Dungarvan in the west of County Waterford is in some ways one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets writes W M Nixon. It’s big enough to be considered a real town by Irish standards – it’s the County Town too - yet it isn’t so big as to seem impersonal. There’s a real sense of community, while it’s set in the midst of quietly beautiful scenery beside an array of spectacular hills and mountains. And though the more sheltered parts of its estuary harbour have a tidal element, it’s home to a significant fleet of boats based around the thriving Dungarvan Harbour Sailing Club.
Yet in times past Dungarvan did not figure high in any listing of cruising destinations, as boats on passage along the south coast saw it as being a long diversion from the direct route to and from Cork Harbour, when a very handy overnight berth would be available if you anchored at the entrance to Dungarvan Bay, in the sheltered spot immediately west of the busy little fishing port of Helvick.
And as for carefully finding your route all the way into Dungarvan if the tide suited, it seems that any chance of a convivial evening with local cruising enthusiasts would be remote, for once summer arrives, they’re all gone - gone far away to distant parts on fascinating cruises of their own. Or at least that was the impression gained at yesterday evening’s AGM of the Irish Cruising Club, chaired by Commodore Stanton Adair from Belfast Lough, and hosted by Howth Yacht Club.
Under the “homeless” 1929-founded ICC’s rules, the Club’s AGM is always to be held in Dublin, though these days with Home Rule the mood of the moment in Fingal, you’d wonder if Howth is truly a part of Dublin at all. Be that as it may, last night it was Dungarvan which was the talk of the town, for not only had Donal Walsh of Dungarvan been awarded the top prize, the Faulkner Cup, for his fascinating cruise to seven northwest European countries with his Ovni 385 Lady Belle, but in receiving it he was succeeding his sister Maire Breathnach as the awardee, as she got the nod in 2017 for her cruise to northeast Greenland with her husband Andrew Wilkes in their 64ft gaff cutter Annabelle J.
Finding any continuity between an Arctic cruise in a hefty classically gaff-rigged cutter, and a detailed largely coastal venture in an ultra-modern alloy-built cruising sloop with a lifting keel, may seem like quite a challenge, but that is typical of the exceptional diversity which the wide-ranging members of the ICC are achieving these days.
In the past couple of decades, they’ve seen several boats go round the world, they’ve seen transits of both the Northwest and Northeast passages such that the Arctic Circle has been circumnavigated, they’ve seen voyages to the far south, deep into Antarctica, and they’ve seen island-hopping explorations of the Pacific.
Donal Walsh’s 80-day 3450 mile cruise
But equally they’ve seen increasingly detailed cruises of the Mediterranean and Europe and the nearby islands of the Atlantic, and for 2018, adjudicator Dan Cross of Crosshaven – a sailing and cruising man of exceptional experience – decided that it was time the best of these got the top award. Donal Walsh’s 80-day 3450 mile cruise with Clare Morrissey and others aboard Lady Belle, from Dungarvan north to the Hebrides of Scotland, then on to the Orkneys, Shetland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, the Channel Islands, Brittany and Cornwall before the final haul across the Celtic Sea back to Dungarvan, fitted the bill to perfection.
While Lady Belle enjoyed some of the great weather of June and July, the sheer length of time which a 3450-mile cruise of this type involved inevitably saw them experience gales – 12 in all – and the weather was well broken when they returned home in August.
They came back to find that June and July in Ireland had been perfect weather, ideal for cruising home waters, so not surprisingly the other trophies allocated by Dan Cross see an emphasis on those who took best advantage of this, with the Strangford Cup for an alternative best cruise going to Derek White of Strangford for his leisurely and very convivial summery circuit of Ireland with his wife Viv on their vintage Fastnet 34 Ballyclaire.
The fact that the northerners take their holidays in July while those in the south see August as the holiday time worked in the northerners’ favour with 2018’s weather patterns, as the former got idyllic conditions for several detailed cruises in Irish waters. Another Strangford Lough boat – Peter Mullan’s Sun Odyssey 12m Oyster Bay – simply took advantage of the good weather to cruise gently to West Cork and back with the Voyage Purpose being an inspection of the historic ketch Ilen nearing completion of her restoration at Oldcourt near Baltimore, and he won the Glengarriff Trophy for his charming write-up.
Peter Mullen’s easy-going cruise
As it happens, Ilen figured again in the awards, as the ICC’s Western Committee allocated the Aran Islands Trophy to Gary MacMahon of Limerick for his inspirational leadership of this project. But meanwhile Peter Mullen’s easy-going cruise produced the best of the many 2018 sunset images in the ICC Annual, though perhaps you wouldn’t immediately guess its location - it was taken in the workaday port of Arklow.
Meanwhile, far to the northwest, Paul McSorley and John Gray voyaged from Lough Swilly out to Rockall and back under sail only in the Westerly Falcon 35 Viking Lord, “sail only” being a requirement as they wished to qualify for the Azores & Back Race. When they finally got to that distant and lonely rock, like everyone else they were surprised by just how small it is. But to prove they’d been there, they took an Irish product placement image of themselves with Rockall between them, framed by a packet of Tayto Crisps from County Meath and a bottle of Belfast Ale. Last night, they received the ICC’s Rockabill Trophy for seamanship for a job well done.
One of the ICC’s most senior and significant trophies is the Round Ireland Cup, and for 2018 it goes to one of the club’s most senior and significant boats, the 1890 Cobh-built 32ft cutter Winifreda, owned for generations by the Villiers –Stuart family. Everyone knows her as Winnie, and she’s all boat - the biggest 32-footer you ever saw - for she was built of double-skinned teak as a workboat in order to transport gunpowder and ammunition from the naval base at Haulbowline in Cork Harbour out to the forts at the harbour entrance.
1890 Cobh-built 32ft cutter Winifreda
It’s said that her hull planking is of such high quality that none of it has ever needed to be replaced, which at 129 years is quite something. But above deck and within the hull, she has been very cleverly altered to become a comfortable Bermudan-rigged cruising cutter, and in this form she has cruised thousands of miles.
These days, her custodian is Gary Villiers-Stuart and he has her based at Ulva Ferry on the West Coast of Mull in Scotland. But as she has been in the family since 1918 and was based for many years at the ancestral territory in West Waterford, he reckoned the centenary of ownership year of 2018 merited an anti-clockwise circuit of Ireland with the emphasis on West Waterford and particularly Helvick, where Winnie was worked as a fishing boat before she eventually was converted to a cruising cutter. It was some cruise, challenging at times and hugely sociable when special ports were reached, and the entire project exactly fits the Round Ireland Cup purposes.
Not everyone stayed in Ireland to avail of the good weather. Peter Fernie of Galway with his little Moody 27 Mystic decided a season or two in the usually more summery weather of Galicia had become a priority, but after a seamanlike crossing of the Bay of Biscay direct from Dingle, he arrived to find the rain in Spain while a call home revealed that summer had come. But he very worthily received the Marie Trophy for the best cruise by a boat under 30ft donated by northern skipper Michael McKee, who in turn was presented with the Wright Salver for his years of service (since 1962) to the club. And meanwhile back in Galicia, summer duly reasserted itself, but even so several ICC boats which have been based there since the club’s Galicia Rally in 2016 decided it was time to cruise home in order to be comfortably in place for the Royal Cork’s Tricentenary in 2020.
That in turn presented the adjudicator with a selection of fine cruises well worthy of trophies, but the main choices had been made, and in order to reflect the wide scope of the Annual’s contents, Dan Cross recognised cruises by members in non-club boats in more distant areas, including one by John Duggan into eastern Sweden (the Wild Goose Cup) while the Fingal Cup for the log which the adjudicator most enjoyed went to Ed Wheeler for his entertaining account of a jaunt through the remote fjords of southwest New Zealand.
Much nearer home, the business of boat delivery after a successful purchase in Europe is part of ICC life, and second-generation ICC member John O’Rahilly of Dun Laoghaire made such an efficient yet enjoyable job out of bringing his newly-acquired Wauquiez Gladiateur home from The Netherlands in just eight days that the adjudicator reckoned the project merited the Fortnight Cup, a senior ICC trophy which dates back to the days when people had jobs of regular hours, and with clearly-defined holiday periods.
John B Kearney Cup
Two of the ICC’s most eminent early members were designer-builder John B Kearney and 1925 Fastnet Race veteran Harry Donegan, and they are remembered with the John B Kearney Cup - an open award for an outstanding contribution to Irish sailing – and the Donegan Memorial Trophy, in the gift of the club’s Eastern Committee to honour someone special in their region.
The John B Kearney Cup went to Gregor McGuckin, hero of the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe race for his inspiring attempt to rescue an injured fellow-competitor when he himself was sailing under jury rig after dismasting in the Southern Indian Ocean, while the Donegan Trophy celebrated the many achievements of former ICC Commodore Peter Killen of Malahide, whose cruising has included outstanding ventures both to the Arctic and Antarctic, while at home he has been a tireless worker behalf of both the club and the RNLI.
However, for those just new to the game, the ICC offers encouragement to writers of their first log for publication in the form of the Perry Greer Bowl for the best such effort, and for 2018 it goes to Jim O’Meara of Cobh for his informative account of a detailed anti-clockwise circuit of the Bay of Biscay from northwest Spain, with his Jeanneau 37 Second Chance now laid-up in Brittany, poised to sail for home in the summer of 2019.
In all, there are 28 hugely varied cruising logs covering thousands of miles and dozens of cruising grounds in the new ICC Annual, the second one to be edited by Maire Breathnach (it’s Dungarvan again…), and she does it with style and skill.
The 1961 Round Ireland Cruise
One of the most attractive of her additions to the contents is a delve into the archives of cruises past, and this year’s is a gem – the 1961 Round Ireland Cruise from Carrickfergus by the tiny 18ft Belfast Lough Waverley Class keelboat Durward, beautifully written up as “The Time of Our Lives” by Kevin MacLaverty, who was crewed by his younger brother Colm and Michael Clarke.
Kevin and Colm are alas no longer with us, but Michael Clarke at 78 is still very much part of the sailing scene – at 78 he is Admiral of Lough Erne Yacht Club, Father of the J/24 Class, and a couple of years ago he was cruising round Ireland again, this time with Rob Henshall ICC in the Endurance 35 ketch Inspiration from Lough Swilly.
Michael Clarke came up with the goods for Maire Breathnach to beef up the 1961 log of Durward, and it’s a treasure trove of memories from 58 years ago. In those days, detailed cruises of Ireland’s west coast were a rarity, and for many sailors from elsewhere, the occasionally-sighted currach and even rarer Galway Hookers were much more a matter of wonder than they are nowadays, when new boats of all sizes to the traditional designs are being built, and people such as ICC member James Cahill of Westport have gone to the trouble of assembling a collection of 14 small craft to cover every known currach type.
But back in 1961, there was a pessimistic assumption that such boats would disappear in the face of progress, and even though Durward met her first currach in Blasket Sound, with the little black boat sailing in from the then-inhabited Great Blasket Island, within three years the last islanders had left to live on the mainland.
Now we know much more of these boats and their places and people, and hooker and currach racing is a feature of many parts of the coast. But in 1961, it was a very different world, a world in which taking an 18ft keelboat totally unaccompanied round Ireland required courage of a high order, and in recognition of this, the inclusion of the 1961 Durward log in the latest Irish Cruising Club Annual is something very special indeed