With 178 Optimists racing in the Irish Nationals at Kinsale, and Ireland’s GP14 dinghies in fine form after the massive Worlds in England as they gather for their own Nationals in Sligo this weekend through to Monday, there’s much to be hopeful about even as our cruiser-racers deal with the fallout from the multi-gale depredations on the programme in the ICRA Nationals at Galway, and the damage-forced retirement from the Round Britain & Ireland Race of Conor Fogerty and Simon Knowles in Bam! W M Nixon hopes to brighten the mood.
The remains of Subtropical Storm Ernesto could not have chosen a more inconvenient time to swing by the west coast of Ireland and the Outer Hebrides of Scotland than during this past week.
For meteorologists, one of the curiosities was that Ernesto was so all-encompassing that he included in his swirling airmass not only an enormous long plume of smoke from the wildfires in California, but dust from the Sahara. That’s globalisation, and no mistake.
Subtropical Storm Ernesto
And he also brought us in Ireland far more than our fair share of extremely humid and unstable air, lots of it moving at near gale force, with all of it very dense to exacerbate the effects of wind speed. With its added ingredients of smoke and dust, it was not only humid – it was arguably putrid.
Seen from a lee shore, the Ernesto Effect produced unspeakable sea and sailing conditions which made race cancellations in Galway Bay inevitable. And for those already out at sea and racing in the RB & I marathon, the endlessly varying wind strengths and its many weaving directions led to widespread damage in the Sevenstar fleet, and several retirals to ports along Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard.
Up to a point, we could take it all in our stride. But when Bam!’s dejected crew were forced to pull out on Thursday morning, it was time and more to look elsewhere for signs of encouragement in the Irish sailing scene, news and stories to remind us that, until a week ago, the season of 2018 was going very well indeed, and it will soon be back on track again.
178 Optimists at the Nationals in Kinsale
So that figure of 178 Optimists at the Nationals in Kinsale is hugely encouraging, particularly when we remember that the Irish Optimist racing scene is so highly regarded internationally that teams from six other nations have come to Kinsale to race as Open division entries.
Because it’s children’s sport, some limits apply in reporting Optimist success. But when new stars such as Justin Lucas of Clonakilty and more recently Rocco Wright of Howth emerge with brilliant performances, the news gets out.
And living as I do in an Optimist neighbourhood (half the houses in our road seem to have evidence of at least one Optimist dinghy in the family), part of the fascination of Optimist campaigning is its entertainment value for the rest of us. When you see an entire family (including the pooch) heading off for a championship with the total package of support RIB, several Optimists attached here, there and everywhere - with the roof-rack of the SUV also utilized – then you’re really looking at something special, yet we take it for granted.
GP14 Worlds 2020 at Skerries
In an era when novelty and innovation seem to be the priorities that we seek in vehicles and equipment, the GP 14 is a real curiosity. She goes all the way back to 1949 – yes, she’ll be 70 next year – and her original purpose was that, as a hard-chined boat built in marine plywood, she could be home-built by any reasonably competent Do-It-Yourself enthusiast at a time when DIY was widely popular.
She was called the GP as it meant General Purpose and most assuredly not Grand Prix, with day cruising or even longer non-racing ventures considered an option. But soon, the new boat had acquired a spinnaker, and racing was on the agenda and moving rapidly towards the top. It has stayed there ever since as the GP 14’s main purpose in life.
Many new dinghy designs have appeared since 1949 to promote fresh classes, yet the GP 14 continues to trundle successfully along – more than 14,000 have been built worldwide. And though glassfibre construction has been used in some cases – Shane MacCarthy of Greystones won the GP 14 Worlds in 2016 in Barbados in a GRP GP14 – wood construction continues to be much favoured, and one of the very best builders in the world is Alistair Duffin of East Belfast, who succeeded his father Gerry in the business of creating exquisite wooden boats which are also race-winners.
His boat-building skills are such that other classes try to avail of his services when there’s the tiniest gap in his GP 14 orderbook – at the moment he’s putting a new deck on a Dublin Bay Mermaid, evidence of another of Ireland’s much-loved older classes finding itself with a new lease of life.
One aspect of such classes is that they give you the feeling of being in one great big family, and certainly in the GP14s in particular, the family thread runs strong, with parents as readily crewing for children as the other way round.
The class is renowned for its provision of good value for its members. This was particularly apparent when the GP 14 Worlds of 2014 was held at East Down Yacht Club on Strangford Lough. The renowned Norman Lee of Greystones was among those taking part with his impressive compact largely self-created equipage of campervan-cum-workshop with boat and gear and spares, all of it on site and typical of a class where a monumental yet quietly effective community effort was needed each day to get the fleet – almost exactly a hundred in all – neatly away for each day’s racing.
This sense of readily-supported group effort within GP 14 Ireland reached a new level in 2016, when the Worlds were set for Barbados in March. The prospect of Caribbean sailing at the tail end of the Irish winter was a mighty attraction, but the logistics of it would have been beyond most classes. Yet the unrivalled community spirit within the Irish GPs saw 22 boats being taken Transatlantic in a well co-ordinated container movement combined with an affordable travel and accommodation package which was negotiated though sensible group action, and planning well ahead.
The fact that in some magnificent racing the new GP 14 World Champion was to emerge as Shane MacCarthy of Greystones, crewed by Andy Davis, was the perfect finishing touch to a great adventure, and a timely reminder that the Irish GP 14 class has had its World Champions in the past, with Bill Whisker and Jimmy McKee of Ballyholme winning in 1975, while Mark and Paul Fekkes from Larne won in 1991.
Thus the main international focus for the Irish class this season has been the recent GP 14 Worlds in southwest England at Mounts Bay in Cornwall, where a convenient gently sloping beach provides the exceptional launching facilities required by a fleet of 117 boats, for which 17 travelled from various Irish centres, while total Irish participation was pushed above the 20 mark with our GP 14 sailors who currently live in Britain.
Inevitably, defending champion Shane MacCarthy was something of a marked man, and going into the final race he seemed assured of the bronze. But he was pushed into fourth, and the best of the Irish was Ross Kearney with the Silver, sailing under the burgee of the Royal North of Ireland YC at Cultra, and crewed by Ed Bradburn of South Staffs SC.
After Shane MacCarthy in fourth, next best of the Irish was Ger Owens of Royal St George YC at 9th. He is one of those leading Irish dinghy sailors who is equally renowned for his successes in other boats, most of them of more modern type, yet he reckons that for sport and value, keeping a GP 14 in trim and having someone as able as regular crew Melanie Morris to campaign with makes it well worth the effort.
In a fleet of this size, everyone will have found their level where the sport is at its best, and age is no barrier. We wouldn’t dream of even guessing at the age of Curly Morris of Larne, but he has been sailing GP 14s for as long as we’ve known him, which is very far back into the previous millennium. Yet there he was at Mounts Bay, merrily sailing around with all his replacement joints in reasonable working order, and taking 19th overall with Laura McFarland of Newtownards SC as his crew.
As for top all-women crew, that went to Katy Dwyer and Michelle Rowley of Sutton Dinghy Club, who were comfortably into the top half at 41st, which gave them a solid fifth in the Silver Fleet.
With full-on across-the-board participation by the Irish entries as events concluded at Mounts Bay in the first week of August, there’s been little enough time to re-charge batteries before this weekend’s Sligo gathering. But with GP 14 Ireland in the build-up to another big one on the home front within two years, the momentum is on, with the count-down already under way towards the GP 14 Worlds 2020 at Skerries, where this year in July they’ve already staged the Leinsters, won by Shane MacCarthy with Ger Owens second and Alan Blay and David Johnston of Sutton third.
This will put a double-focus on MacCarthy at Sligo, as he’s defending National Champion, having won at Ballyholme last year. So all that’s needed in Sligo is a relenting of the weather to set the stage for the sort of racing the GP 14s relish.
It speaks volumes of a class in good heart, and with GP14 Ireland now having David Cooke of Skerries as President, there’s a strong home team in place to provide a World Championship worthy of the competitors, while on the boat front, the word is that Alistair Duffin’s order book for new GP 14s is well-filled to 2020.
World Sailing Championships on the Fingal Coast
It all means that 2020 is going to be quite a year for World Championships on the Fingal coast, as fourteen miles to the south at Howth, one of HYC’s main events for 2020 will be staging the Fireball Worlds.
While the Fireball Class doesn’t have the same national coverage in Ireland as the GP 14, it continues to be a significant international force, and of course Irish faith in the Fireball is still sustained by memories of the World Championship in Dublin Bay in 1995, won by John Lavery and David O’Brien of the National Yacht Club.
The very idea that the coast of Fingal would be hosting two world championships at two different venues within the county in 2020 would have been seen as far-fetched back in 1995. But population growth has seen club development across the board in the north county – think, for instance, of the remarkable growth of Rush Sailing Club’s success – and the area’s lack of commercial shipping is a real boon when Dublin Port’s increasing activity keeps the Bay’s shipping lanes busier than ever.
Then, too, when the Atlantic weather is excessively flexing its muscles, the well-islanded coast of Fingal’s great sailing water has all of Ireland to provide a lee when the big westerlies roar across country to make racing events impossible on open water on the Atlantic seaboard.
Half Ton Classics Worlds at Nieuwpoort
So between Optimists and GP 14s and Fireballs, there is much to cheer us in the current and future scene. And as for cruiser racing, there may have been a glitch, but in the Irish Sea ISORA soldiers on, and we’ve two Howth boats – Dave Cullen’s Checkmate XV and Jonny Swann’s Harmony – in with a shout in next week’s Half Ton Classics Worlds at Nieuwpoort in Belgium. Life goes on.