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Even as the huge fleet of cruisers and racers - including Eamon Crosbie’s Discovery 56 Pamela from Dun Laoghaire - are into the third day of their Transatlantic crossing in the ARC 2017 from Gran Canaria to St Lucia, on the other side of the ocean at St Marin in Martinique, the number-crunchers for the Mini-Transat La Boulangere 2017 are putting the last touches to their official statement of the overall final results writes W M Nixon.

These will emerge from the amalgamation of the official times of Legs 1 – from La Rochelle in France to Las Palmas in the Canaries, and Leg 2 – from Las Palmas via a gate in the Cape Verde Islands to Martinique. This may sound simple enough, but the tail enders were still tumbling in to St Marin right through the weekend, and with so much at stake with some quite substantial sponsorships involved among the 80 or so finishers, they have to be sure that no infringement of regulations is revealed after they have published results.

However, as an interim move this morning, they published the provisional results for Leg 2, and Ireland’s Tom Dolan is confirmed as fifth, just 48 minutes after third-placed Benoit Sineau. The brief official statement is as follows:

Mini Transat 

Erwan Le Draoulec (Emile Henry) crossed the finish line in the second stage of the Mini Transat La Boulangère on Thursday, November 16th at 2h50'15 '' (French time). His race time on this 2nd stage is 14 days, 12 hours, 42 minutes, 15 seconds at an average speed of 8.43 knots.

There has been a flood of finishers over the past few days, and these are the top ten finishers in the Proto and Series fleets for the second leg from Las Palma to Le Marin:
PROTO:
1. Ian Lipinski

2. Jorg Riechers

3. Simon Koster

4. Andrea Fornaro

5. Keni Piperol

6. Quentin Vlamynck

7. Camille Taque

8. Aurelien Poisson

9. Arthur Leopold Leger

10. Frederic Guerin

SERIES:


1. Erwan Le Draoulec

2. Clarisse Cremer
3. Benoit Sineau

4. Tanquy Bouroullec

5. Thomas Dolan

6. Pierre Chedeville

7. Valentin Gautier

8. Germain Kerleveo

9. Yannick Le Clech

10. Cedric Faron

Meanwhile, here are thoughts on his race from Production Boat Winner Erwan le Draoulec which give us some idea of what is involved:

“I brought a book with me, but I never thought to read it. I helmed, I ate, I slept, I answered the calls of nature, a real animal life. It was a nightmare.

The boat was soaked the whole time. I never dumped any sails, I just went up forward to reinforce my bowsprit. To get to sleep when I was under autopilot, I put on my headphones with some audio books and I listened again to the whole of Harry Potter. It was the only way of preventing stress whilst the boat was powering along at 18 knots, sometimes under autopilot, but I never eased off the pace.

It was only in the last two days where I dropped the large spinnaker in the squalls. I said to myself that it would be too silly to break everything so close to the goal. Prior to that though I really attacked hard. I knew I was risking a dismasting, but my line of thinking was that I was only twenty years old and that I’d have the opportunity to do another Mini-Transat. I didn’t make the most of it, I didn’t enjoy it. I’d like to the cross the Atlantic again, but gently so as to make the most of it.”

chedeville draoulec dolan2Comrades and rivals – Pierre Chedeville, Erwan Le Draoulec and Tom Dolan

Published in Solo Sailing

Ireland’s lone sailor Tom Dolan has been celebrating his fifth place with friends and fellow contenders in Martinique at the conclusion of the Transoceanic 2,750-mile Leg 2 of the Mini-Transat 2017 writes W M Nixon. After an improving performance which saw him finish nearly five hours ahead of longtime friend/rival Pierre Chedeviile in 15 days of intense racing, the finish raised the tension even higher, as second-placed Clarisse Cremer was shown as being stopped short of the finish, while Dolan was closing up from astern on second-placed Benoi Sineau and third-placed Tanguy Bouroullec.

The apparent stoppage of Cremer soon proved to be a computer glitch, but when she did cross the line, it was all of eleven hours astern of the “boy wonder” winner, 20-year-old Erwan Le Draoulac. Two and a half hours later, Sineau, Bouroullec and Dolan arrived within the space of 48 minutes, and the vid captures the mood and the moment as these tiny boats and dedicated skippers achieve their goal.

Tracker here 

Published in Solo Sailing
Tagged under

Fortunes have waxed and waned as the 80 little boats in the Mini Transat Boulangere close towards the finish of the 2,000 mile transoceanic leg from Las Palmas in the Canaries - via a mandatory gate in the Cape Verde Islands - to St Marin in Martinique in the Caribbean writes W M Nixon.

Bowling along in the fluctuating east to northeast tradewinds, as expected the Prototype Division’s Ian Lipinski with the scow-bowed Griffon.fr has led the fleet overall to the line. He finished yesterday, and Proto runner-up Jorg Riechers is only slowly approaching the line in locally very light airs for his finish this morning.

It’s a result which gives Lipinski a remarkable double, as he won the Production Class in the previous staging of this biennial classic two years ago – it’s the first time in the 40 year history of the event that the double has been achieved.

mini transat dolan2Tom Dolan, Ireland’s second-ever entrant in the Mini-Transat (Enda O Coineen was the first a long time ago), is facing a battle for fourth or perhaps third place in the Production Class in the final 200 miles of the Mini-Transat

In this year’s Production Class, Ireland’s Tom Dolan has found himself entering the concluding two hundred miles in a four-way battle for the final position in the quartet which will fill the second, third, fourth and fifth places. However, “four way battle” is only a relative term imposed by the considerable distance being raced. This morning, twenty miles separate Clarisse Cremer in second from Dolan in fifth, as they have respectively 89.7 and 109.7 miles to the leader Erwan le Draoulec, who is in turn 145 miles from the finish.

Dolan has a good chance of improving to fourth as he is only 4 miles astern of Benoit Sineau currently in fourth, and the Irish sailor has marginally improved his position during the past four hours. But options for making major tactical gains are closing off as the finish is neared and the fleet’s tracks get closer together.

At the front of the Production fleet where the leaders are racing the Pogo 3, wunderkind Erwan Le Draoulec – he’s aged just 20 – is in a world of his own with those 145 miles still to sail. With nearly 90 miles clear of second-placed Cremer, his current speed of 7.7 knots is currently maintaining his lead. That said, as Jorg Riechers has been learning the hard way in recent hours, actually getting to the finish line off a Caribbean Island can sometimes be difficult for the final few miles. But nevertheless Le Draoulec has every reason for confidence.

Tracker here

Published in Solo Sailing

World Sailing will hold a short–handed Offshore Sailing World Championship following approval from the Council at its annual conference in Mexico last week.

The new Offshore Worlds will be held in One Design boats to help promote and raise the profile of short handed offshore sailing which represents a significant element of the sport.

Selection of equipment, dates and venue as well as arrangements of the Worlds will be decided by World Sailing's Board of Directors after consultation with the Oceanic and Offshore Committee. Ireland's Paddy Boyd, a former CEO of both Ireland and Canada sailing sits on this committee. Sources say the boat is likely to be the Beneteau Figaro 3, as previously reported by Afloat.ie here.

Boyd was part of an Irish delegation that attended the World Sailing Conference that concluded at the weekend.

In further offshore proposals from the conference, a 'combined' Offshore Sailing World Championship will include the best results from the joint ORC/IRC Offshore World Championship as well as a separate long distance offshore component selected from existing major events. The scoring system will be defined between RORC and ORC with prizes awarded to skippers and crews, not the boat, enabling chartering of boats.

Published in World Sailing
Tagged under

In an exceptional week for Irish international offshore sailors, the Michael Boyd-skippered Lisa has been confirmed as both the RORC Points Champion and the Boat of the Year, while the Damian Foxall-crewed Vestas 11th Hour Racing has emerged as the convincing winner of the first stage of the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18. And at home, Nicholas “Nin” O’Leary has appeared with a newly-acquired IMOCA 60, his own first command in this extreme class for which the Vendee Globe Non-stop Solo Round the World Race is the ultimate objective. W M Nixon takes a look at a high-powered scene which has many facets, and outlines how one Mayo sailor hopes to progress her own career in it.

International offshore racing is a universe unto itself, a place where superhuman skills have to be allied with exceptional organisational ability. Needless to say, the presence of straightforward courage is taken as read. For many of us as we consider the year’s past achievements, which moved up a gear early in the season when Conor Fogerty won the prized Gipsy Moth Trophy in the Single-handed Transatlantic Race, it is at a level which we can barely grasp, let alone expect to emulate.

So how can you hope to get a foot on the ladder? Well, it depends on whether you want offshore racing to be your recreational sport, or perhaps even just one of several personal sports in a busy life with a day job, or whether you want it to be a fulltime career.

Irish National Sailing & Powerboat School

Here on Sailing on Saturday we have twice interviewed skippers who have won the Roger Justice Trophy (the sailing schools’ prize) for Ireland in the Fastnet Race, Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing with the Sunfast 37 Desert Star in 2015, and Kenneth Rumball of the Irish National Sailing & Powerboat School with the J/109 Jedi this year. Both gave considerable insight into what is involved in learning and training towards an acceptable level of competence with genuine race-winning potential.

irish offshore justice2Ronan O Siochru (third from right) with his crew from Irish Offshore Sailing after their success in the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race

jedi fastnet start3Another successful Irish challenge for the Roger Justice Trophy gets under way – the Irish National Sailing School’s J/109 Jedi (left foreground) at the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017

Another route was shown by Michael Boyd skippering Lisa in the complete RORC programme. As Commodore of the club, he gives priority to encouraging youth sailors with the RORC into Lisa’s crew, and with his inspirational leadership, they blossom into capable offshore seamen. He was developing this way of doing things in 2016, when Lisa enabled him to be the top-placed Irish skipper in the Round Ireland Race, and by 2017 it had become so much a part of the boat’s campaigning that they could arguably have entered for the Roger Justice Trophy in the Fastnet Race themselves.

Royal Ocean Racing Club

However, the Royal Ocean Racing Club is a substantial and long-established organisation, with a large international membership and professional headquarters staff, thus the structures to channel would-be offshore sailors into the sport can function smoothly. And in the end, the “graduates” will tend to see themselves as Corinthians rather than fulltime sailors.

theo and michael4Successful administrators. Theo Phelan (left) organizer of the Volvo Round Ireland Race, with RORC Commodore Michael Boyd after the latter had finished the race at Wicklow as top-placed Irish skipper in 2016

Damian Foxall

But for hopeful young Irish sailors seeking to get into the fulltime offshore racing professional world, the promised land is France. That certainly was the route taken by Damian Foxall, who worked his way through France’s Figaro solo and two-handed scene and on into the exalted heights of Volvo racing, the Barcelona World Race, and massive multi-hull global record challenges, until now at the age of 48, with much achieved and busier than ever, his advice as dispensed on this week's Afloat.ie podcast is pure gold.

To succeed, Foxall says that basically you’ve to be a one-person business corporation. It’s not remotely enough just to be an ace helm, and handy on the foredeck with it. You have to truly know yourself, and realize the depths of dedication and sacrifice required, but at the same time you have to know everything – but everything - about boats, their rigs, their sails and the suppliers – and that’s before you even think about meteorology and strategy and tactics and effective handling of the media plus a zillion other things. And don’t forget to be an extremely efficient accountant too……

It may all seem a very long way from the dream of speeding across the blue ocean on a sunny day without a care in the world, with the winning line in sight and the rest of the fleet tucked in comfortably astern. But that’s the harsh reality which has been the lot of an extraordinary range of Irish sailing characters.

In the offshore sailing jungle angled towards France, you’re tangling with big beasts afloat and ashore, and the politics of it all are fraught. When we mention key names, it is merely a list, for it’s such a fluid world that link-ups are changing and being taken in completely new directions all the time. If you don’t know who we’re talking about in mentioning Enda O’Coineen, Marcus Hutchinson, Tom Dolan, David Kenefick, Stewart Hosford, Damian Foxall and Nin O’Leary – to name only seven – then you’re blissfully unaware of the rarefied heights where only the bravest will tread.

conor and charlie5Conor Fogerty finally receives the Gipsy Moth Trophy at the Royal Western Yacht Club in Plymouth last weekend from RWYC Commodore Charlie Thompson

Conor Fogerty

Somewhere in an outer orbit is the incredible Conor Fogerty, winner in June of the roughest Single-handed Transatlantic Race ever with his Sunfast 3600 Bam!. Fogerty is keeping his longterm cards very close to his chest, but for now he has recently sailed Bam! from the OSTAR finish port of Newport Rhode Island down to Antigua for the RORC Caribbean 600 in February. He’d a class win in it in 2016, and he has a dream crew pencilled in for next February’s race, a mixture of fulltime and top Corinthian with David Kenefick, Tom Dolan, Simon Knowles and Paddy Gregory going into the mix.

With the Gipsy Moth trophy collected at a convivial awards ceremony in the Royal Western Yacht Club in Plymouth last weekend, the re-location of Bam! back to the Caribbean has everything set up for a last hurrah with the successful Sunfast 3600 in the Caribbean 600, as Fogerty is another sailor keen for the really serious stuff, and is definitely in orbit round the IMOCA 60s.

But meanwhile, with a young family, he likes to have a handy little “cruising” boat at home in Howth. So just recently he bought the ultimate Ron Holland-designed 30ft Shamrock, Silver Shamrock herself, with which Harold Cudmore won the World Championship in 1976. She has been beautifully up-graded by Stewart Greenfield at Cowes, and as Conor’s partner is Suzanne Ennis whose sister Steph Ennis with Windsor Laudan successfully campaign the classic Club Shamrock Demelza (once raced for several seasons in Cork by a very young Mark Mansfield), then clearly with the Ennis approval of Shamrocks, acquiring Silver Shamrock was a no-brainer for someone who wants to maintain domestic harmony at home while pursuing grand designs on the high seas.

silver shamrock6The Ron Holland-designed Silver Shamrock, Half Ton World Champion at Trieste in 1976 under Harold Cudmore’s command, has been brought to Howth “as a useful little family sailer” by Conor Fogerty. Photo W M Nixon

There are many starting points for getting started towards the serious offshore game. But at the moment all roads lead ultimately to France, even if those whose hearts are in Ireland hope to see this country providing more substantial shore bases where our our top sailors can be prepared to head forth for the big time events.

After all, if the Irish horse racing industry can provide tens of thousands of jobs for dedicated staff at every level, and ultimately produce the world’s greatest trainer in Aidan O’Brien with his record tally of major trophies won in every continent, then is it so unreasonable for these top offshore racing people we have listed to hope that Ireland – with immediate access to some of the best training water for offshore racing in the world – cannot do something similar for offshore sailing, albeit on a much more modest scale?

Joan Mulloy

Their dream would be to provide a structure whereby young sailors of exceptional promise can be fast-tracked to offshore racing achievement. The French system has produced the crop of young sailors in their 20s who are among the pace-setters in the Mini-Transat Class, most notably Erwan Le Draoulec who is only 21, while top woman star Clarisse Cremer was “only another competent solo sailor” until she underwent the intensive French training and coaching which turns good sailors into race winners, with the Fastnet Race 2017’s top results being dominated by French boats.

figaro racing7The 30ft Figaro Solo boats provide another introduction to top level offshore racing.

The larger boat used in the Figaro Solo fleet likewise provides French and international wannabees with another route to the top, and both classes and the organisations around them now draw in solo racing hopefuls from all over Europe. But the pace is hectic, the standards are rising every year, and this makes it all more of a challenge for a sailor from Mayo who interest in the offshore racing game has now become central to her way of life.

mulloy figaro boat8The logo location on the topsides of Joan Mulloy’s Figaro Solo will become available to any major sponsor

When you journey to Westport, you feel you’re headed for somewhere remote. But once you’re there in this handsome town at the head of majestic Clew Bay, it’s the rest of the world which seems remote, indeed almost irrelevant. Joan Mulloy is Westport and the Western Ocean through and through, from a marine-oriented seafood-harvesting background in which a history including Grace O’Malley may well make West Mayo the most naturally maritime part of Ireland.

She started her sailing with a Mirror Dinghy with Mayo Sailing Club at Rosmoney, and had her first Laser by the age of 14, though her first experience of dinghy sailing at national level was crewing a GP14 for Blair Stanaway, currently Commodore of MSC.

Yet at the same time she had acquired another interest which well matches sailing - at the age of 12, she started rock climbing. By her late teens this was her dominant interest, so much so that after getting her Leaving Cert, she took two gap years to base herself in Sheffield, working for an online outdoor equipment company, and availing of the wide opportunities provided in the north of England to be trained in rock climbing to the most demanding standards.

But having reached the ultimate heights in every sense, she realized just how much she missed the sea, and returned to the west of Ireland and NUI Galway, where she took an honours degree in Civil Engineering while becoming much involved in the sailing club. Even before going off for the rock climbing period, she’d realised her true sailing interest was in offshore racing, so she was a natural for the NUI Galway SC crew skippered by Cathal Clarke which raced the Reflex 38 Lynx in the 2012 Round Ireland Race, in which they were second for much of the time, and still were a good sixth at the finish.

lynx round ireland9The Galway students with Lynx put Wicklow Head astern shortly after the start of the 2012 Round Ireland Race

She worked for a while in civil engineering, but although the company was involved at the forefront of offshore engineering work, she found herself at a computer calculating the requirements for key structures. In some ways it was useful training for someone who would eventually be much involved with developing offshore racers, but more active involvement with the sea called, and she became a crewmember on the Volvo 70 Monster Project, logging thousands of offshore miles including Round Britain and Ireland, the Round Ireland of 2014, a Fastnet and a Middle Sea Race.

But in time, the draw was towards the Figaro Solo scene in France, and she became involved as a “preparateur”, one of the teams sorting the boats for the stars to race. The comparison with the horse racing industry is not inappropriate, and Joan Mulloy very much wanted to be a jockey rather than stable staff, so when a German owner offered her the loan of his well-used Figaro, No 77, she took it up. She based herself at Cowes, and she and her former skipper in the Round Ireland, Cathal Clarke, raced in the two-handed division in the Rolex Fastnet 2017, and came a respectable 17th in a class of sixty boats.

joan mulloy cathal clarke10Joan Mulloy and Cathal Clarke racing Figaro 77 in the Rolex Fastnet 2017

Enda O'Coineen

But before that, she’d met Enda O Coineen at the WIORA Championship in the Aran Islands in July, and he encouraged her to think that the setup in Ireland for people on her chosen career path was improving all the time, while in Cowes there was a distinct winding-down of activity. Whether it was the prospect of Brexit is anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubt that there’s a new buzz in Ireland to strengthen links with France and the Continent generally, and by September, Joan Mulloy had re-located her Figaro to Lorient, and returned to Ireland under the umbrella of Enda O’Coineen’s Team Ireland, while continuing to establish her own identity as a solo campaigner with Joan Mulloy Racing

It’s a busy time, with presentations to potential sponsors and then last night (Friday) she and Enda flew out to New Zealand to re-position the IMOCA 60 Kilcullen Voyager from Christchurch to Auckland as part of the preparation for the completion of his dismasting-interrupted solo Vendee Globe race, which will see him depart Auckland in January, complete a circuit of New Zealand to the point where he was dismasted at the very end of 2016, and then head on east for Cape Horn and the finish.

As for Joan Mulloy, her plan for January is to be right in the depths of solo sailing’s ultimate Boot Camp. She’s a very good sailor, she enjoys life, she’s great in boats, but as we pompously informed her at a meeting this week, she’s much too nice for her own good in top-level competitive sport.

She needs to be given a real racing edge. So the man to do that for her is the legendary coach/trainer/life-changer Tanguy Leglatin of Lorient. It’s said that a week at his Academy can transform a competent club racer into a potential world beater. Quite what it’s like providing a hothouse atmosphere in mid-January over a longer period we can only guess, but Joan Mulloy is determined to find out in the most thorough way possible. After all, it is Leglatin who brought forth the boy wonder Erwan Le Draoulec. Being under his tutelage is performance-transforming.

joan mulloy winter12Winter training. January will provide the training and testing for Joan Mulloy

So we wish Joan Mulloy the very best of luck. For there’s something about this high-powered offshore scene that appeals in a special way. We were chatting yesterday with our man in Lisbon, who had in turn been talking with the manager of the Turn the Tide on Plastics crew. Apparently they’re a wonderful bunch to work with, as they all realize they’re on a near-vertical learning curve. And that healthy shared attitude is fully embraced by our own Silver Medallist, Annalise Murphy. She may be the Queen of Rio, but there are none of the usual prima donnas in the crew of Turn the ide on Plastics. Yet they’re all entranced by the special world of ultimate offshore racing. As is Joan Mulloy.

Published in W M Nixon

Ireland’s solo sailor Tom Dolan moved up to 15th place over-night as the fleet in Mini-Transat continues to hold closer to the African coast in search of stronger northeast breezes writes W M Nixon. However, the decision to make the break to start to get nearer the base line to the turning point at Santo Antao in the Cape Verde Islands will rise steadily up on today’s agenda, and already current leader Remi Aubron is on starboard tack, and well over to the westward of the rest of the fleet.

But he has seen his speed go down to 8 knots, while Dolan and his sparring partner Pierre Chedeville, still on port tack over towards Africa, are on 11 and 10 knots respectively. Between them. but likewise still on port and on speeds comparable with Dolan and Chedeville, are the most consistent performers Tanguy Bouroullec, Clarisse Cremer and Erwan Le Draoulec, currently rated as 2nd, 3rd and 4th on the leaderboard. 

Race tracker here 

Published in Solo Sailing

Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan has vowed to bounce back after a disappointing start to his bid to reach the podium of the Mini Transat when the second leg begins on November 1.

The 30-year-old from Kells, County Meath, admits he was "gutted" to finish the first stage of the iconic solo race in 12th place in the 56-strong 'série' division for production boats.

One of the pre-race favourites after a strong 2017 season, Dolan led the fleet out of La Rochelle, France, until realising he had made a course error and had to turn back.

The mistake relegated him to the back of the fleet but he managed to fight his way back to finish Leg 1 in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, just outside the top ten after just shy of 11 days at sea.

Tired and frustrated by the result, Dolan flew home to Ireland to rest and recharge at his parents' house.

With the start of the second stage - a 2,700 nautical mile race across the Atlantic to Le Marin in Martinique - looming, Dolan said he is ready to put leg one behind him and pull out all the stops for leg two.

“It was heartbreaking having to sail back under spinnaker towards La Rochelle when I realised I'd made a mistake a few hours after the start of leg one,” he said.

“I managed to claw my back back to twelfth but it wasn't the result I was after. I was gutted.

“I decided to go home for a bit to rest up. It was my first week off in months and it did me well.

“Now I'm looking forward to getting going again. The run-up to the start of leg one in La Rochelle were stressful but going into the second leg will be much easier without so many commitments. It'll be nice to concentrate solely on the sailing.”

Despite Dolan's disappointment his goal of a podium finish is still very much doable – the Mini Transat is scored on cumulative time, and he is currently just seven hours behind leg one winner Valentin Gautier.

Unlike in the first leg where the fleet sailed a fairly straight line south west to Las Palmas, the second stage across the Atlantic will provide plenty more tactical options.
“I need to make up seven hours on first place and five hours on second - it's nothing really over a 2,700-mile leg,” Dolan said.
“Because the next stage is across the Atlantic there will be much bigger lateral splits between boats. Anything can happen. One wind shift of a few degrees could see that time wiped off.”

The forecast for the start of leg two, beginning on Wednesday, is for stable North Easterly winds of 12-14 knots – perfect conditions to propel the fleet out into the Atlantic.

The stage is expected to take around two weeks to complete.

Follow Dolan's progress in the race here. Tom races in the Série Fleet. His boat is 910 Offshoresailing.fr

Published in Solo Sailing

Royal Cork's Mark Mansfield, the four time Olympic helmsman, dropped in on Tom Dolan in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria ahead of today's prologue in the second leg of the Mini Transat.

Regular readers will know that solo sailor Dolan, who led the first leg of the race before discovering he had made a course error, has given a sincere account of his first leg trials to Afloat.ie readers here.

Full–time sailor Mansfield, who featured on Afloat.ie recently, says 'Tom's in good form and raring to get back out there and show what he can do'. 

The race itself restarts on Wednesday with the transatlantic leg.

Published in Solo Sailing

Tom Dolan has had a good rest and recharge after ten and a half tough days at sea during the first stage of the 2017 Mini–Transat. Here he gives a short rundown of how things went with some video from his onboard camera too.

I'm still a bit guilt ridden about making such a stupid mistake at the beginning. Some of you may be wondering exactly what happened: They set up a gate for us to sail through before heading out to sea just to regroup the fleet one last time for photo's, sponsors etc. As the weather for the start was forecast to be foggy they moved the gate at the last minute. They did not tell us in the briefing but simply added it to the amendment to the racing instructions and in the rush of the start and my head being elsewhere I never noticed the line about the start gate.

An hour after the start my buddy Pierre called me on the vhf to say I hadn't passed the gate. This threw me into a daze of confusion as the GPS was telling me that the gate was another 2 miles ahead. As there was very thick fog I hadn't seen the two black buoys that everyone had passed. I knew I was very far left, but had planned it to catch the outgoing tide around Ile d'Oileron, so I actually thought I was doing very well. Once I rushed below and pulled out the amendment to the race instructions I read the line stating it had been moved and my stomach sank.

After two years of preparing for this, the months spent working on the boat, the hours spent on trains to Paris and planes to Dublin, the miles of deliveries between Lorient and Concarneau and the long nights spent squinting in front of the computer screen preparing presentations and proposals and it only took me one hour and one line on a piece of paper to mess it all up.

I then had to sail back towards La Rochelle under spinnaker while the others where en route towards Cape Finistere. Once I had rounded the way-point of where the gate had been (the gate wasn't even there any more!) there were 10 miles between me and the lead group. For the next two days I struggled to sleep due to the guilt mixed with the urge to catch up to the lead group, with whom I have battled all season.,

I thought a lot about everyone who has helped me with this project and about all of those who had made the trip to La Rochelle just for me, how I had let them down and how I wanted to do well for them. The intensity of these first days allowed me to work quickly back up the fleet, but also threw my routine completely off. The important part of this leg was to arrive at Cape Finistere fresh and rested, I had made a good comeback but at a price.

By the time the wind and sea picked up and we passed the TSS, the lack of sleep meant I was completely "In the red" as we say, I didn't know where I was and I started seeing things, I usually manage my sleep very well, but this had thrown it completely off kilter. The fatigue resulted in me taking my foot off the throttle, I struggled to make decisions and it cost me miles.

The first sleep came after the Traffic Separation Scheme, in about 25 + knots screaming down waves at up to 15 knots, I think it was the relief of being away from the coast, clear of the TSS and on flatter sea which allowed me sleep. The boat screamed along as I snored in symphony! Once I woke things started to go better, I had created a massive lateral split taking quite a risk but it paid off, the wind shifted 20° to the right to NE and as I was the furthest west it was Christmas!

The middle part of the race went quite well. We enjoyed typical trade wind sailing, without the squalls and I had managed to work myself from last place up to the top ten. I was back in the match and it was fun, I aimed for a western route as the forecasts were telling us that there would be more wind in the west, as we would round a weak low pressure system over Portugal and have a good angle for the weak NE winds forecast over the Canaries, generated by a Low pressure system over the West African continent.

However the weather for the final part of the race wasn't to be so simple. Two huge but very weak areas of low pressure descended over the Canaries and it was a lottery about who they let through. I found myself in the lead of a group of 5 or 6 boats and things looked good for finishing at least in the top ten, and perhaps not too far from the podium. Two nights in a row we played lottery in the flukey winds and two nights in a row I lost.

The first of these nights I sailed into a hole with no wind, and the following boats just sailed around me (they could see on the AIS that I was stopped.) That night I lost 4 places. Then the next night was the most heart breaking. The same group who had managed to pass me and were just 3 miles to the west of me sailed off at 4 knots while I was stuck at zero, drifting with the current for 6 hours. That night cost me 15 miles. If everyone is stuck in a whole it's okay but when your the only one stuck and your competitors gently sail away it becomes unbearable.

The western route that we had taken meant that we had more ground to cover in what we have named the "Mistoufle", the newly created maritime word for a windless lottery. In the end those who played the eastern card won the gamble.

This is an intense sport, we deal with more highs and more lows, more moments of desolation and elation in three days at sea than we would in a year on land. We must assume our mistakes in their entirety without having anyone to turn to, anyone but ourselves to blame. We all live around a motto to which we turn to in the most difficult of times, "ne rien lacher", or "never give up". It may sound cringey and to be honest it is but the simple fact is that you are on your own, in the middle of the ocean and you have no choice but to continue. And when the time comes that things turn in your favor it is all the more rewarding, and this is the beauty of this sport.

So now it is time to put my brain into goldfish mode, like tennis players do, and to think only of the second leg. To think of it as a new start, a new race and hopefully at the end I will manage to scrape back enough time on the others to achieve the correct result that I hope so much for and I owe to so many of you,

Thank you so much again for the support, I am back in county Meath for a few days rest then back to the Canaries on the 25th.

Published in Solo Sailing

They’d optimistically talked of “a week and a day” when the 54 solo sailors in the Production Class set out on 1st October in the 1350 miles La Rochelle to Las Palmas Stage 1 of the Mini Transat 2017 writes W M Nixon.

But current leader Valentin Gautier still has 74 miles to sail this morning, and ten days of racing will have soon elapsed. With speeds seldom enough staying above the 5 knot level over these final miles, it continues to be a slow-finishing light-air business as they close in on the capital of the Canary Islands.

The pace may have been slow for the past 24 hours and more. But place changes have been rapid as first one group and then another has been favoured by localised breezes. Ireland’s Tom Dolan, at one stage up in ninth, currently finds himself in 13th with 121 miles still to race, and a current speed of 3.7 knots.

He is indicated as exactly neck-and-neck with 12th-placed Mathieu Lambert and showing the better speed (Lambert is on 3.4 knots), so Dolan may move up a place or two very shortly. But equally he only has a narrow margin ahead of Vedran Kabalin and Germain Kerlevo, both of them skippers of note, so the weary struggle will continue to the very end.

Race tracker here

Published in Solo Sailing
Page 4 of 7

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