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Irish Cruising Club Fly the Flag for Responsible Cruising

20th February 2021
Irish Cruising Club's Honorary Editor Maire Breathnach at the helm of the Swan 42 King of Hearts at Cape Horn
Irish Cruising Club's Honorary Editor Maire Breathnach at the helm of the Swan 42 King of Hearts at Cape Horn.

The Irish Cruising Club has been producing a printed Annual collating its members doings afloat and ashore through logs and narratives for ninety years now. And while these days this substantial collection is in circulation before Christmas as a matter of course - thanks to the succession of Honorary Editors being notably on top of production technology and sticking to a rather fierce deadline - it isn't until after the Club's AGM in February that any of it goes public, following which the many logs – and particularly the award-winning ones – are available online on the club's website.

Time was when the keeping of a proper log was de rigeur - effectively a legal requirement - on any cruising boat. So these days, when many "logs" are often no more than electronic data in a chart plotter, the leading cruising organisations' encouragement of the keeping of real logs – comprehensive productions which are in effect informative and entertaining journals - adds depth and quality to the development of cruising and our knowledge of cruising areas, whether popular or remote.

Last night ICC Commodore David Beattie presided over the AGM as a Zoom session, and while he'd to acknowledge a frustrating year in terms of members meeting personally other than in small socially-compliant groups and bubbles, the latest Annual – all 200 pages of it – speaks volumes for the members' energy in making the best of 2020's pandemic-limited cruising possibilities, that is when they could manage to get all their organisational and time-availability ducks in a row.

Colm O Lochlainn in Howth aboard his 9-ton yawl Klysma in the 1920s. A man of many parts, he was a sailor, printer, folklorist, and traditional musician who for many years was a professor in UCDColm O Lochlainn in Howth aboard his 9-ton yawl Klysma in the 1920s. A man of many parts, he was a sailor, printer, folklorist, and traditional musician who for many years was a professor in UCD.

Others responded to Annual editor Maire Breathnach of Dungarvan's request for virtually anything of interest to cruising folk, and the result is an entertaining mix of contemporary cruising logs, waves of nostalgia, and off-the-wall items in keeping with the club's ethos of taking itself seriously when matters of seamanship, sailing directions, and safety and regulation-compliance are concerned, but at other times not taking itself too seriously at all.

That said, the status of the Annual is almost sacred. For its first ten years or so in the 1930s, it was quality printed by one of the earliest members (and owner of the 9-tonner Klysma), the noted Gaelic scholar, folklorist and traditional music collector Colm O Lochlainn (1892 – 1972), whose many interests included his specialist printing company, the Three Candles Press.

Links to contemporary creativity were reinforced by one of those who made a significant input into the layout and illustrations being the club's first Honorary Treasurer, Billy McBride, whose day job was as an artist in the world-renowned Harry Clarke Stained Glass studios in Dublin.

A Billy McBride sketch of Espanola, the 15-ton cutter owned by Herbert Wright, founding Commodore in 1929 of the Irish Cruising ClubA Billy McBride sketch of Espanola, the 15-ton cutter owned by Herbert Wright, founding Commodore in 1929 of the Irish Cruising Club

Admittedly these high production standards couldn't always be retained in some subsequent years when the Irish economy was in poor health. But for many years now they've been more than equalled, and Maire Breathnach has not only raised the standards even higher, but she gives us a fresh link back to the days when Colm O Lochlainn used to serenade the members in to dinner on the uilleann pipes. For Maire is a dab hand on the concertina to professional level, and one of her contributions to the Annual is some recollections of a clockwise solo cruise round Ireland from Dungarvan in 1995 in her Seamaster 23 Shackler, when her traditional musical talents made for a very effective calling card in many ports.

Marie Breathnach's Seamaster 23 Shackler at Barnaderg under Diamond Hill in Connemara during her 1995 solo Round Ireland CruiseMarie Breathnach's Seamaster 23 Shackler at Barnaderg under Diamond Hill in Connemara during her 1995 solo Round Ireland Cruise

These days she and husband Andrew Wilkes sail a very different proposition to the handy little Shackler – their ship is the 64ft steel-built gaff-rigged pilot-cutter type Annabel J, which is sometimes seen gracing the waterfront in Waterford at Reginald's Tower when they're at home in Dungarvan. For although the pool just below Dungarvan bridge could take their previous smaller gaffer Young Larry, for Annabel J it has to be Waterford.

The 64ft cutter Annabel J at Reginald's Tower in Waterford.  Photo: Norman KeanThe 64ft cutter Annabel J at Reginald's Tower in Waterford. Photo: Norman Kean

They've been having quite the time since they last departed from that historic port in the Autumn of 2019, as pre-COVID their plan was to make a circuit of South America, which they last did in 2004 with the Swan 42 King of Hearts, thereby seeing Maire receive the ICC's premier award, the Faulkner Cup.

King of Heart's circuit of South America was not without its challenges, but with Annabel J they have to be prepared to deal with problems unknown to owners of modern craft, and in checking aloft while at Madeira on the southward passage, Andrew discovered some rot at the topmost sheave near the head of the pole mast.

Knowing the limitations of repair facilities available at Madeira as they'd been delayed there in getting their hefty big broken tiller replaced, they reckoned the best option was to nurse the boat to the more extensive facilities in the Canaries. And though the head of the mast did indeed give up the ghost, it only deprived them of the use of the topsail and the flying jib, and under the lower sails with skilled seamanship they brought Annabel J to Lanzarote in November 2019. There, Andrew started on the work of making the new upper section for the mast, while Maire was busy with the final editing push on the ICC Annual for 2019.

The ICC Annual for 2020, like that of 2019, was produced by editor Maire Breathnach while on the move. Cover image is aboard Derek Jones' Najad 44 Narnia from Strangford Lough in the Sound of Mull.  Photo: Viv White The ICC Annual for 2020, like that of 2019, was produced by editor Maire Breathnach while on the move. Cover image is aboard Derek Jones' Najad 44 Narnia from Strangford Lough in the Sound of Mull. Photo: David Stewart 

Clearly these people are operating in a different league to the rest of us, but by the time the massive rig was fully operational again, they were pandemic-trapped for two months in port with the strictly-enforced "Confinamiento". Yet by knowing that it was going to happen, Andrew had stocked up on varnish and paint to make the best of the Canaries' perfect fitting-out climate, and Annabel J emerged from the Confinamiento looking trimmer than ever, while Maire had advanced her fiddle-playing ability through Zoom classes with Niamh Dunne back in Ireland.

But though the lockdown had been lifted within the Canaries, "within" was the key word, so they made a virtue out of their limited options and cruised the islands in fascinating detail, resulting in a very complete log which adjudicator John Clementson reckoned was worthy of the ICC's Rockabill Trophy for Seamanship in recognition of the way the twosome on Annabel J had dealt with the collapsed upper mast, and then put things right so effectively that they created a fine cruise within 2020's limitations.

EXCEPTIONAL FAMILY CRUISE HONOURED

Yet it says everything about the spirit of the ICC in 2020's difficult conditions that another oceanic cruise narrated by a female co-skipper should win the ICC's premier trophy, the Faulkner Cup, which dates back to 1931. This special venture was the Atlantic circuit cruise from Galway Bay in the 43ft steel ketch Danu by Vera Quinlan and Peter Owens and their children Lilian and Ruari, a cruise which – despite being limited by restrictions from time to time - was completed in the summer at Parkmore near Kinvara to to make this family crew Ireland's Sailors of the Month for July, and subsequently they were also presented with Galway Bay SC's top cruising trophy.

When the going was good – Danu in the CaribbeanWhen the going was good – Danu in the Caribbean

But now with the Faulkner Cup – awarded three times in a row in 2010, 2011 and 2012 to Vera's father Fergus Quinlan and his wife Kay for their global circumnavigation with their own-built 12m steel cutter Pylades – they have, so to speak, received the favourable Supreme Court judgment, and it is based on a wonderful log which gives us a real insight into the challenges and rewards of intensive family cruising, while handling the added exacerbation of the pandemic problems.

For a proper cruise should be something of a work of art, rather than a continuing process of box-ticking, and with Vera being an oceanographer while Peter is a mountaineer, the cruise of Danu was indeed a matter of green days in forests and blue days at sea, with mountaineering and desert-crossing expeditions and island-hopping adding to the mixture, such that while Lilian and Ruari - 11 and 9 when the cruise got under way – had started out as decidedly switched-on kids to begin with, they were in a league of their own in the "cool as you like" stakes when they returned.

Settling in to the cruising routine – Ruari and Lilian paddleboarding in the Isles of Scilly, Danu's first stop on the outward passage from IrelandSettling into the cruising routine – Ruari and Lilian paddleboarding in the Isles of Scilly, Danu's first stop on the outward passage from Ireland

Broadening the scope – Ruari and Lilian with their father Peter climbing in the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain. Photo: Vera QuinlanBroadening the scope – Ruari and Lilian with their father Peter climbing in the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain. Photo: Vera Quinlan

Shore visit with a difference – Lilian and Ruari on the Sands of Merguza in Morocco. Photo: Vera QuinlanShore visit with a difference – Lilian and Ruari on the Sands of Merguza in Morocco. Photo: Vera Quinlan

"A man needs his own place….." – Ruari in his secret lair in the sail-stack aboard Danu"A man needs his own place….." – Ruari in his secret lair in the sail-stack aboard Danu. Photo: Vera Quinlan

Over the years the Irish Cruising Club has accumulated an almost embarrassing array of trophies, yet in a normal year the club's members are so wide-ranging on an almost global scale that each trophy usually finds a home at the annual awards ceremony. But out of respect for the frustrations through compliance-restriction which many experienced during 2020, adjudicator John Clementson reduced the awards to nine, two of which we've already mentioned, but here's the total list:

Irish Cruising Club Awards (ICC) Awards 2020

  • Faulkner Cup: Danu (Mauritius 43, Vera Quinlan & Peter Owens), Family cruise for Atlantic circuit
  • Rockabill Trophy for Seamanship: Annabel J (64ft gaff cutter, Maire Breathnach)
  • Round Ireland Cup: L'Iroise (38ft 1966 wooden ketch) Paddy Barry)
  • Fortnight Cup: Agathos (Jeanneau 45, Mick Delap) Three generations cruise in two weeks in Greece's Aeolian Isles
  • Perry Greer Bowl for best first log: Dame de Jade (Beneteau 312, Sally Cudmore) Detailed family cruising off south and southwest coasts of Ireland (Also Fingal Cup for Judge's favourite log).
  • Glengarriff Trophy for special cruise in Irish waters: Pylades (van de Stadt 12m cutter, Fergus & Kay Quinlan) detailed cruise Galway Bay to Bantry and return.
  • Marie Trophy for best cruise by boat under 30ft LOA: Calico Jack (Sadler 25, Conor O'Byrne) Detailed cruise from Galway to entire coast of Connacht.
  • Wild Goose Trophy for best log of literary merit: Margie Crawford for account of cruise to Antarctica in Tall Ship Europa
  • John B Kearney Cup for Services to Sailing: Stanton Adair (Commodore ICC 2017-2020)

When we remember that Paddy Barry has been awarded the Cruising Club of America's Blue Water Medal for his oceanic voyaging, and that in times past Conor O'Byrne received the Marie Trophy for a very competent hop from Galway to St Kilda and back in his little 25-footer Calico Jack, then we get some notion of how most cruising people's activities have been restricted in 2020. But in both cases, and in many other logs in the Annual, instead of grumbling they just got on with it and made the best of what was permissible.

The veteran Glenans ketch L'Iroise at Clifden during her circuit of IrelandThe veteran Glenans ketch L'Iroise at Clifden during her circuit of Ireland

In Paddy's case, it was a matter of bringing the former Glenans ketch L'Iroise back to life with owner Seamus O'Byrne, and sailing on an entertaining Ireland-circling cruise in which, despite social-distancing and whatever, they had an experience of which the adjudicator approvingly noted that: "Paddy doesn't just voyage – he goes to places and to people", such that with his many interests in classic boats, traditional music and folklore generally, it all makes for an extraordinarily entertaining narrative.

Another unusual take on the limitations of 2020 was provided by ICC Sailing Directions Editor Norman Kean and his wife Geraldine Hennigan with their Warrior 40 Coire Uisge. They reckoned the best way to comply with the limitations was to visit every uninhabited island or people-less anchorage between their home port of Courtmacsherry and Valentia Island, and thanks to having grown-up equipment to handle their ample ground tackle, they'd a surprisingly varied cruise, the most appropriate stopover being at Quarantine island near Baltimore, a somewhat spooky place, as a walk ashore suggests that not everyone put onto it survived quarantine.

Just the place to be in 2020 – Coire Uisge anchored off Quarantine Island in the western channel to BaltimoreJust the place to be in 2020 – Coire Uisge anchored off Quarantine Island in the western channel to Baltimore. Photo: Norman Kean

A landing on a very uninhabited island way back in 1975 is recalled in the Annual by William Dick, who was the crewman from Paul Campbell's 37ft yawl Verve who managed to leap ashore and clamber up Rockall in what was a first for any cruising boat. These days the anomalous status of Rockall is of increasing significance, so it's ironic that though it was an Irish boat which made this first landing, both the owner-skipper and the intrepid climber who got to the peak happened to have Scottish surnames……

William Dick landing on Rockall in 1975, with the dinghy from Paul Campbell's Verve from Dun Laoghaire being rowed by the late Mickey d'AltonWilliam Dick landing on Rockall in 1975, with the dinghy from Paul Campbell's Verve from Dun Laoghaire being rowed by the late Mickey d'Alton

There are several voyages into history in this fine Annual, and one of the most entertaining has to be Ed Wheeler's account of a cruise – either single-handed "or I might as well have been single-handed" – in the 26ft gaff sloop Calabar from Sydney north and west along the coasts of Australia to Darwin in 1971.

This had its origins in 1968 when Ed sailed with us in the 25ft Vertue cutter ice Bird out to Spain where, as funds were getting low, he took the offer of being a deck-hand on a former Liberty ship making her way –with many delays – out to China for scrap.

We'd time for an entertaining cruise eastward along the North Coast of Spain before this ship finally departed from Coruna, and while I sailed Ice Bird single-handed back to Ireland in very leisurely stages via Brittany and Cornwall, Ed found his voyage to China was also going forward in very leisurely stages dictated by endless breakdowns, with a guaranteed three weeks money-maker becoming a six months marathon at the end of which he'd the greatest difficulty in getting paid at all.

From Shanghai he ended up in Australia – as one does – building new highways in the Northern Territories for a 22-stone boss who was naturally known as the Colossus of Roads. Thus Ed amassed enough cash to buy this little boat in Sydney, which he re-named Calabar after the legendary song-celebrated barge on the Lagan Canal, and after an incident-filled cruise he sold her in Darwin and gradually wended his way back to Ireland.

And it all started with a little cruise to Spain…..The 26ft Calabar, which Ed Wheeler cruised along the Australian coast from Sydney to Darwin in 1971. Illustration by Pete AdamsAnd it all started with a little cruise to Spain…..The 26ft Calabar, which Ed Wheeler cruised along the Australian coast from Sydney to Darwin in 1971. Illustration by Pete Adams

Having bid each other farewell at the pierhead of San Sebastian in July 1968 as Ice Bird and I headed north for the delights of Brittany and Cornwall, by a series of extraordinary coincidences we didn't meet again – and totally unexpected at that - until February 1972 in Salthill in Galway, where I was booked into the hotel to show the newly-formed and very keen Galway Bay Sailing Club the film of a cruise to Iceland with Ice bird in 1967.

The extraordinary serendipity of meeting my old shipmate so totally out of the blue after four years, and in Salthill of all places, had a somewhat de-railing effect on the evening's smooth progress. When we finally got the 16mm movie up and running, for some reason the boat was sailing backwards, and there were distinct vehicle tyre-treads across some of the images.

So the full story of what happened in Salthill in 1972 had better stay in Salthill, and be gently put back to sleep with all those other memories evoked by the excellent Irish Cruising Club Annual of 2020. It's a publication that successfully demonstrates what could be done while being COVID-compliant in the relevant regulations, while at the same time making everyone mustard keen to get back to unfettered cruising just as soon as possible. Maire Breathnach deserves all congratulations for making it happen.

Published in W M Nixon
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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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