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Bad Weather Is Good Weather For Ireland’s 2015 Sailing Season

14th November 2015
 J/109s racing afloat_wmnixon
Having a blast! The J/109s racing in July’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta capture the spirit of 2015. Photo VDLR

Anyone with whatever you like in the way of a boat and a selection of sundry sails to power her along can have a season of pleasant memories - provided there’s a summer of reliably good weather. It takes an atrocious summer to prove the real mettle of a sailing and boating community. W M Nixon reckons Ireland had a great sailing year in 2015 despite the weather, and he takes an enthusiastic canter around its more outstanding events.

Is a summer of settled weather really what we need for the classic Irish sailing season? The classic Irish sailing season is a unique creature. For although we stage more than our fair share of major events with an increasing tendency to settle on the four day regatta format as being the ideal, the underlying backbone of our sport continues to be club racing, midweek and weekend alike.

Evening and weekend racing went through something of a dip in the boom years as people became bedazzled by the attractions of the big regatta shows, pouring their resources and energy into seeing and being seen in glamour events at key venues.

Yet after a while, you begin to get the notion that if absolutely everyone wants to be there and is there, then what’s the point? So maybe record turnouts had ceased to be fashionable in any case. But as it is, the onset of the austerity years meant that those who managed to continue to sail at all (for inevitably many took time out from our sometimes expensive vehicle sport) found that what was being provided on their own doorstep was the best value for money.

In this new cherishing of the local, once again we were reminded of how utterly dependent we are on something over which we have no control whatsoever. The weather. And within the big weather picture, the most important single factor is the wind. And the fact is, in a summer of good and settled weather, the time for evening racing is also the time of day which is least likely to have any wind at all.

So although fair-weather sailors may remember the weather of 2015 as something which is better forgotten altogether – a fact reinforced by some of the year’s worst conditions being in the peak sailing months – the reality is that most club Sailing Secretaries have happily been able to report a good season for regular club home events, with a high proportion of races completed.

Howth 17 yacht

Cherishing the local while spreading the wings a bit – the 118-year-old Howth 17s ventured across Dublin Bay for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. Photo: VDLR

Dragon yacht racing glandore

Cherishing the local while staying local – the mostly veteran International Dragons in Glandore have had a good year. Photo: Kathleen Hayes

All too often in a good summer, as boats crawl across the evening finishing line on a shortened course in the faintest of zephyrs, you’ll hear the slightly apologetic mantra: “Well, we got a result”. But how much better it is that crews should arrive back into the clubhouse with the full course sailed, great sport enjoyed, and the exuberant mood of an evening well spent afloat racing just as hard as you can against people who are your friends and neighbours ashore. And as for those who complain that it was too cold and too wet, you can always retort with the old Scandinavian wisdom: “There’s no such thing as bad weather. Just bad clothes….”

We certainly heard a lot of that old saying during 2015, yet any overview brings a cornucopia of spectacular sailing memories with sunshine somehow breaking through at every turn. If we had to pick four highlights in Ireland, they’d be the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race on June 11th, the Sovereigns Cup/ICRA Nats at Kinsale from June 24th to 27th, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta on Dublin Bay from 9th to 12th July, and the Cork Dinghyfest 2015 at the Royal Cork in Crosshaven from August 20th to 23rd.

WIORA Yacht Racing

The wild and woolly west – racers in the WIORA Championship in Galway Bay took on everything the Atlantic could throw at them. Photo: Gareth Craig

Supporting those four pillar events are other popular happenings such as the WIORA Championship (a real cracker in 2015, staged on Galway Bay from Galway Port by Galway Bay SC), the much-loved West Cork regattas in their traditional time-frame of early August, sailed as a family-friendly four day event which nevertheless calls itself Calves Week, the time-honoured Regatta Weeks in the first half of August on the Shannon’s great lakes of Lough Ree and Lough Derg where Shannon One Designs set a stately pace for a fleet including visitors such as the increasingly vibrant Dublin Bay Water Wags (first established as a class in 1886), and the traditional and classic gatherings for the mostly gaff rigged craft in the Glandore Classics in July, preceded by the DBOGA’s Leinster Plate in Dublin Bay as May morphs into June, with the fleet returning to Poolbeg Y & BC in the heart of Ringsend where, in July, they could celebrate the re-birth of the famous John Kearney-designed Ringsend-built yawl Mavis at Camden in Maine.

Dennis Aylmer’s Cornish Crabber Mona won the DBOGA Leinster Trophy. Photo: Dave Owens

Cork Harbour OD Elsie (1896) and Victorian cutter Airlie
Cork Harbour OD Elsie (1896) and Victorian cutter Airlie find a bit of summer at the Glandore Classics.

historic Mavis yacht

The historic Mavis newly restored - she will definitely look much better with full rig in place, but for now she greets the Fall in Camden, Maine. Photo: Denise Pukas

With events being successfully slipped in under the meteorological radar as Race Officers looked out for some hopeful evidence that a malevolent weather front would soon be followed by a benign weather back, inevitably some happenings failed to make the cut. The biggest cancellation was Howth YC’s time-honoured Lambay Race on June 6th, when a dense southwesterly airflow gusting to 39 knots-plus would have made it irresponsible to start giving racing signals to an extremely diverse fleet which included some very elderly classics. But while visitors were disappointed, for the locals it was only a postponement, as they knew that, for them, the Lambay would be raced as part of some other event in the crowded HYC programme which, thanks to the annual Laser Frostbites, has been continuous since April 1974. And in due course the Howth classes did indeed contest their Lambay Races, and the HonSailSec could proudly announce: “We got a result”.

Meanwhile the frustrations of that big non-event on June 6th seemed to spur the reviving Howth fleet to greater effort, and they went on to make hay with the opposition in many classes at both the Sovereigns Cup/ICRA Nats in Kinsale in late June, and the big one, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta in July. And for those who sail on the south side of Dublin Bay, the expansion of local sailing horizons as Greystones Marina gets further into its stride is a wonder to behold. One of the most rapidly-growing events on the East Coast is Greystones Regatta at the end of August, which fits in with the late summer Bank Holiday Weekend in the UK, and can thus link in with cross-Channel events coming across from North Wales.

Farr 42 WOW

Boat of the year? George Sisk’s well-tested Farr 42 WOW was a star at both Kinsale and Dun Laoghaire, and was also in the frame in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race.

After the bumpy ride which it provided through the main summer months, while it might be over-stating it to say that the weather smiled throughout early Autumn, it certainly did everything it could to help weekend sailing events. The MSL Park Motors Autumn League at Howth had superb racing throughout six glorious Saturdays, and although the CH Marine Autumn League at Royal Cork had one or two days which were less than perfect, it ended on a high with perhaps the best day’s sailing of the year anywhere and at any time in Ireland, its special quality emphasized in retrospect by the fact that as we write this annual report in mid-November, the weather pattern has gone to pot with Winter Leagues so far blown out.

Off the island throughout 2015, we’d memorable results in the RORC Easter Challenge in the Solent in April, the British GP 14s in August, the Rolex Fastnet Race the same month, and the Rolex Middle Sea Race in October. As for the cruising front, it was here that prolonged periods of generally bad weather had the greatest ill effects, but nevertheless some fine voyages were completed, and the round Ireland cruise – always an attractive project in any year – was a real challenge completed by a variety of craft.

It was not to be a special year for new boats, with one outstanding exception. In one of the most remarkable examples of club, class, group and community effort, the completely new Phil Morrison-designed National 18 was finally brought to the water thanks mainly to the Cork Harbour division of the class, with very tangible financial support from the Royal Cork Yacht Club and energetic fund-raising by class members. They were the stars both of the British and Irish National 18 Championship at Crosshaven in July, and the Dinghyfest there in August.

Now that’s what we call an ensign…..The Colombian Tall Ship Guayas flies the flag on Belfast Lough in July

At the other end of the size scale, the Tall Ships came to Ireland in considerable strength to Belfast in July. At the time, their exuberant presence was a painful reminder that Ireland north and south is lacking in a proper sail training ship even though the gallant schooner Spirit of Oysterhaven does her best. But there’s no escaping the fact that Spirit is a large yacht rather than a ship in any traditional sense, so the work behind the scenes by Atlantic Youth Trust to provide a new 40 metre brigantine was of special interest. At the time of writing, the word is that AYT have got over the first hurdle by receiving a supportive Letter of Intent from the Irish Government which – in official circles – is considered significant, while in Northern Ireland the eventual implementation of the Stormont Agreement will open the way towards positive involvement with an all-Ireland sailing ship which will be much more than just a sail training vessel in the formerly-accepted style.

But that’s something for the future, meanwhile who were the top winners in 2015? On the international front, it was a decidedly mixed year for those who hope to represent Ireland in the Rio Olympics in August 2016, and as it’s all very much work in progress and will remain so until March 2016, we’ll move on to global events which provided winners whose results will stick.

In a very hairy Transatlantic Race in July, it was Carrickfergus navigator Ian Moore who called the shots to such good effect on the RP 63 Lucky that she won overall. We formerly knew Lucky as Loki which Gordon Maguire skippered to the overall win in the 2012 Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race. But she ceased to be Lucky after Moore moved aboard Bella Mente for Cowes Week, and in the Fastnet Race Lucky got hung up on the Shingles Bank shortly after the start (as many have done before), and there she stayed for hours.

In the Rolex Fastnet Race, first Irish boat to finish was Enda O’Coneen’s Open 60 Kilcullen, but the best-placed Irish was RORC Commodore Michael Boyd with the Grand Soleil 43 Quokka 8, while the most memorable result was by Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing in Dun Laoghaire who took his hard-worked Sunfast 37 round the course to such good effect that she was top-placed sailing school boat out of a class of 32 sailing school entries.

Ronan O Siochru and his Irish Offshore Sailing crew well on the way to winning the Sailing Schools’ trophy in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2015. Photo: Rolex

At the other end of the sailing experience spectrum, Dave Cullen of Howth took his classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV to the Worlds in Belgium with a crew of all the Irish talents, and won comprehensively.

Ian Moore then re-surfaced in October navigating aboard the Italian Cookson 50 Mascalone Latino in the 606-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race, and placed second overall to the TP 52 B2 (Michele Galli) by just seven seconds…….But even as everyone was still digesting this frustrating almost-made-it, there was good news for Ireland with Malahide YC father and son team of Dermot & Paddy Cronin winning the Double-Handed Division with their First 40.7 Encore with almost two hours to spare.

Antix takes second for line honours in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race

Nearer home, Anthony O’Leary of Cork was settling in with command of his new red Ker 40 Antix (formerly Catapult), getting off to a flying start with the Top Boat award in the Easter Regatta in the Solent. Then in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race in June (enjoying a magic bubble of good weather in a mostly miserable month), it looked like Munster’s Antix might take the overall win at mid-race as she battled with Adrian Lee’s Cookson 50 Lee Overlay partners for line honours. But it was a race for J Boats of several sizes, with Liam Shanahan (NYC) and his family on the J/109 Ruth having their performance so sharpened by a couple of hundred miles of boat-for-boat racing against sister-ship Mojito that they won the Dingle dash by 22 minutes, and Antix found herself back in eighth. Ruth then went on to further glory offshore, and became the ISORA Champion 2015.

Liam Shanahan on the helm of Ruth with the Skellig astern and victory ahead in the Dingle race. He also became ISORA Champion 2015.

The two big four-day regattas at Kinsale and then Dun Laoghaire were mirror images of each other, in that Kinsale started light and finished good and fresh, while Dun Laoghaire started with stacks of breeze and a dismasting or three, but then finished light. Either way, it was great sport, and veteran skipper George Sisk revelled in it all by winning his class in both events with his Farr 42 WOW, and in Dun Laoghaire he did so with such style he was also Boat of the Regatta.

Other winners in Kinsale included John Maybury’s J/109 Joker from Dun Laoghaire, Ross McDonald’s X332 Equinox from Howth, the Corby 25 Fusion (Richard Colwell & Ronan Cobbe) also from Howth, and the Howth Under 25 J24 helmed by Cillian Dickson.

While Kinsale had been strictly cruiser-racers, the huge 420 boats-plus Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta was variety gone mad, with a historic visit for her first race in Dublin Bay in 45 years by the restored Flying Thirty Huff of Arklow (Andrew Thornhill) at one end, right down to GP 14s having their Leinster Championship and Water Wags doing their thing at the other.

Huff of Arklow sailing again at Dun Laoghaire after 45 years away. Photo: VDLR

The GP 14s – racing their Leinster Championship – provided one of the most numerous classes at the Volvo Regatta in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: VDLR

At a time when the entire future of Dun Laoghaire Harbour is a matter of public debate with an intrusive cruise liner berth being proposed by commercial interests, Dun Laoghaire could not have chosen a better time to put on such a superb show of being Ireland’s premier leisure harbour, and it was arguably the best Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta ever since it was introduced in its contemporary form back in 2002.

rev1515Round up the usual suspects….the prize winners at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta. Photo: VDLR

Now you see them……George Sisk and his crew of old (and not-so-old) mates. Photo: VDLR


… you don’t (see them, that is). If anyone could tell us who or what this is on the breezy day at Dun Laoghaire, we’d be much obliged. Photo: Gareth Craig

With a total of 32 different sets of prizes to be given out at the end of the regatta, anyone who felt they knew what was really going on was clearly deluded, but out of it all there emerged the popular overall win over everyone by George Sisk and the golden oldies on WOW, and it was a victory cheered to the rafters.

In the dinghies, the new National 18s at Crosshaven at the end of July saw Tom Dwyer (RCYC) win his tenth Cock o’ the North trophy, an unprecedented record, and then in the British GP 14 Opens in August in Devon, Shane McCarthy & Andy Thompson of Greystones put it neatly away to bring home the title.

rev1518Creating a buzz – the advent of the new Phil Morrison National 18s in Cork Harbour was the result of remarkable class, club and community effort. Photo: Robert Bateman

Shane McCarthy & Andy Thompson of Greystones were the international pace-setters in the GP 14s.

The Dinghyfest at Crosshaven in late August lived up to its billings and then some, winners including Jack Ryan & Ben Graf (Lough Ree, Mirrors), Geoff Power (Dunmore East, Toppers), Paul McMahon & Laura Houlihan (Howth, RS400), Marty OLeary & Rachel Williamson (RStGYC, RS 200), Dara Donnelly & Cliona Coyle (NYC, RS Feva), Douglas Elmes & Colin O’Sullivan (Howth, 420), and Tommy Dwyer & Willie Healy (Cork, National 18).

The dinghy brigade were also well represented in the cruising stakes, as a remarkable round Ireland voyage by the Ogden brothers of Baltimore SC in their Drascombe Lugger showed what could be done by grit and sheer determination even in one of the worst summers ever experienced for round Ireland cruising.

And finally, the traditional season came to its close with the All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship raced in the first weekend of October in the SailFleet J/80s at the National Yacht Club under the masterful direction of Race Officer Jack Roy. By that time in the season, even the keenest Corinthian sailors are beginning to feel a little jaded, so they need a crisply run event. With the weather obliging with an increasing sou’easter as the weekend progressed, Jack Roy did the business from the Committee Boat. And out on the racecourse, defending champion Anthony O’Leary of Cork - crewed by Dan O’Grady of Howth and Cian Guilfoyle of Dun Laoghaire - did the business big time too, providing one of the most convincing wins seen in the All Ireland for several years.

rev1520The main man….Anthony O’Leary retained the All Ireland Title in convincing style. Photo: David O’Brien

Published in W M Nixon
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM 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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