Offshore racing in Ireland is witnessing a significant increase both of participants but also as a course area if 2018 is used as a measure.
In the past few weeks alone, three major races have all used the south coast and Fastnet Rock as routing marks.
Earlier this week, the Volvo Ocean Race sailed between the famous lighthouse and Cape Clear before hugging the West Cork coastline on leg 10 of the 40,000 nautical mile race now in its penultimate stage.
The previous week saw 27 Open 40 footers depart Caen in Normandy for a race around the English Channel before turning northwards to round the Tuskar Rock off Wexford before sprinting to the Fastnet and the turn southwards towards the finish.
And a fleet of smaller boats also raced from Britain to Fastnet and back in the past month.
At the end of June, the 705-mile Volvo Round Ireland Race departs Wicklow for a unique circumnavigation starting on June 30. With 60 boats entered, the fleet is just shy of the 2016 record entry of 63 boats though this included George David’s maxi Rambler 88 that won the event outright as well as three duelling MOD70 trimarans.
No such exotic boats will be competing this year so 2018 is arguably more representative of mainstream offshore racing with the bulk of the fleet all under 50 feet in length.
The prospect of a small boat overall winner on this IRC handicap-decided event is likely. Aside from actual races however, a real spike in interest is clear amongst the short-handed racing community comprising solo sailors and two-handed crews.
While Ireland has been represented occasionally in the French classic route into the sport via the Figaro race over recent decades, notably by Kerry sailor Damian Foxall, this year appears set to have two Irish boats competing.
Joan Mulloy from Mayo will return briefly to Ireland for the annual SeaFest in Galway at the end of this month with her BIM sponsored Fiagro 2 entry ahead of the single-handed race later in the Summer. Meath sailor Tom Dolan is also confirmed for the Figaro as part of his own personal pathway that one day may lead to a solo round the world race campaign.
Meanwhile, solo sailing mania continues at the start of July when Dublin adventure centre instructor Gregor McGuckin realises a lifelong ambition when he starts the 50th commemoration edition of the Golden Globe Race, the original non-stop single-handed round the world race.
His 36-footer ‘Hanley Energy’ is 34 years old and is only equipped with instruments, technology and equipment that would have been available in the original race.
The only concessions to the modern era are emergency beacons, position indicating equipment that he doesn’t have access to, freeze-dried food and breathable foul-weather clothing and thermal underlayers.
Should he complete the race unaided, he will earn the honour of being the first Irish person to circumnavigate the planet, solo, on-stop and unaided.
However, he isn’t the only sailor with such ambitions.
The Vendee Globe solo race next scheduled to start in 2020 currently has three prospective Irish boats.
First to announce his campaign was Cork sailor Nicholas ‘Nin’ O’Leary with strong support of the famous Alex Thomson Hugo Boss campaign and he secured his own Open 60-footer for the project.
Mulloy herself is also a prospect for the Vendee and could have access to Enda O’Coineen’s boat that he unsuccessfully raced in the last Vendee Race.
Current Irish sailor of the year Conor Fogerty from Howth is also planning a campaign but has yet to secure a boat. He won the single-handed transatlantic last year and is currently planning an entry for the Round Britain and Ireland Race in August.
However, in spite of the growing interest, it isn’t all plain sailing as O’Leary has discovered and the hunt for sponsorship funding is proving especially tough.
“We’re still on the sponsorship hunt but it’s a slow burn. We’re having good, positive conversations but no title-sponsor as yet,” O’Leary told the Irish Examiner.
“We still have two and half years to go and the qualification races in May 2020 so we’ll just plug away,” O’Leary added.
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