Volvo Round Ireland Success
In 2016 our big challenge was to achieve Volvo Round Ireland success. Success is often measured in the result of the race or the placing of the boat. To us success was measured in terms of successful completion of the race and the personal victories that come with it. So in the second part of our blog about the race we reflect on it from a crew member’s perspective. You can read the race reflections of the shore crew in the first part of the series.
The race began in Wicklow and therefore we first needed to sail Fortissimo from our base at Royal Clarence Marina in Gosport to Ireland and initially to Dun Laoghaire just south of Dublin. Onboard for this initial trip were four of the crew for the race and they faced 5 long days of headwinds on the South coast and then no wind in the Irish sea. When they finally arrived in Ireland they were a day late and without the wind instrument that had detached from the masthead. In Dun Laoghaire the other crew members joined and began the work of getting the boat ready for the race. One of those joining the boat at this time was Andrew, who is a veteran ocean racer having completed the Whitbread Round the World Race and many Fastnet races. The account of the race published here is in his words.
You can also view the outcome of the race on the official tracker and follow Andrew, Fortissimo and the rest of the crew around Ireland.
Day One – Saturday
Saturday, 18th June dawned with a reasonable southerly breeze and we made our way to the start off the breakwater at Wicklow, some 20 miles south of Dun Laoghaire marina, where we were moored. Our run down the coast was uneventful and everyone’s thoughts were clearly on the start of the race.
The start was spectacular as all the classes jostled for position as the five minute gun sounded, with the MOD70 catamarans vying for advantage, as well as the 100 footer, Rambler, bearing down on us. I recall at one point discretion did give way to valour!
We made a good start, deciding to make our way offshore in the early stages resulting in gains on virtually all the Class 40 fleet who opted to remain inshore. Indeed by late afternoon we briefly headed the fleet as they fell into a windless zone inshore some 30 miles south of Wicklow. It was now that we moved into our watch pattern that we’d keep for the rest of the race. Our pattern has some very good aspects to it.
Three hours on and then three hours off sets a good rhythm but we also have a four hour watch during the day and the whole crew come together to share in the evening meal. This became the time to swap stories and experiences with the other watch. The pattern also has the great effect of shifting the watch patterns so you alternate shifts each day. This means the graveyard shift only comes once every two days!
The evening of day one was uneventful, as we tracked to the south-east corner of Ireland and first turning mark, rounding Tuskar Rock in a good position. But the weather forecast did not bode well, promising increasing pressure and the wind veering SW, this meant that the corner of the south-east Ireland to Fastnet was going to be upwind. We all knew what was going to be in store.
Day Two – Sunday
Inevitably, this was a long day, with the wind increasing throughout the day. This was topped off with heavy cloud cover and a sizeable swell. It was an interminable day in terms of flogging to windward, with the boat continually crashing off the top of waves and making no more than 6½ to 7 knots. As a result of this the conditions below were grim with condensation and dampness pervading everywhere. With the continual buffeting the motion made movement difficult as well as debilitating. You can’t expect to sail all the way round Ireland without a bit of discomfort but the adversity is still tough when you’re in its midst.
As we clawed our passage westward, it was becoming evident that a number of yachts were pulling into Cork and other south Irish coast ports due to damage. This did not fill us with confidence although deep down we knew Fortissimo is tough. It was going to get even worse for the crew as we progressed through a very long day two. We even had problems cooking food, due to the violence of the motion on board. With the onset of rain as a cold front came through, it was thoroughly miserable conditions, with everything getting damp and wet, irrespective of preventative actions to the contrary! Things couldn’t possibly get any worse. Or so we thought.
Then, during the night of day two, we also lost our instrumentation as the wind indicator came adrift on top of the mast. A result of the continual slamming to windward. This added to the challenges ahead of us, given that we had deteriorating conditions and a sea state that was becoming very challenging. The loss of the windex also incapacitated most of our navigation instruments so we were now sailing blind in modern parlance. In old speak we were simply sailing!
We continued to make our way towards Fastnet overnight on day two, and as we did so, the wind ‘conveniently’ veered to the west, which made the Fastnet dead upwind. Numerable tacks later, we passed Fastnet Rock as one of the marks on the course to starboard and laid off a course for the south-west tip of Ireland, but of course, as the front went through, the wind veers, and the wind became just north of west, which meant we continued to tack along the coast to Dingle Bay before we could head properly north.
In addition, the visibility had fallen over this period, and so this precluded us seeing the stunning scenery of the south-west coast. For me, this was the third time in the area and I’m yet to see the mountains!
Day Three – Monday
Given all the action of the previous day, Monday was quiet. It wasn’t until the evening of day three that we headed east of north as we headed up the west coast of Ireland to more manageable seas. We passed the Skellig islands made even more famous by Luke Skywalker’s recent stay. Then up the Wild Atlantic Way, which certainly lived up to its reputation. In the grey and misty conditions the Cliffs of Moher and wilderness of the Burren beyond them were out of site as we sailed on up towards Galway.
We also knew that we were battling another Class 40 all the way. In the previous year’s Fastnet race we had tussled with Fuji for the entire race, eventually finishing just ahead of her and Ari, her Finnish skipper. This year the battle continued, and would do so all the way to the line.
After the hardships of the previous couple of days we were glad that the conditions had improved and even allowed us some hot food. Our ability to carry an oven to feed the crew makes a big difference in big races like this. We were all glad to be able to make use of it at this point in the race!
As we sailed up this stunning yet mysterious coastline the wind dropped somewhat, which meant that it was almost into day four by the time we were able to get the spinnaker up and have some cracking sailing up the north-west coast.
Day Four – Tuesday
On the Tuesday we finally saw what a Class 40 is capable of as we could finally enjoy some downwind conditions. What was memorable in this period was surfing at 20-25 knots in the long Atlantic swell, reminiscent of Southern Ocean conditions and allowed Fortissimo to stretch her legs and show exactly why the Class 40 is such an astonishing class to be part of, and to be on a boat to that excels in such conditions, was something else. In offshore racing there are always times of adversity and times to enjoy and this was definitely payoff time.
As we approached the north-west tip of Ireland, the front cleared away eventually, giving us fresh, bright conditions, which allowed us to progress against our main rival, Fuji. It wasn’t to be in our favour, though, as the wind dropped to a more manageable level, but the seascape still remained challenging. We changed to our larger spinnaker in the afternoon, but unfortunately caught a spinnaker wrap, which meant that the sail was inoperative. Sorting out this horror show cost us ground on the fleet as we cleared up and got underway again.
During the evening of day four, the wind dropped steadily, and as we closed the northern coast, it was a challenge to keep the boat moving. However, the sky did clear and in the early evening, we approached Rathlin tidal gate on the north east coast. This was crucial to making a good time in the race and we were fortunate to have benign conditions off Rathlin Island, with the last of the ebb tide against us not delaying us unduly.
Day Five – Wednesday
Day five began well with our passage through the North channel and then plunged us into another round of our continuing battle with our rival, Fuji. Having played a cat and mouse game all the way round Ireland, the north-east coast of Ireland saw a renewed fight. We were neck and neck within hundreds of yards of each other after four days of racing, which is typical of these boats and, indeed, the nature of the race itself. There were mixed feelings as Fuji left us to head inshore as the close quarter racing in these yachts is always great fun. But with her change to course our private race within a race entered a new phase, although how that decision would affect the result wouldn’t become clear until the following day.
Unfortunately, the evening of day five and into our final day was marred by falling into a wind hole off Dublin Bay for eight hours or so. It was a cat-and-mouse game trying to keep the boat moving in any direction, whilst avoid fishing boats and other obstacles. It was during this time that unfortunately our main rival, Fuji, who was no more than half a mile away, caught a zephyr of wind and were able to take it and slip through, such that they ended the race just half an hour ahead of us.
We spent a long and frustrating night as our good progress had been slowed to nothing yet the finish line was within touching distance. The Guinness and warm welcome in Wicklow would need to wait a few more hours!
Day Six – Thursday
As dawn broke on our final day it saw us picking up a new south-easterly breeze, which allowed us to fetch down to the finish line at Wicklow in stunning scenery and conditions. The mountains of County Wicklow were a fitting backdrop for our sprint to the line. A couple of tacks took us out from the coast and then straight in towards the finish line. At the line we had one final battle, with Lynx, who had taken a more inshore route. They slipped across the line just seconds ahead of us after more than 700nm of racing. With the double sounding of the finishing cannon for us both our thoughts could turn to reflection and a pint of Guinness.
In the bar at the sailing club it was time to think back on 6 days of hard offshore racing and reconcile the hardships with the good times. One thing that is certain is that by finishing the race it was a success!
After a number of Fastnets and other ocean races, I have to say that the Round Ireland Race is very special. In many ways, it captures ocean sailing, coastal work, as well as the achievement of sailing around a most beautiful country. The hospitability was marvellous, organisation superb and, above all, the race epitomised a great club atmosphere, which is so rarely found nowadays. I hope to be back again in two years time to face the challenge again!
If Andrew’s experiences have inspired you to get involved in an offshore race campaign then please take a look at the information about the Rolex Fastnet 2017 campaign and the Round Ireland 2018 campaign. You can also see some of the photos from the Round Ireland race on our Flickr gallery: