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Rock Breaking Records

12th January 2013
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Rock Breaking Records

#fastnet – Why are people surprised that, despite the international mood of economic gloom, online entries for the Rolex Fastnet Race 2013 in August went through the roof earlier this week, with the ceiling of 300 boats – nine of them Irish - hit in record time, well within 24 hours of the lists opening, with the first one in just seven seconds after the gun fired?

Fact is, the Fastnet is incredibly good value for money for ordinary offshore sailors based along either side of the English Channel, and on both coasts of the southern North Sea. It's set up on a plate ready-to-go, its start and finish are within convenient sailing distance of them all, yet it's an event of historic and almost mythic global status, made even more so by the disastrous storm of 1979.

To have it in your sailing CV, regardless of where you place at the finish, is still something which mightily impresses non-sailing colleagues at work, and down the pub too if you live more than half a dozen miles from the sea. Yet taking part in it is no big deal financially for the English Channel/Southern North Sea sailors when you factor in the enormous number of existing boats which are well capable of doing it.

If we set aside the original cost of the boat by regarding that transaction as history and not part of the new financial equation, thanks to today's much more rigorous inter-governmental safety and equipment standards, it's not too onerous to bring an ordinary production performance cruiser up to the RORC requirements.

So taking the existence and ownership of the boat as a given, what is needed is enthusiasm, energy, the availability of shipmates, and that precious place in the entry list. It's a setup which suits Offshore Sailing Schools very well indeed – they made extra sure of securing their entries, and are pushing above 10% of the total list. As for private owners, for some nowadays the entry place seems to have become top of the priorities, and people are securing their slot in the hope of then putting their campaign together on the basis of this essential building block. Either way, there's already a waiting list, but it can activate into entry acceptance remarkably quickly, even if some secured entries hang on until the last minute, days after it's clear they'll be no-shows.

Back in 2007, one of Ireland's greatest offshore skippers, Ger O'Rouke of Limerick, was campaigning his Cookson 50 Chieftain with enormous vigour, and in June/July he raced the Transatlantic from New York to Hamburg. But he had an understandable superstition about finalizing his entry for the next big race before finishing the race of the moment, and thus when Chieftain got into Hamburg, she may have won her class and placed second overall, but as far as the Fastnet Race 2007 was concerned, she was still only No 46 on the waiting list.

But Ger took her down to the Solent, and based himself in the Hamble to be near the scene of the action, making sure the Fastnet race office knew he was there and ready to go, so that as places became available from the waiting list, the over-worked race officers could be sure that one boat at least was a certain substitute. Meanwhile he was also keeping an eye on other boats in uncertain pre-Fastnet mode around the Hamble, because after the time-consuming Transatlantic campaign, Ger was a bit short of crew, and he was quietly sussing out Fastnet hopefuls to make up his numbers if he got the call.

Less than 48 hours before the race was due to start, Chieftain was in. So in terms of accepted boat management practice, you might say she was a last minute entry, with her crew numbers completed by pierhead jumpers. Having cleared the acceptance hurdle, they frustratingly couldn't get racing right away, as the start was postponed for a day because of a Force 9 south'wester. Even when it did get going in quite a rugged slug to windward down the English Channel, something like 150 boats soon retired.

But Chieftain was loving it, though even before she'd bashed her way past the Lizard, all the installed electronics crashed. They navigated the rest of the race with a little handheld GPS and a few wet and disintegrating paper charts. Not to worry, they had a hugely acclaimed overall win, the first ever by an Irish boat, and Ger O'Rourke was Ireland's Sailor of the Year 2007. Not bad going for a last-minute entry crewed by pierhead jumpers.

With stories like this cascading down the years, it's little wonder the Fastnet is something special. And though it involves a little more effort for Irish boats to get to the start, it's still a mega-happening within easy reach, tantalizingly so when rounding the rock itself. Thus although we've only managed a sneak preview of the initial entry list, and while accepting that some may fall by the wayside because of rigorous crew requirements further down the lines, nevertheless the news is it's good news, Ireland has a quality entry, and there'll be much more to it than simply having the Fastnet Race in the old sailing CV.

In alphabetic order, they're Alchimiste (JPK 9.60, Mike Murphy), Antix (Ker 39, Anthony O'Leary), David Kenefick Sailing (Figaro II, Marcus Hutchinson), Jedi (J/109, Andrew Sarratt) Joker (J/109, Chris Andrews), Lula Belle (First 36.7, Liam Coyne), Lynx Clipper (Reflex 38, Aodhan Fitzgerald), Raging Bull (Sigma 400, Matt Davis) and Spirit of Jacana (J/133, Andrew, Bruce & James Douglas).

At least three other boats have special Irish interest – Nick Martin's J/105 Diablo-J, currently RORC Yacht of the Year after winning the two-handed championship including the double handed division in the round Ireland, with Dun Laoghaire's Andrew Boyle signed on to crew again, and the two recent round Ireland winners - Laurent Gouy's Ker 39 Inis Mor, and Piet Vroon's Ker 46 Tonnere de Breskens.

Of the directly Irish boats, we note that the O'Leary family's Antix – a sister-ship of Inis Mor – has never done a major long offshore race before, not even the Round Ireland, but she's has won oodles of stuff round the cans and in shorter offshores, so her transference to the wide open spaces will be interesting. Further down the line, Lynx Clipper entered by Aodhan Fitzgerald is of course NUI Galway, the Reflex 38 which is current ICRA Boat of the Year. And it's good to see Matt Davis's successful Sigma 400 Raging Bull (ISORA Champion 2011) back in the lists – she missed 2012 completely through coming ashore in Skerries in a nor'east gale in May, but has now been restored by Noonan Boats down Wicklow way.

Young David Kenefick's Figaro programme under the tutelage of Marcus Hutchinson will be well under way by Fastnet time, and this should provide useful publicity and unmatchable experience. As for the hot J/109s of Dublin Bay, two of them – Jedi and Joker – have made the cut, while their bigger sister, the Douglas brothers' J/133 Spirit of Jacana from Carrickfergus, is back again to defend her position as top-placed Irish boat in 2011. Smallest of all the Irish entries is Mike Murphy's JPK 9.60 Alchimiste – at 31ft she has one of the shortest overall lengths in the entire fleet, but with her beam upwards of 11ft she's a big-hearted little 'un, an impressive French creation.

We don't know at this stage which Irish boats are on the waiting list, but as it is that's a good solid lineup, with some welcome surprises. Looking at the fleet overall, defender Ran (JV 72, Niklas Zennstrom) is going again, as too is mono-hull record holder, the Volvo 70 Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker). There's a notable absence of American boats this time round (though their successful JV 72 Bella Mente is in the hunt), but we should bear in mind that the next Rolex Fastnet, in 2015, will coincide with the Bi-Centenary of the Royal Yacht Squadron, so we can expect the New York Yacht Club to be leading a formidable expeditionary force to events around that, including the Fastnet Race.

And looking beyond that, it's not too long to the Tri-Centenary of the Royal Cork in 2020. For Royal Cork's Quarter Millennium in 1970, they made it a two year event to accommodate American boats planning to take in the 1969 Fastnet. Doubtless plans are already well in hand to do that again with the Rolex Fastnet Race of 2019.........Put it in your diary now.

GLORIOUS GALATEA AND HAPPY HENN

There was some scepticism about last week's piece about Ireland's first America's Cup Challenger in 1886. Not as to whether it had taken place – it's quite clear in the America's Cup records that in 1886, Lt William Henn had challenged through the Royal Northern Yacht Club with his new cutter Galatea. No, the disbelief was about the notion that Lt Henn and his supportive wife and their crew (including Peggy the pet monkey) had lived aboard Galatea, which stayed on in America in order to challenge again the following Spring, as Henn reckoned the Autumn breezes off Marblehead were too light.

We've since unearthed this antique photo of Galatea's main saloon, which would suggest that you could have lived aboard the big steel cutter in rather more luxurious comfort than the Henn family's many tenants would have enjoyed in their small farms along the north shore of the Shannon Estuary. But in terms of America's Cup racing potential, it tells us why Galatea was just about as effective as a Shannon gandolow in taking on the American defender Mayflower, an Edward Burgess designed 100ft cutter which won every race whether Autumn or Spring, the biggest margin being a whopping 29 minutes and 9 seconds.

Yet today the fascination is with Galatea's extraordinary saloon, which seems to have at least two leopardskin rugs, and a proper fireplace – absolutely essential in any proper racing yacht. As to William Henn retaining his modest naval title of Lieutenant, it seems that he took early retirement from the Royal Navy in order to go sailing, his personal fortune being sufficient to do so, and he was so keen on sailing the sea that before Galatea was built on the Clyde in 1885, he lived aboard his previous yacht for seven years.

At the time of his challenge, the American press commented on "this retired Naval Officer with his rich Irish charm", while his gallant wife seems to have been Scottish, hence his challenge through the Royal Northern YC, and other links to the Clyde. This makes it unlikely that the remains of Galatea can be found (as is popularly supposed) in the Fergus estuary on the north shore of the Shannon estuary, off the remains of Paradise which was the old Henn house. According to Lloyd's Register of 1910, Mrs Henn is still listed as owning Galatea, but is now apparently a widow, and resident on the Isle of Bute, while Galatea is listed as being in proper order, but having her base at Port Glasgow.

interiorcabinoldboat

The main saloon on the Irish-owned 1886 America's Cup challenger Galatea provided all comforts and catered for every possible need, except the needs of a racing boat.

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WM Nixon

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WM Nixon

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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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