Midsummer’s Weekend, and Irish sailing pauses for breath in this most hectic of sailing seasons writes W M Nixon. There are other events going on during these next two days, but let’s hope the most relaxed and non-competitive tone is set up in Portaferry in the entrance to Strangford Lough at the annual three day Sails and Sounds Festival.
Admittedly with Portaferry SC at the heart of things, there is some competitive racing in the lough itself today (Saturday), with the emphasis on traditional craft. But with the likes of the vintage schooner Soteria setting the pace, it’s character rather than speed which will be the priority.
Meanwhile, for those with a larger vision of what the sailing life can offer for those who have the energy, vision and organisational capacity to grasp some of its many opportunities, this week’s focal point has been the early days of the 14-month family cruise on the Atlantic circuit being under undertaken by a noted Galway cruising family with their 43ft ketch Danu.
For those of us who have heard Vera Quinlan of the Marine Institute speak at an Irish Sailing Cruising Conference, there’s an informed awareness that here is someone who is in the forefront of the projects to realise Ireland's boundless maritime potential.
But with her partner Peter Owens she is also a leading member of the west coast cruising community, and her father is Fergus Quinlan, who in 2010-2013 with his wife Katherine completed a comprehensive three-year Global circumnavigation in the 12m van de Stadt steel cutter Pylades which he built himself, an exemplary cruise which was deservedly awarded the Irish Cruising Club’s premier award three years on the trot.
Very and Peter of Kinvara have been making their own way in the cruising scene for some time now with increasingly long ventures with the 43ft 1993-built Bruce Roberts Mauritius Class steel ketch Danu, and they’ve been implementing an up-grade programme to get their fine ship ready for a 14-month Atlantic circuit when their family of Lilian (now 9) and Ruari (9) had reached a stage where a 14-month break (with of course homeschooling on board) would not make it unduly challenging for them to re-join the school system in September 2020.
The voyage got under way at the end of last week when Galway Bay as every bit as cold as the rest of Ireland, but at least they’d fair winds to carry them south for an overnight passage to Dingle, where they found themselves over-lapping with the finish in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Dingle Race, and allocated a handy berth in the town marina beside the classic 1939-built 50ft ketch Amokura (Paul Moxon) which had been racing in the two-handed division.
Amokura had struggled over the final miles to Dingle after sustaining damage to an upper spreader, but having completed the race and thereby fulfilled their qualifications for August’s Fastnet Race, as can-do folk themselves Peter and Vera were intrigued by how Paul and his shipmate Steve Jones set up a workshop on Amokura’s deck to make and install a new spreader, something which they did so efficiently that they still had the time to attend the legendary end-of-race party and prize-giving in the Dingle Skelligs Hotel where - as Paul reports - they got a great welcome from the other crews.
These two very different boats went their various ways, with Amokura back in her home port of Falmouth by Tuesday thanks to a useful slant from a sou’westerly, while the crew of Danu continued to settle into shipboard life and deal with the items which still remained on what had been a formidable “to do” list, and in time they found themselves in Baltimore and ready for the off.
The cruise will follow the familiar yet somehow always fresh course down the coasts of southwest Europe and on to the Canaries and Cape Verdes before making the Atlantic crossing to cruise the South American coast before making their way the length of the Caribbean islands and then starting the passage home via Bermuda and the Azores.
With their background specialised in the ways of the sea, Vera and Peter and their family will inevitably be getting much more from this venture than many other sailors, and we look forward to hearing how it all progresses as the months go by. But for now, the contrast between the civilised pace of the voyage of the Danu and the way Irish sailing has been going through a frenetic racing phase in recent weeks could not be greater,
Time was when the gentle peak of the sailing season was set in July in the north and early to mid-August in the south. But anyone who has been following the coverage on Afloat.ie for the past couple of months will assume that the racing programme takes off with full rocket assistance in April, and shows every sign of zooming along until October and beyond.
So here we are with the NYC’s record-breaking (in every way) Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race already put away with Paul O’Higgins’ Rockabill VI (RIYC) the winner and the date for the next one set for good measure (it’s 9th June 2021), before that we had the ICRA Nats in Dun Laoghaire with Caroline Gore-Grimes skippering the ever-competitive X302 Dux (HYC) to overall victory, ahead of that the Lambay Race in Howth saw the vintage Club Shamrock Demelza (Windsor& Steffi, HYC) take the overall prize), in late May the Scottish Series in Loch Fyne saw Andrew Craig’s J/109 Chimaera (RIYC) the Champion of Champions), and in a week’s time we’ll be in the throes of the Sovereigns Cup in Kinsale, with 90 boats plus shaping up for a perfect series. Read Afloat's Cup preview here.
Then there comes the big one, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta from July 11th to 14th. With entries still open until the end of June, 456 boats have already signed up in 24 classes with three of those classes topping more than the twenty entries apiece. And Dublin Bay sailors being what they are, if the weather starts to shape up properly we can be sure there’ll be late entries banging at the door to push towards the 500 mark.
East Coast sailors tend to assume that things slow down markedly after that, but that’s only the usual metropolitan bias which also overlooks the fact that ISORA racing has resumed. But basically, the reality is the emphasis moves back west. The pace-setting Foynes Yacht Club is hosting the 2109 WIORA Championship from 24th to 27th July, while traditionalists are already gearing themselves up for the 40th Anniversary Cruinnui na mBad Festival in Kinvara from August 9th to 11th, even if dyed-in-the-wool Galway Hooker Sailors will assure you that the purest essence of their sailing is found at the annual MacDara’s Day racing on July 16th at Macdara’s island out beyond Roundstone in Connemara.
Meanwhile, although West Cork came to life with the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival late in May, it’s August when the waters inside the Fastnet Rock really come to life, and fanatical racing types find that for once it is possible to do both GAS Calves Week at Schull from 6th to 9th August, and then Cowes Week from 10th to 17th August.
This may sound too much of a good thing to many of us, but for boat racing mega-fans like Mark Mansfield, it makes for a very attractive proposition - he reckons that the two events provide the most perfect and stimulating contrasts.
But for many topline Irish offshore sailors, August is going to be a tricky one, as the re-jigging of the Rolex Fastnet Race start back to Saturday, August 3rd has created an imbalance in the usual August setup. In a more leisurely age, setting off to race round the Fastnet seemed the natural way to round out Cowes Week, where you might have sailed a race or three.
But in 2019 – the 40th Anniversary of the Fastnet Disaster of 1979 – the fact that the race star time was arbitrarily moved back to early August to avoid the usual late-season weather deterioration means that if you want to savour the Cowes Week experience, you somehow have to summon up the energy and enthusiasm post-Fastnet, which for Irish boats also means heading further east again from the Fastnet finish at Plymouth before finally sailing west for home from Cowes in late August.
All this must be totally yawnsvillle for the many who find all their racing and sailing needs in Ireland and nearby waters, and even more off the scale of interest for those who see cruising as the ultimate in sailing. So for this weekend at least, the contemplation of the cruise of the Danu, and other fascinating voyages like it, is quite rightly top of the agenda.