With just four weeks remaining to the start of the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race (Wicklow Harbour, Saturday 18th June 2022 – 1300hrs) entries are approaching the 50 boat mark in a strong sign of post-Covid interest in offshore racing.
Following the postponement and then cancellation of the 2020 edition, the 705-nautical mile circumnavigation is proving popular with boats ranging in size from 30 feet to over 70 and a spectacular start at Wicklow Sailing Club is certain.
Two of the biggest entries will be rekindling a former rivalry off Ireland’s coastline when Enda O’Coineen and Conor Fergusons’ Green Dragon face off Lance Shepherd’s Telefonica Black in a rematch of the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race when the pair of 70-footers placed fifth and sixth overall respectively.
Although either is capable of taking line honours around Ireland next month, the overall winner to be decided under IRC handicap is a much broader field.
Fresh from his class win at Antigua Race Week recently, Ireland’s Adrian Lee on his Swan 60 LeeOverlay Partners II will have company from Franco Niggeler on Kuka 3 from Italy and Eric De Turkheim’s French entry Teasing Machine.
Other bigger boat entries with proven form in the Irish fleet include Robert Rendell’s Samatom, Denis and Annamarie Murphy’s Nieulargo and Nigel Biggs with David Cullen on the new Checkmate XX.
Finland’s Ari Känsäkoski on Fuji, Italy’s Andrea Fornaro on Influence and Ireland’s Jasper Golyer on Peregrine make up a trio of Classe 40 entries to the race.
InoXXX skippered by James Neville, Commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, Wicklow SC’s partner organisation has confirmed his entry in the past week. The multiple race winning Fast 40 should make a fast time around the course, especially if the sleigh-ride conditions typical of the west coast oblige for this edition.
Another past race-winner and former RORC Commodore is Michael Boyd returning to the course this year with the latest entry to be registered as Darkwood, a J121 sailing for his home club, the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire.
That was the case in the 2018 edition when Niall Dowling’s Baraka GP, a Ker 43 footer took the overall win in what the winning skipper described as the “race that has everything”. His navigator was Ian Moore, a previous race winner who described the round Ireland as the “Kilimanjaro of Sailing” – a bucket-list event.
Yet, in spite of the slew of big boats entered, there remains a strong chance that the overall win could go to one of the smaller boats with veteran offshore crews such as Paul O’Higgins with his JPK10.80 Rockabill VI or one of the many other highly experienced offshore sailing crews like Chris Power Smith with Aurelia, both Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association regulars.
A number of historical entries are expected including Hiroshi Nakajima’s 50-footer Hiro Maru from the United States though in terms of this race and past winners, the 1978 Cavatina skippered by Ian Hickey is returning and a third possible overall title victory cannot be ruled out.
“With four weeks to go before the start, there is typically a surge of late entries and we know of several more teams planning to race but have yet to submit their entry,” said Kyran O’Grady, Commodore of Wicklow Sailing Club. “After Covid has knocked-back so many plans, to have a strong fleet entered is a testament to the appeal of this unique race.”
The race departs Wicklow for the south-about course that “leaves Ireland and its islands to starboard”. After negotiating the tricky east coast, turning south-westwards is the first major test of the crews: those that endure all the way to the Atlantic are likely to complete the course.
The spectacular scenery of Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard is the backdrop for this stage of the non-stop race but further challenges lie ahead as the notorious tidal gates on the north coast have been known to upend the leaderboard in past editions.
Finally, the sprint to the finish along the east coast to Wicklow is usually the calmest of the race, too calm sometimes; the finishing-line and Wicklow Sailing Club’s legendary hospitality cannot come soon enough. However, whether overall win, line honours or class victory, simply completing this course is an achievement in itself.