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2017 – A Very Irish Sailing Season

27th October 2017
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(Top) The essence of summer sailing for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, which also celebrated the Bicentenary of the Harbour. The classic restored Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle (Chris Craig and David Espey) and the likewise restored 1897-vintage 37ft Myfanwy (Rob Mason) racing neck and neck towards the in-harbour finish. Photo: David O’Brien/Afloat.ie (Above) Another side of 2017’s sailing. 2016 All-Ireland Champion Helm Alex Barry of Monkstown Bay SC revelling in brisk conditions at the Royal Cork’s successful Dinghyfest 2017. Event organizer Nin O’Leary had put in such good work beforehand that he was able to take a day out to go to England and win the huge-fleet Round the Island Race. Photo: Robert Bateman (Top) The essence of summer sailing for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, which also celebrated the Bicentenary of the Harbour. The classic restored Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle (Chris Craig and David Espey) and the likewise restored 1897-vintage 37ft Myfanwy (Rob Mason) racing neck and neck towards the in-harbour finish. Photo: David O’Brien/Afloat.ie (Above) Another side of 2017’s sailing. 2016 All-Ireland Champion Helm Alex Barry of Monkstown Bay SC revelling in brisk conditions at the Royal Cork’s successful Dinghyfest 2017. Event organizer Nin O’Leary had put in such good work beforehand that he was able to take a day out to go to England and win the huge-fleet Round the Island Race. Photo: Robert Bateman

While sailing is now a year-round interest, and for many a year-round activity too, the notion of a traditional season is natural for anyone who lives in Ireland. Admittedly, there are times when we seem to be experiencing the four annual climatic seasons in just one day. But this sense of a seasonal change, and the appropriate alterations in activity which accompany it, are in our genetic makeup. And though marinas and the Autumn Leagues which they facilitate have pushed the season’s end back to the October Bank Holiday Weekend, for many, that’s it. It’s finally time for boats to be rested and energies deployed in other ways. W M Nixon reflects on highlights of the year.

These times we live in, they tend to emphasise big events – celebrity happenings you might call them – and our perceptions of a season past may be skewed by how the major fixtures played through. But your true Irish sailing season has at its core the classic club programme from April to October, with its plethora of weekend and weekday evening events. If you want to sense the beating heart of our sailing, you have to take the pulse of this local and club scene.

We know it’s not for everyone. Some dinghy crews only emerge for major regional and national championships. But week in, week out, it’s the regular local sailing, from the smallest club right up to the majestic programme of Dublin Bay Sailing Club, which sets the tone for the majority of sailors.

DBSC Racing Beneteau 31.7 2391Week in, week out, Dublin Bay Sailing Club provides a comprehensive programme of local racing from the end of April until the end of September, and it has been successfully doing so since 1884. Here the club's Beneteau 31.7s, one of DBSC's largest one design keelboat fleets negotiate a weather mark at the class championships Photo David O’Brien/Afloat

And for those who sailed regularly all through the time-honoured season, it has to be admitted that weatherwise, we experienced a very mixed bag. As we shall see, there were brief periods of good weather which blessed some events. But in any case, one dyed-in-the-wool cub sailor firmly told us that as far as he was concerned, it was a very good season.

“For sure, there was rain and wind,” he said. “But we need wind for sailing. If you get a long period of rain-free weather, the evenings are likely to be wind-free as well. Frankly I’d rather get a good race in rain than sit becalmed on a perfect summer’s evening. But as we’re an east coast club, we often get that east coast effect of Atlantic weather without Atlantic rain, which is ideal for club racing. By and large, it has been a good sailing season, and race management seems to be improving all the time. So 2017 is going to go down as a good year for club sailing, but only a very average year for sunshine”.

As for Irish sailing’s national structure, inevitably there’s a clashing of events. There is only a finite number of weekends available at peak season when different big ticket regattas and championships hope to be staged, but as well, each club and area quite rightly expect to bring prestigious fleets to its part of Ireland.

However, in 2017 there was increasing emphasis at official club level on making sailing fun again. We’d begun to take it too seriously, something reinforced by the grim years of the recession, and then the winning in 2016 of Annalise Murphy’s Silver Medal at the Olympics in Rio.

moth worlds4Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy led the way in signalling a change of mood for 2017 after the seriousness of her 2016 campaign towards success in Rio. In the early part of the season, she concentrated on the International Foiling Moth, and in this 223-strong fleet at the Worlds on Lake Garda in May, she became the Women’s World Champion. She is currently on a completely different direction for ten months on the Volvo Ocean Race as a crewmember on the One-Design Volvo Ocean 65 Turn the Tide on Plastic

Of course the winning of Annalise’s medal was a matter for fun-filled celebration once it had happened, but the buildup to it was deadly serious, and that affected the tone of the national sailing mood in every area. But with the Medal in the bag, 2017 could reasonably expect to have a lighter mood, and this in turn helped us to adjust to an over-crowded programme, as crews could plan on a series of campaigns which balanced between serious events which provided proper championship results of national significance, and events which officially claimed to be providing everyone with a good time, even if some crews raced with deadly seriousness.

Either way, so much was going on that a review like this can only hope to give an impression of the season rather than a detailed analysis, but we’ll try to give it a comprehensible shape by listing the main events of Irish interest at home and abroad under either the “serious” or “fun” categorisations:

March/April: Intervarsity Championships – serious, UCD selected to represent Ireland

April: Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Nationals, Ballyholme - serious (and impressive), Ewan McMahon the star, Rush SC prominent in success

Mojito J109The hyper-busy J/109 Mojito managed a hard-fought overall win in the ISORA Championship, successful participation in the Rolex Rastnet Race, and a second place in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race.

April: Season-long ISORA Championship get under way, several venues – inevitably serious. In due course, J/109 Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox, Pwllheli SC) has very close overall win – despite taking time out to do the Fastnet

May: Scottish Series at Tarbert– serious, Pat Kelly’s J/109 Storm and Stephen Quinn’s J/97 Lambay Rules top their classes.

June: Howth Lambay Weekend – Fun

lambay race51It could be a remote part of the West Coast, but Howth Yacht Club’s annual Lambay Race is a reminder that Ireland’s least-spoilt coastline is on an East Coast island. Photo courtesy HYC

June: ICRA Nationals Royal Cork – probably the most serious of them all. John Maybury’s J/109 Joker 2 RIYC), Ross MacDonald’s X332 Equinox (HYC), and Paul Gibbons’ Anchor Challenge (RCYC) win the three main classes.

dark angel6Rob O’Leary racing the Dubois 36 Dark Angel from South Wales to class success in the ICRA Nats at Crosshaven. Photo: Robert Bateman

rockabill six7Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI shortly after the start of the very tough Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, which she won, while a sister-ship Bogatyr was also winner of the likewise rough 608-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race in late October. This photo goes some way to revealing the reason for the JPK 10.80’s success – she is only 35ft LOA, yet you’d think you’re looking at a significantly larger boat. Photo: David O’Brien/Afloat.ie

June: National YC Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race – serious

June: Sovereign’s Cup at Kinsale – fun

1720s at Sovereigns8By maintaining its position as a standalone event, the Sovereign’s Cup at Kinsale can invite non-IRC classes to compete, and the 1720s responded with this keen turnout. The overall winner across all classes was adjudged to be Rob McConnell’s A35 Fool’s Gold from Dunmore East. Photo: Robert Bateman

June: Dinghyfest at Royal Cork – brilliantly balanced mixture of serious & fun

July: Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta – superb, and fun

July: WIORA Championship at Aran Islands – unique

wiora nats9WIORA Nationals 2017 – and first time at the Aran Islands. Irish Sailing President Jack Roy (left) with WIORA organiser Cormac Mac Donncha. The popular Irish Sailing President seemed to have several doppelgangers, as that same evening he was present at the Opening Ceremony for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, in which he also served for the entire four days as a Race Officer.

icc rally10With more than sixty boats taking part, the Irish Cruising Club Rally in Northwest Spain was an outstanding success. This is Michael Holland’s 70ft 1993-built Dubois ketch Celtic Spirit – a veteran of Arctic and Antarctic cruising - making knots down the coast of Galicia. Photo: Trish Phelan
July: Irish Cruising Club Rally in Northwest Spain – seriously well organised, great fun to take part

July: Glandore Classics – fun, yet serious too

August: Rolex Fastnet Race from Cowes – serious

jedi fastnet11Fastnet Rock astern for Jedi, the Irish National Sailing School’s successful J/109, which won class IRC 3B in the Fastnet Race, and also the Roger Justice Trophy for the top-placed Sailing School boat. Jedi is one of the 15-plus class of hotly-raced J/109s in Dun Laoghaire, whose annual championship was won by the Kelly family’s Storm from Rush SC and Howth, while the most successful boat in other events was John Maybury’s Joker 2.
August: Calves Week from Schull – prides itself on being a neat balance between fun and “quite serious racing”, and succeeds in being so.

swuzzlebubble racing12Everybody likes her, even if she beats them all. The characterful Swuzzlebubble racing to success in the Half Ton Classics at Kinsale. Photo: Robert Bateman

August: Half Ton World Classics at Kinsale: Supposedly serious, but in the ultimate lotus-eating venue and with such an extraordinary selection of boats, it couldn’t help but be fun. And everyone likes the slightly eccentric overall winner, the legendary Swuzzlebubble

August: Crinnui na mBad, Kinvara – traditional and fun

crinnui na mbad13The annual Crinnui na mBad at Kinvara in August may not have been favoured with good weather, but it was as popular as ever. This is one of the winners, John Flaherty’s Galway hooker Naomh Cailin, going out to race. Photo: Pierce Purcell

August: Laser Nationals Royal Cork YC – serious

laser nationals14RCYC Admiral John Roche, 2017 National Champion Finn Lynch (NYC) and Mark Whisker of sponsors Volvo at the prize-giving for the Volvo Laser Nationals at Crosshaven. Photo: Robert Bateman

September: Autumn League at Howth – fun event, but run with such serious efficiency that they’d a full programme completed after six weekends despite losing two days of racing to the late season’s poor weather.

SB20 YachtRoyal St. George's Michael O'Connor, Davy Taylor and Ed Cook – SB20 'Corinthian' World Champions and Irish Champions

 

September: The SB 20 Nationals, incorporated into the first weekend of the Howth Autumn league as a three-day separate championship, had extra interest as it included recently-crowned SB 20 Corinthian World Champions Michael O’Connor, Davy Taylor and Edward Cook of Royal St George YC, who had won in the Worlds at Cowes. They added the Irish title to their 2017 trophy list.

October: Autumn League at Royal Cork - fun

October: Mini-Transat at La Rochelle – serious

tom dolan15Ireland’s Tom Dolan in the first leg of the Mini-Transat 2017, 1,400 miles from La Rochelle to Las Palmas. He finished this stage 12th in a class of 55 boats The second Transatlantic stage starts on 1st November

October: Junior All-Ireland at Schull – serious

junior champions16Junior All-Ireland winners on the podium. Kinsale YC’s champions Michael O'Suilleabhain and Michael Carroll, with second placed Rian Geraghty-McDonnell and Harry Durcan (RCYC) and Loghlen Rickard and Nathan Van Steenberge third. Photo: Robin Bateman

October: Senior All-Ireland Sailing Championship at Mullingar – serious and historic, as it is staged at one of the smallest, most rural clubs in the country, and raced in GP 14s.

lyden manning17Fionn Lyden of Baltimore, All-Ireland Champion 2017, at Mullingar with the famous silver salver with crewmate Liam Manning of Schull. Photo: David Branigan/Sailing Ireland

October: Student Yachting Worlds in Marseilles in France – serious. Ireland – a winner in times past –places fifth this time round.

October: Rolex Middle Sea Race from Malta – serious

October: Volvo Ocean Race from Alicante – serious

This fun/serious differentiation seems to have been supported by our wayward climate, which often managed to come up with good weather just when it was needed for the fun events, yet it achieved this in the midst of a generally very unsettled and often plain inclement summer.

The photos are all that is needed to show how this was so during 2017’s premier event, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 from July 6th to 9th. It wasn’t a sun-blasted regatta, but it wasn’t a wind-blasted one either – it was just a brief period of exceptionally pleasant warm weather with enough breeze for good racing , yet not too much wind to make it difficult to provide the in-harbour finishes which were introduced in special acknowledgement of the fact that they were also celebrating the Bicentenary of the massive work starting on the construction of this truly monumental and architecturally magnificent artificial port.

slipway scene18Piling them in – the good-humoured yet busy atmosphere off the National YC slipway after another day of racing in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. Photo: W M Nixon

With 34 classes racing and boat numbers pushing towards the 500 mark, obviously it would have been totally inappropriate to try to include the ICRA Nats within it, as some have suggested. But even with such good conditions in its relaxed form, it could easily have got out of hand. However, with Organising Committee Chairman Tim Goodbody apparently yet always very quietly here, there and everywhere to ensure that all was running smoothly with a skillfully delegated team, it ran like clockwork to round out his two year stint in the top role with considerable style and success.

One noted visiting crew enthused that it was the best four days of sailing they’d ever had, and that was before they became aware that they’d won the ultimate trophy, the Kingstown 200 Cup, complete with a hundred guinea purse and a framed picture of the first regatta ever staged in what is now Dun Laoghaire, the Kingtown Regatta of 1828.

myfanwy sailing19The sweetest boat in the fleet – Myfanwy from Wales - racing in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. Photo: David O’Brien/Afloat.ie

That was Rob Mason and his shipmates from Milford Haven with the classic 37ft Alexander Richardson-designed 1897-built gaff cutter Myfanwy, which Rob restored himself and sailed to Dun Laoghaire for the newly-introduced Classics Division, which was supposedly a one-off gesture to the Bicentenary.

But it worked so well that there’s talk of repeating it in 2019. Be that as it may, after the last race I was commiserating with the the Myfanwy team on their final placing, as I thought they’d sailed well enough to be comfortably on the podium, but Performance Echo decided others. Maybe they sailed too well. Yet far from being disappointed, they were on top of the world, and then when they went along to the huge prize-giving at the Royal St George, it was to hear to their complete surprise that the much-admired Myfanwy had been awarded the Kingstown 200 Cup and the prize purse and the historic picture……

myfanwy crew15Before and after. Myfanwy’s crew celebrating “four days of the best sailing we’ve ever had” immediately after coming ashore at the conclusion of the final race in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017. They are (left to right) Max Mason, his father Rob who restored Myfanwy, Andy Whitcher, and Gus Stott. The photo below shows them genuinely gobsmacked after finding they’d won the big trophy and its associated prizes. Photos W M Nixon and Gareth Craig/Fotosail

myfanwy crew21

This classics success reflected a good year for the classic boats in Ireland, as six of the Howth Seventeens (1898) and a dozen of the Water Wags (1887 & 1900) made their way to the famous Sailing Week in the Morbihan in southern Brittany in May. Then at the end of July, the newest Howth 17s, Orla built in France for Ian Malcolm by the famous Skol ar Mor, arrived home, and in an epic effort in late August, in honour of Class President Hal Sisk, the continually reviving Water Wags managed their first turnout of more than thirty boats for their traditional Wednesday evening racing.

howth seventeens22Howth Seventeens racing in their annual championship with Ireland’s Eye beyond – the new boat Orla (no 21) is on the right. Photo: Neil Murphy

water wag23With a history going back to 1887, the Water Wags became an overnight success at the end of August when they finally managed a turnout of more than 30 boats. The clear winners were David & Sally MacFarlane with No 15 Mousmie, aged 107 years. Photo W M Nixon

This has inevitably only been a skim across the events of 2017. An extraordinary season. Many hoped at the beginning of the year that it would see some relaxation after the intensity of the Olympic year, and while that may have been the overall mood, the achievements recorded above show that some sailors continued to take their own sailing very seriously indeed.

That is as it should be. But if I had to select a photo which captures the mood of 2017, the determination to make the best of it whatever the weather, then the Thomas Gautier image of Aoife Hopkins in devil-may-care mood, flying over a big sea off Douarnenez in Brittany on her way to winning the Laser Radial Under 21 European Championship, would undoubtedly be it. At that moment, Aoife was sailing for all of us.

aoife hopkins24Sailing for all of us. Aoife Hopkins in devil-may-care style, on her way to winning the Laser Radial U-21 Euros at Douarnenez in July. Photo: Thomas Gautier

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