#loughderg – Lough Derg's annual Keelboat Freshwater Regatta in October is meant to round out the season with some gentle lake sailing for salty folk in big boats. But 2014's event last weekend was just too near a ferociously active bad weather system which had lows sometimes down to the 950s spinning around each other out in the Atlantic close to Ireland's West Coast. Thus although it was possible to get in the racing in the CH Marine Autumn Series down at Crosshaven, while the MSL Park Motors Autumn League at Howth concluded in balmy if breezy conditions across on the east coast, over to the west on Lough Derg they were lashed by the tails of two storms, and two classes failed to get any racing at all. But if you happened to be with the stately Dragons or the perky Squibs, then there was some great sport which has W M Nixon reflecting on the way our keelboat classes are developing.
Of all Ireland's lakes, it is Lough Derg which most truly merits the description of "Inland Sea'. Lough Neagh may have greater area, but in the final analysis it's only an oddly characterless shallow basin which happens to be filled with water. Lough Erne is marvellous, but too convoluted. Lough Ree has the area and the intricate coastline, but lacks the scenery. And while Lough Corrib is right up there in the beauty stakes, it's isolated from the rest of the world.
But Lough Derg – now there really is a proper inland sea. It has splendid scenery, and historic little ports with ancient quaysides all round its complex coastline, while beside them you'll find modern marinas which host an astonishing variety and number of boats, including some quite substantial sailing cruisers.
Not only is it a splendid place unto itself, but Lough Derg is part of the greater world. From it, you can undertake inland voyages to every part of Ireland, yet it takes only a day to access the sea and the oceans beyond. It's the sort of place where boating and sailing ambitions can seem endless, so it's not surprising that in recent years the Autumn keelboat regatta has become a trendy annual fixture.
Last weekend, sixty boats from four classes headed Dromineer way, to a hospitable bay and village where Lough Derg YC has been established since 1835. Keelboat racing is nothing new on Lough Derg, but boat numbers at this level is something new, and the logistics of getting the visitors launched, and organising racing on two courses when the weather was being massively unco-operative, caused something of an overload on the club system.
As well, being slightly later in October than is usual, some key members of LDYC's small core of voluntary workers afloat and ashore were already out of the country on their usual mid-Autumn breaks. So although it would have been manageable if the weather had been clement, with the main part of the racing planned for mid-lake there simply weren't the service boats and personnel available to make a sudden shift of some of the racing to a second inshore course in Dromineer Bay.
Lough Derg isn't just a lake – it's a proper inland sea with connections to the wide world.
There's nothing new about keelboats on Lough Derg. This is the 7-ton cutter Tessa (Trahern Holmes, LDYC) on the lake in 1884......
....and this is the keelboat class at Dromineer in the late 1920s. The Bermuda rigged sail number L11 is a former Olympic 6 Metre from Finland
Happily for the Dragons racing in their well-established challenge for the Jack Craig Cup, the trophy which started the whole Dromineer Autumn Keelboat event, their racing was planned for three days. In the end, they only managed the required mid-lake racing on the Friday, but it gave great sport.
The Dragons start on the Friday. It was the introduction of the Jack Craig Cup for the International Dragons which inaugurated the Lough Derg Keelboat Regatta. The overall winner was to be Phantom (Neil Hegarty, RStGYC, no 176) Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
Diva (Richard Goodbody) holds the lead downwind from Dublin Bay (Gary Treacy), Little Fella (Cameron Good) and Mar J (Adrian Bendon) Photo Gareth Craig/fotosail
When the going was good for the Dragons at Dromineer, it was very good. Gary Treacy's Dublin Bay from Dun Laoghaire and Adrian Bendon's Mar J from Kinsale neck and neck on the run, with Lough Derg YC's clubhouse and harbour on the shoreline beyond. Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
Gary Treacy's Dublin Bay settles into the groove upwind. Photo: Gareth Craig /fotosail
Richard Goodbody's Diva showing the form which won second overall. Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
Martin Byrne's Jaguar at the finish on starboard. A former Edinburgh Cup winner, Jaguar placed third on Lough Derg. Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
The Lough Derg 2014 Dragon Champions – Neil Hegarty's Phantom (right) won from Richard Goodbody's Diva (left). Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
Autumn sailing at its best – Adrian Bendon's Mar J from Kinsale closes in on the finish and tenth place overall at Dromineer. Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
However, for the SB20s and the Flying Fifteens, trying to race the same waters on Saturday proved a non-event, and again on Sunday too. All of which made it even more galling that the Squibs, the biggest fleet of all, had requested their own simple windward-leeward course set further into Dromineer Bay on the Saturday. As long as the wind stayed in the south, the Squibs were able to race on into Saturday afternoon until, with a slight veering and further freshening of the already strong wind, all options were off.
Then on the Sunday with the wind firmly in the southwest and strong, only the Squibs had racing with one contest out on the lake, and another – with very short legs – in the inner bay. With hindsight, it seems reasonable to think that room might have been found in the bay for the two other classes of smaller boats, though admittedly the SB20s at full cry do need quite a bit of space. But that would have needed some very slick manoeuvres by more supporting RIBs, committee boats and personnel than were available.
Revelling in it. Veteran skipper Vincent Delany (who also races Water Wags and Shannon ODs) puts his vintage Squib Femme Fatale (no 24) through her paces on Lough Derg. Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
Come to think of it, the Dragons might also have been given racing on Saturday morning if they'd been prepared to set out early and get over to the shelter of the Garrykennedy shore. But in truth, after their super sailing during Friday, the night had passed in turbo-powered conviviality, and as the Dragon crews came very slowly to life on Saturday morning on various motor-cruisers and in other accommodation, they reckoned to let the approaching storm have its way, and made arrangements to watch the rugby in the Whiskey Still in Dromineer, while other more intrepid Dragoneers battled across the lake in their vast hired Shannon motor-cruiser for a slight change of scene to watch the match in Larkin's of Garrykennedy.
But meanwhile the little Squibs were having themselves a fine old time. It was of extra interest in Dromineer, as that great stalwart of Shannon sailing Reggie Goodbody, supported by David Meredith and others, has been quietly beavering away during the past couple of years to get the Squibs going as a local class at Lough Derg Yacht Club.
As of Thursday of this week, they'd got numbers up to nine boats with others interested, which is good going from a standing start late in the summer of 2012. And though they knew that Squibs from the more experienced classes from all round Ireland would be giving them a hard time on the water, they were there ready and willing to welcome them as they drove into Dromineer on the Friday night last weekend, with twenty visiting Squibs being rigged and launched in one-and-a-half hours.
The Lough Derg people are keen to keep their new class in manageable parameters, so they've set a purchase price limit of €4,500 on people buying Squibs new to the area, which still allows for shrewd purchases in sailing centres in Great Britain, where at this time of the year it's a happy hunting ground for Squib seekers.
The breeze is building. One of the newest Squibs racing was Tonia McAllister's Pintail from the National YC, which finished 7th. Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
Storm? What storm? Despite dire weather predictions, at first on the Saturday morning the Squibs had perfect sailing conditions. Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
Sailing as it should be. In foreground is Rupert Bowen's Sidewinder (138, RStGYC) and beyond is clubmate Gerry O'Connor's Buzzlite (125). Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
The attraction of the Squib for Dromineer is that it is so easily managed and maintained, a real bonus for people who may find they no longer have the energy and enthusiasm to maintain and tune a Shannon One Design, let alone the athletic ability to race one flat out. As I well recall from my own happy year of owning a Squib, they really are proper little sit-in keelboats despite being only 19ft LOA, and with our family including three small boys, a Squib proved ideal for mini-cruises along the Fingal coast and out to the islands of Ireland's Eye and Lambay, while the rapid development of the class at Howth meant we were getting good racing by the early summer of 1979.
One of the attractions of the Squib is that though she is only 19ft long, there's a proper sit-in cockpit. These are some very junior Nixons sailing on the family Squib Huppatee while returning to Howth from Ireland's Eye (hence the dinghy towing astern) in 1979. The only drawback of the Squib was she had only one tiller, so not all could steer, thus the most junior crewmember needed special consolation from his Mum.
These days the Squibs in Howth are in something of a fallow period, as many of the people who would have raced the boat in times past have moved on and up to the Puppeteer 22 which, with its little cabin and easily handled fractional rig, ticks very many boxes. However, the British & Irish Squib Championship 2015 is scheduled for Howth next June 26th- July 3rd, so doubtless that will lead to a local revival, though whether the magic number of a hundred boat racing in the same championship at the Howth venue in 1996 will be reached again is a moot point.
Off Dromineer, there's starting to be a real bite to the breeze as Pintail chases Femme Fatale (right) and Lola..........Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
....while keeping an eye on Sidewinder off the starboard quarter. Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
But you never know. New boats are being built, so the class's enduring attraction is still proven, and certainly the way they got themselves back into some very confined berths at Dromineer on Saturday afternoon as further racing was being blown out was testament to their quality design and very positive handling qualities. Admittedly they may seem almost too smoothly-handling for sailing's thrill seekers, but growing classes in Dun Laoghaire and Kinsale, and the continuing health of the Squib fleets in Northern Ireland, means that the new Squib fleet at Lough Derg need never feel lonely.
That said, because the Squib has a countrywide spread, trying to keep it first and foremost a local class - as they hope to do at Dromineer - is quite a challenge. Many inshore keelboat classes today find they are becoming event boats, with crew concentrating on big happenings to which they travel perhaps every other weekend, or every three weeks or so, and they simply don't bother trying to keep up the twice-weekly commitment of club racing.
Experiment under way. Jill Fleming of Dun Laoghaire was testing a new variant on Squib sails, but although her rig looked very potent, she was back in 8th place overall with seven suits of standard tan sails ahead of her. Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
Certainly that's often the case with the Dragons, but then the Dragon class in Ireland offers its members a very attractive package of events all round the country at the most pleasant and glamorous sailing centres. Thus Dragon racing today in Ireland is a high-powered and potentially very expensive way of sailing, and just about as far removed as possible from Reggie Goodbody's ambitions for inexpensive Squibs at Dromineer.
He hopes to see the them develop as a good-value local class which will bring life back to Lough Derg Yacht Club during the more everyday times, when there isn't a championship going on, or it isn't the annual Lough Derg Week in August. This isn't at all the style of the Dragons' jet-setters – they're big-event performers.
Cool sailing. One of the reasons the Squib appeals to former Shannon One Design sailors in Dromineer is that even on a busy run, you can still be relaxed and comfortable (very comfortable for the helmsman), whereas a SOD would be providing a hairy ride. Photo: Gareth Craig/fotosail
So it was fascinating to see the two very different classes sharing the lake and harbour space at Dromineer, though it was clear that if you wished to take the cheque book sailing route, the Squibs offer that as well, so Reggie and his team will have to keep the expenditure lid very firmly clamped in place.
The racing results well reflected the nationwide appeal of this event, for though the Dragons may seem to have emerged with a Dun Laoghaire dominance, winner Neil Hegarty of Royal St George YC originally hailed from Cork, and Cameron Good of Kinsale was consistent with a 6th and 3rd to take fourth behind two Dublin Bay boats.
In the Squibs, James Matthews and Rob Jacob of Kinsale racing the vintage Mucky Duck were notably consistent with a final scoreline of two firsts, a second and a third, but almost equally good were Gordon Paterson and Ross Nolan of Royal North of Ireland YC with two firsts, a second and a fifth. Another RNIYC boat from Cultra, Des and Chris Clayton's Inismara, got into the frame with the win in the final race, and the complete Squib scoreline shows the longterm health of the class, as the top six boats range in sail numbers from 24 to 820.
The Squibs might have been invented with Lough Derg YC's facilities in mind, as they are easy to berth on the outer harbour....Photo: W M Nixon
...yet even in an awkward breeze, they can head confidently for the narrow little East Dock.......Photo: W M Nixon
....and stay nicely under control while assessing the situation. This is Peter Kennedy's Whipper Snapper, which was top of the local boats at 11th overall in the Dromineer regatta. Photo: W M Nixon
The Squib is so well mannered she'll wriggle up the most unlikely channel whatever the wind.........Photo: W M Nixon
....and so Whipper Snapper reaches her berth right at the top of the dock with no bother at all. Photo: W M Nixon
As to the longterm health of the event, despite this year's problems for which we have to make some allowance for the extreme weather, there's no doubt everyone very much wants Dromineer to succeed as the venue for what has the potential to be a major and rather special keelboat regatta.
But as an outside observer who has been notably unsuccessful in running races himself, it seemed to me that when number start pushing towards the sixty mark and four classes are involved, then the visiting classes will have to expect to be bringing back-up support boats and some race officials with them. And that in turn will require a certain amount of diplomacy between the visitors and the established race administration at the hosting club. Yet that would be well worth the effort. For when the going was good at Dromineer, it was very good indeed.
LOUGH DERG YACHT CLUB KEELBOAT REGATTA 2014
International Dragon Class: 1st Phantom (Neil Hegarty, RStGYC) 3pts; 2nd Diva (Richard Goodbody, RIYC) 4pt; 3rd Jaguar (Martin Byrne, RStGYC) 7 pts; 4th Little Fella (Cameron Good, KYC) 9 pts; 5th Sir Ossis (Denis Bergin, RIYC) 13pts; 6th Cloud (Claire Hogan, RStGYC) 14pts. (15 raced).
National Squib Class: 1st Mucky Duck (James Matthews, KYC) 7pts; 2nd Quickstep (Gordon Paterson, RNIYC) 9pts; 3rd Inismara (Des Clayton, RNIYC) 15pts; 4th Fagan (Cian O'Regan, KYC) 15pts; 5th Femme Fatale (Vincent Delany, RStGYC) 15 pts; 6th Perfection (Jill Fleming, RStGYC) 17pts; 7th Pintail (Tonia McAllister, NYC) 37pts; 8th Sidewinder (Rupert Bowen, RStGYC) 40 pts (23 raced).
When the going gets too rough on Lough Derg, the prudent Dromineer mariner will seek a secure berth in the Whiskey Still to watch the rugby. Photo: W M Nixon