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Ireland's Offshore Sailing Scene in 2017

13th January 2017
Vendee Globe debutante Enda O'Coineen created a great Irish following in the solo Round the world race. The Irish entry was dismasted off New Zealand Vendee Globe debutante Enda O'Coineen created a great Irish following in the solo Round the world race. The Irish entry was dismasted off New Zealand

Ireland's contribution to world offshore sailing has been great, but, is in need of constant support and ambition writes Northern Ireland Offshore sailor Andrew 'Hammy' Baker. Here the solo sailor oultines the sailors and the events in the 2017 Irish offshore sailing scene

In the words of Andre Gide; "man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore" and I guess in a lot of ways that is the point offshore racing. The new places and experiences shared are the same for amateurs and professionals alike. No two races are ever the same, calm drifters giving a welcome break from a hellish week of work as you enjoy the sunset before a star-filled night sky, others become a marathon style fleet race where boats can find themselves only a few feet apart for miles on end. Even those wet, windy and miserable ventures bring a sense of satisfaction when you finally make it to the sanctuary of the destinations local pub.

Offshore sailing worldwide is on the increase. Fully crewed we still have big name races such as the Sydney Hobart, Fastnet and Caribbean 600. However, it is now being embraced in new regions with events like Sail Arabia the Tour showcasing fleet racing port to port around the Gulf of Oman. Even ocean crossing is becoming common place with increasing number of Transatlantic races. Still at its panicle, of course, is the Volvo Ocean Race. Ireland has played a big role here with leading offshore crew such as Damian Foxall and Justin Slattery both victorious in editions of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Shorthand and Solo Sailing too, are proving more popular. Now most fully crewed offshore races will host a double handed class and this year we witnessed the first Solo Offshore Racing Club (SORC)'s Solo Fastnet letting competitors take on the challenge the full course single handily within the relative safety of the race. Howth Yacht Club's Conor Fogerty was the sole Irish entry.

For those taking things into a professional light, there is La Solitaire du Figaro. Known as the unofficial world championships of solo sailing this French run event is the proving ground for up and coming talent. Many of whom who have gone on to win the Everest of our sport, to sail non–stop around the world in the Vendée Globe, before then returning to have another crack at the Figaro.

Ireland's contribution is in my opinion, has been great, but, is in need of constant support and ambition. The emerald isle has produced many very successful offshore sailors. Damian Foxall first non-French to win a leg of the Solitare in 1998. He and Justin Slattery were both key crew members aboard Volvo Ocean Race winning teams, to name but a few.

lynx ISORA round irelandISORA competitors such as the Irish National Sailing School's Lynx boosted Round Ireland numbers in 2016. Photo: Afloat.ie

Last year's Volvo Round Ireland Race brought signs of a lift for offshore racers. 63 boats set off from Wicklow, almost double the 35 in the 2014 race. This increase is seen further when the Irish Sea Offshore Sailing Association (ISORA) reported 54 boats raced its 10-race 2016 series.

So what prospects have we to look forward to in 2017?

Locally, or at least within a day's sail, the ISORA race series is a fantastic way to get into offshore sailing. This season will consist of 14 races ranging from 35-mile coastal courses and 6 offshores races averaging around 70 miles. The highlight of this series has to be Dun Laoghaire to Dingle staged over 270 miles on the 14th of June, and so, promising great weather.

For those willing to travel a little further, seeking some longer distance racing or fancy mixing it up with some of the top French sailors we have the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC). 15 races are scheduled, the majority of which starting of the Royal Yacht Squadron line in Cowes, Isle of White.

Fastnet RockFastnet Rock – One of the most appealing aspects of this 600-mile race is that first timers and Corinthian sailors can sail bow to bow. Photo: Rolex

Key Offshore Sailing Events for 2017

Rolex Fastnet Race
The biennial Rolex Fastnet Race will depart the Solent toward the end of the summer season. A classic offshore race, this testing event can have you racing tight up against the rocks around famous headlands of England's south coast before pushing out into the Celtic Sea to reach iconic Fastnet Rock. A quick wave to the lighthouse keeper as you round before the dash back across to finish in Plymouth. One of the most appealing aspects of this 600-mile race is that first timers and Corinthian sailors can sail bow to bow with the world top teams and professional sailors. With an entry list boasting over 300 boats including Volvo Ocean Race teams and 100-foot trimarans this race has to be ticked of the bucket list for any sailor worth his salt.

Some offshore events worth keeping an eye on this coming season:

Vendée Globe
The Vendée Globe is in its final stages with the leaders set to finish within the next couple of weeks. There are many other stories still to unfold as the competitor's venture on round cape horn and up the Atlantic to finish in Les Sables D'olonne, France.

Solitaire du Figaro
Solitaire du Figaro has confirmed itself with new sponsors Urgo. This year's race will begin in Bordeaux and visit Guon and Concarneau before finishing in Dieppe. With a fleet of over 40 boats and 24hr tracking / live race feeds its great way to learn more and gain some insight into this form of racing.

Clipper
The brainchild of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the Clipper is a race that anyone can take part in with no prior sailing experience the Clipper is a record breaking 40,000 nautical mile race around the world on 70-foot yachts.

Divided into eight legs and 14 to 16 individual races, you can choose to complete the full circumnavigation or select individual legs. Organisers supply a fleet of twelve identical racing yachts, each with a fully qualified skipper to safely guide the crew. We even have an Irish entrant in Derry-Londonderry-Doire.
Think you're up for the challenge of a lifetime? Why not apply now?

Transat Jaque Varbe (Ocean masters)
Transat Jaque Varbe is a qualifying race for the Vendée Globe and counts towards the ocean masters championship. Probably one of the hardest events to win in world sailing as even if you are continuously winning you still need to endure over 40,000 miles of sailing collectively.

Open to four classes of boat, Class 40's, IMOCA's, Multi 50's, and big fast and downright crazy Ultum Trimarans. is a double handed race that follows the historic coffee trading route between Le Harve, France and Itajai, Brazil.

The Future for Irish Offshore Sailing…

KEY PEOPLE
Ireland has and still is producing some fantastic sailors but here are a few I know and warrant a mention.

Enda O'Coineen
A man who needs little introduction and was the sailor of the Month for December just past. Enda has done a lot of sailing in Ireland. On shore, he has been involved in Galway's Volvo Ocean Race stopover, President of the Atlantic Youth Trust and is always somewhere in the background driving projects along.

More recently however it his exploits offshore that is catching people's attention for he is Irelands first ever entrant into the Vendée Globe on his IMOCA 60 ‘Kilcullen Voyager’. Apart from being on his bucket/feck it list, he is using his media exposure to promote and publicise the Atlantic Youth Trust: a project close to his heart.

I have been involved in his campaign as a reserve Skipper, sailing on-board during the latter part of 2016 preparing him and the boat for the start of this epic race, including a month in Les Sables d O’lonne prior to the start last November. The procession along the famous ‘canal’ being cheered on by thousands of people lining the shore on the way to the start area was an awesome experience impossible to imagine beforehand.

This race is incredibly challenging with an attrition rate of close to half and unfortunately on New Year’s Day we received the sad news that, Enda was forced to join the growing list of retirees when he dismasted south of New Zealand. He has done Ireland proud and should hold his head high; to race over half way around the planet single handed is still an incredible achievement. I look forward to what 2017 may have in store for this, unsinkable O'Coineen.

Dave Kenefick
Afloat's Irish Sailor of the Year in 2013, Kenefick is not new to the offshore game. Two-time veteran of the Solitaire du Figaro Dave still has his heart set on a career in Sailing and when he is not sailing Maxi Yachts in Palma he is flying around on his moth. I have it heard he is actually pretty good at it now but I’d need to see is for myself. Dave was also involved in Ireland's first Vendee Globe campaign and we spent many weeks days working with Enda in the ‘Kilcullen Voyager’.

Joan Mulloy
Up and coming Joan from Westport has been actively racing on the Irish and UK Offshore scene for years. After working as a fleet captain for the Artemis Offshore Academy she has caught the Solo Sailing bug and has now launched her own 2018 campaign in the Solitaire du Figaro. Based in Cowes she will spend the season training and in search of the ever elusive sponsorship required. In the meantime, she hopes to content herself by competing in the Double Handed Fastnet and Tour de Bretagne a Voile.

Gregor McGuckin
Gregor is a lad with a serious old-school offshore ambition aiming to compete in the 2018 Golden Globe race. Originally held in 1968/69 the race is a non-stop single-handed race around the planet, very similar to the Véndee Globe. The similarities stop there. This modern-day take on the iconic race will put competitors back in time using only the same type, or similar equipment and technology that was carried on board Robin Knox-Johnston's winning yacht Suhaili

Next year's plan is to secure a boat by February. Spend a month or so to ready her for solo sailing before a summer spent training and travelling around Ireland to promote the race and major winter refit.

Tom Dolan Mini SailorCounty Meath's Tom Dolan competes in the Mini 650 class. Photo: Simon Jourdan/Facebook

Tom Dolan
After a successful 2016 season in the Mini 650 class. County Meath's Tom will return to the Atlantic scene in his trusty Mini 910 whereupon attaining the necessary funds will compete in the Mini Transat next October.

Sean McCarter
Sean McCarter is a skipper with dozens of national and international sailing achievements. He has already skippered two circumnavigations around the world including as Skipper for the Clipper and has been awarded the "Rod Stephen's Trophy for Outstanding Seamanship". He is currently involved with Team Maverick, the Infinity 46 DSS foiler. Having just won their class and coming 2nd overall in the Transat they plan on racing in the RORC season including the Caribbean 600 and Fastnet before heading down under for Sydney – Hobart.
Rumour has is there are plans being made for a larger version of this boat in the near future so which this space.

Andrew Baker sailorAndrew Baker from Strangford Lugh kicks off 2017 at the Sail Arabia Tour

Andrew Baker
Finally myself, though I love to talk and share my views on today's sailing world with this article, I will admit, I hope it will help me build my profile.

2017 is undecided as yet, largely due to still seeking instead the funds needed to afford any campaign. The Ideal year would consist of Figaro racing in the beginning of the season building up to and including my third participation of the Solitaire du Figaro. Following this my main goal for the year is to compete in the Transat Jaque Varbe.

I will be continuing my training and racing with Whitecap Ltd on board the Artemis IMOCA 60. This programme is designed to train Britain’s top offshore talent and provide the platform to run professional, competitive campaigns.

First up though I will kick off the year with a month in Oman where I will compete for a second time in the Sail Arabia the tour. This time as Skipper for Team Averda. We have posted 2nd overall in 2014, 3rd in 2015 and hopefully this year we can push for the top spot.

All of these campaigns are great individual feats of sailing and great determination is required to even get to a start line, never mind the racing. They are however even more reliant on the support and funding of sponsorship. Gone are the days of Cigarette and Alcohol companies throwing money at projects to get results. These day’s sponsorship is much more elusive and with new laws and legislation sometimes even sponsors who want to get involved can’t do so because of various restrictions. There is however opportunities for those who are looking for an investment. Corporate days, media return, shared brand values, sailing being the target demographic… I won’t go into my full campaign proposal now but I do believe to keep achieving these great stories we need to support and get behind our sailors. The support really does make a difference. If anyone is looking for a sponsorship opportunity, please do get in touch.

Published in Offshore

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