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Sailing: Tom Dolan claims impressive first leg victory in the Solitaire Du Figaro

Remarkable performance proves a real career highlight for the modest Meath sailor

Ireland’s Tom Dolan enjoyed a career highlight in Kinsale last week when he became the first Irish-leg winner of the gruelling Solitaire Du Figaro opening stage since Damian Foxall almost 35 years ago.

Winning by just 16 minutes after 600 nautical miles of single-handed sailing into home waters was a sweet victory as he became overall leader.

While the memory will last a lifetime, the ultra competitive fleet and the vagaries of the light winds on the second stage route back to France took their toll and he has now slipped to the back half of the fleet at the conclusion of the second stage on Thursday evening.

Nevertheless, regardless of where he finishes after next week’s third and final stage, his game has picked up markedly this year, 12 years on from when he first embarked on his career in the French offshore sailing circuit.

“It’s been long, long journey over the past 12 years,” he told The Irish Times in Castlepark Marina last weekend. “I first went to France to learn more about sailing as I felt I had reached the most that I could in Ireland at the time, especially as I didn’t know anyone.”

His initial dream was to be a shore crew on for a Figaro campaign after meeting a French sailor through the Glenans sailing school who used to deliver the boats.

“I thought, that’s a pretty cool job and when Glenans offered me the chance to go and train professionally in Concarneau I jumped at it.”

Little by little, he worked his way up into the Mini class initially but never thought he’d actually race his own Figaro.

So what about the obstacles to getting into sailing in Ireland, are they formal or personal ?

“Back in my day I found it so inaccessible from the simplest thing when you try and show up on a pontoon and your’re not a member of any club, you don’t know anything and you just want to rock up and learn a bit about yacht racing . . . there were big huge barriers and signs saying ‘strictly private property’ . . . do not enter etc.

“Even on the lake that I grew up on in the middle of nowhere there’s a big barrier and if you walk up to the entrance there’s a voice talks at you telling you to get back – its the craziest thing ever!”

Dolan compares that to the pontoon in Lorient, Brittany where the biggest race teams are based with multimillion euro trimarans and the public just wander down and chat to the skippers.

He also spoke openly about overcoming his mental challenges this year that have contributed to his improving form in this hugely unforgiving fleet.

“I had what you could call impostor syndrome which is understandable; I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere in Co Meath and now I live in France, in Brittany with all these top class offshore sailors and you’re always comparing yourself to them.

“Half of them were 470 world champions or went to the Olympics and were medalists . . . some of the best sailors in the world. A big part of the work this year was to get all that out of my head and think positive thoughts.”

So has he now got the negativity out of his head?

“I have managed to, yeah. To be honest, the beginning of the season was difficult as a lot of people on my team got sick and I was stressed, had a couple of bad races then it’s a slippery slope with bad things going on in your head, especially when you have so much time on your own in a race on your own.”

Even thinking about his sponsors, Smurfit Kappa and Kingspan the imposter syndrome comes through with thoughts like “who the hell am I being sponsored by these two huge Irish companies doing so well internationally”.

“But they’ve always sent me supportive messages when I’ve done well and done badly. And my Mammy also told me to chase my dream, whatever it is.”

 

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