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Ireland’s Tom Dolan and his Beneteau Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan are back in the English Channel ready to take on all of the many challenges offered by the Le Havre Allmer Cup which starts on Sunday with a 340 nautical miles offshore race.

The event, which was last run in 2018, is the second event of the French Elite Solo Offshore Championship and has attracted 28 solo Figaro racers including home favourite Guillaume Pirouelle, a past 470 youth champion who grew up in Le Havre and is looking to follow in the wake of French star Charlie Dalin who is the town’s favourite ocean racer as a four times podium finisher on La Solitaire do Figaro an who was recently second in the Vendée Globe.

Dolan has some work to do if he is to climb the championship leaderboard after a disappointing Solo Maitre Coq in April. After tearing his spinnaker on the offshore race in the season opener which took place on the French Atlantic coast the Irish skipper had little chance of making it back into the top ten overall on what proved to be a very light winds event.

“It is certainly good to be back in the Channel and everything that brings. I like all the challenges, the tides, the winds and the races here are never over until you get across the finish line. It is often about easier gains and, equally, easy losses.” Dolan explained after his delivery from Brittany to the busy Normandy port which is one of the busiest in the Channel, “Oh, and the cargo ships are always there, you need to keep an eye out for them!”

The course looks set to be a rectangular shape starting with a very typical passage across the Channel to a turning mark at the entrance to The Solent, down the English coastline to Eddystone light off Plymouth then back across the Channel to a turn to the east at Portsall on the NW corner of Brittany to return to Le Havre. A low pressure system should bring winds of 20kts and but then lighter winds closer to the finish.

“It’ll likely be three days and nights at sea, finishing Wednesday. I am looking forwards to finally getting some wind as it seems that we have had a lot of light winds so far this season. And this is very like a typical Channel leg of La Solitaire so it will be good practice. I do like racing in the Channel as it is always interesting. I feel like I have proven to have good allround speed so far this season and now I need to stay with the pack and make smart decisions.” Dolan concluded.

The long offshore race starts Sunday afternoon at 4 pm CET.

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Tom Dolan and his English co-skipper Alan Roberts were taking the many positives from the seventh place finish that they secured early this morning (Thursday 5 May) when the Trophée Banque Populaire Route Sur La Route Iles Ponant finished into Concarneau, Brittany after nearly four days of very intense, high-pressure racing.

Having led the 12-boat fleet for much of the first half of the three-day, 18-hour race, sailing the Irish skipper’s Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, one strategic decision off Roscoff cost them a potential podium place on this new two-handed race around the Brittany course and the Ponant islands.

“After that mistake there was really no way of getting back into it in the light winds. We were in that scenario in the Channel where those who were first into the west going tide took a gain you would not get back,” Dolan said.

“But we sailed well enough; it gives us a lot of confidence to not just have been leading, but leading comfortably at times and clearly having good boat speed.”

The Irish-Anglo duo profited from a very good ambience on board and now consider themselves to be in good shape for the upcoming Sardinha Cup, the two-handed race from the Vendée coast across the Bay of Biscay to Portugal which takes place in one month’s time.

Tom Dolan and Alan Roberts on Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan | Credit: Alexis CourcouxTom Dolan and Alan Roberts on Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan | Credit: Alexis Courcoux

“I feel like we sailed our own race and made good decisions – other than that one – and kept the boat fast and well positioned,” Roberts added. “It was a pleasure to sail with Tom and we worked well together.

“We worked it so that we shared the big decisions – looking at the available information and agreeing together – while I did probably more of the sailing the boat with Tom trimming and keeping us fast as well as doing the navigation.”

Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan finished just 18 minutes and 46 seconds behind the winners Lois Berrehar and Erwan Le Draoulec on Skipper MACIF and 15 minutes shy of a podium finish after racing more than 540 nautical miles around the Brittany coast, passing as far south as La Rochelle and north to Roscoff.

Dolan concluded: “I think we learned we can be more disciplined in sleeping and not getting over tired but this was a very intense race with boats only a few hundred metres away all the time.

“The next race, the Sardinha Cup, is more of an open ocean race across Biscay and so there should be more chance to get into a watch type system and make sure we are better slept.”

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Ireland’s Tom Dolan pairs up with England’s Alan Roberts looking to cash in on new 800 mile Trophée Banque Populaire Grand Ouest race.

Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan paired up with on-form top English racer Alan Roberts on Sunday when the duo seek to land an Anglo Saxon win in a new 800 nautical miles French double-handed race for the Trophée Banque Populaire Grand Ouest.

The race started Sunday at 1330hrs (local time) from Dolan’s adopted Breton home port of Concarneau and looks set to take the 13 competing duos round the north coast of Brittany between the îles Chausey in the north and the îles d’Aix in the south on what will be the longest race of the 2022 season.

Light winds are expected to prevail throughout the passage which is expected to take around four days. Although the entry is relatively low for this new event it has attracted a very high standard including three times La Solitaire winner Yann Eliès who sails with young French skipper Basil Bourgnon and past La Solitaire winner Pascal Bidégorry sailing with Gaston Morvan. The only other non-French pairing are German Vendée Globe skipper Boris Herrmann sailing with English racer Will Harris.

“The thing about this race is that of the 13 entries at least half of them have a good chance of winning. It is a good standard and a chance to stretch our legs and put in some miles racing at a higher intensity because there are two of us on board.” Explains Dolan.

The Irish-Anglo duo will race on Dolan’s Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan and the Irish sailor feels they have a strong partnership:

“I have known Alan for many years and we get on great. I even worked for him as a preparateur before I started in the Figaro. We have the same kind of profile and backstory – both coming to France and living here to crack the offshore solo scene – and so it will be good to team up and see how we do. Plus for me it is a nice wee bonus to be starting out of Concarneau where I live!”

The duo have complementary backgrounds. Roberts is a past British dinghy champion who cut his teeth in high performance dinghies before turning to solo offshore racing whilst Dolan started out as an offshore sailing instructor who moved directly to the Mini 650 class. Roberts is very much on form, winning the final race of last weekend’s Solo Maître Coq to take third overall. Dolan tore his spinnaker on the long offshore race and ended up 19th.

“I am still a bit frustrated after last weekend so I am looking forwards to being back out on the water and going again. Alan had a good race so hopefully here we can do something good. He is stronger on the starts and is one of the best in the boat for boat stuff and so he will steer early on whilst I will trim and make the boat go fast as I know the sails and settings as it is my boat which I know well.” Dolan said.

“ I think when we get up to the north of Brittany in these light winds where we will be rock hopping to avoid the tidal currents then we need to be really lucid and strong then and so we will try to be quite disciplined in looking after each other and not getting too tired too early.” Sums up the Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan sailor.

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A hard-earned 12th place in the final coastal race (Sunday) was small consolation for Irish solo racer Tom Dolan. Added to his 13th from Saturday’s light wind windward-leeward circuit Dolan, skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan finishes the first major race of his 2022 season, the Solo Maître Coq in 19th place.

The solid short course results buoyed Dolan’s mood slightly after last week’s massively disappointing 330 miles long opening offshore race. He tore his spinnaker beyond repair midway down a long downwind leg and had to race on under small spinnaker. Desperately short of power he haemorrhaged places before picking up a few positions in light winds on the approach back to Les Sables d’Olonne. He was subsequently also penalised 10pts under the Figaro Beneteau 3 for having to swap to a replacement spinnaker for the remaining two races.

Dolan did finish with his best race today, largely holding his own around the 34 nautical miles coastal course off Les Sables d’Olonne. With good upwind speed he was 10th at the last windward turning mark but lost a couple of boats on the final run due to a problem with his spinnaker halyard.

“All in all I am fairly happy with the way I sailed. I seem to be very fast upwind which is good and the key for me is that my boat on boat stuff – which was my weak point – was OK, and these were shorter courses, like today’s which have been my Achilles heel.” Said Dolan today on the Vendée Globe pontoon in Port Olona, Les Sables d’Olonne.

“Having to sail 60 miles with no big kite on the offshore was painful, and terminal as far as a good result here is concerned. I was just sailing along and it just exploded in two. Looking back I think now that we were doing outside gybes, that is to say where the sheets run across the sail and I think that had weakened the sailcloth. But really the whole fleet passed me. It was hard but I just kept at it.”

Dolan was sanguine about the consequent rules penalty which is designed to stop sailors with big budgets develop multiple different spinnakers for different wind strengths and angles. He takes a 10% places penalty so drops to 19th overall in the 33 boat fleet.

“Them’s the rules but I felt I like I was penalised enough by losing so many places. But you have to take it and move on.” Dolan said. “But today was good it was a perfect day to work through the ranges and do loads of manoeuvres and the changes of sails.

While the wind was so light and unsettled on Saturday that just one of the two scheduled windward leeward races could be completed, today’s coastal was raced in a solid 15-18kts of breeze. The race was won by Briton Alan Roberts who Tom Dolan pairs up with for early May’s new Banque Populaire Grand Ouest Trophy for the Route des Iles du Ponant.

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A long, comprehensive spring season of training and preparation comes to an end Tuesday as Irish solo offshore sailor Tom Dolan takes on the first major solo race of the 2022 season. The Solo Maître Coq is the traditional curtain raiser, the opening event of the season long French Elite Offshore Championship and it has attracted a strong field of 33 entries.

The format has changed this year, reversing the order of events, so that the 340-nautical miles long offshore race is now first, starting Tuesday, followed by two shorter days of racing. Dolan completed his last training block three weeks ago now – intensive sessions, fine tuning boat-on-boat racing skills, starting and manoeuvring at mark rounding – and then raced the Plastimo Lorient Mini 650 two handed Mini650 class race with the up and coming Japanese skipper Federico Sampei, Dolan now says he is itching to be back racing solo on his Figaro Beneteau 3 Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, not least to put all his learning and training improvements into action on the race course.

“I think I can safely say I feel like I have never been better prepared for a race. Training has gone well and I feel quite confident based on what I have seen and learned through the winter.” Said Dolan on Sunday on the famous Vendée Globe race dock Les Sables d’Olonne on the French Atlantic coast.

“I feel I have really worked on my weak points through this winter and my all round game has improved. We did the speed work earlier in the winter and it has been less of a fixation and I have really been working on getting off the start line well and making better starts into the races as that is what let me down too much last year.” The Irish skipper summarises.

Tuesday’s 340-mile race between Belle-Ile, Ile de Ré and Ile de Yeu is followed by coastal courses of around thirty miles out of Les Sables d'Olonne. At three days before the start the weather situation looks complicated as the different weather forecasting models do not agree with one another.

“We will just have to take it is it comes. I have done this course four times I think and so you get to know it a bit. But while I am confident in the work I have done and don’t feel there is anything I could have done more, it is always important to get out there and validate what you have been doing. And it is important to me to make a good start the season to come away with a decent result.” Smiles Dolan who had to withdraw from this race with an injured ankle in late March last year.

He is pleased the long offshore race starts this year’s programme:

“I'm always more comfortable on the long race than on the coastal ones. This will give me time to warm up! I am objective and just want a fair result as this Solo Maître CoQ has not been good for me before. The first time I kind of had a bit of a mental blow up and the second time I hurt my ankle. This time, I want to finish well and finish happy with what I did on the water” he concludes.

“Most of all at this stage it is about going out and executing and building confidence so I feel at my best going into La Solitaire du Figaro.”

Follow the race here

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Ireland’s leading solo offshore racer Tom Dolan has almost finished his training phase prior to the start of the five events which comprise the 2022 French Elite Offshore Racing Championship, the season-long solo and short-handed circuit which has La Solitaire du Figaro (Aug 15th to September 11th) as its pinnacle.

Dolan’s career-best finish in the championship was sixth in 2020, the year he finished fifth on La Solitaire. After six intense weeks of training he now feels his overall game is in excellent shape as he seeks to break into the top five overall on the prestigious circuit which runs from April to September.

His season with his Figaro Beneteau 3 Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan starts with the Solo Maître CoQ (from April 15 to 25) followed by the Le Havre Allmer Cup (from May 21 to 29), the Sardinha Cup ( from June 3 to 19), the Solo Guy Cotten (from August 2 to 8) and then the famous La Solitaire du Figaro (from August 15 to September 11). A final placing inside the top five on the end-of-season rankings is the target as are top fives in each of the constituent regattas.

“The season looks good, all in all. I have set myself the goal of finishing in the Top 5 at all the races on the circuit this year but really without putting too much pressure on myself”, explains Tom Dolan, “The training has gone very well and I have had time to really look at each area closely and now even can make sure I get a little rest to ensure I start the season fresh and full of energy. I have worked a lot on my speed and to that end looking at and picking the best sails. I am especially happy with my mainsail and its setup. I think maybe before I worked well but ended up being too complacent in my speed but now I am vey happy. Lately we have worked on boat handling and boat on boat stuff and so I feel I have strengthened some of my weaknesses.”

Dolan will shortly also return to the Mini650, the class of very small offshore boats in which he cut his teeth, to sail and coach a young Japanese sailor Federico Sampei who has been selected for a training programme for DMG Mori, a Japanese talent training initiative which complements a Vendée Globe round the world programme. He will race the Plastimo Lorient Mini race April 4-10 with the young Japanese skipper.

“It is always good to be sailing on different boats from time to time. Federico is new to France and the whole scene here so it is good to be able to help him advance his skills and make him feel comfortable.” Smiles Dolan who recalls arriving in France from Ireland 11 years ago as he sought to carve out a solo racing career.

Tom Dolan has one more week of training with the Lorient group he sails with, focusing more on starts and first leg strategies – still his weakest area – before setting up for the first regatta of the season the Solo Maitre Coq in three weeks time. Having hurt his ankle during the early stages of the offshore race and retiring, Dolan is keen to put start his season on a good note.

In May he will race the Sardinha Cup to Portugal and back on Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan with the English Figaro sailor Alan Roberts.

“ I think we have very complementary skills and can be good for each other. For me, Alan is one of the best starters and tactical sailors round the buoys inshore and I am maybe stronger offshore and so it should be good for us both,” concludes Tom.

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The exceptionally-demanding final 642-mile stage of La Solitaire du Figaro 2021 took the 34-strong fleet from Morlaix in Brittany northwest round the Fastnet Rock, and then southeast to the finish at Saint-Nazaire on France's Biscay Coast. After three frustrating stages, it was as though Ireland's Tom Dolan on Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan had been completely re-born as a solo sailor. He was first at the Fastnet, and while no-one could have staved off the multiple challenges from the chasing fleet in the flukey conditions, he still secured a podium place to take the bronze at the finish in a brilliant comeback.

Tom Dolan in thoughtful mood after his 2021 season ended on a real highTom Dolan in thoughtful mood after his 2021 season ended on a real high

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Ireland’s Tom Dolan was in fine form last night (Friday) in Saint-Nazaire at the awards ceremony for the 52nd Solitaire du Figaro, winning the Vivi Trophy for the best-placed non-French skipper in the demanding fourth stage, and taking third place in the fleet of 34 boats. After the frustrations and setbacks of the earlier stages, Dolan found new reserves of performance and endurance within himself for the challenge of a long final race from Morlaix round the Fastnet Rock (where he was narrowly leading overall) and then southeast past western Brittany to the finish at Saint-Nazaire, where he’d staved off multiple challenges to hold onto third slot.

Such is the level of competition in the modern Figaro Solo that the Vivi Trophy - presented to the Figaro organisation by Marcus and Megan Hutchinson of Kinsale and Brittany - has become a coveted award in its own right, and this - together with the prized third place in the fourth and final stage - was a much-needed boost for the Dolan team.

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Tom Dolan with Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan threw aside the earlier frustrations of the Figaro Solo 2021 by taking third place at the conclusion of the final stage at the finish off St Nazaire tonight (Thursday). Having been in the lead in the turn at the Fastnet Rock a couple of days ago, Dolan has been in the unenviable position of fighting off challenges from the 33 other boats in mostly light winds which meant that, at any one time, it looked as though half a dozen other boats might have snatched his lead in their own private breezes.

Almost inevitably, Pierre Leboucher and Xavier Macaire took their chance when it was available, and were ahead coming into French waters and at the finish.

But In racing of remarkable intensity, the “Flying Irishman” managed to stave off the challenge for third place from his Transatlantic Race shipmate Gildas Mahe, and Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan was a heart-stopping two and a half minutes ahead crossing the line.

First Round the Fastnet Rock

After leading the 34 boat fleet around the Fastnet lighthouse at 0240hrs early on Tuesday morning, in dirty, wet and very dark conditions, Dolan,34, held out resolutely, duelling with Macaire down the 370 miles downwind passage to the finish line, finishing only 11 minutes and 40 seconds behind the French skipper Macaire– who finished runner up overall. Macaire crossed the finish line just over four minutes behind Stage 4 winner, French Olympian Pierre Leboucher (Guyot Environnement-Ruban Rose). The race’s longest leg, at 687 miles, started on Sunday from Roscoff and returns to Saint Nazaire where the race started on Sunday, August 22nd.

After a promising tenth on the first leg, Dolan had two finishes he was disappointed with, 22nd on Stage 2 and then Stage 3 into Roscoff stinging him most, not just with the resulting 19th place but losing another three hours on his rivals after becoming stuck in very light winds and a strong contrary current within sight of the finish line.

Joy in leg four for Dolan after disappointing legs two and three of the 2021 Figaro RaceJoy in leg four for Dolan after disappointing legs two and three of the 2021 Figaro Race

Dolan is placed provisionally 15th overall.

A tired but elated Dolan smiled, “It’s great to get that first podium on La Solitaire but the cherry on the cake was being first-round The Fastnet, that was a bit special for me. It was cool. I did really just stick to my plan in the English Channel I had seen there was more breeze in the west. And there was some herd mentality going on with everyone sticking together. I spent that whole night on my own not really knowing where anyone was in the thick fog then about six in the morning it got light and there was a break in the fog and I could see the whole fleet to windward.

Coming back it was tricky. I ended up sticking with Xavier a lot and I ended up being convinced I was furthest west and south. You have no AIS, nothing so on the Figaro you know nothing.

It ends the season on a high. It shows what I am capable of when I can get to the front. I feel great, just delighted. I am a bit tired, but I really feel good. I can’t wait for next year. I have to have more confidence in myself. The second leg I was just not good and into Roscoff it was bad luck, bad timing to get stuck like that.”

Published in Tom Dolan

Having led the fleet round the Fastnet rock, Ireland's solo sailor Tom Dolan is in third place and vying for a stage four win this lunchtime in the closing stages of the 2021 La Solitaire Du Figaro off Saint Nazaire, France.

The leadership of the decisive Stage 4 was in the balance as the top group passed 82 nautical miles offshore of the NW tip of Brittany heading for the final finish line in Saint Nazaire on the Loire-Atlantic coast.

But while it has been Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019) -overall leader on the General Classification - and French former 470 Olympian Pierre Leboucher (Guyot Environnement-Ruban Rose) - who have been sharing the lead on what should be the penultimate day of racing, the last 24 hours into the finish line look set to encounter very light winds which could well mean the pack compresses and reshuffles.

A big high pressure ridge is set to become established in the west of the Bay of Biscay but even the various weather modelling software systems cannot agree on its evolution tomorrow. The skippers' weather files they left the dock with on Sunday are now well out of date and they are entirely reliant on the very basic synopsis and forecasts relayed to them from Race Direction, their interpretation of them and what they can see happening on the water.

Top ten, leg 4,09/16/2021 

1. Pierre Leboucher - GUYOT environment - Pink Ribbon, 9.4
2. Xavier Macaire - SNEF GROUP, 9.5
3. Tom Dolan - Smurfit Kappa - Kingspan, 9.4
4. Pierre Quiroga - Skipper Macif 2019, 9.8
5. Tom Laperche - Brittany - CMB Performance, 9.3
6. Fabien Delahaye - Gilbert Group, 9.2
7. Tanguy Le Turquais - Queguiner - Innoveo, 9.2
8. Gildas Mahe - Breizh Cola, 9.2
9. Erwan Le Draoulec - Skipper Macif 2020, 9.2

Tracker here

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