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Kenny Rumball reflects on La Solitaire du Figaro 2022

by Offshore Racing Academy 18 Sep 2022 04:14 PDT
Kenny Rumball - La Solitaire du Figaro 2022 © Alexis Courcoux

A lot of planning and preparation went into this years 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.

Leg one was north from St Nazaire around Bishop's Rock to a virtual waypoint halfway to Skockholm 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.

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 the, 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!

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 Archachon. 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 3pm.

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 the 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 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 prize-giving 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...

So 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 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 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, 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 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...

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