Irish Trio Flying The Tricolour On La Solitaire du Figaro

Publie le 18/08/2022

After the host nation, France, which fields 25 of the 34 skippers, Ireland -along with England - has the second biggest representation in the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro, the French solo offshore race which takes place each summer off the Atlantic and Channel coasts.

© Alexis Courcoux
© Alexis Courcoux

Three Irish solo racers are set to compete on solo sailing’s absolute pinnacle event which starts on Sunday with a 635 miles stage. French based Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) moved to France 12 years ago to pursue his dreams of top level solo racing. He scored a fifth overall in 2020, the best finish by any non-French skipper for nearly 20 years and is looking to go better this time after a disappointing 16th last year.

Dun Laoghaire’s sailing coach, sailing school owner Kenny Rumball (Offshore Racing Academy), 35 is back for a second attempt after racing as a rookie in 2020. And Howth entrepreneur and amateur offshore racer Conor Fogarty, 51, ( is out to complete La Solitaire du Figaro for the first time as a learning experience.

Dolan, 33, who comes from County Meath has long since established himself among the very top echelons of the Figaro fleet and this has prepared perfectly in each area, drawing on his good and bad experiences garnered since he did his first La Solitaire in 2018 when he finished 30th.

“I am out to do better than that fifth and that will depend on not making these same mistakes as before.” Said Dolan, “I need to take it easy and stay conservative, not taking any risks on the first leg, just stay with the group. I know what it is like to have a shocker on the first leg and feel out of it and I never want that again, spending the whole race feeling miserable and trying to make amends. And I feel well prepared. We have done a lot of racing this season, less training. It has been one race after another and probably raced more miles than ever before. Experience also says ‘stick to the plan, stick to the roadbook which means when to eat when to sleep and stay with it because if you get over tired it affects your decisions and choices, so I’ve learned that.”

Rumball, high hopes of high teens, maybe 15th?

Rumball came to the La Solitaire du Figaro in 2020, like many before him, wide eyed and with great expectations as an accomplished offshore racer. Only when he got into the race did he realise the gap between him and even the mid fleet. He is adamant his second attempt will be his last but he just wants to see how he can do with a decent programme and some good training and racing under his belt. He has done all three major races ready to peak on this La Solitaire du Figaro. He has been in France since January and trained out of La Rochelle whilst setting up the Ocean Racing Academy with Irish project manager Marcus Hutchinson.

They are looking to provide coaching for offshore racers of all levels and disciplines but trying to provide a smoother, more efficient pathway into the French system avoiding the pitfalls and offering turn-key fast track routes into circuits like the Figaro.

April’s Solo Maître Coq marked decision time for Rumball. But a decent result, 19th, was enough to see him continue and step up preparations for this La Solitaire du Figaro.
“The Maître Coq was about how I felt compared to three years ago when I was bringing up the back of the fleet and had not a clue what was going on having had no coaching at all.”
“And so here I am. The speed is there, the decision making is not always there, the speed is not always there but the biggest challenge is still staying awake.” He smiles.

He is adamant: “ I am not addicted. This is my last attempt at La Solitaire, definitely. I need a big break from offshore racing I have done so much recently, it has been non stop and I need a break. I was coaching all winter. In fact I have spent more time offshore than on land.”

But first, he has a goal in mind, “ I want to be in the high teens, 15th or thereabouts I hope is realistic. I am quite well set up. I have a great preparateur. Really this time I have no excuses. Three years ago I had not got a clue. I was saying ‘I think I will do OK, I can sail offshore, I can race’ but I had had no training and really did not know what I was letting myself in for. Now this is me seeing what I can do with some coaching and the right things in place.”

Fogarty is very much an amateur ocean racer stepping into solo racing’s lion’s den for the first time. A 51 year old whose business interests are in IT, Pharmaceuticals and property, Fogarty has raced most of offshore racing’s classics and is simply out to complete one of solo sailing’s toughest, unique challenges.

Fogarty, a finish will be enough

He explains, “My biggest goal is just to finish. But then I have met people who came in with the same idea and keep coming back, it seems to be slightly addictive when you get involved. It is very stressful and hard but when you walk away each time you think ‘well that was a lot of fun. I want to go back and do it again. And the more you do it the more you improve. I want to complete this race and then see what I do next. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. But then this is my own boat and so what I do with the boat next is my own decision.”

He continues, “ For me this race this is about personal challenge and enjoyment. I want to complete the race. I think there are three groups, top 10, 20s and the 30s and I’d like to be on the edge of 30s, trying not to be in the last four or five.
I tried to train in France early in the season but it was hard as I had to work and my French is not good at all. I struggled a little but Marcus has helped a lot. But to do this properly you need to immerse yourself in it, you have to live here. I don’t have that option.”


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