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Sailing in Ireland Only Needed Sunshine to Come to Life

25th September 2021
"It's a warm wind, the west wind…." SB20s find idyllic sailing and the hint of a rainbow on Lough Ree

What was it with last weekend's weather? As the pandemic restrictions against activity afloat are ever-so-gradually eased, not only was there some sort of sailing going on almost everywhere, but the mood was that of late August. Yet it was the weekend nearest the Autumn Equinox, the very essence of September, when by tradition we should have been battling nasty gales coming out of decaying tropical storms. But instead, we were revelling in sunshine and balmy breezes while remarking that such clouds as were about – mostly soft and fluffy on the east coast – reminded us of a gentler Paul Henry skyscape.

But of course, the special radiant nature of the sunshine was totally seasonal, as has been noted in every year of the forty-seven that have elapsed since Autumn Leagues began with the opening of the first stage of the Royal Cork Marina in 1974, augmented by the arrival of the Laser Class and its regular autumn-winter programmes at a growing number of sailing centres. Thus last weekend in terms of time precision was pure late September, even if – in terms of attitude - we thought it was August and seemed to have lost an entire month somewhere along the way.

The cotton-wool clouds of a sunny morning on Dublin Bay as the fleet runs eastwards for the KishThe cotton-wool clouds of a sunny morning on Dublin Bay as the fleet runs eastwards for the Kish

But then quite substantial parts of August deserved to be lost, notwithstanding those folk who claimed to have been in remote parts of the country where they had nothing but blazing sunshine and drought conditions for six days in a row.

Maybe so. But the way that boats and crews leapt to life as it began to become evident that the weather last weekend was going to be better than expected was such that it was worthy of notice, and it certainly brought the DMYC's Kish Race centre stage in sailing people's perceptions of Dublin Bay.

Heaven knows but we've been suggesting for long enough that the Kish Race should have the same position in the Dublin Bay sailing fixtures hierarchy as the Cobh-Blackrock has in Cork, and the Lambay Race holds north of Howth Head. But the fact that the Kish Race has had to be held in late September because the Dublin Bay programme at season's height is already well filled with events going back at least a hundred years means that the Kish Race has acquired the image of being distinctly Autumnal, unlike last Sunday's iteration, which was pure joy with a healthy fleet of 41 boats.

Queen of the Bay – Kish Race winner Kaya of Greystones. Photo: Afloat.ieQueen of the Bay – Kish Race winner Kaya of Greystones. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

And the fact that it was won by the Queen of Greystones, Frank Whelan's J/122 Kaya sailed by Patrick Barnwell, gives it all an added significance. For until the new harbour and marina was built at the North Wicklow port, Greystones had a unique and visible link with the project to replace the Kish Lightvessel with a vast fixed lighthouse embedded in the Kish Bank.

It was all done on a foundation structure of an enormous reinforced concrete cylinder which was constructed in the Coal Harbour in Dun Laoghaire and then towed the eight miles out to the lighthouse site on a calm day. Except that it wasn't quite calm enough at the first attempt, some cracks appeared in the big concrete floating wheel, and the Irish Lights engineers demanded a replacement.

Few things go to waste in Ireland, and some bright sparks in Greystones reckoned that the rejected first base for the Kish LH would provide an excellent end-piece to lengthen their tiny pier. It did the job very well, and for years no visit to Greystones was complete without a walk to the end of the pier "to stand on the Kish Lighthouse….".

The old harbour at Greystones – the circular end to the main pier was salvaged from the failed first attempt at pre-fabricating the Kish Lighthouse.The old harbour at Greystones – the circular end to the main pier was salvaged from the failed first attempt at pre-fabricating the Kish Lighthouse.

And though at first glance the new harbour has changed the waterfront almost out of all recognition, it looks perfectly possible that some of the Kish LV Mark I is still in there somewhere, which means that every time Kaya and her marina neighbours put out to sea, they're going close past the Kish…….

All of which has taken us some way from the sheer delight of contemplating last weekend's experience of healthy Atlantic weather working its way gently across Ireland. We like to think that this is our standard weather, but in recent years there seem to have been increased though very different inputs from Siberia or Sahara, and if they're otherwise occupied the Arctic isn't above chucking some unpleasantness towards our green island, which is really at its emerald best when the wind is in the west.

RS Aeros off Dun Laoghaire on Sunday, revelling in the best kind of Irish weather. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'BrienRS Aeros off Dun Laoghaire on Sunday, revelling in the best kind of Irish weather. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

There's no need to enumerate the horrors of the Beast from the East when the weather's coming from Siberia except to point out that Arctic air is cleaner. But when we've had a prolonged soporific airflow from the Sahara, you find all sort of peculiar little bugs around the house and garden which make you wonder if it's safe to breathe, and it may well be that only safe place to be is out on a sailing boat.

We'll dream of sailing like this all winter – SB20s showing the colours on Lough ReeWe'll dream of sailing like this all winter – SB20s showing the colours on Lough Ree

Thus it's time and more simply to celebrate sailing, and we do so with photos from Edel Kellegher, Joanne Leavy and Gilly Goodbody. Last weekend effortlessly produced sun-filled sailing images which it would take forever to set up if you were trying to organise it according to a fixed schedule. It's something which Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra have been trying to arrange in order to do justice to their superbly-restored Dublin 21s Naneen, Garavogue and Estelle, but to get it right you need at least eleven factors to come into alignment, so at this stage it's just the happy coincidence of Gilly Gooodbody being in the right place at the right time aboard her family's J/109 White Mischief in the Royal Irish YC end-of-season Pursuit Race which produced the first images which do justice to the challenge of the showing the DB 21s looking their best in their home waters.

The restored DB21 Naneen of 1905, the only boat of the class actually built in Dun Laoghaire, is flying the house flag of her first owner, Cosby Burrows (1856-1925) of County Cavan. Photo: Gilly GoodbodyThe restored DB21 Naneen of 1905, the only boat of the class actually built in Dun Laoghaire, is flying the house flag of her first owner, Cosby Burrows (1856-1925) of County Cavan. Photo: Gilly Goodbody

Dublin Bay twilight racing at its sweetest for the restored DB21 Garavogue. Photo: Gilly GoodbodyDublin Bay twilight racing at its sweetest for the restored DB21 Garavogue. Photo: Gilly Goodbody

All of which makes you realise what a genius was sailing photographer Frank Beken of Cowes. His famous 1911 photo of the big Fife schooner Suzanne is now so iconic it has more or less entered the public domain as it's the ultimate essence of Beken. The photo was ordered and Frank Beken looked at the weather, arranged the day, and the skipper and large professional crew sailed Suzanne away down the west Solent to Lymington to get all the sails up and drawing as they ran back at ever-increasing speed.

In those generally pre-radio days, it was up to Beken to be in station off Egypt Point at Cowes at the right time in his launch – Suzanne's target - ready with his huge glass plate camera in which the shutter was activated by a bulb in his mouth in order that both hands could hold the camera steady. There was only one nano-second in which everything was perfect, and he captured it. Afterwards, his most memorable comment was that as Suzanne was rolling slightly, he and his launch driver had to duck to avoid being carried off by the main boom as she swept past………

Is this the ultimate sailing portrait? The Fife schooner Suzanne in 1911 with all eight sails filled to perfection. Photo through Pinterest courtesy Beken of CowesIs this the ultimate sailing portrait? The Fife schooner Suzanne in 1911 with all eight sails filled to perfection. Photo through Pinterest courtesy Beken of Cowes

Published in W M Nixon
Afloat.ie Team

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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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