Saturday 21 April 2018

'It's a real possibility to finish what I started' - Stranded Irish sailor close to dry land at last

Enda O’Coineen, of Galway, was towed to safety
Enda O’Coineen, of Galway, was towed to safety

Ed Carty

The Irish sailor stranded at the bottom of the world after being forced out of a solo round-the-world race is considering restarting the epic voyage after being rescued.

Enda O'Coineen was picked up overnight by a fishing trawler from Dunedin on New Zealand's south island and will be towed in to port around mid-morning Irish time.

The 60-year-old entrepreneur from Galway had been drifting for several days after a squall in the Southern Ocean broke the mast on his 60ft racing yacht, Kilcullen Voyager, forcing him out of the Vendee Globe challenge.

He spent the last days wrapped in two sleeping bags and four layers of clothes inching closer to a rendezvous and contemplating whether to have the boat repaired over the next month.

"You wonder why, why do I do this? What's it all about and how fragile things are, particularly the environment and how insignificant we are? I've been reflecting on just the scale of the ocean," he said.

"You do have a lot of time to reflect. It makes you very humble. It makes you think how just one little thing can change your life in totality ... I haven't the answers yet."

O'Coineen, who says sailing is his hobby, was on track to be the first Irish sailor to go single-handed around the world.

Since setting off from Les Sables-d'Olonne in France on November 6 he completed 13,151 nautical miles, including one 24-hour stretch when he sailed 395 nautical miles.

Enda O'Coineen is hoping to get to safety in New Zealand
Enda O'Coineen is hoping to get to safety in New Zealand

Disaster struck his boat on New Year's Day in 35 knot winds when the mast snapped and he had to cut it off to stop it putting a hole in the boat. He was out of helicopter range and 180 miles from the nearest fishing vessel.

Forty knot winds yesterday helped push him closer to a rescue by the Dunedin trawler.

Speaking via satellite phone to the Press Association while under tow, O'Coineen said he has thought about getting a new mast fitted to the yacht and finishing the circumnavigation even though he would be formally out of the race.

"It's a real possibility to finish what I started but it's a massive undertaking to do the repair," he said.

"But I'm nervous about saying I'm going to do that. Doing that, resourcing it, making it happen, there's a lot of sacrifice for the family and all of that but that's one real alternative I'm contemplating."

It could take several weeks for a mast to be fitted. The other options are to ship the boat home or leave it in New Zealand.

O'Coineen has been 62 days on his own at sea in what he described as a "lifetime dream" and he also became a grandfather.

He suffered some weight loss but no injuries even though he had two "very close calls" when ropes caught around a limb.

While at sea he's been told at least three other Irish sailors have begun making tentative inquiries into taking part in the next Vendee Globe four years from now.

He also said he was feeling down about not completing the race but the interest in his voyage through a schools programme has lifted his spirits with scores of emails of support coming in since he set off.

"I'm still going through a very hard reconciliation with myself," he said.

Press Association

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