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Round Ireland Special, June at the Academy

by Offshore Racing Academy 4 Jul 07:31 BST
Offshore Racing Academy © Offshore Racing Academy

After the Allmer Cup in Le Havre, it was supposed to be somewhat of a rest after an intense few months of Figaro training and racing, however as previously reported, not so...

The Offshore Racing Academy was supporting the Luzerne Communications under 25 team for the SSE Round Ireland Race. The young team arrived in France and collected the academy's boat number 20 to bring it back to Ireland for the race. We'll here from them in their own words...

We have had a very busy month of June, we started by travelling to Le Havre to collect the Figaro 3 after the Alhmer cup. We were met on the dock by Kenny and Marcus where we prepped the boat for the delivery after it had been racing for the previous week. The delivery was a perfect shake down for the crew to practice our maneuvers and sail changes with only two up on deck as we would be doing for the race itself. We experienced a very varied set of conditions with quite a lot of light airs, which proved to be very beneficial preparations for the race ahead.

Kenny was home for a brief period before heading to the UK to compete in the Myth of Malham race on Darkwood the J121 as the last training race for the team ahead of the Round Ireland. The Myth of Malham went well for the team, much nicer conditions than Kenny experienced only a week before on the Allmer Cup. Downwind to the Eddystone in 15kts of steady wind before a mostly fetch home. Unfortunately, while in a great placing only 20 miles from the finish a 40 degree shift in the wind direction favoured their competitors and any hope of a class win in the race evaporated.

Meanwhile on the Figaro; We competed in the ISORA race on the 11th of June as another shakedown this time in a racing environment. With only 3 crew due to illness we were very pleased with how well we raced. Coming third in line honors and fourth in IRC overall

Finally it was time for some rest and recuperation for Kenny ahead of the Round Ireland and to spend some time ensuring the youth team on the Figaro were setup for the challenge!! These two weeks flew by, with a nice mixture of time off, exercise and preparation for the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race, ensuring both Darkwood the J121 was ready as well as the youth team on the Figaro.

There is a special mention here to Teresa and the team at the Pure Magic Lodge in Achill where Kenny headed for a few days of rest and kitesurfing on Achill Island. Teresa and the team pulled out all the stops to ensure an awesome rest and stay out west! Relaxed atmosphere, incredible food, live music and comfortable accommodation, highly recommended for some rest... and kitesurfing!

This year's Round Ireland for Kenny was a coming together of great friends and different Round Ireland campaigns for the last three editions. The main connecting skipper in the puzzle was Mr Michael Boyd who for this edition brought together his dream team for the 2022 edition. For this edition Michael Boyd partnered with Michael O'Donnell, the owner of the J121 Darkwood where both sailors had the shared ambition of getting on the top rung of the podium of the Round Ireland Race. Nick Jones from whom Micael Boyd had chartered Lisa from in the 2016 edition was on board with the primary role of navigator. Barry Hurley also sailed in the 2016 edition on Lisa and was on board with a primary role of driver.

Conor Kinsella with whom Kenny and Conor have had multiple offshore success together on Lynx and Jedi joined the crew as a driver/trimmer and bowman. Finally Kenny was onboard as Michael had chartered Jedi for the 2018 edition with a very competitive campaign hampered by the unfortunate man overboard incident, there was some unfinished business in this race for both sailors. The J121 is a unique boat in that it is water ballasted meaning despite the boat being some 40 ft in length and very powerful, there was only a need for 6 crew! With three training races and thousands of miles of cumulative offshore experience onboard, Darkwood was in a very good position going into the race!

From Luzerncomm U 25; The few days leading up to the race were spent on preparations. With full standing and running rigging inspections done as well as a lift where we sprayed the underside and polished the rudders, foils and keel. We collated and organized our freeze dry food as well as our snacks and water.

The Round Ireland is a special race, and it was great after a two year absence for the race to be back with the backing of SSE Renewables. The night before the race there was a little Offshore Racing Academy BBQ in Greystones to mark the race and for the crews o Darkwood and the Figaro to relax and get well fed before the start the next day.

The start of the race was a lovely 10-15kts downwind for the fleet away from Wicklow, onboard Darkwood, the crew were content to get away form the line clean and rounding Wicklow Head were in the position they wanted to be. Despite an unfavourable forecst the widn stayed with the fleet and at the first turning mark, Tuskar Rock, Darkwood made it around with the tide heading east along the South Coast in a dying breeze. Through the night, there were various sail changes as the wind increased, decreased and shifted but remained mostly Northerly in direction. With good winds and rhumb line sailing, the next mark on the course, the Fastnet was rounded in near record time!

A Round Ireland is not complete without some sort of bad weather and after the Fastnet as Daarkwood started to tightened the sails into full upwind mode, the wind strengthened.... Knowing this wind was coming, the crew was well rested and fed prior to the strong incoming winds and as such, there was little drama on board. Unfortunately while reefing the J3 headsail, the leech line tore and with no other sail left in the wardrobe, Darkwood was forced to sail under performance for a few hours as the only sail left in the wardrobe was the storm jib. Darkwood was possibly the only boat to reduce so much sail area but still relatively fast and most importantly, comfortable in the conditions.

Despite the conditions during the night Darkwood managed to make the first pass on what would become a fun battle for the IRC1 class win by overtaking Samaton. Unfortunately the IRC1 and overall favourite INO suffered irreparable damage in the rough conditions and had to withdraw from the race off the Skelligs. By mid-morning the winds had shifted westwards and Darkwood was back to rhumb line sailing towards Eagle Island. The sun came out and the crew took the opportunity to dry out sodden kit and more importantly dry out a sodden boat after the nights exploits.

The next challenge was to make it through the tidal gate at Rathlin in a fickle westerly breeze due to last through the night and into the next day. Here the duel between Samton and Darkwood intensified as Samaton was able to sail a very deep, low mode and managed to by Rathlin regain the lead on the water from Darkwood in IRC1. However Darkwood rates lower than Samaton and as such managed to keep the lead on corrected time. Both boats made it through the tidal gate and as such thought they had put an uncatchable lead on the rest of the fleet as other contenders for the overall win such as Rockabill and Snapshot were caught the wrong side of the tidal gate at Rathlin.

However the wind in the Irish Sea had other intentions. The fleet would have to contend with light fickle northerly winds that would evaporate to nothing before lighter winds would come in from the south, effectively compressing the fleet and meaning the advantage of the tidal gate pass was only short lived. Thankfully the well-rested and well fed crew on board Darkwood revelled in the lighter conditions. Despite Samaton and one stage getting far enough ahead of Darkwood, by the finish this advantage was down to less that 2 nautical miles.

The Figaro experience; Our start was relatively conservative due to our foils. We started on port tack and found a nice gap where we began to head south down the coast. We had our A2 spinnaker up until Tusker rock where the wind died almost completely. We spent an hour or two slowly drifting towards the rock before the wind filled back in. Once past Tusker the wind filled in and we popped our A5 up. We rocketed towards the Fastnet rock and even overtook quite a number of other boats, hitting a top boat speed of 19knots. As we rounded the southwest coast we were quickly met by some large swells and heavy winds. At one point we saw gusts of 42knots. We soldiered through with one reef in our mainsail and our full j2. We got battered for about 24 hours straight.

Unfortunately as the wind subsided the wind remained northerly. Which for us meant more close hauled sailing. We continued sailing upwind around the north coast till we reached Rathlin. We finally got the chance to pop our A2 again, unfortunately we had missed the tidal window but managed to sneak through by staying extremely close to the coastline. We continued on our A2 until Belfast Lough where again the breeze shut off on us. We were left sitting in 0.3 knots of wind and zero knots of boat speed. It wasn't until we got down to Downpatrick that the breeze finally kicked back in. Again it was upwind sailing all the way to the finish line in Wicklow.

After very trying and testing conditions in the last 10 miles of the race, Darkwood literally drifted over the finish line off Wicklow in the early morning hours after nearly 5 full days at sea! Relief that we had secured a class win but now the waiting game started as we waited for the other boats to finish to determine the overall results and perhaps more importantly to see if Michael Boyd had over three editions secured strong enough finishes to win a Volvo car.

After a nail biting day, the results were in, Darkwood had finished 3rd overall under corrected time, won IRC1 after a brief trip to the protest room and Michael Boyd would be heading home with the keys to a new Volvo! Great result for a well thought out and executed campaign, not forgetting of course that Darkwood, Snapshot and Rockabill had secured the team prize!

The Figaro wrap up; It was an incredible experience sailing a Figaro 3 around Ireland as a group of 4 under 23 year olds. Lorcan Tighe (22) Andrew Irvin (22) Cian Crowe (19) Ronan Mooney (19), with an average age of 20 and a skipper aged 22. We are immensely proud of what we achieved coming 4th in our class and being the first U23 team to complete the race. Unfortunately it was a light wind and upwind race which didn't suit the Figaro but such is offshore racing, we can't have perfect conditions all of the time.

A massive thank you must be extended to the offshore racing academy and Marcus Hutchinson for the use of the Figaro 3 as well as the constant support during the month of June, it has been an amazing glimpse into the world of professional offshore racing. We also have to thank all of our sponsors who have made this race campaign possible as well as the consistent support of friends and family.

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