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Tom Dolan’s Story: 'You don’t win a race. The other guys lose it...'

14th May 2017
Dolan slipped to second in the 500-mile Mini-en-Mai in the last 30 miles on Friday Dolan slipped to second in the 500-mile Mini-en-Mai in the last 30 miles on Friday

After Ireland’s Tom Dolan slipped to second in the 500-mile Mini-en-Mai in the last 30 miles on Friday, all of Irish sailing – and a wider community of supporters internationally – shared his frustration writes W M Nixon. But those of us who followed the Yellowbrick tracker all the way into port at La Trinite sur Mer after the finish very quickly spotted that Tom’s Pogo 3 Offshoresailing.fr (IR 910) had been lifted out into the marina-side boatyard.

Had something occurred to explain that loss of pace in the final stage? Seaweed jammed in the rudder perhaps? Or something small but significant picked up by the keel? No so. He had simply been very diligent in being one of the first to return the tracker to the race office. The boat was still afloat with no problems. In this searingly honest analysis, he tells us how it went pear-shaped:

“Winning races is a matter of making less mistakes than everyone else. There was no sea-weed on the keel or rudder, but a big big human error on my part, so I am a bit disappointed. Here's what happened:

As we passed north of Ile de Re on the last night I has a lead of 0.3 miles over Erwan le Draoulec racing the Pogo 3 Emile Henry (the distance is from the AIS, it's sort of like our television on board, we are always glued to it). During the last night I managed to pick up the lead to 0.8 miles, but we started to get headed. We both changed from the big to the medium kite and the distance was still stable at 0.8 miles. We continued to get headed while at the same time passing close to a headland with not a lot of water. I passed over 3 metres depth at 12 knots, and in my head I was trying to guesstimate the draft of the boat when heeled at 30°!

The wind increased to around 18 knots and after a couple of knock-downs, I changed to code 5. The change cost me 0.1 miles, but the distance stayed stable. Once we passed the headland, however, we bore off by 5 degrees and as Erwan had stayed under medium he started to catch me.

This was when I lost the race. It was a bit of a strange moment and it is a problem I have had before when very tired. I couldn't decide whether to change back to the medium or not. My brain just wouldn't make up its mind.

We had spent the entire night rock-hopping around Ile de Re to shelter from the tide, and as I had been in front I had done all the navigating. Erwan has simply followed me, and waited for his time to pounce. The distance decreased, 0.5, 0.4, 0.2 and when he was just to leeward of me, panic set in and I changed back to medium.

He was now 0.3 miles ahead and I cried (again, the fatigue can be very intense). Our coach tell us the there are times when you should not try to win a race, you should simply just not lose it. All I had to was wait on his backside, and wait for him to slip up. But no - with the frustration, disappointment and fatigue, and with my brain in crazy mode, I put the nail in the coffin.

I changed sail again to put up the big kite, and with the first gust I was screaming along at 13 knots, but at 30° to the route. Meanwhile Erwan stayed on course. The lateral separation increased bit by bit, and once we got headed, it was game over. The lateral will always have to be paid back at some stage.

Voila voile, that’s sailing, that was it. So I more or less gifted him the victory with two huge mistakes. All I had to do was stay between him and the mark and keep the same sail as him, and I would have won. But he was better on the day.

On the positive side I am very happy speed-wise, especially on vmg running. But I have a sort of a new nickname "vais pas trop vite!" – “Don’t go too fast!”. It’s a double-edged sort of thing, suggesting the other guys let me sprint away, and then wait to pounce.

By the end, I’d been fighting for that lead with maybe half a dozen other boats at different stages. Erwan was 1.6 miles ahead of me at the finish. But I in turn was four miles ahead of the next boat, Pierre Chedeville’s Pogo 3 Blue Orange Games, which at mid-race had been the boat with which I’d been most directly battling for first place.

We keep learning. And it’s really touching to arrive back and see all of the support from home. Sorry I made a bit of a hames of it at the end.

All the best,

Tom

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