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Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan plans to return to his native Ireland from France in May when he will seek to break the singlehanded record for sailing 698 nautical miles around Ireland. The skipper of Smurfit Kappa –Kingspan is aiming to complete the circumnavigation in 3.5 days or less on his 30ft (10m) Figaro Beneteau 3 which he normally races in France where he has been based for more than a dozen years since leaving his rural, farming life at home in County Meath to pursue a career in solo ocean racing.

It's a busy time on the Round Ireland record front with two RORC sailors also scheduled to make a bid at the doublehanded record as Afloat reports here.

Dolan has harboured the round Ireland idea since 2020 during a period when all racing in France was cancelled because of the health crisis. Now, in 2023, a gap in his racing calendar has opened up and he is looking to seize the opportunity.

“ I wanted to do something valued and different.” recalls Dolan, “ Once the seed was sown in my mind and I saw the original record was set by an older Class40 I remain sure my more modern boat can go quicker.”

Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan plans to return to his native Ireland in May when he will seek to break the singlehanded record for sailing 698 nautical miles around Ireland.Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan plans to return to his native Ireland in May when he will seek to break the singlehanded record for sailing 698 nautical miles around Ireland.

He plans to bring Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan to Ireland in late April and will be based in Dun Laoghaire until a suitable weather window appears. He explains: “ I have never sailed round Ireland, and I know myself already that it is the most beautiful Island in the world, so it will be great for me to learn about my own country from the sea. It is also a very challenging course, with a lot of headlands, tidal gates and of course the infamous Irish weather. This idea has been in the back of my mind for a while, and as I have a gap in the season, I thought ‘let’s go’. And for me, it is a nice personal odyssey, a chance to come home and enjoy a big challenge and, after 12 years away in France, I suppose you could call it a little bit of a homecoming.”

And while he has raced many times around the famous Fastnet Rock and taught sailing in Baltimore, his knowledge of the west coast is limited.

“ The furthest west really I have been is Fastnet, so it will almost all be new to me, and so I am really looking forward to it.”

Tom Dolan at the helm of his 30ft (10m) Figaro Beneteau 3 in which he aims to sail round Ireland in 3.5 days or less to set a new solo speed record Photo: Alexis Courcoux Tom Dolan at the helm of his 30ft (10m) Figaro Beneteau 3 in which he aims to sail round Ireland in 3.5 days or less to set a new solo speed record Photo: Alexis Courcoux 

A Class 40 sailed by Belgian Michel Kleinjans set a solo record of 4 days 2 hours in 2005, but the Department of Marine issued a notice effectively banning solo record attempts. Tom is of course, knowledgeable of the situation and will of course, respect all maritime safety regulations and rules set out by the World Speed Sailing Record Council. "I have a little surprise up the sleeve of my foul weather gear", he smiles.

Tom Dolan asserts, “I think three and a half days is possible and if conditions are really, really perfect, I think it could be done in under three days. That is based on my weather studies using historical weather forecast files over the last 15 years. I can run course routings which tell me what is feasible and whether it is best to round clockwise or counter-clockwise. There are so many different potential weather scenarios - a big anticyclone over Siberia, a good old fashioned Atlantic low pressure.” The decision will be taken at the time, but Dolan believes at the moment that going counter-clockwise, Ireland to port (left) is most probable.

“Leaving Ireland to port (to the left) seems most likely. There are strong tidal gates in the North Channel, between Scotland and Ireland, and so being able to leave and time them more accurately can be important rather than coming all the way around and hitting them at a time you cannot really predict before the start, so that is where there is the potential to lose a lot of time near the end. And there is quite often a wind shadow there, so you want to get through that bit and on to the West coast, which is the longest leg but where you can eat up the miles fastest and most efficiently.``

There is an existing record for the Beneteau Figaro 3, sailed two-handed, which was set by Pamela Lee and Cat Hunt in 2021 at three days and 19 hours. The Irish racer who has finished fifth and seventh overall on La Solitaire du Figaro, the unofficial world championship of solo one-design offshore racing, concludes, “It will be very different to racing. There will be no tactics involved, no fleet of boats racing in close contact with me like on La Solitaire du Figaro so although I will have to ensure safety on my own, equally I can set my own rhythm a bit more so I can pick the best times to sleep and eat according to the weather and the leg rather than what other competitors might be doing. You are not monitoring a fleet of rivals all the time can be incredibly tiring and stressful.”

Standby will be from the end of April to end of May in Dun Laoghaire so there will be a chance to sail with his sponsors Smurfit Kappa, Kingspan and Dubarry.

“I hope this is a great opportunity to engage with the Irish people. It is a good sailing challenge but easy enough to follow. I have never done anything like this before, and I can't wait"

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Ireland’s leading solo offshore racer Tom Dolan laid to rest the ghosts of three past Solo Maître CoQ events when he finished seventh overall from a 30-boat fleet Saturday. After his 11th in Wednesday’s short inshore race the skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan fought back from a schoolboy error early in the 340 miles offshore race to finish eighth across the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne on Saturday late afternoon.  

He passed the wrong side of a mark on the way south towards La Rochelle and had sailed three miles passed it before he turned back and made good his course. Not long after, he was 29th, but he once again proved one of the fastest sailors in the strong breeze when he pulled back through the fleet in blustery winds to 35kts at times.  

“It was good to be able to even see the winners in the end. I don’t really know how deep I was in the fleet but it was very bad and a silly mistake that could really have cost me", smiled a relieved and exhausted Dolan back in the Vendee port. “But this is my best ever Solo Maître CoQ yet, and so it’s fine, it’s good.”  

Of the navigational error he said “I gave the boat a good thumping with my fist I was that angry with myself but having vented I just got on with concentrating on my strategy and bit by bit it paid off.” reported Dolan who blew his chances of a good result last year when he tore his gennaker sail. The previous edition he twisted his ankle and had to retire from the offshore and on his first attempt he lost his focus entirely when he made a few bad early decisions and finished way down the fleet,  

 “This long offshore was tough, with calm and a real battle in the strong winds, it just got windier all through last night.  It was trying, both for the nerves and physically and hard on the boats, so I am glad I did not break anything.”  

“In the end, it was about going fast and not breaking anything. I took places as I went but obviously, when I started to get closer to the leaders, it became more complicated! “, said the Irish skipper who crossed the finish line after two days and five hours at sea.”  

“Anyway the hoodoo is buried and it feels good! “ concluded Dolan whose next regatta is the Laura Vergne Trophy, the lead-up to the Spi Ouest-France Banque Populaire Grand-Ouest event on April 1 in La Trinité-sur-Mer. 

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As expected the weather conditions and more significantly the sea state with a swell greater than 5 meters off Les Sables d'Olonne, required Race Management of the 20th Solo Maître CoQ to give up the idea of a short coastal course on Tuesday.

There is positive news for Ireland's Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) and the 29 other solo competitors who have been forced to stay ashore for two days.

The situation is expected to improve significantly by Wednesday and should allow the organization to launch the first contest, a coastal course of 15, 5 miles between Petite Barge and Port-Bourgenay.

The start of this race which has a coefficient of 1.5 is scheduled for 1100hrs.

The winds should be from the south-southeast blowing between 6 and 12 knots.

Then Thursday at midday is the start of the main 340 miles offshore between the Iles de Ré, Yeu and Belle-Ile.

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After Monday's severe gales which buffeted the French Vendee coast to keep Ireland's Tom Dolan and the 29 other solo skippers tied to the dock in Les Sables d'Olonne unable to race, a proposed new programme for the Solo Maître CoQ has been announced by Race Direction.

The plan is to try and do a 16.5 nautical miles loop off Les Sables d'Olonne Tuesday if the winds and seas have dropped enough; planned starting time is 1400hrs local time.

Dolan, skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan commented “The situation is quite complex. The wind is expected to ease tomorrow morning but a five-metre swell is predicted and could make it difficult to get out of the channel out of Les Sables d'Olonne. We will know very soon though as we get out from the protection of the breakwaters."

He continues, “If it's not possible tomorrow I am sure it will be better Wednesday when Race Direction plan a coastal race of 15.2 miles at 1100hrs before the start of the big race scheduled for the next day at 1200hrs. It would be really nice to be able to get these two inshore courses away because that is what is different and important about this Solo Maître CoQ, it tests coastal and offshore racing."

“This is an important event for me, the first of the season. I have had problems here with the last few editions of this event, and so I have to work on my mental condition, just really concentrate on what is important and not make mistakes. I try to be really, really focussed on the weather strategy, my navigation and, how I am sailing, where I am relative to the fleet, but to not think about ‘what ifs’ or think about messing it up, what happened last time.” explains Dolan.

“But I don’t feel any pressure really, I try to think only about my sailing. My inshore sailing is better than it has been. Offshore I know this race course by heart so It does not hold any secrets by now.” Dolan contends.

This 20th edition of Solo Maître Coq has attracted 30 entries and is the first solo race of the season for the Beneteau Figaro 3 fleet on the French Elite Solo Ocean Racing Championship.

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A comprehensive sail testing programme completed in January and longer periods of intensive pre-season training races should mean Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan is well equipped to stake his claim to regular podium places over the course of the Figaro Bénéteau season in France.

The seven-month racing season starts next weekend with the curtain-raising Solo Maître CoQ in Les Sables d’Olonne.

“I certainly feel good and have established myself well up in the fleet in training. I feel like I am sailing better than ever before, but until you go racing, you never really know if you have made the gains or the others are not as sharp yet.” smiles Dolan, the skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan who has just returned to France and his programme after a short break with family and friends at home in his native Ireland.

“I had the boat launched in the water in early January – as early as I ever have – and did a week of sail testing with Incidences Sails and a couple of the top French guys, Alexis Loison and Jules Delpech, and that were very interesting. It was enough to give lots of confidence in their new technology and shapes and get the sails ordered very early.”

With his training group out of Lorient, Brittany Dolan has spent many hours refining boat handling and short course starts and tactics, much more so than previously when the pre-season preparations focused on straight-line speed testing.
“The thing is actually the more racing you do the more you learn when you are fast and slow relative to the fleet and so we think it is time better spent. Now I am just itching to go racing for real.”

The Solo Maître CoQ has proven something of a bogey event for Dolan. In the past. Three editions ago he lost focus when his strategy did not work initially, and he made some rash, wrong choices, two editions ago, he twisted his ankle and had to retire and last year he blew up a sail, so he is very much hoping this is his year to finish on the podium and his bad luck has run in threes.

“Actually, I am quietly confident, ready to go and deal with what comes my way. I am definitely one of the older and more experienced guys now and feel I have proven myself. There is quite a bit of turnover now in the Figaro fleet, I am among the best and I feel I am in good shape.” Dolan asserts.

His season will pivot around five major events on his programme: the Solo Maître CoQ (from March 9 to 19), the Laura Vergne Trophy as a prelude to the Spi Ouest -France Banque Populaire Grand-Ouest (from April 1 to 2), the Tour de Bretagne (from June 29 to July 9), the Solo Guy Cotten (from July 23 to 30) all leading up to the season’s pinnacle the Solitaire du Figaro (from August 19 to September 17).

The first stage of the course for the 2023 La Solitaire du Figaro is from Caen in France to Kinsale in IrelandThe first stage of the course for the 2023 La Solitaire du Figaro is from Caen in France to Kinsale in Ireland

The course for the 2023 La Solitaire du Figaro has been recently published and includes the first stage from Caen to Kinsale in Ireland. The second leg goes north into the Irish Sea to a mark at the Isle of Man. All three stages are well over 600 miles in length usually meaning four nights at sea.

“It’s an interesting course, I always seem to be able to do well going to the Fastnet and around the area I know well but you never know. But for sure, I am looking forwards to going back to Kinsale.” he enthuses. “It’s definitely a stage I’d love to win.”

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Tom Dolan is from a farming family in Meath, and started his sailing on Lough Ramor plumb in the middle of Ireland, but thanks to Glenans Ireland (now Glenua) he has been totally committed to France’s challenging solo and two-handed offshore circuit for a dozen years now. With the reputation of being L’Irlandais Volante (The Flying Irishman) in this rarefied world, in September, he added to his laurels with sixth overall and the Vivi Trophy for the top non-French participant in the Figaro Solo 2022.



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Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan has had an intense autumn of training on the water with his Figaro Bénéteau 3 Smurfit Kappa – Kingspan, during which he focused on getting the best from the offshore one design’s new autopilot sailing with French skippers Elodie Bonafous and Kévin Bloc'h.

And once the boat was safely put away into the shed for a winter of maintenance and fine-tuning for next season, Dolan enjoyed a new experience on shore as he became part of the weather data, routing and performance cell supporting Arthur Le Vaillant who was racing in the Ultim 32/23 class on the 12th Route du Rhum - Destination Guadeloupe and finished sixth.

Dolan has been a guest at two prestigious gatherings recently in France and at home in his native Ireland. On November 28, the Irish sailor was invited to the "France Ireland Business Awards", a ceremony in the Ritz in Paris, where sponsor Kingspan received a prize for the “best Irish company established in France”.

"These annual trophies, organized by Network Ireland and the Franco-Irish Chamber of Commerce, reward the most dynamic companies which contribute in a big way to strengthening commercial ties between the two countries", explains Dolan, who is proud to wear the colours of Kingspan, a world leader in high-performance insulation and building panel solutions. He met Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin. “That was a big honour for me,” Dolan recalls.

On December 3rd, he was in Paris again, this time for the prizegiving for the 2022 French Elite Offshore Racing Championship, which took place at the Paris Boat Show the Nautic. The awards ceremony took place in the presence of Jean-Luc Denéchau, President of the French Sailing Federation, and Jean-Bernard Le Boucher, President of the Figaro Bénéteau Class. The top ten overall for the 2022 season were honoured, including Dolan, who was recognised for his fine 7th place (first foreigner).

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With the Figaro circuit season behind him, Ireland’s solo sailor Tom Dolan is fully involved in the Route du Rhum solo ocean race across the Atlantic from Saint-Malo to Guadeloupe. He is working in the back up team to French 35-year-old aspiring Ultim class racer Arthur Le Vaillant, the youngest Ultim skipper whose Mieux was launched as Geronimo ten years ago before becoming Thomas Coville’s Sodebo.

Dolan has been working on the boat during the build-up phase in Saint-Malo, but his primary job will be as part of the weather routing team. The 45 high-speed Multihulls in the Ultim, Ocean Fifty, and Multi Rhum classes are all allowed to use on-shore weather routers because their boats are so fast. The weather teams prepare detailed real-time strategies which allow the solo skippers to focus entirely on speed and sailing the boats safely.

From Saint Malo, Dolan reports, “We have been spending time on the boat now just double checking the systems and how they work and refining how we will work. The new thing I have not used in terms of the technology is every 15 minutes we have live information coming off his boat, boatspeed, wind direction and all the key data. It sends the last 15 minutes of information in packets. You can have it almost real time but that costs a fortune.”

Tom Dolan has been working on Arthur Le Vaillant Mieux during the build-up phase of the Route du Rhum in Saint-MaloTom Dolan has been working on Arthur Le Vaillant Mieux during the build-up phase of the Route du Rhum in Saint-Malo 

After putting his Beneteau Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan to bed in Port La Fôret before winter training, Dolan loves the atmosphere in Saint-Malo. He has sought to get involved with a big team and improve his learning and experience, “I have been interested in getting involved for a while, I am a real weather and technology geek. And we trained a bit together in the Figaro in the 2019 season. And so I connected with him and with Tanguy Leglatin who is also our coach in Lorient. So he was putting together a ‘cell’, and so there is Tanguy, the boat captain Jean Baptiste Le Vaillant, who is Arthur’s father and a very successful well known French ocean racing helm and myself and Pep Costa, who is Spanish and is also a Figaro sailor.”

He enthuses, “Pep and I mainly take turns at monitoring the boat, the performance and the safety issues, and analyse the real-time weather conditions coming off the boat and see how they match up to the weather modelling. And we are monitoring and updating the performance so that we know how the boat is going, and thus we can fine-tune the strategy and timing very accurately.”
“We use both WhatsApp and Telegram. Pep and I will send our info to Tanguy and JB, and they use that to develop and refine the strategy. We have a meeting every morning, but it is Tanguy who prepares the final information that is sent. The idea is to send clean, clear information with a very strict feed.”

He concludes, “ It is great fun and being at this huge Route du Rhum start. It reminds me that all these guys were at my level and I have raced against before so it strengthens my ambitions to push on and do more in the future. But this is a great learning experience.”

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Irish solo offshore sailor Tom Dolan and his French crew sailed to fifth place in the Figaro Beneteau 3 French National Championships, which were raced over the weekend off Lorient, Brittany. Racing Dolan’s Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, the crew were lying in second place overall going into the last race for the 18 boat fleet but a tenth dropped them down the fleet.

Dolan called up French former Match Race world champion Bertrand Pacé – a multiple America’s Cup sailor and coach who is one of the coaches for his solo offshore training programme in Lorient – to steer for the crewed championships, with Gildas Mahé sailing as tactician. Benoit Hantzberg and Dolan trimmed and did the pit.

“We were just a little disappointed to have been in the frame near the end then finishing up with that one bad result. But in this fleet fifth is fine. Inshore, windward-leeward racing is not really my forte but it was great to sail with Bertrand and learn a lot which I can put to good use in the future.” Enthused Dolan.

The annual championships were contested over eight windward-leeward races and a 25 mile short inshore around the Groix island.

“It was a lot of fun to do and a nice way to end the racing season.” Concluded Dolan who will now step in to help with the onshore weather routing for a giant French Ultime on the upcoming Route du Rhum.

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Top Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) has taken seventh overall on the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro, the three-stage French solo offshore race which finished last night in Saint Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire estuary on the Atlantic coast.

Crossing the line at 21h49 last night, an exhausted Dolan was objective, pleased to have again finished inside the top 10 of the 34 starters who set off from the same waters three weeks ago. Still a 15th on the final 640-mile stage across the Bay of Biscay in strong winds and big seas did not allow him to hold on to the fifth place that he started the final leg with.

The Irishman again showed he is one of the best in the fleet, leading this stage after the first turning mark last Sunday night and Monday morning as the race set out across the Bay of Biscay. A tactical error in the middle of the Biscay leg, when passing through two successive weather systems, cost him dearly. By the time he sailed around the rocky Los Farallones islets on Spain’s north coast, he was down in 19th and only managed to gain four places on the 240 miles tough downwind stage to the finish line.

Twelfth on the first leg to Port La Foret, Dolan excelled on the second leg into Royan when he was fifth and the fastest on two high winds in the English Channel before the wind died and the race restarted 140 miles from the finish line.

"I feel disappointed in the last leg; I made a stupid mistake"

After a last leg which saw winds of 35kts and big Biscay seas, which meant 24 hours of steering with no sleep, Dolan said in Saint Nazaire, “I feel disappointed in the last leg; I made a stupid mistake. I made a point of positioning myself to the south of everyone, so I would be to windward when the change came and then chickened out to stick with the leaders and that is exactly what I should not have done. I should have stuck to my guns.”

“But seventh is good, it is a top 10, but it’s not fifth!” he smiled ruefully, “But I am sailing so much better. I was more free in my thinking in what I did and not worrying so much about the others. My starts have been better which is pleasing after all the work we did this winter and then I just need even more confidence in myself.”

Managing his limited sleep times is also an area he sees for improvement, “I need to get that sorted then I can start winning these things. I think I took sleep for granted and made bad decisions at tired times of the race. But seventh overall is top 10, and it was close. I am pleased to have been up front a lot and to show that 2020 (when he was fifth overall) was no fluke. That is good. Now I just want to sleep and go home to see my mum in Ireland.”

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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.