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Afloat.ie’s September “Sailors of the Month” Listings Mark The Turn Of The Seasons

1st October 2022
Fireballs in preliminary Worlds racing at Dromineer on Lough Derg, where the indispensable Andy Thompson of Larne won yet another Gold
Fireballs in preliminary Worlds racing at Dromineer on Lough Derg, where the indispensable Andy Thompson of Larne won yet another Gold Credit: Con Murphy

September is a month of harvests afloat as it is ashore, and as we reach October with its inescapable sense of the change in the seasons, our bountiful new monthly list of no less than six different and distinctive September Sailors of the Month awards reflects the rich variety of sailing in and around Ireland, as well as notable achievements by our sailors abroad.

The awards will each have their own separate and more-detailed citation published on Afloat.ie with the arrival of October, but September 2022’s list is so all-inclusive and fascinating in itself that it deserves to be published right here in an additional accessible form.

AFLOAT.ie “SAILORS OF THE MONTH” SEPTEMBER 2022

The Fastnet Marine and Outdoor Centre at Schull in West Cork, the world-standard annual location for staging the Junior Championship, won in September by Royal St George YC’s Fiachra Geraghty-O’Donnell, crewed by his sister Caoilinn.The Fastnet Marine and Outdoor Centre at Schull in West Cork, the world-standard annual location for staging the Junior Championship, won in September by Royal St George YC’s Fiachra Geraghty-McDonnell, crewed by his sister Caoilinn.

Afloat.ie has been running the “Sailors of the Month” accolades since 1996, and in this relatively informal contest’s 27 years, the adjudicators and our readers have learned that the form of Irish sailing (and boating too – we’ve given some notable powerboat awards over the years) is so varied and often amorphous that applying strict rules and definitions simply doesn’t do full justice to the richly-varied recreational and competitive life afloat on our seas and inland waterways.

A COMPLEX SYSTEM - BUT IT WORKS

This September 2022 list is a perfect illustration of the way the system - such as it is - works. It tells us a lot about the wonderful variety of life and achievement in boats and sailing all round Ireland. And even though October may bring fresh awards - with our Cape 31s in contest at Cowes this weekend, the new-style Helmsman’s Championship – the Coppa dei Campioni – at Sutton in the GP14s in a week’s time, the earlier Autumn Leagues reaching their conclusion, and the Middle Sea Race before the month is out - the publication of the September List marks a turn in the sailing year honoured by those yotties of a more traditional mind-set.

 Learning curve. The K25 Kinsailor crew at Foynes for the J/24 Nationals, onwards and upwards to the Bronze Medal in the Euros at Howth Learning curve. The K25 Kinsailor crew at Foynes for the J/24 Nationals, onwards and upwards to the Bronze Medal in the Euros at Howth

Time was when the boundaries of the sailing season were more clearly defined, with the beginnings in April or May, and the endings in September, being properly celebrated in boisterous club dinners. The end-of-season one, in particular, was usually a festival of home-made entertainment, with each crew being expected to nominate a performer of reasonable entertainment ability, in some cases totally unexpected.

END-OF-SEASON ENTERTAINMENT

There was the mood of an Edwardian “smoker” about it all, with somebody invariably giving a soulful if tuneless rendition of what we would be assured was “After The Ball Was Over”, while trick entertainment might include “The One-Armed Flautist” which – smoothly executed – could reduce even the most prudish guest to helpless mirth.

Very different from the home port of Clifden in Connemara – Nick Kats’ high-latitude-voyaging Teddy in Greenland Very different from the home port of Clifden in Connemara – Nick Kats’ high-latitude-voyaging Teddy in Greenland 

In the days when these gatherings were building up their traditions, the clubs had marine staff who were unreasonably called The Club Boatmen. It was unreasonable and arrogant, for these multi-talented and patient men provided the backbone in running the club’s fleet. So much so, in fact, that in many cases, for a very modest fee, the boats were rigged and ready for racing when the owners arrived, and the boatmen’s only plea was that the owner and his crew leave them to do the unrigging afterwards, as amateur efforts took more time to unravel than starting from scratch.

Challenging weather for the GP14 Worlds at Skerries. Colman Grimes of Skerries was not only the lead organiser in bringing this major event to fruition despite pandemic delays, but he was the most successful Irish competitor, placing fifth in a fleet of 106 boats.Challenging weather for the GP14 Worlds at Skerries. Colman Grimes of Skerries was not only the lead organiser in bringing this major event to fruition despite pandemic delays, but he was the most successful Irish competitor, placing fifth in a fleet of 106 boats.

In some cases the boatmen also hauled the fleet at the end of the year, and while they were men of many practical talents, a fancy way with the written word was seldom one of them. Thus at my home port, in mid-Autumn each owner would be presented with a bill which itemised the costs incurred in “Launching Down” and “Launching Up”, and so the Launching Down and Launching Up Suppers became part of club lore.

The latter, at the end of the season, inevitably became increasingly competitive as the fleet built over the years, and more intensely competitive skippers joined the racing. They had to be sure their lineup for the time-honoured end-of-season shore entertainment was top class, and in the final fleet-expanding years before the marina arrived to change the annual pattern of sailing completely, some of these alleged crewmembers seemed to be there because of a professional standard of singing, rather than any sailing ability or direct link to the boat.

COMPETITIVE SINGING

However, along the coast at clubs all the way from Clontarf to Skerries, you could be quite sure that the magnificently-voiced and splendidly-named Billy Blood-Smyth, the lawyer son of the one-legged railway engineer who had built the classic yawl Sonia for himself with designer John Kearney in 1929, would easily out-sing any imported semi-professional through quality, volume, variety of repertoire, and sheer stamina.

2022 ISORA Champion, the J/109 Mojito, racing in her home waters off Pwllheli2022 ISORA Champion, the J/109 Mojito, racing in her home waters off Pwllheli

So maybe the marina and its year-round sailing possibilities arrived in the nick of time, for these Launching-Up Suppers were shaping up to end in blows, if they hadn’t already. But many of us miss them, for they very clearly marked the end of the season, which could then be properly assessed while we resigned ourselves to seemingly endless boat-less dark cold months, but with the prospect of renewed enthusiasm in the Spring.

DBSC INAUGURATE END-OF-SEASON DINNER

In the olden days, in Dun Laoghaire the clubs-with-buildings were thought to be entitled to stage their own End-of-Season Dinners, with Dublin Bay Sailing Club left to mount a more austere mid-week prize-giving which increasingly became a challenge of logistics. But now with some of the specifically clubhouse-oriented end-of-season affairs melted away, nostalgia must be in the air, as DBSC has leapt to life with its own inaugural End-of-Season Dinner, due to be staged in the National Yacht Club (tickets limited to a hundred) on Saturday, October 8th.

This is history in the making. And if you happen to hear your beloved marinero singing his or her heart out in the shower or bath, you’ll know they’re in training to play a key role in their crew’s contribution to the time and circumstances-denying cheerfulness and entertainment of this new DBSC Launching Up Supper

CHANGE IN THE WEATHER

Be that as it may, there’s no doubting the swing of the meteorological seasons. Just five weeks ago, we were musing that it was the date of the annual anniversary of the all-destructive Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, yet in Europe, there was still no sign of even the decaying evidence of what had been predicted to be one of the most active hurricane seasons ever.

Yet this benign weather continued right through September, when in times past we could have expected Ireland to have a side swipe from any hurricane going. But instead, we had one of the best days of the year plumb on the Autumn Equinox, with no sign of any traditional Equinoctial Storm (and yes I know that, statistically speaking, there’s not a higher frequency of storms at the Autumn Equinox, but if they do happen to occur, we notice them more, and reinforce our superstitions with a knowing nod of our sage old heads).

And now we’re into October, and it’s as if we’ve been instantly catapulted into a different universe, with hurricanes gone mad in America, and heaven only knows what might eventually turn up at short notice in Ireland. For, once a tropical storm created from a previous hurricane starts to prowl like a lone wolf on routes not previously ordained for its progress, it can seem to move along like an oversized tornado, and sometimes apparently do so against the direction of the gradient wind.

 While Ireland mostly continued mostly to bask in benign late September, after a visit by Hurricane Ian, Fort Myers in Florida looked like this While Ireland mostly continued mostly to bask in benign late September, after a visit by Hurricane Ian, Fort Myers in Florida looked like this

But that is now. Yesterday was still September 2022 of fond memories. I’ve recently been enjoying our small but delicious porch harvest of Hamburg Black grapes to round out the cheese-laden lunch each day. The runner beans still flourish. The smallest of our eating apple trees produced a delicious harvest heavier than itself. The Jerusalem artichokes will be nicely ready for Christmas. The vigorous escallonia hedge at the front still flowers on, and continues to attract bees so well that it won’t be trimmed until flowering ceases. And if that doesn’t look very neatly suburban, so be it. For it’s no longer a garden. It’s now a sensibly-monitored re-wilding project. 

In the midst of one of Howth’s top sailing nurseries, the Sailing on Saturday Re-Wilding Project (middle lower) is voluminously under wayIn the midst of one of Howth’s top sailing nurseries, the Sailing on Saturday Re-Wilding Project (middle lower) is voluminously under way

Yet this is all in the midst of a right little hotbed of sailing families hidden away in our agreeable cul-de-sac. Gordon Maguire’s sister lives just across the road. Those multi-discipline achievers afloat, Cormac and Mandy Farrell and their nautically-successful offspring, are a few doors along. Rising junior star Harry Dunne is right next door. Our own lot acquired their silverware back in the day, mainly racing offshore, and are now filling their own trophy cabinets racing local classes. Former super-star cruiser-racer helm Emma McDonald – sister of Ross of 1720 Atara fame – is half a dozen doors up. David the Cags, the Ultra-Brain of Howth sailing, lives on the corner with his many computers. And an eminence grise of the mysterious but hugely successful Howth 17 Deilginis Syndicate – it makes the Mafia look transparent - is just across the road.

Being in such a location requires special care. We have to inch the car out of the driveway with total attention. Any carelessness or unnecessary haste, and we might injure a potential Olympic Sailing athlete.

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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