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Why Is Tom Dolan Taking On Round Ireland Challenge In A Clockwise Direction?

3rd May 2023
Tom Dolan departs Dublin Bay this morning aiming to break the Round Ireland solo speed sailing record
Tom Dolan departs Dublin Bay this morning aiming to break the Round Ireland solo speed sailing record Credit: Afloat

Noted marine climate expert and weather router, Chris Tibbs has commented that the Round Ireland Ireland Record poses one of the most intriguing yet manageable sailing challenges on earth. And it's particularly so when you're doing it in a mono-hull in the 30ft to 40ft size range, when your maximum potential speed is such that you're likely to experience the effect of at least two weather systems coming in from the Atlantic, whereas boats like the multi-hull record holding MOD 70s and the mono-hull Titleist Rambler 88 could do it in the one fell swoop of fairly consistent weather conditions.

With smaller craft, the ideal is an unusually prolonged period of either west-to-northwest winds, or southeast-to-east winds, with a bit of cunning required as to when you're in the different arcs of wind direction. Beyond that, it's generally agreed that any windward work - though it should be as little as possible - is best done on the east coast. And over and above all that, it's generally agreed that the sooner and more crisply you can deal with the long stretch through the North Channel between the South Rock Light and distant Malin Head - in the midst of which the tides are at their most ferocious at Rathlin Island - then the better it is for the overall project.

In looking at this midweek's developing southeast-to-east wind pattern, many seasoned observers had assumed that solo sailor Tom Dolan with his foiling Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, would head off today bound northward, to time his arrival at the South Rock in order to maximise the tidal boost all the way to Malin Head in a strengthening fair wind.

"Things don't look good at all for rapid progress from Tory Island back to Dublin Bay"

For sure, a boat like this minimises the effect of tides. But they matter nevertheless, particularly as regards sea state, and being west of Malin Head in minimal time with a prospect of the wind drawing more from the east to favour rapid progress south down the west coast seemed a sensible idea, with the only unknowable being just when he would begin to feel the initially adverse effects of the new weather system bringing in wind from the south.

If he had made good southing going anti-clockwise while the easterlies lasted, he could have been well along the coast of Kerry or even West Cork as the southerly established itself, and that would then give him fair winds all the way back to the Kish. But as it is, although he certainly looks very likely to get to Tory Island extremely quickly, things don't look good at all for rapid progress from there back to Dublin Bay. That's according to wind forecast charts for Friday, though of course he has until 06:00 hrs on Sunday to break the four-day barrier. And despite his initially slow progress off the Wicklow coast, he is now past the Tuskar and already ahead of Michael Kleinjean's established time, so clockwise or widdershins, Round Ireland is as fascinating a challenge as ever.

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Published in Tom Dolan
WM Nixon

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WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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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.