While the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016 was the most international ever seen, some of the keenest racing was among the Irish boats in a fleet of such quality that just to secure a class win was to have made an outstanding achievement.
In the end, while there were many Irish boats which were there or thereabouts in their respective classes, there was only one class winner from Ireland. And that was Dave Cullen of Howth racing the chartered J/109 Euro Car Parks.
Although he has raced round Ireland in a Half Tonner in times past, the enthusiastic Cullen reckoned that for today’s fleets, a J/109 offers a better proposition. So he left his lavishly-maintained Half Tonner Checkmate at home, and put his usual eclectic crew of all the talents aboard the chartered J/109 which became Euro Car Parks.
Yet despite the very evident sponsorship, this was by no means a “no expenses spared” campaign. It was run on a tight budget, and it relied on the talents of such as Mark Mansfield and Maurice “Prof” O’Connell in the crew to bring the boat home on time.
And it was a mighty test of character. They weren’t well placed passing the Tuskar, but in the harsh slug along the south coast, Euro Car Parks crew sailed like men possessed, and by the time they were approaching the Fastnet, all the other J/109s were nowhere, relatively speaking.
But there were many other boats in the fleet and in Class 3 to give them a hard time, and the second setback came off the mouth of Bantry Bay early on the Monday morning. The good winds had moved a few miles further north, and Euro Car Parks found herself headed inside Dursey Head, requiring a painful beat in a lumpy sea to get back on track.
By that time their most significant class rival, Paul O’Higgins’ new higher-rated JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI, was making such good progress up the west coast that she rounded Tory Island forty miles ahead of Euro Car Parks. Yet the Cullen crew never slackened the pace, and when a localized calm at Inishtrahull stopped Rockabill VI for an excruciating three hours, the J/109 kept up the pressure, going from being far astern to relatively close astern by the time Rockabill got going again.
For the smaller craft, the rest of the race was torture, as the big winds which had sent the leaders and larger craft round at such speed were now fading, and the final agony was a period of calm eastward of Drogheda on the Wednesday evening. Yet they kept going, they were in the hunt and at the finish for Class 3 on IRC it was Euro Car Parks first, Rockabill VI second, and Conor Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 Bam! third, making Dave Cullen our Afloat.ie Sailor of the Month for June 2016.