The Clyde Cruising Club’s Scottish Series has long been a happy hunting ground for Irish boats and crews writes W M Nixon. We remember with particular fondness the great days of the Royal Cork YC’s Corby 36 Antix, with which the O’Leary family seemed to be in constant motion from one victory to another in successive locations, and the early-season Scottish action in Loch Fyne was always in a key position on their agenda.
More recently we’ve seen Rob McConnell and his team from Dunmore East pull off the top trophy with his A35 Fool’s Gold, and then last year Pat Kelly and his mostly family crew, sailing for Howth and Rush, were Tops of the Top in Scotland with the J/109 Storm.
But this year has seen it all move onto a new plane for Ireland, with a high level of success which is both across the board, and in-depth for good measure. For although it provides racing from the characterful port of Tarbert for 11 classes, the prime selling point of the event is the Scottish IRC Championship, yet just four of those classes come within the prestigious IRC remit.
Yet when racing wrapped up on Monday, all four of those elite classes were won by boats from Ireland. Not only that, but in two of those classes, the runners-up were Irish, and in the case of the hottest IRC class of all, the RC35s (aka Class 2) sponsored by gourmet food specialist Makars Mash, Irish boats simply dominated the frame.
As already reported in Afloat.ie, the RC35 winner, and overall winner too, was Andrew Craig’s J/109 Chimaera (Royal Irish YC). The fact that they took it by a whopping eight points is why they got the big one as a bonus, and it’s another feather in the cap of the J/109 Class, of which Andrew Craig is Dublin Bay Captain.
Seasoned sailor Brian Mathews was in Chimaera’s crew-of-all-the-talents (including Maurice “The Prof”) for this contest, and he waxes lyrical about how the 2004-conceived J/109 continues to give excellent value, particularly for Dublin Bay sailors.
“She’s a very forgiving boat” he enthuses, “with an excellent all-round performance and no real vices. Unlike some rock star boats, she’s not utterly outstanding on any one particular point of sailing. Yet she’s right there all across the board, and will always turn in a good average speed when compared with boats of similar size. As for her virtues when she’s raced in a One-Design situation, they’re all accentuated – we’ll be getting value out of the J/109s on Dublin Bay for a long time, they’re the Dublin Bay 24s of our time”.
One of the earliest advocates of the J/109 in Dublin Bay was John Hall of the National Yacht Club, whose dark blue Something Else is one of the class’s most senior members. Her skipper has the zest for sport to match – John Hall is 82 this year, and for something like forty of those years he has been a strong supporter of the Scottish Series.
So when Something Else went north yet again in May 2019, it was with three generations of the Hall family on board – John, his son and co-owner Brian, and grandson Jack – together with a totally Corinthian crew, and on Monday evening they were acclaimed as fourth overall in this very hot RC35 Class, with a healthy scoreline of 4, 3, 2, 8, 5 and 3, and as popular regulars they got the Boat of the Day award too.
The winner Chimaera showed the sort of steady series consistency advocated by yacht racing coaches, with a score lineup of 2, 1, 4, 3, 2 and 2. But in second place the Ker 32 Hijacker – a sister-ship of Eamonn Crosbie’s Round Ireland winning Voodoo Chile – had a lineup of highs and lows which may have had something to do with her being at the lowest size limit of the RC35 class, yet despite her smaller size she had a punitive rating well above the J/109s.
Everything about Hijacker is interesting, as her owners Stuart Cranston and J Buchanan list Down Cruising Club as their home base. DCC is that wonderful former lightship club HQ hidden away in the heart of Strangford Lough - perfect for total cruising folk perhaps, but not generally associated with high end IRC racing.
To add to the mix, they had the formidable Mark Mansfield of Cork on board, and it started brilliantly with a win on the Friday morning, but then a 9th and a 7th in Friday’s two other races were a wake-up call.
So they went out and won in Saturday’s only race, and got a third and first in Sunday’s two races. But as racing simply petered out in calm on Monday in that Loch Fyne style we all love so well, Hijacker had to be content with a scoreline of 1,9,7,1,3,1 which looked spectacular, but simply couldn’t match Chimaera’s Steady Eddy showing.
That said, very few boats came away from Tarbert with three good race wins, and that for the smallest boat in the class. As it was, it was good enough to keep them ahead of defending champion Pat Kelly in Storm by 2 points, the final RC35 scorecard being 1st: Chimaera (Andrew Craig RIYC) 14 points, 2nd: Hijacker (S. Cranston & J Buchanan DCC) 22pts; 3rd Storm (P Kelly, HYC/RSC) 24pts; 4th Something Else (J & B Hall, NYC) 25pts.
The 2018 RC35 champion, Debbie Aitken’s First 36.7 Animal from the Clyde, may already have won the Kip Regatta RC35 contest earlier in May ahead of Storm, but in Tarbert the Animal had to be content with 7th overall. Up at the front of the class meanwhile, with a clear lead margin of eight points, Chimaera’s crew knew they were heading back into Tarbert for the final time in 2019 on Monday with every likelihood of being the Top of the Tops, so they’d Luke Kelly blasting out “Take Her Up to Monto” on the cockpit speakers at the upper limit of the dial as they came into port, and the trophies collected, they then zapped back over the 154 miles from Tarbert home to Dublin in businesslike style.
Inevitably we focus on the RC35 Class at the Scottish Series, as it’s a good idea whose time has definitely come, with a clearly-visioned Class Association that maximises sporting return for time afloat. The J/109s do the same in Dublin Bay, and with eight classic Half Tonners now in action in Ireland, they’re also working the same way. But as the hyper-successful Irish GP 14 Class Association shows year after year, it doesn’t happen by magic – you’ll only get as much out of it as you put into it in the first place.
Thus there were just two Irish Half Tonners in Scotland, both from Howth in the form of Jonny Swann’s Harmony (runner-up to Dave Cullen’s Half Ton Classic World Champion Checkmate XV in Belgium last year) and Darren & Michael Wright’s new mount Mata (formerly Trastada).
Admittedly they did get first and second overall in Class 3 with Harmony on a scoreline of 1,4,2,1,1,2 to put her 6 points ahead of Mata on 2,1, Dsq, 3,2,1, but a few more of these attractive boats would have livened it up no end. However, there’s an expectation of eight Half Tonners in the three day Frank Keane BMW & Mini ICRA Nats at the Royal St George YC in Dun Laoghaire starting next Friday, so for the moment we’ll leave it that although only two Half Tonners went to Scotland, they simply couldn’t have done better…..
An extra cherry on top of the cream-covered Irish IRC success cake in Scotland came among the biggies in Class 1, where Jay Colville’s First 40 Forty Licks from East Down YC in Strangford Lough pulled of quite a coup by winning overall from the home favourite, Jonathan Anderson’s J122E El Gran Senor. There were just two points in it at the end, but the win was well earned by an owner-skipper who is not only one of the keenest in Ireland – there are very few major regattas where Forty Licks hasn’t been in the thick of it towards the front of the fleet – and her skipper gives as he takes, as he serves as Deputy Chair of Sport NI.
Way down the size scale, Class 4 in Scotland was the smallest boats using IRC, and once again the winning trophy came back southwest across the North Channel, this time aboard Rory Fekkes’ impressively all-black super-tuned vintage Beneteau Quarter Tonner F’n Gr8 from Carrickfergus SC. They’d a bit of a sneeze in the first race to take third, but after that it was straight bullets all the way.
Yet all the Irish IRC successes were definitely not a flash in the pan, but were solidly based on proven performance to give 2019’s Irish IRC season a rocket-propelled start. Which is just as well, as the fulfilling of the programme for the next six weeks is going to require some people being in at least three places at the same time, and doing it all at the speed of light in order to emerge intact at the end of Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta on July 14th.
It’s Cresta Run logistics, and in order to accommodate it, in the ISORA scene they’re taking a programme break to allow their boats time to do both the Frank Keane BMW & Mini ICRA Nats next weekend, and the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race on Wednesday, June 12th. But here too the first set of ISORA results just add to the J/109 mystique, as the Pwllheli flyer Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox) currently leads the points table, and now their hat is in the ring for the dash to Dingle as well.
So although we’re into a new set of parameters with the upcoming ICRA Nats and the D2D, at the heart of both fleets the J/109s will still be the boats to beat.