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.