During the Autumn it was quietly announced that Wicklow Sailing Club had secured longterm sponsorship from Volvo Cars Ireland to support the biennial Round Ireland Yacht Race. This week, the new relationship put its head formally above the parapet with a reception at Wicklow’s partnership club in Dun Laoghaire, the venerable Royal Irish. W M Nixon went along to test the waters.
“Volvo Round Ireland Race”. There’s a harmonious sonority to it. Outside in the dark, it may have been the first really cold night of this winter. But within the elegant warmth of the world’s oldest complete purpose-designed yacht club building, people were enjoying the hospitality and savouring the new phrase as they rolled the freshly-minted title about their vocal cords, exploring its many rhetorical and operatic flourishes.
Okay, maybe we were all a bit over the top in the relieved realisation that the longest Christmas hiatus in living memory seemed at last to have drawn to a close. Whatever, this was real life again, bringing future prospects and sporting sailing challenges with the anticipation of summer right back to the top of the agenda, and not so much as a whiff of stale mulled wine about the place.
Officially, we can suppose that the new title is the “Volvo Cars Ireland Wicklow Round Ireland Yacht Race”. But the clearcut brand of Volvo Round Ireland Race is already so firmly embedded in sailing’s consciousness that you’d be on a hiding to nothing trying to promote the copyright-protecting legally-binding longer title. And with the obvious goodwill among the great and the good gathered in Irish sailing’s most gracious building, the shorter title just seemed so right.
The link with the Royal Irish began with the Round Ireland 2014, when it was felt that an alternative pre-race berthing option for the biggest boats at the Royal Irish YC’s unrivalled facilities within Dun Laoghaire marina would help to spread the load, for Wicklow Harbour can become very crowded in the lead-in to the start.
But in the end, you couldn’t help but notice in 2014 that it was switched-on owner-skippers like Brian O’Sullivan of Tralee Bay, with his 2013 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race winner, the Oyster 37 Amazing Grace, who seemed to get the most convenient advantage from the RIYC hospitality.
The switched-on Kerryman…Brian O’Sullivan of Tralee Bay SC knew that his 2013 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle winner Amazing Grace would be most conveniently berthed at the RIYC in Dun Laoghaire in the lead-in to the Round Ireland Race 2014. Photo: W M Nixon
However, looking to this year’s race, there’s no doubt that the expected presence of serious international heavy metal such as George David’s Rambler 88 and the IMOCA 60 Artemis will see a greater call on the RIYC welcome.
And it was made clear by Commodore Jim Horan that the welcome will be there. For although it’s 21 nautical miles from Dun Laoghaire to Wicklow, the links of friendship between these two very different clubs are strong in their shared belief that a major race round Ireland every second year is absolutely central to our identity as a sailing nation.
At the Volvo Round Ireland Race reception in the Royal Irish YC were (left to right) Adrian Yeates (MD, Volvo Cars Ireland), Theo Phelan (Race Organiser), Andrew Doyle TD, and James Horan (Commodore RIYC). Photo: Ann Egan
The morning of the start in Wicklow, June 20th 2014, with the RIYC and the Wicklow SC flags flying together. Photo: W M Nixon
George David’s Rambler 88 was the first of the international entries to declare a formal interest in the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016
This is a view which has been taken on board by Adrian Yeates, MD of Volvo Cars Ireland. He is already well accustomed to dealing with Irish sailing administrators at the top level, for Volvo sponsor both the Dun Laoghaire Regatta and Cork Week, as his brand has found it makes for a very neat yet dynamic fit with sailing. But taking on the Round Ireland Race is something a little bit different.
There may well be the powerful image already projected by the Volvo Ocean Race round the world to add an extra and invigorating dimension. Nevertheless the Round Ireland setup was a difficult proposition to assess, with this biennial 704-mile challenge being the pillar event – indeed, almost the raison d’etre - of a small local sailing club in a little port which has much of the country town about it.
Or at least, it was difficult to assess until the shrewd Wicklow folk persuaded Adrian Yeates to come to Wicklow to the club reception on the morning of the race on Saturday June 18th 2014. You would need a heart of frozen stone not to be caught up in the special mood of the colourful yet nervy carnival which is Wickow Harbour on race morning, and Adrian Yeates is far from stony-hearted.
So as a result, there we were in the RIYC with such luminaries as Nobby Reilly, Commodore of ICRA, Peter Ryan, Chairman of ISORA, Wicklow Dail representative Andrew Doyle TD, and Harry Hermon, CEO of the ISA, to see the seal being set on a welcome new linkup which is in for the long haul.
While Greystones, Dublin Bay and Howth sailing were well represented, the Wicklow men and women were there in strength - staging the Round Ireland Race is now part of their DNA. Their Commodore Hal Fitzgerald led a talented contingent which included Race Chairman Peter Shearer together with the man with whom the buck stops, Race Organiser Theo Whelan.
Wicklow SC Commodore Hal Fitzgerald and Race Organiser Theo Phelan. Photo: Ann Egan
Although entries don’t officially open online until this Monday, 18th January, Theo was able to give us a hint of some of the boats they are already expecting, while revealing plans for new prizes and extra classes.
At the top end of the spectacularity scale, the introduction of a multi-hull division will be getting attention, particularly as Ned Collier Williams has confirmed that international challengers Team Concise will be bringing three boats, headed by their MOD 70 trimaran, but with their two Open 40 monohulls there as well.
But for the Open classes, top contender for the time being is Philip Johnston’s Open 60 Artemis-Team Endeavour, whose crew will include Cork’s Figaro veteran David Kenefick. It will be very interesting to see how this specialised flying machine shapes up against the larger but more orthodox Rambler 88
However, for sailors who operate at a less rarefied height, perhaps the most interesting news is that there will now be a separate prize for Sailing School boats. Both of the Irish Offshore Sailing Jeanneau Sunfast 37s raced in the 2014 Round Ireland, and one of them got a podium place. But it was Ronan O Siochru’s overall victory in the 33-strong sailing schools division in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2015 – winning the Roger Justice Trophy – which hit the publicity target spot on, and the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016 now provides a worthwhile project for serious offshore sailing schools.
The two Sunfast 37s of Irish Offshore Sailing, seen here on the morning of the start in 2014, will be going again, but this time they’ll be racing for a Sailing Schools Trophy. Beyond them on the outer pier are two Open 40s which will also be returning in 2016. Photo: W M Nixon
The Irish National Sailing School’s Prima 38 Lynx did a previous Round Ireland Race sailed by NUIG.
Thus both Irish Offshore Sailing’s boats are going again, but as well the word is that the Irish National Sailing School’s Prima 38 Lynx is being kitted out for proper racing in 2016 after spending 2015 as the school’s yachtmaster workhorse. And as this boat provided success for NUIG in a previous Round Ireland Race, there’s already a real race in the making before we know which sailing schools boats are coming from from Britain and France.
All these possible and probable entries are under the microscope before we have even begun to consider the huge number of “ordinary” club and offshore sailors who like to have at least one Round Ireland Race in their sailing CV, while for many it’s impossible to see an even-numbered year go past without giving some though to a serious campaign for the Round Ireland.
A well-presented boat – Richard Harris’s Sydney 36 Tanit heads out for the start of the Round Ireland Race 2014, which she won overall by seven minutes from the Shanahan family’s J/109 Ruth. Photo: W M Nixon
Included among these will of course be the Shanahan family of the National YC whose J/109 Ruth missed the overall win in 2014 by just seven minutes to Richard Harris’s Sydney 36 Tanit from Scotland. And with the J/109s undergoing a further increase in fleet numbers in their natural home of Dublin Bay, it could well be that, as it was with the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race last year, there’ll be enough J/109s to constitute a class within themselves.
Certainly J Boats have a good record in the round Ireland story, with both Peter Wilson of Howth and Michael Boyd of RIYC winning overall in their J/35s. The latter – now Commodore of the RORC – did it with Big Ears in 1996, and he plans to compete again this June twenty years down the line with as many of his 1996 crew as can be persuaded aboard, but it will be with a boat at least slightly larger than a J/35.
Game On! Immediately after the start of 2014 race, the Volvo 70 Monster Project (on charter to David Ryan of Wicklow SC) comes powering through the fleet: Photo: W M Nixon
Doubtless as ever there will also be a strong contingent from the Cork Harbour and Kinsale fleets too, for although the Round Ireland race was inaugurated in 1980, it was the arrival of Denis Doyle from Crosshaven to participate with the new Frers 51 Moonduster in 1982 which set the stage for the Round Ireland Race becoming central to Irish sailing.
Entry numbers have waxed and waned since, with the peak being reached in 1990 with 61 starters, though the greatest number of finishers was 54 in 1994. Through the grim years of the recent recession, the Wicklow enthusiasm kept the show on the road, but for the last three stagings of the Round Ireland, the entries have flatlined at 39 boats – it’s quite a good show in the circumstances, but there’s room for more.
With the new mood of optimism and enterprise, and an ideal new sponsorship setup, we can expect to see numbers rising again. However, for those who had acquired a taste for the traditional setup with the widespread finishing times being accommodated by holding the prize-giving at a gala dinner in Wicklow in the Autumn, be aware that Theo Phelan and his team are now thinking in terms of scheduling the prize-giving within the week of the race, staging it on the night of Friday June 24th. It will certainly add some extra excitement to see if all the results can be done and dusted in time……
The Volvo Round Ireland Race includes a two-handed division, which in 2014 was won by father-and-son duo Derek and Conor Dillon of Foynes YC with their Dehler 34 Big Deal, one of the smallest boats in the fleet. Photo WSC