Historic Irish vessel the AK Ilen departing the Port of Funchal, Madeira as Saoirse Centenary Rally draws to a close
The centenary international Irish sailing event called the ‘Saoirse Rally’ has come to a successful end on the 8th July 2023 after a series of celebrations hosted in Funchal, Madeira by the Clube Naval de Funchal, Madeira Tourism Board and the Harbour Authority.
The international ‘Saoirse Rally’ is the first of several events commemorating one hundred years since Irish sailor Conor O Brien, from Foynes, Co. Limerick set off for a two year circumnavigation of the globe aboard the Irish vessel, a 42-foot ketch called Saoirse. The Port of Funchal, Madeira was O Brien’s first port of call after departing from Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, Ireland on 20th June 1923. This journey, which began in 1923, took him two years to complete and covered over 40,000 miles. Conor O Brien was the first sailor to circumnavigate the world via the 3 Great Capes in a small yacht, which was a remarkable achievement. His journey inspired other sailors, and he is still celebrated today as a pioneer in the world of sailing.
The international ‘Saoirse Rally’ organised by the Irish Cruising Club, gathered a large group of twenty eight boats originating from various locations including Ireland, Western Europe and the Atlantic Islands. Madeira played host to an international gathering of over one hundred crew members and friends who were warmly received in Madeira and its sister island, Porto Santo, where the boats made their landfall.
The Clube Naval de Funchal, Madeira Tourism Board and the Harbour Authority worked hard to overcome logistical challenges posed by earlier summer storms and provided a varied programme of culture and cuisine in idyllic weather conditions.
Speaking on behalf of the hosts in Funchal, local coordinator Catia Carvalho Esteves said:
“I want to thank you all for your friendship and to congratulate you all at the Irish Cruising Club for organising such a great Saoirse Rally. To be able to engage so many sailing yachts for this event is something to be proud of.”
The Irish Cruising Club was very grateful for the support, hard work and great hospitality provided by the Clube Naval de Funchal, Madeira Tourism Board and the Harbour Authority. Speaking upon departure a representative from the Irish Cruising Club said:
“We were overwhelmed by the warm welcome that greeted us in Funchal and by the generosity of our hosts. They built a tented village for us and we shared many happy moments together. Madeira itself is a revelation, a wonderland of nature, wildlife and friendly people. We would encourage everyone, and especially sailors to visit there at least once in their lifetime. The Irish Cruising Club will certainly return.”
The participation of the historic Irish sailing vessel the AK Ilen was a poignant way to commemorate the great achievements of Conor O Brien. The AK Ilen was commissioned by Conor O Brien after his return to Ireland, on behalf of the government of the Falkland Islands. The AK Ilen served as a workboat in the Falkland Islands for some 70 years, before being returned to Ireland for restoration by Hegarty’s Boatyard, Baltimore, West Cork close to where it was first built.
The AK Ilen is now plying her trade as a sailing charity, providing development programmes to a wide range of community organisations. This community work is delivered in partnership with ‘Sailing Into Wellness’, an award-winning Irish charity and social enterprise started over six years ago, which uses the unique setting of the ocean to empower individuals to overcome challenges, increase coping mechanisms and build a positive sense of self and community.
In 2022 Sailing into Wellness operated in nine locations throughout Ireland helping four hundred and seventy 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. The two innovative maritime charities, ‘The AK Ilen’ and ‘Sailing Into Wellness’ are working closely to bring a sense of maritime adventure to communities that need it most.
Conor O Brien was also an accomplished mountaineer, patriot, architect and author.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”- which has recently been republished by the ICC – remain popular among sailors and adventure enthusiasts and still provide relevant insights 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.