O'Connor to fulfil ambition

Sat, Jan 13, 1996, 00:00

ONE Irish sailor's ambition will be realised later this year when the Global Challenge sets off from Southampton on September 29th. There is also an added bonus for 30 year old Tom O'Connor as he has been selected to skipper one of the 14 65 foot steel yachts.

Regarded as the amateur equivalent to the Whitbread Round the World Race, the challenge has also earned the nickname "wrong way round the world race" for its west to east course against the prevailing wind and tides. All the crews come from non sailing backgrounds and undergo intensive training months in advance of the start.

O'Connor is a search and rescue helicopter pilot with the Air Corps and they have given him extended leave of absence to compete in the race. After applications for skippers were invited early last year, an interview with the race director Chay Blyth was followed by skipper assessment in Southampton last Autumn.

All the potential skippers were put through their paces by Blyth and two psychologists, with each candidate taking turns to lead a crew of amateurs in different situations. In addition to a minimum 15,000 miles' experience, and a Yacht master Ocean Certificate, the Air Corps Sailing Club's first time entry and first place result in the Sigma 38 division of 1994 Round Ireland Race also impressed Blyth.

"We trained half the crew from scratch over the previous year for that race," O'Connor told The Irish Times. "This race will be the same except on a bigger' scale. I've always wanted to sail around the world so to be given this opportunity is fantastic."

He was introduced to his crew last weekend at the London Boat

Show and next month they will visit Ireland as part of their training. The fitness instructors at Baldonnel will assess their physical requirements and their programme includes further sea survival instruction. Evening entertainment in Dublin is also envisaged before an Irish Sea training cruise in O'Connor's First 38 and a Sigma on loan from Sail Ireland Charters.

In Spring, the four skippers will undergo an induction course covering areas such as instrumentation, engine and machinery water makers and sail repair.