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Who Will Get The ICRA 'Boat Of The Year' Title For Christmas?

21st November 2015
When the going was good, it was very good – John Maybury's Joker II from the Royal Irish Yacht Club racing in Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta in July

The Irish Cruiser-Racing Association’s (ICRA) Annual Conference has now been moved to a different time-frame, scheduled for Saturday 5th March 2016 in Limerick. But with sailing folk all agog to hear the announcement of the ICRA Boat of the Year 2015 in a week’s time after voting among members to give some happy crew (or crews) an early Christmas present, we’ve asked W M Nixon to cast a beady eye over the sort of field which might – in a perfect world - be currently under consideration for the title.

He reckoned initially that you could produce a long list of nearly two dozen boats which have made a special contribution to the strength and development of Irish cruiser-racing in 2015, but finds in the end that 25 have made the cut – and if you think there’s another boat that should be there, please let us know Although they won’t all make it to the short list, let alone into the final stages of the hustings, just for now we reckon we’ve something for everyone in the audience with this eclectic list of boats, sailors and achievements.

It’s the sheer variety of the cruiser-racing scene which emerges as the dominant feature of any overview. To the casual observer, a fleet of cruiser-racers may seem much of a muchness. But it takes only a minute of study by the discerning eye to realize that not only are there many markedly-different series-produced boat types, but two supposed sister-ships that emerged once upon a time from the same mould have now acquired an individuality which will never be reversed.

Add to that the undoubted individuality of their crews and then factor in the variety of ports from which they sail, coupled with the many locations in which they usually race, and you realize that there’s a bewildering variety of elements in arriving at a final choice. And even if you cut it down to raw racing results, with the two handicap systems IRC and ECHO in action, and up to four classes involved – not to mention One Designs and White Sail Racers – then you find you’ll still end up with an unwieldy number of contenders.

Getting the season started. The Scottish Series in May experienced some rugged weather – and it stayed around for much of the year, but on the rare times when the weather was good, it was very good.

But then there are other factors which surely merit consideration. Who does best with the resources of time and money they have available? And how about average crew age?

One of the many factors which cause the Olympic Games to be looked at with increasingly mixed feelings is that as they become ever more athletic and even less vehicular in their emphasis, they are undoubtedly becoming more ageist. Yet here is sailing, this totally vehicle sport, and within sailing there is nothing is more truly vehicular than cruiser-racing.

So though the powers-that-be may blithely promote sailing as a sport for life, the reality is that it would be an empty claim were it not for the way that keelboats extend one’s sailing life. And in the world of keelboats, cruiser-racing adds in that extra decade or three of competitive sailing to keep the show on the long road.

But in order to keep it all going, there’s a level of boat and personnel management involved which is way beyond the imagination of people who simply see pretty boats swanning about on a blue sea on a summer’s day. Apart from the expense involved in day-to-day running, and the logistics in having your boat at the various events, you have to expect to maintain a crew panel of maybe twice as many skilled folk as are needed to get the best performance, and that in turns involved considerable subtlety in diplomacy when some events coming up on the programme seem to have more glamour than others.

And beyond all this, of course, it does help greatly if the owner-skipper is greatly skilled and hugely experienced in the art, craft science and sheer cunning of boat racing. Thus you can see why this writer doesn’t bother much with tying to explain the attractions of sailing. If you don’t get its appeal by some sixth sense, then it’s simply not worth bothering.

As to making a list, the only fair way - or maybe that should be the least unfair way - would be to go through it in alphabetical order. But we’ll give that an extra spin while we’re at it. We’ll do it with a reversed alphabet:

WOW (Farr 42, George Sisk, RIYC)
The good ole boys and a very good though not so old boat. They emerged tops at Kinsale in the Sovereigns/ICRA Nats, they emerged tops in Dublin Bay, and they did a more-than-respectable Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race to show they’re real cruiser-racers

WOW ICRA champion

WOW winning in Kinsale. She won on her home waters of Dublin Bay too

Either by being there himself, or by brilliant delegation, but either way VDLR 2015 Chairman Tim Goodbody made sure his Sigma 33 was collecting her usual high quota of prizes.

White Mischief (Sigma 33, Tim Goodbody, Royal Irish YC)
When skipper Tim was in charge, White Mischief was always right in the frame, but when he couldn’t be – as when taking “time out” to be hands-on Chairman of Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta - Paul McCarthy was still making sure that White Mischief was right there, and don’t forget it’s boats we’re voting for, not people

Tribal (Corby 25, Liam Burke, GBSC)
Galway Bay’s offshore racing supremo was always there or thereabouts on the results sheets, but as well he was always there at events some distance from his western stronghold

Storm (J/109, Pat Kelly, Rush SC)
The first of many J/109s on this list, Storm is a former ICRA Boat of the Year, and she continues in style at the front of the fleet wheresoever it may be racing.

boy5Pat Kelly’s J/109 Storm at Kinsale. Photo: ICRA

Kenneth Halliwell’s vintage classic She 31 She of the North was well ahead at the finish of the Northern Ireland Championship

She of the North (She 31, Ken Halliwell, Royal Ulster YC)
Probably the oldest boat in this list, Kenneth Halliwell’s classic little Sparkman & Stephens design is a real stayer. Usually with the lowest rating in the fleet, she keeps going and finishes just when someone else thinks they have it all sewn up, and if there’s a good slug to windward, she loves it whatever her crew might think. Apart from being in the frame in the Scottish Series, she won the Northern Ireland Offshore Points Championship by winning all four major offshore races in the North Channel

Ruth (J/109, Shanahan family, National YC)
The essence of the Irish offshore racing spirit and our tradition of family sailing. The Shanahans’ overall win in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race was clearcut, while they took the ISORA Championship too.

boy7They’re still going strong, and going fast too. This photo captures the Shanahan family and friends starting to get to grips with their J/109 Ruth in 2011. 2015 has been arguably their best season yet.

Rockabill V (Corby 33, Paul O’Higgins, RIYC)
Her owner being a noted barrister, his sailing season is only getting into full gear when other people are thinking their own has peaked, and though he’ll be seen doing the business afloat at events like the VDLR in July, it’s August’s Calves Weeks in West Cork which sees him on top form.

Quokka 8 (Grand Soleil 43, Michael Boyd, RIYC)
Michael Boyd may be international offshore racing’s leading mover and shaker these days through his role as RORC Commodore, but he’s a longtime RIYC sailor, and it was under the Royal Irish colours that he won the Round Ireland Race with the J/35 Big Ears in 1996. Despite the demands on his time as the RORC’s top honcho, he still sailed the Grand Soleil 43 Quokka in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2015 with his clubmate Barry Hurley as one of the strengths of the crew, and they placed best on corrected time of all the Irish boats, a result which has probably provided them with more trophies than if they’d won overall.

Quest (Quarter Tonner, Barry Cunningham, RIYC)
This lovely little Marcus Hutchinson-designed classic Quarter Tonner is as good an all-rounder as you’ll find in the Irish fleet, and while the breezy weather of 2015 seemed to make a speciality of taking out Quarter Tonner masts, Quest continued as a force to be reckoned with while always being easy on the eye.

Kilcullen (J/24, U25 helm Cillian Dickson, HYC)
Young Cillian Dickson (grandson of the legendary Roy) is setting a splendid pace and a fine example in Howth’s developing Under 25 Squad, spearheading the remarkable revival of the peninsular club’s offshore fortunes with successes not only in J/24 racing, but also in open IRC competition.

The white hot hopes for Howth’s future – Cillian Dickson and the U25 squad on the successful J/24 Kilcullen

Always ready to pounce……Conor Phelan’s Ker 36 Jump Juice from Cork has a formidable reputation for being in the right place in the final races of a series. Photo: W M Nixon

Jump Juice (Ker 36, Conor Phelan, (Royal Cork YC)
They should retain Conor Phelan as a background psychological coach to the Irish Olympic squad. Where our Olympians tend to be great starters in a series, but then go off the rails as the championship progresses, Jump Juice with Conor Phelan does it differently – they have a way of coming from the back towards the end of the event, a skill which was forcefully demonstrated at the ICRA Nats in Kinsale and has been seen to good advantage in Dublin Bay too.

Joker 2 (J/109, John Maybury, RIYC)
The Regatta Queen of the J/109s – very few J/109 championships will end without Joker 2 in the top three, and in 2015 she won the class both at Kinsale and Dublin Bay.

joie de vie WIORA

The J/109 Joie de Vie on her way to overall victory in the WIORA Championship in Galway Bay. Photo: Gareth Craig

Joie de Vie (J/109, Silvie Blazkova & G. Cahill, Galway Bay SC)
The photos from the WIORA Championship 2015 in Galway Bay capture some of the exceptional spirit of this great event, and emerging as overall champion enabled Joie de Vie to add another feather to the J/109’s well-stocked cap.

Harmony (Mod Half Tonner, Jonny Swan & James Freyne, HYC)
Once upon a time, this was a Rob Humphreys Half Tonner, but though she hasn’t been buffed quite as much as her near sister Checkmate XV, a lot has been done to keep this former winner of the Ladies’ Cup in Sligo (the world’s oldest original sailing trophy, it goes back to 1822) up to speed for Jonny & James, who evidently have clear ideas on downwind trim.

Keep her trimmed by the head on a light run – Harmony showing how it’s done on her way to a win. Photo: W M Nixon

Fusion (Corby 25, Richard Colwell & Ronan Cobbe, HYC)
The classic Corby design is about as skinny as you can get, and when you get down to the 25, when seen end on she’s almost invisible. Yet she can do the business for sure, and Fusion took trophies on the south and east coasts.

Freya (X442, Conor Doyle, Kinsale YC)
The handsome and robust X442 is about as different as you can get from the little Corby 25. But anyone who saw Freya milling her way comfortably through the fleet to the class win in the breeziest race in the VDLR will know they were looking at a true cruiser-racer. And just to prove it, despite the atrocious weather of July, Freya – having already done the Sovereigns at Kinsale – then continued on northabout from Dublin Bay to get to the next regatta date – Calves week in West Cork - with a round Ireland cruise, a feat also completed by Gabby Hogan’s Grand Soleil Growler from Schull.

A genuine cruiser-racer. Conor Doyle’s Freya did all events, winning some silverware with it, and took in a round Ireland cruise while she was at it.

Pure gold for Fool’s Gold – Rob McConnell and his exuberant WHSC crew after they’d won the Scottish Series overall.

Fools Gold (A35, Rob McConnell, Waterford Harbour SC),
Waterford Harbour SC in Dunmore East hit the international sailing news early in the season by becoming the overall winner of the Scottish Series at Tarbert. Neighbourhood headline writers (and who can blame them?) couldn’t resist telling the world: “Pure Gold for Fool’s Gold”. By August, Fool’s Gold was still in winning form, making the frame in Calves Week, and if that’s not a cruiser-racer being used as she should be, then we don’t know what is.

Equinox (X 332, Ross McDonald, HYC)
Fancy boats come and fancy boats go, but the X332 goes on for ever. And none more so than Equinox. Iniitially she looked like being an also-ran in the ICRA Nats at Kinsale. But when the going got tough the tough got going, and very fast too. Equinox eclipsed them all to win the top title.

The eternal star – Equinox has been at the front of Irish offshore fleets for a long time now. Photo: W M Nixon

In the groove. Paddy Cronin alone at the helm with Encore well on her way to the Double-Handed win in the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

Encore (First 40.7, Dermot & Paddy Cronin, Malahide YC)
We were well into October, and when ace Irish navigator Ian Moore on an Italian Cookson 50 missed first overall in the Rolex Middle Sea Race by just seven seconds, we were beginning to write final summaries of the 2015 season when suddenly out of the blue came Encore from Malahide with father and son crew of Dermot and Paddy Cronin, and didn’t they win the double-handed division with style. And not by a few seconds either – it was a solid margin of nearly two hours.

Dux (X 302, Anthony Gore-Grimes, HYC)
Yet another great advertisement for the sound virtues of a whole generation of X Yachts. Who needs a fancy new boat when an old dear like Dux can go out and do the business with such a flourish? And her many wins are achieved with a crew of family and friends in a happy intergenerational mix which is a marvellous advertisement for our sport.

Desert Star (Jeanneau Sunfast 37, Ronan O Siochru, Royal St George YC)
Offshore sailing schools are a very significant part of the sailing scene in England and France, so much so that for some years there has been a Sailing Schools Trophy in the Rolex Fastnet Race, and in 2015 there were 33 school boats entered. For Ronan O Siochru’s Irish Offshore Sailing from Dun Laoghaire, it was a case of being thrown in at the deep end, for they were up against some seriously heavy sailing school metal. Yet at the end of the race not only was Desert Star the overall winner of the Sailing Schools, but she’d placed second overall among all the Irish entries in the open division.

Home again, and in triumph. Desert Star (Irish Offshore Sailing) back in her berth in Dun Laoghaire Marina after winning the Sailing Schools Trophy in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2015. Photo: W M Nixon

Demelza (Club Shamrock, Windsor Laudan and Steph Ennis, HYC)
The second-oldest boat on our list, Demelza has a remarkably successful sailing history which is being further embellished by her current ownership, who set themselves clearcut targets and programmes racing within the Non Spinnaker Class, yet though a masthead rig has its limitations for this end of the sport, they win on all coasts.

Cri Cri (Quarter Tonner, Paul Colton, Royal Irish YC)
Some folk will complain that a Quarter Tonner is too small. Paul Colton turns this to advantage by making the scene with success at many venues at home and abroad, and gets some fantastic large fleet racing as a result.

Dave Cullen’s Checkmate XV in action at Kinsale. She went on to become Half Ton Classics World Champion in Belgium. Photo: ICRA

Checkmate XV (Mod Half Tonner, Dave Cullen, Howth YC)
The Half Ton Classic Worlds has carved itself a special niche in the European sailing calendar, and Dave Cullen has not only been a contender for some years, he has always been there or thereabouts in the top of the fleet. But in 2015 with his newly acquired boat, he recruited a squad of all the talents, and notched a convincing World Title in Belgium.

Antix (Ker 40, Anthony O’Leary, Royal Cork YC)
The flagship of Cork offshore racing was in action early with overall victory in the RORC Easter Challenge in April in the Solent. Then she came home to lead the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race for much of the way in June, but light winds towards the finish saw her slipping down the rankings. Yet back in the Solent for the Royal Yacht Squadron Bicentenary Regatta at mid-season, Antix was on top form and won her class in often ferocious conditions. And though the All-Ireland Helmsmans Championship in October on Dublin Bay was raced in the SailFleet J/80s, you felt that the spirit of Antix was there with her helmsman as he defended his title, and did so with a very clearcut win.

Antix gets the season started, powering towards the overall win in the RORC Easter Challenge. Photo: RORC

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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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