For months now, Enda O Coineen’s campaign in the Vendee Globe with the veteran IMOCA 60 Kilcullen Voyage has captured public imagination as the resilient 60-year-old lone sailor has battled the challenge of a lifetime in the most demanding sailing event in the world. By December, his progress had become a part of everyday life for his thousands of followers in Ireland and abroad. Far from being a dogged account of endless struggles with ferocious weather and the inevitable gear failure, his reports were often laced with lively humour, unflinching self-analysis, and the occasional highly entertaining declamation of poetry in mid-ocean.
As December progressed, his placing in the race continued to improve as others of the 29 starters fell by the wayside. It was becoming increasingly likely that if he eventually made it to the finishing line in Les Sables d’Olonne, he would have got into single figures on the leaderboard. December 9th was surely the highlight, when he logged 395 miles in a single day. But then, following a complete knockdown, one problem after another followed, and he’d to divert to Stewart Island off the southern tip of New Zealand for a day’s shelter and essential repairs.
The jobs done, he was on his way again as December drew to a close when a sudden squall from a new direction and a self-steering malfunction caused a couple of crash gybes, the second resulting in a total dismasting with the entire rig having to be cut away in violent seas. Eventually, resorting to engine power soon resulted in a stray rope jamming the propeller. Yet with a jury rig using spare mainsail battens as masts, he has been able to make his way unaided back towards New Zealand, where he will be brought into port with a pre-arranged tow from a fishing boat.
His spirit in the midst of these setbacks is reminiscent of Ernest Shackleton at his best. We’re well aware that a year ago, we made Enda O’Coineen January “Sailor of the Month” for his success in qualifying for a place in the Vendee Globe thanks to a third place in December’s Transatlantic Race. But his unsinkable spirit deserves a second award as our final gesture to what he has achieved in 2016.