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'Top Secret Plan B' for Solo Sailor Tom Dolan if Figaro Race is Cancelled

22nd May 2020
Tom Dolan racing downwind in Smurfit Kappa Tom Dolan racing downwind in Smurfit Kappa Credit: Thomas Deregnieaux

In the wake of the two-month lockdown from which it emerged on May 11th, France has reopened the coast and allowed all types of marine activities along the Atlantic. This is, of course, good news for Tom Dolan. The skipper of Smurfit Kappa, who kept busy during the two-month lockdown period, will launch his boat this week to get back training on the water. 

"It's going to feel good to be back at sea after two long months, even if I feel a bit like it was non-stop. In mid-March, I made a long list of everything I wanted to achieve and I still haven’t reached the end yet!" says the Irish sailor, who managed to keep up a certain rhythm in his overall organisation.

“I tried just to keep to a normal schedule, getting up, getting dressed, working, and then switching off at the weekend and evening, except all that within 1km of the flat. People suggested that it must have been like being isolated at sea but I don’t see the connection much because we are doing what we love and by our own choice, I think I’ll pinch the quote of the great single-handed sailor Eric Tabarly who once said “Sailing means accepting the restrictions that you have chosen. It is a privilege. Most people are subjected to the obligations that life has imposed on them.” The only real comparison that I see between the two is our mindset as we come out of lockdown. The difficulty and the time it has taken to readapt to being around people reminds me a lot of coming back to land after weeks alone at sea.

A busy lockdown for Tom Dolan

"A good chunk of the weeks were made up of theory courses organised by our training centre in Lorient, all conducted by videoconference. During these sessions, we prepared in detail each leg of the upcoming Solitaire du Figaro, the dangers, important points of passage as well as local weather and tidal effects. Another week we worked on performance analysis and then I dissected the numerous traces of last season's races in order to work on the polar charts (graphical representations, expressing the speed of a boat as a function of the wind direction and strength) then the Sailects (creation and display of the places where the sails are used). I am starting to become a real geek (laughs)! I've also managed to get myself a bit more up to speed on all the paperwork involved in running a small business, which has never been my strong point. And then at the same time, I got to do a lot of catch up on physical preparation, doing a lot of muscle-building sessions and running around the house. I even lost a bit of weight, which is pretty good", explains Tom, who has set his sights once again on the famous Solitaire du Figaro, the only race on the class calendar which should remain in the running this season, if all the health and safety indicators stay in the green.

The Solaire du Figaro maintained for the time being, Plan B on the cards

"We will know on 15th June whether the race is to take place or not, and whether it will be on the scheduled dates (from 30th August to 20th September) or slightly later in September," explains the skipper of Smurfit Kappa, who keeps a plan B in the corner of his head in case the current pandemic turns the programme upside down once again.. "I have a great Plan B in mind, but it is top secret for now! So while waiting to find out more, I'm going to continue to prepare my boat in Concarneau. At the same time, we hope to organise sailing days with the teams from Smurfit Kappa as well as the different companies around Concarneau who had signed up to support us for the Transat AG2R La Mondiale and some of whom continue to accompany us. We will also take out the local council workers who kept working and supported the local community during the lockdown, such as the bin men, bus drivers and people from the town hall. We hope it will be a way we can thank them." concludes Dolan.

Published in Tom Dolan, Solo Sailing Team

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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.