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Less than a fortnight after he’d been declared the Afloat.ie/Irish Sailing/Volvo Sailor of the Year 2017 in Dublin, Conor Fogerty of Howth Yacht Club was back on the podium in Antigua, having been declared runaway winner of Class 3 in the RORC Caribbean 600 2018.

Fogerty had experienced exceptionally heavy weather when he achieved his outstanding solo success of 2017 in winning the Gipsy Month Trophy in the OSTAR with his Sunfast 3600 Bam!. But far from being sunlit therapy to counteract memories of that experience, the 2018 sailing of the RORC Caribbean 600 was the toughest yet in all its ten years. However, Fogerty and his crew of Howth clubmates battled on to a huge class win and an exceptionally good overall placing for the second-smallest boat in the fleet in what was undoubtedly a big-boat race.

conor fogertys bam2Conor Fogerty’s Bam! during one of the gentler stages on her way to a very clearcut win in Class 3 in the mostly rough RORC Caribbean 2018

Published in Sailor of the Month
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With winter still clinging like a hyper-cold limpet in northern latitudes, the prospect of balmy breezes and warm seas in the tenth annual RORC Caribbean 600 in late February seemed like the perfect prospect for escape and sport writes W M Nixon. After all, Irish sailors look on it with a certain proprietorial pride, with Adrian Lee’s Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners (Royal St George YC) winning the inaugural race overall in 2009.

Sea, sun, scenery and sailing – you have all that guaranteed for starters, even if only to enjoy it vicariously in following the event on many information streams. But then, as the start time approached at 11am local time Antigua on Monday 19th February, the growing entry list indicated an increasingly high quality lineup, with many powerful big boats and a swathe of professional crew.

Yet even if names of legendary fame and achievement were going to be competing, these was still a place for club entries with the necessary amateur experience to send forth crews, either on members’ own boats, or on judiciously-selected charter boats.

The “judicious selection” came in finding boats suitable for a rather specialised cat’s cradle of a course which can include a lot of power reaching, and takes in 11 island in order to have topped the 600-mile mark when the fleet finally returns to the finish line off the southern headlands of Antigua.

rorc caribbean 600 course2The RORC Caribbean 600 – the start and finish is at the south end of Antigua

With every sign that this year’s staging of the race would experience the northeast tradewinds in stonking form, we were encouraged a week ago to predict that George David’s mighty Rambler 88 might repeat her dramatic showing of line honours and a new mono-hull record, just as she did in the Volvo Round Ireland race of 2016.

Well, Rambler 88 did that, and she did it well, knocking more than two hours off the record her predecessor Rambler 100 set in 2011. But then as the rest of the fleet battled the course, it became increasingly likely that the big silver bullet could repeat her astonishing Irish success of the treble – line honours, course record (one day 13 hours and 41 minutes in the case of the Caribbean 600), and IRC overall win.

Several of Rambler 88’s challengers seemed within an ace of it, but the final 35 miles beat from Redonda back to the race’s focal point at the south end of Antigua saw them fail one after another to make the target, until by Wednesday only American Ron O’Hanley’s keenly-campaigned Cookson 50 Privateer – with Kinsale’s Ben Fusco as mastman - was in with a realistic chance, but that also faded on the final windward slugfest.

rambler 88 winning3Trebles all round! Rambler 88 on her way to matching her Round Ireland triple success

It means that overall the Americans have dominated the podium for the top results even if Kinsale has a share of it, with Rambler a clear first, Privateer second, and the Volvo 70 Warrior (Steve & Stephen Murray Snr & Jnr) third. So why then is there a considerable element of RORC Caribbean 600 celebration this weekend on a certain peninsula on Ireland’s East Coast?

Well, the slightest delving into the more detailed class results shows that between them, the National YC in Dun Laoghaire, and Howth Yacht Club on the eastern peninsula, can come up with 1,2,3 in class places, and in an event of the calibre of the RORC Caribbean 600, those are placings which are very special indeed.

The third place (it was in Class 1) came from Irish-American Kevin McLaughlin’s J/44 Spice, skippered by his son Sean with former Irish college sailing stars Will Byrne and Chris Raymond of the National YC in a key role in the crew.

As for the second place, it was also in Class 1 and went to the interesting Marc Lombard designed IRC 46 Pata Negra, chartered by Michael Wright of Howth under the guidance of Kieran Jameson, and crewed by an almost entirely Howth YC team.

pata negra4Marc Lombard’s interesting and stylish design for Pata Negra. There wasn’t a spinnaker left intact when she finished, but she still took a good second in Class 1

And the first place was a peach. It was in Class 3, and went to Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 36 Bam! HYC, which filled the same position in the 2016 race, but has since been away on other business such as winning the east-west Single-Handed Transatlantic Race of 2017. Yet although she was the second-smallest boat in the race, the potent Bam! was by no means the lowest-rated, so she had to work for her placing in conditions which tested everyone.

For it has been something of a Demolition Derby. Of 74 monohull starters, only 40 finished. And while the ten multi-hulls recorded a better finish rate, one of their exits was the most dramatic of all – a capsize by the catamaran Fujin, fortunately without any serious outcome other than one inverted multi-hull, with her crew safely on top, near the island of Saba.

fujin capsizer5She looks better right way up – the catamaran Fujin exited the RORC Caribbbean 600 in spectacular capsize style

While the possibility of such things was always present, the traditional pre-race festivities were special for the Howth contingent, as their own ex-Pat superstar Gordon Maguire arrived in from Australia to race aboard George Sakellaris’s much-fancied Maxi 72 Proteus. That the pre-race betting on Proteus was well-founded seemed justified after the first nine hours, as she narrowly had the overall lead on corrected time coming into the turn at Saba. But then an equipment failure led to her rapid retirement, and that was one favourite down, and others to follow.

michael and gordon6Local boys made good. Michael Wright and Gordon Maguire in Antigua before the start of the RORC Caribbean 600

Last year’s overall winning navigator, Ian Moore, was aboard the German-owned Elliott 52 Outsider, a canting keel entry which certainly looked the part. But as an outsider bet she would have been a disastrous investment, as nothing seemed to be going right from the start, and she retired at the north end of the course.

By that stage, the retirals were coming thick and fast as sails and gear – and maybe crews too - failed the test. But the key Irish boats were hanging in, even if the crew on Pata Negra were going through spinnakers at such an alarming rate that by race’s end they didn’t have a single spinnaker left in the locker.

But the preponderance of miles of power reaching, and the presence of some beats which provided opportunities for sound tactical choices, enabled Pata Negra to offset her lack of downwind sails. In the two final beats – one along the much indented south coast of Guadeloupe, and the other from Redonda to the Antigua finish – it was a pleasure to watch how navigator Colm Birmingham was calling it spot on, reading the shifts to perfection and skillfully using any bit of lee in the shelter of headlands to enable Pata Negra to gain an extra fraction of speed and out-perform much larger boats around her.

pata negra crew7Pata Negra’s crew start the celebrations on their return to Antigua

kieran and sail8Once upon a time, this was a sail – Kieran Jameson with a battle memento from Pata Negra

Heaven only knows how many peninsula people were following the tracker on Thursday afternoon as Pata Negra got within ten miles of the finish, with the mid-day wind at Antigua really getting up a head of steam. And then, with 9 miles to go, her speed was shown as down at 4.3 knots, her heading straight towards the harbour…. Was she disabled and motoring?..... A great collective sigh of relief as the next position showed her back up towards 8 knots and better, fairly thrashing along to the finish and that second place, achieved despite the spinnaker eliminations.

It was all part of a choreographed and slightly emotional series of happenings put together by Brian Turvey, starting with a send-off party for the two crews in Howth YC. That had to be held on February 2nd as the Volvo/Irish Sailing/Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” and “Sailor of the Year” awards were to be held in the RDS the following weekend, Friday February 9th, and after that there was an HYC Achievers Celebration hosted by Commodore Joe McPeake on Saturday 10th February, following which it was Antigua all the way.

kieran and conor9The choreography gets under way. Kieran Jameson and Conor Fogerty at the Caribbean 600 Goodwill Party in Howth YC on February 2nd. Within a week, Conor Fogerty was to become “Sailor of the Year 2017”, and within three weeks they’d recorded a second and first in class in the RORC Caribbean 600. Photo Brian Turvey

But by the time that Achievers Party came around, Conor Fogerty had become “Sailor of the Year” the night before, so he was doubly feted in his home club, and gave a moving little speech in which he frankly admitted that when he bought the boat new in 2015, he hadn’t a clue how to make her go well, but it was the encouragement of fellow Howth members which helped him up from being an also-ran to a winner.

Such thoughts were much in everyone’s mind through Thursday night as Bam! battled up that final beat to the finish, for another of the crews at that early-February party in Howth had been the combined National YC/Malahide YC team of Bernard McGranahan and Dermot Cronin, who were going to off to Antigua to race the J/122 Noisy Oyster, but they’d had to pull out with just 115 miles to sail, a really bad moment for Team Ireland.

But the Bam! supporters concerned about that final beat were heartened by some thoughts voiced in Conor Fogerty’s video from his OSTAR win:

“There you are, out in the ocean in the night in this light little boat in a gale, climbing up the side of a big sea that seems to go on up for ever in the darkness, and then you shoot out the top and become airborne for what seems a lifetime, and you’ve time to think that there’s no way this little plastic thing is going to survive hitting that very hard bit of water way down in the bottom of the trough, and then comes the crash which surely nothing can survive….but she does, she does survive without splitting open. And then she picks herself up, and just sails on, climbing the next mini-mountain that you know is right there in the dark”.

bam redonda10Bam! and Liquid with a serious turning mark, the steep and deserted rock of Redonda. Photo RORC/Tim Wright

bam in sunshine11Nearly there. Bam! at Redonda, with just 35 miles to go – but it’s going to be a dead beat. Photo RORC/Tim Wright

Set against that, the Redonda to Antigua beat was a walk in the park. But Bam! fans fretted until their boat was safely home around 4.30 am our time yesterday morning, and then it was time to relax and savour the moment. As for the Howth crews who have done the job and given their club such credit, aboard Pata Negra they were: Michael Wright, Kieran Jameson, Darren Wright, Colm Bermingham, Johnny White, Karena Knaggs, Sam O’Byrne, Ronan Galligan, Emmet Sheridan and Richard Cullen.

Aboard Bam!, in addition to skipper Conor Fogerty there was Simon Knowles and Anthony Doyle from the 2016 win, and the other three were Rob Slater, Robert Rendell and Damian Cody.

Here it is, still February, and they’ve had a season’s sailing and success already. It certainly blows away those winter blues.

bam final beat12They’re absolutely knackered, but there’s still work to be done – the reefed Bam settles down for the final beat to Antigua. Photo: RORC/Tim Wrigh

Bam crewThe Bam! crew roll out the banner dockside in Antigua....

Published in W M Nixon

It was a nail-biter to the very end writes W M Nixon. It was around half an hour before midnight local time last night off the south coast of Antigua when the lights of Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 finally appeared out of the velvet dark of the Caribbean night to cross the finishing line in the tenth RORC Caribbean 600.

After a final boat-breaking, man-breaking 35 mile beat into the strong nor’easters from the last turn at the little island of Redonda. the Howth skipper and his completely amateur crew had got to the finish and secured his second Caribbean 600 win in Class 3, the other being in 2016.

By doing so, in a race which very emphatically favoured big professionally-sailed boats, he corrected into 13th overall, well ahead of any boat of comparable size. He also corrected into one place ahead of clubmate Michael Wright in the IRC 46 Pata Negra, who nevertheless was firmly ensconced in second overall in Class 1.

And in 16th overall was Irish-American Kevin McLaughlin’s J/44 Spice, her crew including the National YC’s Will Byrne and Chris Raymond, and she in turn was securely placed in 3rd overall in Class 1. Class places of 1,2, and 3 for Irish hopes. Not a bad trawl for a big boat race dominated by pros.

We’ll have a fuller analysis of it in tomorrow’s “Sailing on Saturday”, meanwhile here’s the Race Tracker again here.

Published in RORC
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A 'wet and wild ride' around 11 islands in the West Indies is how Irish Sailor of the Year Conor Fogerty from Howth Yacht Club recalls yesterday's Class three win in the RORC Caribbean 600 when chattting with Afloat.ie's Louay Habib in Antigua.

Fogerty, sailing his Jeanneau Sunfast BAM 3600 fully crewed, says the welcome dockside in Antigua in the early hours was 'fantastic' after his finish late last night produced his second class three win in as many years, aboard the second smallest boat of the fleet.

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Published in RORC
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French skipper Catherine Pourre, racing Eärendil has won the Class40 division for the RORC Caribbean 600, setting a new record for the 600-mile race around 11 Caribbean islands. 

Eärendil took line honours for the eight-strong Class 40 Division in an elapsed time of 2 days 13 hours and 15 seconds, breaking the previous record set by Gonzalo Botin's Spanish Tales II in 2016 by over three hours. Eärendil, with a French, Spanish and Italian crew won the Class40 division for this year's race by just under three hours. Louis Burton's BHB was second in class and Arnt Bruhns racing his German Class40 Iskareen was third.

"The team did a fantastic job. I didn't know we were going to break the record, but we have two crew from Tales who had the record and said we could do it with the forecast conditions," commented Catherine Pourre. "We had 25 knots almost all the time, with 30 knot gusts. It was very, very wet on deck and inside the boat it was very rough as we were bumping on the waves. When we were upwind I got seasick and it was difficult for me to recover because we had no respite; even reaching was really rough. The RORC Caribbean 600 is part of the American Trophy for the Class40s. It is one of the fiercest and most challenging races for Class40 because of the number of manoeuvres, and this year because of the weather conditions. I hope we will have many more boats next year. There are 58 potential candidates for next year's Route du Rhum," continued Pourre.

Published in RORC
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When the wind is warm you maybe don’t notice too much when it spikes up to between 30 and 40 knots, but light offwind sails certainly do writes W M Nixon. In this boisterous RORC Caribbbean 600 2018, with its 34 retirals out of a fleet of 74 mono-hulls, there have been many blown-out spinnakers. But aboard the IRC 46 Pata Negra chartered by Michael Wright of Howth YC, they’ve been in the spinnaker blitzing business wholesale. The word is that they now haven’t a single one left at all - not one of any shape, weight or size.

Yet despite that, with most of the running being in the early stages when they still had some spinnakers left, and then so much of the rest of the race being flat-out reaching or beating, they’ve managed to hang in there. They’ve hung in to such good effect, that all being well with the rest of the rig and remaining sails, they’ll be finished early tonight (late afternoon local time) to correct into second in Class 1.

RORC Caribbean 600 course3.jpg The sting is in the tail – the final 40-mile beat from Redonda to the finish has been rugged, sometimes in the extreme.

There’s quite a significant gap between them and the Class 1 winner, the potent new NMD 43 Albator from France. And who knows how much narrower that gap might have been if they’d kept some of the lighter cloth intact on Pata Negra. But nevertheless it’s an excellent performance when you think that, ten days ago, most of the Irish crew had never even clapped eyes on the boat before. Yet within the limits of sail shortages, they’ve put in a masterful showing, and have managed to stay sufficiently far ahead of the lower-rated J/44 Spice, aboard which Will Byrne and Chris Raymond of the National YC are sailing, to keep her back in third in Class I.

bam racing3Bam! loving it on the reach. But now her crew face the 40-mile windward slogging match from Redonda to the finish.

Meanwhile, fifty miles astern of Pata Negra and going great guns, clubmate Conor Fogerty and his pals on the little Sunfast 3600 Bam! are on full power and zapping offwind level-pegging with a bunch of larger boats. And they’re still well in the lead in Class 3 - in fact, they’ve a bigger clear margin than ever before on the second boat. Nevertheless with the wind keeping up the pressure, the reality of the 40-mile dead beat in the night from Redonda to the finish at Antigua in a hyper-light 36-footer like Bam! is something that will sort the men from the boys.

Race tracker here 

Published in RORC
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With the third dawn of the RORC Caribbean 600 arriving on this Thursday morning, the annual warm water classic is settling into its final stages writes W M Nixon. While the successful heavy metal may be long since back into port and celebratory mode in Antigua, with George David’s Rambler 888 the undisputed treble success star, many boats and crews are licking their wounds after an unprecedented retiral rate in a race which has been living up to its advance billing as the toughest yet staged in the RORC Caribbbean 600’s ten year history.

For those still at sea but with the tricky sailing waters around mountainous Gudeloupe at the southern end of the course now well astern, it’s a case of consolidating positions and maintaining maximum speed while the breeze holds up, while at the same time managing to avoid any crippling gear damage. This has been the unfortunate experience of the combined National YC/Malahide YC crew of Bernard McGranahan and Dermot Cronin with the J/122 Noisy Oyster, who had rounded most of Guadeloupe, but then had to retire, and are limping back to Antigua.

pata negra2Pata Negra, the Lombard IRC 46 chartered by Howth YC’s Michael Wright, is now clearly in second place in Class 1

The little superstar, Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 Bam from Howth, continues to amaze with her ability to sail above her size, a gallant little boat sailed by a determined skipper and crewed by his amateur shipmates and friends. Currently she’s due east of the southern tip of Antigua, entering the final triangle of the course with 120 miles still to race, and pacing confidently with larger boats while continuing to lead IRC Class 3 by a now substantial margin.

The other Howth boat, the Michael Wright-chartered Lombard IRC 46 Pata Negra, has had a good night of it, and though she was not going to be able to make a significant dent in the 40-mile Class 1 lead of Albator (a new French NMD 43), Pata Negra is now more securely in second, and has just 58 miles to race to the finish.

RORC Caribbean 600 course3.jpg The three boats with Irish links in contention in the RORC Caribbbean 600 2018 are now all in the final Antigua-Barbuda-Redonda-Antigua triangle, with their finish at the south end of Antigua.

Third place in Class 1 is being retained by American-Irish Kevin McLaughlin’s J/44 Spice, which has Will Byrne and Chris Raymond of the National YC in her crew, but while significiantly lower-rated than Pata Negra, she now has 104 miles to race to the finish.

After the high-powered, strong winds drama of much of the race, inevitably there are areas of the course which are starting to show an easing of the pressure. But at the moment, the breeze is holding up over the final crucial Antigua-Barbuda-Redonda-Antigua triangle. We keep our fingers crossed

Race Tracker here

Published in RORC
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George David’s mighty Rambler 88 has repeated her Volvo Round Ireland 2016 treble in the current RORC Caribbean 600, taking line honours, the new course record, and overall victory in IRC, all in the one fell swoop writes W M Nixon.

By this afternoon, only Ron O’Hanley’s renowned Cookson 50 Privateer could have challenged the big silver bullet. But the final leg to the finish off the south coast of Antigua is a beat long enough to upset VMG predictions, which had earlier shown Privateer to be a genuine threat. However, it was not to be, and Rambler 88 is now clearly ensconced on the ultimate treble podium of a classic offshore race.

For the varied Irish contingent dotted throughout the fleet, it’s a matter of who takes second in Class 1, and can we hang onto the Class 3 IRC lead against a lower-rated second-placed boat which clearly has no intention of easing off the pressure?

In Class 1, barring gear failure the winner is going to be the new NMD 43 Albator from France, campaigned by Benoit Briand. He has forty miles in hand on the next boat in the class, and though he rates higher than his closest contenders, currently he has time to spare.

There’s more of a battle for second and third in Class 1, as there’d been a ding-dong for those places today between the American J.44 Spice with the National’s stars Will Byrne and Chris Raymond in the crew, and Howth YC’s Michael Wright with the IRC 46 Pata Negra. But the flukey conditions round the south end of Guadeloupe have been shaking up the places like nobody’s business, and as we post this Pata Negra is lying third in Class 1 but Spice has slipped back to seventh.

Further on down the line among the little folk, Conor Fogerty with the smallest boat in the race, the Sunfast 3600 Bam, continues to sail above his size – so much so that, among the boats he has always been clear ahead of on the water, there’s the J/122 Noisy Oyster, the joint campaign by the National YC’s Bernard McGranahan and former Middle Sea Race two-handed winner Dermot Cronin of Malahide, which is currently lying ninth in IRC 2.

Noisy Oyster has been level pacing today with the JPK 10.10 Jangada (Richard Palmer), which is the closest contender for Bam’s Class 3 lead. But as the Fogerty boat has twenty miles in hand on the pair of them, for the time being his class position is secure. But there’s still a long way to go, and even with Rambler now firmly in the supreme slot, there’s still much at stake.

Race tracker here

Published in RORC
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George David’s magnificent Rambler 88 has added further lustre to a career of remarkable success by taking line honours and setting the new course record for the RORC Caribbean 600 by a margin of more than two hours this morning writes W M Nixon.

In 2011, when he was racing Rambler 100, David had set the previous record of 1 day 16 hours 20 minutes and 2 seconds in what seemed like wellnigh perfect conditions. But continuous and often vigorous northeast tradewind conditions this year gave Rambler 88 the edge, and she finished at Antigua at 01:21:45 local time in the small hours of this morning to set a new record of 1 day 13 hours 41 minutes and 45 seconds.

Unlike their Volvo Round Ireland Record in 2016, when there were no mono-hulls of comparable size chasing the winner, Rambler’s crew will not have to wait too long to see if she continues to hold the IRC Championship lead. She gives time to the American-owned Volvo 70 Volvo Warrior, which is just 28 miles from the finish and sailing to windward on the final leg at a VMG of 14.5 knots, though with barely enough time available to challenge Rambler 88.

The overnight IRC leader, Ron O’Hanley’s Cookson 50 Privateer, has now slipped to fourth overall as the German 56-footer Varuna has moved ahead to third in what is still very much a big boat race.

Thus the larger of the two Howth entries, the Michael Wright-chartered IRC 46 Pata Negra, has continued to improve through the night, and now lies 10th overall and second in Class 1. Kevin McLaughlin’s J/44 Spice, with NYC crewmen Will Byrne and Chris Raymond, is third in Class 1 and 12th overall.

Conor Fogerty’s 36ft Bam! (HYC) the smallest boat in the race, is punching above her weight at 13th overall, and leads Class 3 by an hour. But she still has 289 miles to race, facing the challenge of just how long this record-making nor’east breeze will last.

Race tracker here

Published in RORC
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George David's American Maxi Rambler 88 crossed the finish line in Antigua on Wednesday 21st February at 01:21:45 AST in an elapsed time of 1 day 13 hours 41 minutes and 45 seconds, setting a new monohull race record.

Meanwhile, Paradox, Peter Aschenbrenner's American 63' Trimaran crossed the finish line in Antigua at: 00:55:16 AST on Wednesday 21st February 2018 in an elapsed time of 1 day, 13 hours 5 minutes and 16 seconds taking Multihull Line Honours in the 10th edition of the race.

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