Sunday 25 August 2019

It won't be plain sailing for my dream team, but it's not mission impossible

Early New Year's Day 2017, Enda O'Coineen was heading towards Cape Horn in the Vendee Globe Singlehanded Around the World Race after almost two months alone at sea. Suddenly, hit by a vicious squall, his 90ft mast came tumbling down. His boat was holed at deck level. The seas came crashing in. A lifelong dream was shattered. It was caused by the complications of self-steering problems and an accidental gybe. He was 200 miles south east of New Zealand's South Island - a sub-Antarctic zone - and one of the most remote parts of the planet. Now, 11 months later, the recovered intrepid adventurer is busy circumnavigating New Zealand. He is perhaps the first Irishman to do so. He has a rebuilt boat, having merged with another team. Then in January, he takes up from where he stopped. His ambition is to 'unofficially' finish the course - Around the World with 'One Stop'.

Enda O'Coineen on board the Kilcullen Voyager, Auckland, New Zealand

Here in warm sunshine, having just passed one of the longest days of the year, it's a bit surreal. I consider myself to be very lucky to be alive and following my dream and ambition to the finish. Also, I suffer from a language inability. Try as I may, I simply cannot spell the two words "not possible".

For this "illness" I am now in the middle of circumnavigating two massive islands they call New Zealand and floating in the Viaduct Harbour, Auckland mid-summer.

Alongside is a city buzzing with life. The waterfront is full of chatter regarding the New America's Cup design, which this "City of Sails" will host in 2021.

Originally, after 60 days at sea, I ended up in Dunedin, Otago with no mast and a broken spirit. Such is serendipity, that The Le Souffe du Nord team also arrived there with a broken boat - almost in half and had a good mast. She hit something big and soft - probably a whale.

Our teams seemed destined to marry. For me, it was a clear match on first sight. For them, the courtship took longer. Interestingly, our meeting point was the same place from where Ernest Shackleton had set out for the Antarctic - 100 years previously to the month.

Eleven teams had dropped out in this leg alone. Essentially, you take the risks and accept the consequences. That said, it was a massive blow. After such a period of intensity, to be suddenly mastless and cast adrift from a fast armada powering through the Southern Ocean was a dramatic downer and fortune change. Rapidly, there was a 'goal' change. My ambition switched to survival and to get safely back to land without calling the rescue services. And now, it has become a simple desire to complete the circumnavigation and finish the race "unofficially" in Les Sables d'Olonne.

Last February, on returning to Ireland - other than doing a few immediate talks, I went back to work (and to pay for it all).

Though honoured, I turned down most speaking offers. I could have easily dined out on my disaster story all year. As you know, in Ireland sometimes to fail is more successful that success itself! It went from small interest to massive interest and media attention.

Even Sean O'Rourke climbed down from his RTE pedestal of daily guff to talk to me on the sat-phone - while drifting mastless in freezing conditions wrapped up in three sleeping bags and still cold.

Many people kindly wish you well - which is great - but deep down they always secretly love you to fail. It brings great satisfaction. Human nature makes many feel great and superior when others fail. Good news does not sell papers. And, sure is it not great to give people this small joy? And cheers to the begrudgers and those who begrudge the begrudgers - may they both self-extinguish!

Originally I was going to acquire the Le Souffle du Nord mast and their boat was to be written off by their insurance. However, in the end it made sense for me to work with them to fix their boat, and sell my hull.

So now both teams have merged on an equal basis and we share costs. The boat was owned by a group of French businessmen based around Lille - and while keeping the partnership, it made sense for Team Ireland to take over the ownership.

They have built a support group of almost 2,000 - they are passionate and a lot of fun. After some soul-searching they decided that they really wanted to finish and I became their ambassador and skipper. Amongst other things, this involves taking a stuffed hummingbird to Dunkirk. This joins my bottles of whiskey also being circumnavigated - one of which is promised to Prince Albert in Monaco who is a whiskey collector. The other he has agreed to auction off for charity.

And why the hummingbird? As legend has it, there was a forest fire in South America and a flock of hummingbirds tried to extinguish it.

They would dive into the ocean and carry water in their beaks to dump on the fire. Needless to say, the birds failed miserably. But their message is that, if everybody "does a bit" we have a chance to save the world. They help people who help people. Go figure!!

On Thursday a 20-strong delegation from our partners will travel to a reception hosted by the French Ambassador. On the same day, assisted by Education Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor, we announce the Atlantic Youth Trust schools programme - and a workshop on using ocean adventure as an education tool.

We are also developing Joan Mulloy Team Ireland Racing, together with Gregor McGuckian Team Ireland and are working to support Nin O'Leary Ireland Ocean Racing.

This is a great project and these ocean projects are incubating professional Irish ocean sailing teams. While separate, they also promote the Atlantic Youth Trust charity.

Atlantic supports the projects in return for promotion. Atlantic's vision in not just the building of a youth development vessel. Rather, it will be a 'magnet' for attracting 15-18-year-olds into the maritime and ocean scene. It will develop an academy, regional youth development and be a maritime dimension of the great Irish diaspora story.

Atlantic has looked at 16 countries around the globe to survey their youth maritime development models. As it happens, by far the New Zealand one stood out where the Spirit of Adventure Trust runs a 45-metre tall ship.

So, from January 6-15, we have a group of Irish youngsters attempting a 10-day voyage of a lifetime in New Zealand. This is followed by an official visit to meet the New Zealand charity trustees and see the Kiwi youth development model first hand.

This will be valuable in developing the Atlantic Youth Trust, not just as an island of Ireland North-South youth project, but also a European project.

Following this, I set sail over the top-left corner, then south, around the bottom and up into Dunedin - completing our New Zealand circumnavigation.

After that, it's the 'Big One' and will be non-stop singlehanded to Les Sables D'Olonne and hopefully "unofficially" finish the Vendee - around the World with 'One Stop' - taking in a lap of Kiwiland!

Until then, we look forward to our next log 'at sea' and thanks for sharing the mission, vision and adventure and let the dreamers dream.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss

Editor's Choice