Sevenstar event promises to be a daunting challenge

28 boats will undertake the Round Britain and Ireland race, starting at Cowes on Sunday

When it comes to bucket lists and sailing, distance races such as the Fastnet, Sydney to Hobart and Newport to Bermuda are often cited as “must-do” events.

Quietly, our own Round Ireland race – longer than all three at 704-miles – invariably delights those who discover it and pass on the word. However, this weekend sees the start of a rarer event and a far more daunting challenge both in terms of distance and likely weather conditions en route.

Starting from Cowes on the Isle of Wight on Sunday at midday, a fleet of 28 boats will undertake the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race non-stop for 1,787 nautical miles and an expected duration of just under one week for the fastest boats and twice that for smaller boats.

Dating back to 1976 and held only every four years, the small fleet comprises hardcore offshore sailors as well as professional crews on high-profile campaigns.

Ireland's Ger O'Rourke won the 2006 edition on his canting-keel Cookson 50-footer Kingspan Chieftain in a time of almost 11 days; Howth Yacht Club's Kieran Jameson and Aidan McManus on their Sigma 38-footer also competed in that race in a time of just over 15 days.

Third race

This year will only be the third race with major Irish participation since the original contest that featured Jack McKeown and

Robert Molland

on Korsar from the Royal St George YC.

Eleven countries are represented in this year's fleet including Liam Coyne and Brian Flahive on their Beneteau 36.7 Lula Belle from the National Yacht Club in the two-handed division.

Elsewhere, Kerry yachtsman Damian Foxall is competing on MOD70 trimaran Oman Sail with Sidney Gavignet. Barring technical breakages, the trimaran is certain to be first home though Loick Peyron's 2011 course record in Banque Populaire of just over three days is unlikely to be matched.

Foxall's former round the world race crewmate Justin Slattery from Cork is on the crew of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the brand new Volvo 65-foot one-design under skipper Ian Walker. Five of the seven boats expected to start the ocean race in October will be competing in this weekend's event that will be the first proper indicator of form in the new fleet.

Adding to the rigour of the event is the forecast that should deliver a bumpy start once the fleet has departed The Solent eastwards and then around the outside of the Isle of Wight towards Land’s End.

A fresh westerly breeze is likely to continue until at least the middle of next week providing a slow upwind slog for the fleet before they can free off for the north-west coast of Ireland.

David Branigan

David Branigan

David Branigan is a contributor on sailing to The Irish Times