More strong results from Irish sailors at home and abroad this week point to 2018 becoming one of the best seasons in years.
Last week saw the start of the annual Figaro solo circuit of offshore sprint around the English Channel and Bay of Biscay. Participation by Irish sailors over the 40-plus years of the race could previously be counted on one hand.
This year two Irish skippers have entered, including the first Irish female sailor in the event. Two stages of the race have been completed ahead of this weekend’s third stage followed by a 24-hour sprint finish.
Joan Mulloy from Westport on her yacht Taste The Atlantic — A Seafood Journey suffered gear failure seconds before the start of the last leg but the rules permit outside assistance before restarting.
She spent the race playing catch up as the fleet raced across the Bay of Biscay toward Spain and finished at the back of the pack but lies 27th overall out of 36 boats.
Meath’s Tom Dolan on his yacht Smurfit Kappa, in the rookie division, placed 29th for leg two. He suffered a dismasting in the opening stage so was pleased to finish a leg.
Meanwhile, spare a thought for another Irish solo sailor making painfully slow progress but still holding third place in his event.
A week ago, Gregor McGuckin had passed to the south of the Cape of Good Hope on the southernmost tip of Africa and was holding third place overall in the Golden Globe Race.
Seven days later, little has changed in terms of his race standing — or his position.
With boatspeed down to less than five knots and often much less, staying intact as the leading boats thread through the notorious Southern Ocean along the Roaring 40’s latitude is a higher priority that pushing for speed.
The event recreates the Round the World Race staged 50 years ago with limitations on modern entrants from using hi-tech gear including navigation aids that weren’t available in 1969. Yet the leading boats are significantly faster this time round and are 4,000 nautical miles ahead of Robin Knox Johnston’s original voyage on Suhaili.
But compared to the boats of an event such as the Volvo Ocean Race where times of 600 nautical miles in 24 hours are possible in this part of the world, reaching 700 miles in a week even for a single-handed sailor highlights how much has changed in 50 years.
An Irish boat with no speed issues collected a gold medal last weekend in France when the 49er U23 World Championship was won by Howth Yacht Club’s Robert Dickson racing with Skerries Sailing Club’s Sean Waddilove.
The pair were competing in Marseilles which is the venue for the Sailing regatta of the 2024 Olympic Games which is the duo’s ultimate goal.
Ireland has still to qualify for the 49er skiff event for Tokyo 2020 and fielded four crews at the recent Sailing World Championships at Aarhus, Denmark. While three were Development Academy crews including Dickson and Waddilove, there was disappointment that two-times veteran Ryan Seaton now paired with Seafra Guilfoyle missed out on a gold fleet place.
However, the U23 gold medal caps off a strong summer performance for the next generation of Olympic hopefuls coming after Liam Glynn’s bronze medal in the Under 21 Laser World Championships in July.