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Dun Laoghaire–Dingle Race Won By Family Sailing Values

20th June 2015
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Family unit: The Shanahans' J/109 Ruth in action in Dublin Bay, with the picture made even more complete by the fact they live in Dalkey on the hill beyond. Photo: David O'Brien
Dun Laoghaire–Dingle Race Won By Family Sailing Values

#d2drace – It's the Irish offshore race which ticks all the boxes.You start conveniently on a Friday night from a harbour which – despite everything that has been done to it in the name of modern architecture – continues to present the classically smooth granite façade of official Dublin-on-Sea. The race is on southward through the night down the east coast, past murky sandbanks which contrast with the luxuriance of the Garden of Ireland beyond the nearby shore. After that, it's round the tricky rock-strewn southeast corner and into the Atlantic, seeking a course between southwest and west along a green and purple coastline with fine mountains beyond, until your next major turn is the Fastnet Rock itself.

Then it's on round Ireland's most spectacularly beautiful southwestern coastline, past one great headland after another, each more impressive than the last. The final turning mark is reached, a rock so spectacular it's first choice for location shooting on sci-fi blockbusters. Thus is the mighty and mystical Skellig Michael put astern. And then, with the majestic scenery of the great mountains of Kerry setting the style, you head up a splendid inlet and sail through a small and almost hidden gap in its rugged northern coastline.

You've suddenly entered a secret yet commodious natural harbour, and may find yourself being welcomed by the amiable yet often spectacular resident dolphin. But far from finding you've arrived at a sparse little village which is appropriately dwarfed by the big country about it, on the contrary there's a proper little port town with an air of confidence and cosmopolitan chic, and the aromas of good cooking in the breeze off the land. But the contrast with the smooth metropolitan harbour town you left a couple of days earlier simply couldn't be greater. For you have just finished the 280-mile Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race, and all is very well with the world at one of Ireland's best destination ports. W M Nixon tells the story of the 2015 edition of this biennial classic.

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We took leave of the fleet of thirty boats a week ago on this blog as they exited unspectacularly from Dublin Bay in the gathering dusk, helped by the new ebb, and searching for the brisk northerly which had been forecast. And to varying extents they did find it, though it was only those who went close along the land who found it in anything like the forecast strengths - those offshore could have done with more. But before we go into their travails and triumphs, let us again list the dramatis personae, ranked by IRC Rating:

Dingle Skellig Hotel Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2015, start 2100hrs Friday June 12th. Entries listed by rating.

1 Lee Overlay Partners, (Cookson 50, Adrian Lee, Royal St George YC) - 1.340
2 Antix, (Ker 40, Anthony O'Leary, Royal Cork YC & Baltimore SC) - 1.210
3 WOW, (Farr 42, George Sisk, Royal Irish YC) - 1.124
4 Pogeen (Pogo 1050, John Gilmore, Strangford Lough YC) -1.096 (Cruiser)
5 Aquelina (J/122, James & Sheila Tyrrell, Arklow SC) – 1.078
6 Aurelia (J/122, Chris & Patanne Power Smith, RStGYC) – 1.077
7 Endgame (A 35, Frank Doyle, RCYC) – 1.027
8 Dear Prudence (J/109, Jonathan Bourke, ManhattanYC) – 1.021
9 Mojito (J109,Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox, Pwllheli SC) – 1.018
10 Ruth (J/109, Shanahan family, National YC) – 1.017
11 Wakey Wakey (J/109, Roger Smith, Poolbeg Y & BC), - 1.015
12 Powder Monkey (J/109, Chris Moore, NYC) – 1.014
13 Jedi (J/109, J Treanor, A Sarratt, M McGuinness, RIYC, NYC, RStGYC) – 1.009
14 Exhale (X-Yachts 362 Sport, Derry & Hilda Good, RCYC) – 1.009
15 First of September (First 435, Jerry Whiston, PY&BC) – 1.003
16 Lula Belle (First 36.7, Liam Coyne, NYC) – 1.002
17 Alchimiste (JPK 9.60, Mike Murphy, National YC) – 0.998
18 Blue Eyes (Elan 340, Colm Buckley & Simon Knowles, Howth YC) – 0.987 (2-handed)
19 Joker (Sigma 38, David Gibbons, Kinsale YC) – 0.982 (2-handed)
20 Windshift (Jeanneau Sunfast 37, Brendan Coghlan, RStGYC) – 0.980
21 Persistance (Sigma 38, Jerry Collins, RStGYC) 0.978 (Cruiser)
22 Yahtzee (Beneteau Oceanis 411) Richard Mossop, Dun Laoghaire MYC – 0.978 (Cruiser)
23 Red Rhum (Dehler db1, Jonathan Nicholson, RStGYC) – 0.968
24 Desert Star (Jeanneau Sunfast 37, Ronan O Siochru, RStGYC) – 0.966
25 Ipanema (Dehler 37 CR, Martin Breen Galway Bay SC) – 0.959 (Cruiser)
26 Legally Blonde (Beneteau First 31.7, Cathal Drohan, RStGYC) 0.951
27 Amazing Grace (Oyster 37, Brian O'Sullivan & Frances Clifford, Tralee Bay SC) – 0.928
28 Big Deal (Dehler 34, Derek & Conor Dillon, Foynes YC) - 0.922 (2-handed)
29 Lady Rowena (Sadler 34, David Bolger, RStGYC) 0.911 (Cruiser)
30 Polished Manx (Sigma 33, Kuba Szymanski, Douglas Bay YC) – 0.899

As they sailed into the night, some were doing better than others almost regardless of the wind they found. And the D2D Race Tracker began its work on Afloat.ie to such good effect that within a couple of days its visitor hits had knocked "James Bond in Dun Laoghaire" off the top of the popularity sidebar on our website.

d2dmap.jpgA great offshore race becomes a computer game. Thanks to the ISORA Averycrest Yellowbrick support, we could follow every twist and turn, then relish it all as seen here after the finish, when we could look back at leisure to see those who took flyers. That's Jedi and WOW from Dun Laoghaire who went way to the eastward going south through St George's Channel, with Jedi going deepest. Then Ipanema from Galway went looking for palm trees in the Celtic Sea and didn't do well, though the other markedly though not so extreme southward plunger, the J/122 Aurelia, placed third overall. Then in the open Atlantic off the coast of Kerry, Joker from Kinsale clearly reckoned she just couldn't go too far west...

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The masthead-spinnaker-toting veteran Dehler DB1 Red Rhum (Jonathan Nicholson, RStGYC) was very much a contender in the early stages, and briefly took the overall lead again off West Cork, but at the finish she was 11th. Photo: W M Nixon

From the screen, it became increasingly clear as the first night went along that the racing superstar Antix was starting to look good. Anthony O'Leary of Cork's current British IRC Champion, the Munster-red Ker 40 formerly known as Catapult, had shaken herself clear of most of the rest of the bigger boat group, though a select band of craft of all sizes which has chosen a corner-cutting course out of Dublin Bay close by the Muglins were going well, with the Tyrell's J/122 Aquelina from Arklow setting the pace ahead of the masthead-spinnaker-toting veteran Dehler db1 Red Rhum (Jonathan Nicholson) and the pace-setters in both the Two-Handed and Cruiser Divisions, Colm Buckley and Simon Knowles with the Elan 340 Blue Eyes, and Brian O'Sullivan with the defending champion, the vintage Oyster 37 Amazing Grace.

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In the early stages of the race, the Elan 340 Blue Eyes (left), raced two-handed by Colm Buckley & Simon Knowles (Howth YC) was showing very well against the entire fleet. She lost her good placing for a while in the calms off the southwest coast, but at the finish won the Two-Handed Division and placed twelfth overall, thereby putting sixteen fully-crewed boat astern. With her shortly after the start is the Sigma 38 Joker (David Gibbons, Kinsale YC) which placed second in the Two-Handed Division. Photo: W M Nixon

Their moment of glory was rather more than that. Close along the land, the little fellows were still finding the better breeze an hour later. But offshore the biggies were finding their style, and soon Antix was sitting on nearly 8 knots while Adrian Lee's Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners was powering through at 9, and though Aquelina was hanging in mighty well, the proper order was asserting itself by the time Wicklow Head was astern of the leaders at midnight, though Red Rhum, Blue Eyes and Chris Moore's J/109 Powder Monkey were still embarrassingly close. Further back in the fleet, David Bolger's comfortable Sadler 34 lady Rowena was going much too well for the peace of mind of the bigger newer boats around her.

However, through the remainder of the short June night, the two leaders were powering away, and by 0530 Antix and Lee OP had broken past the Tuskar Rock while the fleet astern found the new flood tide piling up against them to enable Antix to start to assert her position at the top of the leaderboard on IRC. This was what had been expected with the weather forecasts on Thursday morning, when predictions had been that a favourable wind pattern - briskly from the north - might enable Antix to get to Dingle within the 24 hours, with the stratospherically-rated Lee Overlay Partners doing even better.

But by Friday morning the wind expectations and the betting had softened. It seemed there were going to be at least two significant flat patches which would have to be negotiated before they could breathe the Kerry air. In those circumstances, the smart money shifted to boats with middle ratings in the fleet, and where better to settle than on the half dozen ever-reliable J/109s? And within those ever-reliable J/109s, where safer than the Shanahan family with Ruth, the 2014 ISORA Champion?

It has to be admitted that with Powder Monkey leading the charge for glory in the J/109s in the early stages, Ruth had her backers worried. But by the time they were out past the Coningbeg at 11 o'clock on Saturday morning, the money was looking a little bit safer, for although Antix was still reaching along in glorious style and fine weather with the Old Head of Kinsale the next mark in mind and her still on top of the handicap lead, Ruth was now emerging from the pack and was picking at the lead in the J/109s which had been taken over by the Welsh boat Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox), while early sprinter Powder Monkey had run out of steam and was now well back.

While the northerly breeze lasted, Lee Overlay Partners and Antix were in a race of their own. Horizon job doesn't even begin to describe it. And when the wind did go soft and then drew locally from ahead on Saturday afternoon during an otherwise perfect summer's day, they were better able to cope in clear conditions. But many miles astern, the most of the rest of the fleet were in those messy waters south of the Hook, where head winds in the usual lumpy sea make any progress difficult, and some took desperate tactical gambles.

Yet such is the nature of this race that the more optimistic continued to hope that their time might yet come, and so it proved through Saturday night. The underlying northerly breeze had returned as forecast, reinforced by being the night breeze off the land right along the south coast of West Cork. But for the two leaders ploughing along approaching the Fastnet Rock at midnight, they were sailing into another calm. The Fastnet Rock, legendary emblem of rough water, was no more than a great big pussy cat sitting serenely in its own bed of almost windless sea. Lee OP and Antix, within a couple of miles of each other, came as near as dammit to a halt.

Yet the rest of the fleet, led by the offshore-course-favouring J/122 Aurelia (Chris & Patanne Power Smith), were coming down from the Old Head of Kinsale through the velvet night in considerable style and at a very fine speed. Then through that night, as each cohort in turn came to the Fastnet and found it calm and then had some very slow progress towards the next bit of a reasonably moving air out by Mizen Head, the corrected time leadership changed almost by the minute, and certainly by the hour.

In such circumstances, with all the benefit of hindsight, we can see a trend emerging. The close racing between Mojito and Ruth had developed into an exhausting duel. But their heightened performance for that one-on-one challenge meant they in turn were out-performing all others. Oh for sure, from time to time other boats appeared at the top of the leaderboard. But thanks to the Mojito/Ruth contest - "a dogfight" was how Liam Shanahan later laconically described it - when anything remotely like reasonable sailing emerged, the two top J/109s were poised to take the lead.

It was at Cape Clear and heading on towards the Fastnet at 6 o'clock on Sunday morning that Ruth for the first time started to show ahead, though only just, when they were only 80 metres apart. But she stayed ahead of Mojito thereafter, even though like everyone else they spent a considerable time – three hours in the case of some boats – becalmed at the mouth of Bantry Bay. Yet all the time Ruth was somehow nibbling away, and as the northerly returned to give a summer day's beat out past Dursey Head and on towards the big turn at the Skellig, Ruth was building towards having two miles in hand on Mojito.

She never lost it thereafter, and as the chips were falling exactly the right way for whoever was leading the J/109s, they were able to get round the Skellig and up to the finish at Dingle carrying the port tack all the way, albeit hard on the wind, while those ahead had found things flukey towards Dingle, and those far astern were to find the wind veering to give a beat, and then falling away.

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Moment of truth aboard Ruth. With Liam Shanahan on the wheel and crewman Kevin Daly on the mainsheet, they have just rounded the Skellig and can lay the course for the finish. If the expected veering in the wind can hold off for just a little while, they have the race in the bag........

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The early overall leader Antix was no longer in a commanding position when she finally finished the D2D 2015 shortly after 2pm on Sunday, having to contend with a local south to east breeze to get across the line. But in the end, she did very well to correct to 8th place overall after a race in which conditions were against her. Photo: Alan Dooley

Lee Overlay Partners and Antix had stayed well ahead, but being stopped – as the whole fleet had been from time to time – is murder for the highest rated boats, and though they were both into Dingle in time for a late Sunday lunch, it would have needed the rest of the fleet to be set in concrete for half a day to give them a chance of the handicap win.

Yet not so far behind the two big glamour girls, the Steady Eddy performer Aurelia came in neck and neck with George Sisk's much higher rated Farr 42 WOW, and Aurelia was undoubtedly in with more than shout if things went even slightly pear-shaped for the tightly packed bunch astern. But it was not to be. Far from resembling a pear, the shape was perfect for Ruth, and she took the win with style, finishing at 1945 hrs still that crucial two miles ahead of Mojito, which in turn came in twenty minutes later to move into second on corrected time, with things now looking good for Aurelia in third.

It was fairly clearcut in terms of time for the first three places, but fourth slot was a very close run thing. If there was a prize for the most inappropriately-named boat in the race, it would have been no contest for Jay Bourke's J/109 Dear Prudence. She seemed to be crewed mostly by some of the most colourful characters on the Irish sailing scene. And in those difficult stages to the west of the Coningbeg and Saltees, Dear Prudence seemed to be taking unsuccessful flyers which belied her name. But as the race progressed, her motley crew – sorry about the cliché, but nothing else will do – began to get their act together, and they fairly milled their way through the fleet.

By the time Dear Prudence got out of the Bantry Bay calm, she was becoming a contender. Thereafter, the motley crew sailed like men possessed. To get to Dingle as quickly as possible, they made some inspired tactical decisions in the beat up to the Skellig. And then, on the final leg to the finish, they didn't sail an inch further than was absolutely necessary, skirting Valentia Island close inshore with a splendidly cavalier disregard for the supposed perils of doing so, and hounding down Frank Doyle's A35 Endgame and Mike Murphy's perky little twin-ruddered JPK 9.60 Alchimiste like a very hungry lion after his prey.

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Possibly the most inappropriately-named boat on the planet, the J/109 Dear Prudence (seen here in another race) managed to snatch fourth place by 50 seconds thanks to shaving past the coast of Valentia Island on the way to the finish. Photo: W M Nixon

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"And they told me Dingle was a rugged place with ferocious Atlantic weather....." Post-finish celebrations in Dingle say it all.

Thus from being an also ran going nowhere, Dear Prudence came in a commendable fourth, albeit by just 50 seconds ahead of Alchimiste. It was an astounding performance. And it added yet further lustre to the J/Boat sweep of the results, as they now took five of the first six places. In a wonderful race like this, every boat has a dozen stories to tell. In the end though, it is only the story of the winner that really matters. But before we focus on Ruth and her team, here are the complete results, and let it be noted that being a J/109 was no guarantee of success – in the final tally, they were spread between first and nineteenth overall. And in that final tally, an encouraging aspect has to be the widespread nature of the clubs taking part in this great race:

Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2015 (National YC & Dingle Sailing Club) Results

IRC Overall: 1st Ruth (J/109, B, W, A, T & P Shanahan, National YC) Corrected Time: 1 day 23hrs 30 minutes & 48 seconds; 2nd Mojito (J/109) Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox, Pwllheli SC) 1:23:51:50; 3rd Aurelia (J/122, Chris & Patanne Power Smith, Royal St George YC) 2:0:15:52; 4th Dear Prudence (J/109, Jonathan Bourke, Manhattan YC) 2:1:18:14; 5th Alchimiste (JPK 9.60, Mike Murphy, National YC) 2:1:19:04; 6th Aquelina (J/122. James & Sheila Tyrrell, Arklow SC) 2:1:31:10; 7th Endgame (A35, Frank Doyle, Royal Cork YC) 2:1:47:04; 8th Antix (Ker 40, Anthony O'Leary, RCYC & Baltimore SC) 2:2:02:27; 9th WOW (Farr 42, George Sisk, Royal Irish YC) 2:2:20:52; 10th: Wakey Wakey (J/109, Roger Smith, Poolbeg Y & BC) 2:3:40:56; 11th Red Rhum (Dehler db1, Jonathan Nicholson, RStGYC) 2:3:40:56; 12th Blue Eyes (Elan 340, Colm Buckley & Simon Knowles, Howth YC) 2:4:27:10; 13th Amazing Grace (Oyster 37, Brian O'Sullivan & Frances Clifford, Tralee Bay SC) 2:4:31:23; 14th First of September (First 435, Jerry Whiston, Poolbeg Y & BC) 2:6:16:00); 15th Lula Belle (First 36.7, Liam Coyne, NYC) 2:6:49:37; 16th Lee Overlay Partners (Cookson 50, Adrian Lee, RStGYC) 2:6:52:23; 17th Desert Star (Jeanneau Sunfast 37, Ronan O Siochru, RStGYC) 2:6:55:50; 18th Jedi (J/109, Johnny Treanor, Andrew Sarratt & Mary McGuinness, NYC, RStGYC, RIYC) 2:7:02:07; 19th Powder Monkey (J/109, Chris Moore, NYC) 2:7:08:03, 20th Windshift (Jeanneau Sunfast 37, Brendan Coghlan, RStGYC) 2:7:12:41, 21st Joker (Sigma 38, David Gibbons, Kinsale YC) 2:7:24:19; 22nd Big Deal (Dehler 34, Derek & Conor Dillon, Foynes YC) 2:7:28;21; 23rd Yahtzee (Beneteau Oeanis 411, Richard Mossop, Dun Laoghaire Motor YC) 2:7:58:48; 24th Exhale (X-Yachts 362 Sport, Derry & Hilda Good, RCYC) 2:8:36:27; 25th Lady Rowena (Sadler 34, David Bolger, RStGYC) 2:8:41:10; 26th Legally Blonde (First 31.7, Cathal Drohan, RStGYC) 2:9:04:48; 27th Polished Manx (Sigma 33, Kuba Szymanski, Douglas Bay YC) 2:9:32:37, 28th Pogeen (Pogo 1050, John Gilmore, Strangford Lough YC) 2:10:04:38; 29th Persistance (Sigma 38, Jerry Collins, RStGYC) 2:10:21:55. Ipanema (Dehler 37CR, Martin Breen, Galway Bay SC) DNF.

Two-handed Division: 1st Blue Eyes (Elan 340, Colm Buckley & Simon Knowles, Howth YC) 2:4:27:10; 2nd Joker (Sigma 38, David Gibbons, Kinsale YC) 2:7:24:19; 3rd Big Deal (Dehler 34, Derek & Conor Dillon, Foynes YC) 2:7:28:21;

Cruising: 1st Amazing Grace (Oyster 37, Brian O'Sullivan & Frances Clifford, Tralee Bay SC) 2:8:46:54; 2nd Yahtzee (Beneteau Oceanis 411, Richard Mossop, Dun Laoghaire Motor YC) 2:7:58:48; 3rd Lady Rowena (Sadler 34, David Bolger RStGYC) 2:8:41:10.

RUTH'S WINNING FAMILY STORY

The offshore racing story of the Shanahan family of the National Yacht Club goes back at least three generations, and while Liam Shanahan Jnr and two of his sons were racing the family's J/109 Ruth (which is named for his wife, the mother of their five children), father and grandfather Liam Senior, a renowned offshore racing skipper and international businessman in his day, was not only following their progress in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race on the Averycrest Yacht Tracker "every fifteen minutes", but recently he has – at the age of 84 – bought himself a brand new Beneteau Oceanis 38.

When you're from stock like that, offshore racing runs in the blood. Yet it was only within the past five years that Liam bought the new J/109 Ruth. He'd kept in touch with sailing, but a hectic working life – often overseas - meant his sailing was limited to occasional brief forays with a 1720 and an SB20.

But then he literally decided to spend more time with his family, and as much of it as possible sailing. In looking analytically with his oldest sons Ben and William at the sailing scene in Dun Laoghaire, they reckoned that the J/109 provided the best all round value, as there'd be One Design racing in Dublin Bay, there'd also be the scope to renew the Shanahan involvement with ISORA racing which their friend Peter Ryan in the National YC was promoting with vigour, and while the boat was clearly a genuine contender in the offshore racing scene, she provided the third option of real cruising potential.

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A clean, simple yet sophisticated boat – the J/109 exactly fitted the Shanahan family's requirements

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The saloon area on the J/109 is a successful compromise between comfort and seagoing efficiency

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The J/109's straightforward galley is actually more workmanlike than is on many supposedly out-and-out cruisers

They decided to go for the total racing version, with the biggest steering wheel possible, and while Liam admits it takes a little bit of gymnastics for the helmsman to take up his position astern of it, the result is an easily controlled boat with very responsive steering – "you feel close to the feel of the water when you're on the wheel, it's finger-tip cntrol".

His approach to the offshore racing game was that it should first help to bind his family together in a shared enterprise which they all enjoyed, but as well the demands of crewing a J/109 meant they happily had to reinforce old friendships and create new ones in order to provide the necessary amateur crew panel to enable an active season which can go on for twelve months – this past winter is the first one in which Ruth has been ashore for eight weeks, the previous three winters she was raced all year round.

You get some idea of the scale of family ties and sailing friendships involved when you learn that at last year's ISORA Prize-Giving Dinner when Ruth was hailed as overall champion, the Shanahan group included no less than 28 people who had all raced on the boat since the stellar career of racing the J/109 began, all of whom regularly renewed their involvement as crew panel allocations and personal time availability required. For the race to Dingle, the crew lineup was typical, as it included Liam, Ben and William Shanahan, backed up by Kevin Daly, Simon Digby, Conall O'Halloran and Fiachra Etchingham.

It's a huge challenge maintaining such a network, yet it's one which Liam Shanahan clearly relishes, as he has a generous and continually developing philosophy of family, friends and community as expressed through sailing. And in ISORA especially, with like-minded people such as Peter Ryan on the Irish side and Stephen Tudor on the Welsh side, he has found a remarkably congenial atmosphere in which to express his approach to life, and his enthusiasm in bringing his family with him.

But in fact, when you see the Shanahan family in full flight, whether sailing together or socialising at something like last November's Round Ireland Awards Dinner in Wicklow, you could begin to wonder just who is encouraging whom, as the younger generation interact with the seniors in a mutually beneficial display of enjoyment of their own and their non-family shipmates' company, with private jokes, shared enthusiasm, and an almost telepathic in-family sense of communication and shared values.

In other words, they move as quickly and effectively ashore as they do afloat. It's impressive. And while there is this well thought out thinking behind it, it's not something that's shouted too much from the rooftops, but rather it is expressed through the shared purpose of doing well in racing, and doing it in an amateur capacity.

But in line with it, a few months ago Liam took the very definite step of formally transferring the ownership of Ruth to the five children – Ben (22), William (20), Alice (19), Tom (16) and Peter (14). For as he says himself, everything happens so quickly in a busy family, and soon they'll be moving out and going their various ways on all their different projects. But if they continue to have this shared responsibility for running a boat in all its complex aspects of logistics and personnel and decision-making, they'll have something which regularly gets them all round a table together discussing topics which are at least at one remove from the other sometimes tedious demands of modern life.

So in looking at Ruth's success in the D2D 2015, we find ourselves contemplating a very interesting exercise and experiment in family dynamic. Just so. For those who are interested simply in what boats are doing, the word is that Ruth was due back in Dun Laghaire before this weekend, as the universal family challenge of exams is top of the agenda for the current few days or so. Then she resumes racing next weekend with the hundred mile Royal Dee/ISORA Lyver Trophy Race between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire which, as part of the Royal Dee YC's Bicentenary celebrations, will bring the ISORA fleet to Dun Laoghaire for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2015. In that, a healthy turnout of J/109s racing as a One Design class will be keen to show Ruth and her five family owners that she won't necessarily have it all her own way.

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