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.
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.
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.
Despite the long line, there were very congested waters at the committee boat end.
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.
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.
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?
The 700-mile race is anticipated to take up to five days to complete, with the biggest boats expected home early next week.
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