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Paul Meilhat’s IMOCA victory in the Route du Rhum over the weekend is all the sweeter as he achieved it in the same boat he’d feared lost on an earlier transatlantic crossing almost three years ago.

The French yachtsman had been airlifted off SMA on 15 December 2015 and the 60-footer SMA was abandoned in the Azores — though it drifted towards Ireland in the following weeks and was eventually recovered some 100 miles off the coast and berthed in Crookhaven.

“It’s amazing to think that our efforts three years ago to recover that boat against pretty tough odds have now resulted in the boat and Paul winning the Route du Rhum,” says Kinsale-linked offshore specialist Marcus Hutchinson, who was Paul’s project manager for the first three years of his IMOCA campaign.

Meilhat Paul Meilhat (SMA) Route du Rhum's winner Photo: Alexis Courcoux

“He was a successful Figaro sailor when he turned to the IMOCA scene then and is now clearly in the top flight there, too,” Marcus adds.

Despite that serious incident in 2015, which left Paul with a fractured pelvis, Marcus said the Frenchman only grew with confidence over the years he was in charge of the project.

That was most obvious when, before a keel ram failure forced retirement in January last year, Paul sailed his way into third place in the Vendée Globe without the foils and newer boat technology employed by the rest of the field since his boat, in the hands of Francois Gabard, previously won that circumnavigation challenge.

Later in the year, Paul secured second in the Transat Jacques Vabre, again putting his foiling competitors to shame. It was at this time that his boat’s sponsor SMA decided to withdraw from offshore racing, meaning the most recent 12 months would be the last under their livery.

It’s quite the capper on that relationship that Paul has sailed SMA to victory in the Route du Rhum, says Marcus.

“I’m very happy for the team. I’m no longer a part of that group, but it is a small world and we see each other almost every day. Paul’s boat captain, for example, is a lodger in my house.”

Looking closer to home, Marcus sees the achievements of people like Paul Meilhat as an inspiration for Irish sailors with offshore ambitions, particularly with a new Olympic class on the cards for Paris in 2024.

“Irish offshore sailing is pretty well placed to step up to the next level and prepare to be competitive in 2024,” he says. “The kind of boat that will be used for that regatta is not really relevant to understanding and improving at the top end of offshore racing.

“The racing circuit in France, with the super competitive Figaro circuit in particular, is the place to be if you have any ambitions. Joan Mulloy and Tom Dolan are currently fundraising in Ireland for next year’s Figaro circuit and potentially an Irish stopover for that race, too.”

Marcus adds that 50 Figaro Beneteau 3s have already been sold and will be released in January.

“I have two of them in my academy. These are the platforms to train on. Anyone who has ambitions for 2024 should start to consider getting involved in this type of racing.”

Published in Offshore

There have been several Irish offshore racing sailors who have been making national and world headlines for some years now, but in recent weeks and months the wave of new enthusiasm for the big ticket events has surged to fresh heights.

One of the stories underlying all this is the potential for a specialist marine industry base in Cork Harbour serving the continuous needs of the most advanced racing machines, and providing a launch pad for global campaigns. The idea has been around for some time now, but as reported in Afloat.ie as long ago as April 1st 2015, while the goodwill may be there, a firm decision is still awaited.

Local minister Simon Coveney has since moved on from the Marine to other Government departments. His present very senior role in representing Ireland through the Department of Foreign Affairs in decidedly turbulent times will mean that the needs of something so difficult to gauge for significant political and economic benefits will scarcely be top priority.

Yet for the many leading Irish sailors – both men and women – who have launched themselves into the decidedly uncertain world of top level professional competition, the problem of resources and facilities to keep the show on the road is always present, and frequently at crisis levels. W M Nixon wonders how there is going to be enough in the sponsorship pot – both nationally and globally – to help them all fulfill their dreams.

On Tuesday, Afloat.ie received confirmation of a “virtual press conference” in Cork, in other words a clearcut announcement that Nin O’Leary’s co-skippering of the IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss with Alex Thompson was going to move on to a full-blooded Vendee Globe campaign by O’Leary himself, possibly with a new boat.

coveney thomson hosford2The then Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney, Hugo Boss skipper Alex Thomson, and Stewart Hosford at the announcement in Cork in 2015 of a possible international offshore racing hub on Haulbowline Island.

In the meantime, the word on the waterfront is that the two skippers may do the two-handed Barcelona World Race 2018 in the current boat. But beyond that, the campaign plan for the charismatic O’Leary, mentored by Thomson and orchestrated by Stewart Hosford, is rumoured to be the building up of enough resources to keep this boat, yet also build a new one.

This is because the boat is still almost state-of-the-art, she has some features still absent in other boats, and could be serious opposition in someone else’s hands. Thus the ideal scenario is to maintain control of their current technology and design, while moving on to the next stage of development with an even more advanced boat for the Vendee Globe in 2020.

nin oleary3Nin O’Leary – a charismatic figure for Ireland’s younger sailors

We’re talking mega-bucks here, and the relationship with Hugo Boss has been very fruitful, but the elephant in the room - which hasn’t been mentioned yet - is how long will the Hugo Boss sponsorship continue?

This may all become clearer within the next ten days, as Thomson, O’Leary and Hugo Boss are headed for Ireland, with Cork in their sights on Monday 28th and Tuesday 29th August, and then they’re in Dun Laoghaire for a very public appearance on Wednesday August 30th, and staying until the Friday, September 1st for the ongoing launch of their new brand Ireland Ocean Racing.

This puts them top of the billboards. But we mustn’t let it blind us to the hopes of other campaigners, and on Thursday of this week, Tom Dolan made his final public appearance in Ireland before returning to France for the countdown towards the start of the Mini Transat 2017 from La Rochelle at the beginning of October.

tom dolan boat4Although Tom Dolan has some sponsorship for IRL 910, there is still a shortfall in funding for the Mini Transat 2017 which starts at the beginning of October from La Rochelle

tom dolan and friends5Tom Dolan (right) and fellow skippers in the Mini 650 class at Concarneau. The camaraderie and mutual help among the sailors contributes to France’s dominant position in short-handed sailing

Although Tom has some support backers whose logos appear on his sails, he makes no bones about his overall situation, as his Pogo 3, IRL 910, currently enters races under the name of “Still Seeking a Sponsor”. Whether his presentation in the National YC on Thursday will turn on any money taps in Ireland remains to be seen, the fact is that it’s in France he makes most impact. But in Dun Laoghaire, his burning enthusiasm left an abiding impression, for although his chosen life-path may be more exciting than running the small family farm in Meath, there are times when it’s a massive struggle.

Tom is one of several Irish international offshore wannabees and established skippers who have made a point of having the cup of coffee with Marcus Hutchinson. Hutchinson has transformed himself from being a young sailor who first learned his craft in Howth into an international sailing campaign management figure who maintains his Irish connections through Kinsale, yet is now a key presence at the French-led cutting edge of specialist offshore programmes.

Marcus hutchinson6Marcus Hutchinson is first Port of Call for anyone seriously contemplating a short-handed offshore campaign

It’s rumoured that in Brittany he has access to a large warehouse full of IMOCA 60s and Open 40s and whatnot. What we do know for sure is that he was very much the background force in Paul Meilhat’s stunning victory in the IMOCA 60 SMA in the recent Rolex Fastnet Race, a neatly-read campaign whose success was highlighted by the inescapable fact that Hugo Boss finished eighth out of the nine IMOCA 60s competing.

SMA with her dagger boards was optimized for windward work, whereas Hugo Boss with her foils most emphatically wasn’t. But while those in the know are aware of this, Joe Public simply sees the final results and takes it from there.

sma fastnet7The Marcus Hutchinson-managed SMA was convincing winner of the IMOCA 60 Class in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017. Photo: Carlo Borlenghi

Marcus Hutchinson’s deep well of sound advice is available to those who seek him out, and he is generous with his knowledge and sensible thoughts. Talking to Afloat.ie yesterday morning, he made the point that of the current wave of French superstars in the bigger boats, many have done the Figaro Solo at least a dozen times, and he reckons that setting out to take on the Vendee Globe straight from a career – however successful – in fully-crewed boats, is akin to taking on Everest solo without first trying a few smaller mountains on your own.

The list of those specialist sailors from Ireland who have made a point of seeking advice and assistance at some stage from Marcus Hutchinson is both impressive and fascinating, as it includes Damian Foxall, Justin Slattery, Enda O'Coineen, David Kenefick, Joan Mulloy, Sean McCarter, Tom Dolan and most recently Conor Fogerty.

joan mulloy8Joan Mulloy of Westport in County Mayo has secured a Figaro through Marcus Hutchinson, but still requires sponsorship

david kenefick9David Kenefick of Cork is another solo sailor who was guided into the Figaro Class by Marcus Hutchinson

And a salient fact which emerges in talking to some of them is the thought that while the Alex Thomson/Hugo Boss campaign was impressive, its central ethos of being stand-alone was ultimately counter-productive.

Two of the lone skippers mentioned above went so far as to say that if the Hugo Boss campaign had been prepared to mix it a bit more with the strongholds of French single-handed sailing in Brittany, then they would have won the Vendee Globe instead of coming second.

That’s undoutedly one for the speculation mill. But it gets a certain reinforcement from a statement this week from Nin O’Leary, to the effect that moving the base from Portsmouth to Cork would have the beneficial result of making the major French centres seem more accessible, as there’s almost a feeling of being trapped in the Eastern Solent, whereas in Cork it’s open water – and open thinking - all the way to Ushant and beyond.

This desire for open water and open thinking is spreading. One of the most interesting news items of recent weeks was that Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy hoped to secure a berth aboard Dee Caffari’s Volvo 65 for the up-coming Volvo World Race. Unfortunately the knee injury Murphy exacerbated with a spectacular capsize at the conclusion of becoming the International Moth Women’s World Champion 2017 on Lake Garda has put that idea on hold, but this shift of interest from the grind of Olympic training on a tedious four year cycle to the more stimulating world of big-time offshore stuff, with maior events coming up in rapid succession, reflects a discernible pattern of changing public awareness.

turn the tide on plastic10The new Volvo 65 Turn the Tide on Plastic. Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy had to defer taking up a berth on Dee Caffari’s Volvo 65 because of a knee injury sustained during a capsize in the Moth Worlds at Lake Garda

So Olympic sailing, ever mindful of the need to continue to attract public attention by whatever means, is going to include a test offshore series, probably for two person boats, in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

This is of particular interest to any Irish sailor desperately seeking sponsorship, for the reality is that on our island, there are only half a dozen sports – if that - which are big enough to make an impact on their own. The minority sports - sailing included - only figure significantly in public awareness if they come up in the Olympic searchlight.

That Olympic searchlight in turn encourages others to get involved, thereby stretching the cloak of sponsorship ever thinner. So it will be some time, if ever, before we see a joint approach to the challenge of raising sponsorship for this branch of sailing. And Heaven knows, but it’s difficult enough to get an effective short-handed sailing campaign of international standard up to speed without the endless worry of finding the money. Yet that’s the way it is. But if you really do find the challenge irresistible, Afloat.ie’s advice is to make arrangements to have a cup of coffee with Marcus Hutchinson before you do anything else.

Published in W M Nixon

Conditions for the final day of the ASM-Marine Frostbite League at Kinsale Yacht Club on Sunday could not have been a more inviting finale for the thirty plus sailors competing in the Laser, Squib and Mixed Dinghy Fleets. Despite losing two of the six week series due to the weather, the last day of the season brought welcome sunshine accompanied by a fresh Force 4 North to North-Westerly breeze, gusting Force 5 at times. Three windward-leeward races were completed which brought the total race number to eleven, with two discards applying. The constantly shifting Northerly breeze, which tracked slowly westwards was the predominate feature in all three races, with an ebb tide having effect to the right hand side of the coarse.
Dara O'Shea (KYC) with another gritty performance in the Laser 4.7 fleet, managed this week to overhaul the league leader Cian Byrne (KYC/RCYC). Leaving it to the final race and with both sailors on nineteen points, Dara grasped the top spot as he fought off his rivals and eventually took line honours and the Laser 4.7 League title. Cian untypically finished fourth but nevertheless secured second place overall, just two points behind. Darragh O'Sullivan had an excellent day's racing with a win and two seconds which pulled him into third place overall, just ahead of Conor Murphy (KYC) who finished on the same points total but one place behind in the final race.
Proving once again that consistency is the key to success in the Frostbite League, Eoghan Cudmore (KYC) with a fifth, third and a second in the Radial Fleet managed to hold off the challenge for the top spot from last year's winner Sean Murphy (KYC) who scored two thirds and a fourth. With the second best results of the day, Colm O'Regan (KYC) scoring two seconds and a fourth, moved up to third place overall. Despite an excellent run of results with three wins on the final day Thomas Chaix (KYC) with insufficient points accrued could not make an impact on the final order.
In the Laser Standard Class Rob Howe (RCYC) continued his outstanding form with a further second place and two firsts bringing his overall total to an unassailable eleven points, fourteen points ahead of his nearest rival Paul O'Sullivan of Monkstown. Scoring two thirds and a second, O'Sullivan's consistent form paid off bringing him into second place overall. David Kenefick (RCYC) who had closely pursued the leader throughout the series, dropped to third place overall as he did not compete on the day.
Seldom conceding line honours Marcus Hutchinson and Ben Fusco (KYC) in the Squib Class went into the final day leading comfortably by eight points. Two wins later and a final second easily secured the league title and are now the new holders of the Bruce Mathews Squib Trophy. In a repeat of last year Paul McCarthy (KYC) finished strongly with two seconds and a win in the final race. These results elevated him from fourth place overall into the prize winning second position. Victor Fusco and Ruth Ennis (KYC) with a final third, fourth and seventh subsequently slipped one place to claim the third prize overall.
In the Mixed Dinghy Class, despite conceding line honours in all three races Brian Jones and Gary Frost (MBSC) in their International 505 finished the series as the lead boat four points comfortably ahead. The RS Feva of David Marshall and Rob Scandrett (RCYC) closed on a high note as they took advantage with three win ASM-Marine KYC Frostbite League - Sunday 27th Feb, 2011.
Conditions for the final day of the ASM-Marine Frostbite League at Kinsale Yacht Club on Sunday could not have been a more inviting finale for the thirty plus sailors competing in the Laser, Squib and Mixed Dinghy Fleets. Despite losing two of the six week series due to the weather, the last day of the season brought welcome sunshine accompanied by a fresh Force 4 North to North-Westerly breeze, gusting Force 5 at times. Three windward-leeward races were completed which brought the total race number to eleven, with two discards applying. The constantly shifting Northerly breeze, which tracked slowly westwards was the predominate feature in all three races, with an ebb tide having effect to the right hand side of the coarse.
Dara O'Shea (KYC) with another gritty performance in the Laser 4.7 fleet, managed this week to overhaul the league leader Cian Byrne (KYC/RCYC). Leaving it to the final race and with both sailors on nineteen points, Dara grasped the top spot as he fought off his rivals and eventually took line honours and the Laser 4.7 League title. Cian untypically finished fourth but nevertheless secured second place overall, just two points behind. Darragh O'Sullivan had an excellent day's racing with a win and two seconds which pulled him into third place overall, just ahead of Conor Murphy (KYC) who finished on the same points total but one place behind in the final race.
Proving once again that consistency is the key to success in the Frostbite League, Eoghan Cudmore (KYC) with a fifth, third and a second in the Radial Fleet managed to hold off the challenge for the top spot from last year's winner Sean Murphy (KYC) who scored two thirds and a fourth. With the second best results of the day, Colm O'Regan (KYC) scoring two seconds and a fourth, moved up to third place overall. Despite an excellent run of results with three wins on the final day Thomas Chaix (KYC) with insufficient points accrued could not make an impact on the final order.
In the Laser Standard Class Rob Howe (RCYC) continued his outstanding form with a further second place and two firsts bringing his overall total to an unassailable eleven points, fourteen points ahead of his nearest rival Paul O'Sullivan of Monkstown. Scoring two thirds and a second, O'Sullivan's consistent form paid off bringing him into second place overall. David Kenefick (RCYC) who had closely pursued the leader throughout the series, dropped to third place overall as he did not compete on the day.
Seldom conceding line honours Marcus Hutchinson and Ben Fusco (KYC) in the Squib Class went into the final day leading comfortably by eight points. Two wins later and a final second easily secured the league title and are now the new holders of the Bruce Mathews Squib Trophy. In a repeat of last year Paul McCarthy (KYC) finished strongly with two seconds and a win in the final race. These results elevated him from fourth place overall into the prize winning second position. Victor Fusco and Ruth Ennis (KYC) with a final third, fourth and seventh subsequently slipped one place to claim the third prize overall.
In the Mixed Dinghy Class, despite conceding line honours in all three races Brian Jones and Gary Frost (MBSC) in their International 505 finished the series as the lead boat four points comfortably ahead. The RS Feva of David Marshall and Rob Scandrett (RCYC) closed on a high note as they took advantage with three wins and claimed the second prize overall. Finishing third on the day and third overall in the series was the Feva of Fiona Lynch and Sofie Kelleher.
At the Prize Giving, Alice Kingston KYC Commodore, congratulated the deserving winners and thanked all the sailors for their efforts. Special thanks went to PRO Bruce Mathews for his dedicated support, the Organisers, the Sponsor ASM-Marine and all those who had helped both on and off the water to make this annual event such a success. Cameron Good KYC Vice-Commodore presented the prizes and June Matthews presented the Bruce Matthews Trophies for the best performances in the Laser Radial and Squib Classes won by Eoghan Cudmore and Marcus Hutchinson respectively. The inaugural Laser 4.7 'Destiny' Trophy was presented to Dara O'Shea.

 

Published in Kinsale
Strong Southerly winds were again a feature of the continuing ASM-Marine Frostbite League at Kinsale Yacht Club on Sunday. Photos HERE. Due to a building force 6 breeze prior to the start and in order to moderate its influence, the Race Committee lead by PRO Bruce Mathews decided on a windward-leeward course to the north of Money Point. With the headland offering some respite to the right-hand side of the course; the opposite hand exposed to the mainly Southerly sweeping in from the mouth of Kinsale Harbour against the ebbing tide.

With the Laser Fleets not launching until the last minute, they however mistimed the 11.55 First Gun. After a short postponement, the Squib Class who had been reveling in the pre-start conditions was the first fleet to compete. The strong winds persisted throughout the first race with each squall prompting a flurry of capsizing Lasers as one Squib got into difficulties against the lee shore at Jarley's Cove. As the winds moderated to a force five, with the slackening tide and a calmer sea the remaining two races enjoyed easier if still challenging conditions. The decision to combine the three Laser fleets into one start, and the Squibs with the Mixed Dinghies led to the better management of the last two races given the conditions.

The previously unassailable form of Marcus Hutchinson (KYC) helming 'Sensation', was put under greater pressure in the Squib Fleet, with Victor Fusco and crew James Bendon (KYC) on Gemini notably claiming a first place in the second race. However with his crew Ben Fusco, Marcus took line honours in the other two races bringing his total of wins to five out of a possible six; as two discards now apply. Realistically, with next Sunday being the final day of racing and with eight points behind the leader, Gemini will be hoping to secure the second place overall. With a second in the first race adding to his overall score, he is now just two points ahead of the consistent Colm Dunne and Mark Buckley (KYC) who have moved up a place aided by an excellent second in the third race. Having an unsuccessful day due to a sixth in the first race and not completing the last two, Paul McCarthy (KYC) in Mack drops two places to a fourth overall. On only one point adrift he is still very much in contention for a top three placing.

In the Laser Standard Class Rob Howe (RCYC), though obviously comfortable in the strong breeze, did not quite repeat last week's clean sweep of wins. Nevertheless, with one second and two firsts he retains his overall position in the fleet on seven points overall. David Kenefick (RCYC) took advantage by winning the first race, and his subsequent two seconds puts him on just two points behind the leader going into the final day next Sunday. Having now discarded his worst two scores due to missing the first race day, Paul O' Sullivan (RCYC) continued his consistent form with a further three thirds, and is now in third place overall.
Eoin Keller (LDYC), the previous clear leader in the Laser Radial Class and unable to compete this week, slips dramatically from a total of four points to fifteen points and into second place overall. Eoghan Cudmore (KYC) with a splendid second and two wins on Sunday leaps from third into first place overall. Sean Murphy (KYC) who scored a third and two seconds positions himself just one point behind Keller. With very little between the top three, it will take the remaining races to decide final outcome.
Due to other sailing commitments for the young Laser 4.7 fleet, there has been much changing in the league position over the past few weeks; apart from Cian Byrne (KYC/RCYC) who has resolutely held onto the top position from day one. A close and exciting tussle has finally emerged between Cian and Dara O'Shea (KYC), who despite being on the wrong side of a protest decision in the first race, recovered well to gain a subsequent second and first. He has given himself a chance being well positioned just three points behind overall. Conor Murphy (KYC) with an excellent day's achievement of a first and two seconds has shot up the league table into third place overall.
Brian Jones and Gary Frost (MBSC) in their 505 continued unchallenged with a further three bullets in the Mixed Dinghy Class, with the Fevas of David Marshall/Rob Scandrett and Fiona Lynch/Sofie Kelleher in second and third overall.
The ASM Frostbite League at KYC will be completed next Sunday, 27th February 2011. First Gun is at 11.55 a.m.

Published in Kinsale

The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.

Competitions

The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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