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Irish Sailing has been forced to shelve this month's planned trial for Irish entry into the 2020 Offshore World Championships and will look at running the trial as part of the Round Ireland Race instead.

As regular Afloat readers will know, the 2020 Offshore World Championships is taking place in Valletta, Malta as part of the Rolex Middle Sea Race from 10-22 October 2020. Ireland has already secured an entry into the Mixed Two Person Event – one male and one female, which is a new event for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

There had been some early declarations for the event.

Irish Sailing had planned to run a selection trial scheduled between 28 March and 5 April 2020 and centred around the Solo Guy Cotton Concarneau regatta in France.

Due to restrictions around Covid-19 these trials have been forced to be rescheduled. Irish Sailing says it is now looking at options to run the selection trials in cooperation with the organisers of the Round Ireland Yacht Race due to start 20th June.

Further details around choice of boat and NOR will be published shortly.

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Coronavirus may have postponed tonight's official launch party but there's no stopping interest in June's SSE Renewables Round Ireland offshore race that gets underway in 14 weeks time.

The prospect of some potent international entries into this year's race is adding extra spice to an already a bullish entry for the 21st edition.

The 2020 race from Wicklow Sailing Club is already being billed as a potential 'record' one by organisers and that's quite an achievement given the year's packed offshore fixture list.

The much-rumoured entry of the French offshore great Teasing Machine plus the entry of a JPK 10.30, according to an Afloat source. has the potential to make this a very special international race indeed. 

Launched in July 2017 with success in the 2017 Rolex Middle Sea Race, as its class winner and third overall, Owner Eric de Turckheim's Teasing Machine is a well blooded offshore racer having also competed in the Sydney-Hobart race.

JPK 10.30A new JPK 10.30 design could be on the cards for June's Round Ireland Race Photo: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex

The solid take-up defies early fears that the race might have struggled with other key fixtures such as early July's Kingstown to Queenstown Race and the Morgan Cup from Cowes to Cork Week.

Entries received to date include Malta, UK, USA, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, France, Germany and Ireland while the race is a starred event in the Royal Ocean Racing Club's calendar meaning more overseas entries are likely. The largest entry is the 21m Neptune 3 from Malta skippered by Greg Miller. She will be joined on the start line by former Round the World boat 70-footer Telefonica Black under Lance Shepard from the UK.

Round Ireland is the second longest race in the Royal Ocean Racing Club calendar and first race took place in 1980 with only thirteen boats. Since then, held biennially, the fleet has grown steadily, attracting a record 64 entrants for its biggest ever edition in 2016 which four years later may yet be eclipsed.

There are a number of classes in IRC in which boats and their crews can compete, including IRC 1 – 4, Z class, ISORA, a ‘Two-handed Class’ and a Team Prize. The 2016 race saw the introduction of multihulls sailing under MOCRA rules. The 2018 race saw the introduction of a new Class 40 category. In the past, boats competing have ranged from a 98-footer former “round the world” maxi, to club boats one third the size, with all shades in between.

Some of the latest entries are Cork Harbour boats with double winner Cavatina and the Grand Soleil Nieulargo both signed up in the past fortnight. Last weekend, the new Sun Fast 3300 was launched at the Royal Irish Yacht Club and this new marque from Jeanneau will race the circuit under the burgee of Kinsale Yacht Club.

W M Nixon will preview all the latest Round Ireland entry news in his weekly blog on Afloat this Saturday here.

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It may be only mid-February, but entries for the 704-mile 40th Anniversary 21st edition SSE Renewables Round Ireland Yacht Race from Wicklow on June 20th are already on the two dozen mark, and the fleet is remarkable for its variety of size and type, writes WM Nixon.

In an initial lineup which has 15 boats from outside Ireland, the most exotic has to be Neptune 3 from Malta, the 26-metre alloy Fitzroy cutter (with Judel Vrolik input) which is skippered by Greg Miller.

Another biggie is the former Volvo 70, Telefonica Black, while smallest is the First 310 More Mischief, just 9.15 metres long and entered by Grzegorz Kalinecki of Dun Laoghaire. At the moment there’s only one J/109, Outrajeous from Howth entered by Johnny Murphy, who co-owns her with ICRA Commodore Richard Colwell, but doubtless others of this famous marque will throw their hat into the ring in due course.

more mischief2The First 310 More Mischief from Dun Laoghaire is currently the smallest entrant. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien
Paul O’Higgins’ otherwise all-conquering JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC) is down to go for her third campaign in a circuit where victory has eluded her so persistently - despite conspicuous successes in every other offshore competition - that it’s all beginning to be reminiscent of Saoirse Ronan and the Oscars…… 

rockabill six3The Saoirse Ronan of Irish offshore racing? Paul O’Higgins’ otherwise all-conquering JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (twice winner of the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race) is entered for her third Round Ireland challenge, despite success eluding her in 2018 and 2016 when she seemed to win everything else on the offshore circuit. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

Published in Round Ireland

This year, with the fresh sponsorship of SSE Renewables, the Round Ireland Race from Wicklow comes of age. The 21st staging of the biennial classic – now an international event, included in the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s programme and an integral part of its annual points championship – will mark four decades of exceptional enthusiasm and voluntary dedication by a relatively small sailing club in a little river mouth port, a harbour town which successfully asserts its special position and unique identity in an Irish sailing scene which otherwise tends to be dominated by four or five much larger sailing centres.

Although the entry process for 2020’s race on June 20th was only opened as recently as January 20th, confirmed entries are already pushing towards the 20 mark, and while the latest entry is the Xp44 WOW (George Sisk) from the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire, a notable feature of the early entries is their overseas range, including Hiroshi Nakajima’s classic Sparkman & Stephens 49 Hiro Maru, from the US, campaigning in Europe after last year’s Transatlantic Race.

hiro maru2An American entry already in for the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race 2020 is Hiroshi Nakajima’s 1971-vintage S&S 49 classic Hiro Maru, built-in aluminium by Palmer Johnson of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, the builders of Ted Turner’s 1979 Fastnet Race winner Tenacious

This international interest has been a central theme of the Round Ireland Race from its early days, and in some years such as 2016 when George David’s mighty mono-hull Rambler 88 and three MOD 70 trimarans established a complete raft of new records, it has been the dominant feature. But equally, for many offshore racers from clubs all round Ireland and further afield, racing round Ireland is a rite of passage, so special for some that they do it many times.

But at whatever level you participate, in whatever size of boat, there is something profound, something unique and deeply satisfying, about racing round our island home, experiencing its incredibly varied weather, its majestic coastline, its wayward tides, and the camaraderie which develops among competitors, whether as shipmates or friendly rivals. And with this 21st staging of the race, it is time to put the story in context.

Forty years ago on Saturday 28th June 1980, a varied fleet of 13 small to medium-sized cruiser-racers came to the starting line off Wicklow, and headed south with the gathering ebb tide and a summery easterly breeze in the first non-stop Round Ireland Race, a challenge which - at 704 miles – was just four miles short of being a hundred miles longer than the standard-setting Fastnet Race itself.

WSC 1953 turning first sod3Beginnings – the ceremony to turn the first sod for the building of a clubhouse for the new Wicklow Sailing Club in 1953
wicklow sailing club4Small club, big heart – Wicklow SC (centre) and the Wicklow RNLI Station (left) provide a maritime hotspot at the head of the pier

The organising Wicklow Sailing Club – founded as recently as 1950/51 - may have been small by comparison with many of the older history-laden Irish yacht clubs. But with a strong voluntary spirit, it punched well above its weight in being at the heart of a community in which it promoted sailing and waterfront co-operation in a picturesque but workaday port, a harbour where the dominant activities had formerly been in meeting the needs of small cargo ships, a local inshore fishing industry, and a voluntarily-supported lifeboat station.

By the late 1970s the club was a hive of activity, and in 1979 - with Harry Jordan as Commodore - in addition, its own busy weekly races it was actively involved in bringing newcomers to sailing. That year, it also ran an innovative Wicklow Yacht Rally which drew in 46 participants from all around the Irish Sea. With its testing of crews’ skills and a programme of assessment and advice by recognized experts on preparing boats for serious sea-going, it was the core event in a summer fixtures list of such varied, useful and yet enjoyable activity that the newly inaugurated “Sailing Club of the Year” competition in 1979 selected Wicklow SC to be its first winner.

But even as the successes of 1979 were being celebrated, another game-changing idea was rapidly developing. Michael Jones, a keen member of the club who served as Commodore three times - in 1972, 1984 and 1991 - was also a longtime honorary secretary of the Wicklow RNLI. With an accountancy practice in the town, he was well aware of the place’s strengths and weaknesses.

Pondering on all this, he became convinced that a major maritime event was needed to help Wicklow re-discover its deeper maritime roots, assert its individuality as a self-contained and thriving community in the face of growing Dublin commuter encroachment, and generally make its mark on the national sailing stage.

michael jones5Man of vision – Michael Jones of Wicklow

Or at least that’s the way he subsequently explained how he brought the Round Ireland Yacht Race starting and finishing at Wicklow into being. Whatever the reasons, he had the idea, indeed he was consumed by it. But instead of promoting it with noisy announcements, he put at least as much energy into behind-the-scenes networking with the kind of slightly off-the-wall offshore sailing enthusiasts who had emerged with the growth of the ISORA programme and other events, together with more cruising-oriented people whom he knew would feel that a non-stop round Ireland race was an event whose time had come.

round 1980 ireland prestart6Pre-start manoeuvres at the inaugural Round Ireland 1980 with (left to right) line honours winner Force Tension, the Shamrock class Orinoco, John Hall’s Prout catamaran, and eventual overall winner Raasay of Melfort (Brian Coad). Photo: W M Nixon

At the same time, he brought key members of Wicklow Sailing Club who had shown their readiness for voluntary work along with him, and the fruits of their labour became evident on that summery Saturday afternoon off Wicklow on June 28th 1980 when 13 boats went off southwards in an easterly breeze after a rather uneven start. It was uneven because this was the first time a Round Ireland fleet became aware that the sluicing ebb off the Wicklow pierheads makes an early arrival on the line a loser’s option.

Thus although top skipper Johnny Morris of Pwllheli with Tony Vernon’s High Tension 36 Force Tension was so neatly away that his boat doesn’t appear in any of the photos of the main group starting, Half Ton ace Jim Poole of the National Yacht Club with his Ron Holland-designed Feanor almost found himself on the wrong side of the Committee Boat in that tide, and had to assert his rights on starboard gybe to make the line.

1980 round ireland start7That first start in 1980 – Force Tension is already out of picture, Brian Murphy’s Hydra class Crazy Jane is next across ahead of Raasay, and Feanor is having to assert her starboard gybe rights with Partizan after under-estimating the tidal stream. Photo: W M Nixon

Yet in the end, although Force Tension took line honours by more than two hours from Dave FitzGerald’s Holman & Pye 41 Partizan from Galway, it was the little Feanor (whose crew included a young Enda O Coineen) which won IOR overall by an hour from Dermod Ryan’s Hustler 35 Red Velvet (RStGYC).

But when the idea of the race had been launched, Michael Jones had no idea of just how much it would appeal to an all-Ireland cross-section of established offshore racers. So, to spread the net wide, he announced from the get-go that the ultimate winner would be based not on the very competitively-oriented International Offshore Rule, but on a special Wicklow Round Ireland Handicap, and multi-hulls would also be welcome to take part.

1980 round ireland feanor8Making knots in the open Atlantic - the Half Tonner Feanor running smoothly off the west coast. Photo: Enda O Coineen1980 round ireland feanor partizan9Chasing the big ’uns – Feanor with the 41ft Partizan (Dave Fitzgerald) off the coast of Donegal in 1980. Photo: Enda O Coineen

Thus the first winner was definitely a boat with strong cruising emphasis, Brian Coad’s Rival 34 Raasay of Melfort from Dunmore East. And though none of the multihulls finished, one of their skippers, John Hall of the National YC, is the only skipper from that race of 1980 still actively campaigning, though for some years now he has been doing it in partnership with his son Brian in the J/109 Something Else.

1980 partizan finishes10Classic finish to the first Round Ireland Race – Dave Fitzgerald’s Partizan from Galway come out of the dawn to the finish at Wicklow in 1980 to take second in line honours

Either way, the race was well launched, and signs of addiction to this glorious course were well in evidence among some of the first time participants. So there was no question but that the race would be sailed again in 1982, and this time Michael Jones and his team in Wicklow SC really hit the jackpot - The Doyler came up from Crosshaven to take part with his already-legendary new Frers-designed 51ft Moonduster.

Denis Doyle and Moonduster epitomised the very spirit of Irish offshore racing, going back in a direct line to the Gull in the first Fastnet Race of 1925 with skipper Harry Donegan. Needless to say, in the time-honoured Cork sailing tradition the Doyle and Donegan families were related through marriage. Like Harry Donegan, Denis Doyle fully realised what a significant role a major sailing event could play in the economy of a small seaport town. So in Wicklow, Moonduster’s skipper and his ever-supportive wife Mary stayed near the harbour in a guesthouse in the town in the days beforehand to indicate their complete commitment to a Wicklow-based Round Ireland Yacht Race, a supportive habit they continued throughout Moonduster’s many years of racing round Ireland.

moonduster sailing11Denis Doyle helming his beloved Moonduster. His complete commitment to the Round Ireland Race as a Wicklow event from 1982 onwards played a key role in establishing the race’s success. Photo: Bob Bateman

As a former Flag Officer of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, Moonduster’s skipper brought an element of RORC support to the event, particularly as regards pre-race scrutineering. This was very timely for the 1982 circuit, as it was a race of heavy weather with north to northeast gales making things brutal. Many boats sought shelter along the west coast, and even Moonduster had to pause for a while close under the limited shelter of Malin Head while a crewman went aloft to replace a broken halyard.

Despite that, she got round in 4 days 3 hrs 45mins and 25 seconds, taking line honours and eventually the overall win despite the slowly-changing wind direction theoretically favouring the smaller boats. As for the race’s status, it was now fully established in the offshore calendar in its convenient position in non-Fastnet years, with Moonduster becoming a round Ireland regular until Denis Doyle’s death in 2001.

moonduster 84 ri12Neil Hegarty at the helm as Moonduster puts the Fastnet Rock rapidly astern in 1984’s record race – “we were seeing off an entire Irish county in every watch”.

In 1984, The Duster had an astonishing race, with the wind favouring her at every headland such that, in the words of navigator John Bourke (who was himself later to become the RORC Commodore): “We were seeing off an entire Irish county in every watch”.

In 2020, forty years after that first tentative race, we’re looking at the 21st Round Ireland Race from Wicklow, and a bare tabulation of the winners over the years gives a hint of the many boats and hundreds – indeed thousands – of people who have been involved, people who in their most active offshore racing days defined this now-central feature of Irish sailing.

round ireland results13An almost-complete basic analysis – missing is 1982 when Moonduster took both line honours and the corrected time win, a feat she repeated in 1984.

The stories behind this bare-bones list would fill several books and still leave out some choice stories. 1986 saw the race gain real muscle with major sponsorship from Cork Dry Gin, and in that year it was Irish Distillers own Richard Burrows himself who won (his crew including Robert Dix) sailing the Dehler db2s Spirit, while line honours were taken by the Ron Holland Maxi Drum, with owner Simon le Bon of Duran Duran on board.

The fact that all 27 starters finished reinforces memories of this as being one of the most summery races, but as Robert Dix on Spirit commented, “the summer haze was such that half the time we couldn’t see the magnificent coastlines which we knew we were racing along.

The special Dehler db2s got another look-in during 1988’s race, when Liam Shanahan’s Lightning (NYC) took the handicap win, while Moonduster had another bite at line honours. Those late 1980s were the last years in which tobacco and drink companies were still tolerated as sponsors for sports events. But the Health Police were closing in, and the Cork Dry Gin Round Ireland Race of 1990 was something of a last hurrah, as CDC’s generosity encouraged a starting line-up of 61 boats – it’s still the record turnout – and the line honours and overall winner was the legendary Lawrie Smith sailing the Maxi Rothmans and promoting Silk Cut cigarettes, his leading crew being the hyper-talented Gordon Maguire.

gordon maguire lawrie smith14Dream team…Gordon Maguire and Lawrie Smith on the maxi Rothmans, with which they won line honours and overall in 1990’s race.

Yes indeed, boys and girls. Thirty years ago, ultra-healthy sports events such as the Round Ireland Race were being sponsored by booze companies and won by smokes, and only a few thought it all a bit odd. So the fact that for 2020 the new sponsor is a clean energy company which is hitting the optics spot on - and sending out all the right messages - tells us how far we’ve come in thirty years, even if in the end it is still the same rugged challenge of getting your boat round Ireland in a competitive timeframe.

burrows smith jones15Richard Burrows (winner in 1986) with Lawrie Smith (winner in 1990) and Race Director Michael Jones

In fact, in looking at that list, you can deduce from comparing the number of finishers with the number of starters just how rough that particular race might have been, for if the race had been beset by calm, the high-rated boats tended to suffer but low-rated craft like Eric Lisson’s Noray 38 Cavatina from Cork – winner in 2002 and 2006 – knew they just had to keep plodding along and read the new wind correctly to take the honours.

If the 1980s were the era of the Dehler db2S marque, the 1990s marked high noon for the J/35. Not every boat from the generally successful J Boat range was always on the money, but even among the special ones the J/35 was very special indeed, and in 1994 (quite a stormy race) Peter Wilson of Howth won with the J/35 Bridgestone, while in the 1996 race it was the turn of a sister-ship, Big Ears from the RIYC skippered by future RORC Commodore Michael Boyd, which took the honours.

Michael Boyd’s dedication to racing round Ireland is quite something, as he’s still at it, and with good placings in the 2016 and 2018 races he is well in line for the three-race prize of a Volvo car, presumably one of the impressive new electric ones. But though the whispers for the 2020 strongly suggest a Boyd involvement, at the moment nothing is official.

Meanwhile, we could warble on for hours about what that list of winners and line honours holders tells us, but for now, we’ll be content with observing that the last truly Irish overall winner was Aodhan FitzGerald of Galway with the First 40.7 Ireland West in 2008, which is getting to be quite a long time ago.

Admittedly the most recent winner in 2018, the Ker 43 Baraka GP, was entered by Niall Dowling of the RIYC, and his navigator/tactician was our own Ian Moore, but they’re both now essentially Solent-based, as is the chartered boat. That said, perhaps we should run with the notion that the modern Irish diaspora is a matter of success and achievement which can be applied anywhere in the world.

Be that as it may, since Ireland West’s win in 2008, the internationalism of the Round Ireland Race has been underlined by the fact that the subsequent winners have been from The Netherlands (Tonnere de Breskens 3, 2010), France (Inis Mor 2012), Scotland (Tanit, 2014) and the USA (Rambler 88, 2016). 

wsc commodores16Wicklow Sailing Club Commodores – the size of the membership can be gauged from the fact that some Commodores served more than one spell of duty, with Michael Jones filling the role three times
From an organiser’s point of view, this is a very satisfactory state of affairs, but it does mean that the workload of running the race has increased exponentially. Michael Jones carried the torch as Race Director from 1980 until 1992, then from 1994 to 1998, Fergus O’Conchobhair took up the reins. He was succeeded by Denis Noonan from 2000 until 2010 when Theo Phelan took over.

fergus oconchobair17Fergus O’Conchobair was Race Director from 1994 to 1998

denis noonan18Denis Noonan organised six Round Ireland Races between 2000 and 2010.

The effects of the economic recession were hitting very hard as the 2012 race approached, but Theo hung in with total dedication to keep it alive, and it was he who came up the concept of a link to the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire in time for 2014’s race, which served the big boats particularly well in 2016. Theo in turn retired in February 2018 with Hal Fitzgerald taking over for that year’s race, while for 2020 there has been a spreading of the workload with Hal continuing as Race Director but basically in the demanding backroom role, while the promotional aspects have been taken on by former WSC Commodore Denise Cummins and current Commodore Kyran O’Grady.

theo michael boyd19Theo Phelan with Michael Boyd, Commodore RORC, when the latter concluded his second Round Ireland Race in 2016, twenty years after winning overall in 1986hal fitzgerald20Hal Fitzgerald, a former Commodore of WSC, has been Race Director since 2018

This new setup makes sense because, successful and all as the Round Ireland race has become, it is operating in an increasingly challenging market, with 2020’s plethora of major anniversaries in Irish sailing providing several rival attractions. Thus the Wicklow folk have to spread their international message, and the French market, in particular, has been targeted, with promotional visits to the Paris Boat Show in December (where they received support from offshore superstar Charles Caudrellier), and then in January, Kyran O’Grady was invited to give an event presentation at the annual gala prize-giving of UNCL, the French equivalent to the RORC.

cummins charles caudrellier ogrady21International promotion. Former WSC Commodore Denise Cummins, France’s Yachtsman of the Year Charles Caudrellier, and WSC Commodore Kyran O’Grady at the Paris Boat Show in December.

But while the backbone of the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race in 2020 will continue to be fully-crewed IRC boats, the race also caters for a growing number of Class 40s which find the course well suited to their needs, while as ever Multi-hulls are very welcome and the two-handed division is increasingly significant, particularly if there’s a new emphasis on having female/male crews in line with the thinking towards the new class in the 2024 Olympics.

At the other extreme, after the 1937-built classic Maybird (Darryl Hughes) became the first gaff-rigged boats and the oldest ever to complete the Round Ireland course in 2018, the newly-instated Maybird Mast trophy will honour the race’s most senior boat.

kyran ogrady barry kilcline22The clean way ahead, WSC Commodore Kyran O’Grady with Barry Kilcline of SSE Renewables after agreement had been reached for SSE to sponsor the Round Ireland Race. Photo courtesy WSC

Thus the challenge of racing round Ireland retains its timeless attraction, but how you take it on is something which is constantly being modified and updated by the team in Wicklow Sailing Club. They’re so busy getting on with it that they scarcely seem to notice the prodigious amount of voluntary work which is necessary to keep this unique show on the road. As for the rest of us, we can best acknowledge this by realising that an Irish sailing CV isn’t really complete without at least one Round Ireland Race in its list of achieved projects.

Published in W M Nixon

SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race organiser Kyran O'Grady led a Wicklow Sailing Club delegation to France in December to address the Union Nationale pour la Course au Large (UNCL) prizegiving in Paris.

Keen to encourage French and international numbers for this year's biennial Irish offshore classic in June, the Wicklow Commodore also revealed a special draw prize for foreign boats coming to Ireland this summer.

Using impressive visuals from from the race, O'Grady took the opportunity to point out the unique features of the 700-miler that celebrates its 21st edition in 2020. "Not alone do you go around the Fastnet Rock but also around Ireland with for tidal gates, the Open Atlantic Ocean on the west coast before coming very close to Scotland and a finish further down the Irish Sea and a warm welcome back in Wicklow," he told the important French gathering.

Corum Round Ireland 3848In the 2018 Round Ireland Race, The French Mach 40 had three French sailing stars onboard Nicolas Troussel, Ian Lipinski and Aymeric Belloir for the circuit Photo: Afloat

In co-operation with the British offshore racing club, RORC, UNCL is responsible for IRC, the principal international handicap system for yacht racing.

O'Grady also announced that French boats that enter both the Round Ireland Race in June and July's Cork Week Regatta in Cork Harbour will be entered into a draw for a case of Irish whiskey from Irish Distillers.

Entry in the 2020 Round Ireland Race is expected to open on January 20th with the race organisers already announcing the leaderboard for the Volvo Car Prize and a new trophy for the oldest boat in the race.

Published in Round Ireland

Irish Olympic helmsman Mark Mansfield picks his big (and smaller) events coming up for the Irish cruiser classes in 2020

The 2019 season is only just coming towards its end and already owners and crew are looking ahead at what is in store next year. There are still some good events to finish this season, and among them, the Autumn Leagues in Howth and Royal Cork, The final ISORA race, with the spoils still not decided, the J109 Nationals, the final summer series DBSC races and of course the very popular DBSC Turkey Shoot series.

2019 was very much a front-loaded year with Scottish Series, ICRA Nationals, Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, Sovereigns Cup and Dun Laoghaire Regatta all happening within a seven-week period, and 2020 is not looking a whole lot different.

Below you will see the dates of the bigger events for 2020.

Without a doubt the two standout big boat events next year will be the Round Ireland Race in June and in July, Royal Cork Yacht Club host their special Cork Week, on the Munster club's 300th year anniversary. More on this later.

2020 'Big Boat' events

  • Scottish Series, Tarbert - May 22nd to May 25th (Friday to Monday)
  • Wave Regatta, Howth Yacht Club - May 29th to May 31st (Friday to Sunday)
  • Round Ireland Race, Wicklow SC - Starts June 20th (Saturday)
  • RORC Morgan Cup - Cowes to Cork - Starts July 8th (Wednesday)
  • Cork Week, Royal Cork Yacht Club (300 Year Celebration) - July 13th to July 18th (Monday to Saturday)
  • Calves Week - Schul August 4th to August 7th - (Tuesday to Friday)

Other events that are building numbers are Bangor Week, commencing 25th of June and WIORA week (date not published yet). The very popular ISORA offshore series runs throughout the year and these dates are also eagerly awaited.

Here are some details of each of the larger events:

Scottish Series

Always a very happy hunting ground for Irish boats wishing to sharpen themselves up for the new season. Numbers generally have been dropping for the Scottish Series except for the very popular RC35 class where Irish Boats took all podium places this year. Class 2 in 2020 might also show some increases with the biennial Classic Half-Ton Cup in Cowes bringing the competitive Half Tonners out to play early. This year there were two half tonners—expect more in 2020. Great racing and great pub craic around the beer tent and local pubs.

RC35 ScotlandIrish Boats at 2019 Scottish series RC 35 class Photo: Marc Turner

Wave Regatta

Only a new event in 2018 and is based around the Howth Yacht Club traditional June Bank Holiday Lambay Race. Wave Regatta is held every two years and if 2018 is anything to go by, it will be very well attended in 2020. It comes just a few days after the end of Scottish Series. A variety of courses over the three days, including the very popular round Lambay race. Well organised with great onshore facilities.

Signal 8 WaveJamie Mc William's Ker 40, Signal 8 at Howth's Wave Regatta 2018 Photo: Afloat

Round Ireland Race

The big one. 704 miles from Wicklow to Wicklow, clockwise around Ireland and its islands, turning corners all the way around. It goes from strength to strength. There is a rumour of a very large, very well known Maxi looking at taking on the challenge and the record in 2020. If you only plan to do one full-length offshore race, this is the one to do. I have done five Fastnet Races and I would always pick a Round Ireland over a Fastnet.

For those boats who have competed in the last two events, there is the added bonus of the chance to win a Volvo car for the best Boat over the 2016, 2018 and 2020 races. I’m sure we will be advised of the current pecking order very soon on this.

Niall Dowling Niall Dowling's Royal Irish Yacht club, Ker 43, Baraka GP, the overall winner of the Round Ireland 2018 Photo: Afloat

RORC's Morgan Cup

Rarely do Flagship RORC races end in Ireland, but on the 300th year anniversary of the founding of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, the RORC have graciously organised for one of their big races to finish in Cork, as a way of getting UK boats over for the Cork Week 300 regatta.

Approx 90 boats competed in the 2019 Morgan Cup edition this year, won overall by a J109. I suspect you may see some offshore orientated Irish boats decide to include this race in their calendar next year, which also serves as a way to get the boat to Cork in time for the Cork Week 300 Series.

Cork Week 300

From the Height of Cork Week in 2000 when boats competing topped 700, it has fallen somewhat. However, 2020, the 300th Anniversary of the club's founding, is all set to be special and interest from all corners of the world is evident with housing around Crosshaven and Carrigaline already starting to be booked up.

A number of classes are planning to use the week as their European Championships. The 1720 class, who had circa 75 boats at their 2000 event, are planning a big show in 2020 with already 10 boats confirmed from the UK with more likely to follow. A proper event Announcement is expected in September announcing some major classes and profile boats that will be competing.

The 2020 ICRA Nationals is being held as part of Cork week (three days only). Cork Week also incorporates a building fleet for the Beaufort Cup, which is a separate event within the week for associated national services (Army, Naval, Police, Firefighting, Coast Guard etc). This event incorporates an offshore race around the Fastnet and back.

Cork Week 2020 will be one not to miss. White Sail and coastal fleets will be included and the highlight is the all in Harbour race.

FekkesRory Fekkes from Carrigfergus SC, First Class 8—FN-GR8—Overall Winner of Cork week 2018 Photo: Bob Bateman

Calves Week

Numbers have held up very well for Calves Week. In 2019, there were 65 cruisers competing, with very competitive racing over the four days. A mix of windward-leeward courses, around the Islands and the Fastnet race keeps everyone interested. One race a day, with all the crews congregating after racing out in the streets between Newmans and Hackett's pubs. The Apres racing is as important as the racing with many sailors choosing to incorporate family holidays into the week. If you are doing Cork Week, and have not done Calves Week before, maybe you should consider leaving the boat in Cork and sliding down westwards a week or two later.

Rockabill JPK10.80Paul O'Higgins Rockabill VI from the Royal Irish—Winner of Calves week Class One in 2019 

The talk by Darryl Hughes of his veteran gaff ketch Maybird’s much-celebrated participation in the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018, to be hosted by the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association at Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club on Tuesday 12th March, has been cancelled owing to the sudden serious illness of Darryl’s mother in North Wales. It is hoped to re-schedule the show in due course.

Published in Round Ireland
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It was while crossing the Atlantic on the Sail Training Brigantine Asgard II during a celestial navigation module of his Naval Service education in 1999 that Barry Byrne had something of an epiphany writes W M Nixon. He’d been introduced to sailing through the welcoming approach of Wicklow Sailing Club in his home town. This led on to joining the Naval Service after he left school.

The thought of transferring to the Army had arisen. Yet it took a long voyage on Asgard II to make the decision for him. His enjoyment of it gave him back his love of sailing and he considered that maybe a career at sea might not be conducive to continuing sailing as a sport.

Thus he changed course, transferring to the Army and a successful career in which he has specialized in technology and served with the UN in peacekeeping missions throughout the world, rising to the rank of Commandant.

In sailing, Barry and his team in the 704-mile Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018 won the Corinthian Class and placed second overall, and then went on to successfully defend the highly competitive Beaufort Cup in Cork Week just two weeks later.

shea and barry byrne2Barry Byrne (right) with his father Shea at Wicklow Sailing Club’s celebration of becoming Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year” 2017. Barry’s captaining of the team which won the inaugural Beaufort Cup in 2016 played a key role in Wicklow SC’s year of achievement. Photo: Angela Higgins

Currently doing an intensive Masters degree in Leadership and Management in the military Staff College at The Curragh, he reflects on how military principles served his team well during last year’s sailing campaign.

While many top sailors achieve success by using proven business administration and motivational means, Commandant Byrne shares the ways in which the success of the J/109 Joker II and her crew might stand up to classic military analysis. He sets the scene:

“Half of the team that competed in the Round Ireland (June 30th) and Cork Week/Beaufort Cup (starting July 16th) had never sailed together before. Like many of us, I had just returned from overseas service with the United Nations in February. We had very little time to put together a campaign aimed at winning two of Ireland’s premier competitions. For this, we used military principles.

Plans are nothing, but planning is everything

General Dwight D Eisenhower is credited with this statement. The point here is that no plan survives first contact with the enemy (or the West Coast of Ireland in a rugged mood). But if you have been through an effective planning process, it will stand to you. We used the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) and Mission Analysis, essentially breaking down the mission ahead of us by factor, deduction and task. This helped in allocating clear areas of responsibility and job ownership in a short timeframe.

misson analysis3It may seem a long way from racing the Atlantic, but a proper Mission Analysis beforehand set the time-limited preparations on the right trac

SMART Goals

The first event was the Volvo Round Ireland, and we set ourselves the goal of winning the inaugural Halpin Trophy, the armed forces trophy introduced by Wicklow Sailing Club. We would be up against international military teams, most notably the semi-professional British Soldier team who had their own race yacht, the X41 British Soldier, which went on to win the RORC annual series. We used the principle of SMART goals, with which many readers will be familiar (Editors' Note: SMART is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely). This was an ambitious target, but we assessed it as achievable and it focused our efforts.

Weapon of Choice

There is no point assembling a team if you do not have the tools for the job, and thanks to John Maybury, we had our weapon of choice; the seasoned and very successful J109 Joker 2. John is himself an inspirational leader. He is very supportive of the Defence Forces, indeed some of his own crew of longtime friends have enduring connections to the three services.

Focused Training

The training we completed on Joker2 in such a short time had to be very specific. Every training session had a clearly defined goal and timeframe, and we conducted After Action Reviews following every session. We also enlisted the help of a professional coach, Mark Mansfield, who gave our training focus and direction and was a valuable source of knowledge on J109 rig set up. Mark’s experienced insights on the Cork coastal area were particularly helpful in the Beaufort Cup.

mark mansfield4Mark Mansfield in racing mode. The former Olympic sailor and all-Ireland champion provided valuable insights for the Defence Forces’ crew in intensive training and rig-tuning sessions

Logistics

Much of the preparation involved getting the boat ready. Getting to the start line of a challenging Cat 3 Offshore Race is a marathon in itself. The safety regulations your boat must pass and the training - such as sea survival - is substantial. Clearly defined areas of responsibility (which emerged from our mission analysis) were key.

One secret weapon we had was Flight Sergeant Adrian Mulligan, an aircraft technician who led much of the boat preparation, particularly regarding instruments. Unfortunately, Adrian suffered a back injury prior to the race. Exemplifying the Defence Forces values of loyalty and selflessness, instead of dropping off the campaign completely, he actually increased his contribution shoreside to compensate for being unable to sail.

military ration packs5One of the pre-race preparation areas given special attention was nutrition, food and water. The Military Ration Packs may not be some people’s idea of haute cuisine, but they were exactly what was needed.

He brought another technical member of our race crew, Captain Wietse Buwalda, up to speed with all the instrumentation and power systems on the boat. This was later to prove vital in our success on the water. Other areas we focused on were nutrition, food and water. We had exactly the right amount of high energy military ration pack food, with Sergeant Paddy McGrath and Lt Richie O’Hagan leading the charge here.

Mission command 

Another military principle is mission command. You pick the right person for a job and tell them what needs to be done, but not how to do it. A good friend, Captain Mick Liddy, was my navigator just as I had been his navigator on the last Round Ireland we did together. My brief to Mick was to win the Round Ireland… beyond this, I didn’t second guess him.

Mick Liddy trimming 4279While every crewmember had a primary role, they also took on many other tasks – here, navigator Mick Liddy is on trimming duties shortly after the start.

round ireland downwind7When the going was good. As seen from one of the French competitors, although the sun may not be shining, Joker II is making excellent progress along the south coast.

When we were off the West Coast in those extremely strong and very persistent north to northeast winds which kick up seas of special viciousness, we were way, way, further West than any other team on the racecourse. Joker 2 was enduring the worst of the weather in the hope of being first to find a suggested slight backing of the breeze. It has to be admitted my resolve was tested, but I’m glad to say I managed to keep my mouth shut. A team in the most recent Volvo Ocean Race fell foul of this inter-personal hazard, with the skipper and navigator second-guessing each other, which ultimately led to an overall slowing down and a harsh lesson for themselves and other offshore campaigners.

fastnet rounding8Joker II reaches the Fastnet Rock – the sky may still be blue, but those ominous cloud streaks to the west hint at the fierce headwinds in prospect

Values

Our rough-and-then-some experiences far out to the westward further tested other areas of character.

The Defence Forces core values are Respect, Loyalty, Selflessness, Physical Courage, Moral Courage and Integrity. I saw all of these when things got difficult on the West Coast. Due to a sudden diesel leak and the violent conditions, the interior of the boat had become a hellhole and the cause of seasickness among those who had never succumbed before.

Far from strengthening and sustaining ourselves with all those carefully-selected rations, the team could not even keep water down without vomiting, yet everyone dug deep. Mick and I bailed the diesel out of the bilge with a rag and bucket while the boat was slamming into 35 knots of wind. We trusted the team to run the show while the skipper and nav were down there for several hours. My routine was to fill a bucket of sea-watery diesel, empty it over the side, vomit, go back down and fill another bucket. Every member of the crew was a leader that day. Everyone stayed on the rail. Even at 3 am, team members who had not eaten in 30 hours and were continually being drenched to the core with ice cold Atlantic waves, were volunteering to rotate to the bow. 

jokerII round ireland route9Most crews go off in the Round Ireland Race expecting a fast run down the west coast. But for 2018’s Race, the Atlantic was in a vicious mood with strong to gale northerlies, and Joker II went far to the west in the hope of finding a backing of the breeze suggested by some forecasts. It was a tactic by which they neither gained nor lost, but up off Donegal as the wind slackened, they made some good choices which put them well into the hunt.

It was a brutal two nights. Just a few miles from us, a crew had rescued one of their team who had gone overboard in pitch black horrific conditions. (Editor’s Note: In the stream of information coming through from the Round Ireland fleet, the J/109 Jedi, skippered by Michael Boyd with Kenneth Rumball of Irish National Sailing School as first mate, tersely reported an MOB situation. But very quickly, they followed it with a brief message to the effect that the man overboard was retrieved, there were no injuries, and they were immediately resuming the race. This calm approach was so redolent of the best traditions of offshore racing that the incident became just one of many in a tough race. But happily at the RORC Annual Prize Giving in London in November, that briefly-recorded achievement in the Atlantic received the special recognition it deserved, with Michael Boyd and Kenneth Rumball being awarded the RORC’s Seamanship Trophy).

Barry Byrne continues: While this kind of offshore sailing may sound grim, even dangerous, it is precisely why we do adventurous training in the military; to test leaders at all levels.

My dad always says there are no atheists in a foxhole. I don’t think there was an atheist on Joker 2 that night either. Not when we were in the thick of it, nor when we eventually converged with the fleet off northwest Mayo and checked to see where we had ended up in the rankings. Once we’d crossed Donegal Bay, our navigator continued to resist the temptation to hug the coast, and we were looking good approaching Tory Island.

The Final Stages

When the wind eventually eased, it did the worst possible thing - it died completely. Teams were left in tortuous drifting conditions off the North Coast of Ireland where tides would frequently send you backwards at five knots if local seabed conditions or sheer depth of water prevented kedging.

During this particularly trying time, our electronic instruments died completely, thanks to having taken such a hammering off the West Coast. But Captain Wietse Buwalda, a communications officer, who - as mentioned already - had closely studied the electronic systems with Flight Sergeant Adrian Mulligan prior to the race, effectively rebuilt the system in about four hours of relentless work.

jokerII good progress10When it all started to come right – having finally escaped from the North Coast, Joker II makes good progress down the Irish Sea

As all this went on, a minke whale followed our boat for about 24 hours. I’m not sure if we were delirious with tiredness, but superstition got the better of us, and we took to sacrificing our tastiest treats from our ration packs to Minkie in the hope he would send some wind…

jokerII near finish11One of the most difficult stages was the final 15 miles, with the wind drawing ahead and total concentration needed to get the best out of the boat

And - eventually – he did. We escaped the North Coast with a great spin down the East Coast in twenty knots of favourable breeze. But about fifteen miles from the finish line, we encountered yet more drifting conditions and a nail-biting finish after five days of nonstop racing and minimal sleep. Finally, we got there. The legendary welcome in the wonderful Wicklow Sailing Club was everything I had remembered in previous races.

The fact that we collected the Halpin Trophy meant Mission Accomplished, so it was icing on the cake to get first in the Corinthian Division, first Irish boat and place second overall, in all coming first in four divisions of the 56-strong international fleet of the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018.

round ireland result12Military principles and values achieve the desired result

wicklow prize giving13Prize-giving for Joker 2 at Wicklow at the conclusion of the Volvo Round Ireland Race with (back row, left to right) Hal Fitzgerald (Race Director), Denise Cummins (Commodore Wicklow SC), Commandant Barry Byrne, Lt. Alexander Rumball, Capt. Wietse Buwalda and David Thomas of Volvo Car Ireland. Front row (l to r) Cdr Brian Mathews (Commodore Defence Forces SC), Ens. Marcus Ryan, Sgt. Patrick McGrath, and Capt Mick Liddy (Rtd).

Beaufort Cup

It was a hectic turnaround to get the boat ready for the Beaufort Cup in Cork just two weeks later. This was made even busier as I am involved with running the series itself and liaising with all the visiting teams. This was the second iteration of the event, and it was a huge success, involving 160 competitors and 30 Defence Forces sailors, making up 16 teams including the US Marines, UK armed forces and Irish emergency services teams including national champions and Olympians, with eight of the 16 boats being highly competitive J109s.

Central to the Beaufort race programme is the short offshore to the Fastnet Rock, a scenic 24-hour drag race down and back. We didn’t manage to get the lead until the last three hours. Until then, we had been schooled from ahead at different times by Simon Coveney, Stefan Hyde, Youen Jacob, Peter O’Leary and Fastnet expert Tim Goodbody.

However, we’d had a solid night race and our navigator Comdt. Ian Travers made a good decision to split from the pack and go offshore for breeze in the final miles. It was a winning move. My brother Teddy had raced with us for this offshore, and it was a great moment crossing the finish line.

beaufort fastnet finish14After a spot-on tactical call over the final few miles. Joker 2 sweeps across the lines to win the Fastnet Race in the Beaufort Cup series in Volvo Cork Week.

The rest of the week was a tough battle, particularly the last race when we were over the start line and had to go back and re-cross the line in a double points race. But yet again, in adversity true teamwork came into its own. Huge performances were put in by the whole team, notably Ensign Marcus Ryan and Louis Malloy sailing a flawless race to get us back into the fifth position we needed to secure overall victory in the event.”

A €10,000 prize goes to the winning Beaufort Cup team, and we gave €5,000 of this to Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin, while the other €5,000 went to the RNLI, something special for us as the Baltimore RNLI crew skippered by Youen Jacob had run us a very close second in the overall series in Cork.

In summary, military tools for campaign planning combined with values of teamwork and resilience stood to the Defence Forces sailing team throughout last year’s ambitious campaign”.

beaufort prizegiving15Mission accomplished. Joker II’s team with the Beaufort Cup include (left to right) Cpl. Brian Phelan (Rtd), Louis Malloy, Ens. Marcus Ryan, Commandant Barry Byrne, Malcolm Moir, Capt. Ian Travers (Rtd), David Thomas of Volvo Car Ireland, Lt. Richie O’Hagan, and Sgt Patrick McGrath

Published in Navy

Anticipation is building ahead of Saturday’s talk in Wicklow Sailing Club about the Lesson learnt on board Jedi in the Round Ireland Yacht Race.

As Afloat.ie reported previously, the INSS Jedi team have been meeting frequently to ensure no detail of the story is left untold!

Wicklow Sailing Club has been busy too and have organised a flare demonstration to start at 1830hrs. For those that have been nervous about using flares up until now, this is your chance to get up close and personal with the different flares and learn how to operate them.

Food and refreshments will be served from 1830hrs with the talk commencing soon after.

If you cannot make the talk this weekend, then there is a further talk at the Royal Irish Yacht Club 1930hrs on 7th of February with Sailing Supper Afterwards, bookings with [email protected]

Published in INSS
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The contrast could not have been greater writes W M Nixon. On Friday, September 14th on Ireland’s relatively sheltered East Coast, 302 Laser dinghies came in from Dublin Bay to Dun Laoghaire’s elegant and busy harbour to conclude the penultimate day’s racing in the Laser World Masters 2018.

And away to the west at the head of Galway Bay, a lone Laser came into Rinville to receive the enthusiastic greetings of a welcoming flotilla, and the homely embrace of Galway Bay Sailing Club.

Richard Hayes had completed his solo epic, a round Ireland voyage which had seen him log a total of 1,324 sea miles (2,452 kilometres) in 54 sailing days.

But they were by no means 54 consecutive sailing days. For he had happened to hit on just about the most awkward summer for sailing a Laser round Ireland that we’ve had for a decade, with many days unsuitable for sailing for various reasons, ranging from prolonged flat calm to two named storms – Hector and Ernesto – and going on to include seven days of impenetrable fog and three capsizes.

ireland map2The Ireland challenge. While a Laser can slip through inside Achill Island with no bother, and Richard Hayes was even able to avail of the old canal inside the Mullet Peninsula at Belmullet in northwest Mayo, there are long stretches of inhospitable coast where you just have to keep on sailing.

He took his departure from GBSC at their Open Day on Sunday, May 27th, and sailed into an exceptionally lengthy period of windless high pressure. So totally calm was it that, with the need to find somewhere to stop each night, it took him ten days to get clear beyond Slyne Head from Galway Bay itself in order to start the first northward major stage of his clockwise circuit.

Already, it seemed likely that the circuit was going to take much longer than the eight-nine weeks he’d originally envisaged. That in itself would have deterred many, who would at the very least have postponed until a more favourable weather pattern began to develop. But this was no light-hearted venture undertaken on a whim – he was determined to simply keep going on until he got there.

richard michael3Richard and his father Michael celebrating the safe completion of the voyage at Galway Bay SC. While Michael drove 4,000 miles in all with the little Campervan in the hope of being able to provide shore support everywhere possible, there were inevitably stages where Richard was very much on his own. Photo GBSC

Richard Hayes – as the photos show – seems a perfectly normal 40-something, as ready for a laugh and good company as the next man. Yet there’s a serious and thoughtful side to him, and two or three years ago, thanks in part to his work in Galway as a Chartered Physiotherapist, he became even more aware of the woeful lack of provision for cardio-vascular problems, and particularly the shortage of defibrillators and trained users at key locations. So the idea developed of a very special fund-raiser in support of the Galway-based CROI Heart & Stroke Charity, and it increasingly became something which had to be done before he could get on with the rest of his life.

Doing it through a very special sailing achievement seemed the most natural way. From Tipperary originally, he was introduced to sailing at the age of eight by his late mother on Lough Derg, and was soon in the thick of it, active on the junior racing front at events all over Ireland.

He showed a talent for teaching sailing, and in 1993 was signed on for a summer as Junior Instructor at Galway Bay Sailing Club. The West Coast soon had him in thrall, though his sailing experience was widening to include cruiser-racing in Galway, Cork and Dublin, while a spell in America saw him actively crewing several boats, the largest a fifty footer.

galway bay sc4Galway Bay SC, Richard Hayes’ “Home-from-Home” club. Photo: GBSC

But Galway was always where it was going to be despite his ties to his boyhood home, such that even after 15 years of living and working in the western city, he still refers to Lough Derg YC as his “home club” and Galway Bay SC as his “home-from-home” club. He was drawn to the health field and particularly physiotherapy, an interest to which the fairly athletic Laser sailing gave an added edge. And the Laser in turn provided the vehicle to make his fund-raiser a manageable proposition. As the various sections of the project were worked into place, he received direct sponsorship support for the voyage itself from Homecare Medical, Galway Crystal, Optique and the renowned Mary’s Fish Shop in the city, while the national names which chipped in included CH Marine, Dubarry and Marine Parts Direct.

As we shall see, solo-sailed Lasers have been taken round Ireland before. Indeed, there’s even a boat a tiny bit shorter in overall length which had done the circuit, albeit with two on board for most of the venture, and a shorter circumnavigating sailboard too. But there’s something about the perfection of the 4.2 m (13ft 9in) Laser which chimes so well with the unique demands of a round Ireland voyage that when it is done with a Laser, it is always as though it is being done for the first time.

You’re so closely in touch with nature, and yet still seeing it from the slightly separated world of a boat, that sailing a Laser round Ireland is to a significant extent a spiritual thing. It’s probably as near as a modern boat can come to providing a meaningful link to the voyaging monks of our ancient history, and their astonishing achievements along and away from the Irish coast in frail currachs.

It’s something which seems in no way diminished by the availability of modern communications, because for very long periods, no matter how much shore support you’re receiving, you’re inevitably very much on your own. This was emphasised in Richard Hayes’ case, for although his father Michael gave over his summer to driving a well-used campervan along the coast to be there when his son came into port, the roads by no means closely follow the shore, and some of the tiny gaps in the cliffs the Laser had to seek shelter in were unreachable by road.

gary sargent boat5Gary ‘Ted’ Sargent – complete with safety helmet – on his way solo round Ireland in 2016. In addition to the company of dolphins, he had a support boat. Photo courtesy Gary Sargent

Unlike his friend Gary ‘Ted’ Sargent of Howth, who did the Laser Ireland circuit from Schull to Schull in 2016 as a fund-raiser for the charity ChildVision with an on-water support team somewhere nearby with a RIB, Richard Hayes’ voyage for CROI was done without any support team afloat, though from time to time along the coast, he would get friendly supportive company from other boats.

Basically, he’d decided it would be more manageable on his own at sea, with his father Michael as near as possible (and sometimes it’s not really near at all) with the Campervan. Thus the planning beforehand included the detailed study of aerial photos of the coast, particularly the many sections dominated by cliffs, where prior knowledge of even the tiniest possible landing place hidden in the coastal wall could be a life-saver in the event of a sudden deterioration in the weather.

Although he was on his own at sea, it was very much a family effort, with his sister Libhin continually monitoring him remotely on a choice of two tracking devices, while his other sister Michelle was on admin and is continuing with the fund-raising, which is ongoing and eventually hopes to raise €15,000 for CROI – you can contribute to it here

Along the coast, his father Michael’s patience and supportive enthusiasm was a great strength, for the voyage gathered its own momentum, and Richard found himself being conveyed to interviews with local radio stations and other centres of communication, such that he has arrived back with an even stronger belief in the good heart of Ireland’s smaller communities, and the complete, generous and unquestioning kindness of strangers who took him into their homes and provided for his every need, reinforced by the way in which they readily accepted that he and his family should be doing a thing like this.

cliffs north mayo6The unforgivingly grim cliffs of North Mayo. Richard reckons that when you’re spending a lot of time sharing space with a coastline like this, sometimes it’s better to concentrate entirely on your own little world in sailing the boat
Speaking to him through this past week has possibly been too soon after the experience to expect his thoughts and recollections to be fully processed. Perhaps they never will be fully processed – maybe he’ll always find that there’s some new angle on a thought or experience which will develop beneficially. But certainly in speaking with him it seemed that here indeed was someone whose body had moved through so much experience that it was still waiting for his soul to catch up……

That catching-up of the soul will be an enriching experience. But as it is, his memories – a colourful bundle of contrasts – tumble out. Although he started in what became an all-pervading calm over most of Ireland, up in northwest Mayo and Donegal he found – as many have before – that they have their own weather systems entirely. But one of the joys of sailing a Laser on a project like this is that you can simply go inside islands inshore and offshore which have to be taken on the outside by deep-draughted high-masted boats, and thus he blithely went through Achill Sound without needing to wait for a bridge-opening, and equally he was able to avail of the almost-forgotten fact that there’s a canal at Belmullet inside the Mullet peninsula, closed off to most boats by a road bridge, but no problem for a Laser.

However, north of Belmullet the heavily-cliffed Mayo coast is daunting in the exteme, and it looked so grim with visibility closed in that Richard said the best thing was to put looming cliffs out of his mind for a whole, concentrate on the sailing and find a safe haven in Portacloy, which he duly did. If you’ve ever been to the remote cliff haven of Portacloy, you’ll know it’s not the sort of place you’d associate with the fun sailing of a little Laser.

fair head7A major turning point is finally reached – approaching Fair Head, Ireland’s most northeasterly point. Photo: Richard Hayes

But as he gradually made his way along the much indented coast of Donegal, monumental coastlines became part of the daily visual diet – it’s big country. And it by no means fades to domestic scale as you get on to the north coast – everything is rugged until you get right round to Belfast Lough, when the prosperously green County Down coast is such that sometimes the Mountains of Mourne seem more like garden ornaments than the real thing.

There was much windward work, and with his professional training, he was well aware that maintaining a virtually fixed position for hours and end in order to keep the Laser at optimum speed was physiotherapy hooliganism, so there were times, such as on a long leg on the wind laying along a coast, that he simply had to tack for a while for all that it wasn’t making ground, simply to let his muscles and bones stretch in a different direction. Then at other times with wind strengths fluctuating wildly, he’d have to be prepared to put into any nearby beach to change down the rig size.

hayes off tramore8Onto the south coast at last, and approaching the headland at Tramore Bay with its three towers, one of which is topped by the famous Metal Man. This was a good passage-making day that began at Slade to the eastward of Hook Head in Wexford, and finished at Bunmahon along Waterford’s Copper Coast. Photo: Richard Hayes

But then at the end of a day’s sail along less challenging coasts, he would shape his course for a useful little bay with a beach, and having passed the entrance to Cork Harbour he “made port” at Fountainstown, linked up with his father, and found ready new friendships ashore among those who live by the beach, including Sue McWilliam, wife of the recently-retired Des of the sail-making clan.

richard hayes sue mcwilliam9Friends met and made along the way….Sue McWilliam with Richard and Michael at Fountainstown Beach outside the entrance to Cork Harbour. Photo courtesy Richard Hayes

Such moments of friendly contact ultimately emphasised how necessary it was to press on if conditions suited next day, but in time he got round the Old Head of Kinsale and down to West Cork, stopping among other places at Tragumna and then next day on west through Gascanane Sound and into Crookhaven, where everything came to a stop for days with dense fog and weather warnings.

The season was getting late by this stage, and the window was becoming very narrow by the time he got past the Mizen and on -with various stops - for the most westerly point at Blasket Sound, by which time Richard and his team might reasonably have hoped they were approaching the home stage. But County Clare was determined to severely test this Tipperary man with his Galway notions, and along the cliffs between Loop Head and Kilkee – an unbroken wall of rock you might well think – he was grateful to have the knowledge of a tiny cove from his prior research, for he came out of a capsize badly in need of somewhere to recover, and this secret ‘Hayes Haven’ was nearby and just the job for those in peril on the sea.

Eventually he got to Liscannor in North Clare with September well upon him, and no progress with Small Craft Warnings in abundance. But there was only a passage of just under fifty miles left. Admittedy it was along the Cliffe of Moher and past Doolin and along the Burren round Black Head and into Galway Bay past Ballyvaughan. Spectacular stuff. But he felt that with just one clear day he could knock it off.

behind big wave10It doesn’t need an exceptionally large running sea for a Laser hull to become invisible when sailing the Atlantic. Photo courtesy Richard Hayes

On Wednesday, September 12th, that day came, a brief day of sailing perfection - fair winds and many accompanying dolphins friendlier than he’d seen at any time during the voyage, and the 48 fantastically varied and dramatic sea miles to Galway city knocked off in less than eight hours, the passage of a lifetime.

There was a day to gather himself, and then the welcome home on Friday evening to Galway Bay Sailing Club. Richard Hayes had done his bit and then some, but the fund-raising continues.

That’s the way it is with sailing epics in the 21st Century. Charitable fund-raising is a given. It was the same with Gary Sargent’s circuit for ChildVision in 2016. And in both cases, it was also the Laser which was the gift itself which just kept on giving. For in 2016, the Laser also gave us Annalise Murphy’s Silver Medal at the Rio Olympics. And in 2018, in addition to Richard Hayes’ great voyage, the little boat gave us the Laser Masters Worlds, an event in the utmost spirit of generosity.

hayes sails up bay11Into the final mile to the finish at GBSC

gbsc welcome party12Welcome home and well done – the reception at GBSC

It all makes life in the 20th Century and way back in the previous Millennium seem almost buccaneering, for want of a better word. Back in the 1900s, if some somebody wanted to sail a small boat round Ireland, they just went off and did it, telling as few people – if any – as possible. Partly this was because the admittedly much more sparse officialdom of those days might have tried to prevent it, but it was also to save one’s parents from worry, because the west coast of Ireland in particular had a scary reputation.

Thus among young sailors it was thought quite something in 1961 when Kevin and Colm MacLaverty and Mick Clarke went round Ireland in three-and-a-half weeks in the 18ft Belfast Lough Waverley Durward. A Waverley is a bit like a carvel-built Mermaid made just one foot longer, and with a keel, which made Durward the smallest keelboat ever to go round Ireland.

durward donegal13Back in the mists of time……..the 18ft Durward well into the latter half of her pioneering clockwise round Ireland circumnavigation in 1961, seen here in Sheephaven in Donegal with Colm MacLaverty and Mick Clarke on board. Photo: Kevin MacLaverty

Yet a significantly smaller boat was to make the circuit unaccompanied in 1976. Thus was the unstoppable, inimitable James Cahill of Clew Bay, who took an open 13ft 6ins clinker sailing dinghy - which he’d built himself - right round Ireland, usually with one crew, but at some stages he was on his own. He not only survived, he subsequently thrived and made an Atlantic circuit cruise with a 42ft steel cutter Ricjak which he’d also built himself, and these days he cruises in a Maramu 54 ketch and is renowned for his extensive collection of Irish currachs, representing every known type.

cahill boat murrisk14James Cahill bringing his 13ft 6ins sailing dinghy alongside Tad Minish’s yawl Kiff at Murrisk on Clew Bay in 1978, two years after he’d sailed the little boat round Ireland. Photo: W M Nixon

But then in 1981, Belfast Lough came centre stage again with Rob Henshall of Cultra, who went round Ireland alone in a canoe. There are other canoeists who have circled Ireland, but doing it solo is still in a class of its own. However, Rob Henshall was only getting started, for nine years later in 1990 he went round solo on a Laser. Not only was he unaccompanied by a support boat, but he had no means of non-visual contact with the shore, and no shore team either.

henshall laser15Rob Hensall with the Laser he sailed round Ireland in 1990
He set himself very high if slightly crazy standards, for after the Laser episode he got to thinking of doing it on a sailboard. By this time he was a water-specialist instructor at the Gortatole Outdoor Education Centre in Fermanagh, but heaven alone knows what the powers-that-be might have made of his plan. For the core of it when he did it in 1992 was total self-reliance both afloat and ashore if need be, though when he reached shore he often found that kindness of strangers which is very much part of the Irish coastal experience.

He took a 3.7 m Bic sailboard which at 12ft 1in is the shortest vessel to have made the circuit, and despite loading himself with a backpack and the board with minimal but essential gear in a mainpack on the “foredeck”, he got round in 45 self-reliant days, losing two stone in weight in the process although he was definitely carrying no spare flab before he went.

henshall sailboard16Will he ever get it to move at all? Rob Henshall departs on his heavily-laden Bic sailboard in 1992. Photo courtesy Rob Henshall

henshall sailboard17Yes he did get it to move……the laden Henshall sailboard making knots, with (inset) Rob relaxing when he completed another passage. Photos courtesy Rob Henshall

Since then, he too has settled down, but there was a flash of the old Rob Henshall a few years ago when the dollar was in freefall and the internet made the availability of bargain boats in America very accessible. So he nipped over in the Autumn and bought a 40ft ketch and simply sailed her straight across the ocean to his new sailing home in Lough Swilly. A Transatlantic passage in a medium-sized sailing boat when October is veering towards November does not accord with received opinion, but then very little of Rob Henshall’s seaborn activities ever did.

henshall at fastnet18Rob Henshall as he is now, during a sail past the Fastnet Rock with his ketch Inspiration of Swilly. Photo courtesy Rob Henshall

The fact that we are considering them again is thanks entirely to Richard Hayes’ great achievement. Think what you like about his voyage being made unaccompanied by a support boat, but it achieved its purpose in style. It showed courage and determination of a high order, it gave us a privileged glimpse into the life and dynamics of a very special family, and it was for a very worthy cause – that donation link again is www.idonate.ie/solosailireland

We can be quite sure that he and the others who made these special voyages endured considerable hardship and struggle at times. But now and again the conditions smiled on them, and we end on a high note with the vid from Richard’s final 50 mile passage from Liscannor round into Galway Bay. Shortly after he got to Galway Bay SC itself, the weather shut down completely, and has been going totally haywire ever since, so this glimpse of that vital final weather window is doubly precious here

As to the future, there’s a whisper that the three Laser solo circumnavigators may be having a get-together before Christmas. You’d guess that Comfort Zone Sailors need not apply…..

gary sargent schull19Laser solo circumnavigator Gary ‘Ted’ Sargent celebrating at Schull on completion of his voyage in 2016. Photo: Tom MacSweeney

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About boot Düsseldorf: With almost 250,000 visitors, boot Düsseldorf is the world's largest boat and water sports fair and every year in January the “meeting place" for the entire industry. From 18 to 26 January 2020, around 2,000 exhibitors will be presenting their interesting new products, attractive further developments and maritime equipment. This means that the complete market will be on site in Düsseldorf and will be inviting visitors on nine days of the fair to an exciting journey through the entire world of water sports in 17 exhibition halls covering 220,000 square meters. With a focus on boats and yachts, engines and engine technology, equipment and accessories, services, canoes, kayaks, kitesurfing, rowing, diving, surfing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, SUP, fishing, maritime art, marinas, water sports facilities as well as beach resorts and charter, there is something for every water sports enthusiast.

At A Glance – Boot Dusseldorf 

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40474 Düsseldorf
Tel: +49 211 4560-01
Fax: +49 211 4560-668
Web: https://www.boot.com/

The first boats and yachts will once again be arriving in December via the Rhine.

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