Tom Dolan – Hitchhiker to Sailor of the Year 2020
Tom Dolan charmed a lot of people with his thank you speech on award night – particularly when he thanked his mum. We wanted to hear more from the friendly man who won Irish Sailor of the Year without setting foot on Irish soil for over a year. We spoke on the phone just as he came in from a full day’s training down in Lorient – he’d got caught in traffic (yes they still have traffic jams in France!).
Becoming the “Flying Irish”
You have been living in France for a number of years now, when did you move ?
- I was in France 4 or 5 years before I bought my first boat. I couldn’t speak French but started picking it up while working in Les Glenans teaching sailing for my bed and board. I would race in Lorient any chance I got, we call it pontoon hitch-hiking – just rock up and look for a boat to step on and crew. Eventually I did my first mini-Transat and then I really felt I was part of the scene.
How did you manage to get from hitchhiker to mini Transat?
- A guy lent me a boat. I met him on the internet, he was looking for someone to be his co-skipper to go round the mini Fastnet. He had done it 20 years previously and wanted to give it a go again and needed a young crew. He ended up not able to do it and allowed me to do it without him.
- When I finally achieved my goal of becoming an offshore sailor I was offered a job managing the Glenans base in Corsica. It was decision time – a job with good pay and responsibility or more offshore sailing. I handed my notice in that day and went back to the marina.
Where did the name “Flying Irish” come from?
- I did one of the minis in 2016 and a well-known French sailor came off the water and called me Irlandais Volant (Flying Irish) and the name has stuck.
Sleep, eat, sail
Do you have any activities you do when the boat is in “cruise mode”?
- There is no “cruise mode” and no spare time on the Figaros. Sleep, eat, sail. The other sailors are all around you and you are constantly look for the best advantage. On the transatlantics I enjoy a bit of Spotify on my bluetooth headphones my girlfriend bought me.
Do you sleep?
- Oh yes. If you don’t get at least 1 hour of sleep in 24 hours you make mistakes. When I started out I used to have a white board marker to jot down the time I went for a nap, so would know how long I slept for. 4 hrs a day would be lovely, but 1 to 2 hours will keep your head straight.
What support do you have ashore while competing?
- When sailing in a Figaro you are not allowed any outside communication, but ashore I have a great shore team helping me with boat preparation.
- I have a “Preperator” (a person to help with boat prep). I am lucky to have someone that was on the French Olympic sailing team when he was younger and is really helpful. He understands my needs a sailor and the boat. I totally trust him with my boat. When I come in from a race, I leave the boat in his capable hands, so I can eat and sleep to be ready for the next leg.
What do you snack on while sailing? Can you have any hot food?
- I find hot drinks important for moral, especially if it is wet and cold. I used to bring coke and sweets and it was a bad move, the sugar buzz and crash and burn was terrible. I take dried fruits, nuts, freeze dried meals and I have a new love for porridge, particularly with blueberry.
I hear you polished your mast once. Does that REALLY make a difference?
- Every little bit might help. 1 ounce at the top of the mast is 30 ounces at the bottom of the keel. There is the psychology of it too. If another sailor sees me polishing my mast, then they may be slightly put out of kilter and wonder if they should be polishing too. 😉
What one thing would you miss the most on your trips if you forgot to pack it?
Do you have any rituals before you go sailing?
- Ring my mum before every leg 😎
Sleeping when sailing Solo vs Double ?
- They are very different. With solo, you are on your own you managing yourself and your own sleep strategy. Double handed is more intense as you have to work with someone else’s strategy. Sleep can be much deeper with double handed as you get a real break, but the rhythm is more intense because all the boats are working at 100%.
How many days a month on average are you with your boat?
- 15 – 20 days a month 9 months of the year.
Will you ever come back to Ireland and go club sailing?
- I do want to come back to Ireland someday.
Looking ahead to the future …
Is there anything you would like to do that you didn’t get round to yet?
Several ! Go back to college and study something I have an interest in, meteorology perhaps. I love what Sailing Into Wellness do. Maybe an Irish offshore racing programme. I want to do the Vendée Globe of course. And the mixed Keelboat Olympics 2024 is the next big challenge.
Do you have a female sailor in mind to join you?
- Yes. We will be training soon.
Can you tell me who it is?
Any advice for young sailors who want to pursue a professional sailing career ?
- Learn French and come to France. To Britanny. Meet people with boats - the marinas are full of boats and doing nothing. Be confident to ask “Your boat is doing nothing do you want me to sail her for you?”.
Tom has a busy year ahead …
- The Solo Maître CoQ - 22 to 28 March - solo
- Transat between Concarneau and Saint-Barth - 9 to 28 May - double handed with Gildas Mahé on his boat
- Tour de Bretagne - to 11 July double with Tanguy le Glatin
- Solo Guy Cotten - 20 to 28 July
- Fastnet Race 8 to 14 August - double with mystery woman
- La Solitaire - 24 August to 27th September
AND hoping to enter the ...
- Transat Jacques Vabre in November
It was a pleasure chatting with Tom and I hope he gets to come home and see his mum soon. 🥰
Photos thanks to Alexis Courcoux and Christophe Breschi.