Displaying items by tag: Tom Dolan
As stage one of the 50th La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro completed its first 24 hours at sea, racing 553 nautical miles from Pornichet to Kinsale, Ireland, leaders Adrien Hardy (Sans Nature Pas de Future) and Michel Desjoyeaux (Lumibird) were fighting hard to contain a pack of pursuers who were threatening to pass on both sides to their west and to their east.
Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) read the breeze at the island light winds crossroads better and, at one point, had got himself up to ninth. This afternoon he was 12th, less than 2 miles from the leaders, and racing closely with three times La Solitaire winner Yann Eliès (Saint Michel). And by 8pm the County Meath man was as high as sixth place,
Dolan, who is racing just his second La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, reported today: "It has been a long day with a lot of time spent pulling on ropes and driving under the blistering sunshine, but it looks like we are just about out. In general, we are a bit late. I have eaten but at the moment I am trying not to sleep, you can drop off and then suddenly all your little mates are gone.”
Hardy, who is from Nantes – the official start city for this historic edition - is a former French 420 dinghy champion and Mini class racer. As the skipper who won this passage to Ireland when it was last sailed in 2010 – when the fleet raced from Brest to Kinsale - he knows this course from the west of France well.
Since he first raced La Solitaire in 2008, Hardy has won stages in 2010, 2013, 2015 and 2017 and was runner up last year to Sébastien Simon. Accompanied by the wily silver fox Desjoyeaux, who has won the multi-stage solo offshore race overall three times, the duo largely survived a big slow-down this morning and early afternoon in light winds at the Ile de Yeu, NW of Les Sables d’Olonne, as a messy ridge of high pressure engulfed the fleet. Speeds among the 47-strong fleet were less than one knot at times.
But during late afternoon on Monday, almost exactly 24 hours after the stage started in a blaze of glory under gennakers on the bay of La Baule, a group lead by the tenacious, talented Mediterranean rookie, Achille Nebou (Le Grand Reservoir) had made gains inshore in a more settled breeze and favourable current and cut the leaders’ margin from nearly one mile to just a few tenths of a mile. And on the other side, to the west, Pierre Quiroga – also a former top French dinghy racer from the Mediterranean – was posing an equal threat to the two pacemakers.
The first 24 hours have seen a real mix of fortunes for the international, non French sailors in the fleet. The biggest disappointment is the highly fancied Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) who seemed to get stuck off the bottom of the island in the very light winds, dropping right to the back of the fleet. Roberts, who holds the record for the highest overall finish by a British sailor with his ninth place in 2015, was fighting back on that easterly, inshore flank this afternoon but was 11 miles behind the leaders.
Also on just his second La Solitaire, England’s Will Harris (Hive Energy) is mid fleet in 25th, with several top seeds around him. Harris reported this afternoon that he has lost the use of his wind instruments at the top of his mast.
“It has been a really complicated start for me. Last night my wind instruments completely crashed and broke I think there is some water damage up at the top of the rig and so now I have no wind instruments that makes it a but more challenging to race as I now only have compass, so it is hard work to keep up with the others. But I am happy to be out racing and I am enjoying being back on La Solitaire. It has been really close from the start of the race and I got a bit preoccupied trying to fix the boat, but it was an amazing start, so many boats around, a really cool place to start a boat race from. It has been tricky because I did not have the best of starts, then I caught up a bit and now lost a bit again so I think it will be like that over the next three days. Let us see what the rest of the day brings."
Battling to escape a ridge of high pressure, there could be a big gain for those who can wriggle free first. The general strategy is to get out to the northwest to meet a new breeze first. The balancing act is whether to push out west earlier to find the wind but sailing extra miles, or to wait for the new wind to fill in and sail a more direct course.
A new depression is deepening off the south of Ireland, bringing a SW’ly wind. Tail enders may struggle to get free of the light zone and there is a risk of them being left behind. Tonight and in to early Tuesday morning the wind will swing back to the SSW and so there will be better downwind sailing conditions from Tuesday.
That new breeze is forecast to build, according to the race meteorologists MeteoConsult, with gusts over 25knots as a cold front passes on Tuesday bringing crossed seas. The choice of passing to the west or east of the infamous Ushant traffic separation zone may prove critical. And inshore the tidal currents are stronger. As usual the winds behind the front will be unsettled in strength and direction but the long term objective seems to be to get west.
It looks like heading home to Ireland is all the motivation Tom Dolan requires as the County Meath solo sailor has moved up from mid fleet last night to 10th place in the 47-boat La Solitaire du Figaro race fleet this morning.
Dolan and County Mayo sailor Joan Mulloy (currently 39th) are the two Irish sailors competing in the 50th edition of the race that is expected into Kinsale this week, the first port of call in a month long race.
Irish solo racer Tom Dolan stuck to his game plan on Smufit Kappa and made a solid start to his second La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro today as the 47–strong fleet started from the Bay of La Baule in the west of France in 12 knot south-westerly winds heading for Kinsale via the Fastnet Rock and is mid-fleet in 26th place tonight. County Mayo sailor Joan Mulloy is lying 45th.
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Under grey skies on the Bay of La Baule, at the mouth of the Loire river in the west of France, Morgan Lagraviere (Voile d’engagement) lead an early breakaway trio at the head of the 47-strong La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro fleet during a showcase first hour of the 553 nautical mile, three day first stage across the Celtic Sea to Kinsale, Ireland.
Lagraviere, who has twice finished on the overall podium for the Solitaire, the annual multi-stage solo classic offshore series, and sailed on the 2016 Vendée Globe in the colours of Safran, races this 50th edition of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro with no major sponsor.
He sailed smartly on the first two-mile sprint leg to round the first mark and forge a small escape accompanied by Gildas Mahé (Breizh Cola) and Adrien Hardy (Sans Nature Pas de Future) who also competes without a major partner.
Thousands of spectators lined headlands, seawalls and beaches around fashionable Pornichet and the bay itself to watch the 11 mile opening circuit unfold in 10-13knots of south-westerly wind, seeking their first glimpse of the new foil assisted Figaro Bénéteau 3s in full La Solitaire race mode and some of France’s best known, most successful offshore sailors going head to head.
While the little breakaway trio held their early advance to pass the Radio France Buoy in the lead, wily fox Michel Desjoyeaux (Lumibird) did not disappoint onlookers as he climbed through the fleet to pass the Radio France ranking buoy in fourth.
Britain’s Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) was in the middle of a big pack of boats in 19th at the first ranking mark.
But while the opening skirmish under gennakers gybing around the bay was the perfect start to what promises to be the most competitive Solitaire for many years, there are many challenges in store, even during the first night at sea.
Initially a rich-get-richer scenario is anticipated favouring the leaders, but a messy, not too active cold front is due to pass over the fleet just after dusk. The winds are expected to be unsettled, changing in direction and strength with some light rain on the first 57-mile stage down the Vendée coast to the Bourgenay southernmost turning mark, set by design off the home town of the boats’ builders Bénéteau.
The key stages after that mark are entering the strong tides of the Raz de Sein, passing the Traffic Separation System off Ushant – off the western tip of Brittany – the Scilly Isles, the approach to the Fastnet and the final 50 miles in to Kinsale which looks set to be light.
Well placed mid fleet was Will Harris, (Hive Energy). As a Brit he is largely unique in the field as an overseas, non-French racer who is taking on only his second La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro. But after winning the top rookie or ‘bizuth’ prize on the 2016 La Solitaire, the 25-year sailor from Weybridge in Surrey, England has managed to secure the support of an English based leading solar energy company.
Harris said as he left the dock in Nantes: “The weather is not as simple as we might have hoped it would be tonight, there are a lot of weak and broken up fronts coming through. At Ushant there will be another front which will bring quite a bit more breeze and it will be quite challenging to get through the rocky passage there and then the exclusion zone. Day 3 is less clear with a low pressure over the UK which, depending how and when that develops, can make 180 degrees of difference to the wind as we approach the Fastnet and Kinsale. But I feel like I have a good feel for what is expected to happen, I know what to look for and what to rely on.”
Harris continued: “I am really excited to be starting. I want to go out and enjoy it. This first leg is about managing risk and not splitting away on what promises to be a very open leg. That can be your Solitaire over. Look for the small gains and coming in to Kinsale can be interesting.”
The adoption of the new boat sees the return to the 50th Solitaire of three legendary French sailors all in their 50s, set to rekindle a friendship and rivalry which dates back more than 30 years.
As the fleet left the Bay of La Baule, all three musketeers were placed in the top 12. Racing in his home waters today, in front of his house, Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe winner and three times winner of The Transat, Loïck Peyron at 59 is back as the oldest participant in a race on which he was the youngest in 1980 and won a leg in 1986.
Michel Desjoyeaux, 54, is the most successful of the ‘roaring 50s’ with three overall Solitaire wins under his belt – 1992, 1998, 2007. After a five year break this will be Desjoyaux’s 13th Solitaire and he has never finished worse than twelfth and he can recite his year by year finishes by rote. Other than that 12th and seventh in 2013, he has always finished in the top five. He remains the only sailor ever to win the Vendée Globe three times.
“I was there for the introduction of the Figaro 1 one design and the Figaro 2 and so it is natural I am here for the new Figaro 3. I knew last year I would be here,” Desjoyeaux has told the French media several times.
“I have nothing to prove on this race. I won’t say I have to be in the top 5. I am here to enjoy myself, for my satisfaction. There is no pressure,” he contends.
Leaving Nantes this morning Desjoyeaux commented on the leg ahead: “There will be a lot of shifts in the wind, it will be quite unsettled with a lot of manoeuvring and trimming, and then the leg itself is a big job. There are so many different options through the islands and round the TSS. It is really about finding the solution which is not the worst, I don’t think there is one best solution.
“That is the goal for this leg. And it is a pleasure to be heading to Kinsale, it is a lovely place and a nice finish. It is a fun boat, although not so much on this leg which will be mostly upwind. My objective here is to try not to be too bad and to be better than I have been in the first races with the boat this year. I am starting to learn the boat and I am starting to get back into this racing programme but I will do the best I can.”
And Alain Gautier, 57, is back on his 18th La Solitaire after racing twice in 2015 and 2014 when he finished 18th and 20th after a ten-year break. Gautier, who scored his first ever leg win into Kinsale in 1987, winning overall in 1989, has named his boat ‘merci pour ces trente ans’ (thanks for the thirty years) - a double edged acknowledgement to sponsors who have supported him over the years and to rival chums Peyron and Desjoyeaux who he calls ‘les enfoirés’ (literally these ‘tossers or assholes’ but veiled as a reference to 1980s French pop collective of that name).
At 553 nautical miles this first leg is the longest yet to be sailed in the new Figaro Bénéteau 3s and the gaps through the fleet are expected to become quite large on this, the most open stage of the four legs which comprise this long awaited 50th edition.
Fans can follow the race on the official website, and through the English language Twitter account, here
Official Rankings at the Radio France Buoy, 2nd June:
1-Morgan Lagravière (Voile d’engagement)
2-Adrien Hardy ((Sans Nature Pas de Future)
3-Gildas Mahé (Breizh Cola)
4-Michel Desjoyeaux (Lumibird)
5-Alexis Loison (Region Normandie)
6-Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019)
7-Yoann Richomme (Helloworld – Groupe Telegramme)
8-Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire)
9-Alain Gautier (Merci Pur Ces 30 Ans)
10-Jérémie Béyou (Charal)
Keeping a cool head, making carefully assimilated decisions and managing himself to ensure he has enough energy for the second half of the four stages, 2115 miles race from Nantes to Dieppe via Kinsale, Ireland. These are the key maxims which Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan will try to adhere to as he races the 50th La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro which starts from Pornichet, near Nantes in the west of France tomorrow, Sunday.
The classic, multi-stage solo offshore race has drawn a stellar cast, including many of French offshore racing’s top names. Dolan lines up on Smurfit Kappa among the 47 strong fleet which includes six past overall winners of La Solitaire, three of them triple victors.
For this landmark 50th anniversary edition of the race, the adoption of a new foil-assisted Figaro Beneteau 3 yacht, which is faster, lighter and more demanding than its predecessor – the Figaro 2 – has drawn many top French sailors back to this high octane, stamina-sapping one design solo scene.
After a successful career in the smaller Mini 650, Dolan moved to La Solitaire URGO Figaro as a rookie last year but spent the whole race playing catch up after a technical problem with his mast’s rigging forced him out of the first leg.
But after an excellent pre-season preparation and training with the new boat, including nearly a month alongside compatriot Damian Foxall – Ireland’s leading round-the-world racer who won the Gijon to Concarneau stage of La Solitaire in 1998 – Dolan reports that he is in great shape and will be keeping Foxall’s advice at the forefront of his mind during the upcoming three weeks of racing.
"Dolan reports that he is in great shape and will be keeping Foxall’s advice"
That careful energy preservation mode will be tested most on the first 553 nautical miles stage from France to Kinsale, where the race stops for the 20th time in its 50 year history.
Dolan, from County Meath, knows Irish eyes – and computers and smartphones – will be watching his every move, hoping for an Irish success story. “Look, it would be easy to go a bit mad and push too hard, to let it get to my head because we are coming into Ireland but I will be trying to keep a cool head.” Dolan warned as he prepared Smurfit Kappa in Nantes, “At this early stage you have to be mindful there are three more long legs after that. No good can come from blowing up going into Kinsale. I definitely learned from my first Solitaire that you have to keep some sauce for the second half, the legs on this race are long.”
The open ocean stage across the Celtic Sea round the Fastnet to Kinsale has the potential to see big gaps in the fleet open early in the race. “This stage is more like an oceanic offshore stage, which is not necessarily good for me - in the past, I seem to have been better at the rock hopping, tricky coastal stuff. But I will take it carefully and try to stay with the fleet.”
"I was up and down like a yoyo physically and mentally"
He adds: “ I learned so much from Damian. He is very calm and before I was up and down like a yoyo physically and mentally. His approach definitely instilled a bit more calm in me. I am improved there. I am focused more on doing things carefully and doing them well and making decisions more carefully, not tacking just because someone else has tacked.”
Dolan has made a big effort to eliminate unnecessary packaging from his food and drink stores on board, in line with a commitment to sustainability which chimes with the responsible policies of Smurfit Kappa. And Foxall himself is a passionate advocate for environmental responsibility who drives key initiatives in the sailing world. He offered Dolan pragmatic ideas.
“ I talked with Damian about it during the Sardinha Cup, discussing the idea of coming back with no garbage to dispose and to have left the dock with no possible garbage. That became the objective.” Dolan emphasises, “ We tried during the Sardinha Cup to be more careful, more responsible with what we bought. And besides everything else, it felt great to come back with no rubbish. And sustainability is a big thing with Smurfit Kappa.”
Onboard Smurfit Kappa now Tom uses a number of aluminium bottles, all the food goes in Tupperware boxes, the fruit is cut up and kept in small re-used plastic boxes. He has sourced Breton cheese which comes wrapped in paper and even handmade artisan chocolates, local to where he lives in France, come wrapped in paper.
"The only thing with the chocolate is that it does not seem to be sustainable at all. It all seems to have been eaten..!" Dolan jokes.
Looking at the weather for the first stage Dolan reports: “The first leg looks interesting. There is a ridge of high pressure on the first morning to get out of and away and so those who do might get away. There could be a bit of a getaway then. But then coming into Ireland there is a trough which might mean some compression. There is plenty of key points. Positioning in the Celtic Sea, to the west or east can be important.” He concludes: “I think I have made good progress this season but this is it, this is when I will found out.”
The West Cork stopover this coming week is supported by the newspaper, which is also a title sponsor of second-time Figaro contender Joan Mulloy’s Believe in Grace/BusinessPost.ie.
The Mayo native will be sailing the 600 miles to Kinsale alongside fellow Irish skipper Tom Dolan, on Smurfit Kappa, in the first leg of the renowned offshore solo race that’s been dubbed ‘The Everest of the Seas’.
The fleet is expected to sail into Irish waters on Wednesday 5 June ahead of a four-day stopover with an exciting itinerary of events (see below) expected to draw visitors to Kinsale ahead of next weekend’s SeaFest in nearby Cork Harbour.
Mulloy, whose yacht has been named after her famed ancestor ‘The Pirate Queen’ Gráinne Mhaol, will be supported by Grace O’Malley Irish Whiskey, the official spirit of the Kinsale stopover.
As one of the few women skippers competing in La Solitaire Urgo Le Figaro on an equal basis, Mulloy became the first Irish woman to take part in the race last year
“I’m nervous and yet excited,” Mulloy said, while in Nantes last week preparing to begin her stint in this year’s race. “Training has been intense and these are demanding boats to race.”
Mulloy and Dolan will sail with a small cargo of special gifts given to them From Nantes for the mayors of Cork City and County ahead of the official Grace O’Malley Kinsale Figaro launch event on Friday 7 June.
The gifts mark Cork’s support for the historic stopover, which will coincide with the city’s annual Seafest maritime festival and Ocean Wealth Conference, and is expected to deliver a significant tourism boost to the wider county.
La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro is a high-profile event on the annual racing calendar with a global media reach valued at more than €18 million across print, television, radio and web channels.
Six Irish skippers have competed with distinction in the race over the past 30 years, among them Damian Foxall, Marcus Hutchinson, Paul O’Rian and David Kenefick — all of whom will be celebrated in Kinsale.
Each of the 50 skippers in this year’s La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro will be supported by on-shore crew, including technicians and press officers, during the Kinsale stopover.
In addition to race organisers, this will bring the number of people visiting Kinsale for the stopover to more than 250.
The skippers will depart Kinsale next Sunday 9 June and cross for the Irish Sea before rounding the Isle of Man and returning to France, where they will complete the 630-mile second leg of the month-long race at Roscoff in northern Brittany.
For more info and to track the boats, visit the official website for La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro HERE.
Programme of events for Kinsale Stopover
Wednesday 5 June
- Dock in PM: The first boats to finish in Kinsale are expected sometime late on Wednesday June 5. Come cheer the boats as they finish the race and arrive at Market Square. Track Irish Skippers Joan Mulloy and Tom Dolan on georacing.com.
Thursday 6 June
- The Figaro Historic Walk will begin at 10.30am at Kinsale Tourist Office. Participants will learn about the French and sailing influences on Kinsale through time.
- The Musique Trail will begin at 8pm at Kinsale Tourist Office featuring a guided evening of music with participants visiting live music venues and pubs in the town.
Friday 7 June
- Come aboard the Figaro Cruise on The Quays at 2pm for a spectacular tour of Kinsale Harbour with the opportunity to view the boats from the water.
- The Grace O’ Malley Pirate Queen Party will celebrate the Figaro Ocean Race Kinsale Stopover. Join us for a night of celebration.
Saturday 8 June
- The Figaro Feast will take place from 1.30pm to 4pm at Market Square, featuring a sea-feast of amazing food and drinks from well-known eateries and the chance to enjoy the many Figaro-inspired culinary delights on offer.
- Visitors will have the opportunity to meet the offshore and Irish sailors and hear about their adventures.
- Two prizes for the best-dressed sailor-themed fancy dress outfits will be on offer for adults and children.
Sunday 9 June
- Dockout will take place at 11am along the quays. Join the fleet on the water or view from ashore the start spectacle and inshore coastal race from Kinsale to the entrance of Cork Harbour and from Roches Point up the south coast around Tuskar Rock and up the Irish Sea.
Tired, slightly disappointed but nonetheless armed with a number of valuable lessons which he will take forward to next month’s La Solitaire URO Le Figaro, Ireland’s Tom Dolan finished 28th into Les Sables d’Olonne on Smurfit Kappa yesterday afternoon (Saturday) at the end of the 380 nautical miles offshore race, so completing the Solo Maître Coq in 24th position overall.
Dolan, from County Meath, finishes almost exactly mid-fleet after the three races – two short inshores and the longer offshore which started on Thursday afternoon and took the 47 strong fleet south to the Ile de Re off La Rochelle, north to Belle Île to the NW of Nantes and back to finish in Les Sables d’Olonne.
"The start cost me. I think I was fifth from last off the line and round the first mark"
A mediocre start, which left him towards the back of the white-hot fleet of France’s top solo racers at the first turning mark, left Dolan with a mountain to climb. Although he pulled up more than 20 places over the ensuing legs and spent 24 hours racing side-by-side with three times La Solitaire winner Yann Eliès a final finish in the top 20 eluded Dolan.
“The start cost me. I think I was fifth from last off the line and round the first mark. That is something I have to work on. I need a process, a formula to work from and stick to it. In this fleet you can’t afford to start badly.” Said Dolan on the dock in Port Olona.
“That was a proper Figaro Solitaire race, lots of transitions and you just could not afford to make mistakes. There was place changing until the end. Someone would get away a bit, there was a transition and they’d be caught. We saw Armel Le Cléac’h leading almost to the finish and then get passed on the last to legs. I was quick enough on the downwind to the Ile de Re but was out of phase with the shifts and I ended up to leeward of the fleet at the end of the first, long run which was not good and I took a bit of a kicking to there. But I felt like I kept my head, and stayed cool much more than I maybe used to and I worked back from there.” Dolan explained.
“The positives to take away from this is that I am definitely fast. I just need to now make sure I am going fast in the right direction. My manoeuvres are really good, I did some really nice work in the sail changes and I managed myself well – I slept at the right times and did not lose places – and so I don’t have too many concerns there.” He concludes.
After the long, intensive build up, working no stop since early February, rest is now a priority for the Irish skipper before the La Solitaire URGO La Figaro fleet assembles in Nantes in late May.
“I am very happy with the set up of the boat and everything, going sailing all the time now I think would be slightly counterproductive. I want to be starting the Solitaire in the best possible shape.”
With more than half of the 340 nautical miles coefficient, 4 offshore race sailed in the Solo Maître Coq Ireland's Tom Dolan on Smurfit Kappa is in 27th place this afternoon as the 47 strong fleet pass the northernmost turning mark near Belle Ile, north-west of Nantes.
Dolan was 30th early on in the first solo offshore race to be sailed in the new Figaro Beneteau 3, but has made steady gains during Thursday night and Friday morning. The Irish sailor was this afternoon scrapping alongside Yann Eliès who was the event leader going in to the offshore race. With just over 170 nautical miles still to sail, the race is expected to finish during Saturday afternoon. The offshore course started yesterday at 1400hrs local time, the passage taking the fleet on a loop between Les Sables d'Olonne, the Ile de Re - off La Rochelle - and Belle Ile.
"It won't be over until it the finish line is crossed. This will be a test, a bit of a dress rehearsal for a La Solitaire type course, with prolonged periods of close racing alongside other boats. My goal is to make good manoeuvres." said Dolan before he left. "I want to do well but don't feel any pressure to make a particular result right now. This is very much about learning." The race has seen something of an upset to the early hierarchy which was established over the first two inshore races Monday and Tuesday. Tanguy Le Turquais has held a solid lead with Armel Le Cléac'h in third and veteran Loick Peyron fourth.
Finish in the Top 15, it would be really good. After my round of 6th Tuesday, I know that I can do good things and it gives me confidence, but I do not forget that on the circuit of Figaro, we can do 1st a day and 40th the next day ", has commented Tom who knows that the result of this new race could largely upset the situation in the general classification, partly because it has a very high coefficient (4 against 1.5 for the previous coastal) and, on the other hand, because the most experienced sailors, especially the Vendée-Globalists like Michel Desjoyeaux, Jérémie Beyou or Amel Le Cléac'h, whom we did not necessarily see shine on the first two rounds, go feel more comfortable on this more offshore exercise. The proof is also given tonight since it is they who currently hold the top positions while for his part, Tom is in 30th position. But everything remains to be done and the outcome will not be known until Saturday at the end of the day.
After an excellent 14th overall and fifth in the final leg, when sailing with Damian Foxall in the doublehanded Sardinha Cup, Ireland's Tom Dolan is now ready to fly solo on his Smurfit Kappa as he takes on this week's Solo Maître Coq.
The first solo event for the Figaro Beneteau 3 starts Monday and has attracted a truly stellar cast, the fleet growing from the 34 which raced in the Sardinha Cup to 44 boats which have assembled in Les Sables d'Olonne for a series which comprises two days of 30-40 mile inshore races Monday, Tuesday followed by an offshore of around 400 nautical miles which starts Thursday.
Among the big names of the French solo ocean racing scene, two times winner of the Vendèe Globe and three times winner of La Solitaire Michel Desjoyeaux joins the fleet for the first time to pitch himself up against Jérémie Beyou and Yann Eliès - both are also three times La Solitaire overall winners - and past La Solitaire victors such as Armel Le Cléac'h, Yoanne Richomme and legendary Route du Rhum winner Loick Peyron.
"It is exciting. In some ways, this is like a dream come true to race against some of these guys. It is what I have wanted to do since I started out ten years ago. But I will not let myself get overawed. On the water, they are just boats to race against." Dolan smiled on the dock in Port Olona, Les Sables d'Olonne on the French Vendée coast.
The weather forecasts suggest a week of light to moderate winds are in prospect. Dolan, who is from County Meath, is open-minded, "I'll take what comes, certainly when it was light in the Sardinha Cup we seemed to have speed which is good but this will be much more about manoeuvres than out and out speed, so it is going to be interesting. We have done a few days of training and manoeuvres and I seemed to get on OK. I think I am quite good from the years in the Mini class. But for sure my weakness is getting off the start line. I am learning to stick to a routine and improve my timing to the line, but there is some way to go. It takes time and practice."
This first solo race in the Figaro Beneteau 3 will be a chance to refine and improve techniques ahead of June's La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro. "I want to do well it is important for the morale, similarly I don't want to do badly because it would put me a bit on the back foot psychologically. It's important to feel confident going into La Solitaire. But this is very much a learning event, a chance to work on the processes. This the first confrontation for the whole fleet so I think most people will take the same view.
Ireland’s Tom Dolan and Damian Foxall finish in an excellent final leg fifth place in the Sardhinha Cup. As Afloat previously reported, the Irish duo set sail on 30 March, 2019 to brave the elements in their Dubarry sailing boots. The unique designs and the very best technical materials ensure Dubarry sailing boots prove themselves time and time again in some of the most challenging conditions at sea. And this is why Dubarry boots have rightly gained the respect and trust of those that sail the world’s oceans.
Tom: “Everyday I work on the boat I do it in my ten-year-old pair of Dubarry sailing boots, they are a bit battered but still comfortable and still dry. It’s great to know that we are going to sea with well made, good quality material. A huge aim of this year’s campaign, in conjunction with Smurfit Kappa, is to promote sustainability in sailing projects. Using materials that last is key to this, and thanks to Dubarry for being part of it.”
"To go fast you’ve got to have dry feet"
Damian: “To go fast you’ve got to have dry feet, especially this time of year in the middle of Biscay and having good quality material is the cornerstone of this. The better you feel, the more you can concentrate on the two key pillars of offshore racing, going fast in the right direction!”
After minor frustrations marred the first two legs of the Sardinha Cup, Ireland's Tom Dolan and Damian Foxall on Smurfit Kappa finished the first offshore series for the new Figaro Beneteau 3 class on a high note, securing an excellent fifth place on the 280 nautical miles third and final stage.
"That is more like the result we felt we were capable of. On the first two legs, we were sailing fast and generally going in the right direction. But this was a leg when most things went right." smiled Foxall on the dock this morning in Saint-Gilles Croix-De-Vie on the French Vendée coast, the host port of the event and 'home' to boatbuilders Beneteau.
After their 13th place in the shorter, opening Vendée Warm Up leg, then 20th on the first long offshore stage and their fifth on this leg - which was shortened this morning from the scheduled 320 miles to 280 miles - the Smurfit Kappa pair finish 13th overall
From a 'mediocre' start from Saint-Gilles-Crox-De-Vie on Thursday afternoon, the flying Irish duo hit their stride in breezes to 20 knots and proved fast on the 130 nautical miles downwind to a turning mark off Arcachon, south of Bordeaux. They were well inside the top ten of the 32 boat fleet at the southernmost turn.
Yesterday, Friday, Dolan and Foxall gained places on the ensuing upwind stage when there was little wind and the key was working the wind shift created as the sea breeze came in close to the land.
At one point they were up to fourth but a slight hiccup -dropping the spinnaker into the foil - cost them momentarily in the very close racing. Then the sensible choice was to consolidate and cover the fleet to secure the top 5.
"I'm happy with that." Dolan grinned, "It was disappointing not to hold on to good early positions on the first two stages, but this is more of a correct result in terms of how we have been sailing."
"We definitely had good speed again on the run and made our gybes at the right time. I have good sails from Technique Voiles, a smaller French loft, and with the big spinnaker, in particular, we seemed to be able to sail a little lower and stay fast." Dolan added.
Foxall, a veteran of ten round the world races whose first experience back with the Figaro class this was after a 20 years hiatus, added:
"Tom has been putting in the time and has good potential going forwards from here. It is a new boat, the Figaro Beneteau 3, and it will be a lot harder to sail solo, but this a great way to start the season for him."
"I really came in with no expectations at all." the round the world sailor from County Kerry admitted, "But in many ways, it is like riding a bike, the reflexes come back automatically and you get the boat going fast. Once we found the buttons to do that we seemed to be able to do that. He has good sails and has put in a lot of work with the Lorient training group."
Foxall moves on to his next major project now. Asked if his experience with the new Figaro and his ebullient compatriot Dolan might tempt him to return to the Figaro in which he cut his solo and short-handed teeth some 20 years ago, Foxall said: "I suppose it is 'never say never', but for sure it is great, great racing. It felt very familiar and it was nice to be in that comfort zone."
Won overall by three times La Solitaire champion Yann Eliès sailing with French-based British co-skipper Samantha Davies, the Sardinha Cup has been a useful first event for the fleet and for Dolan who now starts his solo training looking towards the season's pinnacle, June's La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro.