salt in the veins
Plato asserted that there were three types of men: those that lived, died and those that went to sea. In the aftermath of the interview I had with Paul Ó Riain, it is evident that he belongs to the latter of the three.
With salt in his veins and the desire to return and compete in the Solitaire du Figaro this year, he is showing the whole world that Irish sailors can stand on equal footing with some of the best sailor’s in France. At this juncture, it is worth noting that the Solitaire du Figaro, the singlehanded race, is viewed one of the most challenging races in the world.
It is in this race that many of today’s generation of sailing heroes learnt the most about their sailing and even themselves. This race has been completed many excellent sailors, including the Kerryman; Damian Foxall and legend of the Vendée Globe, Michel Desjoyeaux who states that there is no race with a more competitive fleet than it.
The race involves striking a balance between hard, clever sailing and cat-napping at the right time. Sleeping in this instance refers to a 20 minute rest on a bean bag! The majority of boats in the Figaro fleet will boast two berths, but, 90% of the time these are occupied by sails and equipment to ensure the boat is well balanced in fighting the heel in strong winds. The advantage of the bean bag is that it can be placed on deck for napping in daylight hours.
In 2007, after years of competitive sailing in Ireland and many miles logged on offshore passages, Ó Riain was inspired to compete in the Solitaire du Figaro. He consulted with fellow Irishman, Damian Foxall who instructed him to begin training immediately as he was already a month behind his rivals!
With a boat secured (the one design Beneteau Figaro 10.15m in length), Ó Riain headed to La Rochelle to train in the months building up to the race. During the race itself, Ó Riain states he raced well and fast; frequently hitting and maintaining good speed averages (7-9knots) but a failure to adjust to the sleeping pattern punctuated his progress.
Ó Riain was in the running for a strong finish before damaging his rig in a storm on the final leg of the race. Notably, at the same time, a fleet of 300 competed in the bi-annual Fastnet race. The weather was so severe that 200 of that fleet retired. Added to this, the winner of the leg 3 in ’07, Courentin Douguet, was set to retire on that leg leg such was the severity of the weather. Here is a clip of Douguet blasting through the Biscay.
It was in completing that final leg that inspired Ó Riain to return in 2010 to compete.
The roots of the race are in the Bay of Biscay. The circa 1800nm circuit is spread over four legs, stopping in: Le Havre, Gijon, Brest, Kinsale and Cherbourg. It is within this area that the real test comes. A section the Continental Shelf runs into the bay causing a rapid incline in the depth of the sea bed. With that comes a marked increase in height, power and frequency of the waves in the area. Many vessels have foundered here as a result, notably, from an Irish perspective; it is the final respecting place of the Asgard.
At any one time, there are up to 50 competitors in the race, battling the elements and each other to win the race. It is from that pressure that the best sailors reach the ascendancy. Also stemming from that pressure are the small mistakes from which hinge either strong finishes or a damaged boat. All the time, the sailors must keep one eye fixed on the weather reports and the other on the performance of the boat. It is from the preparation for the next challenge and anticipation of the next opportunity that the winner will emerge.
Ellen MacArthur famously stated: “You are prepared when you arrive at the start line knowing that there is nothing more you can do to cross the finish line”.
With the lessons learned from the 2007 race, Paul Ó Riain will be prepared to mount a strong challenge in this years’ race. He is proud to be representing Ireland in the race, and as the sole Irish representative, a whole hearted welcome awaits his arrival in Kinsale in August.
To date, Paul is working hard in preparing for the race, actively in pursuit of sponsorship that will hit a large audience in France, Spain and Ireland. With hints of Ireland slowly re-kindling its relationship with the sea, we eagerly await the performance of Paul in this challenging and inspiring race. – Gilligan.