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Determined Irish Sailors in the Tough Professional World of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro

13th June 2019
Bird in the hand - Tom Dolan arrives on the dock with a feathered friend in Roscoff last night after another tough leg of the Figaro Race Bird in the hand - Tom Dolan arrives on the dock with a feathered friend in Roscoff last night after another tough leg of the Figaro Race Credit: Yvan Zedda

“You need to be mentally strong for this type of sailing. You have to make tough decisions when you’re tired.”

“Being by yourself, sailing solo, depends very much on the person and how you use your own resources,”

The first of those comments was made to me by 32-year-old Tom Dolan, the second by 33-year-old Joan Mulloy.

"The Kinsale Figaro stop-over did achieve a deal of coverage for Joan and Tom"

They summed-up quite a bit about the tough world of professional solo sailing and trying to establish a reputation and career at it. Tom, from Meath and Joan from Westport in Count Mayo both impressed me when I talked to them at Kinsale during the Figaro race stop-over. They’d had a disappointing time in the first leg from Nantes in France.

Tom Dolan FigaroTom Dolan

Tom was philosophical. 39th place was not the finish he had intended. He’d been in the top six of the 47-boat fleet for a while as it raced 550 nautical miles to Kinsale:
“It was a bit tough on the old morale, but when the successful day comes it will be all that much better won’t it?”

Joan fared even worse, but remained determined: “You can’t really let one thing put you off, maybe lots and lots of things going wrong, if they all started going wrong might, but that’s the training, to be able to deal with the good and the bad. You have to have some structure in your head to deal with things when they go bad.”

As well as the sailing, there is the financial side of being able to race in major events, the need for support, so we also talked about the search for sponsorship and the response of Irish companies to those engaged in sailing, a sport which does not feature at the top level of national media interest, though the Kinsale Figaro stop-over did achieve a deal of coverage for Joan and Tom.


She told me of her focus on the Vendee Globe and they described sailing the new foiling Beneteau 3 Figaro yachts: “A bit wet, but more interesting,” said Tom.

I started the interview by asking Tom what started him sailing:

Leg Two Update from Roscoff

With the breeze off Roscoff shutting down to become very light yesterday evening and through the night, the later finishers on Stage 2 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro struggled against the tide and unfortunately saw big increases in the time differences behind the leaders and some of their rivals. 

Such is the uncompromising nature of this race, the combination of missed tides and light winds, means hard earned minutes can very suddenly turn to hours.

Last night Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) came in just around midnight local time to finish 29th. The Irish sailor was disappointed with his finish. He said he became stuck twice on the first under big clouds with no wind and watched the fleet sail away. He lies 38th overall. After finishing last night.

Tom Dolan IRL (Smurfit Kappa): “ It was a bit difficult from the first night. I got stuck under two different clouds on the first night and I found myself deserted by the fleet, I was pretty much last at Bishop Rock. Then again I got stuck at The Needles with no wind again. And then again at the finish. So, apart from that it was good. I found a pigeon at the Scilly Isles and he came and sat on the boom. He stayed with me even in the strong winds, reaching in 30-35knots, doing 18-19knots. The boat just lifted and sat on the water and it was so nice to have some strong winds for a while. But the race for me has been difficult. It has not been good for me so far. It has been difficult. It can only get better. I look at that way. I’ll nit be taking the pigeon on the next legs.”

Joan Mulloy IRL ( In Grace) just beat the time cut off in 38th position: “ It was really hard. It was a very difficult race. Last night was very hard as I had no wind and thought I was not going to finish before the cut off. It was really tough to be three miles from the finish and see it is going to take you 15 hours. It was tough. On the second leg there was a bigger range of conditions. Coming back to France and in to the Channel it feels like the open ocean stages are over. I made the finish by an hour.”

Tom MacSweeney

About The Author

Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a column for He is former RTE Marine Correspondent/Presenter of Seascapes and now has a monthly Podcast on the Community Radio Network and Podcast services

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