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Ireland’s leading solo offshore racer Tom Dolan was recognised for his exceptional 2020 season, during which he finished in an unprecedented fifth place in La Solitaire du Figaro, when he was named Irish Sailor of the Year. The award, now in its 25th year,  is presented by Afloat magazine and recognises not just his La Solitaire success but his sixth place overall in the French Elite Offshore Racing Championship. Known in France, where he is based, as L’Irlandais Volant (the flying Irishman), County Meath’s Dolan is delighted with the recognition and admits it comes at the time when he is looking to ensure he prepares for 2021 in the best possible way to ensure that this season can be even better.

The Irish Sailor of the Year 2020 was profiled by WM Nixon at the weekend here.

Tom Dolan's 2021 season

The 2021 season should include three double handed races – including the first double-handed race across the Atlantic in the Beneteau Figaro 3– and three solo races including each year’s pinnacle solo event, September’s La Solitaire du Figaro.

After his consistent 2020 Dolan has every reason to be confident for 2021 but the skipper of Smurfit Kappa is keeping very cool and not getting ahead of himself, well aware how hard it is to return a regular string of results on the Figaro Bénéteau circuit, when the level of competition so high and so evenly matched in the strict one design class. And so it is a very determined but low-key, humble Dolan who put his Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa back into the water last Thursday ready to begin his first training sessions from Lorient, ahead of his first races, next month from Les Sables d'Olonne with the Solo Maître CoQ. After a very focused autumn, increasing the intensity of the two-boat training and testing sessions with the very experienced Gildas Mahé, Tom Dolan has seen design improvements to the boat's sail inventory made along with with the specialists from the Technique Voile team led by Frédéric Duthil. He took a short winter break before starting back to boatwork on his Figaro Bénéteau 3, "I did a lot of work on the keel which was slightly damaged at the very start of last year's season. I also carried out a complete check-up of the boat and then I did some work on the watertightness of the deck fittings, particularly in view of the double-handed Transat between Concarneau and Saint Barths scheduled for next May. I even went so far as to polish my mast, which is really looking for the small gains but for sure – up top – mentally it all helps you feel like you are attending to the little details.”

Back in Training

“My first training sessions are scheduled next week and will mainly be two-up as the 2021 calendar includes three double-handed events: the Transat between Concarneau and Saint-Barth (from May 9 to 28) but also the Tour de Bretagne (from July 3 to 11) and the Fastnet Race (from August 8 to 14), which I hope to take part in with a female crew looking ahead to selection for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games," explains Tom, who is stepping up his challenge to represent Ireland on the Olympic stage. The Solitaire du Figaro is Dolan’s main objective this year. "The Solo Maître CoQ (from 22nd to 28th March) then the Solo Guy Cotten (from 20th to 28th July) will be two interesting races for me as good preparation for the season’s high point which is La Solitaire running from 24th August to 27th September.

Tom Dolan racing around the Fastnet Rock in the 2020 Figaro RaceTom Dolan racing around the Fastnet Rock in the 2020 Figaro Race

The programme promises to be good but busy all the way through the coming months. “It will be important that I pace myself perfectly, especially because the Transatlantic will inevitably take a lot out of us. And you need to have energy and focus all the way through the season as I experienced in 2018 when I did the AG2R - as it was then -in the Figaro 2.” With three more years of experience and a certain level of confidence underpinning his approach to 2021, Dolan says he definitely feels better equipped to manage himself and his programme to ensure he arrives at the start of La Solitaire in peak form. "After my fifth place last year obviously the target is always to do better. But I am realistic enough to know that will be even harder to achieve. And so the goal is to get right back into the mindset, to recover that mode and drive on from there, seeking to further highlight his reputation as an established, consistent sailor on the circuit. And if, by any chance, an opportunity presented itself to compete on the Transat Jacques Vabre in November in another class then Dolan would love to explore any options that come his way, always looking to make progress.

Published in Tom Dolan

The Figaro Solo was arguably the peak in sailing competition – both inshore and offshore – in Europe during 2020. In a truncated and contorted season, somehow the crème de la creme of international solo sailing were guided into a contest which – in late August and early September - complied with pandemic regulations, and yet provided out-and-out competition of the highest order, in which a final placing in the top half of the fleet was an achievement of world standard.

The level which has been reached at the sharp end of Figaro 3 racing had already been very forcefully demonstrated back in July, when a first testing of the offshore racing waters in France with the Drheam Cup – for a fleet of hundred-plus boats from Cherbourg on the north coast round to La Trinite in South Brittany – saw first place on the water and under every handicap system being taken by rising Figaro star Sam Goodchild from Falmouth racing solo.

Tom Dolan racing hard. The cockpit of a Figaro 3 is Spaghetti Junction on a permanent basis. It would take at least five sailors of average ability to handle the lines which a Figaro sailor controls soloTom Dolan racing hard. The cockpit of a Figaro 3 is Spaghetti Junction on a permanent basis. It would take at least five sailors of average ability to handle the lines which a Figaro sailor controls solo……….Photo: Thomas Deregnieaux

…..and as well as sail handling solo, he's on his own in deciding whether or not he'll cross clear ahead on port tack…..and as well as sail handling solo, he's on his own in deciding whether or not he'll cross clear ahead on port tack. Photo: Thomas Dregnieaux.

It was a very eloquent demonstration of the level being reached by the stars of the Figaro, as Goodchild comfortably beat some very hot fully-crewed larger boats. But he also beat some Figaro boats being sailed two-handed, including Tom Dolan's Smurfit Kappa, which he was racing to second overall in the Two-handed Division with longtime shipmate Francois Jambou.

Despite Goodchild's outstanding performance, in the bigger picture it was an encouraging result for Dolan, as he'd had a frustrating year in 2019 – his first with the new foiling Figaro 3 – after he'd made a solid start in the class in the last year of the Figaro 2s in 2018.

But even with that frustration of 2019, his sponsors in Smurfit Kappa had seen his promise fulfilled in earlier years. They were in for the long haul. They knew that Tom Dolan had what it takes. And everyone's faith and patience was rewarded in 2020 with a stellar performance when the Figaro Solo racing may well have been at its highest pitch ever.

The Figaro Solo 2020 presented exceptional challenges for single-handed sailorsThe Figaro Solo 2020 presented exceptional challenges for single-handed sailors

For though some former Figaro top scorers may have re-directed themselves into the approaching Vendee Globe in November, so many other events had been pandemic-cancelled that the carefully-planned Figaro circus between lockdowns soon became the only show in town, attracting many superstars.

And when it got going, it soon became clear that while Tom's problem in 2019 had frequently been a matter of "going fast, but in the wrong direction", in 2020 he was "going even faster, and this time in the right direction at the right time".

Tom Dolan rounding the Fastnet well-placed in 2020's Figaro SoloTom Dolan rounding the Fastnet well-placed in 2020's Figaro Solo

A thorough psychological analysis and personal re-programming in the Autumn of 2019 was proving of enormous benefit, and in watching the race unfold on the Tracker, it was fascinating to see that even when Tom and his usual pace-makers had got themselves into a less than ideal situation, it seemed to take only a couple of quick tacks or an hour or so in a slightly different offwind direction for them to be right back in the hunt.

So L'Irlandais Volant – The Flying Irishman – was back in town and then some, and though his final placing of fifth overall in a fleet of 34 may at the finish in St Nazaire may not have put him in the medal list, it very certainly gave him the VIVI Trophy – donated by Marcus & Megan Hutchinson – for the best-placed non-French skipper - in fact, he was the best-placed since 1997.

Tom with his trophies in St NazaireTom with his trophies in St Nazaire

To put it further into perspective, the overall winner by just ten minutes was Armel Le Cleac'h, taking his third Figaro overall win while looking forward to the Vendee Globe in November. He was anticipating the VG not because he was taking part, but in sitting it out he was keeping an eye on his 74-day record from the 2016-2017 Vendee Globe, as eight of the latest-generation IMOCA 60 foilers were in the thirty-plus fleet.

The reckoning was they might complete in 70 days. But it became a matter of Around the World in Eighty Days. So Le Cleach's record will stand for at least eight years, and in adding a third Figaro victory during the lead-up to all this, Le Cleac'h was firmly establishing himself as currently the worlds most accomplished solo offshore racer.

Thus the fact that, at various stages during the Figaro Solo 2020, Tom Dolan found himself looking astern to keep the tabs on Le Cleac'h's Banque Populaire X indicates that the Meathman was undoubtedly playing Senior Hurling offshore. And in the final tally, he was securely ahead of the likes of Phil Sharp, pre-race favourite Sam Goodchild, and - perhaps most importantly of all - Erwan le Draoulec, who had so convincingly beaten him in the MiniTransat of 2017, thereby giving Dolan an impressive line-up of bested stars which adds considerable lustre to a career which, at Thursday Night's Annual Irish Sailing Awards, received yet more deserved recognition.

Yet in chatting to him in a phone call to Concarneau yesterday morning, Sailing on Saturday found we were talking with a sailing superstar who is still a droll Meathman who delights in sharing his joy in fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming an offshore sailor.

The shaping of a champion – a young Tom Dolan in his early days in France at a pre-race briefing……….The shaping of a champion – a young Tom Dolan in his early days in France at a pre-race briefing……….

….and at an early Mini-Transat briefing……. ….and at an early Mini-Transat briefing……. 

…..and Tom Dolan as he is today, in thoughtful mood before the start of the Figaro Solo 2020…..and Tom Dolan as he is today, in thoughtful mood before the start of the Figaro Solo 2020

So how did a farm-boy from a 48-acre property deep in North Meath beyond the Boyne in one of those places which is much more easily found if you've been there before, how on earth did he come to this ambition? For it was so off-the-wall in his little primary school that when his class were asked what they wanted to do in life, Tom's answer was so sure and certain that the teacher said: "Go sit beside Jimmy over there. He wants to be an astronaut".

But apparently, although life rotated around the farm which had been in the family for several generations, Tom's father Jim had spent some time working in the south of England in and around Portsmouth, where a friend had taken him sailing a couple of times. And then eventually back on the farm where Tom was the only child of Jim's second wife Ann (he has two older half sisters, one in New York and the other in Portsmouth), if there was a pirate film on television, Jim delighted in explaining the sailing details of the ships involved to Tom.

Where it all started – Lough Ramor in high summerWhere it all started – Lough Ramor in high summer

Thus sailing was gently but steadily climbing up the agenda, and one day Jim spotted a little sailing dinghy – maybe a Mirror or its newer less successful version the Miracle - for sale very reasonably priced in Buy & Sell magazine just up the road at Lough Key in Roscommon. It was soon bought with missing ropes substituted where necessary with binder twine, and by the following weekend they were sailing it on nearby Lough Ramor, with Tom's interest in sailing further reinforced at an increasingly difficult time as his father was ill.

He writes of it now:

"That's a fond memory I have of one of my first times on the water. It's one of the last memories I have of my father too.

I was a young lad starting secondary school. I was rudderless. I'd no clue what I wanted to do in the future. I ended up going to UCD for a year to study Agricultural Science, just because farming is what my Dad did. I dropped out and was on the dole then. I was completely lost.

Sailing gave me a whole new life of meaning and purpose.

A friend of mine saw a course in Coláiste Dhúlagh in Coolock in North Dublin called Outdoor Event Management, where you'd learn about kayaking and sailing and things like that. I talked my way into the course, and I loved it. I felt like I'd found my calling.

As a part of the course, you were offered the chance to go to the Glenans Sailing Centre (now defunct in Ireland) in Baltimore in West Cork. I went down there, and it was the best experience I'd ever had. They were happy with me because they sent me to their branch in France, the biggest sailing school in Europe. That's when I really discovered offshore racing".

By 2010 his life was rotating around sailing in Brittany in the greater Glenans circle, but at home, things weren't looking good. His father died on June 5th 2011 – ten years ago this summer, and sharply remembered through being side-by-side with D-Day. Thus the still-bewildered rising sailing star who ticked all the boxes – for Tom Dolan was a good learner, a good sailing teacher, and a star performer in boats too – was faced with the big decision.

If he was to fulfil his dream, as her only child he'd to leave his widowed mother on the farm. But maybe sensing this would happen, his father had always said: "You only live once, make the best of it".

So Tom returned to Concarneau and France. And when probate was finally given on his father's complex estate in 2016 with the farm being kept in the family, Tom remembered the paternal advice, and took his own inheritance and invested in a new Pogo 3 MiniTransat boat, for he'd already achieved success with a borrowed and decidedly worn Pogo 2, and felt that the only way forward was to "bet the farm" with this newly-inherited and modest resource, and go for a boat that would have him in with a chance, even if initially it was the most basic of unfinished boats which required many months of his own work to bring it up to standard and the right levels of finish.

But working hard at all hours was now second nature to him, as there was always something needing doing around boats in Concarneau to help him turn a bob or two, and he and Francois Jambeau additionally ran a successful coaching academy afloat.

The breakthrough boat – Tom in 2016 with the new Pogo 3 which he'd bought in the most basic form through an inheritance from his father.The breakthrough boat – Tom in 2016 with the new Pogo 3 which he'd bought in the most basic form through an inheritance from his father

But time was slipping by, he was 28 by 2016, and he felt if he didn't make the breakthrough soon he'd miss any opportunity of getting into the major league. However, with the new boat nearing completion, things were starting to improve on the vital corporate sponsorship front, with developing links with a global Irish company which had a strong presence in France. This linkup was developed through an old friend whom he'd met during his Glenans days in Baltimore, and he writes:

"I stayed in contact with Gerry Jones, who would become an important mentor and friend, who had been on the board of directors back at Glenans in Cork. He said, 'I'm good at finding money. You're good at sailing. I'll teach you, if you teach me and we'll work something out'. So, he arranged for me to do a presentation in Dublin with Smurfit Kappa.

I arrived all suited up and waffled on to the guy for about 40 minutes. In the end, he looked at me and said, 'I was on a boat once. I was very sick.'. But he believed in me. And that was the start of my financial sponsorship.

An excellent start. With the first sponsorship deal secured with Smurfit Kappa in 2016, Tom was soon showing what he could do in the Mini Transat ClassAn excellent start. With the first sponsorship deal secured with Smurfit Kappa in 2016, Tom was soon showing what he could do in the Mini Transat Class

Early days in the Smurfit sponsorship, when Tom Dolan Sailing was still something of a cottage industry in Concarneau. Early days in the Smurfit sponsorship, when Tom Dolan Sailing was still something of a cottage industry in Concarneau

Smurfit Kappa has been an amazing organisation to work with; I have been so lucky to work with them. They have many demands for sponsorship and chose me. Their trust, confidence and sponsorship has been key to my progress over the last three years,"

It says everything about the status of Smurfit Kappa that while they have a very distinctive and widely-recognised name, it doesn't say a thing about what they do, yet it's generally known that they're an Irish-headquartered global leader in the cardboard and packaging industry, and for several years they've become pace-setters in making their industry more eco-friendly.

Thus this strong sailing sponsorship, which began to develop at least four years ago, has proven a magically successful match-up, with everyone's stars in alignment last Thursday when the news spread in the morning that Smurfit Kappa CEO Tony Smurfit had announced an exceptionally successful trading year with good prospects worldwide, and then in the evening their own cherished international offshore racing skipper was announced as Ireland's "Sailor of the Year" in the 25th year of the contest, making him the Silver Jubilee Sailing King.

Jack Roy was an enthusiastic supporter of Tom Dolan during his Presidency of Irish Sailing, and he is seen herewith Tom in La Rochelle for the start of the 2017 Mini Transat Jack Roy was an enthusiastic supporter of Tom Dolan during his Presidency of Irish Sailing, and he is seen herewith Tom in La Rochelle for the start of the 2017 MiniTransat

It has been a tough journey getting here. The 2017 Minitransat went well. Even if Erwan le Draoulec remained persistently in the lead, it looked as though Tom was going to be fourth overall, but in strong winds in the last night approaching the finish, his little boat was caught up in a giant version of that breaker which recently caused Annelise Murphy to achieve her first ever backward-flip in the Laser at Lanzarote, and in Tom's case - nearing St Lucia in December 2017 - his boat was pitch-poled in the complete somersault.

It gave him a record which can never be matched. It was the first time a MiniTransat had pitch-poled without breaking her mast. That said, there was plenty of sorting out to do before Tom could resume full racing, but he still managed to finish sixth, albeit in a distinctly subdued frame of mind.

By any standards, the rig of a MiniTransat 650 Pogo 3 is exceptionally tall, making it a miracle that Tom Dolan survived a pitch-pole while running hard in the Atlantic without losing the mastBy any standards, the rig of a MiniTransat 650 Pogo 3 is exceptionally tall, making it a miracle that Tom Dolan survived a pitch-pole while running hard in the Atlantic without losing the mast.

By the following year, his sponsorship from Smurfit Kappa had been transferred to a second-hand Figaro 2 for a first season in the Big Boys Game, and it went well, but 2019 – the Golden Jubilee Figaro Solo Race, and Kinsale a prominent stopover port – was nightmare stuff. Fortunately, when his mother came down from Meath to experience the culture shock of being in the Figaro circus in all its glory in Kinsale, it was still early in the series, and hope was in the air. But it was finding hope at the end which showed that Tom Dolan and his sponsors were of the right stuff, and in 2020 their faith in themselves and each other has been rewarded in spades.

"So this is what you do?" Tom with his mother Ann in Kinsale, May 2019"So this is what you do?" Tom with his mother Ann in Kinsale, May 2019

For most of the time, Tom has also drawn on the strength of the reassuring presence of his significant other, Karen Charles Boiteux, and theirs was a cheery household yesterday morning as Tom made plans to continue with today's launching of his Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa despite Concarneau having more than its fair share of snow.

Like all thorougbreds, Smurfit Kappa has her official name and a pet name, for across the transom in discreet lettering it says Cailin Rua III CC – Red Haired Girl 3 of Concarneau, in honour of the first "Red Haired Girl" which he sailed with his father on Lough Ramor, and the second, which was the Pogo 3 raced in the Mini-Transat.

Tom finishing at St Nazaire to take fifth overall and the VIVI Cup in the Figaro Solo 2020. And Cailin Rua sails on…….Tom finishing at St Nazaire to take fifth overall and the VIVI Cup in the Figaro Solo 2020. And Cailn Rua sails on…….

For although his life may now be centred on Concarneau and the uniquely successful French offshore racing scene, he keeps closely in touch with his past and with home and with longtime friends such as Gerry Jones. But equally, he lives in the present and thinks much about the future, which for someone in his position has almost infinite possibilities, and for 2021 will be built around the Figaro Solo 2021. With continuing pandemic, the dates won't be announced until March, but until then with the new-look Fastnet Race finishing in Cherbourg in August, the Beneteau Figaro 3s have been offered their own class within the Fastnet Race, though they've to register interest by March 1st.

Not so very far down the line, there's the likelihood of a two-handed female/male crewed offshore class in the 2024 Paris Olympics, with the sailing in the Mediterranean, and Tom Dolan is definitely interested in sailing in that for Ireland. Either way, Tom has shown he's well able for it all when sailing has to be compressed into intensive elite bubbles to cope with the requirements of pandemic.

It's good for Ireland to know that, in the 25th round of this award, the Sailor of the Year has emerged as a man of exceptional natural talents in a boat, a man whose sheer ability and determination has brought him upwards despite a sometimes rather discouraging system. We salute Tom Dolan, Sailor of the Year.

The 2020 Afloat Sailor of the Year sails on to success. The continuing sponsorship with Smurfit Kappa has been a shared learning experience which has developed into an environmentally aware campaign The 2020 Sailor of the Year sails on to success. The continuing sponsorship with Smurfit Kappa has been a shared learning experience which has developed into an environmentally aware campaign

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Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan has been named Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year for 2020 in recognition of his fifth overall and best ever Irish result in the year's La Solitaire du Figaro Race, amid another landmark 12 months for inspiring performances in Irish sailing against all the odds thrown up in the pandemic.

September’s Sailor of the Month was announced as the overall winner at tonight's Irish Sailing Awards that was celebrated online due to COVID-19

Dolan was announced from a line up of 26 individual sailors and pairings who have excelled in their respective disciplines, be it offshore, dinghy, cruising, windsurfing, or sailing administration.

Even when Tom Dolan had been down the numbers in the early stages of one of the early legs of the four-stage 2,000 mile Figaro Race in September, Dolan and his boat were soon eating their way up through the fleet in any situation which demanded difficult tactical decisions. His fifth overall at the finish – the highest-placed non-French sailor and winner of the Vivi Cup – had him right among the international elite in one of 2020's few major events.

Tom Dolan, posted Ireland's best ever results in the 2020 La Solitaire du FigaroTom Dolan, posted Ireland's best ever results in the 2020 La Solitaire du Figaro Photo: Alexis Courcoux

The 33-year-old who has lived in Concarneau, Brittany since 2009 but grew up on a farm in rural County Meath came into the gruelling four-stage race aiming to get into the top half of the fleet and to underline his potential to Irish sailing administrators considering the selection process for the 2024 Olympic Mixed Double Offshore category which comes in for the Paris games.

Tom Dolan's foiling FigaroTom Dolan's foiling Figaro, 'Smurfit Kappa'

Having worked hard on his mental approach in the early season, Dolan made an excellent start by leading the 624 miles first stage across the Celtic Sea before Fastnet Rock. He lost four places on the approach to the light and more on the long run and reach to the finish, but the 10th place finish was a foundation to build on. He followed up with a solid 11th in the second stage and his career-best seventh on the last stage ensured he was fifth going into the last leg which could not be sailed.

It was a bravo performance achieved alone on foreign waters, such is the lot of the solo sailor. Tonight's big prize, however, underlines to the Meathman that the Irish sailing community is with him all the way. 

WM Nixon will profile Tom Dolan, the Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year 2020 in his weekly blog here on Saturday

Inclusion Award

In other awards made on the night, Pat Ryan of Galway Bay Sailing Club won the Irish Sailing Inclusion Award, given to someone who develops participation for people with all types of abilities so that they can experience sailing. Ryan was a volunteer with the Sailability Programme which ran throughout the pandemic and got children with disabilities out sailing. During lockdown we are all at risk of becoming isolated and institutionalised at home, and this is particularly so for some people with a disability. The judges were impressed that a safe and controlled environment was created for all the Sailability volunteers and participants – and this crucial and perhaps unexpected lifeline was made possible by Pat's perseverance and vision. To quote one of the young sailors, ‘Sailability helps me feel physically empowered and has provided me a welcome, social, inclusive and accepting environment where I can be myself. This has been a lifeline to me during the pandemic.’

Volunteer Award

The Irish Sailing Volunteer of the Year Award was reintroduced this year and won by John Leahy of Dun Laoghaire Harbour for his work during the pandemic with the Cruising Association of Ireland. He won out of dozens of nominations entered by the public from around the country. From the moment the pandemic hit John provided a constant stream of communication for CAI sailors – that on the surface looked like talks, presentations and Whatsapp groups, but in reality strengthened the bonds of their community and helped people enormously in a time of great crisis, loneliness and fear. As one person wrote “John’s dedication to support us is commendable and no doubt helped some with the solitude they found themselves in”.

Leadership Award

Another Galway resident recognised for their long volunteering career was Nancy Roe of Galway City Sailing Club who won the inaugural Irish Sailing Leadership Award, a brand new award to recognise leadership and vision. Nancy won the award on the basis of her long-term commitment to making sailing accessible to all – particularly families and young people including the disadvantaged or disabled or those with no previous experience.

Eve McMahon, youth sailor of the year Eve McMahon, youth sailor of the year

Youth Sailor Award

17-year-old Eve McMahon of Howth won Youth Sailor of the Year for the second year in a row on the basis of her performance at the Laser European Championships in Gdansk in Poland. This was her first senior event and she was the youngest competitor in the field by some way. Eve is now a training partner with the Irish Sailing Team and sails alongside Annalise Murphy and Aoife Hopkins.

Senior Instructor Award

Sligo featured heavily in the line-up with Sarah Nicholson of Sligo Yacht Club winning Irish Sailing Senior Instructor of the Year.

Training Centre of the Year

Wild West Sailing based in Sligo winning Irish Sailing Training Centre of the Year. The Oysterhaven Centre in Cork won the Irish Sailing Sustainability Award.

President's Award

And Ron Hutchieson won the annual President’s Award for his voluntary work with the Laser Association spanning over 40 years.

Published in Sailor of the Year

Developing out of the successful Weather and Sailing conferences is this short webinar focusing on weather and the single-handed sailo scheduled for next Tuesday, December 15. 

The two speakers for this joint webinar, which will focus on the challenges faced during the 2020 Solitaire du Figaro and during the current Vendée Globe, will be Tom Dolan and Andi Robertson.

Irishman Tom Dolan, skipper of Smurfit Kappa finished fifth overall in the shortened Solitaire du Figaro 2020. This excellent achievement made the Concarneau based sailor the highest placed non-French skipper since 1997. Tom will reflect on the three races in the series and the challenges that the weather presented.

The Solitaire du Figaro has acted as a training ground for many single-handed sailors who have both competed in and won the Vendée Globe around world race.

Tom Dolan is doing a weather talk next week for the RIN in aid of Sailing into WellnessTom Dolan is doing a weather talk next week for the RIN in aid of Sailing into Wellness

Professional sailing journalist and broadcaster Andi Robertson will update us on how things are going on the Vendée Globe race track with particular emphasis on specific weather challenges experienced in the race so far and the likely weather patterns the Vendée fleet will experience in the Southern Ocean. Andi hosts the daily Vendée Globe update at 1230hrs UTC and is based at the Vendée Globe Race HQ at Les Sables d’Olonne.

There is no charge for attending the webinar however prior registration is required. Registration is now open, just click on the registration button below.

Tom and Andi are both supporters of the charity Sailing Into Wellness which uses sailing to promote physical and mental-being.

Please visit the Sailing into Wellness website and contact the charity to make a donation. Thank you.

Published in Weather
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After its successful match racing webinar earlier this season, the National Yacht Club’s Under 25 and under 30 sections are now moving offshore for their next online session.

The NYCs very own Tom Dolan, who achieved the best ever Irish finish, fifth overall in the 2020 Solitaire du Figaro, will be joining the Dun Laoghaire Harbour sailors for an hour of questions in order to get to more about the life of a solo offshore sailor.

This webinar will focus on gaining an insight into solo offshore life, Toms do’s and don'ts when offshore, as well as his thoughts on the future of short-handed sailing in Ireland.

This webinar is open to all. Zoom details: https://zoom.us/j/98160887497

Published in Solo Sailing

A farmer from County Meath representing Ireland in sailing at the Olympics.

That is what Tom Dolan would like to do, in France in 2024, when sailing at the Games is based in Marseille. The Olympic classes then are intended to include a new mixed two-handed offshore keelboat. The proposed new class has already interested Irish sailors with offshore experience.

Having finished as top non-French sailor in the Figaro Race, the 33-year-old tells me on this week's Afloat Podcast that he worked very hard on himself, particularly his decision-making, in preparation for this year's Figaro Race to achieve his success.

Tom Dolan SailingTom Dolan Sailing on his Figaro 3 yacht

He says that he likes the Figaro Race because it provides such an equal level of competition of sailor and boat against each other, not like "cheque-book" sailing which can dominate a lot of offshore racing.

He talks also about the elitism still perceived towards sailing and contrasts how some Irish yacht and sailing clubs have, he says, a 'keep out' approach in comparison to France. Tom Dolan describes how, in France, sailing is a major sport and how it was opened up there by public investment to anyone who would like to become involved.

Listen to the Podcast below. Also read: Tom Dolan: A People's Hero for Irish Sailing

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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When Meathman Tom Dolan heads off for a solo or double-handed campaign with the Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa from his French base at Concarneau, the Irish sailing community is with him all the way. But as the truncated 2020 season finally got going, we'd to control our hopes until it became clear whether or not the psychological coaching he'd been working with was paying dividends.

For the 2019 season with the new foiling Figaro 3 had been frustrating in the extreme, as he had the speed, but the tactics and strategy were way off target, and this put him well into the lower half of the fleet. Yet as 2020's main event, the Figaro Solitaire itself through the first three weeks of September, gradually took shape, it was clear that Smurfit Kappa had at least as much speed as before, but now it was in the most beneficial directions.

Even when he'd been down he fleet in the early stages of one of the legs, Tom Dolan and his boat were soon eating their way through the fleet in any situation which demanded difficult tactical decisions. His fifth overall at the finish – the highest-placed non-French sailor and winner of the Vivi Cup – had him right among the international elite in one of 2020's few major events.

Published in Sailor of the Month
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When solo star Tom Dolan was told last Saturday evening that the exceptionally calm condition of the inner Bay of Biscay meant that the proposed final fourth stage of the Solitaire du Figaro 2020 would not be sailed, among the first things he did was to phone his longtime sailing friend Gerry Jones back home in Ireland. For that cancellation of the final stage confirmed the leaderboard on the results of the first three stages, and it resulted in the Meath sailor finishing the 2020 event at fifth overall as the best-placed non-French skipper since 1997.

It says much that, in the instant wave of euphoria and the wild party mood which swept over the leading dozen or so skippers in St Nazaire, Dolan's almost immediate instinct was to contact the sailing friend and mentor whom he'd met many years ago through Glenans Ireland in Baltimore, where Gerry Jones had recognised the young Meath man's enormous natural sailing talent.

Tom Dolan at a Pre-Race briefing during his early days in FranceTom Dolan at a Pre-Race briefing during his early days in France

It certainly wasn't a talent which you would have expected to emerge from Tom Dolan's background as the son of a farmer in that hidden part of north county Meath beyond the Boyne and the Blackwater. But one day his father happened to glimpse - in a Buy & Sell magazine - a classified ad with photo of a Miracle dinghy. It was a sort of enlarged up-graded Mirror which lacked the magic of the original and had totally failed to catch on in Ireland. Thus the price was for nothing, so a deal was done and the boat collected from Boyle in County Roscommon, and that weekend, Dolan Senior and his young son Tom were fulfilling the father's long-held dream of a little bit of sailing on the nearest decent-sized lake to home, which happens to be rather a classy one, as it's Lough Ramor.

Tom's first command – the Miracle dinghy was a rarity in Ireland.Tom's first command – the Miracle dinghy was a rarity in Ireland

Where it all began – Lough Ramor in the middle of IrelandWhere it all began – Lough Ramor in the middle of Ireland

Knowing how much Irish farmers value the tradition of the family farm passing to the next generation, it's doubtful if that little boat would have ever seen Dolan family ownership if the father had foreseen its ultimate outcome. For young Tom was hooked by this first very experimental introduction to sailing, and instead of spending the key years of his life in his 20s and early 30s in learning the lore of working the land, his home place has become Concarneau in Brittany, and he has been learning the salty ways of the ocean and the coast in the pressure-cooker world of French solo and dual sailing at the top level of the MiniTransat and Figaro Solo circuses.

As a young Irish person from a non-sailing background, he was in one of the later cohorts to find their way into our oddly-inaccessible sport through the Glenans Ireland set up in Baltimore, rather than through the more established route of family and friends. The Glenans business model was ultimately based on the frugal conditions which existed in late 1940s France, which transferred very well to the austerity of Ireland in the 1970s and '80s. But the advent of the Celtic Tiger and the ready availability of package holidays to sunshine-guaranteed sailing schools greatly reduced the appeal of Glenans in Ireland.

However, by the time its Baltimore operations were moving towards a close, Tom Dolan had found this means of vibrant self-expression through sailing and tuition with Glenan Ireland and was ready to spread his wings in a broader setting. And in Gerry Jones, he had met someone with a true talent scout's eye for sailing ability, a generous-hearted man who had a foot in both the established sailing world and in Glenans, and someone moreover who recognized and understood the growing determination of the young Meathman to take this sailing game just as far as he could.

Concarneau in Brittany. Tom Dolan's new home port is a characterful old place with a highly-developed modern marine industry. Concarneau in Brittany. Tom Folan's new home port is a characterful old place with a highly-developed modern marine industry.

So by 2011 aged 24, Tom had taken the step of moving to France to make his way in the small and very specialised industry which has developed around solo and short-handed racing, eventually settling in one of its most congenial centres at Concarneau in Brittany. He knew that he was already significantly older than many of the young Turks under the age of 20 who were establishing their mark through various sailing academies and specialised bursary schemes. But equally any overview of the French sailing scene showed some continuing stars who were much older than himself. And anyway, this was what he wanted to do, his determination never faltered even if, for the first year or so, Brittany in the depth of winter could seem a lonely enough place.

But enthusiasm and energy soon provides its own company, and his willingness to work hard and get involved meant that at times he could get into a boat maintenance and preparation programme that sometimes resulted in the loan of the boat to compete as a skipper in his own right in one of the lower-profile events.

This was mostly being done in events in and around the MiniTransat programme, the race across the Atlantic every four years for highly-developed 6.5-metre boats which can often prove embarrassingly fast when set in competition with much larger more orthodox craft. Even when sailing a loaned Pogo 2 in a Mini event, Tom was making his mark, such that he soon acquired the moniker of L'Irlandais Volante - the Flying Irishman – and this was further emphasised when he finally bought his own new Pogo 3 in 2015.

The Flying Irishman - this vid shows Tom at his best, carving his way through the fleet with the new boat

It all looks very complete and well-resourced, but he acquired the boat in the most basic form possible using limited funds built around a small inheritance – "I bet the farm" he quipped at the time – and finished her himself while making income from a Sailing Academy he was running in Concarneau with his close sailing buddy Francois Jambou.

Life was acquiring a more stabilised form and a settled Concarneau base as Tom and Karen Charles Boiteux set up home together. But while the sailing fundamentals were there, with the countdown to the 2017 Mini-Transat underway, good results were coming in during various preliminary events, yet a really solid main sponsor was still needed.

Thus although the new boat appeared in races during 2016 with various sponsorship logos on the sails, they were for small amounts, and in the entry lists she was unequivocally-named as "Still Seeking Sponsor". But one of those sponsors was Irish-based packaging giant Smurfit Kappa, in a trial deal negotiated through its Paris unit, and by 2017 this had been firmed up to become a main sponsorship for the up-coming Mini Transat, while encouraging support was coming from another direction in the form of Jack Roy, the newly-elected President of Irish Sailing, who made a point of being in La Rochelle for the start of the race with its 50-plus fleet at the end of September.

Tom Dolan and Irish Sailing President Jack Roy in La Rochelle in September 2017 before the start of the Mini TransatTom Dolan and Irish Sailing President Jack Roy in La Rochelle in September 2017 before the start of the Mini Transat

Although by this stage Tom was building up a personal support team around himself, the mental stress was still enormous, and in the early stages of the race, he made some very unnecessary mistakes for which he continued to chide himself when a psychologically better-prepared sailor would have long since moved on. But as the race progressed his sheer talent began to show through, and by the time the final leg Transatlantic to St Lucia was well underway, he was on top form, very much in contention and well placed in the top ten such that in the final stages he looked like being fourth.

But when Smurfit Kappa came into port, she was sixth. It was an excellent placing, but where had she slipped from fourth? The skipper was in a thoughtful mood, but finally, he revealed that in driving flat out in a classic trade-wind squall, Smurfit Kappa had pitch-poled and Tom found himself in the ocean, looking up at the keel of his inverted boat.

If you're going to pitch-pole, you wouldn't expect a rig of this relative size to survive the experience, yet Tom Dolan showed it was possible in the Atlantic in 2017.If you're going to pitch-pole, you wouldn't expect a rig of this relative size to survive the experience, yet Tom Dolan showed it was possible in the Atlantic in 2017.

Never before had a Mini-Transat boat pitch-poled and come up with her rig intact. Yet The Flying Irishman established a first yet again. Everything was still there and more or less intact as the little boat shook herself upright like a dog emerging from a river, and Tom hauled himself back on board to get things back on track. Although a couple of places had been lost when the somewhat subdued skipper came into port, his name and the boat's name were fully established as serious contenders, and it was time to move on to the exalted heights of the Figaro Solo.

There was much Irish experience and precedent to draw on, as it was in the Figaro that Damian Foxall first took centre stage on the global offshore sailing scene, and since then Marcus Hutchinson had developed his "Figaro Academy" which provided an entrée to this quintessentially French event for young sailors from other countries who accepted that while it may indeed have been very French, it was the only show in town at that level anywhere in the world.

Thus the Hutchinson clientele came from several countries, and young David Kenefick from Cork was among them for a couple of successful years. But with Hutchinson's involvement in the French offshore scene expanding to include the management of IMOCA 60s for events like the Vendee Globe, it was getting quite crowded up there for Irish sailors on the peak of top-level professional offshore racing.

Yet in this fast-moving world, Tom Dolan and Smurfit Kappa got themselves a Figaro 2 for that marque's last main series in 2018, and the Dolan career stayed well on track with the first prize for top rookie, with the awards due to be handed out at the Paris Boat Show in December, when the new foiling Beneteau Figaro 3 would be unveiled.

For now, the main target had become the Golden Jubilee of the Figaro Solitaire in June 2019, when the fleet would take in Ireland with a gala visit to Kinsale. So there was a very definite buzz in the air when the new-look foiling Beneteau 3s were unveiled at that Paris Show, with Irish Sailing's Jack and Rosemary Roy's reassuring presence in evidence to back up Figaro aspirants Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy.

Joan Mulloy, Jack Roy and Tom Dolan and the Paris Boat Show, December 2018. Photo: Rosemary RoyJoan Mulloy, Jack Roy and Tom Dolan and the Paris Boat Show, December 2018. Photo: Rosemary Roy

But while Mulloy was very much a Figaro beginner at that time, and has since stood down from front-line competition after starting a family, Tom Dolan was seen as the developing force of proven achievement and significant potential, something which was underlined with his award of the 2018 Rookie Prize at the ceremony in the show.

Awards for Tom Dolan in the 2018 Figaro Solo at the Paris Boat ShowAwards for Tom Dolan in the 2018 Figaro Solo at the Paris Boat Show

Yet everything in 2019 seemed to conspire against more Dolan success in that season. For sure, there some events of high achievement, but the pressure of getting the fleet of brand new Figaros race-ready for the big event provided a host of manufacturing teething problems to which Tom's boat seemed even more prone than most. And though, when everything was in place and functioning properly, in steady sailing conditions he was clearly back to his old self as l'Irlandais Volant, it was a disappointing Figaro Solitaire, and he finished 25th overall.

But being Tom Dolan, he bounced back, albeit after some coruscating self-analysis which was published in July 2019 in Afloat.ie in response to the question: What was your own debrief after La Solitaire, and how does that affect your strategy for next year?

"When I was ahead I seemed to be as good as the best, and when I was behind I was terrible, as bad as the worst. So I want to get my head sorted out a bit. I am planning to work with a very good sports psychologist in Dublin who works with the Irish Olympic team. I saw her a bit last year, but this year time ran away with work on the boat and training and everything. The psychological side of it fell by the wayside. I did not put that side of it high enough on my list of priorities. I imagine the things I need to work are basic: Decision making, and how I can look after and manage myself better.

How to break the pattern of doing badly when you are losing. That's in the head, isn't it? I maybe concentrated too much on finding speed, and I did find it. And that's great if you are going fast in the right direction. But if you are going fast in the wrong direction……"

In due course, 2020 was approached in a much better frame of mind. But as the New Year turned, it became increasingly clear that the pandemic-facing world might have bigger problems to deal with than the state of mind of professional athletes. Yet in the end, it all does revert to the personal, and for Tom Dolan as for others in his situation, it was a matter of maintaining the healthiest possible attitude as the French sailing authorities grappled with ways of providing some sort of sport while complying with regulations, no easy matter in a country in which the shoreside aspect of major sailing events is often on an even bigger scale that the event itself.

New boat, full sponsorship – Tom Dolan gets to grips with the foiling Figaro 3 New boat, full sponsorship – Tom Dolan gets to grips with the foiling Figaro 3

With the Figaro put back to September, in July the Drheam Cup starting 18th July from Cherbourg and going round Brittany to La Trinite sur Mer offered an interesting challenge for standard offshore racers and the Figaro fleet racing both solo and double-handed. Apart from learning how to handle COVID-19 compliance ashore and afloat, it was very educational for the large mixed fleet in that the clear overall winner on the water was Figaro solo sailor Sam Goodchild racing Leyton which - for those who hadn't previously experienced it - was a very telling introduction to the stratospherically high standard of modern Figaro racing.

Covid-proofed…..Tom Dolan (right) and Francois Jambou racing to second in class in the big-fleet Drheam Cup from Cherbourg to La Trinite in JulyCovid-proofed…..Tom Dolan (right) and Francois Jambou racing to second in class in the big-fleet Drheam Cup from Cherbourg to La Trinite in July.

Tom Dolan for his part had teamed up with old shipmate Francois Jambou to race double-handed, and they took second in division, but now the challenge was to stay in tune and keep fit through times of uncertainty and frustration until the Figaro Solitaire got underway from St Brieuc in the middle of the North Brittany coast at the end of August, with the first stage 642 miles round the Fastnet Rock and back to St Brieuc.

Every stage was covered in detail on Afloat.ie here so now we can take the broader view of noting that while Tom Dolan was once again showing that he could be one of the fastest boats in the fleet, in 2020's edition he was spending more time making that speed in the right place and in the right direction.

In other words, he was a serious contender throughout, and it was hugely reassuring to note that when in subsequent stages he might find himself down the fleet, there was something remorseless about the way Smurfit Kappa chose the right tactical options and steadily milled her way into the leading group.

The four stages of the Figaro Solitaire, September 2020.The four stages of the Figaro Solitaire, September 2020

The most difficult stage was what proved to be the final one, 512 miles from Dunkerque down the English Channel and round west Brittany through the many islands inside Ushant and on to St Nazaire in Loire-Atlantique. Anyone who has cruised in that tide-riven maze of rocks and islands inside Ushant will wonder how on earth a fleet of 35 solo sailors could seriously race in light airs and misty conditions in such waters. Yet they did it, some did it very well indeed, and Tom Dolan was one of them, confirming himself into a good fifth overall when the first three stages were tallied in St Nazaire.

And that's where it ended. Difficult and all as it is to believe with the weather Western Europe has been experiencing since then, a week ago in St Nazaire the Figaro Solitaire organisers were looking at 36 hours of total calm right over the period they hoped to stage their final 183-mile "sprint". At first, they proposed a shortened course, but as the freakish weather became even flatter, it would have been a lottery if they'd managed a finish, and everything pointed to the decision last Saturday night, which led to that euphoric phone call to Dublin and the good news for Gerry Jones.

A solo skipper in harmony with his boat – Tom Dolan finished the 2020 Figaro in tune with ship and seaA solo skipper in harmony with his boat – Tom Dolan finished the 2020 Figaro in tune with ship and sea

So now the show is on the road more firmly than ever, with a delighted Smurfit Kappa looking forward to continuing with the Dolan campaign through 2021's Figaro Solitaire. And who knows what lies beyond that, with a crew of mixed gender in an offshore racing boat scheduled for inclusion in the 2024 Olympics, and Tom Dolan demonstrably an Irish offshore sailor of proven standard.

Certainly, it was something for thought when Sailing on Saturday was talking with Tom on Thursday, and he has already had some approaches from potential co-skippers. He was acutely aware that decisions made in the next few months could affect his sailing for years. But even so, the top item this week has been sleep and more sleep. Tom Dolan has been sleeping for Ireland since Monday. And he sure has earned it after more than a year of frustration, rounded out by three weeks of intense concentration and ferocious sleep deprivation.

But before hitting the scratcher, there was the prize-giving, and as Marcus and Meagan Hutchinson presented the Vivi Cup (named after their vintage 30 Square Metre) a couple of years ago as the prize for the top non-French contender in the Figaro Solitaire, this provided the opportunity for the Man from Meath to do his thing, and here it is:

Marcus & Meagan Hutchinson's classic 30 Square Metre Vivi gives her name to the trophy for the top non-French performer in the FigaroA boat about as different from a Figaro 3 as you can get – Marcus & Meagan Hutchinson's classic 30 Square Metre Vivi gives her name to the trophy for the top non-French performer in the Figaro – in 2019 it was Alan Roberts, in 2020 the winner is Tom Dolan

Published in W M Nixon

Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) lifted the overall title for the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro at the end of race prizegiving in Saint Nazaire, France today. It is Le Cléach’s third time of winning after successes in 2003 and 2010. With the fourth leg cancelled before starting on Saturday night due to the complete absence of wind, Le Cléac’h’s winning margin is 10 minutes and 43 seconds over Fred Duthil (Techniques Voiles/Cabinet Bourhis Generali) who took second after winning the third stage. And third overall is young French ace Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Espoir). At just 23 years old Laperche is on just his second ever La Solitaire after debuting in 11th last year.

Top rookie this year is Kevin Bloch of the Team Vendée Formation group, finishing 12th overall.

And in fifth place, overall Ireland’s Tom Dolan received the VIVI Trophy for the best racer from outside of France.

“ I am delighted to see Tom win and delighted to see that in just the second year since the trophy was donated it really has become established as something that the sailors want to fight for and at the same time they are now getting some well-deserved recognition. ” Said Marcus Hutchinson, who with his wife Megan, donated the trophy last year.

“ And I am pleased to see it go to a fellow Irishman in Tom and he wins if not for being tenth or twelfth but for a great fifth place. He has been consistent this year and that is what La Solitaire is all about. This race so challenging and so complicated and he has worked hard. And it is nice, in a way, that he does not come from Dublin or Cork or one of the Irish sailing centres, his success says anyone can come and do this if they have the will and the determination, anything is possible. Tom has shown that. ”

Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) finished in tenth place overall (+2hrs 11mins behind the winner), pledging to come back next year to do better and to fight even harder.

“ I am happy with my top ten, that is always a good result in La Solitaire, I know I can do better and I know I can be better and so I am going to come back stronger and harder. I think our approach over the last couple of weeks has been spot on. I did not feel so quick early on in the season but I made the right moves towards the end. I am happy for Tom Dolan he has had an amazing race, he was solid. Tom did a brilliant job. ”

On his first La Solitaire du Figaro since his one and only experience in 2011 when he was 18th, Phil Sharp (OceansLab) finished up 13th overall (+2hrs 41mins) “ Mostly I am happy I have been improving on every leg, and improving a lot. It is amazing to be in the Top 13. I think overall the result on this race goes down to preparation. But for me the improvement is noticeable and there is a huge satisfaction in just learning to do it better, and some of that comes from just being out there seeing boats around you and picking up the pace with them. I have come on a long way.”
For a programme which only started just three weeks before the race started Jack Bouttell can be pleased which his 15th on Fromagerie Gillot (2hrs 43 mins). “ You always finish thinking you could have done a bit better but overall I am happy with where I finished, there are some good guys behind me and some good guys just ahead. I lacked a bit of speed at times. Would I come back? Yes and No. It is addictive. Look at leg 3 it was so long and hard, four days of hell, but you finish disappointed and cant wait to get out and improve. The sponsors Fromagerie Gillot have never been involved in sailing and they have really enjoyed it and got something good from it. ”

Having sailed so brilliantly until the latter stages of Stage 3 Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) deserved much better than the 17th place he finished in. To have been third going into what proved the last leg and not had a fourth leg to fight back on was doubly cruel to Goodchild who nonetheless established himself as one of the best Figaro sailors of the moment, sailing well across the wind range.

They said:
8th, Yann Eliès (Queguiner Materiaux-Leucémie Espoir):

When you finish a Solitaire, do you say never again or bring on the next one?
Mostly there is a kind of hangover, because the race is over. It is something that is so good, that we get so addicted to that in the end, we kind of have the feeling of the kid who had a great weekend and has to come home Sunday evening because there is school the next day. It’s the same and it’s very hard.

At 50, is this La Solitaire still as great?
Yes, I think it is doing pretty well, thanks in particular to people like Francis Le Goff (the race director) who is there to watch over it and preserve the spirit. We have to continue to make stages of at least three nights at sea, especially as we have great support that allows us to make progress and to go well. The first stage we did more than 600 miles, it went quick. So don't lets go on without doing the 600 to 800 miles, the boat is made for that.

Now you are six triple winners, is the new lad up to the task?
Yes all things considered Armel is arguably the most talented of us. We must not forget that he was second in his first La Solitaire du Figaro (in 2002) and he has won the Vendée Globe on his third attempt and having been second twice before. He fully deserves this third win

What are the surprises for you on this 51st edition?
It's only half a surprise, but I like Tom Laperche, I think he's a future great champion, really. He is gold, to be so mature at that age and after two Solitaries to be third is rarely seen. I also want to talk about girls, these two kids (Elodie Bonafous and Violette Dorange) who dared to come to La Solitaire and who did not let themselves down. I hope they will make other girls want to come because we are going to need it in the years to come. And I want to see Robin Follin again, I found him good, nice, he was happy to dare as you saw with his passage on the other side of Ushant, to take this kind of option at his age, that means he has guts. I would like him to have his chance again with the opportunity to do some real preparation, because he has really struggled this year.

Published in Figaro

With not enough wind to run Stage 4 of La Solitaire du Figaro Ireland’s Tom Dolan secured an excellent fifth place overall on Smurfit Kappa. It is the best international overall placing in the historic French multi-stage offshore race series since 1997 when Switzerland’s Dominique Wavre placed second, and a remarkable result considering it is just Dolan’s third challenge and last year he was 33rd.

The 33-year-old who has lived in Concarneau, Brittany since 2009 but grew up on a farm in rural County Meath came into the gruelling four-stage race aiming to get into the top half of the fleet and to underline his potential to Irish sailing administrators considering the selection process for the 2024 Olympic Mixed Double Offshore category which comes in for the Paris games.

Having worked hard on his mental approach in the early season, Dolan made an excellent start by leading the 624 miles first stage across the Celtic Sea before Fastnet Rock. He lost four places on the approach to the light and more on the long run and reach to the finish, but the 10th place finish was a foundation to build on. He followed up with a solid 11th in the second stage and his career-best seventh on the last stage ensured he was fifth going into the last leg which could not be sailed.

“Right now I am so happy with the result. I came here with hopes of finishing in the top 15. I really wanted to do better than last year when I was 33rd, so to be able to come here and finish in fifth place is amazing. I am delighted.” Grinned Dolan on the dock, “ “To be honest the best thing that happened in terms of preparation was doing so badly in the Solo Maitre Coq race early in the season. I got a bit of a kicking and I realised the problem was in my head and did something about it.”

It is all in the head. I never put enough importance on mental preparation. It is a bit mad this sport. You can have nice sails and the smoothest hull, nice rudders and a fast boat but the head is the most important thing. I think.”

He explained, “I saw a psychologist and we worked on my confidence, making sure that I felt confident in the hard work I have done to get here and not being overawed by the world class sailors I am sailing against. Before when things went wrong I would fall apart. This time I just stuck to what I knew from my preparation and ran with what I thought myself not what other good guys were doing. And so this time my head was much clearer. I have always understood the weather and I feel like I have a good feel for it. And I worked hard at preparing and knowing what might happen and then trusting myself, at the same time not taking too many risks.”

“I hope people at home in Ireland that others can do this. I have worked hard and I hope also this might help give me a fair crack at selection for 2024.”

Dolan added, “ The best moments of the race were going towards the Fastnet Rock in first place or in the lead group anyway, that was fairly incredible. And then this evening when the leg was cancelled, it was all a bit strange to hope that there would be no wind. And so coming back in under engine realising I had done it was brilliant.

“ I have to say that I am here as the best ‘foreigner’ but really Sam Goodchild I have to say was better than me and just got unlucky on one stupid transition at Belle Ile. I should say the VIVI Trophy should be his. But, yes, in La Solitaire you have to be lucky too. I am going to get lots of sleep now and then take my girlfriend on holiday, but then I hear that I am sixth in the French offshore championship so that might have to wait!”

Published in Figaro
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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

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