What would Christmas be like without sailing? Such a state of deprivation just doesn’t bear thinking about writes W M Nixon. But thanks to the wonders of modern communication - which at other times can be too much of a good thing - your Irish sailor who finds Christmas is becoming over-powering can hide away and dial up the already busy entry list for next summer’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, or follow the racetrackers for the Golden Globe or the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race, and there he or she is – gone…….
Marvellous. You don’t even need to go sailing to get sailing at Christmas. There’s the ongoing drama of the Golden Globe to take you away. In it, the wonderful senior sailor Jean-Luc van den Heede (who looks for all the world like Willie Nelson’s much healthier brother, and sails every bit as well as Brother Willie sings) is hanging onto his lead despite his rig being in shreds, and in recent days has even managed to hold his distance ahead of the very determined Dutchman Mark Slats.
Slats doesn’t look like any iconic singer that we know of, but we’re open to suggestions, for our knowledge of the Dutch music scene is limited, and this is the season of goodwill. That said, we’re all rooting for Willie (sorry, for Jean-Luc), for the man has sailing talent and courage to spare.
For the rest of us, if the complete lower shroud mast fitting started cutting its way down through the alloy extrusion of the mast itself, then it would be a matter of getting to port pronto under power, putting professional riggers on the job, and maybe even getting m’learned friends to write a letter to the manufacturers.
But when it happened to Jean-Luc after a massive knockdown of his Rustler 36 Malmut, he was in the middle of nowhere, yet somehow this 73-year-old guy got himself up the mast in the midst of the very rolling ocean and did enough between the shroud tangs and the lower spreader sockets to stop the shrouds cutting any further south.
It did mean that he could no longer drive his Rustler 36 Malmut as hard as he would have liked, as the mast at times has been giving a passable impression of a piece of spaghetti. So in going on round Cape Horn and such things, he was forced to be sailing with three reefs in when one or two would normally have been all that was required.
Thus an astonishing lead of well over a thousand miles on second-placed Slats has been steadily whittled away, but as of today (Friday) van den Heede is through the 3,900 mile barrier to the finish and 707 miles ahead of Slats. But with some very difficult conditions to be negotiated with this dodgy rig before he gets beck to Les Sables d’Olonne, his problems will be prodigious, for there’ll almost certainly be rugged windward work in the Northeast Trades, and the cobbled-together rig setup emphatically dislikes slugging to windward.
If he does get back under his own steam, there’ll be some party, and this item here from Facebook shows that Jean-Luc isn’t shy of giving it a bit of a lash with the old vocal cords himself. It may not be comparable with Willie Nelson giving his defining rendition of The City of New Orleans, but then we doubt if Willie could get up a mast and carry out the repair which has carried Malmut over thousands of miles.
Meanwhile, the Southern Ocean is now becoming quite cluttered with abandoned Golden Globe racers, and all of them mastless. Gregor McGuckin’s Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance is the most salvageable at the moment, as she has drifted to within 1,250 miles of Western Australia.
Although any salvor would have to think about a new rig in due course, at least there’s the bonus of the special Glendalough whiskey which - all being well - is still safe in its barrel down below decks, as the pre-race foredeck location at Dun Laoghaire, Falmouth and Les Sables was for display purposes only. Ultimately, the idea was to bottle it at race’s end as a collector’s item, with each bottle selling for ginormous amounts. It could happen yet.
IRISH INTEREST IN SYDNEY-HOBART
When we think of what the Glendalough barrel and the boats have been through since this Golden Jubilee Suhaili circumnavigation re-enactment began on July 1st, it does rather put the claims about the Rolex Sydney-Hobart being one of the most rugged in the world into perspective. But for sailors who aren’t superhuman, the 628-mile annual classic can be quite enough to be going along with – a view which is supported by the many Volvo Ocean Race veterans who will be on various boats of significance when the race to Hobart gets going on December 26th.
Among them is ex-Pat Gordon Maguire, very much an Australian sailor these days, but he cut his sailing teeth in Howth. He did his fair share and more of successful Volvo racing, but next Wednesday the number one item on the agenda is getting the best performance out of Matt Allen Botin 52 Ichi Ban, with which the Allen-Maguire team took the Tattersalls Cup – the overall IRC winner – in 2017’s race. If they manage it again this time round, it will only be the third time in the race’s history that it has been won back-to-back.
Inevitably much interest focuses on the half-dozen hundred footers, with the Mark Richards-skippered Wild Oats XI increasingly fancied, as it doesn’t look as though there’ll always be enough wind around to get the best out of the big fat girls such as Jim Cooney’s Comanche and Christian Beck’s Infotrack.
There’s Irish interest in both of them, as Jim Cooney maintains family links with Ballivor in County Meath and Justin Slattery is in his crew, while Infotrack we knew well when she wasn’t quite looking her best – she was then called Rambler 100, and was more than somewhat inverted at the Fastnet Rock in August 2011.
Other Irish interest focuses on the attractive Sydney 47 Wot’s Next, as Brian O’Sullivan of Tralee (overall winner of the 2013 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race and June 2013 Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month”) is in the crew. Wot’s Next is as Australian as the kangaroo - the Sydney 47 marque was designed by Murray Burns and Dovell in 2004, and they’re built in state-of-the-art style by Sydney Yachts, which was spun out of the late Ian Bashford’s raceboat building company. The word is the Sydney Yachts inheritors build just slightly more ruggedly than Bashford aimed for. He was so obsessed (and quite rightly so) with keeping weight out of the ends, that it’s said you could almost push your finger through the transoms of his all-conquering J/35s. Maybe so, but they did the business - they were winners every which way.
ENTRIES ROLL IN FOR VDLR 2019
Christmas is a time for mixed feelings this year for the organisers of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, for this week they lost one of their founding fathers with the sad death of Owen McNally. Afloat.ie will carry an appreciation of Owen in the near future, and he of all people would have been delighted with the healthy uptake there has been in early entries for 2019’s staging of Ireland’s ultimate sailfest, whose dates are July 11th to 14th.
Already they’re pushing towards the hundred mark, with early entries in 22 of the 39 classes for which racing will be scheduled, and notably strong input from outside Dublin Bay.
You may recall that Half Ton Classics Champion Dave Cullen with Checkmate admitted - after he’d won the title in Belgium - that he always like to have things done well in time, so doubtless Checkmate has already been prepared for next season by Alan Power at Malahide. Meanwhile, she’s firmly on the list for Dun Laoghaire next July, as too are the two HYC-owned J/24s which - in a sign of the times - are to be campaigned by Under 18 crews.
In the depths of the economic recession, they were sailed by Under 25 crews, but in these boomtime days, it seems that any capable 24-year-old is expected to have secured his or her own boat by some means or other, but Under 18s deserve a helping hand.
Either way, getting the entry in early is not only efficient and evidence of good management, but it acts as a very positive signs for existing or potential crew, and it’s of interest to note that from the home fleet at Dun Laoghaire, those signed up include the Goodbody clan with their successful J/109 White Mischief, and the Dublin Bay 2018 First 31.7 champion Camira (Peter Beamish & Andrew Jones