THE 17TH ROUND Ireland Yacht Race began yesterday. Starting from Wicklow Harbour and heading southward around the country leaving all marks but Rockall to starboard.
This year’s event has attracted a higher number of international boats than previous years, with many now competing not only to win the race but also to beat the course record set by London-based boat Leopard, which managed to round the course in to 2 days and 7 hours, in 2008.
Given the wind and tide predictions for this year’s race, most boats, including English Mick, which I am the bowman on, will be expecting to complete the race in five to six days. Equally, of the 39 boats taking part in the event this year, many will see getting around the course in one piece as an achievement in itself. The race, which is the longest non-professional sailing race in the world, is a tough challenge that takes its toll on both boat and crew and each year a high percentage of boats are forced to retire.
The boats began the race heading downwind on a spinnaker run in a speed of 9 to 10 knots. As with all boats where the crew do not sail together on a regular basis, English Mick has had a few teething problems and one of our early spinnaker jibes almost ended in us blowing out the sail which would have forced us into a very early exit.
This year’s clear favorite Green Dragon got off to a great start that put her out in front – a lead that she is unlikely to relinquish to her nearest competitors: the French boat Inis Mor and the Dutch boat Torrenne.
After tuning down from Wicklow Head we made for the inside of the Arklow Banks where we found good wind and despite the tide being against us we made good time down to Tusker lsland lighthouse off the coast of Wexford. The wind increased steadily throughout the day reaching a wind speed of 20 knots as we came down the coast towards Dunmore East bringing with it heavy seas.
From midnight last night however, the wind began to ease and the seas flattened. At the moment, we are sailing 3-5 knots of wind and the going is slow. With winds due to decrease even further during the day, we are concerned that some of the lighter boats will stretch out a significant lead in front of us. Liam Coyne, in his boat Lula Belle, is fairing well at the moment. Liam opted to strip his boat back from eight to two hands onboard, and in these light winds, it looks as though his gamble is paying off.
Fortunately, all teething problems onboard English Mick seem to have been sorted, and morale onboard is high despite the slow going as we head towards Fastnet Rock.
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