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If you wanted an object lesson in why it is sometimes very difficult to explain sailing – and particularly offshore racing – to some goodwill-filled stranger to the sport, then the current state of play in the Volvo Round Ireland Race is as good as you’ll get, writes W M Nixon.

For the news is that, as far as current placings are concerned, the fleet has closed up. Yet even the most casual glance at the Tracker Chart reveals they’re all over the place.

Somewhere off the north coast of far Mayo is the fleet leader Baraka GP. To the south, off the coast of Galway, is the J/109 Joker II, driven on by the formidable talents of skipper Barry Byrne and Mick Liddy as navigator, and she has been away out on her own to the west.

Round Ireland Futisu Rockaill 4092Futisu/British Soldier to weather and Rockabill VI on the reach down the Wicklow coast on Saturday Photo:

Yet close inshore off Clifden are three boats short tacking against each other, notably including Aurelia with The Prof on board, and Rockabill VI with Mono on the strength, which makes this definitely a battle to watch.

Then, spread out over a wide swathe of ocean to the southwest and south of them, are boats apparently heading every which way, and making no sense at all to the casual observer. Yet tracker addicts click a button or two, look at a heap of lists and figures, and sagely observe: “Ah yes, the fleet has been closing up...”

It’s the wonders of Corrected Time at work. Corrected Time sounds like something with which only the likes of Einstein or Hawking should be grappling. Yet your roughest toughest, saltiest, scantily educated offshore sailor can take it in his stride without for a moment realizing that the whole thing sounds utterly crazy to everyone else.

Anyway with this seventh update – and God help us, but they’re only halfway round – we’ll assume you’ve been following the story so far, and we’ll take it from there.

Former race winner Michael Boyd on Jedi reported a Man Overboard who was 'immediately and efficiently' recovered. Photo: David BraniganFormer race winner Michael Boyd on Jedi reported a Man Overboard who was “immediately and efficiently” recovered. Photo: David Branigan

Just as was gloomily predicted, when Niall Dowling’s leader on the water, the very zippy Ker 43 Baraka GP, got up to the Mayo turning point at Eagle Island at 4pm this afternoon, sure enough the wind veered to arrange that she had yet another dead beat, this time to Tory Island off Donegal, beyond Bloody Foreland – or Utterly Bloody Foreland, as it’s known to old Round Ireland hands.

Meanwhile, down off the coast of Connemara, the other big beasts on Aurelia and Rockabill found themselves drawn into a short-tacking duel around Slyne Head, a singularly rocky place with lumpy seas and more lobster pot lines in the area than you’d know what to do with. But they’ve managed to keep themselves clear and continued along that lovely coast, slugging to windward every inch of the way in a persistent north to northeast breeze.

Lambay rules 0483Howth Yacht Club's Lambay Rules still leads Photo:

So in order to make sense of it all, we resort to the IRC Overall Leaderboard, and see that according to calculations issuing from some secret headquarters in some bunker somewhere, Stephen Quinn’s gallant little J/97 Lambay Rules from Howth is still first, while Nicolas Pasternak’s JPK 10.10 Jaasap from France is second (which is quite something, as she is being sailed two-handed).

Ian Hickey’s veteran Cavatina from Cork continues in third, another two-hander, the classic Swan 44 CoOperation Ireland (Paul Kavanagh) is fourth, then another JPK 10.10, Jangada, this time from England (Richard Palmer) is fifth, and the French-based Sunfast 3200 SNSP Hakuna Matata (don’t ask) is sixth.

Yet there are now just two hours between Lambay Rules and SNSP Hakuna Matata. It’s a time gap which can disappear in a flash with a slight switch in wind strength and direction, and it explains why the pundits have been talking about the fleet closing up.

But closed up or opening out, the reality is that tonight there’s much windward work to be done.

And with the reversals of fortune which are the way with this unusual edition of an already highly individual race, we might well see Rockabill VI move up from her current placing of eighth overall, and Joker II improve from 10th, while for Aurelia at 18th, the only way is up.

That such improvements are possible is being demonstrated by Niall Dowling and his highly-qualified crew in Baraka GP. Everything has seemed to be stacked against them in terms of wind patterns. Yet they’ve kept at it with the highest level of dedication, and despite endless windward work, they’ve climbed up from 24th overall to their present placing of 16th.

Given the slightest chance, perhaps just let there be the slightest swing of the weather in their favour, and we could be looking at an extraordinary outcome off the Wicklow pierheads on Wednesday.

As for the unluckier competitors, several boats have been forced out of the race, mostly due to gear failure in the testing conditions, while one boat retired for a precautionary medical check for a crew-member who received a minor shoulder injury after a fall on board.

Early this morning, former race winner Michael Boyd on Jedi reported a Man Overboard who was “immediately and efficiently” recovered on board. The Irish Coast Guard was informed but no further action was required and the team is continuing with the race.

Race tracker HERE Round Ireland updates in this one handy link HERE.

Published in Round Ireland

It’s big country out west writes W M Nixon. And big country can have big effects on summer winds. So although the main part of the Volvo Round Ireland 2018 fleet is plugging doggedly along to windward out in the Atlantic in north to northeast winds of varying strengths, they know that if they try their luck too close inshore, their reasonably reliable breeze might evaporate.

On the other hand, they might find a locally favourable breeze. As an example, the lonely weather station at Mace Head just eastward of Slyne Head is currently indicating a westerly of 9 mph. But all around, the basic wind – now sparse enough in places – is north to northeast. The fleet has to sail with that, regardless of how pleasant gentle northward progress might be, reaching in an imaginary westerly breeze.

The reality is that the “real” wind is very much on the nose, but it has to be said that some of the slicker boats can achieve astonishing upwind speeds. We’d a remarkable example of this yesterday (Sunday) evening when Niall Dowling’s Ker 43 Baraka was slogging nor’eastwards north of the Blaskets on port tack in plenty of wind and then some, and she was making 9.1 knots.

If you’ve ever sailed in and around the Blaskets when there’s a bit of a breeze about, you’ll know that the sea state can be compared to very lumpy porridge. And it’s often the same colour too, though things are different in the colour stakes at the moment. But, be that as it may, there was Baraka, slugging along in conditions in which many boats would be glad enough to make any windward progress at all, yet the Ker 43 was slicing along at a very businesslike 9.1 knots. Astonishing stuff.

Round Ireland Bakara GP 3967Niall Dowling's Bakara GP Photo:

For now at 2.0pm Monday - after tacking in and out of some of the Wild Atlantic Way’s most spectacular features – Baraka is well past Achill Head at 8.7 knots and has tacked in towards the Inishkea Islands. While she may be 24th overall on IRC, in terms of line honours she’s increasingly in a race of her own with more than half the course now sailed, as the closest contender for first-to-finish, the Mach 40 Corum, is still south of Achill and sailing on starboard, having tacked close west of Clare Island.

Round Ireland Tigress 4144Howth's Conor Fogerty is onboard with Susan Glenny on the First 40 schoolship Olympia’s Tigress Photo:

To seaward beyond Slyne Head, we find most of the fleet with marked differences of opinion as to how best to play this tricky beat. “Sailor of the Year” Conor Fogerty with Susan Glenny on the First 40 schoolship Olympia’s Tigress had been seeking the stronger winds supposedly to the west, but now they’ve come in on port tack to find themselves ahead of Michael Boyd in the J.109 Jedi, but astern of Barry Byrne with the leading J/109 Joker II, which lies fifth overall in IRC.

IRC overall leader Lambay Rules (J/97, Stephen Quinn) has continued to sail conservatively in the middle of the fleet which is centred slightly west of the rhumb line, for although the best winds in the night were well to the east towards County Clare, for a while today there was more breeze to the west out at sea.

"both racing in the two-handed division, a wonderful achievement even if they are allowed to use the autohelm"

Ian Hickey’s veteran Noray 38 Cavatina is really loving it, and has moved up to second overall. Like Lambay Rules, she’s taking a conservative middle route. However, it’s the boats which are third and fourth overall which deserve added attention, for the JPK 10.10 Jaasap and the classic Swan 44 CoOperation Ireland (Paul Kavanagh) are both racing in the two-handed division, a wonderful achievement even if they are allowed to use the autohelm.

Round Ireland Aurelia 4106Glued together – Aurelia (above) and Rockabill VI (below) are neck and neck Photo:

Round Ireland Rockabill VI 4090

As to other pre-race favourites, it’s as though Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia (with The Prof on board), and Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (Mark Mansfield is on the strength) have become glued together. They seem inseparable over on the east side of the fleet, both of them taking a temporarily useful slant on port tack towards Ballyconneely, and neck-and-neck with it.

However, Rockabill lies 8th overall on IRC, albeit it more than two hours behind Lambay Rules on projected elapsed time, while the higher-rated Aurelia is projected as six hours astray. But as we well know, projected times and real times may be reduced to a very tenuous relationship by the time the finishing line is reached.

Race tracker here Round Ireland updates in this one handy link here.

Published in Round Ireland

The IRC overall lead is being tightly contested this morning in the Volvo Round Ireland race 2018 with the bulk of the fleet now to the west of County Clare, slugging to windward in a north to northeast breeze writes W M Nixon. The coveted lead position in IRC overall is being very hard-fought, and it frequently changes hands.

But at 0900hrs the top four saw Stephen Quinn’s J/97 Lambay Rules from Howth Yacht Club leading by just 15 minutes from Ian Hickey’s Noray 38 Cavatina from Cork, with the French JPK 10.10 Jaasap third and the J/109 Joker II skippered by Commandant Barry Byrne in fourth.

Lambay rules 0454Stephen Quinn's J/97 Lambay Rules from Howth Yacht Club in two-handed mode for last year's D2D Race and (below) her current position off the County Clare coast at the head of the IRC Round Ireland fleet below Photo:

Lambay rules round ireland

Round Ireland Joker II 4279J/109 Joker II skippered by Commandant Barry Byrne is fourth Photo:

The emergence of Cavatina among the front-runners for the first time is an inevitable consequence of the fact that yesterday off the Kerry coast from Dursey Head northwards, the leaders were bashing to windward while significantly lower-rated boats like Cavatina further astern were still sailing fast and on course in favourable conditions. But although Cavatina is now herself making to windward just north of the Blaskets, she has found a more favourable slant, whereas the bigger overall leaders on the water spent the night making the best of the hand they’d been dealt with, which was a beat to Slyne Head in Galway.

As was expected here yesterday, the front-runners tended to keep to the east of the course. In fact, the line honours contenders Baraka GP (Niall Dowling) and the new Mach 40 Corum came right in on port tack very close on Kerry Head, at the southwest side of the Mouth of the Shannon, before making serious northing up past Loop Head and then the Aran Islands.

Ian Moore Navigator 3669Ian Moore, Navigator on Baraka GP Photo:

Navigator/tactician Ian Moore on Baraka was so certain that this was the way to go that he threw a couple of short port tacks to the westward of Inishmore in order to keep well eastward into the favoured waters in the approaches to Galway Bay.

At one stage Corum seemed to have got clear in front, but Baraka found a course that brought her in nicely on track and in front at Slyne Head while still hard on the wind. Along the Galway coast, she has been lengthening away, and with the wind off Connacht in the north and less certain of itself, she is currently laying past Inishbofin on port tack at 6.1 knots, leader on the water but 24th on IRC, with Corum a good nine miles astern.

"the emergence of Cavatina among the leaders has changed the shape of the game"

With the more marked easterly slant to the wind further back, the main part of the fleet has allowed themselves to get west of the track in anticipation of further veering of the wind. But it could well be that those who have made an effort to keep themselves more to the east - such as Paul O’Higgin’s Rockabill VI - could ultimately find it paying off.

Meanwhile the emergence of Cavatina among the leaders, somewhat earlier than had been expected, has changed the shape of the game. Today’s developments – where every gain will be down to very hard work in squeezing extra speed out of difficult windward conditions – will be fascinating to watch, although maybe not quite such a barrel of laughs to sail. The Atlantic seaboard is starting to feel like a very long piece of coastline.

Race tracker here Round Ireland updates in this one handy link here.

Published in Round Ireland

Despite the relatively benign sailing conditions, 24 hours into the Volvo Round Ireland race and three boats have now retired from the 700-mile race.

As reported earlier, the Cookson 50-footer Riff Raff experienced 'engine problems' (earlier described as gear failure) and has retired into Crosshaven.

It is reported by organisers the sole trimaran in the race, Trilogic, experienced 'big seas and 45-knot gusts' off the Kerry coastline and blew out a key sail.

French entry Classe 40 Sensation has also retired and is in Castletownbere in West Cork.

Racing for the 53 boats continues on the south and west coasts with live tracking here and regular updates in this one handy link here.

Published in Round Ireland

Close north of the Blaskets at 1900hrs Sunday, the Volvo Round Ireland fleet leaders on the water - the Class 40 Corum and the Ker 43 Baraka GP - are sailing a textbook race in terms of handling the vagaries of the north to northeast headwind writes W M Nixon.

Yet there’s no getting away from the harsh fact that the predicted wind patterns for the next day or two are comprehensively stacked against them. It looks very much as though, once they get to each corner of our once green but now increasingly brown drought-stricken island, that the pesky wind will veer yet again, serving up another beat.

For Corum, it’s of less concern. She is racing within Class 40, and with her nearest challenger Sensation dropping out while close west of the Skelligs at 15.17 this afternoon, she has next in line Hydra neatly under control.

But for Niall Dowling’s Baraka GP, the much more widely encompassing IRC handicap system means that the slightest reversal of fortune will see boats in their dozens slip into place ahead of her.

"the slightest reversal of fortune will see boats in their dozens slip into place ahead of Baraka GP"

For sure, she still has the Line Honours trophy in sight. And in this meteorologically crazy summer, Heaven alone knows what might have happened by the time she has sailed the remaining 440 miles to the finish at Wicklow.

But a remorseless pattern is developing, and where she was once leading IRC overall, she is now back in 22nd place. Meanwhile, the smaller boats are making hay off the south Kerry coast, and by the time tomorrow when Baraka is rounding northwest Mayo to find she has another beat to Tory Island, the lesser fry will find they’re hoping for a bit of a favourable slant along towards the coast of Connacht.

Going into the second night, renowned French builders JPK of Lorient can be well pleased, as the JPK 10.10 Jaasap (Nicolas Pasternak, France) is leading IRC overall, while now in second place is Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI, hoping for some nice and breezy grown-up windward work to show her true potential.

Third is the French Sunfast 3600 SNSP Hakuna Matata, fourth is the J/109 Joker II skippered by Commandant Barry Byrne, fifth is Stephen Quinn’s J/97 Lambay Rules, and sixth is yet another JPK, the 10.10 Jangada.

Although the pack is being continually re-shuffled, some names are now appearing more frequently than others. By tomorrow morning, we’ll see how clearly this pattern has become established.

Race tracker here Round Ireland updates in this one handy link here.

Published in Round Ireland

A Round Ireland Race favourite, Riff Raff, the canting keel Cookson 50, has retired 'due to gear failure'.

All on board are safe and the British entry is heading for port in Cork Harbour.

Racing for the 55 boats continues in the race with live tracking here and regular updates in this one handy link here.

Published in Round Ireland

There was a stunning start to the 20th Round Ireland Yacht Race today when the Volvo race favourite blew a spinnaker moments after the 700–mile race began off Wicklow Harbour. See Race tracker here

It only added to the drama of the colourful sailing spectacle that has attracted a significant international entry and hundreds of shoreside spectators plus a flotilla of support boats for the Irish classic offshore fixture.

Round Ireland race start Baraka GP 3762Niall Dowling's crew deal with the shredded kite Photo:

There were perfect north easterly breezes and choppy seas for a fast start under spinnaker for the 55–boat fleet from the LE Orla Naval vessel. The race was under the command of race officer David Lovegrove, a former Irish Sailing President.

Round Ireland start(above and below) A congested committee boat end of the start line Photo:

Round Ireland race start fleet 3794

Noel Dowling’s 43-foot Baraka GP, hotly tipped for overall success, made a perfectly timed start to be placed at the favoured end of the 600-metre start line only to suffer damage to her sails seconds into the week-long race.

Round Ireland race start Rockabill 3768Paul O'Higgin's Rockabill VI (blue and yellow spinnaker) races away from the Round Ireland start line Photo:

Despite the long line, there were very congested waters at the committee boat end.

Round Ireland race start phosphorous 3781Phosphorous II and Corum were early leaders off the Round Ireland startline Photo:

Round Ireland race start Mach 40 Corum 3912The brand new French yacht Mach 40 Corum approaches Wicklow Head Photo:

Dowling’s crew rapidly prepared an alternative sail but the French Mach 40 Corum (Nicolas Troussel and Ian Lipinski) and Jersey-based Phosphorous II (Mark Emerson) seized the opportunity to be the very early fleet leaders in this marathon race but even before the fleet passed Wicklow Head, Dowling’s Fast Ker 43 was already back in command.

"There were perfect north easterly breezes and choppy seas for a fast start under spinnaker"

Only boat lengths behind were Riff Raff, Brian McMaster’s Cookson 50 and some smaller but no less potent entries such as Paul O’Higgins on Rockabill VI, Chris Power Smith’s Aurelia and WOW George Sisk.

Round Ireland race start Aurelia 3656Chris Power Smith's J122 Aurelia Photo:

As the fleet passed Wicklow lighthouse, Dowling continued on port gybe out to sea and headed due south-east, a move that the bulk of the fleet followed out to sea carried by a strong ebbing tide.

Corum, with three crew on board, on the other hand, opted for a course close to the shore and gybed along the coast towards Arklow.

At the slower end of the fleet, double race winner Cavatina from Royal Cork YC, was also making good progress under spinnaker.

Round Ireland race start Cavatina 4423Double winner Cavatina Photo:

However, as forecast, the fleet is not expected to have stronger winds for over 24 hours, perhaps even after approach Tuskar Rock when northeast winds could reach double figures. North easterlies are expected to increase up to 20 knots on Monday, to hopefully give the fleet faster reaching conditions along the south coast but the real dilemma is will the underlying east to northeast gradient wind prevail over high summer night breezes off the land?

Round Ireland race start Jedi 4160The Dun Laoghaire Sailing School J109 Jedi Chartered by Michael Boyd Photo:

The 700-mile race is anticipated to take up to five days to complete, with the biggest boats expected home early next week.

Follow's Round Ireland Race 2018 updates all in one handy link here

Read WM Nixon's Round Ireland Race 2018 Preview

Published in Round Ireland

It was the dogged determination of Wicklow Sailing Club 38 years ago that brought about the beginnings of an event which has since become an internationally-recognised cornerstone in the complex structure of the Irish sailing programme writes W M Nixon. Today, the 20th staging of the biennial 704–mile race around our island home gets underway at 2.0 pm in what is now the time-honoured manner off the Wicklow pierheads. And as it does, we’ll remember those who got it going, and kept it going, so many years ago. And we’ll also remember their successors who have kept it going ever since, through times good and bad.

There’ll be a Naval Service guardship in attendance in proper style to mark the starting line for the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018, while the characterful little port town will be in full maritime festival mode to celebrate the running of one of world sailing’s most interesting and challenging events.

rambler 2016 start2The Naval Service Guardship is barely visible as George David’s all-conquering Rambler 88 somehow finds her way through to a perfect start at the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016. Photo: W M Nixon

For although in terms of scale it may seem to be far outshone by the great transoceanic and global-circumnavigating races, for the many amateur crews involved, taking part in this race is a major personal challenge. It’s at their own expense, and uses up at least a week of precious holiday time, while also requiring participation in qualifying events. So for them, this is the Big One. This is the special Race of Races, which hundreds – indeed, thousands - of Irish sailors wish to have in their CVs at least once, and in many cases as often as possible.

It provides a race course which has just about everything. And as with any outdoor sport in Ireland, the weather is significant. In fact, being wind-reliant, the weather is absolutely paramount in importance. So the present circumstances of exceptionally summery weather provide yet another twist to the Round Ireland challenge, as the possibility of relying for progress on developing daytime sea breezes, followed by evening calms before there’s a lighter night breeze off the land, makes it seem to be shaping up - to quote one sage veteran of the race - as potentially the most unusual Round Ireland Race ever staged.

track charts 2016 race3Trackers of round Ireland courses from 2016. Some tactics were a little more desperate than others…

Certainly in every way the outlook is about as different as possible from 2016’s race, when the winds (and sometimes the rain) were more than generous, and records tumbled in the face of onslaughts by giant multi-hulls and George David’s all-conquering silver bullet, the mighty Rambler 88.

In terms of excitement and glamour, that 2016 race reached such heights that the more pessimistic assumed that 2018 would seem a bit of a damp squib by comparison. But you’ll find neither “pessimism” nor “damp squib” in Wicklow Sailing Club’s vocabulary. On the contrary, they’ve simply soldiered on with their usual optimism and determination, and with the support of the Royal Ocean Racing Club together with their growing squad of active supporters at home and abroad, they’ve come up with a fleet for this year’s race which is actually more truly representative of the modern international offshore racing scene than any previous Round Ireland lineup, and is healthily split almost exactly 50/50 between overseas challengers and Irish boats.

wicklow committee4After the outstanding success of the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016, Wicklow Sailing Club became the Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year, with some of the many volunteers who made it possible seen here with the trophy

The entry total has finally settled on 56 boats, reduced by one this week with the sudden withdrawal of the current ISORA Champion, the J/109 Mojito (Vicky Cox & Peter Dunlop) from Pwllheli. While regrettable, it’s put in perspective by acknowledging that Mojito has shown herself eminently beatable by other J/109s, while in last year’s big one, the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race, she was well bested by Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC), whose already strong crew for this year’s Round Ireland already includes Mark Mansfield, class winner in 2016, and has recently been further reinforced by the addition of noted sailor Kieran Tarbett.

Rockabill sailing5With a strong crew, Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC) hopes to build on her overall success in last year’s Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race. Photo:

The main IRC fleet ranges in size from a threesome of smaller craft - the two J/97s (Lambay Rules, Stephen Quinn Howth YC) and Windjammer (Lindsay Casey & Denis Power), together with the potent French Sun Fast 3200 (Jean-Francois Nouel) – all the way up to the veteran Swan 65 Desperado of Cowes, while the selection of mostly modern types is remarkable.

However, in the midst of them are some classic veterans which still give a good showing for themselves when well sailed, and one of the stars of the 2017 Fastnet Race, Paul Kavanagh’s 45-year-old Swan 44 Pomeroy Swan, is returning to the land of his ancestors to race around Ireland in the two-handed division under the name of Cooperation Ireland, an organisation which this international businessman holds in such high regard that he is one of its Ambassadors.

pomeroy swan6Paul Kavanagh’s veteran yet successful Swan 44 Pomeroy Swan will be racing two-handed as Cooperation Ireland

As for age, the oldest entry has to be the 1937-built 43ft gaff ketch Maybird (Darryl Hughes, Arklow & Poolbeg). Tyrrell of Arklow-built, she’s a near sister of Billy Mooney’s famous Aideen which won her class in the 1947 Fastnet Race.

By contrast, the newest entry could not be more different, as she’s the very latest Corum from France, a hot new Open 40 which is so fresh out of the wrappers that so far we’ve only been provided with a photo showing her front half out on recent test sails.

Her two-man crew are very worthy of note, being renowned Figaro veteran Nicolas Troussel, with mini-Transat legend Ian Lipinski. And Corum spearheads a very international open 40 involvement with the Round Ireland Race, as their five entries are drawn from Finland, Norway, and the two from France.

corum sailing7Still coming fresh out of the box…..the new Open 40 Corum will be co-skippered by Minitransat legend Ian Lipinski

They will of course be racing as a separate division, and in the main body of the fleet - the healthily-varied IRC classes - the favourite on paper has to be ex-Pat RIYC member Niall Dowling with his Ker 43 Baraka GP. With boat captain Jim Carroll (also RIYC), Baraka is fast in everything in every direction. But by streaking ahead in summery weather, while you may indeed be getting yourself that much sooner into more favourable winds, equally you can be first to sail out of wind altogether, as happened with Anthony O’Leary and his Ker 40 Antix in the 2015 Dingle race (which matches the first half of the Round Ireland course) when Antix lost the overall lead to Liam Shanahan’s J/109 Ruth (NYC) and sister-ship Mojito.

So everything depends not only on being able to read the slowly developing wind patterns correctly, but also being in the optimum location as the new breeze sets in. It ain’t easy. In fact, often it’s totally impossible, but old hands will tell you that the secret as calm threatens is never to lose steerage way, even if it means actually sailing away from your destination

baraka gp8It’s unlikely she’ll experience grey weather like this during the next few days, but Nial Dowling’s Ker 43 Baraka GP will be fast whatever the weather
Baraka GP and other flyers may zoom away from Wicklow this afternoon in the sea breeze-reinforced east to northeast breeze, and they’ll make fine race-winning progress to the Fastnet and beyond. But on present weather predictions, they might then find fresh northerlies out beyond the Blaskets to slow them back in beating conditions, northerlies which may have veered to more favourable east to nor’east breezes by the time the significant group of smaller but very competitive craft such as Rockabill VI and the four J/109s come along to face the challenges of the west coast.

With their performance sharpened by the intense competition that they have in Dublin Bay, the J/109s can never be discounted, but it’s the unusual combination of 1996 overall Michael Boyd (RIYC) on the Kenneth Rumball-prepared J/109 Jedi which is getting special attention, as Boyd was top-placed Irish skipper overall in the 2016 Race, yet the only class win by an Irish boat was the victory by Dave Cullen’s J/109 Euro Car Parks, which had the formidable talents of Mark Mansfield and Maurice “Prof” O’Connell on board.

boyd and shearer9Michael Boyd, top Irish skipper in 2016’s race, and the winner in 1996, is the former Commodore of the RORC, and is seen here in close conversation with former Wicklow SC Commodore (and current Honorary Secretary) Peter Shearer. Photo: W M Nixon
This time around, they’re rivals, with Mansfield very present on Rockabill VI, while the Prof has been giving much of his talent this season to Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia (RStGYC). Thus as recently as Wednesday this week, the highly-tweaked Aurelia was seen out on Dublin Bay testing her very latest and impressive-looking brand-new North headsails, while her kite sizes have also been maximized. So you can be very sure this is no bog-standard J/122, and some of the wise money might be going Aurelia’s way.

But as the fleet spreads out, and we learn that in Ireland our experience in dealing with the high summer sea breeze effect is rather limited - particularly along the West and North coasts – the sheer spread of boats of genuine potential throughout the fleet at every size may well mean that by some stage at least 25 boats will have had a real chance of being on the podium at the finish.

jedi fastnet10Jedi under the command of Kenneth Rumball of the Irish National Sailing School at the start of the 2017 Fastnet Race, in which she won her class. She will be racing round Ireland today skippered by Michael Boyd.
That’s one of the many fascinations of the Volvo Round Ireland Race. You can as quickly envisage a scenario where Roger Smith’s J/109 Wakey-Wakey (Poolbeg & Dun Laoghaire) can find herself towards the top of the leaderboard, for the word is that she’s going very fast indeed these days, if not always in the most favoured direction.

And then while the huge potential of the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI is rightly drawing the attention of one of the pre-race favourites, let it not be forgotten that the fleet includes two of her older sisters, the JPK 10.10s Jaasap (Nicolas Pasternak, France) and Jangada (Richard Palmer, UK) which showed very well indeed in last year’s Fastnet Race.

Thus if the hottest favourites find circumstance turn against them or they slip up in the slightest way, there’s a whole second tier of very competently-sailed boats ready to step into their shoes. And never under-estimate the importance of character in a tricky race like this.

Current Irish “Sailor of the Year” Conor Fogerty of Howth is doing the race on one of these “second tier” craft, co-skippering with Susan Glenny on the First 40 Olympia’s Tigress. Glenny’s main interest has shifted recently, as she has been appointed to head up the Maiden operation, re-commissioning Tracey Edwards’ historic global-racing maxi. But the deal between her and Fogerty to co-skipper in the round Ireland was set up in Antigua after the RORC Caribbean 600 in February, and they’re sticking with it even though Fogerty also has other distractions.

olympias tigress11Susan Glenny and an all-woman crew racing Olympia’s Tigress in the Caribbean

His Sunfast 3600 Bam! – just back from the Caribbean – is undergoing work down Solent way in preparation for the 1800-mile Round Britain Race in August, which he’ll race two-handed with Howth clubmate Simon Knowles. And then just last week, he sailed his pet boat, the 1976 Ron Holland-designed Half Ton World Champion Silver Apple from Howth to Cork and back, mostly single-handed. This was so that he and the historic boat could join the party to celebrate the publication of the designer’s memoirs at the Royal Cork YC in Crosshaven. So Conor Fogerty is either certifiable or he’s the supreme sportsman and enthusiast or maybe he’s all three, but whatever - his involvement in any race in any boat should never be underestimated.

conor and ron12Mad keen on sailing – “Sailor of the Year” Conor Fogerty (left) and international designer Ron Holland (right) with shipmates of old times Dick Gibson and John McWilliam and the Ron Holland-designed 1976 Half Ton World Champion Silver Shamrock in Crosshaven last week to celebrate the publication of Ron Holland’s memoirs. In honour of the occasion, Conor Fogerty sailed Slver Shamrock from Howth to Crosshaven and back mostly single-handed. Photo: Robert Bateman
As the weather forecasts lengthen further into the future, one scenario sees Ireland at the middle of next week in mostly easterly winds while generally, good weather persists. Overall, it is not a picture which is unfavourable to the smallest or the lowest-rated boats, and in these circumstances, one name always comes up on the radar: Cavatina.

The Royal Cork-based Noray 38, campaigned for many years by Eric Lisson and subsequently by Ian Hickey, is an integral part of Round Ireland Race folklore, and her low rating combined with her crew’s ability and determination to keep going and maintain their competitiveness has often been rewarded with success in the past, and it could perfectly well happen again in 2018.

cavatina racing13Ian Hickey’s Cavatina from Crosshaven – the longer the race goes on, the better her overall chances

As for the oldest boat in the fleet, Darryl Hughes’ gaff-rigged ketch Maybird, she’ll find in time that she’s sailing a race of her own. But at least the conditions expected for today’s start will give her the boost of getting fairly quickly away from the start area, following which the crew have been told that, if needs be, they’ll keep going for a fortnight to get back to Wicklow.

At that most hospitable of ports, the club and community effort which goes into making this event and its associated shoreside happenings such a major success is awesome in its level of voluntary enthusiasm and commitment. As Wicklow’s Roisin Hennessy, Chair of the Organising Committee, has put it, anyone and everyone showing a pulse have been drawn into voluntary work of some kind to keep the astonishing show on the road.

And today, the action really starts. The trackers will have an intriguing story to tell as the core narrative of the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018 gets underway.

maybird sailing14The oldest boat in the race – the superbly-restored classic 1937-built Tyrrell of Arklow ketch Maybird (Darryl Hughes, Arklow SC) has cruised round Ireland a number of times, but this is her first race

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Published in Round Ireland

Last minute changes to the Round Ireland Race fleet means ISORA Champion Mojito (Vicky Cox and Peter Dunlop), a pre-race favourite, are out of tomorrow's race. 

David O'Brien predicts in today's Irish Times Sailing Column that the light winds will favour the proven J109 design, of which North Wales based Mojito, was one of four due to compete.

The latest entry list from Wicklow organisers features a number of amendments as some boats have become unavailable or unable to prepare in time.

The Pwllheli entry is one of five withdrawals. Also out is the Open 50, Pegasus of Northumberland, the Corby 25, Tribal and the Spirit 54, Soufriere and the 'May Contain Nuts' entry.

Originally 60 boats were expected to start but the confirmed entry-list stands at 55 with boats from seven countries - Ireland, Britain, France, The Netherlands, Finland, Norway and the United States.

Glorious conditions for the 55 boats competing in the Volvo Round Ireland Race are expected over the coming week after the 705-mile classic gets underway at Wicklow Sailing Club on Saturday at 2pm.

The Irish Defence Forces will have a big presence at Wicklow including the Naval vessel Ciara in attendance and a display by the Air Corps Black Knight parachute team in the afternoon. A crew of Army and Naval personnel on Joker 2 will compete in the race aiming to lift a new trophy for military teams.

The forecast for the week suggests light, north-easterly winds for the start meaning the colourful spinnaker sails will be used, adding to the spectacle. Wicklow pier and the Black Castle area are ideal viewing areas. Parking and traffic restrictions will be in place.

Speaking this morning, Defence forces navigator and strategist Mick Liddy, foresees the race taking a full 5 days for them on board J109 “Joker II”. “We expect a northeasterly start with good gradient and thermal breeze given the fine conditions and a rhumb line course to the Fastnet Rock where we will encounter up to 20 knots, the most wind we expect to see. Northwest corner looks most challenging and we expect that we are looking at a predominantly light and tactical race”

Boats range in size from 21 feet to 65 feet and the fastest entries are expected back in Wicklow by Wednesday evening. However, some of the smaller entries may not finish until next weekend depending on wind conditions.

A week-long festival is already underway with family-friendly events running from 10am on race start day at Wicklow Harbour leading up the dockside farewells to the fleet before the crews head southwards.

Published in Round Ireland

For most of the Irish sailors who have committed to this year’s 20th staging of the biennial 704-mile Volvo Round Ireland Race on 30th June, it will be the central focus, the core pillar of their 2018 programme. And even though our increasing number of home-grown front-line international professionals might expect to see it as just another fixture in a busy worldwide working sailing year, they find that for anyone Irish, racing round Ireland continues to be something very special writes W M Nixon.

This was the abiding impression which emerged from this week’s decidedly convivial and crowded Round Ireland reception in the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire. This distinguished and ancient club of significant history has put its considerable muscle behind the much-smaller and more localised Wicklow Sailing Club (which inaugurated the Round Ireland in 1980) for the 2016 and now the 2018 staging of the race. The result has been a mutually beneficial relationship which sees the RIYC in its sheltered location within Dun Laoghaire Marina providing facilities for the larger Round Ireland contenders in the week leading up to the start.

royal irish yacht club2The sheltered and convenient location of the Royal Irish Yacht Club within Dun Laoghaire Marina

But as the actual start approaches, with this year’s scheduled for June 30th, the final days in the count-down see a total shift of focus down the coast to Wicklow, to a Wicklow which is completely en fete and totally in focus for this one event in a way which a large and complex harbour like Dun Laoghaire could never be.

In terms of planning a Round Ireland campaign, with five weeks to go you’re already well into the final stages, but nevertheless, there’s still the chance that some significant “we’ll show ’em” last minute entries might emerge to add to the 54 boats already listed. And as to that total figure, former organiser Theo Phelan – he stood down in the winter after guiding the event successfully to record numbers through the dark days of the economic recession – reckons it will probably be around 50 boats which finally cross the starting line.

costello shannon3The Royal Irish YC’s newly-elected Commodore Joe Costello (left) and Vice Commodore Pat Shannon welcomed the Round Ireland party to their historic clubhouse. Photo: W M Nixon

That’s a very respectable total, as the record fleet of the 2016 staging included the once-off appearance of George David’s Rambler 88, which won just about everything for which she was eligible, while there were also the three MOD 70 trimarans which also established what seemed like unbeatable records until later in the season, when the irrepressible Lloyd Thornburg with his MOD 70 Phaedo had another go, and chipped a little bit more off the time to leave what looks like a record so good it deserves to last.

wsc committee4Wicklow SC’s Round Ireland Committee are (left to right) Hal Fitzgerald (Race Director), Kyran O’Grady (Hon.Treas.), Roisin Hennessy (Chairperson), Denis Cummins (WSC Commodore) and Peter Shearer (Hon. Sec.) Photo VRIYR
In a way, that Round Ireland Race of 2016 was standalone-exceptional, starting with the fact that George David felt honour-bound to do the race out of respect and for thanks after the crew of Rambler 100 were rescued off Baltimore when their keel broke off at the rock during the Fastnet Race of 2011. As for the era of the MOD 70s, that has peaked and gone.

So for 2018 we’re back to a more normal way of things, with a strong international entry which actually well outnumbers the Irish involvement - it is, after all, part of the international RORC Programme, counting for extra points. But nevertheless the inescapable theme of this week’s party was that this was a gathering of Round Ireland aficionados, or as Roisin Hennessy, the Chair of the Organising Committee put it, we had an assembly of Round Ireland virgins, serial offenders, and addicts, and if you were one of their number, the sense of mutual enthusiasm and fellowship filled the place with warm camaraderie.

wilson ohiggins hennessy5Peter Wilson (winner in 1994 and 1998), Paul O’Higgins (winner Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2017, Round Ireland entrant 2018) and Roisin Hennessy (Chairperson, Organising Committee.) Photo: W M Nixon
It was a good time to thank the many volunteers – it must be just about every member of Wicklow Sailing Club – who keep this show on the road, and after being welcomed by newly-elected RIYC Commodore Joe Costello, WSC Commodore Denise Cummins and David Thomas of Volvo Car Ireland were rightly effusive in their thanks to these dedicated helpers. And it was also rightly a time to give special thanks to the Race Directors past and present, for we’d three of them there – Dennis Noonan who was Mr Round Ireland for so long, then his successor Theo Phelan, and now former WSC Commodore Hal Fitzgerald.

Hal was candid in admitting that while he had some idea of the sheer quantity of work that his predecessors had undertaken to keep this unique show on the road, it wasn’t until it fell on his shoulders last winter that he got a true appreciation of what was involved - it is not a task to be undertaken lightly.

But it is now something which is built into the Wicklow DNA, so instead of dwelling on the backroom work involved, they generated an atmosphere of mirth and fond memories. Appropriately, there were presentations to Theo Phelan and his wife Orlagh, and Theo used the occasion for fond recollections of something rather special to the finish of the Round Ireland Race – the fact that each finishing boat is saluted by cannon fire regardless of the hour of day or night, or their placing in the race.

theo and orlagh6Theo Phelan and his wife Orlagh – Theo was Race Director for 2012, 2014 and 2016, and was closely involved for several races before 2012. Photo: W M Nixon

The empty cartridge from each cannon firing is then presented to the relevant finishing owner when he comes into the Race Office to sign his declaration, and Theo particularly recalls that great sportsman, France’s Baron Eric de Turckheim, when he came into the office, signed his declaration, and was presented with his cartridge shell. The rugged skipper of the highly successful Teasing Machine – highest placed boat overall after Rambler 88 herself and winner of many trophies – found his eyes welling up with tears. The cartridge meant more to him than all the silver and glassware which would follow in due course.

There were many such stories, for Round Ireland memories abounded, but to give it some focus they’d a panel discussion, moderated by David McHugh, for speakers Michael Boyd – highest-placed Irish entry in 2016 and overall winner in 1996 - Peter Wilson who won in 1994 and has been there or thereabouts in many races since, and journalist Elizabeth Birdthistle who was a complete round Ireland novice when she did the 2016 Race with Ronan O'Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing in the 36ft Desert Star, and now spoke with eyes gleaming in all the zeal of the total convert.

elizabeth birdthistle7The gleaming eyes of the new enthusiast – Elizabeth Birdthistle talks of her first Round Ireland experience during the panel discussion. Photo: W M Nixon
Peter Wilson is one of those fantastic skipper-helmsmen who somehow smooth a rough sea when you’re slugging to windward, yet can find an extra-helpful wave which no-one else had noticed when looking for that extra quarter knot off the wind. Talking to him before the panel discussion began, I naturally asked what angle he’d be taking, and being a man of few words he said he hadn’t a clue, yet once up there and speaking, his face lit up and he conveyed that special feeling which comes when a boat is in the groove and the going is very good.

Elizabeth Birdthistle brought a fresh perspective which reminded Round Ireland veterans of just what an extraordinary project a first tilt at the circuit can seem to be, and how it profoundly affects your life in the countdown, and continues to do so afterwards.

This was a theme taken up by former RORC Commodore Michael Boyd, who has helped to ensure the Round Ireland Race’s current exalted status. Put at its most simple, he persuasively argued that it was something that any true Irish sailor would like to be able to list in their CV at last once. But then he went beyond that, giving it all an almost spiritual dimension which made you think that in another life he would have made a rather good Abbot of Glenstal.

boyd shearer8A word with the Abbot…….Michael Boyd - winner in 1996 and top Irish entry in 2018 – with Peter Shearer, Hon. Sec. WSC Photo: W M Nixon
For he talked of the special bonds of camaraderie which become enduring friendships after sharing the Round Ireland experience, he talked of the sense of embracing Ireland in a very special way through doing it, and he talked of how the post-race buzz can in some ways last forever in a way that many of us who have done it have thought afterwards, but he managed to put it in an almost poetic style.

Such elevated thoughts were soon being balanced by competitive banter in the lively crowd, with positions being taken as to pre-race favourites, and there’s no doubt that local-boy-made-good Niall Dowling, returning with the hyper-hot Ker 43 Baraka GP, is highly-rated, as he has ace navigator Ian Moore calling the shots, while James Carroll is managing the boat, and Dalkey-based Kiwi star Jared Henderson is also on the strength.

coughlan carroll ogrady9Brendan Coughlan (left) who will be racing his new Sunfast 3600 YoYo (below) in the 2018 Round Ireland, with Jim Carroll of Baraka GP, and WSC Hon Treas. Kyran O’Grady. Photo: W M Nixon

Yoyo Sunfast 3600 0888

baraka gp10The Ker 43 Baraka GP (Niall Dowling) is a much-fancied entry. Photo RORC
But then Dowling’s former shipmate Michael Boyd has teamed up with the Irish National Sailing School’s Kenneth Rumball for a private entry of the school’s highly-tuned J/109 Jedi, and even though the design may now be 14 years old, you’re in a dream world if you under-estimate the race-winning potential of a well-prepared J/109, with Pwllheli’s Vicky Cox and Peter Dunlop with Mojito – Irish Sea champions in 2017 – also out there to give it their very best.

j109 mojito11The very image of a well-trimmed J/109. Mojito (Vicky Cox & Peter Dunlop, Pwllheli SC) in their home waters off Snowdonia

As for their nemesis in last year’s Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race - Rockabill - her owner has signed up the formidable talents of Mark “Mono” Mansfield of Cork, and there’s just something about a JPK 10.80 which can pull off a real success when it’s really needed.

As usual in a fleet of this size, and a Round Ireland fleet at that, there’ll be an element of eccentricities in the entry list, and only Stephen O’Flaherty of Howth and RIYC would dream of racing his modern classic Sprit 54 Soufriere in such an event, particularly if they’d heard Peter Wilson talk eloquently of the experience of running down Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard in 40 knots of wind and more, while people back home on the east coast would be thinking it was just a normal mildly breezy summer’s day.

spirit54 soufriere12Stephen O’Flaherty’s Spirit 54 Soufriere – a very individual choice for a Round Ireland racer

For if there’s one thing a Round Ireland Race teaches you, it’s the exceptionally localised nature of our coastline’s wind strengths, and the way it can test a boat and her crew. I can still remember coming in past Inishtrahull with the most of a Force 9 up our backsides, and yet we knew that the big boats barely a hundred miles ahead down at the Maidens Rocks off Larne were becalmed. Either way, the experience seems at some distance from a cheerful party on a sunlit Spring evening in the time-hallowed surroundings of the Royal Irish Yacht Club.

party in riyc13Party time in the time-hallowed surroundings of the Royal Irish YC – very different indeed from the conditions that may be experienced in racing round Ireland. Photo: W M Nixon
If it becomes a race of frequent calms, then the little fellows will simply have to sit it out and their handicaps will do the rest, but it’s the sheer unpredictability of the Round Ireland which is part of its unique attraction.

Another attraction for those ashore is that the entire starting sequence can be viewed from Wicklow pier. However, when it’s a reaching start, particularly with the wind offshore, the fleet tends to bunch towards the outer end, out at the Guardship, and well away from the pier.

After one such recent start, I happened to meet up with David Lovegrove, then President of the Irish Sailing Association and a noted International Race Officer, and he commented on the fact that the fleet ended up bunching in on the Guardship.

“If I were the Race Officer,” said he, “and we’d offshore wind conditions like this, I’d be very tempted to put a tiny bias in favour of the inner end of the line in order to keep the fleet in towards the pier and give the viewing public their moneysworth….”

lovegrove noonan shearer14David Lovegrove, Race Officer for the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018, with Dennis Noonan, Race Director for many years until 2010, and Peter Shearer, Hon. Sec. WSC. Photo: W M Nixon
Well, as it happens, there was David Lovegrove at this week’s reception in the RIYC. And for why? Well, as it also happens, for the first time, he is going to be the Race Officer for the Volvo Round Ireland Race on June 30th. Interesting. Very interesting. We’ll certainly all be looking with extra fascination at the way that starting line is laid.

Published in Round Ireland
Page 7 of 16

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