There were highs, lows, thrills and spills – but Tom Dolan has emerged from his first season in the ultra-competitive Beneteau Figaro class with his head held high as third overall rookie.
Despite only taking charge of his racing boat Smurfit Kappa a few weeks before racing it across the Atlantic in February, Dolan went on to string together an impressive set of results throughout 2018.
That put him firmly on the podium of the French Offshore Racing Championship in the rookie division for newcomers, an achievement few sailors can claim.
Such a finish in a class respected and feared for the calibre of its sailors is no mean feat – and after a short break to rest and recuperate the 31-year-old skipper is already looking ahead to 2019.
“It’s been a big year,” said Dolan, who hails from Kells in County Meath but lives in Concarneau, Brittany.
“I got chucked in at the deep end – I got the boat in February, went straight into a transatlantic race then straight from there into the Figaro season, so I had very little time to learn the new boat.”
Dolan came to the class from the Mini 6.50 circuit, where he raced 21ft ‘pocket rocket’ boats. At 32ft, the Beneteau Figaro is almost a third bigger – and significantly more powerful.
“It is a very different way of sailing to the Mini 6.50 and I had to adapt quickly,” Dolan said.
Adapt quickly he did, and by April Dolan was blasting his way across the Atlantic in the Transat AG2R La Mondiale with co-skipper Tanguy Bouroullec.
An impressive 11th proved Dolan had what it takes to compete on such a cutthroat circuit, and so he set his sights on the season finale – the iconic Solitaire du Figaro – backed by eco-packaging giant Smurfit Kappa.
Starting the race as the top-ranked rookie Dolan was among the favourites for the newcomers’ title, but disaster struck an hour after the start when part of his rigging broke and he was forced to retire from the first of four legs.
Undeterred, Dolan fought his way back in the remaining three legs to secure third overall in the rookie division.
“Third rookie in the Solitaire du Figaro is a good end to the year,” Dolan said. “It could have been much worse, with the damage I sustained in the first leg. Yes, one leg went a bit pear-shaped, but I managed to make it up with the other three legs. It means I get a little something at the prize giving, and that’s nice. I learned a lot this year and I’m happy it was a success. It’s left me wanting more.”
Prior to the 2019 season kicking off, Dolan has been imparting his knowledge to the Concarneau-based sailors following in his Mini 6.50 footsteps.
He will also be recounting his adventures to audiences in Ireland, at Royal Cork Yacht Club on November 20, the National Yacht Club in Dublin on November 27 and Poolbeg Yacht Club in spring next year, as well as giving motivational talks to businesses.
“Since the end of the race I’ve managed to get in a good bit of rest,” Dolan said.
“I took a week or two off and then I did some work coaching and training. Up until Christmas, I’m coaching the group up in Concarneau who are preparing for the next Mini Transat. I’ll also be talking about my adventures over the past few years in Cork and Dublin and I’ll also be doing some motivational speaking.”
2019 holds more excitement for Dolan including a stacked racing calendar in a new boat.
Tom Dolan is shortlisted for the Irish Sailor of the Year Award, read more in WMN Nixon's preview here