With northerly winds predicted for the weekend, the start of the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race on Saturday afternoon (Wicklow, Ireland) is set to be a colourful affair at the beginning of the 705 nautical-mile route.
Normal logistical issues mean the fleet is now expected to field 47 teams as five boats have been withdrawn for various reasons.
Harbours and marinas from Wicklow to Dun Laoghaire have seen a steady stream of arrivals as visiting entries begin their final provisioning and safety inspections ahead of the weekend.
Two of the largest entries will be watching the weather situation carefully as George David’s 2016 course record on Rambler 88 comes into view. The time to beat is 50 hours 24 minutes and nine seconds meaning a deadline of approximately 3.24pm on Monday 20th June for Green Dragon entered by Enda O’Coineen and Conor Ferguson along with Telefonica Black skippered by Lance Shepherd.
However, while the bigger entries will be chasing line honours and a possible course record, the overall race winner is decided on IRC corrected time meaning smaller boats finishing later in the week have a realistic chance of victory.
The forecast of northerly winds into Sunday also lessens the usual chances of retirements from gear and crew issues on the more exposed south coast allowing teams to settle into the routine of life at sea under racing conditions.
“Saturday looks set to be a challenging start and a slow first 24 hours to the race before a Northerly flow arrives on Sunday,” commented Mick Liddy, a Search & Rescue pilot and veteran race navigator. “Expect to see the bigger boats dive offshore, outside the banks for slightly better breeze and tide before back in towards the Tuskar Rock.”
After that, the forecast will be favourable as far as the Blasket Islands off the south-west tip of Ireland with the Northerly flow.
However, current predictions suggest a strong Westerly gradient along the West coast by Tuesday giving crews an exciting stage heading North.
After the 2018 edition of the race that saw Niall Dowling take the overall win on 43 footer Baraka GP, the forecast might point to a mid-range high tech boat of similar size as a likely winner in 2022.
And there is no shortage of candidate entries. Based on recent form, Royal Ocean Racing Club Commodore James Neville on InoXXX will certainly be in the running after winning the 230 nautical-mile Myth of Malham Race just two weeks ago.
Of the local fleet, Nigel Biggs and David Cullen on Checkmate XX from Howth Yacht Club won last weekend’s Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association 120 nautical-mile race around an east coast course from Dun Laoghaire to Howth.
“It’s been 32 years since my last Round Ireland with the late Patrick Reilly on Comanche Raider,” said Nigel Biggs. “It was upwind the whole way – every corner we turned, the wind seemed to turn against us.
“I’m hoping that Patrick will be looking down on us and sending some favourable breeze this time around.”
The Round Ireland Race was first sailed in 1980 and held biennially ever since with the exception of 2020 which was to be the first year under the colours of new sponsor SSE Renewables but was cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemic.