French entry leads Round Ireland Race as it begins with ideal conditions

Current conditions could favour an overall win by a smaller entry

J'Ouvert entered by Simon Harris competing for the Royal Ocean Racing Club in the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race 2024. Photograph: David Branigan/Oceansport

Ideal conditions marked the start of the biennial SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race at Wicklow on Saturday as 48 crews hit the starting-line watched by a large crowd of onlookers that lined the shore.

Within seconds of the starting signal made from the LE George Bernard Shaw, the fleet was reduced by one as Finbarr O’Regan’s Artful Dodger from Kinsale Yacht Club withdrew from the race when some mast rigging failed.

Hours later, James Neville’s Ino Noir from the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) also pulled out after hitting the notorious Blackwater Bank off Wexford.

In the previous race in 2022, the former RORC Commodore was also forced out after the pounding seas off the southwest corner of Ireland caused his boat to start delaminating.

A view of boats at the start of the race. Photograph: David Branigan/Oceansport/Inpho

For a time on Saturday, this year’s fleet might also have been punished by headwinds and choppy seas that they soon encountered after passing Wicklow Head as a fresh southerly wind pushed against the strong ebbing tide.

But the conditions quickly eased to light winds once past the Saltee Islands off the south Wexford coast.

Crew-member Maurice “Prof” O’Connell on Pete Smyth’s Searcher from Dún Laoghaire’s Royal Irish Yacht Club reported that along with most of the leading boats, they spent most of Saturday night “sailing in circles” until dawn brought nicer sailing winds that allowed the boats to point directly towards the Fastnet Rock off west Cork.

As nightfall beckoned on Sunday night, French entry Teasing Machine skippered by Laurent Pages was leading the monohull race and duelling with Britain’s Adam Davis on Paradox 3, a large trimaran with both being capable of being first boat back to Wicklow.

The leading pair should reach the southwest corner overnight and forecast breezy indicates a classic “sleigh-ride” northwards along Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard towards an expected midweek finish at Wicklow.

As the race is decided on IRC corrected time, current conditions could favour an overall win by a smaller entry but the legendary north coast tidal features and usually benign Irish Sea have yet to come into play; the 705 nautical-mile race is wide open.