Bangor has more of a link to the prestigious SSE Renewables Round Ireland Yacht Race than is at first obvious writes Betty Armstrong. This year Royal Ulster Yacht Club looks forward to tracking the progress of father and son duo, Johnny and Jamie Ritchie in their Dufour 41 Classic, Mingulay, who have, after the last race when they had to retire to Dingle, forensically sorted out the sea cock problem, and kitted out the sail locker with two new sails having discovered their large full genoa and spinnaker wasn’t quite the solution for close reaching.
The RIR website tells us that the first race took place in 1980 with only thirteen boats. That indeed is the case for the race in its current format with the Wicklow start, but in 1975 Ballyholme Yacht Club had jumped on the increasingly two-handed race offshore scene and ran what was, in fact, the very first Round Ireland Race starting at Ballyholme with stopovers in Crosshaven and Killybegs.
Four yachts took part. The names will ring a bell with the more senior members of the Irish sailing fraternity; Eamonn Crosbie and the late Jim Poole from Dun Laoghaire in the little Ruffian 23 Ruffino; Brian Law from Strangford Lough with Brian Daniels (ex-Great Britain 11) in Sai See, a 38 ft Finnisterrre class yawl; Robert Mollard and Dick Watson in an S&S 34 Korsar from Dun Laoghaire, and the late Brian Coad and Derek Wyndham’s Folkboat, Shoestring from Waterford. Korsar won in a time of nearly seven days. And Coad won the 1980 race in Raasay of Melfort.
Sadly, Ballyholme let go of the idea and following the success of Wicklow SC’s Round Ireland Rally in 1979, a race starting from and finishing in Wicklow, leaving Ireland and all its islands to starboard, was proposed and under the stewardship of the late Michael Jones, the first Round Ireland took place in 1980.
But Belfast Lough’s association with the race was renewed from time to time. In 1986 Fiona Hicks reminds me that she was part of an all-women crew, which included Enda O’Coineen's sister, Ann Marie Bowring, racing in a Sigma 41 called Electra. And again in 1988, Fiona was in the crew of Twenty Twenty, an MG RS 34 owned by Jimmy Mackey.
So now the Ritchies are renewing that association, determined to go the distance this year, hopefully without mishap.
In 2018 all began well, and they were mid-fleet between the Tuskar and the Fastnet, but within four hours of rounding the Fastnet in calm conditions at 1800 on 1st July, the wind was gusting 40 knots. They admit they were over canvassed, heeling and taking in water through galley and toilet sinks. They were unaware of the ingress of water as both were in the cockpit. Discretion being the better part of valour, they retired, along with a couple of others to Dingle for repairs. Mingulay did, in fact, complete the passage round Ireland – well nearly – they stopped in Belfast Lough. The father and son hope for better things this time round.