‘I have to laugh because if I don’t I will cry’: Irish sailor quits round-the-world race after losing mast

Galway sailor Enda O’Coineen (61) travelled 24,000km over 55 days in bad weather

The self-steering on  Mr O’Coineen’s boat, the Kilcullen Voyager - Team Ireland, malfunctioned. Photograph: Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland/Facebook

The self-steering on Mr O’Coineen’s boat, the Kilcullen Voyager - Team Ireland, malfunctioned. Photograph: Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland/Facebook


Irish sailor Enda O’Coineen has spoken of his devastation at having to quit the Vendée Globe round-the-world yacht race after losing his mast.

After 55 days at sea and 24,000 kilometres sailing in some of the worst weather imaginable, Mr O’Coineen’s luck finally ran out in the early hours of New Year’s Day.

He encountered a 35 knot squall some 180 nautical miles south east of New Zealand.

The self-steering on his boat, the Kilcullen Voyager - Team Ireland, malfunctioned.

In the process of trying to correct course, the mast snapped.

Just two hours previously he had, rather ironically, celebrated the New Year with a small bottle of champagne and made his New Year’s resolution that he would stop taking such risks.

O’Coineen was philosophical about having to quit the round-the-world single-handed (solo) yacht race which began in France on November 6th, which is regarded as the ultimate test for solo sailors.


“I have to laugh because if I don’t I will cry. The mast came clean off at the deck and in fact it was intact. But the whole rig went over the side,” he told the Vendée Globe news channel.

“I had the difficult decision to make of whether to try and save the rig or whether to save the hull of the boat. I thought of safety first. I cut the rig free from the boat. I was worried that the stump of the rig would hole the boat,” he explained.

“The seas were pretty wild. There was a big sea running. I cut the entire rig free. I am mastless, the deck was holed. It is not a happy situation but there it is, you roll the dice. That is the risk you take.

“Risk is a four letter word, like a lot of meaningful four letter words in the English language.”

Fortunately, he has enough fuel in the engine of the boat to get himself to the nearest port which is Dunedin.

“I am devastated. Things were going quite well. I was in good shape. Having got this far I felt we could handle anything. There was just that little malfunction of the self-steering that set a whole train in motion. I have to accept responsibility. What happens, happens.

“Look, you have to be philosophical. This sort of sailing is living on the edge. I have been doing that for 57 days and as the fella says if you are living on the edge you are taking up too much space. I was taking up too much space on the edge.

“What can you do? I have acted responsibly. It is January 1st. It is a New Day and a New Year and it is time to move on. My Vendée Globe is over. I am appreciative of all the support I have had.”

Born and brought up in Galway, Mr O’Coineen is an entrepreneur and sailor who stood unsuccessfully as an independent candidate for the Seanad earlier this year.

At 61-years-old, he was one of the oldest competitors in the race. In an interview with The Irish Times beforehand, he described it as a “personal odyssey, a kind of bucket list.

“There are three stages of life: youth, middle age and ‘you’re looking well’,” he said. “At the press conference in Paris, I was asked was I concerned about the younger sailors in the race, so I said I thought they’d be okay.”

Team Ireland spokesman Neil O’Hagan said having to exit the race is “devastating” for Mr O’Coineen, but he understood the risks he was taking when he entered the Vendée Globe.

“He knew the risks. Of the 29 starters on November 6th, 11 or 12 are now out of the race. Only half will finish. He has done all kinds of harebrained stuff but this was the ultimate one.”