Back in the Autumn of 2015, the CEO of Alex Thomson Racing, Stewart Hosford of Cork Harbour, had just received news that the very new IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss, with Thomson on board testing his latest craft to the limit, had sustained seriously disabling damage off northwest Spain.
To say that Hosford took the news calmly is an understatement. He put his team into action to retrieve the boat and have a rigorous investigation and repair/rebuild programme ready for immediate implementation once the new Hugo Boss was directly available. And then he continued his evening’s programme in Dun Laoghaire, where he’d been invited to be a keynote speaker at the Annual General Meeting and dinner of the Irish Atlantic Youth Trust.
A less able CEO would have been temporarily floored by something which most others reckoned to be a total setback for the campaign. But instead, Hosford’s calmly yet enthusiastically-delivered and informative talk included much of interest about the structure of the Alex Thomson Racing/Hugo Boss setup, and he enlivened it with speculation as to what specifically might have gone wrong in this case, leaving us in no doubt that whatever the challenge the latest in carbon boat-building and engineering might pose in solving the new problems, his team would be able to deal with it and Hugo Boss would be race-ready, properly tested, and a serious contender for the Vendee Globe in Les Sables d’Olonnne in November 2016.
The boat’s subsequent performance in this Race of Races has been the stuff of legend, leading for a while, and then - despite breaking the starboard foil - making a serous challenge for the win in the final stages. It was not to be, with the final leg into the finish in the Bay of Biscay from the northwest being on port tack, which needed the missing foil, thus diminishing Hugo Boss’s performance relative to winner Banque Populaire. But Alex Thomson sailed a great race nevertheless, and as he was born on the coast of North Wales and is thus of the Irish Sea, and also spent five years in Crosshaven as kid while his father was a helicopter pilot at Cork Airport, we’re delighted to make Stewart Hosford and Alex Thomson joint Afloat.ie “Sailors o the Month” for January 2017.
The 2016 ISA All-Ireland Championship in the first weekend of October was one of the closest-fought ever seen, with at least four helms in with a chance in the final stages on the second day, as a good sailing breeze settled in to banish memories of the morning’s frustrating calm.
The historic Crosshaven venue at the Royal Cork YC was appropriate to the concluding drama of the event, and the sense of something very special being under way was heightened by the boats of the day being the Ultra, the new Phil Morrison designed take on the classic National 18 design.
This is a class development in which the Royal Cork Yacht Club has played a generous supporting role, and while the boats were raced without use of spinnakers, nevertheless it provided a useful opportunity to showcase one of the most exciting recent developments in Irish dinghy racing.
As for the outcome, it was if anything too exciting, with all sorts of permutation in countback being required to declare who really was the overall winner after an entire raft of races for a fascinating selection of superstar sailors from a wide variety of boat backgrounds. But finally the nod was given to RS 400 champion Alex Barry, whom the Royal Cork can claim as one of their own, but he is also a leading member of Monkstown Bay SC further up the harbour.
Alex Barry is the Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month (Inshore)” for October. And a year hence, he will be defending champion in the 70th Anniversary ISA All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship, which already promises to be something truly historic.
Ace navigator and tactician Ian Moore, originally of Carrickfergus but long based in Cowes, is first choice as navigator/tactician for any serious international offshore campaign. Last year, he guided the RP 63 Lucky for a stunning win in the Transatlantic Race, and was also calling the shots on the Maxi 72 overall Champion after playing a key role in Bella Mente’s domination of Cowes Week.
The only fly in the perfection of 2015’s ointment was losing the overall win in the Rolex Middle Sea Race with Vincenzo Onorato’s Cookson 50 Latino Mascalzone by just nine seconds. But all that was put right at the end of October 2016 in Valetta, when Latino Mascalzone was declared overall winner of the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2016 by a very handsome margin.
And it was a classic Moore success. Mascalzone Latino’s crew knew that at a crucial stage of the race, a 50 degree windshift was approaching. The Moore speciality is in placing the boat in the best possible position to maximize advantage from any new wind direction, and this year’s Middle Sea Race provided him with the opportunity to give a masterclass in hitting the change spot on.
In all, it was a great race for those old warhorses the Cookson 50s, as another one was tops in ORC. And Irish sailors had a good time of it too, with ex-Pat Barry Hurley of the RIYC and Kenneth Rumball of the Irish National Sailing School crewing on the XP 44 Xp-Act, which came second in Class 4. But as the bubbles settle and the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2016 gets the full analysis from the number crunchers, it is Ian Mooore’s calling of the shots on Latino Mascalzone which clearly makes him the Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month (Offshore) for October.
In a year in which one of our 'Sailor of the Month' awards went to America’s irrepressible George David for his fabulous overall victory in the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016 in Rambler 88, we see no reason at all why we shouldn’t extend the same accolade to another overseas sailor who has not only achieved regular success in Irish waters during the past season, but over the years has contributed enormously to the pleasure everyone gets in sailing the Irish Sea.
You don’t get to win the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association Annual Championship without being a steady and regular competitor and a very capable skipper, and Stephen Tudor of Pwllheli has been all of those things for many years, rounding out a busy 2016 season by winning the ISORA Championship in the last race of all with his J/109 Sgrech.
He has done this with a crew drawn from both sides of the Irish Sea. Indeed, it is one of the most attractive features of ISORA that several boats are based on crew panels from the two sides of the channel. The Brotherhood of the Sea is alive and well in ISORA, and when the fleet is racing to or from Pwllheli, they are well aware that in a different shoreside guise, Stephen Tudor has played a key role in transforming the waterfront and marina facilities in that pleasant port on the Snowdon Riviera where he has been a member of the Pwllheli SC since the age of eight, helping to make him a very worthy Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month (Offshore)” for September 2016.
The conditions for the KBC Laser Radial Worlds in Dublin Bay could be tough. Not because the weather was severe, but because the wind kept taking off just when everyone hoped they’d settled into some good racing. Frustration takes it toll on competitors and Race Officers alike, and when it was reckoned that the only way to make a real series out of it was to start getting the fleet afloat at 0800 hrs on the final Saturday and put in three races while conditions suited, the pressure was stepped up even further.
In such situations, some get fussed, some stay cool, and some actually seem to thrive. Ewan MacMahon (17) of Howth fitted in somewhere between the latter two categories. While American Henry Marshall seemed assured of the Youth Gold, MacMahon was going so well that his most enthusiastic supporters felt he might sail straight up through the Silver and on into Gold.
That was expecting a bit much, but his winning of the Silver Medal was done in real style to emphatically confirm Ewan MacMahon as “Sailor of the Month (Racing)” for July.
It was a real light-bulb moment when the initial notion of the brilliant idea which became the Beaufort Cup first surfaced. The concept of a series-within-a-series, a special programme for offshore racers crewed at least 50% by members of the Defence Forces within the overall umbrella of Volvo Cork Week, had a lot going for it from Day One.
As it developed, it became better and better, with the net spreading wider to include the lifeboats and the coastguards and other emergency services with a maritime angle. Thus the success of the event – which started with a 140-miles offshore race from the Naval Base in Cork Harbour round the Fastnet Rock, and ashore included the highlight of a black-tie dinner in the Officer’s Mess on Haulbowline – seems so obvious in hindsight. Yet it was such a novel idea when initially launched with just six months to go that the organisers thought they’d do well to muster three or four boats.
But it captured the imagination of the sailing community such that 12 competitive boats became available. And once it was under way, it captured public imagination too – there was something specially attractive about men of war and people who usually deal with maritime emergencies going to sea for sport and fun.
As this unusual sailing competition unfolded within the ambit of Volvo Cork Week, we found it attracted special attention. It merits a Special Award. And as we have to put one name to the Afloat.ie Special Award for July 2016, it goes to Commandant Barry Byrne who skippered the J/109 Joker 2, first winner of the Beaufort Cup, crewed almost entirely by members of the Defence Forces. But in truth the Special Award goes to everyone who was involved in adding this visionary event to the Irish sailing calendar.
Finn Lynch (20) of County Carlow is the Afloat.ie Olympic “Sailor of the Month” for May, following his arduous and often lonely journey to succeed in taking over Ireland’s already-secured place in the International Laser Class in the 2016 Olympics Games, scheduled for August in Rio de Janeiro.
A year ago, few would have rated Lynch’s chances very highly. An extremely promising junior sailor, he had hit the “Cadet-level Ceiling” where virtually no funding is available for international competition and coaching for anyone caught between the highly-organised, parentally-supported junior level, and the early stages of the full-blown Olympic programme.
But having been “adopted” by the National Yacht Club, fund-raising was undertaken on Lynch’s behalf by an informal organisation set up by Carmel Winkelmann NYC and friends, and between April 2015 and June 2016, €40,000 has been raised to send Lynch to key events and coaching sessions.
Nevertheless the likelihood of Finn Lynch actually taking the Irish Olympic place originally secured by James Espey was only a distant possibility. The point of the campaign was to encourage the growth of Lynch’s talent as much as possible. Postponement in some sort of soul-destroying limbo was not an option. And Finn Lynch, with his soaring performance and extraordinary ability to focus on the task in hand, not only soared, but he took over Ireland’s Olympic place at the Laser Worlds in Mexico on Wednesday May 18th 2016.
It was an exceptional breakthrough, and it evoked a response of exemplary generosity and good sportsmanship from Belfast Lough sailor James Espey in a posting on Facebook:
“Pretty gutted that a tough week here at the World Championships means I won't be representing Ireland at the Olympic Games this time around. Nervous to give up the spot I earned in Santander, and the lead I had going into this week meant I was vulnerable on the race course in the early days and couldn't come back from it.
A fall at the last hurdle... but well done to Finn Lynch Sailing for taking up the spot and our flag at the Games.
It's been a real honour to race against Laser sailors from all over the world these past eight years, and what a blast it has been! I couldn't have made a better group of friends, both in this class and in the rest of the classes of our traveling circus, and for that I will be forever grateful (and hopefully will have people to visit around the world for life). Special thanks to my training partners and coaches over the years, you all know who you are and I hope you have as many great memories of our times as I do.
A limitless thanks to all of my supporters, my friends and family back home. I couldn't have done this without you, and the only consolation for not making the Games is that I'll get to be home with you all sooner to show my thanks in person.
I'm looking forward to all the great sailing I'm going to get to do in the future - may try out a couple more classes than just this hiking beast!
See you all on the race course, Bapsy”
Shane McCarthy of Greystones is the Afloat.ie Sailor of the Month (non-Olympic) for April following his stunning overall win in the GP 14 Worlds in Barbados. McCarthy was already on a roll after winning the British Opens in August last year at Brixham in Devon, a victory which in turn followed on a previous success in winning the Irish title. But his success in early April in the Worlds in Barbados – a win in which he was crewed by England’s Andy “Taxi” Davies – takes the Greystones sailor onto a new level of performance.
And it is in turn yet another feather in the cap of Greytones Sailing Club, which is rapidly moving up the index of top dinghy sailing clubs in Ireland. For McCarthy, the logistical challenge of getting a worthwhile campaign to the Caribbean was something which would have discouraged many club sailors. But thanks to the strong International GP14 Class organisation with a contingent of 22 boats and its spirit of mutual help and support, the Greystones skipper emerged in Barbados in exactly the right frame of mind and physical fitness to put in a textbook campaign for Gold to make him a very worthy Afloat.ie Sailor of the Month for April 2016.
April has come upon us with so many podium positions suddenly taken by Irish sailors in major events that you could have been forgiven for thinking that our usual April 1st specials had been allowed to run on for a day or two extra writes W M Nixon. But before fully savouring the new successes, we must bid a final farewell to March, which had its moments of extreme excitement - and some taking of silverware too.
Nothing was more extreme than the RORC Easter Challenge in the Solent from March 25th to 27th, with the tail-end of the winter providing one final ferocious flick for a fleet which included several bats with Irish connections And within the series, nothing was more extreme than Black Sunday, March 27th, when hyper- black striker squalls of the kind that would make you wonder if the roof on the house was safe, let alone if you could carry extra downwind sails on the boat, were top of the agenda as they swept in at record speeds.
Yet Black Sunday was the best day for the Irish, with two wins being recorded in the final race. Until then, Anthony O’Leary’s Kery 40 Antix in the Fast40+ division had been had been out of the frame – albeit by a small margin – by what the owner had cheerfully admitted to be “silly mistakes”. But on that final day as mayhem was the experience of most of the fleet, Antix was beautifully in control at top performance, tearing up the Solent in a blaze of spray to take the final race win, though she wasn’t to finish first overall.
But in Class 2, Conor Phelan’s 2008-vintage Ker 36 Jump Juice had been lying second throughout the series, despite being up against some superbly-sailed boats which included America’s Cup sailors among their crews. Yet even the AC aces found themselves wiping out in spectacular style on Black Sunday, while Jump Juice streaked along in cool control to take the race win and the Class win overall to make Conor Phelan of Royal Cork YC the Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” for March 2016.
At February 19th’s AGM of the Irish Cruising Club, Alan Rountree of Wicklow was awarded two trophies of great distinction independently of each other. The ICC’s East Coast group nominated him for the Donegan Memorial Cup, which is for an outstanding contributor to cruising from their sector of the nationwide membership. It went to the Wicklow man in recognition of his 55,000 miles of very varied cruising since he first launched his own-built Legend 34 Tallulah in 1987, sailing on many coasts of Europe and going out to the Azores and north to the Faroes too.
And Hilary Keatinge, adjudicator of the ICC’s annual log competition in what was a particularly good year for outstanding cruising achievement - many to very remote places - nevertheless awarded the premier trophy, the Faulkner Cup, to Rountree for his 3,120 mile venture in 2015 to the Azores, where he cruised the islands in detail with different crews at different times, and then sailed home single-handed.
Talk to Alan Rountree about his life experience, and you find you’re contemplating a universe. Stainless steel is his speciality, but though he was MD of Newbridge Silverware & Cutlery at the age of 26 with nearly 500 employees beavering away in County Kildare, in the end he preferred to run his own smaller show with a production unit beside a house he’d built himself in the heart of the Wicklow Hills.
He came to sailing through the unusual route of building himself a currach, then cruising to and camping on any rock or island on Ireland’s west coast big enough for a tent with a beach or inlet which would shelter the boat. But one foggy summer’s morning at Clare Island with the currach, he saw a proper cruising yacht making herself ready for a Transatlantic passage, and decided cruising under sail was for him.
He started asking questions – “Just keep asking questions, and be really interested in the answers, and you’ll learn a lot” is his mantra - and decided that a van de Stadt Legend 34 from BJ Marine in Dublin would best meet his needs. But being Alan Rountree, he wanted to build her from scratch, as his “country complex” in Wicklow now included the necessary boatshed/workshop. So Bernard Gallagher of BJ Marine simply lent him the moulds with the throwaway line that once Alan had the hull finished, he’d find himself putting lots of business BJ Marine’s way for extra bits and pieces. They’ve been friends ever since.
Nearing perfection. Tallulah as she’d become by 2007, seen here in Aldan in Galicia. But owner Alan Rountree continues to make improvements, and after losing his sprayhood in a Force 9-plus while returning from the Azores in August 2015, Tallulah will be launched at the end of this month fitted with a new own-built GRP sprayhood.
When Tallulah was launched in 1987 after five years work “off and on”, she set a standard which few DIY projects remotely match. And as for learning to sail, Alan had done a cruise in West Cork in the summer of 1986 on a charter boat with a professional skipper. It took place during the mayhem of Hurricane Charlie,and as Alan drily remarks: “I learnt a lot, and I kept asking questions when we weren’t totally busy with saving the boat”.
In his 29 years of cruising with Tallulah, he’s had a policy of making improvements every winter, and by the early noughties she was nearing perfection. He has now been out to Galicia ten times, one of his favourite areas, he’s been north to Norway and the Faroes, and he took in the Azores in 1991, though the boat was rolled through 360 degrees in a massive storm while homeward bound across the continental shelf, but she emerged relatively unscathed.
But even Alan Rountree finds the years are catching up with him, so for 2015 he signed on Greg McGarry (who’s more into horses, but is clearly a great cook) for another voyage out to the Azores while the going is still good. And though they’d expected to take the traditional approach of going first to northwest Spain and then cutting westward to the islands, they carried a fair nor’easter direct to the Azores all the way from Ireland. Out there, Tallulah cruised the islands with a variety of crew including Alan’s wife Angela. But then as anticipated, he planned the 1,100 mile passage home single-handed, but he expected this time to definitely take in northwest Spain as a staging post.
However, all the forecasts for the direct route were for sou’westers of not more than Force 6 and mostly less, so he went for it, and after near calms in the Azores (which he reports as having been notably hotter than in 1991), a breeze from the sou’west was more than welcome. But it just built and built as a localised low developed into a proper storm, and he’d Force 9 for three days.
Fortunately one of the winter mods had been asking sailmaker Philip Watson to put a fourth reef in the main, and it was under this very short sail and nothing else that Tallulah continued on her way, for Alan subscribes to Bernard Moitessier’s theory that in a storm you’re going to be bashed by rogue waves no matter what you do, so you might as well keep going.
His trusty Aries self-steering – which he has much reinforced – kept going, and though other damage was sustained such as losing most of the sprayhood, the home-made boat from the Wicklow Hills came through with flying colours. As for being single-handed, in typical style the skipper observes that as he’d to sleep as best he could on the relative safety of the cabin sole, there wasn’t room there for anyone else, and if anything needed doing in the cockpit, an extra hand would have only got in the way……..
So Alan Rountree is our February 2016 “Sailor of the Month (Cruising)” simply for being Alan Rountree as much as for receiving the ICC’s top award. The word from the heart of Wicklow is that, snug in her shed, Tallulah has already received her first coats of varnish in anticipation of launching as usual at the end of March. And she’ll also be sporting a new extra-strong glassfibre sprayhood, the latest product of Rountree Marine Industries. The Odyssey continues.
Early days. A younger Alan Rountree testing the new Tallulah’s Aries self-steering gear in a breezy day off the Wicklow coast.