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Brian Osborne last sailed a dinghy in 1989 on the River Thames near Hampton Court so returning to a small boat this season on Lough Erne was something of a revisit for him.

Brian bought a classic 1973 Mirror dinghy recently in Donaghadee, only to find that its original home had been on Lower Lough Erne at Castle Archdale on the opposite shore to Tully Bay where he keeps the Mirror now.

Perhaps this is the start of a trend in County Fermanagh for giving old boats a second chance as Jonny Clements has done with his Ulster Boat as Afloat.ie reported on 8th September. With the encouragement of seasoned sailor Fred Ternan – who had also helped Jonny to get afloat, it took Brian little time to regain his confidence.

A light north-westerly breeze on Tully Bay offered an ideal opportunity to try out (initially without the jib), manoeuvres which Brian thought he had forgotten but as he says "Once you learn how to sail, you never lose the feeling of being at one with your boat - you have to feel the wind through the sail and act accordingly. I shall continue to sail at every opportunity".

The Mirror dinghy was born in 1963 when the Daily Mirror newspaper signed up TV DIY expert Barry Bucknell and designer Jack Holt to revolutionise small boat ownership. They came up with a craft that cost £63 11s – or £63.55 in decimal money – and could be built at home using copper wire stitching and glue. At just under 10ft she was big enough for two adults and a couple of kids to sail yet small enough to fit on top of a family car.

Double Olympic silver medallist and round-the-world yachtsman Ian Walker, 42, said he owed his career to the boat.

The Mirror is not new to Lough Erne. There was a fleet in the 1980s at Lough Erne YC on the eastern shore of Lower Lough Erne at Goblusk. Racing was enjoyed by both adults and children alike in superb family competition. Some members ventured farther afield. Michael Clarke's family Mirror, built in 1966, travelled round Ireland on the top of a VW camper van in 1976 as well as enjoying extensive cruising on Lough Erne and subsequently under new ownership, was cruised by a young family on the Upper Bann and Lough Neagh.

Asked if he would be competing in the Mirror Worlds which are planned, after a gap of 34 years, for Sligo Yacht Club at Rosses Point next year he said. "I'll be there but as a supporter. I really don't have any intention of racing, just enjoying pottering about the Lough". The event on the Club's 200th Anniversary will run from 2 – 8 August preceded on 30 July – 1 August by the Irish Nationals. It was last held there in 1987.

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With the Mirror Worlds 2021 scheduled for Sligo YC at Rosses Point, there was an extra edge to the weekend's two-day Mirror Nationals 2020 on the race area under the unmistakable profile of Ben Bulben. And though the fleet size of 25 boats reflected the current constraining effects of the national pandemic situation, it was a quality lineup throughout, with every sail number above 60,000 mark, and most of them topping 70.000.

That said, classic wooden Mirrors kept up their end of the show very well, but the overall winner – Caolan Croasdell's The Priest, no. 70696 from Lough Ree YC – was very much state-of-the-art minimum-weight GRP hull. But for those thinking of heading the same way, the word is that in this evergreen class, the demand for similar boats is currently outstripping the available supply.

With light to very light airs mostly from the east and southeast forecast, it wasn't looking too hopeful as Race Officer Con Murphy – making a proper expedition of it with the famous Murphy-Mac Aleavey camper-van as his personal base in the Northwest – set up the first race in a light sou'easter on the Saturday morning. But he was properly impressed by how these vintage versatile boats come very much to life as the wind pushes above 5 knots, and they got in two good contests on the Saturday before it fell flat with Races 4 & 5 going west through loss of wind.

Mirror dinghy racing in Sligo BayA chance to enjoy the view – Saturday afternoon's calm put paid to Race 3 & 4 but offered every opportunity to admire the view of Ben Bulben. Photo: Con Murphy

The fleet came from just three Mirror strongholds – Sligo itself, Lough Ree Yacht Club, and Blessington Lake in West Wicklow – and it was Sarah White and Cathal Langan of the host club who won the first race from Lough Ree's Conor Paul and Leo O'Doherty, with Croasdell – crewed by Fiona Drayne – putting down a marker with a useful third.

The Lough Ree determination was then clearly made as Croasdell and Drayne won Saturday's other race before the wind shut down to afford the crews time to enjoy the view. Second this time had gone to previous winner White and Langan, while a new duo came into the frame with Sligo's Isaac Marsden and Ronan O'Connor in third.

Sunday brought a more lively easterly wind, 8 to 10 knots and sometimes even better, with four races being put through in crisp style. New names came to the fore at the front of the frame in Race 5 (third race completed) with the win taken by Caroline & Lucy Coulter (Sligo) of the Bronze fleet, but Golds were there too with Croasdell second, and Sligo's David Evans and Jack Draper third.

Mirror dinghy racing in Sligo BayWhat a difference a day makes – the Mirrors proved that a breeze of 8 – 10 knots plus is all they need for really good racing. Photo: Con Murphy

The Coulter crew were on a roll, bringing joy to Bronze level sailors everywhere, as they also won the fourth contest - in fact, it was Sligo all the way for the first five places, second going to Sarah White and Cathal Mangan, while Jessica and Mark Greer were third, while the best of the Lough Ree squad were Chloe & Fionn Murphy at sixth, with Croasdell taking the 8th for what he hoped would be his discard.

It was. Although Race 7 (5th completed) saw the Greers from Sligo improve on their previous third to take the win, with second being the Murphys and third Evan & Draper, Croasdell was back in the hunt with a useful fourth, and thus everything hung on the final race and the relative positions of Caolan "The Hat" Croasdale for Lough Ree and Sarah White for Sligo.

"The Hat" was soon firmly in place. He managed a first while somehow Sarah White and Cathal Langan found themselves back in sixth, second in the final race going to the Murphys while Evans and Draper were third.

Thus the overall picture was still close enough, with Croasdell and Drayne just two points clear of White and Langan, while Caroline & Lucy Coulter struck a mighty blow for Bronzers with third overall, just six points further down the line.

Mirror dinghy racing in Sligo Bay Wood versus glass – Chloe Murphy and Caolan Croasdell drawing the battle lines.

In the overall picture, it was Lough Ree or Sligo all way down to tenth place, where Blessington's Max Cully and Lucas Flynn with no. 70026 (called Womaniser for reasons best known to themselves) put down a marker for the hill folk of Leinster.

Irish Mirror Nationals 2020 Results:

1st The Priest (Caolan Croasdell & Fiona Drayne, Lough Ree YC) 3,1,2,(8),4,1:19pts; 2nd A Close Shave (Sarah White & Cathal Mangan, Sligo YC) 1,2,4,2, (6),6:21pts; 3rd 70837 (Caroline & Lucy Coulter, SYC) 4, (26 OCS), 1,1,5,10:27pts; 4th Red Hot (Chloe & Fionn Murphy, LRYC, (7),5,7,6,2,2, 29pts; 5th Blue Away (David Evans & Jack Draper, SYC) 11,(26 dsq),3,4,3,3, 30pts

With it all done and dusted, the Race Officer's Command HQ wagon headed for the hills. "Staycation" is very much the theme for serial race officer Con Murphy as he fitted the Sligo Mirrors Nationals into two weeks vacation with a spot of lateral thinking about how best to use the Murphy–Mac Aleavey camper-van while still slotting in Race Officering duties.

Thus Afloat.ie's final Mirror Nats 2020 de-briefing was received at a reasonable hour this morning from a choice and secret spot in the Curlew Mountains. We could smell the coffee and hear the very rural bird-song. A neat and peaceful contrast to brisk and salty Rosses Point.

the foothills of the Curlew MountainsRace Officer De-compression Centre – among the foothills of the Curlew Mountains.

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Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club recently played hosts to the Mirror Fleet for their 2019 National Championships. Three fabulous days of close racing were held in varied conditions with the event going down to the wire on the last day.

With 5 race wins from the 10 race series, Eoghan Duffy (LRYC) & Cathal Langan (CYBC) came out on top and overall winners.

2nd place went to Conor Paul (LRYC) sailing with Leo O’Doherty (SYC) and 3rd overall was Lughaidh Croasdell & Sonny Drummond from LRYC.

Silver Fleet winners were Mathew Fallon & Jonathan Flannery of LRYC. 2nd in Silver was Isaac Marsden & Ronan O’Connor of SYC with 3rd in Silver going to David Flannery & Eva Fallon of LRYC.

Bronze Fleet winners were Mia Canham & William Draper of SYC. 2nd in Bronze was Max Cully & Donal O’Donnell of BSC with 3rd place going to Jenny Paul & Abigail Johnston of LRYC.

A special thanks to Aidan Cronin, Commodore of CYBC and his brilliant team for a fantastic event both on and off the water and to Race Officer, Ian Sargent.

Next up is the last event of the season, the Southern Championship to be held in RCYC on Sept 14/15 as part of Dinghy Fest.

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Blessington Sailing Club on the shores of the beautiful Pollaphuca Reservoir was the host venue to the Mirror Eastern Championships at the weekend.

Six races were held in very difficult conditions for both race management and sailors with 40-degree wind shifts occurring all day Saturday to strong winds on the Sunday.

Eoghan Duffy (LRYC) & Cathal Langan (CYBC/SDC) were crowned winners with a consistent display of results over the weekend.

In second place was Jessica & Mark Greer of Sligo Yacht Club with third place also going to the Sligo pairing of David Evans & Ross Clarke.

Silver fleet winners were Chloe & Fionn Murphy of LRYC and Bronze fleet winners were Diarmuid & Freyja Mullen, also from Sligo.

Next up on the Mirror calendar is their Nationals to be held on the 16-18 August at Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club.

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Sligo Yacht Club provided a range of weather conditions over the weekend for the Mirror Western Championships. 16 boats took part in glorious sunshine and light winds on Saturday which changed to rain and 20 + knots of wind on Sunday. This provided a great display to those watching under the shadow of Benbulben.

Over the two days, the partnership of Duffy (LRYC) & Langan (CYBC/SDC) secured the overall title. Silver Fleet winners were the local SYC pairing of Jessica Greer & Imogen Wray with the LRYC partnership of David Flannery & Eva Fallon winning the Bronze Fleet.

Aisling Gillen, Commodore of SYC and her team put in a great event both on and off the water and a special thanks to event sponsor MalinWaters.

Over the weekend the International Mirror Class Flag was presented to Sligo Yacht Club as host club to the Mirror World Championships to be held in 2021.

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The first Regional Mirror dinghy event of 2019 took place on Lough Ree at the weekend in glorious sunshine and light winds.

13 Mirrors took to the waters with sailors from Lough Ree Yacht Club, Sligo Yacht Club, Blessington Sailing Club and Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club competing but it was certainly a case of home advantage coming to the fore for the LRYC sailors.

Fresh from their Sydney Mirror Worlds experience, as reported by Afloat here, Eoghan Duffy & Cathal Langan set a blistering pace with 4 race wins to clinch the overall title.

2nd overall went to Lughaidh Croasdell / Sonny Drummond and 3rd to Noah Canham / Mark Greer.

LRYC sailors took home the Silver fleet (Conor Paul / Henrietta Leech) and Bronze fleet (Chloe & Fionn Murphy) winning prizes also.

Next up on the Mirror calendar is the Mirror Westerns Championships in Sligo on the 29/30 June.

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From the start to the finish of 2018, Eoghan Duffy of Lough Ree Yacht Club and Cathal Langan of Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club and Sutton Dinghy Club were on a mission to put their stamp on the international Mirror dinghy sailing circuit. 2018 was a year of focused training, events and preparation all for one purpose, the 18th International Mirror World Championships hosted by Woollahra Sailing Club on Sydney Harbour and to flag the Irish flag at this prestigious event.

Following their 2nd place finish at the Irish Mirror Nationals and a 13th place finish out of 44 boats at the UK Mirror Nationals in Ullswater Yacht Club in 2018, Duffy & Langan and their boat “A Close Shave” headed to Sydney after Christmas to take on the best Mirror Sailors in the World.

59 Mirrors from around the World made the journey comprising of adult and youth helms with past and current champions from the Mirror and other fleet types.

Sydney Harbour whilst a stunning location is also a very congested navigation channel and presents numerous obstacles such as seaplanes and cruise ships. It is also a tricky place to understand weather conditions and how the local landscape can lead to very variable circumstances.

Over 5 days of sailing with 12 races in total, Duffy & Langan finished in 22nd position overall out of a fleet of 59 and winners of the Junior category. Highlights were finishes of a 10th, 11th and a 12th over the regatta which given the very dominant number of adult helms was a brilliant result and bodes well for junior sailing in Ireland.

To cap off a memorable event for them, the term Sydney Southerly Buster will send tingles down their spines forever more. On Day 4, the Sydney Buster came to pass with a 180 degree wind shift from North to South and winds gusting 35knots blazing across the course. Of the 59 boats that started that day, only 31 remained by the end of the 2 races sailed in extremely tough conditions. Duffy & Langan sailed through it and returned to shore in a thunder & lightning storm – a true testament to winter training on Lough Ree.

Mirror Tom SlingsbyAustralian Olympic gold medalist Tom Slingsby, presented the prizes to the Irish duo

Their prize was awarded to them by Tom Slingsby, America’s Cup Winner and Wendy Tuck, Clipper Round the World Skipper.

With Mirror Sailing in Ireland growing in numbers, it augurs well for the next Mirror Worlds to be hosted by Sligo Yacht Club in 2021.

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The Mirror National Championships held in Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo last weekend were won by Ben Graf and Daniel Smyth.

Graf adds the title to the RS Feva National Championship title won earlier in the summer with Oscar Lubliner.

Second was Eoghan Duffy and Cathal Langan. Third place Ellen O'Dwyer and Mia Canham. 

Conditions varied over the the three-day from moderate to very heavy on Saturday to light on Sunday.

In promising news for the class, 22 boats took part in the largest national championships held in many years. It follows the trend of increasing numbers in the Mirror class for both regional, club and National events. There has also been an increase of bronze fleets sailors travelling to events. Many of the helms are as young as twelve years old.

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Mirror class winter training for 2018 was held over four weekends between January and April (13/14 Jan, 24/25 Feb, 24/25 Mar & 21/22 April) and all sessions were held on Lough Ree at Lough Ree Yacht Club with support of an Irish Sailing training grant, as Afloat.ie previously reported here.

Coaches for these weekends were Graham Grant, Sarah White and Conor Twohig.

In total there was 11 Mirrors involved in the training which included Bronze, Silver and Gold fleet sailors.

Clubs represented at the training were Sligo Yacht Club, Mullingar Sailing Club, Lough Ree Yacht Club, Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club and Blessington Sailing Club.

2017 finished for the Mirror fleet with a strong turnout at regional events. This was certainly a good sign going into the training period and this was true with 11 Mirrors committing to a period of 4 weekends over the winter.

These sailors included first timers to the Mirror fleet and many new partnerships being tried out for the racing season ahead.

Conditions on the whole were very suitable with the odd zero knots of wind to 25 knots of wind reminding us that it was still winter.

The training finished with a lot of enthusiasm and eagerness to put into practice now the knowledge gained and we expect a very good turnout for the Mirror Northerns event in Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club to be held May 5/6.

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The Irish Mirror sailing season starts in less than two weeks with the first weekend of the Winter Training Programme. The winter training is held, as in previous years in Lough Ree YC, and is run over four weekend sessions between January to April. The quality of the training is only ever as good as the quality of the coaches and with Graeme Grant and Scott Flanagan the class says its 'very fortunate to have an outstanding team'.

This year’s World Championships are been held in nearby Cornwall. A good number of our sailors have already indicated that they plan to take part. We aim to use our winter training program to give them the best possible preparation. However, the winter training is aimed at all sailors, to help them improve as sailors and to get the most out of their boats. This is as relevant for club racing and the regional events as it is for the World Championships.

Most double handed dinghy sailing fleets have had a difficult time attracting numbers in recent years. The extra complexity of the rigging of a boat flying two extra sails as well as problem of finding and working with another crew member appears to put many off. These problems should be viewed against the learning of new skills that are as relevant in a dinghy as they are in a yacht, and the fun had when shared with another sailor.

The cost isn’t even particularly prohibitive when it comes to Mirrors. It’s possible to get a well cared for ten year old boat and be very competitive, even win, says Gail McAllister of the class association.

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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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