Short-handed sailing set to have a bright future

By kind permission of famous marine correspondent and journalist Tom McSweeney, I am delighted to post a copy of one of his articles published recently in the weekly sailing page of the Evening Echo Cork.

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“Short-handed sailing is a testing level of the sport, but I enjoyed it thoroughly with just three of us aboard my Sigma 33 in 12 knots of westerly breeze on a six-leg race with two spinnaker runs.

During almost two hours it was lively after a spinnaker hoist start. Flying the ‘kite’ as it is colloquially known, is arguably the most testing part of racing.

Seventeen boats took part and there was plenty of crew work. A Sigma 33 normally requires at least five. In heavy weather it could be seven.

This was the RCYC short-handed wine race off Crosshaven, sponsored by Uí Loingsigh of Glanmire. Boats of all sizes were forced to reduce crews making the race quite testing.

Back ashore there was an air of exhilaration amongst those who had raced. The conditions suited. Heavier weather would have made it tougher, but it started me thinking about short-handed racing for which a new association has been formed – the Irish Double & Solo Racing Group, aiming to develop “a vibrant community of Irish solo and double-handed sailors” and to establish regular racing events.

In the past two years Irish sailors have made an impact on world short-handed racing. Damian Foxall from Kerry won the two-crew Barcelona World Race in 2008 with French co-skipper Jean Pierre Dick in the Open 60 Paprec-Virbac. In June of last year, Barry Hurley from Cobh won his class and finished 4th overall in the OSTAR, the Original Single-Handed Transatlantic Race, on his 35-footer Dinah.

There has been an increase in the number of Irish sailors taking part in solo and double-handed racing. Foxall first came to national attention in the solo French Figaro Race. Paul O Riain from Dublin has also raced the Figaro, which regularly calls to Ireland.

But this is, strictly speaking, not approved in Irish waters by Government declaration. For several years a Government ‘Notice to Mariners’ has prohibited solo sailing in Irish waters. This warns that, under international maritime law, sailors must keep an effective watch at all times while at sea, regarded as impossible because solo sailors have to sleep.

There have been considerable achievements in single-handed sailing. Francis Chichester, Chay Blyth, Robin Knox-Johnston, Ellen MacArthur, Bill King of Oranmore, followed the lead of the famed Joshua Slocum over a hundred years ago.

High-profile teenage single-handed circumnavigation attempts have gained publicity in recent weeks, but the more practical issue of short-handed and solo racing concerns the new Irish association.

The World Speed Sailing Record Council, affiliated to the International Sailing Federation, has declared that solo record attempts around Ireland will not be recognised because of the Government ruling. No other country has been affected in this manner.

Next month the third leg of the Figaro Race will be from Brest to Kinsale. The single-handed competitors should not sail in Irish waters – by Government decision.

There are varying views about single-handed sailors which run from “madness” to “the best of sailing.” While appreciating safety, solo sailors adapt sleep patterns to take rest, typically in 15-20 minute segments in the hour, with the aid of radar alarms and modern technology, including Automatic Identification Systems that highlight shipping traffic. Reports of seafarer fatigue at sea and watchkeepers falling asleep while on duty seem to set similar challenges to solo sailing.

The issue of racing alone in Irish waters won’t be tackled immediately by the new Irish Double & Solo Racing Group, but it will try to persuade authorities that new yacht technology allows compliant, safe sailing.

The Royal Ocean Racing Club has announced the addition of a two-handed class to its non-stop Round Britain and Ireland Race starting on August 23 from Cowes. This is a separate race to the two-handed Shetland Round Britain and Ireland which will have a stop-over in Kinsale.

• Dave Dwyer and his crew on their Mills 39, Marinerscove.ie successfully defended their position as British National Champion at the Royal Ocean Racing Club in the Solent. They were in flying form against opposition from an international fleet from France, Belgium, Hong Kong, Holland, South Africa, the UK and Irish compatriots. A great achievement, only the second time a defender has retained the title. Their victory is an indication of the quality of sailing on Marinerscove.ie which was recently given a higher-rated handicap.

As a prelude to the Commodore’s Cup in August – the offshore ‘world cup’ of sailing – this was a useful test for the Irish team of three boats, all from the RCYC. As well as Marinerscove.ie Anthony O’Leary finished fourth overall in Antix and Robert Davies was 4th in the IRC class in Roxy 6.

• Light winds dominated the Round Ireland Race, sponsored by Conway Media, making slow progress for the fleet though in pleasant weather conditions. Tonnerre de Breskens from Holland led 37 entrants all the way. Cavatina (Ian Hickey) from the Royal Cork Crosshaven won Class 5, for pre 1987-designed boats, finishing 13th overall and 3rd in IRC. Joker from Kinsale (Michael Broderick and Dave Gibbons) was 24th overall and 2nd in Class 6 for Sigma 38s. Barry Hurley, in the double-handed class, on Dinah was 12th overall. Exactly a week after it left, Yahttzee, was the last boat to finish back at Wicklow Sailing Club.

• As expected, CORK led the Clipper Round the World race fleet into Kinsale. No great surprise when it had a 48-hour start advantage. But a publicity achievement for the organisers.”

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