It’s indicative of the pace of Irish sailing in 2016 that for anyone taking an overview, it takes a bit of an effort to remember what the weather was like for much of our spring, summer and autumn. Admittedly, here in Afloat.ie we may skew recollections, as we’ll always go for a sunny photo or video if at all possible. Yet the cascade of memories of success and memorable events at home and abroad has been at such a pace that even if the sun wasn’t shining or the wind wasn’t obliging, the recollections are good. W M Nixon tries to make sense of the highlights.
If 2016 wasn’t the greatest Irish sailing season ever, then we’ll be happy to take on board proposals arguing the case for other years. And in the fantastic golden year of 2016, the supreme moment was on the evening of Tuesday August 16th, when the entire nation at home – or at least the entire sailing nation – was glued to a television screen of one sort or another, following every twist and turn for Annalise Murphy in the brief but intense drama of the final Olympic Medal Race for the Women’s Laser Radials on the flukey yet undeniably glamorous waters off Rio de Janeiro.
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As the weeks and months have passed since, we’ve forgotten that for Annalise to win the Silver Medal, it was a pilgrimage of sorts to put right the pain of missing out so closely on a medal at the 2012 Olympics. We’ve also forgotten that the tension was exacerbated by the fact that the Medals Race should have been held on Monday August 15th, but was blown out to cause an agonizing 24-hour postponement. And we’ve largely forgotten that only three months earlier, the prospects hadn’t seemed at all good for Ireland’s best hope, with a poor performance at the Worlds in Mexico.
Yet we remember just enough of that situation to put into perspective the ten weeks transformation that Annalise wrought within herself. With her dedicated support team, she ensured that she’d become a hugely improved sailor, a fitter athlete and psychologically in a very good place, as she took on the Olympic challenge on August 8th with a cool confidence which in due course received its proper reward.
Thanks to the close focus which was put on the outstanding Murphy medal, we are well aware of the breadth and depth of the backup team which helped to make it all possible. But in the end it was just one lone sailor entirely on her own who was trying to carve out the right route through extraordinarily difficult sailing conditions, racing against the very best in the world. So it is entirely right and proper that Irish sailing will remember 2016 primarily as the year of Annalise’s Silver Medal.
With a peak like this, a manageable review of the season can only re-visit the highlights, so if your favourite event doesn’t come up in the next thousand or so words, that’s the way it when the Olympics come up, which mercifully is only once every four years.
A year hence, we’ll be looking back at a more normal season in all its variety, but for now some further thoughts on the Rio experience fit the bill. For the fact is, the entire Irish sailing team put in a decent showing. Best of the rest of them were Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern in the 49er. Had the chips fallen slightly differently, they might have come home with a medal themselves. But as it is, the fact that they had two race wins would have been a matter of added excitement in any previous year.
As for Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey in the 49er FX, they had one of their best regattas, very much at the races for most of the time, while the very young Finn Lynch – youngest sailor racing the Olympics – may not have been on his best form in the Laser Men’s, but his snatching of the Irish place in this class as late as May 18th in Mexico was testament to his grit, as he still hadn’t fully recovered from an injury sustained in an accident while out on some training cycling.
In fact, if there’s one little lesson which really came home from Rio, it’s the need to keep your athletes in one piece all year round. Our young international-level sailors can be an exuberant bunch, sometimes training and post-event relaxation becomes horseplay, and it was notable that some significant longterm campaigns were knocked off course by silly injuries.
Thus in looking back at the way Annalise’s success was celebrated in the heart-warming welcome home party at the national Yacht Club on Thursday August 26th, a notable recollection is that in thanking all those who had helped her to the Medal, Annalise particularly mentioned the physiotherapist Mark McCabe. For it seems that whatever training and guidance Mark McCabe has been giving her over the years, she has never been hampered by any serious injury or temporary disability.
This may seem a slightly odd point to be making in an annual sailing review, but there’s a lesson for sailors at every level in this. So if 2016 also emerges as the year in which we all learned the benefits of keeping ourselves in good shape and following best practice in sailing fitness, then it will have been be a very good year indeed.
But as the Olympics didn’t take over the stage until the second week in August, an impressive amount of sailing had already been registered. Indeed, it went right back to January when Doug Elmes and Colin O’Sullivan – who sail from Howth but Doug’s from Kilkenny and Colin is from Malahide – returned from Malaysia with the Bronze Medal from the 420 Worlds.
Then in February offshore racing came centre stage with the RORC Caribbean 600 seeing Conor Fogerty of Howth with his Sunfast 3600 Bam! continuing a remarkable programme of Transoceanic criss-crossing (some of it single-handed), the Caribbean 600 “diversion” producing a win in Class 3.
Into April, and attention focused on the Irish GP 14 Association’s superb group effort in getting 22 boats to Barbados for the GP14 Worlds 2016. Merely to achieve that was quite something in itself, but then Shane McCarthy of Greystones, crewed by Andy Davis, emerged as the new World Champion. That provided extra impetus back home as the rapidly developing Greystones Sailing Club worked towards its new clubhouse, which came on stream in May with the hosting of the Cruising Association of Ireland’s Start-of-Season rally.
With the proper season in Ireland under way, June’s highlight was clearly the Volvo Round Ireland race from Wicklow, but before that ICRA had to get in their three-day Nationals at Howth, and despite light winds the programme was completed, winners including John Maybury’s J/109 Joker II in Division 1, Dave Cullen’s Half Tonner Checkmate XV in Div. 2, Ken Lawless and Siobhan McCormack’s Quarter Tonner Cartoon in Division 3, and Colm Bermingham’s Elan 333 Bite the Bullet in Division 4.
In the Volvo Round Ireland Race starting June 18th, for the leaders at any rate lack of wind was definitely not a problem. For those biggies, it was a cracker. And as an event, the Round Ireland is back and then some, with 63 entries including George David’s wonderful Rambler 88 and three MODs which sailed the entire course within close sight of each other, and records tumbling at every turn.
Rambler had a brilliant a crew of international talents, and they were able to take every last advantage of the fact that the weather Gods – or more properly the wind Gods – smiled on them. They took monohull line honours in a runaway record time, and then achieved what many would have thought almost impossible for a boat with a stratospheric rating - they won overall on IRC as well.
As for the MOD 70s, with Damian Foxall with Sidney Gavignet on record holder Oman Sailing, and Justin Slattery with Lloyd Thornburg on Phaedo III, there was added home interest, particularly as both Irish stars admitted they’d been so busy all over the world building their sailing careers that they were Round Ireland virgins……
And what a race the trio of trimarans served up for those virgins…... Within reach of the finish in the dark, Team Concise was in the lead in a fading breeze, but Oman Sailing went a little bit offshore and found a fresher air to come in on port tack at first light and nip into the win.
As for any all-Irish contenders, the best performance was put in by the J/109 Euro Car Parks (Dave Cullen), the only Irish class winner, a good marker early in the season, for at the beginning of October the temporary Euro Car parks, long since reverted to her proper name of Storm, won the Irish J/109 Nationals for Pat Kelly and his keen crew from Rush Sailing Club.
July had three major highlights – Volvo Cork Week at Crosshaven, the Topper Worlds at Ballyholme, and the KBC Laser Radial Worlds at Dun Laoghaire. While the numbers involved in the two dinghy events were stupendous, it was Volvo Cork Week which captured public imagination in an unexpected way with the inaugural Beaufort Cup series.
Racing for the trophy named after the famous Irish admiral and maritime researcher, the Beaufort Cup started out to be an event with an international flavour between crews from national defence forces. But then its remit was broadened to include personnel from emergency and security services with maritime links, and in the end 32 owners generously made their boat available for something which perfectly captured the mood of the moment. The amount of goodwill generated was beyond measure, and the win by an Irish Defence Forces crew skippered by Commandant Barry Byrne sailing John Maybury’s J/109 Joker II has given a visionary event an excellent inauguration.
The Topper Worlds at Ballyholme looked like providing an Irish win until the last day, when a fresh northerly swept in with real Belfast Lough vigour to make it a big boys’ game, but young Michael Carroll from Cork hung in gamely and finished fourth overall, while Sophie Crosbie from Crosshaven was first girl and 7th overall.
With a total fleet pushing towards the 350 mark, the KBC Laser Radial Worlds in Dun Laoghaire were almost beyond comprehension, but a pattern was discernible, and what was most encouraging was that at least five young Irish sailors were serious contenders at the very top level.
However, one was head and shoulders above the rest in every way, and this was Ewan MacMahon of Howth. He was right in there pitching for the Gold in some ferocious racing, and though he concluded the series with the Silver Medal, this was serious stuff and the world quite rightly sat up and took notice of a remarkable and developing talent.
Came August, and just two days before the Olympics took all attention, 29ers took to the seas off Torbay in Devon for the annual British Championship, 76 boats in all and just one of them Irish – Harry Durcan and Harry Whittaker of Royal Cork. They won overall by two good clear points, an achievement so brilliant that further comment is superfluous.
Then in August we had of course all sorts of local festivals such as Calves Week out of Schull, but everyone’s thoughts were on the Olympics, with normality only returning after an afternoon and night of celebration seemed to have just about the entire Irish sailing community – and many non-sailors too - gathered in Dun Laoghaire and around the National Yacht Club to welcome home Annalise and her medal.
Cruising being something undertaken at its own pace, reviews of what has been achieved are a matter for more leisurely contemplation in the depths of winter. But in late August a real text-book cruise drew to its close when Neil Hegarty of Cork sailed his Dufour 34 Shelduck into Baltimore after an efficient Atlantic crossing from Newfoundland, with Shelduck blithely coping with two mid-Atlantic gales, one of Force 8 and the other hitting Force 9. There have of course been many other Atlantic crossings during 2016 involving Irish boats, but this successful conclusion of a detailed Atlantic circuit cruise of several years duration really was a model of its kind, a cruise to be savoured.
Other cruises and new additions to the fleet were to be savoured as the Cruising Association of Ireland held its end-of-season rally in Dublin’s River Liffey in mid-September, with a goodly fleet providing the annual entertainment of all the opening bridges being opened at the same time in a neatly choreographed exercise, which succeeded brilliantly in bringing a sense of the sea into the heart of the city.
Meanwhile in nearby Clontarf the 70th Anniversary of the iconic Irish Dinghy Racing Association 14ft OD Dinghy was celebrated in style with a series of well-attended events driven on by the energy and enthusiasm of Ian Sargent, who saw his efforts well rewarded with a memorable Gala Dinner for the class in Dun Laoghaire at the Royal St George Yacht Club, where the concept of the IDRA 14 was first aired way back in 1946.
As for those who like it offshore with a bit of competition, 2016 was a year of further growth for the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association, with the season neatly rounded out by a points championship settled in the final race, the overall win going to Stephen Tudor’s J/109 Sgrech from Pwllhei.
The further we got into the Autumn, the better the weather became. So although the All-Ireland Junior Championship at Schull at the end of September raced in the Dave Harte-developed TR 3.6 dinghies was put through successfully despite some very mixed weather in the rest of the country, with Johnny Durcan of Royal Cork the new champion, a week later in the first weekend of October the All-Ireland Seniors were sailed at Crosshaven with racing in the new Phil Morrison-designed Ultra variant of the National 18, and they had weather that was almost too summery on the second day.
But a breeze filled in and it ended up as an absolute cliffhanger, with so many boats tied on points at the end that they’d to go through several permutations of countback to get a result, with RS 400 champion Alex Barry of Royal Cork and Monkstown Bay the Champion of Champions 2016.
October saw Irish interest swing towards the Mediterranean and the annual Rolex Middle Sea Race from Malta with extra Irish interest in three boats in the 107-strong fleet. Conor Fogerty’s ubiquitous Bam! appeared yet again, and though it wasn’t her most successful race, the points accumulated shunted her up to 3rd overall in the RORC Class 3 Points Championship 2016 despite doing only five RORC races, but the Caribbean 600, the Volvo Round Ireland, and the Rolex Middle Sea race all carry extra points weighting.
A better Middle Sea result was obtained by the XP 44 Xp-Act, which came second in Class 4 with her crew including the RIYC’s Barry Hurley and the Irish National Sailing School’s Kenneth Rumball. But our outstanding result was the clear overall win taken by Vincenzo Onorato’s Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino, navigated with pure genius by international star Ian Moore, who hails from Carrickfergus.
This rounded out a remarkable year for the Moore family, as his mother Wendy was Commodore 2016 in Carrickfergus Sailing Clyb, where they were celebrating their 150th Anniversary (as was the Royal Ulster YC across Belfast Lough in Bangor) with events at Carrickfergus including a Hilditch Regatta for boats constructed by the legendary Carrickfergus boatbuilder. He created many vessels of distinction including the 1898 Howth 17s, who in turn arrived in Carrick to help celebrate a year which was to finish in such style in Malta.
Except it hasn’t quite finished yet. Even as we write this. Cork Institute of Technology are in the top three in the 36th Student Yachting World Cup which concludes today in Las Rochelle. And then tomorrow the irrepressible Enda O’Coineen with Kilcullen Voyager will be one of 29 starters along the French Biscay coast off Les Sables d’Olonne, where the Vendee Globe gets under way before a crowd of tens of thousands. Irish sailing in 2016 is truly a complex and endless tapestry………