Pollock set to make history


SAILING:AS ENTRIES start to filter through to the organisers of the Round Ireland Race, off-shore sailing history is set to be made as one of the first entries to be confirmed will feature a double-handed crew – one of whom is blind.

Former course single-handed record-holder Mick Liddy has joined forces with Mark Pollock who lost his sight 12 years ago.

The pairing have secured a title-sponsor for their project with a major on-line media company and are in negotiations for a number of boat charter options.

Despite his disability, 34-year-old Pollock has become a reknown adventurer and sportsman and is now set to add sailing to his list of achievements alongside his sighted counterpart in an Open 40-footer. Both will be co-skippers on board.

He sailed a Mirror dinghy from the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club as a junior but rowing was his major sport at college. Shortly after losing his sight, he competed in the 2002 Commonwealth Games winning silver in the light-weight eight and bronze in the light-weight coxless four.

Rowing was proved useful for a match-racing experience in Auckland on America’s Cup boats while on holiday with his father but aside from a cruising-trip last year in the Mediterranean, his competitive interests have been elsewhere.

His most recent competition was last autumn in the South Pole Race involving a course of 1,000km over 43 days in minus-50 Celsius that ended in fifth place out of six teams, having placed third for most of the competition until the last day.

Pollock was introduced to Liddy, an Air Corps helicopter pilot and regular offshore racing navigator, by Dave McHugh of Tri-line sports management and the pair clicked immediately.

Training has started and in addition to the usual sea-survival and pre-race qualification events, the pair have been sailing in a 1720 Sportsboat. Liddy was impressed with their first day afloat when his new co-skipper was able to helm the boat around a course unaided other than calls on compass and wind direction. “I found that using the tiller was much easier to get the feel of the boat than using a wheel,” he said yesterday. “I could feel when I was too close to the wind so knew when to bear-off. But anything off-wind we’ll need to have a talking compass.”

Technology aids from radar to AIS-transponders will all be carried on board while Liddy plans to use latest night-vision technology to help keep watch. Pollock has found heightened sensory awareness isn’t just limited to touch but also extends to aural abilities. But adjusting to being sightless hasn’t been completely plain sailing for him. “For about a year after I went blind, I got travel-sickness that I never had before and it got so bad I used to feel sick sitting in restaurants,” he said. “But 10, 11, 12 years on, my body has adjusted to not being able to see the horizon.”

“We’re working on a scaled approach to the training by continuing on the 1720 and then moving up to a J109 to get the big boat familiarity going,” said Liddy. “We’ll then begin on the Open class 40 a few weeks before the round Ireland begins (June 20th).”

Meanwhile, the deadline for discounted entries in the Leibherr ICRA National Championships at the Royal St George YC, Dún Laoghaire close next Wednesday. Already 30 boats have entered the event that includes a new Corinthian class for non-spinnaker boats.