This year marks the 40th anniversary of this world famous annual race. Single handed sailors helming boats of 36ft in length sail a race commencing in France of four legs each consisting of hundreds of miles. For many years the course has brought them to various locations in Ireland using stopovers such as Kinsale, Royal Cork or Dublin. Some years back a mighty storm hit the fleet as they were heading for the coast of Cork and so they were diverted to Dingle, Co. Kerry. Such was the welcome they received and the glorious scenery of the area, it was decided that for the 40th anniversary of the race they would return to Dingle after an absence of three years.
For Race Officer Dominique Berenger, waiting patiently on the committee boat at the entrance to Dingle Harbour on Thursday night, it must have seemed like being on the receiving end of a nautical version of the Charge of the Light Brigade. After a third leg full of tactical twists and meteorological surprises, the weather threw a final curveball in the 52 boat fleet’s direction as the leaders entered Dingle Bay in the afternoon. Less than 10 miles from the finish line the breeze in the bay died completely, and the placid waters became a parking lot for Figaro Beneteau 2s as the rest of the fleet piled around the corner at Valentia Island. It was to be six hours before enough breeze kicked in to propel the boats the final distance, by which time the view from the finish line was of a seemingly endless arc of navigation lights across the bay.
Any one of 20 boats could have won it, but ultimately it was Jérémie Beyou (Bernard Paoli) who held his nerve and crossed first, at 22.45hrs for his second consecutive leg victory of this year’s edition of the race. Thursday night’s nail-biter bore a remarkable similarity to the events of three years ago, when the Figaro fleet’s last visit here encountered similar conditions. No tactical option was left untried this time, with one small group of boats trying to creep along the southern shore, and others trying to hold the breeze across the mouth of the bay to reach the northern side. In the end it was just a question of patience, though for the likes of Antoine Koch (Sopra Group) and Armel Le Cleac’h (Brit Air) the frustration must have been particularly intense. The two front runners had spent yesterday fighting it out neck-and-neck along the Irish coast, only for their match race to finish abruptly just short of the line. Going into the second night each had been at the head of groups of differing tactical opinion, Le Cleac’h being the only boat of the more westerly pack to emerge unscathed from the effects of a dying low pressure system. In the event it was a closer run thing than even Beyou had imagined, when a jury hearing yesterday afternoon(Fri) imposed a one minute penalty for carrying 300cl more water than the strict class rules permit, reducing his winning margin to a mere 19 seconds. He now finds himself moving up to third place in the overall rankings, behind Nicholas Lunven (CGPI) and Yann Elies (Generali).
Delighted to be among the 47 boats that streamed across the finish line in a mere 42 minutes on Thursday were British skippers Nigel King (Nigel King Yachting) and Jonny Malbon (Artemis). Having leapfrogged no less than 18 boats in Dingle Bay, King’s 22nd place, only 10 minutes after Beyou,will be some compensation for a thoroughly exhausting leg: Malbon was pleased and exhausted in equal measure, continuing his steady progress up the learning curve and the rankings with 39th place, 25 minutes and 35 seconds behind the winner. The sailors were delighted with Fungi, Dingle’s friendly dolphin which has welcomed visitors at the entrance to the port for the last 25 years. One bemused sailor remarked the dolphin must have invited all his friends, the bay being filled with upwards of a hundred of the creatures, a pleasant diversion for the fleet anxiously waiting to finish the race.
With the arrival of the fleet Dingle is in full party mood, and the skippers can expect rest and entertainment before embarking on the final leg to Dieppe on Sunday.