Wednesday 21 February 2018

Sailing: O'Leary and Milne secure award after star showing in Florida

WM Nixon

Peter O'Leary and Stephen Milne are the Irish Independent/ Sailors of the Month for March after their superb performance to place second overall in the Olympic Star Class Bacardi Cup series against an international fleet of 84 boats in Florida.

Though the north-south duo have teamed up only relatively recently, it seems that Cork Harbour and Belfast Lough can do the business to produce a crew of world standard.

At 26, O'Leary is only beginning to settle into the specialised and hugely demanding hothouse of Star class boats, but he has shown enough dedication and innate talent to be taken seriously in the big boys' game.

He has linked up with German Star ace Marc Pickel, who is both a specialist builder of these exotic boats, and a leading coach. O'Leary and Milne were racing one of his P-Star boats, which outclasses most others in the vital goal of getting weight amidships, and having the narrowest possible rudder and keel.

But there was much more to it than boat optimisation. Pickel was in Miami as coach to the Irish crew, and, for his part, O'Leary has undergone an intense sports science programme which, in 18 months, saw him put on a weight gain of 18kg of pure muscle in 18 months.

The breezy Miami event was a severe test of boats and crews, but in the Irish case, everything held together, and their final scoreline included a first and two thirds. Those astern included the double Olympic gold medallists Mark Reynolds and Hal Haehnel of the US, and defending champion Peter Brumby of Bermuda.

The Irish pairing's next outing on the international stage will be in May. Meanwhile, their success in Florida has boosted business for Mark Pickel and the P-Star range. But those jumping in with an order will find that O'Leary is already there -- he has a deposit placed on an even more highly tuned new boat.

The Easter weekend sees the countdown to August's International Commodore's Cup series in the Solent getting under way at the annual RORC Red Funnel Regatta at Cowes. Irish boats have done mighty well in this early-season outing in times past, but with the recession biting big time, things are a bit muted this year.

Previously, the fact that the Commodore's series was held in June/July made for some urgency in the spring, but the move to August gives some breathing space. Anthony O'Leary's Ker 39 Antix is the only Irish boat on the line today, but there are two blasts from the past, both formerly of the Roy Dickson stable.

Roy's Corby 40-footer is still called Cracklin' Rosie, but she is now campaigned by Brian Wilkinson after a major revamp, while the 36ft Rosie is now called Rockall III, having been given a complete makeover in Cowes for German owner Christopher Opielok of Hamburg. Revamps notwithstanding, they'll do well to match the Dickson achievements.

On the home front, the build-up to the biennial Round Ireland Race from Wicklow on June 20 is shaping up well in terms of enquiries and entries. And before that, the ICRA Championship in Dun Laoghaire from May 21 to 23 has confirmed sponsorship from Liebherr, who became linked with the national cruiser-racer championship through successful events on Tralee Bay.

Irish Independent

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