The Voyage to Madeira
An international Irish sailing event called the “Saoirse Rally” organised by the Irish Cruising Club was launched from Dun Laoghaire harbour, Co. Dublin, Ireland last Saturday 17th June 2023 to commemorate the heroic achievements one hundred years ago of legendary Irish sailor Conor O Brien from Foynes, Co. Limerick.
Conor O Brien was the first sailor to circumnavigate the world in a small yacht via the 3 Great Capes, a remarkable achievement and one that many contemporary sailors aspire to follow.Conor O Brien designed and commissioned the Saoirse, a 42-foot ketch for the circumnavigation, which was built in Baltimore in West Cork in 1922. Conor O Brien’s circumnavigation commenced from Dun Laoghaire on 20th June 1923. The Port of Funchal in Madeira, Portugal was his first port of call, where he arrived on 3rd July, 1923.
An international gathering of yachts voyaging from multiple locations were launched from Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, Ireland on Saturday 17th June 2023 and are now sailing to the Madeira Islands, Portugal arriving on the 3rd July 2023 at the capital city’s Port of Funchal to mark the centenary of Conor O Brien’s circumnavigation of the world.
Speaking during a planning meeting for the ‘Saoirse Rally’ Irish Cruising Club Commodore David Beattie remarked that:
‘This rally is a great example of modern Irish sailors being inspired by the adventures and achievements of innovators such as Conor O Brien a century ago.His inspiration and influence was such that sailors from Ireland have experience in every ocean, with club members enthusiastically cruising worldwide including both Arctic and Antarctic waters.’
O Brien’s restored Falkland Islands trading ketch boat the AK Ilen is the leading vessel for the Saoirse Rally and is skippered by Conall Morrison assisted by crews of fourteen members from the Irish Cruising Club.
The authorities in the capital city of Funchal, Madeira, Portugal were so captivated by the historic nature of Conor O Brien’s circumnavigation that they have committed significant resources to hosting the rally welcoming yachts from various nationalities and countries. The international “Saoirse Rally” will be hosted in a specially installed marina in the Funchal Events Basin. The “Saoirse Rally” will become a featured event in the Madeira tourist calendar.Clube Naval do Funchal (CNF) is acting as host club for the rally in Funchal supported by Madeira Ports Authority (APRAM), and the Regional Tourist Authority (DRT).Welcome events are planned including a reception at the Events Basin, a series of tourism activities for visiting Irish sailors to experience the islands, a Regatta with members of The Cruising Club of Funchal (CNF) and a closing event on 8th July 2023.
The AK Ilen is now plying her trade as a sailing charity, providing development programs to a wide range of community organisations. This community work is delivered in partnership with Sailing Into Wellness, an award-winning charity which uses the unique setting of the water to empower individuals to overcome challenges, increase coping mechanisms and build a positive sense of self and community. Sailing Into Wellness is a charity and social enterprise started over six years ago.In 2022 Sailing into Wellness operated in nine locations throughout Ireland helping 470 people to learn skills on the water that are transferable to everyday life. Working with community groups across the country they offer programmes for people with mental health and addiction challenges, intellectual and physical disabilities and those engaged with the criminal justice services.These two innovative maritime charities, the AK Ilen and Sailing Into Wellness are working closely to bring a sense of maritime adventure to communities which need it most.
Speaking about the AK Ilen’s participation in the forthcoming ‘Saoirse Rally’ James Lyons, Manager of maritime charities the AK Ilen and Sailing Into Wellness said:
“Marking the centenary of Conor O Brien’s circumnavigation is an important event, not just for the sailing community but for the entire community of Ireland. O Brien was a pioneer and an adventurer, we maintain his legacy by sharing that sense of adventure with today’s young people while connecting them with the sea”
Conor O Brien (1880-1952) was a legendary Irish sailor who made significant contributions to the world of sailing. O Brien was also an accomplished mountaineer, patriot, architect and author. O Brien began his sailing career at a young age, and his love for the sea would eventually take him on adventures around the world. One of O Brien’s most notable achievements was his circumnavigation of the world in his boat, the Saoirse. This journey, which began in 1923, took him two years to complete and covered over 40,000 miles. Saoirse was a 42-foot ketch designed by O Brien himself, and it was the first Irish-built boat to complete a circumnavigation under the new tricolour.
O Brien’s voyage was a major accomplishment, as it was the first circumnavigation south of the three Great Capes by a small yacht. His journey inspired other sailors, and he is still celebrated today as a pioneer in the world of sailing. In addition to his circumnavigation, O Brien was also an accomplished writer and wrote several books on his sailing adventures.
His books, such as “Across Three Oceans” were popular among sailors and adventure enthusiasts and provided insight into his experiences and the challenges he faced during his voyages. O Brien’s passion for sailing, his adventurous spirit, and his pioneering achievements have left a lasting impact on the world of sailing, and he will always be remembered as one of Ireland’s most accomplished sailors.