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SSE Renewables Round Ireland Yacht Race Is St Patrick’s Parade For Sailing In Ireland

19th March 2022
Seasoned campaigners: The First 310 More Mischief (Grzegorz Kalinecki, Dun Laoghaire, left) and the J/122 Aurelia (Chris Power Smith, RStGYC, right) are Numbers 1 and 3 in the growing entry list for the SSE Renewables Round Ireland race from Wicklow on June 18th 2022
Seasoned campaigners: The First 310 More Mischief (Grzegorz Kalinecki, Dun Laoghaire, left) and the J/122 Aurelia (Chris Power Smith, RStGYC, right) are Numbers 1 and 3 in the growing entry list for the SSE Renewables Round Ireland race from Wicklow on June 18th 2022 Credit: Afloat.ie

For most of us, the pandemic has been a matter of two years in limbo. And it maybe isn’t over yet, even if everyone is behaving as though we’re well into the end game. But for gallant little Wicklow Sailing Club, the reality is that it has been more like four years in limbo. The club may have a thriving local, junior and disabled sailing programme which has continued when permitted with social-distancing. But for the world at large, Wicklow Sailing Club is the focal point of the biennial Round Ireland Race, and the last one was way back in 2018, won by Niall Dowling (RIYC) with the Ker 43 Baraka GP.

It’s an event that is a major international offshore racing highlight, while being a colourful and very convivial local festival at the same time. For Wicklow SC is very much part of its community, and on Thursday the Club won the “Best Float” prize in the town’s St Patrick’s Day Parade, with Ken Glover, Patrick Billington and Karen Kissane leading the team with a special display effort which was based around the communal re-building of the club launch.

If there’s another Irish sailing club that won a similar honour on St Patrick’s Day, we’ve yet to hear of it. But this friendly and popular success is typical of Wicklow SC’s dynamic interaction with the town, and beyond that with Wicklow County Council.

Wicklow SC winning float for Thursday’s St Patrick’s Day Parade in the townWicklow SC winning float for Thursday’s St Patrick’s Day Parade in the town

“Best in Show” – WSC’s Thursday prize.“Best in Show” – WSC’s Thursday prize

It’s this second element that puts its major offshore Round Ireland event into a different context from happenings like the Fastnet Race and the Middle Sea Race, where shoreside activity can be minimized. That’s just not possible in Wicklow’s relationship with the Round Ireland. And thus Commodore Kyran O’Grady (who has agreed to serve a second two year term) and Race Organiser Hal Fitzgerald and their members have had to face what eventually became – after hope-inducing postponements for the eventually cancelled 2020 event – a very subdued existence on the international front. Nevertheless, it had the useful purpose of underlining just what a key role this great sailing circuit of our island home plays in national maritime life.

Race Organiser Hal Fitzgerald (left) and WSC Commodore Kyran O’Grady – both have extended their periods in office to move the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race successfully through its 2020 hiatus.Race Organiser Hal Fitzgerald (left) and WSC Commodore Kyran O’Grady – both have extended their periods in office to move the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race successfully through its 2020 hiatus.

So much so, in fact, that ideally it would be sailed during St Patrick’s Week. But as it would be crazy to stage such an Atlantic-challenging venture during mid-March, we’ll nevertheless go along with the idea that the now-traditional round Ireland circuit starting from Wicklow in the mid-summer weekend is the sailor’s version of the St Patrick’s Parade.

For those who would dispute this, we can argue that the realities of St Patrick can surely be adjusted to suit the needs of the moment. After all, according to The Annals of the Four Masters, when he died on March 17th in 460AD, St Patrick was 122 years old. Would it be too much to ask that this be adjusted by a few months to take us into summer. In fact, come to think of it, if we made St Patrick’s Day July 12th, it would provide summer conditions to cover all parade requirements - north and south - for the entire year.

The ultimate leaderboard for sailing in Ireland – even without a race in 2020, it’s a formidable list going back more than forty yearsThe ultimate leaderboard for sailing in Ireland – even without a race in 2020, it’s a formidable list going back more than forty years

When the Four Masters were agreeing the date of his death, they’d no thought of March’s cold and windy weather making O’Connell Street in Dublin a sea of hypothermic drum majorettes during the annual St Patrick’s Day Parade. In fact, they’d no thoughts of Parades at all, for it was 541 years after the supposed death date of the great holy man that the first St Patrick’s Day Parade was staged. And as it took place in the very balmy Spring weather of Florida on March 17th 1601, nobody realized that repeating the exercise in due course back home in Ireland might result in discomfort for participants and spectators alike.

That said, the story on the first St Patrick’s Day has to be taken with a very large pinch of salt, and perhaps much more exotic substances were involved in its creation. For the word is that around 1601, the Vicar to the growing Spanish colony in St Augustine in what became Florida was Irish, one Father Richard Arthur. And it was he who had the idea of celebrating St Patrick’s Day with a parade to remind his Spanish congregation that other people shared their religion, and had their own saints who equally deserved celebration.

Defending champion. 2018 winner, the Ker 43 Baraka GP (Niall Dowling) sweeps past Wicklow HeadDefending champion. 2018 winner, the Ker 43 Baraka GP (Niall Dowling) sweeps past Wicklow Head. Photo: Afloat.ie

The 2018 Race involved some tactically challenging windward work off the west coast – it’s intriguing to note that off the north coast of Mayo, the eventual runaway winner Baraka GP was lying 23rd on corrected time.The 2018 Race involved some tactically challenging windward work off the west coast – it’s intriguing to note that off the north coast of Mayo, the eventual runaway winner Baraka GP was lying 23rd on corrected time.

March in Florida is grand for parades and for sailing too, but historically the only significant maritime connection anywhere with St Patrick’s Day is in the general acceptance that it was on March 17th, with rain drumming down, that Noah’s Ark finally had enough floodwater around it to float for the first time and start the voyage to Mount Ararat.

But maybe we’ve paraded down this fantasy route for long enough, so apart from being happy to agree that Saturday, June 18th 2022 will be recognized as St Patrick’s Maritime Day for the start of the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race at Wicklow, let’s get real by seeing who has already stepped up to the plate, even if the Early Bird Entries don’t close until March 31st, while the final date is May 31st.

As of yesterday, there were already 18 paid-up runners, and you can study them in more detail here

As ever, the preliminary list reminds us that, ever since its foundation 42 years ago, the Round Ireland Race participation has built up its own community within the sailing community. And with Grzegorz Kalinecki’s little First 310 More Mischief from Dun Laoghaire in there at Number One and Ian Hickey’s Granada 38 Cavatina from Cork in at Number 2 while Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia is Number 3, the Round Ireland racing committed community is as strong as ever, with Cavatina in a special role, as she has won it twice – in 2002 and 2006 – and been in the frame on other occasions.

Cavatina for ever….! Ian Hickey’s successful veteran, the Cork-based 38-footer Cavatina, is already entered for the 2022 race.Cavatina for ever….! Ian Hickey’s successful veteran, the Cork-based 38-footer Cavatina, is already entered for the 2022 race

The show goes on….Kyran O’Grady with Barry Kilcline of sponsors SSE RenewablesThe show goes on….Kyran O’Grady with Barry Kilcline of sponsors SSE Renewables

Interestingly enough, the two most recent winners – George David’s Rambler 88 in 2016 and Niall Dowling’s Baraka GP in 2018 – also took mono-hull line honours, with Rambler 88 being something particularly special. After he and his crew - including his future wife Wendy - were rescued by the Baltimore maritime community when the keel snapped off his Rambler 100 at the Fastnet Rock during the Fastnet Race of 2011, he promised that in due course he would return to Ireland and do the Round Ireland as a gesture of appreciation.

In 2016, Rambler 88 was ready and waiting, and so too was the weather – she went round so quickly that she took monohull line honours in what is surely an unbeatable time, a time so extraordinary that despite her great size and stratospheric rating, she won on IRC as well.

A promise well rewarded – George David’s 2011 promise to do the Round Ireland Race was amply rewarded in 2016 when Rambler 88 - seen here at Wicklow Head shortly after the start – went on to win every which way. Photo: WSCA promise well rewarded – George David’s 2011 promise to do the Round Ireland Race was amply rewarded in 2016 when Rambler 88 - seen here at Wicklow Head shortly after the start – went on to win every which way. Photo: WSC

Going further down the list, Entry Number 4 has special interest, as seasoned Wexford campaigner Keith Miller of Kilmore Quay has moved on from his Yamaha 36 cruiser-racer Andante to the more race-oriented Prime Suspect, a Mills 36 of 1999 vintage whose design was created just up the road from Wicklow in Mark Mills’ high tech naval architectural studio.

The rapidly-growing and very developmental Class40 has made the Round Ireland one of its highlight events, and already one of the latest designs is into the fray with Italian skipper Andrea Fornaro’s latest VPLP boat, Influence – there are links here to Round Ireland Two-Handed record holder Pam Lee of Greystones, who rounded out her 2021 season in Europe by winning the two-handed Round Italy Race as co-skipper with Fornaro on a Figaro 3.

Coming home? The Mills 36 Prime Suspect, newly-acquired by Keith Miller of Wexford, was designed in County Wicklow by Mark Mills.Coming home? The Mills 36 Prime Suspect, newly-acquired by Keith Miller of Wexford, was designed in County Wicklow by Mark Mills

Thus at mid-March, we’re already looking at the makings of a healthy lineup on June 18th, with 2012 line honours winner Green Dragon (Enda O Coineen & Conor Ferguson) coming back for more, and interest being heightened by the fact that there’s a classy Volvo car up for grabs.

Back in the day when Volvo sponsored the race, they put up a new car as a prize for the best performer over three consecutive races. It should have been done and dusted in 2020, but now we’re seeing it spread over eight years, so it will be intriguing to see what successful veterans are tempted out of the woodwork for a nice set of new electric-powered wheels.

Meanwhile, we conclude with the notion that the first round Ireland race – a one boat event – may indeed have started on March 17th. For in his voyaging with the Ark, Noah sailed round a tiny island which he deduced to be the peak of Carrantuohill, the only part of Ireland still above water.

Thus in rounding it before heading back east, he sailed round Ireland. And he knew it was Carrantuohill because there was a Kerry man on top of it. Upon the captain of the Ark complaining of the awfulness of the endless rain, the peak-top man proved his Kerry credentials by robustly responding:

“ Rain? ’Tis only a shower”

Published in W M Nixon, Round Ireland
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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