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West's Awake as Galway Student Sailors Make Bid for Round Ireland Race

21st April 2012
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West's Awake as Galway Student Sailors Make Bid for Round Ireland Race

#SAILING – It will be coast-to-coast coverage for Galway sailing in late June, as global interest starts to focus on the western port city and the finish of the Volvo Ocean Race in early July, while the student sailors of Galway University are making a strong pitch for the Round Ireland Race starting from Wicklow on June 24th.

Their campaign is shaping up very well, as they've chartered Martin Breen's Reflex 38 which – as Galway Harbour – was overall winner of last year's main offshore event, the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race. The west coast sailing community have a good record in the biennial round Ireland, their most recent overall winner being Aodhan Fitzgerald skippering the First 40.7 Ireland West in 2008.

For this year's event, the status of the race has been up-graded – it now has the same standing in the RORC points championship as events of comparable length such as the Fastnet, and the Middle Sea Race. But in fact the 704-mile Round Ireland already has a special place among Europe's more discerning offshore sailors, and the current defending champion is Piet Vroon of the Netherlands with his Ker 46 Tonnere de Breskens.

Leading French offshore racing crews also like to record at least one bash at this classic circuit in their CVs, but as ever the bulk of the entries will come from Irish club sailors who see the Round Ireland as a rite of passage.

However, it is the west coast which has pioneered a new approach with this first university-based entry. The crew of 10, who represent many different areas of study and research in NUIG, will be skippered by Cathal Clarke, and already - despite the late arrival of some pleasant sailing weather - they have been actively training together on the boat.

Pat Morgan, Vice President of the Student Experience at NUI Galway, has voiced the University's active support for the challenge, which accords well with the college's approach to team-building skills and leadership development. The crew lineup is Cathal Clarke (skipper and trimmer), Ben Scallan & Eoghan McGregor (helmsmen), Joan Mulloy & Mark Armstrong (trimmers), Conor Kinsella & Ruaidhri de Faoite (mainsail trimmers), and Eoin Breen & Louis Mulloy (bowmen).

It's back into action for the Volvo Ocean Race boats this weekend at Itajai in Brazil, with the shore crews of damaged contenders working right down to the wire to be ready for today's in-port race. The International Jury have rejected a protest against the sails being carried by overall leader Telefonica, whose skipper Iker Martinez is keen to get on and get the programme completed, as he has recently confirmed that as soon as the Volvo is over in Galway, he is switching attention to becoming Spain's 49er helmsman in the Olympics just four weeks later – he won gold in 2004 and silver in 2008.

The narrowest window of repairs opportunity is being used by Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi, which has Ireland's Justin Slattery as bowman. Having been put aboard ship at Puerto Montt in Chile after sustaining structural damage in the murderous conditions racing across the Southern Ocean from New Zealand, the Walker boat Azzam was only offloaded in Brazil just two days ago. Amateur crews often use hair dryers to speed up the chemical curing of repairs to modern plastic construction, but even in sub-tropical Brazil, this job will have needed several industrial heaters.

W M Nixon's sailing column is in the Irish Independent on Saturdays 

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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