A properly managed race-winning cruiser-racer talks to us. And we, in turn, think in terms of “a well-presented boat” writes W M Nixon. But there’s much more to it than stylish presentation. It’s not enough just to look good. Everything – but everything – needs to be immaculately maintained and working properly, while an almost-automatic rota of timely sail and rigging replacement, together with general maintenance, is always underway in the background.
And all that’s before you get into the complexities of putting together the optimum crew, mainly of amateurs, and planning the most rewarding season’s programme within all the relevant factors and the time available. It’s personnel management and human resources utilisation of a high order. It’s a living three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of teamwork and personal effort, with changing and developing relationships of genuine friendship on a vehicle which in turn seems like a living thing in her interaction with the sea.
With September upon us, there’s already a sense of the seasonal review in the air, and we can take stock of the half-dozen best-managed boats in Ireland. There could well be a dozen which fit the category – please feel free to add to the total - but for now, the list has been cut down (in alphabetical order) to:
- Aurelia (J/122, Chris Power Smith, Royal St George YC);
- Checkmate XV (Humphreys Classic Half Tonner, Dave Cullen, Howth YC);
- Eleuthera (Grand Soleil 44, Frank Whelan, Greystones SC);
- Joker II (J/109, John Maybury, Royal Irish YC)
- Storm (J/109, Pat Kelly, Rush SC & HYC)
And as a Wild Card to make the magic six, we have Harmony (Humphreys Classic Half Tonner, Jonny Swan, HYC).
When we conclude by telling the Harmony story, you’ll see why her preparation and campaigning are in a special One Boat League of its own. But we begin with the Checkmate narrative, as it was communication with new Half Ton Classics Champion Dave Cullen at the weekend, when they were in the midst of their journey home from international success in Belgium, which spurred this collection of reviews.
Only twelve days earlier, I’d been admiring the very complete package which was the campaign-ready Checkmate XV, set up at HYC to depart by road and ferry for Belgium. Yet here they were two Sundays later, well on their way home with the job done and dusted, the big cup on board, and the man himself doing the driving as the complete Checkmate equipe swept through the mountains of Wales on her way to the Holyhead-Dublin ferry.
Neat it was for sure, but such complete results don’t happen by some happy accident. So while they were still on a high after getting safely home I asked to be emailed a few bullet points on the Checkmate XV way of doing things. The bullet points became an artillery barrage of useful info which goes some way to explain why Checkmate XV wins - for she has already had a consistently successful season in 2018 - and why Dave’s day job as CEO of Euro Car-Parks is so successful that his firm has won “Best Workplace in Ireland” awards. We’ll let him speak for himself:
CHECKMATE XV – Classic Humphreys Half Tonner 1985
Story from Dave Cullen:
“A few random thoughts on how Checkmate XV operates each year. Basically, I try to be an organised person (some might say I’ve OCD), and underlying it all is the fact that I like to have things planned well in advance.
The first thing we do after each race is do a written job list for immediate attention, and then for work over the winter. Once this winter work list is done, I order what is necessary and book in immediately with Alan Power of specialist boatworks Power Marine in Malahide, who does amazing work for us and has never let us down with delivery schedules and special technical challenges. I am always amused when visiting Alan hearing stories of people contacting him in March looking to have jobs done for April launches. They key here is planning ahead and I can get the boat done at the end of season to take stresses off him and us.
I am fortunate to have storage at work for the boat, sails, etc, and we (the crew) do the more fiddly jobs here ourselves over the winter. It is important to have the boat looking well with critical elements like halyards, standing rigging, etc serviced or inspected by the experts, as given the cost of campaigns, a broken halyard can cost a series.
We sail Checkmate XV with antifouling, so launch her with rough finish to harden, lifting a few weeks later to get sanded to race finish. The cheapest boat speed improvement is hull finish, and we get ours to mirror finish with pure elbow grease.
Given time is precious to me, we have a “Nipper” to look after the boat throughout the season. Jonny Sargent gets a fee to look after the boat on a weekly basis, and we have an essential To Do list, the most basic being periodic empty of the dehumidifier, while the boats is always kept clean above and below decks for racing, and stripped weekly of all the stuff that accumulates like 22 bottles of sun cream, 4,000 bottles of warm water, etc.. I say that with tongue in cheek, but it’s amazing the numbers of kilos that do find their way aboard really easily.
There is a huge amount of lifting, launching and work days, so I have to give great credit to my long term bestie Aidan Beggan who mucks in hugely and also sails on the boat. (Ed’s note: Dave & Aidan won the Howth Aqua Two-Handed race in July with Checkmate XV).
As Checkmate XV is an event boat, I have a towing jeep and purpose trailer. I never underestimate the attention these require as a plan can go up in smoke if either fail. The jeep gets a full service in advance of any long trip and I have the trailer fully serviced (Indespension service yacht trailers) once the boat is launched, and both give peace of mind.
Similarly, we are longer than a 40 foot artic truck, so ferry bookings are generally made in January to ensure a place aboard if going abroad. The trailer is loaded with service kit to replace wheels, straps, etc and tool box with relevant equipment. We similarly look at what is required to legally tow through a country and get the relevant equipment/permits. I do the driving as it’s difficult if you’re not used to it, but do check your licence is good for towing.
Many lost their towing licence when renewing to the newer plastic one, and you have to be tested to regain. I also bring the boat to a weighbridge to check if trailer is below the legal 3,500kg when I change boats, and I am now just on border. We plan the journeys that take the least amount of road driving where possible, but are prepared if time’s available to make the trips enjoyable by stopping overnight if there’s somewhere nice to stay and eat, even if it takes an extra day.
Our horsepower is delivered by North Sails, so at the end of each season, we chat through options for replacements and redesign. Sails are also ordered to avail of max discounts.
This is always an issue so at the end of season, we have a get together and I also circulate an email with a draft set of potential events asking crew to indicate potential availability and interest. This is very important to enable people to book family holidays, etc. Once we have a draft plan, we circulate and people can start making arrangements.
We have a panel of crew normally, and usually everyone wants to do the main events, so we have to be a bit cruel at times. At this stage of our continual relationship, the guys know it’s not personal if they are cut. For the Half Ton Cup, at latish notice, we were short a main trimmer, so the search went out for someone that can trim the main but - equally important - could fit in socially. We were really lucky that Darragh O’Connor could join us, and he fitted like a glove from our first night (I mean day) out….
Another consideration is if using a Pro, they need loads of advance notice, so Nin O’Leary was secured at the Half Ton Cup 2017 for 2018….. Our Half Ton Crew consisted of myself on helm, Nin O’Leary as tactician, Darragh O’Connor on mainsheet, Franz Rothschild on genoa trim, Aidan Beggan on kite trim, Jonny Sargent in pit, and Niki Potterton on the bow. We are largely a team that have sailed for many years together, so know how each other operates both on the water and ashore.
When in regatta mode, we set a sensible curfew each night but do enjoy the socials each night. It’s a different story before and after the regatta. Another big factor is practice and we try when possible to get as much practice as possible, including being first on the race course each day. Finally I also like having crew gear for all. It makes us look and possibly feel a bit more professional and organised plus the photos on the water look a lot better.
For each event, we try to hire the biggest house we can (with an entourage of ten) and a chef if necessary. Sleep is an important ingredient so everyone needs a decent bed and food.
We screwed up in the recent Half Ton Cup in not bringing enough lunch on the second day. This made people agitated and “hangry”, so less focussed. Being hungry is not helpful but this is important as much as it is important to get people to drink and stay hydrated, particularly in hot weather. We each have separate water bottles to avoid bugs being passed through a crew, which does happen surprisingly easily.
Clearly, the critical factor is planning. I try to be a very organised person normally, so get as much done in advance and as early as possible. This means if there are upsets along the way, we have more time to remedy any issues.”
AURELIA – Chris Power Smith
Going into this weekend, Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia from Dun Laoghaire has won her two most recent major races, she had a very good Round Ireland Race 2018 to place third overall, and she positively glows with lots of owner-given TLC.
Chris Power Smith is a third generation Chartered Quantity Surveyor who has developed several business interests, and originally his sports were scuba diving in the summer (he was one of the most highly-qualified early scuba divers in Ireland) and hockey in the winter. He got into sailing when a group of friends from both sports recruited him as overall organiser in 1994 when they’d chartered a boat for Antigua Race Week. They were lake sailors with no knowledge of navigation, but he could supply it from his diving background, so immediately his role in the Antigua expedition became more than just travel agent, and he has been hooked on sailing ever since.
He worked his way up through crewing with Bruce Lyster on the Sigma 38 Errislannan in Dun Laoghaire, and then personal ownership of a succession of J/Boats. He discovered a new passion for offshore racing when he tried an ISORA event after he’d found Dublin Bay Class 1 racing had become a bit claustrophobic at the extravagant heights of the Celtic Tiger years. By contrast, he reckoned ISORA to be “gentlemanly”. In 2015, after success with a pair of J/109s – “the first one was extremely well used when I bought her, and I mean seriously well used, so after a year or two I bought a brand new one” – he had then bought the J/122 which was to become Aurelia – the “Golden One” – in good second-hand order from France.
His first longer offshore race with her was the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle race of 2015, a good debut even if Aurelia was pipped into third place at the finish by the two J/109s Ruth and Mojito. In the Round Ireland of 2016 he was right on line for very significant success until parked in a local calm just north of Rockabill, but if anything this frustration spurred him on to even more committed involvement with the boat, and she has almost always been in the frame since.
With a boat the size of a J/122 (she’s big - a 40 footer with a long waterline) you might begin to expect a boat manager arrangement of some sort, but Chris is very much a hands-on do-it-myself-if-at-all-possible person with - as his sailmaker Maurice “The Prof” O’Connell of North puts it - “an incredible capacity for productive attention to detail”.
Chris goes beyond meticulous – “preventive maintenance and early replacement” is his mantra, and he is equally careful and thoughtful in assembling his crew: “I’d rather sail a bit short-handed than have someone aboard who is disruptive or counter-productive”. But the short-handed situation seldom arises, as people like sailing with a dedicated, thoughtful and successful skipper, and over the years he has built up a solid crew panel based on his original group of Niall Smyth, Ger Walshe, Lynda McCracken, Duncan Lyster, Jeff Ryan and Stephen Tierney, with the addition, since the step-up to Aurelia, of Bernard McGranahan, Dave McGrew, John McManus, Aileen Kelleher, Francois Pean, Oisin Coffey, and Michael Keatinge with the occasional involvement of John McGonigle, Dave Turner, and Nuala McGranahan.
As to the sailing itself, in 2018 as detailed in Afloat.ie he linked in with The Prof to maximise Aurelia’s sail-power and The Prof raced on board for the Round Ireland – “an education in itself in every way”. But Chris himself can have his own clear views on tactics and reckons it was his opinion that successfully kept Aurelia out of the calm-laden bays of Donegal, his motto when calms threaten being: “Never let the ship lose way. If you can see that you’re sailing into a calm patch, take urgent action. If needs be, turn round and sail back – just never, ever lose steerage way”.
ELEUTHERA – Frank Whelan
The biggest boat in our magic half dozen, the Grand Soleil 44 Eleuthera is a 2002-built Judel/Vrolik design which was optimized for racing for the Dutch team in that year’s Commodore’s Cup. Frank and his young crew of mostly Greystones sailors, drawn mainly from dinghy sailing, took her over just as Calves Week 2017 in West Cork got under way, and the experience gained in the final part of that season encouraged them into a work programme with the boat ashore in Greystones during the winter of 2017-2018.
With every boat in today’s list, we find that owners and their amateur crew have been willing to provide the elbow grease in preparation which having a successful boat entails. Admittedly the amounts vary with each boat, and not every owner expects a work contribution from his crew. But forget about any ideas of owners airily handing the boat over to some yard at the end of the season with the instructions to have her race-ready and in perfect order on 1st May. On the contrary, hands-on management is the key in all six boats. And as Patrick Barnwell, Frank’s right hand man and key player in recruiting keen young sailors from among the growing membership in Greystones has in effect put it: “There are few group bonding experiences which will be as effective as working together to bring up the finish on the enormous underside of a 44-footer in Greystones on a November night”.
Yet the reward comes when the sailing gets under way and Eleuthera is sailing at her proper speed, sailed well by a group of tested friends rather than just campaigned by a work party. Age differences melt away as different physical capacities are most effectively accommodated, and special talents are utilised to the full.
At times, it’s sheer hard work – there’s no doubt about the effort the young sailors put into helping their skipper bring his boat into the overall winning slot in Class 0 on the final day of Cork Week. This is teamwork of a high order, the successful team for 2018 – ranging in age from 17 to 60+ - including Frank Whelan on the helm, with Patrick Barnwell, Gary Hicks, Conor Clery, Kevin O’Rourke, Killian Fitzgerald, Andrew Smith, Matt Sherlock, Gavin Laverty and Shane Hughes of North Sails.
JOKER II – John Maybury (Royal Irish YC)
One of the most interesting things about the boats on this list is that none is new. John Maybury, an engineer with a special interest in such things, reckons we still don’t really know the full possible lifespan of properly manufactured fibreglass construction of whatever type. And he reckons that his hugely-successful J/109 Joker II – which he bought new in 2007 after several seasons with a Sigma 38 – is probably in as good order now after 11 years as she has ever been.
But then he is another of those owners who is never happier than when looking after his boat personally. And in tandem with two of his longest-serving crewmates and friends, Jack Mulligan and Brendan Phelan, he shares an encyclopaedic knowledge of how everything in Joker II works down to the finest electronic detail.
Over the years with the boat, they’ve kept out of just slipping into a routine annual sailing programme. They’ve done complete Dublin Bay years, but then in other seasons, they’ve devoted themselves with total dedication into offshore racing, with the ISORA programme – overall runners-up in 2012 – and the Round Ireland Race with a second in class.
Then when they returned to a more inshore-oriented programme, they included former Olympic helm Mark Mansfield of Cork and UK Sailmakers as tactician, and while John Maybury has continued as helm, Mark’s input as tactician has improved their consistency – three annual ICRA National Championship wins in a row speaks for itself.
But equally John is open to other interesting ways of using the boat, and as several of his regular crew – particularly Jack Mulligan – are with or have been in the Defence Forces, negotiations were successfully concluded for Joker 2 to be campaigned with total success by Commandant Barry Byrne and his Defence Forces crew in the inaugural Beaufort Cup series in Cork Week in 2016.
This productive relationship was repeated in 2018, but before the Beaufort Cup, Barry Byrne and a Defence Forces crew raced Joker 2 in the Round Ireland Race, placing second overall, winning their class, and winning the Corinthian Prize. This is a narrative which speaks for itself - it speaks volumes for the quality of boat management and a refreshingly healthy attitude to the full possibilities of boat ownership.
STORM - Pat Kelly (Rush SC & Howth YC)
In the rural depths of the coastal country north of Dublin, where the locals think of themselves as being in Fingal while others simply think of it as being the North County, the Kelly family of Rush have their home. And in the midst of it is a mighty shed which has many functions, and one of them is to provide a winter home and workshop for their hugely successful J/109 Storm.
There, Storm receives meticulous refits as a matter of course, and as one awestruck observer has put it, every other winter the Kelly family – three generations of them now actively involved – take their successfully-used boat apart with crewmembers helping, and reassemble her again in perfect working order in the sort of work programme which can only be fully understood by those who know boats inside-out.
Then each year they devise an annual programme which always has unusual twists to take advantage of the boat’s race-winning potential while introducing her mostly family crewmembers to new places and people, while at the same time doing enough home fixtures to stay with - and usually ahead of - the Irish pace. Thus in 2018 they spent much of May in Scotland mopping up prizes here and there with a successful conclusion by winning the Scottish Series, but by June they were back in Ireland and while they’d to concede first overall in class to Andrew Algeo et al in the J/109 Joggerknot in the Wave Regatta at Howth, within it they won the Lambay Race, which - for a Fingal boat – is what it’s all about.
Came August and they saw the potential of the Welsh IRC Championship at Pwllheli, and took part in the decidedly rugged racing with such success that they came home as the new champions, and the next main item on the agenda will be defending the J/109 Irish Championship won in October 2017.
There’s a special family warmth and generosity of sprit around Storm and the Kelly family which is inspiring, and our final listed boat and skipper and their 2018 campaigning were to become beneficiaries of it in a big way.
HARMONY – Classic Humphreys Half Tonner (1980) Jonny Swan, Howth YC
They say that Jonny Swan lives up to his surname - in high- level contests, he can seem to be winging it with some very tight time margins in preparing for his campaigns. But after his successes in 2018, which included being overall winner of the all-comers Harbour Race in Cork Week and coming a good second in the Half Ton Classics in Belgium as well as always being in the frame in other major events, we felt that his boat management style deserved celebration, as he represents an enthusiastic younger generation in the ranks of cruiser-racer owners.
Originally in financial services, he now runs a renewable energy company, Harmony Solar. His path into sailing has been the classic Howth route of Mirrors, Howth 17s and nearly fifteen years as frequent crew with Terry Giles on the successful X-302 Xebec, while he also became a feature of Shannon One Designs down on the lakes. Always remembering that Harmony is the only wooden boat in our Special Six, we’ll let him tell his own story:
“I have sailed competitively since I was a kid, however, I had never put together a crew and campaigned a boat with eight crew before. I sailed with Terry Giles for many years and Terry always put together a great season, so I was well educated by him by the time I bought my first keelboat. I acquired the 1980 Harmony in 2014 from in Sligo. There was a substantial amount of work required to make the boat competitive.
As with all wooden boats, there is constant upkeep and in the first year or two, there was a lot of upgrading to be done, with the major work being done by Dougal MacMahon in his classic boat workshop at Belmont in County Offaly, while a new rudder was supplied by John Corby from Cowes. During the season, all the crew do what they can with the inevitable “To Do” maintenance lists, and longtime shipmates Edel Harvey and Eamonn Bourke are especially helpful in this area.
These days, in the winter the boat is kept in my husband Frank Rowe's family farm in County Wexford, which keeps her undercover sheltered from the elements. Frank does a lot of the winter maintenance and sails on the boat when he is not running marathons or competing in triathlons and is very supportive of the campaigns.
With work and family commitments for all involved, it is very difficult to sail the boat weekly. Usually, myself and Joe Turner meet in January over a few drinks to formulate a plan for the season ahead, and get agreement from the crew which events we intend to do. This year it was agreed to do the Scottish Series in May, Wave Regatta in June, Cork Week in July and the Half Ton Cup in Belgium in August. It takes a substantial amount of commitment and organisation to arrange to get the boat to the starting line of each event, especially when towing the boat to events on the continent.
After Cork Week and in the lead up to the 2018 Half Ton Cup in Belgium, she was in need of some TLC and urgent replacement of faulty deck paint, and David Kelly of Storm (son of Pat) said I could drop her up to the famous “Storm Workshop” in Rush and his own son David (who at 17 was the youngest member of Harmony’s crew in Cork) and himself would help me out to do what was needed in advance of the Half Ton Cup. With the Kelly family’s high standards, it became a major refit, with the deck stripped right back and then re-sprayed, and the anti-fouling re-sprayed and re-surfaced too.
Three weeks of work every day with marathon work from David Jnr and his family along with the Harmony crew, and the boat was ready four hours before the ferry was due to depart to start the journey to Belgium.
When we arrive at an event, all of the crew pull together to get the boat launched and set up. For the event, we are all a team that help each other out as any team player would do. We sail together, socialise together and have a great time. There is never a cross word between us which makes the event a fun and enjoyable occasion. This is a key part to achieving what we are all there to do.
For the Half Ton Cup in Belgium, I had the following crew:
Edel Harvey- 37 (RIYC) She has done bow since 2014
David Kelly- 17 (HYC/ RSC)
Joe Turner- 41 (HYC) Sailed since I got the boat
Eamonn Bourke-26 (HYC) sailed for 3 years
Ryan Glynn- 23 (Ballyholme) sailed for 3 years
Nigel Young- (RCYC)
Jonny Swan- 37 (HYC)
While it is my boat and the underlying responsibility for the boat is mine, I believe the boat is the crew’s also, and I hope that every crew member feels this way, because it creates a great team environment which definitely enhances the overall performance. It is important to note that most of the crew take over half their annual leave to participate in events during the year. So it has to be more than anything fun and enjoyable because the crew are making a considerable commitment.
I regularly offer the boat to the crew to do any events they want to do when I can’t be there myself, and in 2017, the younger generation did the ICRA Nationals in heavy wind conditions at the RCYC, and they came an excellent 2nd overall helmed by Ryan Glynn.
Having bought the boat when I was 33, I have been incredibly lucky and privileged with the quality of crew who have joined and continue to sail on the boat. The boat would not have achieved the results she has done under my ownership without them all. We are simply a great bunch of friends, and always make everyone feel part of the team. The camaraderie of the Harmony team is special, and this is one of the keys to the results we have achieved over the last few years.
But no campaign or event can run smoothly without extra support, and there are definitely a few standout people and organisations who have supported our campaigns and events towards success. I made the decision earlier this year to move to North Sails Ireland. Nigel Young and Shane Hughes have been superb. I cannot thank them enough for all they have done, and having Nigel on board in Cork Week and the recent Half Ton Cup in Belgium was a great addition to Harmony. His input contributed to the best result I have achieved out of the four Half-Ton Cups I have competed in, and also a significant result in Cork Week where we won the famous All-Comers Harbour Race by a comfortable 2 minutes from over 90 boats that started on the one start line.
Ross McDonald in Ropedock has been an excellent addition to the marine industry. He is helpful and efficient. And there’s Howth Yacht Club and all their support. As for the Kelly family in Rush with all the hard work done to the boat in advance of this year’s event in Belgium and their warmly supportive attitude, that definitely contributed hugely to the overall result. Then there’s Gerry O'Daly, who was part of the crew when we won Dun Laoghaire Week in 2015. Although he lives in Sligo, he’s a superb support with the logistics, and the boat could not do some of the events without his help – if needs be if time is short for everyone else, he gets up at crack of dawn to tow the boat to the various events for us.
Lastly and firstly and most importantly - the crew. Without a dedicated crew, the boat cannot begin to be a success, and every one of them has contributed to the results we have achieved - Harmony is privileged to have had every one of them on board”.