Time for winds of change to blow for Round Ireland race


SAILING COLUMN:WAIT LONG enough for the wind to change direction and just about anything can be made to happen, just ask the crew of yesterday’s line honours winner of the Round Ireland race, Dutch entry Tonnerre de Breskens. Despite leading on the water for the entire five-day race, shifting winds kept the fleet guessing until the final hours of the 700-mile marathon.

Yet again the Irish coastline proved the perfect racecourse but for the future of the race itself, the winds of change need to blow a bit harder. It took the 30th anniversary to get Wicklow Town behind the pioneering efforts of its sailing club, but now the locals are behind it, isn’t it time Irish sailing backed the Round Ireland too?

Many will see this week’s eventual 37-boat fleet as a reasonable turnout in recessionary times. It’s certainly on a par with most other recent editions of the race where the fleet has hovered between 35 and 50 boats.

While Irish sailors are happy to talk about Ireland as the finest offshore course in the world, when it comes to sailing it, very few do.

Other offshore courses such as Britain’s Fastnet race has a 300-boat limit, Australia’s 2007 Sydney to Hobart race has 100 boats. Malta’s Middle Sea race had a record entry of 78 boats recently.

The Round Ireland, therefore, is deserving of far greater international note but interest remains rooted in a small national fleet.

If this island is a classic offshore course then it is no exaggeration to say the fleet is capable of doubling.

For many potential international campaigns, and Tonnerre de Breskens is a notable exception, Irish waters remain uncharted.

Within the sailing community tacit efforts are made to promote it but much more could be done. And, even with its limited resources, there is much Wicklow could do to put the Round Ireland on the map.

For example running the race the same weekend as 1,700 boats competed in Britain’s Round the Island race in Cowes is an obvious problem. But there is simply no point blaming a clash of dates in the UK when a harbour of up to 300 suitable entries lies only a few miles north in Dun Laoghaire.

Why did the National YC only send five entries, the Royal St George YC five, the Royal Irish YC six or the Dun Laoghaire Motor YC a single boat?

Were the new Royal Ocean Racing Club safety standards so prohibitive it meant this country’s biggest boating centre could muster only 17 for what the Irish Sailing Association like to bill as Ireland’s Blue Riband event?

This year Wicklow Commodore Charlie Kavanagh asked for the Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) to become more involved in the running of the biennial race.

Kavanagh recognised that for the event to survive it needed to grow.

Help was immediately forthcoming. Two of the country’s biggest cruiser associations lent their support. ICRA will present a new trophy as part of the overall awards. The Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association (ISORA) based its 2010 fixtures around the event.

If the comments of the sailors coming ashore in Wicklow are anything to go by, it’s not just the club, but Irish sailing, that is sitting on a golden opportunity.