#sovscup – It's only now, with clear signs that the Irish economy is on track to return to vigorous health so long as everyone is reasonably sensible, that we can look for a real upturn in sailing enthusiasm. But with a good fleet getting great racing in the four day ICRA Nats/Sovereigns Cup in Kinsale, there's no denying a growing atmosphere of optimism. WM Nixon muses on the new mood, sets Kinsale in the local and national context, and speculates on the cast of thousands who might be on the podium when the championship finishes this evening.
When Ireland was still reeling from the savage economic downturn which followed the Celtic Tiger years, active numbers in sailing showed a marked decline. The nadir was reached in 2012, when the Irish Cruiser Racer Association failed to raise a three boat team to defend the Commodore's Cup which had been won so stylishly by Anthony O'Leary and his squad in 2010.
That it should have come to this.......After all, at the height of the boom years, there'd been three Irish Commodore's Cup teams competing for the same trophy. So the 2012 No Show served to emphasize the severity of the decline. But ICRA gritted its teeth, and planned accordingly. While Anthony O'Leary quietly beavered away under the radar on what was virtually a solo run in putting together a Commodore's Cup team which was to make a triumphant return to the fray in 2014, the national offshore racing authority had meanwhile been calculating the odds on getting good turnouts in its annual Irish championship.
There were hopes that there would continue to be a respectable turnout when the ICRA Nats were staged in Dublin Bay, as they'd be with the Royal Irish YC in Dublin Bay in 2014. And those hopes were duly fulfilled, even if many boats were racing with older sails than would have been the case in the boom years, while new boats were as rare as hen's teeth.
But for the first of the unforeseeable years beyond 2014, it was reckoned new thinking was required, and ICRA's number cruncher Denis Kiely came up with the notion that for 2015, it would make sense to run the ICRA Nats in conjunction with the established biennial Sovereigns Cup Regatta in Kinsale. To most, it seemed a good idea. A superb venue. And a very experienced race management team with a fine track record in the Sovereigns and other major events. All they needed to demonstrate their capabilities was a decent fleet. But with active cruiser-racer numbers weakened on the south coast, a decent turnout could not be taken for granted without some magic Ingredient X to encourage boats to travel from other areas.
Like it or not, the two words "National Championship" are Ingredient X. And in ICRA's case, there's multiple value, as their National Championship provides racing for a total of nine classes, and seven of those classes are racing under both IRC and ECHO.
It takes a while to get your head round all this, but it means that tonight there could be a total of sixteen different crews who can rightfully claim to be National Champions. Add in further multiple permutations which might just emerge among the minor places, and it's within the remoter realms of possibility that about half of the 109 boats taking part will be able to claim, when they've finally wended their way home along most of the coasts of Ireland and beyond, to have had a podium place in a National Championship.
So what's not to like? For a sailing community emerging from an economic recession so disastrous we still haven't really grasped its extent and depth, an event which aims to provide something for half the people in the audience is just the ticket. And if harsh critics say that this is fantasy sailing, the photos – particularly from yesterday's sun-blessed racing – tell us otherwise.
And as for the venue, well, there's something unreal about Kinsale anyway. It seems too good to be true. Yet it is there, and it's for real. And all the factors which saw it relinquish its position as the south coast's premier Naval Port from around 1750 onwards work together to make it the perfect sailing venue for our own times.
Toytown harbour – Kinsale's compact size made it obsolete as a naval port as ship sizes grew from 1750 onwards, but the same factors make it perfect as a sailing venue today.
For Kinsale is a sort of Toytown. When it was at its height of naval importance, ships were much smaller, and harbour towns had to be as compact as possible to provide them with defence. But as ship sizes grew rapidly, Cork Harbour began to take over, and on Cork Harbour, it was Cobh with its big, new and confident sea-facing terraces of houses which became the expression of a growing naval presence.
By contrast, Kinsale in its great naval period around two or three centuries ago had generally smaller houses which clustered along both sides of a winding and very narrow main street which ran along the shoreline, but didn't provide a waterfront as we know it now. And though the Royal Navy had shifted its emphasis to Cork Harbour, Kinsale continued to house an army garrison to keep the place busy. That's why Kinsale is such a fascinating place to visit by boat. What you see is not what you're going to get. The "new" waterfront may be gradually developing, but the real Kinsale with its myriad of good restaurants and pubs is to be found in a rabbit warren of little streets which hark back to a much earlier age.
Kinsale's rabbit warren of little old streets dates back a long time
The contemporary waterfront of Kinsale is on reclaimed land along the original uneven and marshy shore. The houses on the south side of the main street had their backs to the sea, and Kinsale YC (on the extreme left) is a mixture of old and new, with the modern south-facing part of the building, looking towards KYC marina, added to the back of a handsome town house which faces north away from the harbour.
Once upon a time, this was the most important trading and naval port on the south coast, but Kinsale today is all about sailing and fishing.
It has an attractively prosperous and busy air to it all, but it's not so long ago that Kinsale seemed a place in irreversible decay. Time was, though, when it had enough people in business in the 1800s to support busy local sailing, and the Royal Cork YC's most famous trophy, the Kinsale Kettle of 1859, attests to this, while a regatta was reported as early as 1839. The Thuillier family set much of the waterborne pace, and John Thuillier's fascinating book Kinsale Harbour – A History (Collins Press, 2014) puts a complex story into perspective.
Ship and boat building was part of the scene, but sometimes the shipwright branch of the Thuilliers built a yacht, the most famous being the 35ft cutter Tertia from 1898. According to Lloyd's Register, she was designed by a local clergyman, the Reverend Welsted, but the folk in Kinsale reckon the Thuillier brothers put manners on the Reverend's vague drawings to make Tertia a real performer.
Certainly around Kinsale she's remembered as a boat which – during the 1920s and '30s – used to give Harry Donegan's famous Gull a hard time on the competitive course, particularly in the legendary August weekend "ocean race" from Cork Harbour to Kinsale. But inter-harbour rivalry is such that around Cork Harbour – where she was ultimately based, ending her days as a fishing boat in Cobh - she's remembered as the boat in which a very young crew, under the command of the then 15-year-old Clayton Love Jnr, sailed from Cork Harbour to Dublin Bay early in the summer of 1944. Ireland was so cut off from much of the rest of the planet during World War II that it was only when the young sailors arrived into Dun Laoghaire that they found they'd been making their voyage during D-Day, but that's a story for another day.
Tertia, designed and built in Kinsale in 1898. In June 1944, she was cruised from Cork Harbour to Dublin Bay, but her crew of schoolboys only found out after they'd arrived in Dun Laoghaire that D-Day had happened while they were at sea.
By the late 1940s, Kinsale was only a shadow of its former sailing self, but some such as John Henry Thuillier and Dick Hegarty continued to keep the faith, and by the 1950s Kinsale Sailing Cub – nowadays Kinsale Yacht Club – was in being, the pace gradually increasing until it today it is one of Ireland's top ten, and was the Mitsubishi Motors "Club of the Year" in 1998 and 2014.
With its glorious yet compact natural harbour leading into the midst of the hospitable and historic town, Kinsale is Ireland's most popular international cruising destination. But as has been seen these past three days, it lends itself equally well to being a racing venue, and with the weather picking up as the current four day regatta has progressed, we face into the final day with top sport guaranteed.
As for the number of visiting boats, they have been the making of the event. The Royal Irish YC – hosts for the 2014 ICRAs – have sent seventeen spread across most classes, while Howth – who step up to the plate to host the 2016 ICRA Nats – have sent fifteen, with their Kinsale HQ established in The White Lady.
Team spirit. The successful squad from Howth YC have established their Command HQ in Kinsale in The White Lady. Photo: Kevin Burke
The veteran X332 Equinox (Ross McDonald). As the wind has freshened, Equinox has consolidated her lead in Div 2, even though the three Half Tonners had shown ahead in the early races.
The successful modified Half Tonner Harmony (Jonny Swan and Jim Freyne) clearly subscribes to the theory that best speed downwind in light airs is best obtained through keeping weight well away from the stern.
It seems the Howth men and women are in serious training for 2016 already, as they're in there battling at the top of several classes, and even with today's races still to be sailed, your money would be very safe betting on a Howth boat to win Division 2, as they're in the top four places after six races.
The series started in a gentle and muggy southerly breeze, and in the soft going the light breeze specialists did mighty well, with the three hot Howth Half Tonners – Dave Cullen's Checkmate XV, Jonny Swan & Jim Freyne's Harmony, and the Evans brothers' Big Picture – vying for the lead.
But as the breeze sharpened over the next couple of days towards yesterday's sunny power-blast which saw sails torn, spars broken, and four crewmen over the side, Ross McDonald's veteran X332 Equinox found conditions increasingly to her liking, and last night as the discard swung into place, she moved clear on top with a discarded fourth while counting four bullets and a third.
ICRA Commodore Nobby Reilly – also from Howth – has likewise been having a good series up in Class 0 with the Mills 36 Crazy Horse, which he co-owns with Alan Chambers. Crazy Horse's performance hasn't been at all impaired by having the great Dave Harte of Schull on board, though the notching of discards had been to the advantage of Andy Williams from south Devon with the Ker 40 Keronimo (Class 0 find great inspiration in the names of Native American chieftains) which was only two points adrift on the Horse.
The Mills 36 Crazy Horse (Nobby Reilly & Alan Chambers) has the points lead in Division 0 going into the final day's racing in the ICRA Nats this morning.
The Ker 40 Keronimo (Andy Williams, Yealm YC) was a contender for the top slot in Dvision 0, but damage in yesterday's second race has resulted in her withdrawal from today's races. Photo: Courtesy KYC.
However, in the breezy second race yesterday, Keronimo had such a contretemps with her spinnaker that it resulted in serious damage to her pulpit and liferails which cannot be repaired in time for this morning's first race, and she has withdrawn. This means that second overall in Div 0 is now likely to be George Sisk's Farr 42 WOW (RIYC), which is thus doing best in class of the three gallant Dun Laoghaire boats which did the recent Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race before coming back to Kinsale. The other two are the J/109 Dear Prudence (Bourke, Cummins & Lyons, RIYC) currently 16th in Division 1, which has her astern of the twin-ruddered JPK 9.60 Alchimiste (Mike Murphy, NYC) – Alchimiste is 12th, which is some small compensation for being pipped by Dear Prudence by 50 seconds for fourth place in the race to Dingle.
Division 1 is a seriously strong brew, with Olympian Mark Mansfield of Cork helming John Maybury's J/109 Joker from the Royal Irish in what was developing as a battle with the new British J/109 champion, Ian Nagle's Jelly Baby from Royal Cork. But after yesterday's brisk sport, Scottish Series 2015 overall winner Rob McConnell from Dunmore East has got in between the two of them after scoring a first and fourth with his A35 Fool's Gold.
Division 2 we've looked at already, Division 3 sees another Howth boat on top, but this time it's only equal top for Richard Colwell and Ronan Cobbe's Corby 25 Fusion to lead on count-back, as they're level-pegging on 13 points with Tim Goodbody (RIYC) in the Sigma 33 White Magic. Captain Tim is relishing every minute of sport in Kinsale, as he has indicated that as Chairman of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2015 in ten days' time, he won't have time to campaign his own boat on Dublin Bay. White Magic got a first in the second race on Thursday, and with a second and a fourth yesterday, she's very much in contention.
Tim Goodbody blasting downwind in his Sigma 33 White Mischief in yesterday afternoon's race. He currently lies equal first in Division 3 at Kinsale, and it's his last opportunity for some sport afloat before his duties as Chairman of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta take over completely in ten days time. Photo courtesy KYC
The Quarter Tonners and others in Division 4 are well led by Tony Hayward's Blackfun from Cowes, which – thanks to consistency – is all of ten points ahead of a couple of J/24s, Kilcullen with the Under 25 squad from Howth, and Flor O'Driscoll (who doesn't quite qualify for an Under-25 squad) with Hard on Port from Royal St George YC.
In the two White Sails Divisions which have their starts in civilised style in the harbour off Charles Fort, we just can't sidestep the fact that Howth boats are setting the pace again, with Colm Bermingham's Elan 333 Bite the Bullet three points clear of Paul Tully (DMYC) in his sister-ship White Lotus in Non-Spin Div 1, while Non Spin Div 2 sees HYC's Windsor Laudan and Steph Ennis with the Club Shamrock Demelza (winners in 2014) ahead again in 2015 after logging four wins in the first four races.
Having sailed with this formidable duo in the ICRA Nats 2014, this is no surprise – they're a marvellous testimony to the racing potential of a good old boat well tuned, well cared for, and well sailed. But with plenty of wind expected from the south by this afternoon to round out the ICRA Sovereigns 2015, the Demelza team - together with all the other front runners in all divisions under whatever handicap systems – are going to have to play it cool to bring this great regatta to a safe and successful conclusion before the weather goes down the tubes again tonight.
Heading out from the start in Kinsale for yet another win. Demelza is probably the most successful of the veteran Club Shamrocks designed by Ron Holland in the 1970s. Currently owned by Windsor Laudan and Steph Ennis, Demelza won Div 2 (Non-spinnaker) in the ICRA Nats 2014 in Dublin Bay, and looks likely to complete a successful defence today at Kinsale. Photo: Peadar Murphy
Results – ICRA Nationals & Sovereign's Cup 2015
Day 3, after 6 races sailed (26th June 2015)
Division 0 IRC
1 Crazy Horse, Norbert Reilly/Alan Chambers (Howth Yacht Club)
2 Keronimo, Andy Williams (Yealm Yacht Club)
3 WOW George Sisk
Division 0 ECHO
1 Godot, John Godkin (Kinsale YC)
2 Forty Licks, Jay Colville, East Down YC
3 Roxstar, Jonathan Anderson, (CCC)
Division 1 IRC
1 Joker 2, John Maybury, (Royal Irish Yacht Club
2 Fool's Gold, Robert McConnell (Wicklow Harbour SC)
3 Jelly Baby, Ian Nagle, (Royal Cork Yacht Club)
Division 1 ECHO
1 Adrenalin, Joe McDonald (National Yacht Club)
2 Indecision, Declan Hayes (RIYC)
3 Gringo, Tony Fox (NYC)
Division 2 IRC
1 Equinox, Ross McDonald, (HYC)
2 Harmony, Jonny Swan/JamesFreyne, (HYC)
3 Checkmate XV, Davie Cullen (HYC
Division 2 ECHO
1 Harmony, Jonny Swan/JamesFreyne, (HYC)
2 Dexterity, Foynes Team (Foynes YC)
3 Black Velvet, Leslie Parnell (RIYC)
Division 3 IRC
1 Fusion, Richard Cowell, (HYC)
2 White Mischief, Timothy Goodbody, (RIYC)
3 Bad Company, Desmond, Ivers, Deasy (RCYC)
Division 3 ECHO
1 Powder Monkey, Liam Lynch, (Tralee Bay SC)
2 Maximus, Paddy Kyne (HYC)
3 White Mischief, Timothy Goodbody, (RIYC)
Division 4 IRC
1 Blackfun, Tony Hayward (Cowes)
2 Kilcullen, (HYC)
3 Hard on Port, Flor O'Driscoll (RSt.GYC)
Division 4 ECHO
1 Seven Whistler, Rene Wubben (WHSC)
2 Kilcullen (HYC)
3 No-Gnomes, Leonard Donnery, (RCYC)
1 Joker 2, John Maybury (RIYC)
2 Jelly Baby, Ian Nagle (RCYC)
3 Storm, Pat Kelly (Rush SC/HYC)
1 Blackfun, Tony Hayward (Cowes)
2 Anchor Challenge, Paul Gibbons (RCYC)
3 Quest, Barry Cunnigham (RIYC)
White Sail Division 1 IRC
1 Bite the Bullet, Colm Bermingham, (HYC)
2 White Lotus, Paul Tully, (Dun Laoghaire Motor YC)
3 Baccarat, Brian & Anthony McCarthy (KYC)
White Sail Divison 1 ECHO
1 Baccarat, Anthony/Brian McCarthy (KYC)
2 White Tiger, Tony O'Brien (KYC)
3 Cimarron IV (KYC)
White Sail Division 2 IRC
1 Demelza, Windsor Laudan, (HYC)
2 Loch Greine, Tom O'Mahony (RCYC)
3 Saoirse, Richard Hanley (KYC)
White Sail Division 2 ECHO
1 Privateer, Dermot Lanigan (KYC)
2 Valfreya, David Riome (KYC)
3 Demelza, Windsor Laudan, (HYC)