Perfect conditions for start of Ireland Challenge 2006 which started earlier today from Dublin 22/4/06

The highly anticipated Ireland Challenge 2006 did not disappoint the large flotilla of spectator yachts this afternoon when it set off in spectacular style with Spencer Dock leading the fleet on its dash from Dublin to Dublin.

At 1400 GMT the starting canon was fired by David Lovegrove, the Principal Race Officer for the start, from Howth Yacht Club. Dublin’s own Spencer Dock, skippered by Marcus Cholerton, crossed the line first, followed by Spirit of Sark, Samsung, Pindar and Me to You.

They had an upwind start – a line from Ireland’s Eye, north of Dublin Bay – in 18knots of south-westerly breezes which helped to calm the skippers desperate to take the psychological advantage of leading the fleet from the start.

Competition was rife amongst the crews, right from the outset with Pindar tacking to port to make the start which led to an immediate port/ starboard issue as they no longer had right of way on Me to You, but who then also had to tack. Pindar tacked back onto starboard and called right of way on Me to You. There was excitement on the Committee Yacht as Pindar forced Me to You to tack and a series of fast manoeuvres ensued making for thrilling racing and fascinating spectating.

As they made their way further offshore and away from the flotilla of chasing boats, Spencer Dock and Spirit of Sark were commanding a quarter mile lead on the other three yachts.

The race course is short – only 800-850 miles – but they have only just started and, as seen with Challenge Business’ other races, anything can happen. Just minutes and seconds separated the same yachts after 6,000 miles of racing in the Southern Ocean during last year’s Global Challenge. This intense racing looks set to continue in the Ireland Challenge 2006.

Speaking at the start, on what is a historic day for this inaugural race, Challenge Business’ Sir Chay Blyth commented: “The support we’ve received from companies in Dublin and across Ireland has been outstanding and this will be a spectacular ‘first’ event. I wish the best of luck to all the yachts in the fleet.”

Race Commentator, Matt Riddell started proceedings this morning by introducing the event to the spectators and interviewing VIPs including Sir Chay Blyth, at Dublin City Moorings.

The crews were then given an official Blessing of the Fleet, which was conducted by Ivan Tonge, Parish Priest of St Laurence O’Toole’s Parish, North Wall and The Revd Mark Gardner, Dean’s Vicar of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Whilst the team songs played out on the PA system, each be-flagged yacht cast off from their pontoon, raised their mainsail and moved in procession down the River Liffey, through the specially raised swing bridge and out towards the start.