After an excellent 14th overall and fifth in the final leg, when sailing with Damian Foxall in the doublehanded Sardinha Cup, Ireland's Tom Dolan is now ready to fly solo on his Smurfit Kappa as he takes on this week's Solo Maître Coq.
The first solo event for the Figaro Beneteau 3 starts Monday and has attracted a truly stellar cast, the fleet growing from the 34 which raced in the Sardinha Cup to 44 boats which have assembled in Les Sables d'Olonne for a series which comprises two days of 30-40 mile inshore races Monday, Tuesday followed by an offshore of around 400 nautical miles which starts Thursday.
Among the big names of the French solo ocean racing scene, two times winner of the Vendèe Globe and three times winner of La Solitaire Michel Desjoyeaux joins the fleet for the first time to pitch himself up against Jérémie Beyou and Yann Eliès - both are also three times La Solitaire overall winners - and past La Solitaire victors such as Armel Le Cléac'h, Yoanne Richomme and legendary Route du Rhum winner Loick Peyron.
"It is exciting. In some ways, this is like a dream come true to race against some of these guys. It is what I have wanted to do since I started out ten years ago. But I will not let myself get overawed. On the water, they are just boats to race against." Dolan smiled on the dock in Port Olona, Les Sables d'Olonne on the French Vendée coast.
The weather forecasts suggest a week of light to moderate winds are in prospect. Dolan, who is from County Meath, is open-minded, "I'll take what comes, certainly when it was light in the Sardinha Cup we seemed to have speed which is good but this will be much more about manoeuvres than out and out speed, so it is going to be interesting. We have done a few days of training and manoeuvres and I seemed to get on OK. I think I am quite good from the years in the Mini class. But for sure my weakness is getting off the start line. I am learning to stick to a routine and improve my timing to the line, but there is some way to go. It takes time and practice."
This first solo race in the Figaro Beneteau 3 will be a chance to refine and improve techniques ahead of June's La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro. "I want to do well it is important for the morale, similarly I don't want to do badly because it would put me a bit on the back foot psychologically. It's important to feel confident going into La Solitaire. But this is very much a learning event, a chance to work on the processes. This the first confrontation for the whole fleet so I think most people will take the same view.