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Displaying items by tag: La Solitaire du Figaro

After a promising tenth place on the 627 nautical miles first stage of La Solitaire du Figaro, Ireland’s Tom Dolan was fighting something of a rearguard battle after a modest start to Stage 2 this afternoon off Lorient.

At the exit from a challenging four leg round the buoys sprint stage, leaving Lorient, Dolan on Smurfit Kappa-Kinsgpan was in 24th place over one mile behind the early leader, French ace Tom Laperche.

Dolan was staying cool and planning to stick to the strategies discussed with weather guru Marcel Van Triest who advises the Lorient Grand Large group that the Irish skipper has been training with since his days in the Mini650 class. A slow down was predicted for early evening some three or four hours after this afternoon’s 1400hrs start. As the 34 boat fleet approach Belle Ile on the early part of a 100 miles downwind passage to Rochebonne light, the NE’ly wind should go light and so present some opportunity for a catch up.

But in terms of the General Classification he was in good shape, starting the 490 miles stage round Brittany with a deficit of 2hrs 15 minutes 41 seconds on the leader of the race Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) 47 minutes behind third placed Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Performance) and within a handful on minutes of the top five.

His tenth place on the first leg as a great morale boost for him, not least as an opening benchmark in the 34 boat fleet. But this second stage passes through all of Brittany’s notorious tidal traps including Raz du Sein at Ushant and the Raz Blanchard – or Alderney Race – as well as an often challenging finale into Fécamp – and so big time gaps can be opened or closed depending on timing at these key stages and the prevailing wind strength.

As he cast of his lines from Lorient this afternoon, in bright sunshine Dolan commented,

“The weather is looking that there might be no really big tidal gates unless we are behind the routing we have. We get stuck a bit at Penmarc’h tomorrow but you never know. Because the wind has been in the North East for so long it might mess up the tides a bit in the English Channel but let’s see. The focus straight away is getting off the start line better this time and not being left behind, and not crashing into anyone. This first part has a lot of manoeuvres and so they need to be clean and then you need to be quick tonight. I know this passage to Belle ile and to Rochebonne pretty well, I’ve been out there more times than I have had hot dinners!”

“This is a good old fashioned La Solitaire coastal course. There will be hardly any time to sleep, maybe a bit of a siesta before the chenal de Four but it not like the first leg when we could sleep a lot on the upwind in the open waters of the Bay of Biscay. But with this high pressure system centred over Ireland and Scotland the thing is it will upwind almost all the way. That should, I hope be good for me as I had pretty good speed upwind, I have a little magic setting for my jib that I have worked on. That was good in the strong winds, but let us see.” Dolan explained on Saturday as he did his final strategic planning.

“It has been a good stopover for me. I feel rested even if I struggle to sleep. This morning I found myself up at four in the morning doing weather, but I kind of figure that is OK. As long as I bank sleep when I am feeling tired then I do find it is better to try and stay in the rhythm of the race.” He explained.

“The English channel will be interesting. I have two very different routings and need to see how it plays out nearer the time.”

The stage is expected to finish into Fécamp on Wednesday morning, which would in theory mark the halfway point of the four stages race.

Tracker chart here

Published in Tom Dolan

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.”

Published in Tom Dolan

Ireland's Tom Dolan who won Ireland's best-ever finish in the 2020 race is back on the La Solitaire du Figaro line next month.

The 52nd edition, which will start from Saint-Nazaire on August 22, promises to be quite a spectacle. Throughout the 2,400 miles to go, the 34 registered skippers include 12 rookies.

Five former stage winners will be present - Fabien Delahaye, eric Peron, Alexis Loison, Gildas Mahe and Xavier Macaire. There are no former winners of the race.

On the skippers' programme: four particularly demanding stages, stopovers in Saint-Nazaire, Lorient, Fecamp, Baie de Morlaix and famous crossing points in La Coruna (stage 1), Isle of Wight and Saint Gowen (stage 3 ) as well as the Isles of Scilly and calling to Irish waters when the fleet rounds the Fastnet lighthouse during stage 4.

Dolan appears to be on form. He is fresh from success in this month's Solo Concarneau race where he finished fifth overall in his final test before the Figaro race marathon.

As regular Afloat readers will know, Dolan earned himself the coveted Irish Sailor of the Year Award for his outstanding Figaro achievement, so the prospect of him doing better in his third bid is a tantalising prospect for Irish offshore sailing fans.

Published in Figaro

Ireland’s Tom Dolan proved his preparation for next month’s La Solitaire du Figaro is on course when he finished a very tough, testing Solo Concarneau Trophée Guy Cotten race in fifth place from 33 starters.

Exhausted after sleeping for just one snatched hour between Thursday afternoon’s start and crossing the finish line back in Concarneau at 15:44 hrs local French time this Saturday afternoon, Dolan was quietly content that his only solo race so far this season – and the last before La Solitaire - went well and most of all that his carefully planned strategy paid off.

“My face is burning with the constant barrage of seawater over these last 36 hours, it has been quite an extraordinary race.” Smiled 37-year-old Dolan from County Meath, “In Ireland, we are maybe used to getting four seasons in one day but this race had everything from no wind to 35 knots, burning sunshine to thunder and lightning and heavy hailstones and no visibility. So it was a difficult race to stay on top of and so it feels good to come away with a result.”

Smurfit Kappa- Kignspan skipper Dolan and French ace Gildas Mahé – who sailed together on the Transat en Double race earlier this season – sought the weather strategy advice from Marcel van Triest, one of the world’s leading racing meteo experts and his ideas paid off.

“Basically we broke away to the east to stay to the north of a weather trough for as long as possible and that paid for us. At about six hours before the finish, I started to feel confident I could make a good result when the wind changed as I expected it to and I was able to see the fleet under me.” Dolan reported.

Smurfit Kappa-Kingpsan was sixth at the Birvideaux mark early in the course and eighth at the most southerly turn. “These are kind of arbitrary positions because one minute you can be third and the next 11th the fleet is so close and the angles changing all the time on a race like that. And so I really did not watch where the others were, I sailed my own race according to what I could see on the water and in the clouds. Really I tried not to focus on the others at all and that works for me.” Tom Dolan concluded, “But for sure I made the right sail choices at the right time and seem to be fast enough.”

Fifth place in this fleet matches Dolan’s career best fifth on last year’s La Solitaire du Figaro.

Published in Tom Dolan

Tom Dolan set off this afternoon on his final solo offshore race test before La Solitaire du Figaro, starting the 33-boat 380 nautical miles Solo Concarneau Trophée Guy Cotten.

After a season which so far has largely been dominated by double-handed races, the Irish skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan is relishing the return to solo sailing and looking to return a good result before the year’s pinnacle event, the four-stage La Solitaire du Figaro which starts 22nd August.

The course takes the fleet northwards to a turning mark off the island of Ushant before turning to the south and sailing to a southernmost turn at the Rochebonne Plateau, south of Les Sables d’Olonne and the Vendée coast.

Although the northwest of France has been sharing the same heatwave conditions – fiery temperatures and only very light winds – that have prevailed in the north of Europe over recent days, the weather is set to change Friday with thunderstorms as the prelude to an Atlantic low-pressure system between Friday and Saturday ushering in rain and strong breezes.

“I am really looking forwards to being solo again. I have learned a lot from both my co-skippers recently but it is time to go solo and put that into practice. I feel pretty sharp because I have sailed so many miles already this season.” Said Dolan before leaving the home port of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan Concarneau.

“We might see 30 knots into the finish on Saturday but before that there will be a bit of just about everything. So for sure this race is not going to be over until the finish line and anything can happen.” Dolan explains, “And all the names are out here on this race and so it is a good benchmark prior to La Solitaire. On the one hand you want a good result to give a bit of confidence going forwards to La Solitaire, on the other hand you really don’t want a bad race at this stage as it might have the opposite effect. The main thing will to stay alert and focused.”

“The most difficult aspects are the conflicting effects of the gradient, synoptic wind (the wind generated by the weather systems) and the sea breezes (thermal winds caused by temperature differences between sea and land) and then there is a low pressure trough which we are literally sailing along rather than across and so the weather will be very unpredictable.” Dolan outlines.

The skipper told the race media, “ The main difficulty will clearly be this trough Friday morning which will generate clouds and thunderstorms and we risk getting stuck for a while. That said there might be opportunities here too. Then it will be speed more we should finish the course under a gennaker with 25 knots of wind going fast on the edge. Racing solo always adds a dose of adrenaline that I can't wait to get back to. I’m all the more motivated as I’m racing from home. I really want to sail well and finish with a feeling of a job well done. The last two stages of the Tour de Bretagne à là Voile didn't go too well for me and I don't like to be stuck with a bad feeling. With La Solitaire fast approaching, I want to build up my confidence. "

The race is expected to finish back into Concarneau Saturday afternoon. Dolan finished 14th on this race last year.

Published in Tom Dolan

Ireland’s leading solo offshore racer Tom Dolan was recognised for his exceptional 2020 season, during which he finished in an unprecedented fifth place in La Solitaire du Figaro, when he was named Irish Sailor of the Year. The award, now in its 25th year,  is presented by Afloat magazine and recognises not just his La Solitaire success but his sixth place overall in the French Elite Offshore Racing Championship. Known in France, where he is based, as L’Irlandais Volant (the flying Irishman), County Meath’s Dolan is delighted with the recognition and admits it comes at the time when he is looking to ensure he prepares for 2021 in the best possible way to ensure that this season can be even better.

The Irish Sailor of the Year 2020 was profiled by WM Nixon at the weekend here.

Tom Dolan's 2021 season

The 2021 season should include three double handed races – including the first double-handed race across the Atlantic in the Beneteau Figaro 3– and three solo races including each year’s pinnacle solo event, September’s La Solitaire du Figaro.

After his consistent 2020 Dolan has every reason to be confident for 2021 but the skipper of Smurfit Kappa is keeping very cool and not getting ahead of himself, well aware how hard it is to return a regular string of results on the Figaro Bénéteau circuit, when the level of competition so high and so evenly matched in the strict one design class. And so it is a very determined but low-key, humble Dolan who put his Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa back into the water last Thursday ready to begin his first training sessions from Lorient, ahead of his first races, next month from Les Sables d'Olonne with the Solo Maître CoQ. After a very focused autumn, increasing the intensity of the two-boat training and testing sessions with the very experienced Gildas Mahé, Tom Dolan has seen design improvements to the boat's sail inventory made along with with the specialists from the Technique Voile team led by Frédéric Duthil. He took a short winter break before starting back to boatwork on his Figaro Bénéteau 3, "I did a lot of work on the keel which was slightly damaged at the very start of last year's season. I also carried out a complete check-up of the boat and then I did some work on the watertightness of the deck fittings, particularly in view of the double-handed Transat between Concarneau and Saint Barths scheduled for next May. I even went so far as to polish my mast, which is really looking for the small gains but for sure – up top – mentally it all helps you feel like you are attending to the little details.”

Back in Training

“My first training sessions are scheduled next week and will mainly be two-up as the 2021 calendar includes three double-handed events: the Transat between Concarneau and Saint-Barth (from May 9 to 28) but also the Tour de Bretagne (from July 3 to 11) and the Fastnet Race (from August 8 to 14), which I hope to take part in with a female crew looking ahead to selection for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games," explains Tom, who is stepping up his challenge to represent Ireland on the Olympic stage. The Solitaire du Figaro is Dolan’s main objective this year. "The Solo Maître CoQ (from 22nd to 28th March) then the Solo Guy Cotten (from 20th to 28th July) will be two interesting races for me as good preparation for the season’s high point which is La Solitaire running from 24th August to 27th September.

Tom Dolan racing around the Fastnet Rock in the 2020 Figaro RaceTom Dolan racing around the Fastnet Rock in the 2020 Figaro Race

The programme promises to be good but busy all the way through the coming months. “It will be important that I pace myself perfectly, especially because the Transatlantic will inevitably take a lot out of us. And you need to have energy and focus all the way through the season as I experienced in 2018 when I did the AG2R - as it was then -in the Figaro 2.” With three more years of experience and a certain level of confidence underpinning his approach to 2021, Dolan says he definitely feels better equipped to manage himself and his programme to ensure he arrives at the start of La Solitaire in peak form. "After my fifth place last year obviously the target is always to do better. But I am realistic enough to know that will be even harder to achieve. And so the goal is to get right back into the mindset, to recover that mode and drive on from there, seeking to further highlight his reputation as an established, consistent sailor on the circuit. And if, by any chance, an opportunity presented itself to compete on the Transat Jacques Vabre in November in another class then Dolan would love to explore any options that come his way, always looking to make progress.

Published in Tom Dolan

When solo star Tom Dolan was told last Saturday evening that the exceptionally calm condition of the inner Bay of Biscay meant that the proposed final fourth stage of the Solitaire du Figaro 2020 would not be sailed, among the first things he did was to phone his longtime sailing friend Gerry Jones back home in Ireland. For that cancellation of the final stage confirmed the leaderboard on the results of the first three stages, and it resulted in the Meath sailor finishing the 2020 event at fifth overall as the best-placed non-French skipper since 1997.

It says much that, in the instant wave of euphoria and the wild party mood which swept over the leading dozen or so skippers in St Nazaire, Dolan's almost immediate instinct was to contact the sailing friend and mentor whom he'd met many years ago through Glenans Ireland in Baltimore, where Gerry Jones had recognised the young Meath man's enormous natural sailing talent.

Tom Dolan at a Pre-Race briefing during his early days in FranceTom Dolan at a Pre-Race briefing during his early days in France

It certainly wasn't a talent which you would have expected to emerge from Tom Dolan's background as the son of a farmer in that hidden part of north county Meath beyond the Boyne and the Blackwater. But one day his father happened to glimpse - in a Buy & Sell magazine - a classified ad with photo of a Miracle dinghy. It was a sort of enlarged up-graded Mirror which lacked the magic of the original and had totally failed to catch on in Ireland. Thus the price was for nothing, so a deal was done and the boat collected from Boyle in County Roscommon, and that weekend, Dolan Senior and his young son Tom were fulfilling the father's long-held dream of a little bit of sailing on the nearest decent-sized lake to home, which happens to be rather a classy one, as it's Lough Ramor.

Tom's first command – the Miracle dinghy was a rarity in Ireland.Tom's first command – the Miracle dinghy was a rarity in Ireland

Where it all began – Lough Ramor in the middle of IrelandWhere it all began – Lough Ramor in the middle of Ireland

Knowing how much Irish farmers value the tradition of the family farm passing to the next generation, it's doubtful if that little boat would have ever seen Dolan family ownership if the father had foreseen its ultimate outcome. For young Tom was hooked by this first very experimental introduction to sailing, and instead of spending the key years of his life in his 20s and early 30s in learning the lore of working the land, his home place has become Concarneau in Brittany, and he has been learning the salty ways of the ocean and the coast in the pressure-cooker world of French solo and dual sailing at the top level of the MiniTransat and Figaro Solo circuses.

As a young Irish person from a non-sailing background, he was in one of the later cohorts to find their way into our oddly-inaccessible sport through the Glenans Ireland set up in Baltimore, rather than through the more established route of family and friends. The Glenans business model was ultimately based on the frugal conditions which existed in late 1940s France, which transferred very well to the austerity of Ireland in the 1970s and '80s. But the advent of the Celtic Tiger and the ready availability of package holidays to sunshine-guaranteed sailing schools greatly reduced the appeal of Glenans in Ireland.

However, by the time its Baltimore operations were moving towards a close, Tom Dolan had found this means of vibrant self-expression through sailing and tuition with Glenan Ireland and was ready to spread his wings in a broader setting. And in Gerry Jones, he had met someone with a true talent scout's eye for sailing ability, a generous-hearted man who had a foot in both the established sailing world and in Glenans, and someone moreover who recognized and understood the growing determination of the young Meathman to take this sailing game just as far as he could.

Concarneau in Brittany. Tom Dolan's new home port is a characterful old place with a highly-developed modern marine industry. Concarneau in Brittany. Tom Folan's new home port is a characterful old place with a highly-developed modern marine industry.

So by 2011 aged 24, Tom had taken the step of moving to France to make his way in the small and very specialised industry which has developed around solo and short-handed racing, eventually settling in one of its most congenial centres at Concarneau in Brittany. He knew that he was already significantly older than many of the young Turks under the age of 20 who were establishing their mark through various sailing academies and specialised bursary schemes. But equally any overview of the French sailing scene showed some continuing stars who were much older than himself. And anyway, this was what he wanted to do, his determination never faltered even if, for the first year or so, Brittany in the depth of winter could seem a lonely enough place.

But enthusiasm and energy soon provides its own company, and his willingness to work hard and get involved meant that at times he could get into a boat maintenance and preparation programme that sometimes resulted in the loan of the boat to compete as a skipper in his own right in one of the lower-profile events.

This was mostly being done in events in and around the MiniTransat programme, the race across the Atlantic every four years for highly-developed 6.5-metre boats which can often prove embarrassingly fast when set in competition with much larger more orthodox craft. Even when sailing a loaned Pogo 2 in a Mini event, Tom was making his mark, such that he soon acquired the moniker of L'Irlandais Volante - the Flying Irishman – and this was further emphasised when he finally bought his own new Pogo 3 in 2015.

The Flying Irishman - this vid shows Tom at his best, carving his way through the fleet with the new boat

It all looks very complete and well-resourced, but he acquired the boat in the most basic form possible using limited funds built around a small inheritance – "I bet the farm" he quipped at the time – and finished her himself while making income from a Sailing Academy he was running in Concarneau with his close sailing buddy Francois Jambou.

Life was acquiring a more stabilised form and a settled Concarneau base as Tom and Karen Charles Boiteux set up home together. But while the sailing fundamentals were there, with the countdown to the 2017 Mini-Transat underway, good results were coming in during various preliminary events, yet a really solid main sponsor was still needed.

Thus although the new boat appeared in races during 2016 with various sponsorship logos on the sails, they were for small amounts, and in the entry lists she was unequivocally-named as "Still Seeking Sponsor". But one of those sponsors was Irish-based packaging giant Smurfit Kappa, in a trial deal negotiated through its Paris unit, and by 2017 this had been firmed up to become a main sponsorship for the up-coming Mini Transat, while encouraging support was coming from another direction in the form of Jack Roy, the newly-elected President of Irish Sailing, who made a point of being in La Rochelle for the start of the race with its 50-plus fleet at the end of September.

Tom Dolan and Irish Sailing President Jack Roy in La Rochelle in September 2017 before the start of the Mini TransatTom Dolan and Irish Sailing President Jack Roy in La Rochelle in September 2017 before the start of the Mini Transat

Although by this stage Tom was building up a personal support team around himself, the mental stress was still enormous, and in the early stages of the race, he made some very unnecessary mistakes for which he continued to chide himself when a psychologically better-prepared sailor would have long since moved on. But as the race progressed his sheer talent began to show through, and by the time the final leg Transatlantic to St Lucia was well underway, he was on top form, very much in contention and well placed in the top ten such that in the final stages he looked like being fourth.

But when Smurfit Kappa came into port, she was sixth. It was an excellent placing, but where had she slipped from fourth? The skipper was in a thoughtful mood, but finally, he revealed that in driving flat out in a classic trade-wind squall, Smurfit Kappa had pitch-poled and Tom found himself in the ocean, looking up at the keel of his inverted boat.

If you're going to pitch-pole, you wouldn't expect a rig of this relative size to survive the experience, yet Tom Dolan showed it was possible in the Atlantic in 2017.If you're going to pitch-pole, you wouldn't expect a rig of this relative size to survive the experience, yet Tom Dolan showed it was possible in the Atlantic in 2017.

Never before had a Mini-Transat boat pitch-poled and come up with her rig intact. Yet The Flying Irishman established a first yet again. Everything was still there and more or less intact as the little boat shook herself upright like a dog emerging from a river, and Tom hauled himself back on board to get things back on track. Although a couple of places had been lost when the somewhat subdued skipper came into port, his name and the boat's name were fully established as serious contenders, and it was time to move on to the exalted heights of the Figaro Solo.

There was much Irish experience and precedent to draw on, as it was in the Figaro that Damian Foxall first took centre stage on the global offshore sailing scene, and since then Marcus Hutchinson had developed his "Figaro Academy" which provided an entrée to this quintessentially French event for young sailors from other countries who accepted that while it may indeed have been very French, it was the only show in town at that level anywhere in the world.

Thus the Hutchinson clientele came from several countries, and young David Kenefick from Cork was among them for a couple of successful years. But with Hutchinson's involvement in the French offshore scene expanding to include the management of IMOCA 60s for events like the Vendee Globe, it was getting quite crowded up there for Irish sailors on the peak of top-level professional offshore racing.

Yet in this fast-moving world, Tom Dolan and Smurfit Kappa got themselves a Figaro 2 for that marque's last main series in 2018, and the Dolan career stayed well on track with the first prize for top rookie, with the awards due to be handed out at the Paris Boat Show in December, when the new foiling Beneteau Figaro 3 would be unveiled.

For now, the main target had become the Golden Jubilee of the Figaro Solitaire in June 2019, when the fleet would take in Ireland with a gala visit to Kinsale. So there was a very definite buzz in the air when the new-look foiling Beneteau 3s were unveiled at that Paris Show, with Irish Sailing's Jack and Rosemary Roy's reassuring presence in evidence to back up Figaro aspirants Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy.

Joan Mulloy, Jack Roy and Tom Dolan and the Paris Boat Show, December 2018. Photo: Rosemary RoyJoan Mulloy, Jack Roy and Tom Dolan and the Paris Boat Show, December 2018. Photo: Rosemary Roy

But while Mulloy was very much a Figaro beginner at that time, and has since stood down from front-line competition after starting a family, Tom Dolan was seen as the developing force of proven achievement and significant potential, something which was underlined with his award of the 2018 Rookie Prize at the ceremony in the show.

Awards for Tom Dolan in the 2018 Figaro Solo at the Paris Boat ShowAwards for Tom Dolan in the 2018 Figaro Solo at the Paris Boat Show

Yet everything in 2019 seemed to conspire against more Dolan success in that season. For sure, there some events of high achievement, but the pressure of getting the fleet of brand new Figaros race-ready for the big event provided a host of manufacturing teething problems to which Tom's boat seemed even more prone than most. And though, when everything was in place and functioning properly, in steady sailing conditions he was clearly back to his old self as l'Irlandais Volant, it was a disappointing Figaro Solitaire, and he finished 25th overall.

But being Tom Dolan, he bounced back, albeit after some coruscating self-analysis which was published in July 2019 in Afloat.ie in response to the question: What was your own debrief after La Solitaire, and how does that affect your strategy for next year?

"When I was ahead I seemed to be as good as the best, and when I was behind I was terrible, as bad as the worst. So I want to get my head sorted out a bit. I am planning to work with a very good sports psychologist in Dublin who works with the Irish Olympic team. I saw her a bit last year, but this year time ran away with work on the boat and training and everything. The psychological side of it fell by the wayside. I did not put that side of it high enough on my list of priorities. I imagine the things I need to work are basic: Decision making, and how I can look after and manage myself better.

How to break the pattern of doing badly when you are losing. That's in the head, isn't it? I maybe concentrated too much on finding speed, and I did find it. And that's great if you are going fast in the right direction. But if you are going fast in the wrong direction……"

In due course, 2020 was approached in a much better frame of mind. But as the New Year turned, it became increasingly clear that the pandemic-facing world might have bigger problems to deal with than the state of mind of professional athletes. Yet in the end, it all does revert to the personal, and for Tom Dolan as for others in his situation, it was a matter of maintaining the healthiest possible attitude as the French sailing authorities grappled with ways of providing some sort of sport while complying with regulations, no easy matter in a country in which the shoreside aspect of major sailing events is often on an even bigger scale that the event itself.

New boat, full sponsorship – Tom Dolan gets to grips with the foiling Figaro 3 New boat, full sponsorship – Tom Dolan gets to grips with the foiling Figaro 3

With the Figaro put back to September, in July the Drheam Cup starting 18th July from Cherbourg and going round Brittany to La Trinite sur Mer offered an interesting challenge for standard offshore racers and the Figaro fleet racing both solo and double-handed. Apart from learning how to handle COVID-19 compliance ashore and afloat, it was very educational for the large mixed fleet in that the clear overall winner on the water was Figaro solo sailor Sam Goodchild racing Leyton which - for those who hadn't previously experienced it - was a very telling introduction to the stratospherically high standard of modern Figaro racing.

Covid-proofed…..Tom Dolan (right) and Francois Jambou racing to second in class in the big-fleet Drheam Cup from Cherbourg to La Trinite in JulyCovid-proofed…..Tom Dolan (right) and Francois Jambou racing to second in class in the big-fleet Drheam Cup from Cherbourg to La Trinite in July.

Tom Dolan for his part had teamed up with old shipmate Francois Jambou to race double-handed, and they took second in division, but now the challenge was to stay in tune and keep fit through times of uncertainty and frustration until the Figaro Solitaire got underway from St Brieuc in the middle of the North Brittany coast at the end of August, with the first stage 642 miles round the Fastnet Rock and back to St Brieuc.

Every stage was covered in detail on Afloat.ie here so now we can take the broader view of noting that while Tom Dolan was once again showing that he could be one of the fastest boats in the fleet, in 2020's edition he was spending more time making that speed in the right place and in the right direction.

In other words, he was a serious contender throughout, and it was hugely reassuring to note that when in subsequent stages he might find himself down the fleet, there was something remorseless about the way Smurfit Kappa chose the right tactical options and steadily milled her way into the leading group.

The four stages of the Figaro Solitaire, September 2020.The four stages of the Figaro Solitaire, September 2020

The most difficult stage was what proved to be the final one, 512 miles from Dunkerque down the English Channel and round west Brittany through the many islands inside Ushant and on to St Nazaire in Loire-Atlantique. Anyone who has cruised in that tide-riven maze of rocks and islands inside Ushant will wonder how on earth a fleet of 35 solo sailors could seriously race in light airs and misty conditions in such waters. Yet they did it, some did it very well indeed, and Tom Dolan was one of them, confirming himself into a good fifth overall when the first three stages were tallied in St Nazaire.

And that's where it ended. Difficult and all as it is to believe with the weather Western Europe has been experiencing since then, a week ago in St Nazaire the Figaro Solitaire organisers were looking at 36 hours of total calm right over the period they hoped to stage their final 183-mile "sprint". At first, they proposed a shortened course, but as the freakish weather became even flatter, it would have been a lottery if they'd managed a finish, and everything pointed to the decision last Saturday night, which led to that euphoric phone call to Dublin and the good news for Gerry Jones.

A solo skipper in harmony with his boat – Tom Dolan finished the 2020 Figaro in tune with ship and seaA solo skipper in harmony with his boat – Tom Dolan finished the 2020 Figaro in tune with ship and sea

So now the show is on the road more firmly than ever, with a delighted Smurfit Kappa looking forward to continuing with the Dolan campaign through 2021's Figaro Solitaire. And who knows what lies beyond that, with a crew of mixed gender in an offshore racing boat scheduled for inclusion in the 2024 Olympics, and Tom Dolan demonstrably an Irish offshore sailor of proven standard.

Certainly, it was something for thought when Sailing on Saturday was talking with Tom on Thursday, and he has already had some approaches from potential co-skippers. He was acutely aware that decisions made in the next few months could affect his sailing for years. But even so, the top item this week has been sleep and more sleep. Tom Dolan has been sleeping for Ireland since Monday. And he sure has earned it after more than a year of frustration, rounded out by three weeks of intense concentration and ferocious sleep deprivation.

But before hitting the scratcher, there was the prize-giving, and as Marcus and Meagan Hutchinson presented the Vivi Cup (named after their vintage 30 Square Metre) a couple of years ago as the prize for the top non-French contender in the Figaro Solitaire, this provided the opportunity for the Man from Meath to do his thing, and here it is:

Marcus & Meagan Hutchinson's classic 30 Square Metre Vivi gives her name to the trophy for the top non-French performer in the FigaroA boat about as different from a Figaro 3 as you can get – Marcus & Meagan Hutchinson's classic 30 Square Metre Vivi gives her name to the trophy for the top non-French performer in the Figaro – in 2019 it was Alan Roberts, in 2020 the winner is Tom Dolan

Published in Tom Dolan

Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) lifted the overall title for the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro at the end of race prizegiving in Saint Nazaire, France today. It is Le Cléach’s third time of winning after successes in 2003 and 2010. With the fourth leg cancelled before starting on Saturday night due to the complete absence of wind, Le Cléac’h’s winning margin is 10 minutes and 43 seconds over Fred Duthil (Techniques Voiles/Cabinet Bourhis Generali) who took second after winning the third stage. And third overall is young French ace Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Espoir). At just 23 years old Laperche is on just his second ever La Solitaire after debuting in 11th last year.

Top rookie this year is Kevin Bloch of the Team Vendée Formation group, finishing 12th overall.

And in fifth place, overall Ireland’s Tom Dolan received the VIVI Trophy for the best racer from outside of France.

“ I am delighted to see Tom win and delighted to see that in just the second year since the trophy was donated it really has become established as something that the sailors want to fight for and at the same time they are now getting some well-deserved recognition. ” Said Marcus Hutchinson, who with his wife Megan, donated the trophy last year.

“ And I am pleased to see it go to a fellow Irishman in Tom and he wins if not for being tenth or twelfth but for a great fifth place. He has been consistent this year and that is what La Solitaire is all about. This race so challenging and so complicated and he has worked hard. And it is nice, in a way, that he does not come from Dublin or Cork or one of the Irish sailing centres, his success says anyone can come and do this if they have the will and the determination, anything is possible. Tom has shown that. ”

Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) finished in tenth place overall (+2hrs 11mins behind the winner), pledging to come back next year to do better and to fight even harder.

“ I am happy with my top ten, that is always a good result in La Solitaire, I know I can do better and I know I can be better and so I am going to come back stronger and harder. I think our approach over the last couple of weeks has been spot on. I did not feel so quick early on in the season but I made the right moves towards the end. I am happy for Tom Dolan he has had an amazing race, he was solid. Tom did a brilliant job. ”

On his first La Solitaire du Figaro since his one and only experience in 2011 when he was 18th, Phil Sharp (OceansLab) finished up 13th overall (+2hrs 41mins) “ Mostly I am happy I have been improving on every leg, and improving a lot. It is amazing to be in the Top 13. I think overall the result on this race goes down to preparation. But for me the improvement is noticeable and there is a huge satisfaction in just learning to do it better, and some of that comes from just being out there seeing boats around you and picking up the pace with them. I have come on a long way.”
For a programme which only started just three weeks before the race started Jack Bouttell can be pleased which his 15th on Fromagerie Gillot (2hrs 43 mins). “ You always finish thinking you could have done a bit better but overall I am happy with where I finished, there are some good guys behind me and some good guys just ahead. I lacked a bit of speed at times. Would I come back? Yes and No. It is addictive. Look at leg 3 it was so long and hard, four days of hell, but you finish disappointed and cant wait to get out and improve. The sponsors Fromagerie Gillot have never been involved in sailing and they have really enjoyed it and got something good from it. ”

Having sailed so brilliantly until the latter stages of Stage 3 Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) deserved much better than the 17th place he finished in. To have been third going into what proved the last leg and not had a fourth leg to fight back on was doubly cruel to Goodchild who nonetheless established himself as one of the best Figaro sailors of the moment, sailing well across the wind range.

They said:
8th, Yann Eliès (Queguiner Materiaux-Leucémie Espoir):

When you finish a Solitaire, do you say never again or bring on the next one?
Mostly there is a kind of hangover, because the race is over. It is something that is so good, that we get so addicted to that in the end, we kind of have the feeling of the kid who had a great weekend and has to come home Sunday evening because there is school the next day. It’s the same and it’s very hard.

At 50, is this La Solitaire still as great?
Yes, I think it is doing pretty well, thanks in particular to people like Francis Le Goff (the race director) who is there to watch over it and preserve the spirit. We have to continue to make stages of at least three nights at sea, especially as we have great support that allows us to make progress and to go well. The first stage we did more than 600 miles, it went quick. So don't lets go on without doing the 600 to 800 miles, the boat is made for that.

Now you are six triple winners, is the new lad up to the task?
Yes all things considered Armel is arguably the most talented of us. We must not forget that he was second in his first La Solitaire du Figaro (in 2002) and he has won the Vendée Globe on his third attempt and having been second twice before. He fully deserves this third win

What are the surprises for you on this 51st edition?
It's only half a surprise, but I like Tom Laperche, I think he's a future great champion, really. He is gold, to be so mature at that age and after two Solitaries to be third is rarely seen. I also want to talk about girls, these two kids (Elodie Bonafous and Violette Dorange) who dared to come to La Solitaire and who did not let themselves down. I hope they will make other girls want to come because we are going to need it in the years to come. And I want to see Robin Follin again, I found him good, nice, he was happy to dare as you saw with his passage on the other side of Ushant, to take this kind of option at his age, that means he has guts. I would like him to have his chance again with the opportunity to do some real preparation, because he has really struggled this year.

Published in Tom Dolan

With not enough wind to run Stage 4 of La Solitaire du Figaro Ireland’s Tom Dolan secured an excellent fifth place overall on Smurfit Kappa. It is the best international overall placing in the historic French multi-stage offshore race series since 1997 when Switzerland’s Dominique Wavre placed second, and a remarkable result considering it is just Dolan’s third challenge and last year he was 33rd.

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.

Having worked hard on his mental approach in the early season, Dolan made an excellent start by leading the 624 miles first stage across the Celtic Sea before Fastnet Rock. He lost four places on the approach to the light and more on the long run and reach to the finish, but the 10th place finish was a foundation to build on. He followed up with a solid 11th in the second stage and his career-best seventh on the last stage ensured he was fifth going into the last leg which could not be sailed.

“Right now I am so happy with the result. I came here with hopes of finishing in the top 15. I really wanted to do better than last year when I was 33rd, so to be able to come here and finish in fifth place is amazing. I am delighted.” Grinned Dolan on the dock, “ “To be honest the best thing that happened in terms of preparation was doing so badly in the Solo Maitre Coq race early in the season. I got a bit of a kicking and I realised the problem was in my head and did something about it.”

It is all in the head. I never put enough importance on mental preparation. It is a bit mad this sport. You can have nice sails and the smoothest hull, nice rudders and a fast boat but the head is the most important thing. I think.”

He explained, “I saw a psychologist and we worked on my confidence, making sure that I felt confident in the hard work I have done to get here and not being overawed by the world class sailors I am sailing against. Before when things went wrong I would fall apart. This time I just stuck to what I knew from my preparation and ran with what I thought myself not what other good guys were doing. And so this time my head was much clearer. I have always understood the weather and I feel like I have a good feel for it. And I worked hard at preparing and knowing what might happen and then trusting myself, at the same time not taking too many risks.”

“I hope people at home in Ireland that others can do this. I have worked hard and I hope also this might help give me a fair crack at selection for 2024.”

Dolan added, “ The best moments of the race were going towards the Fastnet Rock in first place or in the lead group anyway, that was fairly incredible. And then this evening when the leg was cancelled, it was all a bit strange to hope that there would be no wind. And so coming back in under engine realising I had done it was brilliant.

“ I have to say that I am here as the best ‘foreigner’ but really Sam Goodchild I have to say was better than me and just got unlucky on one stupid transition at Belle Ile. I should say the VIVI Trophy should be his. But, yes, in La Solitaire you have to be lucky too. I am going to get lots of sleep now and then take my girlfriend on holiday, but then I hear that I am sixth in the French offshore championship so that might have to wait!”

Published in Tom Dolan

County Meath's Tom Dolan will have his chance to seal Ireland's best ever La Solitaire du Figaro this evening after completing three stand-out legs to be in striking distance of a podium result.

The final, deciding stage of the La Solitaire du Figaro is usually billed as a 24-hour sprint, quite literally designed to test who still can best draw on the remaining reserves of energy for one last day-long no holds barred battle to the final finish line but this evening it may well be a drifting match according to the weather forecasts.

Looking at this light winds all or nothing scenario does not fill Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) with too much joy. The 33-year-old racer, on just his third La Solitaire, lies in an excellent fifth place overall, ready to challenge for the podium. He is within 28 minutes and 22 seconds of third-placed Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Espoir) but resolves to carry on with his same low-risk approach and to not get overwrought by the challenge that faces him.

“I feel grand, my back is a bit sore but then I am sure everyone’s is at this stage. It looks like a very complicated stage, light winds, strong tides. I am a bit worried to be honest because you could lose everything you have done good on this last stage. But I will just do as much as I can in terms of the prep. I have a couple of ideas in terms of strategy but I will work like I have these first three legs and see how I go. It would be a dream to hold on to fifth. I am definitely so much more confident in the way I am approaching things and sailing well enough.” Said Dolan, “But I have not really looked to closely at the standings, I am not sure I will. I think better to go out and sail own race as best I can.”

According to the weather gurus who advise the solo skippers on the fine detail strategies and the sailors themselves, the decisive Stage 4 of the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro looks set to be a drifting match for the most part of the proposed 83 nautical miles passage out from Saint Nazaire to round the Ile de Yeu. In winds predicted to be between one and just over six knots use of the tidal currents (coeff 113) could decide the race.

"It's a short course, because there is no wind," says Francis Le Goff, the race director bluntly. In terms of contingencies there will be a buoy set 12 miles north of the island to allow intermediate times to be taken in case they cannot finish. And, after the 1915hrs Saturday evening start time, if the leaders have not yet passed the south of the Island by 1000hrs Sunday morning the race will be abandoned. The stage must be at least 50 miles long.

Le Goff asserts “La Solitaire du Figaro is not a coastal race, this stage must be at least 50 miles long to uphold the ethos of racing on the open sea. And similarly, if there is not sufficient wind on the water by 2030hrs the race will be cancelled as the rules do not allow a start in the dark.”

Having been postponed by more than 24 hours to allow the skippers enough rest because Stage 3 overran on time, the schedule requires the race to be decided by Sunday afternoon.

It is perhaps not the ideal scenario to settle the destination of this year’s La Solitaire title. But the tension between leader Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) and nearest challenger Fred Duthil (Technique Voile/Cabinet Bourhis Generali) was notable at today’s – virtual- weather briefing. Both in turn queried the finer details of the race planning.

Le Cléac’h is 10 minutes 43 seconds up on Duthil and victory in this edition was the sole focus of this year for the 44 year old two times overall winner whose La Solitaire career includes wins in 2003 and 2010 and is neatly punctuated by three consecutive Vendée Globe podiums, second in 2008 and 2012 and winning in 2016.

In contrast Duthil, at 46 the oldest sailor in the fleet, with three La Solitaire top threes to his name, came into this La Solitaire for the sheer fun of it, not having raced the Beneteau Figaro 3 before and having only sailed his borrowed boat four times before the start.

But his cheeky victory on Stage 3, allied to a solid 14th on the first leg at 14 minutes behind Le Cléac’h and eighth on Stage 2 48 minutes behind Le Cléac’h gives Duthil a fighting chance of lifting the overall title.

“Of course, this is the most complicated scenario for me, with very uncertain weather, little wind and a lot of current, I hope that this last stage can be contested under normal racing conditions”, confirms Armel Le Cléac'h who knows how small the winning overall margins can be having beaten Alain Gautier by just 13 seconds in 2003.

"I won’t be losing sleep, I have seen races like this before. As long as it stays as sport and we are all in the same boat, we will have to be good right until the end to get this victory. "

Frédéric Duthil is determined to mount a strong challenge. “Second, third, fourth, fifth, tenth in the standings, for me, that's not going to change my life. I have already made three podiums on La Solitaire, once second, twice third, a fourth would be great, but the past has taught me that you only want to be the winner. What interests me is trying to make up for those ten minutes and fight Armel. "

He continues, “Entering the last stage ten minutes behind the leader means that I'm no longer in a position to just tell myself that I'm going to sail for fun. I'm still going to sail for fun, but also to sail to win. I see that my speed is fine and so is the way I've been sailing from the start, so I am saying to myself: why not? I'm really leaving with a frame of mind to try to catch up.”

Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is ready to fight to finish on a high note after the huge disappointment of being in the top three for most of Stage 3, leading into the final 30 miles before being caught in a calm which saw him drop from third to 17th overall.

He said “It is so annoying to come so close to getting a really good result and then falling at the last hurdle. But that is sailing. That is La Solitaire and why you come back to La Solitaire again and again. You come back to do better than last time.” Said Goodchild, “I have been on good form generally so hopefully I can re-find that form for this last leg. “There is such a small window to get this leg in. The positive side is if you are trying to protect a position then it could be quite stressful. Unfortunately, now I am not doing trying to do that. I might sail a little more freely than on the last leg where I knew the weather was unstable and light and so I did not take too many risks and go into corners.”

Like others, Goodchild found the last leg extremely tiring and that may have affected his decision making towards the end. “I don’t think I have been that tired before. And them with the frustration and the adrenalin mix of the final 24 hours of that leg, there was not much sleep. But right now when I look back with hindsight I can’t see or say what I would have done differently. We were going straight for the finish line and the plan was not to get too close to the island. But we sailed into a hole and everyone sailed round us. I hung on for a bit too long when Yann chose to cut his losses earlier. But basically everyone sailed round us. But it is history. I will just have to do the Figaro again. It is great racing, there is nothing like it, in one design like this there is no hiding place and no excuses.”

Stage 4 is due to start 1915hrs local time Saturday.

Rankings https://www.lasolitaire.com/rankings/live
Tracker: https://lasolitaire.geovoile.com/2020/tracker/

Published in Tom Dolan
Page 2 of 11

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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