David Branigan: Rumours of offshore demise greatly exaggerated

As one offshore classic race draws to a close this week, another major race is drawing a near record fleet together closer to home, while at the same time, the Volvo Ocean Race will be decided this weekend in The Netherlands, writes David Branigan

David Branigan: Rumours of offshore demise greatly exaggerated

The biennial Newport to Bermuda Race is drawing to a close with final results pending completion of the 635-nautical mile course. A clutch of Irish sailors are scattered across the 169-boat fleet with almost all featuring on the big boat end of the spectrum.

Ben Lynch from Benekerry in Carlow is among a professional crew on American VO70 Warrior, a service veterans charity organisation, and placed fourth in class while Marcus Spillane from Fountainstown crewed on Swan 66 Bounty, placed ninth.

James Carroll from Dublin crewed on Black Pearl, a Carkeek 47 from Germany that placed ninth after just over four days at sea.

A fast passage means he can return to Ireland to prepare for the Volvo Round Ireland Race in ten days’ time where he is leading Niall Dowling’s top crew on Baraka GP, a 46-foot contender for the overall trophy on home waters.

The Line Honours winner in Bermuda is also a familiar figure in Irish waters.

George David on Rambler 88 completed the course in just over 50 hours though some 11 hours off the 2016 record set by Ken Read on Commanche.

David was busy setting a record of his own that year by taking the hat-trick at Wicklow for our own classic offshore race, the 705-mile Round Ireland.

With a new time of 50 hours and 24 minutes, Rambler 88 chopped a whopping 15 hours off the existing course record for monohull boats.

Indeed, while the dockside rumour-mill speculated that Commanche would arrive in 2018 to knock more time off the record, so far no super maxis have entered the race that starts from Wicklow on Saturday June 30 at 2pm.

However, record-breaking yachts aren’t so plentiful that they suddenly elect to enter races; most plan years in advance so the new monohull record may stand for another decade. But the 2016 race also set a record for turnout as 63 boats started the race.

Counted amongst these were three trimarans, a new feature for the event that has since 1980 been exclusively for single-hulled boats.

This year’s turnout is likely to be around 60-boats going by the latest entry-list but not counted in the official race are the mini 6.5m boats that commonly sail offshore short-handed and even across the Atlantic. Their presence could — unofficially of course — make 2018 a record year for starters even without the spectacle of a few maxi entries.

A further benefit is that the overall race will most likely be won by a mid-sized boat. Or if it is a breezy race, one of the older back-markers could be in the frame.

At that suggestion, all eyes turn towards Ian Hickey’s venerable two-times past winner, Cavatina from the Royal Cork Yacht Club. Built in 1978, the Granada 38-footer embodies the spirit of the race and of offshore racing “to win, first you must finish”.

Another adage of offshore racing is, “to be the best, you must beat the best”.

That presents the Volvo Ocean Race with a unique, perhaps unprecedented scenario this weekend as the top three boats are tied on level points. Starting from Gothenburg, Sweden today, the final sprint to the finish at The Hague is expected on Saturday or Sunday.

Xabi Fernandez on Spanish-entry Mapfre is on level points with Dutch veteran Bouwe Bekking’s steady-improvers on Brunel while Charles Caudrelier’s Chinese-flagged Dongfeng Racing team will receive a bonus point on completion of the race for the fastest overall time over all stages.

So, after nine months of racing and over 40,000 nautical miles sailed, a tie-break to decide the winner is on the cards. The final sprint is just 700 nautical-miles, shorter than the Round Ireland itself and with so much at stake an intense battle is certain.

Between all three events and others too, despite rumours of its demise a few short years ago, offshore sailing is very much alive and well.

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