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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in W M Nixon

Ireland’s Tom Dolan currently lies fourth in class as the 62–strong fleet in the 600-mile Mini-Fastnet from Douarnenez in western Brittany goes into its first night, crossing the English Channel to the first mark at the Wolf Rock writes W M Nixon. After that, they pass close close to Land’s End on a routing which keeps the little boats clear of shipping separation zones.

mini fastnet course2The course for the Mini Fastnet has to take account of shipping zones

It’s a two–handed event, and sailing with Dolan on Cellestab.com (IRL 910) is longtime shipmate Francois Jambou. Once again Ian Lipinsky with the ultimate prototype Griffon is the overall leader, but with the breeze mostly from the easterly sector, most of the fleet have been making good progress.

However, once Land’s End has been passed, an obligatory leg northward may see some windward work, while the weather in the days ahead could see much flukier conditions develop. But for now, sailing conditions are wellnigh ideal, and IRL 910 was making 8.2 knots in fourth place as midnight approached.

Published in Solo Sailing

Ireland’s Mini Transat campaigner Tom Dolan has moved up several places in a good night despite difficult racing in the Bay of Biscay in the 55-boat 220-mile Marie-Agnes Peron Trophy from Douarnenez writes W M Nixon.

Having had to contend with unstable nor’west winds to get past the Ile de Groix and on to the southerly turning point down towards Belle Ile, his Pogo 610 (IRL 910, sailing this race as Sellastab.com) was at one stage back in 9th in the 55 boat fleet, but overnight he moved up the rankings, and as of 0700 Irish time this morning was second in class with 98 miles still to race.

tom dolan2aIreland’s Tom Dolan has had a good showing in the overnight racing

They are, however, 98 very challenging miles to sail as they take the fleet up past the Pointe de Penmarch and on out into open ocean to the westerly turning mark well beyond the Ile de Seine before they can head towards the finish in the Baie de Douarnenez.

Once again the leader on the water and heading the Proto division is Ian Lipinski’s remarkable Griffon. She’s perhaps the oddest-looking boat in the entire Mini fleet, but handsome is as handsome does.

Race tracker below:

Published in Solo Sailing
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In a fleet of 55 boats, Ireland’s Mini Transat contender Tom Dolan currently lies sixth in class in his Pogo 610 IRL 910, sailing this 220 mile race as Sellastab.com for the Marie-Agnes Peron Trophy from Douarnenez. After a good start, he seemed to get hung up in the tricky tides at the Raz de Seine, but with speeds not as fast as forecast, with 136 miles still to sail there’s still all to play for.

Published in Solo Sailing
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Irish solo skipper Tom Dolan has continued to show exceptional consistency as he maintains his position at the front of the fleet through a challenging second night of the 500-mile Mini-en-Mai in the Bay of Biscay writes W M Nixon.

Low pressure systems are slowly working their way northeast across the Bay of Biscay. While the first day of the race saw winds mainly from the east helping to set a fast initial pace, the slow change in the weather has meant an uneven switch as the wind veers fitfully though southeast to what will eventually be a south to southwest breeze by tomorrow (Friday).

With a belt of rain going through to add to the unpredictable nature of the local winds, it has been an exhausting night of maximizing any small advantages that might fall his way. As of 0830hrs Irish time this morning, he had the satisfaction of knowing that he is now well through the halfway mark, with 214 miles to race to the finish back at La Trinite sur mer, though the main item on the agenda this morning continues to be getting his Pogo 3 Offshoresailing.fr (IRL 910) to the southerly turn off Royan at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary.

It would be easy to say things will get easier after that. But things just aren’t easy at any stage in a race sailed at this level. Currently, his speed is down at 4.4 knots, but it’s sufficient to keep him at second in class and within close company with his nearest rivals Emile Henry and Pierre Chedeville, both also sailing Pogo 3 boats, and battling with Dolan for the class lead by fractions of a mile.

Published in Solo Sailing
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After a good start which saw him in third shortly after crossing the line in the 500-mile Mini-en-Mai event for Minitrasat 650s which started today off La Trinite sur Mer on France’s Biscay coast, Ireland’s Tom Dolan is currently rated at eighth on the water in a tightly-packed fleet. Dolan featured in W M Nixon's Saturday blog here

With his speed building to 11 knots and 489 miles still to sail, he’s racing a course which is neatly divided between coast-hopping in the early and finishing stages, with a long offshore haul heading southeast well seaward of the Biscay shore in the middle.

Track Dolan and the fleet below: 

Published in Solo Sailing
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Solo Sailor Tom Dolan from County Meath has booked his place in October's Mini–Transat Race from La Rochelle to Martinique.

The sole Irish entry was in Dublin last night to talk about his exploits at Poolbeg Yacht and Boat Club. This will be Dolan's second Mini–adventure having successfully competed in 2015.

For this 2017 edition of the race, organised by Collectif Rochelais pour la Mini Transat, the race will host a full contingent as the number of applicants signed up for the adventure already exceeds the 84 places available. Download the full entry list below.

- The Mini Transat 2017 will set sail from La Rochelle
- Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Le Marin (Martinique) the stopover and finish venues
- 84 competitors expected on the start line on 1 October 2017

Forty years on from its first edition, the Mini Transat remains on the crest of the wave. A maiden voyage for some, a stepping stone to further sporting challenges for others, the Mini Transat holds a very special place in the world of offshore racing. In an era of new technologies and intensive communication, it is still the only event where each racer is pitted solely against themselves during a transatlantic crossing. No contact with land, no other link to the outside world than a single VHF radio, at times the Mini Transat is a voyage into solitude.

Boats: minimum length, maximum speed

With an overall length of 6.50m and a sail area pushed to the extreme at times, the Minis are incredibly seaworthy boats. Subjected to rather draconian righting tests and equipped with reserve buoyancy making them unsinkable, the boats are capable of posting amazing performances in downwind conditions… most often to the detriment of comfort, which is rudimentary to say the least. In the Class Mini, racers can choose between prototypes and production boats from yards. The prototypes are genuine laboratories, which frequently foreshadow the major architectural trends, whilst the production boats tend to be more somewhat tempered by design.

Racers: from the amateur to the future greats of offshore racing

There are countless sailors of renown who have made their debut in the Mini Transat. From Jean-Luc Van Den Heede to Loïck Peyron and Thomas Coville, Isabelle Autissier and Sam Davies, a number of offshore racing stars have done the rounds on a Mini. However, the Mini Transat is also a lifelong dream for a number of amateur racers who, in a bid to compete in this extraordinary adventure, sacrifice work and family to devote themselves to their consuming passion. Nobody comes back from the Mini Transat completely unchanged. This year, there will be 84 solo sailors, 10 of whom are women! The Mini Transat is also the most international of offshore races with no fewer than 15 nationalities scheduled to take the start.

The course: from La Rochelle to the West Indies via the South face

Two legs are offered to make Martinique from Europe’s Atlantic coasts. The leg from La Rochelle to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is a perfect introduction to proceedings before taking the big transatlantic leap. The Bay of Biscay can be tricky to negotiate in autumn while the dreaded rounding of Cape Finisterre on the north-west tip of Spain marks a kind of prequel to the descent along the coast of Portugal. Statistically, this section involves downwind conditions, often coloured by strong winds and heavy seas. Making landfall in the Canaries requires finesse and highly developed strategic know-how.

The second leg will set sail on 1 November. Most often carried along by the trade wind, the solo sailors set off on what tends to be a little over two weeks at sea on average. At this point, there’s no way out: en route to the West Indies, there are no ports of call. The sailors have to rely entirely upon themselves to make Martinique, where they’ll enjoy a well-deserved Ti Punch cocktail to celebrate their accomplishments since embarking on the Mini adventure.

Published in Offshore

The current Vendee Globe Race non-stop round the world is deservedly attracting enough attention without having to make over-stated claims on behalf of some of its participants writes W M Nixon.

The official website is today carrying a story that if Enda O’Coineen can succeed in his plan of sailing his dismasted IMOCA 60 Kilcullen Voyager from Dunedin at the south end of New Zealand under jury rig to Auckland 800 miles away to the north, where a loaned replacement masts awaits, then if he can continue the voyage back to les Sables d’Olonne round Cape Horn he will become the first Irishman to sail solo round the world.

Not so. Noted Dublin marine artist Pete Hogan, who sailed solo round the world in his gaff ketch Molly B, said today that the number of misapprehensions about who was first doing what in the Irish circumnavigation stakes is astonishing.

For instance, when he rounded Cape Horn in the 1990s, he was acclaimed as the first Irishman to do it alone, for of course Conor O’Brien had done it with the crewed Saoirse in 1925. Yet Pete Hogan found it very difficult to get anyone to listen when he subsequently tried to set the record by saying that Bill King of Galway with the junk-rigged ketch Galway Blazer was the first solo, and that was way back in 1973.

The fact that Bill King was a distinguished former British submarine commander may have projected the image of being non-Irish. But in fact he flew both the Irish tricolour and the
British red ensign, and his home was Oranmore Castle at the head of Galway Bay.

irish solo2Bill King’s purpose-designed Galway Blazer circumnavigated the world solo south of the great Capes in 1973.

Since then, other Irish sailors who have striven to circumnavigate include Declan Mackell, originally from Portaferry but Canadian-based by the time he undertook his voyage in a Contessa 32, with which he returned home to Ireland for a prolonged stay during his circuit.

Another lone circumnavigator, Pat Lawless of Limerick who completed his voyage with a Seadog ketch in 1996 at the age of 70, had hoped to take in Cape Horn, but rigging damage forced him into a Chilean port, and eventually he returned to Ireland via the Panama Canal. But his circuit was definitely completed, and completed alone.

And Pete Hogan believes there may be one or two other Irish lone circumnavigators who have done it without fanfare. For not everyone seeks the kind of publicity which the Vendee Globe inevitably provides.

Pat Lawless solo sailorLimerick circumnavigator – the irrepressible Pat Lawless aboard his world-girdling Seadog ketch

Published in Vendee Globe

For many Afloat.ie readers, he was just a silhouetted figure sitting atop a boat waiting to be rescued when Afloat.ie published the story about a solo sailor's rescue off the Wexford coast. Like so many rescue video clips, there was little detail on what had caused the boat to capsize but French skipper Jean Conchaudron's subsequent thank you comment on Afloat.ie to the Irish rescue services shed a lot more light on his remarkable rescue from the Irish Sea.

Conchaudron was voyaging from Newlin, Cornwall to Dublin. His goal was to meet a friend who was coming to Dublin from Iceland. After a few days holidaying in Dublin they would come back with the two boats to Brittany (Perros Guirec).

mini 6.50 Jean conchaudron Jean Conchaudron's Mini 6.50 in happier times

But as we now know, none of this ever happened. As a result of 'mechanical failure' Conchaudron's keel fell off and he was capsized in seconds.

'Conditions were quite good, I was on deck, wind was about 15 knots, some swell. The boat capsized in about five seconds'.

'I had my PLB in my trousers, and my life jacket on. I triggered the PLB I have in my pocket. It then took to me about half an hour to be able to make a web of ropes to climb on to the hull, I was pushed up and down by the waves, and it took me a while to secure myself with the rope (the web of rope can be seen on the video). It was not possible to start my boat beacon because it was in the cabin and not accessible.

'I then waited to be rescued. The Rescue 117 Helicopter from Waterford saved me and I spent four days in Waterford Regional Hospital due to hypothermia. Thanks to the Irish recsue services, these guys are heroes'.

Conchaudron says he loves Mini 6.50 type sailing and prefers sailing alone. Despite what happened off Wexford, he believes his boat is 'very safe' and well equipped, as are all the boats of this class with a radio beacon and other safety measures. He participated in the "Mini Transat" in 1987, and other races in France. 

lifejacket Rescue 117Jean Conchaudron's all important lifejacket signed by his rescuers

As far as he knows, the boat is still adrift in the Irish Sea. Conchaudron says the Coastguard is 'keeping an eye on it.' It is his intention to try to get it back, depending on what his insurers say.

'I hope this experience will help other sailors', he wrote on the Rescue 117 Facebook page.

Conchaudron says he has learned an important lesson from the experience and wants to pass it on to other sailors in the hope that it can save other lives at sea: 'Have a PLB in your trousers's pocket, wear your life–jacket, stay afloat, don't sleep and be a warrior to survive'.

Published in Solo Sailing

Northern Ireland solo sailor Andrew Baker finished 13th in the Solo Normandie race. Baker, from Strangford Lough, is part of the British Artemis offshore team.

British Figaro racer Alan Roberts secured third place, his third top-10 finish of 2016 on Saturday ahead of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro in June. 

After sailing 284 miles of some of the most challenging French Atlantic coastline, from Granville to Le Havre, Roberts finished the Solo Normandie in third place on Vasco de Gama.

The British solo racer from Southampton was just 17 minutes behind race-winner Alexis Loison (Groupe Fiva) and eight minutes behind Damien Cloarec (Saferail) in second. Fifteen competitors took part.

This podium finish for Roberts follows his 10th place in the Solo Concarneau and 6th in the Solo Maître Coq and it continues his impressive build-up to the Solitaire where he will be looking for a second consecutive top-10 finish overall after coming 9th last year.

Ahead of the Solo Normandie, Roberts was looking forward to tackling a challenging tidal course – at the finish he said the race didn’t disappoint.

“It was cool,” said Roberts on the dock at Le Havre. “We got to play through some interesting tide effects and rocky areas and sail next to some giant lighthouses. It was a great race, and it delivered exactly what I had expected, if not more.”

After rounding the first mark in the top-four boats, Roberts then found himself at the back of the fleet on the first beat after an incident with another boat. Getting very little sleep during a challenging two-day race, he then worked hard to establish himself back with the front-runners.

By the final hours of racing, Roberts was back in the top-five – and he then enjoyed a brisk final run to the finish line, helped by playing the tides at Raz de Blanchard (the famous Alderney Race), to take his podium finish.

“Being one of the first at the Raz de Blanchard is what won the race in the end,” he continued. “The Solo Normandie was pretty difficult and tiring. I had to work really hard to move back through the fleet which has been the story of all of my races this year so far.”

Asked about his feelings ahead of this year’s Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro, Roberts sounded confident: “I’m feeling happy with my speed. These first three races have shown me that I am able to pull back through the fleet when I need to.”

The next British skipper into Le Havre was Robin Elsey aboard Artemis 43 in 7th. Recently returned from the 3,890-nautical mile Transat AG2R La Mondiale, a double-handed transatlantic Figaro race, Elsey threw himself in at the deep end with the Solo Normandie – his first solo race of the season.

“It was a difficult race and I made a lot of rookie mistakes,” Elsey admitted. “I’m just glad I finished it and didn’t come last! After a bad start – I’m never really a good starter anyway – I found myself back with the fleet on the second leg of the race; I managed to claw it back.”

On the challenges of the course Elsey said: “The tides were difficult. Will (Harris) and I entered the Raz de Blanchard at the same time and I ended up sailing away and leaving him behind. I felt a bit bad doing that. But in the end we finished next to each other anyway – that boy is like a bad rash, you can’t get rid of him!”

Staying true to form, Harris was the first British rookie to finish. He was 8th overall and second rookie behind Justine Mettraux (Teamwork), making this Harris’s third rookie podium position of the season, the Harris/Mettraux battle will make for an interesting Solitaire rookie competition.

“That was probably the most difficult of the three races we’ve had so far,” said the skipper of Artemis 77. “There was never a good time to sleep and the tide, the wind and the position of the fleet was constantly changing. You had to stay reactive.

“I’ve learned a lot this season. You take so much away from every race. I go into each race knowing more, but I also come out of the other end having learned more – I think that is the case for all of the rookies. We have a few weeks of training now to get ready for the Figaro,” he concluded.

Next over the line was Academy Alumni Andrew Baker (Artemis 64) in 13th, then rookies Hugh Brayshaw (Artemis 23) in 14th and Mary Rook (Artemis 37) in 15th.

The next race for the rookies is the big one; the 1,425-mile Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro, that starts on 19th June from Deauville.

The Solo Normandie 2016 results
Position/Skipper/Boat name/Time at sea

1. Alexis Loison/Groupe Fiva – 1d, 19h, 34m, 10s
2. Damien Cloarec/Saferail – 1d, 19h, 43m, 50s
3. Alan Roberts/Vasco de Gamma – 1d, 19h, 51m, 10s
7. Robin Elsey/Artemis 43 – 1d, 20h, 17m, 17s
8. Will Harris/Artemis 77 – 1d, 20h, 17m, 45s – 2nd Rookie
13. Andrew Baker/Artemis 64 – 1d, 20h, 59m, 25s
14. Hugh Brayshaw/Artemis 23 – 1d, 21h, 32m, 49s
15. Mary Rook/Artemis 37 – 1d, 22h, 12m, 35s

Published in Figaro
Tagged under
Page 4 of 6

The Rolex Fastnet Race - This biennial offshore pilgrimage attracts crews from all walks of life:- from aspiring sailors to professional crews; all ages and all professions. Some are racing for charity, others for a personal challenge. For the world's top professional sailors, it is a 'must-do' race. For some, it will be their first-ever race, and for others, something they have competed in for over 50 years! The race attracts the most diverse fleet of yachts, from beautiful classic yachts to some of the fastest racing machines on the planet – and everything in between.  The testing course passes eight famous landmarks along the route: The Needles, Portland Bill, Start Point, the Lizard, Land’s End, the Fastnet Rock, Bishop’s Rock off the Scillies and Plymouth breakwater (now Cherbourg for 2021 and 2023). After the start in Cowes, the fleet heads westward down The Solent, before exiting into the English Channel at Hurst Castle. The finish is in Plymouth, Devon via the Fastnet Rock, off the southern tip of Ireland

  • The leg across the Celtic Sea to (and from) the Fastnet Rock is known to be unpredictable and challenging. The competitors are exposed to fast-moving Atlantic weather systems and the fleet often encounter tough conditions
  • Flawless decision-making, determination and total commitment are the essential requirements. Crews have to manage and anticipate the changing tidal and meteorological conditions imposed by the complex course
  • The symbol of the race is the Fastnet Rock, located off the southern coast of Ireland. Also known as the Teardrop of Ireland, the Rock marks an evocative turning point in the challenging race
  • Once sailors reach the Fastnet Rock, they are well over halfway to the finish in Plymouth. The lighthouse first shone its light on New Year’s Day in 1854
  • Fastnet Rock originally had six keepers (now unmanned), with four on the rock at a time with the other two on leave. Each man did four weeks on, two weeks off

At A Glance – Fastnet Race

  • The world's largest offshore yacht race
  • The biennial race is 605 nautical miles - Cowes, Fastnet Rock, Plymouth
  • A fleet of over 400 yachts regularly will take part
  • The international fleet is made up of over 26 countries
  • Multihull course record: 1 day, 8 hours, 48 minutes (2011, Banque Populaire V)
  • Monohull course record: 1 day, 18 hours, 39 minutes (2011, Volvo 70, Abu Dhabi)
  • Largest IRC Rated boat is the 100ft (30.48m) Scallywag 100 (HKG)
  • Some of the Smallest boats in the fleet are 30 footers
  • Rolex SA has been a longstanding sponsor of the race since 2001
  • The first race was in 1925 with 7 boats. The Royal Ocean Racing Club was set up as a result

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