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Tom Dolan prepares for Transat En Double Concarneau - Saint-Barthélemy with French Ace Gildas Mahé

by Andi Robertson 4 May 18:54 BST
Tom Dolan, the Irish skipper of Smurfit Kappa © Thomas Deregnieau

Next weekend Irish racer Tom Dolan will line up at the start of the 3,890 nautical miles Transat En Double Concarneau - Saint-Barthelemy harbouring realistic hopes of finishing on the podium, possibly even winning the two-handed race across the Atlantic which has attracted 21 starters. Dolan sails the Atlantic representing sponsors Smurfit Kappa and Kingspan partnering his very experienced French co-skipper Gildas Mahé which has twice finished on the podium on this race.

A long time friend and the training partner with whom he put in many hours on the water last Autumn and early Winter, Dolan and Mahé prepped and tuned in search of the small speed gains which the duo hope will make a key difference on this year's two pinnacle events, this imminent Transat en Double and September's La Solitaire du Figaro.

While the pair share the same approach and have complementary skills, Dolan is quietly pleased that he was asked by 45 year old Mahé to join him, in itself a very strong validation of the Irish sailor's established status among the top Figaro sailors.

The race is in effect the 15th edition of an event previously known as the AG2R Transat and follows a course from Brittany to Saint Barthélemy in the Caribbean. Cancelled last year because of the pandemic this will be the first Transatlantic race for the new Figaro Beneteau 3. Mahé has two podium finishes to his credit, second in 2016 with Nicolas Lunven and third in 2018 with Nico Troussel and he was runner-up on the 2019 La Solitaire du Figaro.

"It is an honour to be asked by Gildas but we have been good friends for a few years now. Last season, we worked a lot together and shared logistics, accommodation at races, a preparateur and pooled transport resources. So we then worked together last year after the season and so it is logical we sail together and we get on well, but it is still nice to be asked!" explains the usual skipper of Smurfit Kappa and Kingspan who joins Mahé on Breizh Cola for the occasion.

"I have certainly come up in the world after La Solitaire." Jokes Dolan who finished fifth overall on the 2020 La Solitaire, "And now we have put an Irishman in charge of food, we have loads of crisps and cola, we will be just fine!" "Seriously it is great to learn from Gildas, he is a natural long time competitor who came up through the ranks of the Optimist, 420 and 470 and so he is great at starting and the boat on boat stuff which has been my weakness because I did not do that as a youngster. But I know I can sail the boat fast, we both can, but I am better in the 'geekery', the technical performance data collection and analysis, knowing the boat. He was good in the Figaro 2 but this boat is a little more like a Mini 650 when it comes to crossing the Atlantic and I went across twice in the Mini. So we have a good mix of experience." Dolan outlines.

The 35 year old who grew up on a farm in County Meath, Ireland and moved to France in 2009 is cautiously optimistic about their prospects on this race. Physically and mentally he has put the early season ankle injury behind him, despite missing a few weeks sailing rehabbing the injury.

"It is all good, I missed out a little but I am glad we did so much last Autumn because we have done the miles and are fresh now which is important going into a Transat like this."

"We could do OK. What is nice is that I can finally look around the top of the fleet and know I have beaten everyone at least once and I think with Gildas we are a good team. I've known him as a friend for six or seven years so we are buddies, we are pretty solid."

Dolan concludes, "We share similar values, concerns about the health of the oceans and the climate. We are both comfortable downwind and the boat really is super well prepared. We have worked hard to have the sail shapes and designs, evaluating and choosing our best options. Between us, we count many Transatlantics, we know the game is going to be wide open and we have to make sure we finish before we can think about winning."

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