Kenny Rumball ponders La Solitaire du Figaro 2022
by Offshore Racing Academy 18 Sep 11:14 UTC
Kenny Rumball – La Solitaire du Figaro 2022 © Alexis Courcoux
A lot of planning and preparation went into this year’s Solitaire, I was already training in France from January, mainly at the Center Excellence Voile in La Rochelle under the guidance of trainer Etienne Saiz, but also under the watchful eye of project manager Marcus Hutchinson.
Pre-season events and performance results both on and off the water have been very promising with solid results in the Solo Maitre Coq, Allmer Cup and Solo Concarneau.
Not to mention great sailing in other classes, most notably the 1720 class in Ireland and an offshore campaign on Darkwood, the J121 which earned a class win at the SSE Renewables Round Ireland earlier in the season.
As a result, I felt more prepared than ever when I went into Solitaire. Well considered sail choices, a great backup team, weather analysis with Christian Dumard and coaching from Etienne, all with key ingredients necessary for a different format this year. Three as opposed to four stages, every 600 nautical miles with then two days on land to rest before moving on to the next stage. This meant that stopovers were just as important as the actual races.
The first stage ran north from St Nazaire around Bishop’s Rock to a virtual waypoint midway to the island of Skockholm before heading south to Port La Foret. A very easy launch saw us drift north under gennaker before the wind picked up from the NW taking the fleet north, with the wind eventually turning to the NE giving solid speeds towards Bishop’s Rock. At Bishop’s Rock we had our first change with the wind dropping before coming in from the south west. Up to 25 knots in the night brought fast speeds to the waypoint. Next day we met the next crossing with no wind and let the fleet drift north of the Scillies. Finally, in the late afternoon, the north-west wind picked up to drive us south to Port La Foret. A lot of weather forecasts said we would get a northeast wind so I took a southeast route to take advantage of it.
As I approached Quessant, I had the first problems, which turned out to be persistent electronic problems. The wind instruments indicated an error as we screeched downwind at 25 kn all night. Essentially, this meant hand-driving the last 16 hours of this stage. I arrived at Port La Foret with the pack, shattered but relatively happy with my performance. Straight into some much-needed rest, I left Guillaume, my prep, to take care of the boat and seek clarification from NKE on the wind instrument issues.
The second leg would take us north again from Port La Foret to a marker west of Guernsey, over to the Eddystone Lighthouse and then all the way south to Royan which is north of Bordeaux. Starting with a sea breeze in the afternoon, there was a good breeze at the start before the wind became light and choppy all the way to the Pointe du Raz. I wasn’t quick at first in the light air approaching Penmarch but knowing the wind would be easterly all night I was back in the mix with the pack by the ‘Raz’. In a building easterly with winds of 25 knots and gusts touching 30 knots, the fleet battered all the way to the Channel Islands. As we rounded the cardinal mark southeast of Guernsey in the early hours of the morning, the sprint to Eddystone between the big spinnaker, the small spinnaker or the gennaker was a tough call. In the beginning it was fast and very wet with the small spinnaker, but it was obvious that staying high enough to do eddystone was almost impossible. When peeling to the gennaker, speeds were similar, making Eddystone light. By now the wind had built up to 28-32 knots so the pace was fast! We expected gusts of 35 knots on the approach to Eddystone and for the leg from Eddystone back to Quessant. Around Eddystone it was a peelback to the small spinnaker. Some boats around me had big spinnakers hoisted and got overwhelmed and sideways very quickly so it was the right decision!
As we approached Quessant the wind should ease and we expected a transition with north-easterly winds all the way to Royan. Being solitaire, life shouldn’t be that easy, so with lots of transitions and a fleet spread far and wide across the west coast of France, we drifted for almost 24 hours, desperate for a tiny breeze. The wind ended up being from the North West and frustratingly after being in the middle part of the pack I found myself in the second half of the pack as we approached Royan. However, after another leg had been managed without major breaks and the 35 knots in the canal had been survived in one piece, it was time to rest again before the last leg! The instruments had behaved well, it was a hard leg!
The third leg turned out to be the toughest: a nice turn to the Farallones Islands off the north coast of Spain with building swells of up to 4m and winds between 28 and 38 knots for a fast but challenging sailing home to St Nazaire . Cheerful and ready, I left Royan and stayed with the pack until safe water mark off Archachon. I sailed fast through the night, was in a good position in the fleet the next day and sailed fast in the lighter winds. Everything was going well on board until around 3pm when I was awakened from a short nap by a wind warning message from my instruments.
After encountering these issues before following TEEM and NKE’s instructions to reboot the system to see if the issue resolves itself. As I monitored the instruments the problem became more persistent and I began to doubt whether I would be able to continue the stage given the forecast for the return trip of 35kn and 4m sea conditions. A call to Race Director Yann who allowed me to call TEEM on the satellite phone for advice on how to possibly fix the problem at sea. Remember that in Solitaire we don’t have mobile phones and it’s forbidden to get outside help during the race. I also raised the issue with my Irish competitor, Tom Dolan. Unfortunately, TEEM’s prognosis was that my wind speed and direction sensor at the top of the mast would fail and the situation would get worse…
With the prognosis and a lack of reliable wind instruments, after much deliberation, I made the difficult decision to withdraw from the final stage and finish my solitaire for 2022. I’ll never know if it was the right decision. However, if you are on your own with little to no outside help coupled with the stress of racing, keeping the boat and yourself in one piece and considering the circumstances at the time, this is the decision I made have.
And so began a lonely 200-mile delivery back to Lorient. Messages from the other skippers came one after the other on VHF after the race committee informed the fleet of my decision. I called Marcus to tell him the situation and my family over the satellite phone and pointed the boat at Lorient.
Suddenly it was all over, 9 months of training, racing, logistics, fitness, nutrition and one goal, the solo season was over. I spent two days in Lorient putting the boat away, not an easy task given the number 20 sailings over the last three years. I headed down to St Nazaire to celebrate with the other skippers and went to the awards ceremony to wrap up the event.
Then it was time for a much needed holiday, away from sailing boats, the wind, sun and sea of Naxos were calling for a kitesurfing holiday…
What’s next for Kenny? I certainly need a good rest from offshore sailing and the intense training and sailing regime that comes with it. However, I will continue to develop the Offshore Racing Academy to help build and support the skills of all levels of offshore racing in Ireland. Stay tuned for some developments in this area over the next year!
With this in mind, there is still an opportunity for young Irish offshore sailors interested in the Figaro to join Kenny to compete in the Figaro Nationals in Lorient from 6th to 9th October. Please email Kenny [email protected] if you are interested, remember this only applies if you are seriously interested in competing at the Figaro circuit in 2023. This event will be sailed with 4 people on board each Figaro. There is a mix of short coastal races and a tour on the Ile de Groix, the island off the coast of Lorient. It’s a lovely end to the season and an opportunity for those seriously interested in competing at the Figaro circuit next year to gain valuable insight into the class and skippers and learn what it takes to compete in this one enter professional class.
I’m looking forward to sailing something different at the end of the season. The RS 21 world championships are coming up in November and I’m looking forward to the Turkey shoot in the familiar surroundings of the 1720. After 11 mid-lake races, despite many offers, I’m taking a break from Malta this year…