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Countdown To SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race Is In Midst Of Upsurge In International Events

11th June 2022
The unique pre-start scene in Wicklow Harbour, with the classic coastline looking its picture-postcard best
The unique pre-start scene in Wicklow Harbour, with the classic coastline looking its picture-postcard best Credit: courtesy WSC

After 42 years of the 704 miles biennial Round Ireland Yacht Race from Wicklow, there must be hundreds – indeed, possibly thousands - of sailors throughout Ireland and beyond who will be pausing thoughtfully from time to time during the coming days before the start on Saturday, June 18th’. What they’re feeling will be reinforced by the fact that the 2020 race was pandemic-prevented to make for a four-year gap. For they’ll be pausing, these old Round Ireland veterans – let’s call them Orivs - to remember again that special feeling of slightly dry-mouthed anticipation which was and is an inevitable part of the total experience.

It never quite leaves you, no matter how many times you’ve qualified to be an Oriv. And a quick scan of the entry list – which we’ll look at in full detail nearer the race start – reveals it to be currently over the 50 mark, but with one or two of the earlier entries no longer quite so rock solid. Nevertheless, the list indicates that there will be many competitors who are going yet again, some of them in boats with such a record of regular round Ireland competition that they could probably find their way round unaided.

Entries here

Ian Hickey’s successful multiple-circuiteer Cavatina (RCYC) could probably find her way along the Round Ireland course unaidedIan Hickey’s successful multiple-circuiteer Cavatina (RCYC) could probably find her way along the Round Ireland course unaided

ROBOT ROUND IRELAND RACING?

Perhaps it’s tempting fate even to mention such a possibility, as the world of electronics must be on the cusp of making an un-manned round Ireland race a viable proposition. And heaven knows but there have been times in races past when – running down on the coast of northwest Donegal for instance, on a rising gale in the gathering night, with blocks and sheaves exploding under overload left and right - that you’d be wishing such a stage of technological advance had been long since reached.

But then somehow you emerge into the dawn to find yourself on a smooth spinnaker reach from Tory Island towards the outer end of those saw-toothed rocks off Malin Head, with That Certain Boat With The Same Rating now tucked increasingly further astern, clearly not finding this particular point of sailing so much to her liking. And then you wonder that your enthusiasm for Round Ireland racing could ever have become even slightly muted the night before.

The new First 50 Checkmate XX (Nigel Biggs & David Cullen, HYC) will be a Round Ireland debutante on June 18th. Photo: Afoat.ieThe new First 50 Checkmate XX (Nigel Biggs & David Cullen, HYC) will be a Round Ireland debutante on June 18th. Photo: Afoat.ie

Yet there’s no doubting it’s a specialist passion. Beforehand, it’s toughest of all for the owner-skippers doing their first race. Despite the need for the completion of qualifying races, smaller boats in those days were obliged to be in Wicklow at least three days in advance for decidedly serious scrutineering. Significantly larger craft could opt for that in their home port or in Dun Laoghaire, and of course, Greystones has also been conveniently available for several years now, but back in the day, the debut-making little ’uns had to report to Wicklow time to spare.

In port, you experienced all the joys of transforming one’s quite well-equipped little cruiser-racer into a state-of-the-art offshore racing machine compliant with the strictest dictates of the RORC. This was done by the transfer of significant funds from an already severely over-drawn Boat Account into the trading account of a noted Dublin chandlery company.

AN ASTONISHING SAILING CLUB

This company had found it well worth its while to have an equipment-laden van stationed on Wicklow’s very busy and often dusty quayside. For although every effort was made to give the impression that Wicklow was and is an international yachting centre, despite the best efforts of Wicklow SC’s large group of tireless and patient volunteers it’s still basically a workaday little freight, commodities, windfarm-servicing and fishing port with an astonishing sailing club which works a biennial miracle to stage a great race.

Dream starting conditions. Barry Byrne gets clear away in the J/109 Joker II – and was well in the frame at the finish. Photo{ Afloat.ie/David O’BrienDream starting conditions. Barry Byrne gets clear away in the J/109 Joker II – and was well in the frame at the finish. Photo: Afloat.ie

And for Round Ireland participants, it’s so utterly worthwhile, for there is simply nothing in sailing that I know of to compare with the feeling of closing in on Wicklow for the finish, sailing those final miles along the incomparable Wicklow summertime coast for the totally-focused hospitality of the finish, when everyone’s a winner though some admittedly are evidently more clearly winners than others. But that’s a matter of rather prosaic interpretation of finishing times and the application of ratings while it’s a very important part of the race, no figures for the FG Factor will appear in the final listings, even though the Feel Good Factor is really what it’s all about.

PEN DUICK VI SCATTERS STARDUST

Eric Tabarly’s Pen Duick VI looked quite special when she first appeared 49 years ago – and she still does.

That, and the strong international element. It was 1974 when the late great Eric Tabarly’s 73ft ketch Pen Duick VI made perhaps her only previous visit to Ireland, and in so doing she won the RORC Cowes-Cork Race. Nearly 50 years later, this great boat is still going strong under the command of Tabarly’s daughter Marie, and Pen Duick’s presence on the Wicklow start line will spread stardust which will be augmented by another noted French entry, Eric de Turkheim’s 54ft Teasing Machine.

Marie Tabarly wil be skippering Pen Duick VI in her first Round Ireland RaceMarie Tabarly will be skippering Pen Duick VI in her first Round Ireland Race

As the start time approaches, weather forecasts for the round Ireland will begin to become more precise, but at the moment there’s a reasonable hope that in a week’s time, we’ll be in a period of more settled weather. Meanwhile, the dominating feature in recent days has been the presence to the northwest of the very deep and slow-moving centre of decaying tropical storm Alex. Intense bubbles of tropical air – however much “decayed” - are a course of meteorological uncertainty, and they’ve made things distinctly nervous for the tail-enders in the four-stage RYWC Round Britain and Ireland Race.

THE TENTACLES OF STORM ALEX

The last boat to depart the 48-hour Galway stopover, the veteran 25ft Vertue MEA (Matteo Richardi, Italy) found that the big southerly winds of Alex were getting very close as she ran along the Connacht coast, so she took shelter on Wednesday night in Broadhaven in Mayo before a slight easing on Thursday enabled her to sail along the Donegal coast until the next wave of wind caused her to seek shelter at the Ard Priory anchorage in Sheephaven on the north coast of Donegal on Thursday night.

Lou Boorman and Elin Jones in good spirits aboard their Contessa 32 White Knight after a long and difficult race from Plymouth to Galway. They have since been making the best of much more favourable conditions from Galway to the Shetland Islands. Photo: GBSCLou Boorman and Elin Jones in good spirits aboard their Contessa 32 White Knight after a long and difficult race from Plymouth to Galway. They have since been making the best of much more favourable conditions from Galway to the Shetland Islands. Photo: GBSC

Meanwhile, the female crew from Wales, Lou Boorman (19) and Elin Jones with the Contessa 32 White Knight, had got away from Galway in Sunday evening in time to take advantage of the rising southerlies before they became a threat, and they’ve had a fantastic if arduous passage from the Aran Islands to Muckle Flugga in the Shetlands to get them right back in the hunt, for they’d a better recorded time in this long Atlantic leg than several of the multi-hulls, which had found themselves doing this stage before the strong but favourable breezes had set in.

Storm Alex may be slowly fading away to the northeast, but he continues to dominate our weather for the early part of this weekend, and already Kinsale YC’s planned race last night to Glandore has been cancelled, though today’s 120-mile ISORA Race on Ireland’s east coast round various marks between Dun Laoghaire and Dunany on Dundalk Bay, with the finish (probably in the small hours of Sunday) in Howth an acknowledgement of the fact that ISORA in its present form is 50 years old in 2022, and it was first proposed in Howth in August 1971.

FRESH WINDS IN BRITISH IRC CHAMPS

The tentacles of a storm of the power of Alex spread far and wide even when he is decaying, and thus it’s expected to bring fresh to strong winds to the ongoing IRC British Championship in the Solent in which the Irish squad used to be a force with the likes of Davie Dwyer’s Mills 39 Mariners Cove and Anthony O’Leary’s various boats called Antix, all this being back in the crazy boom years when at one stage Ireland had no less than three teams – and all competing against each other – racing in the Commodore’s Cup, with teams led by Anthony O’Leary finally winning in 2010 and again in 2014.

But while we’re dealing with the current effects of Storm Alex and hoping for the chance of some gentler weather for the Round Ireland in a week’s time, across the Atlantic they’re ahead of our weather in new systems and starting to gather in Newport, Rhode island for the start of the 217 boat 635-mile Newport-Bermuda Race, one of the great classics.

Only one of them is going to win……this year’s biennial Newport-Bermuda Race (starting next Friday) is incorporated in the Centenary Celebrations of the Cruising Club of America. Thanks to the wayward conditions of the Gulf Stream, despite it being a straight line race the tactical choices seem as numerous as the boats in the fleet, which this year will be 217. Only one of them is going to win……this year’s biennial Newport-Bermuda Race (starting next Friday) is incorporated in the Centenary Celebrations of the Cruising Club of America. Thanks to the wayward conditions of the Gulf Stream, despite it being a straight line race the tactical choices seem as numerous as the boats in the fleet, which this year will be 217. 

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF THE CRUISING CLUB OF AMERICA

It’s doubly classic this year, as the organising Cruising Club of America is celebrating its Centenary. The CCA is a “cruising” club like no other, as it’s a wide-ranging maritime organisation which is into everything – research, exploration, safety initiatives and so forth - in a very positive way. But inevitably the race to Bermuda is its flagship event, and with its hundred years history intertwined with the biennial “dash to the onion patch” across the bewildering waters of the Gulf Stream, the CCA is in process of clarifying is complex history.

In some versions, it sounds like a story out of Damon Runyon or P G Wodehouse in his New York years, with a sailing journalist called Bill Nutting gathering his buddies in a Manhattan speakeasy called Beefsteak John’s (I’m not making this up) to set up a seafaring and offshore racing club.

CCA IRISH AWARDS

However it may have come into being, the CCA is now a Good Thing, and in 1923 it established the Blue Water Medal for outstanding international seafaring achievement. There have been no less than four Irish awardees over the years – Bill King, John Gore-Grimes, Paddy Barry and Jarlath Cunnane - and more recently the CCA’s international Rod Stephens Trophy for seamanship was awarded to two Irish sailors.

Cruising Club of America Blue Water Medallists Paddy Barry, Bill King and John Gore-Grimes at an ICC gathering in 1992.Cruising Club of America Blue Water Medallists Paddy Barry, Bill King and John Gore-Grimes at an ICC gathering in 1992

Gregor McGuckin received it in 2020 for his heroic part in the rescue in the 2018 Golden Globe Race, while Sean McCarter of Lough Swilly for successfully saving an MOB in the Pacific in the Clipper Race. Thus in this its Centenary year there’s a definite Irish interest in the CCA, and in the circumstances, they’re allowed to have their Bermuda Race start the day before our SSE Renewables Round Ireland race from Wicklow.

Sean McCarter of Lough Swilly receives the 2014 Rod Stephens award from CCA Commodore Tad Lhamon in the New York YC.Sean McCarter of Lough Swilly receives the 2014 Rod Stephens award from CCA Commodore Tad Lhamon in the New York YC.

2020 award of CCA Rod Stephens Trophy for Seamanship to Gregor McGuckin by Commodore Bob Medland.2020 award of CCA Rod Stephens Trophy for Seamanship to Gregor McGuckin by Commodore Bob Medland

Published in W M Nixon, Round Ireland
Afloat.ie Team

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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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