With a busy sailing season about to get into gear, events in the professional offshore racing circuit are already under way in France where Ireland has two active campaigns for the second consecutive year.
Making their respective debuts in the Figaro single-handed class in 2018, Meath’s Tom Dolan and Mayo’s Joan Mulloy are both back for their second season that features the brand new, state of the art Figaro 3 boat.
Bigger and faster than its predecessor, the Figaro 3 is the first production foiling one-design and has only been sailing for barely a few months.
In other words, few of the 30 crews have had much time to figure out the boat.
For Mulloy and Dolan, having the pre-season Sardinha Cup that is sailed double-handed is an ideal opportunity to bring added expertise to their campaigns.
Veteran ocean racer Damian Foxall from Kerry has teamed up with Dolan for the three-stage race that concludes this weekend while Britain’s Mike Golding is sailing with Mulloy.
“It’s been really great sailing with Mike, he’s a real grafter and he’s been extremely generous with his time and doing loads of work on the boat,” Mulloy told The Irish Times prior to setting off on the four-day stage around the Bay of Biscay.
“The boat is really interesting – it’s bigger than the Figaro 2, it’s more powerful with a bigger mainsail, all the sails are bigger in general. They’re going to be difficult to handle by myself so sailing double-handed for this event has been very useful.”
For Foxall, returning to the Figaro event is a journey back to his roots; he won the rookie trophy 20 years ago at the start of his career. Although the boats have changed, there is still a familiarity to the class.
“It’s a bit like riding a bike – there are some basic things that feel very familiar,” Foxall said. Dolan and Foxall are currently in 17th place overall though the former round the world race multiple winner says the result belies their performance.
“In the contest of the boats and the people around us – the best in the world – we’ve been doing well and leading the fleet at times during the previous two stages.” Their pairing is an Irish first in the French dominated scene though there is significantly more international involvement in the 2019 season.
“We’re aiming for a top-half finish [for the Sardinha Cup] and perhaps we’ll sail again together later in the season, post the Solitaire event itself,” said Dolan who has the backing of Smurfit Kappa.
Mulloy has struggled on the sponsorship front but is about to make a major announcement, boosted by the planned stop-over of the Solitaire race into Kinsale in early June. Her Atlantic Youth Club entry is currently at the bottom of the 32-boat fleet having retired from the second leg.
“In general, this year has been pretty tough for me and sponsorship has been hard to find,” said Mulloy. “The schedule is also pretty compressed with the Solitaire itself starting in just six weeks’ time with another two races before then.”
The Solitaire du Figaro is the single-handed race that has been the breeding ground for many of the world’s best ocean sailors who continue to compete in the event as well as aiming for longer-distance races such as the Vendee Globe non-stop circumnavigation.
“In terms of the Vendee 2020, the timing is looking very tight but I’m determined that this is going to be my career and I’m going to make sure I deliver value for my sponsors,” said Mulloy.
Like many of the fleet, Mulloy and Golding experienced technical issues that delayed the restart of the race by three days. But a relatively benign forecast for the remainder of the final leg leaving all to play for in this first competitive test for the new class.