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Are Irish Sailors Pitching Their "November Notions" Too High?

30th October 2021
The hidden gem of County Clare – mixed classes racing at Cullaun SC. Despite the lateness of the season, Cullaun and the GP 14 Association hope to get together in a week's time for a championship postponed from April
The hidden gem of County Clare – mixed classes racing at Cullaun SC. Despite the lateness of the season, Cullaun and the GP 14 Association hope to get together in a week's time for a championship postponed from April

October 2021 has been kind to Irish sailing in brightening our spirits, letting our crews be active with more sunshine than you'd expect, and helping to banish any thoughts of the dodgy pandemic situation ashore. Even though the Bank Holiday Weekend gave some localities a short sharp reminder that Autumn can be a time of vicious weather, determined race organisers still managed to slide their events in under the radar one way or another, with Carlingford Sailing Club and the Irish Universities setting the pace by putting through a big team racing series.

This was despite steep-sided Carlingford Lough occasionally being in the kind of mood where you can be sailing along even while there are "Carlingford Kettles" whirling around. A Carlingford Kettle is a sort of miniaturised tame typhoon, and while I've sailed the length of the lough on a dark and breezy day when there were some kettles in sight picking up spray close in under the southeast shore, they seemed to be shy creatures, for none came near us and they went as quickly as they'd appeared.

Grabbing the sun while we can – Universities' team racing at Carlingford last weekend.Grabbing the sun while we can – Universities' team racing at Carlingford last weekend

As the event's report on Afloat.ie indicated this was a perfect example of a club with a high proportion of members keen to volunteer, all ready and willing to host a boisterous crowd of young racing enthusiasts who have spent much of 2021 with an increasingly pent-up feeling dominating their lives, for all that sailing seemed to be a healthy sport ideally designed to provide an alternative to lockdown neurosis.

For one of the best things about sailing is that it provides your daily dose of Vitamin D as a bonus. The type of people who sail simply aren't the types who loll about on a beach working on their suntan, let alone dutifully sitting down the garden in sunshine (or
even going for a walk) for the prescribed length of time.

On the contrary, they want to be up and doing in all the action required with a complex wind-driven vehicle sport, so if sunshine can be introduced into the equation, so much the better. And it certainly makes the job of the nautical photographers easier, for capturing a completely eye-catching sailing image is a relative doddle in sunshine by comparison with snatching an inspiring snap on a very grey day, particularly now that so many boats have black sails.

Photographer Annraoi Blaney stylishly overcomes the problem of black sails and absent sunshine with this inspired composition of Viking (Kevin Darmody) and Soufriere (Stephen O'Flaherty) racing in the Beshoff Motors Autumn League at Howth. Photo: Annraoi Blaney.Photographer Annraoi Blaney stylishly overcomes the problem of black sails and absent sunshine with this inspired composition of Viking (Kevin Darmody) and Soufriere (Stephen O'Flaherty) racing in the Beshoff Motors Autumn League at Howth. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

Yet whether your sails are black, white, purple, yellow or green, they've found lots of sunlight in Autumn events like the Beshoff Motors Autumn League in Howth, and while some other late season championships weren't quite so lucky, throughout October Afloat.ie has been recording a rich variety of regulation-compliant events on the water at many centres.

But has this late-season success gone to people's heads? As October morphs into November and the clocks go back, it behoves us to remember the thoughts of one Thomas Hood (1799-1845) - supposedly a humorist, but then they're a notably gloomy bunch:

NOVEMBER

No sun — no moon!
No morn — no noon —
No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! —
November!

Set against that attitude, it seems that by contrast, sailing administrators throughout the country see sunshine in every shower and a silver lining in every cloud at this time of the year, for the proposed November weekend programme at several clubs has never been so un-seasonally active.

Not that late Autumn and Winter sailing is something new. There are those who persist in seeing it as a novelty, yet the Frostbite League staged for all-comers under PY by Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club in the sensible confines of Dun Laoghaire Harbour goes back at least half a century, while the opening of the first stage of the marina at Royal Cork in Crosshaven in 1974 immediately ushered in the country's first Autumn League for keelboats.

Bright as she goes – Autumn League racing at Crosshaven. Photo: Robert BatemanBright as she goes – Autumn League racing at Crosshaven. Photo: Robert Bateman

So before long, we'll be celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the RCYC Autumn League, while on the East Coast April 2024 will mark fifty years of a continuous sailing programme at Howth YC. They'd their usual Opening Day in April 1974, then as the traditional sailing season was closing down in the Autumn, the news Lasers turned up and a Sunday morning frostbite series got going – drawing in entries from as far away as Wexford to the south and Carlingford to the north – and it still does so, while after the marina was opened in 1982, the keelboat Autumn League and Brass Monkey winter-long series both became possible, and it has all been trundling along non-stop ever since.

With a membership around the 2,000 mark, it may well be that Howth YC needs various identifiably different programmes to keep everyone happy, and it is a fact that if you sail there all year round – whether in keelboats or dinghies – you'll meet a significantly different group as the seasons change, with the two-part winter-long Brass Monkey series a friendly contest in which people who wouldn't normally dream of going racing find themselves upping the heartbeat with a spot of unaccustomed competition.

DBSC Turkey Shoot in sunshine, Rockabill VI leading from Mermaid. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'BrienDBSC Turkey Shoot in sunshine, Rockabill VI leading from Mermaid. Photo: Afloat.ie

And it gives you an insight into aspects of weather you'd otherwise miss, particularly the effect of air density on wind pressure. One November day we were racing to windward in a ketch-rigged Westerly Conway in a rising and very humid southerly, and a squall of more than 40 knots brought us to a halt for all that we sailing in sheltered water immediately east of Ireland's Eye. The wind briefly freshened a little more, and with all her top hamper of the big radar scanner and other broccoli on the mizzen mast, the boat simply slid gently sideways, for the pressure was the equivalent of 50 knots in a dry climate.

Therein lies Admiral Beaufort's genius, for his Beaufort Scale was based on the effect of the different wind speeds, with a Force 6 exerting something like 200 times the pressure of a Force 2. All of which may seem a long way from various club sailing secretaries and their committees devising busy programmes for their members in these peculiar times to keep club sailing busy through November and well into December.

But it adds insight into what happens when the glitzy Dublin Bay SC Turkey Shoot works towards the conclusion of its seven-weekend programme just as the days are about to start getting longer again. As organiser, Fintan Cairns observed: "It knocks the stuffing out of the winter and into the turkey……."

"Knocking the stuffing out of the winter and putting it into the turkey…." It takes a real effort to realize that this photo of George Sisk's WOW racing in the DBSC Turkey Shoot was taken in December. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien"Knocking the stuffing out of the winter and putting it into the turkey…." It takes a real effort to realize that this photo of George Sisk's WOW racing in the DBSC Turkey Shoot was taken in December. Photo: Afloat.ie

But at least those involved are mostly locally-based, and that is the essence of the various winter programmes. Thus we observe with a certain awed fascination the GP14 Association's determination to race next weekend a championship - postponed from April - with Cullaun Sailing Club in distant County Clare.

Cullaun SC in County Clare opted for lake sailing despite the presence of the Shannon Estuary nearby. Photo courtesy CSCCullaun SC in County Clare opted for lake sailing despite the presence of the Shannon Estuary nearby. Photo courtesy CSC

It's a club which is regarded with the warmest feelings, for I can remember the late Stuart Nairn and his friends - mostly from Shannon Town - bringing it into being way back when.

Nevertheless, November with a long journey for most competitors is quite a challenge. For sure, the GPs are up for it much better than most class associations. But the very fact that it is being contemplated at all shows how keen people are to make up their sailing deficit.

"Dream of the distant west" – Wayfarers racing at Cullaun. Photo courtesy CSC"Dream of the distant west" – Wayfarers racing at Cullaun. Photo courtesy CSC

Published in W M Nixon
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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