#helmsmans – The stakes are raised in this weekend's All Ireland Senior Sailing Championship at Dromineer on Lough Derg following the success of the Junior Championship in Schull a fortnight ago. In some of the best sailing conditions of 2012, the new junior title holder by a clear margin was West Cork's Fionn Lyden (17), who has since been declared the Afloat.ie/Irish Independent "Sailor of the Month" for September.
But Lyden has been allowed little time to reflect on his success. He's back in the fray this weekend in the seniors event, and the lineup he will face racing in the SailFleet J/80s contains some formidable talent, including defending champion George Kenefick (24) of Crosshaven.
Former champion Mark Mansfield has been on top form recently, heading the racing in the 1720s, and he is fired up to avenge the narrow defeat inflicted on him by Kenefick at the same venue a year ago in this championship.
As the racing is in a specialized boat which does not feature as a supported class at any Irish sailing centre, the hope is that the competition will be as even as possible among sailors who usually helm craft of many different types. But of course the wind strengths will play a major role regardless of how even the racing is in theory, and predictions for this weekend suggest a wide variety of conditions.
Today's expected light breezes could inflict havoc in the programme, but the prospect of a freshening southeaster tomorrow – albeit with rain later – will provide ample opportunities to get a result before the weekend is out.
The lineup includes an interesting mixture of sailing specialities, including two veterans of the 2012 Olympics, Star class helm Peter O'Leary from Cork and the 49er's Ryan Seaton from Ballyholme.
Carrickfergus is putting forward Trevor Kirkpatrick, the helm from the Ruffian 23 class on Belfast Lough. It is of course the hope of all club sailors that some day the All Ireland will throw up an unexpected winner from one of the minor leagues. But that hasn't happened for a long time now, and by tomorrow afternoon the smart money is betting that it will be the big guns yet again in the final shootout.
Thus the likelihood of Royal Cork dominating with Mansfield, Kennefick and O'Leary setting the pace is high, but as well there are several highly possible contenders in the form of Tim Goodbody, Ben Duncan, David Dickson, Fionn Lyden, and Alan Ruigrok.
THE SOD IS YOUR FLEXIBLE FRIEND
When you consider the nationwide spread of the home ports of these top sailing talents, there's inescapable logic in staging the All Ireland on Lough Derg, as it and Lough Ree are about as central as you can get in Ireland. It was back in 1982 that I first saw what Dromineer could do when the Helmsmans Championship was staged in Shannon One Designs, and the winner was Dave Cummins of Sutton, crewed by Gordon Maguire no less, and Joe MacSweeney.
There was no lack of wind at that championship, but as John Lefroy's 1874-built all-iron former steam yacht Phoenix was the committee boat, the race officers (Jock Smith was OOD) at least were comfortably ensconced, and when the racing was completed we took the Phoenix up the lough at full chat just for the hell of it, giving a passable impression of a destroyer at the Battle of Jutland.
She'd turn round and look at you". Even in a moderate breeze, the Shannon One Design (sailed here by Sid Shine of Lough Ree) develops a marked twist in her hull.
As for the Shannon One Designs being sailed as hard as they could go by Ireland's brightest and best, they coped remarkably well, though inevitably there were breakages. The design having been developed from slim lake boats, the clinker hulls tend to twist a bit when pinned in for hard windward work - as Pompey Delaney used to say, in a breeze they'd turn round and look at you.
Both Dave Cummins and Gordon Maguire have been Australia-based for many years now, and of course Gordon was sailing master aboard the superb 63ft Loki, overall winner of the most recent Sydney-Hobart Race. He was home recently with his family for a few weeks holiday, and caught me out round the back of Howth YC in the boatyard in the midst of the keel and rudder re-configuration which is the current boat project (and has been for quite some time). Fortunately the great man dropped by at a stage when the job was going well, which isn't necessarily always the case. It's a bit unnerving, to say the least, to have your work evaluated by a Sydney-Hobart winner who is also trained in engineering, but if he thought the whole thing was crazy, he was still too polite to say so.
DESJOY FOR DESJOYEAUX
The fantastic trimarans of the MOD 70 class will by now be cherishing their memories of the great racing they had in Dublin Bay in good breezes on Saturday September 8th, as they have finally completed their European Tour at Genoa, and lack of wind has been a problem for much of the southern section of the programme.
Michel Desjoyeaux emerged as overall winner of the EuroTour on Foncia. But "emerged" is very much the word, as the final miles into Genoa saw these mighty machines crawling along at just two knots in the finest of zephyrs. It looked as though Spindrift Racing had it all sewn up, but by snatching a couple of places virtually on the finish line – just as he did on the stage from Kiel to Dun Laoghaire – the Foncia skipper carried off the cup, while Spindrift Racing was the season's winner when the Transatlantic results are combined with the EuroTour points.
Despite the subdued finish, the potential of this new class to provide spectacular sailing in a manageable budget has been amply proven, and it provides a marked contrast with the America's Cup, where the focus has swung to San Francisco and next year's series.
Foncia (Michel Desjoyeaux, seen here in Dublin Bay) has won the MOD 70s EuroTour, while Spindrift Racing is the season's champion. Photo W M Nixon
That will be raced in 70ft catamarans, and the first of these awesome and unbelievably expensive machines has been showing her paces. But meanwhile not everyone is a happy budgie in San Francisco, where a proposed major development of two piers to provide useful shore bases for challengers has been changed into an intention to have all the action focused more on the Golden Gate Yacht Club.
As ever with the America's Cup, massive sums of money top the agenda, and you can understand the frustration of the few remaining challengers as they take on the huge resources of Larry Ellison. After all, how can a few guys from New Zealand and their mates expect to face up to someone who has recently been able to buy quite a substantial Hawaiian island out of pocket money?