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Tom Dolan of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan is making his mark in the Solitaire du Figaro ace as he positions himself to the west alongside leader Basil Bourgnon of Edenred.

Dolan is currently in sixth place and well-prepared for racing across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet. Dolan has previously sailed to the Fastnet many times as a sailing instructor in Baltimore with the Glénans school, giving him an advantage in the race.

Meanwhile, the leaders are due to pass Land’s End, a decisive section of the 610 nautical miles first stage from Caen to Kinsale.

The top four solo skippers are currently separated by only one-third of a mile, and the Traffic Separation lanes at the Scillies may shake up the leading group.

The solo skippers are experiencing fatigue as they enter their third night at sea, but the conditions have been favourable so far with no big breeze and no prolonged calms.

Published in Figaro

The leaders in the Solitaire Figaro Paprec 2023 came round the turning point off the North Brittany coast at 0215 this morning with Tom Dolan very much among them, and after a brief period of windward work along the Breton shore, the west wind backed to enable them to lay the course across the English Channel to pass the Isles of Scilly on their way to the Fastnet Rock, the final major turning point in Stage 1 before heading for Kinsale.

It’s likely that they’ll have more windward work before The Rock, as the indications are of the next wind move being a veer to a northwesterly. But meanwhile, at 13:00 hrs today (Tuesday), although there’s not enough pressure to make the foils on the Beneteau 3s serious contributors to speed, the boats are showing a healthy 10 to 11 knots right on track.

Thus, the leaders starting going through the psychologically-significant 300-miles-to-finish stage shortly after 10:00 hrs, and though Guillaume Pirouelle continues to hang onto the lead in Region Normandie, it's only by 0.2 sea miles head of Corentin Horeau in Banque Populaire.

Meanwhile, Tom Dolan in Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan has moved up to sixth from seventh and is 1.8 miles astern of Pirouelle, making between 10.5 and 11 knots.

Published in Figaro
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After a week in Caen, Normandy, the 32 competitors competing in the 54th edition of La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec will head out to the English Channel on Sunday to make ready for a challenging first leg to Kinsale, Ireland. This first of three legs starts off Ouistreham at 1302hrs local time.

Caen – Kinsale

The first stage of this Solitaire du Figaro Paprec 2023 starts from the Côte deNacre, crosses the English Channel three times before rounding the Fastnet Rock and heading into the beautiful Irish haven of Kinsale.

“This will be a very varied, challenging stage with lots of twists and turns.” Says Yann Chateau, race director who has drawn a course that mixes coastal passages before a more open, offshore passage across the Celtic Sea to Ireland. 

As they start this 610-mile (1,130 km) long leg the 32 solo opens with a short, inshore preliminary course, for the Trophée Paprec, which is designed to salute the city of Caen, which has hosted the start week.

The stage should begin with a northwesterly wind of 12-15knots as they reach across the Channel to Nab Tower, where they turn west past the Isle of Wight. An occluded front – the first of three - is likely to see the breeze drop away here and make it difficult as they near the Needles Fairway mark. From there they head for the Héaux de Bréhat at the northern tip of Brittany. As tiredness starts to bite, decisions need to be taken how to deal with the currents and the maritime traffic.

“Tuesday, we are expecting the arrival of a depression which will pass in the North of the British Isles during the day of Tuesday. This new system will bring a sustained flow from the South, strengthening up to 25 knots as it turns right to settle in the North-West. But then the scenario becomes more uncertain. The models still diverge a lot on the conditions of this end of the course in the Celtic Sea, around the Ireland of and the Fatsnet that the first should wind between Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning," comments Yann Chateau.

It seems likely then that this will be a course full of opportunities right to the finish.

Ireland's Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) said: “For the past week, I have been trying not to think too much about the finish line of this stage, which takes me home to Ireland. It's a stage just like the others with the weather and the competitors to manage, but I really try not to lose focus by thinking too much about the final result and where we are going. Three occluded fronts will pass over the fleet between here and Ireland. We will race mainly upwind, but we will also have to manage shifts in the wind, especially when we have to negotiate the TSS (traffic separation scheme) of the Scillies. We could see the fleet heading in all different directions. This will certainly be a key moment, just like the Needles, which we risk passing right through the front, then with light winds with a lot of current. And plenty can happen there, just like in West Scilly. Also, when to really aim for the Fastnet, the timing of that move might prove key.

Published in Figaro

The Solitaire du Figaro has been a significant feature of the European sailing scene for 54 years now, and today it is well established as La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec, supported by the 1985-founded French re-cycling and green energy conglomerate.

But although the Beneteau-built foiling Figaro 3s which currently contest this great French offshore classic are more powerful and potentially faster than any of their predecessors, the organisers – several of them former contenders and thus entitled to privileges in setting special Figaro challenges – seem to delight in offsetting contemporary speed and power improvement by continually increasing the number of the course’s hot-spots and locally tricky problems.

This year’s event is a classic, as it gets racing from Caen in the Calvados department of Normandy tomorrow (Sunday, 27th August) with a fleet of 32 boats, including our own Tom Dolan’s Smurfit-Kappa Kingspan. But before the starting signal at 13:02 hrs, the action will have been under way since shortly after 08:00 hrs with a parade afloat towards the start zone.

The fleet’s in port: The lineup for the 54th Figaro Solo on show in Caen this weekThe fleet’s in port: The lineup for the 54th Figaro Solo on show in Caen this week

SHORESIDE PRESSURES

The sailors – rugged people who tend to happiest far at sea and sailing fast, rather than being in the midst of admiring but demanding fans in the pre-start Tented Village which has been open since Wednesday – will additionally have had to withstand the problem that their hosts in Caen and Calvados will expect them to conspicuously approve and ideally consume (responsibly, of course) the most famous local product, the eponymous apple brandy which has long been elevated to Appellation d’Origine Controlle (AOC) status.

It means that Calvados is up there with Waterford Blaa, Connemara Mountain Lamb, and Timoleague Brown Pudding, to name but three Irish food and beverage exclusivity qualifiers. But while the blaa, the lamb and the pudding are reasonably innocuous, the mighty Calvados really should come with a health warning. Yet its ferocious power in potential abundance is just another hazard that Les Figaristes have to negotiate before they take on the deceptively simple course.

The basic 2023 Figaro Solitaire Paprec course is spiced with many extra local twistsThe basic 2023 Figaro Solitaire Paprec course is spiced with many extra local twists

BASIC ROUTING ONLY HINTS AT COMPLEXITY OF COURSE

For the basic routing of the complete three-stage race is Caen to Kinsale, Kinsale to Morlaix on the north coast of Brittany, and Morlaix to Piriac-sur-Mer on France’s Biscay coast. Which, in its bare outline, would be quite enough for many a fully-crewed boat, let alone a solo sailor. But the course-setting sadists additionally have their battle-hardened fleet going round various buoys and other major markers on both sides of the English Channel before finally heading for Ireland - leaving the Isle of Scilly to port - to provide a total distance of 610 miles.

In the groove – Tom Dolan gets a good clear-air start at the outer end of the lineIn the groove – Tom Dolan gets a good clear-air start at the outer end of the line

Back in July, we suggested that the up-coming 50th Fastnet Race – in which our own Fastnet Rock is now the only remaining feature of the original 1925 race – should go the whole hog on the already heavy Cherbourg involvement, and have the start from the French port as well as the finish, with the Isle of Wight reduced to a mere early mark of the course, to be left to port.

ISLE OF WIGHT IS MARK OF COURSE – BUT WITH OPTION

Well, the Wicked Wizards of the Figaro Course-Setting Department are running with that idea in an even weirder way, as their fleet are to head west from Caen along Normandy’s north coast to a turn off Cotentin before going across channel to leave the Nab Tower to the east of the Isle of Wight to port. Then the next mark is the Needles Fairway buoy to the west of the island, likewise to be left to port. But in between there’s a major choice. For it’s up to the competitors whether they chance their arm with good tidal luck going through the Solent with the island to port, or else head south on the clearer track round the island via St Catherine’s Point.

The Young Hopeful. Tom Dolan as seen at a pre-race briefing during the early days of his career in FranceThe Young Hopeful. Tom Dolan as seen at a pre-race briefing during the early days of his career in France

Seasoned campaigner – Tom Dolan in 2023, a recognised performer on the solo offshore racing sceneSeasoned campaigner – Tom Dolan in 2023, a recognised performer on the solo offshore racing scene

It will be an excruciating choice for skippers, but hugely entertaining for those following the race by tracker and other means. Then from the Needles Fairway, they’ve to head cross-channel for the next turn at Brehat off Northern Brittany. But even then, they can’t shape their heading directly for Kinsale, as the track indicates they leave the Isles of Scilly to Port and then, once across on the Irish coast, the Fastnet Rock is to be left to starboard before heading eastward – by now decidedly salt-stained, boggle-eyed and almost numb with exhaustion – to round the Old Head, with the leaders hoped to be in the welcoming embrace of Kinsale possibly by Wednesday, but more likely Thursday.

KINSALE IS HOSTING 21st FIGARO

You’ll be getting the flavour of the organisers’ thinking by now, so it will be no surprise to learn that after a couple of relaxing days of R&R in Kinsale – where “Ireland’s Gourmet Capital” will be hosting its 21st Figaro visit – there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of being allowed to race straight to Morlaix.

On the contrary, after re-starting on Sunday, September 3rd, they’ve a lot of sailing to do in the Celtic Sea, St George’s Channel, and the Irish Sea before they even think of heading directly for Morlaix, as the course-setting megalomaniacs have planned a marathon 630 nautical miles route along the south coast of Ireland, and then north up the Irish Sea to round the Isle of Man (leaving it to starboard) before heading south to Brittany.

The Figaro Fleet of 2019 starting Stage 2 off KinsaleThe Figaro Fleet of 2019 starting Stage 2 off Kinsale

For your average Irish local skipper, for whom sailing in home waters with a couple of ships and some fishing boats at a distance suggests that the sea is getting crowded, it looks like the Sailing Course from Hell. Not only do you have to avoid the 31 other nearby boats in the Figaro fleet, but a course likes this inevitably funnels the racers through areas of special concentration in shipping and tides, with all the hassle of avoiding the soul-destroying TSS setups at every major shipping focal point, negotiating everything and keeping to schedule relying solely on wind power and your own solitary skills.

That said, past experience shows that with extensive shoreside entertainment and turbo-charged publicity setups in place at the ambitious key ports, the Figaro Solitaire powers-that-be are well-experienced in ruthlessly shortening the stages if the winds go light, in order to keep things reasonably on track for the razzmatazz-laden shoreside element. It’s yet yet another factor which the already stressed competitors and their support teams have to anticipate as the race progresses and develops.

Being the starting port for the 54th Solitaire du Figaro Paprec is a mini-industry in itself – the team that set up Caen to put the show on the road is Malo Le Peru (OC Sport Pen Duick project manager), Augustin Boeuf (Regional Councilor of Normandy, Nautical Delegate), Amandine François-Goguillon (Deputy Mayor of the City of Caen, in charge of Education and Equality Opportunities, Family and Early Childhood), Mélanie Lepoultier (Vice-President of the Department of Calvados in charge of boating), Dominique Rose (Advisor of the Calvados Department), and Stéphane Nevé, (Head of Sailing Projects at Paprec) Photo Alexis CourcouxBeing the starting port for the 54th Solitaire du Figaro Paprec is a mini-industry in itself – the team that set up Caen to put the show on the road is Malo Le Peru (OC Sport Pen Duick project manager), Augustin Boeuf (Regional Councilor of Normandy, Nautical Delegate), Amandine François-Goguillon (Deputy Mayor of the City of Caen, in charge of Education and Equality Opportunities, Family and Early Childhood), Mélanie Lepoultier (Vice-President of the Department of Calvados in charge of boating), Dominique Rose (Advisor of the Calvados Department), and Stéphane Nevé, (Head of Sailing Projects at Paprec) Photo Alexis Courcoux

ADDICTIVE SERIES

After 54 years, the shared and personal Figaro experience is vast and complex, for it’s an addictive series to which some hardened offshore veterans have devoted most of their active careers. And even widely experienced sailors such as Michel Desjoyeaux, winner of two Vendee Globes and three Figaros and other majors, have been recorded as saying that the endlessly stressful, hugely concentrated and continuously focused Figaro is the toughest of them all.

Over the years, Irish sailors have been involved with differing levels of success, with those making their mark including George Kenefick, Joan Mulloy, Marcus Hutchinson and Damian Foxall, with the latter achieving the highlight of a stage win.

TOM DOLAN HAS RAISED IRISH INVOLVEMENT

That particular distinction has also been achieved in other races by Tom Dolan. Originally of Meath but for many years Brittany-based in Concarneau with a core commitment to the special French solo scene that goes back to 2011, he has raised Irish involvement to a new personal level. And his experiences with his Figaro 3 Smurfit-Kappa Kingspan have soared the heights and plunged the depths in that roller-coaster ride which is the story of everyone in the Figaro circus.

Tom Dolan receiving the Vivi Trophy for the best-placed non-French entrant at the 52nd Figaro finish in St NazaireTom Dolan receiving the Vivi Trophy for the best-placed non-French entrant at the 52nd Figaro finish in St Nazaire

In Tom’s case, the current heights were reached with a seventh in 2022 and a personal best of fifth in 2020. But with tomorrow’s first international post-Pandemic staging of the race, there’s an extra edge further sharpened by the fact that the renewed international element is a stopover in Ireland, thereby adding emotional loading to an already pressure-cooked scenario.

So much and all as Tom is now a battle-hardened veteran and accustomed to the Figaro demands coming at him every which way, people respected his wish to have a few days of chilling at home with the family in Corncarneau before launching himself into the maelstrom of Caen where his race-ready boat has been waiting.

Equally, we can only hope he has minders in place in Kinsale, though a compact oceanic island like Ireland has shown that it can take events like this more comfortably in its stride, whereas France has a huge yet interested population at some distance from the sea, thereby making top-level solo offshore racing something very special indeed, with every competitors a star.

Either way, as the old saying would have it, the dogs bark but the caravan moves on. And in this case, the caravanserai up and down the Irish Sea looks simple only on paper, as you’ve tides and rocks on both sides of channel and sea which make a fair stab at matching the challenges of Brittany itself.

The Figaro fleet capture the joy of sailing as they make the best use of ideal conditions off KinsaleThe Figaro fleet capture the joy of sailing as they make the best use of ideal conditions off Kinsale Photo: Bob Bateman

And for the first two stages, they up the ante in the distance stakes. If the full course is sailed from Caen to Kinsale, they’ll have covered 610 nautical miles. Then Kinsale to Morlaix, with that Isle of Man dogleg thrown in, is 630 miles. And though the final stage of Morlaix to Piriac-sur-Mer is back to a “mere” 620 miles, it gets that total through a there-and-back across the Bay of Biscay to a turn off the north coast of Spain, just as the notorious Bay – or the Gulf of Gascony if you look at it from France - is starting to experience its interesting Autumn weather.

This is serious sport, and not at all for the faint-hearted. 

Published in W M Nixon
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Irish skipper, Tom Dolan is gearing up for the La Solitaire du Figaro solo offshore race, which starts on Sunday from Caen, Normandy and heads to Piriac-sur-mer via stops in Kinsale, County Cork in his native Ireland and Roscoff in northern Brittany.

Dolan, who is racing for Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, and is the only Irish entrant in the race, spent a short summer break in his French home in Concarneau, Brittany, before the race.

Irish Figaro skipper, Tom DolanIrish Figaro skipper, Tom Dolan from the National Yacht Club

The break was vital for Dolan, who had been teetering on the edge of burnout after a busy season that included several races as well as a failed Round Ireland speed record bid in May.

Dolan hopes to improve on his seventh-place finish last year and his career-best fifth overall in 2020. He is looking to control the controllables and not let small errors become big problems.

To achieve his goal, Dolan has banned himself from sugary snacks and chocolate this race and is instead focusing on small meals as often as possible.

Published in Tom Dolan
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Tom Dolan, the Irish solo skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, is gearing up for the upcoming 54th edition of the Solitaire du Figaro.

With only 20 days remaining until the race, Dolan is devoting all his time to final preparations. The Solitaire du Figaro, which is considered the most difficult offshore race, consists of three stages this year.

The fleet, including Dolan, will first head to his home country of Ireland, before making their way to the Bay of Morlaix and finishing in Piriac sur Mer on the French Atlantic coast near Saint Nazaire.

Dolan has been working tirelessly since January to ensure that he will be in the best possible position to achieve a good result in the race, with his ultimate goal being to finish on the podium. Michel Desjoyeaux, a famous French ocean racer who has won the Solitaire du Figaro three times and the Vendée Globe twice, attests to the difficulty of the race.

As the start date of the Solitaire du Figaro approaches, Dolan remains focused and prepared, with his boat also ready for the challenge ahead.

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Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan achieved a tenth-place finish on the 395-mile offshore race of the event, which took place on Friday afternoon.

After two days of inshore races, Dolan recovered from a disappointing start to the offshore race and gradually worked his way up to the top third of the fleet between the Ile de Yeu and the finish line in Concarneau.

Dolan narrowly missed ninth place by a few seconds.

He finished 12th overall based on points aggregated over the two inshore races and the long offshore.

"I need to to stay clear-headed and focused right to the end"

Dolan acknowledged that the hierarchy was established early in the race and there were no strategic options to play, but he managed to gain a few places back on sheer speed.

The County Meath man stated that he performs better in longer races and when he stays clear-headed and focused until the end.

"The longer the races are, the better I seem to do, and when I don’t make mistakes, I am certainly fast,” he said after racing.

Dolan will take a short break before the La Solitaire du Figaro, which starts on August 27th.

Published in Tom Dolan
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After a series of mainly double-handed and crewed races so far this season, Irish sailor Tom Dolan returns to solo racing mode this week when he takes on the 47th edition of the Solo Guy Cotten – Concarneau against high-calibre opposition.

The event is seen as a final dress rehearsal for his late summer pinnacle, La Solitaire du Figaro and comprises two days of coastal, windward-leeward races and a long offshore race of 335-380 miles. Dolan’s career-best on this crucial indicator race is his fifth in 2021, but he is determined not to be over-focused on achieving a top place, but is looking to sail very well, make good decisions and ‘control the controllables’.

The solo skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan chuckles that he has two reasons to feel more at home than usual on this week’s race courses. He will be racing out of his adopted French homeport of Concarneau while the weather forecast for the week promises plenty of rain.

“Irish weather! I’m afraid it looks like that. I guess I’m used to it, and it doesn’t bother me that much. But it is always cool to be racing from home, to have a few hundred metres to get to the boat in the morning and to get home to my own bed when I can,” smiles Dolan who has been speed testing this week with some of the new sails he will use on La Solitaire du Figaro.

“I’m still going to be keeping them for La Solitaire. There looks like there will be a lot of wind at times this week, and so I don’t want to blow them all about before La Solitaire. But overall, I am happy with where I am; I am super well prepared, the boat is quick, and I am staying relaxed,” he says.

The first coastal windward-leewards look set to see winds of 15kts to 20kts, while Wednesday’s weather looks more straightforward than the last editions.

“It should not be too stormy and not too uncertain,” explains Dolan, whose last solo race was back in March when he finished sixth on the Solo Maître CoQ.

“The important thing here is not to be projecting too much forward to La Solitaire, I want to focus on my processes, doing things well, not getting ahead of myself, but just taking each race as it comes.” Says Dolan.
La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec starts from Caen on August 27th and takes in three stages from Caen to Kinsale and Roscoff on the bay of Morlaix, finishing in Piriac-sur-Mer.

Published in Tom Dolan
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After five races on the Tour de Bretagne à la Voile, the Irish-French pairing of Tom Dolan and Kévin Bloch, racing the Irish skipper’s Smurfit Kappa–Kingspan, are holding fifth place in the 26-boat fleet as of Friday (7 July).

Still to be contested are the weekend’s offshore race from Lorient to Quiberon and a Sunday day race on the Bay of Quiberon.

“We’re in the game and it’s nice, even if we have not really hit the high spots yet, but we have been quite consistent,” said Dolan.

He reported that after he and Bloch really struggled in the calm in the last miles of the first stage between Saint-Quay-Portrieux and Brest, on Thursday night (6 July) they were snared again in light airs off the Glénans islands after they had been going very well up to that point.

“We led almost the entire race but we got caught up in the light stuff at the end once again,” Dolan said. “It’s a bit frustrating because we go well offshore and we work hard and smart and then we end up being trapped in the calms near the finish. But, hey ho, that’s the way it goes sometimes so all in all we are happy.”

In fifth, Dolan and Blochare now 16 points behind the leaders, Basile Bourgnon and Corentin Horeau, and 13 points from the podium.

“We have a good rhythm on board. Today on this race around the island of Groix we didn't get off to a very good start but we managed to climb through the fleet,” said Dolan.

“And now there are still plenty of points left on the board with two races left, including this shorter offshore from Lorient to Quiberon with a points coefficient of two so we will stay focused.

“There will be a few twists and turns at Belle-Ile on this course so there is everything to play for right to the end.”

Published in Tom Dolan

Ireland’s Tom Dolan and his French co-skipper Kévin Bloch took a hard earned fifth place on Tuesday (4 July) at the end of the first offshore leg of the Tour de Bretagne a la Voile, racing from Saint Quay-Portrieux to Brest via a turning mark, Hands Deep, off Plymouth.

Sailing Dolan’s Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, the duo crossed the line off Brest 19 minutes and five seconds after the stage winners Romain Le Gall and Julien Pulve (Centre Excellence Voile-Secours Populaire 17).

The duo raced an excellent southwards leg between Hands Deep and the Brittany peninsula. Staying west of the fleet which tended to sail low to try and go fast, Dolan and Bloch elected to maintain a high, westerly route which paid off handsomely on the second half of the leg. By the Chaussée de Sein at Ushant they were up to second, challenging for the lead.

But the winds died on the final stretch into Brest and Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan lost places when they sailed into a calm zone.

“Well we are happy enough with the result,” said Dolan on Tuesday afternoon. “I feel we sailed a good race all in all and were a bit unlucky in the end, but that is what happens when you finish into a big port like Brest like that coming in from offshore.

“We tore the jib early on which in the end did not seem to harm us too much. At Hands Deep we were with the lead group and then in the leg south we stuck to our plan. Everyone seemed to want to go low and fast but we always knew there would be less win to the east.

“We stuck to what we thought and actually stopped monitoring the fleet as much on the AIS. So in the end it is a good result, if a little frustrating to have been higher up.”

After this 280-nautical-mile course, the duo were looking to maximise their rest before Wednesday’s (5 July) 23-mile coastal course out of Brest.

Published in Tom Dolan
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