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The favourable east to southeast winds which carried the seven Volvo Ocean Race 2017-2018 contenders so positively through the Straits of Gibralter and into the Atlantic are already a fading memory writes W M Nixon.

The leaders – with Vestas 11th Hour Racing still the pathfinder, and Damian Foxall in a senior crew role - are dealing this morning with the here-and-now of light headwinds, and a large area of calm which is threateningly near to their track southwestwards to the first turn at the island of Porto Santo in the Madeira group.

After that, they can head northeast to the finish of Leg 1 at Lisbon, by which time 1,450 miles will seem much longer than most crew had anticipated. Vestas’ closest challenger is the pre-race favourite Mapfre, but her challenge comes from far away as she tacks westward some distance to the northwest, with the boat actually closest on the water to the leader being AkzoNobel.

The other four boats, including Turn the Tide on Plastic with Annalise Murphy on board, are in a closely-backed group northeast of Vestas, all making between 9.5 and 10.5 knots. In her weekly diary in the Irish Times this morning, Annalise reports on her relief in finding she hasn’t been affected by seasickness, her joy in achieving even two hours of uninterrupted sleep, and the fascination of racing so closely with the other three boats nearby, thereby greatly speeding her growing awareness of what gives a Volvo Ocean 65 an extra knot or two of vital speed.

And of course she alludes to that crazy start sequence on Sunday which we featured here on, when a fleet of racing boats which have cost tens of millions of Euros to build, tune and crew, found themselves making their start through a spectator fleet of mini-liners which seemed determined to risk everything by closing vital gaps in order to give their paying passengers an even more intimate view of the proceedings.

Race tracker here

Published in Ocean Race

The Charlie Enright-skippered Vestas 11th Hour Racing, with Ireland’s Damian Foxall in a senior crew role, continues to lead the Volvo Ocean Race as the fleet runs into the Atlantic towards the turn at Porto Santo off Madeira in the 1450-mile Leg 1 from Alicante to Lisbon writes W M Nixon.

West of the Straits of Gibraltar, they’ve held over towards the Spanish and southern Portuguese side, as the east winds are lighter along the African coast. Pre-race favourite Mapfre, which had a frustrating time in the Mediterranean, is now back in the hunt, and looks to be lying second overall.

Annalise VORAnnalise Murphy onboard Turn the Tide on Plastic shortly after the start Photo: Theo Lyttle

Annalise Murphy on Turn the Tide on Plastic is currently vying for fourth place with Dongfeng, Team Brunei, and Team Sung Hung Kai/Scallywag, while in third place is AkzoNobel.

Under present conditions, the second stage of Leg 1 from Porto Santo to Lisbon will be a tricky proposition, as winds are mostly light northeaster, though with the usual localised blast of easterly breeze coming through the Straits of Gibraltar.

Race tracker here

Published in Ocean Race

After their first night at sea, the seven boats in the Volvo Ocean Race are approaching the Straits of Gibraltar with Vestas 11th Hour Racing narrowly in the lead writes W M Nixon.

As a senior member of her crew is Ireland’s Damian Foxall, this rings bells at home. At the moment, however, our other star world racer, Annalise Murphy in Turn the Tide on Plastic, is towards the back, but it’s still a fairly close-packed fleet.

The Volvo Ocean 65s are in a rising easterly wind that will become a full-blown Levanter as they go through the Straits, and the course then takes a slight curve to port to carry them out to the island of Port Santo in the Madeira group. This provides the turning point to ensure they sail the required 1450 miles in the first leg to Lisbon in Portugal.

Race tracker here

Published in Ocean Race

#VOR - With the clock ticking to the start of the 2017–18 Volvo Ocean Race as the race village opens in Alicante later today (Wednesday 11 October), it’s time to take a closer look at the significant Irish presence in the world’s most challenging yacht race, as recently noted by our own WM Nixon.

The biggest name beyond sailing circles is surely Annalise Murphy, the hero of Rio 2016 who is swapping her Laser Radial for an entirely different challenge with the crew of Turn the Tide on Plastic, skippered by women’s offshore sailing pioneer Dee Caffari.

The Dubliner and National Yacht Club stalwart caused some concern over the summer when a knee injury sustained in the Moth Worlds forced her to pull out of the World Championships in her primary class.

But that break from competition might have been just what Annalise needed to get herself back into fighting fitness — not to mention prepared for a round-the-globe voyage that’s a world apart from her Tokyo 2020 ambitions.

The other big name among the VOR 65 crews is Damian Foxall, who returns for his sixth Volvo Ocean Race — this time with Vestas 11th Hour Racing, the former Team Vestas Wind (whose senior project manager happens to be Madrid-based Irishman Thomas John McMaw).

What’s more, the Kerry offshore legend heads a strong contingent from The Kingdom in this latest VOR, with Brian Carlin leading the team of on-board reporters and marine biologist Lucy Hunt in charge of the race’s sustainability education programme.

Other Irish names of note behind the scenes include Bill O’Hara, a former Northern Irish Olympian and race officer in charge of the VOR’s 2012 climax in Galway who is part of the race committee for the 2017–18 race, and Johnny Donnelly, MD of VOR event contractor Arcana.

Two others previously unmentioned are Philip Johnston, a veteran cross-channel racer from Northern Ireland with a strong record in the Fastnet Race who brings his expertise on shore logistics to Turn the Tide on Plastic, and Cork sailor James O’Mahony, another Fastnet vet at the mainsheet and mast positions and well versed in what support his team will need as part of the shore crew for Team Vestas 11th Hour. will be keeping up with all of their exploits when the 13th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race gets under way on Sunday 22 October.

Published in Ocean Race

In the days when sailing was a seasonal sport, a few main pillar events dominated the international programme. The Sailing Olympics. The America’s Cup. The Fastnet Race. The Dragon Gold Cup. The Sydney-Hobart Race. The Whitbread Round the World Race. And maybe a few others – we all had our favourites writes W M Nixon.

There weren’t many of those key events. Yet in a more leisurely era of primitive communication, they were enough to be going along with, and people became accustomed to the long intervals between them, intervals when we could concentrate obsessively on our own local and national sailing at events which were of little interest to anyone else.

But the advent of the Internet has changed sailing as it has changed everything else. Instant 24/7 communication demands a fast-running stream of narrative with images to match. In this new environment, the former pillar events find they are just part of an endless tapestry, and they have to take their chances with everything else to gain attention.

Time was when the fundamental changing of boat types in the America’s Cup would have been a matter of major interest, blowing every other sailing headline off page and screen in a big way, and for a long time.

But we’ve comfortably taken in our stride the recent gradually-released information that sailing’s peak event - the oldest international sporting challenge in the world - is reverting to mono-hulls, after three editions of supposedly setting the world a-fire with hyper-fast catamarans.

americas cup2So, farewell then, catamarans in the America’s Cup……Oracle unsuccessfully defended against Emirates New Zealand in Bermuda in June.

Here and there, devoted pot-stirrers found it difficult to provoke anyone to break sweat over the matter. Maybe in the core of the America’s Cup community – if there is such a thing – there was a weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. But among the rest of us, there was sublime indifference. We knew there’d be time enough to consider the new boats as the outlines of the next challenge became more clearly defined. And if there’s litigation in the meantime, that will be entertainment. Meanwhile, there’s a busy Autumn programme of major international events, several of which have a significant Irish interest, and that’s where our attention is focused.

Currently, the top story still has to be the confirmation of Annalise Murphy as a crewmember aboard the Volvo Ocean Racer Turn The Tide On Plastic. The sense of excitement when she was mentioned as a “probable” was tempered by the fact that she’d sustained that knee injury during a crazy capsize in the last race on her way to becoming the International Moth Women’s World Champion, and we’d to wait for total recovery from it before the Volvo World Race chapter in her life could properly begin.

annalise on foiling moth3Game for anything. Annalise Murphy giving her all on the foiling Moth, in which she is now Women’s World Champion.

Quite what her sports physio Mark McCabe had to say about the injury is probably unprintable, for a point made about her campaign towards the Olympic Silver Medal was that it was his guidance and skill which kept her injury-free at crucial stages in training and during the Olympic campaign.

We should all have a Mark McCabe for everyday life. But for now, the Olympics seem so yesterday in the Annalise story, for what she has undertaken may be sailing, but it certainly isn’t sailing as she has known it for so many years with a Laser Radial.

But despite that capsize, clearly she could hack it with the special demands of a foiling Moth, so now she is now re-shaping her enthusiasm, basic athleticism and special sailing skills to serve a team cause. And as of this morning, it has to be the most interesting single story in Irish sailing, particularly now that the Volvo 65s and their teams are gathered in Alicante, with the entire fleet being lifted out on Monday for the final meticulous checks.

There’s a special edge to it, for this year’s race - which starts on October 22nd - will see a much greater emphasis on the Southern Ocean. So as we move steadily towards the Centenary in 2023 of the beginning of Conor O’Brien’s pioneering of the global southern route for yachts with his Irish-built 42ft Saoirse, it’s more than appropriate that there’s a significant Irish presence in the developing Volvo setup, where the Alicante Volvo Race Village will open on 11th October, and the In-Port Race will be staged on Saturday October 14th.

conor obrien4Conor O’Brien, pioneer for yachts in the Southern Ocean on the Cape Horn route.

saoirse plans5A very different sort of boat from today’s Volvo 65. The traditonal-style 42ft gaff ketch Saoirse, built in Baltimore in 1922, proved remarkably successful at running fast yet safely in the Southern Ocean. Conor O’Brien designed a rig that relied on a squaresail on the mainmast, setting a triangular studding sail and topsail

King of it all for Ireland has to be Damian Foxall, who has raced or broken records round the world so often he has probably lost count, but this time he’s on the strength of Team Vestas. For Foxall, the link to Conor O’Brien is particularly special, as Damian hails from Derrynane in far southwest Kerry, and Derrynane was Conor O’Brien’s favourite port – you can see his signature in the Visitors’ Book in that superb watering hole so beloved of voyagers, Bridie Keating’s pub.

damian foxall6Damian Foxall in virtually unrivalled in his Volvo Ocean Race experience

derrynane harbour7Derrynane in Kerry – Conor O’Brien’s favourite anchorage, and Damian Foxall’s home port

But if Damian is King, Annalise is Queen, for even among the hugely talented Volvo crews, an Olympic Silver Medal – or any Olympic Medal for that matter - is rare enough. Indeed, it’s so rare that part of the fascination of the Annalise/Turn the Tide on Plastic linkup will be in how they work out together.

Annalise carries the flag for Ireland’s east coast in Alicante, while Justin Slattery will do it for the south if he turns up, as Damian Foxall expects. Others from Ireland include James O’Mahoney who’s also with Team Vestas, where Thomas John McMaw is Senior Project Manager to keep up the green jersey count, as too does VOR event contractor John Donnelly.

But as our colleague Tom MacSweeney pointed out on on Monday, it is Kerry which packs the punch in Alicante, as Brian Carlin of Tralee leads the team of OBRs (On-Board Reporters) who will be embedded on each boat, while Lucy Hunt who runs the Sea Synergy Awareness Centre at Waterville (it’s just over the mountain pass from Derrynane) is Sustainability Education Manager for this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, and will co-ordinate a schools programme.

volvo village8A long way from Derrynane….the Volvo Village at Alicante

However, for those who like to be up to speed with all in the main international sailing stories with Irish interest, some time soon there’ll be the Student Yachting Worlds in Marseilles, where UCD led by Will Byrne will be challenging for a trophy which Ireland has won in times past. Originally we were told it would be in September, but when students are running the show themselves, there’s freeform organization and timing, and the most recent date we see is still Marseilles, but not until October 17th to 22nd.

So the top up-coming interest is in La Rochelle towards the end of September, with the fleet gathered for the two-stage 4050 mile Mini-Transat (there’s a stop in the Canaries), with the race starting on Sunday October 1st. Ireland’s Tom Dolan with IRL 910 is currently fourth in the world rankings in the Mini Transat Production Boat Class, so he’s in with a good shout for a podium place. And we’re all behind him, with Irish Sailing President Jack Roy and Ireland’s Sports and Cultural Attaché in France the Guests of Honour at Tom’s party in La Rochelle at noon on Saturday September 30th.

tom dolan boat9Ireland’s Tom Dolan, currently fourth in the world rankings. His supporters will be gathering in La Rochelle in the week leading up to Sunday October 1st to wish him well when he starts the Mini-Transat, with the main party on Saturday September 30th.

Then in October, in addition to the Volvo World Race start and the Student Yachting Worlds, there’s the Rolex Middle Sea Race from Malta on Saturday October 21st, just the day before the Volvo gets going across in Spain. But there’s always lots of Irish interest in this annual Mediterranean classic, with the winning Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino last year being navigated by our own Ian Moore, while this year there’s added spice with the possible inclusion of the IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss with Alex Thomson and Nin O’Leary hoping they’ll find conditions better suited to their very specialised flying machine than they did in the Fastnet Race back in August.

mascalzone latino10The Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino being navigated by Ian Moore to overall victory in the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2016. Photo Rolex

For those who look on into November, the Transat Jacques Vabre gets going from Le Havre on November 5th with a preponderance of IMOCA 60s, but for operational reasons Hugo Boss is not expected be among them. However, what’s clear is that the international programme is now non-stop, for by November we’ll be getting advance info on the Sydney-Hobart Race on 26th December 2017, which is the saving of Christmas for many of us.

autumn league howth11When cruisers battle for it - racing the Autumn League at Howth. Photo: W M Nixon

Meanwhile this morning in Douarnenez in Brittany the Figaro Fastnet Solo gets under way, and Autumn Leagues start to flex their muscles in Ireland, with Howth’s series starting today and running for six weekends, so the topline action continues at home and abroad in an unending stream.

There’s an old Arab saying which goes: “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on”. It could reasonably be said of world sailing that there may indeed be dogs barking, but the purposeful rattling of camel harnesses is now virtually continuous.

Published in W M Nixon

Kerry will have a dominant presence in this year’s Volvo Round the World Race. Three of the Kingdom’s notable maritime figures are involved and, with Olympian Annalise Murphy also sailing, there will be strong Irish interest, writes Tom MacSweeney.

Biologist Lucy Hunt who runs Sea Synergy Marine Awareness Centre at Waterville has been appointed Sustainability Education Manager by Volvo Ocean Race, to develop an international schools programme on ocean literacy and ocean plastic pollution.

Damian Foxall from Kerry will sail with the former Team Vestas Wind now Vestas 11th Hour Racing. Brian Carlin of Tralee Bay Sailing Club. who was onboard reporter when Team Vestas hit rocks in the last race, has been appointed to lead the team of onboard reporters who will be embedded on the racing yachts

Annalise Murphy is with the Dee Caffari ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic’ entry, which should interact nicely with the work of Lucy Hunt.

While she is working with the Volvo Race, Sea Synergy will continue its operations in Kerry, where she has appointed a manager to run the centre and an Iveragh Learning Landscapes Weekend is planned for October 6-8. This is the second year o fthe event.

“A range of talks and workshops will be held in Waterville, Caherdaniel and Ballinskelligs by national and international facilitators including 4 marine themed workshops – learning in one of Irelands best classrooms – the seashore,” Lucy Hunt says.

Published in Ocean Race

#VOR - Irish sailing photographer and filmmaker Brian Carlin is returning to the Volvo Ocean Race — this time as leader for the fleet’s team of onboard reporters announced at the weekend.

Carlin made his debut in the VOR as the embedded multimedia reporter with Team Vestas Wind, the role offer coming as a surprise to the frequent contributor to

It was equally unexpected that he would be on hand to document the team’s disastrous grounding on a shoal in the Indian Ocean.

The Kerryman was nominated for the 2015 Mirabaud Yacht Racing Image of the Year Award for his shot of Vestas Wind’s damaged hull, ultimately coming second in the public vote.

Now Carlin heads a team that comprises some of the finest adventure photographers in the world, including National Geographic contributor Jen Edney; BBC journalist Tom Martienssen;  and James Blake, son of VOR winner Sir Peter Blake.

Sam Greenfield joins Carlin as one of two reporters returning from the previous VOR, with the remaining debutants being Konrad Frost from CNN Mainsail, Jeremie Lecaudey from the snowboarding world, experienced sailing photographer Martin Keruzoré, Clipper Race cameraman Richard Edwards, and Spain’s Ugo Fonollá, the team’s youngest member.

Kerry is also represented in the next VOR by Damian Foxall, who will be on deck with Carlin’s old team — now renamed Vestas 11th Hour — as Leg Zero begins today (Wednesday 2 August) with a race around the Isle of Wight as part of Cowes Week.

The pre-race leg to establish the status of teams’ readiness for October’s start will continue from this weekend with the Rolex Fastnet Race, followed by a string of mini-races from Plymouth to St Malo to Lisbon.

Published in Ocean Race

#VOR - Experienced offshore sailor and Kerry’s own Damian Foxall will set sail again in the Volvo Ocean Race — this time with the former Team Vestas Wind.

The five-race VOR veteran (who won with Groupama in the 2011-12 race) and’s International Sailor of the Month for June last year has been named among the 10-strong crew for Vestas 11th Hour Racing that will depart from Alicante less than 100 days from now.

The line-up, comprising six nationalities and six previous VOR winners, includes Simon Fisher — who returns for his fifth edition and first after lifting the trophy as winning navigator with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in 2015.

Also on the squad are two-time winner Phil Harmer, who’s hunting a hat-trick of successive victories, and Tony Mutter, who like Foxall is back for his sixth 45,000-nautical-mile lap of the planet.

“It’s amazing to be back in the Volvo Ocean Race with some old acquaintances as well as inspiring new talent,” said Fisher. 

“This time we’re focusing on performance, as well as a sponsorship with an important message, backed by two partners, Vestas and 11th Hour Racing, fully committed to making a positive change.

“It’s a privilege to be given the chance and the platform to share the message of sustainability and ocean health. I’ve dodged everything from telegraph poles to old fridge-freezers while at sea. We’ve got to act now, and as a group, this is what we aspire this campaign to be about.”

Others on the Vestas 11th Hour crew include Tom Johnson, fresh from the America’s Cup as part of Team Oracle USA, and two female sailors: Britain’s Hannah Diamond and Jena Mai Hansen, an Olympic medallist for Denmark, both of whom will be racing their first VOR.

“It was actually my first-ever full night at sea - an intimidating but amazing experience,” said Hansen of her recent transatlantic trial. “Helming a Volvo Ocean 65 boat in the middle of the Atlantic in pitch dark, in 40 knots, is without a doubt one of the craziest things I’ve ever done. I’m hungry for more and excited to be part of a skilled, international team. Bring it on!”

Between them, the crew have competed in the VOR over 20 times — and skipper Charlie Enright says that he’s delighted with the preparations with just a few months remaining until the start line.

“We’ve taken our time to get this right, and we couldn’t ask for a better group of sailors,” he said.

The team are currently preparing to travel to Gosport in the UK for pre-race activation and Leg Zero commitments, lining up against the other teams for the first time in the Round-the-Island race during Cowes week, followed by the Rolex Fastnet Race, and finishing up in Lisbon after sailing via St Malo in mid-August.

Last week it was announced that America’s Cup winner Blair Tuke is joining MAPFRE for the 13th Volvo Ocean Race that begins on 14 October.

Published in Ocean Race

In the early hours of Sunday morning, Musandam-Oman Sail capsized approximately 450 nautical miles east of St Pierre and Miquelon, off the coast of Canada, while racing the Transat Quebec-St Malo. All five crew, including County Kerry's Damian Foxall are reported to be safe and secure.

The Transat Quebec-St Malo race committee and Oman Sail’s immediate priority is to evacuate the crew and bring them ashore safely, and this operation is well underway.

Oman Sail shore crew received a call this morning at 0305 UTC on Sunday 17 July from the boat. 

As reported five days ago, fresh from setting a stunning new Round Ireland record in June, Foxall and his Musandam-Oman Sail team had set their sights on another milestone record in the Transat Quebec-St Malo (TQSM) with a match against the world’s largest trimaran Spindrift 2 expected to push them to the limit.

Updates as more information is received.

Published in Offshore

Fresh from setting a stunning new Round Ireland record in June, County Kerry's Damian Foxall and his Musandam-Oman Sail team have set their sights on another milestone record in the Transat Quebec-St Malo (TQSM) with a match against the world’s largest trimaran Spindrift 2 expected to push them to the limit.

The Omani MOD70 – which at 70 foot (21m) is almost half the size of Spindrift 2 (130ft/40m) and will be crewed by seven fewer sailors – will leave Quebec in Canada on Wednesday at 1500 local time and head out on the 2,897 nm (5365 km) course across the North Atlantic to St Malo in France with the aim of breaking the existing record of 7 days 20 hours and 24 minutes set in 1996 by Loïck Peyron.

The forecast for the passage looks favourable for a new record and the prospect of a battle against Spindrift 2 was creating a real buzz among French skipper, Sidney Gavignet’s crew of Damian Foxall, Fahad Al Hasni, Alex Pella and new crewmember Mayeul Riffet, as they prepared for the off.

“Spindrift 2 is wider than we are long!” commented Gavignet who has completed three TQSM races in his career.

“We have beaten them in the past during the Round Britain and Ireland where there are lots of corners, but an Atlantic crossing is more like an Autobahn and with a speed difference of up to 5 knots, they will be very hard to beat.

“They should beat Loïck Peyron’s record and Musandam-Oman Sail also has a chance to finish ahead of 7 days, 20 hours and 24 minutes.”

Before the David and Goliath match begins on the open seas, the team will have to navigate the spectacular St Lawrence River which is dotted with sand banks, logs and various whales and is regarded as a navigator’s challenge.

“We saw a boat grounded at the monohull start and on our way in, we saw two minkies, a hump back and a bunch of belugas so we are going to have to be diligent,” warned Foxall.

“It will take us a couple of days to get down to the Grand Banks and they are allowing us to cut across the Banks on a route where there is less ice which will be good news if we want to get the record. There is also a series of lows coming off Canada to create the train we need to blast across the Atlantic.

“The conditions are looking fantastic so I think it is currently looking like less than seven days. Hopefully both Musandam-Oman Sail and Spindrift can set new records.”

Fantastic conditions do not necessarily mean comfortable conditions, added Gavignet so with the icebergs, big seas and marine life, they are in for a great adventure.

“For us the conditions will feel extreme; we are constantly soaking wet and to get from the cockpit to the helm, we will be crawling on our hands and knees. We are all very competitive so we will be aiming to have the best possible adventure and the best possible race.

“For a sailor, the Quebec-St Malo is one of the classics; it is like rounding Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope, it is one of the mythical races in a sailor’s career.”

Oman’s leading offshore sailor Fahad Al Hasni is no stranger to transatlantic races and started his helming career on Oman Sail’s first race in their MOD70, the Krys Ocean Race from New York to Brest in 2012.

“It was my first transatlantic and I remember being very cold and wet so this time I know what to expect and I’m really excited about it,” he said.

“We will be downwind all the way across the North Atlantic to the Fastnet Rock and then over to St Malo for the finish. The weather is looking good for a record so hopefully, we can get our second record for Musandam-Oman Sail this year.”

The Transat Québec - Saint Malo is staged every four years and in 2016 has attracted 24 entries, both monohulls and multihulls, from across the world. The bulk of the fleet started their race on Sunday but Musandam-Oman Sail and Spindrift 2, both competing in the ‘Ultime’ class start on Wednesday in the hope that the entire fleet will be nearing the finish in St Malo at around the same time.

Last month, Musandam-Oman Sail set a new Round Ireland record when they beat two other MOD70s Phaedo 3 and Concise 10 to win the Volvo Round Ireland Race, setting a new time of 38 hours 37 minutes and 7 seconds, which was more than two hours faster than their previous time of 40 hours, 51 minutes and 57 seconds set the previous year.

The Transat Quebec-St Malo 'Ultime Class' start is at 1500 local time on Wednesday 13 July.

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