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Kenny Rumball Reflects on La Solitaire du Figaro 2022

18th September 2022
Electronics problems forced Kenny Rumball to make the difficult decision to retire from the last leg and end my Solitaire for 2022
Electronics problems forced Kenny Rumball to make the difficult decision to retire from the last leg and end my Solitaire for 2022 Credit: Alexis Courcoux

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, INSS
Kenneth Rumball

About The Author

Kenneth Rumball

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Kenny Rumball is the Principal of the Irish National Sailing School in Dun Laoghaire Harbour. He is a multi dinghy champion and offshore sailor. In 2018 he was awarded the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Seamanship Trophy for a Man Overboard Rescue in the Round Ireland Race. In May 2020 he embarked on a mixed offshore doublehanded keelboat campaign with Pamela Lee.

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Ireland & La Solitaire du Figaro

The Solitaire du Figaro, was originally called the course de l’Aurore until 1980, was created in 1970 by Jean-Louis Guillemard and Jean-Michel Barrault.

Half a decade later, the race has created some of France's top offshore sailors, and it celebrated its 50th anniversary with a new boat equipped with foils and almost 50 skippers Including novices, aficionados and six former winners.

The solo multi-stage offshore sailing race is one of the most cherished races in French sailing and one that has had Irish interest stretching back over 20 years due to the number of Irish stopovers, usually the only foreign leg of the French race.

What Irish ports have hosted The Solitaire du Figaro?

The race has previously called to Ireland to the following ports; Dingle, Kinsale, Crosshaven, Howth and Dun Laoghaire.

What Irish sailors have raced The Solitaire du Figaro?

So far there have been seven Irish skippers to participate in La Solitaire du Figaro. 

In 1997, County Kerry's Damian Foxall first tackled the Figaro from Ireland. His win in the Rookie division in DHL gave him the budget to compete again the following year with Barlo Plastics where he won the final leg of the race from Gijon to Concarneau. That same year a second Irish sailor Marcus Hutchinson sailing Bergamotte completed the course in 26th place and third Rookie.

In 2000, Hutchinson of Howth Yacht Club completed the course again with IMPACT, again finishing in the twenties.

In 2006, Paul O’Riain became the third Irish skipper to complete the course.

In 2013, Royal Cork's David Kenefick raised the bar by becoming a top rookie sailor in the race. 

In 2018, for the first time, Ireland had two Irish boats in the offshore race thanks to Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy who joined the rookie ranks and kept the Irish tricolour flying high in France. Mulloy became the first Irish female to take on the race.

Tom Dolan in Smurfit Kappa competed for his third year in 2020 after a 25th place finish in 2019. Dolan sailed a remarkably consistent series in 2020 and took fifth overall, the best finish by a non-French skipper since 1997 when Switzerland’s Dominique Wavre finished runner up. Dolan wins the VIVI Trophy.

Dolan finished 10th on the first stage, 11th on the second and seventh into Saint Nazaire at the end of the third stage. Stage four was abandoned due to lack of wind. 

Also in 2020, Dun Laoghaire’s Kenneth Rumball became the eleventh Irish sailor to sail the Figaro.

At A Glance – Figaro Race

  • It starts in June or July from a French port.
  • The race is split into four stages varying from year to year, from the length of the French coast and making up a total of around 1,500 to 2,000 nautical miles (1,700 to 2,300 mi; 2,800 to 3,700 km) on average.
  • Over the years the race has lasted between 10 and 13 days at sea.
  • The competitor is alone in the boat, participation is mixed.
  • Since 1990, all boats are of one design.

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