From Marie-Galante to Les Sables d’Olonne, Class40 to Figaro Benetau 3, Caribbean to Biscay, a seamless transition on the cards for Irish sailor Tom Dolan

From Marie-Galante to Les Sables d’Olonne, Class40 to Figaro Benetau 3, Caribbean to Biscay, a seamless transition on the cards for Irish sailor Tom Dolan

After finishing the new 3,430 miles Niji40 Class40 race between Belle-Ile-en-Mer, France and Marie-Galante Gaudeloupe in fourth place, Irish skipper Tom Dolan is hot footing it back from the French Antilles islands to Brittany and the helm of his Figaro Beneteau 3 Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan to be ready for next Tuesday’s start of the 21st edition of the Solo Maître CoQ.

After racing in a crew of three for the first time, the return to solo racing for the second event of the 2024 French Elite Offshore Racing Championship sees Dolan set to line up for two coastal races out of Les Sables d’Olonne in the Vendée region, 20-30 miles contests which are the prelude to a 340 miles offshore race between Belle-Ile, and the islands of Ré and Yeu.

Dolan, skipper Gildas Mahé and Spanish teammate Pep Costa are doing their best to put behind them the slight disappointment at finishing fourth in the new Class40 Transtlantic race. They worked hard to build a lead through the early days of the race, but damage to their main halyard and a carbon ‘bone’ stopper meant they had to sail with a deep reefed mainsail – haemorrhaging miles to their rivals – before sheltering for four hours in the lee of the Azores to make a repair. Returning to the race course they found themselves almost 300 miles behind the leaders. Even if the international trio pulled back more than 150 miles on the top pair of Class 40as they could not make good the deficit.

Dolan fully enjoyed and benefited from the racing across the Atlantic – his ninth passage across ‘The Pond’ was the first time in a crew of three.

“It was great with Gildas and Pep. Racing as a trio proved to be very educational for me and gave me several areas to work on for the future, not least sailing on a larger boat, particularly in terms of managing heavier loads and maneuvers. On the Figaro, we tweaking things manually – by hand – making very fine adjustments, almost like a big dinghy. At 40 feet, to be efficient, you often have to try to keep things as simple as possible because the slightest little screw-up can quickly turn into a big problem and waste a lot of time. It was very interesting for me to practice all that,” says Dolan who between Brittany and the West Indies set some amazing average speeds on the scow styled Class40, averages very similar to those of the 60-foot IMOCAs of the pre hydro-foiling generation.

“It was a fairly difficult transatlantic race in terms of weather conditions and the technical stop cost us dearly. All this because of a Bone, a small carbon piece 2 centimeters long and 1 centimeter in diameter which failed! It’s annoying, especially since we were in the lead when it happened!” recalls Dolan “We sailed well, especially as there were some good guys in front of us, we were very technically sound. In the end, we are undoubtedly the ones who took the best route and covered the fewest miles. We are satisfied on many different counts and have some great memories, like during our pit-stop in Santa-Maria in the Azores where we found ourselves watching tutorials on Youtube to succeed in solving our problem.”

Now on Tuesday next week, after a quick pitstop at his home in Concarneau, Brittany Dolan will line up at the Solo Maître CoQ, in Les Sables d’Olonne.

“Actually no downtime feels good as there is not time to think too much. It’s good because I always have some kind of apprehension for this Vendée event. It’s a bit like my nemesis event. In the past, I got injured there or have damaged something. The last edition, in 2023 was good. So I now hope to have definitively buried the demons.”

And the format for the long race has been changed to make a more open course rather than as previously restricted by too many marks and waypoints “It will now be similar to a stage of La Solitaire du Figaro and will open things up on a strategic level. And there should now be longer days and shorter, slightly milder – that is to say not freezing  – nights than when the race used to be in March!” chuckles Irish born and bred ocean racer, who is maybe softening after too much time under the Caribbean sun.

Credit photo: Jean Marie Liot