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Tips for Round Ireland Yacht Race Success by a Double Winner

13th June 2012
Tips for Round Ireland Yacht Race Success by a Double Winner
Cork Harbour's Dave Hennessy is getting ready for his seventh Round Ireland race in two weeks time. The two times winner of the 704-mile offshore race in the vintage Granada 38 Cavatina gives some advice on what's involved in a successful circuit of Ireland.

Well we are off again on our seventh Round Ireland Yacht Race, this time with the very grateful sponsorship of CH Marine on board. We were asked for some ideas on tactics for the race, as we have been lucky enough to win it twice in the past.


I think tactics play a small part in this race.The choice of boat would be the first consideration. It is a 704–mile offshore race around Ireland. The boat needs to be able to sail to her handicap over a wide range of conditions over a six day period by night and day. Cavatina is a 1979 design, weighs nine tons, has a long, sharp overhanging bow, a narrow enough stern, and like many heavy displacement boats, can keep moving in light conditions as well as coming into her own in heavy winds. In this year's fleet we seem very much the tortoise among the hares but we have been there before! The overall Fastnet winner in 2005 was a French" tortoise" beating us into second place overall by 22 minutes.


The next 'tactical' issue is crew. We are 12 years campaigning Cavatina offshore and have almost the same crew lining out every year. Our average age would be in late 50s but the group bring a range of skills to the boat – experience, stamina, good humour, sailing ability, mechanical, electrical skills.


The 'good humoured' crew of Cavatina go for their seventh Round Ireland race later this month. Photo: Bob Bateman

We managed to finish the '07 Fastnet where 240 of the 300 entrants were forced to retire.This is fair testimony to the crew's seamanship. I recall a bad night a few years ago approaching Inistrahull off the north coast under spinnaker with a rising gale forecast. We needed to drop the kite, gybe to avoid Scotland, but when we went to ease the halyard we found it had jumped the sheave and jammed solidly in the block at the masthead.

There was no way under the conditions to go up the mast. There was talk of shooting it with a flare even, but it was John Murphy who had the idea to ease the sheets as the boat slid down a wave, causing the kite to rise and the halyard to sit right on the sheave once again.The plan worked, kite came down for a few hours, went up again meaning we reached the fair tide at Rathlin and went on to win that race overall!

Sail Wardrobe

Another "tactical" issue to plan for is your sail wardrobe.You need to look at your boat's strengths and weaknesses in order to sail at your best in all conditions. Eric Lisson is shrewd in this regard and saw that the point of sailing from being close hauled to when you can carry a kite on a tight reach was critical for us. With Des McWilliam they came up with a Code Zero which we are only supposed to carry up to 15-knots apparent. This sail has won races for us. We also have a big overlapping furling Genoa.This means we can easily "change gear" when other crews are dragging headsails on deck or putting off marginal calls. Our main is quite small and is only reefed when it really blows.This again is a setup I feel lends itself well to offshore racing.


Cavatina passes along the Wicklow coast at the start of the 2010 Round Ireland. Photo: Bob Bateman


Yet another issue to deal with at the planning stage is food.The crew need to be fed well to sail at their best over that time length. We pre-cook and freeze 6 main meals which are eaten in evening.We cook an FIB (full Irish breakfast) in the morning, usually served in sandwiches. Proper clothing is also essential. Thanks again CH Marine. We finished in Wicklow one year with two crew definitely hypothermic who would have been no good to us if there was another 50 miles in the race!

Lady Luck

Probably the most honest thing i can say re on the water tactics is that it is mostly luck.There are 4 tidal gates to negotiate. You sprint to Tuskar to find that gate open or closed. You slog to windward to Fastnet along the south coast, beating into the bays, risking being becalmed, or you take a chance on a long starboard tack to the south to avoid light winds.You push to reach the North Channel between Rathlin and Scotland with the gate open.This is the most critical piece of luck. We made it last year only to be completely becalmed towards Belfast Lough managing 6 miles in 10 hours! We didn't win that race! The final gate is approaching Wicklow itself. Many is the boat has come to a halt in view of the town lights, trying to sail against five knot tides in light night airs.

So if it is really down to luck why do so many do it? Yes it is a challenge heading off south past Wicklow Head into the "unknown" but for me it is the indescribable sense of achievement in "completing the circle". DO IT!

Good luck to crew of Eric Lisson, Ian Hickey, Lennie Donnery, Sean Hanley, Kelly and Dave Hennessy!

Published in Round Ireland Team

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Round Ireland Yacht Race Information

The Round Ireland Yacht Race is Ireland's classic offshore yacht race starts from Wicklow Sailing Club (WSC) and is organised jointly with the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) and the Royal Irish Yacht Club (RIYC). This page details the very latest updates from the 2008 race onwards including the race schedule, yacht entries and the all-important race updates from around the 704-mile course. Keep up to date with the Round Ireland Yacht Race here on this one handy reference page.

2020 Round Ireland Race

The 2020 race, the 21st edition, was the first race to be rescheduled then cancelled.

Following Government restrictions over COVID-19, a decision on the whether or not the 2020 race can be held was made on April 9 2020 to reschedule the race to Saturday, August 22nd. On July 27th, the race was regrettably cancelled due to ongoing concerns about COVID-19.

Because of COVID-19, the race had to have a virtual launch party at the Royal Irish Yacht Club for its 21st edition

In spite of the pandemic, however, a record entry was in prospect for 2020 with 50 boats entered with four weeks to go to the race start. The race was also going big on size and variety to make good on a pre-race prediction that the fleet could reach 60. An Irish offshore selection trial also looked set to be a component part of the 2020 race.

The rescheduling of the race to a news date emphasises the race's national significance, according to Afloat here


704 nautical miles, 810 miles or 1304 kilometres

3171 kilometres is the estimate of Ireland's coastline by the Ordnance Survey of Ireland.

SSE Renewables are the sponsors of the 2020 Round Ireland Race.

Wicklow Sailing Club in association with the Royal Ocean Racing Club in London and The Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dublin.

Off Wicklow Harbour on Saturday, August 22nd 2020

Monohulls 1300 hrs and Multihulls 13.10 hrs

Leave Ireland and all its islands (excluding Rockall) to starboard.

It depends on the boat. The elapsed record time for the race is under 40 hours but most boats take five or six days to complete the course.

The Race Tracker is

The idea of a race around Ireland began in 1975 with a double-handed race starting and finishing in Bangor organised by Ballyholme Yacht Club with stopovers in Crosshaven and Killybegs. That race only had four entries. In 1980 Michael Jones put forward the idea of a non-stop race and was held in that year from Wicklow Sailing Club. Sixteen pioneers entered that race with Brian Coad’s Raasay of Melfort returning home after six days at sea to win the inaugural race. Read the first Round Ireland Yacht Race 1980 Sailing Instructions here


The Round Ireland race record of 38 h 37 min 7 s is held by MOD-70 trimaran Musandam-Oman Sail and was set in June 2016.

George David’s Rambler 88 (USA) holds the fastest monohull race time of two days two hours 24 minutes and 9 seconds set in the 2016 race.

William Power's 45ft Olivia undertook a round Ireland cruise in September 1860


Richard Hayes completed his solo epic round Ireland voyage in September 2018 in a 14-foot Laser dinghy. The voyage had seen him log a total of 1,324 sea miles (2,452 kilometres) in 54 sailing days. in 1961, the Belfast Lough Waverly Durward crewed by Kevin and Colm MacLaverty and Mick Clarke went around Ireland in three-and-a-half weeks becoming the smallest keelboat ever to go round. While neither of these achievements occurred as part of the race they are part of Round Ireland sailing history

© Afloat 2020

At A Glance – Round Ireland Yacht Race 2022

Race start: Off Wicklow Harbour date to be announced, most likely end of June 2022

There will be separate starts for monohulls and multihulls.

Race course:  leave Ireland and all its islands (excluding Rockall) to starboard.

Race distance: is approximately 704 nautical miles or 1304 kilometres.

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