The Fastnet 450 starts today (Saturday) at 1300hrs in Dublin Bay, and sends the fleet on a 270-mile course southward, taking them all the way to the Fastnet Rock before finishing back at the entrance to Cork Harbour, clear of the coast and shoreside communities throughout the race. The 450 comes from the combined ages of the Royal Cork YC and the National YC – 300 and 150 years respectively. As both have been prevented by the pandemic from implementing anything but the most basic parts of their planned celebrations, there's an impressive amount of pent-up energy going into this one permissible pop-up offshore event, which is COVID-compliant with designated Crew Pods.
This event has come to mean so much for the ultimate well-being of Irish sailing in this frustrated season of 2020 that it would surely be for the best if we could somehow – for the time being at least - set aside the burden of expectation which many are putting on it as primarily an icon of hope, and see it instead as just a uniquely historical challenge which will provide an enthusiastic group of Irish sailors with a very welcome sporting challenge, in which everyone will live for the moment and seize the day, without risking anyone's health.
In hoping to achieve that attitude this weekend, we are helped by that sometimes much-maligned yet ever-present element in our sport, the Irish weather. After a week of some of the grimmest weather - by any metric - in Irish meteorological history, whether summer or winter, our climate seems to have decided that a few light-hearted days won't go amiss.
Admittedly we are not going to have a high-summer weekend of firmly settled weather. And by the time the fleet are getting themselves past Hook Head tomorrow morning after a fast reaching-to-close-reaching passage in an "off the grass" southwest to west wind down the east coast, they'll know for sure that they've put in some real offshore slugging to windward from the Tuskar out past the Coningbeg, particularly when the ebb is running against the big leftover swell which – for a while – will be one of the legacies of the now well-gone Storm Ellen.
But through Sunday there'll be a modest attempt at a pet day as a weak ridge builds, and they may even get the breeze drawing off the land before the wind starts to back on the west side of the ridge, when the leaders may well be closing towards the handbrake turn at the Fastnet. The way that plays out – coupled with the inevitability of local breezes or even calm spots - is going to make for a fascinating comparison of the racing benefits or otherwise of different boat sizes and types.
For although it may seem to be a very compact fleet, with all 20 boats in the 31ft to 40ft LOA range, the difference in performance possibilities increases exponentially. And while it may not be so extreme as the variations in wind power, where a Beaufort Force 6 of 25 to 32 knots is actually exerting 200 times the pressure of a Beaufort Force 2 of 5 to 8 knots, nevertheless the windward potential of a 40 footer such as Denis and Annamarie Murphy's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo, or Chris and Patanne Smith's J/122 Aurelia, is in a different category completely to the upwind speed ability of little 'uns like Grzegorz Kalnecki's First 31.7 More Mischief from Dun Laoghaire, or Conor and Derek Dillon's Dehler 34 Big Deal from Foynes.
That said, offwind flying machines like Cian McCarthy's new Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl from Kinsale – which will have the formidable talents of Mark Mansfield on board - and her larger older sisters, the Sunfast 3600s YOYO (Brendan Coghlan, RStGYC) and Hot Cookie (John O'Gorman, NYC, with Maurice "The Prof" O'Connell on the strength), will be hoping that the effect of the run back from the Fastnet is maximised to optimise their gains from their startling offwind performance, captured here (yet again) in this now-famous vid of Cinnamon Girl making hay off the Old Head of Kinsale. We run it for the umpteenth time in the hope that somebody will finally reveal the names of the auteurs, for crediting it to "A Couple of Kids in a RIB" really won't do.
That famous Cinnamon Girl vid recorded by "a couple of kids in a RIB". If the "couple of kids in a RIB" could identify themselves, we'd be delighted to credit this super bit of work to them. (Update: Vid by Jack & Robert Carroll)
However, as revealed in the Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale race a fortnight ago, the overall winner Nieulargo (which once again has Nin O'Leary and Killian Collins on board) sails to a rating of only 1.023 when she limits herself to her non-overlapping headsail, which had her level-pegging rating-wise with Cinnamon Girl, yet The Girl finished half an hour astern on the water. And though Nieulargo may be sailing with full headsail which would put her rating up to 1.035 this time round, it still keeps her below the Sunfast 3600s around the 1.040 mark, so both Sunfast marques will have their work cut out, and Nieulargo remains a good sensible wager.
Yet, Aurelia, the Golden One should never be under-estimated, even if she is the highest-rated boat in the fleet at IRC 1.076. In the last big fleet offshore race in Irish waters – the 2019 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race – she was in consistent form to finish second overall. In fact, consistency is an Aurelia hallmark, and if ever a boat deserved an outstanding win such as the Fastnet 450 offers, then she is that boat.
But then, the crews of the 19 other boats all think exactly the same way about their craft, and while the compact fleet of 20 boats may be in line with COVID-19 compliance, between them they manage to represent 16 different yacht and sailing clubs, which for a race which has been put together in a fortnight, really is a remarkable achievement, and different clubs will be rooting for their own sailing gladiators.
Thus through being among the lowest-rated boats in the fleet, it's conceivable that More Mischief and Big Deal could have their day in the sun. Equally, the highly competitive racing among J Boats has really sharpened their game in the Dublin area, and there are those punters who would support the potential of Alan Algeo's J99 Juggerknot from the Royal Irish with dinghy champ Conor Kinsella in the crew, or Simon Knowles' well-prepared J/109 Indian from Howth.
Either way, it's little short of miraculous that a competitive fleet has been recruited in such a short time. But as we've pointed out already in Afloat, the granddaddy of them all, the Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour or Kingstown to Queenstown Race of July 1860 was also a pop-up event, put together in the days beforehand by the 80-year-old Admiral of the Royal Cork, T G French, who recruited his 16 entries among the yacht racing in a week of regattas in Dublin Bay staged by the Royal St George YC.
So ad hoc was it all that the "fine old Admiral" (as Hunt's Yachting Magazine described him in its August 1860 issue) confirmed entries by visiting each of the 16 interested yacht on the morning of the start in order to confirm entries by collecting the entry fee, which was based on the size of the yacht being entered.
The total amount collected was a tidy £60, which was a very substantial sum of money in 1860. But instead of augmenting club coffers, it became the prize purse which went to the crew of the winning boat. And as the winner by matter of minutes was one of the smallest competitors, the 39-ton cutter Sibyl skippered by the noted amateur Henry O'Bryen, her relatively small professional crew will have hit the inns of the Holy Ground like a tsunami with their newfound personal wealth.
The fine young Admiral of today's Royal Cork, Colin Morehead, is in Dun Laoghaire this (Saturday) morning to see the fleet on its way, just as his predecessor did 160 years ago. But whether he and his host - NYC Commodore Martin McCarthy – can arrange contactless payments from entries to make up a prize purse for the winning crew is something else altogether, and in any case when the fleet reaches Crosshaven, there'll be no way that financial tsunamis of any size can hit the local hostelries under lockdown rules.
For as Mark Mansfield, one of those who have determinedly put together this one and only chance of a decent mid-length offshore race in 2020 has bluntly put it:
"This is pure racing, boy. Forget about your parties before and after. This is all about those who really care very deeply about their sailing – that's the beginning and the middle and the end of it all."
Thanks to the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association, all competitors have been provided with a Yellowbrick tracker below
The 1 pm race start may also be visible on the Dublin Bay webcam here
Fastnet 450 Race Entry List @ 20/08/20
|First Name||Last Name||Club||Boat Name||Boat Type||Sail Number||class||IRC TCC||Echo|
|James||Tyrrell||Arklow Sailing club||Aquelina||J-112E||IRL 1507||1||1.061||1.055|
|John||Harrington||RUYC and BYC||eXcession||IMX38||IRL1880||1||1.014||No ECHO|
|John||O'Gorman||NYC||Hot Cookie||Sunfast 3600||GBR7536R||1||1.037||1.035|
|Rónán||Ó Siochrú||Irish Offshore Sailing||Desert Star Irish Offshore Sailing||Sunfast 37||IRL1455||2||0.952||0.97|
|Cian||McCarthy||Kinsale yacht club||cinnamon girl||Sunfast 3300||IRL1627||1||1.023||1.025|
|Simon||Knowles||Howth Yacht club||Indian||J109||IRL1543||1||1.007||1.015|
|Derek||Dillon||Foynes Yacht Club||Big Deal||Dehler 34||IRL3492||2||0.928||0.93|
|Grzegorz||Kalinecki||ISA||More Mischief||first 310||IRL966||2||0.911||0.92|
|Peter||Coad||Waterford Harbour Sailing Club||Blackjack||Pocock 37||IRL1988||2||0.917||0.92|
|Andrew||Algeo||RIYC / BSC||Juggerknot 2||J/99||IRL3990||1||1.01||1.02|
|Rupert||Barry||Greystones Sailing Club||Red Alert||JOD35||IRL6036||2||0.993||1|
|Flynn||Kinsman||NYC||A plus||Archambault 31||IRL977||2||0.978||0.98|
|Coleman/Coleman||David/Noel||RCYC||Blue Oyster||Oyster 37||IRL3852||2||0.93||0.932|
|Denis & Annamarie||Murphy||Royal Cork Yacht Club||Nieulargo||Grand Soleil 40 B+C||IRL2129||1||1.023||1.035|
|Riome (skipper)/ co owner Leonard||David/ Mark||Kinsale Yacht Club||Valfreya||Sigma 33||IRL 4297||2||0.912||0.915|
|Power Smith||Chris||Royal St George Yacht Club||Aurelia||J112||IRL35950||1||1.076||1.08|
|dMiller||Keith||Kilmore quay||Andante||Yamaha 36||IRL375||2||0.95||0.935|