Dragon home first but the clock will decide standings

 

SAILING:AFTER GENERALLY light conditions since starting the 704-mile course on Sunday, the first of the 36-strong Round Ireland Race fleet began finishing at Wicklow Sailing Club yesterday morning – just as winds on the Irish Sea started to freshen.

As expected, former Irish Volvo Ocean Race entry Green Dragon won line honours, though an appropriately large handicap and the slow conditions have ensured the 70-footer is outside the running for the overall trophy decided on IRC handicap.

That particular honour is wide open and much depends on the progress of the smaller boats now enjoying the fresher conditions.

However, the southerly headwind direction may be just enough to hamper progress so all eyes are watching timing clocks and figuring out deadlines for the smaller boats to beat their higher rated rivals.

Last year’s winner crossed the finishing-line shortly after 9am yesterday so after handicap, the 46-footer Tonnerre de Breskens’ finishing time “corrects” to about 9am today.

As each boat finishes, their time is taken and their handicap correction factor applied giving their handicap corrected time: if this is earlier than Tonnerre, they become the new team to beat; if later, Tonnerre holds first place.

Dutch owner Piet de Vroon was anxiously watching the final approach to Wicklow last night as the following fleet tacked southwards in their rush to finish.

The chief threat was French entry Inis Mor; Bernard Gouy’s 39-footer has sailed a great race and been the provisional overall leader almost constantly, and was closing on the finish as dusk approached.

Although Gouy and his crew were almost half a day behind on the water, the difference between the bigger and smaller entries corrected down to mere minutes on the provisional results last night.

After more than four days at sea, the race between the pair for the overall race win came down to just 20 minutes, reversing the 2010 race results that saw Gouy place second to the Dutch boat.

However, this only accounts for two of the contenders in the race.

A clutch of smaller and lower handicapped boats are still at sea today and many are likely to still be at sea tomorrow as well, unless a very favourable breeze boosts their progress.

This situation could yet lead to a spoiler for Inis Mor and this wouldn’t be a first in this race either.

When it comes to picking a candidate to overturn the running order, look no further than the gracefully ageing Grenada 38- footer Cavatina from the Royal Cork Yacht Club that won in 2002 and 2008.

Ian Hickey’s team still had 160 miles to sail to Wicklow and was off Rathlin Island last night with a predicted finishing-time of tomorrow night though this is subject to change.

A shift in wind direction to the west could be just what the 34-year old boat might need to storm down the Irish Sea and overturn the standings.

It is for this reason that officials at Wicklow Sailing Club will be tight-lipped about confirming the overall winner until only a new world record pace for a sailing boat could alter the results.

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