If you’d brought a party of strangers to sailing out in a spectator boat to view yesterday’s first day of the three-day Irish Cruiser Racing Association’s National Championship, they could have been forgiven wondering why it all attracts such interest. There may be 86 boats entered from all over Ireland and across the Irish Sea. And yesterday evening Howth Yacht Club was fairly heaving with a spirited après sail party mood. Yet the actual sailing often moved with glacial slowness in the lightest of breezes, at times complete calm threatened, and though two of the race areas managed to complete their planned two races, the third area could only find enough breeze for one. W M Nixon tries to explain our weird sport’s special appeal.
When you’re trying to get some sort of sailing performance out of a 9-ton accommodation unit comprising three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a fully-equipped kitchen including a built-in Microwave, it does help to have a decent breeze. Yet on a day of mostly flat greyness with only the occasional flicker of sunshine at Howth yesterday, Howard McMullan’s Dufour 40 Splashdance, a handsome sailing cruiser of 2003 vintage which really does come with all mod cons, found herself struggling to find anything like adequate pressure.
Splashdance (above and below) is a Dufour 40 of 2003 vintage, and quite a hefty proposition to be racing in light airs. Photos: W M Nixon
Mossy Shanahan and Howard McMullan. Photo: W M Nixon
Yet helmsman Mossy Shanahan – who recently marked his 60th birthday by taking a celebratory spin in a World War II Spitfire fighter aircraft – got the big girl going to such good effect that his decidedly motley crew of shipmates came ashore well pleased with the day’s result in Division V (Non-spinnaker), which showed a reasonable fifth overall in Race 1, and a very cheering second overall in Race 2.
Admittedly in conditions like this where one boat can be trundling along quite happily in a private little air while another is almost dead in the water only a short distance away, there were astonishing anomalies in performance, and in our class it has to be said that a trio of Elan 333s – slippy craft perhaps, but very much cruisers nevertheless – gave all the bigger boats a very hard time, with Colm Bermingham’s Elan 333 – fresh from winning the Lambay Lady last weekend – living up to her name of Bite the Bullet by taking two wins.
With this hugely varied performance range, those who don’t find what total dinghy sailors are pleased to describe as truck-racing to be an interesting form of our sport will have found the appeal of Day One to be baffling. But it was utterly intriguing aboard Splashdance. While the hottest race boats on the other sailing areas may have leapt like racehorses with any sharpening of the feeble mostly southeast wind, our generally ponderous group took their time about getting up to speed, all manoeuvres had to be planned well in advance, and with quite a brisk tidal stream, racing marks had to be treated with the greatest respect, as all of them seemed to have somehow become magnetic overnight.
Many of the racing marks had somehow become magnetic overnight…
Yet that said, Mossy really is a demon helm, and when he had half a breeze to do what he wanted, he threw Splashdance about the starts and whatnot with stylish abandon, confidently throwing hyper-close shapes of a type I wouldn’t even dream of in a boat half the size.
Except for the rapidly-bonding band of brothers aboard the boat, it would be tedious to recount every tactic and strategy which provided such a good day’s racing in such unlikely circumstances. But as in all good stories, the best bit was at the end, over the final two miles to the finish of the second race.
Even national champions ended up with unusual crew positions to get the right trim in the meagre breeze – George Sisk’s WOW and Conor Phelan’s Jump Juice in close contention
It had started as a beat, but somehow our tactical team of Mossy Shanahan and Roger Cagney sniffed out a backing of the wind and a sharper air to the left. They got us clear to the left of a group of other boats, and though Bite the Bullet was by this time well ahead, having never out a foot wrong at any stage, we were mixing it with the other two Elan 333s, the Sigma 38 Spellbound, and the XC 45 Samaton (Robert Rendell), with the potentially fastest boat in the class, Vincent Farrell’s First 40.7 Tsunami, seemingly untouchable in front.
Did we really do that? Splashdance’s crew look aft in wonder as the First 40.7 Tsunami comes to the finishing line astern of them. Photo W M Nixon
But suddenly, slightly out on the left, Splashdance tasted magic. She found the groove. She just upped and went, dropping the others and then rolling insouciantly over Tsunami as though it was the sort of thing she did every day. Maybe it is. All I know is that it was a bit of sailing which took her neatly to the finish, and left her entire crew on a high which was only further augmented by our demon driver then reversing the big lady into her very tight inner corner berth in the marina through the seemingly impossible gap created by visiting boats rafted up.
In fact, visiting boats are finding berths wherever they can in this busy weekend in Howth, and an abiding memory from yesterday evening is the sight of some of the more legendary craft in the contemporary Irish offshore scene, yachts of the calibre of Jump Juice, WOW and the new Rockabill IV, rafted up in traditional style outside fishing boats in the fish dock, while at the head of the dock the new state-of-the-art fisheries pontoon is properly providing the full facilities for Howth’s growing fleet of small fishing craft, which is just as it should be.
The new JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (Paul O’Higgins) finds herself an unusual berth in Howth. Photo: W M Nixon
Working life goes on – there may be top offshore racers in port, but at Howth’s new pontoon for small fishing craft, lobster pots still need to be cleaned with a powerhose. Photo: W M Nixon
Certainly when I met up with ICRA Commodore Simon McGibney of Foynes, he’d no complaints, as they’d obligingly provided late crane facilities on Thursday night after his J/24 had been delayed on the way up from the west. But then like everyone else, I suppose he was delighted with the fact that an almost complete programme had been put through, for yesterday’s wind forecasts suggested we might have been plagued by calm all day.
ICRA Commodore Simon McGibney of Foynes YC in Howth yesterday. Photo: W M Nixon
The wind prospects for today and tomorrow are a little better, but there’s definitely no danger of any race being blown out, though there may be a deluge or two. As it is, the race officer teams deserve every credit for pulling a day’s sport out of light airs yesterday, and going into Day 2 the leaders are Jump Juice (Conor Phelan RCYC) in Division 0, White Mischief (T & R Goodbody RIYC in Division 1,) The Big Picture (M & R Evans HYC) in Division 2, Hard on Port (Flor O’Driscoll, RStGYC) in Division 3, OctopussE (Patrick O’Neill HYC) in Division 4, and Bite the Bullet (Colm Bermingham) in Division V.
The story behind the leaderboard is that Tim Goodbody is putting his imprint on the J/109s as surely as he put it on the Sigma 33s and the J/24s and the Dragons before that, another story is that the J/24s are providing one of the most heartening revivals in 2016, as Flor O’Driscoll’s Hard on Port is only one of several J/24s which are having themselves a ball. As for the news that The Big Picture currently leads Division 2, that means she leads the hyper-hot Half Tonners, so whatever Alan Power did to the Evans brothers’ boat in recent months in his shed up the back of Malahide (see SailSat 21st May), it undoubtedly is all to the good.
Some of the eleven J/109s which have entered for the ICRA Nats 2016 in Howth. Photo: W M Nixon
But even for those not hitting the headlines, the ICRA Nationals 2016 are a reminder that in the final analysis, sailing is all about people sharing enthusiasm for a curious vehicle sport which provides great pleasure in sometimes unlikely circumstances. Going down to join Splashdance yesterday morning in virtually lifeless weather, it was difficult not to wonder what it’s all about. Yet somehow it was absorbing entertainment from beginning to end. My thanks to Howard McMullan and Mossy Shanahan and Roger Cagney and the rest of the gang, who were David Will and Paddy McCaughey of Howth, John Ives of Sutton, and Liam MacMahon of Skerries, good shipmates every one of them.
The Big Picture is in clear focus. Michael and Richard Evans’ Half Tonner currently leads both the Classic Half Ton Class and Division 2
Day One Report: Goodbody Takes Class One Lead At ICRA Nationals