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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

The great solo sailing challenges of world sailing are acquiring added stature as sailing is enmeshed in ever-more-advanced technologies. With fully-crewed vessels, interest in the people involved as individuals seems to decline in an inverse ratio to the rising graph of the science in the design of boats, equipment and sails.

Yet in one area of sailing, the human interest is still paramount, even if the technology is hugely important. The solo sailors fascinate us more than ever. They are the one spark of humanity in the midst of a boat which is more like a machine than the craft we sail ourselves, and that spark of inextinguishable humanity is what we focus on. W M Nixon reports on getting together with two of Ireland’s leading soloists - Tom Dolan who is in the midst of the MiniTransat build-up circuit, and Conor Fogerty who in June had a very convincing win of the Gipsy Moth Trophy in the OSTAR – the “Original Single-handed Transatlantic Race”.

They’re a breed apart, these dedicated soloists. Get two of them together for a light lunch and a spot of shooting the breeze as happened with Tom Dolan and Conor Fogerty in Howth Yacht Club recently, and they seem just as effortlessly sociable as the next sailor.

But they have a special aura of ultimate individuality. They can live very much in the present, but you feel their longterm view is on a different horizon. People passing by who knew something of sailing wanted to shake their hands and wish them well, and made a point of doing so. It’s life-enhancing and thought-provoking, a reminder that what they do will have involved long hours, days, weeks, months, years even, of struggle just to get their boat to the starting line. And then the real challenge of racing takes over. It’s something which takes our minds off the petty problems of our own shorebound existences.nixon dolan fogerty2

Shooting the breeze. Afloat.ie’s W M Nixon with solo sailors Tom Dolan and Conor Fogerty putting the world to rights in Howth Yacht Club. Photo: Howard McMullan

With today’s universal 24/7 communication, those ashore taking an interest in what they’re doing will feel they’re part of a team, with the lone sailor as the focus in a very sociable matrix. But the folk ashore go to their beds at night, and live normal existences during the day. The lone sailor, if he or she allow themselves to think of it, are only partially in the thoughts of those ashore. It’s a situation which if anything exacerbates the solitary nature of their position.

But that may be where the soloists are different from the rest of us. They don’t think that their’s is a long and lonely road through life at all. On the contrary, they seem to regard the desire to sail alone across vast tracts of the ocean as an utterly normal ambition, a quest whose appeal speaks for itself.

Or at least that’s the abiding impression I was left with after being with these two remarkable men. Loneliness, a fear of being completely solitary, has little or nothing to do with it. They’re so busy getting on with the task in hand, so immersed in the challenge, that the normal human reaction of seeking company doesn’t arise.

It certainly didn’t arise as a topic in the course of a wide-ranging get-together which lasted much longer than anyone had planned. The talk was of technicalities, of dealing with problems with gear and equipment, of the sheer joy when the boat is going well or when a tactic has paid off in spades. That is when these guys are most alive and carefree and fulfilled.

tom dolan3The good feeling when the boat is going well (and your rivals are tucked in astern). Tom Dolan heading towards an early success in IRL 910

It is when they’ve come back ashore that their problems arise again. The simple pleasure of a night or two of uninterrupted sleep is savoured, and the elation of a good result can last for days. But in time, the eternal problem of finding the resources to go on with their chosen career – for that is how they regard it – will come centre stage once more, for the ultimate challenge facing a solo sailor – and particularly a solo sailor from Ireland – inevitably come down in the final analysis to funding.

In Ireland we have a small population on an island where the sea is largely regarded as the tiresome inevitability which comes with island status. That’s how most of our people look on the seas and oceans around us. Only a very few of us see those seas as a sporting playground. As for being alone afloat, it actually contravenes our seafaring regulations, but so few people wish to do it that the laws are seldom enforced.

In any case in Ireland, being conspicuously alone is something for hermits of a religious disposition. Thus the very idea of seeking to sail alone across a hostile ocean for the sheer joy and sport of it is arguably alien to the Irish way of life. Even St Brendan the Navigator had a crew. So the sailing record-keeping authorities can no longer even acknowledge the existence of a Round Ireland Solo Sailing Record. And as for any Irish sailor hoping to raise funds for a solo sailing campaign abroad in places where a certain amount of regulated solo sailing is permitted or at least tolerated, the truth is they’re ploughing a lonely furrow in every sense.

Yet when they achieve success in racing, we’re all happy to be part of it. As we’ve revealed in Afloat.ie, the way that Tom Dolan emerged from being a farm boy in Meath, through the Glenans system in its final days in Ireland until he had reached the stage that he could successfully join the mainstream of the Minitransat solo sailor setup in France, is not something of which we disapprove. On the contrary, it cheers us up no end. We joyfully saw him made an Honorary Member of the National Yacht Club, and everyone will follow his progress with avid attention towards the MiniTransat start at La Rochelle in October.

conor fogerty4Conor Fogerty with his Sunfast 3600 Bam! back in Howth at the end of May 2016 after a Transatlantic circuit which had included winning his class in the RORC Caribbean 600 in February 2016, and making his first solo ocean crossing from the Caribbean to the Azores in April-May. Photo: W M Nixon

But Tom Dolan – who recently turned 30 - has succeeded in making himself part of a recognised system. The older Conor Fogerty – now definitely well into his 40s – has been a completely free spirit by comparison. He has tried a bit of this and a bit of that in seafaring. He even, for ten years, lived in the mountains of Bulgaria when he wasn’t sailing the sea. Yet somehow he has made a living of sorts as a professional sailor for 22 years.

For Dolan, sailing became the route to fresh personal discovery, and a means of escape from the humdrum prospect of life on a small farm on north Meath:

“You’ve no idea just how hard and repetitive the work of running a smaller farm can be” says he. “For me, it certainly didn’t look like the idyllic country life. When I discovered sailing – or maybe sailing discovered me - the sense of fulfillment, of rebirth almost, was total”.

He was a natural sailor, he came alive on a higher plane when sailing a boat, and while he has kept up his links from his early Glenans days in Ireland – his Glenans friend Gerry Jones who these days sails from the NYC in Dun Laoghaire is the man who beats the drum on Tom’s behalf in Ireland – he knew that he would have to base himself with the core of the MiniTransat people in Concarneau in Brittany if he was to make any progress.

tom dolan5Tom Dolan at a pre-race briefing during his early days in France. He has just discovered a rigging problem with his borrowed boat, and he’s still learning French

That was more than three years ago, and the first six months were tough in the extreme until Tom acquired a fluency of sorts in French. But in time his obvious commitment to the MiniTransat ideal has seen him become part of the inner circle, while his natural talents as a sailor have taken on an added dimension, as he is a natural teacher as well.

Thus he and Francois Jambou, his co-skipper in those Mini 650 races which are sailed two-handed, have an additional useful little earner in a Sailing Academy which is attracting an international clientele. The latest country to show interest in the possibilities of Mini 650 racing is China, and they sent some wannabe sailors to take a course with Tom and Francois. The Irish sailor, with his seemingly instinctive ability to guess what a boat needs to do to go well over and above what the instruments are telling him, was intrigued to discover that while the Chinese group were totally on top of things as regards technology and getting the very best from electronics, their relationship with actual seat-of-the-pants sailing could be problematic.

This was so marked in one instance that the pupil in question was decidedly reluctant to take the tiller. That Tom has the patience and people-skills to handle and move such a problem towards a good outcome is another useful string to his bow. But for now, everything is focused on the countdown to the MiniTransat in October, and having resources in place to make the best of the events in the buildup programme.

tom dolan6A long way from the small damp fields of North Meath. This is what it’s all about. Tom Dolan with IRL 910, scorching away at the head of the fleet in the Biscay sun.

The latest of these starts tomorrow, the 600-mile Transgascogne 2017 from Les Sables d’Olonne, which takes the fleet across South Biscay to Aviles in Asturias in Spain, and then returns to Les Sables.

There’ll be a fleet of sixty-plus, and while Ian Lipinsky’s extraordinary prototype Griffon.fr is expected to record her 13th successive overall win in the open division, within the 650 class Tom and his comrades in the Pogo 3s will be at it hammer and tongs. As Tom wrily remarks, having used a legacy from his late father to buy a new Pogo 3 in the most basic form available to get her ready for the 2016 season, he “made the mistake” of winning his first race with the new boat, and has been a marked man ever since.

griffon proto7Handsome is as handsome does…Ian Lipinsky’s one-off Proto Class Griffon.fr may be the oddest-looking Mini of all, but in tomorrow’s 600-mile Transgascogne 2017 she is on target to be line honours winner for her 13th time in 13 races. However, the real race will be in the big-fleet Mini 650s, where IRL 910 is in contention

He’ll be quite often in the lead at sea, and several times in 2017 was in a podium position at the finish. But he lies fourth overall in the season-long points series, as there has been a drought of actual first places. He’ll be aiming for one this weekend. Just before he came back for his recent visit to Ireland, he signed up in Paris with Smurfit Kappa France to confirm some much-needed sponsorship which had already been in evidence at the start of the two-handed Mini Fastnet on June 18th.

That he has found an Irish multi-national with a strong French presence fits well with his CV, but it’s only part of what is needed and his team – and Tom himself - are busy in building further funding. Right now, however, all the thought is on tomorrow’s race, and it was understandable to note at our meeting in Howth that both Tom and Conor much preferred talking about the boats and the sailing, though readily conceding that they simply had to be aware of income-generating possibilities from whatever source.

tom dolan8Tom Dolan’s successful progress has been made through the recognized route of the Minitransat system

While Tom’s progress has been made through a recognized route. Conor Fogerty is happy enough to give the impression of making it up as he goes along. But as events of recent years have shown, and particularly the display of total rugged heroism against a brutal Atlantic in June, there’s a core of pure steel under the seemingly easy-going persona.

BAM yacht isoraConor Fogerty’s newly-acquired Sunfast 3600 Bam! coming into Dun Laoghaire at the end of an ISORA event which he’d raced two-handed. Although she may look to be the sort of boat that would need half a dozen guys on the weather-rail to get to windward, in solo ocean racing she has proven remarkably good upwind provided she isn’t allowed to heel excessively. Photo: Afloat.ie

He’s from Howth, but cheerfully admits that in family terms he was the black sheep of a black sheep, and he went his own wayward way in getting into sailing. Yet by 1995 he was a regular on the crew panel of Kieran Jameson & Aidan MacManus’s much-raced Sigma 38 Changeling, building up experience to Round Ireland level and beyond as he also did his first Fastnet in 1995, and thereafter it was a giddy progression with race campaigns and delivery passages on both sides of the Atlantic as well as across it, and in the Far East too.

Around the turn of the century he met a wealthy motorboat man at a boat party. They hit it off, and motorboat man revealed his secret ambition of a round the world cruise in a nice big sailing cruiser. It must have been quite a party, but the upshot of it was that from 2001-2004, Conor and his partner were the skipper and hostess on a new Oyster 70 for a leisurely round the world voyage in which, for significant periods, they had the boat to themselves.

It was an idyllic existence while it lasted, but the fact that it was going to end at some stage suited Conor, as he wanted to get back into the racing game. This resumed almost immediately with the skippering job on Cardiff Clipper in the 2005-2006 Clipper Round the World Race. While he got into the top three on several stages, technical problems with the boat impaired a significant overall result, but after it he gradually transferred himself back into sharp end of racing while seemingly living between times in the mountains of Bulgaria.

With two solo sailors of the calibre of Tom Dolan and Conor Fogerty exchange sailing, campaign and business ideas across a table, there simply isn’t time to delve into why one of them should have made his home up high and far away in remotest Bulgaria. But it was a beneficial turn in his fortunes which enabled Conor to buy the brand new Sunfast 3600 Bam! in the 2015 season, and since then he has been able to demonstrate the true qualities of his remarkable abilities.

conor fogerty at start10Bam! at the start of OSTAR on Monday May 29th 2017

While he has returned to live in Howth and is the proud father of young Ben with Suzanne, the call of the sea is ever-present, and having gone about as far as he can go with Bam!, this morning he is in France for meetings which include getting together with the main man at the centre of organising specialist campaigns, Marcus Hutchinson, to see what might be possible.

Things may be moving quickly for Conor Fogerty, but the Bam! chapter in his remarkable sailing life has enough in it to fill a book.

Unlike Tom Dolan, he came to solo sailing at a late stage, in fact it was when he was bringing the boat back home after winning his class in the RORC Caribbean in April 2016 that he completed his first lone voyage, from the Caribbean to the Azores. This reinforced his interest in solo and two-handed events, and since then he has been building successfully on that experience such that when Bam! and her lone skipper came to the line on Monday May 29th for the OSTAR start at Plymouth, in competitive terms they were one of the most race-ready entrants.

Conor Fogerty put everything he knew into preparation for the Transatlantic race, including insisting that his sails include a Number 5 jib. The sailmakers provided it while commenting that it would probably never be used, but in one of the stormiest OSTARS ever raced, it was in use 70% of the time and played a key role in the way that Fogerty was able to open out what eventually became a 500 mile lead on any comparable boat at the finish.

Another significant win factor was to go as far north as the ice limit rules permitted . “It was a no brainer” he says. “The distance is shorter, and it gave you the best chance of being in the brief periods of favourable easterlies along the northern edge of the lows which were marching across the Atlantic.”

conor fogerty11By taking a more northerly route, Conor Fogerty worked out a good lead in crossing the Atlantic, but it could be very cold and damp.

conor fogerty12Home sweet home in mid-Atlantic. By having five complete sets of guaranteed dry clothing, Conor had the promise of some comfort.He got so far ahead that he was clear west of the uber-storm which hit the bulk of the fleet – with much serious damage for several of them – around 9th-10th June. But while they’d avoided the worst of that, Bam’s crossing was no cakewalk.

“The sea was seldom regular, let alone smooth. And the winds were mostly ahead – we could have left the spinnaker ashore. The wave patterns could be coming from every direction, and when the wind was really blowing, it exacerbated the tendency for pyramid waves to build to an ever-growing peak which would eventually collapse in unbelievable tons of crashing foam and blowing spume. God help any boat which caught got up the middle of one of those.

It happened to us several times. I remember one night I was below hoping to rest the eyeballs for a minute as the old girl was going well, and I felt her start to climb in a steepening curve which I knew would end with us rocketing out of the top of a very pointed pyramid wave. She seems to climb for ever and ever without slowing at all, and I’d time to think that a standard Jeanneau Sunfast 3600 was never built to withstand what was going to happen after the end of this ascent. She crashed out of the top into absolute black nothingness. And then she started to descend still totally airborne toward God knows what. We eventually found the sea again, with an unbelievable crash. And nothing broke. Not a thing. God bless the guys at Jeanneau.”

conor fogerty13The going is good, but the skipper looks knackered…

conor fogerty14Heading into it. The sun may be shining, but what will we find in that odd-looking cloud towards the horizon?
For power requirements, Conor used a fuel cell – he never had to run his engine to bring up the battery charge during the entire 19 days of the race, though towards the end he wasn’t getting as good a return on the cell as he’d been at the beginning.

Inevitably he was wet to a greater or lesser extent for much of the time, so his greatest luxury was in five sealed bags each with a complete change of clothes. The moment when he realised the time was right for a fresh, clean dry new suit was morale-boosting beyond belief.

While his skill in sailing Bam! so well meant he was ahead of the worst of the storm which eventually resulted in the bizarre situation where one of the fleet was rescued by the ocean liner Queen Mary 2, it has had the effect of deflecting all subsequent attention and race reports to the various rescues, and away from the fact that an Irish skipper had won the OSTAR at his first attempt.

conor fogerty15Tired but getting there. Towards the end, increasingly flukey winds and an autohelm fault meant the lone skipper had to put in long periods of manual steering to win the Gipsy Moth Trophy.

But for those who can see past the headlines, and for those within the small high-powered circle of Irish solo sailors, Conor Fogerty’s achievement is keenly recognised, and Tom Folan proved to be completely clued in on it, while revealing that his own secret for personal comfort is a thin dry-suit within his wetsuit. Thus in yarning of this and that as our meeting drew to a close, it emerged that the two of them were aware of the up-coming signing of a contract between Nin O’Leary and Alex Thomson for co-skippering of Hugo Boss. But as both were keenly aware of any sponsor’s need to control the time of release of such news, there was no question of adding it to our agenda, and sure enough a few days later, Nin sprang it on me at a time of his and his team’s own choosing.

So now the Irish solo and short-handed sailing scene has upped its game yet further. In a week’s time, the new-look Hugo Boss show will be limbering up for the start of the Fastnet Race on Sunday August 6th. Tomorrow night, in his former skipper Aidan MacManus’s restaurant the King Sitric in Howth, Conor Fogerty will be telling his supporters of all that has happened since they last met just as he was going off to do the OSTAR, and of what he now hopes to do. And during the day tomorrow, sixty little boats will come to the line at les Sables d’Olonne to race across the Bay of Biscay to Aviles in Spain and back, and we’ll all be looking out for IRL 910, Tom Dolan, up there among the leaders where she belongs.

Published in W M Nixon

#OSTAR - Ireland’s Conor Fogerty of Howth Yacht Club has burned off the last 40 miles of the OSTAR in blazing style, zooming in to Newport, Rhode Island to cross the finish line at 1545 hrs Irish time this afternoon (Monday 19 June) in his Jeanneau 3600 BAM!, writes W M Nixon.

It’s going to be some day of celebration for the determined lone skipper newly arrived in America. At the finish, 21 days 2 hours and 45 minutes after leaving Plymouth, he was just four hours behind the two-handed Open 40 Rote 66 (Uwe Rottgering & Asia Pajkowska). The only other boat ahead was the Italian Open 60 Venti di Sardegna, which finished four days ago.

As for any remotely comparable competition, we’re talking in terms of similarly sized boats – including a BAM! sister-ship – being hundreds of miles astern. The spread of the storm-depleted fleet has been remarkable.

But even more remarkable was the way that Fogerty in his much smaller racer was in there slugging it out boat-for-boat with significantly larger competitors. It has been a superhuman performance, and clearly wins Conor Fogerty the coveted Gipsy Moth Trophy.

Published in Solo Sailing

Conor Fogerty is making great westerly progress this morning following a windshift last night in the closing stages of the OSTAR Transtlantic Race.

The Howth Yacht Club sailor is vying for overall honours after a storm ravaged crossing. He has 722 mailes to sail is the Gipsy Moth division leader, is second in line honours and second in Ostar division.

Fogerty on board a Jeanneau Sunfast 3600 departed Portsmouth 17 days ago.

Fogerty reports his major concern is that the auto pilot keeps cutting out on him but then restarts and functions as normal.

His shore team say he is 'on full sail and spending most of his time trimming'. He is expecting a bit more wind over the next day and then after that, he may see a little downwind sailing.

Main competitor Vento is sailing well again and at this rate should finish late this evening  to take line honours. From that moment on, BAM will be racing the clock for first on corrected time.

Track Fogerty's closing stages in this race here

Published in Solo Sailing

#OSTAR - The OSTAR and TWOSTAR fleets have seen a slew of retirements after a storm hit the fleet in the North Atlantic on Friday (9 June), leaving one yacht abandoned and another dismasted.

According to Yachting & Boating World, the ocean liner Queen Mary 2 changed course to pick up solo sailor Melvyn Wheatley after his yacht Tamarind had its mast go under and flooded through a smashed porthole.

Wheatley (73), who scuttled the vessel for the safety of shipping traffic, was down below when the yacht took damage — with his wife later commenting that he was lucky to survive the “nightmare” conditions.

Elsewhere, the Bulgarian crew of Furia, a Luffe 37-09 in the TWOSTAR, were rescued by a survey vessel after their boat sank, while the crew of the Sunfast 37 named Happy were picked up by a tug when their yacht dismasted.

Other retirements include British OSTAR competitors Keith Walton, whose Najad 490 Harmoni is Azores bound with mainsail damage, and Peter Crowther, whose Swan 38 Suomi Kudu has turned around for the UK also with mainsail issues.

Despite the “extreme conditions” in what were described as hurricane winds, and with swells persisting in excess of 10 metres, there were no reported injuries across the fleet.

And Conor Fogerty’s BAM continues apace, lucky to be ahead of the storm when it struck the back of the fleet on the east of the track.

As of last night (Saturday 10 June) the Howth Yacht Club sailor’s Sunfast 3600 was making big gains despite the tough conditions, second to OSTAR leaders Vento and only a few hours behind on time.

WMN Nixon adds:  Ireland’s Conor Fogerty clear of worst of OSTAR’s Atlantic storm

Ireland’s entry in OSTAR 2017 Conor Fogerty of Howth, having started on May 29th from Plymouth in Devon to race Transatlantic to Newport Rhode Island), has been putting in such a good performance that he has his Sunfast 3600 Bam safely to the west of the worst of the the mid-Atlantic storm mayhem which has resulted in a sinking, and five OSTAR/TWOSTAR sailors being rescued, with the liner Queen Mary playing a major role in the retrieval incident writes W M Nixon.

Although the clear leader is Andrea Mura with the Open 60 Venta di Sardegna. who has only 572 miles still to race, despite Fogerty being the smallest boat of those at the front of the fleet, he is in near-contact with the Uwe Pajkowska’s Open 40 Rote 66, which is second on the water and is actually two-handed in the TWOSTAR division. Pajkowska has 1158 miles to race while the solo-sailed Bam is on 1186 to lie either second overall or third, depending on which category is used for the rankings.

Update Monday, June 12:  

North Atlantic Storm Hits OSTAR & TWOSTAR Fleet
In the early hours of Friday 9th June, 60 knot winds and 15 metre seas were experienced by competitors, caused by a very low depression (967 mb). These extreme conditions caused damage to many boats with 3 emergency beacons (EPIRB) triggered. The Canadian coastguard in Halifax immediately reacted to the situation sending ships and air support to all the boats in distress.

The boats affected over the past 36 hours are:

TAMARIND - Suffered severe damage. Skipper well with no injuries. Rescued by Queen Mary en route to Halifax.

HAPPY - Dismasted. Both crew rescued by ocean going tug APL FORWARD. No injuries reported.

FURIA - Boat sunk. Crew resuced by survey vessel THOR MAGNA. No injuries reported.

HARMONII - Mainsail and track damage. Retired. Heading under engine for the Azores. Skipper ok, no injuries.

SUOMI KUDU - Mainsail problems. Retired. Heading back to UK. Skipper ok, no injuries.

All other competitors safe but still experiencing a 10 - 15 metre swell, no injuries reported.

The RWYC would like to thank all personnel at the Halifax Coastguard for their immediate and magnificent response to this emergency situation. All seafarers owe them a debt of gratitude

Published in Solo Sailing

Conor Fogerty's BAM Team report that the Howth Yacht Club Ostar sailor looks to have had a frustratingly slow night last night despite holding first in the Gipsy Moth division, third in line honours and second in the Ostar line.

Hopefully it was as a result of the eye of the low pressure being wider than expected and not anything else. His local competitors were also slow so probably the former. However, these rules didn't seem to apply to the two-hander Open 40 'Rote 66' who has taken a hefty jump.

BAM is up to speed again on a fast reach and has done a long term job on her sister 'Mister Lucky'. She is way down in the bottom of the low, will have large headwinds and will be feeling the pain of the southern route. Further up the track, 'Vento' the Open 50 has born off to round the Iceberg Limit.

She had been looking like she was going to go through some of the ice but clearly has decided safety first. She has put huge distance on her own race by going so far North. To put the ice in perspective, down on the bottom left you can see Titanic's last position and resting place. Remember, she sank in April, a mere two months earlier than the Ostar schedule.

Tracker here.

Published in Solo Sailing

Following the OSTAR skipper's Briefing on Saturday 27th, thoughts turned to weather routing and decisions on which of the main routes to take writes John Forde who is supporting solo Irish entry Conor Fogerty in the Jeanneau Sunfast 3600. It was interesting to see the dynamic at play between the competitors, some being extremely guarded and others more happy to discuss plans and share information for this gruelling sea marathon.

Of course besides OSTAR and TWOSTAR race prep, the weekend in Plymouth was dominated by the arrival of Gypsy Moth IV, to her home Port and Yacht Club, The Royal Western. Fifty years ago today or more precisely the 28th May 1967, Sir Francis Chichester arrived back, following the first solo circumnavigation of the globe to an extraordinary reception.

This was commemorated by all the attending skippers with a series of dinners on Saturday and Sunday which simply added to the feeling of history attaching to this pioneering Transatlantic race. Chichester was one of the original founding members of the Race and its first winner in 1960. He took 40 days and 12 hours whereas Conor Fogerty of Howth Yacht Club, 'Captain Fogers' to his friends, amongst other names, all complimentary...is hoping for a circa 21–day crossing.

There was much to do during the day to fully ensure that all the boats were all well prepared as they could be. Sails out and dried, checked re–stowed in order of use or intended use. Winches serviced ,halyards lines and all blocks checked. A full inspection of the rig from aloft and of course the all important Electronic systems on board. The important matter of victualling for the race could not be left to chance. One stalwart English Skipper Neil Payter of Portsmouth has supplies for three months on his Yamaha 33, that's a boat not a bike, to include four cases of red wine! This is some character to meet, hugely entertaining and of course experienced. I should also mention Mervyn Wheatley who according to Conor has a bath on board!! ( He would later arrive at the start line on his Formosa 42 blasting out rousing military tunes, to include the Dambusters at full volume prior to the 10 minute gun). Colourful is the word.

The deadline for work completion was 17.00 each day as the hosting RWYC had thoughtfully arranged all dinners to commence at 18.00 preceeded by a drinks reception.The obvious thinking being this would allow the skippers plenty of time to eat , drink and socialise and still be home in bed by ten to cram as much sleep in, prior to the weeks of sleep deprivation which await.

Conor Fogerty Gipsy MothNew friends and old on the Gipsy Moth IV

However nobody told the Irish Two, a slew of French, Bretons in the main, and the crew of Gypsy Moth IV who all bonded over good food, wines, Guinness, and some seriously entertaining sing songs. There was no language barrier between the Brits, Irish and French, despite very few of the French having good English and vice versa. 'Bonjour', 'chanson', 'un autre biere' and 'bonne nuit' was as much as we needed, falling back on long forgotten school French like experts, hmmm.

War stories were swapped with past French class winners ,whom had brought a large and raucous fan club. The French along with the British had the most entries with six and five respectfully. Their boats in the main, all heavier older models, tried and trusted. The two Italian entries, the Open 50 Vento di Sardegna of Andrea Mura, the 2013 overall winner, the Class 950 Illumia 12 of Michele Zambelli, and the Portuguese Open 60 Taylor 325 had also come heavily supported.

BAM YB Tracker A well known restaurant from Fogerty's home port of Howth adorns the side of the Irish Jeanneau Sunfast 3600 for the transatlantic voyage

Whilst the Irish numbers may have been low the spirits most certainly were not. Conor has legions of tales to tell of his sailing adventures having completed two Circumnavigations, once as skipper of the Clipper Cardiff in 2006/2007 series, 31 TransAtlantic crossings and a log which at 350,000 sea miles he stopped personally recording, some years back. However, it is the tales from ashore in all manner of far flung places that are most entertaining. The Gypsy Moth crew which included the lovely Skipper Emily Caruso and First Officer Anna Kastanias Kirton and a slew of nationalities are also tied up with Clipper training and many previous Clipper races and legs. None of their English, Scots, Welsh or American crew however had ventured into the Solo realm unlike our Howth YC hero.

So after a fantastic weekend of hard work and play, to include meeting Tony Bullimore and countless veteran past participants including an 86 year old from the first race of 1960 ... race day arrived , Monday the 29th. Or perhaps we should say we think it arrived, as we were unable to see more than a boat length or two, with dense fog blanketing Plymouth Sound.

The Port was closed, extra time taken over last minute jobs and coffee and a postponment for one hour, until a 13.00 start.

The fog lifted at about 11.00 and Race Office declared boats could head to the start line at 11.30. A large flotilla of all types of floating craft, including yachts, power boats, racing dinghies, RIBs and large jam packed passenger ferries headed out at the same time to a fantastic spectacle , as the sun made an appearance and the wind freshened from the South West. After hoisting the main and tidying away fenders and warps I was struck by the thought that the next time the warps are uncoiled will be in Newport, 3,000 miles away. All going well.

Last farewells to the Skipper before jumping ship into a collecting Rib where up close photos could be taken for sponsors and friends. 

We moved to the Committee Boat end which consisted of Royal Naval Supply Vessel, Wave Ruler to await the starting sequence.

Conor had advised he was in no rush to the start giving the marathon nature of the race, particularly given a competitor put himself out of the 2013 race after a start line collision. Ouch.... that could only be described as seriously painful and embarrasing after months of preparation. Watch Conor Fogerty Live at the OSTAR Start HERE!

Of course there were some eager beavers who got to the line early and than had to run down away from the pin and favourable end of the line. Conors Bam came in all the way to the line on starboard , timed beautifully , cutting the line towards the pin not having to ease off. He was closely followed by the Aussie 3600 Mr Lucky, helmed by Mark Hipgrove.

Conor rounded the first mark to starboard, the Eddystone Light in first place although some had him in third. When we first checked YB shortly after the rounding he was first boat on the water, leading the far quicker competitors in the GM / Gpysy Moth, fleet for the highest rated boats.

This must have felt great and a huge confidence boost. Keep up with Conor across the Atlantic via the Tracker here.

BAM YB TrackerFogerty makes his mark after the first night at sea

This morning Conor had kept up the pace as he had intended, whilst coming down the Channel until clearing Lands End and the Scilly Isles.Yellow Brick had him first in GM class and first in Ostar line honours which is fantastic sailing.

Hopefully this is an omen for the rest of the race and the wind Gods smile down. Latest update sees Bam heading north towards the South Coast of Ireland to catch the fresher breeze.

A weekly satelite call to Cafe East in Howth, Thursday Evenings, time to be announced.

Published in Solo Sailing

Thanks to modern technology – and more than a bit of assistance from intrepid solo skipper Conor Fogerty himself – Afloat.ie aims to bring you Irish OSTAR entrant Bam! live this morning from the start of the Transatlantic Race off Plymouth.

The Howth Yacht Club solo skipper is already onboard his Jeanneau Sunfast 3600 and the 15–boat fleet is heading out to the start in some very light winds. This has led to the OSTAR race start being postponed for one hour.  Watch the live feed from BAM3600 below from 12.50

Fogerty is racing to Newport, Rhode Island a voyage of approximately three weeks. Tracker here

Published in Solo Sailing

The OSTAR transatlantic race start in Plymouth Sound today at 12:00 BST with Howth's solo sailor Conor Fogerty in the Sun Fast 3600 the sole Irish representative in the international 15–boat line–up. As Afloat.ie reported at the weekend, Forgety arrived safely in Plymouth and is ready for his race across the North Atlantic to Newport, RI, USA that is expected to last three week. See tracker below! 

Published in Solo Sailing

This month sees Conor Fogerty of Howth Yacht Club, preparing for one of the most prestigious and demanding solo ocean races in the international yachting calendar. 

The latest instalment of the OSTAR (Original Solo Transatlantic Race), commences on 29th May 2017.

This will see Fogerty, bring his much loved and widely campaigned Sunfast 3600 'Bam', to the start line off Plymouth Sound in the English Channel. This gruelling race which is taxing on both body and mind, heads across the North Atlantic Ocean, to Newport Rhode Island, over 3,000 miles of Ocean.

Although the race name OSTAR may trip easily off the tongue, this generally upwind race, is not for the faint hearted or indeed occasional offshore adventurer.

Conor fogerty Howth sailorFogerty and Bam surfing at 20–knots during a 2016 transatlantic crossing

The event sees the solo skippers pit themselves against strong gales and big seas as a matter of course, not to mention, ice, fog, shipping and the occasional whale attack is not unknown.

He will follow in the footsteps of a veritable who’s who of sailing greats and pioneers of ocean racing. The names of Chichester, Knox Johnson, Blyth, Tabarly, Peyron, not forgetting Ellen McArthur are some of those who have sailed this great race before him.

In an Irish context, solo sailor Barry Hurley of the Royal Irish Yacht Club took a class win in the 2009 Ostar after a 21–day match race with an Italian competitor.

OSTAR history can be traced to an English war veteran Blondie Hassler who set about organising the race in 1956 and saw it first run in 1960 under the guidance of The Royal Western Yacht Club. From those early days of sextants and hand bearing compasses, the race has witnessed the trialling of most major innovations in boat design and on board equipment common in modern day sailing. This includes the advent of multi hulls, autopilots, water ballast, GPS, and weather routing. Whilst all of the above have certainly revolutionised sailing for the modern day solo adventurer, they do little to diminish the stark reality of dealing with the conditions, the low pressure systems of the North Atlantic create.

dinah barry hurleyAfter 21 days at sea Barry Hurley makes a dawn finish and a class win in the 2009 Ostar

Conor is a seasoned campaigner. Last year alone saw his 11–metre Bam start the year with a win in the RORC Caribbean 600. From there a 16–day solo trip to the Azores and then after some much needed R &R in Horta, back to Ireland.

Next up were the ISORA races across the Irish Sea and forays to the South Coast of England and North of France competing in RORC races. Not forgetting a 3rd place finish in the Round Ireland and a Solo Fastnet (SORC) challenge, which but for a fickle wind at the end line, would have seen him claim the top of the podium. The season came down with the Middle Sea Race off Malta which saw Fogerty and Bam claim the 3rd overall in class for the RORC 2016 season.

This was a fitting reward for skipper and crew for the thousands of hard miles campaigning in 2016, without the big budgets of some competitors or indeed sponsorship.

It has been said that the major achievement racing the OSTAR is to get the boat to the start line.

These campaigns do not come easily or cheaply to the racing privateer. The aim now is to get as many sponsors as possible on board, to back this commendable Corinthian challenge.

Conor is in discussions with potential sponsors at the moment, but he also provides a grass route sponsorship option for an individual to have their name displayed on the hull to show support, and to give his attempt every chance of success, and to fly the Irish flag with distinction. If you are interested in providing support, please contact [email protected]

Published in Offshore
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