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Round Ireland Sailing Record by Pamela Lee & Catherine Hunt Just Gets Better & Better

14th November 2020
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Catherine Hunt and Pamela Lee of Greystones aboard Iarracht Maigeanta. Their new double-handed Round Ireland Time has added significance when set in the full historic framework Catherine Hunt and Pamela Lee of Greystones aboard Iarracht Maigeanta. Their new double-handed Round Ireland Time has added significance when set in the full historic framework

The Round Ireland Sailing Record is a bit like Ireland herself. It's complicated by Partition. It's a case of there being not one but two sets of records, two elephants in two rooms. But for interested parties, the relevant elephant is in the room next door. You may well pretend that the other room doesn't exist. But everyone else knows it does for sure, and the rest of us can see it clearly, complete with your resident pachyderm in situ - big ears, trunk and all.

Thus when Pamela Lee and Catherine Hunt set their new Round Ireland Female Two-Handed Sailing Time with the Figaro 3 Iarracht Maigeanta, finishing across the Dun Laoghaire Pierhead-Kish Lighthouse line in the small hours of Saturday, October 17th, the Irish sailing community emerged with shared delight from their pandemic torpor. And here at Afloat.ie we gave a few brief comparisons to show the quality of what they'd achieved while adding that we'd do a more detailed analysis of it all in the fullness of time.

Moonduster in her first season of 1981Moonduster in her first season of 1981. It was her excellent time in the Round Ireland Race of 1984 which was the main inspiration for establishing a recognised Round Ireland Record. Photo: W M Nixon

It was a caveat used advisedly, as you'd never be 100% sure of what's lurking in mountains of data. You'd think there could be nothing more straightforward than recording a time achieved for sailing round Ireland, and setting it in context. But the Round Ireland Yacht Race from Wicklow has had its own set of rules and starting line since its inauguration in 1980, and while it does, of course, have record times, it is relative results from its Wicklow line which are its primary focus.

CONTRASTING SETS OF RECORDS

By contrast, the World Sailing Speed Record Council – established by the International Yacht Racing Union (now World Sailing) in 1972 – has set its Round Ireland Record line as being between the lighthouse on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire and the Kish Lighthouse eight nautical miles away off the mouth of Dublin Bay.

But although the WSSRC came into being into being before the first-ever round Ireland race (which was a one-off three-stager from Ballyholme in 1975), and also clear in advance of the first non-stop Round Ireland from Wicklow in 1980, the WSSRC didn't have any involvement with a Round Ireland Record until 1986.

This arose because, in the 1984 Round Ireland Race from Wicklow, Denis Doyle's Frers 51 Moonduster from Cork had set a then-formidable time of 3 days 16h 15m 25s during which, as navigator John Bourke pithily put it: "We were seeing off an entire Irish county in every watch".

Denis Doyle in the midst of Moonduster's crew in Wicklow after setting the record of 1984. Included in photo are Joxer O'Brien, John Bourke, Neil Love, David Harte, Neil Hegarty, Don McClement, Grattan Riberts and Brendan FogartyDenis Doyle in the midst of Moonduster's crew in Wicklow after setting the record of 1984. Included in photo are Joxer O'Brien, John Bourke, Neil Love, David Harte, Neil Hegarty, Don McClement, Grattan Riberts and Brendan Fogarty

Suddenly it became clear that a Round Ireland Record Challenge Campaign was an attractive publicity-attracting one-week all-in package, particularly if it was taken out of the constraints of a set time for starting from Wicklow in an increasingly crowded race, with a pre-ordained direction in which to make the circuit.

So in May 1986, Robin Knox-Johnston's 60ft Rod MacAlpine-Downie-designed catamaran British Airways arrived into Dublin Bay for the first crack at the straight record – with a largely Irish crew on board - at what would become the WSSRC contest on the Dun Laoghaire-Kish line under the auspices of the National Yacht Club.

Robin Knox-Johnston's 60ft catamaran British Airways heads north from Dublin Bay at the start of a round Ireland record challenge in May 1986 which managed to take 12 hours off Moonduster's 1984 timeRobin Knox-Johnston's 60ft catamaran British Airways heads north from Dublin Bay at the start of a round Ireland record challenge in May 1986 which managed to take 12 hours off Moonduster's 1984 time.

We went off anti-clockwise, and things were looking good until approaching the coast of Kerry, when the wind was settled firmly in the southeast with a lumpy sea, and it seemed to take for ever to get the big machine round to the Fastnet and any easing of sheets, such that though we did beat the Doyler's time, it was only by 12 hours, and the three-day barrier hadn't been broken.

However, during this period of the late 1980s, Dickie Gomes of Strangford Lough was one of the rock stars on both the Round-Ireland-from-Wicklow scene, and also in long-distance international short-handed sailing. He rustled up Peter Phillips with his great big lumbering 80ft catamaran Novanet for a fully-crewed crack at the Round Ireland from a line at the Royal Ulster YC in Belfast Lough.

The 80ft catamaran NovanetThe 80ft catamaran Novanet sailed under several names, but although well capable of high straight-line speeds in strong winds, she'd a limited performance and was sometimes incapable of tacking

It was November 1986 when they finally got going for a circuit through monster gales on the west coast with all the delights of 15 hours darkness every day, their crew including Enda O'Coineen who had also been on British Airways. As they got round in 2 days and 22 hours, they'd broken the three days barrier, any quibbles about a non-WSSRC line were properly blown away, and what looked like a very challenging time for sailing unfettered round Ireland was universally acknowledged and expected to stand for some time.

Novanet's crew in BangorNovanet's crew in Bangor after establishing a new record in November 1986, Dickie Gomes on left.

In fact, it lasted for seven years. But in September 1993 Con Murphy and Cathy Mac Aleavey turned up in Dublin Bay with Steve Fossett, Dave Scully and Brian Thompson with the very zippy 60ft trimaran Lakota, and they broke the two-day barrier with a brilliantly calculated and superbly-executed challenge, and this time it really did look virtually unbeatable with a record of 1d 20hrs 4 minutes 42s.

Meanwhile, all sorts of other special Round Ireland Circuit Times had been established, with the mono-hull record being pushed up by the likes of Lawrie Smith in the Round Ireland Race with the maxi Rothmans doing it in 3 days 12 hours in 1990, while a first single-handed multi-hull time of 4 days and 3 hours had been set in January 1992 by Robin Deasy of Galway in a former Rob James 60ft trimaran.

Lakota takes her high speed departure northwards from Dublin Bay in September 1993.Lakota takes her high-speed departure northwards from Dublin Bay in September 1993

The early 1990s also saw the astonishing Rob Henshall from the north get round alone and unaccompanied on both a Laser and a Bic Sailboard. So clearly with Lakota's superb no-limits record set, it was time to celebrate, and in November 1993 the National Yacht Club, supported by Cork Dry Gin, threw a gala Round Ireland Records Dinner. To it, after hours and days of research, they invited everyone who had ever set a round Ireland sailing time of any significance whatever, in order to create a historical context in which they could come along and celebrate Lakota's outstanding achievement.

And they were all there, including people like the MacLaverty brothers and Mick Clarke who'd been round in 1961 in the 18ft Waverley Class Durward, and James Cahill from Mayo who'd done it with various crews in a 13ft 6 ins dinghy in 1976, and of course Rob Henshall in addition to droves of more orthodox sailors from Ireland-circling mono-hulls and multi-hulls alike.

Lakota's winning crew of (left to right) Con Murphy Cathy Mac Aleavey, the late Steve Fossett, Dave Scully, and Brian ThompsonBack in the olden days, when you could have boisterous celebratory gatherings without social distancing…..the Round Ireland Records Dinner of November 1993 in the National Yacht Club with Lakota's winning crew of (left to right) Con Murphy Cathy Mac Aleavey, the late Steve Fossett, Dave Scully, and Brian Thompson

In these pandemic times, it's difficult to imagine that such raucous and uber-sociable gatherings were a regular part of sailing's winter scene. But such was the case with the 1993 Round Ireland Dinner, and it's as well that so much detailed research had taken place beforehand, for anyone who now claims to clearly remember being at the event simply can't have been there, as it was that kind of party……

The circuits which were celebrated at it were:

Round Ireland Sailing Circuits and Times to 1993:

  • 1864 Olivia (25tons, William Power, Kingstown) Time not known
  • 1889 Aideen (60ft) (Walter Boyd, Howth) Time not known
  • 1896 Brenda (28ft)(F.H. Sinclair, RUYC) 11d 4h 30m 2.63kn
  • 1911 Kelpie (49ft) (Conor O Brien Limerick) Total cruise 2 months, no other details known
  • 1935 Dauntless (37ft) (H.D.E.Barton, Irish CrC) 8d 20h 3.34kn
  • 1961 Durward (K & C MacLaverty & M.Clarke, Carrickfergus SC) 8d16h 3.4kn
  • 1964 Ainmara (36ft) (W.Nixon, J.R.O'Neill & E Wheeler) 6d 2h 50m 4.83 kn
  • 1975 Korsar (34ft) (R.Mollard & R. Watson, RStGYC) 5d 23h 8m 4.95kn
  • 1975 Brian Coad of WHSC began his record of most Round Ireland Races - was BCT winner 1980
  • 1976 Smallest Boat - James Cahill (Mayo) 13ft 6ins open dinghy
  • 1980 Force Tension (J.Morris, SCYC) 5d 15h 2m 57s 5.24kn
  • 1982 Moonduster (D.N.Doyle, RCYC) 4d 3h 45m 25s 7.09kn
  • 1984 Moonduster (D.N.Doyle, RCYC) 3d 16h 15m 43s 8.02kn
  • 1986 British Airways (R.Knox-Johnston, 3d 4h 5m 36s 9.23kn
  • 1986 Novanet (R.Gomes & P.Phillips) 2d 22h 25m16s 10.05kn
  • 1990 Rothmans (Lawrie Smith LTSC) New mono-hull record  3d 12h 56m 06s 8.29kn
  • 1990 Robert Henshall (RNIYC) Laser single-hander
  • 1992 Robert Henshall (RNIYC) Bic Sailboard
  • 1992 (January) Round Ireland Single-handed record Robin Deasy (Galway Bay SC), 60ft trimaran 4d 3h 12m 59 s 7.11kn
  • 1993 Lakota (S.Fossett & D.Scully), 1d 20h 42m 20s 15.84kn

The smallest keelboat to go round Ireland entirely under sail is the MacLaverty brother's 18ft Belfast Lough Waverley Durward, seen here in Sheephaven in DonegalThe smallest keelboat to go round Ireland entirely under sail is the MacLaverty brother's 18ft Belfast Lough Waverley Durward, seen here in Sheephaven in Donegal. Durward's average speed was 3.4 knots. Photo: Kevin MacLaverty

The largest keelboat to go round Ireland entirely under sail is Mike Slade's 100ft ICAP-Leopard The largest keelboat to go round Ireland entirely under sail is Mike Slade's 100ft ICAP-Leopard – she averaged 10.7 knots in 2008

With hindsight, the selection of 1993 as a watershed year was a brilliant choice, as the Lakota record stood for 22 years until it was bested by the MOD70 Musandam Oman (Sidney Gavignet) in 2015. But in the meantime, other new variants on significant sailing round Ireland achievements and times recorded continued to be ratcheted up, and there were two more mono-hull single-handed challenges before the Powers-That-Be made it clear that sailing right round Ireland non-stop single-handed was verging on contravention of sea law.

The two mono-hull loners were both performing in 2005, with Mick Liddy of Dun Laoghaire doing it in a First 40.7 in 5 days and 12 hours, but then before the season was out Michael Kleinjans of Belgium turned up with his Open 40 Roaring Forty, and went round alone in 4d 1h 52m, thereby besting Mick Liddy's time, and also Robin Deasy's multi-hull time by an hour and twenty minutes.

The MOD70 Musadnam Oman in Dublin Bay after her first breaking of the round Ireland record in 2015.The MOD70 Musandam Oman in Dublin Bay after her first breaking of the round Ireland record in 2015.

Meanwhile, the open mono-hull record continued to be pushed up through both the Round Ireland Race and specific challenges by Volvo Racers and former Maxis, producing this set of figures:

  • 1998 Jeep Cherokee (W60) (Colm Barrington, RIYC) 3d 4h 23m 57s 9.22kn
  • 2002 Irish Independent Challenger (83ft Maxi, G.Keegan, S.Fogarty & D Cafferky, HYC) 3d 3h 27m 45sec 9.33kn
  • 2008 Leopard (100ft Maxi) Mike Slade 2d 17h 58m 10.7kn

TWO-HANDED RECORD

There was one possible under-utilised record which had only started to come into focus in 2004, and that was when the Round Ireland Race from Wicklow introduced a two-handed division. But in its first staging in that year, the west coast's Aodhan Fitzgerald & Yannick Lemonnier put in such a crisp time of 4 days 6 hours and 30 minutes in the Figaro 2 DoDingle that for years no subsequent two-handed crew in the Round Ireland Race came anywhere near them, while Aodhan Fitzgerald for his part went on to win the 2008 race overall with the fully-crewed First 40.7 Ireland West.

Meanwhile, a fully-crewed competitor in that 2004 race, France's Jean-Philippe Chomette with the Open 60 Solene, was so taken with the special challenge provided by sailing round Ireland that he was back in 2005, again with a full crew but this time including legendary nautical metman Chris Tibbs who reckons the round Ireland one of the neatest challenges going, and he called the timing on the WSSRC course to such perfection that CityJet Solene went round in 2 days 9 hours and 41 minutes, thereby creating a mono-hull "unbeatable" to match the enduring Lakota multi-hull time.

The Open 60 Cityjet Solene set a new fully-crewed mono-hull record in 2005The Open 60 Cityjet Solene set a new fully-crewed mono-hull record in 2005

The post-2009 recession undoubtedly took its toll on round Ireland sailing challenges of all kinds, but things were coming back to life by 2015 when the Ogden brothers made the first Drascombe Lugger circuit from Baltimore, and then in 2016 there was a Laser circuit by Gary "Ted" Sargent of Howth, a feat repeated in 2018 by Richard Hayes of Galway.

The Ogden brothers return to Baltimore after circling Ireland in their Drascombe Lugger in 2015.The Ogden brothers return to Baltimore after circling Ireland in their Drascombe Lugger in 2015.

This was all part of a new golden era for Round Ireland record-making, as the Round Ireland Race of 2016 saw George David's Rambler 88 push the mono-hull record through the floor to 2d 2h 24m 9s, thereby knocking a clear 7 hours off CityJet Solene's "unbeatable" time from 2005.

eorge David's all-conquering Rambler 88 set the current mono-hull record in the 2016 Round Ireland RaceGeorge David's all-conquering Rambler 88 set the current mono-hull record in the 2016 Round Ireland Race

But everything was happening in 2016, for in 2015 Musandam Oman had taken a small slice off the Lakota multi-hull time, and in 2016 by winning the Round Ireland Race, she took another bit off it in winning a hyper-close three-way MOD70 finish which so frustrated Lloyd Thornburg in Phaedo 3 that in August he came back for another crack at the circuit from the WSSRC line, and succeeded in getting the multi-hull record down to 1d 12h 52m, which has been unchallenged since, and also left us with one of the finest sequences of sailing on the Irish coast, as Phaedo came past the majestic Blaskets, Skelligs and Fastnet on her record-making anti-clockwise second circuit.

With all the jigs and the reels of the excitements of 2015-2016, and with information coming from several sources as to specific times in what and where, when Pam Lee and Cat Hunt established their straightforward time for a female two-handed circuit four weeks ago with their Figaro 3, all we knew for sure was that additional context was added by knowing they'd beaten the two-handed time set by Aodhan Fitzgerald and Yannick Lemonnier way back in 2004.

Michael Kleinjans' Open 40 slices through between two Figaro 2Michael Kleinjans' Open 40 slices through between two Figaro 2s. Aodhan Fitzgerald and Yannick Lemonnier established the first round Ireland two-handed record with a Figaro 2 in 2004.

But a remarkable number of boats have raced and tried record-breaking round Ireland under sail since then, and with the two sets of times being kept by two completely separate organisations, it's not always a cakewalk digging into some of the more obscure times, particularly if you have a computer crash in the middle of the process.

Michael Kleinjans's Open 40 at the start of the 2016 Round Ireland RaceMichael Kleinjans's Open 40 at the start of the 2016 Round Ireland Race, in which he set a new two-handed round Ireland record of 3 days 22 hours and 43 minutes.

Atlantic sailing – Pam lee and Cat Hunt crossing Donegal Bay in Iarracht MaigeantaAtlantic sailing – Pam lee and Cat Hunt crossing Donegal Bay in Iarracht Maigeanta, on their way to a round Ireland two-handed time of 3 days 19 hours and 41 minutes. Photo Irish Air Corps

So there was a feeling there might be something in the midst of all the numbers from 2016 which might give an added perspective, and there it was, hidden in the concentration of the Round Ireland Race's new multi-hull and mono-hull records at the heart of a record fleet.

Spread across all the classes was a two-handed division. And in it were several Class 40s, some sailed two-handed. The winner was Belgium's Michael Kleinjans, possibly still sailing Roaring Forty with which he set the Round Ireland solo record back in 2005, but prosaically called Visit Brussels for the Round Ireland Race 2016.

He had just one shipmate, Ian Wittevrongel, and they won the Class 40s and the overall two-handed division in an elapsed time of 3 days 22 hours 43 minute and 45 seconds. Thus they knocked eight hours off the DoDingle time from 2004. But their time with all the power of an Open 40 under them in 2016 has still been bested by three clear hours in 2020 by Pamela Lee and Catherine Hunt with a smaller Figaro 3. 

Round Ireland Two-Handed Record

  • 2004 Yannick Lemonnier/Aodhan Fitzgerald DoDingle (Figaro 2) 4d 6h 30m
  • 2016 Michael Kleinjens/Ian Wittevrongel Class 40 Visit Brussels 3d 22h 43m 45s
  • 2020 Pamela Lee/Catherine Hunt (Greystones, Figaro 3 Iarracht Maigeanta: 3 days 19hrs 41mins 39s
WM Nixon

About The Author

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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