roscoff. A succession of tidal gates, especially at the Alderney race tomorrow, may divide the fleet. The race finishes back in Roscoff on Wednesday afternoon, perhaps evening.

Dolan said on the dock in the Blocson port before he left "It looks complicated. This is a potentially difficult stage. But the good thing is that the weather files we received this morning show some more wind than we saw yesterday. So we should be a bit quicker on this first leg across to Videocoq mark at Granville, when the tide will turn. Then we have to go play in the rocks to stay out of the tidal current. The most complicated bit will probably be the passage of the raz Blanchard (the Alderney race between the Channel island point de la Hague) where you really have to get there with the tide, otherwise we can expect huge gaps to open up.”

Having been careful to bank as much sleep as possible these last three days and night in Roscoff Dolan added, “It will be a long time before we will get the chance to sleep, really not until we are across the Channel. Until then it will be really full on and you will need to stay alert. I have been in the position on Stage 1 where I made a mistake because I was just waking up, so I need to guard against that. It is a hell of a battle this race but I can’t wait to be out there again.”

Race tracking here

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Delighted with the warmth of welcome in Kinsale and the interest shown in La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro and his project Tom Dolan, solo skipper of Smurfit Kappa, put to sea this afternoon on the 545 miles course to Roscoff.

See Bob Bateman's report of the Kinsale Figaro race departure here

A last minute course change did not concern Dolan any more than it did the 44 other solo racers. The decision not to take the La Solitaire racers north to the Isle of Man in potentially difficult 35-40 knots winds which were predicted for Tuesday was only announced at 1130hrs this Sunday morning. Dolan immediately fell in step with his team's new weather and strategy briefings for a stage which will now take the fleet into the English Channel where much more sedate, even light winds are promised.

As he left the dock in Kinsale Dolan smiled, "The stop has been short, intense and with a lot of things to do, seeing old friends and so on, which has been lovely. But it has been so great to be here and be able to be doing something which should gain a bit of interest in the sport in Ireland. It is nice and there has been such enthusiasm in Kinsale it has been lovely."

Figaro Race Kinsale10

The 530-mile course goes from Kinsale to Bishop Rock at the Scilly Isles then up the Channel to the Needles by the west point of the Isle of Wight before racing back down the Channel to Roscoff. Winds along the southern English coast are set to be light to moderate, dropping for the rounding of The Needles in strong tides.

" This last-minute change is because of the tough weather forecast over the next few days in the Irish Sea. It would have been a bit rock and roll with more than 25 knots of wind, especially in the St. George channel where we also had to deal with the traffic separation schemes, sandbanks, and ferries and that would require us to do more gybes. We know that the seas can get big and messy in the channel in the strong currents. I understand the decision of Race Direction even if all the homework and preparation we have done here in the last two days goes in the bin. We have to start all over again! 
Dolan adds " And the last 24 hours I had really got into my head the course, thinking about the long upwind and looking forwards to the downwind. But there you have it. You have to adapt, roll with it."

The Irish skipper admits he is as unfamiliar with the Channel as he would have been racing up around the Isle of Man, as planned,
"It will be quite new to me, I do not know the South coast of England that well at all. Now we are expecting a lot of reaching in 10, 12, 13 knots of wind and then we sail into this low-pressure system which is off England, so it could be quite chaotic going across the Channel. I would say it will be one after the other and then at the end it will be light, like the end of the last one, tide, wind all over the place. 
I am grand. After the result I got in the first leg I just want to be back out there with the counter set to zero and going again. I took a bit of a kicking on the first leg and so I want to get out and do better."

The second stage started in perfect conditions off Kinsale, 12-13kts of westerly wind and sunshine. Smurfit Kappa was in the middle of the 45 boat fleet as they headed towards Bishop Rock after a characteristic conservative, safe start. Two boats collided on the start line. Alain Gautier, a previous winner, was heading directly to Roscoff with damage to his boat. That's part of the game, however, and it's the same for everyone, "

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There was to be no glory for the Irish skippers as they sailed into home waters in the back end of the Figaro fleet into Kinsale this morning.

County Meath's Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) finished in 39th, ten hours after the winner. The talented Irish sailor was in the top group off the Brittany coast but chose to go west with many of the top seeds and paid a heavy price.

"It is good to be in. But I did fairly badly. I went the wrong way, simple as that. At Belle Ile I don't know what I was doing, I was in the lead group and going well. I kind of woke up from a nap and made a stupid decision. I saw a group going north of the island and thought 'oh yes, I need to go north of the island'. It was a stupid mistake and after that, I went west in the Celtic Sea and that was it." Dolan explained on the dock.

Similarly, Joanne Mulloy (Businesspost.ie/Believe In Grace) was competitive early in the race but faded and lost touch with the main body of the fleet, classified as 'abandoned' before the finish.

It was a tired and disappointed Tom Dolan who arrived in Kinsale early this morning, completing the first stage of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro in 39th place. After showing excellent speed and tactical nous in the early stages of what proved to be a marathon four days and four nights, 545 nautical miles leg from Nantes via the Fastnet Dolan made one costly strategic error.

His option taken to go west, offshore, early on in the Celtic Sea was one also taken by some of the most accomplished top seeds, surely running their chances of overall victory.

But the Irish skipper of Smurfit Kappa arrived home in Ireland bleary-eyed but determined to take the positives from a brutal leg which saw multiple different successive weather transitions and no fewer than nine different leaders.

After having been fighting in the top ten of the 47 strong fleet of solo racers during the passage up the French coast from a southernmost turning mark 57 miles after last Sunday’s start, Dolan’s decision saw him slide down the fleet with no chance to fight back when the wind shifted to favour the two groups which had elected to sail a more easterly track.

“I feel bad coming in because I did not do as well as I should have. I went the wrong way, it is as simple as that. Initially I woke up after a nap at Belle Ile and saw a group going north of the island and thought it was the thing to do, but the time I realised it was too late to do anything about it.” Recalled Dolan in the early morning sunshine, “I was doing well before that but then in the Celtic Sea I went west. So there you have it. You learn loads.” Said Dolan who had run out of water because the light wind leg proved to be more than 24 hours longer than expected.

“It was a long leg. For sure it was. I was left in no wind trying to get round the Fastnet. But next time I come to Ireland I’ll maybe make it by plane. I was not easy at all, it was very complicated. Now I need to find my mother who has never ever seen any of the boats I have raced on.” Smiled Britanny based 32-year-old Dolan who left his native Mells, County Meath to pursue a sailing career.

Remarkably it is less than ten years since Dolan was teaching sailing in nearby Baltimore and saw the Figaro fleet racing round the Fastnet.

“I am sorry I did so badly.” Dolan offered his friends who greeted him on the dock, “There were some good guys back there with me. The weather forecast and our briefings said, west, west, west, but the first time I got Met Eireann forecast, the Irish sea area weather service, it said north north easterly and I knew that was it. When we got the ranking then the leaders were 40 miles ahead of us. And we were 30 miles from the Fastnet, that was it. But it was tough, the wind never, ever stopped shifting.”

Dolan is now recovering and making ready for the second stage which starts Sunday and races to Roscoff in Brittany via the Isle of Man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As stage one of the 50th La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro completed its first 24 hours at sea, racing 553 nautical miles from Pornichet to Kinsale, Ireland, leaders Adrien Hardy (Sans Nature Pas de Future) and Michel Desjoyeaux (Lumibird) were fighting hard to contain a pack of pursuers who were threatening to pass on both sides to their west and to their east.

Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) read the breeze at the island light winds crossroads better and, at one point, had got himself up to ninth. This afternoon he was 12th, less than 2 miles from the leaders, and racing closely with three times La Solitaire winner Yann Eliès (Saint Michel). And by 8pm the County Meath man was as high as sixth place,

Dolan, who is racing just his second La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, reported today: "It has been a long day with a lot of time spent pulling on ropes and driving under the blistering sunshine, but it looks like we are just about out. In general, we are a bit late. I have eaten but at the moment I am trying not to sleep, you can drop off and then suddenly all your little mates are gone.”

Hardy, who is from Nantes – the official start city for this historic edition - is a former French 420 dinghy champion and Mini class racer. As the skipper who won this passage to Ireland when it was last sailed in 2010 – when the fleet raced from Brest to Kinsale - he knows this course from the west of France well.

Since he first raced La Solitaire in 2008, Hardy has won stages in 2010, 2013, 2015 and 2017 and was runner up last year to Sébastien Simon. Accompanied by the wily silver fox Desjoyeaux, who has won the multi-stage solo offshore race overall three times, the duo largely survived a big slow-down this morning and early afternoon in light winds at the Ile de Yeu, NW of Les Sables d’Olonne, as a messy ridge of high pressure engulfed the fleet. Speeds among the 47-strong fleet were less than one knot at times.

But during late afternoon on Monday, almost exactly 24 hours after the stage started in a blaze of glory under gennakers on the bay of La Baule, a group lead by the tenacious, talented Mediterranean rookie, Achille Nebou (Le Grand Reservoir) had made gains inshore in a more settled breeze and favourable current and cut the leaders’ margin from nearly one mile to just a few tenths of a mile. And on the other side, to the west, Pierre Quiroga – also a former top French dinghy racer from the Mediterranean – was posing an equal threat to the two pacemakers.

The first 24 hours have seen a real mix of fortunes for the international, non French sailors in the fleet. The biggest disappointment is the highly fancied Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) who seemed to get stuck off the bottom of the island in the very light winds, dropping right to the back of the fleet. Roberts, who holds the record for the highest overall finish by a British sailor with his ninth place in 2015, was fighting back on that easterly, inshore flank this afternoon but was 11 miles behind the leaders.

Also on just his second La Solitaire, England’s Will Harris (Hive Energy) is mid fleet in 25th, with several top seeds around him. Harris reported this afternoon that he has lost the use of his wind instruments at the top of his mast.

“It has been a really complicated start for me. Last night my wind instruments completely crashed and broke I think there is some water damage up at the top of the rig and so now I have no wind instruments that makes it a but more challenging to race as I now only have compass, so it is hard work to keep up with the others. But I am happy to be out racing and I am enjoying being back on La Solitaire. It has been really close from the start of the race and I got a bit preoccupied trying to fix the boat, but it was an amazing start, so many boats around, a really cool place to start a boat race from. It has been tricky because I did not have the best of starts, then I caught up a bit and now lost a bit again so I think it will be like that over the next three days. Let us see what the rest of the day brings."

Battling to escape a ridge of high pressure, there could be a big gain for those who can wriggle free first. The general strategy is to get out to the northwest to meet a new breeze first. The balancing act is whether to push out west earlier to find the wind but sailing extra miles, or to wait for the new wind to fill in and sail a more direct course.

A new depression is deepening off the south of Ireland, bringing a SW’ly wind. Tail enders may struggle to get free of the light zone and there is a risk of them being left behind. Tonight and in to early Tuesday morning the wind will swing back to the SSW and so there will be better downwind sailing conditions from Tuesday.

That new breeze is forecast to build, according to the race meteorologists MeteoConsult, with gusts over 25knots as a cold front passes on Tuesday bringing crossed seas. The choice of passing to the west or east of the infamous Ushant traffic separation zone may prove critical. And inshore the tidal currents are stronger. As usual the winds behind the front will be unsettled in strength and direction but the long term objective seems to be to get west.

Fans can follow the race through the tracking on the official website https://www.lasolitaire-urgo.com/en/ and on the English language Twitter account here

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It looks like heading home to Ireland is all the motivation Tom Dolan requires as the County Meath solo sailor has moved up from mid fleet last night to 10th place in the 47-boat La Solitaire du Figaro race fleet this morning.

Dolan and County Mayo sailor Joan Mulloy (currently 39th) are the two Irish sailors competing in the 50th edition of the race that is expected into Kinsale this week, the first port of call in a month long race.

Follow the tracker here. Twitter here. Afloat Figaro Race Irish update channel here

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

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

Figaro fleet2The Figaro fleet start today. Photo: Alexis Courcoux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Figaro
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The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.

Competitions

The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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