Tonnerre pulls out all the stops for ill skipper Vroon
International boat designer Jason Ker has a good record in the Round Ireland Race. Eamonn Crosbie's Ker 32 Voodoo Chile was winner in 2004 and second in '06. More rec-ently, the Ker imprint has been noted on the regatta circuit with the 37- footer Jump Juice, and the 39 Antix, both from Cork, and both winners.
But in the Round Ireland, it was a French owner with links to the west of Ireland, Bernard Gouy, who sails for Clifden Boat Club, who kept the Ker flag flying. He raced the Ker 39 Inis Mor -- a sister-ship of Antix -- in the '08 race, but the boat was so new she was barely out of the wrappings and it was more of a familiarisation experience than a serious challenge. This time round, Inis Mor has been right on the speed, dicing for first place on corrected time at each check-in.
Ironically, though, the boat she has been dicing with has a newer bigger sister, Dutch skipper Piet Vroon's Ker 46 Tonnerre de Breskens. At 4.04 on Thursday morning, Tonnerre greeted the new day by storming across the finish line to take victory and sit with increasing solidity in the handicap overall winner's spot.
Although the race went off in style from Wicklow in a sunny easterly at noon on Sunday, the overall prospect for the 704-mile circuit seemed to indicate a lack of breeze. But there were reasonable fair winds along the west coast, and when the wind was light, the newest designs, with pressure-grabbing Code Zero masthead sails, kept going in impressive style.
Although the Corby 45 Pride of Wicklow had the best start, within minutes Tonnerre had powered into a lead which she never relinquished. There was an added edge for the Dutch crew, as their extraordinary skipper Vroon (80) was taken ill on Saturday night and couldn't sail.
So, his team found an extra something just for the great man, and it has been an exemplary take on the Round Ireland challenge. When they finished, Inis Mor was still struggling southwards towards Rockabill and the tide was just starting to run north.
Second to finish, but nowhere on handicap, was the Open 60 Rosslare Europort (Steve White and Alan McGettigan).
Meanwhile, the double-handed pairing of Mick Liddy and Mark Pollock finished the race yesterday, despite having no power or electrics for almost four days.
Liddy steered the boat without sleep virtually non-stop since Monday and Pollock, who is completely blind, had to undertake some of his duties including working on the open deck in addition to his usual routine of grinding, sail trimming and cooking.
With Vroon's Tonnerre de Breskens already confirmed as the double-winner of both line honours in the entire fleet, plus the overall race , the two-handed class now seems certain to be won by Johnny Loden and Paddy Cronin on Psipsina.