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Round Ireland Yacht Race 2020 - Virtual Launch Party Goes Ahead at Royal Irish YC

13th March 2020
Racing certainty? The 1971-vintage S&S 49 Hiro Maru (Hiro Nakajima) crossing the finish line at the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes to win Class 3 in the 2019 Transatlantic Race. Hiro Maru is currently the senior entry in the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race 2020, and the favourite to be the first winner of the Maybird Mast Trophy for the oldest boat to complete the course, while also being well in the reckoning for other honours. Racing certainty? The 1971-vintage S&S 49 Hiro Maru (Hiro Nakajima) crossing the finish line at the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes to win Class 3 in the 2019 Transatlantic Race. Hiro Maru is currently the senior entry in the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race 2020, and the favourite to be the first winner of the Maybird Mast Trophy for the oldest boat to complete the course, while also being well in the reckoning for other honours.

There’s a rumour going around about the cancellation of this week’s traditional Dublin launch in the Royal Irish Yacht Club of the biennial SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race, due to start from Wicklow Sailing Club on June 20th. The rumour mills would have it that the always convivial gathering – scheduled for Wednesday – had to be called off, or at least postponed, in a properly sensible response to the gathering clouds of the Covid-19 epidemic threat.

In the Actual World and in Real Time, the cancellation did indeed take place. But in the Virtual World where many of us live today, is delighted to reveal that this popular and always interesting gathering did in fact take place, and though some attendees will have impressions of the event which differ markedly from others, isn’t that always the case with the recollections of any good party?

We won’t go so far as to suggest that anyone who claims to remember the event in precise detail simply can’t have been there, but at times it was definitely getting into being that kind of party. For the way it is, every second year it’s that special evening of early Spring when Wicklow asserts its identity as a place apart, a proper little commercial and sailing port town which definitely isn’t an outlying commuter extension of Dublin.

On the contrary, it’s a town of great individuality where they’ve a huge billboard on the edge of town telling you to go to gaol, a quaint port whose small but hugely enthusiastic sailing club inaugurated the first non-stop 704-mile Round Ireland Race forty years ago, and in 2020 is staging the 21st edition of what is now an international classic. They sustain it with the full support of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, and the whole-hearted backing of the Royal Irish Yacht Club which, in a gesture which speaks volumes, is happy to be seen as the Dublin Bay Out Station of Wicklow SC in order to provide berthing support and a sort of WSC Embassy for entrants that are too large to use Wicklow’s characterful little harbour.

2 royal irish yc2Pavilion of Dreams……The Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire was the ideal setting for a virtual launch party on Wednesday evening

It will be clear from all this that even in the best of times it is difficult to tell where reality ends and fantasy begins in the story of the Round Ireland Race, and when our Real World is in chaos, it’s a relief to allow the Virtual World to step in and keep things on track.

Thus it was that a virtual group of active volunteers and supporters from Wicklow Sailing Club headed Dun Laoghaire-wards on Wednesday afternoon led by Race Director Hal Fitzgerald, and at the Royal Irish they met up with Barry Kilcline of SSE Renewables which, among other projects, is currently developing the next phase of the Arklow Bank Wind Park off the Wicklow coast.

2a arklow bank turbines2aPower for the People….the Arklow Bank Wind Park off the Wicklow Coast is an SSE Renewable project. Photo O’Brien

At the RIYC they met up with WSC Commodore Kyran O’Grady, who was fresh in from Connemara, that glorious part of the country where his renowned thatching skills are so highly regarded that he has been doing work on the roof of the Recording Studio near Roundstone of a certain legendary figure in the Irish and international music scene.

3 kyran ogrady barry kilcline3Thatching and turbines get together – Wicklow SC Commodore Kyran O’Grady with Barry Kilcline of SSE Renewables. Photo WSC

’Tis far from a thatched roof that the neo-classical design of the 1851-built Royal Irish Yacht Club originated, but nevertheless its stately ambience was an appropriate setting for a gathering which brought together so many strands of Irish and world sailing. All of them were united in support of Wicklow SC’s gallantry in keeping this round Ireland show on the road through times thick and thin, with RIYC Commodore Joe Costello welcoming an eclectic attendance which well reflected the extraordinary hold that this very special event has on those who take part in it – some of them many times, very many times in several cases.

4 joe costello4A warm virtual welcome – RIYC Commodore Joe Costello. Photo: Deirdre Power
5 hal fitzgerald5Race Director Hal Fitzgerald. Photo: W M Nixon

The list of winners both on Corrected Time and in Line Honours well reflects this, while we get an even more telling impression from ranking the clubs of those winners:

6 round ireland winners6The winners of the Round Ireland Race have come from 12 different clubs and seven different countries

The Royal Cork Yacht Club and the Royal Irish YC top the table with four winners apiece, the Royal Cork launched on their way with Denis Doyle’s two famous victories in 1982 and 1984 with Moonduster.

Home Clubs of Round Ireland Winners:

  • Royal Cork YC: 4
  • Royal Irish YC: 4
  • Howth Yacht Club: 2
  • National Yacht Club: 2
  • Kinsale YC: 1
  • New York Yacht Club: 1
  • Clyde Cruising Club:1
  • Yacht Club Breskens: 1
  • Galway Bay Sailing Club: 1
  • Clifden Boat Club: 1
  • Lymington Town Sailing Club: 1
  • Waterford Harbour Sailing Club: 1

Clifden Boat Cub was the named home club of France’s Bernard & Laurent Gouy - winners in 2012 with the Ker 39 Inis Mor - who have a family holiday place in Connemara. Breskens is, of course, the great Piet Vroon, winner with Tonnere de Breskens 3 in 2010, while Lymington Town SC crops up thanks to Lawrie Smith’s double win with Rothman’s in 1990, though he could equally have named Glandore Harbour YC, as his parents acquired a little place there in the 1960s. And Waterford Harbour SC is, of course, the late Brian Coad, winner of the first race in 1980 with the Rival 34 Raasay of Melfort.

7 radley farnan7Cobh lads together - George Radley accepting the RCYC Half Ton Trophy from Admiral Pat Farnan. Photo: Robert Bateman

Thus there’s a lot of experience to draw on from past Round Ireland Races, and on Wednesday’s we’d a virtual panel discussion which took us through the experiences of George Radley of Cobh – winner with the immortal Imp in 2000 and almost winner again in 2002 when it was snatched at the last minute by fellow Corkman Eric Lisson with the Noray/Granada 38 Cavatina. Also involved was sailmaker Maurice “The Prof” O’Connell, who was right there with Mark Mansfield when they combined to give Dave Cullen class victory with the J/109 Euro Car Parks in 2016, and also called the shot in 2018 for the vital move which got Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia out of the Donegal flat patch and right into the frame in class and overall in 2018.

The panel was completed by Anna Walsh, who was with Peter Wilson on the J/35 Bridgestone for overall victory in 1994 in a varied career afloat which included top-level J/24 involvement and windsurfing and is now getting back to her favourite sailing activity of offshore racing on Paul O’Higgins’ all-conquering JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI in ISORA racing, where her shipmates include husband Mark Pettit.

George Radley was at his droll and revelatory best when he let us know that his famous victory with Imp for Kinsale YC in 2000 was achieved by taking the father and mother of a flyer. They’d been parked up at Rathlin for five hours and more, and when they finally got going again they reckoned the only way they could get back in the hunt was by going right over to the Scottish side for the passage through the North Channel. Thus they came in literally out of the blue to the finish at Wicklow to snatch the overall title by 6 minutes.

It made him wonder about luck or whatever you’d call it, for in 2002 they sailed a steady and tactically conservative race and were in a comfortable lead approaching the finish, but the wind let them down, and fellow Corkman Eric Lisson in the low-rated Cavatina simply had to keep plodding along to take the title.

8 cavatina sailing8The all-conquering Cavatina. Never assume you’ve beaten her in a Round Ireland Race until you see the official numbers published in their final form. Photo: Facebook

It’s less well-remembered now that although Imp was away in 2004, George and his mates borrowed John Godkin’s Ron Humphreys-designed Sovereign 400 VSOP out of Kinsale, and under the name of McCarthy Motors they took on a heavy weather race with relish. Here again, they were right on target getting into the finish area, but the Wicklow flukiness did for them yet again, so as George said, the reality is that his only actual victory was won through a monumental gamble, but you had to be there to get the full flavour of him savouring this memory.

Maurice “Prof” O’Connell’s memories of the Round Ireland go back to 1994 when he first did the circuit with the O’Learys on the Lightwave 395 Irish Mist, and in those days of unmarked two-mile long salmon nets, he reckoned they invented the “jump-broach” technique of taking a spinnaker-setting boat clean over a net by going sideways on her ear, thus preventing fouling of keel, rudder and propellor

Mark Mansfield reckons he made the same useful discovery when racing round in an X372 a couple of years earlier, but with salmon fishing regulation more severe these days, it’s a skill which is now vaguely recalled rather than actively practised.

9 mansfield oconnnell sailing9Mark Mansfield and Maurice “Prof” O’Connell racing Dave Culllen’s J/109 Euro Car parks in the early stages of the 2016 Round Ireland race, in which they secured a class win. Both lay claim to having invented the “broach-leap” to carry a spinnaker-setting boat clean across a salmon net. Photo: O’Brien

As it happens, The Prof reckons that expecting to carry experience from one round Ireland through to the next race two years later - and the races after that - is a snare and a delusion. For as he firmly declared, each race is ABSOLUTEY different from the previous one, and the conditions he and his shipmates’ experienced in winning their class with the J/109 Euro Car Parks in 2016 were pretty much the direct opposite of those they dealt with in getting another class win with the J/122 Aurelia in 2018.

With so much Cork input going into the discussion, it was a relief to find that Anna Walsh is a Dub, even though the inevitable Cork connections emerged on her mother’s side. She’s finding time again for offshore racing despite the challenges of raising a family and an extremely demanding and multi-faceted day job.

Thus she frankly admitted that while she was well able for most crewing job on an offshore racer, she got special satisfaction from being the ship’s cook, as it was a very focused function which took her mind off the distracting “trivia” of everyday life.

This column’s view is that while good helms are ten-a-penny, an able and talented ship’s cook is a treasure beyond price to be cherished in every way, his or her views held in reverence way above those of other crew members,

10 anna walsh10Anna Walsh - she was on a crew of Peter Wilson’s J/35 Bridgestone when they were overall winners of the 1994 race

That said, in this era of gender equality in all roles it didn’t seem quite right that the woman’s input to the discussion should be mostly on sea cooking, but Anna swept such notions aside with her enthusiasm and even followed up with a businesslike note on catering for the Round Ireland Race which is probably of more value than all of the rest of this blog put together, and here it is:


  • There's the obvious stuff: checking crew allergens, avoiding poultry and dairy products that won't keep well, minimising strong flavours as the crew are living in too close quarters for days on end.
  • There's the practical stuff: Planning a balanced and varied menu, meal by meal, day by day. Pre-cooking, vac-packing and labelling everything with indelible markers. And vac-packing the daily supplies that need to stay dry until day 4, 5 and 6 of the Race means you'll have dry matches, sugar cubes, toilet paper and tea bags when you need them most.
  • The pressure cooker is your friend: Pre-cooked and vac-packed meals, including breakfasts, can be quickly and safely reheated in a pressure cooker in any conditions.
  • Memorable meals: Be inventive with limited ingredients and stove-top cooking. Steak sandwiches can be cooked and served rounding the Tuskar if the prep has been done before the start. Ready to heat and serve stews with roast vegetables work well sailing up the West coast, especially in heavy weather. A hot bacon in eggy-bread sandwich passing Mew Island eaten on the rail of Jumpin' Jack Flash/Bridgestone was one of the most delicious Round Ireland meals ever.
  • Secret recipe: Storm cake: Traditional fruit cake and Irish whiskey in roughly equal measures - lifts spirits during night watches.

Nourished by the very thought of all that, the gathering then went from seminar to party. One story which inevitably an rightly came up in Wednesday night’s general chat is an episode from the 2018 race which didn’t really get the publicity it deserved at the time. Aboard the INSS’s J/109 Jedi – chartered by Michael Boyd – they’d a dead-of-night man overboard emergency while plugging into the vicious headwinds off the north Kerry coast. Yet Kenneth Rumball master-minded the retrieval of the casualty with such skill and speed that the report of the incident went through in the race’s news-stream in a matter-of-fact style with so little fanfare that it was almost forgotten by the finish, but happily in November 2018 it was to be deservedly high-lighted with the award of the RORC Seamanship Trophy.

11 kenneth rumball11Kenneth Rumball of Irish National Sailing School, winner with Michael Boyd of the RORC Seamanship Trophy after a textbook man-overboard retrieval during 2018’s race. For 2020’s race, he is expected to be campaigning an entry of very special interest in the Two Handed Division. Photo: W M Nixon12 michael boyd12The inscrutable Michael Boyd, former Commodore of the RORC, in his home club of the RIYC. His plans for the 2020 Round Ireland race are still being kept under wraps. Photo: W M Nixon

Michael Boyd’s plans for the 2020 race are still being kept under wraps, but you’d be unlikely to lose money if you made a modest wager that he’ll be on the starting line in some interesting boat. And as for Kenneth Rumball, if – as is very likely – he is there, it will be in a different boat in a new category which will be filling the sailing news in the very near future.

The boat he’ll race will be white-hot new, so there’s no way he’ll be eligible for another of the trophies which emerged from Wednesday’s virtual launching party, the Maybird Mast for the oldest boat to complete the course. The brainchild of Darryl Hughes whose immaculately-restored 1937 43ft Tyrrell of Arklow gaff ketch Maybird became both the first gaff-rigged boat and the oldest ever to finish the race was virtually presented to the organisers by the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association President Johnny Wedick at Wednesday’s cyberspace gathering, and will simply be for the oldest boat to finish.

There was an extraordinary linking of past and present as the DBOGA group included Lucia Hawkes-Bowen who’d come across from England, and she’s the great-niece of Col WCW Hawkes who was originally from Croshaven but was Cornwall-based when he had Maybird built by Jack Tyrrell in 1937.

13 hawkes bowen hughes13Lucia Hawkes-Bowen, great-niece of the original 1937 owner of the Tyrrell gaff ketch Maybird, with Darryl Hughes and the new Maybird Mast Trophy for the oldest boat to complete the Round Ireland Race

As for who is likely to be the first winner of the Maybird Mast Trophy, a sensible wager on the current entry list of 38 boats would be the American entry Hiro Maru (Hiro Nakajima) which came from behind to win Class 3 in last year’s Transatlantic race. Originally built as Scaramouche in 1971, she’s a Sparkman & Stephens 49 classic from the legendary alloy-building facility of Palmer Johnson in Wisconsin (the same design-build combo produced Ted Turner’s storm-tossed 1979 Fastnet winner Tenacious), and carries her 49 years with aplomb.

Next in line in age terms is the mid-1970s Noray 38 Cavatina (Ian Hickey, RCYC) which is also of course always in the reckoning for the overall win – she’s just that kind of boat and crew. The Dubois-design Fulmar 32 Fulmar Fever from Dunmore East Sea School might be though to be in the reckoning for ‘golden oldie’ prize, but in fact they didn’t start building this marque until 1979, so her main competition will be for the Sailing Schools award, where she’ll be up against two entries from Ronan O’Siochru’s Irish Offshore Sailing. Both are vintage Sun Fast 37s, and one of them – Desert Star – won the Roger Justice Trophy for Sea Schools in the 2015 Rolex Fastnet race.

14 desert star fastnet14Desert Star, skippered by Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing, on her way to winning the Roger Justice Trophy in the 2015 Fastnet Race

The top Irish boat from the 2019 Fastnet – Conor Doyle’s Xp 50 Freya from Kinsale – is down to race round Ireland, as is the Murphy family’s successful Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo from Royal Cork along with clubmate Frank Doyle in his J/112E Cara, so there’s a notably strong representation from Cork of boats which will probably then position themselves to race home via the re-enactment of the 1860 Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race early in July - probably the oldest offshore race in Britain and Ireland, but that’s a topic we’ll return to at a later date.

Meanwhile, the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race from Wicklow on June 20th, with entries from eight countries, is still scheduled to go ahead on time as we write, and the really notable thing about it is the already strong international entry, something which is equalled only by the number of rumours about significant entries which have yet to throw their hats into the ring.

15 rockabill racing fast15Raring to go – Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill. Photo: O'Brien
Paul O’Higgins (RIYC) is of course firmly in place for his third attempt at the top title with his JPK 11.80 Rockabill VI, which has won just about everything else, but the remarkable JPK Dream Factory in Lorient has been busy, and he’ll find himself up against a newer JPK, in this case the 11.80 Fastwave 6 campaigned by France’s Eric Fries.

16 wilson ohiggins16Peter Wilson, overall winner in 1994 with the J/35 Bridgestone, and a key skipper and crewmember in many other major race wins, with Paul O’Higgins. Photo: W M Nixon

And it seems certain there’ll be an even newer JPK 10.30 in the final lineup, and if it turns out to be Jean-Pierre Kelbert himself in his all-conquering Leon, it wouldn’t surprise us for a minute. After a virtual launching party to soar over the problems of the Covid-19 lockdown, anything is possible for the 21st Round Ireland Race.

17 jpk1030 leon17Bolt from the blue – the hyper-successful new JPK 10.30 Leon may well be in the Round Ireland mix

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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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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