Irish solo sailor Pat Lawless, has been forced to retire from the round-the-world Golden Globe Yacht Race.

The 66-year-old carpenter from Kerry was hoping to become the first Irish person to complete the legendary non-stop 33,000 nautical miles voyage.

Mr Lawless had been amongst the leading group of sailors approaching Capetown but a malfunction on Green Rebel's steering equipment has resulted in his withdrawal from the race.

He was one of 17 competitors who set sail from France over two months ago.

Known by many as the voyage for Madmen, the Golden Globe is widely regarded as the toughest and loneliest race in sailing.

Competitors are not permitted to set foot on land or receive assistance for the duration of the race.

Communication with family and friends is also prohibited. In keeping with the spirit of the first Golden Globe Race competitors can only use 1968 technology when navigating.

Mr Lawless was amongst the leaders, sailing in fourth place in the south Atlantic, when a part on his self-steering equipment broke.

The self-steering system, which is regulated by a wind vane, is a crucial part of the boat’s operation, allowing the sailor to leave the tiller to tend to other duties and to take much-needed rest.

To continue on such a prolonged voyage without a functioning steering system would be extremely difficult and dangerous.

Competitors are not permitted to avail of outside assistance during the race.

Pat Lawless, seen here at Dingle Bay, was one of 17 competitors
who set sail from France over two months ago

Mr Lawless spent two days trying to fix the damaged equipment before notifying race directors of his difficulties in a message three days ago, stating: "My Aries Self Steering is broken. I am on sheet to tiller since last night."

A visibly disappointed Mr Lawless sailed in to Capetown late last night where he confirmed his decision to withdraw from the race.

"Five days ago, my Aries self-steering packed up," he said.

"A bearing or a bushing went on it. I couldn't go on. I tried all different ways of fixing it but I couldn’t.

"I actually got the boat sailing quite well without it but in a storm you’d broach. You’d go broadside. You just couldn’t cope ... I thought I’d be able to fix it. I was living in cloud cuckoo land."

Having spent three years preparing for the race, Mr Lawless described the malfunction as "a disaster" and said he cried for a few days. However, reflecting on the almost 8,000 nautical miles which he managed to sail in the race, he said he was grateful for the adventure.

"The journey itself, it was a sail of a lifetime. I did enjoy it. The only time was during the thunder and lightning in the doldrums. It was a serious storm, right on top of me.

"One of the worst things of not finishing is I feel bad for all my sponsors and supporters.

"But I enjoyed it. It was a fantastic journey. I can go home and regroup. I’ll enjoy my sail home.

"I might stop in Cape Verde or the Canaries. My wife is coming down to meet me here [Capetown], so that will be nice."

British sailor Simon Curwen is currently leading the race, followed by Finnish man Tapio Lehtinen, with South African Kirsten Neuschafer in third.

Four boats have been forced to retire from the race so far, including one which was driven on to rocks during high winds in the Canaries.

The 30,000 nautical mile race around the world is expected to take seven to nine months to complete.