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Damien Foxall - professionalism and endurance

8th February 2008
Damien Foxall - professionalism and endurance
It was, by all accounts, Damian Foxall’s most daunting voyage so far. But pictured wearing shorts and shades and tucking into chocolate, the modest Kerryman would be uncomfortable with the suggestion that his achievements in the past three months merit serious mention beside those of Tom Crean.

 

It’s obvious to even casual viewers of the internet’s footage that Foxall is an ocean racer by profession and not cut from the current crop of self-professed adventurers, posing for the onboard cameras.

 

Cool and calm, and with 280,000 miles of offshore contests under his belt, Foxall has seen it all. Even by his standards, however, this weekend’s closing stages of the Barcelona Round the World race will be stressful.

Wait long enough for the wind to change and just about anything can happen.
It may well be that today’s (Friday) 89th day of racing will be the longest for both Foxall (38) and French partner Jean Pierre Dick (42) on Paprec Virbac 2.

Winds have lightened with under 600 miles of the 33,000-mile course to go,
and now they must be concerned that the 500–mile lead over their second-placed rivals, Hugo Boss, will come under serious pressure even as the finish line beckons.

No matter what he faced in the Southern Ocean, Foxall will be the first to baulk at the suggestion that there is any similarity between his current
non-stop endeavours and Crean’s life-saving mission at the South Pole at the
beginning of the last century; but there is more than a three-month beard to
link him with his boyhood hero.

This weekend Irish sailing gets the chance to salute Foxall’s seventh circumnavigation of the planet and – if it has any sense – capitalise on a story of endurance which, at the very least, casts the Caherdaniel man as Ireland’s greatest sailing explorer.

Win or lose, Foxall has earned an international reputation as a steady hand
offshore. He has become a hero for Irish sailing and one the sport badly
needs.

Foxall’s results have been no flash in the pan but his achievements over the
past decade passed without much notice at home.

Five years ago Ireland had a place on global sailing’s podium when Foxall
was third with Karine Fauconnier in Sergio Tacchini in the 5,500-mile
Jacques Vabre classic from Le Havre in France to Bahia, Brazil.

He was part of Ellen McArthur's crew that surfed across the Jules Verne
start line in March that same year, breaking Bruno Peyron’s world record.
He was a member of Steve Fossett's record-breaking team on the massive
Catamaran Playstation in 2004.

He was adopted by the French singlehanders’ community after becoming the
first non-French skipper to win a leg of the gruelling Solitaire du Figaro.
In November 2005, he was evacuated by helicopter from his stricken trimaran
Fonica following an Atlantic capsize that hauled him into the rigging,
breaking his arm, collar bone and three ribs.

So why is it that in Ireland - an island nation - his offshore sailing in
both multi- and mono-hulls has gone largely unnoticed?

It’s become a fact of life that unless sailing is the cause of a major
rescue operation, regular sailing coverage is restricted to weekly
contributions in three national newspapers (such as this one).

Foxall's achievements do not happen in a stadium, and there will be no lap
of honour, but the advent of satellite technology has brought his round the
world adventure into every living room. And people are tuning in.

Grasping these opportunities needs to be a central plank in the strategy of
building the sport here and it rests with the Irish Sailing Association
(ISA) to make this happen. We have an a list of sailing celebrities here but
they remain unknown to non-sailors.

In a weekend that will be dominated by rugby, far away from the Stade de
France, there is likely to be a victory on water for a France-Ireland
partnership. It will also be Foxall’s first major title. The international
sailing community is standing by to applaud it, and so must we.

One hundred years ago, Crean was part of three of the four major British
expeditions to Antarctica but when he returned to Kerry, he put all of his
medals in a drawer and rarely spoke about his experiences.

Used to being alone with the wind and the waves Damian Foxall is a similarly
modest individual but Irish sailing needs to ensure that he gets the
plaudits he deserves.




Published in Editors Blog
Afloat.ie Team

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