Sailing: Joan Mulloy targets starting spot in Solitaire du Figaro

Ireland could have a record six sailors in ocean racing events this year

Ireland is poised to have an unprecedented level of participation in ocean racing events this year as at least six sailors, all on different boats, will be in competition in some of the sport’s highest-profile events.

The latest news is that Galway's Joan Mulloy has secured Bord Iascaigh Mhara as her sponsor as she campaigns for a much-sought after place in the Solitaire du Figaro, the annual French single-handed series.

She still has to formally qualify for the event that is limited to 43 skippers but, with the sponsorship hurdle cleared, she will now compete in the pre-season racing already underway.

Her task involves managing all aspects of her 33-foot yacht single-handedly while at sea during competition but also ashore with limited team support, unlike the more established professional French teams.


Originally named after the French newspaper Le Figaro, the annual "La Solitaire" race begins this year from Le Harve with a 570-nautical mile leg around the English Channel to Baie de Saint-Brieuc in Brittany followed by a further three legs including to Western Gallicia in Spain.

The 43 skippers will be split across the established professionals, amateurs and “rookies”.

This weekend’s event is a 350-mile race from and to Les Sables d’Olonne on France’s Atlantic seaboard in a fleet of 25 boats. Then it’s off northwards for another solo race at the Bay of Concarneau, one of the breeding-ground centres established to prepare generations of offshore sailors.

Graduates of this area include sailing legends such as Michel Desjoyeaux, Ellen MacArthur and Damian Foxall who was Ireland's first representative in the Figaro race.

It’s a gruelling but rewarding process that many regard as much more than a stepping-stone to longer trans-oceanic events and a career result in itself.

"I'm not too worried about the qualifying from a box-ticking point of view – it's more about getting the hours in and getting better at the sailing," Mulloy told The Irish Times yesterday. "These pre-season races are a very important learning process both for the racing and also getting to know your likely competitors."

Midway pitstop

Mulloy is planning to return to Ireland in the early summer, ahead of the Solitaire du Figaro race itself in August and may even be competing at the Beaufort Cup with a crew-entry during Volvo Cork Week.

Her training-partner is Tom Dolan from Meath who placed third overall in last year's mini-transatlantic race and who also hopes to enter the Solitaire – sponsorship permitting – but in the meantime will be competing in the forthcoming two-handed "AG2R" transatlantic race.

In November, Crosshaven’s Nin O’Leary will also be competing in this year’s Route du Rhum, a single-handed race from St Malo in Brittany to Guadaloupe which forms the qualifier for the next Vendee Globe race starting in 2020.

The timing of the finish of that transatlantic means that it is unlikely that he’d be able to return to Europe in time for the Barcelona World race, a two-handed round the world race starting in January that for the first time features a midway pitstop in Sydney.

O’Leary hasn’t ruled out participation in this event as a co-skipper on another boat.

An around the world race with a difference, or rather the original of the species, features Gregor McGuckin who will be competing in the recreation of the Golden Globe race first sailed 50 years ago.

The 20 entrants are limited to sailing similar yachts and equipment to what was available to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in the original race including a ban on modern equipment and navigation aids.

McGuckin will be competing in his 36-foot yacht and the event starts from Les Sables d’Olonne on July 1st.

Meanwhile, Enda O’Coineen is preparing to cross the Equator for the final approach to Les Sables d’Olones in France to complete his Vendee Globe single-handed race that he was forced to abandon last year.

After partnering with another syndicate in France, he returned to New Zealand earlier this year and restarted the course and achieved a milestone passing of the infamous Cape Horn a month ago.

The Galway sailor is still another month away from finishing and is then expected to sail to Dunkirk for sponsor activities there. A homecoming to Ireland is expected in early-Summer.

David Branigan

David Branigan

David Branigan is a contributor on sailing to The Irish Times