Tuesday 12 December 2017

Foxall's over moon after global marathon victory

James Hall

Ireland's first round the world race winning skipper was last night coming to terms with victory in the Barcelona World Race. Kerryman Damian Foxall has been surrounded by family and friends since completing the 25,000 mile course on Monday night.

And it was confirmed yesterday that along with skipper Jean-Pierre Dick, the team on Paprec Virbac actually sailed a further 3,000 miles when tactical routes were taken into account.

An enthusiastic Franco-Irish joint celebration started immediately after the formalities of being received into the city of Barcelona and only ended around 6am yesterday. However, the skippers were the best able of all the party-goers to return to work thanks to their watch and rest routine of four hours on and four off.

Along with their shore-team, Foxall and Dick began assessing the amount work required to return their Open 60 footer to full competition mode.

Taking time out, Foxall reflected on their three-month ocean marathon that saw them hold the overall lead for almost the entire duration of the race.


"This is the ultimate high-point and the pinnacle of my career," Foxall told the Irish Independent. "I don't think I'll ever forget the Indian Ocean, sailing downwind in a gale of wind and waiting for the two-hourly 'skeds' to come and finding out that we're the faster boat, in the lead and believing that we can actually win the race."

But being ahead of the fleet delivered an added pressure that Foxall likens to an elastic band, constantly being joined to the fleet behind, one week extending their lead by hundreds of miles only to be drawn back as the elastic tightens once again.

"Probably one of the worst moments in the entire three months would be the elastic effect when it tightened and we watched all the fleet sail back up to us from being 400 miles behind," he revealed.

Later, as gear damage took its toll on four of the fleet, obliging them to retire and seek shelter at the nearest port, the remaining boats were still able to pile the pressure on to the leader.

But when second-placed Hugo Boss took a pit-stop in Wellington and incurred a 48-hour time penalty, Paprec Virbac made a clear getaway of over 1,000 miles.

Nevertheless, that high was soon followed by another low-point when Foxall and Dick arrived at the notorious Cape Horn, the southernmost point of the Americas.

"It was like looking down the barrel of a gun -- knowing that as soon as we rounded we had to face 6000 miles of slogging upwind to the finishing-line," he recalled grimly.

Sailing upwind into steep waves in a high-performance racing yacht means lifting off the huge seas to slam violently into the next trough.

Sure enough, off the coast of Brazil during gale force winds, their worst fears were realised when their forestay that supports the mast broke under load. "I remember thinking 'that's it', we're gonna lose the lead and maybe even have to retire." Fortunately, they were able to make a temporary repair that lasted all the way to the finishing line.

But reaching the finish on Monday was more than a dream come true for the two skippers, wildly exceeding their expectations as the crowds on the Barcelona dock celebrated.

"The contrast of coming in from the isolation of the sea to the welcome of the crowd, including 20 or 30 people from back home was incredible," said Foxall.

But of all the rewards awaiting Foxall on the dockside, the sight of his wife Suzy-Ann and eight-month old son Oisín was the one he had waited for most. Within minutes of the formalities ending in the early hours yesterday, Foxall was straight back into 'dad mode', pushing a buggy along Las Ramblas and being reunited with his family at last.

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