Even the most experienced amateur sailors will always feel a certain nervousness mingling with the anticipation in starting a cruise writes W M Nixon. This is particularly so when the cruise will take them out of sight of land, and through nights at sea. Yet it brings its rewards, and today an impressive and varied fleet of 27 cruising boats, mostly from Ireland’s western seaboard, will be gathering in Lorient in Brittany after a 553-mile cruise-in-company along exposed coasts and across open ocean from Galway Bay, a joint venture which got underway a week ago.
For many “Nervous Novices”, the notion of broadening one’s seagoing experience through mutually-supportive Cruises-in-Company has an obvious appeal. This concept has been central to the thinking of some noted movers and shakers in Galway Bay Sailing Club and along the west coast. They’ve become increasingly keen in recent years to re-invigorate the maritime links which focused on the connections between Galway and Lorient, the main port in southern Brittany, which is best known to non-sailors as the host town of the annual Inter-Celtic Festival, whose visitors have included President Michael D Higgins.
The sailing links were particularly active during the 1970 and ’80s, with regular inter-changes of boats and people, while the existence of a now re-focused Glenans Ireland base in Clew Bay played its role. But since then, the visible lines of sailing communication between Ireland and Brittany have tended to take on a more professional flavour, with major events setting the pace, such as the Volvo Ocean Race, the Figaro, and the fact that French boats have registered so much success in the Round Ireland and Fastnet Races.
Yet the memories of those more informal amateur contacts, based on genuine friendship across the sea and along the Celtic coasts between two formally-linked Atlantic ports, have never faded. And while Galway sailing’s busy folk such as the always-innovating Cormac Mac Donncha have seen much of their energy taken up with events such as the first staging of the WIORA Championship in the Aran Islands - it happened with great success in 2017 with a remarkable 44 boats taking part - the seeds of the idea of a new Galway-to-Brittany Cruise-in-Company, planted by Galway’s Enda O Coineen, were beginning to take root.
Cormac Mac Donncha soon found fellow-enthusiasts among GBSC clubmates such as John Killeen, Pierce Purcell and Johnny Shorten and others. Then, too, the international connections of Enda O’Coineen – particularly along the coast of France following his Vendee Globe involvement and Figaro support programmes – have proven invaluable in ensuring that if they managed to get a fleet together, there would be proper reception arrangements in place at each port to make them welcome and cater for their needs.
The links across the sea were also developed at more official levels building on the connections between the Mayor of Galway Mike Cubbord and his counterpart in the twinned arrangement with Lorient which has been in place since 1975, with Catherine Gagneux of the French Consulate in Galway much involved, and back on water the active support of Jean-Gab Samzun, President of Lorient YC and a frequent visitor to Cork Week, was also readily forthcoming and his 46ft S&S-designed former Admirals Cupper Trilogy is one of the three French boats which came to Galway to join in the venture.
As the possible structures were being explored, research among potential participants was also underway for an event which was now set to come together with the Official Departure from Galway city on Friday, July 12th. In the greater Galway Bay area, Pierce Purcell had for some years been developing a list of all boats and boat-owners, a valuable database whose maintenance has now been taken over by GBSC’s Johnny Shorten. That provided a rewarding source of potential participants, but then it was found that others could soon be found beyond boats based within the limits set by Slyne Head, the Aran Islands, and Black Head.
In fact, potential cruisers-in-company were found all along the West Coast – the Wild Atlantic Way – and even round on to the south coast and Cork Harbour, while it extended inland with three entrants from Mountshannon and Garrykennedy on Lough Derg.
It’s the “hidden boats” of the westerns seaboard which provide the unexpected ingredient. For instance, anyone who is unfamiliar with the place, and arrives for the first time at Rosmoney, the base of Mayo Sailing Club hidden among the islands at the head of Clew Bay, will be pleasantly surprised by the size and quality of the cruiser fleet there. But then, Rosmoney is only “remote” for someone who lives outside Mayo. The thriving county town of Castlebar supports a significant boat-minded community, and so do many other places along the west and southwest coasts.
So although it’s quite a logistical challenge to commit yourself and your crewing recruits to an event which will involve sailing an absolute minimum of 1,106 mostly offshore miles by the time you’ve returned to Galway Bay, boats from as far north as Sligo signed up, as did one boat from Cork in the opposite direction. Indeed, such was the enthusiastic regional response that boats from Galway Bay SC itself, while still the largest club entry, have ended up in a minority of the fleet.
The entry list is intriguing, particularly when taken geographically north to south:
SLIGO YACHT CLUB
Lynx (Reflex 38): Dave O'Connor, Nigel Moss, Adam Sutor, Ian Tobin, Dennis Kashyn, Brian Moloney, Barry Shockly, Paddy Cassidy.
MAYO SAILING CLUB
Freebird (Achillles 9 Metre): Duncan Sclare, Maura Bourke Charles Scott.
Blue Moon: John Lambe
Carp Diem (Delphia 37): Brian Quinn, Sheila Molloy, Colin Wolfe
Coco (Jeanneau 42) J. McAllister
CLIFDEN SAILING CLUB
Moon River (Dufour 30): Rev. Anthony Previte
GALWAY CITY SAILING CLUB
Roamer (Contessa 32): Frankie Leonard, Frank Leonard Snr, Andraus Bauman, Fergal Diviney, Rob Talbot, Rian de
Euphanzel III (Shipman 28): Gerry Moran
GALWAY BAY SAILING CLUB
Lean Machine (J/35): Cormac MacDonnacha. Dan King, Cathal Byrne, Eugene Osborne, Niamh Tyrell, Ken MacNamara
Imperator (Gladiateur 33): Tony Collins, John Shorten, Justin Shorten, Aonghus Concheanainn
Inis Bearachain (Sirius 38): Patrick & Connie Ryan, John Preisler, Eugene Burke
Feeling Groovy (Elite 36): Alan Lane, TJ Corcoran, Hugh Loftus, Con Brosnan
Rhocodar (Dehler 39): Tomas Furey, Aine Nolan, Lorraine Scully, Caroline Higgins, Tricia MacNamara. Grace Denny. Alan Donnelly
Stars are Out: Colm Moriarty
Yapper: Walter McInerney
Seesaw: J Farrell
Lisador (Dehler 36): Henry Hogg, Andy Flanagan, Sean Collins, Dan O'Donnell
Ocean Tango: Ollie Kierse . Steve Lynch
ROYAL WESTERN OF IRELAND YACHT CLUB
Sheenaun (Southerly 47): Louis Keating, Maeve Howard . Kathleen Nolan, Fergus Daly
Amergin: Pat O'Shea, Ruth O'Shea, Jim Lawlor.
ROYAL CORK YACHT CLUB
Split Point (Dufour 34): Seamus Gilroy
LORIENT YACHT CLUB
Trilogy III (S&S 46): Jean-Gab Samzun
Sunfast 36: (Guillermic)
Hallberg Rassy 42: (Bouyer)
The project acquired a more thoughtful aspect after the French lifeboat accident in Storm Miguel in the Bay of Biscay on June 7th saw the loss of three lifeboatmen’s lives, and as already reported in Afloat.ie the Cruise-in-Company will carry messages of goodwill and condolences for the French rescue services from Galway Harbour Master Captain Brian Sheridan and the Galway RNLI.
As the start date approached, the pace became hectic with the three French boats arriving in from Brittany and those from north of Galway Bay (it’s 91 nm from Rosmoney) making their way south. It all started to become official on Thursday evening (July 11th) with a “Grand Fete de Departure” for all crew and their shoreside supporters – formal and otherwise – at the Harbour Hotel, with a perpetual trophy being presented by Phyllis Molloy, widow of the late Government Minister and former GBSC Commodore Bobby Molloy TD, to Gerry Moran, skipper of the smallest entrant, the Shipman 28 Euphanzel III, a boat type which Bobby Molly himself sailed back in the 1970s when links with Lorient were getting into their stride.
The send-off next evening was pure Galway, with traditional boat sailor Peter Connolly of the Claddagh coming out to the fleet to distribute goody-bags of turf and poitin for gifts to Brittany, and the departure was also saluted by Kinvara’s Cruinnui na mBad organizer Mick Brigan (the 40h Anniversary is August 9th to 11th 2019) with his king-size ketch-rigged Galway Hooker Mac Duiach, on his way to Roundstone to be in place for the Mac Dara’s Day traditional racing on Tuesday.
Conditions were gentle for progress around the southwest coast and the first stopover after making good 219 miles was at Kinsale, where the welcome was warm and the fleet achieved full size. Then it was away at dawn on Tuesday for a mostly light wind passage to Hughtown on St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly (131 nm) where the fleet were in place by Wednesday morning as a weather frontal system went through to ensure that they’d have fair winds for the next stages.
By this time there were so many Galway boats in Hughtown that the Harbour Master Dale Clark wondered if any were left at home at all, and in honour of their presence he flew the GBSC burgee from the flagstaff on his launch, while before they left the Galwaymen gave him a special token of their thanks. But as ever the next port was calling, in fact some boats had availed of the good conditions to go on across the mouth of the English Channel to the very special island of Ushant where at least three boats – with Roamer and Feeling Groovy among them – had themselves a fine old time with GBSC Rear Commodore Johnny Shorten providing official approval.
Back in Hughtown meanwhile, organizer Cormac Mac Donncha with his J/35 Lean Machine found himself in the Good Shepherd role. It was 2300hrs on Wednesday evening before he was certain that all his flock were well on their way southwards or otherwise safely accounted for, and then he took his farewell of the friendly Isles of Scilly and Lean Machine went to sea as the tail-ender in the procession to South Brittany.
According to the programme, the next stop was to be Ile de Groix, though some thought they’d see the full hop to Lorient put astern before really relaxing. Whatever, the weather during the past couple of days has been generally better south of Ushant and winds have been providing a beam reach, so even if there’s been the occasional spot of rain, the underlying trend has been in the right direction for the time being.
In any case, with even the relative beginners finding more confidence with every mile sailed, trying to keep to a close schedule and itinerary becomes increasingly difficult. In fact, it’s like herding cats, so space had been left in the programme for diversions such as that made to Ushant, which Tomas Furey’s Dehler 39 Rhocodar crew much enjoyed, and they then went on to Concarneau with Frankie Leonard’s Contessa 32 Roamer, where an entertaining contact was made with the one and only Tom Dolan.
Today, all being well, those still in the fleet will be assembling at Port Tudy in the Ile de Groix, and then they’ll set off in formation at 4 pm to arrive in Lorient at 6 pm, where they’ll find much of interest including the Galway Inn where the word is they’re ready and waiting. And as their fleet berth is in Kermevan where the legendary U-Boat Pens are reminders of another aspect of Lorient’s history (think of the superb war movie Das Boot), they’ll find much to compare with home.
For the reality is that when Galway was already a tough, compact and very complete little walled city punching way above its weight, what is now Lorient was only a sparsely populated collection of cottages considered of little significance. Things have changed more than somewhat since then.