24 Mar Irish Sailor Tom Dolan Sets out to break single handed Round Ireland Record
Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan is planning to return to his native Ireland in May when he will seek to break the singlehanded record for sailing 698 nautical miles around Ireland. The skipper of Smurfit Kappa –Kingspan is aiming to complete the circumnavigation in 3.5 days or less on his 30ft (10m) Figaro Beneteau 3 which he normally races in France where he has been based for more than a dozen years since leaving his rural, farming life at home in County Meath to pursue a career in solo ocean racing.
Dolan has harboured the round Ireland idea since 2020 during a period when all racing in France was cancelled because of the health crisis. Now, in 2023, a gap in his racing calendar has opened up and he is looking to seize the opportunity.
“ I wanted to do something valued and different.” recalls Dolan, “ Once the seed was sown in my mind and I saw the original record was set by an older Class40 I remain sure my more modern boat can go quicker.”
He plans to bring Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan to Ireland in late April and will be based in Dun Laoghaire until a suitable weather window appears. He explains:
“ I have never sailed round Ireland, and I know myself already that it is the most beautiful Island in the world, so it will be great for me to learn my own country from the sea. It is also very challenging course, with a lot of headlands, tidal gates and of course the infamous Irish weather. This idea has been in the back of my mind for a while and as I have a gap in the season I thought ‘let’s go’. And for me it is a nice personal odyssey, a chance to come home and enjoy a big challenge and, after 12 years away in France, I suppose you could call it a little bit of a homecoming.”
And while he has raced many times around the famous Fastnet Rock and taught sailing in Baltimore his knowledge of the west coast is limited.
“ The furthest west really I have been is Fastnet so it will almost all be new to me and so I am really looking forward to it.”
A Class 40 sailed by Belgian Michel Kleinjans set a solo record of 4 days 2 hours in 2005 but the Department of Marine issued a notice effectively banning solo record attempts. Tom is of course knowledgeable of the situation and will of course respect all maritime safety regulations and rules set out by the World Speed Sailing Record Council. “I have a little surprise up the sleeve of my foul weather gear” he smiles.
Tom Dolan asserts, “I think three and a half days is possible and if conditions are really, really perfect I think it could be done in under three days. That is based on my weather studies using historical weather forecast files over the last 15 years. I can run course routings which tell me what is feasible and whether it is best to round clockwise or counter-clockwise. There are so many different potential weather scenarios – a big anticyclone over Siberia, a good old fashioned Atlantic low pressure.” The decision will be taken at the time but Dolan believes at the moment that going counter-clockwise, Ireland to port (left) is most probable.
“Leaving Ireland to port (to the left) seems most likely. There are strong tidal gates in the North Channel, between Scotland and Ireland, and so being able to leave and time them more accurately can be important rather than coming all the way round and hitting them at a time you cannot really predict before the start, so that is where there is the potential to lose a lot of time near the end. And there is a quite often a windshadow there, so you want to get through that bit and on to the West coast which is the longest leg but where you can eat up the miles fastest and most efficiently.“
There is an existing record for the Beneteau Figaro 3 , sailed two-handed , which was set by Pamela Lee and Cat Hunt in 2021 at three days and 19 hours. The Irish racer who has finished fifth and seventh overall on La Solitaire du Figaro, the unofficial world championship of solo one design offshore racing, concludes,
“It will be very different to racing. There will be no tactics involved, no fleet of boats racing in close contact with me like on La Solitaire du Figaro so although I will have to ensure safety on my own, equally I can set my own rhythm a bit more so I can pick the best times to sleep and eat according to the weather and the leg rather than what other competitors might be doing. You are not monitoring a fleet of rivals all the time can be incredibly tiring and stressful.”
Standby will be from the end of April to end of May in Dun Laoghaire so there will be a chance to sail with his sponsors Smurfit Kappa, Kingspan and Dubarry.
“I hope this is a great opportunity to engage with the Irish people. It is a good sailing challenge but easy enough to follow. I have never done anything like this before and I can’t wait”