David Kenefick finished the fourth and final leg of the 2013 Solitaire Figaro in Dieppe in the small hours of this morning. Forty-one skippers started this solo race and 2000 miles over the four legs visiting three countries. The Figaro is scored on cumulative elapsed time over all four legs. For the second year in a row the race has been won by Yann Elies. Xavier Macaire was second 25 minutes behind, and in third place was Morgan Lagraviere a further seven minutes back. David finished the race in 28th place, some 12 hours and 14 minutes behind the leader and third of the seven Rookies. This last leg was without question the hardest with strong winds for the last 36 hours seeing one complete dismasting and five other retirements.
Now in its 44th year and following Damian Foxall, Marcus Hutchinson and Paul O’Riain, 22–year–old David has become the fourth and youngest-ever Irish skipper to finish this legendary race.
Shortly after finishing in Dieppe David had the following things to say in a bleary, punch drunk state of fatigue:
On Leg 4. “This leg was really good. It had a lot that we hadn’t in the previous legs. Unfortunately, I found myself struggling for speed, which I’ve done all month. I have crawled my way back into it. It was hard but great.”
“I started crawling back into it at Ushant. We had to go rock hopping in the dark and in the mist. My laptop was not working at the time. I had to use my iPad to navigate between a few rocks. That was the scariest part of the race for me, sailing between rocks and hearing breaking water all around me, with almost zero visibility.”
On gaining 10-11 places overnight on Friday. “From Wolf Rock to Needles Fairway buoy last night was pretty amazing. I set the small kite with one reef – it was crazy. I was just waiting for something to break. I knew that I’d break myself before the boat broke as so many people have told me. These boats are tough, fast and amazingly stable to sail downwind in a big breeze. I was waiting for the rig to break, but it stayed up. I hoisted at 0200 and just drove all night long. The boat was underneath the water the whole time. I’ve never done anything like that before, fully powered up all night long. I was terrified that I was going to lose control, and I certainly didn’t trust the pilot to do a better job. But next time we got the rankings on the VHF I had gained a lot of places. Through hard work comes gain!!! The most wind I saw on this leg was 38 knots. But sometimes you couldn’t see the instruments, and sometimes you didn’t want to see them!!!”
On broaching and losing it. “A few times I lost control. But I just let the kicker go, bore off and she was away again. Having two rudders is a joy. It makes it so much easier to push hard safely. I was one of the first to hoist after Wolf Rock in the bunch I was with. I hoisted the moment I’d cleared the Wolf Rock and with it I gained 11 places. Coming into the Needles, we had about 30 knots but then the breeze died and re-built up to 30 knots and unfortunately I did a violent Chinese gybe.”
“The strop on my boom that holds the mainsheet on snapped. I managed to gybe back, but my mainsail was lose. I knew I had to drop the kite at the same time to be in a position to safely fix the mainsheet back onto the boom. I dropped the kite but then the kite went flying back out of the hatch. Then my jib sheets came out of the blocks, no figure of eight, so I was trying to chase three sails at the same time!!!!
That was coming into the Needles. I got the two spinnaker sheets and tied those around the boom like on a Superyacht. I made up a new strop for the boom because I knew I’d need the spinnaker sheets again later. Eventually, everything was back under control.”
On overall feelings about the Figaro Race. “It was an amazing leg and the whole month has been amazing. If you had said to me last year that I’d be at the finish of the Solitaire, I don’t think I would have believed you.”
On what’s next. “Part of me is now hooked on this race but part of me is a bit frustrated. Unfortunately, the mind has a tendency to forget the hard parts. I’ll wait a few weeks and see what I think about it. I am a bit upset. I thought I’d enjoy it a bit more. I have had a difficult month. The night before the start in Bordeaux we had to change the forestay as we found a crack. I’m glad we did. Two forestays have failed in this race, and three rigs have failed. I have had no technical issues at all other than wear and tear and my computer going down from time to time. But this is a sailboat and if you can’t sail without a computer you shouldn’t be out there. With everything that I have learnt over the last month and the experience I have gained I’d love to be starting this race tomorrow. I’m ready to be a rookie now, but I’m no longer a first timer!