As I type this, I am currently motor sailing along the Brittany coast having left Port La Floret and am delivering Figaro3 Number 20 to Dun Laoghaire with my co-skipper Pamela Lee.
There has been a lot of speculation in both the media and also amongst the sailing community regarding the inaugural Double Handed Offshore Worlds that were due to be held in Malta in October 2020. This is my story and my views on the handling of the event and the challenges that have had to be overcome if anybody wants to compete at this level. It also our plans for the future for double-handed offshore sailing.
As early as 2017, World Sailing announced there would be a potential new discipline for the Olympic Games of a mixed crew double-handed offshore style discipline. Sailing and sport is constantly evolving with commercial pressures such as sponsorship and TV rights having an influential effect on the style and format of sailing events. There has been talk of this new discipline involving constant live streaming of cameras onboard the boats with drama and images fed ashore continually. This concept was turned to reality with the proposal of the inaugural Double Handed Offshore Worlds that were/are due to be held in Malta in October. There were/are 20 international teams due to take part in this event. One team per country. Irish Sailing representing Ireland was one of the countries that applied for one of the spots for this event. This occurred in November 2019.
There next came the challenge as to how to select the best Irish team to represent Ireland at this event. There has been some speculation as to how effectively Irish Sailing promoted this opportunity to the sailors of Ireland. In my own personal view, I believe that anybody looking for this information could have easily found it. There were no hidden secrets or emails sent to selective potential representatives, teams were invited to submit expressions of interest to Irish Sailing. Myself and Joan Mulloy were one of a small number of teams who sent in an expression of interest to Irish Sailing. We did this in December 2019.
Irish Sailing then needed to find a way to select the best team to represent Ireland. It is my belief that Irish Sailing enlisted the services of Marcus Hutchinson who has for many years managed IMOCA teams and is heavily involved in the Figaro 3 class and organisation in France. The Figaro class and race calendar of single-handed & double-handed events is arguably the pinnacle of short-handed small boat offshore sailing in the world. Marcus and Irish Sailing proposed a three-race series of two races for Irish teams only with course lengths of 50 and 100 miles and then the Solo Concarneau race due to be held in April 2020. There were questions as to this selection process including; Why France?; Why Figaro 3s; Why a race that is part of the Figaro circuit? Other questions stemmed from these including costs, Figaro 3 boat time & experience. The simple answer is that if Ireland wants to have the best possible representation at these world championships the Figaro race circuit is the best proving ground available. For me personally, if you want anything in life, you will find a way to make it happen. This you will see is a running theme, there have been a lot of unforeseen obstacles that have had to be tackled and overcome to get this far.
"The simple answer is that if Ireland wants to have the best possible representation at these world championships the Figaro race circuit is the best proving ground available"
The first of which was Joan’s fantastic news which is far more important than any sailing campaign. Joan was pregnant and as a result, would not be able to realistically compete in either the qualifying events or the event in Malta. Therefore I approached Pam, who had only recently returned to Ireland after eight years abroad offshore racing and professional crewing on superyachts and race campaigns in Australia, UK, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, to join the team. Pam subsequently forfeited and rearranged her existing personal and professional plans to get onboard for making this campaign a reality.
Figaro3 learning curve
We then needed to get sailing, Joan had worked with Marcus previously in her earlier Figaro sailing so between Joan, Pam and myself with input for chartering a boat and logistics advice from Marcus, we went to France with Joan acting as a coach and Pam and I learning how to sail a Figaro3, this was a month before the original Irish Sailing qualification process in early March. We had a great week and learnt a lot but it became clear how much more we really needed to learn if we were to seriously compete not just to win the qualifiers to represent Ireland but to represent Ireland at the Offshore World Championships in Malta.
Unfortunately, as we were leaving France, the Covid-19 pandemic was just starting to unfold… Yet another challenge to overcome and also a lot of uncertainty as we all now know. Despite the uncertainty, the end goal was also at the forefront of our minds as to represent Ireland in Malta in October. To accomplish this we had agreed as a team then as soon as the various lockdowns around the world were lifting or showing signs of lifting, we were straight out to France to put the boat back in the water and get sailing. Our plan included getting the boat to Ireland as soon as possible. This was because it had been hinted that the Round Ireland yacht race may be used as the qualifying event for Malta. So on Thursday the 14th of May, with various letters and my father Alistair to help with transport logistics, I was on a ferry from Rosslare to Cherbourg to get to the boat, Pam armed with similar letters was flying on one of the five scheduled flights in total the next day out of Dublin airport.
Plan B - La Solitaire du Figaro
As a team, we had discussed the possibilities and probabilities of the event in October actually occurring and naturally had come up with a plan B. A simple plan but one that would give the team more overall experience of short-handed offshore racing in the Figaro class. The backup was for me to do the solo Figaro circuit including the Solitaire du Figaro to learn the boat and also improve short-handed offshore sailing techniques. Reality quickly came into play three days ago when we were leaving France on the 20th May that plan B would have to be put into place as World Sailing cancelled its World Offshore Championships for 2020.
Sailing home to Dun Laoghaire
Complying with all the social distancing guidelines in both France and Ireland, we got the boat back to Ireland yesterday evening on the 22nd of May after a two day 317nm spin from Port La Floret. The plan is to train here from Dun Laoghaire Harbour gaining boat handling skills for the next 5 weeks before returning to France for the newly revised Figaro calendar that will include events such as the Drheam Cup, Solo Concarneau, La Solitaire du Figaro and Spi Ouest (Double-Handed). This should hopefully give us a firm grounding in the boats and discipline of sailing ahead of a double-handed season next year and seeking to qualify to represent Ireland at the rescheduled double-handed offshore worlds, hinted to be in Malta in 2021.