Crosshaven's Nin O'Leary preparing for the world's toughest sailing race

Cork sailor Nin O'Leary wants to bring to the top of international sailing while also preparing for the world's toughest sailing competition. He speaks to Roisin Burke about the tasks ahead.
Crosshaven's Nin O'Leary preparing for the world's toughest sailing race
Nin O'Leary is preparing for the The Vendée Globe 2020 non-stop, around-the-world solo yacht race.

Sailing around the world in less than 80 days is a tough task, but Corkman Nicholas O’Leary thinks he is up to the challenge.

Nicholas, known as Nin, is participating in a solo, non-stop, unassisted race around-the-world as a competitor in one of the globe’s most arduous sailing races.

The Vendée Globe 2020 race is four years away, but preparations have already begun as the Crosshaven man hopes to be the first Irishman to complete the laborious journey.

The race will be the first project of the newly launched national sailing team; ‘Ireland Ocean Racing,’ set up by two Corkmen, O’Leary and his corporate counterpart, and CEO of the organisation, Stewart Hosford from Blackrock.

Stewart has a wealth of experience in the management of a sailing race team, after being at the helm of the Alex Thompson ocean sailing success story in the UK, sponsored by Hugo Boss, for the past 15 years.

Ireland Ocean Racing hopes to gather the vast talent pool Ireland has to offer in the sailing world and bring it together in order to share resources, knowledge and ability.

Nin, whose brother Peter, competed twice in sailing at the Olympics, said: “There is a huge talent pool in Ireland but there has never been a framework or pathway for sailors going offshore.

“It is time to come together as a nation of sailors to learn from each other. It is exciting times, there is strength in numbers.” With regard to his trip around the world in 2020, Nin said it was something he had always wanted to do.

From Crosshaven, which is home to the Royal Cork Yacht Club, the oldest yacht club in the world, Nin said he always loved sailing.

“I have sailed all my life and the task of taking on Mother Nature is exciting to me.” The race, which has been completed by sailors between 74 to 120 days, consists of non-stop racing.

“There are no port stops, no pulling in and taking a nap, racing non-stop and the challenge of that attracts me. It is an achievement.” 

Discussing the logistics of how the challenge is actually achieved, Nin said it takes a lot of work.

“I will have Autohelm, which is a computer that steers to a compass heading, but you have to do a lot of other things, you have to feed yourself, trim the sails and manage the beast that is a 60-ft ocean racing animal all by your own.

“You are computing the weather, eight times a day, you are doing meteorology, you have to be able to fix yourself medically; self-administer morphine if you get a cut or a laceration.

“You can imagine what goes on on a boat on a rainy day when the ropes are tight and under pressure and if things go wrong.

“You are making tactical decisions such as do I go 100 miles east or west of the competitors to get better wind?

“It then comes down to the mechanics of the boat, you have to fix sails if things break, fix carbon fiber, the engine, the hydraulic systems, there are about five occupations thrown into the mix.

“Medical, technical, meteorology, boat building, sail repair, there is a lot there to manage. A whole lot.” 

Nin also said the sleep patterns are difficult to adjust to as sleeping seven hours a night is simply not an option.

“As the sea state changes from flat to choppy, speed must be adjusted in order to make the best time in the safest manner.

“So if you are asleep for five hours and the sea state starts getting worse, you have to be aware of your environment and reduce the amount of sail that is in the air and adjust the sail accordingly.

“You train yourself to have cat naps, you get into a rhythm of 20 minutes of sleep every two to three hours throughout.

“If you fall asleep and you miss that the wind has doubled in speed from 15 knots to 30 knots and you haven't reduced your sail area you are going to drop the mast and that is your race over. 

Being constantly alert is so important Nin has a wristwatch that will electrocute him if he doesn’t wake up on time. “That is how important it is to wake up after 20 minutes.” 

Mentioning the support he has from his family, Nin said his mom is understandably nervous.

“Nowadays the technology on boats means you can speak to home, on a satellite phone. So our team calls the boat at 12 GMT every day and if you don’t answer the phone, they wait five minutes and they try again.

“If you still don’t answer they set an alarm off on the boat, which would wake you up and if you still don’t answer they notify the nearest ship and say we haven’t heard from this person in four or five hours, can you take a look and see if they are still onboard.

You are vulnerable and you have to prepare your boat for months, mentally, physically, on your own.

The family has grown up sailing but they haven't had any family member take off on their own.

According to Nin, his Olympian brother is very excited for him to sail around the world.

“He is very excited for me, he has followed his dream and he is happy to support me following mine.

“He went and did two full games and I have grown up my whole life sailing and this has been my dream and he said go for it, go follow your dream.

“I sailed with him and I was his sailing partner for the London games, so he knows my ability and he is fully supportive.” In preparation for his big trip in 2020, Nin is already training steadily towards his goal.

In October he will be sailing 600 miles around the Mediterranean, leaving and returning Malta.

Next year, Nin will take part in three transatlantic races including a ‘doublehanded’ round the world trip, which means he will be completing a round the world trip along with another individual.

In 2019, Nin will be doing three more transatlantic races including a trip from New York to France.

Although Nin is making his way to beautiful and interesting locations all over the world, he said he doesn’t have the time to enjoy all these places have to offer.

“I am there to compete and to do a job, I have to be concentrating. Sometimes I wish I had more time to take in the culture, but I love what I do and I want to do it to the best of my ability.” 

For more information about Ireland Ocean Racing, go to www.irelandoceanracing.

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