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Irish sailor Tom Dolan battles strong tides and light winds to climb up the leaderboard on the second stage of the 54th La Solitaire du Figaro, the famous French offshore sailing race. Dolan, the winner of stage 1, is currently in tenth place, trailing French rookie Hugo Dhallene, who leads the fleet as they race north to the most northerly turn of a 570-mile course to the Bay of Morlaix. 

The climb to Chicken Rock lighthouse, south of the Isle of Man, is not for the faint-hearted among the 32 solo skippers competing in the race. The combination of strong tides, periods of light winds, and different strategic options creates big gaps in the fleet. 

Dhallene, an experienced offshore racer from Saint-Malo, led through the Intermediate Sprint at South Arklow, gaining himself a 5 minutes time bonus. Dolan was around 40 minutes behind but key for him is having some pre-race favourites like Gaston Morvan, Corentin Horeau, and Basile Bourgnon even further behind. Bourgnon – fifth into Kinsale – was two hours behind the leader at the so-called ‘sprint’ mark. 

Race Director Yann Chateau announced earlier in the day that the fleet will sail the long course, round the rock south of the Isle of Man rather than a possible shorter course which would have turned south offshore of Dublin Bay. The race is expected to finish in the Bay of Morlaix on Thursday, with the most optimistic models seeing the first finisher during the day and the most pessimistic in the evening.

Hugo Dhallenne (YC de Saint-Lunaire), after passing the mark of South Arklow:  “That's it, the intermediate sprint is over. Now to head due north to find Chicken Rock, near the Isle of Man. It is always upwind. The current is quite strong here. For the moment, we have it with us, but it will soon be reversed. We take every little thing we can take, and then you have to deal with it. It's very nice to pass a mark in the lead on the Solitaire, especially 24 hours after the start. But the stage is far from over. There is still work to do, I want to stay at the front.”

Published in Figaro

Tom Dolan, the Irish solo sailor who won the first leg of the 54th La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec, has made a solid start in the second stage of the competition. The leg, which covers over 500 miles from Kinsale in Ireland to Roscoff on the Bay of Morlaix, promises to be a light winds affair with plenty of opportunities for the fleet to expand and contract in the strong tidal currents.

Despite not having a boat-on-boat dinghy racing background, Dolan has been proving himself on the longer courses. He made a good start in the second stage, finishing tenth out of the bay in good company just behind some of his closest rivals. However, after 30 miles of racing, he had dropped into 20th place and was two miles behind the early leader Romen Richard of France.

Before leaving the dock in Kinsale, Dolan said, "The leg looks tricky. I feel good now. The start looks quite clear, we will be sailing downwind along the coast in the sea-breeze. Tonight there could be a big split. Some of the weather models are sending us offshore, others are telling us to hug the coast, there are two extremes."

The course will take the solo sailors up to a mark in the Irish Sea, most likely to be offshore of Dun Laoghaire, and Spanish sailor Pep Costa, who is weather adviser to some of the international sailors, has described it as "a very tricky leg." Costa added, "It is going to be mostly a light winds leg with thermal winds today transitioning into a very very light winds zone before coming into a light north to north east wind for later tonight. So they will be very close to the coast under spinnakers. Downwind it is very close to VMG and then tonight into a NE to E wind. They will go offshore and tack in the NE’ly maybe a few tacks to Tuskar rock. The breeze will fill in around 10-15 knots but the current is quite strong so they need to be close to the shore when the current is against them and offshore when it is with them."

Gaston Morvan of Région Bretagne CMB won the Paprec Trophy for the first around the short, departure circuit, just as he also led away from Caen a week ago.

Standings after Stage 1

  • 1 Tom Dolan, IRL, (Smurfit Kappa-KIngspan) 3d 19h 16m 46 s
  • 2 Nils Palmieri, SUI, (Teamwork) 3d 19h 23m 13s + 6 min 27 sec
  • 3 Robin Marais, FRA, (Moi Chance Moi Aussi) 3d 19h 23m 13s + 8 min 17 sec
  • 4 Benoit Tuduri, FRA, (Capso en Cavale) 3d 19h00m 25s (+30 mins penalty) +13 mins 39 sec
  • 5 Basile Bourgnon, FRA, (Edenred) 3d 19h 31m 05 s +14 min 18 secs
  • 6 Romain Le Gall, FRA, (Centre Excellence Voile Secours Populaire) 3d 19h 32m 52s + 16m 06s
  • 7 Alexis Loison, FRA, (Groupe REEL) 3d 19h 32m 55 s + 16 m 09s
  • 8 Elodie Bonafous, FRA (Queguiner La Vie en Rose) 3d 19h 33m 07s +16m 21s
  • 9 Lois Berrehar, FRA, (Skipper MACIF 2022) 3d19h 33m 16m +16m 30s
  • 10 Guillaume Pirouelle, FRA, (Region Normandie) 3d 19h 33m 32s +16m 46 sec
Published in Figaro

Tom Dolan, the winner of Stage 1 of La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec, has been making waves in the sailing world as the first Irish skipper to win a leg of the French solo offshore race in 25 years.

The 36-year-old Dolan, who grew up on a farm in County Meath, won the first stage of the race which finished on Thursday in Kinsale, Ireland. Despite becoming the hometown hero, Dolan has been keeping his feet on the ground and preparing for Stage 2. 

As the first Irish, or indeed north European, skipper to win a leg of the French solo offshore race in 25 years, 36-year-old Dolan – who grew up on a farm in County Meath – smiled quietly, ‘Not bad for a mucksavage from upcountry’ referring to his early life looking after livestock in all weathers.

Dolan, the skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, has a lead of just six minutes and 27 seconds over Swiss rival Nils Palimeri and a handy 16 minutes over a posse of top Figaro racers. But as the next stage promises to be contested in very light winds and with very strong spring tide coefficients, Dolan cautions that the next leg is not one to win the Solitaire on, but one that can be lost on, "especially leaving on very, very strong Spring tides and at Anglesey, you have to be very careful. There won’t be anyone called ‘Dolan’ going off on their own this time."

The next stage, north out of Kinsale into the Saint George’s Channel, either to Chicken Rock south of the Isle of Man or to ODAS M2 weather buoy off Dun Laoghaire before turning south to a finish off Roscoff, promises to be a light winds stage. According to sailors Loïs Berrehar and Chloé Le Bars, the main difficulty will be deciding if or when to leave the group to try things, especially since it is never easy to sail in light winds and to play with the thermal wind, the night breeze, and all these elements while they are all so tight and close in terms of space.

Piers Copham, a sailor from GBR Les Voiles des Anges, shared that the first leg was not great but he learned that if he didn't train, he wouldn't sail and wouldn't get a result. Copham is pleased to be here and is here to learn. He has a goal, which is to participate in the Vendée Globe in the colors of Les Voiles des Anges.

The Kinsale start of the second leg will be at 12 noon on Sunday. The start line will likely be positioned south of the Bullman buoy with a turning mark to the south-east and then to Daunt Buoy.

Published in Figaro

Jury decisions have changed rankings on the first stage of La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec, which means Ireland's Tom Dolan has won the leg to Kinsale.

The rankings for the first stage of the 54 La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec were altered this morning after decisions made by the International Jury.

The French rookie skipper who crossed the finish line first yesterday morning into Kinsale, Ireland Benoît Tuduri (CAPSO - En Cavale), received a 30-minute penalty after a protest against him from the Race Committee for breaking a class rule. He retains his position as the first rookie on the Beneteau Bizuths ranking but drops to fourth.

Following this decision, without appeal, the Irish skipper Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa -Kingspan) becomes the winner of the 610-mile first stage of the 54th edition of the race.

He becomes the first Irish skipper to win a stage of the annual multi-stage solo offshore race since compatriot Damian Foxall won in 1998 on the third leg from Gijon into Concarneau.

It is a remarkable success for Dolan, whose first-ever race was around the Fastnet only ten years ago.

Other Jury decisions affect Julie Simon (DOUZE), who was third across the line but received a 17-minute penalty. She is now 17th in the stage.

Switzerland’s Nils Palmieri(TeamWork) and Robin Marais (Ma Chance Moi aussi) are now second and third)

In summary

Tom Dolan moves to the top of the provisional general classification of the 54th Solitaire du Figaro Paprec.

Julie Simon goes from 3rd to 17th place after jury.

Edouard Golbery and Ben Beasley(NZL) each receive a 15-minute penalty

Winner of the first stage and leader of the provisional general classification, Tom Dolan emerged from his post-race Physiotherapy session this morning to be told he has become the stage winner. He said:

“ It feels weird right now; it will take time to sink in, and it is not the way I would want to win a stage. I feel sorry for Benoit, but I guess as a rookie he didn't know the rules. I had a tough start to the season with doing my Round Ireland record attempt and not making the time I needed, and otherwise, I have not really been on top form, I was worried about this leg because it is home waters, and I am coming home and the last time I came here I did terribly –I was down in the 30s – and so winning this first leg of La Solitaire du Figaro with all these things going on in my head it feels great.”

“I believe I am the first Irish sailor to win a stage of La Solitaire since Damian Foxall in 1998, and considering my first ever race was the Mini Fastnet in 2013, just ten years ago on a Pogo 1, it’s not bad, is it…..”

He added, “This will give me a lot more confidence, but it will not affect the way I approach or prepare for the next two legs”

Édouard Golbery (Race for Science – Verder) received a 15-minute penalty for entering the DST at the Saint-Marcourf islands. He is now ranked 24th. “It’s a bit frustrating but at the same time, it’s a mistake on my part because I didn’t update the road book with the amendment in the race document. I had re-imported everything just before departure and thought everything was up to date. In fact, the zone had to be created manually. I will know next time. I don't doubt my mistake, but 15 minutes is not insignificant. That’s how it is, I’m a rookie, I won’t make the same mistake next time.”

The same penalty for New Zealand skipper Ben Beasley (Ocean Attitude), who entered the same TSS for the same reasons. “It’s disappointing, but the jury’s decision is fair. The amendment came late, I didn't see it. Just the French version, and I didn't understand. I thought they were going to update the Adrena files they gave us initially, but they didn't. It's a hard lesson, but I'm learning. In the end, it doesn’t change anything in terms of ranking, but it means more time to make up compared to those who are ahead,” he declared. He nevertheless retained his 29th place in the first-stage ranking.

Published in Figaro
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Solo sailor Tom Dolan was fairly tired when I talked to him at Kinsale Yacht Club after he had finished second in the first leg of this year’s Figaro Race, sailing Smurfit Kappa into Kinsale with a 14-minute advantage over what can be considered his normal rivals.

It was a “tough leg” he told me, with complicated weather patterns creating many challenges and calling for strong decision-making, the best of which was his strategic move when the 32-strong fleet passed through the Scilly Isles. That gave him an advantage heading for the Fastnet Rock, but it was “that big moment when you go your own way and the fleet goes another…” – which all sailors will know about!

 Tom Dolan sails into second place at Kinsale this morning in the first leg of the 2023 Figaro Race Photo: Alexis Courcoux Tom Dolan sails into second place at Kinsale this morning in the first leg of the 2023 Figaro Race Photo: Alexis Courcoux

We recalled that when I met him on the last Figaro Race into Kinsale in 2019, he had not done well. “That was on my mind, there was a lot of pressure on me, I wanted to do well into Ireland this time.”

And so he did.

Stage 2 of the Figaro starts from Kinsale on Sunday afternoon to Roscoff via the Isle of Man and the Welsh coast.

Listen to my interview with Tom Dolan below

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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The rise in the international solo offshore sailing reputation of Tom Dolan, who has been known to describe himself as “an escaped farmboy from north Meath”, has been one of the great Irish sailing sagas of our time. For more than a decade, has been recounting Big Tom’s progress from being identified as an exceptional talent by the now-defunct Glenans Ireland in Baltimore, to eventual hard-won solo sailing stardom in France via the well-established but ferociously competitive Mini-Transat and Figaro Solo routes.

These days, he is one of that elite band of Figaro Solo stars who are always included in any pre-race reckoning of success potential. And with the first full-on post-pandemic 54th staging of the offshore classic in late August and early September 2023, it was something special for the skipper of the Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan to do well from the get-go, as its initial 610-mile stage was scheduled to finish – for the 21st time in the Figaro’s colourful history – back home in Ireland at Kinsale.

Tom Dolan rose to the challenge of a podium place when he finished second in a very high calibre fleet at Kinsale yesterday (Thursday) morning, having skillfully picked up two places in the final leg from being fourth at the Fastnet Rock. Anyone who closely followed the race tracker, and set the mostly close-packed fleet placings against the almost continually changing wind and weather conditions and predistions, will soon have realised that the Irish skipper was adhering successfully to the proven military dictum that you shouldn’t have a rigid plan, but must always be planning.

Tom Dolan has done us all proud, and a remarkable international career on the high seas, which began with a little sailing dinghy on Lough Ramor in County Cavan, has now reached new heights.

Published in Sailor of the Month
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Ireland's Tom Dolan took a career-high second place this morning, sailing into Kinsale to complete the first 610-mile leg of the La Solitaire du Figaro Race.

After rounding the Fastnet Rock, Dolan finished at 08.18 hours into a drizzly Kinsale Harbour in County Cork, 16 minutes behind leg winner Benoit Tuduri, after three days of hard solo sailing from the start in Caen, France. 

The County Meath sailor took three days, 19 hours, 16 minutes and 46 seconds to complete the theoretical 610-mile course of the first leg. In practice, he covered 642.23 miles at an average speed of 7.04 knots.

The 36-year-old sailor is taking part in La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec for the sixth time.

The result on the first step of the three-stage 1850 miles race to Piriac sur Mer on the French Atlantic coast, sets up Dolan for the rest of the event with a useful cushion – around 14 minutes - over what can be considered his normal rivals.

When he crossed the finish line it was relief which was Dolan’s primary emotion. In truth he has no more local knowledge than is accumulated and disseminated through the fleet’s by coaching and support staff.

Being solo and with no outside assistance or communication, once on the ocean the skippers only get the most basic weather information and their position in the fleet from race direction. Each sailor leaves the dock with a detailed road book of different weather scenarios, their homework done.

But the Irish skipper admits the extra mental pressure of his own and other peoples’ expectations of coming to Ireland weighed very heavily on him as well as last month having had a disappointing Solo Concarneau Guy Cotten – the de facto dress rehearsal before the ‘big one’.

“It was great coming in this morning, there were loads of people out to welcome me which was really touching.” Grinned the exhausted Dolan, clearly ‘running on fumes.’ “I always feel more pressure on this leg ‘home’ to Ireland, it messes with your head because I want to do well. So there is a lot of relief. A lot. Earlier in the year when I found the race was coming to Kinsale I was immediately getting a bit nervous because there it is. coming to my ‘home’. I was worried and the last time we raced in here I did terrible.”
Of his decision to stay east he said, “I had this huge wind shift to the left and tacked and was pointing at the Fastnet. I stacked the stuff, tidied the boat a bit and said to myself ‘right, who will be the first to tack but no one did. And of course it was night so I could not see anyone. I had a second thought to go back but it made no sense. And the tide was perfect for me.”

He summarise, “It was a really typical Figaro leg. We started a very shifty wind with the whole pack compacted up together and looking at each other, seizing each other up, and then doing maybe 50 tacks and sailed 100 miles to get to the first mark because the wind was shifting around so much. It was non stop all the time. And then at the Scillies the fleet exploded and opened up a bit. You are thinking you are great thinking you are awful, thinking you are doing great, thinking you are awful thinking you are great. You start imagining a great finish and reel yourself in..It was a really classic Figaro leg. And at one stage some of the favourites are 20 miles behind and they still catch up. I thought the lead over them would have been a bit more, but I’ll take it.”

Looking back at the intensity of the course he said, “I am tired. These two or three occluded fronts, so dying depressions, meant the wind was all over the place, never steady. It seems like it was never settled for more than fifteen minutes, so you really got small, snatched naps.”

Now he has two days and two nights to recover before Stage 2 to Roscoff via the Isle of Man and the Welsh coast which starts on Sunday at 1302hrs.

A delighted Tom Dolan in Kinsale after achieving second place in the first leg of the Figaro Race Photo: Alexis CourcouxA delighted Tom Dolan in Kinsale after achieving second place in the first leg of the Figaro Race Photo: Alexis Courcoux

The next leg of the La Solitaire du Figaro race will take the sailors from Kinsale to Morlaix via the Isle of Man, covering a distance of around 600 miles.

Tom Dolan is looking forward to this leg as it's his favourite one. He has previously sailed this leg twice and is hoping to make up some ground on the leader during this leg.

With his impressive performance in the first leg, Dolan has proven himself to be a strong contender for the overall title in the race. He is determined to give his best shot during the remaining legs of the race and make Ireland proud.

Published in Figaro

Irish sailor Tom Dolan is on track for his career-best stage finish as he secures second place in Stage 1 of La Solitaire du Figaro on Thursday morning.

Race rookies and top international solo skippers are giving the top favourites a run for their money in the exciting finish in Kinsale, County Cork.

The lead was held by Benoît Tuduri, a 29-year-old racer from Montpellier, who was making over 11 knots towards the finish line.

However, Dolan was not far behind him, trailing by just three miles. Rookie Julie Simon and Switzerland’s experienced Nils Palmieri were also in the running for third and fourth place, battling it out between them in the 15-18kts SSW’ly wind.

All four of the lead group broke to the east at the Scillies, with Dolan taking the initiative Dolan taking the initiative and Palmieri making his own decision not to go quite as far to the right of the section to Fastnet.

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Irish sailor Tom Dolan, aboard Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, had been leading the pack in the first stage of La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec. However, after breaking to the northeast from the top group at the Isles of Scilly, he spent several hours slowed in the light winds and dropped to fourth in the late afternoon.

Meanwhile, the main peloton, including the solo skippers who had led in the English Channel, were still tightly grouped some 30 miles to the west of Dolan. The western pack is expected to hit strong downwind conditions first, but will have sailed many more miles than Dolan, who appears to be focusing on sailing the shortest distance to the iconic rocky light at Kinsale, Ireland.

"Fast, wet Fastnet passage in prospect"

The final 45-mile sprint into Kinsale is highly anticipated, with the town being the most visited stop in the 54-year history of the solo offshore race. The first leg of the race seems to be very finely balanced, but whichever skipper or group is able to set their kites and surf directly towards the rock could gain an unbeatable advantage. 

The best British skipper, David Paul, currently sits in 27th place on a Drop, less than a mile ahead of Kiwi rookie Ben Beasley (Ocean Attitude) and Germany’s Susann Beucke (This Race is Female). However, the young New Zealander has sailed a solid first-ever La Solitaire leg but will be disappointed to be protested for sailing into the TSS exclusion zone at the Scillies, a tough rookie lesson to take.

They said, by VHF…….

Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire) 14th this afternoon, “I am with the group, my buddies. The right pack. What more can you want at this stage? We have some sunshine before the grey weather forecast for tonight in Ireland. At the Scillies, there were quite a few possible choices. We'll see what that produces at the Fastnet. But to get there, you will first have to deal with the light winds all today. We were a little ahead of the routings but it is evolving. Logically, we must pass the Fastnet tonight with fairly strong winds especially. It might be a night for the hard hat, but it should be nice by morning in Kinsale.”

Loïs Berrehar (2022 MACIFSkipper), 16th: “The wind has dropped a lot. It's light on this tack but I feel good. I am in pretty good shape, surprisingly. I just put on my gennaker, a sail for downwind work, as it has lifted now. And that’s a pretty good sign. It could allow us to accelerate towards the Fastnet finally. It is going to be an interesting night.”

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With 152 miles to the finish line of leg one at Kinsale, Ireland's Tom Dolan leads the Solitaire du Figaro race on Wednesday morning (0630 hrs) as the fleet races across the Celtic Sea.

Land's End, which the Solitaire du Figaro Paprec leaders passed around 2000hrs on Tuesday evening, proved a decisive section of the 610 nautical miles first stage from Caen in France to Kinsale.

Dolan's decision to position himself to the west alongside Tuesday leader Basil Bourgnon of Edenred was vindicated early on Wednesday when the Irishman took to the front of the fleet.

The Solitaire du Figaro Race shows Ireland's only competitor, Tom Dolan, leading leg oneThe Solitaire du Figaro Race shows Ireland's only competitor, Tom Dolan, leading leg one

Since 3 am, the skipper of Smurfit Kappa Kingspan Group has been leading. 

For his entry into the open sea home to Ireland, the fleet split, and Dolan chose the northerly option and the shortest route to the Fastnet Rock. 

Dolan has previously sailed to the Fastnet many times as a sailing instructor in Baltimore with the Glénans school, giving him an advantage in this leg of the race.

As they climbed NW across The Channel this afternoon – their third transit since Sunday lunchtime's start – there was still only one third of a mile between the top four solo skippers. Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire) had benefited from being first to tack west late this afternoon and took the lead from Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie) by a matter of 400 metres or so. But Land's End and the Traffic Separation lanes at the Scillies shook up the leading peloton.

The first hurdle around 1700hrs on Tuesday was a high-pressure ridge of lighter winds that the fleet tacked through when the wind headed to the WNW ahead of them. Being closer to the English coast should allow a quicker passage through the light winds zone but encountering more adverse tidal flow at Land's End.

The medium-term aim on Wednesday is positioning to get through a front and into the wind direction shift to the SW in the Celtic Sea for more favourable, fast spinnaker- reaching approach to the Fastnet. 

Two women are currently in the top ten.

Top ten positions at 0630 France

1. Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, Tom Dolan, 162.1 nm to finish of leg 1
2. Capso en Cavale, Benoit Tuduri, 0.8 nm to leader
3. Douze, Julie Simon, 5.9
4. Banque Populaire, Corintin Horeau, 8.5
5. TeamWork, Nils Palmieri, 8.7
6. Edenred, Basile Bourgnon, 8.7
7. Skipper MACIF 2022, Lois Berrehar, 8.9
8. Region Normandie, Guillaume Pirouelle, 9.1
9. Queguiner La Vie en Rose, Elodie Bonafous, 9.9
10. Region Bretagne CMB Performance, Gaston Morvan, 10.3

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