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At 735 nautical miles long, the Banque Populaire Grand Ouest Trophy race, which starts Saturday at 1300hrs local time, is one of the most extended offshore courses of the 2024 season for Ireland’s Tom Dolan.

For the double-handed course, which will take four to five days, Dolan will resume his partnership with the young French co-skipper Paul Morvan, whom he sailed with on the Laura Vergne Trophy race earlier in the season, finishing in fourth place.

“It looks quite light and flukey so that it will be interesting. Certainly, the first 48 hours up to the Iles de Chausée look light and flukey. It will be important to be well positioned up there because it will stretch open after that.” Explained Dolan as he and Morvan prepared the Figaro Beneteau Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan.

The course takes the fleet out of Concarneau—where the Irish skipper lives now—up the Brittany coast to turn at the Iles de Chaussée, a set of small rocky islets just to the west, offshore of Granville, NE of Saint-Malo and Mont St Michel.

The 735 nautical miles long the Banque Populaire Grand Ouest Trophy race courseThe 735 nautical miles long the Banque Populaire Grand Ouest Trophy race course

“Paul and I are ready to go. We know that we will not sleep much because there will be so much going on, lots of stop-starts, especially in the Channel.” Dolan adds, “The first part of the course promises to be particularly challenging as we will be working between the thermal breeze and the synoptic wind, which will make it interesting to the Channel Islands.”.

Morvan, whose background has been in ILCA 7 Olympic class dinghy racing, enthuses, “Tom and I complement each other perfectly. We have full confidence in each other. We are solid together.”

“Paul brings an extra layer of confidence; he is strong on starting and boat-on-boat racing, and I think together we are a good team.” Concludes Dolan, who is looking to better the eighth overall he placed last time with Brit Alan Roberts.

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Irish sailor Tom Dolan has once again proven his worth among the best offshore racers in the world with an impressive sixth-place finish in the Solo Maître Coq. The gruelling 390-mile solo offshore race, which finished in Les Sables d'Olonne in France's Vendée region, saw Dolan secure a solid fifth place, thereby cementing his sixth-place overall finish in the event. 

Dolan, skipper of Smurfit Kappa – Kingspan, has shown that he is comfortable racing with the best of the best offshore, matching his sixth-placed overall position from last year's event. Speaking about the race, Dolan said, "It was a great race. There was stuff going on all the time, especially in terms of choice of courses. I really enjoyed it!" 

Tom Dolan - surfing at over 30 knots in the 2024 Solo Maître Coq Race Photo: Vincent OlivaudTom Dolan - surfing in over 30 knots of wind in the 2024 Solo Maître Coq Race Photo: Vincent Olivaud

The 21st Solo Maître CoQ is a race that Dolan has clearly enjoyed, as he reflected on the challenging and thrilling moments during the race. "It was a good race, especially on the section between mark in the middle of the Bay of Biscay and the finish. We had some surfs at over 30 knots, under gennaker. It was really, really hard, especially since the wind was super unstable. We were literally glued to the helm with the sheet in our hands taking waves of ocean in our faces. We certainly had enough salt! But the whole race seemed to flash by!"

Despite giving up a little in the last few miles, Dolan remained proud of his performance and is looking forward to future events. "It feels really good to play in front! The Solo Guy Cotten in mid-March was not very satisfying because I ripped a sail, but I know that as soon as the legs lengthen out a little, I am clearly more at ease," said Dolan, who will now enjoy some well-deserved rest at home in Concarneau following an intense spell that included the Solo Maître Coq and the Niji40 Class40 Transatlantic race.

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Irish offshore solo sailor Tom Dolan is currently sitting in 14th place (results downloadable below as a pdf) from 34 starters at the Solo Maître CoQ Figaro circuit event in France’s Vendée region.

Dolan expressed his 'frustration' after the second race of the event had to be abandoned after six hours of racing due to a drop in breeze.

Despite the setback, Dolan is happy with his performance in the first race, where he 'gained more places than he lost'.

“It’s annoying to have spent so much time fighting it out on the water and to end up with no score to carry forward. That is very frustrating, even in the grater scheme of things if the race only had a coefficient of 1,”

The skipper of Smurfit Kappa – Kingspan is known for his offshore skills and is optimistic about the course set for this year's event, which places the fleet racing in the middle of the Bay of Biscay.

The offshore race component of the event, spanning 390 miles, is set to take place on Thursday, with the race expected to finish between mid-morning and mid-afternoon on Sunday.

Dolan is confident about the race and is looking forward to some challenging upwind conditions.

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From Tuesday until Saturday Irish solo skipper Tom Dolan will compete out of Les Sables d’Olonne in the Solo Maître CoQ, the second of five events counting for the 2024 French Elite Offshore Racing Championship.

“The crewed transatlantic race was a great experience for me. It was really re-energizing. It was a real breath of fresh air, but here I am, super happy to be back on my own boat now, even if it seems very small to me!” grins Dolan.

Racing starts Tuesday at 1100hrs local time out of the famous Vendée marina.

“I’m ready, even though my legs are still a little weak after so much time on the boat. Conditions look fairly calm for the first two days, but with a lot to play for. It promises to be interesting,” says Dolan.

There are two coastal courses of around twenty miles Thursday’s 390-mile offshore race on the Bay of Biscay.

“My objective is to make good starts especially as it looks set to be light and there is a lot to be lost over these first two races. And there does seem to be a risk of the racing being a bit follow my leader with few strategic options.” Says Dolan who finished sixth overall last year.

“The idea is obviously to be able to do better this year,” he concludes.

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Irish skipper Tom Dolan is gearing up for his next challenge, the Solo Maître CoQ race, after finishing fourth in the new 3,430 miles Niji40 Class40 race between Belle-Ile-en-Mer, France and Marie-Galante Gaudeloupe. The 21st edition of the Solo Maître CoQ will see Dolan racing solo again after competing in a crew of three for the Class40 race. The event is part of the 2024 French Elite Offshore Racing Championship and will consist of two coastal races out of Les Sables d'Olonne in the Vendée region, followed by a 340-mile offshore race between Belle-Ile and the islands of Ré and Yeu.

Dolan and his crew worked hard to build a lead through the early days of the Class40 race, however, damage to their main halyard and a carbon 'bone' stopper meant they had to sail with a deeply reefed mainsail, causing them to lose miles to their rivals. After a four-hour repair stop in the lee of the Azores, they found themselves almost 300 miles behind the leaders and were unable to make up the deficit.

Despite the setback, Dolan enjoyed racing as a trio, which gave him several areas to work on for the future, particularly sailing on a larger boat and managing heavier loads and manoeuvres. He also set some impressive average speeds on the scow-styled Class40, similar to those of the 60-foot IMOCAs of the pre-hydro-foiling generation.

Looking ahead to the Solo Maître CoQ, Dolan is optimistic despite some past difficulties at the event. He is pleased with the changes to the format of the long race, which will now have a more open course and longer days and shorter, milder nights.

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Irish offshore solo racer Tom Dolan is taking advantage of a break in the Figaro circuit to participate in a new crewed Class40 race - the Niji 40. Dolan is a key member of a three-strong international crew, skippered by top Figaro racer Gildas Mahé. The team, which also includes young Spanish racer Pep Costa, will compete in a 3,430 nautical mile Transatlantic course from the French Atlantic coast to reach Marie-Galante off the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

Starting on April 7th, Dolan and his team expect the passage to take around 13 to 14 days. They will race the Class 40 Amarris at the request of its usual skipper, who has to remain on land on paternity leave. Dolan's objective is to win, and he believes that the team and boat are capable of delivering, even though a transatlantic race always has surprises in store.

According to Dolan, the boat is good reaching, especially tight reaching. The three sailors have experience in the class, and Dolan and Mahé, in particular, have experience with the boat, Amarris, a Lift V2 which Mahé raced across the Atlantic on the Transat Jacques Vabre and Dolan sailed back from Martinique to France. 

Dolan is excited about the opportunity to expand his racing horizons and improve his skills in a different class. He believes that racing outside of the Figaro class gives him a new perspective and experience, a different way of looking at things, and different strategies and ways to set up a boat.

With three days before the start, the exact weather pattern for the first few days on the Bay of Biscay is not completely clear, but Dolan is expecting big winds and seas. He anticipates that there will be a bit of low pressure coming in, which will bring quite a lot of wind. They will be upwind for a bit, which is good for their boat, which is good on tight angles. The course will be quite open, as the only waypoint is the Azores, so it opens up the northern route more than some courses, where the waypoint you have to leave to starboard is down at the Canaries or Madeira, for example, and that makes the course shorter.

Dolan is confident about the upcoming race and is looking forward to the challenge. The team is hoping for a successful and safe journey across the Atlantic.

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Irish sailor Tom Dolan and his French co-skipper Paul Morvan secured a commendable fourth-place finish in the Laura Vergne Trophy following a 270-mile offshore race that ended on Monday.

Dolan and Morvan, who sailed Dolan’s Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, held their own in the early and middle stages of the race, which took place off the Breton coast between the Isle de Yeu and the Glénan islands. Despite a strong offshore route option, the duo played it safe and opted to control their position, finishing the race in sixth place.

Dolan was quick to praise his young co-skipper, who has an Olympic classes background, for his contributions during the race. The next challenge for Dolan will be the new Niji40 race across the Atlantic to Guadeloupe, which is set to start on April 7.

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Irish offshore sailor Tom Dolan is all set to take part in the Laura Vergne Trophy offshore race, which is a part of the 2024 French Elite Offshore Racing Championship. The event is named in memory of Laura Vergne, who was a prominent figure in the administration of the Figaro class of boats used in the championship.

Dolan, who recently suffered a ripped spinnaker in the Solo Guy Cotten Trophy season opener, will be sailing the Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan boat with French sailor Paul Morvan. The duo finished fourth in the championship's coastal race, showing great promise for the 270-mile offshore race scheduled for Monday.

Dolan had a week of solid training ahead of the championship, which included sailing the Class40 Amarris with Gildas Mahé and Spain’s Pep Costa. Though the weather forecast for the offshore race looks complex, Dolan seems optimistic about the race.

"The positive is that we can expect to do a lot of downwind racing, both on the way out and on the way back. If this does happen, it promises to be quite fast, and that's ideal because there is a gale coming in with between 35 and 40 knots on Wednesday, and it would be good to miss that!" said Dolan.

The Irishman and his team are ready to give their best shot at the championship and are hoping to make their mark.

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Tom Dolan overcame a torn spinnaker to finish in 11th place on the 370-mile offshore race of the Solo Guy Cotten-Concarneau, the Irish solo skipper’s first offshore race of the 2024 season.

The spinnaker tear happened within the first couple of hours of the race. With a small initial cut threatening to open up the sail completely, Dolan hung on adeptly until the big gennaker finally tore its full length.

Required then to use a smaller sail on the longest downwind leg of the course he lost a few places, but ultimately this morning he was moderately happy with the way he had sailed and, especially the strategic choices he had made.

Mea culpa, that’s operator error in a mechanical sport like this and you can’t get away with it in this fleet - Tom Dolan on his ripped spinnakerMea culpa, that’s operator error in a mechanical sport like this and you can’t get away with it in this fleet - Tom Dolan on his ripped spinnaker Photo: Gilles Dedeurwaerder

Skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan was objective “Mea culpa, that’s operator error in a mechanical sport like this and you can’t get away with it in this fleet. I was lucky it held on as long as it did. I had hoped to repair it on the long leg to Rochebonne but it was too far gone. But, otherwise I sailed well and made some good calls.”

Around the midpoint of the course, Dolan was between fifth and sixth, having called a windshift correctly on the long leg south, which allowed him to make his expected gains. But, lacking sailpower, he had no way of holding off his rivals who could still fly their big sails.

“It was a typical Figaro race in March. It was wet, intense, short, sweet and great to be back in it. I was happy to have got up to where I wanted to be, in the top group, but a little disappointed with how it worked out in the end. Under the small kite, I really struggled a bit when the wind was right down to 12-13kts, and it felt like there were boats passing me all the time.” Dolan concluded.

“I tore the kite when I was launching it at Penmarch. Initially, there was a little hole. I thought I would repair it on the long-reaching leg between Occidentale de Sein and Rochebonne, but shortly after Pierre Vertes, it broke. It’s a shame because I really liked that sail.”

He explained, “After that, I anticipated the big right shift. It is something I had worked on a few days ago. It worked well. I had fun and made sure to sail as fast as possible because I knew that then I was going to lose out when they were back under the big spinnaker and me the wee one. After Yeu, I limited the damage, but without the right sail, the loss was two knots of boat speed and 5° of VMG.”

“Overall, I felt very good in terms of speed. It’s a real shame about that big spinnaker.”

Looking ahead Dolan says, “Next thing is the Laura Vergne Trophy. I have Class40 training this week before that.

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Irish solo offshore sailor, Tom Dolan, is starting his 2024 racing season with a new approach. Rather than spending most of his time on the water, the skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan has prioritised his physical and mental preparation. Dolan is seeking to maintain his energy and focus at a higher level over the entire racing year, which he believes will lead to better results.

Dolan has been in the class for six years and feels like he knows the Figaro Bénéteau 3 by heart. Instead of being out sailing in search of tiny percentages in speed, he is trying to have and retain more energy and focus through each race of each event. Dolan says, “In turn, that should allow me to sail faster for longer and to have better energy to make better decisions and maintain a higher level of concentration.”

The Solo Guy Cotten races out of Dolan’s adopted home port of Concarneau from Monday until Thursday. Courses on the Bay of Concarneau are followed by a major 300-mile race between Pointe de Bretagne and Ile d’Yeu.

“I have trained a bit less on the water to make sure I am always hungry to go sailing and to do well, I have improved my strength and fitness and have worked hard on my mental game..” He says.

He has made some small tweaks to his sail program and is very happy with his boat speed. Dolan recently did some training with French skipper Jules Delpech under the watchful eye of Gildas Mahé.

“That has allowed me to look more closely at the sails again and to just validate my different trim settings. This Solo Guy Cotten will allow me to find my marks in the fleet. My goal will be to complete all the races in good shape, avoiding the pitfalls over a period of very high tides and doing the best I can against the competition, which is higher than ever with a few new faces coming in. I want to be practicing my starts and just rediscover the feel for solo racing under pressure. I don’t have a specific performance objective. My goal is to concentrate on what I can control,” says Dolan.

Dolan will race the Class 40 Amarris to Guadeloupe in April along with two other "Figaristes," good friends of his, Mahé, and Catalan Pep Costa. “Actually, that will be the first-ever crewed racing across an ocean I have done. I raced a Transatlantic before with Gildas, but this will be very different. The Class 40 is bigger and heavier and needs more physical work. Right now, I am about learning all I can on other boats too and learning from sailing with other people.”

Overall, Dolan had good results last year, and he is quite happy with his speed and experience. However, he believes that his biggest enemy is himself. He will do the best he can, just looking to chain together little wins and small victories along the way, rather than looking to achieve a ranking. The important thing for him is to have the feeling of having managed all the processes well and to feel he has sailed a good race.

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