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Ireland's Sailing is Healthy. It's the Shore Time That Causes Problems…

4th September 2021
If you want some colour in Dublin Bay, bring your own……Conor Phelan's Ker 37 Jump Juice from Cork, fresh out of A&E @ The Noonan Clinic, provided a bright spot yesterday on a grey day in a grey bay.
If you want some colour in Dublin Bay, bring your own……Conor Phelan's Ker 37 Jump Juice from Cork, fresh out of A&E @ The Noonan Clinic, provided a bright spot yesterday on a grey day in a grey bay. Credit: Afloat

Let's hear it for coloured sails. On a grey day on a grey bay, every last spinnaker or asymmetric or gennaker or whatever with a splash of colour was more than welcome yesterday morning (Friday) to help bring the grimly monochrome scene to life as a raw easterly – From Russia With Malice as you might well say – livened up the seas off Dun Laoghaire to help the Irish Cruiser Racing Association get its 2021 Championship underway on Dublin Bay.

The hosts at the National Yacht Club, with Paul Barrington as Race Director, had pulled out all the stops, and a goodly fleet of around 80 boats has gathered for battle. In normal times this would be regarded as a distinctly so-so turnout. But these are not normal times. Thus it's a very good entry in a stop-go period of mixed pandemic responses, for there are those who have decided to sit it out completely until a very clear all-clear is sounded. However, other more gung-ho types have been reckoning for some time now that it's all systems go, even if they have to keep themselves reined in when ashore.

And though we've only the first day's racing of a three-day programme to go on, on the basis of home club location we've a useful and varied spread of sailing centres large and small getting their name up in lights, though a quick scan of the Class 2 outcome suggests that the Howth sailors' occasional habit of racing around some unusual natural marks does no harm at all in training for orthodox turning points in Dublin Bay.

With weather marks like this at home, Howth boats find orthodox race marks in Dublin Bay a straightforward proposition. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyWith weather marks like this at home, Howth boats find orthodox race marks in Dublin Bay a straightforward proposition. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

Either way, 2021 has seen great sport on the water in contrast to a sense of restriction on already limited socialising the minute you step off the boat. This is constraining for everyone, for as we've suggested before, sailors are so weird that their's is the only sport in which the participants administer performance-enhancing drugs after the event.

It means that when leaving the boat, you may be well aware that you've had an indifferent race. But even a couple of socially distant pints ashore is enough to modify the recollections to having been placed in the top half of the fleet.

In theory, there should be no greater difference in mood than that between the pre-racing and the après-sailing, but it has to be said that in offshore racing in particular, the fact that its participants are a minority within a minority sport used to mean that they simply had to celebrate meeting each other before the event, regardless of the detrimental effect it may have on their performance when the big race began next day.

Even the great ocean-racing pioneer Captain John Illingworth was prone to this, and during the RORC Channel Race of 1947 - his first major race with the new and hugely innovative 40ft Myth of Malham – he was pleased to observe that the Myth was out-performing everything once they'd started turning to windward in a Force 5 to 6, "even though my head was regularly in a bucket, as I'd over-indulged at the pre-race dinner the night before".

John Illingworth's innovative Myth of Malham was the super-star boat of 1947, '48 and '49.John Illingworth's innovative Myth of Malham was the super-star boat of 1947, '48 and '49.

You didn't need to go to the English Channel to witness this sort of thing. The great Leslie Kertesz of the National YC, who introduced the ultimate Dehler DBS Lightning to ISORA racing back in the 1970s, had started his competitive life afloat with the austerely dedicated rowing clubs on the Danube in Budapest, and he found the Irish Sea's pre-race approach of those convivial days distinctly odd.

Before there was a marina at Pwllheli, the season concluded with the Abersoch-Rockabill-Howth Race, and the first time Lightning's skipper witnessed the pre-race Bacchanalia in the notably hospitable South Caernarvon Yacht Club in Abersoch the night before what everyone knew was going to be a heavy weather race, he was briefly rendered speechless, and then gasped out:

"My God" said he, "and these people like to think of themselves as athletes…."

Stretching the season – sunset sailing for one of the Howth J/80s on Wednesday. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyStretching the season – sunset sailing for one of the Howth J/80s on Wednesday. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

Of course, it's all changed now, nutritionists rule is total, and there are those who modify their diet in all sorts of beneficial ways as the race approaches. For even if you've found a cure for seasickness or aren't prone to it in the first place, anything that improves the chances of being in top condition at sea is very welcome.

Time was when the greatest hazard of all was what amounted to an unofficial competition between owner-skippers as to who could host the best dinner in Cowes the night before the Fastnet Race. This usually had the makings of a perilous experience, so there were those of us who'd find an excuse to skive off to the outskirts of Cowes, where we knew of an unpretentious little café with good home cooking and the chance of a light but nourishing booze-free meal to set us up for the morning's inevitable wind-over-tide slog westward.

The memories of all that came back in full colour this week when our Offshore Sailors of the Month for August – the entire ship's company of the mighty successful Fastnet veteran Desert Star of Irish Offshore Sailing – sent along some more photos of as nearly perfect a sailing experience as anyone is ever likely to have. For if a boat of Desert Star's age and style, and crewed moreover by trainees, had done any better in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021, there'd have been rioting in the streets of Cherbourg by those who have spent squillions in trying to achieve a comparable performance.

The Last Supper…..the crew of Desert Star having a restrained and sensible meal in Cowes the night before the Fastnet Race – skipper Ronan O Siochru on right.The Last Supper…..the crew of Desert Star having a restrained and sensible meal in Cowes the night before the Fastnet Race – skipper Ronan O Siochru on right.

The fact is the Desert Star did everything right from beginning to end. And with skipper Ronan O Siochru's Fastnet experience now covering four good races, the show was properly on the road the night before, when he and his team had somehow arranged a quiet meal together – The Last Supper as they call it – in what must have been one of the few peaceful corners of Cowes, and you don't need to be hawk-eyed to note that every glass is filled with water, but there's not a bottle of wine to be seen.

It's now all filed away under Special Memories. But meanwhile, with continued restriction-lifting promised in the weeks and months ahead, there are several significant late-season fixtures in prospect. And it has to be said that when the ICRA Nats were announced as the first weekend of September, it brought a soothing vision of balmy Indian Summer weather, and sailing on a sea which will continue to get warmer until mid-September.

Twilight sailing as we dream of it – the Gore-Grimes family's successful Dux arriving at the weather mark on Wednesday evening. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyTwilight sailing as we dream of it – the Gore-Grimes family's successful Dux arriving at the weather mark on Wednesday evening. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

But whatever we're experiencing today, nobody would talk of Indian Summer weather, so they'll be relying on the heat of competition to keep the temperature at tolerable levels for late-season fixtures and Autumn Leagues.

Another item which comes up the agenda at a time like this is Twilight Sailing, an evocative name whose promise is seldom fulfilled unless you're based in a place where daytime temperatures are such that Hoagy Carmichael's "cool, cool, cool of the evening" is the local anthem. We should be so lucky. This persistent easterly which has plagued us in recent days with its thin but seemingly impenetrable skein of cloud cover gets plain cold at night.

 Mind the gap…..Paddy Kyne's Maximus negotiating the turn at Gannet City off Howth. When the tide is ebbing southward, there's a helpful north-going eddy to the south of The Stack, close in under the cliffs if you can manage to carry the wind. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyMind the gap…..Paddy Kyne's Maximus negotiating the turn at Gannet City off Howth. When the tide is ebbing southward, there's a helpful north-going eddy to the south of The Stack, close in under the cliffs if you can manage to carry the wind. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

Now and again it breaks enough for a final glimpse of the sun just before it sets, and in the evening races at Howth this week, Anraoi Blaney was on hand to capture some brief golden moments and also to wonder anew at the fact that, effectively within city limits, boats are racing close under rugged stack rocks which are home to one of the most vibrant gannet colonies in the world.

Those gannets are what they'd called "runners" in Howth. The first breeding pair settled on The Stack off the northeast corner of Ireland's Eye as recently as 1989. Now they're everywhere. That first pair have a lot to answer for.

Golden sunset, Silver Shamrock. Conor Fogerty's 1976 Half Ton World Champion is bathed by the elusive orb on Wednesday evening. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyGolden sunset, Silver Shamrock. Conor Fogerty's 1976 Half Ton World Champion is bathed by the elusive orb on Wednesday evening. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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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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