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Tom Dolan's La Solitaire du Figaro Fifth Overall Is Best Ever Irish Result

20th September 2020
Tom Dolan finishes fifth overall - It is the best ever Irish sailing result has been achieved in the Figaro Race Tom Dolan finishes fifth overall - It is the best ever Irish sailing result has been achieved in the Figaro Race

With not enough wind to run Stage 4 of La Solitaire du Figaro Ireland’s Tom Dolan secured an excellent fifth place overall on Smurfit Kappa. It is the best international overall placing in the historic French multi-stage offshore race series since 1997 when Switzerland’s Dominique Wavre placed second, and a remarkable result considering it is just Dolan’s third challenge and last year he was 33rd.

The 33-year-old who has lived in Concarneau, Brittany since 2009 but grew up on a farm in rural County Meath came into the gruelling four-stage race aiming to get into the top half of the fleet and to underline his potential to Irish sailing administrators considering the selection process for the 2024 Olympic Mixed Double Offshore category which comes in for the Paris games.

Having worked hard on his mental approach in the early season, Dolan made an excellent start by leading the 624 miles first stage across the Celtic Sea before Fastnet Rock. He lost four places on the approach to the light and more on the long run and reach to the finish, but the 10th place finish was a foundation to build on. He followed up with a solid 11th in the second stage and his career-best seventh on the last stage ensured he was fifth going into the last leg which could not be sailed.

“Right now I am so happy with the result. I came here with hopes of finishing in the top 15. I really wanted to do better than last year when I was 33rd, so to be able to come here and finish in fifth place is amazing. I am delighted.” Grinned Dolan on the dock, “ “To be honest the best thing that happened in terms of preparation was doing so badly in the Solo Maitre Coq race early in the season. I got a bit of a kicking and I realised the problem was in my head and did something about it.”

It is all in the head. I never put enough importance on mental preparation. It is a bit mad this sport. You can have nice sails and the smoothest hull, nice rudders and a fast boat but the head is the most important thing. I think.”

He explained, “I saw a psychologist and we worked on my confidence, making sure that I felt confident in the hard work I have done to get here and not being overawed by the world class sailors I am sailing against. Before when things went wrong I would fall apart. This time I just stuck to what I knew from my preparation and ran with what I thought myself not what other good guys were doing. And so this time my head was much clearer. I have always understood the weather and I feel like I have a good feel for it. And I worked hard at preparing and knowing what might happen and then trusting myself, at the same time not taking too many risks.”

“I hope people at home in Ireland that others can do this. I have worked hard and I hope also this might help give me a fair crack at selection for 2024.”

Dolan added, “ The best moments of the race were going towards the Fastnet Rock in first place or in the lead group anyway, that was fairly incredible. And then this evening when the leg was cancelled, it was all a bit strange to hope that there would be no wind. And so coming back in under engine realising I had done it was brilliant.

“ I have to say that I am here as the best ‘foreigner’ but really Sam Goodchild I have to say was better than me and just got unlucky on one stupid transition at Belle Ile. I should say the VIVI Trophy should be his. But, yes, in La Solitaire you have to be lucky too. I am going to get lots of sleep now and then take my girlfriend on holiday, but then I hear that I am sixth in the French offshore championship so that might have to wait!”

Published in Figaro
Andi Robertson

About The Author

Andi Robertson

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Andi Robertson is an international sailing journalist based in Scotland

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Ireland & La Solitaire du Figaro

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 celebrated 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.

What Irish ports have hosted The Solitaire du Figaro?

The race has previously called to Ireland to the following ports; Dingle, Kinsale, Crosshaven, Howth and Dun Laoghaire.

What Irish sailors have raced The Solitaire du Figaro?

So far there have been seven Irish skippers to participate in La Solitaire du Figaro. 

In 1997, County Kerry's Damian Foxall first tackled the Figaro from Ireland. His win in the Rookie division in DHL gave him the budget to compete again the following year with Barlo Plastics where he won the final leg of the race from Gijon to Concarneau. That same year a second Irish sailor Marcus Hutchinson sailing Bergamotte completed the course in 26th place and third Rookie.

In 2000, Hutchinson of Howth Yacht Club completed the course again with IMPACT, again finishing in the twenties.

In 2006, Paul O’Riain became the third Irish skipper to complete the course.

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 had two Irish boats in the offshore race thanks to Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy who joined the rookie ranks and kept the Irish tricolour flying high in France. Mulloy became the first Irish female to take on the race.

Tom Dolan in Smurfit Kappa competed for his third year in 2020 after a 25th place finish in 2019. Dolan sailed a remarkably consistent series in 2020 and took fifth overall, the best finish by a non-French skipper since 1997 when Switzerland’s Dominique Wavre finished runner up. Dolan wins the VIVI Trophy.

Dolan finished 10th on the first stage, 11th on the second and seventh into Saint Nazaire at the end of the third stage. Stage four was abandoned due to lack of wind. 

Also in 2020, Dun Laoghaire’s Kenneth Rumball became the eleventh Irish sailor to sail the Figaro.

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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