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Mirror Dinghy Worlds a Breath of Fresh Water Air From Lough Derg

3rd August 2013
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Shannon lake sailing at its best in the Mirror Worlds 2013 on Lough Derg. Coming cleanly out of the start are (left to right) Jack Maye & Sarah White (Sligo), Irish Open winners Ridgeley Balladares & Rommel Chavez (Philippines), Douglas Elmes and Scott Levie (Royal Cork and Lough Derg), Keegan Ekermans & Amy-Leigh Whal (South Africa), Irish Opens runners-up Cian Hickey & Caolan Cosadell (Skerries), and Lochlann O’Regan & Lughaidh Croasdell (70721). Photo: W M Nixon
Mirror Dinghy Worlds a Breath of Fresh Water Air From Lough Derg

#mirrorworlds2013 – For even the saltiest of seafarers, the Shannon One Design has a special allure. These slinky beauties of Ireland's inland waterways have an exotic attraction heightened by the fact that, despite their occasional visits to salt water, they only seem truly at home on the great lakes of the River Shannon. And when the organisers of the Mirror Worlds 2013 sounded out Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, Food and The Marine, to perform last Sunday's official opening ceremony at Lough Derg YC at Dromineer, they discovered he was one of these secret Shannon OD admirers. Simon Coveney has raced offshore, and in major regattas. He has made oceanic voyages. And in his younger days, he was even an Irish Mirror Champion. But it seems the sweetener that drew him to Dromineer was the chance of his very first sail in a 17ft clinker-built Shannon One Design at one of their most historic strongholds.

So it says much about the sheer fun-filled exuberance of the great International Mirror Dinghy festival which concluded last night at Dromineer that for ten days - apart from Simon Coveney's sail with John and Adair Leech on their Shannon One Design - the SODs were sidelined. The characterful little Mirrors – 91 of them from seven diferent countries – totally dominated the scene both on the Dromineer waterfront, and out on the magnificent lake. And they had a tremendous week of racing despite a difficult period of weather in which four different seasons in one day – indeed, sometimes in one hour – set PRO Con Murphy a daunting task in which he completed a full programme despite Met Eireann outdoing itself in the gloomy weather prediction stakes throughout the week.

For those of us hoping to savour this remarkable event at its very best, it was a matter of Carpe Diem, Seize the Day, and the magic day was Tuesday. The morning may have seen the brisk westerly bring one large rainsquall blotting out the Clare hills as the fleet scampered along under spinnaker, but for the rest of the day the sun was strong from a vigorous sky. And the wind was brisk, then strong and then stronger again, such that by mid-afternoon further racing was curtailed. But by that time the legendary Mirror zest for sailing had been expressed yet again with gusto.

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Minister for Agriculture, Food & The Marine Simon Coveney was able to fulfill a lifelong ambition to sail a Shannon One Design at Dromineer. Photo: Gerardine Wisdom

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At the opening ceremony were (front row, left to right) David Meredith (Vice Commodore, LDYC), Cllr Virginia O'Dowd, Commodore LDYC Denis Hassey, Minister Simon Coveney, Mayor North Tipperary Ger Darcy, President Int. Mirror Association Celia May, Cllr Phil Bulger, and Assistant Event Manager Lucy Sanders. Back row: Event PR Eleanor Hooker, Noel Coonan TD, Event Manager Ian Roberts, and Cllr Seamus Morris. Photo: Gerardine Wisdom

In fact, the regatta was already in full swing by the time Minister Coveney performed his official duties, as the Irish Mirror National Opens had completed a successful if sometimes flukey four day eight-race buildup to the big one in the week beforehand, with a fleet of 68 boats getting results which were encouraging for visitors and the home fleet alike. And for anyone new to the Mirror scene, it gave a comprehensive insight into the variety of people these unique 10ft 10ins boat attract these days.

Clear overall winners were Ridgeley Balladares and Rommel Chaves of the Philippines with a convincing scoreline of five firsts and a fourth, discarding a 48th in Race 7 and a DNC in Race 8. If you think - like most folk in Ireland - that Mirrors are useful little multi-purpose boats for kids, then the Philippine pair were an eye-opener. Balladares is 36 while Chaves is 40, and the word was their day job is as crew on a superyacht whose owner encourages their dinghy racing. Naturally there were some muttering about this making them pros in a classically amateur class, but my own feeling was they deserved an extra medal – anyone who is keen enough to go off for some concentrated dinghy racing after the 24/7 grind which is being crew on a superyacht deserves special recognition.

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New Irish Open Champions Ridgeley Balladares and Rommel Cahvez of the Philippines were on top form in the opening four day event. Still on the windward leg astern are senior Australian helms Simon Barwood (46) no 70784, and Ken Barnes (61) no 70790. Photo: Gerardine Wisdom

The runners-up were Cian Hickey and Caolan Croasdell of Skerries, which doubtless caused dancing in the streets of Fingal. They finished on 25pts to the 9 of the Filipino crew, and four points ahead of Alfie Wisdom and Sam Warren of the host club, while in fourth and fifth came names which were to come to greater prominence in the Worlds proper, with British crew Sarah Richards and her son George one point behind on 30. On 36 points in fifth were South African siblings Ryan and Michaela Robinson of Boskop YC, poised (if they but knew it) to become International Mirror World Champions 2013, and leading a strong South African contingent in anticipation of the Worlds there in 2015.

The diversity of these crews is classic Mirror profile. Hickey and Croasdell are fairly standard at 18 and 14 years respectively, while Wisdom and Warren are 20 and 14. But a new profile emerges with the Richards duo – Sarah is 41 while son George is 12. And the promising South African brother and sister Robinson crew had one of the lowest average ages of all, with Ryan being 16 while Michaela is 13.

But if you think this diversity encompasses international Mirror sailing, think again. The first entry for the entire regatta came from Ken Barnes of Montrose Bay in Australia, and he's 61. Then from Canada came Donovan Alp, and he's 60. But all were put in the ha'penny place by Rex Henderson from Australia's Royal Freshwater Bay YC who admitted to being 70, but who knows, it might be more. So these crazy Mirror maniacs are the living embodiment of the ISA's motto of sailing being a sport for life. And as for running a successful World Championship being a matter of club and community endeavour, in a little place like Dromineer, it just has to be – it wouldn't work any other way.

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An ideal venue – Lough Derg YC's current clubhouse was opened eight years ago. Photo: W M Nixon

Lough Derg YC (founded 1835) has an attractive, substantial and very efficient clubhouse which was opened after massive membership endeavour back in 2005, and deservedly saw LDYC taking the Mitsubishi Motors "Club of the Year" award. In effect, it functions as the lakeside village's community centre, and hosts such an extraordinary variety of events that in honour of one of them, the Dromineer Literary Festival, it was described this week as a Poetry Society with Sailing Club attached.

Just to show we're not making this up, this year's festival is from 3rd to 7th October, and all info is at www.dromineerliteraryfestival.ie. But meanwhile there was this business of the club taking on the biennial Mirror Worlds at a time when Mirror Dinghies are supposed to be rather passé despite their Golden Jubilee this year, and with the reality of Ireland being in recession and Dromineer being a place of limited visitor accommodation. In fact, it was the perfect formula to spur everyone on to greater effort. Just about everyone got involved, and the visitors from far and wide who couldn't find accommodation either in b&bs or people's houses found that there were berths available on the large variety of cruisers in the harbour.

So the people were indeed coming to Dromineer, and keen to race. A fleet of 91 boats isn't one to be sniffed at, and when you take on the mantle of a World Championship, you have the additional task of hosting teams of mandatory officials who have been guaranteed a certain level of comfort. It's a formidable organizational effort, but for a very long time in advance, Event Manager Ian Roberts and his Assistant Manager Lucy Sanders were putting their team together, and anyone who has been following the daily up-dates on Afloat.ie from Dromineer on the progress of the regatta will know that the sailors have been having a mighty fine time.

Even the daily reports have been a good example of team effort by the shore squad in the clubhouse and Mirror supporters out on the water. From the race course, Andy Johnston of Sutton Dinghy Club was filing in a stream of regular reports on tactical developments in each race, with additional input from Brian Raftery of Sligo. Back in the clubhouse, LDYC Press Officer Eleanor Hooker kept tabs on the reports she collated a daily report each evening which gave an excellent overview of the progress of a world class World Championship.

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The hefty 1958-built steel ketch Shindilla proved an ideal committee boat, but even she showed that Lough Derg can make waves. Photo: W M Nixon

Out on the water, PRO Con Murphy and his crew were based on the Levie family of Clonmel's substantial steel ketch Shindilla. Originally built in the Netherlands in 1958 for Bob Berridge of Galway and Cork, the 38ft Shindilla is the ideal size for a committee boat on Lough Derg, as she's not too large, yet her weight provides a solid platform on a bit of water which can sometimes serve up rollers which wouldn't shame the sea.

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The first race on the second day in the Worlds showed the Robinsons' winning style. The fleet shapes up with the port end suddenly becoming the favoured position...... Photo: W M Nixon

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.....but two Irish boats (Keri-Ann Boylan & Ros Morgan, and Ronan Gilmartin & Sean O'Leary) find themselves pushed beyond the limit, yet the Robinsons zap away in perfect style clear on port such that.........Photo: W M Nixon

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.....one minute after the start they're totally out on their own, sailing in clear air. Photo: W M Nixon

So the scene was set, with the community in the attractive village – on a good day it's the Tipperary Riviera - and the members in the bustling clubhouse all together on message. And there, wonderful as ever, was the lake, ready for it and astonishingly beautiful as only Lough Derg can be, particularly in a week when the changeable weather gave it a new brightness of sunlight and a welcome freshness after the choking and often windless heat of most of July. For although the Irish championship which started the regatta had occasional lack of wind pressure, for the Worlds it was a dream scenario with sailing at its best.

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A rainsquall sweeps across, blotting out the Clare Hills, but on the run the Robinsons have reinforced their lead. Photo: Gerardine Wisdom

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In the thick of it, running before Thursday's squall, are Tiarnan Dickson & Alex Leech (Lough Ree YC, white spinnaker), Jack Maye & Sarah White (Sligo YC, blue spinnaker), and Jack Ryan & Ben Graf (70636, Lough Ree YC). Photo: Gerardine Wisdom.

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Second start on Day 2, and some folk think the port end is still favoured.......... Photo: W M Nixon

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....but it isn't. Joshua Muller & Daniel Coetzer of South Africa hit it on the gun travelling well.........Photo: W M Nixon

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......and at first things are looking good for Muller and Coetzer. Photo: W M Nixon

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Close behind, there's a merry bunch, with Emilio Williams Doran & Michaal Broaders (70288) put astray by a starboard rush. Photo: W M Nixon

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Reality has intervened for Muller & Coetzer as boats stategically better placed at the start take over their apparent lead - in this case it's Jeremy and Lauren Stephens doing the business. Photo: W M Nixon

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The fleet came from seven nations, and here Eoin Hickey & Sadbh Culleton of Ireland lead from Viktor Hogbom & Malin Goransson of Sweden and Howard Leoto & Pakamani Yoko of South Africa. Photo: W M Nixon

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An Irish sailing memory to cherish – Lough Derg at its most handsome as David & Timothy Pilbeam (Australia), lead from Simon & Sidonia Barwood (Australia), Mark & Duncan Hawksworth (South Africa), George O'Connor & Aaron Rogers (Ireland), Robert Blake & Jack Fahey (Ireland), and Ben & Gabe Hill (GB).
Photo: W M Nixon

Seize the day, seize the moment – this was all very special. My own observation point was from Reggie Goodbody's gaff sloop Amaryllis, which is yet another Lough Derg curiosity, as her hull was built in Italy, then the boat was finished in Holland. But now she is such a ubiquitous feature of all Ireland's inland waterways that she's believed to be the only boat which has crossed the M50 under sail – she did it on the Royal Canal aqueduct.

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The only boat ever to cross Dublin's M50 under sail – Reggie Goodbody's Amaryllis in her home port of Dromineer. Photo: W M Nixon

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Calling it a day. Senior Canadian crew Donovan Alp and Daniel Coady return to Dromineer.......Photo: W M Nixon

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.....only to find that their allocated berth has been taken over by a family of swans.......Photo: W M Nixon

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....but Canadians are good at peace-making and the swans move on......Photo: W M Nixon

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....to a more appropriate berth beside the Shannon ODs, while out on the lake, racing has finished for the day as the wind freshens still further. Photo: W M Nixon

Amaryllis's hefty nature meant we couldn't mix it in the heat of the fleet with the proper photographers' RIBs, but we got the flavour of it, and more particularly we were comfortably back in time for the post-sailing atmosphere in Dromineer. Thus we saw senior crew Donovan Alp and Daniel Coady from Canada making their early return to find a very strong looking family of swans had taken up residence on the Canadian's allocated berth. Somehow, it was sorted out (Canadians are good at peace-making), and the swans re-located to a suitable spot beside the Shannon One Designs. while out on the lake the day's racing was signalled as over, and the fleet cascaded back to shore.

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Mirrors everywhere as the fleet cascades back into port. Photo: W M Nixon

By this time, I was so Mirror mesmerized that I'd got to the stage of thinking any boat with a pointy bow and white sails was an oddity. Normality had become a boat with a bluff little hull and red sails, sailed by people who race for fun. And Dromineer is the ideal spot for them. After racing at a saltwater venue, you have all the hassle of washing down boat, gear, sails and crew with fresh water. But that simply doesn't come up on the agenda in Dromineer. It's a sweet spot.

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Post race Dromineer. At the end of the day, there's no tedious requirement for washing off the salt. Photo: W M 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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