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The 275-mile Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race overall win was still open to challenge until the leader on the water, Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI, had cleared the Fastnet Rock. However, with every mile sailed thereafter, it looked increasingly likely that Rockabill was on track to win every title for which she was eligible. Only a total catastrophic failure of boat or equipment was going to prevent it. But there was no failure of any kind. The JPK 10.80 comes at a significant price premium because this is a clearly defined concept which just doesn’t do boat or equipment failures. W M Nixon tries to pin down why the Dingle win seemed so special.

Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan. As Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI has increasingly found her form in Irish sailing since arriving new from the builders just over a year ago, there’s no lack of people ready to tell you how and why they counselled him to go for an expensive new JPK 10.80, rather than a reasonably-priced second-hand J/109 like so many others.

But as one of Dublin’s leading barristers, Paul O’Higgins is his own man, quiet in demeanor yet thinking on his feet at the speed of lightning, while effortlessly storing any new information in a well-furnished brain. His approach to sourcing a new boat as the 2014 season drew to a close was forensic in its analysis, and the way he picked on a JPK 10.80 before they’d hit the headlines of major success is illustrative of how he functions.

Not being a cradle sailor, he can look at boats in a coldly dispassionate way. He hadn’t sailed at all until he met his future wife Finola Flanagan at College, and as the Flanagans of Skerries were the total sailing family, he soon found himself roped into sailing with his future father-in-law Jack Flanagan on a series of boats all named Rockabill after that distinctive lighthouse-topped rocky islet that is eight miles east of Skerries out in the Irish Sea, an islet big enough to provide a home for Europe’s largest colony of the rare roseate terns.

rockabill image2The one and only original Rockabill is still a couple of hundred miles from the Fastnet Rock. Photo: W M Nixon

From being a visitor who might pull a rope when asked, the daughter’s suitor developed into a crewman, and as his taste for this weird but wonderful sport grew, he became a partner in the continuing succession of Rockabills, going into co-ownership with Jack in a souped-up First 30, Rockabill II.

By 1998, the balance was changing naturally with the passage of time, and Paul was becoming the pace-setter when they moved into a First 33.7 Rockabill III. He was competitive, yet no more naturally able at sport than most. An enthusiasm for playing rugby had been brought to an end by a knee injury, but he can still give a reasonable account of himself on a tennis court. However, it was the hugely complex wind-driven vehicle sport of campaigning a cruiser-racer under fair handicap rules which increasingly appealed to him. Having made the happy discovery that he seemed to be immune to seasickness, he stepped up his level of involvement.

His father-in-law had long since become eligible for the free travel pass, so the stage was reached where Paul bought him out while still with the First 33.7, and then with the turn of the millennium he was thinking of another boat slightly further up the Beneteau range, the highly-regarded First 36.7, and with her he achieved his first significant win in an IRC event.

Professional and family life were at their most demanding, yet somehow he found the time to campaign the First 36.7 Rockabill IV in several significant series and regattas, building up both experience and skills, while at the same time enlarging his circle of like-minded friends to create the kind of crew panel – more than twice the number of actual crew on the day - which is necessary to campaign a serious boat at this level.

With every year, however, the level became ever more demanding, and in admitting to himself that the First 36.7 was no longer cutting the mustard at the heights to which he aspired, he reckoned by 2008 that he needed to be in a Corby, and a new Corby 33 was what he could most comfortably afford.

rockabill v corby3With the Corby 33 Rockabill V, Paul O’Higgins had many successful years. She is seen here racing at the ICRA Nationals 2013 at Tralee Bay. Photo: Robert Bateman

Rockabill V, the Corby 33, became a familiar sight on the circuit, always noted for putting in an interesting and often podium-gaining position, yet almost invariably guaranteed to appear at Calves Week, that amalgam of West Cork Regattas out of Schull early in August, a fun event with an underlying level of quite serious racing which fitted well with the Higgins’ family’s regular summer holidays in West Cork in August.

For a busy man ashore, his commitment to getting afloat as much as possible was remarkable, and his willingness to take part each year in an interesting series of regattas and events saw his crew panel increasing. If you were as keen as Paul O’Higgins, then as a committed panel-member you were going to get sailing. And with first places recorded in various series which ranged from Scotland to Kerry, plus regular participation in Dublin Bay where he sails from the Royal Irish YC, Rockabill V made frequent and regular appearances in the frame.

But by 2014 he began to feel that he’d gone about as far as he could with the Corby 33. She’s a very interesting boat, unforgiving in some ways yet rewarding in others. But nobody would call her luxurious, let alone comfortable. That said, Rockabill V was still winning races. But when a new boat called the JPK 10.80 appeared from a specialist yard in France in the Spring of 2014, his interest was piqued by the fact that she had race potential, yet with her considerable beam, twin rudders, and roomy and comfortable accommodation, was about as different as possible in concept from the Corby.

If he was going to make a change, why not make a complete one? The J/109 seemed an attractive idea, but when the class finally started to take off in Dublin Bay, she was no longer being built. This “new” Dublin Bay One-Design was a class made up entirely of pre-owned boats. Yet Paul O’Higgins had become accustomed to buying from new. Second-hand just wasn’t his thing.

He looked again at the JPK 10.80, and when one of the very first turned up from France to race Cork Week 2014, he was very taken with her despite the fact that in straight sailing, the crew clearly weren’t getting the best from her, while their confusion with Cork Harbour courses compounded their problems.

Paul O’Higgins bided his time until July 2015 when, despite the pressure from the J/109 lobby, he placed an order for a JPK 10.80. It was a decision soon supported by events, with a JPK 10.80 winning the Rolex Fastnet overall in August 2015, and then in December a JPK 10.80 cruising the Pacific was briefly taken out of her cruising reverie, kitted out with racing sails by Gery Trentesaux’s Fastnet-winning crew, and promptly went out and won her class in the Sydney-Hobart Race.

Yet perhaps the best thing of all about having placed his order back in July was that it entitled him to visit the new factory near Lorient where the boat was being built. He went there a number of times, finding it an inspiring place of exceptional cleanliness and precision, while the dedication of designer Jacques Valer and company founder Jean Pierre Kelbert set the tone.courier du leon4The JPK 10.80 Courier du Leon winning the Fastnet race a month after the order had been placed for Rockabill VI

Thus although the situation is that an order placed today for a new JPK 10.80 would mean delivery no earlier than the very end of 2018, they are not enthusiastic about taking on extra staff to speed up production. They feel that not everyone would immediately share the JPK ethos, and the current workforce size and output is probably optimal.

jpk 1080 aloft5The JPK 10.80’s beamy hull shape with twin rudders was a whole world away from the narrow deep Corby concept.

jpk 1080 layout6The accommodation is surprisingly roomy and comfortable for a boat which has now added the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race win to overall victory in the Fastnet and a class win in the Sydney-Hobart.

It may be frustrating for someone who is keen but hasn’t yet made the commitment, but for those already on the ladder or with a JPK 10.80 sailing and winning, it serves to keep the boat’s value very high. You don’t buy a JPK 10.80. You invest in one.

But when Rockabill VI first arrived in Ireland early in the season of 2016, the light airs of her debut event, the ICRA Nationals at Howth, didn’t suit her initial configuration of small sails planned to fit into the preferred IRC Rating band for the best racing in Dublin Bay.

However, for the Round Ireland Race 2016 later in June, she was at her sparkling best for the fast run up the west coast, and seemed to have a class win in the bag when she hit a localised total calm at Inishtrahull. Rockabill VI and a couple of other boats nearby simply sat there for nearly four hours while the closest competition, the J/109 Euro Car Parks (Dave Cullen), came up from very many miles astern with her own breeze to knock Rockabill off the leader perch. With light airs when beating down the Irish Sea, the under-canvassed JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI failed to re-take the class lead.

So although there were many wins in 2016, particularly when there was a good breeze or lots of high-powered offwind stuff, and preferably both, Rockabill VI was on the money, but through the winter Paul O’Higgins implemented a plan to step up the sail area and take the ratings hit.

rockabill vi dublin bay7Rockabill VI in the totally familiar surroundings of Dublin Bay Photo: Afloat.ie

paul on helm8Paul O’Higgins on the tiller as Rockabill VI wins the Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire Race 2017
Most observers are confident that it will pay ultimately pay off, yet oddly enough there has only been one major race this year in which its success was clearly demonstrated. The Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire – which she won – was a freed-sheet breezy sprint, while the Dun Laoghaire-Arklow was a calm-bedevilled flukerama. So the only true test was the hybrid ISORA Howth-Lambay-Poolbeg race on June 3rd, in which the ISORA fleet sailed Howth YC’s Lambay Race in a gesture to Howth Regatta, but then continued on through the finish line to finish at the Poolbeg Y&BC line as a gesture to the Dublin Port Riverfest.

Hybrid or not, it demonstrated that Rockabill VI’s new configuration was a race winner, but after that there was little opportunity for any further testing before the National YC’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire-Dingle race got under way at 1900hrs on Wednesday June 14th.

We’ve carried at least a dozen continuing reports on Afloat.ie, so there’s no need here to tell you of the ins and outs of a classic race, but what was it like on Rockabill VI, which so convincingly won?

By this stage in a sailing career which has been going on for nearly 35 years, Paul O’Higgins has a trusted crew panel of between 15 and 20 centred on Dublin or Cork upon whom he can draw, and putting together a campaign team of eight for the Dingle Race neatly drew the balance between who was available, who was really keen, and those whose abilities would best complement the core squad which was emerging.

Topping the list was Paul himself and his son Conor, while regular helmsman Mark Pettit was also in from the start. The other main helm became Peter Wilson, whose skills on the tiller or wheel are legendary, and he also brought the kudos of having been a key member of the crew with which Richard Burrows won the very first Dingle Race in 1993 with the Sigma 36 Black Pepper.

Central to the crew was Ian O’Meara of Viking Marine in Dun Laoghaire, who in addition to knowledge of equipment and considerable sailing skills, is married to Jacquie Marsh who heads that very special catering setup, The Butler’s Pantry. Rockabill VI raced with a balanced selection of pre-prepared meals from The Butler’s Pantry, and when feeding time came around, they feasted like kings in the remarkable comfort which this very exceptional boat is able to provide.

Through his contacts on the Dun Laoghaire waterfront, Ian O’Meara had introduced a recent recruit to the crew panel, Will Byrne who was Captain of UCD Sailing in recent years when they’ve been winning every which way. He has also logged offshore racing experience with the RORC programme in the English Channel each summer, and he brought youth and extra skills to the crew for Dingle.

will byrne9Will Byrne (right) with his new shipmates at the Fastnet. He was a highly successful Captain of UCD sailing and a veteran of RORC events, but had not sailed the Dingle race before. Photo: Paul O’Higgins

Two frequent crew regulars on Rockabill – Rees Kavanagh who knows his way round many boats, and Ian Heffernan who is a professional maritime instructor, made up the total of eight. They were divided into a rolling system of pairing which means that at any one time, there’s always a minimum of four on deck, but proper off-watch spells are guaranteed, as Rockabill VI is laid out in such a way that three people can be fully off-watch and sleeping, yet they’re right up against the weather side of the boat.

This may sound self-indulgent for people who expect to spend a night on the weather rail, but it was part of the formula which contributed to Rockabill’s success. As Paul O’Higgins puts it:

“You really do get a proper little spell of sleep. To begin with, the boat is so well built there is no water finding its way below. Troublesome drips from above are unknown. You won’t find the sleeping bag is slowly dampening from some hidden little puddle. And within the limits of slugging to windward off Ireland’s south coast, she’s as sea-kindly as can be, particularly when you have helmsmen of world quality who know that a banging boat is a slow boat.

But always, there’s the reassurance of knowing how well she is built. She’s definitely not going to fall asunder under you and about you. There’s no better recipe for a refreshing sleep when it’s your turn to be off watch”.

dingle finish10Perfect end to a great race. Summer evening as seen from Rockabill VI heading into Dingle. Photo: Will Byrne

Thus Rockabill VI’s inbuilt advantage over the opposition simply increased as the race went on. Others were giving it best and retired as the going got tough and stayed tough, but on Rockabill, they were on top of it - and enjoying it too.

That said, with the increased rating, they knew that they were vulnerable to any unexpected calm and the constant challenge of the three chasing J/109s, to all of whom they gave quite a bit of time. It was an itch to be scratched .The owner-skipper at his navigation and tactics took to referring to the nearest one, Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox’s Mojito, as Mosquito.....

Yet most of the time, Rockabill was stretching her lead on Mosquito. When she got to the Fastnet towards 1000 hrs on the Friday morning, they’d lengthened it to eleven miles. A celebratory crew photo with the rock in the background was assembled by Will Byrne, but helmsman Mark Pettit, a very serious person, thought such frivolity was premature.

Evidently the Fastnet Rock agreed with him. It served up a slack patch and a very lumpy sea, and for an agonising period their speed dropped to 3.8 knots. But they got clear of its clutches, and the notorious flat at Mizen Head only slowed them back to 4.4 knots for a while.

And then they were gone, piling on the knots in a warm southwesterly which became stronger the nearer they got to the finish. They came past Skellig Michael at 8.8 knots. The last nine miles into Dingle were seen off in less than fifty minutes. They’d won everything by a country mile and then some. After the finish, they were lined up for photos. History was made. Mark Pettit smiled.

rockabill crew11History is made. Mark Pettit (right) is recorded as smiling (well, sort of) at the crew-lineup in Dingle. Others in the photo are (left to right) Peter Wilson, Paul O’Higgins, Will Byrne, Conor O’Higgins, Ian Heffernan, Rees Kavanagh and Ian O’Meara. Photo: Con Murphy
The plans for the rest of the season are very conservative, for this is first and last a Corinthian boat. As a busy lawyer, Paul O’Higgins’ free time is constrained, and he reckons something like a Fastnet campaign is simply too demanding of time, money and other resources when the energy would give a better return deployed in other ways, and his family have always had other ways of being near the Fastnet Rock during August.

So Rockabill VI will return to Dun Laoghaire for DBSC racing, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta preceded by ISORA’s Lyver trophy Race, some other ISORA events, and then full-on participation in Calves Week out of Schull as part of a family holiday in West Cork, when the boat’s excellent cruising potential will also be utilised.

It’s Irish sailing at its best. This is how it should be done. Topped off with the Dingle Race win before midsummer was even upon us, it’s a very attractive balance.

Read our 2017 Dun Laoghaire–Dingle Race Reports in one handy link here

Published in W M Nixon

#D2D - In Dingle of a warm summer Friday’s evening, the night has barely started at 9pm, writes W M Nixon. So the multi-talented crew of Paul O’Higgins’ JPK1080 Rockabill VI were in plenty of time for a leisurely winner dinner when they swept across the finish line in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2017 at 2048 hrs to stake what looks like an unassailable claim to have won just about everything in this race for which they’re eligible.

There have been Dingle Races in the past where the nearer you got to the finish, the more difficult it was to find enough breeze to close the race. But this time round, Rockabill VI has found such sparkling conditions towards the end that, with a warm yet brisk fair wind sweeping her up the majestic Dingle Bay, she covered the last nine miles in less than an hour.

Considering the miserable conditions everyone was enduring only 30 or so hours ago, it was an almost supernatural change to the weather. But with this crew and this rather special boat, Paul O’Higgins had the combination to make the best of the rough going, and yet have some real champagne sailing when the weather improved.

The crew who shared this victory with him were Conor O’Higgins, Mark Pettit, Ian O’Meara, Peter Wilson, William Byrne, Rees Kavanagh, and Ian Heffernan. Many have done the Dingle race before, with some of them winning in times past. Many will do it again. But the totality of Rockabill VI’s win — with line honours thrown in despite the fleet having started with many larger boats — is more than enough to be going along with for now.

Rockabill VI by Rebecca HayterRockabill VI coming into dock earlier this evening | Photo: Rebecca Hayter

The mainly southwest breeze is distinctly firmer the further north you go, and back at Mizen Head a surprisingly persistent flat patch has provided an obstacle at which nearly everyone has stumbled. Thus as Rockabill came careening into the finish, back at the Mizen, Rónán Ó Siochrú of Irish Offshore Sailing, with his school yacht the Jennneau 37 Desert Star, was finding the going very sticky at just 3.4 knots. It was very frustrating after the very businesslike way he came past the Fastnet to take the Racing 2 lead from Ian Hickey’s Granada 38 Cavatina, which is herself now (at 2100 hrs) at the Fastnet Rock, and back in the Racing 2 lead.

In the cruising division, the Tyrrell family’s J/112E Aquelina lost the lead to the Dufour 40 Pipedreamer (Paul Sutton) thanks to an unscheduled slowdown at Mizen Head. But there’s a long way to go yet for these mid-fleet boats.

Up in front, the Two-Handed Division leader Soufriere (Stephen O’Flaherty & David Cagney) is sailing in a style which befits a stately Spirit 54, and she’s there in a bunch with various J/109s of which the leader is Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox), which now seems firmly placed to take second overall, but by this time quite a distance astern of Rockabill VI.

It has been, and continues to be, an intriguing edition of the Dingle race which will be worthy of further analysis. But for now, the night is Rockabill VI’s, and she won it well.

Read all Afloat.ie's 2017 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race coverage in one handy link here

Published in Dun Laoghaire Dingle

Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.50 Rockabill VI has opened out a ten mile lead on the first of the chasing J/109s Mojito (Peter Dunlop and Vicky Cox) in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2017 writes W M Nixon. In approaching Dursey Head, the Rockabill crew are sensibly taking the option of giving the headland a wide berth, as going too close to such a steep coastline can result in both wind shadow, and an even more confused sea state at the point itself.

Ten miles astern at Mizen head, Mojito is nearer to the land and her speed has fallen to 5.1 knots while Rockabill continues reaching at a brisk 7 knots in an easing southwesterly breeze which may see her speed reduced shortly, as Valentia is reporting a 9 mph southerly.

Lulabelle Liam CoyneLiam Coyne's Lulabelle sailed into Kinsale to make repairs and is continuing in the race. The former RORC Round Britain and Ireland race winner brought his 13–year–old son along for his first offshore experience – what a debut!

However, Valentia wind reports have to be taken with a dose of salt, as the actual met station is not on Valentia Island, but in the western suburbs of Cahirsiveen. It’s an impressive looking setup, but there’s no way it is recording the actual wind conditions on Valentia Island’s Atlantic coasts.

As for the rest of the fleet still in this demanding race, Stephen O’Flaherty and David Cagney in the Spirit 54 Soufriere pulled off a good move in laying out to sea last night, as they found the new sou’wester which has brought them in as neat as you please past the Fastnet in company with the other J/109s Juggerknot (Andrew Algeo) and Ruth (Ben Shanahan), which had struggled a bit to find their way out from hugging the coast.

Thus Soufriere now leads the Two-Handed Division from Derek and Conor Dillon with the Dehler 34 Big Deal, but with the wind continuing to ease it’s going to be quite a challenge keeping the big long Soufriere travelling well in the confused leftover sea. And even while we’ve been writing this at 1515 hrs, the challenges being faced are very evident with Mojito briefly in a flat spot at the Mizen with her speed down to a knot, but Soufriere and Rockabill continue at 6.5 knots.

Published in Dun Laoghaire Dingle

The Annual Conference of the Irish Cruiser Racer Association (ICRA), an absorbing all-day affair in Limerick this Saturday (March 4th), has an intriguing agenda writes W M Nixon. But for many sailors from all over Ireland and the other side of the Irish Sea, the high point of it all will be the announcement of the ICRA “Boat of the Year” selected by the ICRA judges.

We revive memories of the great year of 2016 by running our own informal poll - just click as you wish on this alphabetic list at the bottom of this story to see whose achievements rise up the ranking. We can only say that that the wealth of choice speaks highly of the great good health and re-growing popularity of “waterborne truck racing”

anchor challenge1QUARTER TONNER Anchor Challenge – Paul Gibbons from Royal Cork Yacht Club. Photo: Bob Bateman

Anchor Challenge: Paul Gibbon’s classic Quarter Tonner from Crosshaven was good on enthusiasm, and good on performance, her top line being the overall win in the IRC Europeans at Crosshaven in July, which he plans to defend at Marseilles this summer.

antixKER39 Antix – Anthony O'Leary from Royal Cork Yacht Club. Photo: Paul Wyeth

Antix: Anthony O’Leary’s Fast Forty+ may not have had her most successful season ever in 2016, but many crews would give their eye teeth to have a record as good, topped with the Class O win in the IRC Europeans in Cork Harbour in July.

BAM Sunfast 3600SUNFAST 3600 BAM! - Conor Fogerty from Howth Yacht Club. Photo: Afloat.ie

Bam!: With the complexities of the RORC Caribbean 2017 still fresh upon us, we realize just how good was Conor Fogerty’s Class win in 2016 in this demanding maze of a race around the islands with his Sunfast 3600 Bam!. And on top of that, it was all just part of an extraordinary season with thousands and thousands of miles of sailing and racing

Checkmate Davd CullenHALF TONNER Checkmate XV – David Cullen from Howth Yacht Club. Photo: Afloat.ie

Checkmate XV: David Cullen’s beautifully-presented classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV found form to rocket to the top in the ICRA Nats at his home port of Howth in June in a very convincing style. Dave also skippered the J/109 Storm to a class win in the Volvo Round Ireland as Euro Carparks, but maybe that should count as a success for the Kelly family’s Storm, which also won the J/109 Nationals

Cartoon Quarter tonnerQUARTER TONNER Cartoon – Ken Lawless & Sybil McCormack  from the Royal Irish Yacht Club. Photo: Afloat.ie

Cartoon V: Ken Lawless & Sybil McCormack (RIYC) with their characterful Quarter Tonner came sweeping through the IRC Nationals to win their class in style.

dark angel yachtDUBOIS 37 Dark Angel – Tony Ackland from Swansea. Photo: Bob Bateman

Dark Angel: Tony Ackland from Swansea turned all heads with his handsome boat which in a previous life was well known in both Cork Harbour and Galway. There’s more than just looks to the Angel – she won IRC 1 in the Europeans at Crosshaven.

Harmony yachtHALF TONNER Harmony – Jonny Swan from Howth Yacht Club. Photo: Bob Bateman

Harmony: Jonny Swan’s wooden-built classic Half Tonner Harmony benefitted from an under-deck laminated fore-and-aft girder installed by Dougal McMahon of Belmont in County Offaly literally to provide a bit of backbone, and it worked a treat. In many victories, Harmony won IRC 3 in the Europeans at Cork.

Irelands Eye Kilcullen j24J24 Ireland's Eye Kilcullen – HYC under-25s from Howth Yacht Club

Ireland’s Eye Kilcullen: The HYC nippers – aka the under-25s – in the club-backed J/24 showed there’s still life in this classic Johnstone design. In open events they took second place in Class 4 at Cork Week and the IRC Europeans, they also took third overall in the J/24 Under 25 Europeans. And in the class in Ireland they won the Nationals (7 wins in 7 races), the Northerns, the Southerns, and the Westerns.

Jump JuiceKER36 Jump Juice - Conor Phelan from Royal Cork Yacht Club. Photo: Bob Bateman

Jump Juice: Like good wine, Conor Phelan’s Ker 36 from Cork improves with age. They won the RORC Easter Challenge in ferocious weather in the Solent overall, and they won Class O in convincing style at the ICRA Nats in June.

Joker 2 J109J109 Joker 2 - John Maybury from the Royal Irish Yacht Club. Photo: Afloat.ie

Joker 2: If you wanted a demonstration of the J/109’s all round ability, John Maybury’s Joker 2 provided it in 2016. She recorded a back-to-back win in the ICRA Nats – the only boat to do so in 2015-2016 – and under the skippering of Commandant Barry Byrne, she was the first winner of the new inter-forces Beaufort Cup including winning its Fastnet Race. Same boat, but completely different crews – Joker 2 makes a special claim for top boat of the year

OctopussE E BoatE–BOAT OctopussE - Pat O’Neill from Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club. Photo: Afloat.ie

OctopussE: The Julian Everitt-designed E Boat is a blast from the past, a miniature offshore racer in which the vertical keel can be retracted completely into the hull. The fleet at Clontarf deserve every credit for their multiple use, including club racing and canal cruising. But it is Pat O’Neill who carries it all through with competition in the ICRA Nats, and he won IRC 4.

Rockabill Paul O Higgins JPK 10.80 Rockabill – Paul O'Higgins  from the Royal Irish Yacht Club. Photo: Afloat.ie

Rockabill VI: It takes courage to start racing in a boat with a massive international success record like the JPK 10.80, but Paul O’Higgins was game for the challenge when he took Rockabill VI fresh out of the wrappings to do the Volvo Round Ireland Race in June, and came within an ace of a class win. He then re-surfaced for the IRC Europeans at Cork in July – and won IRC 2.

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Published in ICRA

GAS Calves Week 2016 started today with a final fleet of 73 cruisers in 6 fleets presenting for the racing arranged once again by Principal Race Officer Neil Prendiville and team. With an increased UK presence and new boats travelling from harbours around the Irish coast, the four–day Regatta, already an established event on many cruisers' annual calendar, has extended its reach.

After the heavy rain of the previous day, the conditions and visibility had improved considerably. Despite this, a number of the lead boats had to rely on GPS to locate the pre-positioned windward mark to the south of Long Island in the middle of Roaringwater Bay. The fleets started outside Copper Point and sent on a long windward beat and then around the Calf Islands once, twice or three times. Given the light wind conditions, varying between 6 and 14 knots, and between W and WNW as the race proceeded, a heavy swell and the flooding tide, tactical positioning counted heavily for those in a position to feature in the places. Honours were spread fairly evenly between clubs sending representatives.

Paul O'Higgins (RIYC) in his new JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI secured honours in both Class 0/1 IRC and ECHO in these difficult conditions, ahead of two Royal Cork boats, True Penance (Darrer/Garvey) in IRC and Altair (Dorgan/Losty) in ECHO. RCYC however swept honours in Class 2, with J80 Rioja (Baxter/Dillon) winning ECHO honours ahead of Galway Bay's Rob Allen on Smile, but losing out to fellow Crosshaven skipper Frank Desmond on his Sunfast 32, Bad Company.

RCYC also took IRC honours in Class 3 with the Lane/Enright partnership on J24 YouGottaWanna, edging out Tralee Bay's Boojum, the Sigma 33 of David Buckley. Local boats featured in the ECHO contest, with the Quinlan consortium on Quinsea (SHSC) winning the honours ahead of John Molloy's Holland 25, Manzanita. In Class 4 IRC, local boat, Sadler 32 Raffles (Tom Kirby/Sean Norris) was ahead of Kinsale Yacht Club Saoirse with Richard Hanley. In ECHO, however, Kirby and Norris had to settle for second place behind local rivals, O Buckley on Tete a Tete (SHSC).

In the hotly contested Whitesail categories, the conditions suited Bob Rendell's XC45 Samatom (HYC) ahead of Sean O'Riordan's YDream (KYC) in IRC. Brian Heffernan on Aisling (RCYC) took ECHO honours ahead of Dublin based Philip Smith on Just Jasmine (RIYC). In Whitesail 2, which is ECHO only, Kinsale Yacht Club shared the honours with Stephen Lysaght's Reavra ahead of John O'Regan on Main 4.

Published in Calves Week

Day 4 1800 An intriguing Round Ireland Race tussle has been taking place this afternoon and evening along Ireland’s most easterly coastline where County Down bulges out towards both Galloway in Scotland and the Isle of Man in the middle of the Irish Sea writes W M Nixon.

Four boats – three Irish, one French – have been trying to trade places in the southwest to south winds as they dodged the north-going ebb tide across the mouth of Belfast Lough, and then rock-hop on down the outer coastline of the Ards Peninsula and beyond to where – well south of the entrance to Strangford Lough – the bulge comes to a sudden stop at St John’s Point with its very conspicuous lighthouse.

st johns point

Sentinel of the East Coast – St John’s Point in County Down with the Mountains of Mourne beyond

There are of course many more than just four boats in the area as the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016 continues on its way. And far to the north, there are other boats which have been hung up in the strongest tides in the Rathlin Island area, and they probably deserve a report to themselves. But really, all they’ll want to do is get on with it again as the tide finally turns again in their favour around 1900hrs.

At this stage of the race, however, followers of the fleet have identified these four particularly interesting crews and boats of broadly comparable size still racing. And in these final stages of the biggest Round Ireland Race ever, it’s fascinating for race addicts to see how they play their hands as the game draws to a close.

The four boats, with their IRC ratings in brackets, are Paul O’Higgins new JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (1.046), Dave Cullen’s J/109 Euro Car Parks (1.016), Patrice Carpentier’s Sunfast 3200 GROUPE 5 (0.995), and Stephen Quinn’s J/97 Lambay Rules (0.971).

In terms of distance from the finish they’re widely spread, as Rockabill is 58 miles from Wicklow, Euro Car Parks is 67, Groupe 5 is at 80 miles, and the smallest one, Lambay Rules, is 102. Thus it must hardly seem a race at all to anyone accustomed to the One-Design scene. But believe me, there’s a ding-dong going on out there, and from now to the finish at Wicklow some time tomorrow, it’s neck-and-neck on the figures, even if they’re barely in sight of each other.

Currently in the overall placings, allowing for the fact that both Rambler 88 (George David) and Teasing Machine (Eric de Turckheim) are well finished in first and second and secure in their placings, this Battle of the Bulge has GROUPE 5 in third overall, Euro Car parks is fourth, Lambay Rules is sixth, and Rockabill VI is seventh.

Out in a race of her own well to the south is the fourth-placed boat, Michael Boyd’s much larger First 44.7 Lisa. But although Lisa has been milling her way at a fine pace towards the finish line all through the afternoon, at a position 7 miles east of the Baily on Dublin Bay she is about to run out of favourable tide with 22 miles still to sail to the finish. And though the M2 weather-buoy ten miles to the eastward is still showing 12 knots of good southerly breeze, inevitably Lisa’s crew are going to have a difficult evening of it with a foul tide and winds all over the place off Wicklow itself.

Lambay_rules_J97_round_ireland_yacht

By contrast, the smallest boat in our select group, Stephen Quinn’s Lambay Rules (pictured above), is off the southeast corner of Belfast Lough, and the new flood tide which is going to hinder Lisa in St George’s Channel will be a favourable tide for Lambay Rules. It will give her a mighty push through the remainder of the North Channel and out into the Irish Sea, where her three closest rivals are already working on tactical decisions which will stay with them for the remainder of the race.

Leader of the pack Rockabill VI is close-hauled on port well off Carlingford Lough, hanging in very well with Chris and Patanne Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia, which is tough on Aurelia but good news for Rockabill. Next in line is Euro Car Parks, which hugged the coast more on the leg from South Rock Light to St John’s Point, but is now striking out in open water in some style, though on the 1800hrs fix, Rockabill is shown as slightly faster.

Early in the afternoon. Patrice Carpentier on the two-handed GROUPE 5 became disenchanted with staying with the rest of the fleet as they held close along the shore from the South Rock to St John’s. So he took what now looks like a flyer on starboard, but it may have been a good one, as he’s back on port and making a useful 6.2 knots.

GROUPE 5’s low rating puts her very much in the frame, as too does the even lower rating of Lambay Rules which is currently off Ballywalter showing only 4.9 knots over the ground, as the tide has still to turn. It’s very much Game On for a long night. We’ll take up the story again with our next report in the morning.

See Round Ireland tracker here and keep to up to date with the fleet's progress with Afloat's regular Round Ireland 2016 updates here

Published in Round Ireland