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Ireland’s Tom Dolan Ready for La Solitaire du Figaro

15th August 2021
alt="Tom Dolan in Concarneau" title="Tom Dolan" />
Tom Dolan in Concarneau

The last weekend before Irish solo skipper Tom Dolan moves to Saint Nazaire for next Sunday’s start of his fourth La Solitaire du Figaro has been focused on peace, quiet and relaxation.

Buoyed by a recent fifth place on the Solo Concarneau and by being as well prepared as he ever has been before any race, the skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan is quietly confident he has everything in place as he makes ready for what promises to be the longest, toughest edition of recent years.
With a double-handed Transatlantic race under his belt this season as well as good solid results in the preliminary races Dolan is pleased not to be ‘running around daft’ as he might have been in previous years.

“The last five or six days have been spent doing literally as little as possible, sleeping, eating well and exercise. That is a first before any La Solitaire, I have never managed to do that so far before any Solitaire. Usually, I am running about daft.” Smiles Dolan at home in Concarneau. “I have never been so ready. I am rested. The head is clear. The boat is in great shape. I have all new sails which I did not have last time. So I am ‘humbly’ good. Feet on the ground and realistic. This is, after all, the Figaro and you are never far away from a good spanking, especially with the legs we have on this race.”

Many skippers believe that sleep can be banked, stored up ready for the unprecedented series of three legs of four days at sea covering more than 600 miles – the equivalent of racing four Fastnet races solo, back to back with only 48 hours of ‘rest’ in between.

Does Dolan believe in banking sleep? He says, “I think so, but really as much as anything I have been actually catching up on lost sleep and restoring my energy banks, especially with the Transatlantic which took a bit out of me, and the injury. I definitely feel recharged. I am fresh and raring to go. I made a point of not doing the Fastnet Race like some others did. It was a good choice. I wanted to be as fresh as I can.”

The biggest breakthrough that led to his career best fifth in the last edition of La Solitaire, the best international result for many years, was in his head, building solid self-confidence and self-belief. He has continued the good mental preparation.

“ I am in a good place in my head, I am quite relaxed now with nothing troubling me, no worries and that is a good place to be. I have done a bit more work with the psychologist on self-confidence and decision making. Those are the big ones. It is so important in having confidence in your decisions, something I struggled with before, having all these ‘rockstar’ sailors around me and it is hard not to be influenced by them and what they are doing.”

And in practical terms he is in good shape too, “It is all about having everything done, all the t’s crossed and I’s dotted so that when I get there it is only about doing the weather. It is about having the nav and the weather completely prepared. That gives you confidence when you come to leave the dock. At that point your head needs to empty other than for the details about the leg, you need to be rested and not looking at the others.”

He expands, “Before I was obsessed with speed and the others and what they were doing. Beyond anything that was just draining mentally. So now the more I gain confidence in my own analysis of the weather and my own speed the less I am looking at the others.”

A key part of his mental strategy is staying away from the French media build-up, much like an Olympic athlete might pre-Games.

“I have stopped looking at the media, for example, reading what everyone else is saying. I switch off from social media and try not to read anything about myself. It pollutes your mind, we have enough stuff going on with the meetings and safety controls and the briefings, the skippers’ briefings all that schedule pre-start, to be bringing any other stuff into your head. We have a lot on, so we do.”

Logistics are shared again with French ace Gildas Mahé who was also Dolan’s co-skipper on Spring’s Transat En Double race to the Caribbean.

“We have the same preparateur, the same Airbnb’s and sharing the trailer to take the shore gear and spares around. It worked well last time. We have worked together all year and did the Transat.”

And he has been trying to take care of his diet too,  “ I have gone back to freeze-dried, I have found a brand which I like and I have to really watch it because in the recent races I have not eaten enough and drunk too much. I have returned with too many of the food bags full. I am making sure I have been eating well on land as I have had time to really prepare this time, so lots of fresh vegetables – locally grown – a bit of nice local meat and eating at the right time, making sure it is all fresh and then having time to rest. Usually, you’d be rushing a sandwich working on the boat at this time, and going for a good few runs. The ankle is good but I have to be careful and not run too much.”

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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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