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When the wind is warm you maybe don’t notice too much when it spikes up to between 30 and 40 knots, but light offwind sails certainly do writes W M Nixon. In this boisterous RORC Caribbbean 600 2018, with its 34 retirals out of a fleet of 74 mono-hulls, there have been many blown-out spinnakers. But aboard the IRC 46 Pata Negra chartered by Michael Wright of Howth YC, they’ve been in the spinnaker blitzing business wholesale. The word is that they now haven’t a single one left at all - not one of any shape, weight or size.

Yet despite that, with most of the running being in the early stages when they still had some spinnakers left, and then so much of the rest of the race being flat-out reaching or beating, they’ve managed to hang in there. They’ve hung in to such good effect, that all being well with the rest of the rig and remaining sails, they’ll be finished early tonight (late afternoon local time) to correct into second in Class 1.

RORC Caribbean 600 course3.jpg The sting is in the tail – the final 40-mile beat from Redonda to the finish has been rugged, sometimes in the extreme.

There’s quite a significant gap between them and the Class 1 winner, the potent new NMD 43 Albator from France. And who knows how much narrower that gap might have been if they’d kept some of the lighter cloth intact on Pata Negra. But nevertheless it’s an excellent performance when you think that, ten days ago, most of the Irish crew had never even clapped eyes on the boat before. Yet within the limits of sail shortages, they’ve put in a masterful showing, and have managed to stay sufficiently far ahead of the lower-rated J/44 Spice, aboard which Will Byrne and Chris Raymond of the National YC are sailing, to keep her back in third in Class I.

bam racing3Bam! loving it on the reach. But now her crew face the 40-mile windward slogging match from Redonda to the finish.

Meanwhile, fifty miles astern of Pata Negra and going great guns, clubmate Conor Fogerty and his pals on the little Sunfast 3600 Bam! are on full power and zapping offwind level-pegging with a bunch of larger boats. And they’re still well in the lead in Class 3 - in fact, they’ve a bigger clear margin than ever before on the second boat. Nevertheless with the wind keeping up the pressure, the reality of the 40-mile dead beat in the night from Redonda to the finish at Antigua in a hyper-light 36-footer like Bam! is something that will sort the men from the boys.

Race tracker here 

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With the third dawn of the RORC Caribbean 600 arriving on this Thursday morning, the annual warm water classic is settling into its final stages writes W M Nixon. While the successful heavy metal may be long since back into port and celebratory mode in Antigua, with George David’s Rambler 888 the undisputed treble success star, many boats and crews are licking their wounds after an unprecedented retiral rate in a race which has been living up to its advance billing as the toughest yet staged in the RORC Caribbbean 600’s ten year history.

For those still at sea but with the tricky sailing waters around mountainous Gudeloupe at the southern end of the course now well astern, it’s a case of consolidating positions and maintaining maximum speed while the breeze holds up, while at the same time managing to avoid any crippling gear damage. This has been the unfortunate experience of the combined National YC/Malahide YC crew of Bernard McGranahan and Dermot Cronin with the J/122 Noisy Oyster, who had rounded most of Guadeloupe, but then had to retire, and are limping back to Antigua.

pata negra2Pata Negra, the Lombard IRC 46 chartered by Howth YC’s Michael Wright, is now clearly in second place in Class 1

The little superstar, Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 Bam from Howth, continues to amaze with her ability to sail above her size, a gallant little boat sailed by a determined skipper and crewed by his amateur shipmates and friends. Currently she’s due east of the southern tip of Antigua, entering the final triangle of the course with 120 miles still to race, and pacing confidently with larger boats while continuing to lead IRC Class 3 by a now substantial margin.

The other Howth boat, the Michael Wright-chartered Lombard IRC 46 Pata Negra, has had a good night of it, and though she was not going to be able to make a significant dent in the 40-mile Class 1 lead of Albator (a new French NMD 43), Pata Negra is now more securely in second, and has just 58 miles to race to the finish.

RORC Caribbean 600 course3.jpg The three boats with Irish links in contention in the RORC Caribbbean 600 2018 are now all in the final Antigua-Barbuda-Redonda-Antigua triangle, with their finish at the south end of Antigua.

Third place in Class 1 is being retained by American-Irish Kevin McLaughlin’s J/44 Spice, which has Will Byrne and Chris Raymond of the National YC in her crew, but while significiantly lower-rated than Pata Negra, she now has 104 miles to race to the finish.

After the high-powered, strong winds drama of much of the race, inevitably there are areas of the course which are starting to show an easing of the pressure. But at the moment, the breeze is holding up over the final crucial Antigua-Barbuda-Redonda-Antigua triangle. We keep our fingers crossed

Race Tracker here

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George David’s mighty Rambler 88 has repeated her Volvo Round Ireland 2016 treble in the current RORC Caribbean 600, taking line honours, the new course record, and overall victory in IRC, all in the one fell swoop writes W M Nixon.

By this afternoon, only Ron O’Hanley’s renowned Cookson 50 Privateer could have challenged the big silver bullet. But the final leg to the finish off the south coast of Antigua is a beat long enough to upset VMG predictions, which had earlier shown Privateer to be a genuine threat. However, it was not to be, and Rambler 88 is now clearly ensconced on the ultimate treble podium of a classic offshore race.

For the varied Irish contingent dotted throughout the fleet, it’s a matter of who takes second in Class 1, and can we hang onto the Class 3 IRC lead against a lower-rated second-placed boat which clearly has no intention of easing off the pressure?

In Class 1, barring gear failure the winner is going to be the new NMD 43 Albator from France, campaigned by Benoit Briand. He has forty miles in hand on the next boat in the class, and though he rates higher than his closest contenders, currently he has time to spare.

There’s more of a battle for second and third in Class 1, as there’d been a ding-dong for those places today between the American J.44 Spice with the National’s stars Will Byrne and Chris Raymond in the crew, and Howth YC’s Michael Wright with the IRC 46 Pata Negra. But the flukey conditions round the south end of Guadeloupe have been shaking up the places like nobody’s business, and as we post this Pata Negra is lying third in Class 1 but Spice has slipped back to seventh.

Further on down the line among the little folk, Conor Fogerty with the smallest boat in the race, the Sunfast 3600 Bam, continues to sail above his size – so much so that, among the boats he has always been clear ahead of on the water, there’s the J/122 Noisy Oyster, the joint campaign by the National YC’s Bernard McGranahan and former Middle Sea Race two-handed winner Dermot Cronin of Malahide, which is currently lying ninth in IRC 2.

Noisy Oyster has been level pacing today with the JPK 10.10 Jangada (Richard Palmer), which is the closest contender for Bam’s Class 3 lead. But as the Fogerty boat has twenty miles in hand on the pair of them, for the time being his class position is secure. But there’s still a long way to go, and even with Rambler now firmly in the supreme slot, there’s still much at stake.

Race tracker here

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George David’s magnificent Rambler 88 has added further lustre to a career of remarkable success by taking line honours and setting the new course record for the RORC Caribbean 600 by a margin of more than two hours this morning writes W M Nixon.

In 2011, when he was racing Rambler 100, David had set the previous record of 1 day 16 hours 20 minutes and 2 seconds in what seemed like wellnigh perfect conditions. But continuous and often vigorous northeast tradewind conditions this year gave Rambler 88 the edge, and she finished at Antigua at 01:21:45 local time in the small hours of this morning to set a new record of 1 day 13 hours 41 minutes and 45 seconds.

Unlike their Volvo Round Ireland Record in 2016, when there were no mono-hulls of comparable size chasing the winner, Rambler’s crew will not have to wait too long to see if she continues to hold the IRC Championship lead. She gives time to the American-owned Volvo 70 Volvo Warrior, which is just 28 miles from the finish and sailing to windward on the final leg at a VMG of 14.5 knots, though with barely enough time available to challenge Rambler 88.

The overnight IRC leader, Ron O’Hanley’s Cookson 50 Privateer, has now slipped to fourth overall as the German 56-footer Varuna has moved ahead to third in what is still very much a big boat race.

Thus the larger of the two Howth entries, the Michael Wright-chartered IRC 46 Pata Negra, has continued to improve through the night, and now lies 10th overall and second in Class 1. Kevin McLaughlin’s J/44 Spice, with NYC crewmen Will Byrne and Chris Raymond, is third in Class 1 and 12th overall.

Conor Fogerty’s 36ft Bam! (HYC) the smallest boat in the race, is punching above her weight at 13th overall, and leads Class 3 by an hour. But she still has 289 miles to race, facing the challenge of just how long this record-making nor’east breeze will last.

Race tracker here

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George David's American Maxi Rambler 88 crossed the finish line in Antigua on Wednesday 21st February at 01:21:45 AST in an elapsed time of 1 day 13 hours 41 minutes and 45 seconds, setting a new monohull race record.

Meanwhile, Paradox, Peter Aschenbrenner's American 63' Trimaran crossed the finish line in Antigua at: 00:55:16 AST on Wednesday 21st February 2018 in an elapsed time of 1 day, 13 hours 5 minutes and 16 seconds taking Multihull Line Honours in the 10th edition of the race.

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There are sailors from the National YC in Dun Laoghaire, and sailors from Howth, and they’re on the other side of the Atlantic to race against boats from many nations on a 600-mile course writes W M Nixon And yet right now they’re battling closely against each other, both within classes, and in clawing their way up the overall table.

The Michael Wright-chartered IRC 46 Pata Negra (HYC) currently lies 13th overall, and third in Class 1. The Kevin McLaughlin-owned J/44 Spice (he’s Irish-American, but his crew includes the NYC’s Will Byrne and Chris Raymond) is 16th overall, and fourth in Class 1. And between them is Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 Bam! (HYC) in 15th overall, and leading Class 3.

It could all be happening at home. And racing the RORC Caribbean 600 is an experience similar in at least one way to the Volvo Round Ireland Race. In both latitudes, you’re on the lee side of the Atlantic when the prevailing winds are blowing. And the famed nor’east tradewinds are blowing big time right now in the Caribbean, with all the fetch of the wide Atlantic fully behind them.

rambler today1Making knots. Rambler today, making her pitch for the treble in the RORC Caribbean 600

So although the temperatures are so absurdly warm that it feels like you’re stepping into an oven when you get off the plane in Antigua, there’s still a west of Ireland power to those big blue breaking seas that you’ll meet as you sail the more exposed parts of this unique course, taking in eleven islands. And with 14 boats now retired from the original count of 74 mono-hulls, the sea is taking its toll on boats and crew.

Yet if everything holds together, the sailing is magic on the knife edge between speed and crippling damage. Designing and building a top offshore racer is a finely-judged choice between weight-saving and weakness. But when it comes to it, it’s amazing what modern boats can withstand.

As Conor Fogerty said after winning the Gipsy Moth Trophy with his Sunfast 3600 Bam! in last year’s OSTAR: “There you are, out in the ocean in the night in this light little boat in a gale, climbing up the side of a big sea that seems to go on up for ever in the darkness, and then you shoot out the top and become airborne for what seems a lifetime, and you’ve time to think that there’s no way this little plastic thing is going to survive hitting that very hard bit of water way down in the bottom of the trough, and then comes the crash which surely nothing can survive….but she does, she does survive without splitting open. And then she picks herself up, and just sails on, climbing the next mini-mountain that you know is right there in the dark”.

The fact that Bam! came through such conditions in the cold part of the Atlantic goes some way to explain how Fogerty is driving his boat – one of the smallest in the fleet – round the Caribbean 600 course with such flat-out style that he and his Howth crew currently lead Class 3 by two hours. And in a big boat race, the sheer chutzpah of the Fogerty style is putting his mark on the event, though as he still has 380 miles to race, that balancing act between successful speed and bailout breakdown has a long way to go yet.

cookson50 privateer2Ron O’Hanley’s Cookson 50 Privateer currently leads IRC

Meanwhile, at the head of the fleet George David’s mighty Rambler 88 continues her awesome progress, 115 miles still to race, but within sight of repeating his Volvo Round Ireland treble of mono-hull line honours, a new course record, and most treasured of all – the overall IRC win.

But there’s strong competition. In a big boat race, any boat that sails as though she’s bigger than she actually is must be right in there with a shout. And no boat fills this role better than the perpetually successful Cookson 50. Adrian Lee’s Cookson Lee Overlay Partners may be out of the race, but American Ron O’Hanley’s sister-ship Privateer is going indecently well, and at one stage today she was first in everything except that line honours slot so tightly held by Rambler 88, and she still lies first overall on IRC to Rambler’s second.

Race tracker here

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Ex-Pat Irish sailing superstar Gordon Maguire may have long since taken out Australian citizenship and built his hugely successful professional career mainly in Australia writes W M Nixon. But when his former clubmates from the strong Howth contingent met up with him in Antigua before the start of the RORC Caribbean 600 2018, and found that he was doing the race on George Sakellaris’s previous winner, the Maxi 72 Proteus, they promptly made him an honorary member of their team.

It was a selection which went brilliantly for the first nine hours of the race. Sydney-Hobart Race overall winner Maguire was on top form, with former Caribbean winner Proteus going like a rocket, and when they came to harden onto the wind at Saba at 20:00 hrs local time last night for the 30-mile slugfest to St Barthelemy, Proteus was leading IRC overall on corrected time.

michael and gordon2Michael Wright of Howth and Sydney-Hobart winner Gordon Maguire at the pre-Caribbean 600 reception in Antigua. Photo HYC

Alas, it was over within minutes, with serious equipment failure on Proteus which fortunately didn’t result in any injuries, but now they’re limping back to Antigua. Meanwhile, those who are left in a race whose destructive powers have seen many retirals, and the capisize of one of the multi-hulls, are enduring the inter-island upwind slugfests in order to better enjoy the mad offwind romps, and record speeds are becoming the norm.

George David’s Rambler 88 is now well into the mono-hull lead on the water, and has overtaken the pace set by the previous record-holder, his Rambler 100 of 2011. They’re into the southern part of the course, and doing 20 knots and better, but will soon have to take account of the wind shadow in the lee of Guadeloupe where many a Caribbean 600 campaign in times past has gone astray.

Of the Irish contingent, Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 Bam! continues to put in an excellent showing, particularly considering that she’s one of the smallest boats in what is currently a big boat race. With the northeast wind showing its expected tendency to back slightly, Fogerty has very decidedly taken the left-hand option on the tough beat from Saba to St Barthelemy, and is continuing to hold his positions well, showing as second in IRC 3 and second in CSA 2.

bam before start3The sun doesn’t always shine in the Caribbean – Conor Fogerty’s Bam, one of the smallest boats in the race, in pre-start mode before the Caribbbean 600 2018. Photo HYC

Michael Wright’s IRC 46 Pata Negra, the other Howth boat, has taken a more conservative approach to the Saba-St Bart’s beat, and it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm at all. On the contrary, by holding towards the middle, this boat which is supposedly not at her best to windward is third in IRC 1 and is now closing up on St Bart’s on port tack.

In line astern of Pata Negra by seven miles is Irish-American Kevin McLaughlin’s J/44 Spice, aboard which Will Byrne and Chris Raymond of the National YC are crewing. At a stage of the race which suits good all-rounders like a J/44, they’re doing mighty well indeed – Spice lies second in IRC 1.

Another Irish interest, the Elliott 52 Outsider aboard which 2017 race winner Ian Moore is navigating, has been posing a problem for race followers, as her Position Tracker has only been working very intermittently. But at the moment she seems to be rounding the north end of Saint Martin and is shown as fourth overall in CSA, with the prospect in sight of freeing sheets for the quick dash south to Guadeloupe.

After less than a day of racing, the fleet is already exceptionally widely spread out along the course. Leading mono-hull Rambler 88 – currently leading overall on IRC Corrected as well – has 350 miles to the finish, and on current speeds could beat the course record by three hours.

Last of the IRC boats still racing, the Swan 48 Dantes, has 450 miles still to sail. If she finishes, by the time she gets there it will be the end of the week. This offshore racing – it’s a tough old sport.

Race tracker here

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Greg Slyngstad's American Bieker 53 multihull Fujin has capsized during the RORC Caribbean 600. All eight crew are safe. Stephen Cucchiaro's Gunboat 60 Flow stood by until Dutch/ French authorities organised a rescue vessel. Preparations are now underway to transfer all crew to the safety of Port Saba.

RORC Race Manager Chris Stone issued a statement on behalf of the race organisers, The Royal Ocean Racing Club:

"On Monday 19th February at 20:20 AST, Fujin capsized close to Saba Island and the eight-man crew were observed standing on the up-turned hull. All of the crew are now safe. Stephen Cucchiaro's Gunboat 60 Flow stood by while rescue agencies co-ordinated the rescue efforts.

Jens Kellinhusen's German Ker 56 Varuna altered course to assist, but has now continued racing. The Coastguard at Fort De France Martinique has been co-ordinating the rescue."

The highly experienced crew on Fujin from Seattle, Washington, USA include the skipper Greg Slyngstad, the boat's designer, Paul Bieker and Olympic Gold medallist Jonathan McKee.

Fujin's Crew: Greg Slyngstad, Bradley Baker, Peter F Johnston, Paul Bieker, Gina Borza, Fritz Lanzinger, Michael Leslie, Jonathan McKee.

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Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 Bam! is currently showing best of the Irish still racing in the RORC Caribbbean 600 after this afternoon’s start off Antigua writes W M Nixon. The new “Sailor of the Year” is leading in Class 3 and 19th overall while reaching fast in a northwesterly direction in the fresh easterly wind towards the first mark at Barbuda.

The phrase “still racing” is of some relevance to the Irish contingent, as Adrian Lee’s Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners returned to port without crossing the starting line, while the Maxi CQS, with Cork’s David Kenefick in a key role, also appears to have turned and headed back to port.

RORC Caribbean 600 2On record pace, George David's American Maxi Rambler 88 and the IRC Zero & Superyacht fleet at the start of the RORC Caribbean 600 off Fort Charlotte in Antigua today Photo: RORC/Tim Wright

The initial beat along Antigua’s southeast coast saw quite an element of sorting-out in the fleet. And as beating is not the strongest suit for the IRC 46 Pata Negra chartered by Michael Wright of Howth, initially she was showing as well down the fleet. But now with sheets freed, the Marc Lombard design is starting to make much better knots, and is lying 4th in IRC 1.

At the head of the fleet, as expected George David’s Rambler 88 is leading the mono-hulls on the water. But she still has some work to do to get up to a performance which will match his record-making race in 2011 with Rambler 100, the boat which - in August of the same year - was to part company with her keel at the Fastnet Rock.

Race tracker: here

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“It could be the most rugged RORC Caribbean 600 in the race’s ten year history”. That is one of the predictions being made in advance of this afternoon’s start off Antigua at 11am local time writes W M Nixon. And those who recall the superb heavy weather performance of George David’s Rambler 88 in breaking records and winning handicaps every which way in the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016 will reckon that this is the boat to beat, for she could well break the course record of 1 day 16 hours and 20 minutes set by the same owner’s Rambler 100 back in 2011.

Not only is Rambler 88 looking at line honours and a possible new course record, but the handicap win is also a prospect, as the strong nor’easters being forecast – they might get to 35 knots, and more in squalls – are forecast to ease as the week goes on, possibly in time to slow back the smaller boats.

That said, 35 knots is more than is needed for a record. 20-25 knots might be about right, with a bit more for the many downwind legs in a complex course which takes the fleet round 11 islands and through multiple navigational challenges.

RORC caribbean 600The complex 600-mile course – starting and finishing at the south end of Antigua – takes the fleet round eleven islands in a very special navigational and tactical challenge

elliott 52 outsider2It will be a fast but very wet sail – Ian Moore is navigating Tilmar Hansen’s Elliott 52 Outsider

Thus good navigator/tacticians are at even more of a premium than usual, and Ireland’s Ian Moore, - navigator of last year’s overall winner, the Maxi 72 Bella Mente – is this year doing his stuff on the Tilmar Hansen-owned, Bo Tichman skippered New Zealand-built Elliott 52 Outsider, which is from Germany, though the owner is Florida-based They’ll have a fast but wet sail. In fact, if any boat isn’t having a fast but wet sail, then they’re not really in the race at all.

The large Irish contingent has been further increased with the confirmation that Ludde Ingvall’s Maxi CQS – with Cork’s David Kenefick calling the shots – will indeed be going as part of the 85-strong IRC fleet.

cqs sailing3Ludde Ingvall’s highly-specialised Maxi 100 CQS, with Cork’s David Kenefick on board, has brought fleet numbers up to 85 boats.

Other additions to lists we’ve been carrying in recent weeks include Will Byrne and Chris Raymond of the National YC in Dun Laoghaire. They’re going again with American Kevin McLaughlin (his people are from Donegal some time back) in the J/44 Spice. They were nicely set up for a class place in 2017’s race, but got stuck in the parking lot at Guadeloupe. Nothing daunted, Will Byrne – who was in Paul O’Higgins’ winning crew on Rockabill VI in the 2017 Dingle Race – is beavering on with building a career as a professional sailor on the international circuit.

bam racing4“Sailor of the Year” Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 36 Bam! will be racing with an amateur crew

Amateur crews dominate the entry on the two Howth boats. New Sailor of the Year Conor Fogerty with his Sunfast 36 Bam! (a class winner in 2016’s race)is ready for battle with a crew of friends and shipmates, while the Michael Wright/Kieran Jameson campaign with the Marc Lombard IRC 46 Pata Negra will be looking at conditions which suit the boat if the crew can take the hammering.

pata negra5Pata Negra: big winds (but not too big) seem to suit her well

After her heavy weather victory and record-breaking success in the windy Round Barbados Race three weeks ago, Pata Negra seems to be a horse for the course. But the opposition in this fleet is ferocious, and Adrian Lee’s Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners from Dun Laoghaire – with which he won the first Caribbean 600 in 2009 – is another Irish contender which in this case will find that Ron O’Hanley’s American Cookson 50 Privateer is always in with a shout.

For those who like to find links to the Round Ireland fleets of times past, another boat to watch is Eric de Turckheim’s new 54ft Teasing Machine, winner already of November’s RORC Transatlantic Race, and always sailing with that special edge for the honour of France.

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