Howth Yacht Club’s Shane Diviney’s memorable year

Involvement with New Zealand team skippered by Chris Steele has been a real boon

After last weekend’s world championship victory by Conor Clarke’s Melges 24 Embarr team in Miami, Irish sailors are riding high – literally – this week on opposite sides of the world.

Olympic coach Rory Fitzpatrick is amongst the leaders at the International Moth Regatta in Bermuda where Annalise Murphy is also competing in a star-studded field of almost 50 invited sailors.

High winds have been a challenge to the schedule of the invitational series while breezy conditions on Sydney Harbour have also made for spectacular racing for the Extreme Sailing Series.

The regatta Down Under is sailed in the GC32 class, a catamaran or twin-hulled boat that, like the smaller Moths in Bermuda achieves near-aerial flight by use of lifting foils beneath the water surface that push the hull out of the sea.

Racing on the New Zealand team skippered by Chris Steele, 2016 has been a breakthrough year for Howth Yacht Club's Shane Diviney (25) after two years of trying to achieve a full-time professional racing career.

While studying for Marketing & Business degree at DCU, he got involved in match-racing and when he finished college got a summer job at the Chicago Match Racing centre.

From there, he got involved with an young up-and-coming New Zealand team led by Steele and went on to sail with them in Australia and America working up towards qualification to the World Match Racing Tour.

Diviney ended up trialling for one of the teams in the GC32 circuit which brought him back to Europe where he sailed with Flavio Marazzi’s Swiss Armin Strom team and placed third overall this season.

The Irish sailor’s experience is accelerating rapidly and he estimates at total of 150 days sailing this year, 100 days of which are on GC32 foiling and mostly racing as opportunities for training are often limited three or four days per event.

And while match-racing has been dominant so far, he also has been sailing in offshore including the Sydney to Hobart and Middle sea Races as an ambition is to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Risks increase

However, now that he has an opportunity to race on a foiling boat, those plans are on hold for the thrills of the Extreme Sailing Series with Steele’s team.

"It's quite noisy initially when in displacement mode sitting in the water," he told The Irish Times, describing the experience of foiling in a multihull.

“But when you bear away and start foiling, it goes all quiet except for the hum of the foils in the water and the speed shoots up another ten knots – it’s pretty cool!”

But at higher speeds, the risks increase substantially as well and there have been a few injuries in the fleet so far this year.

“Coming off the foils going from 25-35 knots to almost stopped, the boats nose-dive easily with crew flung off the boats though capsizes aren’t frequent,” Diviney explains.

“Even so, each of the boats have air bottles fitted on the underside of the hulls in case crew-members become trapped.”

Damage, injury and even loss of life are associated with the America’s Cup new format of foiling multihulls that match-race one another. So does he also aim for a place in a cup team?

“I’d love to that (AC) as much as I’d like to do Volvo Ocean Race but I just think there’s a clearer route into VOR through the Under 30’s route and there’s a lot of uncertainty with the cup. Maybe in future when there’s a dozen or more teams there might be more opportunities.”

His experience racing in Australia on Chinese Whisper, a 62-foot pocket maxi that included a lot of VOR veterans who had single-minded winning objectives and demanded performance had a big bearing on his outlook.

“I loved the pressure – perfection was expected,” he said.

“One thing I noticed is that the circuit isn’t as cliquey as you might expect and very unlike the yacht club scene. It’s more about your ability and work ethic which I really like. The level of intensity and technical knowledge is also much higher.”

David Branigan

David Branigan

David Branigan is a contributor on sailing to The Irish Times