Fastnet entry bucks the times


SAILING:WITH SIX months remaining to the start of the 605-mile classic, entries for this summer’s Fastnet Race have almost reached the maximum 300-boat limit. Up to 3,000 sailors are now likely to race from Cowes to the famous lighthouse off West Cork and back to the finishing-line at Plymouth.

Although by far the biggest, this race is just one of a handful of offshore events that appear to have bucked recessionary pressures.

The Royal Ocean Racing Club’s jewel in the crown demands the highest standards from its fleet of both amateur and professionally crewed boats, including qualifying events for entrants.

The Dún Laoghaire to Dingle (D2D), which starts on June 11th, serves as one such benchmark. At 320 miles, almost half the distance of the round-Ireland course, itself the third longest offshore course in the world, it is ideal as a proving ground for the most committed crews with a mix of navigation, seamanship and racing tactics.

The D2D is also ideally timed to feed boats to the south coast for both the Irish Cruiser Racing Association national championship in Crosshaven from June 17th-19th and on to the Sovereign’s Cup from June 22nd-25th.

And the Volvo Dún Laoghaire Regatta from July 7th-10th continues the short-week format that has become a proven formula in Ireland: four large events only require about six days of annual leave to participate in.

That formula is now also being actively considered by overseas regattas attempting to stem a drop in entries.

But if such inshore events have held a strong following in Ireland, the offshore courses are experiencing a clear revival.

In blissfully warmer climes, Ireland’s Adrian Lee and his Cookson 50 crew go into action next week to attempt to re-take the Caribbean 600 trophy that the Dún Laoghaire owner/skipper won in 2009.

Yet in spite of the seemingly idyllic setting, Lee and his crew, led by Limerick captain Jeff Condell, have several challenges that make this 600-miler uniquely tough. Staying hydrated and un-burnt is almost a given, but with 12 hours of darkness and limited navigational aids, avoiding dangerous lee shores in full Atlantic swells will be an added test.

Lee is banking on a return of typical trade-wind conditions that usually deliver 25 knots by day, ideal for his canting-keel boat, but which deserted the race in 2010.

Closer to home, the Irish Sea Offshore Racing programme offers more entry-level races that are manageable for many club crews.

An intensive drive by Peter Ryan of the National Yacht Club over the last two seasons has seen numbers increase again from a low that saw activity in the 40-year old organisation almost collapse entirely.

This season will feature a mix of day races, night courses, short and medium cross-channel events with distances ranging from 50 to 270 miles, in addition to the D2D.

Two classes will compete and each will also feature classic divisions to add diversity to the fleet and prizes.

“If you look at last year, we had 39 boats entered and typically up to 19 boats would compete,” Ryan said, “but I would be hopeful to get at least the same entry but get more boats competing in each race.”

He said that one of the reasons offshore racing died was a lack of new blood coming through. But all the current fleet are new people with new boats and confidence in going offshore is growing.