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Irish Solo Sailor Tom Dolan Takes Solid 12th To Make His Best Start Ever to La Solitaire du Figaro

3rd September 2020
The French media record the Figaro fleet rounding of the Fastnet Rock on Tuesday evening The French media record the Figaro fleet rounding of the Fastnet Rock on Tuesday evening Credit: Tom Newman

Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan made the solid start he wanted to open the 51st La Solitaire Figaro, the annual French multi-stage solo offshore race when he brought Smurfit Kappa across the finish line on the Baie de Saint Brieuc in 12th place early this morning, only narrowly missing out a top ten finish.

Dolan, 33 who originates from Kells, County Meath, set off from the same bay in Northern Brittany on Sunday in the 35 strong fleet for the 642 nautical miles race around Fastnet Rock. He started with the main objective of giving himself a decent foundation result to build from into the next three stages.

At the end of what is one of the longest legs in terms of distance of the 50 years of La Solitaire the finish was extremely close. The top ten solo skippers finished within 20 minutes of the winner, French ace Xavier Macaire’s elapsed time of 3 days 17 hours and 17 minutes.

In 12th Dolan finished only two minutes and 28 seconds outside the top ten and in good shape for the second leg which starts on Sunday and takes the race to Dunkirk via Wolf Rock off the southwest tip of England.

It is the Irish racer’s best result since the circuit moved into the faster, lighter Beneteau Figaro 3 last year, an initiative which has seen the level of competition and interest rise significantly since Dolan’s career best La Solitaire score, 11th on Stage 3 in his rookie, debut year when racing the Figaro 2.

Tom Dolan at the Fastnet Rock on Tuesday Photo: Thomas NewmanTom Dolan at the Fastnet Rock on Tuesday Photo: Thomas Newman

There was an element of disappointment that he was not able to retain the three-position which he held on the approach to Fastnet on Tuesday evening. A small tactical error allowed three boats to pass inside him during what was a rounding made complicated by the traffic separation no-go areas. And on the fast reach back across the Celtic Sea, he dropped another few places. “They are saying the Fastnet has a special magnetism drawing me there fast on the way there and holding me back sailing away from it.” Quipped a weary-eyed Dolan on the dock in Saint Quay Portrieux after finishing at 06:40:02hrs French time this morning. “Someone joked ‘Well, Tom you were in a hurry to get back to Ireland and not so much of a hurry to get back here to France.”

He was second international sailor to finish, just one minute and 54 seconds behind Briton Sam Goodchild (Leyton).

Dolan concluded, “I lost a bit coming back across the Irish Sea. I had planned to stay to windward of the fleet. I made a stupid mistake with autopilot (left it on wind mode) when I went to sleep one time and ended up losing all that I had gained. I lost a bit at the rock too missing the group coming in from the east and lost eight or nine boats. But I am overall very happy, happy with the speed and it is good to have been up racing with the leaders it is more fun and gives you a bit of confidence.” He added, “On the first night when it was very complicated in the light winds I did OK because I ‘geeked’ the weather, I had really spent a long time doing my homework and from there I was OK.”

The second stage starts Sunday afternoon, 497 miles from Saint Brieuc to Dunkirk via the English coast.

Published in Tom Dolan, Figaro
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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