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.