Tuesday 6 December 2016

Whistling for a fair wind as Enda prepares for three months' solo sailing

Galway yachtsman Enda O'Coineen is just days away from setting sail in a single-handed, non-stop race around the world

Enda O'Coineen

Published 30/10/2016 | 02:30

Waterman: Enda O'Coineen on his boat, 'Kilcullen Voyager' Photo: Jean-Marie Liot
Waterman: Enda O'Coineen on his boat, 'Kilcullen Voyager' Photo: Jean-Marie Liot

Waiting for the gun that signals the start of this year's Vendee Globe race is both scary and exciting.

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The shot will sound at 1pm next Sunday - and we will be ready for it.

The Vendee Globe is sailing's toughest challenge. In fact, the Vendee Globe is probably the world's toughest challenge - bar none. It is the only single-handed, non-stop, solo, round-the-world race without assistance. And, with rules like that, you can imagine that the competitors are a pretty tough bunch.

In total, there are 29 fascinating and diverse qualifiers lining up for the start.

Kojiro Shiraishi will be the first person to represent Japan in the race. Among his other accomplishments, he is a samurai warrior and travels complete with a large support group. It's big news, and several Japanese camera crews are following his every move.

Our Irish boat Kilcullen Voyager is in Les Sables d'Olonne, where the race starts. From here, I joined Kojiro to take a break from all the preparation and go for 18 holes of golf in a "celebrity" Vendee Race tournament.

It's not the first time our paths have crossed. We first met eight years ago - in an Irish pub in Tokyo.

The Japanese boat, the Spirit of Yukoh, has its own story, too.

The craft was named in homage to Kojiro's mentor, Yukoh Tada. Yukoh, a legend in the small world of Japanese ocean racing, was originally a taxi driver from Tokyo - but he is more like someone out of a novel. A sailor, musician and Buddhist - and winner of the BOC Challenge world race in his category - he took young Kojiro under his wing. Unfortunately, in the 1990-1991 BOC Challenge, Yukoh encountered a wide range of problems on the 50ft Koden VIII. The boat lost her keel and capsized three times, and many say this was behind Yukoh's suicide in Sydney in March 1991.

Kojiro was the young disciple - or rather pupil - of Yukoh Tada. Kojiro was the pillar of his team, aged just 26, and became the youngest sailor to complete a solo round-the-world voyage.

It is in the memory of Yukoh that Kojiro stood out in Around Alone in 2003, and above all in the Velux 5 Oceans round-the-world race with stopovers in 2006. In this event, in which Kojiro competed on an IMOCA already called Spirit of Yukoh, he once again made it all the way around the world in 118 days, finishing second behind Bernard Stamm.

To cement the Hiberno/Japanese friendship, the Japanese team is run by Tony O'Connor - a Raheny man who ended up far from Dublin, in Tokyo (an extraordinary adventure in itself).

O'Connor is a Japanese speaker and is highly regarded in Japan, where he arrived some years ago as an ANCO trainee in a government-backed scheme for young Irish apprentices.

Meanwhile, back at the Vendee Race golf tournament, despite bringing in Joe Ronaldson of Milltown, Dublin, as a ringer, we managed a fifth out of 13 teams in a foursome scramble. As one of 29 racers starting next Sunday, our ambitions are more modest. After all, the Vendee has an historical 50pc drop-out rate to simply get around the world. The boat will cover 40,000km over three to four months. And perhaps there's some encouragement here - after all, there is only enough food for 120 days.

In next week's Sunday Independent, a Mercedes-Benz/MSL Vendee Globe race scale map will be distributed as part of a link-up with the Atlantic Youth Trust. The map will enable pupils signed up to the trust's primary schools programme to track the race. See www.teamireland.ie to register, or email neil@teamireland.ie

Sunday Independent

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