Neil Spain on Ireland West which won the BMW Round Ireland Yacht Race
Author: Neil Spain Posted on: 27/6/08 Print Version

Ireland West skippered by Aodhan Fitzgerald from Galway Bay Sailing Club won this year's gruelling BMW Round Ireland Yacht Race in the early hours of Friday morning after the remaining boats on the race track failed to finish in time to beat her on corrected time.

There was a HYC connection on board the winning yacht with Neil Spain, usually seen driving John Murphy and Richard Colwell's Kinetic, as one of the principle helms on board for the race. When Aodhan asked me would I be interested in doing the race I jumped at the chance having known him for a few years and his record in the race, winning the doublehanded class in 2004.
He put together a really solid crew and chartered the same Beneteau 40.7 which they had used in the race two years ago, when he narrowly missed out on overall honours but won their class.

This year's race was a test of endurance as much as tactics with the start delayed by a day due to the forecast, which turned out to be a good decision by the race officers.

When we finally got underway on Sunday at noon there was a strong westerly blowing and we saw over 40 knots in the gusts on the way down the Irish Sea.

After rounding the Tusker conditions moderated slightly and we took the decision to head South as much as possible given the forecast of the wind shifting to the South and this paid dividends for us which put us in a strong position heading towards the West coast.

Ireland West
After rounding the Fastnet on Monday evening we hoisted spinnaker and after a few light hours the breeze began to really build culminating in us blowing one of our spinnakers halyards at 4:00 am in about 35 knots which was probably the boat's way of telling us to take the foot off the throttle a little! At this stage we had gybed onto starboard which we did not change from until half way down the Irish Sea as the wind clocked around to the right the whole way.

The lads on board put in a huge effort as we pushed hard the whole way up the West coast, some of the them sitting on the rail for a full 28 hours or so without a break including the heaviest and most gruelling part of the race across Donegal Bay with some boats reporting gusts of up to 60 knots at this stage in the race, however we seemed to miss out on the full force of the elements here even though we were consistently getting over 30 knots of wind.

We found ourselves tight reaching again along the North coast which didn't suit us and let some of the boats with asymmetrics make up some ground on us. More by chance than planning we hit the tidal gate at Rathlin just right and apart from getting stuck momentarily in the island's wind shadow we had a smooth passage through a traditionally tricky part of the race.

At this stage the Prima 38 Dynamite Tee overhauled us but we managed to match them down the Irish Sea. In hindsight they did us a favour by passing us here because it made us up our game and refocused our attention to the final leg in the race. Initially we were able to sail on the rhumb line to Wicklow but the wind soon shifted in to the south. After taking a bit of east as it was closer to the rhumb line we decided to head back towards shore in anticipation of a shift back to the southwest as the morning dawned and sure enough it gradually clocked right the closer we got to Wicklow.

As with further up the course at Rathlin we had tide in our favour for much of our run down to the finish, only having to hit the beach on our approach to the finish line with about an hour and a half of adverse tide to contend with leaving us with a finish time of 96 hours, 1 minute and 57 seconds.

At this stage we began to get the feeling that the other boats chasing us, although still ahead of us on corrected time, would struggle to get down the Irish Sea to the finish because of the adverse tide combined with the dying breeze. However it was still fingers crossed time all afternoon and evening as one by one they missed their target finish times until eventually at about 1.45am on Friday morning Ireland West was announced as the overall winner.

HYC boats to feature in this year's race included Matt Davis' Team Kingspan winning Class 0 and provisionally 7th overall, Tom Fitzpatrick and Des Glennon's Baily renamed FMB Noyeks for the race in Class 2 and Cormac and Mandy Farrelly's Pepperbox sailing as WSI in Class 3.

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