Staging a major sailing event which best reflects the spirit of your beloved home port is not a challenge for the faint-hearted writes W M Nixon. When we consider the multiple factors involved in the completion of the complex four-day programme for the O’Leary Life Sovereign’s Cup 2019 which concluded in Kinsale this afternoon, we soon realise that people like Regatta Director Bobby Nash and KYC Commodore David O’Sullivan and their voluntary and varied team of supporters in their many roles are quietly setting an example which could be usefully transferred to many aspects of local and national life, both afloat and ashore.
Yet it’s in the nature of such people that they see the need for something to be done, and they just get on and do it. Central to it is the willingness to take on board lessons from previous stagings of this biennial classic, while at the same time observing any fresh innovations which may have proven effective in major events elsewhere, and taking them on board for incorporation into the Kinsale model.
But that’s not as simple as it sounds. Characterful and hospitable Kinsale with its beautiful natural harbour is in many ways in a league of its own as a sailing venue. The Sovereign’s Cup programme has to be designed in such a way that its staging is in harmony with the civilised mood of this multi-functional centre of the good life. In other words, the people involved in staging the Sovereign’s Cup learn more from their own biennial running of this highly individualistic regatta than they do from looking elsewhere, and a critical self-analysis after each Sovereign’s regatta is part of their approach.
So it was that despite June 2019 being one of the busiest sailing periods ever seen in Ireland (with Kinsale getting its own early share with the invasion at the beginning of the month by the 50th Anniversary Figaro fleet), the end of June approached with other major events neatly filed away, and Kinsale ready and waiting for the O’Leary Life Sovereign’s Cup 2019 with a fine and varied entry of 95 boats in all - Cruiser-Racers and two One Designs classes including the International Dragons in their National Championship – facing into an interesting programme providing something for everyone.
Competitors were almost spoilt for choice, with four start lines operational. Irish Sailing President Jack Roy was in charge of the top end IRC racing for Classes 0, 1 and 2, Neil Prendeville looked after the two white-sail divisions (W1 and W2), Richard Leonard oversaw each day’s single Coastal Race which was favoured by mostly larger boats, and the two hot One Designs – the International Dragons with their Irish Nationals, and the 1720s with their Europeans - were in the competent hands of Peter Crowley.
More so than ever – or so it seemed - it was the weather which had the final say. In times past, we lived with the possibly mistaken assumption that our weather progressed in a reasonably orderly fashion, coming in from the Atlantic and heading towards us in a regular and predictable manner mainly from the southwest and west in a way which usually provides sailable conditions each day, such that often on the south coast, the old cliché about “champagne sailing” can be trotted out at some stage.
But we’re living in an era of climate change, and far from Kinsale being comfortably located in a line of useful Atlantic-based sailing weather, the approach of weather systems from several directions – with some of them freakish such as the Continental heat-wave – resulted in Kinsale itself being at the heart of a meteorological innovation and manufacturing unit at Sovereign’s Cup time.
Thus although the opening day on Wednesday saw everything off to a cracking start with a good easterly, most weather predictions were suggesting that Thursday would be a non-racing day with Mistral-like easterly gales. And so it proved. In fact, national wind charts and data suggested that the strongest winds in all Ireland were funnelling right through the racing area off Kinsale.
One of the explanations for all this was that Ireland’s western seaboard from West Cork north to Donegal was experiencing the hottest weather in the entire island. Thus, where mountains loomed large, the rising hot air accelerated the wind blowing towards them. For frustrated crews in Kinsale, the explanations became ever more exotic, and one comment on the message lines was that the easterly gale cutting through Kinsale was entirely the fault of excessive temperatures on Ireland’s biggest mountain, Carrauntoohill in Kerry…
As ever, the sagacious John Twomey, Paralympic Sailing superstar and former Kinsale YC Commodore, was to put it back in perspective with a wry comment: “The weather is the boss”, and left it at that while going out next day to continue his successful regatta in the Blazer 23 Shillelagh. For, of course, having been side-tracked by a gale on Thursday, the fleet went out yesterday to drizzly mist which beyond the harbour seemed like plain old-fashioned fog. And with it was an easing southeasterly which was still sustaining a great big lumpy swell of a sea which was particularly unwelcome for those who had decided that the best way to get through the Thursday hiatus was to party the day away in Kinsale’s renowned hospitality haunts.
But fortunately, the geography of Kinsale harbour enabled some of the classes – notably the white-sailed divisions – to get in some racing in smoother water, while out at sea, fog or not, a complete day’s programme was completed.
Nevertheless, this meant that the overall success of the event depended to a large extent on today’s racing being of at least acceptable quality. With the weather frontal systems - which had removed the easterly gale and brought the fog - shifting and evaporating ever so slowly to the eastward, there was just the chance that a nice south to southwest wind might develop, and seldom can weather predictions have been dissected with as much thoroughness as they were last night in Kinsale.
Maybe there were prayers sent forth, but whatever it was, the hoped-for improvement came slowly in from the southwest and by the middle of this afternoon the Race Officers had managed to achieve the desired number of completed contests in what had finally become a decent breeze, knowing they could continue to give warning signals right up to 1500 hrs.
Thus the regatta started on a high and finished on a high with today’s final race, which at one stage might almost have qualified for that “Champagne Sailing” tag. And as anyone who has been following the daily reports on Afloat.ie will know, the pace has been particularly fierce where there’s an element of one design or level rating racing, which has been seen with the Dragons in their Nationals, the J/109s in Class 1, and the Half Tonners in Class 2.
You’d be hard put to say where the competitiveness reached its peak, but the J/109s were hard at it and in yesterday’s final race in the fog, the initial results may have shown Outrajeous (Richard Colwell and John Murphy HYC) as having moved into a clear overall lead of five points. But there’d been a bit of a bang with a boat from another class, and last night the Protest Committee gave Outrajeous a very firm thumbs down - she was disqualified from Race 4, thus dropping from overall leader to fourth, leaving the Jones family from Cork with JellyBaby as overnight leader ahead of John Maybury’s Joker 2, with the only non-J/109 in Class 1, Paul & Deirdre Tingle’s x-34 Alpaca, in third overall.
But this morning was another day, and just one race would bring a discard into the equation. With that one race sailed, the picture changed again - the chastened Outrajeous managed a win, got the discard, and was winner by one point from Tingle's Alpaca.
The corrected times for Class 1 for today’s final race say it all – Outrajeous is first at 1:33:26, and Chris Moore and partners with their J/109 Powder Monkey are sixth on 1:35:18, with four boats between them and Outrajeous beating the second-placed Alpaca by 18 seconds……
The other hyper-hot cruiser-racer division, IRC 2 with the Half Tonners, may have seen the Wright brothers with Mata looking strong after two wins yesterday, but they’d had mixed fortunes on Wednesday, and though they managed another win today, the burden from the first day put them just one point behind Nigel Biggs’ Checkmate in the final reckoning.
In other classes as already reported, Frank Whelan’s superbly tuned Grand Soleil 44 Eleuthera from Greystones had a clean sweep in Class 0, while George Sisk’s Xp44 WOW found things very much to her liking in the Coastal Class and her crew put in a performance which would have warmed the heart of their late great shipmate Tom Power, and they won the two races sailed.
The White Sails saw John Twomey in cracking form with Shillelagh getting another win today in WS IRC2, while Shane Statham from Dunmore East with the veteran GK 34 Slack Alice found things just so in WS IRC1 to take three wins and the title.
In the end the Dragons came down to a battle within the Royal St George contingent, with Peter Bowring in Phantom getting a first in the final race to put him one point ahead of Martin Byrne in Jaguar racing with 17 Dragons racing, while the 1720s saw Ross & Aoife McDonald in Rope Dock-Atara stave off the challenge of Anthony O’Leary with Antix in a fleet of 10.
The basic concept for the Sovereign’s Cup was first unveiled by Denis Kiely in the early 1990s. Since then it has become a regatta which has acquired its own very special flavour - a flavour to which 2019’s staging in some extremely odd weather has added hints of interesting new seasoning. For some, the Sovereign’s is seen as an acquired taste. But for those who have that taste, it’s the only show in town