Fans spoilt for choice as June offers up great fare

The Irish Times – Friday, June 8, 2012

DAVID O’BRIEN

SAILING JUNE COULD not get any better for Irish offshore sailing fans with a four-way fight for overall honours in the Volvo Ocean Race to be decided off the west coast and the Round Ireland Race starting at the end of this month.

Never in the 39-year history of the race have four boats been in with a chance of winning with just 10 days of offshore sailing left to go. After upending long-term leaders Telefonica, Damian Foxall’s Groupama leads the overall standings with just two offshore legs left, but only 21 points separate them and fourth-placed Camper; with Emirates Team New Zealand there too, everything is still to play for. There is no doubt a tight finish will lift the 33,000-mile race that has flagged, not least because the 2012 edition mustered only six boats.

It is one of the reasons why a shorter route with smaller boats and streamlined teams are among big changes to the VOR expected to be announced in the next few weeks, but for now all eyes are on a historic finish in Galway for the in-port race there on July 7th.

On the Irish sea a 36ft cruiser normally sailed by a crew of eight, but sailing offshore this season with just two, won last Saturday’s Irish Sea Offshore (ISORA) race against fully crewed boats on a voyage across the Irish sea from Pwhelli to Wicklow.

The National Yacht Club’s Liam Coyne and Brian Flahive in the Beneteau 36.7 Lula Belle now lie fifth overall in the 20-boat ISORA fleet, a series that serves as an important warm-up for their two-handed assault on the 700-mile Round Ireland Race in a fortnight’s time.

Coyne and Flahive will count victory in last weekend’s Lynxmet mast-sponsored race as a major boost, even though the fixture itself ended with some drama in big seas at Dún Laoghaire harbour mouth when a competing yacht fouled its propeller and required lifeboat assistance.

Lula Belle is one of a handful of double-handed entries for the Round Ireland Race, which seems to be struggling to make up decent numbers, a worry for Wicklow Sailing Club organisers.

After a flurry of early entries, including a healthy number of UK boats, it appeared the offshore marathon would at least match 2010’s 40-boat fleet but Dennis Noonan is resigned to the fact that roughly 30 boats will contest the biennial course on June 24th.

Short-handed sailing is also a feature of this weekend’s Lambay race, with a fleet of eight J80s racing with only two crew apiece. Over 100 boats in 12 classes are expected on the Howth Yacht Club line for the 116th staging of the race.

Ireland will not compete in the Commodore’s Cup after weeks of doubt surrounding the composition of a three-boat team to defend the title Ireland won in 2010.

Meanwhile, three of five Irish Olympic boats are edging closer to tomorrow’s medal race final at the Skandia Sail For Gold Regatta on Olympic waters in the UK this morning.

There is probably no tighter gauge for the Olympic Regatta than this week’s event, which saw Peter O’Leary and David Burrows take the overall lead in the Star keelboat class on Tuesday and Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern produce wins so far in the 49er skiff.

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