Thursday 18 January 2018

Sailing: Vroon ready to earn more glory with Tonnerre

WM Nixon

With the more relaxed events of early August drawing to a close, serious items are coming up on the menu, with the Commodores' Cup in a week's time and the 1802-mile RORC Round Britain and Ireland Race in a fortnight.

At its inception in 2006, the four-yearly Round Britain and Ireland race was yet another overall success for Ger O'Rourke's Cookson 50 Chieftain from Kilrush, which became the RORC Boat of the Year. But Chieftain has moved to the warmer waters of the Caribbean with a new name under Adrian Lee's successful command.

And in the Irish context, those heady high-powered programmes of 2006, with a demanding programme up and down the coasts of Europe and across the Atlantic, now seem much more than four years ago.

But there are new international campaigns up on the stage in the 30-boat fleet. One of the race favourites has to be Piet Vroon's Ker 46 Tonnerre de Breskens, winner of the Round Ireland in June.

And the countdown is well under way for next year's Volvo Ocean Race starting in October 2011, with the Round Britain and Ireland being part of the plan. French ace Franck Cammas, having won just about every global trophy and record in multihulls sailing for the Groupama team, has switched with them to this ultimate monohull event.

Irish interest in his plans is keen, as he signed on Damian Foxall of Kerry as one of his senior crewmen, while Killian Bushe of Cork is building the team's new Volvo 70 in France.

When the previous race concluded in July last year, Groupama had already snapped up the winner, Ericsson 4, to become their benchmark boat. Rebranded as Groupama 70, she will be on the line for the Round Britain and Ireland on August 23.

The Austrian-Slovenian Volvo campaign also hopes to take part in the race on the other Ericsson boat, marshalled by team manager Michael Reardon.

Meanwhile, the completely new Groupama boat will be launched next March. Despite the recession, this first French tilt at the Volvo Race since the Tabarly era is based on impressive experience, skill, research and money.

Inevitably, any Irish entry will be playing catch-up next year, even though they're trading on the fact that the race finishes in Galway in July 2012. With this week's news that the Green Dragon skipper Ian Walker has signed up to head the Abu Dhabi campaign, some trains have already left the station.

With 11 three-boat teams lining up for the Commodores' Cup, Ireland's 'economy effort' with three boats from Cork will have its work cut out, particularly as the French and British teams have access to new First 40s.

This latest Beneteau gem has already taken first and second in the Sydney-Hobart Race, and though they've taken a while to get into the rhythm in Europe, the First 40 overall win in the Channel Race a fortnight ago has put down a clear marker.

The new First 40 is starting to show the potential of its predecessor, the First 40.7. One of them, LJ MacMahon's Crackerjack from Strangford Lough, has been the pace-setter in Class 0 in the current West Cork Regattas,.

The veteran 38-footer Gloves Off was put off her racing stride by a reef off the Calve Islands. Officially, we're told she "brushed" the rocks, which suggests there's awesome skill in news management down on Roaringwater Bay.

Irish Independent

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