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There have been several Irish offshore racing sailors who have been making national and world headlines for some years now, but in recent weeks and months the wave of new enthusiasm for the big ticket events has surged to fresh heights.

One of the stories underlying all this is the potential for a specialist marine industry base in Cork Harbour serving the continuous needs of the most advanced racing machines, and providing a launch pad for global campaigns. The idea has been around for some time now, but as reported in Afloat.ie as long ago as April 1st 2015, while the goodwill may be there, a firm decision is still awaited.

Local minister Simon Coveney has since moved on from the Marine to other Government departments. His present very senior role in representing Ireland through the Department of Foreign Affairs in decidedly turbulent times will mean that the needs of something so difficult to gauge for significant political and economic benefits will scarcely be top priority.

Yet for the many leading Irish sailors – both men and women – who have launched themselves into the decidedly uncertain world of top level professional competition, the problem of resources and facilities to keep the show on the road is always present, and frequently at crisis levels. W M Nixon wonders how there is going to be enough in the sponsorship pot – both nationally and globally – to help them all fulfill their dreams.

On Tuesday, Afloat.ie received confirmation of a “virtual press conference” in Cork, in other words a clearcut announcement that Nin O’Leary’s co-skippering of the IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss with Alex Thompson was going to move on to a full-blooded Vendee Globe campaign by O’Leary himself, possibly with a new boat.

coveney thomson hosford2The then Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney, Hugo Boss skipper Alex Thomson, and Stewart Hosford at the announcement in Cork in 2015 of a possible international offshore racing hub on Haulbowline Island.

In the meantime, the word on the waterfront is that the two skippers may do the two-handed Barcelona World Race 2018 in the current boat. But beyond that, the campaign plan for the charismatic O’Leary, mentored by Thomson and orchestrated by Stewart Hosford, is rumoured to be the building up of enough resources to keep this boat, yet also build a new one.

This is because the boat is still almost state-of-the-art, she has some features still absent in other boats, and could be serious opposition in someone else’s hands. Thus the ideal scenario is to maintain control of their current technology and design, while moving on to the next stage of development with an even more advanced boat for the Vendee Globe in 2020.

nin oleary3Nin O’Leary – a charismatic figure for Ireland’s younger sailors

We’re talking mega-bucks here, and the relationship with Hugo Boss has been very fruitful, but the elephant in the room - which hasn’t been mentioned yet - is how long will the Hugo Boss sponsorship continue?

This may all become clearer within the next ten days, as Thomson, O’Leary and Hugo Boss are headed for Ireland, with Cork in their sights on Monday 28th and Tuesday 29th August, and then they’re in Dun Laoghaire for a very public appearance on Wednesday August 30th, and staying until the Friday, September 1st for the ongoing launch of their new brand Ireland Ocean Racing.

This puts them top of the billboards. But we mustn’t let it blind us to the hopes of other campaigners, and on Thursday of this week, Tom Dolan made his final public appearance in Ireland before returning to France for the countdown towards the start of the Mini Transat 2017 from La Rochelle at the beginning of October.

tom dolan boat4Although Tom Dolan has some sponsorship for IRL 910, there is still a shortfall in funding for the Mini Transat 2017 which starts at the beginning of October from La Rochelle

tom dolan and friends5Tom Dolan (right) and fellow skippers in the Mini 650 class at Concarneau. The camaraderie and mutual help among the sailors contributes to France’s dominant position in short-handed sailing

Although Tom has some support backers whose logos appear on his sails, he makes no bones about his overall situation, as his Pogo 3, IRL 910, currently enters races under the name of “Still Seeking a Sponsor”. Whether his presentation in the National YC on Thursday will turn on any money taps in Ireland remains to be seen, the fact is that it’s in France he makes most impact. But in Dun Laoghaire, his burning enthusiasm left an abiding impression, for although his chosen life-path may be more exciting than running the small family farm in Meath, there are times when it’s a massive struggle.

Tom is one of several Irish international offshore wannabees and established skippers who have made a point of having the cup of coffee with Marcus Hutchinson. Hutchinson has transformed himself from being a young sailor who first learned his craft in Howth into an international sailing campaign management figure who maintains his Irish connections through Kinsale, yet is now a key presence at the French-led cutting edge of specialist offshore programmes.

Marcus hutchinson6Marcus Hutchinson is first Port of Call for anyone seriously contemplating a short-handed offshore campaign

It’s rumoured that in Brittany he has access to a large warehouse full of IMOCA 60s and Open 40s and whatnot. What we do know for sure is that he was very much the background force in Paul Meilhat’s stunning victory in the IMOCA 60 SMA in the recent Rolex Fastnet Race, a neatly-read campaign whose success was highlighted by the inescapable fact that Hugo Boss finished eighth out of the nine IMOCA 60s competing.

SMA with her dagger boards was optimized for windward work, whereas Hugo Boss with her foils most emphatically wasn’t. But while those in the know are aware of this, Joe Public simply sees the final results and takes it from there.

sma fastnet7The Marcus Hutchinson-managed SMA was convincing winner of the IMOCA 60 Class in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017. Photo: Carlo Borlenghi

Marcus Hutchinson’s deep well of sound advice is available to those who seek him out, and he is generous with his knowledge and sensible thoughts. Talking to Afloat.ie yesterday morning, he made the point that of the current wave of French superstars in the bigger boats, many have done the Figaro Solo at least a dozen times, and he reckons that setting out to take on the Vendee Globe straight from a career – however successful – in fully-crewed boats, is akin to taking on Everest solo without first trying a few smaller mountains on your own.

The list of those specialist sailors from Ireland who have made a point of seeking advice and assistance at some stage from Marcus Hutchinson is both impressive and fascinating, as it includes Damian Foxall, Justin Slattery, Enda O'Coineen, David Kenefick, Joan Mulloy, Sean McCarter, Tom Dolan and most recently Conor Fogerty.

joan mulloy8Joan Mulloy of Westport in County Mayo has secured a Figaro through Marcus Hutchinson, but still requires sponsorship

david kenefick9David Kenefick of Cork is another solo sailor who was guided into the Figaro Class by Marcus Hutchinson

And a salient fact which emerges in talking to some of them is the thought that while the Alex Thomson/Hugo Boss campaign was impressive, its central ethos of being stand-alone was ultimately counter-productive.

Two of the lone skippers mentioned above went so far as to say that if the Hugo Boss campaign had been prepared to mix it a bit more with the strongholds of French single-handed sailing in Brittany, then they would have won the Vendee Globe instead of coming second.

That’s undoutedly one for the speculation mill. But it gets a certain reinforcement from a statement this week from Nin O’Leary, to the effect that moving the base from Portsmouth to Cork would have the beneficial result of making the major French centres seem more accessible, as there’s almost a feeling of being trapped in the Eastern Solent, whereas in Cork it’s open water – and open thinking - all the way to Ushant and beyond.

This desire for open water and open thinking is spreading. One of the most interesting news items of recent weeks was that Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy hoped to secure a berth aboard Dee Caffari’s Volvo 65 for the up-coming Volvo World Race. Unfortunately the knee injury Murphy exacerbated with a spectacular capsize at the conclusion of becoming the International Moth Women’s World Champion 2017 on Lake Garda has put that idea on hold, but this shift of interest from the grind of Olympic training on a tedious four year cycle to the more stimulating world of big-time offshore stuff, with maior events coming up in rapid succession, reflects a discernible pattern of changing public awareness.

turn the tide on plastic10The new Volvo 65 Turn the Tide on Plastic. Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy had to defer taking up a berth on Dee Caffari’s Volvo 65 because of a knee injury sustained during a capsize in the Moth Worlds at Lake Garda

So Olympic sailing, ever mindful of the need to continue to attract public attention by whatever means, is going to include a test offshore series, probably for two person boats, in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

This is of particular interest to any Irish sailor desperately seeking sponsorship, for the reality is that on our island, there are only half a dozen sports – if that - which are big enough to make an impact on their own. The minority sports - sailing included - only figure significantly in public awareness if they come up in the Olympic searchlight.

That Olympic searchlight in turn encourages others to get involved, thereby stretching the cloak of sponsorship ever thinner. So it will be some time, if ever, before we see a joint approach to the challenge of raising sponsorship for this branch of sailing. And Heaven knows, but it’s difficult enough to get an effective short-handed sailing campaign of international standard up to speed without the endless worry of finding the money. Yet that’s the way it is. But if you really do find the challenge irresistible, Afloat.ie’s advice is to make arrangements to have a cup of coffee with Marcus Hutchinson before you do anything else.

Published in W M Nixon

#ior2020 - Ireland’s opportunity to compete in global offshore sailing competitions received a boost yesterday (Tuesday 15 August) at the launch of Ireland Ocean Racing, a new initiative with aspirations to compete in the 2020 Vendée Globe.

Team skipper Nin O’Leary aims to be the first Irish sailor to complete the world’s only solo, non-stop and unassisted round-the-world sailing race – hopefully inspiring a new generation of Irish offshore sailors and racers along the way.

“This is an exciting day for Irish offshore sailing,” said Ireland Ocean Racing chief executive Stewart Hosford. “There is such a strong maritime heritage in Ireland and a long list of incredible sailors from Joe English, Damian Foxall, Justin Slattery, Gordon Maguire to Enda O’Coineen.

“We have many great achievements on the water already under our belts. Now is the time to pull together and create a focused plan to pave the way for some significant initiatives and achievements over the coming 10 years and beyond.”

Having managed the UK’s ocean sailing success story, the HUGO BOSS/Alex Thomson Racing campaign, for over a decade, the management of Ireland Ocean Racing believes it has significant experience and expertise in what it takes to create a winning strategy for Ireland in offshore racing.

“Sailors are incredible sportspeople, having to tackle all sorts of weather conditions on seas and oceans around the world,” said Hosford. “Whether competing individually or as part of team, the skills and acumen required for offshore yacht racing make it one of the most challenging sports today.

“Bringing the exciting sport to more people in Ireland is really important to Ireland Ocean Racing – from participants, competitors, sponsors, spectators and supporters. It is our aim to deliver success for Ireland internationally in this sport, and we believe that we have the talent in Ireland, as well as the sporting infrastructure and capabilities to be world class in this field.”

Afloat’s keelboat sailor of the month for July, Nin O’Leary will skipper the Irish yacht in Ireland Ocean Racing’s first project, aiming to complete what previous Irish challengers set out to do — like Enda O’Coineen in the most recent Vendée Globe.

Nin has competed across a range of sailing and racing events from an early age and has raced with his father Anthony O’Leary and brothers, Olympic sailor Peter O’Leary and Irish champion sailor Robert O’Leary, to many victories.

His achievements include winning the prestigious All Ireland ‘Champion of Champions’ an unprecedented three times, as well as being part of the Yes! Racing team.

“This is an important day for Irish offshore sailing and for me personally to lead the first Ireland Ocean Racing project,” said Nin at yesterday’s launch. “The campaign over the next four years building up to the Vendée Globe offers sponsors and investors a perfect partnership platform including branding, hospitality and dramatic content.

“I have just completed the Rolex Fastnet Race with co-skipper Alex Thomson and now the real work starts in order to achieve the biggest challenge of all – the 2020 Vendée Globe.”

Published in Vendee Globe

When the JPK 10.80 Yes! crossed the finish line at Cowes in the huge-fleet Round the Island Race 2017 on Saturday July 1st, it provided Irish sailing with something very special to savour. Skippered by Crosshaven’s Nicholas ‘Nin’ O’Leary, Yes! had won overall by nearly eight minutes in an event in which the corrected times of the top ten might often cover less than a minute.

On top of that, the Round the Island is the quintessential keelboat event. Yet at the same time back in Crosshaven, the Royal Cork YC’s new-format DinghyFest was in full and successful swing, thanks to an imaginative programme powered through by an energetic chairman. And who was that energetic voluntary chairman? Nin O’Leary, no less. Yet thanks to his organisational and delegation skills, he was able to leave the DinghyFest running smoothly for a whole day, and slip away to win the big one in the Solent, even if he had to give its gala prize-giving a miss to zoom back home again. Definitely our keelboat “Sailor of the Month” for July.

alex and nin2Nicholas ‘Nin’ O’Leary (right) with co-skipper Alex Thompson on the IMOCA Open 60 Hugo Boss, which they’ll be campaigning together in Sunday’s Rolex Fastnet Race

Published in Sailor of the Month

#KITESURFING – So this is what Royal Cork Yacht Clubs' finest get up to in the closed season! A top class crew took to the air at the weekend when Triple all Ireland Sailing Champion Nicholas O'Leary led four people, two cars, six kites, five boards, 110km west on a road trip to Castlegregory, Kerry on a Kitesurf trip.

From Brian Carlin's video you can see conditions looked ideal with a six metre swell and 15-20 knots of breeze and lovely winter sunshine!!

 

Published in Kitesurfing
The first ever Liffey Skiffy 49er event launched on Friday afternoon to the spectacular backdrop of Dublin city centre providing colour, excitement and a view of high performance racing to the punters of our capital city. A four race series of thrills and spills was completed with Rory Fitzpatrick and Ross Mc Donald taking the overall victory from Ryan Seaton and Matt Mc Govern in the final medal race of the series. VIDEO over the fold!

Crashes and capsizes were on order for spectators from the first start with Ed Butler and Dermot Mc Murrough suffering a mainsail tear from the first start. Nin O'Leary also made the most of a capsize by back flipping from the boats wing once semi turtle! Many photos were made available from the event with the most notable making the front page of Saturday's Irish Times newspaper!

Many thanks go to the event sponsors OnBoard Surf Snow Sail, PR Reilly Car accessories as well as Dublin Port Company, Dublin Docklands Authority, The National YC, St. Patricks Rowing Club and the International 49er Class Association.

DSC_0322

Action on the Liffey. Photo: Harry Hermon

Published in Racing