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Wednesday evening update – After a difficult day in the middle of the Bay of Biscay with the fleet in the Mini-en-Mai now spread across a wide front as they close in towards the southerly turn off Royan, Tom Dolan’s consistency with his Pogo 3 IRL 910 Offshoresailing.fr has been remarkable writes W M Nixon. He has always been in contention for the top slot, despite speeds at time dropping practically to zero, and as of 1930hrs Irish time he was making better than six knots and recorded at different times as leading or in second place in class.

However, with the leaders now in the laitutude of Ile d’Yeu, the boats furtheast east are currently finding more poke in the now mainly nor’easterly breeze, and two of them are getting speeds of better than 7 knots as the front runners close in together again. But even as we write this, Tom’s own speed has broken through the 7 knots barrier once more - it’s very much race on.

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After their first night at sea, the Mini Transat boats racing the 500-mile Mini-en-Mai race in the eastern sector of the Bay of Biscay have put the navigation challenges of Western Brittany astern, and are well on their way, shaping their course southeast towards the next turn off the mouth of the Gironde Estuary writes W M Nixon

Tom Dolan of Ireland sailing the Pogo 3 Offshoresailing.fr held the lead in his class at 0800 Irish time this morning by a narrow margin, with 329 miles still to race. But it will be at a slower pace – he is now sailing at “only” 8.8 knots - than the speedy first day, when a brisk easterly sent the fleet hurtling northwards from the start/finish port of La Trinite sur mer.

A shallow low pressure area is headed towards Biscay, but if the leaders can manage to get far enough on their way to be south of it, there’s a chance the underlying wind will draw from the southwest. However, with two mini lows approaching ahead of it on its advance fringes, there’s a risk that for a while, conditions could become extremely flukey.

Published in Tom Dolan

Ireland’s Tom Dolan is continuing to set the pace in his Mini Pogo 3 Offshoresailing.fr (IRL 910) in the 500 miles Mini-en-Mai as the leaders sweep past the Iles des Glenans and on towards the Point de Penmarch in a brisk easterly, vying for the lead in the Mini 650 class with sister-ship Kerhis-Cerfrance (Tanguy Bouroullec) at speeds of between 10 and 12 knots writes W M Nixon

With the first night drawing on, they have interesting navigation and pilotage in prospect as the course takes them close along the land inside the Ile de Sein and north to a turn up towards Camaret, before heading southwest into open Atlantic and the most westerly turn in the race, following which there’s the long offshore haul southeast towards a turn off Royan, then it’s back along the land to return to La Trinite sur Mer.

The pace has been ferocious, but with slacker winds in prospect as the race moves along, it’s still a very long way to the finish in these smallest offshore racers sailing what is undoubtedly a big boys’ race.

See Tracker below: 

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After a good start which saw him in third shortly after crossing the line in the 500-mile Mini-en-Mai event for Minitrasat 650s which started today off La Trinite sur Mer on France’s Biscay coast, Ireland’s Tom Dolan is currently rated at eighth on the water in a tightly-packed fleet. Dolan featured in W M Nixon's Saturday blog here

With his speed building to 11 knots and 489 miles still to sail, he’s racing a course which is neatly divided between coast-hopping in the early and finishing stages, with a long offshore haul heading southeast well seaward of the Biscay shore in the middle.

Track Dolan and the fleet below: 

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Tom Dolan from County Meath may still seem to some to be the new boy on the block for Irish participation in the small boat solo sailing scene centred around France. But he has clocked up quite a few miles now with dogged determination towards the Mini Transat from his base in Concarneau in the heart of Brittany, and success is within reach.

In late April it all came good with the 300-mile opening race from Pornichet of the French Solo Offshore Championship, when Dolan recovered from what he ruefully recalls as “a mediocre start” amongst the 52-strong fleet, with further angst when his group stalled while those to the south kept slipping along.

Then the new breeze filled in to give him such a boost that at one stage he was overall leader by nearly a mile, but in the final three miles to the finish his sparring partner Pierre Chedeville (the winner last year) was on the right side of a shirt to take the lead. Then from the next group, Swiss sailor Valentin Gautier took a flyer to the north and had was ahead of both leaders at the line, but Tom Dolan’s podium place in a race of this calibre makes him a worthy Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month (Offshore) ” for April.

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Ireland’s mini class sailor Tom Dolan from County Meath has finished an impressive third place out of 52 boats in the first single–handed race of the French Solo Offshore Racing Championship. The podium result came after a 300 mile match race with his sparring partner and winner of last years edition Pierre Chedeville (887 Blue Orange Games). The pair were had never more than a mile separating them during 48 hours of intense offshore racing.

After a mediocre start in front of a busy beach front in the bay of Pornichet, Dolan chose a northerly route in the dying evening winds as the sudo sea breeze battled with the synoptic wind to give shifty and unstable conditions. “it was a stressful part of the race, the pack that I was in came to a halt while the guys to the south kept going, I was sure I was going to do duked by the light winds again”. The option paid off as the wind came in from the North west which allowed the northern group to accelerate under gennaker towards the Birvideaux lighthouse, which they passed as night fell.

The wind picked up to 20/25 knots and the fleet reached south of belle ile and Ile d’yeu towards les Sables d’Olonne, better known as the starting point of the Vendee Globe. “I spent the whole night outside trimming under autopilot, the night was black it was the best way to go in a straight line. The IRL 910 was fast during the night and traversed the fleet. By early morning Dolan was in first place with a little over a mile lead ahead of Chedeville and the chasing pack.

Next up was a 180 turn to sail back up to the south of Ile d’Yeu, heavy reaching under code 5. With speed reaching up to 14 knots; “submarine mode” as Dolan calls it referring to the often more than humid conditions in the Mini Transat 650’s. Next up the fleet had to sail north of belle Ile and back into the zone of convergence sea breeze/synoptic causing the lead boats to be quickly caught by the following pack. During the entire night, Dolan managed to control Chedeville in a match race that led into the early hours of the morning. At about 10 am, 3 miles from the finish line, the Frenchman was the right side of a shift and took the control.

Meanwhile further back in the fleet, the swiss skipper, Valentin Gautier (903 Banque du Lemain) tried his luck and sailed off on his own at 90 degrees to the route. His northern option paid off and during the last miles his sailed passed the battling pair of Dolan and Chedeville to win the race.

Having held the lead for more than 24 hours of the 48 hour race, the meath man finished in 3rd out of 52 boats. “I’m delighted with the result, I think I sailed well and managed to hold the lead for quite some time. My objective was a podium finish and with the card the swiss played I wouldn’t have won anyway, what a great battle with Pierro though!” He estimates that over the 48 hour race period he slept for about four hours in total “I was hearing things by the end of the second night” he laughed.

Dolan’s next race will be in two weeks, when he defends his title during the 500 mile Mini en Mai. “Last year it was the first race that I won so the pressure will be on”.

In October of this year Tom Dolan hopes to be Ireland's only competitor in the Mini Transat Race, a 4,000 mile single–handed race across the Atlantic Ocean on the smallest class of boat there is. He is actively seeking the budget required.

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After a disappointing first race of the year last weekend, as Afloat.ie previewed here, Ireland’s Tom Dolan hopes to improve on his performance in the first single–handed race of the Mini 650 circuit.

In offshore racing, 'once the wind has died completely it is too late, you can’t do anything', says Dolan. The trick, he says, 'is to make sure that you stop in the right place' and that when the new wind arrives 'you are the first (or at least not the last) to touch it.' In light conditions it is in the phases of transition that races are lost and won.

This was a lesson that Dolan learned hard last weekend during the first race of the 2017 Mini 650 season. After a strong start the Franco/Irish team on board IRL 910 were in second position when the first shutdown (zone of no wind) arrived. The back of the fleet became the front of the fleet! One more shutdown later and they were not far off last position. “the second one hurt the most, as we were stopped as the boats offshore were at 3/4 knots...”. They managed to work there way back up the fleet, finishing in 18th place.

This Saturday is the first round of the French Offshore Sailing Championship, the Pornichet Select 650 is a 300–mile coastal race around the Islands of the south Breton coat. There will be almost 90 boats on the start line, and almost 60 of them in the production class so the competition will be tough. Dolan’s Concarneau based sparring partner, Pierre Chedville on board the 887 “Blue orange Games” will be a favourite as he returns to defend his title in the production class and yet again it will be Ian Lipinski in his 865 scow “Griffon.fr” who will be the man to beat in the prototype class.

The course takes the fleet from the small port of Pornichet, down to Les Sables d’olonne, across the finish line of the vendee globe before sailing back up to ile de Groix. The largest strategical decision of the race is which side to leave Belle Ile on the return leg. For the time being the weather conditions promise to be light with yet again a strong chance of there being a number of shutdowns. “This time round I will work to better prepare the weather forecast for the race, and be sure not to be the wrong side each time!', Dolan told Afloat.ie

Dolan, who hails from County Meath and is preparing to compete in the 2017 Mini Transat race, a single–handed race across the Atlantic Ocean on the smallest class of Ocean racing boat that there is.

To follow the Select 650 click here

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Solo Sailor Tom Dolan from County Meath has booked his place in October's Mini–Transat Race from La Rochelle to Martinique.

The sole Irish entry was in Dublin last night to talk about his exploits at Poolbeg Yacht and Boat Club. This will be Dolan's second Mini–adventure having successfully competed in 2015.

For this 2017 edition of the race, organised by Collectif Rochelais pour la Mini Transat, the race will host a full contingent as the number of applicants signed up for the adventure already exceeds the 84 places available. Download the full entry list below.

- The Mini Transat 2017 will set sail from La Rochelle
- Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Le Marin (Martinique) the stopover and finish venues
- 84 competitors expected on the start line on 1 October 2017

Forty years on from its first edition, the Mini Transat remains on the crest of the wave. A maiden voyage for some, a stepping stone to further sporting challenges for others, the Mini Transat holds a very special place in the world of offshore racing. In an era of new technologies and intensive communication, it is still the only event where each racer is pitted solely against themselves during a transatlantic crossing. No contact with land, no other link to the outside world than a single VHF radio, at times the Mini Transat is a voyage into solitude.

Boats: minimum length, maximum speed

With an overall length of 6.50m and a sail area pushed to the extreme at times, the Minis are incredibly seaworthy boats. Subjected to rather draconian righting tests and equipped with reserve buoyancy making them unsinkable, the boats are capable of posting amazing performances in downwind conditions… most often to the detriment of comfort, which is rudimentary to say the least. In the Class Mini, racers can choose between prototypes and production boats from yards. The prototypes are genuine laboratories, which frequently foreshadow the major architectural trends, whilst the production boats tend to be more somewhat tempered by design.

Racers: from the amateur to the future greats of offshore racing

There are countless sailors of renown who have made their debut in the Mini Transat. From Jean-Luc Van Den Heede to Loïck Peyron and Thomas Coville, Isabelle Autissier and Sam Davies, a number of offshore racing stars have done the rounds on a Mini. However, the Mini Transat is also a lifelong dream for a number of amateur racers who, in a bid to compete in this extraordinary adventure, sacrifice work and family to devote themselves to their consuming passion. Nobody comes back from the Mini Transat completely unchanged. This year, there will be 84 solo sailors, 10 of whom are women! The Mini Transat is also the most international of offshore races with no fewer than 15 nationalities scheduled to take the start.

The course: from La Rochelle to the West Indies via the South face

Two legs are offered to make Martinique from Europe’s Atlantic coasts. The leg from La Rochelle to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is a perfect introduction to proceedings before taking the big transatlantic leap. The Bay of Biscay can be tricky to negotiate in autumn while the dreaded rounding of Cape Finisterre on the north-west tip of Spain marks a kind of prequel to the descent along the coast of Portugal. Statistically, this section involves downwind conditions, often coloured by strong winds and heavy seas. Making landfall in the Canaries requires finesse and highly developed strategic know-how.

The second leg will set sail on 1 November. Most often carried along by the trade wind, the solo sailors set off on what tends to be a little over two weeks at sea on average. At this point, there’s no way out: en route to the West Indies, there are no ports of call. The sailors have to rely entirely upon themselves to make Martinique, where they’ll enjoy a well-deserved Ti Punch cocktail to celebrate their accomplishments since embarking on the Mini adventure.

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After a promising first solo leg of “Les Sables-Les Azores-Les Sables”, Ireland's Thomas Dolan, or l’irlandais Volant”, or the Flying Irishman, as he has been christened by French media, currently stands in second place with 1 hour and 35 minutes of a gap between himself and France’s Tanguy Bouroullec, who dominated the first 1200 miles of racing.

After crossing Biscay in relatively light winds, the fleet of 22 mini 650’s had an intense three days of reaching in 20 to 25 knots of wind. This allowed them to hastily tuck into the 800-mile offshore leg from the north of Spain to the Azores Archipelago. Most of the routings at the start had tended to favor a southern route, skipping along the edges of a ridge of high pressure which stretched across the Bay of Biscay. However, things rarely being as they are announced in ocean racing and the Azores High began to move westerly with the competitors, opening up a corridor or Northerly wind along the rhumb line.

The mini class prides itself in being ‘low-tech’. Thus the only weather forecasting available to the skippers once they are at sea is a barometer, the clouds and a Shortwave radio transmission once per day. Dolan ended up taking a rather mediocre route, not too south and not too north and was in 6th place as the fleet arrived in the Islands. As the fleet compacted into the high pressure zone, it was almost like a second start. 24 hours of close contact tacking and the Meath man had managed to come out in second, having cut Bouroullec’s lead from 20 to 7 miles.

Having experienced problems with his generator, Dolan had to run a number of nights without use of the autopilot and even navigation lights. It was only when the sun rose and the solar panels kicked in that he could rest and recharge both his and the boat’s batteries. “At one stage I looked at the GPS and saw 750 miles to go and though it’s impossible I’ll have to turn around and pull into a Spanish port….” But he held out and even though there is less than 15 minutes between Dolan and the sixth place boat he remains hopeful of an overall podium finish.

The second leg leaves on Tuesday at 1700 Irish Time. There will be a complex ridge of high pressure too cross in search of a weak cold front which will sweep across the Bay of Biscay. Some of the routings even send the fleet as far north as the Fastnet Rock! So it is certain that the game is long from over.

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Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan's dream of competing in this year's Mini–Transat came true yesterday when the County Meath man departed Douarnenez in France and embarked on his 4000–mile race. 

It’s hard to imagine better conditions for the start of the Mini Transat îles de Guadeloupe. The President of the racecourse fired the starter’s pistol, and the competitors launched themselves into the westerly to north-westerly 8-10 knot wind. By the end of the first part of the race in the bay, the favourites were already pointing their bows towards the open ocean.

transat start 2015

Yesterday's start in Douarnenez Bay

You can follow Tom's progress via the race tracker

There was enough wind to move forwards, but not too much. We couldn’t have hoped for more at the start of a transatlantic race, both for the competitors, and for the organisers. Douarnenez Bay had dressed up in its finery: blue skies, light clouds at the top of Menez Hom, dark seas…

The Mini Transat îles de Guadeloupe racers hardly had time to admire the landscape. Instead they had to watch their rivals, avoid collisions and consider their tactics for the best approach to the race in Douarnenez Bay.

Tom dolan transat

The County Meath yacht is prepared for the off in Douarnenez – Photo: Paul Keane

After a beautiful start on the starboard side, Hervé Aubry (Ixina – Voilerie HSD) was in the lead, followed closely by the youngest competitor, Quentin Vlamynck (Arkema) and Clément Bouyssou (Le Bon Agent ! Bougeons l’Immobilier). However, it was Davy Beaudart (Flexirub), followed by Frédéric Denis (Nautipark) who were leading the fleet at the first buoy. Next, was Julien Pulvé (Novintiss) who overtook Benoît Hantzperg (YCA – Dhumeaux – Secours Populaire).

Tacking re-shuffles the playing cards
At buoy number 2, Fred Denis had taken matters into his own hands, thanks to an ingenious double tack in the direction of the coast. Many of the following competitors took advantage of these tactics to improve their times and re-join the leaders of the fleet, including an inspired Fidel Turienzo (Satanas).Benoît Hantzperg also profited from this windfall to pinch first place from Julien Pulvé, whilst Tanguy Le Turquais manouevred his Terréal into third position.

This was followed by a stretch of quite closed spinnaker sailing in a straining wind that forced a real break amongst the favourites in training at the centre of the fleet, particularly caused by the comfortable conditions. For others, the problem was that they had hardly experienced this type of sailing on a razor’s edge. A first hierarchy had established itself by the time they reached the buoy at Tristan island, which marks the end of the coastal run. Ahead of them unfolded a long stretch towards the west until they crossed the Seine current. The objective was to get around a light patch sitting directly in their path, and look for a faster route by using the winds from the northwest.

Lucky for some…unlucky for others
For the majority of the fleet, the positioning in the coastal race was an epiphany, to know who to look out for in the following week. Tomorrow, when the first night is over, each one of them will have forgotten the little miserable moments they will have during these 5,000 miles of prelude to the main race. Even Axel Tréhin (Aleph Racing), who tried to make too tight a turn around the first buoy, and was entangled for a long time in its moorings, will have forgotten about how many positions he dropped because of his greedy attempt.

It’s another story for Nacho Postigo. He was violently slammed against the rocks of Tristran Island when he was being towed by an organiser’s boat, and saw his hopes for the Transat dashed as well. With his keel sail damaged and the bulb mashed up, the Spanish sailor could not go straight back to the race. However, he will be able to re-join the ranks in two stages, as the crash was not his responsibility. The international jury will need to decide under what criteria he can re-join the race. The members already know that there will be the work cut out waiting for him to do in Lanzarote.

Positions after the coastal race:
Prototypes (Eurovia Cegelec class):
1 Fred Denis – 800 – Nautipark
2 Davy Beaudart – 865 – Flexirub
3 Clément Bouyssou – 802 – Le Bon Agent ! Bougeons l’Immobilier
4 Luke Berry – 753 – Association Rêves
5 Jean-Baptiste Daramy – 814 – Chocolats Paries – Coriolis Composites

Séries (Ocean Bio-Actif Ranking)
1 Benoît Hantzperg – 871 – YCA – Dhumeaux – Secours Populaire
2 Tanguy Le Turquais – 835 – Terréal
3 Charly Fernbach – 869 – Le Fauffiffon Hénaff
4 Antonio Fontes – 745 – Vela Solidaria
5 Ian Lipinski – 866 –Entreprises Innovantes

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