03 October 2012

Report and review

Following is a recap, some observations and lessons learned, and an outline for a possible future.

The road in

I launched the race in May 2010. That launch comprised:
  • The initial website.
  • An ad on Facebook targeting people in Ireland / UK with an interest in sailing.
  • Emails to friends and contacts.
Markham Nolan was working as online editor of Afloat magazine in Dublin at the time, saw the ad on Facebook and ran a piece on the Afloat website. I followed that up with an email to the membership of Galway Bay Sailing Club.

The word spread from there, really. At the time people could sign up to indicate interest in taking part, or for news by email. We gave away free stickers through the website and sent a few out to the likes of Bow Waves and Purcell Marine.

  • 18 people expressed an interest in taking part. (One of those did).
  • 90 people signed up for news by email.
  • We gave away 120 stickers.
  • Those sign-ups were handled, free, and stored online with Google Documents.
  • Emails were handled, free, by MailChimp.
  • The website was built using WordPress (free) using a free theme from Germany’s Elmastudio.
  • I paid for the domain and web hosting with Media Temple and did whatever design was needed.
  • I paid for the printing of the stickers.

Galway Bay Sailing Club

In July of 2011 GBSC came on board as Club of Record for the race. Over the years, and particularly during the 2009 Volvo visit when I was up to my neck in things, I have received no-problem support that you wouldn’t believe from members of GBSC. Pick up the phone, ask, and it’s done. It was no different this time. That’s what keeps our sport alive locally.

I hope that we can count on GBSCs involvement in our next event.

The Round Ireland Race

I had discussed the Round Rockall Race with Aodhán Fitzgerald as far back as 2008/09, and it was in my head since Jamie Young brought me up to Rockall in 2005. It was only when it was announced that Galway would host the Volvo Ocean Race again in 2012 that I thought it was realistic to run the Rockall event. (My original gut feeling was that it would be necessary to run it from further down the West coast, to try to attract boats from Cork / Dublin / UK).

I made the decision that it was better to run the Rockall Race in the lead-up to the VOR visit, rather than during or afterwards. I think that was the correct call. I knew that meant our event would be on at the same time as the Round Ireland Race. Here’s an excerpt from a letter that I sent to Denis Noonan, long-time organiser of the Round Ireland race, in July 2011:

There are no plans to run any further Rockall races. If it comes up, I would certainly do everything I can to ensure that it doesn’t clash with the Round Ireland, an event that I have fond memories of and a lot of admiration for.

So, there you have it. I’m fairly sure you won’t even notice we’re there as I doubt there is a question of boats making an either/or decision on the two events. But I wanted to get in touch out of courtesy, and respect for the tremendous job you have done over the years.

In October 2011, after a bit of activity by us on our Facebook page, the Afloat website ran an article that began:

New Round Rockall Race Date to Clash with Round Ireland

Galway Bay Sailing Club has announced details of a new Irish offshore yacht race, the Round Rockall Race 2012 that will start on the same day as Wicklow’s biennial Round Ireland race and a week before the Volvo Ocean Race calls to Galway Port on July 5.
I subsequently got a telephone call from Charlie Kavanagh of Wicklow Sailing Club. He was not happy that we were going to start a race on the same day as the Round Ireland. I gave him the background to the race, told him I didn’t think it was an issue, and followed up with this email:
Please disregard Afloat’s attempt to create a “news” story around a clash. I believe the recent Afloat article is on thin ice when it refers to an announcement by GBSC. No announcement has been made recently, and Afloat already covered our launch in June 2010.
I don’t know who in Afloat wrote that, or subsequent, articles as there was no byline. (Markham Nolan had moved on). At no time did Afloat contact me for a comment or to check facts. (By the time the Volvo rolled into town Afloat were happily running our story which they were getting from the VOR Galway press people). In the future I would probably like to reach out to Afloat at times like that, though I have a suspicion it might not change anything. That may be parochial paranoia on my part.

I don’t think I should be concerned about the impact of our race on the businesses of Wicklow. This may sound harsh given the circumstances we all find ourselves in at the moment. It was an issue for Charlie Kavanagh, and I can understand that. (For the record, I’m not doing this to keep the tills of Galway ringing either. I’m doing it because I think it’s a great race course for boats). I told Charlie that I thought the best thing the Round Ireland Race could do in 2012 would be to tie in with the VOR visit and start and finish from Galway. I meant that, and I still do. I think it would have been massive for the sport and great for the Round Ireland. But I’m a dreamer. (Charlie was suitably aghast, by the way, but took it in good spirit and I think we left that phone call on good terms)

I’m pleased to report that, as far as I am aware, Wicklow didn’t suffer any economic shock due to our event, and I don’t think we had a scintilla of negative impact on the estimable Round Ireland Race. (I’ve taken part in two of them, wouldn’t rule out another, and recommend it highly. Aodhán’s taken part in seven!)


David Vinnell, Commodore of GBSC, got a telephone call from Ed Alcock, Race Manager of the Irish Sailing Association (ISA), wondering what we were at with the timing of our event. I believe this was the first time Ed Alcock phoned Galway Bay Sailing Club. I hope it’s not the last.

In November 2011 Afloat ran this article on their website, headed:

Offshore Fixture Clash to be Aired at ICRA Conference

The Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) had on the agenda for its Annual Conference something along the lines of “Is the Round Rockall / Round Ireland clash necessary”. Neither I nor GBSC heard from anyone in ICRA at any time in relation to our event before or after their conference. I still haven’t, so I don’t know what, if anything, was discussed or if any conclusions were arrived at.

The ISA presented a cheque for €15,278 to ICRA at their conference. I think they do that every year, in the amount of the ECHO racing fees collected from around the country. That’s a lot of money, and it seems a bit rich that these two comparatively wealthy organisations went out of their way to try and interfere with the running of a new event on the west coast. Luckily we’re made of good stuff here on the fringes of our island as we continue to show them on and off the water.

I’d like to apply to the ISA for some funding for our next race. If anyone knows how that works, please contact me.

Our first entry

We opened online registration in November 2011. Ralph Villiger from Switzerland entered the race a few hours after the entry form went live. This was a great boost and I’m sorry that Ralph didn’t make it to the start line due to his boat not being ready. He was an important part of our story and proof of the international appeal of the Rockall course.
  • The online entry form was hosted by Wufoo at a cost of $29.95 per month. This charge was slightly higher than it might have been, due to the complexity (read “number of fields required”) of the form, which meant we had to step up two levels on our package with them. But Wufoo provide a solid service in a very easy to use package, and the reporting options are great: you come away with all of your form data in a variety of formats, including Excel, which makes a great foundation for an event database.
  • Payments were handled by PayPal. I don’t like PayPal. I think their policies are dismissive of their customers and I think there’s more than a whiff of sulphur emanating from their Terms of Business. I feel zero loyalty to them, but it was the most expeditious way for GBSC to accept credit card payments from a standing start. I would rather not deal with PayPal in the future.
  • Entry fees were paid directly to GBSCs account via PayPal, less PayPal’s fees and charges.

Bank von Bremen

The German yacht Bank von Bremen also entered in November ’11. These guys have a terrific set-up and a super boat. They are a sailing club, founded in 1934, they purchase boats as a club and the members book the vessels for events of their choosing. They like to pick slightly “out of the way” events, so the Rockall course was perfect for them. They were a mighty bunch, ranging from students to grizzled old sea dogs, ten in total, and brilliant ambassadors for their club and country. Unfortunately they had mistakenly selected the single-handed class on the entry form and I only found out that they were fully-crewed at the last minute. I somehow forgot to tell them that they were the only fully-crewed boat in the event until they were securely tied up in Galway. They were very gracious about this, and I would like to express my gratitude to Rainer Persch and Torsten Messer for that.

Killary Flyer

I’ve known Jamie and Mary Young for over twenty years. It was on their boat “Killary Flyer” that I sailed around Ireland solo in 2005, and Jamie had brought me to Rockall on it in June of that year. Jamie had expressed an interest in the race from the off and in January 2012 I basically told him he was entered whether he liked it or not. His journey to the start line was not a smooth one, with a lot of work to be done on the boat and no less than three different cranes involved at one stage, but he – typically – rode it out and got the job done. I hope Jamie doesn’t mind me saying here that he did the race to mark his 60th birthday. I think that’s a savage achievement and a suitable milestone in a life of adventure. He had previously sailed to Rockall single-handed when he was 24, from Scotland, on a bilge-keeled Westerly that he subsequently sailed solo across the Atlantic (and back!) in the OSTAR.


Barry Hurley got in touch in November ’11 and again in April ’12. It was great news for us when he entered. He’s a serious piece of work, super-competent and well prepared: he won his class in the OSTAR on Dinah when he entered. He’s also great craic and has a quick-fire wit that I would guess goes some way to hiding an even quicker intellect. I think he enjoyed the event and his visit to Galway. And why wouldn’t he – he kicked ass. He was very patient with me during the briefing, being presumably unprepared for my “well, off ye go, and play nice” approach. I must add some bells and whistles to subsequent briefings.

Trackers, Safety and sleepless nights

I have had sleepless nights over this race. A few of them. I have woken up in cold sweats. This is not healthy, but it does underline the seriousness of sending people off to the North Atlantic a good way from shore. I feel blessed that I never once doubted the preparations undertaken by our competitors. I’m not sure that the event would have gone ahead if I had.

That said, I think we should have trackers. Maybe the ISA will support that financially? I certainly would not be inclined to support a single-handed class without them in the future. There was a period during the race when we hadn’t received a check-in as expected by our own estimation and I would not like to go through that again. Two-handed is one thing, solo raises the stakes a lot. We will have to find the money for trackers.

I would prefer a check-in at fixed times, maybe 1200 and 2400 daily. I think this would be preferable to the “headlands” check-ins we had this time out. It would remove the uncertainty of estimating when we might hear from a competitor. And I would tell competitors that their check-ins are of primary and utmost importance to those of us on shore, biting our nails and pacing our floors in the wee small hours with only our fears for company. Yes, I know that you may be wet, cold, tired and hungry but you cannot check in enough, especially on the stretch to and from the rock. Spoil us, please.

The race

The briefing took place at 1600 as planned. The start went off smoothly at 2000 as advised in the revised NOR. (In fact, the only delay we had during the entire thing was at the prize-giving, which was out of our control. A non-sailor may have been involved!).

Conditions were perfect for the start. Competitors reported nothing over 30kts of wind during the race and a steady sea-state of up to 2 or 3M. Light airs were a feature as the boats were out there during the transition from one Low pressure system to another. I think we were lucky with the weather and I’m glad it played out the way it did.

Dinah won it, Bank von Bremen were 1st on the water, 2nd on IRC, and Killary Flyer came 3rd.


  • Entry fees @250 x 4, less PayPal charges €964.40
  • Less refund to Ralph Villiger €200.00
Total Income €764.40


  • Hull stickers €100.00
  • Prizes €400.00
  • Wufoo.com charges @$29.95 x 6 ≃ €150.00
  • A bottle of champagne for the winner €45
  • A cup of tea and a sandwich for the organiser €5
Total expenditure €700.00

Surplus to GBSC ≃ €64.60

We ran a successful event, with an international entry, for seven hundred quid. Some figures are rounded for convenience. Receipts have been submitted for all expenditure. All other costs were borne by myself.


I had a deal done with a sponsor that was worth €10,000. In the end, we couldn’t make it happen. Having been through the first edition I think that I would actually rather do without direct commercial sponsorship. Madness, you cry! He’s lost it! Yes, it’s noble and lofty thinking, but I think that the competitors are the heart and soul of this event and it’s possible to run it out of their entry fees. So let’s keep the focus there. I’m not ruling out contributory sponsorship or a tie-in here and there, but I think €10K of someone else’s money comes with a lot of extra responsibilities and fundamentally changes the nature of the event. Thoughts, and offers of sponsorship, are welcome.

What’s next?

In order to try and minimise potential clashes with anyone’s sailing event, wedding anniversary (yes, that also happened), kitchen renovation or visit to the vet I’m now giving notice that it is my intention to run the next Round Rockall Race in June 2015.

Yes, that’s quite a long way off. I don’t think I have the time to give this in order to make it happen next year. That could change, but I’m doubtful. And people in blazers will probably doze a little better in their armchairs if we don’t run in the same years as the Round Ireland Race. Or maybe we could go in 2014, but at a different time? There are also potential clashes with the Round Britain and Ireland and the Azores and Back races to be considered. If you have any suggestions or input on this, please get in touch with me, the sooner the better.


I think that’s it, apart from the thanks that are due to a lot of people for their help in running the 2012 race. My thanks go firstly to our competitors. They took a punt on a new event and they stuck with us through the adventure. That is very gratifying.

Aodhán and I have come a long way since our first Round Ireland together, and I salute him. I’m grateful to him for his support and his knowledge and I value his friendship. Colm Moriarty is one of the unsung heroes of Galway sailing, a friend for many years, and a rock in a clinch – thank you Sir. I think Dave Vinnell spent more time out of his comfort zone on this gig than he might have liked, but he never showed it. He backed us when it mattered, did his usual excellent job of Race Officer, and my hat is off to him. John Killeen answered my calls with cheerfulness, efficiency and a can-do attitude that rocked. I’m grateful to himself and Enda Ó Coineen for their support. John Coyle and John Leech gave of their time and resources with the sort of quiet reliability that soothes jagged nerves and both were essential to the success of this venture.

Martin Breen performed an act of kindness for a fellow sailor that was as discreet as it was superbly effective. Well played Sir, see you in the mountains. Finbar O’Regan in Bow Waves was a supporter from the start and gave us a number of vital dig-outs without a frown: I honour him for it. Capt. Brian Sheridan orchestrated things in the background to remove obstacles before we even knew they were there, a shrewd gift. Mike Swan, an old school-friend, also helped us out when we needed it. GBSC treasurer Caroline O’Reilly embraced online payments like a pro and has always been courteous, efficient and a pleasure to work with.

Pierce and Mark Purcell did what the Purcells always do, they togged-out and got stuck in – thank you both. Cepta Ryan took some great pics and shared them with us on Facebook, Joe Shaughs also did his thing and Jim Fahy got us some brilliant press. Jenny Howells in the RORC Ratings Office helped spread the word in no small way, Conor Baynes counselled Aodhán when I was chasing him for information and Zoe Coyle Fitzgerald did without a husband for a few weeks. A lot of people helped out. If you have not been named here, it isn’t because I have forgotten your kindness, it’s because there were too many favours to mention them all. But thank you.

We had a great fleet out on Galway Bay to see our competitors off on a grand Summer’s evening with a fresh breeze and the sun lowering in the sky. That’s what this is all about. Galway—Rockall—Galway is an amazing race course on our doorstep and, with proper preparations, is within the reach of any well-found boat.

Thanks to all who made it happen. Let’s hope we can do it again.

Larry Hynes, Race Organiser