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Sailing on Saturday with WM Nixon

In this week of meteorological mayhem exacerbated by an unsettling international political atmosphere, a reassuring and heartening mood of warm optimism was provided by getting together with Don O’Dowd, Chairman of the Organising Committee for Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2019 writes W M Nixon

The idea was to find out more about this year’s staging of a unique biennial event and to learn more of the background to a man who is the very essence of Dun Laoghaire’s remarkable reputation for the efficient administration of top sailing events and initiatives.

The long southern shore of Dublin Bay is unusual in that, once you’ve put the entrance to Dublin Port astern, the only significant recreational boating access to the sea between the inner Bay and Bray in North County Wicklow is to be found at Dun Laoghaire.

For sure, there are little harbours at Bulloch and Coliemore and two or three other places with open landing facilities. But the basic fact is that virtually all of the recreational maritime energy of South Dublin - one of the most affluent regions in Europe - is channelled through this one decidedly splendid artificial harbour.

dl aerial barrow2Conduit for sailing energy and innovation – Dun Laoghaire Harbour is the vital inter-connector between South Dublin’s affluent population and its sailing waters on Dublin Bay. As a result, the harbour clubs have long experience in creating events which attract many sailing visitors. Photo: Peter Barrow

This results not only in sailing numbers which soar above all other centres in Ireland and on nearby coastlines but in a living and developing of sailing innovation and administration going back well over a hundred years. Some of the best brains and most abundant energies in all South Dublin have been active in this aspect of its sailing over the years, and the standards have become very high.

So agreeing to be Chairman of the biennial VDLR is not something to be undertaken lightly. And being Chairman for this year’s event brings its own extra challenges. For it says everything about the success of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta of 2017 that simply thinking of it transposes us back to warm summer evenings in July, when the waterfront clubs were buzzing with friendly crowds of shipmates and competitors at a host of post-racing events which exuded that happy mood which prevails when the day’s sailing has been good.

don odowd3Administrative action – Don O’Dowd on the job at the 2012 ISAF Youth Worlds in Dublin Bay
And there was a bonus with the regatta taking in its stride the extra challenge of celebrating the Bicentenary of Kingstown Harbour in a meaningful way which set exactly the right tone. This was boosted by the inauguration of a hugely successful classics and traditional division, and the result was as complete a regatta package as you could reasonably hope to experience.

Yet merely marking time and providing more of the same is not today’s Dun Laoghaire approach. Admittedly many of the modifications for 2019 will be just a matter of fine tuning on 2017’s success. But if there is a discernible line of thought for 2019, it is that while the emphasis remains on this being a fun regatta rather than a collection of major championships, good sport is actually the best fun racing people can have afloat, so the thinking is that those who want to up their game will be encouraged.

Partly this is because there’s a growing tendency to make use of the fact that the complete racing setup will be available at five centres out on the Bay to cater for what may be a total of as many as 39 classes. Some of these classes naturally get to thinking that if all this top level race-provision paraphernalia is out there on the Bay, why not optimise its easy availability and designate your class’s participation as being the Leinster Championship or even the National Championship?

con murphy4Race Director Con Murphy heads up a team of six Race Officers of International and Olympic standard. Photo: W M Nixon
In past regattas classes as diverse as the IDRA 14s, the Wayfarers, and the GP 14s have done this, and for 2019 it has been stepped up a further gear with the Sigma 33 Class designating it as their special 40th Anniversary Championship and the RC35 class have made it a pillar of their Celtic Cup series between Scotland, Ireland and Wales, while the distinctive keelboats of the RS Elite Class have been allowed to designate the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta as their UK National Championship.

Now that really is stretching the limits. But it’s something that Don O’Dowd is well-qualified to handle. Most if not all of the RS Elites in Ireland are based in the north, and a significant number are sailed by former International Dragon Sailors. Don O’Dowd was for many years at the very sharp end of International Dragon Racing, so he knows the kind of folk he’ll be dealing with in this unusual case, and with his years of experience already logged with running many major events, he sees how it can all be accommodated to give the RS Elites a worthwhile UK Nationals while stimulating rather than disturbing the ethos of the regatta.

rs elite5The RS Elite is designer Phil Morrison’s take on a miniature version of the America’s Cup keelboats of a previous generation.
So who is he, this Don O’Dowd who comfortably bestrides so many important aspects of sailing? Well, if you wanted to set out to create the archetypal Dun Laoghaire sailor from scratch, you’d save yourself a lot of time and trouble simply by asking Don to step up to the plate, something he has been doing readily, willingly and effectively for our sport for many years.

His father Tom was a noted publican whose flagship establishment was The Old Punchbowl in Booterstown. While there were some family sailing links to Skerries and Clonrarf, the young Don’s memories are most clearly of a former International Dragon which Tom mostly just day-cruised, but occasionally raced with the cruisers from the National YC.

Living in Booterstown, O’Dowd Jnr had the daily trans-Liffey trek for schooling at Belvedere, where he took on board the rugby culture, but eased out of it after Junior Cup level. Meanwhile, his interest in sailing, while always there, has been inspired to fresh levels of enthusiasm by the International Mirror Europeans in 1966 at Wexford. The family had a holiday home in the sunny southeast, and one day his dad took him along to see the action and savour the atmosphere of this high-powered event at the legendary Wexford Harbour Boat & Tennis Club. Young Don was completely hooked by the whole experience, and still remembers his sense of awe in contemplating a Mirror dinghy with a graphite-finished bottom which was smoothed to a level of fast finish he’d never have imagined possible.

Back home, the new Junior Programme at the National Yacht Club was getting underway under the direction of Carmel Winkelmann and her colleagues (they’d a mighty Golden Jubilee celebration back in 2017) and Don O’Dowd was soon part of it with his own recently-acquired Mirror Dinghy.

asgard1 sailing6 1The original Asgard during her six years as Ireland’s sail training vessel between 1969 and 1975. The youthful Don O’Dowd was aboard her as a trainee when she voyaged to the Sailing Olympics at Kiel in Germany in 1972

His sailing experiences during the 1970s were extraordinarily diverse. In addition to campaigning the Mirror, he was a trainee aboard the original Asgard when she was on the Tall Ships programme which brought her to the 1972 Olympic Games at Kiel on the Baltic in Germany. And then in 1976 when Asgard’s successor Creidne made her Transatlantic Voyage to join the Bicentennial Celebrations of the United States of America with the training ships of many nations in New York Harbour, O’Dowd was on her crew.

But in another sailing direction entirely, when the National Yacht Club decided to support the establishment of an International 420 Class, Don teamed up with John Lavery to campaign one of these new boats which were to transform the upper end of Irish sailing, and their partnership was very active and successful for four years.

420 1416The International 420 getting into its stride. For four years, Don O’Dowd and John Lavery sailed together in this top junior class as it developed at the National YC
Yet with all the energy of youth during the late 1970s, he also found himself drawn into the developing offshore racing scene, where pace-setter Jim Poole of the National YC had acquired the state-of-the-art Bruce Farr-designed Quarter Tonner which became very well known on the Irish Sea as Farrocious.

The determined and dedicated Poole was sailing with his regular crewman Eamon Crosbie, and for ISORA campaigning they added the likes of Brian Mathews, Brian McGrath and Don O’Dowd with the occasional addition of Paul Rothschild and Paul Burke, such that Farrocious became very well known for the simple reason that she won just about everything for which she was eligible.

farrocious plans8The plans of Jim Poole’s Bruce Farr-designed Quarter Tonner Farrocious. In the late 1970s when she won just about every ISORA trophy for which she was eligible, Don O’Dowd was a regular crewmember. She was capable of fantastic speeds offwind. “At 15 knots” Don recalls, “she started to hum – we knew she was in the groove”.
Meanwhile, shore life continued, and as his departure from Belvedere approached, Don felt drawn to marketing and took a diploma in it before testing a number of areas until he found himself working for the Bryan S Ryan organization dealing in office equipment and supplies, and reporting directly to Bryan’s brother, the great Ken Ryan. Ken was not only an ace in but was in the process of becoming a figure of significance in international sailing administration, going on to become the Secretary of the global International Finn Association.

Regular contacts with people of this calibre are bound to affect the outlook of keen young men working their way up the ladder in business and sailing, and in time Don O’Dowd’s natural capacity to run a complex business found him in a senior Irish role in the Velux Windows network, while his sailing had taken a new turn, or more accurately an additional interest.

During the 420 racing years (when the National Championships were always held at Mountshannon on Lough Derg) the Lavery/O’Dowd team had struck up a particular friendship with a rival crew, the brothers David and Alan McFarlane. With growing seniority, the 420 participation was inevitably closing towards its close by 1980, when Don O’Dowd and Alan McFarlane found they’d a shared enthusiasm for the possibilities of International Dragon racing. So they went into partnership with the acquisition of the wooden Dragon Ailsa from Geoffrey Ashenhurst.

andrew craig chimaera9For more than twenty years, Don O’Dowd was a top International Dragon sailor – he is seen here trimming the spinnaker for Andrew Craig on Chimaera. Photo: Fiona Brown
Thus they got to know Mick Cotter, who in those days was Dragon Racing Incarnate. He’d updated the wooden Tarasque at his home workshop, and when it became painfully obvious that Ailsa needed something similar, as Mick had spare space in his workshop he suggested the partners move Ailsa in alongside his boat and more or less replicate what he’d done with Tarasque.

It was the forging of another link in Don O’Dowd’s remarkable network of special friendships. For when - after a few years of great sailing with Ailsa - Alan McFarlane regretfully announced that a young man couldn’t afford to be both married and continue as a partner in an actively-campaigned Dragon, as he was about to get married Ailsa was sold, and Don O’Dowd moved aboard Mick Cotter’s succession of top-level International Dragons as the skipper’s right-hand man during what was to become a Golden Age for the Irish Dragon class.

dragon 1998 champs10A special moment of success – Whisper wins Irish Dragon Championship 1998 at Royal St George YC with (left to right) Don O’Dowd, Paul Ricard Hoj Jensen and skipper Mick Cotter

They won titles a-plenty including two Irish Nationals, but in addition there was the Southern European Circuit, a series of ferociously-contested regattas which started in Palma and concluded at Douarnenez in Brittany, an incredible cat’s cradle of logistics, sport and parties between high-end boats so identical that after one Douarnenez event, a certain Irish sailor was well on the road home when he found he was towing the wrong boat…..

It was a crazy pace, but back home Don O’Dowd’s life was following more regular paths, with his career in Velux going on to have an international dimension and the establishment of the top level Rationel brand in Ireland, and meanwhile he’d become engaged to Helen Burke, whose father was a former Irish Rugby International player, but they were happy with the proposed plans for the wedding celebrations to take place in the National Yacht Club.

Unfortunately, the National suffered a major fire as the great day approached, but Mick Cotter stepped into the breach by arranging that the wedding reception be held in his club, the Royal St George, where Don O’Dowd was already a regular. By the time the National was restored, the O’Dowd administrative talents and enthusiasm had been spotted by the likes of Brian Craig and Gary Treacy in the George, and somehow or other he has been a Royal St George sailor ever since, although like all on the VDLR Committee, he is at home and welcome in all four Dun Laoghaire clubs.

But there was much to do before the VDLR came over the horizon, for in the 1990s the Royal St George was emerging as a prodigious pace-setter both in Junior Training and in attracting major international events to Dun Laoghaire. With his two sons Jonathan and Matthew showing real sailing ability and interest, Don found himself teaming up with Gary Treacy and Peter O’Reilly to organise a major Winter Training Programme at RStGYC in 1998-99, with numbers well into the hundreds.

gary treacy dragon11Project partners afloat and ashore – Gary Treacy and Don O’Dowd much absorbed in Dragon racing. Yet they also found the time to inaugurate intense RStGYC training programmes for the Mirror Class in concert Peter O’Reilly of the Optimists

And all this at a time when the Dragon campaigning was at its height at home and abroad – with Mick Cotter’s Whisper so often overseas, it had been special to win the East Coast championship at Dun Laoghaire in 1992, but all the icing was on the cake in 1998 when they won the Irish Nationals at Royal St George.

On the junior side, in those days the Mirror Class was huge in Ireland and Don had both a family and a national interest, such that by the late 1990s, he found himself President of the Class Association with the vision to optimize the potential of the many young sailors coming through the ranks.

He and Gary Treacy felt that several promising juniors were being held back by poor quality Mirror dinghies, so they commissioned ace boatbuilder Edwin Brennan of Dun Laoghaire to build six Mirrors of top standard. The Mirror Worlds of 2001 were scheduled for Howth and already showed signs of attracting a record fleet, but Don O’Dowd and others in the Mirror administration were well aware that Ireland’s chances would be greatly improved with a solid backing for frustrated talent to get into the new boats in time for them to be fully tuned.

mirror world champions 2001 peter bayly and william atkinson12Job done. Peter Bayly and William Atkinson win the Mirror Worlds for Ireland at Howth in 2001

A particular case in point was Peter Bayly of Lough Derg YC, who was so disappointed in some of his own more recent showings that he was reportedly on the verge of giving up Mirror racing altogether. But Don and his team cajoled Bayly into one of the new boats, gave him every support and encouragement to realize his potential, and the reward for everyone came in 2001 when Peter Bayly - crewed by William Atkinson - won the 2001 Worlds for Ireland.

For the O’Dowd family, the Mirror sailing highlight came in 2003 when Jonathan – aged 16 – and Matthew – aged 11 – came for just one year within the right age cohort to compete together, and it turned out to perfection with them winning the Irish Nationals in Sligo.

It was typical of the pace with which the family were living the sailing life at the time that although their mother Helen was there in full support, their father with his above average height, long reach, general dexterity and many sailing skills was so much in demand in the Dragon fleet that he was down in Kinsale taking part in a major championship. But the mood of euphoria was such that Helen and the boys drove from Sligo to Kinsale for a joint celebration of the newly won trophy.

2003 marked something of a turning point, or at least a change of course, for with the Irish economy starting to soar, anyone with a genuine ability to run things well and a willingness to serve on specialist committees and similar bodies was much in demand, and Don O’Dowd was very much one of those people.

The business was expanding with modern headquarters in Sandyford, yet the family lived in Merrion and still do – he was and is a “reverse commuter”, which is no bad way to be. As for sailing, his main allegiance was still with the Dragons, but with Mick Cotter spreading his wings into larger craft Don found himself sailing – and frequently to success – with Gary Treacy and Andrew Craig.

j109 20011vdlr13As the Irish economy surged in the Celtic Tiger years, the number of major international events in Dublin Bay increased. The biennial Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta was introduced in 2005, and immediately became a pillar event of the Irish sailing calendar – this is the J/109s getting into their stride in a good breeze of wind in 2011’s edition. Photo: VDLR

But inexorably he was drawn ever further into sailing administration, both of clubs and events. He’d already been the Irish Sailing Association “Volunteer of the Year” in 2003, and then he was Rear Commodore (Sailing) of the Royal St George YC in 2011-13. But these outward manifestations were only part of a pattern which included running the 420 Europeans in 2004 for the Royal St George with such efficiency that in time he found himself being drawn into the ultimate nuclear power unit, a tiny but far-reaching ideas and action factory known simply as Major Events, made up of Brian Craig and Don O’Dowd, with Ciara Dowling to provide structure for their thinking.

It was thinking which needed to be extremely clear-headed and very determined, for although they’d successfully staged the Star Europeans in 2009, in 2010 at the ISAF Conference in Barcelona they’d secured the ISAF Youth Worlds for Dun Laoghaire in 2012, and by the time the event actually happened, the Irish economy had fallen off a cliff, and it took nerves of steel to run such an outstandingly successful mega-event.

“Major Events” was of course an exclusively RStGYC unit, but by the early years of the 21st Century there was a gathering movement for Dun Laoghaire to stage a biennial blockbuster event, which eventually became the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta promoted by all four clubs. Despite the extremely bumpy economic ride which the country has experienced since, the VDLR has become one of the real pillar events of Irish sailing, and since its inauguration in 2005, there have been five chairmen: Brian Craig (2005 & 2007); Phil Smith (2009); Adam Winkelmann (2011 & 2013); Tim Goodbody (2015 & 2017) and now Don O’Dowd (2019).

vdlr chairmen14The Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta Chairmen with Executive Secretary Ciara Dowling are (left to right) Tim Goodbody (2015 & 2017), Adam Winkelmann (2011 & 2013), Ciara Dowling, Phil Smith (2009) and Brian Craig (2005 & 2007)

Continuity has been provided though Con Murphy being Race Director since the regatta was inaugurated, while the unflappable Ciara Dowling has been a source of reassurance to everyone through being Executive Secretary & Regatta Co-ordinator from the get-go. The pace of the management style for the VDLR 2019 is typified by a routine 0830hrs phone and email exchange every weekday morning between Ciara and Don to see where the emphasis of the day’s administrative work will be while looking ahead to the next stages in running such a major event.

Don O’Dowd had so many things on his plate until around 2015 that it wasn’t until then that he was approached to be on the VDLR Committee itself, with the view of taking over as Chairman in the fullness of time. His years of experience in sailing administration stand to everyone’s benefit, but as he admits himself, at 63 he is no longer quite the agile big fellah of top end Dragon racing that he used to be. In fact, for the past season or two, he has found extremely good sport with Colm O’Brien in the Jeanneau 39 Spirit in the White Sails Division, where he’s amused to note that every so often he finds himself in close competition with other former Dragon hotshots.

white sail15Colm O’Brien’s Jeanneau 39 Spirit racing in the White Sails Division. In a continuing sailing career which has ranged over 420 racing, ocean voyaging, hotshot offshore contests and top level Dragon competition, Don O’Dowd now finds it great sport to get the best possible performance out of a comfortable cruiser-racer.

But as for the demands of being the Chairman of the Organising Committee for this most extraordinary regatta which relies on the support of volunteers of the highest calibre, his mantra is for improvement and quality rather than quantity. Though he may have the services of Race Officers of the experience and ability of Con Murphy, Jack Roy, Bill O’Hara, David Lovegrove, Peter Crowley and Harry Gallagher afloat, while on the waterfront he has the support of Sailing Managers like Mark McGibney, Ronan Adams and Olivier Prouveur, nevertheless he reckons that 2017’s regatta with 488 entries “was near enough optimum boat numbers”.

Yet here we are, entries already at 275, and it’s only March 16th with Early Bird entries running until March 31st. Either way, it’s a good time to have a steady, experienced and popular hand on the VDLR 2019 helm.

vdlr2017 afloat16A clean start in a perfect sailing breeze – everyone’s hopes for the VDLR 2019. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

Published in Volvo Regatta

A stellar RS Elite entry for Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta includes Olympic medallists, World and National champions competing for the 2019 UK National Championship – held for the first time as part of a larger event and outside of the UK on Dublin Bay.

Entrants include former Olympic medallists Mike McIntyre (Gold 1988 -Star class, and current RS Elite National Champion) and Ossie Stewart (Bronze 1992 – Soling class), current International 14 World Champion Andy Partington, former Dragon Edinburgh Cup winner Simon Brien and many other sailors with a record of success at national and international level. The fleet is especially pleased to welcome back Steve Powell, former RS Elite Association chairman, whose tireless work over the years has underpinned the success of the fleet today.

The RS Elite had its origin in the early 2000s when a group of sailors at Haying Island Sailing Club on the English south coast were looking for a new keelboat class. The result was the RS Elite, whose designer Phil Morrison described as a modern version of the classic racing sailboat such as the XOD or Swallow. The Elite quickly spread to Burnham on Crouch, to Northern Ireland and to Cowes, with international fleets in Norway, Antigua and Italy. The RS Elite has become a highly competitive class that has attracted top sailors.

As Afloat.ie reported previously, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta has been well known to Irish RS Elite sailors for the quality of both its race management and its social scene. This year there are entrants from all the mainland UK RS Elite fleets as well as a substantial contingent from Northern Ireland. Approximately half of the entries are from outside of Ireland. Coming to Dun Laoghaire adds a new dimension to the 2019 Nationals.

The RS Elite is a highly sociable class and the sailors are looking forward to enjoying the best of Irish hospitality and some serious partying. The class will enjoy social events in each of the four Dun Laoghaire clubs with a grand Class Championship dinner in the Royal St George Yacht club.

Class chairman Paul Fisk has said: I have no doubt that the four Clubs will go out of their way to look after us and ensure that we enjoy one of our best Championships to date. To make the event extra special, we will have our own dedicated course area. Dun Laoghaire is a town rich in history and culture with a host of different things to do. It is undoubtedly a spectacular venue. We can make the 2019 National Championship an extra special one to remember!

Published in Volvo Regatta

The Super Early Bird Draw for the 2019 Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta took place yesterday evening (in the presence of an independent observer) and the boats (download the full list below) were drawn as winners – each of whom will receive a refund of their entry fee.

Winners were drawn from 224 eligible entrants who had entered and paid their entry fee by 31st December.

As David O'Brien reports in the Irish Times this morning, the current entry is 239 on target to match 2009's record entry of 450 boats

Early Bird Discount stays open until 31st March 2019.

Published in Volvo Regatta

With over six months to the first gun of Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, 228 entries had been received by the close of the Super Early Bird Entry deadline of 31st December 2018.

The biennial regatta Chairman Don O'Dowd told Afloat.ie "compared to the same period in 2017, there are almost an additional 100 additional boats entered this time".

As Afloat.ie reported in mid-December, 75 entries had been received across 22 classes from 34 different clubs but a surge of entries has pushed the fleet to new heights at this early point.

What's perhaps an even stronger result for the Dun Laoghaire sailing festival is the fact 127 of these will be visitors to the town.

"127 of these will be visitors to the town"

RS Elites, for example, who will hold their UK National Championships have already their full complement of 30 boats entered.

58 yacht clubs are currently represented from the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, UK, Scotland, Wales, N.Ireland as well as National and local boats.

From the Dublin Bay area, the current local entry stands at National Yacht Club 34, Royal Irish Yacht Club 34, Royal St. George Yacht Club 31 and DMYC three.

The Super Early Bird draw will take place on the week commencing 7th January and all winners (with a prize of an entry refund) will be advised with all details of the draw posted on the event website.

Early bird discount entry fee available until 31st March 2019.

The full list of Entries is here Enter online here 

Published in Volvo Regatta

What would Christmas be like without sailing? Such a state of deprivation just doesn’t bear thinking about writes W M Nixon. But thanks to the wonders of modern communication - which at other times can be too much of a good thing - your Irish sailor who finds Christmas is becoming over-powering can hide away and dial up the already busy entry list for next summer’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, or follow the racetrackers for the Golden Globe or the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race, and there he or she is – gone…….

Marvellous. You don’t even need to go sailing to get sailing at Christmas. There’s the ongoing drama of the Golden Globe to take you away. In it, the wonderful senior sailor Jean-Luc van den Heede (who looks for all the world like Willie Nelson’s much healthier brother, and sails every bit as well as Brother Willie sings) is hanging onto his lead despite his rig being in shreds, and in recent days has even managed to hold his distance ahead of the very determined Dutchman Mark Slats.

jean luc van den heede2Separated at birth…..? Singer Willie Nelson and sailor Jean-Luc van den Heede 

willie nelson3

Slats doesn’t look like any iconic singer that we know of, but we’re open to suggestions, for our knowledge of the Dutch music scene is limited, and this is the season of goodwill. That said, we’re all rooting for Willie (sorry, for Jean-Luc), for the man has sailing talent and courage to spare.

For the rest of us, if the complete lower shroud mast fitting started cutting its way down through the alloy extrusion of the mast itself, then it would be a matter of getting to port pronto under power, putting professional riggers on the job, and maybe even getting m’learned friends to write a letter to the manufacturers.

But when it happened to Jean-Luc after a massive knockdown of his Rustler 36 Malmut, he was in the middle of nowhere, yet somehow this 73-year-old guy got himself up the mast in the midst of the very rolling ocean and did enough between the shroud tangs and the lower spreader sockets to stop the shrouds cutting any further south.

mark slats boat4Mark Slats’ Rustler 36 Maverick looking decidedly purposeful. Despite two knockdowns in the storm which dismasted Gregor McGuckin and Abilash Tomy, Maverick’s rig is still intact and he is remorselessly hunting down the damaged Golden Globe leader Malmut

It did mean that he could no longer drive his Rustler 36 Malmut as hard as he would have liked, as the mast at times has been giving a passable impression of a piece of spaghetti. So in going on round Cape Horn and such things, he was forced to be sailing with three reefs in when one or two would normally have been all that was required.

Thus an astonishing lead of well over a thousand miles on second-placed Slats has been steadily whittled away, but as of today (Friday) van den Heede is through the 3,900 mile barrier to the finish and 707 miles ahead of Slats. But with some very difficult conditions to be negotiated with this dodgy rig before he gets beck to Les Sables d’Olonne, his problems will be prodigious, for there’ll almost certainly be rugged windward work in the Northeast Trades, and the cobbled-together rig setup emphatically dislikes slugging to windward.

If he does get back under his own steam, there’ll be some party, and this item here from Facebook shows that Jean-Luc isn’t shy of giving it a bit of a lash with the old vocal cords himself. It may not be comparable with Willie Nelson giving his defining rendition of The City of New Orleans, but then we doubt if Willie could get up a mast and carry out the repair which has carried Malmut over thousands of miles.

Meanwhile, the Southern Ocean is now becoming quite cluttered with abandoned Golden Globe racers, and all of them mastless. Gregor McGuckin’s Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance is the most salvageable at the moment, as she has drifted to within 1,250 miles of Western Australia.

Although any salvor would have to think about a new rig in due course, at least there’s the bonus of the special Glendalough whiskey which - all being well - is still safe in its barrel down below decks, as the pre-race foredeck location at Dun Laoghaire, Falmouth and Les Sables was for display purposes only. Ultimately, the idea was to bottle it at race’s end as a collector’s item, with each bottle selling for ginormous amounts. It could happen yet.

glendalough whiskey5Attention all whiskey enthusiasts in Western Australia…..this unique barrel of Glendalough is stowed below aboard Hanley Energy Endurance only 1250 miles away from Perth. Photo: W M Nixon

IRISH INTEREST IN SYDNEY-HOBART

When we think of what the Glendalough barrel and the boats have been through since this Golden Jubilee Suhaili circumnavigation re-enactment began on July 1st, it does rather put the claims about the Rolex Sydney-Hobart being one of the most rugged in the world into perspective. But for sailors who aren’t superhuman, the 628-mile annual classic can be quite enough to be going along with – a view which is supported by the many Volvo Ocean Race veterans who will be on various boats of significance when the race to Hobart gets going on December 26th.

Among them is ex-Pat Gordon Maguire, very much an Australian sailor these days, but he cut his sailing teeth in Howth. He did his fair share and more of successful Volvo racing, but next Wednesday the number one item on the agenda is getting the best performance out of Matt Allen Botin 52 Ichi Ban, with which the Allen-Maguire team took the Tattersalls Cup – the overall IRC winner – in 2017’s race. If they manage it again this time round, it will only be the third time in the race’s history that it has been won back-to-back.

ichi ban6Matt Allen’s Botin 52 Ichi Ban, with Gordon Maguire on the strength for his 21st race to Hobart, is looking for another overall IRC win for the Tattersalls Cup in next week’s Rolex Sydney-Hobart race

ichi ban7A potent yet simple racing machine – tiller-steering enthusiasts see their dreams fulfilled aboard Ichi Ban

Inevitably much interest focuses on the half-dozen hundred footers, with the Mark Richards-skippered Wild Oats XI increasingly fancied, as it doesn’t look as though there’ll always be enough wind around to get the best out of the big fat girls such as Jim Cooney’s Comanche and Christian Beck’s Infotrack.

There’s Irish interest in both of them, as Jim Cooney maintains family links with Ballivor in County Meath and Justin Slattery is in his crew, while Infotrack we knew well when she wasn’t quite looking her best – she was then called Rambler 100, and was more than somewhat inverted at the Fastnet Rock in August 2011.

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infotrack racing8The boat of many identities. The JK100 Infotrack has had several different names over the years, and looks decidedly different these days in Australia (above) than when last seen in Irish waters near the Fastnet Rock in August 2011 (below)

rambler capsized9

Other Irish interest focuses on the attractive Sydney 47 Wot’s Next, as Brian O’Sullivan of Tralee (overall winner of the 2013 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race and June 2013 Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month”) is in the crew. Wot’s Next is as Australian as the kangaroo - the Sydney 47 marque was designed by Murray Burns and Dovell in 2004, and they’re built in state-of-the-art style by Sydney Yachts, which was spun out of the late Ian Bashford’s raceboat building company. The word is the Sydney Yachts inheritors build just slightly more ruggedly than Bashford aimed for. He was so obsessed (and quite rightly so) with keeping weight out of the ends, that it’s said you could almost push your finger through the transoms of his all-conquering J/35s. Maybe so, but they did the business - they were winners every which way.

wots next10The attractive Sydney 47 Wot’s Next will have former Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race overall winner Brian O’Sullivan of Tralee in her crew for the Sydney-Hobart Race
sydney 47 accommodation11The accommodation style in the totally Australian Sydney 47 is very much ahead of the curve

ENTRIES ROLL IN FOR VDLR 2019

Christmas is a time for mixed feelings this year for the organisers of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, for this week they lost one of their founding fathers with the sad death of Owen McNally. Afloat.ie will carry an appreciation of Owen in the near future, and he of all people would have been delighted with the healthy uptake there has been in early entries for 2019’s staging of Ireland’s ultimate sailfest, whose dates are July 11th to 14th.

Already they’re pushing towards the hundred mark, with early entries in 22 of the 39 classes for which racing will be scheduled, and notably strong input from outside Dublin Bay.

You may recall that Half Ton Classics Champion Dave Cullen with Checkmate admitted - after he’d won the title in Belgium - that he always like to have things done well in time, so doubtless Checkmate has already been prepared for next season by Alan Power at Malahide. Meanwhile, she’s firmly on the list for Dun Laoghaire next July, as too are the two HYC-owned J/24s which - in a sign of the times - are to be campaigned by Under 18 crews.

In the depths of the economic recession, they were sailed by Under 25 crews, but in these boomtime days, it seems that any capable 24-year-old is expected to have secured his or her own boat by some means or other, but Under 18s deserve a helping hand.

Either way, getting the entry in early is not only efficient and evidence of good management, but it acts as a very positive signs for existing or potential crew, and it’s of interest to note that from the home fleet at Dun Laoghaire, those signed up include the Goodbody clan with their successful J/109 White Mischief, and the Dublin Bay 2018 First 31.7 champion Camira (Peter Beamish & Andrew Jones

camira racing12The Dublin Bay First 31.7 champion Camira (Peter Beamish & Andrew Jones) is already signed up for next summer’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

Published in W M Nixon

Peter Beamish's National Championship winning Beneteau 31.7 'Camira' from the Royal Irish Yacht Club is an early entry into next July's Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta that already has a strong uptake in overseas entries from the UK, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

75 entries have been received across 22 classes from 34 different clubs which is an early boost for Ireland's biggest regatta in 2019. The figure has doubled since entries opened last month.

Beamish, who won the 31.7 Title last August on home waters will be racing again on the capital's waters when an expected armada of 500 boats or more converge on Dun Laoghaire. This weekend Camira, a one-time series leader, will contest the final race of the Bay's Turkey Shoot Series.

In other one-design class news, the RS Elites who will be holding their UK Nationals at VDLR 2019 expect 30 boats, with 17 already entered.

In the IRC classes, it looks like Dublin Bay will see a strong visiting contingent from Scotland and Wales in the form of the RC35 class that was previewed recently by Afloat's W M Nixon here.

Racing is open to 39 classes and the Super Early Bird Entry will remain open until 31st December 2018. All fully paid entries received by this date will be automatically entered into a draw, whereby 5% will win a full refund of their entry fee.

The 2019 entry list is here.

Published in Volvo Regatta

Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta organisers are reporting a strong uptake for its early bird entry offer for next July's four-day sailing event on Dublin Bay.

With seven months to go, the country's biggest yachting festival – a collaboration between all four waterfront clubs – has already received 31 entries since the entry system opened a week ago.

Up to 500 boats are expected to compete across 39 classes from 11 to 14 July 2019. 

As part of the early bird offer, all fully paid entries received by 31 December 2018 will be in with a chance to have their full entry fee refunded.

The regatta has also released its 2019 promo video below: 

Published in Volvo Regatta

As part of the 2019 announcement of next year's biggest sailing event in Ireland, next July's Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta will host a special event within the regatta for Scotland's RC35 yachts to compete for the 'Celtic Cup'.

Details of the Dublin Bay regatta have been published this week in the official Notice of Race that is downloadable below. 

First thoughts, in an Irish context, of the RC35 concept were given by W M Nixon on Afloat.ie here

The event is jointly organised by Dun Laoghaire's four waterfront clubs and will run from 11-14 July. 

Classic Yacht 0059Classic yachts return to Dun Laoghaire for next July's Dun Laoghaire Regatta on Dublin Bay Photo: Afloat.ie

Feeder races for Dun Laoghaire's four-day regatta have been planned from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the west coast of England.

Event Chairman Don O'Dowd says 'we have a number of National and Regional events within the overall regatta which makes it more attractive for many to travel and compete'.

Entry is now open for 39 classes for racing, in Cruisers, One Designs, Dinghies and Classics.

Ireland's top Olympic, International & National Race Officers are in charge on the water and the organisers are forecasting a 480-boat fleet in total, drawn from 75 different Clubs from seven countries.

290 races are scheduled over four days.

420 dinghy 1416420s will race for National Championship honours as part of Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta Photo: Afloat.ie

Super Early Bird Entry

A Super Early Bird Entry will run up to 31st December 2018. All fully paid entries will be automatically entered into a draw and 5% of those will be lucky enough to have their entry fee refunded.

Early Bird Entry will then remain open until 31st March 2019

Eight Championships Within Dun Laoghaire Regatta

The Regatta will incorporate the following Championships: -

  • Royal Dee Yacht Club Irish Sea Offshore Championship
  • RS Elite UK National Championship
  • RC35 Class Celtic Cup
  • Sigma 33 Irish National Championship
  • GP14 Leinster Championship
  • SB20 Westerns Championship
  • Mermaid Leinster Championship
  • 420 National Championship

 Note: RC35 Class are not listed as a separate class. The Championship will run for them as a class within a class with separate results.

Download the 2019 Notice of Race below and see the online entry here

Published in Volvo Regatta

The memorable Dun Laoghaire Regatta of 2017 included celebrations for the Bicentenary of the great harbour, and the Kingstown 200 Trophy in its honour became something very special for racing among the Classics writes W M Nixon.

In a popular decision, the trophy was awarded to the beautifully-restored 1897-vintage 37ft cutter Myfanwy from Milford Haven in Wales. Thanks to a four-year re-building project by her veteran owner Rob Mason – a retired tugboat captain – Myfanwy had emerged from near-dereliction to become a vision of elegance that sails very well.

She is a classic yacht very much of the Irish Sea, originally built by Sam Bond at his renowned yard at Birkenhead on the River Mersey to the designs of Alexander Richardson (1845-1915) of Liverpool. For a couple of decades around the mid to late 1800s, Liverpool was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and for a brief period it supported its own nationally-recognised yacht designer in Alexander Richardson, who is probably best known for his creation in 1884 of the all-conquering cutter Irex for Dublin whiskey magnate John Jameson.

Part of Myfanwy’s attraction is that Richardson seems to have been given a free hand in the project to create his own vision of what a perfect yacht should look like, for she is an almost-indulgent symphony of sweeping curves which are skillfully combined to provide a yacht of speed and style – arguably, she is his best-looking boat.

myfanwy crew afloat2Myfanwy’s crew in Dun Laoghaire Harbour are (left to right) Max Mason, Gus Stott, Andy Whitcher, and owner Rob Mason who restored the 1897 classic in a four year project. Photo: W M Nixon

In the days of her prime when based in the Menai Straits, she was unbeatable. Nevertheless when Rob Mason, his son Max, and shipmates Andy Whitcher and Gus Stott brought her over to Dun Laoghaire early in July last year to race in the Classics Division in VDLR 2017, she looked so interestingly beautiful that no-one would have minded too much if she’d only had an average performance by comparison with more modern classics. But she went like the wind, and at times was more than holding her own with the restored Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle, a Bermudan-rigged design of 1938.

For Rob Mason, winning the Kingstown 200 trophy successfully rounded out his involvement with Myfanwy, for already he was thinking in terms of a more comfortable vintage motor-fishing yacht, and as mentioned in Afloat, he found exactly what he wanted with the 1938-built Blue Hills, which when new was originally based in Mulroy Bay in Donegal under the ownership of Frank Gilliland.

The acquisition of Blue Hills (now undergoing another of Rob Mason’s restorations) reinforced the decision to sell Myfanwy. But with such a unique boat, you need a new owner who will truly appreciates what he or she is getting. This has now happened, and any day now Myfanwy will be road-trailed to a specialist boatyard in Cornwall where she will be “purged” of standard modern fittings such as Tufnol blocks in order to comply with the requirements of CIM (Comite International de la Mediterranee).

Since 1926, CIM has been the final arbiter as to what constitutes an authentic classic yacht, and by the season of 2019, Myfanwy will be Mediterranean-based and racing to CIM rules. But for now, she leaves behind the fondest memories in Dublin Bay

periwinkle and myfanwy3Memories of a great regatta. Perwinkle and Myfanwy neck-and-neck at the entrance to Dun Laoghaire Harbour during VDLR 2017. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

Published in Volvo Regatta

Welsh skipper Rob Mason has taken on a new vintage boat restoration challenge writes W M Nixon. The retired Milford Haven tugboat skipper swept all before him when he brought his beautiful 1897-vintage 37ft restored cutter Myfanwy to the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 in July last year. He and his cheerful crew went home with the Kingstown 200 Cup and a traditional purse of a hundred guineas, which they’d won in the classics racing to celebrate the Harbour Bicentenary.

myfanwy kingstown2(Above and below) Classic winning elegance – Myfanwy on her way to taking the Kingstown 200 Cup last July. Photo David O’Brien/Afloat.ie

Myfanwy classic 0278

Myfanwy is now for sale and is attracting international interest, while Rob has found another project irresistible – the restoration of a 42ft 1938-built trawler yacht which he discovered in a very tired condition in the tidal port of Hayle in the far western corner of Cornwall.

He bought this boat Blue Hills knowing only the main aspects of her history, notably that she had been designed and well built by renowned fishing boat constructors W. Weatherhead of Cockenzie on Scotland’s East Coast, and that thanks to the installation of secret compartments in her comfortable accommodation, she’d had a successful World War II in 1939-1945 career smuggling secret agents across the North Sea.

blue hills hayle3Blue Hills as she was when Rob Mason first saw her in Hayle in Cornwall. Photo: W M Nixon

But now it has emerged that there’s an Irish twist to the tale, as Blue Hills was originally built to the very specific requirements of Frank Gilliland. He was a north coast cruising enthusiast (Donegal and cross channel ventures to the Hebrides were his speciality) who wanted to change to a seamanlike motor-cruiser after a long sailing career.

However, the brief period of cruising by Blue Hills from Lough Foyle and Donegal (where her moorings were in Mulroy Bay) was the only time she was in Ireland, for after her war service ended in 1945, she was sold to an owner in Devon. When Rob Mason found this attractive boat, she had been out of commission in Hayle for at least four years, but having seen what he could do with Myfanwy, the results with Blue Hills will be impressive.

blue hills donegal4Blue Hills on her moorings in Donegal’s Mulroy Bay in 1938 while in Frank Gilliland’s original ownership.

To do it, however, Blue Hills had to be moved to Rob’s hidden waterside home in the upper reaches of Milford Haven, and in order to do this she’d to be lifted out at Hayle (where the tides are large) and road-trailed the full length of Cornwall and Devon before traversing the entire width of South Wales to Pembroke for a further brief period afloat being towed in the shelter of Milford Haven to Rob’s place.

Fortunately the long road haul was done before the present bout of extreme bad weather interrupted, and Rob’s shipmate Andy Whitcher reports: “only three punctures, otherwise not a bother….” In other words, a formidable task, well done by people who knew what they were about.

blue hills lifted5Blue Hills safely lifted at Hayle, but with the long road journey to southwest Wales still ahead of her. Photo: Andy Whitcher

With the Donegal connection, we’ll he following this already fascinating story with extra interest. Meanwhile as they wait for the perfect tide to get Blue Hills into her proper restoration berth, Rob has been going through the many lockers, and reckons that some of them have never been fully emptied of assorted specialist spare parts in all the boat’s eighty years.

Published in Historic Boats
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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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