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Ireland’s solo sailor Tom Dolan moved up to 15th place over-night as the fleet in Mini-Transat continues to hold closer to the African coast in search of stronger northeast breezes writes W M Nixon. However, the decision to make the break to start to get nearer the base line to the turning point at Santo Antao in the Cape Verde Islands will rise steadily up on today’s agenda, and already current leader Remi Aubron is on starboard tack, and well over to the westward of the rest of the fleet.

But he has seen his speed go down to 8 knots, while Dolan and his sparring partner Pierre Chedeville, still on port tack over towards Africa, are on 11 and 10 knots respectively. Between them. but likewise still on port and on speeds comparable with Dolan and Chedeville, are the most consistent performers Tanguy Bouroullec, Clarisse Cremer and Erwan Le Draoulec, currently rated as 2nd, 3rd and 4th on the leaderboard. 

Race tracker here 

Published in Solo Sailing

In the Transatlantic stage of the La Boulangerie Mini-Transat 2017, which started yesterday from Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, solo sailor Tom Dolan and his rival/friend Pierre Chedeville have chosen to break from the fleet and hold well to the east, seeking stronger favourable winds running along the African coast writes W M Nixon.

This became a viable option when the organisers added 200 miles to the 1700-mile Stage 2 to the Caribbean, routing the fleet on a much more southerly route through the Cape Verde islands, in order to avoid a late season storm in mid-Atlantic on the direct route to Martinique.

Yesterday evening Dolan was taking his medicine as his tactic initially saw him slip back as far as 55th in fleet. But this morning both he and Chedeville are making hay at speeds between 9 and 11 knots with Chedeville slightly ahead in 22nd place and rising in the rankings, while Dolan has shot up to 26th.

The tactic is a long-term ploy, and its effectiveness (or otherwise) will need another day or two of racing for full assessment. But it certainly adds a sporting element to an event in which relatively close-fleet racing was the norm in the first stage from La Rochelle to Las Palmas.

Current leader is Tanguy Bouroullec, while this year’s most consistent star Erwan Le Draoulec is third and the Stage 1 winner Valentin Gautier is seventh. But they are well offshore from Africa, and currently sailing a couple of knots slower than Dolan and Chedeville.

Tracker chart here 

Published in Solo Sailing
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Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan has vowed to bounce back after a disappointing start to his bid to reach the podium of the Mini Transat when the second leg begins on November 1.

The 30-year-old from Kells, County Meath, admits he was "gutted" to finish the first stage of the iconic solo race in 12th place in the 56-strong 'série' division for production boats.

One of the pre-race favourites after a strong 2017 season, Dolan led the fleet out of La Rochelle, France, until realising he had made a course error and had to turn back.

The mistake relegated him to the back of the fleet but he managed to fight his way back to finish Leg 1 in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, just outside the top ten after just shy of 11 days at sea.

Tired and frustrated by the result, Dolan flew home to Ireland to rest and recharge at his parents' house.

With the start of the second stage - a 2,700 nautical mile race across the Atlantic to Le Marin in Martinique - looming, Dolan said he is ready to put leg one behind him and pull out all the stops for leg two.

“It was heartbreaking having to sail back under spinnaker towards La Rochelle when I realised I'd made a mistake a few hours after the start of leg one,” he said.

“I managed to claw my back back to twelfth but it wasn't the result I was after. I was gutted.

“I decided to go home for a bit to rest up. It was my first week off in months and it did me well.

“Now I'm looking forward to getting going again. The run-up to the start of leg one in La Rochelle were stressful but going into the second leg will be much easier without so many commitments. It'll be nice to concentrate solely on the sailing.”

Despite Dolan's disappointment his goal of a podium finish is still very much doable – the Mini Transat is scored on cumulative time, and he is currently just seven hours behind leg one winner Valentin Gautier.

Unlike in the first leg where the fleet sailed a fairly straight line south west to Las Palmas, the second stage across the Atlantic will provide plenty more tactical options.
“I need to make up seven hours on first place and five hours on second - it's nothing really over a 2,700-mile leg,” Dolan said.
“Because the next stage is across the Atlantic there will be much bigger lateral splits between boats. Anything can happen. One wind shift of a few degrees could see that time wiped off.”

The forecast for the start of leg two, beginning on Wednesday, is for stable North Easterly winds of 12-14 knots – perfect conditions to propel the fleet out into the Atlantic.

The stage is expected to take around two weeks to complete.

Follow Dolan's progress in the race here. Tom races in the Série Fleet. His boat is 910 Offshoresailing.fr

Published in Solo Sailing

As the tension builds for Ireland's Tom Dolan, the Mini Transat fleet have had a late change of course ahead of tomorrow's Transatlantic start from Gran Canaria.  

Midway between the Bahamas and the Azores, a tropical wave is taking shape as an active storm formation looms say organisers. For the time being, the associated minimum low pressure is not likely to prove dangerous, however the water temperature, which is exceptionally warm for this time of year, is conditioned by a high degree of instability. As such, ultimately, the formation of a tropical storm is a plausible hypothesis.

Grouped around the tables in the racers’ zone in the Vela Latina marina, the solo sailors were all talking about it. As they awaited a decision from Race Management, everyone was guessing the possible outcomes. Indeed, this morning, the routing clearly favoured a route a long way north of the direct course, but one that is potentially on a collision course with the tropical storm in question. Various scenarios were being mooted as to how likely it was that the tropical wave would transform into a deep depression, or even form into a hurricane. 20% probability is an acceptable hypothesis according to some, whilst other reckoned it was still too high.

Detour via Cape Verde
Race Management has since made its decision. Wishing to avoid taking the risk of sending the fleet of 6.50m boats into winds in excess of 45 knots and wild seas, Denis Hugues, in agreement with the organiser, has decided to create a compulsory gate between the islands of Santo Antao, to the north and Sao Vicente to the south. In terms of distance, this equates to a detour of around 200 miles in relation to the direct route, or one long extra day to make Martinique. On the upside comes the guarantee that everyone will be sufficiently far away from the potential centre of the tropical low. In any case, the passage along the channel between the two islands may herald further measures to be imposed upon the Mini sailors should the weather situation deteriorate.

A change of strategy and tone
Of course, the passage via the Cape Verde islands changes the strategic tone somewhat. Some sailors were hoping for a wide open playing field, but now they will be forced into some more refined navigation, where the timing of the gybes is sure to count a lot more than any choices about major options. Indeed, the racers will have to really be on their game to find the right wind angles and be opportunistic on the trade wind route, which is seldom steady. Those who feared they would be playing trains will feel let down. That said, who would choose to hit the road in a car whose brakes had a 20% chance of failing?

Published in Solo Sailing
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Royal Cork's Mark Mansfield, the four time Olympic helmsman, dropped in on Tom Dolan in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria ahead of today's prologue in the second leg of the Mini Transat.

Regular readers will know that solo sailor Dolan, who led the first leg of the race before discovering he had made a course error, has given a sincere account of his first leg trials to Afloat.ie readers here.

Full–time sailor Mansfield, who featured on Afloat.ie recently, says 'Tom's in good form and raring to get back out there and show what he can do'. 

The race itself restarts on Wednesday with the transatlantic leg.

Published in Solo Sailing

Tom Dolan has had a good rest and recharge after ten and a half tough days at sea during the first stage of the 2017 Mini–Transat. Here he gives a short rundown of how things went with some video from his onboard camera too.

I'm still a bit guilt ridden about making such a stupid mistake at the beginning. Some of you may be wondering exactly what happened: They set up a gate for us to sail through before heading out to sea just to regroup the fleet one last time for photo's, sponsors etc. As the weather for the start was forecast to be foggy they moved the gate at the last minute. They did not tell us in the briefing but simply added it to the amendment to the racing instructions and in the rush of the start and my head being elsewhere I never noticed the line about the start gate.

An hour after the start my buddy Pierre called me on the vhf to say I hadn't passed the gate. This threw me into a daze of confusion as the GPS was telling me that the gate was another 2 miles ahead. As there was very thick fog I hadn't seen the two black buoys that everyone had passed. I knew I was very far left, but had planned it to catch the outgoing tide around Ile d'Oileron, so I actually thought I was doing very well. Once I rushed below and pulled out the amendment to the race instructions I read the line stating it had been moved and my stomach sank.

After two years of preparing for this, the months spent working on the boat, the hours spent on trains to Paris and planes to Dublin, the miles of deliveries between Lorient and Concarneau and the long nights spent squinting in front of the computer screen preparing presentations and proposals and it only took me one hour and one line on a piece of paper to mess it all up.

I then had to sail back towards La Rochelle under spinnaker while the others where en route towards Cape Finistere. Once I had rounded the way-point of where the gate had been (the gate wasn't even there any more!) there were 10 miles between me and the lead group. For the next two days I struggled to sleep due to the guilt mixed with the urge to catch up to the lead group, with whom I have battled all season.,

I thought a lot about everyone who has helped me with this project and about all of those who had made the trip to La Rochelle just for me, how I had let them down and how I wanted to do well for them. The intensity of these first days allowed me to work quickly back up the fleet, but also threw my routine completely off. The important part of this leg was to arrive at Cape Finistere fresh and rested, I had made a good comeback but at a price.

By the time the wind and sea picked up and we passed the TSS, the lack of sleep meant I was completely "In the red" as we say, I didn't know where I was and I started seeing things, I usually manage my sleep very well, but this had thrown it completely off kilter. The fatigue resulted in me taking my foot off the throttle, I struggled to make decisions and it cost me miles.

The first sleep came after the Traffic Separation Scheme, in about 25 + knots screaming down waves at up to 15 knots, I think it was the relief of being away from the coast, clear of the TSS and on flatter sea which allowed me sleep. The boat screamed along as I snored in symphony! Once I woke things started to go better, I had created a massive lateral split taking quite a risk but it paid off, the wind shifted 20° to the right to NE and as I was the furthest west it was Christmas!

The middle part of the race went quite well. We enjoyed typical trade wind sailing, without the squalls and I had managed to work myself from last place up to the top ten. I was back in the match and it was fun, I aimed for a western route as the forecasts were telling us that there would be more wind in the west, as we would round a weak low pressure system over Portugal and have a good angle for the weak NE winds forecast over the Canaries, generated by a Low pressure system over the West African continent.

However the weather for the final part of the race wasn't to be so simple. Two huge but very weak areas of low pressure descended over the Canaries and it was a lottery about who they let through. I found myself in the lead of a group of 5 or 6 boats and things looked good for finishing at least in the top ten, and perhaps not too far from the podium. Two nights in a row we played lottery in the flukey winds and two nights in a row I lost.

The first of these nights I sailed into a hole with no wind, and the following boats just sailed around me (they could see on the AIS that I was stopped.) That night I lost 4 places. Then the next night was the most heart breaking. The same group who had managed to pass me and were just 3 miles to the west of me sailed off at 4 knots while I was stuck at zero, drifting with the current for 6 hours. That night cost me 15 miles. If everyone is stuck in a whole it's okay but when your the only one stuck and your competitors gently sail away it becomes unbearable.

The western route that we had taken meant that we had more ground to cover in what we have named the "Mistoufle", the newly created maritime word for a windless lottery. In the end those who played the eastern card won the gamble.

This is an intense sport, we deal with more highs and more lows, more moments of desolation and elation in three days at sea than we would in a year on land. We must assume our mistakes in their entirety without having anyone to turn to, anyone but ourselves to blame. We all live around a motto to which we turn to in the most difficult of times, "ne rien lacher", or "never give up". It may sound cringey and to be honest it is but the simple fact is that you are on your own, in the middle of the ocean and you have no choice but to continue. And when the time comes that things turn in your favor it is all the more rewarding, and this is the beauty of this sport.

So now it is time to put my brain into goldfish mode, like tennis players do, and to think only of the second leg. To think of it as a new start, a new race and hopefully at the end I will manage to scrape back enough time on the others to achieve the correct result that I hope so much for and I owe to so many of you,

Thank you so much again for the support, I am back in county Meath for a few days rest then back to the Canaries on the 25th.

Published in Solo Sailing

At 00.57.20 this morning UTC, Ireland’s Tom Dolan finally crossed the finish line in Las Palmas in the Canaries in 12th place at the end at the end of a mostly slow 1,350 mile Stage 1 of the Mini-Transat from La Rochelle writes W M Nixon.

Having been at the back of the fleet shortly after the start because of the need to re-trace his steps to round a mark missed in error, he’d worked his way steadily back up through the rankings to be in a best place of 9th in a Production Class of 56 boats. But the final 500 miles of the course from south Portugal have been plagued by calms and some exceptionally severe reversals of fortune, with hard-won gains snatched away by the sudden new appearance of a better breeze in another section of the fleet.

Tom dolan mini transat 2017 1At 00.57.20 this morning UTC, Ireland’s Tom Dolan finally crossed the finish line

At times Ireland’s sole entry found himself at 9th, but equally at others he was back in 19th or worse. While he had been one of the star performers when the fleet was in fresh nor’easters off northwest Spain a week ago, the war of attrition which developed since in light and sometimes non-existent north to northeasterlies for the concluding 500 miles was much less his style.

At the front of the fleet in Las Palmas last night, the Proto Division was won by favourite Ian Lipinski in Griffn.fr, but only by 2 minutes from Arthur Leopold Leger in Antal-XPO - Leger had in fact led this race for long periods in a season which has been largely dominated by Lipinski’s bat.

In the Production Class, a new name came to the fore with a win for Valentin Gautier, who took the lead in the final days from steady performer Remi Aubrun, whom he beat by all of 2 hours and 20 minutes last night. Placings were closer thereafter, as Aubrun was only 8 minutes ahead of Clarisse Cremer in third, while Erwan Le Draoulec was just 16 minutes behind in fourth.

Tom Dolan meanwhile was battling for 12th place with Oliver Tesloff and Germain Kerlevo, and he succeeded in beating both of them when he crossed the line just before 0100 hrs this morning. This means that, timewise, the only skipper ahead of him who goes into the second-stage “real” Mini-Transat itself in early November with a really significant time advantage (the final results will be based on the total time for the two legs) is Valentin Gautier, as all boats between 2nd and 14th finished within a five hour slot.

Valentin Gautier’s performance is notable, as the first part of his season had not gone well for him, with non-finishes in two important training races. But as this first leg of the Mini Transat 2017 proceeded, he was increasingly in contention, and in the final stages he was in the situation of either reading the flukey winds to perfection, or being lucky. It helps to be both.

While the top sailors in this special event – maybe twenty in all - are fully-sponsored and on proper salaries from their sponsors, financially speaking Tom Dolan is largely on a wing and a prayer. For all that it is recognized as a major event of international significance, the Mini-Transat has a strong, almost totally French emphasis.

Thus a very Irish farm boy from Meath like Dolan always has a struggle in demonstrating his relevance to the French cultural-sporting and sponsorship scene, while at the same time remaining connected to his supporters back home. It is truly remarkable that he has got as far as he has, and the big one in November – all 2,750 miles of it - now beckons with Tom Dolan reasonably well placed in terms of overall potential.

Published in Solo Sailing
Tagged under

They’d optimistically talked of “a week and a day” when the 54 solo sailors in the Production Class set out on 1st October in the 1350 miles La Rochelle to Las Palmas Stage 1 of the Mini Transat 2017 writes W M Nixon.

But current leader Valentin Gautier still has 74 miles to sail this morning, and ten days of racing will have soon elapsed. With speeds seldom enough staying above the 5 knot level over these final miles, it continues to be a slow-finishing light-air business as they close in on the capital of the Canary Islands.

The pace may have been slow for the past 24 hours and more. But place changes have been rapid as first one group and then another has been favoured by localised breezes. Ireland’s Tom Dolan, at one stage up in ninth, currently finds himself in 13th with 121 miles still to race, and a current speed of 3.7 knots.

He is indicated as exactly neck-and-neck with 12th-placed Mathieu Lambert and showing the better speed (Lambert is on 3.4 knots), so Dolan may move up a place or two very shortly. But equally he only has a narrow margin ahead of Vedran Kabalin and Germain Kerlevo, both of them skippers of note, so the weary struggle will continue to the very end.

Race tracker here

Published in Solo Sailing

The extensive area of calms and light winds north of the Canary Islands did provide some gratefully-received local zephyrs last night for the Mini-Transat 2017 fleet writes W M Nixon. But although at one stage Ireland’s sole entry Tom Dolan had worked his way up to ninth place in the 56-strong Production Class, this morning a line of favourable breeze has been found by Remi Aubrun, and he leads at 3.9 knots with 150 miles to go, while Dolan has slipped down to 12th and is 30 miles astern, struggling in this morning’s lineup at just 1.1 knots.

But nearer the still-distant finish line, Erwan Le Droulac has found much the best local bite to the breeze, and is shown on 5.6 knots and only 2.4 miles astern of leader Aubrun. Overall, this marks a severe reversal of fortune for several-times-leader Clarisse Cremer, as she has cascaded down to 10th place, less than a mile ahead of Tom Dolan, and is making only 1.2 knots.

At the moment the race is such a lottery that the top priority for the lone skippers is not to finish too far astray on the main bunch. This is because the final placings in the Mini-Transat, after it has been completed with the second stage to the Caribbean, will be based on an accumulation of the elapsed times from Stages 1 & 2.

Nevertheless the fact that Tom Dolan is currently battling with Clarisse Cremer, who at one stage was so clear ahead that she’d a gap on the next boat of 16 miles, shows how astonishingly well the Irish skipper has recovered from his initial place at the back of the fleet a couple of hours after the start at La Rochelle nine days ago.

The prospect is for the winds maybe to firm in around the Canaries later tomorrow. But there’ll be hunger for wind – and just plain old-fashioned hunger for food, which may be running low by this stage on some boats – for a day or so yet.

Race tracker here

Published in Solo Sailing

Solo Sailor Tom Dolan has again moved up the placing in the 1350-mile Stage 1 of the Mini-Transat fro La Rochelle to Last Palmas in the Canaries, as the leaders grapple with light and fluky winds in the final 300 miles writes W M Nixon

Dolan’s tactic of holding to the west has taken him over towards Madeira, where his speed this morning of just 4.7 knots is slightly better than many of the widely spread front runners, and he has moved up five places from yesterday’s 16th.

Clarisse Cremer’s Production Class lead of yesterday had been narrowly regained by Erwan Le Droulac, but now she is back ahead with 6 miles in hand, making 3.7 knots to Le Draoulec’s virtually becalmed state of 0.9 knots, with 227 miles still to sail.

Race tracker here

Published in Solo Sailing
Tagged under
Page 8 of 13

The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.

Competitions

The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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