Few international sporting events gives a stronger sense of the cohesive nature of the Irish diaspora than the annual Rolex Sydney Hobart Race writes W M Nixon. For there were certainly sailors of Irish descent in the first race of 1945, which was largely inspired by offshore racing legend Captain John Illingworth of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, who happened to be stationed in Sydney as a naval officer as World War II drew to a close and new distance races were once again possible.
Since then, Irish crew either chartered complete boats, or were significant parts of crews. But the real breakthrough came with 1991’s Irish three-boat team’s overall winning involvement in the Southern Cross Series, of which the Hobart Race was the climax.
In the final inshore race, the boat being campaigned by Howth sailors Gordon Maguire and Kieran Jameson was dismasted in a collision with an Australian boat which was at fault. Points allocations were adjusted accordingly to the end of the series, but this led to personnel changes for the race to Hobart, in which Ireland now had only two boats.
One was the John Storey’s 43ft Atara, which was being skipppered by Cork’s Harold Cudmore, who promptly drafted Gordon Maguire into his helming lineup. Ireland got their first Hobart race overall win and the Southern Cross Trophy with it, while Gordon Maguire’s gradual progession towards becoming a leading Australian sailor got under way, though several years were to pass before he moved Down Under for good.
While he was always in the frame in any Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race he sailed, his next overall win didn’t come until 2011 with Steven Ainsworth’s Reichel Pugh 63 Loki. And now, after several years of successful partnership with Australian Sailing President Matt Allen in a number of boats all called Ichi Ban (it’s Japanese for No.1), Maguire has recorded one of the finest overall wins yet achieved, in the most demanding section of perhaps the most competitive fleet ever assembled.
When that was added to Jim Rooney’s super-maxi LDV Comanche being awarded the Line Honours prize with Justin Slattery as bow-man, it put the Irish links on the pinnacle of success. But this was only the start of it. For in addition to noted Irish-Australian names to be found at the front of several classes, four Irish sailors had travelled out to Sydney to take part.
The one who had got there by the longest route was of course Conall Morrison of Derry/Londonderry, skippering HotelPlanner.com in the Clipper 70 Round the World race. The Sydney-Hobart’s inclusion in the Clipper programme has been good for the sailors of Lough Swilly, as Sean McCarter also won this leg when he was racing round the world. But while Sean McCarter was to be awarded international recognition for a rescue at sea in a different stage of the Clipper Race, Conall Morrison and his crew carried out a man-overboard rescue of a crewman from another boat racing to Hobart, and did it with such exemplary skill that eventually both boats were able to continue with the race, with HotelPlanner.com’s redress of rescue time giving her a clear win in the Clippper Class.
Meanwhile at the front end of the fleet, international navigator Ian Moore, now Cowes-resident but originally from Carrickfergus, was calling the shots on the Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino 32. In a races round which the TP 52s fitted perfectly, it was only occasionally that a Cookson 50 figured prominently in the rankings, yet somehow Moore placed Mascalzone to such good effect that at some stage she was in the top three, and at the finish was fifth overall and second in Class 0.
As for our general impression of the race, it is Ian Moore’s opinion that Ichi Ban was raced “exceptionally well throughout” which carried most weight. But meanwhile that second in Class 0 mustn’t obscure the fact that Class 0 was won by the American-owned former Volvo 70 Wizard (ex Giacomo) aboard which Dublin-born sailmaker Noel Drennan was sailing his 32nd Sydney-Hobart Race.
For Limerick GP Dr Emmet Kerin, who normally sails out of Kilrush on the family’s First 36.7, the jaunt to Sydney to race with Ron Forster on his First 40 Ariel is a yearly highlight, but 2017 will be remembered better than most – Ariel won Class 3.
A noted Irish sailor making his first foray to Hobart was Mini-Transat hero Tom Dolan. He shipped with a mixed Australian-Chinese crew on the veteran Jarkan 12.5 China Easyway, and they’d their best race yet, recording third in Class 4. But that was only the beginning of success in Class 4, as Offaly-born navigator Adrienne Cahalane was doing her 26th Sydney-Hobart, and she did it aboard a veteran-plus – the 1931-built Sparkman & Stephens Dorade, which won the Fastnet Race in 1931 and again in 1933, but has been so well restored by American owner Matt Brooks that she’s able for the rugged Sydney-Hobart Race, and not merely as a survivor – Dorade, at 86 years old, took second in IRC Class 4.
Briefly annotated, the achievements with Irish involvement are:
Line Honours and 19th overall: LDV Comanche (Jim Cooney and Justin Slattery).
First Class 1 and First Overall: Ichi Ban (Gordon Maguire).
First Class 0 and Fourth Overall: Wizard (Noel Drennan).
Second Class 0 and Fifth Overall: Mascalzone Latino 32 (Ian Moore).
First Class 3 and 34th overall: Ariel (Emmet Kerin).
Second Class 4 and 31st overall: Dorade (Adrienne Cahalane).
Third Class 4 and 32nd overall: China Easyway (Tom Dolan)