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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

The Afloat.ie sailor of the year Conor Fogerty is among Irish crews in a record entry of 88 yachts has entered the tenth edition of the RORC Caribbean 600 which has grown both in stature and entries since the race was first contested in 2009. Read Afloat.ie's Irish race preview by WM Nixon here

For the 10th anniversary, in excess of 800 sailors from six continents and over 22 nations, will compete in the thrilling race around 11 Caribbean islands. Winners from the Olympic Games, America's Cup, Volvo Ocean Race and multiple world champions have gathered in Antigua and will be competing alongside passionate corinthian sailors, both young and old.]

Ireland's newest sailor of the year, Howth's Conor Fogerty, in his Sunfast 3600 Bam!, returns to the West Indies with victory on his mind. He won his class in Antigua in 2016. In a recent interview with Afloat.ie, he has credited his sails for some of his success here

Start: Antigua, West Indies - Monday 19 February 2018 Course: 600nm non-stop around 11 Caribbean Islands

In its ten year history, American yachts have dominated the race, winning the RORC Caribbean 600 Trophy on six occasions, setting both the current monohull and multihull records. For the 2018 race, 13 American teams will be competing including, George David's Rambler 88, George Sakellaris' Proteus, and Peter Aschenbrenner's Paradox. The trio are amongst the favourites for the top prizes. However there is strong competition from Australia, France, Great Britain, Germany and Ireland.

American Maxi Rambler 88 is back and skipper George David will be taking part in his sixth race. David has taken line honours on three occasions and with Rambler 100, won overall under IRC in 2011, setting the monohull race record (40 hours 20 minutes 2 seconds). Rambler 88 is the hot favourite to be the first monohull home this year and has world class crew in every department, including three time America's Cup winner, Brad Butterworth. Ludde Ingvall's Australian Maxi CQS will make its debut in the race after successfully taking line honours in the 2017 RORC Transatlantic Race. Philip Rann's British Maxi La Bête poses a threat to Rambler 88 and CQS. Race founder and long-standing RORC member John Burnie will be taking part in his ninth race on board La Bête.

George Sakellaris American Maxi 72 Proteus is one of the favourites for the RORC Caribbean 600 Trophy, won by the yacht with the best time after IRC time correction. Should Proteus win, Sakellaris will lift the RORC Caribbean 600 Trophy for an unprecedented third time. Proteus has an all-star cast, including Stu Bannatyne who is on leave from Dongfeng Race Team in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race. Bannatyne has competed in eight round the world races, winning on three occasions.

"It's the warmest of the classic 600 races so always an event to look forward to," commented Bannatyne. "The race has a lot of corners and waypoints so the whole team is usually far busier than the typical 600 mile race; especially navigators. It is a great race for crews because there are so many manoeuvres and sail changes required, good crew work really makes a difference and the guys don't mind being woken up or nudged on the rail for another change because it is always so warm."

IRC Zero is the largest class competing this year with 24 teams. The mighty superyachts, Danneskjold and Farfalla represent the two largest yachts in the race, both in excess of 100ft (30.48m) and equipped with racing systems, as well as luxury refinements below decks. Ron O'Hanley's American Privateer and Adrian Lee's Irish Lee Overlay Partners are both previous winners. Two new boats to the race will also be among the favourites; Eric De Turckheim's French Nivelt-Muratet 54 Teasing Machine and Jens Kellinghusen's Ker 56 Varuna. British Infiniti 46 Maverick, skippered by Quentin Stewart and Stefan Jentzsch's German Carkeek 47 Black Pearl, represent the two smallest yachts in the class, but both are capable of punching above their water line length.

A record number of multihulls will be racing this year, including 2013 class winner Paradox, skippered by Peter Aschenbrenner. Designed by Nigel Irens, the 63ft American trimaran hit a top speed of 38 knots in the 2013 race. "French Tech Caraîbos will be quick in big breeze," commented Paradox trimmer Jeff Mearing, referring to Giles Lamire's Multi50, which won class in the 2010 Route du Rhum. Both boats are capable of breaking the multihull race record (31 hours, 59 minutes, 04 seconds Lloyd Thornburg's MOD70 Phaedo3). Greg Slyngstad's Bieker 53 Fujin returns and includes Olympic gold medallist Johnathan McKee as part of the Seattle-based crew. Competing for the first time will be Jason Carroll's American Gunboat 62 Elvis, with Irish Volvo Ocean Race winner Justin Slattery on board. The smallest yacht in the race is the modified Seacart 30 Morticia, skippered by Shaun Carroll with an all-Australian crew.

The RORC Caribbean 600 is part of the Class40 2018 Championship and a record seven pocket rockets are competing this year from France, Germany, Sweden and the United States. The Class40 race record is 2 days 16 hours 26 minutes 29 seconds, set by Gonzalo Botin's Tales II in 2016. Catherine Pourre's Eärendil returns after a terrific battle in last year's race and 2016 runner-up, Mikael Ryking's Talanta from Sweden will also be amongst the Class40 fleet. Mathias Muller von Blumencron's German Class40 Red debuts after winning the RORC Transatlantic Race and Marc Lepesqueux's Class40 Sensation will be racing under IRC.

In IRC One, Olympian Per Arne Nilsen's Norwegian Swan 66 Enigma VIII is the largest yacht. Philippe Frantz's Nivelt-Muratet 43 Albator has a mixture of highly experienced veteran and young talented Figaro and Tour Voile sailors, all from France. German Swan 56 Latona will have three generations of the von Eicken family on board and representing the Norddeutscher Regatta Verein, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary. German Andrews 56 Broader View Hamburg, winner of IRC One for the 2017 RORC Transatlantic Race will be skippered by Georg Christiansen. The smallest yacht racing in IRC One will be last year's class winner, Antiguan RP37 Taz, skippered by Bernie Evan-Wong who has competed in every edition of the race. Giles Redpath's Lombard 46 Pata Negra was third in class in last year's race and has been chartered by a team from Dublin, with Oliver Heer as skipper.

In IRC Two, the largest yacht will be Oceanis 55 Julia, skippered by Louie Neocleous who is just 20 years old and sailing with his father Richard. Back year after year are several yachts owned by charter companies offering the golden opportunity to compete in the race. Performance Yacht Racing have three entries; Grand Soleil 43s Quokka 8, Jua Kali and Beneteau First 47.7 EH01. The three teams are expected to have a close battle within the class. Another charter boat duel will be between two First 40s. Susan Glenny's Olympia's Tigress will be sailed by Richard Preston, against Sailing Logic's Lancelot II, sailed by Trevor Drew. Pamala Baldwin's J/122 Liquid will be proudly flying the Antiguan flag, as will the Antigua Sailing Academy's First 40.7 Ortac, sailed by Amanda Mochrie.

The largest yacht racing in IRC Three will be the 50ft Bermudan Cutter Gemervescence owned by RORC Commodore Steven Anderson. Jonty and Vicki Layfield's Antiguan flagged Swan 48 Sleeper won the class last year and will be defending their title. Andrew Eddy also returns with Oyster 48 Gaia and a young crew including both his son and daughter. "My daughter is flying in from Kenya and my son has put together a group of his sailing friends, so I am going to be the grown-up on board," laughed Eddy. "Our goal is to finish before the prize giving on Friday as we did not manage last year, so we are hoping for good winds." RORC Transatlantic Race Class winner, Richard Palmer will once again be racing his British JPK 10.10 Jangada Two Handed. Richard has teamed up with his partner for the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race, Jeremy Waitt and Jangada is the smallest monohull racing this year.

The 10th edition of the RORC Caribbean 600 starts on Monday 19th February from Fort Charlotte, outside Nelson's Dockyard. The first start is at 1100.

RACE MINISITE here 

FLEET TRACKER here 

PAST RESULTS: RORC CARIBBEAN 600 TROPHY - IRC OVERALL

(Best best corrected time under IRC)
2017 - Hap Fauth, Bella Mente, JV72 (USA)
2016 - George Sakellaris, Maxi 72, Proteus (USA)
2015 - Hap Fauth, JV72, Bella Mente (USA)
2014 - George Sakellaris, RP72, Shockwave (USA)
2013 - Ron O'Hanley, Privateer, Cookson 50 (USA)
2012 - Niklas Zennström's JV72, Rán (GBR)
2011 - George David, Rambler 100, JK 100 (USA)
2010 - Karl C L Kwok, Beau Geste, Farr 80 (HKG)
2009 - Adrian Lee, Lee Overlay Partners, Cookson 50 (IRL)

Published in RORC

#NorthSails - New Volvo Irish Sailor of the Year Conor Fogerty has hailed North Sails Ireland’s role in his offshore success.

Following his award win last Friday, the Howth Yacht Club stalwart said: “North Sails have been a part of the Bam! story since her first launch in 2015.

“The new J2 and J5 played a key role in the OSTAR 2017 and I am looking forward to racing with the new 3Di main for the RORC Caribbean 600 Race.”

North Sails Ireland supplied the first inventory for Conor Fogerty back in 2015 with which he won his class in the 2016 RORC Caribbean 600 race. These sails were a mix of 3DL and 3Di plus nylon downwind sails.

In early 2017, for his epic OSTAR-winning attempt, North Sails Ireland supplied a new 3Di Code 2/3 reefing jib and a No 5 Radian jib for exceptionally heavy upwind work.

These sails sails did the business for Conor and Bam! as she took first place in the Gypsy Moth Class in the OSTAR.

North Sails also just supplied a new 3Di offshore main for Fogerty’s 2018 RORC Caribbean 600 Race, which starts next Monday 19 February.

Published in North Sails Ireland

#SailorOfTheYear - Conor Fogerty has been named Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year for 2017 for his astonishing performance in the Single-Handed East-West Transatlantic Race last summer during what was a particularly strong year for Irish offshore sailing.

June’s Offshore Sailor of the Month was presented with his prize by Minister of State Mary Mitchell-O’Connor at the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards gala in Dublin’s RDS Concert Hall this evening (Friday 9 February).

The accolade comes nearly eight months after the corinthian sailor from Howth Yacht Club found himself in definitive trophy contention, when a storm ravaged the OSTAR and TWOSTAR fleets in the North Atlantic in early June.

Irish Sailing Awards 2018 FogertyConor Fogerty, Howth receiving the Overall Volvo Irish Sailor of the Year Award from (L/R) Jack Roy, President Irish Sailing, Mary Mitchell O'Connor TD, Minister of State for Higher Education and Patricia Greene, Head of Communications Volvo Car Ireland at the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards 2018. Photo: Irish Sailing/David Branigan

With attentions immediately and understandably turned to the plight of those sailors and vessels worst affected by the extreme conditions, it was only in the aftermath that those not already on the Fogerty tip realised Ireland’s lone entry in the 2017 OSTAR was some ways west of the storm before it hit.

Make no mistake, this was no fluke. “[Fogerty] had been sailing his Sun Fast 3600 Bam! with such skill and determination that he had sailed beyond the worst of the weather,” Winkie Nixon writes.

That put Fogerty second only to clear race leader Andrea Mura’s Open 60 Venta di Sardegna in the OSTAR division, before the winds ruined the party behind them. What’s more, in the hours and days that followed, Fogerty was sailing Bam! in near-contact with TWOSTAR entry Rote 66, an Open 40 significantly larger than his own boat.

Indeed, even with a depleted fleet, it was remarkable that Fogerty was able to keep up with those bigger boats and take Bam! all the way to Rhode Island amid persistent tough conditions. As Winkie says: “His victory was no joyride.”

But a victory it certainly was. When Bam! crossed the line at Newport on 19 June to take that prize of prizes, the Gipsy Moth Trophy, Fogerty’s closest competition was 500 miles astern — and his only company in port were boats with far more muscle and speed potential. It was a prime example of a skipper making all the difference.

The hero’s welcome bestowed upon Fogerty on his return to Howth at the end of the month, as Winkie observes, was richly deserved.

Accepting his award this evening, Fogerty said it was great to see offshore sailing reaching new heights, and recognised the importance of having such a platform as the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards to share his and fellow ocean-crossers’ passion.

The Sailor of the Year for 2017 also extolled the virtues of the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association as a learning ground.

“For anyone who wants to get involved in offshore sailing, I’d recommend ISORA to get their feet wet,” Fogerty added.

Fogerty bested a worthy field of nominees in 2017, among them such offshore luminaries as Vendée Globe stalwart Alex Thomson, his Fastnet Race partner Nin O’Leary, and Volvo Ocean Race veteran Damian Foxall.

The ‘Flying Irishman’ Tom Dolan flew the flag for Ireland in France and the Mini Transat series, while recently retired RORC Commodore Michael Boyd finished in the top 10 of the Fastnet Race.

In the wake of Annalise Murphy’s big award last year, younger sailors featured prominently in 2017.

Trinity sailing team captain Richard Roberts and his UCC counterpart Liam Manning; Youth Pathways champ Ewan McMahon; Finn class Olympic hopeful Fionn Lyden and fellow Tokyo 2020 challenger Finn Lynch in the Laser; super junior Michael O’Suillebhain; and Dun Laoghaire all-rounder Lorcan Tighe were all in contention.

Saskia Tidey found a fruitful new 49erFX partnership with Great Britain’s Charlotte Dobson; while Aoife Hopkins, winner of the European Women’s U21 Laser Radial title, sat her Leaving Cert just a month after that achievement and gained a whopping 605 points in a testament to her dedication.

Stewart Hosford (who shared with Thomson); Pacific voyager Daragh Nagle; tactician Ian Moore; Rush’s Kelly family; cruiser John Maybury; Safehaven Marine powerboat specialist Frank Kowalski; Michael O’Connor and his Sin Bin crew; offshore duo Vicky Cox and Peter Dunlop; Rockabill VI campaigner Paul O’Higgins; Sydney-Hobart partners Gordon Maguire and Jim Cooney; and Clipper Race skipper Conall Morrison rounded out this year’s slate of Sailor of the Year nominees, with two notable exceptions.

The organisers flew in Santiago Alegre from Spain and Simon Hoffman from Australia to thank them for saving the life of Johnny Durcan, one of Ireland’s leading high performance sailors, who got into difficulty at the 29er World Championships in California last summer. The pair were special winners from Afloat last August for their efforts, and received the President’s Award tonight — as well as a standing ovation from the full house in attendance.

Irish Sailing Awards 2018 hoffmanSimon Hoffman, Australia with Santiago Alegre, Spain, Johnny Durcan, Crosshaven, Jack Roy, President Irish Sailing, Jay Stacy, Schull and Colin Byrne, Dun Laoghaire receiving the President's Award

Also recognised was Jay Stacy, who received the President’s Award for his actions that saved the life of one of his crew a rogue wave hit their boat off the Waterford/Wexford coast. Accidents like this are rare, but tonight was an opportunity for the sailing community to recognise their bravery and say thank you.

“IrishThe ‘fireside chat’ with lifesavers and President’s Award winners who received a standing ovation

In the night’s other prizes, the Senior Instructor Award went to Kate Caldwell of Mullaghmore Sailing Club, who recently left her role at the Co Sligo club after three years to study for a Master’s degree.

Training Centre of the Year for 2017 is Crookhaven Harbour Sailing Club, which since 1979 has specialised in training junior sailors in West Cork close to the sailing mecca of Schull.

Irish Sailing Awards 2018 8332Harry Hermon, CEO Irish Sailing presents Peter O'Leary, Commodore of Crookhaven Sailing Club with the overall Volvo Training Centre of the Year award with Patricia Greene

From the South West to the North Channel, Ballyholme/Donaghadee’s Dan McGaughey was named Youth Sailor of the Year for his incredible podium performance in the gold fleet at the Topper World Championships in Loctudy, France last August, where he finished third amid a top-class junior field.

Special recognition was made to Matt McGovern and his brother Russell for their storied performance careers, just days after Matt abandoned his Tokyo 2020 plans and announced his Olympic retirement.

The 34-year-old from Belfast Lough was one half of Ireland’s most successful skiff duo in the 49er dinghy with Carrickfergus helm Ryan Season, the pair competing at London 2012 and Rio 2016. McGovern was most recently mounting a new campaign with 2013 Laser youth champion Robbie Gilmore.

Irish Sailing Awards 2018 8346Carmel Winkelmann, Dun Laoghaire receives the President's Award from Jack Roy, President Irish Sailing

In his address earlier in the evening, Irish Sailing president Jack Roy emphasised that as much as high achievements in sailing have a place in the sport, “for most of us it’s about getting on the water, whatever your level of expertise.”

Citing the so-called ‘Annalise effect’, Roy noted “a bounce in the number of people sailing around the country last year.” In Irish Sailing’s Try Sailing initiative for 2017, half of those participating were women, and more than half were aged under 18 — showing the potential for growth is there.

Roy also took time to thank “the everyday heroes who don’t always get recognised by awards and trophies: the volunteers who dedicate so much time, energy and passion to our sport, and who share their knowledge and expertise with other sailors. Quite simply, our sport cannot function without them.”

Hosted once more by master of ceremonies Fiona Bolger, the night as always welcomed guests from Irish club and high performance sailing, including Irish Sailing's youth and Olympic squads, national champions at all levels, class captains, club commodores, previous Sailors of the Year, and world and Olympic competitors.

Among the hundreds of guests were Colm Barrington, vice chair of the Olympic Council of Ireland, and Robert Dix, chair of the Government’s national marine strategy.

Royal cork Sailing awardsRoyal Cork was well represented

There was a stron turnout from Royal Cork Yacht Club, now under new Admiral Pat Farnan. RCYC flag officers Colin Moorhead, Kieran O’Connell and Gavin Deane were in attendance, while Howth Yacht Club Commodore Joe McPeake was in attendance with Brian Turvey, chair of Howth’s New Wave Regatta.

Representing Dun Laoghaire’s waterfront was National Yacht Club Commodore Ronan Beirne with Vice Commodore Martin McCarthy and club archivist Frank Burgess, as well Alistair, Muriel and Kenneth Rumball of the INSS.

Nobby Reilly, formerly of ICRA; Peter Ryan of ISORA; Chris and Sandra Moore of the DBSC; and ICRA Commodore Simon McGibney were also in attendance, as was Irish Coast Guard chief Chris Reynolds following his return in 2017 from secondment to the Horn of Africa.

“IrishAnother successful year for the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards

Hosted by Irish Sailing with Afloat magazine, the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards aim to highlight the breadth of sailing across the country.

Afloat’s awards have been running since 1996, recognising over 500 Irish sailors in that time, says editor David O’Brien.

“[The awards] were originally formulated to bring a bigger profile to sailing achievements that do not get their fair share of the media coverage,” he adds. “Now these achievements are reaching a wider audience than ever before.”

Afloat.ie topped over 1.2 million visitors in 2017 — an audience the publication is eager to share with Ireland’s sailing community.

“Afloat.ie wants to work with every club and every class in the country,” says O’Brien. “Please get in touch.”

Published in News Update

As he commented at last night’s annual Volvo Sailing Awards ceremony, our Sailing on Saturday columnist reckons that anyone who thinks they really understand every aspect of the Irish sailing and boating scene obviously isn’t a part of it. It’s a complex and multi-faceted vehicle sport with more twists and turns than a Kerry mountain road. And that’s before you start considering the huge range of people involved. W M Nixon develops this theme.

If you want to know what is to happen next in any area, ask Brian Turvey of the noted Howth sailing family. Stock market volatility troubling you? He’s the man to advise. Who’s likely to be the next star in the Irish sailing firmament? Consult the Turvey oracle. He seems to have a sixth sense.

Irish Sailing Awards 2018 FogertyConor Fogerty, Howth receiving the Overall Volvo Irish Sailor of the Year Award from (L/R) Jack Roy, President Irish Sailing, Mary Mitchell O'Connor TD, Minister of State for Higher Education and Patricia Greene, Head of Communications Volvo Car Ireland at the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards 2018. Photo: Irish Sailing/David Branigan/Oceansport

Hindsight is something we can all manage. And it’s with appreciative hindsight that we now admire how, exactly a year ago in the RDS in Dublin, Brian Turvey spotted the February 2016 Sailor of the Month Conor Fogerty (he’d won his Class in the RORC Caribbean 600) and the new Sailor of the Year Annalise Murphy in close proximity in the swirling crowd in the après-awards party, and he got them together for a quick snap, a double breath of fresh sea air against the fusty background of rows of learned books typical of the RDS.

“Something clicked” he says now, “so I clicked double-quick, and immediately felt I’d recorded something very important”.

He certainly had, providing an image which gives an almost iconic vision of the kind of people our sport attracts. On the left was someone for whom offshore sailing was the ultimate ambition, the real sailing, a guy who admitted to being a bit of a tearaway in his younger days – “the black sheep of a black sheep” as he had put it when Afloat.ie got together with himself and Tom Dolan – but had now become an experienced offshore sailor with much more to do.

Conor fogerty sailor2Hard driving – Conor Fogerty far offshore, winning across the Atlantic

And on the right was a young woman reared in the Olympic ideal, devoted to the austere world of Olympic Laser sailing, a sailor’s sailor who had overcome the huge disappointment of missing a medal in the last minutes of the last race of the 2012 Olympics to make a courageous family-supported comeback to win Silver at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Fast forward a year, and the former young tearaway is the hero of the hour, the hero of the year, class victor in the toughest east-west Single-handed Transatlantic Race ever and thus the new holder of the Holy Grail itself, the Gipsy Moth Trophy, and as of last night, Ireland’s newest “Sailor of the Year”.

And as for the highly-tuned hyper-trained Olympian, she has thrown herself into the rough and tumble, the intense and crowded harshness, of the Volvo Ocean Race, many worlds away from the demanding but defined path of the lone Olympic campaigner.

annalise murphy steering volvo3Annalise Murphy on the helm, racing Turn the Tide on Plastic in the Volvo Ocean Race which is currently on the Hong Kong to New Zealand leg

Even as the man on the left was becoming the new Sailor of the Year last night, the other sailor was far away, racing the Hong Kong to New Zealand leg if the Volvo Ocean Race. Yet we aren’t talking of reversals of role, let alone reversals of fortune. On the contrary, we’re talking of the many twists and turns that are an integral part of sailing, both in Ireland and globally.

With last night’s remarkable gathering of personalities and specialities and local and regional and national and international enthusiasm, it all was on display in its great and glorious colourful vitality in the RDS in Dublin.

And naturally and inevitably there comes the question which is central to life afloat and ashore. What happens next? Who will rise to the surface during 2018’s long and varied sailing season.

But for today, here’s to Conor Fogerty, our new and well-deserved Volvo Irish Sailing Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Year”.

And good luck and good sailing to Annalise Murphy, as she continues with the latest chapter in her fascinating sailing story.

Published in W M Nixon

There have been several Irish offshore racing sailors who have been making national and world headlines for some years now, but in recent weeks and months the wave of new enthusiasm for the big ticket events has surged to fresh heights.

One of the stories underlying all this is the potential for a specialist marine industry base in Cork Harbour serving the continuous needs of the most advanced racing machines, and providing a launch pad for global campaigns. The idea has been around for some time now, but as reported in Afloat.ie as long ago as April 1st 2015, while the goodwill may be there, a firm decision is still awaited.

Local minister Simon Coveney has since moved on from the Marine to other Government departments. His present very senior role in representing Ireland through the Department of Foreign Affairs in decidedly turbulent times will mean that the needs of something so difficult to gauge for significant political and economic benefits will scarcely be top priority.

Yet for the many leading Irish sailors – both men and women – who have launched themselves into the decidedly uncertain world of top level professional competition, the problem of resources and facilities to keep the show on the road is always present, and frequently at crisis levels. W M Nixon wonders how there is going to be enough in the sponsorship pot – both nationally and globally – to help them all fulfill their dreams.

On Tuesday, Afloat.ie received confirmation of a “virtual press conference” in Cork, in other words a clearcut announcement that Nin O’Leary’s co-skippering of the IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss with Alex Thompson was going to move on to a full-blooded Vendee Globe campaign by O’Leary himself, possibly with a new boat.

coveney thomson hosford2The then Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney, Hugo Boss skipper Alex Thomson, and Stewart Hosford at the announcement in Cork in 2015 of a possible international offshore racing hub on Haulbowline Island.

In the meantime, the word on the waterfront is that the two skippers may do the two-handed Barcelona World Race 2018 in the current boat. But beyond that, the campaign plan for the charismatic O’Leary, mentored by Thomson and orchestrated by Stewart Hosford, is rumoured to be the building up of enough resources to keep this boat, yet also build a new one.

This is because the boat is still almost state-of-the-art, she has some features still absent in other boats, and could be serious opposition in someone else’s hands. Thus the ideal scenario is to maintain control of their current technology and design, while moving on to the next stage of development with an even more advanced boat for the Vendee Globe in 2020.

nin oleary3Nin O’Leary – a charismatic figure for Ireland’s younger sailors

We’re talking mega-bucks here, and the relationship with Hugo Boss has been very fruitful, but the elephant in the room - which hasn’t been mentioned yet - is how long will the Hugo Boss sponsorship continue?

This may all become clearer within the next ten days, as Thomson, O’Leary and Hugo Boss are headed for Ireland, with Cork in their sights on Monday 28th and Tuesday 29th August, and then they’re in Dun Laoghaire for a very public appearance on Wednesday August 30th, and staying until the Friday, September 1st for the ongoing launch of their new brand Ireland Ocean Racing.

This puts them top of the billboards. But we mustn’t let it blind us to the hopes of other campaigners, and on Thursday of this week, Tom Dolan made his final public appearance in Ireland before returning to France for the countdown towards the start of the Mini Transat 2017 from La Rochelle at the beginning of October.

tom dolan boat4Although Tom Dolan has some sponsorship for IRL 910, there is still a shortfall in funding for the Mini Transat 2017 which starts at the beginning of October from La Rochelle

tom dolan and friends5Tom Dolan (right) and fellow skippers in the Mini 650 class at Concarneau. The camaraderie and mutual help among the sailors contributes to France’s dominant position in short-handed sailing

Although Tom has some support backers whose logos appear on his sails, he makes no bones about his overall situation, as his Pogo 3, IRL 910, currently enters races under the name of “Still Seeking a Sponsor”. Whether his presentation in the National YC on Thursday will turn on any money taps in Ireland remains to be seen, the fact is that it’s in France he makes most impact. But in Dun Laoghaire, his burning enthusiasm left an abiding impression, for although his chosen life-path may be more exciting than running the small family farm in Meath, there are times when it’s a massive struggle.

Tom is one of several Irish international offshore wannabees and established skippers who have made a point of having the cup of coffee with Marcus Hutchinson. Hutchinson has transformed himself from being a young sailor who first learned his craft in Howth into an international sailing campaign management figure who maintains his Irish connections through Kinsale, yet is now a key presence at the French-led cutting edge of specialist offshore programmes.

Marcus hutchinson6Marcus Hutchinson is first Port of Call for anyone seriously contemplating a short-handed offshore campaign

It’s rumoured that in Brittany he has access to a large warehouse full of IMOCA 60s and Open 40s and whatnot. What we do know for sure is that he was very much the background force in Paul Meilhat’s stunning victory in the IMOCA 60 SMA in the recent Rolex Fastnet Race, a neatly-read campaign whose success was highlighted by the inescapable fact that Hugo Boss finished eighth out of the nine IMOCA 60s competing.

SMA with her dagger boards was optimized for windward work, whereas Hugo Boss with her foils most emphatically wasn’t. But while those in the know are aware of this, Joe Public simply sees the final results and takes it from there.

sma fastnet7The Marcus Hutchinson-managed SMA was convincing winner of the IMOCA 60 Class in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017. Photo: Carlo Borlenghi

Marcus Hutchinson’s deep well of sound advice is available to those who seek him out, and he is generous with his knowledge and sensible thoughts. Talking to Afloat.ie yesterday morning, he made the point that of the current wave of French superstars in the bigger boats, many have done the Figaro Solo at least a dozen times, and he reckons that setting out to take on the Vendee Globe straight from a career – however successful – in fully-crewed boats, is akin to taking on Everest solo without first trying a few smaller mountains on your own.

The list of those specialist sailors from Ireland who have made a point of seeking advice and assistance at some stage from Marcus Hutchinson is both impressive and fascinating, as it includes Damian Foxall, Justin Slattery, Enda O'Coineen, David Kenefick, Joan Mulloy, Sean McCarter, Tom Dolan and most recently Conor Fogerty.

joan mulloy8Joan Mulloy of Westport in County Mayo has secured a Figaro through Marcus Hutchinson, but still requires sponsorship

david kenefick9David Kenefick of Cork is another solo sailor who was guided into the Figaro Class by Marcus Hutchinson

And a salient fact which emerges in talking to some of them is the thought that while the Alex Thomson/Hugo Boss campaign was impressive, its central ethos of being stand-alone was ultimately counter-productive.

Two of the lone skippers mentioned above went so far as to say that if the Hugo Boss campaign had been prepared to mix it a bit more with the strongholds of French single-handed sailing in Brittany, then they would have won the Vendee Globe instead of coming second.

That’s undoutedly one for the speculation mill. But it gets a certain reinforcement from a statement this week from Nin O’Leary, to the effect that moving the base from Portsmouth to Cork would have the beneficial result of making the major French centres seem more accessible, as there’s almost a feeling of being trapped in the Eastern Solent, whereas in Cork it’s open water – and open thinking - all the way to Ushant and beyond.

This desire for open water and open thinking is spreading. One of the most interesting news items of recent weeks was that Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy hoped to secure a berth aboard Dee Caffari’s Volvo 65 for the up-coming Volvo World Race. Unfortunately the knee injury Murphy exacerbated with a spectacular capsize at the conclusion of becoming the International Moth Women’s World Champion 2017 on Lake Garda has put that idea on hold, but this shift of interest from the grind of Olympic training on a tedious four year cycle to the more stimulating world of big-time offshore stuff, with maior events coming up in rapid succession, reflects a discernible pattern of changing public awareness.

turn the tide on plastic10The new Volvo 65 Turn the Tide on Plastic. Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy had to defer taking up a berth on Dee Caffari’s Volvo 65 because of a knee injury sustained during a capsize in the Moth Worlds at Lake Garda

So Olympic sailing, ever mindful of the need to continue to attract public attention by whatever means, is going to include a test offshore series, probably for two person boats, in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

This is of particular interest to any Irish sailor desperately seeking sponsorship, for the reality is that on our island, there are only half a dozen sports – if that - which are big enough to make an impact on their own. The minority sports - sailing included - only figure significantly in public awareness if they come up in the Olympic searchlight.

That Olympic searchlight in turn encourages others to get involved, thereby stretching the cloak of sponsorship ever thinner. So it will be some time, if ever, before we see a joint approach to the challenge of raising sponsorship for this branch of sailing. And Heaven knows, but it’s difficult enough to get an effective short-handed sailing campaign of international standard up to speed without the endless worry of finding the money. Yet that’s the way it is. But if you really do find the challenge irresistible, Afloat.ie’s advice is to make arrangements to have a cup of coffee with Marcus Hutchinson before you do anything else.

Published in W M Nixon

The great solo sailing challenges of world sailing are acquiring added stature as sailing is enmeshed in ever-more-advanced technologies. With fully-crewed vessels, interest in the people involved as individuals seems to decline in an inverse ratio to the rising graph of the science in the design of boats, equipment and sails.

Yet in one area of sailing, the human interest is still paramount, even if the technology is hugely important. The solo sailors fascinate us more than ever. They are the one spark of humanity in the midst of a boat which is more like a machine than the craft we sail ourselves, and that spark of inextinguishable humanity is what we focus on. W M Nixon reports on getting together with two of Ireland’s leading soloists - Tom Dolan who is in the midst of the MiniTransat build-up circuit, and Conor Fogerty who in June had a very convincing win of the Gipsy Moth Trophy in the OSTAR – the “Original Single-handed Transatlantic Race”.

They’re a breed apart, these dedicated soloists. Get two of them together for a light lunch and a spot of shooting the breeze as happened with Tom Dolan and Conor Fogerty in Howth Yacht Club recently, and they seem just as effortlessly sociable as the next sailor.

But they have a special aura of ultimate individuality. They can live very much in the present, but you feel their longterm view is on a different horizon. People passing by who knew something of sailing wanted to shake their hands and wish them well, and made a point of doing so. It’s life-enhancing and thought-provoking, a reminder that what they do will have involved long hours, days, weeks, months, years even, of struggle just to get their boat to the starting line. And then the real challenge of racing takes over. It’s something which takes our minds off the petty problems of our own shorebound existences.nixon dolan fogerty2

Shooting the breeze. Afloat.ie’s W M Nixon with solo sailors Tom Dolan and Conor Fogerty putting the world to rights in Howth Yacht Club. Photo: Howard McMullan

With today’s universal 24/7 communication, those ashore taking an interest in what they’re doing will feel they’re part of a team, with the lone sailor as the focus in a very sociable matrix. But the folk ashore go to their beds at night, and live normal existences during the day. The lone sailor, if he or she allow themselves to think of it, are only partially in the thoughts of those ashore. It’s a situation which if anything exacerbates the solitary nature of their position.

But that may be where the soloists are different from the rest of us. They don’t think that their’s is a long and lonely road through life at all. On the contrary, they seem to regard the desire to sail alone across vast tracts of the ocean as an utterly normal ambition, a quest whose appeal speaks for itself.

Or at least that’s the abiding impression I was left with after being with these two remarkable men. Loneliness, a fear of being completely solitary, has little or nothing to do with it. They’re so busy getting on with the task in hand, so immersed in the challenge, that the normal human reaction of seeking company doesn’t arise.

It certainly didn’t arise as a topic in the course of a wide-ranging get-together which lasted much longer than anyone had planned. The talk was of technicalities, of dealing with problems with gear and equipment, of the sheer joy when the boat is going well or when a tactic has paid off in spades. That is when these guys are most alive and carefree and fulfilled.

tom dolan3The good feeling when the boat is going well (and your rivals are tucked in astern). Tom Dolan heading towards an early success in IRL 910

It is when they’ve come back ashore that their problems arise again. The simple pleasure of a night or two of uninterrupted sleep is savoured, and the elation of a good result can last for days. But in time, the eternal problem of finding the resources to go on with their chosen career – for that is how they regard it – will come centre stage once more, for the ultimate challenge facing a solo sailor – and particularly a solo sailor from Ireland – inevitably come down in the final analysis to funding.

In Ireland we have a small population on an island where the sea is largely regarded as the tiresome inevitability which comes with island status. That’s how most of our people look on the seas and oceans around us. Only a very few of us see those seas as a sporting playground. As for being alone afloat, it actually contravenes our seafaring regulations, but so few people wish to do it that the laws are seldom enforced.

In any case in Ireland, being conspicuously alone is something for hermits of a religious disposition. Thus the very idea of seeking to sail alone across a hostile ocean for the sheer joy and sport of it is arguably alien to the Irish way of life. Even St Brendan the Navigator had a crew. So the sailing record-keeping authorities can no longer even acknowledge the existence of a Round Ireland Solo Sailing Record. And as for any Irish sailor hoping to raise funds for a solo sailing campaign abroad in places where a certain amount of regulated solo sailing is permitted or at least tolerated, the truth is they’re ploughing a lonely furrow in every sense.

Yet when they achieve success in racing, we’re all happy to be part of it. As we’ve revealed in Afloat.ie, the way that Tom Dolan emerged from being a farm boy in Meath, through the Glenans system in its final days in Ireland until he had reached the stage that he could successfully join the mainstream of the Minitransat solo sailor setup in France, is not something of which we disapprove. On the contrary, it cheers us up no end. We joyfully saw him made an Honorary Member of the National Yacht Club, and everyone will follow his progress with avid attention towards the MiniTransat start at La Rochelle in October.

conor fogerty4Conor Fogerty with his Sunfast 3600 Bam! back in Howth at the end of May 2016 after a Transatlantic circuit which had included winning his class in the RORC Caribbean 600 in February 2016, and making his first solo ocean crossing from the Caribbean to the Azores in April-May. Photo: W M Nixon

But Tom Dolan – who recently turned 30 - has succeeded in making himself part of a recognised system. The older Conor Fogerty – now definitely well into his 40s – has been a completely free spirit by comparison. He has tried a bit of this and a bit of that in seafaring. He even, for ten years, lived in the mountains of Bulgaria when he wasn’t sailing the sea. Yet somehow he has made a living of sorts as a professional sailor for 22 years.

For Dolan, sailing became the route to fresh personal discovery, and a means of escape from the humdrum prospect of life on a small farm on north Meath:

“You’ve no idea just how hard and repetitive the work of running a smaller farm can be” says he. “For me, it certainly didn’t look like the idyllic country life. When I discovered sailing – or maybe sailing discovered me - the sense of fulfillment, of rebirth almost, was total”.

He was a natural sailor, he came alive on a higher plane when sailing a boat, and while he has kept up his links from his early Glenans days in Ireland – his Glenans friend Gerry Jones who these days sails from the NYC in Dun Laoghaire is the man who beats the drum on Tom’s behalf in Ireland – he knew that he would have to base himself with the core of the MiniTransat people in Concarneau in Brittany if he was to make any progress.

tom dolan5Tom Dolan at a pre-race briefing during his early days in France. He has just discovered a rigging problem with his borrowed boat, and he’s still learning French

That was more than three years ago, and the first six months were tough in the extreme until Tom acquired a fluency of sorts in French. But in time his obvious commitment to the MiniTransat ideal has seen him become part of the inner circle, while his natural talents as a sailor have taken on an added dimension, as he is a natural teacher as well.

Thus he and Francois Jambou, his co-skipper in those Mini 650 races which are sailed two-handed, have an additional useful little earner in a Sailing Academy which is attracting an international clientele. The latest country to show interest in the possibilities of Mini 650 racing is China, and they sent some wannabe sailors to take a course with Tom and Francois. The Irish sailor, with his seemingly instinctive ability to guess what a boat needs to do to go well over and above what the instruments are telling him, was intrigued to discover that while the Chinese group were totally on top of things as regards technology and getting the very best from electronics, their relationship with actual seat-of-the-pants sailing could be problematic.

This was so marked in one instance that the pupil in question was decidedly reluctant to take the tiller. That Tom has the patience and people-skills to handle and move such a problem towards a good outcome is another useful string to his bow. But for now, everything is focused on the countdown to the MiniTransat in October, and having resources in place to make the best of the events in the buildup programme.

tom dolan6A long way from the small damp fields of North Meath. This is what it’s all about. Tom Dolan with IRL 910, scorching away at the head of the fleet in the Biscay sun.

The latest of these starts tomorrow, the 600-mile Transgascogne 2017 from Les Sables d’Olonne, which takes the fleet across South Biscay to Aviles in Asturias in Spain, and then returns to Les Sables.

There’ll be a fleet of sixty-plus, and while Ian Lipinsky’s extraordinary prototype Griffon.fr is expected to record her 13th successive overall win in the open division, within the 650 class Tom and his comrades in the Pogo 3s will be at it hammer and tongs. As Tom wrily remarks, having used a legacy from his late father to buy a new Pogo 3 in the most basic form available to get her ready for the 2016 season, he “made the mistake” of winning his first race with the new boat, and has been a marked man ever since.

griffon proto7Handsome is as handsome does…Ian Lipinsky’s one-off Proto Class Griffon.fr may be the oddest-looking Mini of all, but in tomorrow’s 600-mile Transgascogne 2017 she is on target to be line honours winner for her 13th time in 13 races. However, the real race will be in the big-fleet Mini 650s, where IRL 910 is in contention

He’ll be quite often in the lead at sea, and several times in 2017 was in a podium position at the finish. But he lies fourth overall in the season-long points series, as there has been a drought of actual first places. He’ll be aiming for one this weekend. Just before he came back for his recent visit to Ireland, he signed up in Paris with Smurfit Kappa France to confirm some much-needed sponsorship which had already been in evidence at the start of the two-handed Mini Fastnet on June 18th.

That he has found an Irish multi-national with a strong French presence fits well with his CV, but it’s only part of what is needed and his team – and Tom himself - are busy in building further funding. Right now, however, all the thought is on tomorrow’s race, and it was understandable to note at our meeting in Howth that both Tom and Conor much preferred talking about the boats and the sailing, though readily conceding that they simply had to be aware of income-generating possibilities from whatever source.

tom dolan8Tom Dolan’s successful progress has been made through the recognized route of the Minitransat system

While Tom’s progress has been made through a recognized route. Conor Fogerty is happy enough to give the impression of making it up as he goes along. But as events of recent years have shown, and particularly the display of total rugged heroism against a brutal Atlantic in June, there’s a core of pure steel under the seemingly easy-going persona.

BAM yacht isoraConor Fogerty’s newly-acquired Sunfast 3600 Bam! coming into Dun Laoghaire at the end of an ISORA event which he’d raced two-handed. Although she may look to be the sort of boat that would need half a dozen guys on the weather-rail to get to windward, in solo ocean racing she has proven remarkably good upwind provided she isn’t allowed to heel excessively. Photo: Afloat.ie

He’s from Howth, but cheerfully admits that in family terms he was the black sheep of a black sheep, and he went his own wayward way in getting into sailing. Yet by 1995 he was a regular on the crew panel of Kieran Jameson & Aidan MacManus’s much-raced Sigma 38 Changeling, building up experience to Round Ireland level and beyond as he also did his first Fastnet in 1995, and thereafter it was a giddy progression with race campaigns and delivery passages on both sides of the Atlantic as well as across it, and in the Far East too.

Around the turn of the century he met a wealthy motorboat man at a boat party. They hit it off, and motorboat man revealed his secret ambition of a round the world cruise in a nice big sailing cruiser. It must have been quite a party, but the upshot of it was that from 2001-2004, Conor and his partner were the skipper and hostess on a new Oyster 70 for a leisurely round the world voyage in which, for significant periods, they had the boat to themselves.

It was an idyllic existence while it lasted, but the fact that it was going to end at some stage suited Conor, as he wanted to get back into the racing game. This resumed almost immediately with the skippering job on Cardiff Clipper in the 2005-2006 Clipper Round the World Race. While he got into the top three on several stages, technical problems with the boat impaired a significant overall result, but after it he gradually transferred himself back into sharp end of racing while seemingly living between times in the mountains of Bulgaria.

With two solo sailors of the calibre of Tom Dolan and Conor Fogerty exchange sailing, campaign and business ideas across a table, there simply isn’t time to delve into why one of them should have made his home up high and far away in remotest Bulgaria. But it was a beneficial turn in his fortunes which enabled Conor to buy the brand new Sunfast 3600 Bam! in the 2015 season, and since then he has been able to demonstrate the true qualities of his remarkable abilities.

conor fogerty at start10Bam! at the start of OSTAR on Monday May 29th 2017

While he has returned to live in Howth and is the proud father of young Ben with Suzanne, the call of the sea is ever-present, and having gone about as far as he can go with Bam!, this morning he is in France for meetings which include getting together with the main man at the centre of organising specialist campaigns, Marcus Hutchinson, to see what might be possible.

Things may be moving quickly for Conor Fogerty, but the Bam! chapter in his remarkable sailing life has enough in it to fill a book.

Unlike Tom Dolan, he came to solo sailing at a late stage, in fact it was when he was bringing the boat back home after winning his class in the RORC Caribbean in April 2016 that he completed his first lone voyage, from the Caribbean to the Azores. This reinforced his interest in solo and two-handed events, and since then he has been building successfully on that experience such that when Bam! and her lone skipper came to the line on Monday May 29th for the OSTAR start at Plymouth, in competitive terms they were one of the most race-ready entrants.

Conor Fogerty put everything he knew into preparation for the Transatlantic race, including insisting that his sails include a Number 5 jib. The sailmakers provided it while commenting that it would probably never be used, but in one of the stormiest OSTARS ever raced, it was in use 70% of the time and played a key role in the way that Fogerty was able to open out what eventually became a 500 mile lead on any comparable boat at the finish.

Another significant win factor was to go as far north as the ice limit rules permitted . “It was a no brainer” he says. “The distance is shorter, and it gave you the best chance of being in the brief periods of favourable easterlies along the northern edge of the lows which were marching across the Atlantic.”

conor fogerty11By taking a more northerly route, Conor Fogerty worked out a good lead in crossing the Atlantic, but it could be very cold and damp.

conor fogerty12Home sweet home in mid-Atlantic. By having five complete sets of guaranteed dry clothing, Conor had the promise of some comfort.He got so far ahead that he was clear west of the uber-storm which hit the bulk of the fleet – with much serious damage for several of them – around 9th-10th June. But while they’d avoided the worst of that, Bam’s crossing was no cakewalk.

“The sea was seldom regular, let alone smooth. And the winds were mostly ahead – we could have left the spinnaker ashore. The wave patterns could be coming from every direction, and when the wind was really blowing, it exacerbated the tendency for pyramid waves to build to an ever-growing peak which would eventually collapse in unbelievable tons of crashing foam and blowing spume. God help any boat which caught got up the middle of one of those.

It happened to us several times. I remember one night I was below hoping to rest the eyeballs for a minute as the old girl was going well, and I felt her start to climb in a steepening curve which I knew would end with us rocketing out of the top of a very pointed pyramid wave. She seems to climb for ever and ever without slowing at all, and I’d time to think that a standard Jeanneau Sunfast 3600 was never built to withstand what was going to happen after the end of this ascent. She crashed out of the top into absolute black nothingness. And then she started to descend still totally airborne toward God knows what. We eventually found the sea again, with an unbelievable crash. And nothing broke. Not a thing. God bless the guys at Jeanneau.”

conor fogerty13The going is good, but the skipper looks knackered…

conor fogerty14Heading into it. The sun may be shining, but what will we find in that odd-looking cloud towards the horizon?
For power requirements, Conor used a fuel cell – he never had to run his engine to bring up the battery charge during the entire 19 days of the race, though towards the end he wasn’t getting as good a return on the cell as he’d been at the beginning.

Inevitably he was wet to a greater or lesser extent for much of the time, so his greatest luxury was in five sealed bags each with a complete change of clothes. The moment when he realised the time was right for a fresh, clean dry new suit was morale-boosting beyond belief.

While his skill in sailing Bam! so well meant he was ahead of the worst of the storm which eventually resulted in the bizarre situation where one of the fleet was rescued by the ocean liner Queen Mary 2, it has had the effect of deflecting all subsequent attention and race reports to the various rescues, and away from the fact that an Irish skipper had won the OSTAR at his first attempt.

conor fogerty15Tired but getting there. Towards the end, increasingly flukey winds and an autohelm fault meant the lone skipper had to put in long periods of manual steering to win the Gipsy Moth Trophy.

But for those who can see past the headlines, and for those within the small high-powered circle of Irish solo sailors, Conor Fogerty’s achievement is keenly recognised, and Tom Folan proved to be completely clued in on it, while revealing that his own secret for personal comfort is a thin dry-suit within his wetsuit. Thus in yarning of this and that as our meeting drew to a close, it emerged that the two of them were aware of the up-coming signing of a contract between Nin O’Leary and Alex Thomson for co-skippering of Hugo Boss. But as both were keenly aware of any sponsor’s need to control the time of release of such news, there was no question of adding it to our agenda, and sure enough a few days later, Nin sprang it on me at a time of his and his team’s own choosing.

So now the Irish solo and short-handed sailing scene has upped its game yet further. In a week’s time, the new-look Hugo Boss show will be limbering up for the start of the Fastnet Race on Sunday August 6th. Tomorrow night, in his former skipper Aidan MacManus’s restaurant the King Sitric in Howth, Conor Fogerty will be telling his supporters of all that has happened since they last met just as he was going off to do the OSTAR, and of what he now hopes to do. And during the day tomorrow, sixty little boats will come to the line at les Sables d’Olonne to race across the Bay of Biscay to Aviles in Spain and back, and we’ll all be looking out for IRL 910, Tom Dolan, up there among the leaders where she belongs.

Published in W M Nixon

#OSTAR - Ireland’s Conor Fogerty of Howth Yacht Club has burned off the last 40 miles of the OSTAR in blazing style, zooming in to Newport, Rhode Island to cross the finish line at 1545 hrs Irish time this afternoon (Monday 19 June) in his Jeanneau 3600 BAM!, writes W M Nixon.

It’s going to be some day of celebration for the determined lone skipper newly arrived in America. At the finish, 21 days 2 hours and 45 minutes after leaving Plymouth, he was just four hours behind the two-handed Open 40 Rote 66 (Uwe Rottgering & Asia Pajkowska). The only other boat ahead was the Italian Open 60 Venti di Sardegna, which finished four days ago.

As for any remotely comparable competition, we’re talking in terms of similarly sized boats – including a BAM! sister-ship – being hundreds of miles astern. The spread of the storm-depleted fleet has been remarkable.

But even more remarkable was the way that Fogerty in his much smaller racer was in there slugging it out boat-for-boat with significantly larger competitors. It has been a superhuman performance, and clearly wins Conor Fogerty the coveted Gipsy Moth Trophy.

Published in Solo Sailing

Conor Fogerty is making great westerly progress this morning following a windshift last night in the closing stages of the OSTAR Transtlantic Race.

The Howth Yacht Club sailor is vying for overall honours after a storm ravaged crossing. He has 722 mailes to sail is the Gipsy Moth division leader, is second in line honours and second in Ostar division.

Fogerty on board a Jeanneau Sunfast 3600 departed Portsmouth 17 days ago.

Fogerty reports his major concern is that the auto pilot keeps cutting out on him but then restarts and functions as normal.

His shore team say he is 'on full sail and spending most of his time trimming'. He is expecting a bit more wind over the next day and then after that, he may see a little downwind sailing.

Main competitor Vento is sailing well again and at this rate should finish late this evening  to take line honours. From that moment on, BAM will be racing the clock for first on corrected time.

Track Fogerty's closing stages in this race here

Published in Solo Sailing

#OSTAR - The OSTAR and TWOSTAR fleets have seen a slew of retirements after a storm hit the fleet in the North Atlantic on Friday (9 June), leaving one yacht abandoned and another dismasted.

According to Yachting & Boating World, the ocean liner Queen Mary 2 changed course to pick up solo sailor Melvyn Wheatley after his yacht Tamarind had its mast go under and flooded through a smashed porthole.

Wheatley (73), who scuttled the vessel for the safety of shipping traffic, was down below when the yacht took damage — with his wife later commenting that he was lucky to survive the “nightmare” conditions.

Elsewhere, the Bulgarian crew of Furia, a Luffe 37-09 in the TWOSTAR, were rescued by a survey vessel after their boat sank, while the crew of the Sunfast 37 named Happy were picked up by a tug when their yacht dismasted.

Other retirements include British OSTAR competitors Keith Walton, whose Najad 490 Harmoni is Azores bound with mainsail damage, and Peter Crowther, whose Swan 38 Suomi Kudu has turned around for the UK also with mainsail issues.

Despite the “extreme conditions” in what were described as hurricane winds, and with swells persisting in excess of 10 metres, there were no reported injuries across the fleet.

And Conor Fogerty’s BAM continues apace, lucky to be ahead of the storm when it struck the back of the fleet on the east of the track.

As of last night (Saturday 10 June) the Howth Yacht Club sailor’s Sunfast 3600 was making big gains despite the tough conditions, second to OSTAR leaders Vento and only a few hours behind on time.

WMN Nixon adds:  Ireland’s Conor Fogerty clear of worst of OSTAR’s Atlantic storm

Ireland’s entry in OSTAR 2017 Conor Fogerty of Howth, having started on May 29th from Plymouth in Devon to race Transatlantic to Newport Rhode Island), has been putting in such a good performance that he has his Sunfast 3600 Bam safely to the west of the worst of the the mid-Atlantic storm mayhem which has resulted in a sinking, and five OSTAR/TWOSTAR sailors being rescued, with the liner Queen Mary playing a major role in the retrieval incident writes W M Nixon.

Although the clear leader is Andrea Mura with the Open 60 Venta di Sardegna. who has only 572 miles still to race, despite Fogerty being the smallest boat of those at the front of the fleet, he is in near-contact with the Uwe Pajkowska’s Open 40 Rote 66, which is second on the water and is actually two-handed in the TWOSTAR division. Pajkowska has 1158 miles to race while the solo-sailed Bam is on 1186 to lie either second overall or third, depending on which category is used for the rankings.

Update Monday, June 12:  

North Atlantic Storm Hits OSTAR & TWOSTAR Fleet
In the early hours of Friday 9th June, 60 knot winds and 15 metre seas were experienced by competitors, caused by a very low depression (967 mb). These extreme conditions caused damage to many boats with 3 emergency beacons (EPIRB) triggered. The Canadian coastguard in Halifax immediately reacted to the situation sending ships and air support to all the boats in distress.

The boats affected over the past 36 hours are:

TAMARIND - Suffered severe damage. Skipper well with no injuries. Rescued by Queen Mary en route to Halifax.

HAPPY - Dismasted. Both crew rescued by ocean going tug APL FORWARD. No injuries reported.

FURIA - Boat sunk. Crew resuced by survey vessel THOR MAGNA. No injuries reported.

HARMONII - Mainsail and track damage. Retired. Heading under engine for the Azores. Skipper ok, no injuries.

SUOMI KUDU - Mainsail problems. Retired. Heading back to UK. Skipper ok, no injuries.

All other competitors safe but still experiencing a 10 - 15 metre swell, no injuries reported.

The RWYC would like to thank all personnel at the Halifax Coastguard for their immediate and magnificent response to this emergency situation. All seafarers owe them a debt of gratitude

Published in Solo Sailing
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