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Round Ireland Female Two-Handed Record is in Clear Sight & Fascinating in Context

12th October 2020
Beneteau Figaro 3 with the foils in full working order. Weather predictions indicate that this week's challenge to establish a Female Two-Handed Round Ireland Record will experience plenty of sailing like this Beneteau Figaro 3 with the foils in full working order. Weather predictions indicate that this week's challenge to establish a Female Two-Handed Round Ireland Record will experience plenty of sailing like this

Early tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, the foiling Figaro 3 Magenta Project - double-handed by Greystone's Pamela Lee and Cat Hunt - will blast south from the official Round Ireland Records line, which is eight miles long between the Kish Lighthouse and the Dun Laoghaire East Pier Lighthouse. And when they return in due course - coming in from the north - they'll at the very least have established the Female Two-handed Round Ireland Record, for the simple reason that at the moment it doesn't exist.

In time, this record will acquire increasing significance. So the official Round Ireland Records Commissioner Chris Moore has secured the use of the DBSC Committee Boat Freebird through the good offices of Commodore Jonathan Nicholson, and he'll be stationed on the long line at the optimum position, which is in the region of the South Burford Buoy.

What Chris Moore and his COVID-19-compliant team are precision timing is much more than just an attempt by two determined co-skippers to get round Ireland in one piece in everything that October's weather has to throw at them. For it happens that, at the moment, the weather is shaping up very well for an impressive circuit speed which could stand as the record for many years.

As they zoom down the east coast of Ireland through Tuesday morning, the fresh to strong nor'wester is expected to veer and freshen further, and it should be veering even more as they head along the south coast as Wednesday moves in. It may then ease as they sweep past the Fastnet and find themselves reaching in an easterly in the early stages of the west coast, but a new veering means the disturbed waters of the Atlantic will provide the challenge of continuing to sail fast in a period of very favourable sou'easterly, yet without breaking boat or crew in the inevitable confused seas.

Cat Hunt and Pamela Lee are facing into volatile October weatherCat Hunt (left) and Pamela Lee are facing into volatile October weather that might provide the magic formula for a formidable round Ireland time

Unfortunately late on Thursday what is now a sou'easter is forecast to back, and in time they may find themselves with a dead beat along the North Coast. But a further backing could ease things once Inishtrahull is passed, and they might just find themselves with a beam reach in an easterly from Rathlin down past the South Rock and on back to Dublin Bay.

It may be a clean slate challenge, but with the weather in such an "interesting" and inevitably volatile sequence, any sailor will find it fascinating to follow, particularly the thousands who have now sailed round Ireland - whether racing, cruising or straightforwardly record-breaking – and are well aware of the special challenges which a sailing circuit of our island home can pose.

And though comparisons with established times set in the biennial Round Ireland Race from Wicklow – one of the highest-profile coronavirus-cancelled events from the 2020 programme – have to take into account that it's over a marginally different course and is a set-time happening, nevertheless delving into its records comes up with some fascinating figures.

In the Wicklow Round Ireland, the two-handed division was first introduced in 2004, and it had a rocket-assisted launching, as Yannick Lemonnier (now of Quantum Sails in Galway) and Aodhan Fitzherald (of Galway, but they were racing DoDingle) secured one of the then-new Figaro 2s designed by Marc Lombard, and they streaked round to win the two-handers (and beat many others) in just 102 hours.

Mark Mansfield and Yannick Lemonnier Mark Mansfield and Yannick Lemonnier of Quantum Sails. Since 2004, Yannick Lemonnier with Galway's Aodhan FitzGerald, now of the Martine Institute, have held the Two-Handed Round Ireland Record within the Round Ireland Race structure.

The most astonishing part of that performance was from The Blaskets to Rathlin Island, sailed in just 24 hours in even more sou'wester then they might have liked. Indeed, Yannick's recollection is of trying to hold back Aodhan – one of the most easy-going people you could meet ashore - as he sailed like a man possessed along Ireland's two most challenging coastlines in just one day, with his co-skipper – no stranger to hard driving himself - having to hold him back now and again.

It was a crewing dynamic which saw DoDingle logging 270 miles "daylight sight to sight", they'd a top speed of 23.5kts, and for a long period were averaging 17-18kts.

Having helped in establishing a two-handed record which still stands, Aodhan Fitzgerald was back into Wicklow from Galway with the fully-crewed First 40.7 Ireland West in 2008, and they won overall. Meanwhile, Yannick has since been ever more deeply into the two-handed scene, and particularly the promotion of the Mini 650 class in Ireland.

Although the father-and-son team of Derek and Conor Dillon from Foynes with the Dehler 34 Big Deal have been regular top performers in the two-handed division, in the last outing in 2018 it was Yannick Lemonnier and Cathal Clarke of Galway (a crewman with Aodhan Fitzgerald in 2008's win) with the Mini 650 Port of Galway who led the Minis (and many others), getting round in 5 days 16 hours and 30 minutes.

It was an impressive showing in what had been a difficult race, but it was still a very long way from the Lemonnier-Fitzgerald blitz of 2004. Admittedly that was in a bigger boat, but two-handed round Ireland in four days and six hours was and is quite something, and while the developing weather pattern is looking good for Magenta Project, sailing round Ireland in record time is never easy.

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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