After minor frustrations marred the first two legs of the Sardinha Cup, Ireland's Tom Dolan and Damian Foxall on Smurfit Kappa finished the first offshore series for the new Figaro Beneteau 3 class on a high note, securing an excellent fifth place on the 280 nautical miles third and final stage.
"That is more like the result we felt we were capable of. On the first two legs, we were sailing fast and generally going in the right direction. But this was a leg when most things went right." smiled Foxall on the dock this morning in Saint-Gilles Croix-De-Vie on the French Vendée coast, the host port of the event and 'home' to boatbuilders Beneteau.
After their 13th place in the shorter, opening Vendée Warm Up leg, then 20th on the first long offshore stage and their fifth on this leg - which was shortened this morning from the scheduled 320 miles to 280 miles - the Smurfit Kappa pair finish 13th overall
From a 'mediocre' start from Saint-Gilles-Crox-De-Vie on Thursday afternoon, the flying Irish duo hit their stride in breezes to 20 knots and proved fast on the 130 nautical miles downwind to a turning mark off Arcachon, south of Bordeaux. They were well inside the top ten of the 32 boat fleet at the southernmost turn.
Yesterday, Friday, Dolan and Foxall gained places on the ensuing upwind stage when there was little wind and the key was working the wind shift created as the sea breeze came in close to the land.
At one point they were up to fourth but a slight hiccup -dropping the spinnaker into the foil - cost them momentarily in the very close racing. Then the sensible choice was to consolidate and cover the fleet to secure the top 5.
"I'm happy with that." Dolan grinned, "It was disappointing not to hold on to good early positions on the first two stages, but this is more of a correct result in terms of how we have been sailing."
"We definitely had good speed again on the run and made our gybes at the right time. I have good sails from Technique Voiles, a smaller French loft, and with the big spinnaker, in particular, we seemed to be able to sail a little lower and stay fast." Dolan added.
Foxall, a veteran of ten round the world races whose first experience back with the Figaro class this was after a 20 years hiatus, added:
"Tom has been putting in the time and has good potential going forwards from here. It is a new boat, the Figaro Beneteau 3, and it will be a lot harder to sail solo, but this a great way to start the season for him."
"I really came in with no expectations at all." the round the world sailor from County Kerry admitted, "But in many ways, it is like riding a bike, the reflexes come back automatically and you get the boat going fast. Once we found the buttons to do that we seemed to be able to do that. He has good sails and has put in a lot of work with the Lorient training group."
Foxall moves on to his next major project now. Asked if his experience with the new Figaro and his ebullient compatriot Dolan might tempt him to return to the Figaro in which he cut his solo and short-handed teeth some 20 years ago, Foxall said: "I suppose it is 'never say never', but for sure it is great, great racing. It felt very familiar and it was nice to be in that comfort zone."
Won overall by three times La Solitaire champion Yann Eliès sailing with French-based British co-skipper Samantha Davies, the Sardinha Cup has been a useful first event for the fleet and for Dolan who now starts his solo training looking towards the season's pinnacle, June's La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro.