#ISAYOUTHNATS – Dublin Bay is the national sailing focus this weekend, with more than 400 junior sailors hitting the water for the ISA Mitsubishi Youth Nationals. On the threshold of the season, it's always an event alive with anticipation. And with the Youth Worlds scheduled for the same venue in July, the pressure is already way off the top of the scale.
Leading Optimist dinghy sailor Sophie Browne (14) of Tralee, youngest ever helm to take the coveted "Sailor of the Month" title after her Silver Medal in the Opty Worlds in New Zealand in December, has already launched her 2012 season with considerable success in Denmark, where she won the recent International Consul's Cup series with a strong performance which moved the official reporter to suggest that the Kerry sailor had moved up a gear relative to all the other sailors.
As for other contenders on the bay this weekend, east coast sailor Megan Parker (13) of Skerries made the trek to the Lake Garda International Optimist Regatta on Easter weekend, and finished 19th. You might think that is scarcely an exceptional achievement. But the legendary Garda event attracted 806 entrants, which is simply beyond most folk's imagination. Merely to find the finish line through a plague of boats like that is surely deserving of some sort of award from the Royal Institute of Navigation. And to get into the top 20 merits the ringing of church bells back home - as sixth girl with nine top twenty placings and four top tens, Megan Parker did very well indeed.
With the multi-class Spring Warmer Series getting under way at Howth, Irish Cruiser Racing Association Commodore Barry Rose reminds all would-be competitors at the ICRA Nationals at the same venue in late May that discounts on entry fees cease after this weekend. With the organising committee chaired by Nobby Reilly, the Nationals from May 25th to 27th are shaping up to provide top level racing which positions everyone very neatly both geographically and tune-wise for the Scottish Series four days later, time-honoured as a happy hunting ground for Irish boats.
Meanwhile the RORC's Easter Challenge in the Solent last weekend was quite a silverfest for Wicklow designer Mark Mills. Boats from his drawing board were outright winners in two of the five classes, and he had a major input into the re-design of a third class winner.
The well-seasoned Summit 40 Tokoloshe (Mike Bartholomew, South Africa) topped IRC 1, 9 points clear of Anthony O'Leary's second-placed Ker 39 Antix, with round Ireland winner Tonnere de Breskens back in fifth. A new Mills production boat, the MAT 1010 Matilda (Louise Morton, Cowes) won IRC 3, and the veteran MG 30 Checkmate XV (Nigel Biggs, North Wales & Dublin Bay) won IRC 4 with more than a little help from a new Mills-designed keel and rudder. The Mills office has also scored success in the 600-mile China Sea Race from Hong Kong to the Philippines, winning IRC 1 with the 40ft one-off Mandrake (Fred Kinmonth & Nick Burns).
Looking to the coming season, that second place for Antix was encouraging for defending Commodore's Cup skipper Anthony O'Leary, but inevitably simply finding a team of three boats for Ireland for the biennial Commodores Cup in these straitened times poses problems for ICRA. However, 17 boats have already nominated for the British trials, and even with two or three Brit teams in prospect, there'll be good boats going spare, plus we hear of one or two interesting rustlings in the undergrowth.
Argentine designer Juan Kouyoumdjian, who's based in Alicante, has fired off a broadside at those who suggest the damage-scarred current generation of Volvo 70s need their specifications and building standards up-graded.
For those who were away on Easter Retreat, the news is that the three leaders of the Auckland-Brazil stage (Leg 5 of the race) have now reached port, with Kenny Read's Puma just staving off an extraordinary challenge by overall leader Telefonica (Iker Martinez). After a 17-hour pit-stop at Cape Horn for "non-essential but sensible repairs", Martinez and his team sailed north with a new wind pattern and reduced the Puma lead of hundreds of miles to less than one mile before slipping back a little at the finish, but still taking a very close second.
Groupama (Franck Cammas) had been dicing with Puma all the way up the Atlantic, but her rig came down within 700 miles of the leg finish. With a jury rig, they still managed to finish and take third. Only Camper is still racing, battling up the south Atlantic after a prolonged stop for repairs in Chile. But all three other boats are out of Leg 5, and are now being shipped to an Atlantic port with various levels of hull structural damage. Thus critics have been saying that the hulls of Volvo boats aren't built strong enough, but Juan K is having none of this, and on Thursday he let fly:
"With our three boats safely in Brazil.....I believe we are presented with an intentional manipulation of the truth".
"There is a common, spread notion that ALL the participants in this VOR have structural problems, that the situation is unacceptable and that something needs to be done for the future. A fundamental distinction needs to be done between the mast breakages and the rest, and whilst I think it is very important to understand what caused so many mast failures, it is a travesty of the truth to put ALL designs in the same basket when it comes down to "other" structural issues......"
"Puma won Leg 5 without a major structural problem....Telefonica finished second with a hull delamination in port mid bow which did not prevent her from racing....(her) pit stop in Cape Horn was not a necessity but rather a very clever strategical decision based on having 3rd place assured....Groupama has sailed on her own means to Brazil without structural problems..."
Spitting fire by now, he concludes: "....avoid putting in the same basket the good work and brilliance of some engineers with that of others which are clearly not the same".
Them's his sentiments, and Juan K gives it from the heart. But there's only one Juan Kouyoumdjian, and he can't design and engineer ALL the boats in the Volvo Ocean Race, even if there is another edition of the VOR in its present form.
Because the news that a blue chip supporter like Groupama is pulling out of all sailing sponsorship after this race is over (and all football sponsorship too, after current contracts are completed), makes any future VOR scenario even more of a guessing game. Maybe we'll end up with something involving only the burgeoning BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China) - perhaps a Pacific Rim circuit with a quick jaunt round Cape Horn to Brazil? What would Paddy Power give odds on?
W M Nixon's sailing column is in the Irish Independent on Saturdays