When Henry Cromwell in 1654 as then Chief Justice of Ireland, decided to rid the city of Dublin of everyone of Irish blood by ordering them to move two miles outside the capital, his decision gave the impetus which created great maritime communities that have survived the test of time around Irishtown and Ringsend and where I always like having a reason to call into the welcoming and highly sociable Poolbeg Yacht and Boat Club.
That opportunity this week resulted in my catching Ireland’s international sailor studying maritime matters to refresh and add to his professional knowledge. Within a fortnight he will be applying what he has learned down in Antarctica, a region in which he has sailed, but not operated from before and where he will be commemorating what a Cork sailor did 200 years ago.
In January the County Cork committee which has spent years trying to bring Edward Bransfield to the attention of the Irish public will unveil a monument at the East Cork harbourside village of Ballinacurra to his memory, as the first man to set eyes on Antarctica. Damian, a Kerryman who knows well the legend of Tom Crean, will be following the still-emerging story of Bransfield, as part of the Irish Team South will be running expeditions in Antarctica and retelling the story of Bransfield, with the support of the Cork group whose determination to have him publicly remembered I have discussed previously in this Podcast. Lucy Hunt from Sea Synergy in Waterville and Niall McAllister from West Cork Sailing make it a Kerry/Cork combination. For this week’s Podcast, I was in Poolbeg as Damian emerged from his morning of study!
Listen to the Podcast below
Two centuries after the “white continent” was recorded officially for the first time by an expedition led by Irishman Edward Bransfield, Kerry round-the-world offshore racer Damian Foxall plans to explore Antarctica by sail.
Kerry-born Foxall will be accompanied on his “Team South” expeditions – which are open to the public - by marine biologists Lucy Hunt and Niall McAllister.
As The Irish Independent reports in its Review section today, the three highly accomplished sailors and scientists from Cork and Kerry will take their background in environmental education, research and adventure to head to Antarctica, to experience first-hand the impact of climate change and witness the fragile ecosystem inhabited by penguins, albatrosses, whales and seals.
"I look forward to stepping foot on the continent for the first time"
“Having been involved in over ten round-the-world races, I have seen the southern ocean and the world in a way that few get to experience - icebergs, albatross and forgotten sub-Antarctic islands,” Foxall says.
“ I look forward to stepping foot on the continent for the first time and to sharing this unique privilege with my team and our guests,” he says.
The trio will work with Quixote Expeditions, skippering the 65ft ketch, Ocean Tramp. The Antarctic expedition company has an ethos of community collaboration, education, scientific research and minimal footprint.
When not offshore racing,Foxall is a passionate adventurer and advocate for ocean health, while Niall MacAllister, who runs marine wildlife expeditions and sail training in west Cork, has recently been skippering on the research sailing sloop, Song of the Whale, for a series of marine mammal research programmes.
Lucy Hunt created the ocean health education programme for the Volvo Ocean Race 2017/18 and is now working on the new programme for 2021/22 Ocean Race, while directing her Sea Synergy marine education and awareness centre in her native Waterville, Co Kerry.
The trio has linked in with ornithologist and Antarctic guide Jim Wilson and polar explorer enthusiast Eugene Furlong, who are involved in the project to commemorate Edward Bransfield in his native Ballinacurra, Co Cork, in January 2020.
Team South expeditions start at 9,000 US dollars per person for two weeks, excluding flights. Photographers and film crews are among early bookings, and there is availability on some legs for equally curious citizen scientists and adventurous types, who won’t need much sailing experience.
The five consecutive expeditions start in December and end in March, and the last leg of the journey includes sailing the Antarctic Peninsula before crossing the Drake passage to the Falkland Islands.
A free berth is awarded each trip to a research scientist throughout the southern summer season which runs from November to March. More details are here
Read more about Team South and about Edward Bransfield who put Antarctica on the map in The Irish Independent here
Ireland’s Tom Dolan and Damian Foxall finish in an excellent final leg fifth place in the Sardhinha Cup. As Afloat previously reported, the Irish duo set sail on 30 March, 2019 to brave the elements in their Dubarry sailing boots. The unique designs and the very best technical materials ensure Dubarry sailing boots prove themselves time and time again in some of the most challenging conditions at sea. And this is why Dubarry boots have rightly gained the respect and trust of those that sail the world’s oceans.
Tom: “Everyday I work on the boat I do it in my ten-year-old pair of Dubarry sailing boots, they are a bit battered but still comfortable and still dry. It’s great to know that we are going to sea with well made, good quality material. A huge aim of this year’s campaign, in conjunction with Smurfit Kappa, is to promote sustainability in sailing projects. Using materials that last is key to this, and thanks to Dubarry for being part of it.”
"To go fast you’ve got to have dry feet"
Damian: “To go fast you’ve got to have dry feet, especially this time of year in the middle of Biscay and having good quality material is the cornerstone of this. The better you feel, the more you can concentrate on the two key pillars of offshore racing, going fast in the right direction!”
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.
Smurfit Kappa, the new Figaro 3 being raced in the current Sardinha Cup series in France by Tom Dolan and Damian Foxall, has been comfortably in the top ten since the start of the 320-mile Leg 3 off St Gillles yesterday at 1330hrs. The course is south to a turning mark off Arcachon, then north leaving Ile d’Yeu to port before heading northwest to another turn before the final leg southeast to St Gilles, where the finish is expected tomorrow (Saturday).
"Smurfit Kappa has shown some impressive bursts of speed"
Smurfit Kappa has shown some impressive bursts of speed, but despite slower going since making the turn off Arcachon during the night, the Irish duo have been steppd up the challenge, and this morning are shown as a close third in line honours, just 1.1 miles astern of leaders Samantha Davies and Elies Yann in St Michel. The race has been slightly slower for Joan Mulloy and Mile Golding in Atlantic Youth Trust - they are shown at 29th in line honours, five miles astern.
Race Tracker here
After the heavy going experienced for much of the first two stages of the Sardinha Cup for the brand new Figaro 3 boats, a significant part of the fleet had sustained such serious rig problems that the long-distance Leg 3 has been postponed until the weekend in order to allow round-the-clock working in port at St Gilles Croix de Vie in order to get the boats ocean ready once more.
Ironically, the Bay of Biscay is now experiencing extremely light winds for the time of year, but the strong breezes may have returned when the fleet puts back to sea. Ireland’s Tom Dolan and Damian Foxall on Smurfit Kappa had their own problems when they became enmeshed in fishing gear while well placed during Leg 2, and currently are well down the line with a 13th and a 20th recorded in the two legs sailed, while Joan Mulloy and Mike Golding were early victims of the technical failures and had to put into the nearest port.
A glutton for punishment? After a tough, stamina-sapping 408 nautical miles second leg of the Sardinha Cup in strong, gusty winds, freezing temperatures which even brought hailstones, Ireland’s Smurfit Kappa pair Tom Dolan and Damian Foxall cannot wait to go back racing, looking ahead to the third and final stage to try and better their 20th place on Leg 2.
They started well and were well among the contenders in the early stages of the leg which drew a long downwind and upwind between the Gironde estuary, off Bordeaux, and a northerly turning mark off Glenans, south Finistère.
"After the initial losses, Dolan feels they took a riskier option at the Ile de Yeu which did not pay"
Dolan reported, "Just as during the warm-up, we started very well and the early stages were really good for us. But on the downwind to the buoy BXA, we got a fishing line and rope on the keel. It took a while to realise what was happening as we were still making 11-12 knots! We were three or four knots slower than the others for while. We just did not know what was happening. We swapped helming a couple of times. When we did we had to take the kite down and back up. That probably cost us 20 minutes alone.”
After the initial losses, Dolan feels they took a riskier option at the Ile de Yeu which did not pay. “I guess we were frustrated and felt we had to take a bigger risk and lost three boats there.” Smurfit Kappa lies 19th overall in this first series of offshore races for the new Figaro Beneteau 3. The third stage starts on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s a bit frustrating that happened, it was bad luck. But we are fast. I don’t think we have any problems there. We are probably one of the fastest boats at the moment. There is no real hierarchy at the top, probably 15 good boats emerging with a chance of winning legs. Now for us, it has to be third time lucky doesn’t it!”
If the first stage of the Sardinha Cup, the first offshore races for the Figaro Beneteau 3, proved to be something of a gentle baptism, the 405 nautical miles second stage which starts this Tuesday afternoon at 1600hrs local time, should be a much more complete test of boat handling, speed, strategic choices and stamina.
Ireland’s Figaro duo Tom Dolan and Damian Foxall, co-skippers of Smurfit Kappa, are relishing the next challenge. Well rested and debriefed after their 13th on the short first stage, the duo feel they have a good handle on what will be key on this stage.
The course is expected to last around 48-50 hours, starting and finishing off Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie on the French Atlantic Vendée coast. If light winds marked the opening stage which was shortened because of the calms, this leg will see the 33 duos make a high speed downwind run off the start line in 25-30kts of wind to turn at the entrance to the Saint Nazaire channel at the entrance to the Gironde estuary (by Bordeauz) is followed by a long 150 nautical miles upwind return to turn off the Glénan.
“This will be our first real test in breeze and we are raring to go. It looks like it will be a long, fast night. It will be good to be double-handed for this leg in this breeze as if something goes wrong the other pair of hands can keep you in the game. It will be fast and it will be wet. And cold. This is polar air coming in so at least downwind tonight it might not be so cold.” Said Tom Dolan as he and Foxall prepared to dock out from the pretty Vendée haven renowned for its sardines.
“We were going well through the first leg. We had speed upwind and were good until we made that little mistake. The wind did come in from the east so our strategy was good, we just went too far and were too early for it.” Dolan recalled.
He explains: “The key tonight will be when and if to gybe and that will be determined by a shift coming through which we will need to monitor very closely, and also to keep a very close eye on what we see the fleet are doing. Spinnaker choice and handling will be important. The on the upwind, another crucial decision will be a left shift which looks like it could determine the lay line to the finish and that will be around four or five on Thursday morning, just when we might be at our tiredest, before dawn on the last morning. Lovely!”
This will be the first big downwind ever for the whole fleet and Dolan anticipates that this may be key to the race. Sail choice will be key, between the Code Zero, A4 and A2 spinnakers, going for maximum power but still being able to survive the bullet cold fronts coming through.
“In general when the foil is humming you are fast, so you focus on that. The boat has much more feel and is much more fun than its predecessor and that will make a difference through the night tonight.”
And Dolan feels he is profiting from his partnership with the hugely experienced Foxall.
“I know we Irish are always cool calm and collected on all boats, but Damian is a very cool customer when it gets difficult, his experience really shows and it is great to see how to stay calm and work things out rather than getting in a flap.” Dolan concludes.
Irish offshore sailors Tom Dolan and Damian Foxall finished 13th in the new foil-assisted Figaro Bénéteau 3 in the first leg of the Sardinha Cup, France this morning. A second Irish team, Atlantic Youth Trust, skippered by Joan Mulloy and Mike Golding were 32nd in the “Warm Up” Leg of the Sardinha Cup which is part of the 2019 French Championship for Offshore Sailing.
The next leg starts of Tuesday 2 April 2019 with a 600-mile race from St Gilles Croix de Vie to the UK and back.
See the full leg one results here.
The Irish duo had lead off the start line and remained very much in the match, in the leading group for most of the stage, succumbing to one small error on what proved to be the final leg in to Saint Gilles Croix de Vie, the start and finish port.
"We are happy with our place and happy with our speed too. We made a small mistake on the long tack between the Ile de Yeu and Les Sables d'Olonne by going a little too close to the coast. We were hoping to get more pressure than the others, but in the end, we lost a lot of places, "explained the skipper of Smurfit Kappa.
"We were in the game for the whole race. As Damian said, we arrived in good company. It's definitely fun to play in the best group, "added the Irish sailor, who reflected on their glamour start: "It was really nice to pass in front of the whole fleet. What I will remember though is that we really have good speed and so we can play a low-risk strategy and look to make small gains here and there." The duo heart from finishing in front of some big names such as Loïck Peyron, Gildas Morvan, Xavier Macaire, Gwénolé Gahinet and Charlie Dalin. "It gives you confidence for the future," Dolan summarised.
Looking ahead to the send stage, Act 2 which starts on Tuesday, Tom said: "We will try to rest and work hard on our navigation and strategy homework as the next stage is longer and carries a three times coefficient. So we would love to do well and feel we can as we have decent speed."
The double-handed series of offshore races comprises a first 147 nautical miles 24 hours opening stage which starts on Saturday, followed by two longer stages of up to 650 miles, starting on 2nd and then the 9th April, each starting and finishing from Saint Gilles Croix de Ville on the French Vendée coast, a town well known for their sardines, hence the inaugural race series’ name.
Dolan, 31, from Kells, County Meath finished third rookie in his first season in the Figaro class but as the fleet adopts the new Figaro Bénéteau 3, he has chosen to draw on the experience of his compatriot co-skipper 10 times round the world racer Foxall, 50, from County Kerry on what promises to be a steep learning curve for all the sailors as they adapt to the new design.
Although the new boat is equipped with foils there seems to be little chance to benefit from them on the first stage, a triangle course formed by passing Ile de Yeu off Les Sables d’Olonne passed on the outwards and the return passage from a buoy Banc de Guérande lying to the west of the entrance to the Loire river at Nantes. Only very light winds are expected and although the name of the opening stage is the ‘Vendée Warm-Up’ the nights will still be long and chilly. Among the 68 sailors on the 34 boats are Volvo Ocean Race winner Charles Caudrelier, Route du Rhum winner Loick Peyron, and two three times winners of La Solitaire du Figaro, Yann Eliès and Jérémie Beyou. But as there has been no racing at all for the new boat, except for informal practice among the training groups, there is no form book.
Foxall explains, “There is a great mix of sailors in the field, some like Erwan Tabarly who joined the class in my last year has done 19 La solitaires in the last 20 years, and Loick Peyron is back, then there are a lot of very, very good singlehanded Figaro sailors, this really is the best of the best. But out of the 34 teams racing there are at least 20 which could win. It is amazing.”
“We feel good, we could all have done more and you can never have done enough,” Dolan confirms, “There is always something more to do, but in that respect, I think we are all in the same position. At the end of the day we have had more sailing than some of the other boats and we have had a couple of good solid weeks working on the boat too.”
The format of the races, long offshore stages with little rest between them, are designed to mirror that of La Solitaire du Figaro URGO, the season’s pinnacle solo event which takes place in June.
Foxall says, “It really is like a mini Solitaire, double-handed. The nights will be longer and colder and it will potentially be windier at some points. But it is a very similar format, short, hard legs where you don’t get a lot of rest, some crucial moments when you have to be absolutely on the ball, going fast and in the right direction, and you have to be doing that three times over the next three weeks. It is a really nice format. It is a really nice way to start with the new boat.”
The duo will rely on their experience to support each other, ensuring Smurfit Kappa is going fast in the right direction, Foxall, who won the two-handed Barcelona Race round the world, explains how they plan to work together on board, “I think it will happen naturally as it does in double-handed sailing. Sailing the boat fast in the right direction is a two-person operation with someone driving and looking after the performance of the boat and the other is maybe looking more out of the boat at strategy and tactics, and making sure the trim of the boat is right, and then when the odd occasion allows some rest we will try and do that.
Because of the very light winds forecast for today on France's Vendée coast, Sunday, Race Direction of the Sardinha Cup made the decision early this morning to shorten course for the opening stage of the three leg race series which is the first test for the new Beneteau Figaro 3 class.
Tom Dolan will form an all-Irish partnership with the vastly experienced Damian Foxall for the first race for the new Figaro Beneteau 3, the Sardinha Cup which starts on March 27th.
After last year’s promising first season in the Figaro one design class, finishing third rookie overall, Dolan has embraced the circuit’s change to the brand new foiling Figaro Beneteau 3, and has spent recent weeks learning how to make the new boat sail fast.
Ten times round the world sailor, a winner of the crewed Volvo Ocean Race and the two-handed Barcelona World Race round the world, Foxall cut his teeth in the solo and short-handed world in the Figaro class in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He became was the first even non-French skipper to win a leg of La Solitaire du Figaro and who finished top rookie in 1997.
The decision to move to the new foil-assisted, faster and more responsive Figaro 3 has proven a magnet to many of the top French ocean racing stars such as Loick Peyron, Michel Desjoyeaux, and Charles Caudrelier as well as three times La Solitaire winners Jérémie Beyou and Yann Eliès.
Dolan received his new Figaro 3 on January 25th and had his first training sessions in February coached by Tanguy Leglatin and Gildas Mahe. “To be honest the training has been going very well.” Said Dolan, who hails from Kells in County Meath but lives in Concarneau.
“We have been among the fastest boats on the water. But like everyone we need to work hard on the manoeuvres. That is where the biggest losses are right now.”
Dolan adds: “It is great to have Damian with me. He is very calm on the boat and his experience is obvious but one of the most important learnings for me has been organisation, discipline and attention to detail, how to run a programme. He has been giving me a bit of a push in that direction and it makes a real difference in terms of confidence in yourself and the programme.”
“But besides all that, we have a good craic together and I have long since forgiven Damian for his County Kerry roots.”
Foxall is delighted to be back in France among many of his Figaro counterparts, French sailors who have remained friends and rivals over the 20 years, and loving the challenge of scaling the Figaro 3 learning curve as fast and efficiently as possible with his fellow countryman Dolan.
“Being on the dock here in Lorient it feels like only yesterday when I was here in my Figaro years. It is fantastic. There is the same kind of sensation with some of the best offshore racers in the world here. It is a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase Irish sailing.” Foxall smiles.
“Tom has been here in France and doing it for a few years and he is well integrated with the sailors here and he is doing well. Here we have top guys like Charles Caudrelier and Alain Gautier and we are holding our place at the top of the fleet.”