Galwegians all geared up for Round Ireland battle
The Galwegians are rattling the Round Ireland cages. Tomorrow's noon start of the biennial Round Ireland Race from Wicklow will see a strong mid-fleet challenge from Galway University with a college-crewed 38-footer, boosted by a front-of-the-pack show by the veteran Volvo 70 Green Dragon, captained by intrepid Galway skipper Enda
No one would now claim that the gallant old Green Dragon is the fastest Volvo 70 that ever floated, but even the slowest Volvo 70 is potentially much faster than the next quickest racer in tomorrow's 38-boat line-up.
So, if we are in for a few days of normal Irish summer weather with a bit of breeze now and again, the expectation would be that the course record established by Mike Slade's 100ft Leopard back in 2008 could be knocked sideways.
But whatever the weather is, normal it isn't. It may well be that global warming is to blame. And it's true that even the rain is warmer these days. But there's a lot of it.
That, in turn, has had all sorts of peculiar effects on the wind and weather patterns. So, we're not looking at a record-breaking scenario, with the possibility of light northerly headwinds off the west coast by Monday. But at least tonight's rain should have cleared.
That said, even a modest change in the predicted conditions could generate enough power to get the Green Dragon moving swiftly.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the fleet, there are plenty of boats which can give a fair show in any weight of wind, and it's a healthily international fleet now that the RORC have given it the same points status as the Fastnet Race itself. In fact, for the first time, Irish entries are outnumbered by visitors.
Defending champion Piet Vroon of the Netherlands is back with his extremely effective Ker 46 Tonnere de Breskens, while the leading French contender is Laurent Gouy (he has Connacht connections, and lists Clifden BC as his club) with his Ker 39 Inismor, which has already been in successful contention this season in RORC events between France and England.
If reasonable breezes appear, the most fancied of the home contingent would have to be Dun Laoghaire's Adrian Lee, with the Cookson 50 Lee Overlay, which, as Ger O'Rourke of Limerick's Chieftain, was overall winner of the breezy 2007 Fastnet Race.
In Lee's ownership, this boat secured herself a special place in sailing history by winning the inaugural Caribbean 600 race, an annual event which now has a central role in the international sailing programme.
But light airs are not a Cookson 50's favourite conditions, though with a bit of bite to the breeze, this canting keel machine becomes a flyer.
The Round Ireland Race will be neatly done and dusted next weekend as the Volvo Ocean Race gears up in Lorient for the final stage to Galway on July 1, where it's possible that the concluding inshore race will decide the top places.
Ireland's brightest hopes are riding with Damian Foxall of Kerry aboard Franck Cammas' French entry Groupama.
They now have a fairly comfortable points lead after the continuing implosion of Spain's Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez. But as the Telefonica experience has painfully demonstrated, a couple of gear breakages and one mistaken tactical call are all that is needed to knock the wheels off even the most promising effort.
Current points: Groupama (Franck Cammas, France) 219; Puma (Ken Read, USA) 196; Camper (Chris Nicholson, NZ) 191; Telefonica (Iker Martinez, Spain) 191; Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker, GBR) 122; Sanya (Mike Sanderson, NZ) 39.