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After Ireland’s Tom Dolan slipped to second in the 500-mile Mini-en-Mai in the last 30 miles on Friday, all of Irish sailing – and a wider community of supporters internationally – shared his frustration writes W M Nixon. But those of us who followed the Yellowbrick tracker all the way into port at La Trinite sur Mer after the finish very quickly spotted that Tom’s Pogo 3 Offshoresailing.fr (IR 910) had been lifted out into the marina-side boatyard.

Had something occurred to explain that loss of pace in the final stage? Seaweed jammed in the rudder perhaps? Or something small but significant picked up by the keel? No so. He had simply been very diligent in being one of the first to return the tracker to the race office. The boat was still afloat with no problems. In this searingly honest analysis, he tells us how it went pear-shaped:

“Winning races is a matter of making less mistakes than everyone else. There was no sea-weed on the keel or rudder, but a big big human error on my part, so I am a bit disappointed. Here's what happened:

As we passed north of Ile de Re on the last night I has a lead of 0.3 miles over Erwan le Draoulec racing the Pogo 3 Emile Henry (the distance is from the AIS, it's sort of like our television on board, we are always glued to it). During the last night I managed to pick up the lead to 0.8 miles, but we started to get headed. We both changed from the big to the medium kite and the distance was still stable at 0.8 miles. We continued to get headed while at the same time passing close to a headland with not a lot of water. I passed over 3 metres depth at 12 knots, and in my head I was trying to guesstimate the draft of the boat when heeled at 30°!

The wind increased to around 18 knots and after a couple of knock-downs, I changed to code 5. The change cost me 0.1 miles, but the distance stayed stable. Once we passed the headland, however, we bore off by 5 degrees and as Erwan had stayed under medium he started to catch me.

This was when I lost the race. It was a bit of a strange moment and it is a problem I have had before when very tired. I couldn't decide whether to change back to the medium or not. My brain just wouldn't make up its mind.

We had spent the entire night rock-hopping around Ile de Re to shelter from the tide, and as I had been in front I had done all the navigating. Erwan has simply followed me, and waited for his time to pounce. The distance decreased, 0.5, 0.4, 0.2 and when he was just to leeward of me, panic set in and I changed back to medium.

He was now 0.3 miles ahead and I cried (again, the fatigue can be very intense). Our coach tell us the there are times when you should not try to win a race, you should simply just not lose it. All I had to was wait on his backside, and wait for him to slip up. But no - with the frustration, disappointment and fatigue, and with my brain in crazy mode, I put the nail in the coffin.

I changed sail again to put up the big kite, and with the first gust I was screaming along at 13 knots, but at 30° to the route. Meanwhile Erwan stayed on course. The lateral separation increased bit by bit, and once we got headed, it was game over. The lateral will always have to be paid back at some stage.

Voila voile, that’s sailing, that was it. So I more or less gifted him the victory with two huge mistakes. All I had to do was stay between him and the mark and keep the same sail as him, and I would have won. But he was better on the day.

On the positive side I am very happy speed-wise, especially on vmg running. But I have a sort of a new nickname "vais pas trop vite!" – “Don’t go too fast!”. It’s a double-edged sort of thing, suggesting the other guys let me sprint away, and then wait to pounce.

By the end, I’d been fighting for that lead with maybe half a dozen other boats at different stages. Erwan was 1.6 miles ahead of me at the finish. But I in turn was four miles ahead of the next boat, Pierre Chedeville’s Pogo 3 Blue Orange Games, which at mid-race had been the boat with which I’d been most directly battling for first place.

We keep learning. And it’s really touching to arrive back and see all of the support from home. Sorry I made a bit of a hames of it at the end.

All the best,

Tom

Published in Solo Sailing

Ireland’s Tom Dolan maintained a narrow lead during the third night of the 500–mile Mini-en-May with his Pogo 3 Offshoresailng.fr (IRL 910) as the fleet made their way through inshore passages past La Rochelle and inside the Ile de Re writes W M Nixon

The long haul from the southerly turn off Royan at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary northwest back to the finish at La Trinite sur Mer has been increasingly favoured by sou’west breezes, and as of
0750 Irish time this Friday morning, he was off St Gilles and making 9.9 knots with 66.2 miles to the finish, while closest rival Erwan Le Draoulec racing another Pogo 3, Emile Henry, was half a mile astern but every bit as fast.

Both have managed to shake off closest rival Pierre Chedeville in the Pogo 3 Blue Orange Games, who now has 73.2 miles to the finish. The leaders have a drag race in prospect for the final fifty miles, with every likelihood of a Friday daylight finish.

Published in Solo Sailing

Wednesday evening update – After a difficult day in the middle of the Bay of Biscay with the fleet in the Mini-en-Mai now spread across a wide front as they close in towards the southerly turn off Royan, Tom Dolan’s consistency with his Pogo 3 IRL 910 Offshoresailing.fr has been remarkable writes W M Nixon. He has always been in contention for the top slot, despite speeds at time dropping practically to zero, and as of 1930hrs Irish time he was making better than six knots and recorded at different times as leading or in second place in class.

However, with the leaders now in the laitutude of Ile d’Yeu, the boats furtheast east are currently finding more poke in the now mainly nor’easterly breeze, and two of them are getting speeds of better than 7 knots as the front runners close in together again. But even as we write this, Tom’s own speed has broken through the 7 knots barrier once more - it’s very much race on.

Published in Solo Sailing

After their first night at sea, the Mini Transat boats racing the 500-mile Mini-en-Mai race in the eastern sector of the Bay of Biscay have put the navigation challenges of Western Brittany astern, and are well on their way, shaping their course southeast towards the next turn off the mouth of the Gironde Estuary writes W M Nixon

Tom Dolan of Ireland sailing the Pogo 3 Offshoresailing.fr held the lead in his class at 0800 Irish time this morning by a narrow margin, with 329 miles still to race. But it will be at a slower pace – he is now sailing at “only” 8.8 knots - than the speedy first day, when a brisk easterly sent the fleet hurtling northwards from the start/finish port of La Trinite sur mer.

A shallow low pressure area is headed towards Biscay, but if the leaders can manage to get far enough on their way to be south of it, there’s a chance the underlying wind will draw from the southwest. However, with two mini lows approaching ahead of it on its advance fringes, there’s a risk that for a while, conditions could become extremely flukey.

Published in Solo Sailing

2016 might well have been the year of the foil in offshore sailing writes solo sailor Thomas Dolan. Here the sole Irish 'Mini Classe' competitor assesses some of the latest developments from his base in France and asks will a 'foiler' win the Mini–Transat this year?

Armel Le Cleach decimated the record of the Transat Bakerly and then the Vendee Globe and silenced once and for all the argument about foils in the Open 60 Classe. Even though it will be interesting to know exactly how much of the time the leaders actually used them in the deep south, it is certain that they were a key factor in the descent of the Atlantic Ocean which allowed the lead group to propel themselves into a weather system ahead of the rest never to be caught.

But some may forget or simply not know, that when Banque Populaire first began to research and develop it’s foils, they turned to the laboratories of offshore sailing. Where many have turned for almost 40 years, where we have perfected canting keels, elongating keels, swinging masts and swinging rudders in the Mini Transat 650.

Armel le cleach on board the 198 in 2015Armel le cleach on board the Mini 198 in 2015

In 2015 the Classe Mini formally allowed appendices on prototype boats to extend outside the 3m box rule once the starting gun had fired. The aim was to ensure that there would be a number of foiling mini’s on the start line this year. There has been a lot of progress made, and numerous skippers planned or will be planning something either for this edition or the next. Here’s a little run down of whats been going on in an effort to try and answer the big question of will a foiler win the mini transat in 2017!

Arkema The 900Arkema The 900 - as well as foils, this prototype also has a self-supporting (no shrouds) wing mast

Arkema: The 900 is packed full of innovations, it’s largest one is probably not even the tilting foils with which it is equipped but the fact that it is built of what the chemical company claim to be a recyclable resin, which some day may allow boats to be properly recycled at the end of their life. Other innovations include a self-supporting (no shrouds) wing mast, a bow sprit that retracts into the boat and can be orientated with a pivoting forestay and then of course there are the foils. The system to orientate each foil is not new, the team took the same system that has been used for many years on canting keels, allowing the foils to be adjusted, trimmed and retracted into the boat when need be. These innovations are impressive but they have left the boat with a handicap, its weight. The 900 comes in at a little over one ton, which is a lot for a prototype, almost 300 kilos more than some of the lighter boats. Word is that in a flat sea the boat does lift a little on its foil but it is yet to be known if in a heavy sea it will be able to keep up the average speeds needed to win the mini. Will it hop up and down on the swell? Foiling briefly then nose diving into a wave? Will the autopilot be able to perform? After all in single–handed offshore racing it’s an averages game. 

747 sea air747 Sea Air - the first flying Mini Classe boat

747: The Flying Mini. Whereas Arkema never said the aim was to fly, from the get–go their interest in the foil was to increase the righting moment and therefore the power of the boat while allowing it to lift and plane sooner. The aim of SeaAIR and the 747 has been to make a flying mini, and they have succeeded. The foil they use is much larger and a lot closer to what is known as a DSS (dynamic stability system) basically a wing with no tip that extends out from the side of the boat. The team are very much in the Research and Development stage of the project but the results are impressive, after just four outings they have flown each time. In as little as 8 knots of true wind speed the boat has lifted out of the water. When not in use the foils are stored by sliding them up to deck level, just like traditional dagger boars. The problem this brings is that the added weight up high means that the righting moment of the boat may not be enough to meet the classe mini’s specifications. This can perhaps be rectified by adding weight to the keel, but do they want to? Another impractical problem is due to the space occupied by the foils when in ‘up’ position is that the head sail cannot be sheeted in, so going to windward could prove complicated without reducing sail area. But it is the first one that actually flies!

Mini classe 888Mini classe 888 - commonly know as the 'Grenouille' or 'the frog'

888: In 2015, before the rule change there actually already was a foiling mini. Simon Koster who finished an impressive 2nd place in the production class in 2013 set out in what became Mini classe 888 - commonly know as the 'Grenouille' or 'the frog'. While waiting for the rule change, the boat was initially fitted out with inward facing foils. Despite short bursts at up to 22 knots of boat speed, the foils proved to be unimpressive overall and ended up being quite a handicap while sailing upwind. Definitely a boat built for speed rather than beauty, In 2017 it is quite possible that we see her with a real set of foils which could make it a serious contender.

93?? : Word on the pontoons is that there is a brand new foiler being speed-built in Tunisia, by well known German Skipper Jorg Reichers. Construction started in the new year and the plan is to have the boat in the water for May. The team will have a big job ahead of them to have the boat ready and qualified for the Transat, more news will be coming soon.

Mini class 667Mini class 667 - Eva Lune, twice winner and to this day still the most decorated

One great thing about the introduction of foils in the classe is that it could mean the regeneration of some of the older boats in the circuit. Modern designs have let to boats becoming wider and more powerful as architects push chines further and further foreward. The scow shaped bows have impressively dominated the classe since David Raison won in 2011 on the original 747. Especially when reaching, from anything between 80 and 130 degrees to the true wind the older, narrower boats have struggled. There are many of these older boats still in the circuit, some of them very well built and very light and with a lot of history. Boats such as the 667 Eva Lune, twice winner and to this day still the most decorated in the class. There is also the 754 which still holds the record for the most miles covered in 24 hours (294 Miles). The increased righting moment of a pair of foils could be just what the doctor ordered to give them a new lease of life.

This idea of sustainability is something that is becoming more and more important within the classe. This year there are several protoypes who will be competing with only solar power, greatly aided by the massive advancements in the quality of solar panels. The plan for 2019 is to allow lithium batteries in production boats on the condition that they rely only on renewable energy. The long term goal is that the Mini Transat become the first ocean race completely free of fossil fuels.

So will a foiler win the Mini? For 2017 I remain sceptic, primarily because there are so few of them and those that will be on the start line will not have many miles under the keel. To succeed in the Mini 650 Circuit what is needed is polyvalence. To be good all round. It is an averages game. For the second part of the transat, being fast on downwind VMG is of course a great benefit, especially if the trade winds are nicely in place. The advantage of foils comes into play when reaching, when the boat is pushing onto the foil. The foilers will most certainly be dominant around 110/120 TWA, even more so in strong winds, but what about all the rest? And what about the VMG? Making the foils lift will mean a higher VMG, possibly as high as 130 and this increases the tactical risk, being the wrong side of shift will hurt a hell of a lot more!

At the end of the day the biggest question is will it be enough to get ahead of Ian Lipinski and his 865 'Griffon.fr'? This will be his third transat, flipped upside down and forced to abandon his boat in 2013, winner in the production classe in 2015 and winner of every race in 2016 for now he the favourite sticker remains solidly in place. Victory would make him the first person to win the race in both production and protoype classe, and for now I wouldn’t bet against him!

Mini classe Griffon Ian Lipinski and his 865 “Griffon.fr – a favourite this season

Tom Dolan departs this Saturday in his production (non foiling) Mini in the first race of the season

Published in Solo Sailing