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Kinsale Bound Dolan Looks To Keep A Cool Head During La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro

1st June 2019
Tom Dolan - keeping a cool head for race to Kinsale Tom Dolan - keeping a cool head for race to Kinsale Credit: Alex Courcoux

Keeping a cool head, making carefully assimilated decisions and managing himself to ensure he has enough energy for the second half of the four stages, 2115 miles race from Nantes to Dieppe via Kinsale, Ireland. These are the key maxims which Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan will try to adhere to as he races the 50th La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro which starts from Pornichet, near Nantes in the west of France tomorrow, Sunday.

The classic, multi-stage solo offshore race has drawn a stellar cast, including many of French offshore racing’s top names. Dolan lines up on Smurfit Kappa among the 47 strong fleet which includes six past overall winners of La Solitaire, three of them triple victors.

Figaro fleet NantesThe 47-boat Kinsale bound Figaro fleet in Nantes

For this landmark 50th anniversary edition of the race, the adoption of a new foil-assisted Figaro Beneteau 3 yacht, which is faster, lighter and more demanding than its predecessor – the Figaro 2 – has drawn many top French sailors back to this high octane, stamina-sapping one design solo scene.

After a successful career in the smaller Mini 650, Dolan moved to La Solitaire URGO Figaro as a rookie last year but spent the whole race playing catch up after a technical problem with his mast’s rigging forced him out of the first leg.

But after an excellent pre-season preparation and training with the new boat, including nearly a month alongside compatriot Damian Foxall – Ireland’s leading round-the-world racer who won the Gijon to Concarneau stage of La Solitaire in 1998 – Dolan reports that he is in great shape and will be keeping Foxall’s advice at the forefront of his mind during the upcoming three weeks of racing.

"Dolan reports that he is in great shape and will be keeping Foxall’s advice"

That careful energy preservation mode will be tested most on the first 553 nautical miles stage from France to Kinsale, where the race stops for the 20th time in its 50 year history.

Dolan, from County Meath, knows Irish eyes – and computers and smartphones – will be watching his every move, hoping for an Irish success story. “Look, it would be easy to go a bit mad and push too hard, to let it get to my head because we are coming into Ireland but I will be trying to keep a cool head.” Dolan warned as he prepared Smurfit Kappa in Nantes, “At this early stage you have to be mindful there are three more long legs after that. No good can come from blowing up going into Kinsale. I definitely learned from my first Solitaire that you have to keep some sauce for the second half, the legs on this race are long.”

The open ocean stage across the Celtic Sea round the Fastnet to Kinsale has the potential to see big gaps in the fleet open early in the race. “This stage is more like an oceanic offshore stage, which is not necessarily good for me - in the past, I seem to have been better at the rock hopping, tricky coastal stuff. But I will take it carefully and try to stay with the fleet.”

"I was up and down like a yoyo physically and mentally"

He adds: “ I learned so much from Damian. He is very calm and before I was up and down like a yoyo physically and mentally. His approach definitely instilled a bit more calm in me. I am improved there. I am focused more on doing things carefully and doing them well and making decisions more carefully, not tacking just because someone else has tacked.”

Dolan has made a big effort to eliminate unnecessary packaging from his food and drink stores on board, in line with a commitment to sustainability which chimes with the responsible policies of Smurfit Kappa. And Foxall himself is a passionate advocate for environmental responsibility who drives key initiatives in the sailing world. He offered Dolan pragmatic ideas.

“ I talked with Damian about it during the Sardinha Cup, discussing the idea of coming back with no garbage to dispose and to have left the dock with no possible garbage. That became the objective.” Dolan emphasises, “ We tried during the Sardinha Cup to be more careful, more responsible with what we bought. And besides everything else, it felt great to come back with no rubbish. And sustainability is a big thing with Smurfit Kappa.”

Onboard Smurfit Kappa now Tom uses a number of aluminium bottles, all the food goes in Tupperware boxes, the fruit is cut up and kept in small re-used plastic boxes. He has sourced Breton cheese which comes wrapped in paper and even handmade artisan chocolates, local to where he lives in France, come wrapped in paper.

"The only thing with the chocolate is that it does not seem to be sustainable at all. It all seems to have been eaten..!" Dolan jokes.

Looking at the weather for the first stage Dolan reports: “The first leg looks interesting. There is a ridge of high pressure on the first morning to get out of and away and so those who do might get away. There could be a bit of a getaway then. But then coming into Ireland there is a trough which might mean some compression. There is plenty of key points. Positioning in the Celtic Sea, to the west or east can be important.” He concludes: “I think I have made good progress this season but this is it, this is when I will found out.”

Published in Tom Dolan
Andi Robertson

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Andi Robertson

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Andi Robertson is an international sailing journalist based in Scotland

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Tom Dolan, Solo Offshore Sailor

Even when County Meath solo sailor Tom Dolan had been down the numbers in the early stages of the four-stage 2,000 mile 2020 Figaro Race, Dolan and his boat were soon eating their way up through the fleet in any situation which demanded difficult tactical decisions.

His fifth overall at the finish – the highest-placed non-French sailor and winner of the Vivi Cup – had him right among the international elite in one of 2020's few major events.

The 33-year-old who has lived in Concarneau, Brittany since 2009 but grew up on a farm in rural County Meath came into the gruelling four-stage race aiming to get into the top half of the fleet and to underline his potential to Irish sailing administrators considering the selection process for the 2024 Olympic Mixed Double Offshore category which comes in for the Paris games.

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