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Annalise Murphy is Sailor of the Month for August

1st September 2012
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Annalise Murphy is Sailor of the Month for August

#sailor of the month  – Annalise Murphy of the National YC in Dun Laoghaire is the Irish Afloat.ie/Irish Independent "Sailor of the Month" for August following her outstanding performance in the London Olympics. The talented and dedicated 22-year-old had the entire country in thrall as she battled with the fierce challenge of being top of the Women's Laser Radial class, and her fourth place overall, shy of a medal by fractions of a second, is the best Irish Olympic Sailing Result for thirty years.

Merely to describe her result as fourth overall fails completely to capture the essence of Murphy's performance. For about half of the regatta, she was in the Gold Medal slot. Then having slipped down to bronze rankings, she regained the top place with only one race to sail.

At this level of sailing, being top leaves a helm open to all sorts of joint challenges by those nearest in rankings. Like it or not, this is the way it is in sailing. Because there are ten boats involved, and with the wind being the motive power, the opportunities to block off a clear breeze or create other distractions for those heading the points table are there for the taking. When a leader is slowed back by one boat, two or three others can climb up the rankings at the previous leader's expense.

With four of the world's top women sailors in contention for the Gold going into that final race, the pressure was unbelievable. And with the race being staged in the fluky breezes close in off the Nothe at Weymouth, tiny gains could suddenly become significant gaps through vagaries of the wind.

It tells us everything about the stratospheric level of sailing in the Olympics that despite conditions which would have seen club racers spread over a wide time band, the Women's Laser Radials were finishing in tight order. But within that order, it was the Irish girl who - after leading for most of the series - lost out in the final leg.

But despite the outcome, throughout Ireland - maybe for the first time - people fully appreciated what is involved. Through her achievements and popular appeal, Annalise Murphy did more to raise the profile of our sport than any other Irish sailor in this extraordinary year, or indeed for many years.

DUBLIN BAY SPEED SAILING SUPERSHOW NEXT WEEK

The National Yacht Club, current Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year, is setting a hectic pace throughout 2012, and tomorrow sees the international sailing focus swinging towards the club in its hospitable corner of Dun Laoghaire harbour as the European Tour of the five new MOD 70 class boats gets going from Kiel on Germany's Baltic coast, racing north round Scotland and on towards Ireland and the NYC in Dun Laoghaire.

Back in July, these 70ft trimarans leapt into prominence with their first major race, the Krys Transatlantic from New York to Brest. Not only did they see two of the boats average better than 25 knots across the pond to establish a new Transatlantic record, but they arrived in good order nicely on time for Bastille Day, and just after Groupama had won the Volvo Race for France. For the French sailing community, it was as good a Bastille Day as anyone could remember.

Since then, other nations have been making the global sailing headlines with the Olympics, and more recently the acceleration of the America's Cup programme in San Francisco. But as of tomorrow, France and the mighty MOD 70s will be top of the bill. They'll be in and around Dublin Bay from 5th to 9th September. After the rather sedate Parade of Sail which concluded the visit of the Tall Ships last weekend, next week we're going to have the opportunity to see sailing in which "sedate" will most emphatically not be the mot juste.

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A Centenarian on the silver sea – Ainmara has been stepping out in style for her hundredth birthday. Photo: W M Nixon

SPRITELY CENTENARIAN GOES ISLAND-HOPPING

We took a break from last weekend's posting to go off with Dickie Gomes for the Centenary Cruise of his 1912-built 36ft yawl Ainmara. Those who knew Tiger Gomes in his glory days as a round Ireland record-maker and ace skipper of some notable top end offshore racers may not be aware that, since 1966, he has also been the owner of Ainmara, the first yacht designed and built in Ringsend by John B Kearney.

Admittedly the demands on the Gomes sailing talent were such that Ainmara spent many years as the sleeping princess in a shed at the Gomes farm. But with the Centenary coming up, her prince bestirred himself, she was put afloat for the first time in 28 years last year, and for this season a Centenary Cruise to familiar stomping grounds in the Hebrides was mooted.

It was back in 1960 that I made my first charter cruise in Ainmara to the Scottish west coast. She seemed quite an old boat then, at the age of 48, so getting the head round the fact that she's now a hundred takes a bit of doing. Although these days she carries a Bermudan rig with three headsails on an alloy mast which Dickie built himself back in the 1960s, her hull is still almost totally original, and even her rather brutal coachroof (you get used to the look of it) is simply built on top of the original cabin – this was a tasty little low profile effort, but it provided zilch in the way of headroom.

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Dickie Gomes, Round Ireland Record Holder 1986-1993, relaxing aboard his beloved hundred year old Kearney yawl Ainmara in the Sound of Mull, August 2012.

I joined Dickie and his shipmate Denis Fusco (son of legendary sailor the late Victor Fusco) in Ballycastle on Tuesday August 7th. Ballycastle with its much-improved harbour is to Ireland's northeast corner as Kilmore Quay is to the southeast – a mighty-handy point of departure. I'd hopped on the DART that morning in Howth, yet that evening we were comfortably ensconced in the Ardview Inn at Port Ellen on Islay, starting to meet a continuous line of intriguing characters which continued throughout the Hebrides – with so many samey looking boats around these days, when you arrive in with a eccentric-looking Centenarian like Ainmara, it's a very effective calling card.

By going to the Hebrides, we got into the good weather which the areas well north of the jetstream have been enjoying for much of the summer. There's actually a water shortage in the isles. Inevitably with such weather the wind was lacking at times, hut we'd some marvellous sails, memorably trundling up the sea of the Hebrides with the jib tops'l and mizzen staysail added to the basic four sails.

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Summertime for an old boat and an even older castle – the Centenarian Ainmara wafts about a visitor's mooring off Kissimul Castle, the ancient stronghold of the MacNeils, at Castlebay in Barra in the Outer Hebrides. Photo: W M Nixon

In all, the spritely Centenarian got to twelve islands in twelve days, our furthest north being Harris where we treated ourselves to a centenary dinner in Donald MacDonald's hospitable inn beside the enchanting little anchorage of Rodel. When that bit of filthy weather swept through Ireland on Wednesday August 15th, we were far enough north to be roaring along towards the Kyle of Lochalsh in a sunny easterly which gave us a smooth water speed burst of 7.8 knots, yet without trailing a roaring quarter wave behind us – John Kearney surely knew how to create a sweet hull.

Even Dickie Gomes is not as young as he used to be, but until this cruise he'd disdained the old man's rig of mizzen and headsails only, with the main kept neatly furled. But with a brisk westerly as we came down down the Sound of Mull, and just the two of us aboard as Denis the Gentle Giant had left ship as planned at Mallaig, he gave the OMR a try, and Ainmara obliged by effortlessly notching 6.7 knots as a squall came off the dark Mull hills.

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Grand breeze – Ainmara sails in style up Loch Carron in Wester Ross

A new crew joined at Oban on Monday while I returned to Howth via Donegal (that's another story), and Ainmara is now back at her moorings at Ballydorn off the Down Cruising Club's lightship headquarters in Strangford Lough. The lightship is also celebrating her centenary this year – she was built on the north side of the Liffey in 1912 when Ainmara was being completed at Ringsend on the south side. A Centenary Party will be staged this month, and beyond that cruising plans for 2013 are already taking shape – cruising a boat aged 101 will probably be even more entertaining than cruising an ordinary Centenarian.

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WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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