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When solo star Tom Dolan was told last Saturday evening that the exceptionally calm condition of the inner Bay of Biscay meant that the proposed final fourth stage of the Solitaire du Figaro 2020 would not be sailed, among the first things he did was to phone his longtime sailing friend Gerry Jones back home in Ireland. For that cancellation of the final stage confirmed the leaderboard on the results of the first three stages, and it resulted in the Meath sailor finishing the 2020 event at fifth overall as the best-placed non-French skipper since 1997.

It says much that, in the instant wave of euphoria and the wild party mood which swept over the leading dozen or so skippers in St Nazaire, Dolan's almost immediate instinct was to contact the sailing friend and mentor whom he'd met many years ago through Glenans Ireland in Baltimore, where Gerry Jones had recognised the young Meath man's enormous natural sailing talent.

Tom Dolan at a Pre-Race briefing during his early days in FranceTom Dolan at a Pre-Race briefing during his early days in France

It certainly wasn't a talent which you would have expected to emerge from Tom Dolan's background as the son of a farmer in that hidden part of north county Meath beyond the Boyne and the Blackwater. But one day his father happened to glimpse - in a Buy & Sell magazine - a classified ad with photo of a Miracle dinghy. It was a sort of enlarged up-graded Mirror which lacked the magic of the original and had totally failed to catch on in Ireland. Thus the price was for nothing, so a deal was done and the boat collected from Boyle in County Roscommon, and that weekend, Dolan Senior and his young son Tom were fulfilling the father's long-held dream of a little bit of sailing on the nearest decent-sized lake to home, which happens to be rather a classy one, as it's Lough Ramor.

Tom's first command – the Miracle dinghy was a rarity in Ireland.Tom's first command – the Miracle dinghy was a rarity in Ireland

Where it all began – Lough Ramor in the middle of IrelandWhere it all began – Lough Ramor in the middle of Ireland

Knowing how much Irish farmers value the tradition of the family farm passing to the next generation, it's doubtful if that little boat would have ever seen Dolan family ownership if the father had foreseen its ultimate outcome. For young Tom was hooked by this first very experimental introduction to sailing, and instead of spending the key years of his life in his 20s and early 30s in learning the lore of working the land, his home place has become Concarneau in Brittany, and he has been learning the salty ways of the ocean and the coast in the pressure-cooker world of French solo and dual sailing at the top level of the MiniTransat and Figaro Solo circuses.

As a young Irish person from a non-sailing background, he was in one of the later cohorts to find their way into our oddly-inaccessible sport through the Glenans Ireland set up in Baltimore, rather than through the more established route of family and friends. The Glenans business model was ultimately based on the frugal conditions which existed in late 1940s France, which transferred very well to the austerity of Ireland in the 1970s and '80s. But the advent of the Celtic Tiger and the ready availability of package holidays to sunshine-guaranteed sailing schools greatly reduced the appeal of Glenans in Ireland.

However, by the time its Baltimore operations were moving towards a close, Tom Dolan had found this means of vibrant self-expression through sailing and tuition with Glenan Ireland and was ready to spread his wings in a broader setting. And in Gerry Jones, he had met someone with a true talent scout's eye for sailing ability, a generous-hearted man who had a foot in both the established sailing world and in Glenans, and someone moreover who recognized and understood the growing determination of the young Meathman to take this sailing game just as far as he could.

Concarneau in Brittany. Tom Dolan's new home port is a characterful old place with a highly-developed modern marine industry. Concarneau in Brittany. Tom Folan's new home port is a characterful old place with a highly-developed modern marine industry.

So by 2011 aged 24, Tom had taken the step of moving to France to make his way in the small and very specialised industry which has developed around solo and short-handed racing, eventually settling in one of its most congenial centres at Concarneau in Brittany. He knew that he was already significantly older than many of the young Turks under the age of 20 who were establishing their mark through various sailing academies and specialised bursary schemes. But equally any overview of the French sailing scene showed some continuing stars who were much older than himself. And anyway, this was what he wanted to do, his determination never faltered even if, for the first year or so, Brittany in the depth of winter could seem a lonely enough place.

But enthusiasm and energy soon provides its own company, and his willingness to work hard and get involved meant that at times he could get into a boat maintenance and preparation programme that sometimes resulted in the loan of the boat to compete as a skipper in his own right in one of the lower-profile events.

This was mostly being done in events in and around the MiniTransat programme, the race across the Atlantic every four years for highly-developed 6.5-metre boats which can often prove embarrassingly fast when set in competition with much larger more orthodox craft. Even when sailing a loaned Pogo 2 in a Mini event, Tom was making his mark, such that he soon acquired the moniker of L'Irlandais Volante - the Flying Irishman – and this was further emphasised when he finally bought his own new Pogo 3 in 2015.

The Flying Irishman - this vid shows Tom at his best, carving his way through the fleet with the new boat

It all looks very complete and well-resourced, but he acquired the boat in the most basic form possible using limited funds built around a small inheritance – "I bet the farm" he quipped at the time – and finished her himself while making income from a Sailing Academy he was running in Concarneau with his close sailing buddy Francois Jambou.

Life was acquiring a more stabilised form and a settled Concarneau base as Tom and Karen Charles Boiteux set up home together. But while the sailing fundamentals were there, with the countdown to the 2017 Mini-Transat underway, good results were coming in during various preliminary events, yet a really solid main sponsor was still needed.

Thus although the new boat appeared in races during 2016 with various sponsorship logos on the sails, they were for small amounts, and in the entry lists she was unequivocally-named as "Still Seeking Sponsor". But one of those sponsors was Irish-based packaging giant Smurfit Kappa, in a trial deal negotiated through its Paris unit, and by 2017 this had been firmed up to become a main sponsorship for the up-coming Mini Transat, while encouraging support was coming from another direction in the form of Jack Roy, the newly-elected President of Irish Sailing, who made a point of being in La Rochelle for the start of the race with its 50-plus fleet at the end of September.

Tom Dolan and Irish Sailing President Jack Roy in La Rochelle in September 2017 before the start of the Mini TransatTom Dolan and Irish Sailing President Jack Roy in La Rochelle in September 2017 before the start of the Mini Transat

Although by this stage Tom was building up a personal support team around himself, the mental stress was still enormous, and in the early stages of the race, he made some very unnecessary mistakes for which he continued to chide himself when a psychologically better-prepared sailor would have long since moved on. But as the race progressed his sheer talent began to show through, and by the time the final leg Transatlantic to St Lucia was well underway, he was on top form, very much in contention and well placed in the top ten such that in the final stages he looked like being fourth.

But when Smurfit Kappa came into port, she was sixth. It was an excellent placing, but where had she slipped from fourth? The skipper was in a thoughtful mood, but finally, he revealed that in driving flat out in a classic trade-wind squall, Smurfit Kappa had pitch-poled and Tom found himself in the ocean, looking up at the keel of his inverted boat.

If you're going to pitch-pole, you wouldn't expect a rig of this relative size to survive the experience, yet Tom Dolan showed it was possible in the Atlantic in 2017.If you're going to pitch-pole, you wouldn't expect a rig of this relative size to survive the experience, yet Tom Dolan showed it was possible in the Atlantic in 2017.

Never before had a Mini-Transat boat pitch-poled and come up with her rig intact. Yet The Flying Irishman established a first yet again. Everything was still there and more or less intact as the little boat shook herself upright like a dog emerging from a river, and Tom hauled himself back on board to get things back on track. Although a couple of places had been lost when the somewhat subdued skipper came into port, his name and the boat's name were fully established as serious contenders, and it was time to move on to the exalted heights of the Figaro Solo.

There was much Irish experience and precedent to draw on, as it was in the Figaro that Damian Foxall first took centre stage on the global offshore sailing scene, and since then Marcus Hutchinson had developed his "Figaro Academy" which provided an entrée to this quintessentially French event for young sailors from other countries who accepted that while it may indeed have been very French, it was the only show in town at that level anywhere in the world.

Thus the Hutchinson clientele came from several countries, and young David Kenefick from Cork was among them for a couple of successful years. But with Hutchinson's involvement in the French offshore scene expanding to include the management of IMOCA 60s for events like the Vendee Globe, it was getting quite crowded up there for Irish sailors on the peak of top-level professional offshore racing.

Yet in this fast-moving world, Tom Dolan and Smurfit Kappa got themselves a Figaro 2 for that marque's last main series in 2018, and the Dolan career stayed well on track with the first prize for top rookie, with the awards due to be handed out at the Paris Boat Show in December, when the new foiling Beneteau Figaro 3 would be unveiled.

For now, the main target had become the Golden Jubilee of the Figaro Solitaire in June 2019, when the fleet would take in Ireland with a gala visit to Kinsale. So there was a very definite buzz in the air when the new-look foiling Beneteau 3s were unveiled at that Paris Show, with Irish Sailing's Jack and Rosemary Roy's reassuring presence in evidence to back up Figaro aspirants Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy.

Joan Mulloy, Jack Roy and Tom Dolan and the Paris Boat Show, December 2018. Photo: Rosemary RoyJoan Mulloy, Jack Roy and Tom Dolan and the Paris Boat Show, December 2018. Photo: Rosemary Roy

But while Mulloy was very much a Figaro beginner at that time, and has since stood down from front-line competition after starting a family, Tom Dolan was seen as the developing force of proven achievement and significant potential, something which was underlined with his award of the 2018 Rookie Prize at the ceremony in the show.

Awards for Tom Dolan in the 2018 Figaro Solo at the Paris Boat ShowAwards for Tom Dolan in the 2018 Figaro Solo at the Paris Boat Show

Yet everything in 2019 seemed to conspire against more Dolan success in that season. For sure, there some events of high achievement, but the pressure of getting the fleet of brand new Figaros race-ready for the big event provided a host of manufacturing teething problems to which Tom's boat seemed even more prone than most. And though, when everything was in place and functioning properly, in steady sailing conditions he was clearly back to his old self as l'Irlandais Volant, it was a disappointing Figaro Solitaire, and he finished 25th overall.

But being Tom Dolan, he bounced back, albeit after some coruscating self-analysis which was published in July 2019 in in response to the question: What was your own debrief after La Solitaire, and how does that affect your strategy for next year?

"When I was ahead I seemed to be as good as the best, and when I was behind I was terrible, as bad as the worst. So I want to get my head sorted out a bit. I am planning to work with a very good sports psychologist in Dublin who works with the Irish Olympic team. I saw her a bit last year, but this year time ran away with work on the boat and training and everything. The psychological side of it fell by the wayside. I did not put that side of it high enough on my list of priorities. I imagine the things I need to work are basic: Decision making, and how I can look after and manage myself better.

How to break the pattern of doing badly when you are losing. That's in the head, isn't it? I maybe concentrated too much on finding speed, and I did find it. And that's great if you are going fast in the right direction. But if you are going fast in the wrong direction……"

In due course, 2020 was approached in a much better frame of mind. But as the New Year turned, it became increasingly clear that the pandemic-facing world might have bigger problems to deal with than the state of mind of professional athletes. Yet in the end, it all does revert to the personal, and for Tom Dolan as for others in his situation, it was a matter of maintaining the healthiest possible attitude as the French sailing authorities grappled with ways of providing some sort of sport while complying with regulations, no easy matter in a country in which the shoreside aspect of major sailing events is often on an even bigger scale that the event itself.

New boat, full sponsorship – Tom Dolan gets to grips with the foiling Figaro 3 New boat, full sponsorship – Tom Dolan gets to grips with the foiling Figaro 3

With the Figaro put back to September, in July the Drheam Cup starting 18th July from Cherbourg and going round Brittany to La Trinite sur Mer offered an interesting challenge for standard offshore racers and the Figaro fleet racing both solo and double-handed. Apart from learning how to handle COVID-19 compliance ashore and afloat, it was very educational for the large mixed fleet in that the clear overall winner on the water was Figaro solo sailor Sam Goodchild racing Leyton which - for those who hadn't previously experienced it - was a very telling introduction to the stratospherically high standard of modern Figaro racing.

Covid-proofed…..Tom Dolan (right) and Francois Jambou racing to second in class in the big-fleet Drheam Cup from Cherbourg to La Trinite in JulyCovid-proofed…..Tom Dolan (right) and Francois Jambou racing to second in class in the big-fleet Drheam Cup from Cherbourg to La Trinite in July.

Tom Dolan for his part had teamed up with old shipmate Francois Jambou to race double-handed, and they took second in division, but now the challenge was to stay in tune and keep fit through times of uncertainty and frustration until the Figaro Solitaire got underway from St Brieuc in the middle of the North Brittany coast at the end of August, with the first stage 642 miles round the Fastnet Rock and back to St Brieuc.

Every stage was covered in detail on here so now we can take the broader view of noting that while Tom Dolan was once again showing that he could be one of the fastest boats in the fleet, in 2020's edition he was spending more time making that speed in the right place and in the right direction.

In other words, he was a serious contender throughout, and it was hugely reassuring to note that when in subsequent stages he might find himself down the fleet, there was something remorseless about the way Smurfit Kappa chose the right tactical options and steadily milled her way into the leading group.

The four stages of the Figaro Solitaire, September 2020.The four stages of the Figaro Solitaire, September 2020

The most difficult stage was what proved to be the final one, 512 miles from Dunkerque down the English Channel and round west Brittany through the many islands inside Ushant and on to St Nazaire in Loire-Atlantique. Anyone who has cruised in that tide-riven maze of rocks and islands inside Ushant will wonder how on earth a fleet of 35 solo sailors could seriously race in light airs and misty conditions in such waters. Yet they did it, some did it very well indeed, and Tom Dolan was one of them, confirming himself into a good fifth overall when the first three stages were tallied in St Nazaire.

And that's where it ended. Difficult and all as it is to believe with the weather Western Europe has been experiencing since then, a week ago in St Nazaire the Figaro Solitaire organisers were looking at 36 hours of total calm right over the period they hoped to stage their final 183-mile "sprint". At first, they proposed a shortened course, but as the freakish weather became even flatter, it would have been a lottery if they'd managed a finish, and everything pointed to the decision last Saturday night, which led to that euphoric phone call to Dublin and the good news for Gerry Jones.

A solo skipper in harmony with his boat – Tom Dolan finished the 2020 Figaro in tune with ship and seaA solo skipper in harmony with his boat – Tom Dolan finished the 2020 Figaro in tune with ship and sea

So now the show is on the road more firmly than ever, with a delighted Smurfit Kappa looking forward to continuing with the Dolan campaign through 2021's Figaro Solitaire. And who knows what lies beyond that, with a crew of mixed gender in an offshore racing boat scheduled for inclusion in the 2024 Olympics, and Tom Dolan demonstrably an Irish offshore sailor of proven standard.

Certainly, it was something for thought when Sailing on Saturday was talking with Tom on Thursday, and he has already had some approaches from potential co-skippers. He was acutely aware that decisions made in the next few months could affect his sailing for years. But even so, the top item this week has been sleep and more sleep. Tom Dolan has been sleeping for Ireland since Monday. And he sure has earned it after more than a year of frustration, rounded out by three weeks of intense concentration and ferocious sleep deprivation.

But before hitting the scratcher, there was the prize-giving, and as Marcus and Meagan Hutchinson presented the Vivi Cup (named after their vintage 30 Square Metre) a couple of years ago as the prize for the top non-French contender in the Figaro Solitaire, this provided the opportunity for the Man from Meath to do his thing, and here it is:

Marcus & Meagan Hutchinson's classic 30 Square Metre Vivi gives her name to the trophy for the top non-French performer in the FigaroA boat about as different from a Figaro 3 as you can get – Marcus & Meagan Hutchinson's classic 30 Square Metre Vivi gives her name to the trophy for the top non-French performer in the Figaro – in 2019 it was Alan Roberts, in 2020 the winner is Tom Dolan

Published in Solo Sailing

Approaching his 60th birthday, Cork Harbour sailor Peter Murray was looking for a boat he could easily sail single-handed when he came across the eight-metre sportsboat' Wild Honey' in County Wicklow

My first sight of Wild Honey was on her road-trailer in a little boatyard at the bottom of a leafy boreen in County Wicklow. Designed as an out-and-out sports-boat by her owner Simon Greenwood of Wicklow, she was for sale while he concentrated on other projects. Surveys were arranged and a deal was done, and I found I had become the new owner of an uncompromising 8-metre sportsboat constructed in strip-cedar and weighing less than a ton fully rigged.

Wild Honey - an 8-metre sportsboat constructed in strip-cedarWild Honey - an 8-metre sportsboat constructed in strip-cedar

Having previously owned a series of small racing yachts, I had taken a break from sailing for several years after I became self-employed. Now, with my 60th birthday approaching, and with it the prospect of having a bit more time on my hands, I was looking for a small yacht for leisure sailing on those fine summer evenings when all sailors fret at being ashore. I didn’t wish to be dependent on crew and one of my foremost requirements was for a boat I could easily sail single-handed. Because she would be kept on the marina, the boat would need to have auxiliary-power - but it had to be an arrangement that didn’t involve wrestling with an outboard motor over the transom.

Because Wild Honey was kept on the marina, the boat would need to have auxiliary-power Because Wild Honey was kept on the marina, the boat would need to have auxiliary-power

I was originally attracted by the new-generation of small day-sailers that had just begun to appear in the Mediterranean and on the lakes of Central Europe. These little yachts, sleek and elegant, and influenced by Italian yacht-designers Luca Benta and Luca Bassani (of ‘Wally’ fame), were frequently described as small “gentleman’s (or gentlewoman’s) day-sailers”, designed for pure sailing pleasure. The only glitch, I soon found out, was that these small sailing Ferraris came with Ferrari-like prices - so the idea of a “project” began to form. My first plan was to pick up an old 1720 sportsboat and convert it to what I had in mind. Then I heard of a little yacht ashore on the East Coast which might prove an even better starting point.

And that’s how I found myself, one October day in 2012, in a boatyard at the bottom of that leafy boreen in County Wicklow.

After Simon delivered Wild Honey to Cork, the serious planning and sourcing of equipment and materials began, and work was immediately started on removing all the deck-equipment and carrying out the alterations to the coachroof and down below needed to accommodate the rerouting and concealment of the sail-controls.

I had decided that the deck was to be clean and kept clear of all the control lines, and that these would be carried beneath the coachroof along two new watertight channels before emerging just ahead of the two sheet winches. A single-sheet self-tacking system was devised for the jib with a below-deck ‘Facnor’ furler mated to a ‘Bartels’ aluminium head-foil. To accommodate the furler and furler-lines below deck it was necessary to fix the original retractable articulating bowsprit laterally and to reduce its length slightly. This entailed redesigning the bow area, changing the forward chainplate arrangement, and straightening the bow-profile. The re-profiled bow had the added aesthetic benefit of giving Wild Honey a more modern looking plumb-bow. The shorter bow-sprit would still retract, but would now be fitted with a furler and torque-line for ‘top-down’ furling an asymmetric spinnaker or code ’0’ foresail. Like all the sail controls, the furler lines would be led below deck and out of sight.

A teak-laid deck was always an integral part of the plan to give the boat a “Wally”-like appearance. However, the time involved in preparing and shaping teak strips led me to look at alternatives. Eventually, I discovered an imitation teak product made in Sweden by “Flexiteek” whose appearance and texture make it virtually indistinguishable from the real thing - even at close inspection. I selected the colour-option that had the silver-grey look teak gets after exposure to the elements. One of the most exacting jobs in the entire operation was making the templates to enable the Flexiteek agent to fabricate the traditional herring-bone patterned decking. For this job, I had the indispensable assistance of an artist friend who showed me how to cut and shape the cardboard templates that would go to the Flexiteek agent. The time spent on getting it right was well worth it because when the decking came back it fitted perfectly, and it was a relatively easy - if rather messy - job to fit. However, when laid and cured, it was possible, just like real teak, to clean off the excess caulking with a power-sander.

Once the coachroof and bow alterations had been completed, and all the holes and hollows faired, and before the teak-decking was laid, Wild Honey was sent to the paint-shop for a complete re-spray. The original light blue paint-job had faded badly and the boat needed smartening-up. I decided to paint the hull and spars a very dark navy-blue which I hoped would best complement the new teak decking.

When the boat returned from the paint-shop all shiny and elegant, we laid the decking using synthetic black caulking supplied by the agent. We then began the work in planning the sail-control systems and placing and securing the deck-fittings. We were concerned about the compressibility of the Flexiteek under load, so the decking had to be cut out directly underneath all the deck fittings, and hard pads fabricated to match the cut-outs before we secured the sheet-winches, pad-eyes, mainsheet track, and stanchions.

I had originally intended to construct a well in the aft-deck for the small outboard motor. However, early in the project, I decided on a more ambitious solution to the auxiliary power question and one more in keeping with the character of the project by installing electric inboard propulsion. Research on the web led me to the Lynch Motor Company in Devon who make a series of small and powerful electric ‘pancake’ motors and control-systems suitable for marine applications. Further enquiries established that the marine-equipment company, Silettes, could supply a suitable sail-drive leg and a mating-flange. The motor I fitted is rated at about 4 HP, driving a 35mm’ ‘Gori’ folding prop, all of which is more than adequate to drive a small light-displacement yacht. Two deep-cycle AGM batteries, arranged ‘in series’, supply the required 24 volts.

Wild Honey's battery and engine arrangement

The motor is capable of driving the boat at up to 5 kts depending on sea-conditions and has an endurance at 2/3rds power of about an hour and a half. Endurance isn’t an issue anyhow because the motor is normally only needed to get on and off the marina. The engine, batteries, control-system, saildrive and prop, weigh under 90 kg - far less than a small diesel and its ancillaries. One advantage of an electric motor in addition to silent operation is that it is completely vibration-free, which means the sail-drive unit on which the engine sits can be bolted directly to the hull without the necessity of the elaborate vibration-damping system required with diesel propulsion.

Wild Honey has a flexible, ‘walk-on’ solar cell array on the coachroof between the hatch and the mast. This is perfectly adequate for charge-maintenance and to recharge the batteries after a brief use of the motor. But after any prolonged use, the built-in shore-charger is needed to restore the batteries to full charge.

The final job was to reprofile the very narrow keel and increase the chord by about 30% to make the boat more forgiving to steer in very light conditions without significantly affecting her all-around performance.

The work to convert a very extreme racing sports-boat into an elegant day-sailer was carried out during the spring and summer of 2014, and Wild Honey in her new incarnation was launched at Crosshaven Boatyard in September of the same year. She immediately proved to be a joy to sail, requiring only the gentlest of breeze to get her moving, yet she is equally well able to stand up to her full sail in a stiff breeze. Like a traditional yacht, she depends on her very high ballast-ratio for stability, rather than beam and bodies on the rail. Her narrow hull also gives her an easy motion in a sea, and the lightness of a racing-dinghy on the helm - even when well-heeled. She is also as pretty as anything, drawing admiring comment, and has become a bit of a conversation-piece on the marina.

 All sail-controls led close to the helmsperson’s hand All sail-controls led close to the helmsperson’s hand

With all sail-controls led close to the helmsperson’s hand, a furling self-tacking-jib, fully-battened mainsail with boom-strut and lazy-guys to make sail hoisting and handling simple, and an electric motor for getting on and off the marina, Wild Honey has proved the ideal little yacht for unstressed single-handed sailing in any conditions a “gentleperson” might wish to be out on the water in. She has been the perfect excuse to escape a little early from the office on those balmy summer evenings. I admit I’ve even done the odd race!

Wild Honey - SpecificationsWild Honey - Specifications

Published in Cork Harbour
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As reported in on 1st September here, fifteen-year-old solo sailor Timothy Long from Buckinghamshire is fundraising for the Ellen McArthur Cancer Trust by sailing solo around Britain, a distance of approximately 1600 miles.

In his Hunter Impala 28 'Alchemy' he called at Bangor Marina on his way south from the Clyde and left for his home port of Southampton on 4th September stopping off in Ardglass on the south Down coast before heading for Holyhead.

He arrived at Holyhead on Sunday 6th September after 15 hours at sea. Timothy said "Arriving here felt like a real milestone as crossing the Irish Sea has been something that I have had on my mind for a while! It wasn't a whole load of fun either although it started off well and we were averaging 5.5 knots, the sea state quite quickly became confused and choppy to the point where we were only doing 2.5 kts which was incredibly frustrating. However, we had a pretty cool encounter with a pod of 20 Dolphins which was absolutely brilliant and was the highlight of the day!"

Having had to delay his departure from Holyhead by about 18 hours due to adverse weather, he arrived in Pwllheli Marina in North Western Wales on Friday (11th) which he says was frustrating as it meant he had to sail through the night.

He continued "The passage to Pwllheli started off quite bumpy with big standing waves, which of course feel even bigger in the dark".

Timothy will head off tomorrow for Fishguard, then Milford Haven but he needs a weather window to cross the Bristol Channel. At this stage he has raised £4500 of the £5000 target.

Published in Solo Sailing
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While Ireland is battered by the multiple surges of Storm Ellen, the irrepressible Pat Lawless of Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula is riding it out on the southern fringes of the huge weather system, halfway home from the Azores in his robust Saltram Saga 36.

His boat Iniscealtra is a modern variant on the classic Colin Archer concept, and Pat is building up ocean miles towards participation in the 2022 Golden Globe Race.

The word from the far southwest of Ireland is that he’d been looking for something approaching real Southern Ocean weather in the North Atlantic, and It looks as though the south side of Storm Ellen has obliged. For now, we’re told that all is well on board as the Ballyferriter man rides it out under bare poles aboard Iniscealtra, named after the renowned holy island on Lough Derg.

Pat Lawless aboard IniscealtraPat Lawless aboard IniscealtraWhile the winds halfway between the Azores and Ireland may not be as severe as some of those experienced in Ireland in the last 18 hours, Iniscealtra has still been experiencing full Atlantic gales

Published in Golden Globe Race
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Ireland’s solo racer Tom Dolan gave his hopes for this year’s La Solitaire du Figaro solo offshore race a significant boost when he and French co-skipper François Jambou finished second overall on Smurfit Kappa in the Figaro duo class of the 428 nautical miles Drheam Cup yesterday.

For most of the race, the Irish/French duo enjoyed a spirited match race against the eventual category winners, French 2012 Olympian Pierre Leboucher sailing with Benoit Mariette, and finished less than five minutes behind the class victors.

Dolan and Jambou were eighth across the finish line overall in the Figaro class which was won outright by Briton Sam Goodchild.

Dolan was pleased with the Smurfit Kappa duo’s race and the result, atoning for a disappointing light wind Maitre-CoQ solo offshore race two weeks ago when he finished mid-fleet.

“I am pretty happy. We sailed well. We went the right way all of the time and stuck to the roadbook, our strategy, and that paid off. We were quick enough all the time and that augers well for the future. I have sailed with François eight or ten times now and so we are a good team.” Smiled Dolan at the finish in La Trinite.

The course took the fleet from Sunday’s start off Cherbourg-Cotentin north across the Channel, turning west to Wolf Rock then south to La Trinite.

“I am especially pleased because the race was a complete test starting out in light winds, with some stronger spells with some upwind and downwind but lots of reaching when you have to be fast. We started badly – again – but worked our way up through the fleet progressively and then held our own. We had a little bit of an error during the second night when we were working to keep a boat in check which we thought was Leboucher but the lights were those of a different boat.” Dolan recalled, “But the key takeaway from this is that the course was like a leg of the Solitaire and we did well enough, certainly I am a bit more confident than after the Maitre-CoQ.”

"Need to check for damage after hitting an unidentified object during the race"

“The game was played on the first night really when the wind came from the east towards the end of the crossing of the Channel and we were to the right of the fleet and so that was good and paid off. Then we stuck to the strategy, to the roadbook I had prepared, and raced the boats around us. That is a good lesson in itself.”

Racing with the Mini Transat winner Jambou, the duo elected to put in some time now to enhance their prospects for next year’s two handed Transat AG2R, Transatlantic. And Dolan is preparing to diversify his programme towards selection for Ireland for the 2024 Olympics’ mixed offshore racing. The race also represent a gilt edged opportunity to run what will be part of this summer’s La Solitaire course.

On returning to base today (Wednesday) Dolan will have the Figaro Beneteau Smurfit lifted out of the water to check for damage after hitting an unidentified object during the race.

“It is a little bit of a worry because in terms of repairs and preparation I am just working myself at the moment with no help. But there is no sign of damage to the inside skin of the boat so I am hoping it will be OK.” Dolan concluded.

Published in Figaro

County Meath Solo sailor Tom Dolan is dicing for the lead this morning in the closing stages of the double-handed Drheam Cup as the fleet close in on the La Trinite sur Mer finish line. See tracker below.

A determined Dolan – who is sailing with France's Francois Jamnbou – is making good on his pre-race commitment to make amends for a mid-fleet performance in last month's Solo Maitre Coq season debut.

This morning Dolan and Jambou are heading south with under 70 miles to go in the 400-miler that started on Sunday.

The French-Irish pair, competing in the Figaro Duo class, are just .5 mile behind leader Guy Environment (Pierre Leboucher) in the seven-boat Figaro duo class.

As well as being second in class, Dolan's Smurfit Kappa - Concarneau Entreprendre Ireland campaign is also lying in the top ten of the 100-boat Drheam Cup overall.

Tom Dolan is in contention for Drheam Cup class honous later todayTom Dolan is in contention for Drheam Cup class honours later today

Before the start, Dolan gave an insight as to how he was going to sail the race: Look I did not do well on the Maitre CoQ the last race and that was disappointing so I am really looking forward to putting that behind me and sailing with Francois. We have been good mates for many years together and started a little business teaching and coaching people on the Mini, so we know each other well.” Dolan emphasizes, “Our skills are complementary, we work well together. He has shown he can win races and so it will be good to have some fresh ideas and to be able to support each other. A second opinion is what you lack racing solo and so it will be nice to have that this time.”

Dolan added, “Francois is very calm, and very French in the way he approaches his sailing. That is to say different to Anglo Saxon, he is quiet and intuitive and able to hold the rhythm of the race. I have tended to be too up and down recently and so I have worked on that. There is a good level of trust between us, knowing when each other are tired and taking over at the right time to keep the performance up.”

Drheam Cup 2020 leaderboard showing Ireland's Tom Dolan in second overallDrheam Cup 2020 leaderboard

Meanwhile, Dun Laoghaire Harbour's Kenny Rumball and Pamela Lee, in their first outing in the Figaro 3 having been neck and neck with Dolan at one point are lying fifth in class, some forty miles astern of the leaders.

Both Rumball and Dolan are working up for September's season climax, the La Solitaire du Figaro.

See race tracker below. Select 'LA Drheam Cup 400' and then Group: 'Figaro Duo' to see the latest from the racecourse.

Published in Figaro

Dun Laoghaire Harbour's Kenny Rumball and Pamela Lee make their double-handed debut for Ireland at the Drheam Cup on Sunday and joining them on the Figaro Beneteau 3 fleet start line are County Meath and French combination Tom Dolan and Mini Transat Winner François Jambou in what is the first major multi-class race on the French coast this season.

The 400-mile race mirrors some of what is likely to be part of September’s pinnacle event the La Solitaire du Figaro offshore in which Rumball and Dolan have their sights on.

Both Rumball and Dolan will be looking for a performance boost after both Irish solo sailors posted mixed results in the Solo Maitre Coq last month.

It will be the first time the Figaro Beneteau 3 fleet has been invited to race in this 100-plus boat event which has become a multi-class French offshore Grand Prix, set to feature the Ultime and IMOCA fleets too.

Tom Dolan Tom Dolan sailing with Mini Transat Winner François Jambou

The course starts from Cherbourg Cotentin and finishes in Lorient and first takes the fleet across the Channel to the West Shambles mark off Weymouth, westwards along the English coast to Wolf Rock off Land’s End and then back across the entrance to the Channel to finish at Lorient.

"We’ve had a bit of time off now with the boat in the shed getting antifouled and we had a chance to get the rig out ahead of the Drheam Cup. This we will do doublehanded, in line with the main aim of the programme" says Rumball who gives a nod to their Paris 2024 Olympic bid.

Dolan admits he did not do well on the Maitre CoQ.  "That was disappointing so I am really looking forward to putting that behind me and sailing with Francois. We have been good mates for many years together and started a little business teaching and coaching people on the Mini, so we know each other well.” Dolan emphasises, “Our skills are complementary, we work well together. He has shown he can win races and so it will be good to have some fresh ideas and to be able to support each other. A second opinion is what you lack racing solo and so it will be nice to have that this time.”

The Drheam 2020 programme

  • Thursday 16 July: Arrival of boats in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin
  • Friday 17 and Saturday 18 July: Technical and safety checks
  • Sunday 19 July: DRHEAM-CUP start
  • From Tuesday 21 July: arrival of boats in La Trinité-sur-Mer

Garry Crothers, the indomitable 64-year-old one-armed solo sailor from Lough Swilly Yacht Club, hopes to get back to his Lough Foyle berth in Derry on Saturday after completing his Coronavirus Lockdown-enforced 3,500 mile marathon from the Caribbean in his Ovni 435 Kind of Blue.

This morning (Thursday) he is enjoying pleasant conditions as Kind of Blue passes the coast of Connacht far offshore, but as the day draws on the weather will deteriorate from the west, although the winds will at least remain in a favourable direction. While every attempt to comply with social-distancing restrictions will be in place at Foyle Marina as he reaches home, it is going to be a very emotional moment for his family and friends and many supporters when Kind of Blue comes up the River Foyle at the conclusion of this remarkable achievement.

Garry Crothers – with unsettled conditions in the Atlantic, it has taken a month to get back to ireland from the CaribbeanGarry Crothers – with unsettled conditions in the Atlantic, it has taken a month to get back to Ireland from the Caribbean

Published in Cruising

Fancy a little distraction? I've decided to show you some of the steps that we took to reduce waste during last year's Solitaire du Figaro writes Irish Solo Sailor Tom Dolan

Now more than ever we all need to think about what we buy, where it comes from and where it goes afterwards.

Snacks are difficult to choose; they need to be high in calories while at the same time being tough enough to survive banging around the boat for a couple of days. 

So, we can quickly get lazy when shopping and buy things that are triple wrapped in single-use plastic, things that we wouldn't normally eat on land. So why do differently at sea? It took a bit of searching. 

I found this great chocolate called 'Grain de Sail', which is manufactured in Brittany. The raw materials (green coffee and cocoa) come mainly from the Caribbean and Central America and are sourced equitably. The company are building their own sailing boat in order to transport the raw materials under sail! Their packaging is made entirely of paper and to top it all off it is very, very good! 

I bought dried and fresh fruit and stored it in reusable Tupperware boxes along with cold meats and portions of cheese all from the local market or shop and again wrapped in paper.

  • Sacrifices: Babybel, Snickers and penguin bars!
  • What I saved: A little under one small bin bag full of single-use plastic packaging
  • Shopping list: Lots and lots of reusable Tupperware!
Published in Solo Sailing

The Coronavirus outbreak has caused French organisers of the Solo Maitre Coq and the Transat AG2R La Mondiale to delay both events and with it the plans of Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan for an Irish bid in the Transatlantic Race. 

For now though, County Meath's Dolan, who is based in France, must sit and wait to find out how the French Offshore Racing Championship will be reorganised before the Solitaire du Figaro race begins this summer.

"I'm keeping busy with physical exercises, weather classes offered by Lorient Grand Large and a lot of paperwork", Dolan said on social media.

Also as Afloat reported earlier, Dolan is expected back to Irish waters for trialling with a new female sailing partner in a bid to represent Ireland in the World Offshore Sailing Championships. As also reported previously, these trials will now be sailed as part of June's SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race from Wicklow.

Published in Solo Sailing
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