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Irish Sailor Tom Dolan Wins Stage 1 of French Solo Offshore Race and Plots Safe Strategy for Light Wind Leg 2

2nd September 2023
Tom Dolan (centre) Nils Palmieri (left) and Robin Marais (right) at Saturday’s prizegiving in Kinsale
Tom Dolan (centre) Nils Palmieri (left) and Robin Marais (right) at Saturday’s prizegiving in Kinsale Credit: Alexis Courcoux

Tom Dolan, the winner of Stage 1 of La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec, has been making waves in the sailing world as the first Irish skipper to win a leg of the French solo offshore race in 25 years.

The 36-year-old Dolan, who grew up on a farm in County Meath, won the first stage of the race which finished on Thursday in Kinsale, Ireland. Despite becoming the hometown hero, Dolan has been keeping his feet on the ground and preparing for Stage 2. 

As the first Irish, or indeed north European, skipper to win a leg of the French solo offshore race in 25 years, 36-year-old Dolan – who grew up on a farm in County Meath – smiled quietly, ‘Not bad for a mucksavage from upcountry’ referring to his early life looking after livestock in all weathers.

Dolan, the skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, has a lead of just six minutes and 27 seconds over Swiss rival Nils Palimeri and a handy 16 minutes over a posse of top Figaro racers. But as the next stage promises to be contested in very light winds and with very strong spring tide coefficients, Dolan cautions that the next leg is not one to win the Solitaire on, but one that can be lost on, "especially leaving on very, very strong Spring tides and at Anglesey, you have to be very careful. There won’t be anyone called ‘Dolan’ going off on their own this time."

The next stage, north out of Kinsale into the Saint George’s Channel, either to Chicken Rock south of the Isle of Man or to ODAS M2 weather buoy off Dun Laoghaire before turning south to a finish off Roscoff, promises to be a light winds stage. According to sailors Loïs Berrehar and Chloé Le Bars, the main difficulty will be deciding if or when to leave the group to try things, especially since it is never easy to sail in light winds and to play with the thermal wind, the night breeze, and all these elements while they are all so tight and close in terms of space.

Piers Copham, a sailor from GBR Les Voiles des Anges, shared that the first leg was not great but he learned that if he didn't train, he wouldn't sail and wouldn't get a result. Copham is pleased to be here and is here to learn. He has a goal, which is to participate in the Vendée Globe in the colors of Les Voiles des Anges.

The Kinsale start of the second leg will be at 12 noon on Sunday. The start line will likely be positioned south of the Bullman buoy with a turning mark to the south-east and then to Daunt Buoy.

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Published in Figaro, Tom Dolan Team

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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.

2023 La Solitaire du Figaro Course

Stage #1 Caen – Kinsale : 610 nautical miles
Departure August 27 (expected arrival August 30)

Stage #2 Kinsale – Baie de Morlaix : 630 nautical miles
Departure September 3 (expected arrival September 6)

Stage #3 Baie de Morlaix – Piriac-sur-Mer : 620 nautical miles
Departure September 10 (expected arrival September 13)

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