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Tom Dolan Sets the Record Straight on Last Week’s 'Sailing on Saturday' Article on his Round Ireland Challenge 

11th November 2023
Tom Dolan sets out on his Round Ireland Speed Challenge  from Dublin Bay on October 29th
Tom Dolan sets out on his Round Ireland Speed Challenge  from Dublin Bay on October 29th Credit: Afloat

Tom Dolan halted his latest Round Ireland speed challenge on October 31st  due to worsening weather  forecasts off the South and Southwest coast. It was a disappointing decision for him and his team and a great many readers who had been avidly following his record attempt.  Afloat's coverage of that decision included commentary based on a Tom Dolan Racing Team press release that caused Tom and his team upset, which was never  Afloat's intention. We are, therefore, very grateful to Tom for bringing clarity to a number of our assumptions while touching on some of  the many factors that led him to conclude he needed to retire to Dingle Harbour. 

In light of the recent article on Afloat, I want to respond to comments that were incorrect or based on incorrect assumptions. As the sailor concerned, who had the best available weather and forecasted sea state information at the time, who has known that coast since I first went offshore and who ultimately made the decision to stop with no external influences, I feel it important to clarify a number of assumptions in the original article.  

Safe Havens 

The phrase that  was included in the Tom Dolan Racing Team press release - "Dolan was not prepared to take the risk on his 36 foot Figaro Beneteau 3, particularly with no safe havens to shelter in on the SW and S of Ireland - I think was misunderstood or taken out of context. 

The intention was not to suggest that the South and Southwest coast of Ireland doesn’t normally have safe places to shelter. What we wanted to convey was that the tidal and weather conditions on the night in question had rendered it unsafe for me in the given circumstances, as can happen in many regions (Northern Brittany is a good example). 

I have included an example for one of the ports mentioned in the Afloat article, Cahersiveen, below, which is dredged at 1.9 metres. 


Below is a tidal graph for low tide on that night. 0.33. (Let’s call it 0.4)

a tidal graph for low tideTidal graph for low tide

1.9 + 0.4 = 2.3  Metres 

Draft of Beneteau Figaro 3 = 2.5. Metres 

This example shows that using this port was simply not possible. The same was the case for many of the ports mentioned, apart from Knightstown.  

There was an amazing full moon during the entire trip, and there were exceptionally big spring tides, with a tidal coefficient of 96, meaning a larger-than-normal range. 
The forecast for the night at the Fastnet was 35 to 45 knots GRIB, meaning possible gusts of over 50, especially during the passing of the cold front, with a swell of 4.5 increasing to 4.9 metres and higher with a 7-second period.  The period is a very important factor here. 

A gale warning for strong gale force 9, as well as a heavy swell warning, had been issued by Met Eireann. 

The north harbour of Cape Clear was mentioned in the Afloat article. By the time I would have arrived there, there would have been 35 possibly gusting 45+ knots of wind from the West-Northwest. 

Dropping the sails and then tying up any boat safely in the north harbour of Cape Clear in these conditions, at night, at low tide, is extremely dangerous, and I would argue almost not possible. It is important to call attention to the dangers of a lee shore. 

In addition, I needed somewhere to shelter the boat not only for the night in question but also for the following week or more as there was a storm that was arriving with its associated heavy swell.  

There were many factors to consider: Firstly, and most importantly, the height of tide. Secondly the wind and sea forecast for that night. Thirdly, the forecast for the following week or more. 

So I reiterate, and stand completely by our statement, that there were no safe ports for me to shelter in. This is a statement of fact, given my evaluation of the conditions forecast for that night. I have the competence and experience to make that evaluation. 

I accept that we could perhaps have added "for the night in question", or "with the current forecast" or even simply "tonight" in our press release but I hope you will understand the fatigue and disappointment I was feeling at the time. 

The main objective of this record was to showcase the beauty of the Irish coast while creating an event that would appeal to the general Irish public who are not sailors. Everybody loves a record! 

I would never criticise any part of the coast and to suggest so was quite hurtful to both me and my team. Imagine my disappointment at having to pull out, especially added to the fatigue of a long and difficult racing season during which I have spent the equivalent of almost 150 days at sea. 

Shore team 

The Afloat article also suggested that decisions about safe havens and weather forecasts were made by my “shore team – particularly in France”, and described my team as “Franco-centric in their outlook, opinions and decisions”.

There were no French people working with me on the weather. There was one Irish, one Spanish and one Dutch person advising me. One of whom is the best of the business and has won multiple Jules Verne trophies and Volvo Ocean Races. None of them advised me to stop or to go on - this is not how on-land routing functions. 

The only person of French nationality in our team for this project was managing social media, and he does not sail. 

So I disagree with your suggestion that we are "franco-centric" in our decision-making process. We are professionals, and the decisions we make are based on years of experience. I consider myself lucky to work with a great diversity of nationalities (7 different) , and I see this as a huge strength, as in any high-performance sport or business. In fact, strategy building and decision making at sea is a methodology based around a hierarchy of factors that are always changing and which are the same in whatever country you are sailing (sea state, synoptic wind, tide, local effects, racecourse geometry etc.....)
I and I alone made the decision to halt the record attempt due to the dangerous sea state forecast along the Southwest and South coast of Ireland. It’s a decision which I stand by. 

There were absolutely no outside influences or pressures from anyone, including my sponsors.  

Tom Dolan on his record run Photo: AfloatTom Dolan during his Round Ireland record run Photo: Afloat

The dangerous sea conditions, which were pushed from the Atlantic by the approaching Storm Ciaran, had been a concern since before we left Greystones , so this was NOT a sudden or "abrupt" decision. I was ahead of the record, but actually 5 or 6 hours behind the routings and thus slightly too late for the safe window that I had targeted to get around the SW corner of Ireland before the sea state and wind forecast deteriorated. The forecast for wind and sea state along the SW and S coast had been worsening at each update since I started and on all GRIB files. In meteorology, it is important to follow tendencies as they are often a sign of the evolution of what is to come.  

Strong wind by itself is not really a problem, and the boat is designed and maintained to a standard that allows for it. I always set the limit at conditions less than might cause a capsize by a breaking wave.

This significant wave height and the reduced wave period (I must reiterate the wave period being the key point here) combined with the direction of the swell from the SW and wind from the WNW causing a crossed sea are definitely very relevant to the decision. It was not safe to sail into these conditions, so I took shelter in what I felt was the only suitable port.

There were absolutely no communications coming to me from anyone to suggest that I was putting myself or the project in danger. I have the experience and competence to decide this on my own. 

The conditions encountered at the start of this year's Fastnet race and those forecast for the night in question are simply not the same. Comparing courses that are held during the summer months, like the Round Ireland and Fastnet Races, to ones done in November is unbalanced as weather systems do not evolve or displace at the same rate.

Attended marinas 

Your Afloat article also claimed that “The setup of a solo sailor in a voluminous 36ft Figaro 3 with foils to be protected means that the only reasonable berthing option is a proper marina, with attendants available to take mooring lines at all hours, day and night”. 

I don’t know of any marinas in Brittany, or western France, that are open 24/7," with attendants available to take mooring lines at all hours, day and night". They are not private companies in France, but public bodies run by local town councils so the attendants go home at 6 o'clock and they have great holidays. 

The marinas can also be quite cheaper, but even during the day, you will struggle to find an attendant to take your lines. 

The foils are actually the toughest part of the boat, numerous start line tests have been done. They are designed to generate 300 kilograms of maximum vertical lift.  

Please see a photo of a Figaro 3 on a mooring buoy for your records. It is easily possible, actually quite easier than larger cruising boats with a higher gunwale and a heavier displacement. We even have two anchors on board. 

A Figaro 3 on a mooring buoyA Figaro 3 on a mooring buoy

Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a fridge, and the toilet arrangements are far from ideal so extended stays can lack certain comforts. 

Published in Tom Dolan, W M Nixon

Tom Dolan's Round Ireland Speed Record Bid Live Tracker

Follow Tom Dolan (and his onboard media man) during his Round Ireland Speed record attempt in the live tracker below.

Dolan has agreed with the World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC) that he will attempt to break the 'Round Ireland Double-handed less than 40ft record'.

While the WSSC is not recording this as a solo attempt (as Dolan has a journalist onboard), Dolan says he is also seeking to set a 'faux record' by attempting to break the Belgian Michel Kleinjan's solo 2005 record time.

The course is approximately 700 miles long. 

Reference times are the 2005 solo record by Kleinjans aboard a Class40: 4 days, 1 hour and 53 minutes and 29 seconds and the doublehanded record set in 2020 by Pamela Lee and Catherine Hunt on a Figaro3 of 3 days, 19 hours, 41 minutes and 39 seconds.

The exact time Dolan must beat for the double-handed record is Thursday, 2 November 2023, 11:32:12

The exact time Dolam must beat for the solo (faux) record is Thursday, 2 November 2023, 17:44:02

Check out all Afloat's regular Tom Dolan updates on the record bid right here 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.