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Sunday 25 February 2018

Sailing: A sight to behold on day of mixed fortunes

Damian Foxall gives advice to some budding sailors at Dun Laoghaire
Damian Foxall gives advice to some budding sailors at Dun Laoghaire

Damian Foxhall

It was one of those moments in offshore sailing and, despite the intensity of the competition all around us, you could take time out to appreciate something very special.

At sea, it can be some marine life like a whale or a soaring albatross or perhaps a major landmark like Cape Horn, but last Tuesday morning it was the Fastnet Rock off Cape Clear Island as Oman Air Musandam, our 70-foot trimaran in Les Routes des Princes, raced around Europe.

We were in the lead and about to collect bonus points for reaching this famous lighthouse that is also known as 'Ireland's teardrop,' as it was one of the final sights for so many emigrants leaving on a one-way ticket for America.

Tuesday was extra special as the Fastnet marked my return to Ireland in a major race and it's a point of significant pride to do so, as I live and work abroad these days.

That this event is coming to Ireland and that the organisers were actively considering Cork city and at least one other venue as possible stop-over destinations, confirms that Ireland is now seen as a real player for major sailing events.

Two Volvo Ocean Race visits, last year's Multi-One Design race visit to Dun Laoghaire and now this return – it's fantastic to see.

Of course, the organisers of the Figaro single-handed race have known about Ireland's potential for 30 years due to their almost annual visits to various ports along the south and east coasts.

It's just a little bit easier to capture the public and media's attention on a 70-foot speed machine racing close to harbour walls and grandstands like we'll be doing this weekend at Dun Laoghaire.


After we collected our points at the Fastnet and turned for Dun Laoghaire, our fortunes changed. We held our lead going up the east coast, but as we closed on Dublin Bay, the breeze dropped away and we were overhauled by Yann Guichard on Spindrift.

We still reckon that we have an edge on these guys offshore, though their performances on the in-port races have been crucial as they now pull into the overall lead.

Lady Luck wasn't finished with us, however.

As Spindrift crossed the line eight minutes ahead, Seb Josse on Gitana just pipped us at the post and took second by just 33 seconds. Less than 10 minutes between first and third places, after three days at sea – it really is incredible. These boats are so well matched and they deliver great performance and speed. They're a pleasure to sail.

Unfortunately for us, we've now dropped to third overall. We had been joint second with Gitana, but we were docked four points last night in a protest hearing for an incident on the start line in Plymouth last weekend.

Still, it wasn't a bad day as our skipper Sidney Gavignet announced me as his co-skipper for November's Transatlantic race.

That'll be my third race and an opportunity to improve on the third place I earned when Karine Fauconnier and I competed together 15 years ago.

We're halfway through the race and still with the Dun Laoghaire In-Port series today and tomorrow. Our performance has certainly improved in these races, but we can't afford any slips at this stage.

On Monday, we hope the weather will permit an attempt on the round Ireland speed sailing record that Steve Fossett set 20 years ago.

We tried to do this in March on Musandam, but incredibly there was too much wind.

We ended up sheltering off Wales and only got freezing katabatic winds coming off Mount Snowden for our troubles.

If the record isn't on, we'll race straight to Plymouth and from there, we'll have just one leg left to win this race on the ultimate racing sailboat.

Irish Independent

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