The current Vendee Globe Race non-stop round the world is deservedly attracting enough attention without having to make over-stated claims on behalf of some of its participants writes W M Nixon.
The official website is today carrying a story that if Enda O’Coineen can succeed in his plan of sailing his dismasted IMOCA 60 Kilcullen Voyager from Dunedin at the south end of New Zealand under jury rig to Auckland 800 miles away to the north, where a loaned replacement masts awaits, then if he can continue the voyage back to les Sables d’Olonne round Cape Horn he will become the first Irishman to sail solo round the world.
Not so. Noted Dublin marine artist Pete Hogan, who sailed solo round the world in his gaff ketch Molly B, said today that the number of misapprehensions about who was first doing what in the Irish circumnavigation stakes is astonishing.
For instance, when he rounded Cape Horn in the 1990s, he was acclaimed as the first Irishman to do it alone, for of course Conor O’Brien had done it with the crewed Saoirse in 1925. Yet Pete Hogan found it very difficult to get anyone to listen when he subsequently tried to set the record by saying that Bill King of Galway with the junk-rigged ketch Galway Blazer was the first solo, and that was way back in 1973.
The fact that Bill King was a distinguished former British submarine commander may have projected the image of being non-Irish. But in fact he flew both the Irish tricolour and the
British red ensign, and his home was Oranmore Castle at the head of Galway Bay.
Since then, other Irish sailors who have striven to circumnavigate include Declan Mackell, originally from Portaferry but Canadian-based by the time he undertook his voyage in a Contessa 32, with which he returned home to Ireland for a prolonged stay during his circuit.
Another lone circumnavigator, Pat Lawless of Limerick who completed his voyage with a Seadog ketch in 1996 at the age of 70, had hoped to take in Cape Horn, but rigging damage forced him into a Chilean port, and eventually he returned to Ireland via the Panama Canal. But his circuit was definitely completed, and completed alone.
And Pete Hogan believes there may be one or two other Irish lone circumnavigators who have done it without fanfare. For not everyone seeks the kind of publicity which the Vendee Globe inevitably provides.