Dónal Woods relives the Student Yachting World Cup, in which UCD claimed Ireland’s third victory in seven years in the tournament

On Friday November 2nd, ten Irish students from UCD won the incredibly prestigious annual Student Yachting World Cup (SYWoC), in La Rochelle, France. It was not only a victory, but a dominating performance, as the Irish Team beat the rest of the competitors by the largest margin ever recorded by an Irish team competing throughout the 32 year history of the event.

The Irish team dominated the regatta by consistently scoring podium places in almost all of their 13 races throughout the championship, to finish on a total of 25 points while their closest rivals, Team Canada, finished on 37 points.

The regatta saw the top 14 teams from around the world compete over a six day period in a wide range of sailing conditions and race course formats. The Irish team got off to a good start by getting two second place positions on the first day. The team took a little longer to find their groove on the inshore course, coming in eighth place, leaving them in third place overall on the first evening.

From there, the team’s ability and confidence improved as they learned how to sail the boat most effectively in the varying wind and wavy conditions that La Rochelle produced on a daily basis. Team Ireland’s tactician, Barry McCartin, had clearly done his homework and his research paid off as he frequently called the best lines and angles to sail the team around the course.

The team had been training hard in the build-up to the World Cup, carrying out intensive fitness and strength training in UCD’s High Performance Gym, under the tutelage of world class sailing coaches Marty O’Leary and Maurice O’Connell. This training evidently paid off as, during the second day, team skipper Aidan McLaverty was on top of his game to produce some incredible start-line manoeuvres in order to keep Team Ireland consistently at the front of the pack.

Day two of the regatta brought similar sailing conditions to the first day and so Team Ireland carded once again two second place finishes. An unfortunate “Did Not Finish” in the inshore race due to a navigational error was a difficult blow to the team that might have undermined their hard work but thankfully Team Ireland’s training shone through, as sail trimmers Simon Doran and Cathal Leigh-Doyle ensured the team maintained the best boat speed in the entire fleet.

A third place finish followed by two first place finishes in the eighth and ninth races on the third day were both welcome results to an already confident Irish side, as they found themselves in a strong position before the night race.

Ireland were credited with cleverly using their subs by brining on Ben Fusco and Ellen Cahill for the night race. The race started at 4.30pm, but didn’t finish until around six hours later, providing a unique tactical challenge to the team who had to cope with pitch black darkness as they sailed around La Rochelle bay. The team managed an impressive third-place finish after a very close final 20 meters of the race. Team Ireland’s pit crew member Alyson Rumball, played a crucially influential role in ensuring the sail changes went smoothly and quickly throughout the night.

Going into the final three days of the regatta, Team Ireland were only a whisker ahead of their closest rivals, Team Canada, but Team Ireland’s fitness allowed them to push on in spite of the increased winds. Team mast man Theo Murphy and bowman David Fitzgerald excelled in the gusty conditions which allowed Team Ireland to out manoeuvre the other teams downwind while Bella Morehead also shone as she trimmed brilliantly downwind.

It was unfortunate for the spectators that the last two days of the regatta had to be cancelled due to extreme winds gusting over 40 knots onto the race course. The cancellation ensured that Team Ireland’s lead of 12 points secured the prestigious trophy and won the regatta. As a result of their win, Ireland Sailing Team/UCD will return to defend their title next year in France.

Unfortunately, the Irish team had originally found immense difficulty getting sponsorship in order to pay for their trip to the World Cup. They applied to over 70 businesses but were only able to get sponsorship just over a week before their departure.

It appears that the recession had taken a tough toll on club sponsorship, and had a number of sailing brands not given them money, they might have not competed at all, denying these talented sailors from what will hopefully be one of their many bright achievements for Irish Sailing. Hopefully for the team this victory will increase their chances of getting financially backed earlier on instead of leaving them swinging in the wind until weeks before the competition.