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No Glory for Irish Skippers in Kinsale Finish of Figaro Leg One

7th June 2019
Tom Dolan skipper Smurfit Kappa at the end of stage one of la Solitaire Urgo Le Figaro 2019 off Kinsale Tom Dolan skipper Smurfit Kappa at the end of stage one of la Solitaire Urgo Le Figaro 2019 off Kinsale Photo: Alexis Courcoux

There was to be no glory for the Irish skippers as they sailed into home waters in the back end of the Figaro fleet into Kinsale this morning.

County Meath's Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) finished in 39th, ten hours after the winner. The talented Irish sailor was in the top group off the Brittany coast but chose to go west with many of the top seeds and paid a heavy price.

"It is good to be in. But I did fairly badly. I went the wrong way, simple as that. At Belle Ile I don't know what I was doing, I was in the lead group and going well. I kind of woke up from a nap and made a stupid decision. I saw a group going north of the island and thought 'oh yes, I need to go north of the island'. It was a stupid mistake and after that, I went west in the Celtic Sea and that was it." Dolan explained on the dock.

Similarly, Joanne Mulloy ( In Grace) was competitive early in the race but faded and lost touch with the main body of the fleet, classified as 'abandoned' before the finish.

It was a tired and disappointed Tom Dolan who arrived in Kinsale early this morning, completing the first stage of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro in 39th place. After showing excellent speed and tactical nous in the early stages of what proved to be a marathon four days and four nights, 545 nautical miles leg from Nantes via the Fastnet Dolan made one costly strategic error.

His option taken to go west, offshore, early on in the Celtic Sea was one also taken by some of the most accomplished top seeds, surely running their chances of overall victory.

But the Irish skipper of Smurfit Kappa arrived home in Ireland bleary-eyed but determined to take the positives from a brutal leg which saw multiple different successive weather transitions and no fewer than nine different leaders.

After having been fighting in the top ten of the 47 strong fleet of solo racers during the passage up the French coast from a southernmost turning mark 57 miles after last Sunday’s start, Dolan’s decision saw him slide down the fleet with no chance to fight back when the wind shifted to favour the two groups which had elected to sail a more easterly track.

“I feel bad coming in because I did not do as well as I should have. I went the wrong way, it is as simple as that. Initially I woke up after a nap at Belle Ile and saw a group going north of the island and thought it was the thing to do, but the time I realised it was too late to do anything about it.” Recalled Dolan in the early morning sunshine, “I was doing well before that but then in the Celtic Sea I went west. So there you have it. You learn loads.” Said Dolan who had run out of water because the light wind leg proved to be more than 24 hours longer than expected.

“It was a long leg. For sure it was. I was left in no wind trying to get round the Fastnet. But next time I come to Ireland I’ll maybe make it by plane. I was not easy at all, it was very complicated. Now I need to find my mother who has never ever seen any of the boats I have raced on.” Smiled Britanny based 32-year-old Dolan who left his native Mells, County Meath to pursue a sailing career.

Remarkably it is less than ten years since Dolan was teaching sailing in nearby Baltimore and saw the Figaro fleet racing round the Fastnet.

“I am sorry I did so badly.” Dolan offered his friends who greeted him on the dock, “There were some good guys back there with me. The weather forecast and our briefings said, west, west, west, but the first time I got Met Eireann forecast, the Irish sea area weather service, it said north north easterly and I knew that was it. When we got the ranking then the leaders were 40 miles ahead of us. And we were 30 miles from the Fastnet, that was it. But it was tough, the wind never, ever stopped shifting.”

Dolan is now recovering and making ready for the second stage which starts Sunday and races to Roscoff in Brittany via the Isle of Man.

Published in Figaro Team

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The Solitaire du Figaro, was originally called the course de l’Aurore until 1980, was created in 1970 by Jean-Louis Guillemard and Jean-Michel Barrault.

Half a decade later, the race has created some of France's top offshore sailors, and it celebrates its 50th anniversary with a new boat equipped with foils and almost 50 skippers Including novices, aficionados and six former winners.

The solo multi-stage offshore sailing race is one of the most cherished races in French sailing and one that has had Irish interest stretching back over 20 years due to the number of Irish stopovers, usually the only foreign leg of the French race.

The race has previously called to Dingle, Kinsale, Crosshaven, Howth and Dun Laoghaire.

In 2013 Royal Cork's David Kenefick raised the bar by becoming a top rookie sailor in the race

In 2018, for the first time Ireland will have two Irish boats in the offshore race thanks to Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy who join the rookie ranks and keep the Irish tricolour flying high in France. 

The 2019 course is more Than 2,000 miles between Nantes, Kinsale (Ireland), Roscoff and Dieppe and is the longest in the race's history.


At A Glance – Figaro Race

  • It starts in June or July from a French port.
  • The race is split into four stages varying from year to year, from the length of the French coast and making up a total of around 1,500 to 2,000 nautical miles (1,700 to 2,300 mi; 2,800 to 3,700 km) on average.
  • Over the years the race has lasted between 10 and 13 days at sea.
  • The competitor is alone in the boat, participation is mixed.
  • Since 1990, all boats are of one design.

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