Round Ireland Yacht Race
organisers have added a multihull class to boost the 2016 race next June.
Wicklow Sailing Club
has also revealed a giant 70-foot trimaran is signalling its intention to compete even before entries officially open in January.
The UK’s Ned Collier-Wakefield, skipper of Team Concise, says it will enter a MOD 70, a sister ship to the current Round Ireland speed record holder, Musandam-Oman Sail.
It is the second major entry already proposed for the 700-mile Irish offshore race. American yacht Rambler 88, one of the world’s most sophisticated racing machines, will also be on the Wicklow line on June 18th at 2pm in what organisers hope could yet be a much needed bumper turnout for the biennial race.
Wicklow has long recognised that for the race to prosper it needs to grow and commodore
admits the Irish classic has yet to reach its full potential. The 2014 Round Ireland had 35 entries. Other offshore courses such as Britain’s Fastnet Race has a 300-boat limit, Australia’s Sydney to Hobart Race will have over a 100 boats in December. Last month’s Malta Middle Sea Race had over 100.
In 2014, half the Round Ireland entries for the 18th race were from overseas, a further indicator of its potential so it is no exaggeration to say the Irish race fleet is capable of doubling.
There is little doubt that with these early entries Shearer is on the right tack. Not only will these cutting-edge craft create headlines they will also pull in others such as professional fleets like the disbanded MOD70, Class 40, IMOCA 60 and the Multi 50, all combing Europe for new challenges. The giant multihulls have been to Dún Laoghaire previously, they hold the Round Ireland speed record of 22 hours, so could be coaxed back.
But these exotic international entries only go so far. The backbone of the fleet is made up of smaller amateur campaigns who need to see the race as the pinnacle of the season. Unfortunately, despite initiatives, this has not been the case over recent editions.
For the last race, Wicklow undertook “a major overhaul” when it struck up a formal race alliance with the
Royal Irish Yacht Club
in Dún Laoghaire. This will be repeated again in 2016.
The Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) now presents a trophy and the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association (ISORA) bases its fixture list around the event. But this has not resulted in bigger numbers so far. Of the 35 entries in 2014, 10 were existing east coast ISORA boats. Four years previous that number was 16 out of 37. There has not been a great response from south coast boats either.
There appears to be fall off of those “regular” offshore boats that are well capable of competing in the race and have done so in the past.
According to ISORA commodore Peter Ryan, there seems to be an understandable issue among some skippers of "been there, done that, have the T-shirt". Put simply, crews having done the circuit once tend to look for new challenges.
Adding headline acts are sure to generate much needed publicity but somehow the Round Ireland will have to reinvent itself at home to attract the new generations of sailors who do not yet “have the T-shirt”.