To say that Irish sailing’s programme in June 2016 is crowded is a massive understatement. It’s a month which needs at least two extra weekends. Yet with only four available, sailors have to make hard choices, both as to where they’ll be competing, and when. W M Nixon tries to make some sense out of it.
There’s no doubting that special buzz in the air. The mood is good. It’s farewell to recession, and hello to more sailing than we can cope with. But even so, with only four weekends in June, and with the weather forgetting for the moment that this is Ireland and not one of the better sailing areas in the Greek islands, we might well dream of grabbing the opportunity while it offers. Carpe Diem. Seize the Day. For the winter will be long. And damp. And grey.
Paul O’Higgins’ new JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI. She is expected to be one of the star turns in the ICRA Nats at Howth in six days’ time
But in today’s world, you simply don’t bunk off for unlimited time as folk did in times past. The reality is that top crew just can’t do everything in the essentially amateur environment and crowded programme which is Irish sailing, and in a busy year there is only so much an amateur sailor can participate in while continuing to fulfill professional and domestic duties.
Thus we’re looking at an ICRA Nationals in Howth Yacht Club in six days’ time (Friday June 10th to Sunday June 12th) which will do well to get total entries over the eighty mark. Doom merchants reckon that Irish sailing should be looking to have a hundred boats in the cruiser fleet at the Nationals in order to indicate full health. It’s not a view I share. This is a good fleet when you consider that they exclude one designs such as the locally-based Puppeteer 22s and the J/80s, and then add in the fact it’s one very crowded month.
Summertime in Howth – this is the HYC upper deck in uncrowded mode. Photo: Courtesy HYC
As it is, in Howth they already have the annual Lambay Race today, which quite an event in its own right, while last night ISORA’s Dun Laoghaire to Douglas IOM race went off as planned. And then in a fortnight’s time the entire island is holding its breath waiting for the start at 1300hrs on Saturday June 18th at Wicklow of the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016. This has virtually doubled its entries on the turnout of 2014, and with biggies like Rambler 88 and the MOD 70s involved, it is simply dominating the entire sailing month.
So the remarkable thing about the ICRA Nationals is that though they’ll conclude with basically just a couple of days to go to the start of the countdown to the Round Ireland in Wicklow and Dun Laoghaire, there’ll be crew and boats racing at Howth like there’s no tomorrow. But when tomorrow comes, they’ll be busy re-inventing themselves as new crews with fresh boats and different livery for the Volvo Round Ireland.
Top of the list in this particular quick-change scenario is the Dave Cullen crew with current Half Ton Classic World Champion Checkmate XV. With a good turnout of Half Tonners lined up for Howth, it’s expected that Checkmate will avoid last year’s slip-up in the ICRA Nationals in Kinsale, when they somehow allowed the lead to be snapped up at the end by Ross McDonald's X–332 Equinox. Jonny Swan's Half–Tonner Harmony was third in Kinsale and is racing again in Howth. Added to this Half Tonner line–up in 2016 is Mike and Ritchie Evan's Big Picture, the recent Half Ton winner at HYC's nine race Sportsboat Cup.
Dave Cullen’s Checkmate leading the fleet in the Half Ton Classic Worlds 2015 in Belgium
All the usual suspects…..Dave Cullen and the Checkmate crew after winning the Half Ton Worlds in August 2015
The J/109 Storm in full cry with the Kelly family in charge as usual. But immediately after the ICRA Nationals, she’ll become Euro Car Parks for the Volvo Round Ireland race, with Dave Cullen as skipper.
But regardless of the outcome, the ICRA Nats will have scarcely been put to bed when Cullen and his team re-direct their thoughts to the Volvo Round Ireland, for which they’ve chartered the Kelly family’s J/109 Storm, which will race round Ireland as Euro Car Parks and will have the already high-powered Cullen squad further reinforced by the addition of Maurice “Prof” O’Connell.
All this metamorphosis will be taking place only ten days hence, but by that time a significant array of questions will have been answered about just which Irish cruiser-racers are going best this year. For regardless of numbers, the fact is the lure of a National title really does draw in some very capable crews well able for the top level in the ICRA Championships.
The attractive array of trophies for the ICRA Nats 2016 include embedded medals to remind us that the winners will indeed be National Champions. Photo courtesy ICRA
And in Howth in six days time, much of the interest is going to focus on the lineup of at least nine J/109s, which will be providing some of the best racing available. It’s a dream scenario in terms of sporting potential, as John Hall’s Something Else is fresh home from Scotland with the class win recorded in the Silvers Scottish Series, J/109 newby Tim Goodbody (a Fastnet Race overall win is only one item in his stellar career) is already rising through the J/109 ranks with bullets recorded in this year’s Dublin Bay racing, and he’s convinced there’s a lot more speed to be found in the newest White Michief, and current ISORA Champions the Shanahan family will be there to help him find it with their hyper-successful J/109 Ruth.
Further raising the ante on the J/109 pace will be John Maybury’s Joker, winner in Kinsale last year. As for the Kelly family of Rush Sailing Club, they may be handing over their beloved Storm to the tender care of Dave Cullen and his gang for the Volvo Round Ireland, but as former ICRA Boat of the Year, Storm is going to be very much the Kelly boat, racing as hard as she can under the Kelly colours in six days’ time.
But there is of course much of interest beyond the virtually one design cut-and-thrust of the J/109s, not least in Class 1 where the 2015 Boat of Year WOW (RIYC), George Sisk’s Farr 42 from Dun Laoghaire, is competing.
We don’t have to tell you that the JPK 10.80 won last year’s Rolex Fastnet Race and was right in the frame in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart, but for the O’Higgins crew the fascination will lie in getting to grips with the very commodious JPK 10.80, because for many seasons they’ve successfully campaigned the Corby 33 Rockabill V, for which several adjectives might spring to mind, but “commodious” would not be one of them.
Ross MacDonald’s X332 Equinox was top scorer at Kinsale last year, and will be aiming for a similar performance in her home waters next week. Photo: W M Nixon
Other winners from the ICRA Nats 2015 in Kinsale include Ross MacDonald’s veteran X332 from Howth. Having been in the fray a week ago with his wife Aoife on the 1720 Atara during the Howth Sportsboat Cup series where a first day lead slipped away from them, he’ll be keen to show that Equnox won’t be similarly eclipsed a week hence.
As it happens, the Howth squad - with their headquarters boisterously established in Kinsale’s White Lady Inn – were very much a force to be reckoned with in all classes in the 2015 championship, and another defender back on home water will be the decidedly senior yet still very competitive Ron Holland-designed Club Shamrock Demelza (Windsor Laudan & Steffi Ennis), which swept the board in Non-Spinnaker Class 6, while clubmate Colm Bermingham with the Elan 330 Bite the Bullet did the same in Class 5.
The Club Shamrock Demelza is now pushing forty years of age, yet owners Windsor Laudan and Steffi Ennis were champions at the ICRA Nats 2015 in Kinsale. Photo courtesy ICRA
However, the very fact of sailing an away series seems to bring out an bit of extra competitive edge in many crews, and in taking an overview of the fleet for the ICRA Nationals 2016, we might find that some of the smart money is on Rob McConnell’s A 35 Fool’s Gold from Dunmore East, and Conor Phelan’s Ker 36.7 Jump Juice from Crosshaven.
Both crews have a fine record of success, and both are renowned for their enthusiasm and sportsmanship. And in the case of Jump Juice, she has already won her class in this year’s RORC Easter Challenge. Not bad going for a boat which has always seemed as new as tomorrow, yet this year she’ll be ten years old.
But that’s only at the very sharp end of the fleet. The Secret Ingredient of the Irish Cruiser-Racing Association is the Progressive ECHO handicap system, which re-rates each boat after every race. Everyone is in there with a chance. Inevitably, this approach was dismissed by purists as “encouraging mediocrity” when it was first introduced. But it has in fact encouraged new levels of enthusiasm, which in time lead on to markedly improved performance. “Tomorrow is another day” could well be the motto for Progressive ECHO, and we’ll see how well it works as the ICRA Show swings into action at Howth next Friday.
The great Jump Juice as she was at her debut ten years ago. She is still very much a contender