With a good selection of excellent sailing weather once the summer had finally set in, 2013 defied economic recession to produce a memorable season in Ireland, with a strong emphasis on World Championships and other high profile events. W M Nixon wonders if 2014 can keep up the pace.
Blasts from the past are a feature of many of 2014's planned championships, causing us to reflect on why classes and events wax and wane over the years. A GP 14 Worlds coming up on 10th-15th August on Strangford Lough? Time was when we won such things. The 40th Anniversary Scottish Series at Tarbert on the achingly beautiful waters of Loch Fyne? In recent years, there has been a disturbing decline in numbers taking part in this unique event, including those from Ireland. Yet during a certain glorious period of massive turnouts, top Irish boats of international renown provided a string of overall champions.
As for the continuation of the revival of ISORA Racing in the Irish Sea, with interesting new additions to the programme? Well, it's definitely happening, but we've still a long way to go to revive the heady days of the 1970s, when ISORA was the new kid on the block and thriving mightily, with the best year seeing 107 boats competing in a championship which was spread over seven weekends throughout the season, each weekend featuring a very well-supported offshore event, usually complete with an overnight element in the racing, involving logistics which might see some crew members away from home for four days – and all that just for one offshore race.
And as for multihulls being high on the global sailing interest stakes after the advent of the MOD 70s and the new-look America's Cup, the Formula 18 Worlds 2014 at Ballyholme in July (5th-11th) will be bringing one of the world's best-established catamaran classes to frontline prominence in Ireland. Introduced in France in 1994, and taking hold so rapidly it received international status by 1996, the Formula 18's 2013 Worlds at Marina di Grosseto on the west coast of Tuscany in Italy saw a fleet of 161 boats hail French national champion Billy Besson as the new World title-holder after he saw off the challenge of Britain's Hugh Styles. Best of the Irish were Ballyholme's Adrian Allen and Brian Swanston, who were also part of a team promoting the 2014 Worlds at their home club with the full support of North Down Borough Council.
The Ballyholme Formula 18 which spread the word about the 2014 Worlds on Belfast Lough at the 2013 Worlds in Italy.
It's Ballyholme YC which also produced some of Ireland's top performers in the GP 14s at World level, with Bill Whisker winning the global title in 1974. And there's a certain unexpected connection towards another event in the recollection - it was a young East Down YC skipper, Richard Croasdaile, who was the first overall champion in the inaugural Scottish Series way back in 1975, racing the Nicholson 30 Kavala II. Mathematical pedants will be pleased to note that 2014's big party in Scotland (it's from May 23rd to 26th) marks the 40th year, not the 40th birthday, which will be in 2015. So the Croasdaile win was in both the First Year and Year Zero. And anyone who thinks it doesn't matter much either way has clearly never been involved in the minutiae of sports and particularly club history.
Be that as it may, Nick Stratton's win in Scotland in 1977 with Hydro-Djinn also had strong Irish links, but the event really hit the big time in 1981 with fleet numbers rocketing and the overall winner Frank Woods of the National YC's new Tony Castro 36f t One Tonner Justine III, skippered by Harold Cudmore.
Justine III went on to win the One Ton Worlds at Royal Cork that same year, but it was some time before Royal Cork boats became heavily involved in the Scottish Series. There was a Cork presence at the top in 2003 with the local Tarbert-based Cork 1720 King Quick (Ruairidh and Graeme Scott) taking the overall title. But then for four years with the Scottish Series at its height of success, Ireland and particularly Cork swept the board at the top, with Anthony O'Leary's first Antix (a Corby 36) winning in 2004, then Tim Costello of Dublin Bay's first Mills-designed Tiamat won in 2005, then in 2006 it was Antix again, and the fabulous run of success (more than somewhat connected to the Celtic Tiger years) concluded with the overall title in 2005 going to Conor Phelan's Mills 40 Jump Juice from Cork.
The pace of expansion of the Scottish Series almost continually from 1975 onwards meant that older events suffered, none more so than the traditional annual race round the Isle of Man which had always been staged in that final holiday weekend of May, but saw its once high entries totally eclipsed. However, now that numbers have eased back so markedly in the Scottish event (which can, after all, be a very long trek for Irish boats) the Isle of Man as a destination if not a circuit is re-appearing in Irish Sea offshore events, which in 2014 will see an ISORA Programme which tries to be as user friendly as possible while optimising links to other events.
Obviously the Irish Sea's two offshore highlights in the first half of the season are the ICRA Nationals at the RIYC from Friday June 13th to Sunday June 15th, and the Round Ireland from Wicklow on Saturday June 28th, but a crew minded to have the webbed-foot way of life can take full advantage of the 2014 programme planned by ISORA Commodore Peter Ryan and his Committee to log a formidable amount of sailing, though with defending overall champion Stephen Tudor of Pwllheli on top form with his J/109 Sgrech, just getting into the frame would be quite an ambition in itself.
Stephen Tudor's J/109 Sgrech set the pace in ISORA racing in 2013. Her skipper is one of the key movers in the new Welsh IRC Nationals from August 1st-3rd at Pwllheli
The Isle of Man is back in the picture with the historic Tranmere SC Midnight Race to Douglas from the Mersey area re-emphasised on Friday June 6th, while Sunday June 8th sees a day race from Douglas to Dun Laoghaire. Meanwhile for those who have stayed on in Ireland, June 7th sees Howth's annual Lambay Race, the premier regular Fingal sailfest, with defending champions Windsor Lauder and Steph Ennis with the vintage Club Shamrock Demelza - in Neville Maguire's ownership, Demelza was ISORA Champion in 1984.
For those determined to sail on with a spot of high culture after the ICRA Nationals from June 13th to 15th, the Royal Alfred YC is staging its annual Bloomsday Regatta on Monday June 16th, which still leaves a spare weekend for the countdown to the Round Ireland on Saturday June 28th.
Defender in that is the Guoy family's Ker 39 Inis Mor, which races in Ireland under Clifden Boat Club colours. In winning 2012's Round Ireland, Inis Mor snatched victory from Piet Vroon's Ker 46 Tonnere de Breskens, but Tonnere then went on to have a fabulous season in Irish waters by sweeping the board at Cork Week.
Piet Vroon's Ker 46 Tonnere de Breskens storming along to be overall champion at Cork Week 2012. Photo: Bob Bateman
Big boat start at Cork Week 2012. Cork Week 2014 will be in a more compact form, with practice races on Monday July 5th, and the series proper from Tuesday July 6th to Friday July 11th. Photo: Bob Bateman
Cork Week 2014 is from Tuesday July 8th to Friday July 11th, but there's a full programme of practice races on the Monday (July 7th). Racing Chairman Anthony O'Leary and RCYC Admiral Peter Deasy are acutely aware of the need to offer an attractive economical package, and this new slimmed-down look has emerged from research with regular participants, and an in-depth analysis of what is working elsewhere.
With July fully under way, other aspects of life afloat start to come centre centre stage, and July 5th to 13th sees the 85th Anniversary Cruise of the Irish Cruising Club along the coast of southwest Ireland. It concludes at Glengarriff on Sunday July 13th, for it was in Glengarriff on 13th July 1929 that a cruise-in-company of just five yachts brought the ICC into being. The club held a massive Cruise-in-Company with Transatlantic participants in 1979 to celebrate its Golden Jubilee, and it has since held many other waterborne events, both in Ireland and abroad. But even though the members seem to live for ever, some very distinguished ones reckon it's unlikely they'll be around for the Centenary in 2029, so the 85th Anniversary – with the fleet capped at 85 boats – seemed a good idea, and already the word is that boats signed up have pushed through the thirty mark.
Glengarriff, birthplace of the Irish Cruising Club in 1929. The 85th Anniversary of the ICC will be celebrated here at the conclusion of a Cruise-in-Company on July 13th 2014.
Among the sailing highlights of 2013 were the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the Old Gaffers Association, in which the Irish Sea set a pace few other areas could match. Although there will be OGA events in Ireland in 2014 (and the word is of a branch being formed in Cork Harbour), obviously the pace won't be quite as hectic as 2013. But if you've a mind to savour the old gaffer and traditional boat movement at its colourful and eccentric best, get yourself to Peel on the Isle of Man around 25th to 28th July, when the Peel Traditional Boat Weekend is one of the best maritime festivals of them all.
Peel in the Isle of Man. Its Traditional Boat Weekend (July 25th to 28th) is one of the maritime highlights of the classic boat scene in the Irish Sea. Photo: W M Nixon
However, for those who prefer racing with three-sided sails, one of the most beautiful coastal areas in all Ireland will be the venue for the WIORA Championships at Mayo SC on Clew Bay from July 23rd to 26th. Unless you've a boat small enough to trail, it's a long sea haul from other centres, but ICRA Commodore Nobby Reilly has made the brilliant suggestion that the SailFleet J/80s should all be taken to Mayo SC for this championships, with top offshore clubs then nominating junior crews to race them on Clew Bay.
A new event, the Welsh IRC Nationals at Pwllheli, ushers in August, and it's very handy for boats from the east coast of Ireland, with marvellous sailing waters against the gorgeous backdrop of Snowdonia. Dates are 1st to 3rd August. As the 4th is a Bank Holiday in Ireland, it's very time-friendly, and with Stephen Tudor in a key role, the only extra requirement for a very classy event is for the weather to play its part.
Back in Ireland meanwhile, time-honoured events such as the West Cork regattas in the first half of August and the Cruinniu na mBad (the Gathering of the Boats) at Kinvara on Galway Bay at mid-month are always guaranteed to provide sport and entertainment at many different levels, but for serious racing people the focus from August 10th to 15th is on Strangford Lough and the GP14 Worlds at East Down YC.
It will make for an interesting comparison with the Formula 18 Worlds at Ballyholme a month earlier. There's no doubt the Formula 18 is becoming an important part of the DNA of world sailing. But will it ever become part of Irish sailing's DNA in the same way as the GP14? Classes come and go more slowly in Ireland than elsewhere, but they do come and go nevertheless. Yet the GP 14 shows every sign of going on for ever in the Emerald Isle, and the 2013 Irish Nationals at Sutton DC on Dublin Bay at the end of August was a triumphant blast of the past, the present and the future.
Ever-young old stager. Curly Morris of Larne sails forth in his immaculate GP14 at the Nationals in Sutton at the end of August. Photo: Ron Maher
SDC Commodore Andy Johnston and his team hosted a friendly group of keen racing folk who revelled in the sport their lovingly-prepared boats provided, while the Hill of Howth, after a dry and sunny month, provided a background which looked more like one of the isles of Greece than somewhere on Ireland's east coast.
It was a festival for ever-young old stagers, with Curly Morris of Larne turning up with his immaculate wooden boat Trouble I've Seen to provide a taster for the calibre of the fleet we'll see on Strangford Lough in August 2014.
They just keep sailing along.......Veteran skipper Curly Morris raced the GP14 Irish Nationals at Sutton in August 2013 in anticipation of the August 2014 Worlds on Strangford Lough. Photo: Ron Maher
2014 Irish Sailing's Key Dates
May 23rd to 25th Scottish Series
June 6th-8th ISORA Tranmere-IOM-Dun Laoghaire races
June 7th Lambay Race
June 13-15th Dun Laoghaire ICRA Nationals
June 16th Bloomsday Regatta
June 28 Wicklow SC Round Ireland Race
June Derry's Clipper Round the World Race stopover
July 8th-11th Cork Week
July 5th-13th ICC 85th Anniversary Cruise-in-Company to Glengarriff
July 5-11th Ballyholme YC Formula 18 worlds
July 20 Dun Laoghaire's Optimist Europeans
July 23 to 26th WIORA Championship, Mayo SC
July 25th to 28th Peel Traditional Boat Weekend
August 1st to 3rd Welsh IRC Championship Pellheli/Abersoch
August 10th-15th East Down YC GP14 World Championships
September ISAF Worlds in Santander, Spain (first opportunity to qualify for 2016 Olympics)