Carina one to watch in Sydney-Hobart classic
IT'S 20 years since Ireland's sailors won the Southern Cross Trophy, the Australian offshore series which culminated in the classic 628-mile Sydney-Hobart Race.
In 1991, three boats were chartered in Sydney in a team effort co-ordinated by Harold Cudmore and Irish-Australian John Storey, and the dream result was achieved by a squad which included Gordon Maguire, Kieran Jameson and Dan O'Grady.
Like the Admirals Cup, the Southern Cross Trophy today has become something of a sleeping beauty.
And both will remain so, unless somebody can come up with a magic formula which successfully combines an inshore/offshore series building up to the Fastnet Race and its southern hemisphere counterpart, the Sydney-Hobart challenge, without such lengthy international campaigns being ludicrously expensive.
But, like the Fastnet, the Sydney-Hobart Race on its own is still going strong, and as it's an annual event, the 67th staging takes place on St Stephen's Day.
It's starting around midnight on Christmas Day (Irish time), so if you happen to be having a Christmas chat with the Australian cousins, suggest they put a few dollars on the American boat Carina.
It can be done, as bookies in Australia are switched on to sailing.
We last mentioned Carina here in August, when she won her class in the Fastnet Race, and placed fifth overall, despite being built way back in 1969. Carina is the eternal superstar, and as owner Rives Potts runs a boatyard, he is able to keep his beloved sloop in up-to-date racing trim.
Thus, he won overall in the other great classic, the biennial Newport-Bermuda Race, in 2010.
He then sailed across the Atlantic for the Fastnet to score very well indeed. And then a second-generation crew set off hell-for-leather to sail to Australia and got into Sydney a fortnight ago neatly on time and nicely under the betting radar.
Apart from turning a bob or two on a modest wager, there's Irish interest at the big end of the fleet.
Gordon Maguire took on board the Australian dream in 1991 and has long since settled there, though he sails all over the world.
He's up among the favourites tomorrow, as skipper of the Reichel Pugh 63 Loki.
The super-maxi Wild Oats is the holder of the course record at one day 18 hours and 40 minutes.
It's still a remarkable time. But as it was set back in 2005, the expectation is on the upgraded 100ft Wild Oats to break it and the key person calling the shots on board the giant is Tipperary-born navigator Adrienne Cahalan, who is sailing her 20th Hobart Race.
And Noel 'Nitro' Drennan, who left Dublin for Australia at 13, but who still proudly uses his Irish passport, is now back there to manage North Sails Australia in Melbourne after a spell with the BMW Oracle campaign in California. Before that, he won the Volvo race in Illbruck.
Meanwhile, overall leaders Team Telefonica stole the Volvo Ocean Race second-leg lead from Groupama yesterday after carving an unusually hasty passage through the Doldrums.
Groupama's lead of more than 70 nautical miles slowly dissolved after the five boats still racing to Abu Dhabi entered the infamous region best known for light wind and squalls.
Last night, Telefonica was leading second-placed Camper by eight nautical miles, with Groupama 31 nautical miles behind in third place.
Puma was 72 nautical miles off the pace, while Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had reduced their their deficit from 170 to 117 nautical miles.
Telefonica and Camper separated from the rest of the fleet to pursue stronger wind and the venture paid off, with their average boat speeds reaching 15 knots and 13 knots respectively, while Groupama floundered with an average of eight knots.
The entire fleet will spend Christmas at sea.