A Kerry sailor has begun his quest to become the first Irish person to complete the legendary Golden Globe Race.
Pat Lawless is among a field of 16 international competitors attempting to sail solo around the world non-stop.
Known by many as the 'Voyage for Madmen', the race got under way in the French port of Les Sables d’Olonne this afternoon.
The 30,000 nautical mile voyage is regarded the longest and loneliest event in world sport. Competitors are not permitted to land during the race and they are not allowed to have contact with friends or family for the duration of the nine-month voyage.
In keeping with the spirit of the very first Golden Globe Yacht Race, competitors are restricted to using 1968 technology.
Mr Lawless, sailing in his 36-foot racing yacht Green Rebel, is hoping to become the first Irish person to complete the epic voyage.
Speaking to RTÉ News before he departed this evening, Mr Lawless said he was fulfilling the dream of a lifetime.
"It’s been a dream to compete in this race for a very long time, since I was a young fella. It’s sailing in its purest form. It’s the toughest test of any sailor - complete isolation for nine months and you are at the complete mercy of the ocean."
Mr Lawless is carrying enough provisions to sustain him for nine months. He packed sufficient drinking water to last for six months but will continue to harvest rainwater as he sails.
This is just the third Golden Globe Race in the history of the event, with the most recent taking place in 2018.
In 1968, Sir Robin Knox Johnston became the first man to sail solo non-stop unassisted around the world. He was the only one of nine competitors to finish in that inaugural race. The rest either sank, retired or died by suicide.
Mr Lawless believes the mental strain of spending nine months alone at sea will be his greatest challenge.
"The doldrums will be tough. I’m anxious about that, to get through the heat and humidity. I have read about them and they are the hardest I think mentally. When you’re stopped you think the other boats have wind. Now you might be lucky and get through quick."
"It will be lonely and it will be challenging mentally. It is the unknown, spending that much time on your own living in a room smaller than your bathroom at home. But you don’t feel confined. The ocean is huge around you but the fear is of the unknown."
There were emotional scenes in Les Sables d’Olonne this afternoon where up to 60 friends and family members had travelled from west Kerry and Limerick to wish the 66-year-old carpenter farewell.
The poignant lament of The Lonesome Boatman on the tin whistle was followed by a rousing rendition of Óró Sé do Bheatha Abhaile.
The start of the epic 30,000 voyage was signalled by a traditional 21-cannon salute at the mouth of the harbour.
During the race, Pat will tackle some of the world’s most dangerous seas, including the treacherous Southern Ocean. In the last Golden Globe Race held in 2018, only five of the 18 competitors managed to finish the race. Five of the 13 boats that failed sank.
Mr Lawless has made considerable modifications to his boat to bolster his chances of making it through the notorious Southern Ocean.
"I’m well used to sailing in storms but a rogue wave from behind could catch you. It could lift you up and decide to fire and flip you. Now the boat is well able for it, there’s six tonnes of ballast in her so she should right herself quickly if she overturns. The key is to come up with your mast still on. The last race five boats lost their masts. Keep your mast and you’re fine."
A solo race over such a prolonged period brings physical challenges which require endurance and clear decision-making. The competitive nature of the race requires the boats to continue sailing through night and day. Sleep will be carefully managed.
"I’ll sleep for 20 minutes then I’ll get up for a while to make sure everything is okay and then I’ll sleep for another 20 minutes. You have to stay alert for fear of ships in your path or sudden changes in the wind. You don’t really sleep, you rest. You’re half awake. If there’s a change in the wind the noises in the sails and the boat will tell you."
Sailing is very much in Mr Lawless' blood. His father Pat sailed around the world (with stops) over a period of three years and his brothers are also avid sailors.
Sponsored by an Irish wind energy company, Mr Lawless has spent the last four years preparing and planning for the race, modifying and re-enforcing his 36-foot saltram saga.
"I thought I’d have to remortgage the house. The whole thing is costing over €200,000, half of which is out of my own pocket and through fundraising. The rest is being provided by various sponsors and it was a huge boost when Green Rebel came on board last year."
If Mr Lawless succeeds in finishing, he will become the first Irish sailor to complete the legendary race.
"My strategy is to push the boat as hard as I can when it is safe to do so. If it’s not safe, I’ll respect the ocean. The last thing you want to do is cause damage to the boat. This is a long race. You have to be patient. I entered to compete and I think I have a great chance of winning, and by Christ I’m going to have a good crack off it."