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In the days when sailing was a seasonal sport, a few main pillar events dominated the international programme. The Sailing Olympics. The America’s Cup. The Fastnet Race. The Dragon Gold Cup. The Sydney-Hobart Race. The Whitbread Round the World Race. And maybe a few others – we all had our favourites writes W M Nixon.

There weren’t many of those key events. Yet in a more leisurely era of primitive communication, they were enough to be going along with, and people became accustomed to the long intervals between them, intervals when we could concentrate obsessively on our own local and national sailing at events which were of little interest to anyone else.

But the advent of the Internet has changed sailing as it has changed everything else. Instant 24/7 communication demands a fast-running stream of narrative with images to match. In this new environment, the former pillar events find they are just part of an endless tapestry, and they have to take their chances with everything else to gain attention.

Time was when the fundamental changing of boat types in the America’s Cup would have been a matter of major interest, blowing every other sailing headline off page and screen in a big way, and for a long time.

But we’ve comfortably taken in our stride the recent gradually-released information that sailing’s peak event - the oldest international sporting challenge in the world - is reverting to mono-hulls, after three editions of supposedly setting the world a-fire with hyper-fast catamarans.

americas cup2So, farewell then, catamarans in the America’s Cup……Oracle unsuccessfully defended against Emirates New Zealand in Bermuda in June.

Here and there, devoted pot-stirrers found it difficult to provoke anyone to break sweat over the matter. Maybe in the core of the America’s Cup community – if there is such a thing – there was a weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. But among the rest of us, there was sublime indifference. We knew there’d be time enough to consider the new boats as the outlines of the next challenge became more clearly defined. And if there’s litigation in the meantime, that will be entertainment. Meanwhile, there’s a busy Autumn programme of major international events, several of which have a significant Irish interest, and that’s where our attention is focused.

Currently, the top story still has to be the confirmation of Annalise Murphy as a crewmember aboard the Volvo Ocean Racer Turn The Tide On Plastic. The sense of excitement when she was mentioned as a “probable” was tempered by the fact that she’d sustained that knee injury during a crazy capsize in the last race on her way to becoming the International Moth Women’s World Champion, and we’d to wait for total recovery from it before the Volvo World Race chapter in her life could properly begin.

annalise on foiling moth3Game for anything. Annalise Murphy giving her all on the foiling Moth, in which she is now Women’s World Champion.

Quite what her sports physio Mark McCabe had to say about the injury is probably unprintable, for a point made about her campaign towards the Olympic Silver Medal was that it was his guidance and skill which kept her injury-free at crucial stages in training and during the Olympic campaign.

We should all have a Mark McCabe for everyday life. But for now, the Olympics seem so yesterday in the Annalise story, for what she has undertaken may be sailing, but it certainly isn’t sailing as she has known it for so many years with a Laser Radial.

But despite that capsize, clearly she could hack it with the special demands of a foiling Moth, so now she is now re-shaping her enthusiasm, basic athleticism and special sailing skills to serve a team cause. And as of this morning, it has to be the most interesting single story in Irish sailing, particularly now that the Volvo 65s and their teams are gathered in Alicante, with the entire fleet being lifted out on Monday for the final meticulous checks.

There’s a special edge to it, for this year’s race - which starts on October 22nd - will see a much greater emphasis on the Southern Ocean. So as we move steadily towards the Centenary in 2023 of the beginning of Conor O’Brien’s pioneering of the global southern route for yachts with his Irish-built 42ft Saoirse, it’s more than appropriate that there’s a significant Irish presence in the developing Volvo setup, where the Alicante Volvo Race Village will open on 11th October, and the In-Port Race will be staged on Saturday October 14th.

conor obrien4Conor O’Brien, pioneer for yachts in the Southern Ocean on the Cape Horn route.

saoirse plans5A very different sort of boat from today’s Volvo 65. The traditonal-style 42ft gaff ketch Saoirse, built in Baltimore in 1922, proved remarkably successful at running fast yet safely in the Southern Ocean. Conor O’Brien designed a rig that relied on a squaresail on the mainmast, setting a triangular studding sail and topsail

King of it all for Ireland has to be Damian Foxall, who has raced or broken records round the world so often he has probably lost count, but this time he’s on the strength of Team Vestas. For Foxall, the link to Conor O’Brien is particularly special, as Damian hails from Derrynane in far southwest Kerry, and Derrynane was Conor O’Brien’s favourite port – you can see his signature in the Visitors’ Book in that superb watering hole so beloved of voyagers, Bridie Keating’s pub.

damian foxall6Damian Foxall in virtually unrivalled in his Volvo Ocean Race experience

derrynane harbour7Derrynane in Kerry – Conor O’Brien’s favourite anchorage, and Damian Foxall’s home port

But if Damian is King, Annalise is Queen, for even among the hugely talented Volvo crews, an Olympic Silver Medal – or any Olympic Medal for that matter - is rare enough. Indeed, it’s so rare that part of the fascination of the Annalise/Turn the Tide on Plastic linkup will be in how they work out together.

Annalise carries the flag for Ireland’s east coast in Alicante, while Justin Slattery will do it for the south if he turns up, as Damian Foxall expects. Others from Ireland include James O’Mahoney who’s also with Team Vestas, where Thomas John McMaw is Senior Project Manager to keep up the green jersey count, as too does VOR event contractor John Donnelly.

But as our colleague Tom MacSweeney pointed out on Afloat.ie on Monday, it is Kerry which packs the punch in Alicante, as Brian Carlin of Tralee leads the team of OBRs (On-Board Reporters) who will be embedded on each boat, while Lucy Hunt who runs the Sea Synergy Awareness Centre at Waterville (it’s just over the mountain pass from Derrynane) is Sustainability Education Manager for this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, and will co-ordinate a schools programme.

volvo village8A long way from Derrynane….the Volvo Village at Alicante

However, for those who like to be up to speed with all in the main international sailing stories with Irish interest, some time soon there’ll be the Student Yachting Worlds in Marseilles, where UCD led by Will Byrne will be challenging for a trophy which Ireland has won in times past. Originally we were told it would be in September, but when students are running the show themselves, there’s freeform organization and timing, and the most recent date we see is still Marseilles, but not until October 17th to 22nd.

So the top up-coming interest is in La Rochelle towards the end of September, with the fleet gathered for the two-stage 4050 mile Mini-Transat (there’s a stop in the Canaries), with the race starting on Sunday October 1st. Ireland’s Tom Dolan with IRL 910 is currently fourth in the world rankings in the Mini Transat Production Boat Class, so he’s in with a good shout for a podium place. And we’re all behind him, with Irish Sailing President Jack Roy and Ireland’s Sports and Cultural Attaché in France the Guests of Honour at Tom’s party in La Rochelle at noon on Saturday September 30th.

tom dolan boat9Ireland’s Tom Dolan, currently fourth in the world rankings. His supporters will be gathering in La Rochelle in the week leading up to Sunday October 1st to wish him well when he starts the Mini-Transat, with the main party on Saturday September 30th.

Then in October, in addition to the Volvo World Race start and the Student Yachting Worlds, there’s the Rolex Middle Sea Race from Malta on Saturday October 21st, just the day before the Volvo gets going across in Spain. But there’s always lots of Irish interest in this annual Mediterranean classic, with the winning Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino last year being navigated by our own Ian Moore, while this year there’s added spice with the possible inclusion of the IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss with Alex Thomson and Nin O’Leary hoping they’ll find conditions better suited to their very specialised flying machine than they did in the Fastnet Race back in August.

mascalzone latino10The Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino being navigated by Ian Moore to overall victory in the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2016. Photo Rolex

For those who look on into November, the Transat Jacques Vabre gets going from Le Havre on November 5th with a preponderance of IMOCA 60s, but for operational reasons Hugo Boss is not expected be among them. However, what’s clear is that the international programme is now non-stop, for by November we’ll be getting advance info on the Sydney-Hobart Race on 26th December 2017, which is the saving of Christmas for many of us.

autumn league howth11When cruisers battle for it - racing the Autumn League at Howth. Photo: W M Nixon

Meanwhile this morning in Douarnenez in Brittany the Figaro Fastnet Solo gets under way, and Autumn Leagues start to flex their muscles in Ireland, with Howth’s series starting today and running for six weekends, so the topline action continues at home and abroad in an unending stream.

There’s an old Arab saying which goes: “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on”. It could reasonably be said of world sailing that there may indeed be dogs barking, but the purposeful rattling of camel harnesses is now virtually continuous.

Published in W M Nixon

Kerry will have a dominant presence in this year’s Volvo Round the World Race. Three of the Kingdom’s notable maritime figures are involved and, with Olympian Annalise Murphy also sailing, there will be strong Irish interest, writes Tom MacSweeney.

Biologist Lucy Hunt who runs Sea Synergy Marine Awareness Centre at Waterville has been appointed Sustainability Education Manager by Volvo Ocean Race, to develop an international schools programme on ocean literacy and ocean plastic pollution.

Damian Foxall from Kerry will sail with the former Team Vestas Wind now Vestas 11th Hour Racing. Brian Carlin of Tralee Bay Sailing Club. who was onboard reporter when Team Vestas hit rocks in the last race, has been appointed to lead the team of onboard reporters who will be embedded on the racing yachts

Annalise Murphy is with the Dee Caffari ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic’ entry, which should interact nicely with the work of Lucy Hunt.

While she is working with the Volvo Race, Sea Synergy will continue its operations in Kerry, where she has appointed a manager to run the centre and an Iveragh Learning Landscapes Weekend is planned for October 6-8. This is the second year o fthe event.

“A range of talks and workshops will be held in Waterville, Caherdaniel and Ballinskelligs by national and international facilitators including 4 marine themed workshops – learning in one of Irelands best classrooms – the seashore,” Lucy Hunt says.

Published in Volvo Ocean Race

#VOR - Irish sailing photographer and filmmaker Brian Carlin is returning to the Volvo Ocean Race — this time as leader for the fleet’s team of onboard reporters announced at the weekend.

Carlin made his debut in the VOR as the embedded multimedia reporter with Team Vestas Wind, the role offer coming as a surprise to the frequent contributor to Afloat.ie.

It was equally unexpected that he would be on hand to document the team’s disastrous grounding on a shoal in the Indian Ocean.

The Kerryman was nominated for the 2015 Mirabaud Yacht Racing Image of the Year Award for his shot of Vestas Wind’s damaged hull, ultimately coming second in the public vote.

Now Carlin heads a team that comprises some of the finest adventure photographers in the world, including National Geographic contributor Jen Edney; BBC journalist Tom Martienssen;  and James Blake, son of VOR winner Sir Peter Blake.

Sam Greenfield joins Carlin as one of two reporters returning from the previous VOR, with the remaining debutants being Konrad Frost from CNN Mainsail, Jeremie Lecaudey from the snowboarding world, experienced sailing photographer Martin Keruzoré, Clipper Race cameraman Richard Edwards, and Spain’s Ugo Fonollá, the team’s youngest member.

Kerry is also represented in the next VOR by Damian Foxall, who will be on deck with Carlin’s old team — now renamed Vestas 11th Hour — as Leg Zero begins today (Wednesday 2 August) with a race around the Isle of Wight as part of Cowes Week.

The pre-race leg to establish the status of teams’ readiness for October’s start will continue from this weekend with the Rolex Fastnet Race, followed by a string of mini-races from Plymouth to St Malo to Lisbon.

Published in Volvo Ocean Race

#VOR - Experienced offshore sailor and Kerry’s own Damian Foxall will set sail again in the Volvo Ocean Race — this time with the former Team Vestas Wind.

The five-race VOR veteran (who won with Groupama in the 2011-12 race) and Afloat.ie’s International Sailor of the Month for June last year has been named among the 10-strong crew for Vestas 11th Hour Racing that will depart from Alicante less than 100 days from now.

The line-up, comprising six nationalities and six previous VOR winners, includes Simon Fisher — who returns for his fifth edition and first after lifting the trophy as winning navigator with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in 2015.

Also on the squad are two-time winner Phil Harmer, who’s hunting a hat-trick of successive victories, and Tony Mutter, who like Foxall is back for his sixth 45,000-nautical-mile lap of the planet.

“It’s amazing to be back in the Volvo Ocean Race with some old acquaintances as well as inspiring new talent,” said Fisher. 

“This time we’re focusing on performance, as well as a sponsorship with an important message, backed by two partners, Vestas and 11th Hour Racing, fully committed to making a positive change.

“It’s a privilege to be given the chance and the platform to share the message of sustainability and ocean health. I’ve dodged everything from telegraph poles to old fridge-freezers while at sea. We’ve got to act now, and as a group, this is what we aspire this campaign to be about.”

Others on the Vestas 11th Hour crew include Tom Johnson, fresh from the America’s Cup as part of Team Oracle USA, and two female sailors: Britain’s Hannah Diamond and Jena Mai Hansen, an Olympic medallist for Denmark, both of whom will be racing their first VOR.

“It was actually my first-ever full night at sea - an intimidating but amazing experience,” said Hansen of her recent transatlantic trial. “Helming a Volvo Ocean 65 boat in the middle of the Atlantic in pitch dark, in 40 knots, is without a doubt one of the craziest things I’ve ever done. I’m hungry for more and excited to be part of a skilled, international team. Bring it on!”

Between them, the crew have competed in the VOR over 20 times — and skipper Charlie Enright says that he’s delighted with the preparations with just a few months remaining until the start line.

“We’ve taken our time to get this right, and we couldn’t ask for a better group of sailors,” he said.

The team are currently preparing to travel to Gosport in the UK for pre-race activation and Leg Zero commitments, lining up against the other teams for the first time in the Round-the-Island race during Cowes week, followed by the Rolex Fastnet Race, and finishing up in Lisbon after sailing via St Malo in mid-August.

Last week it was announced that America’s Cup winner Blair Tuke is joining MAPFRE for the 13th Volvo Ocean Race that begins on 14 October.

Published in Volvo Ocean Race

In the early hours of Sunday morning, Musandam-Oman Sail capsized approximately 450 nautical miles east of St Pierre and Miquelon, off the coast of Canada, while racing the Transat Quebec-St Malo. All five crew, including County Kerry's Damian Foxall are reported to be safe and secure.

The Transat Quebec-St Malo race committee and Oman Sail’s immediate priority is to evacuate the crew and bring them ashore safely, and this operation is well underway.

Oman Sail shore crew received a call this morning at 0305 UTC on Sunday 17 July from the boat. 

As Afloat.ie reported five days ago, fresh from setting a stunning new Round Ireland record in June, Foxall and his Musandam-Oman Sail team had set their sights on another milestone record in the Transat Quebec-St Malo (TQSM) with a match against the world’s largest trimaran Spindrift 2 expected to push them to the limit.

Updates as more information is received.

Published in Offshore

Fresh from setting a stunning new Round Ireland record in June, County Kerry's Damian Foxall and his Musandam-Oman Sail team have set their sights on another milestone record in the Transat Quebec-St Malo (TQSM) with a match against the world’s largest trimaran Spindrift 2 expected to push them to the limit.

The Omani MOD70 – which at 70 foot (21m) is almost half the size of Spindrift 2 (130ft/40m) and will be crewed by seven fewer sailors – will leave Quebec in Canada on Wednesday at 1500 local time and head out on the 2,897 nm (5365 km) course across the North Atlantic to St Malo in France with the aim of breaking the existing record of 7 days 20 hours and 24 minutes set in 1996 by Loïck Peyron.

The forecast for the passage looks favourable for a new record and the prospect of a battle against Spindrift 2 was creating a real buzz among French skipper, Sidney Gavignet’s crew of Damian Foxall, Fahad Al Hasni, Alex Pella and new crewmember Mayeul Riffet, as they prepared for the off.

“Spindrift 2 is wider than we are long!” commented Gavignet who has completed three TQSM races in his career.

“We have beaten them in the past during the Round Britain and Ireland where there are lots of corners, but an Atlantic crossing is more like an Autobahn and with a speed difference of up to 5 knots, they will be very hard to beat.

“They should beat Loïck Peyron’s record and Musandam-Oman Sail also has a chance to finish ahead of 7 days, 20 hours and 24 minutes.”

Before the David and Goliath match begins on the open seas, the team will have to navigate the spectacular St Lawrence River which is dotted with sand banks, logs and various whales and is regarded as a navigator’s challenge.

“We saw a boat grounded at the monohull start and on our way in, we saw two minkies, a hump back and a bunch of belugas so we are going to have to be diligent,” warned Foxall.

“It will take us a couple of days to get down to the Grand Banks and they are allowing us to cut across the Banks on a route where there is less ice which will be good news if we want to get the record. There is also a series of lows coming off Canada to create the train we need to blast across the Atlantic.

“The conditions are looking fantastic so I think it is currently looking like less than seven days. Hopefully both Musandam-Oman Sail and Spindrift can set new records.”

Fantastic conditions do not necessarily mean comfortable conditions, added Gavignet so with the icebergs, big seas and marine life, they are in for a great adventure.

“For us the conditions will feel extreme; we are constantly soaking wet and to get from the cockpit to the helm, we will be crawling on our hands and knees. We are all very competitive so we will be aiming to have the best possible adventure and the best possible race.

“For a sailor, the Quebec-St Malo is one of the classics; it is like rounding Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope, it is one of the mythical races in a sailor’s career.”

Oman’s leading offshore sailor Fahad Al Hasni is no stranger to transatlantic races and started his helming career on Oman Sail’s first race in their MOD70, the Krys Ocean Race from New York to Brest in 2012.

“It was my first transatlantic and I remember being very cold and wet so this time I know what to expect and I’m really excited about it,” he said.

“We will be downwind all the way across the North Atlantic to the Fastnet Rock and then over to St Malo for the finish. The weather is looking good for a record so hopefully, we can get our second record for Musandam-Oman Sail this year.”

The Transat Québec - Saint Malo is staged every four years and in 2016 has attracted 24 entries, both monohulls and multihulls, from across the world. The bulk of the fleet started their race on Sunday but Musandam-Oman Sail and Spindrift 2, both competing in the ‘Ultime’ class start on Wednesday in the hope that the entire fleet will be nearing the finish in St Malo at around the same time.

Last month, Musandam-Oman Sail set a new Round Ireland record when they beat two other MOD70s Phaedo 3 and Concise 10 to win the Volvo Round Ireland Race, setting a new time of 38 hours 37 minutes and 7 seconds, which was more than two hours faster than their previous time of 40 hours, 51 minutes and 57 seconds set the previous year.

The Transat Quebec-St Malo 'Ultime Class' start is at 1500 local time on Wednesday 13 July.

Published in News Update

When three MOD 70s swept through the starting line at Wicklow on Saturday June 18th for the Volvo Round Ireland Race, so much work behind the scenes had gone into bringing this very special trio to Ireland’s premier offshore racing event that it would be easy to forget that the first seeds of this remarkable lineup were planted some years ago by our own sailing superstar, Damian Foxall of Derrynane in County Kerry.

Thanks to his rising status in the high-powered French multi-hull scene, Foxall was able to bring the challenge of the Round Ireland Record up their agenda, and at every possible opportunity, he encouraged his most regular multi-hull skipper, Sidney Gavignet with Musandam-Oman, to slot the possibility of a Round Ireland sprint into the busy annual schedule.

Foxall’s powers of persuasion must be really remarkable, for it was after no less than three attempts, when the challenges were called off as the weather failed to develop as expected, that Gavignet finally cracked it at the beginning of May 2015.

But by a cruel irony, Damian Foxall wasn’t on board, as he had been pre-booked to fill a key role in a Volvo World Racer. Thus the Round Ireland remained unfinished business in the Foxall CV, while other MOD sailors reckoned that Gavignet’s new time was beatable.

With this new consciousness burgeoning about the Round Ireland challenge, as soon as Wicklow SC confirmed there would be a proper multihull division in 2016 race, the MOD 70 wheels started turning. But few would have been so optimistic as to predict that three of these magic machines would turn up in Wicklow, and even fewer would have predicted that all three would blow away Musadnam-Oman’s 2015 time.

To make the fantasy nature of it complete, it emerged that neither Damian Foxall who was sailing on Musandam-Oman, nor Justin Slattery who was aboard Phaedo 3, had any experience of doing this long-established race from Wicklow round their homeland. They were Round Ireland Virgins, having both been so busy building their careers at the very top level of the international circuit that the Round Ireland had simply never come up on the radar before.

Well, it’s very much on the radar now, after the race of a lifetime. For much of it, Ned Collier Wakefield with Team Concise led narrowly from Phaedo 3, with Musandam-Oman spending rather more time in third slot than her supporters might have liked. But in the final dozen miles, it started to come right, and perfectly called tactics saw her take the first place in style as dawn began to break on the Monday. Damian Foxall is very deservedly one of the winners of an Afloat.ie International Sailor of the Month Award for June 2016.

damian foxall 1Musandam-Oman and Phaedo 3 streak away from the start of the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016. In the final miles to the finish of this 704 mile classic, Musandam-Oman - with Damian Foxall on board - took over and kept the lead. Photo: W M Nixon

 

Published in Sailor of the Month

At 704 miles long, with a course along coastlines of almost infinite variety, the Round Ireland Race was always a complex event for post-race analysis even when fleets amounted to only three dozen or so. But for 2016 in the first year of sponsorship by Volvo Car Ireland, the number of starters soared to 63. And the inclusion of multi-hulls for the first time since the initial pre-RORC race of 1980 added further depth to the eclectic nature of the fleet, which was already an extensive array, as it ranged from small craft like a J/97, a First 31.7 and a Sunfast 3200, to one of the current superstars of world sailing, George David’s Juan K-designed canting-keeled Rambler 88. Having provided us with 17 up-dates during the six days of the race, W M Nixon takes a final overview.

Here’s to Yellowbrick, the friend of armchair sailors everywhere. In the old days, trying to analyse or explain the unfolding story of the biennial Round Ireland Race was a formidable challenge. And you could be talking about it to people very few of whom had ever sailed round Ireland, while others didn’t even know it from the land, as they have been availing of sunshine holidays ever since cheap air travel arrived.

Thus there are many who know more of the coasts of Spain, Portugal and Greece – or even the Scottish Hebrides and the Isles of Scilly - than they do of Mayo and Donegal. And having experienced both those Irish counties in their more perverse meteorological moods in the course of several races round Ireland - not to mention many non-racing cruising circuits – I have to admit that I can see their point of view.

Round Ireland Tracker
The Yellowbrick tracker for the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016 wraps Ireland in its web. TriLogic went furthest east after the start, the three MOD 70s went furthest south off the south coast and furthest west off the west coast, Rambler 88 went furthest northwest, and Pegasus of Northumberland went to the Isle of Man but came back to cross tacks yet again with Teasing Machine, this time at Skerries as the Machine came south from Dundalk Bay.

"Round Ireland 2016 is in a special league of its own"

Yet the round Ireland race is addictive, and for those who have done it in the past, particularly those who have done it several times, it’s a bit of a pang to see the fleet go off and not be part of it. Even with all the modern equipment and boats which are obviously faster, it’s still a very worthy challenge. And it induces a special post-race camaraderie among crews who, in racing terms, have been at each other’s throats since the start.

After each biennial staging, something new has always turned up to add to the sailing history books. But the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016 is in a special league of its own in this category, so much so that far from just adding something to the history books, it probably deserves a book of its own.

In fact, you could write a book about the fantastic start in which Rambler 88 gave a Masterclass in discerning emerging gaps beginning to appear in a melee of sometimes confused smaller bats. Despite her huge beam she came cleanly through to a peach of a start right on the committee vessel LE Aisling, bettered only by Eric de Turckheim’s A13 Teasing Machine while smaller craft which thought they’d done better found they’d been OCS, which led to a slow and painful return against a strengthening ebb to re-start.

Round_Ireland_race_start_2016
Rambler’s miraculous start, finding gaps where none had existed ten seconds earlier. Photo: W M Nixon

Fortunately in making some sense of what happened afterwards, we can take a precise positional overview by looking at the Yellowbrick tracking as it was at virtual completion yesterday afternoon. It may look like a right cat’s cradle of lines all eventually getting back to Wicklow, but there are stories to be drawn from every part of it.

In the first beat from Wicklow Head down to the Tuskar Rock, very few boats tended to the east, and it certainly didn’t pay off. The one who went furthest east was the 50ft Trilogic, Hugo Carlsson-Smythe’s trimaran, which ultimately retired during the course of the race with gear and sail problem, so we don’t know if ultimately she would have overcome this initial tactical error.

The mono-hull which tacked furthest east was Chris & Patanne Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia (RStGYC), but she then put in a good showing in the long beat along the south coast and got herself back in the hunt, although off the north and east coasts things didn’t go quite so well, but in the end she placed 3rd in IRC 2 and 18th in IRC overall.

"Teasing Machine made a proper job of tide-dodging"

While the bulk of the fleet were still struggling against foul tides down the Wexford coast with Teasing Machine showing how to make a proper job of tide-dodging inside the Wexford banks, out ahead the biggies were splitting into their two parts of this fleet of four parts.

Although the reckoning was that conditions might just fall the right way for a new record, the three MOD 70s first had to find a breeze to raise them above the 12 knots which they occasionally fell back to as they came on starboard out past the Coningbeg Light. Thus it’s Musandam-Oman, Phaedo and Concise which are those three tracks which go way to the south. As they were so close to each other in performance, they sailed as a pack, so there was an element of covering as much as strategy in this, but in these early stages it was Ned Colllier Wakefield aboard Concise who was making the pace, with Phaedo next in line, while Musandam seemed to find it difficult to obtain quite the same speed.

oman sail wicklow
The first hint of light in the east in the sky as the MOD 70 Musandam-Oman closes in on the Wicklow finish for a last-minute takeover of the line honours lead on the water, after her sister-ship Team Concise had led for most of the race. Photo: Mark Lloyd

Perhaps Irish sailing superstar Damian Foxall aboard Musadnam was slightly over-awed by it all, as he hadn’t been aboard Musandam when she set the new open Round Ireland record back in May 2015, and in an interview before the race (see below), he revealed that he and Justin Slattery – who was on Lloyd Thornburg’s Phaedo - were both Round Ireland virgins. They’ve been so busy building their international careers in other parts of the world that racing round their home island had never come up on the radar.

Whatever the reason, it was Concise which was least fazed by the challenge, she stayed closely in the lead, and after they’d tacked and started ripping up the west coast in the rising sou’west winds of Sunday, it was Concise which recorded the MOD 70’s best speed of 41.56 knots. But as they admitted afterwards, they weren’t right on the edge when they his that mega-speed in a growing Atlantic swell – they were beyond it.


Rambler_88_wicklow
Just outside a two day elapsed time, George David's Rambler looked every inch a winner in her debut Round Ireland race. Photo: Afloat.ie

After her glorious start ten minutes ahead of the MOD 70s, Rambler was going so well in the moderate southerly that she was past Arklow before the trimarans came through, but soon they’d disappeared ahead, and thus for the reminder of the race Rambler 88 was entirely on her own, thereby providing Part 2 of our four part round Ireland fleet. Although she’d been holding the IRC overall lead for a while, at various stages she’d dropped back as smaller craft got clear of foul tides. But once she was past the Fastnet and beginning to build her speed up the west coast in rising breezes, she was soon featuring among the front runners on all counts.

If anything, the weather felt almost Autumnal off the west coast, it had seemed slightly spring-like as warmer weather spread in while the leading big boats were far at sea seeking breezes off the south coast, and there was decent sunshine while the larger boats of the fleet were shuttling from Dun Laoghaire down to Wicklow on the Saturday morning for the start. But on the Thursday night in Dun Laoghaire when it was open house at the Royal Irish YC to meet the heavy hitters, a local weather anomaly was giving a temperature of 9 degrees Celsius which had been winter by anyone’s standards, it was certainly experienced but fortunately it wasn’t to occur again.

With the leading big boats zapping up the west coast on Sunday as south to sou’west winds continued to freshen, records were once again top of the agenda. But this was all of academic interest to the main part of the fleet bashing its way along the south coast, for as Sunday went on, conditions became increasingly rugged. Yet it was not without its local oddities – for a period on Sunday afternoon, there was very little wind indeed in an area close in on the entrance to Cork Harbour, and the spread of breeze was so uneven that the tracker revealed some boats taking rather desperate gambles to try and find steadier conditions.

J109_Euo_Car_parks_round_ireland_race

Mark Mansfield and Maurice “The Prof” O’Connell on Dave Cullen's J109 Euro Car Parks, the IRC3 winners. Photo: Afloat.ie

One boat which did notably well during this stage was Dave Cullen’s J/109 Euro Car Parks. With Corkmen Mark Mansfield and Maurice “The Prof” O’Connell calling the shots, they gave a masterful demonstration of how to work the bays slugging west beyond the Old Head of Kinsale.

“Working the bays” doesn’t necessarily always pay off, and in fact it didn’t work so well for other boats near Euro Car Parks. So clearly an important factor in the successful use of this ploy is to have a boat which is out-sailing everyone else in any case, and it was noticeable by this stage that Euro Car Parks had worked out a formidable lead on all the other J/109s while she herself was in hot pursuit of Paul O’Higgins new JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI, racing with the noted talents of Mark Pettit and Brian Mathews on board.

"Rockabill VI was a very slippy performer"

As Sunday evening and night went on, the Fastnet became increasingly difficult to get past as the area of steadier fresher breeze moved to the north. Thus while bigger boats such as Alan Hannon’s Reichel-Pugh 45 was making hay up past the Blaskets with a performance which suggested that she a going better and better as her Lough Swilly YC crew became accustomed to her ways, back down the line off the mouths of the great rias of the southwest at times the wind was all over the place, and Euro Car Parks was one which suffered, head off south of Dursey Dound, and forced to tack seaward in unspeakably lumpy sailing conditions.

By this time Rockabill VI was showing she was a very slippy performer, and the long run up the west coast was brilliantly sailed by her talented crew, so much so that by Tory Island she’d opened out a lead of 40 miles on Euro Car Parks, which looked unassailable.

But for others even thinking about Tory Island was still way off the radar, as many boats reckoned they’d taken a ferocious battering through the latter part of Sunday, and there were retirals at all levels of the fleet. Meanwhile away to the east the oldest boat in the race, Darryl Hughes’s 1937 Tyrell of Arklow 43ft–gaff ketch Maybird was making only very slow progress and she’d sustained damage aloft and to sails, so she went into Dunmore East and kept the crew strictly on board and out of contact with the shore while they made repairs and then, most gallantly, they put to sea again and eventually after another two days of slow progress to windward they had the freeing of sheets at Mizen Head within sight, but then it was discovered that there was a major problem with the engine, so they retired regretfully into Baltimore.

By this time the great dramas of the record finishes at Wicklow had been played out through Monday. So long as there’s breeze your ordinary North Channel fair or foul tides aren’t the major consideration for he MOD 70s, it’s the presence of wind which is the primary consideration.

Sunday evening found the MOD 70s shaping themselves into the North Channel and fetching through with all still close together and Concise still just leading, but from the South Rock on it was hard on the wind or beating to get to Wicklow. Musandam was still trailing the other two, so she took a brief slant towards Dundalk Bay and then went on to starboard to pace with them about two mioles further westward, bringing her in closer to Howth than Concise or Phaedo, and putting her in a better breeze as the wind started to play tricks in the dark of the small hours off Bray.

Everything was gettingly nail-bitingly tense, and south of Greystones, Phaedo and Concise were slowing markedly, so Musandam came up from astern and took a bit of an offing, finding better breeze only a short distance offshore which carried her right to the line at Wicklow to finish ahead and created an absurd new record of 1 day 14 hours and 37 minutes, with Phaedo 3 six minutes astern, and Concise – which had so gallantly led for most of the race – coming in another minute later.

Follow that, as they say, but somehow Rambler 88 managed to outdo the drama, as she did the final stage from Rathlin Island to Wicklow in just part of the one span of daylight on Monday. But by the time she came calling the wind had veered and thus she was able to lay the whole way down the Irish Sea to the finish, and was travelling at full chat as she came into the line.

While a mono-hull record within two days was no longer possible as she’d sailed 790 miles in all thanks to that long tack to the south in search of better breeze through Saturday night and Sunday morning, nevertheless she still made an almighty dent in every other mono-hull record by finishing in a time of 2 days 2 hours 24 minute and 9 seconds.

There was still some bite to the winds, but even in a poor summer such as we’re currently experiencing, the fact that the sou’west to west breeze had now been blowing moderate to strong and more for more than three days was increasing the likelihood of calm patches, and a general falling away in wind strength.

So gradually the crazy notion took hold that not only would the popular Rambler 88 be lauded as the new all-out mono-hull record holder, but she might even manage to win the race on corrected time. Certainly the holes in the wind now began to appear with increasing frequency, and none more so than for Rockabill VI as she rounded Inishtrahull, the most northerly point of the course, on Tuesday.

Rockabill VI

Rockabill VI – a new JPK 10.80 design. Photo: Afloat.ie

The O’Higgins crew came up against what was soon known as the Great Glass Wall of Inishtrahull. Rockabill and the three other boats in her immediate neighbourhood all came to such a complete halt that tracker-followers assumed they must all have fouled lobster pots. But they were simply and totally becalmed. They made no progress for three hours, yet boats close to the east were still bustling busily towards Rathlin Island, while boats close to the west were trundling merrily in from Tory.

So after the episodes of winter and spring and autumn, Rockabill was experiencing a brief bit of summer she could have well done without. Finally she got going again, but by this time Euro Car Parks had sliced a huge 20 miles out of Rockabill’s 40 mile lead, and thereafter it was Euro Car Parks ahead in IRC 3 on corrected time. In other classes, solid performances and reliability in strong winds had been rewarded, and in IR2 the beautifully-prepared Cornish-based Swan 47 Sarabande (Rob Mabley) had a lead she held to the finish, while in IRC 4 we were witnessing one of the great performances in the race, with Patrice Carpentier’s Sunfast 3200 GROUPE V tenaciously staying in front throughout, quite a showing as she was also leading the two-handed division.

As the race drew to a close through Wednesday and Thursday for this main part of the fleet, other consistent performances were being rewarded. Eric de Turckheim’s Teasing Machine was both consistent and brilliant, and on Wednesday tacking down the southern part of the North Channel, she was neck and neck with Ross Hobson’s two-handed canting-keeled Open 50 Pegasus of Northumberland.

Teasing Machine

French entry Teasing Machine was both consistent and brilliant. Photo: Afloat.ie

But while Pegasus elected to continue on starboard right over to the Isle of Man as can be seen on the tracker plan, Teasing Machine’s crew took a completely different choice, they went right to the southwest, and then tacked to curve across Dundalk Bay close past Clogher Head until the two boats met again at Rockabill, following which they paced together down to Wicklow where a bit of slick tacking saw Teasing Machine finish ahead, but by this time it was akin to bear-baiting, as the crew of the big Pegasus were boggle-eyed with exhaustion.

Teasing Machine’s time put her behind Rambler 88 on corrected, so the crazy dream was becoming reality, but that is in no way to detract from the de Turkheim crew’s performance, it was a superb playing of the hand they’d been dealt, They were comfortably ahead of Class 1 and 2, and soon out of sight on the determined little battlers of Classes 3 and 4, who until then had been snapping at their heels.

Meanwhile, between the big’ uns well finished, and the little’ uns still battling far at sea, there were several Steady Eddy performances whose reward was on its way, and none more so than for RORC Commodore Michael Boyd of the Royal Irish YC. His Fist 44.7 Lise was always there or thereabouts, and on Wednesday evening she was off Dublin Bay as the tide turned foul, but she kept beating on steadily towards Wicklow and got finished before midnight with the bonus of a local breeze, and was immediately sitting pretty at second in Class I well ahead of Katsu in third, and looking good for third overall behind Rambler and Teasing Machine.

Theo_Phelan_Michael_boyd
Midnight encounter. Race organiser Theo Phelan with RORC Commodore Michael Boyd after the latter had brought the First 44.7 Lisa across the Wicklow finish line to take third overall. Photo: David Branigan

But that third overall needed a bit of waiting, as the Class 3 front-runners of Euro Car Parks and Rockabill VI were still in with a chance, while Class 4’s GROUPE V and Stephen Quinn’s gallant little J/97 Lambay Rules were also in contention, but it was not to be. The minutes slipped away, the hours ticked by, and in the end over a course of 704 miles it was waterline length which counted as a fading breeze and much windward work saw the little ‘uns lose out. But my word, they had one impressive race amongst themselves.

The results are still being analysed as we write this, and it was only on the Friday that Rambler was finally confirmed as overall winner, with Teasing Machine second and Lisa Third. As for Class winners, they were (1) Teasing Machine, (2) Sarabande, (3) Euro Car Parks, and (4) GROUPE V, but GROUPE V lost her two-handed class lead to Begian Michael Kleinjans’ Open 40 Roaring Forty 2 which was another steady performer.

"All credit to Wicklow Sailing Club’s Theo Phelan and his team"

In all, it was a wonderful race, a magnificent sporting event from which any keen sailor can take much of interest and even more of entertainment and excitement. All credit to Wicklow Sailing Club’s Theo Phelan and his team who have kept this event going through the thin times, and have been ready and waiting to see it come to a new flowering with sponsorship from Volvo Car Ireland.

But all the background organization would have been meaningless without a fleet of boats and their crews game to take on the 704-mile circuit of an island set in an exposed location on the lee side of the Atlantic ocean, and in following this race it has been particularly encouraging to see the improving performances of certain boats as their relatively novice crews get to grips with the challenge they’ve taken on. Needless to say it was also a case of the Old Dog for the Long Road, and Ian Hickey’s Granada 38 Cavatina was again in the frame at the fiish in Class 4.

INSS_Lynx_Rumball

Top of the class - a notable performance by the sailing school crew from the INSS in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Afloat.ie

Notably outstanding was the Irish National Sailing School’s Reflex 38 Lynx from Dun Laoghaire, skippered by Kenneth Rumball. She was always in competition, but as the race went on she seemed more in competition than ever, until at the finish she clocked in at fourth among all those hotshots in Class 3, close astern of Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 Bam at third, and placed tenth overall in fleet. The crew of Lynx have had one excellent lesson in offshore racing.

Wicklow sailing club Round ireland crews
The essential post-race de-briefing – the crews of Euro Car Parks and Rockabill VI, leaders in Class 3, get together in Wicklow SC on Thursday afternoon after five days of racing against each other round Ireland. Photo: W M Nixon

Volvo Round Ireland 2016 selected results

 round ireland results Panel

See Round Ireland tracker here Afloat's Round Ireland 2016 coverage is here and download overall results here

Published in W M Nixon

Three high speed MOD70s are closing in on the Volvo Round Ireland Race finish line at Wicklow, for what might yet be a record breaking time, early tomorrow morning. In an exclusive pre–start video (below) for Afloat.ie, Digby Fox interviewed County Kerry sailor Damian Foxall onboard Round Ireland record holder Musandam Oman, currently off Rathlin Island.

In this video, Foxall, a Volvo Ocean Race winner, who has sailed eight round the world races, reveals he has never sailed Round Ireland! And Foxall's crew–mates, including skipper Sidney Gavignet, give an insight into sailing the fastest boats in the world and the importance of their 2015 record.

See Round Ireland tracker here and keep to up to date with the fleet's progress with Afloat's regular Round Ireland 2016 updates here 

 

Published in Round Ireland

The learning curve on the Sultanate of Oman’s flagship MOD70 Musandam-Oman Sail is due for a shift in emphasis in 2016 with their early season programme of the Myth of Malham, the Round Ireland Yacht Race and the Transat Quebec-St Malo races designed to hand Omani crew extra roles and responsibility in the pursuit of success.

Last year, French skipper Sidney Gavignet placed the focus on fitness as they racked up thousands of miles across Europe with a 50% Omani crew, setting a new Round Ireland record plus a new speed record at Kieler Woche 2015.

The stakes have been raised this year and the selection of the three events in May, June and July will help to prepare the Omani sailors for roles at the highest level of offshore racing.

The Myth of Malham at the end of May (28-29) and the Round Ireland Race in June (18) are both organised by the UK’s Royal Ocean Racing Club and offer an opportunity to compete against other MOD70s, explained Gavignet, while the Quebec to St Malo Race is more about adventure and exploration.

“The Quebec to St Malo Race is a classic,” he said. “It is a race I have done three times and it is special. East to west across the Atlantic starting with a 400-mile section down the Saint Lawrence river which is bordered by mountains on both sides. There are lots of whales – including the Beluga Whale – and white beaked and white sided dolphins. In a sailor’s career doing this race is something you will never forget.

“It is more about adventure and the memories. Also it means two transatlantics – one going there and one coming back so it is good training for our Omani crew mates.”

Although Oman Sail and Gavignet have yet to finalise the crew for the season, he is keen to take new offshore talent Raad Al Hadi, who impressed during a recent training run between Lorient and Morocco.

“Raad is good and learning quickly so we will take him from Quebec to St Malo where he will gain experience but he is still a student so we do not plan to take him on the RORC races,” Gavignet said.

Omani sailors Fahad Al Hasni, Sami Al Shukaili, Yassir Al Rahbi will also be back in action along with Irish offshore specialist Damian Foxall and France’s Jean Luc Nelias, who was navigator on Volvo winner Groupama in 2006.

The three Omani sailors have been preparing for their summer by campaigning their J80 at the 2016 Grand Prix Ecole Navale in France having raced together for EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour in February.

Gavignet’s experience will serve Musandam-Oman Sail well in the Quebec-St Malo but the Myth of Malham, a 230-mile race from Cowes to the famous Eddystone Lighthouse and back, will be a brand new experience for him.

“It is an English classic so we are looking forward to it and would love to win it. We will be up against two other MOD70s which is the main reason why we are doing it but it will be a challenge because the other two boats Phaedo and Team Concise have done a lot of sailing over the last few months.”

Results are important, Gavignet continued but Oman Sail’s objective to develop top class sailors for world class events requires a broader focus.

“We want the guys to take on more responsibility. To be an accomplished offshore sailor, you have to think on your feet and we have some real talent on this crew so I will be working with each crewmember individually to encourage them to take responsibility, perhaps for a winch or for safety or whatever other role they might need to prepare for a major offshore race.”

The remainder of Musandam-Oman Sail’s summer programme will be announced later in the season but according to long standing crew member Fahad Al Hasni, racing against the other MOD70s is the highlight.

“By the end of this programme, we would like to be the leading MOD70,” he said. “It will be a challenge because the boats are all different now and the other crews have done a lot of sailing but our time together as a team on the Farr 30 at EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, during our training run from Lorient to Rabat and in the J80 at GP Ecole Navale has made a difference to our team work so we feel well prepared.”

MOD70 Musandam-Oman Sail Programme

Myth of Malham: Starts Cowes, Isle of Wight – Saturday 28 May
Volvo Round Ireland Yacht Race: Starts Wicklow, Ireland – Saturday 18 June
Quebec – St Malo: Starts Quebec, Canada – Saturday 10 July

Published in Round Ireland
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