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Review of the Year: Sailing in Ireland Has Thrived in 2021 Despite Pandemic Limitations

31st December 2021
The sailing weather of 2021 was decidedly mixed, and recollections will depend on the focus of each significant event. The Puppeteer 22s recall only idyllic Mediterranean weather for their Annual Championship at Howth, won by the McMahon family’s Shiggy-Shiggy for the second year running
The sailing weather of 2021 was decidedly mixed, and recollections will depend on the focus of each significant event. The Puppeteer 22s recall only idyllic Mediterranean weather for their Annual Championship at Howth, won by the McMahon family’s Shiggy-Shiggy for the second year running Credit: Annraoi Blaney

(First published 27/11/21): The 2021 programme for Irish sailors is still in action with winter series underway at several centres, while next Wednesday a junior squad departs for Oman and the Youth Sailing Worlds which get fully underway on December 11th. But nevertheless, the final weekend of November is a traditional time to take stock, and as we bounce along on what everyone had hoped would be the final major wave of the pandemic, but unfortunately is no longer so certain with the New Variant Out Of Africa, it’s intriguing to assess how sailing has coped with providing meaningful sport in a continually changing environment of altering regulations and mixed weather.

In fact, once the first major lifting of restrictions was permitted from Monday, June 7th, the pace afloat was increasingly hectic until far into September, with quality sailing which was well beyond the modest ambitions of “meaningful sport”. Thus in what is essentially a broad-brush overview of the 2021 season, we cannot hope to mention everything, let alone detail all boat classes, but we do hope to go beyond a tasting menu.

To succeed, the 2021 sailing programme had to develop a sort of split personality. The healthiest place to be was afloat and sailing full-on. If anyone contracted COVID-19 from doing this, we have yet to hear of it. But ashore afterwards, the traditionally boisterous après sailing was sometimes no more than a memory.

Ireland has so many people living within easy reach of their boats and the local sailing programme that many developed the habit of going straight aboard, getting into the race, and then returning home immediately afterwards with their only-brief socializing being within the crew bubble.

We’re not claiming this was universally the case – all clubs energetically provided the means of social and hospitality interaction within the Social Distancing guidelines, and many sailors made the best of it to provide some semblance of post-regatta happenings. But far from being disdainful of those who went sailing but otherwise completely kept their distance ashore, their careful attitude was treated with respect by the more convivial competitors in a sense of shared agreement. Getting worthwhile numbers actually sailing was much more important than traditional post-race rituals.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP FOR ILCA/LASER 4.7s

Despite this subdued approach, the flexibility of campaigning a Laser at international level meant that during the inter-wave period of peak mobility between countries at mid-August, Dun Laoghaire was able to stage a major international young sailors championship from 7th to 14th August with the Royal St George and the National YCs hosting the 2021 ILCA 4 Youth World Championship, attracting 230 entries from 31 countries.

Thanks to the availability of space on Carlisle Pier, the Laser Youth Championship 2021, with 230 boats from 31 countries, could be staged in mid-August in Dun LaoghaireThanks to the availability of space on Carlisle Pier, the Laser Youth Championship 2021, with 230 boats from 31 countries, could be staged in mid-August in Dun Laoghaire

In the mood of the summer, it was run with a modest amount of fanfare. But afloat, the scene was as intense as ever, with the Boys’ Division being won by Martins Atilla from Latvia ahead of Alexandros Eleftherladis from Greece, while the Girls were led by Emma Mattivi of Italy from Petra Marednic of Croatia, with the best-placed Irish within divisions being Royal Cork’s Oisin MacSweeney (better known for his Topper successes), who took Silver in the Boys Silver Fleet.

That such an event would be briefly possible by mid-August was still in the realms of speculation when the more stringent regulations had been lifted on Monday, June 7th. This had meant the clamps were still firmly in place for the best part of the usually sailing-hectic June Bank Holiday Weekend. But in some places on that Freedom Monday, people went determinedly sailing in celebration, and in Howth half a dozen of the venerable Howth 17s rushed themselves into commission for an informal race.

Further north on both sides of the North Channel, a broader easing of restrictions had meant that a Scottish Series of sorts had been possible in May, albeit sailing from several venues in the inner Firth of Clyde itself rather than at Tarbert. Nevertheless, John Minnis’s immaculately-prepared First 31.7 Final Call (RUYC) went across to make the best of it, and effectively won overall.

Subsequently in the multi-class One-Design Regatta Weekend early in July at Dun Laoghaire, Final Call came south and showed with her all-conquering performance that her Scottish win was no flash in the pan.

John Minnis’s First 31.7 Final Call from Belfast Lough had overall success in both the Firth of Clyde and Dublin Bay. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’BrienJohn Minnis’s First 31.7 Final Call from Belfast Lough had overall success in both the Firth of Clyde and Dublin Bay. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

But by the time that series of July races came around, the month of June had been crazily busy in a sort of super-powered “school’s let out” atmosphere. Throughout the uncertain waiting period beforehand, Race Chairman Adam Winkelmann of the National YC’s Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race had kept the faith in his belief that racing would be possible by mid-June, and thus he and his team were able to get going almost immediately with a crack fleet making their start to race to Dingle on Wednesday, June 9th.

RUGGED RACE TO DINGLE

After the usual slugfest past the Fastnet and on to Dingle, the title was finally wrested from Paul O’Higgins’ two-time winner, the JPK Rockabill VI, by the Murphy family’s Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo from Crosshaven.

Start of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race – winner Nieulargo (left) with Nicky Smyth’s new Sun Fast 3600 Searcher. Photo: Michael ChesterStart of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race – winner Nieulargo (left) with Nicky Smyth’s new Sun Fast 3600 Searcher. Photo: Michael Chester

It was a hard-won win in a hugely symbolic event, so when Nieluargo returned to Crosshaven on the top of the tide on the evening of Monday, June 14th, she was greeted right at the clubhouse by RCYC Admiral Colin Morehead with a five gun salute, a traditional acknowledgement of major success elsewhere that used to be routinely accorded to RCYC yachts in the mid-19th Century.

This mood of celebrating release from lockdown was matched on the East Coast, where Howth YC’s traditional annual Lambay Race was put together as a club-only event in jig time for Saturday, June 12th, and 78 boats appeared at short notice to help things get moving again, with Colm Bermingham’s Elan 33 Bite the Bullet winning the Lambay Lady from M & J Wenski’s Zarquon by 11 seconds.

The Howth 17s Orla and Isobel racing round Lambay to celebrate the start of Howth YC’s 2021 season on June 12th. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyThe Howth 17s Orla and Isobel racing round Lambay to celebrate the start of Howth YC’s 2021 season on June 12th. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

SOVEREIGNS AT KINSALE

With club racing now fully underway at most centres, the pace of sailing in June was stepped up further with the Sovereigns Cup series at Kinsale over the extended weekend from June 23rd onwards. There was a feeling of pent-up energy being released, and out of it the top performer was the new J/99 Snapshot (Mike & Richie Evans, Howth YC) with the noted talent of Laura Dillon in the afterguard, while clubmate Robert Rendell’s very new Grand Soleil 44 Samatom swept the board in the large Coastal Division. Nieulargo for Crosshaven kept herself up in lights with a runner-up slot, Kieran Collins’ superbly-sailed vintage Olson 30 Coracle VI (RCYC) won IRC 2 while the RCYC J/24 Ya GottaWanna (David Lane) was tops in IRC3.

Kieran Collins’ classic Olson 30 Coracle VI belied her age with the IRC2 win at Kinsale. Photo: Robert BatemanKieran Collins’ classic Olson 30 Coracle VI belied her age with the IRC2 win at Kinsale. Photo: Robert Bateman

In the first weekend of July, the focus shifted to Dublin Bay where seven One-Designs of national status were able to stage major regulation-compliant championships at once thanks to spreading the organisational focus across the clubs. The Ruffian 23s, hosted by the National YC, had a popular winner with Ann Kirwan racing Bandit.

As Commodore of Dublin Bay Sailing Club, she’d a key role in running one of the most important local sailing programmes, which in Dublin Bay’s case saw weeknight numbers racing regularly rising to 142 boats, an achievement which had already been recognised with DBSC becoming the Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year” for 2021, the second time the club has been awarded this unique trophy which has been part of sailing in Ireland for more than forty years.

DBSC former Commodore Jonathan Nicholson and current Commodore (and 2021 Ruffian 23 Champion) Ann Kirwan with the Mitsubishi Motors “Cub of the Year” trophy. Photo: Frank Burgess DBSC former Commodore Jonathan Nicholson and current Commodore (and 2021 Ruffian 23 Champion) Ann Kirwan with the Mitsubishi Motors “Cub of the Year” trophy. Photo: Frank Burgess 

STRANGFORD LOUGH CENTENARY

But while clubs like DBSC were providing the adjustable structures in which sailing could be optimised as circumstances changed, it was the often historic local One-Design Classes which best thrived in the constrained conditions, and for 2021 pride of place has to go to the Centenary-celebrating Strangford Lough River Class, 28ft 6in Mylne-designed classics which first sailed on Belfast Lough in 1921, but soon disappeared into the secret waters of Strangford Lough. There, all twelve boats survived to meet 2021’s hundred-year deadline when an excellent profusely-illustrated class history was produced by James Nixon, while Graham Smyth’s immaculately-restored Enler won the Centenary Regatta.

A hundred years, and still going strong…..all twelve Strangford Lough River Class sloops celebrated their Centenary during 2021. Photo courtesy River Class.A hundred years, and still going strong…..all twelve Strangford Lough River Class sloops celebrated their Centenary during 2021. Photo courtesy River Class

Another Mylne design, the 25ft Glens of late 1940s vintage, races in both Strangford Lough and Dublin Bay, and they have now come through the limbo period to emerge as classics worthy of restoration and the cherished status of Local Treasures. This process is particularly evident in Dun Laoghaire where a group in the Royal St George YC have become Glen connoisseurs, and it was the newly-restored Glenluce (Ailbe Millerick) that made the most successful racing impression during 2021.

Meanwhile, the Dublin Bay Water Wags just keep rolling along, a born-again phenomenon since their first manifestation in 1887. New boats are appearing most years, and the magic number of 50 in registered racing trim has now been achieved with the enduring Maimie Doyle design of 1900, though in 2021’s circumstances, the number racing regularly was between 25 and 30.

Ailbe Millerick’s restored Glen OD Glenluce racing in Dublin Bay. Several boats of the 1947-vintage Dun Laoghaire class are being restored Ailbe Millerick’s restored Glen OD Glenluce racing in Dublin Bay. Several boats of the 1947-vintage Dun Laoghaire class are being restored 

RETURN OF THE DUBLIN BAY 21s

However, the historic Dublin Bay One-Design tradition moved into an entirely new chapter on Friday, July 30th, when the first three of the restored Dublin Bay 21s, the 1902 Mylne-designed classics being restored by Steve Morris of Kilrush for Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra, sailed into Dun Laoghaire led by Naneen, the only one of the class to have actually been originally built in the port.

Home again. The restored Dublin Bay 21 Naneen competing in the final DBSC race of the 2021 season.Home again. The restored Dublin Bay 21 Naneen competing in the final DBSC race of the 2021 season.

But while the East Coast may be strong on Alfred Mylne classics, it is only in Cork that we find a Fife-designed class, the 29ft Cork Harbour ODs of 1895 vintage. Although the Royal Cork may have had much of its Tricentenary Celebrations smothered, the determined leadership of Admiral Colin Morehead has seen every permissible opportunity used to celebrate the club’s existence, and in September Crosshaven’s own global sailing superstar Harold Cudmore took the RCYC’s own CHOD Jap to the celebrated Festival of Classic Sail at Saint-Tropez, and became the overall winner.

Another one for Cork! Harold Cudmore holds aloft the champion’s prize at St Tropez.Another one for Cork! Harold Cudmore holds aloft the champion’s prize at St Tropez.

Back home meanwhile, other more prosaic local One-Designs stepped up to the plate to meet the demand for local sport, and classes as various as Puppeteer 22s and Howth 17s at Howth, Shannon One Designs on the great lakes of the mighty river, RNIYC Fairy Class at Cultra, and Belfast Lough Waverleys spending the summer in Strangford Lough, were to find themselves in flagship roles.

There are several other keelboat classes which fulfill both national and local roles, notably the Flying Fifteens, Squibs, SB20s, J/24s and Cork 1720s, and all were pushing their potential to the ultimate, with the 1720 Sportsboats in particular on a roll, with competitive boat-restoration now part of the 1994-founded class’s spirit.

1720s AT DUNMORE EAST

The appearance of the very shiny restored Breaking Bad at Crosshaven in the Autumn has set such a standard that we’re sure – if she attracts the kind of sailing talent that’s talked of – that The Silver Bullet is how she’ll be known, but officially calling her that would be hubris of a high order.

New boat for old – the beautifully-restored 1720 Breaking Bad at Crosshaven – how long before she’s called the Silver Bullet? Photo: Robert BatemanNew boat for old – the beautifully-restored 1720 Breaking Bad at Crosshaven – how long before she’s called the Silver Bullet? Photo: Robert Bateman

The 1720s attracted a ferociously keen fleet of 27 boats to their Audi Waterford Europeans at Dunmore East in September, and maybe it was a sign of the times, but there were at least half a dozen hot favourites, and in a superb contest it was the Crosshaven-Howth combined team of McBearla-Rope-Dock-Atara – aka Aoife English and Ross McDonald - which won out from Elder Lemon with veteran Robert Dix, who has been winning majors in both dinghies and offshore racers – including the All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship at age seventeen – for more than half a century.

While all these inshore dinghy and keelboat events were taking place all round the coast and on the lakes, offshore the skillfully-planned ISORA programme run by Peter Ryan of Dun Laoghaire and Stephen Tudor of Pwllheli was progressing, and in the end to make it viable there had to be champions for each side of the Irish Sea even though the season concluded on September with the Pwllheli to Ireland Race on September 11th, the Irish season winner being Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC) while the Welsh champion was the J/109 Mojito (Vicky Cox & Peter Dunlop, PSC).

BUSY GALWAY BAY

Elsewhere in Ireland, Galway Bay SC ran an imaginative and very well supported race-and-cruise-in-company, aka Lamb’s Week, in the bay and out to the Aran Islands and on to Roundstone, the racing highlight being a superbly calculated (by Fergal Lyons) pursuit race round Inis Mor from Kilronan, narrowly won by the Sigma 33 Scorpio (Mark Wilson, GBSC).

Mark Wilson’s Sigma 33 Scorpio won Gaoway Bay SC’s Round Aran Pursuit raceMark Wilson’s Sigma 33 Scorpio won Gaoway Bay SC’s Round Aran Pursuit race

GBSC success didn’t end there, as Liam Burke’s Farr 31 Tribal with a keen young crew took part in the WIORA Championship at Tralee, and returned to Galway with the overall winner’s trophy.

Calves Week at Schull in the first week of August was a similar celebration of the joy of local sailing in scenically spectacular waters, and while ashore the distances were being maintained, it was close racing afloat, with the overall winner being Frank Whelan’s J/122 Kaya from Greystones, which then went on to be overall winner of the ICRA Nats 2021 run by the National YC in Dublin Bay in September.

As ever, it was a good season for several boats from the J Boats range, with John Maybury’s J/109 Joker II (RIYC) winning the class’s nationals at the RIYC in late September, while on both coasts of Ireland the venerable J/24s – much-loved by a very special cohort despite efforts to make them see the advantages of the J/80 – continued to thrive, with the all-Ireland syndicate-owned Headcase winning the breezy Nationals at Sligo and with it one of the world’s oldest sailing perpetual challenge trophies, the 1822-vintage Ladies’ Cup of Sligo Yacht Club.

Frank Whelan’s J/122 Kaya from Greystones won overall in West Cork and Dublin Bay. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’BrienFrank Whelan’s J/122 Kaya from Greystones won overall in West Cork and Dublin Bay. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

Clearly, it was an active and manageable season if you were prepared to sail at home, but with a class like the Dragons with a strong European circuit, being always in Ireland can seem a bit limiting, though it did mean that Irish waters saw more of the Dragons in 2021 than is usual, and Martin Byrne (Royal St George YC) won the big championship at Kinsale in September.

Inevitably, the need to deal with international requirements impinged on a small but select elite group of top performers, and as a result their followers at home became very familiar with the waters and sailing conditions to be found on Lake Garda and at Vilamoura and Lanzarote.

World Champion Eve McMahonWorld Champion Eve McMahon

Lake Garda became a sort of mountain sailing station for the elite youth squad of Howth Yacht Club, with Rocco Wright beginning his exit from the Optimist Class in spectacularly impressive style there, and when Garda staged the Laser Youth Worlds 2021, clubmate Eve McMahon sailed a magnificently determined campaign (there isn’t the space here to enumerate the special problems which Garda can provide) to win Gold, a really beautiful world-class achievement.

OLYMPIAN CHALLENGES

With the postponed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo coming down the line in the latter half of July, the question of whether or not the 49er Fingal team of Robert Dickson of Howth and Sean Waddilove of Skerries would become Olympians had been answered back in April at Lanzarote. They’d qualified with one race to spare, after which they’d sailed the final race in such a relaxed mood that they found the performance to do a horizon job on the rest of the fleet.

Sean Waddilove and Rob Dickson on the day they qualified for the OlympicsSean Waddilove and Rob Dickson on the day they qualified for the Olympics

It was hoped that this “competitively relaxed” frame of mind could be carried over into the Sailing Olympics for both the 49er sailors and for 2016 Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy sailing her last Olympics in the Laser Radial. But the controversy-laden pandemic-plagued atmosphere in Japan was anything but relaxed, and the frustrated Irish showing reflected this.

But with something as broad as the current Irish sailing scene, even as one door slams negatively shut, another opens, and August brought the RORC Rolex Fastnet Race 2021 in its new extended version with the finish at Cherbourg, providing what was surely 2021’s greatest participation sailing event of top international standards, with dozens of nations represented in a fleet pushing towards the 400 mark.

FASTNET SUCCESS

At first, it looked as though the small but keen Irish and Irish Sea squad were in for another disappointment, as a very impressive first place in the two-handed Figaro 3 class for Kenneth Rumball of Dun Laoghaire and Pamela Lee of Greystones was penalised. They’d been relying on the GPS supplied with the boat, but the organisers relied solely on YellowBrick which gave marginally different readings, and consequently, RL Sailing had been indicated as infringing the forbidden TSS at the Fastnet Rock.

“Everything’s Going To Be All Right” Aboard Desert Star in the Fastnet Race as they realized things were very much in their favour“Everything’s Going To Be All Right” Aboard Desert Star in the Fastnet Race as they realised things were very much in their favour

But meanwhile, as the results analysis continued, it was found that the famous Lombard 46 Pata Negra, now owned and skippered by Pwllheli’s Andrew Hall with Carnarvon as her new port of registry, had placed third overall. And then beautifully out of the blue, Irish Offshore Sailing’s Ronan O Siochru with the much-used veteran Sun Fast 37 Desert Star from Dun Laoghaire, sailed a well-nigh faultless race in every sense, and placed second in Class 4, and 14th overall. At the contemporary competition level of the Fastnet Race, this was a fantastic achievement.

The international offshore scene continued at centre-stage in September and the Figaro Solo with Ireland’s Tom Dolan racing Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan. There was frustration in the early stages, but racing from Brittany round the Fastnet and back for the final stage seems to have inspired him, as he was first at the Fastnet, and despite being a marked man thereafter, he was still solidly in third at the finish in Saint-Nazaire – there’s nothing like finishing the big one with a podium place.

Tom Dolan’s Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan was leading at the Fastnet Rock.Tom Dolan’s Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan was leading at the Fastnet Rock

International solo offshore racing interest didn’t end there, as Galway’s Yannick Lemonnier had entered his 2004-vintage Manuard design Port of Galway in the Eurochef Mintransat 2021. A pre-series dismasting looked to have stymied the campaign, but friends known and unknown rallied round to get the show back on the road, and Port of Galway sailed off on time in the midst of an extraordinary fleet of 90 boats – most of them of more modern designs – and by the time she got to Guadeloupe, the Galway sailmaker placed 16th in the hyper-competitive Proto division.

Dinghies came back to prominence in September with the Golden Jubilee of the Lasers being marked at Ballyholme where it all started in Ireland, and several of those who had been there at the start - including Ron Hutchieson and Bill O’Hara – were much involved, while the overall winner on the day was Gareth Flannigan.

Down memory lane – Bill O’Hara sailing in the Lasers Golden Jubilee regatta at BallyholmeDown memory lane – Bill O’Hara sailing in the Lasers Golden Jubilee regatta at Ballyholme

ICRA TAKES CENTRE STAGE IN SEPTEMBER

The Irish Cruiser Racing Association, under its Commodore Richard Colwell and a Committee of all the talents, had been quietly busy in an active background role throughout the season, developing its programme of support to clubs in encouraging Under 25s in full-on involvement. It’s a policy that chimes well with the niche position which the J/24, in particular, holds with younger less affluent sailors, who seek to sail in command rather than in a narrow crewing role.

ICRA becomes most public through its annual National Championship, and its selection of a Boat of the Year based on a clear-cut season-long points system which finally concludes with the inclusion of results obtained from the main Autumn Leagues. 2021 proved very effective in moving the various programmes along, and after the hiatus which was 2020, the ICRA Nats 2021 were hosted, with a crack fleet in Dublin Bay, by the National YC from September 3rd to 5th.

In three days of good and varied racing, the broad appeal of the ICRA welcome was eloquently reflected by the fact that the entries were drawn from seventeen clubs in all, including several craft from the north, and for those who are inspired by aspirations of levelling-up, it was notable that only two classes out of the five main divisions were won by boats from one of Ireland’s six major front line clubs.

The overall winner was declared as Frank Whelan’s Class 0 champion, the J/122 Kaya from Greystones, thereby putting her among the favourites for the Boat of the Year title as she already carried the Calves Week victory in her points total, and the favourable impression given by the spread of winners is self-evident:

Class 0 & O/A Champion: Kaya (J/122, Frank Whelan Greystones SC)
Class 1: Storm (J/109, Kelly family, Rush SC)
Class 2: Checkmate XVIII (Classic Half Tonnner, Nigel Biggs, Howth YC)
Class 3: Snoopy (Classic Quarter Tonner, Joanne Hall & Martin Mahon, Courtown Harbour SC)
Class 4: (non-spinnaker) Gung-Ho. Super Seal F/K, Grainne & Sean O’Shea, RIYC).

In the end, the Boat of the Year title came down to the results obtained in the last race of the AIB Autumn League at Royal Cork YC at Crosshaven, but while those were awaited it was re-confirmed that the ICRA Nats 2022 would be combined in Cork Week in July 2022, while it was additionally announced that the ICRA Nats 2023 would be hosted by Howth Yacht Club.

ICRA Boat of the Year 2021 Nieulargue (Denis Murphy, RCYC) negotiating the Old head of Kinsale. Photo: Robert BatemanICRA Boat of the Year 2021 Nieulargue (Denis Murphy, RCYC) negotiating the Old head of Kinsale. Photo: Robert Bateman

Eventually, the Autumn League at Crosshaven saw a class win for the Murphy family’s Nieulargo which – when added to consistent performances early in the season - elevated her into the Boat of the Year title by just one point over Kaya.

THE BIG TIME AT NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

Across the Atlantic, a successful boat – designed by Mark Mills of County Wicklow – was back in prominence with the IC 37 providing the impressive fleet performer for the New York YC Invitational at Newport, Rhode Island. Two Irish clubs were involved, and while the Howth team skippered by Darren Wright were on a very steep learning curve, the Royal Cork squad skippered by Anthony O’Leary were in familiar territory, defending the Bronze Medal they won in 2020. Some of the leading American clubs had had their teams in training all season, so the newly-arrived Corkmen did very well to take fourth overall in a fleet of 19.

Two Irish teams in the NYYC Invitational at Newport, Rhode Island – Royal Cork third left, and Howth second rightTwo Irish teams in the NYYC Invitational at Newport, Rhode Island – Royal Cork third left, and Howth second right

Back home at the end of September, the All-Ireland Juniors were staged at Schull, and Rocco Wright (HYC) came out of the woodwork to snatch the overall win in the final race of an intensely-fought series. The Seniors followed a week later, raced in the National 18s at Crosshaven, and though it might have been thought that the 18s’ own representative helm would have an advantage, it was that versatile star Ger Owens (RStGYC), currently doing most of his racing with the GP 14s, who emerged as the new Champion of Champions.

Ger is not the first to have done it twice, and Nin O’Leary of Crosshaven actually won it three times on the trot, but Ger’s record is unrivalled on one score – he last won it 20 years ago. And his sailing enthusiasm is undimmed – just a fortnight after the Helmsman’s Championship, he was back to sailing GP 14s, crewing this time for Katie Dwyer of Sutton in the Munster Championship at Cullaun in County Clare. They were within an ace of winning overall, but Katie’s clubmate Alan Blay pipped them at the post.

LATE SEASON SUCCESS ON LOUGH DERG

That very-late-season major at Cullaun experienced some daunting weather, but until then the Autumn Leagues had been fortunate in the volatile conditions of September and October, happening to hit on the days when conditions were benign. This was also generally the experience of the last major happening at Lough Derg, October’s Keelboat Freshwater Regatta for Dragons, SB20s, Flying Fifteens and Squibs, when the class winners were Cameron Good (Kinsale YC) in the Dragons, Andrew Deakin (Lough Derg YC) in the SB20s, Trevor d’Arcy (Carrickferus SC) in the Flying Fifteens, and Gordon Patterson (Royal North of Ireland YC) in the Squibs, an extensive range which only partly illustrates the truly all-Ireland nature of the entry list at this increasingly popular event.

Squibs and Flying Fifteens mixing it at the Lough Derg YC Fresh Water Keelboat RegattaSquibs and Flying Fifteens mixing it at the Lough Derg YC Fresh Water Keelboat Regatta

By the end of October, we’re approaching the usual relative prominence of through-winter Frostbite events and the intense seven-race series which is the Turkey Shoot in Dublin Bay. But in 2021 nothing was normal, and November brought a mighty assembly of Lasers at Barcelona, with the powers-that-be trying to persuade everyone – now that the Great Originator Bruce Kirby is no longer among us – that the boat is officially called the ILCA.

BARCELONA BREAKTHROUGH

After fifty good years and more, it’s going to take more than a year or two to persuade everyone to think of the much-loved Laser with a new name. But either way it was great news for Ireland at Barcelona, as Olympian Finn Lynch (NYC) emerged from a long performance drought to take second in the premier division, while Sean Craig (RStGYC) notched fourth in the Masters.

The huge Laser fleet in Barcelona in November may have been racing just ahead of the winter, but it provided the opportunity for Finn Lynch (centre) to make a spectacular exit from his performance drought.The huge Laser fleet in Barcelona in November may have been racing just ahead of the winter, but it provided the opportunity for Finn Lynch (centre) to make a spectacular exit from his performance drought.

But Barcelona was getting wintry enough, and attention has swung to Oman, where the Fingal 49ers took an eighth in their series, while the scene is being set for next month’s Youth Worlds. December may also bring the annual Rolex Sydney-Hobart race in Australia on December 26th – it’s always of Irish interest, as Gordon Maguire has made it his trademark event. But with Tasmania currently pandemic-barred for visitors, it’s possible the race will either be re-routed or else cancelled altogether.

With the latest gloomy COVID news, the future is more uncertain than ever. But at least for sailors in Ireland, in 2021 we had a great season, a super season that nobody would have thought possible back in March.

This article first appeared on Afloat on 27/11/21

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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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W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
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