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#oga50 – It's not the boats that are the marina manager's nightmare. It's the bowsprits. That said, the boats themselves, with their long old keels and huge propellor apertures, or even with funny little props set under the quarter – these boats can be problematic. With configurations like this, you can bet for sure they can be awkward enough to manoeuvre. And handling them in confined spaces, you need a masters degree in prop crawl.

Yet that is still something to which normal boaties can relate. But then you throw in a bowsprit as big as a telegraph pole, pointing into everywhere it isn't wanted like a snouty mongrel, then you really do have a problem in a confined harbour normally used by shiny little boats that can spin in their own length, and stop within seconds of engaging in astern.

All of which goes to explain why the Old Gaffers Association, celebrating its Golden Jubilee with a Round Britain challenge with a couple of diversions to Ireland, has tended to focus on major ports with long pontoons and longer quays for its main gatherings. In Britain the festivities are sponsored by Associated British Ports, while in Ireland it has been Dublin Port and Belfast Harbour who have put out the welcome mats. So the fleet came to Dublin Bay from May 31st to June 4th to be hosted by the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Associations through the generous hospitality of Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club, and Dublin Port gave it all a fine fair wind.

The Old Gaffers Association was founded at Heybridge Basin beside the characterful little port of Maldon in Essex in 1963 to "preserve interest in, and encourage development of Gaff Rig, and to participate in the maintenance of our maritime heritage". Over the years, as some good Bermudan rig boats have matured, the gaff-rig-only line has been softened to include them, and the membership now even includes people with plastic boats.

The Golden Jubilee cruise – a season-long rolling event, with boats joining and leaving as they please - got under way from Maldon on April 21st 2013 in a very modest sort of way with just three boats initially participating, and only two of them – the 1898-built 31ft cutter Witch (Alistair Randall, originally built as the ferry to Gigha in Scotland) and the ferro-cement gaff-rigged take on a John Hannah design of 1924, the 37ft Bonify (Sue Lewis & Howard Wheelton) – planning to go the whole way round.

Bonify (red hull) is one of the two boats which started the complete circuit from Essex rolling on April 21st. She is seen here at Poolbeg Y & BC as the Howth 17s start to arrive in port on Saturday June 1st. Photo: W M Nixon

But in their charm and individuality, Witch and Bonify symbolize the eclectic nature of the Old Gaffers Association, which cheerfully embraces all the odd old boats and eccentric owners that other organisations don't reach. And in their progress round the southeast of England, they were soon linking up with a a strong Dutch contingent which included craft as diverse as Rik Janssen's mighty Galway Hooker Cine Mara (superbly built in steel) and F J Schotman's exquisite little Lyle Hess-designed 28-footer Raven.

Gradually the fleet increased as the OGA50 made its way down the English Channel. But the vile weather of May hampered their progress, and few made it to a planned meet in the Isles of Scilly. However, despite headwinds a core group got round Land's End and across to Milford Haven, their numbers by now including 73-year-old Barbara Runnalls from Sussex gallantly sailing alone on the 23ft gaff cutter Moon River.

After days of adverse northerly gales in Milford Haven, the end of May finally signalled the start of something approaching summer, and they went north to Holyhead and a warm welcome from the local branch of the OGA. There too was Joe Pennington who had earlier sailed down from the Isle of Man singlehanded in his handsome big traditional cutter Master Frank, the only surviving Manx longline sailing fishing boat. On being congratulated on his achievement, Joe replied that when you've a Force 8 up your tail, there's no turning back...

The Manx fishing boat Master Frank was sailed single-handed by Joe Pennington from Peel to Holyhead in a northerly gale to join the OGA50 Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

Through the last week of May, boats were converging on Dublin Bay from all corners of the Irish Sea, and in Howth the 115-year old classics of the Howth 17 class were in a flurry of activity to overcome the delays in re-fitting caused by the exceptionally cold Spring, as they were to race in the River Liffey between the bridges in the heart of Dublin on Sunday June 2nd as part of the maritime festival which would be a highlight of the OGA's visit.

The Howth fleet were joined on Thursday May 30th by the 36ft 1912-built yawl Ainmara (Dickie Gomes, Strangford Lough) which had scampered down from Strangford in a nor'wester which, downwind of the Mountains of Mourne, had been at the top end of Force 7. The old lady was on a busy programme, as she was designed and built by the great John B Kearney at Ringsnend in Dublin in 1912, and would be re-visiting her birthplace of 101 years ago for the first time in 90 years.

But during the time John Kearney owned her from 1912 to 1923, Ainmara had been overall winner of Howth's famous annual Lambay Race in 1921, so this had to be celebrated at Howth Yacht Club with an onboard party which had the old yawl well down on her marks. By the time it was over, Dickie Gomes had been assured by the Flag Officers that if he could see his way to staying on for this year's Lambay Race (it's on today), then HYC would make sure Ainmara won it again. But alas, as Ainmara was built in the same year as the Titanic but has survived rather better, this weekend she's berthed in Belfast at the Titanic Centre to play a central role in the OGA's visit to the northern port.

The 101 year old Ainmara in Howth on May 30th to recall her overall win in the 1921 Lambay Race Photo: W M Nixon

Meanwhile, back around Dublin Bay, she still wasn't allowed to go straight home to Ringsend, as John Kearney's latter days from 1946 to 1967 saw him as an honoured Rear Commodore of the National YC in Dun Laoghaire. So on Friday May 31st under full sail to jib topsail, she progressed across Dublin Bay helmed by Pierce Purcell of Galway, whose late father was Commodore of the National YC from 1946 to 1948, when he owned the very attractive 35ft Kearney yawl Sonia.

Pierce Purcell of Galway at Ainmara's helm in Dublin Bay – he crossed Ireland for the opportunity to sail a Kearney boat like his father used to own. Photo: W M Nixon

Sonia is now in Canada, but helming Ainmara across Dublin Bay was the next best thing. The Galway man brought Ainmara to the Dun Laoghaire harbourmouth nicely on time to be met by two of the Dublin Bay Mermaids (designed by John Kearney in 1932), which escorted the old yawl to the visitors berth at the National YC where Commodore Paul Barrington headed up his members in a welcome which was superb even by the National's notably high standards, with the club flagpole dressed overall and the signal JBK on the staff.

"The old lady is ready to race". Ainmara poised at the pontoon at the National while her welcome party proceeds apace in the clubhouse. Photo: W M Nixon

The first sailing highpoint in the OGA visit to Dublin was to be a race on Saturday June 1st for the RMS Leinster Plate, newly presented by the Communication Workers Union to honour all those who were lost when the mailboat Leinster was sunk by German torpedoes at the Kish Lighthouse in the final months of World War I, and in particular the 21 postal workers who died in the ship's mail sorting room. The plan was to have a race which would retrace at least part of the Leinster's fateful route towards the Kish from Dun Laoghaire, but Race Officer John Alvey of Poolbeg Y & BC couldn't finalise the course for guaranteed finish at a reasonable time in mid-afternoon until early Saturday morning.

It's the only way to fly. Afloat's David O'Brien with Dickie Gomes and crewman Brian Law after he'd conveyed them at record speed to the early morning Skippers' Briefing at Poolbeg Y & BC Photo: W M Nixon

So the Skippers' Briefing was at Poolbeg at 0800 hrs, with race start scheduled for Scotsmans Bay at 1100. This could have presented a logistics problem for Ainmara's crew already berthed in Dun Laoghaire, but fortunately nice Mr O'Brien from turned up in the early morning with his fine Red Bay RIB, and they were delivered to the briefing and back again at speeds well north of 30 knots, also enjoying the first of many fine breakfasts supplied by Kate and her excellent catering team at Poolbeg.

DBOGA Hon. Sec. Sean Walsh's heard 28 Tir na nOg had a good weekend of it, with a third on the Saturday and a first on Monday. Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

The Lyle Hess 28 Raven from The Netherlands had a fine race on Saturday, finishing second overall. Photo: Barry O'Loughlin
Master Frank (Joe Pennington) was to lead at the North Burford Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

Ainmara starting to emerge from the pack Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

Dutch competition – the little Raven shows the big Cine Mara the way Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

As the forecast was for the brisk west wind to go light by mid-afternoon, the course went no further seaward than the North Burford Buoy. The reaching start was lively with some very long bowsprits pointing every which way and travelling at high speed, but everyone emerged still more or less intact and at the North Burford Joe Pennington's mighty Master Frank – her crew including longtime Galway Hooker/Arctic hand Paddy Barry – was in the lead. But Ainmara, having got herself into the hunt by sending up her jib topsail as the breeze eased, was settling into the groove and revelling in conditions that might have been made for her. She was clear ahead by the next turn at the Rosbeg East, and though the final leg from Rosbeg South to a finish at Drumleck was tricky as the tide was by now sluicing eastward across it to make it a challenging beat. But thanks to the party in the National YC the night before, Ainmara had Mermaid National Champion Jonathan O'Rourke as guest helm. He sailed the old Kearney yawl so well she had a very clear handicap win after taking line honours by a country mile.


Sean Walsh's Tir na nOg and Paul Holden's Chick Pea battling it out. Photo: Barry O'Loughlin


Ainmara getting into her stride. Soon afterwards she hoisted her jib topsail, and was gone Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

While DBOGA Honorary Secretary Sean Walsh had a cracker of a race with his Heard 28 Tir na nOg, his crew including OGA National President Mike Shaw, when the numbers were crunched it was the lovely little Raven from Makkum in The Netherlands which took second, with Tir na nOg third. The top ten corrected time placings for the Leinster Plate give a useful overview of the widespread nature of the OGA Fleet:

Leinster Plate 2013 1st Ainmara (36ft yawl 1912, Richard Gomes, Strangford Lough) 01:45:39, 2nd Raven (Hess 28, F J Schotmann, Makkum, Netherlands) 01:54:26; 3rd Tir na nOg (Heard 28, Sean Walsh, Poolbeg) 01:55:56; 4th Verve (37ft Arthur Robb yawl, 1964, Brian Comerford, Dun Laoghaire) 02:07:15; 5th Master Frank (Manx Longliner, 1896, Joe Pennington, Isle of Man) 02:13:13; 6th Mona (Cornish Crabber, Denis Aylmer, Dun Laoghaire) 02:27:17; 7th High Barbaree (34ft Cornish Pilot Cutter, Tim & Liz Dodwell, Buckler's Hard, Hampshire, England) 02:27:46; 8th Chickpea (30ft Victorian cutter, Paul Holden, Howth) 02:28:39; 9th Cine Mara (42ft Galway Hooker, Rik Janssen, Schermer, Netherlands) 02:54:59; 10th Alice (Cornish Crabber, Mark Lynch, Howth) 02:56:59.

As the main fleet were finishing in the Leinster Plate, the Howth 17s were already making their way into Dublin Bay on their delivery race from Howth. In fact, two had arrived well in advance of the rest. These were Harriette Lynch's Echo and Ian Malcolm's Aura, which had come round to Dublin Bay hoping to do the Leinster Plate race. But having been late for the start, they strung along with the fleet nevertheless, and then when their doughty skippers and crews saw that the fleet clearly weren't going round the Kish as had been suggested months ago, they simply sailed their little boats out to the lonely lighthouse on their own, and having sailed round (it's in fine order, but smelling mightily of unconstipated seabirds) they sailed back again in plenty of time – despite a two-and-a-half hour beat in from the Kish - to join the party at Poolbeg. seabirds) they sailed back again in plenty of time to join the party at Poolbeg.

The successful circumnavigator of North America, Andrew Wilkes and Maire Breathnach's 44ft steel-built gaff yawl Young Larry, comes into Poolbeg to join the party. Photo: W M Nixon

And what a party it was, rounded out by the presentation of the Leinster Salver to Dickie Gomes of Ainmara. Most of the Old Gaffers, having sailed so far to get to Dublin Bay, had never intended to go straight out again for a race. So for those of us arriving in late on Saturday afternoon to join the fleet for the first time, the effect of the crazy kaleidoscope of boats – everything from Rachel Leech's 64ft Tjalk Ebenhaezer brought across Ireland via the Grand Canal from Athlone, right down to the 12ft Droleen dinghy from Bray – was electric.

Here they come – the first of the Howth 17s arrive at Poolbeg after a race fom their home port had ended in a dead heat between three boats. Photo: W M Nixon

And then the main fleet of the Howth 17s arrived, tacking up the river with jackyard topsails set. Somebody should have put up a trophy for their delivery race from Howth to the entrance to Dublin Port, for it was an epic sail in itself, much of it against the tide. With the distance to be sailed, it was assumed that a clear leader would have emerged by the time they reached the finish, so they had no-one at the end of the Bull Wall to time them in. It says everything about the spirit of the class that the three leaders were so close coming into the river that the Howth 17 Howth-Poolbeg Race 2013 has been declared a dead heat between Deilginis (Massey syndicate), Oona (Peter Courtney), and Rita (John Curley & Marcus Lynch).

Rita (1) and Deilginis (11) dead heated at the finish of Saturday's race from Howth, and they each won a race on Sunday.
Photo: W M Nixon

Rita (1) and Oona, the third boat in the dead heat in Saturday's race. Photo: W M Nixon

Looking every inch a classic, Brian & Conor Turvey's Howth 17 Isobel turns elegantly to windward in the Liffey. Photo: W M Nixon

The Saturday night saw the Poolbeg complex a hive of socializing with boat talk and boat visiting and all the usual things that sailors get up to in port. We've already given a hint of the variety of boats, but the gathering in Poolbeg also included serious stuff like the mighty 55ft Annabel-J (Philip Cogdell), authentically built in 1995 with inspiration from classic Bristol Channel Pilot cutters, and the hugely impressive 44ft steel gaff yawl Young Larry (Andrew Wilkes and Maire Breathnach), which last year completed an extraordinary cicumnavigation of North Amrica, having transitted the Northwest Passage in one season.

Through the bridge. The big pilot cutter Annabel-J and a trio of Howth 17s heading for the Eastlink. Photo: W M Nixon

The fleet's in town – the two boats right foreground are the white 31ft cutter Witch (built 1898) and the 25ft Marguerite (built 1896). Photo: W M Nixon

History in the making - Howth 17s and the lone Bray Droleen in the heart of the city Photo: W M Nixon

With boats like that all in the one place, you could have spent a week in detailed examinations. But soon enough it was Sunday morning, and at 1100 hrs the entire fleet passed through the raised Eastlink Bridge for a good-natured raft-up along the quays and up to the MV Cill Airne (the restaurant boat), aboard which Dublin Bay OGA President Tim Magennis was over-seeing commentary duties during a hectic day which included two in-river races by Howth 17s, a crazy and wonderful maritime ballet by Dublin Port's state-of-the-art multiple movement tugs, the Shackleton and the Beaufort, there were informal parades by all sorts of craft including an authentic currach with an even more authentic piper, then too there was Yoshe the famous old gaffer dog from the Netherlands in his little dinghy powered by a vintage Seagull outboard, a Sikorski helicopter from air sea rescue put in an appearance, and somewhere in the middle of it all the Howth 17s put in two races in very light conditions which made it like a sort of waterborne mystery play, but they still got two good sets of results even if the wind died before they could sail a final race.

There was a very close river race between Marcus Lynch sailing Rita (1) and Davy Jones sailing Eileen (16) Photo: W M Nixon

Deilginis (Team Massey) won the second river race. Photo: W M Nixon

So it was announced that instead of having to make do with only one winner, they were ahead of the game – they'd finished the day with two champions. The first heat was really close, with Rita (Marcus Lynch and John Curley) staving off repeated challenges by Eileen sailed by Davy Jones and George Curley, with Conor & Brian Turvey in Isobel placing third. The other heat, in even flukier conditions, saw the Massey team in Deilginis come from nowhere by working a private air along the north side of the river (they're Northsiders of course) to take a clear lead from Peter Courtney in Oona, with Silver Moon, sailed by Windsor Laudan and Steph Ennis, placing third.

Senior sailors. Tim Magennis (President DBOGA, right) congratulates Dickie Gomes, skipper of Ainmara and winner of the Leinster Plate 2013, aboard the Cill Airne during the riverfest. Photo: W M Nixon

Dublin Port's state-of-the-art tugboats gave a fantastic display Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

Old Gaffer pooch Koshe sailed to Dublin from The Netherlands, and toured the Liffey with his vintage Seagull outboard.
Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

Sails in the city Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

Water music, Liffey style Photo: W M Nixon

Needless to say when the Eastlink Bridge lifted again at mid-afternoon, despite highfalutin plans for a parade of sail everyone seemed to try leaving at once, but fortunately good humour prevailed on all sides. Invitably with the nature of a project like the Round Britain Challenge, some boats were already starting to think of moving on towards the next major gathering at Belfast this weeknd. And not surprisingly in a crowd of gadgeteers like the Old Gaffers, there were those for whom the siren call of the Isle of Man at TT time was just too good to resist.

When the Eastlink lifted, everyone tried to leave at once, but there were no bumps. 64ft Ebenhaezer from Athlone (foreground) had the sense to wait. Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

Winding down – summer evening at Poolbeg Photo: W M Nixon

Through the Sunday night, boats were quietly slipping away from the convivial throng at Poolbeg to head northeast for Peel under the Manx hills, and petrolhead heaven. But for others, it was a matter of gentle morning departure, after fulsome thanks to the kind hosts and wonderful hospitality of Poolbeg, away for a gentle and very sunny Bank Holiday Monday rounding of the Baily with Annabel J and Ainmara together, the big pilot cutter on a very leisurely progress for the first day with a new crew, planning a stop for lunch at Lambay and an overnight at Skerries, while the old yawl, her prizes secure, went on past the roseate terns rampant at Rockabill, and fetched up that night comfortably in Ardglass.

Quiet day at sea – Annabel-J on passage towards Lambay on Bank Holiday Monday Photo: W M Nixon

But for some really keen Old Gaffer sailors, Bank Holiday Monday in Dublin Bay meant the first race for the Asgard Trophy, created by conservator John Kearon from bits saved from the saving of Erskine Childers' Asgard up in Collins Barracks. With the high pressure system well settled on Ireland, it was into the afternoon before there was a hint of a breeze, but the fleet had waited in patience, and they got a race and a result.

This time round, it was Tir na nOg's turn to take the prize by 63 seconds from Denis Aylmer's Mona, which means that over the two races of OGA50 racing in Dublin, Sean Walsh's cutter is the overall winner. He certainly deserves it – the quiet but steady effort as DBOGA Honorary Secretary that Sean put in over the winter to bring it all together made for a fantastic time for everyone.

Asgard Trophy 2013 1st Tir na nOg (Sean Walsh, Poolbeg) 00:52:11; 2nd Mona (Denis Aylmer, Dun Laoghaire) 00:53:14; 3rd Verve (Brian Comerford, Dun Laoghaire), 00:53:48; 4th Dreva (1936 34ft gaff cutter, Joe Ormond, North Wales) 00:54:53; 5th Marguerite (1896 25ft gaff cutter, owned Tim Magennis Dun Laoghaire, sailed Sean Cullen) 00:57:03.

This weekend, the fleet are well gathered in the new Belfast Harbour Marina right beside the extraordinary Titanic Belfast centre, close to the newly-restored ship Nomadic, the "miniature Titanic". She is so newly re-commissioned that tonight's OGA50 party on board is the first official function on Nomadic in decades. And then the fleet heads on, some to return directly to their home ports, others to continue the circuit via the Caledonian Canal, and others like Annabel-J making a real job of it by going north to the Shetlands before finally shaping their course southwards to many hospitable ports before the OGA50 Challenge reaches its conclusion with a mighty gathering in Cowes in mid-August.

We enjoyed our new friendships made at Poolbeg in the glorious first weekend of June. Now we'll follow their summer-long progress with special interest, these lovely people with their long bowsprits, their weird and wonderful boats, and their engaging enthusiasm.


Where is everyone? Ainmara was one of the first to reach Belfast, and is seen here berthed at the new Titanic Belfast centre on Tuesday evening. The OGA50 party continues there tonight. Photo: W M Nixon

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Published in W M Nixon

#oga – In testing conditions on Dublin Bay, one of its own took line honours in yesterday's inaugural Leinster Trophy race on Dublin Bay. The 36ft yawl Ainmara built by John Kearney in Ringsend in 1912 and campaigned by Dickie Gomes of Strangford Lough took the race over a round Dublin Bay course of eight miles.

Upwards of ten boats participated in the first race of the Old Gaffers Association's 50th anniversary this bank holiday weekend, hosted by the Poolbeg Yacht Club, part of a necklace of events in the Round Britain Challenge to mark the association's 50th anniversary.

The 36ft–yawl Ainmara, immaculately restored by Gomes, marked her return to Dublin bay waters last Friday when she sailed back to the National Yacht Club, her first return in 90 years. Gomes with crew Brian Law and Afloat's W M Nixon were welcomed by another Kearney design, the Dublin Bay Mermaid at the harbour mouth and escorted to her East Pier berth, for an evening of celebration at the club house where Kearney was a former flag officer. 

For more on the legacy of John Kearney read WM Nixon's blog and for more of the Old Gaffers click here.

Published in Historic Boats

#irishmaritimehistory –  It was a life which would have been remarkable by any standards, in any place, at any time. But in the Dublin of its era, this was a life of astonishing achievement against all the odds, in a rigidly structured society made even more conservative by a time of global unrest and national upheaval.

John Breslin Kearney (1879-1967) was born of a longshore family in the heart of Ringsend in Dublin, the eldest of four sons in a small house in Thorncastle Street. The crowded old houses backed onto the foreshore along the River Dodder in a relationship with the muddy inlet which was so intimate that at times of exceptional tidal surges, any ground floor rooms were at risk of flooding.

But at four of the houses, it enabled the back yards to be extended to become the boatyards of Foley, Murphy, Kearney and Smith. Other houses on Thorncastle Street provided space for riverside sail lofts, marine blacksmith workshops, traditional ropeworks, and all the other long-established specialist trades which served the needs of fishing boats, and the small vessels - rowed and sailed - with which the hobblers raced out into Dublin Bay and beyond to provide pilotage services for incoming ships. And increasingly, as Dublin acquired a growing middle class with the burgeoning wealth of the long Victorian era, the little boatyards along the Dodder also looked after the needs of the boats of the new breed of recreational summer sailors.

The young John Kearney was particularly interested in this aspect of activity at his father's boatyard, where he worked during time away from school. From an early age, he developed a natural ability as a boat and yacht designer, absorbing correspondence courses and testing his skills from 1897 onwards, when he designed and built his first 15ft sailing dinghy, aged just 18.

He was apprenticed in boat-building to Dublin Port & Docks across the river, qualifying as a master shipwright. But his talents were such that he rose to the top in all the areas of the port which required the designing and making of specialised structures, some of them very large. So in addition to building workboats of all sizes, he played a key role in projects like the new pile lighthouse at the North Bull, for which he developed support legs threaded like giant corkscrews, and rotated into the seabed like monster coachbolts.


Murphy's Boatyard on the Dodder in Ringsend in the rare old times is perfectly captured in this woodcut by Harry Kernoff RHA. It was all disappeared in 1954, when the old houses of Thorncastle Street were replaced by a complex of Corporation flats of such good quality that they have recently had a major refurbishment.

He also pioneered the use of reinforced concrete for pre-fabricated harbour constructions, and when the Great War broke out in 1914, his special talents and experience were called upon to advise on quick-build ferrocement structures of all kinds. Although Ireland remained neutral as World War II broke out in 1939, the Dublin engineering firm of Smith and Pearson established a yard in Warrenpoint just across the border to build concrete barges and small ships for war work, and John Kearney was their consultant.

So far-reaching was his input into developing the infrastructure of Dublin port that when he retired in 1944, while his official title was as Superintendent of Construction Works, he was de facto the Harbour Engineer. But he couldn't be properly acknowledged as such, because he had never qualified from a third level college - it was far from universities that the Kearneys of Ringsend were reared.

However, this lack of an official title left him unfazed, for his retirement at the age of 65 meant he could concentrate full-time on his parallel career as a yacht designer, something that was so important to him that when his gravestone was erected in Glasnevin in 1967, it simply stated: John Kearney, Yacht Designer.

He had developed his skills in this area ever since his first boat in 1897. In 1901, when he was still 21, a 17ft clinker-built canoe yawl, the Satanella which Kearney designed and built for noted Dublin Bay sailor Pat Walsh, was praised in the London yachting press. Her owner camping-cruised this little boat successfully along the great rivers of Europe before World War 1, getting there simply by sailing his canoe from Dun Laoghaire into Dublin Docks, and striking a shipping deal with whichever ship's captain was heading for a port on the desired river.

Kearney had been busy for the ensuing nine years with his growing responsibilities in Dublin Port. But in 1910 he reserved a corner of Murphy's Yard, and in the next eighteen months, working in his spare time entirely by hand with the light of oil lamps, he built his first personal dreamship, the 36ft gaff yawl Ainmara, to his own design. In this his first proper yacht, he immediately achieved the Kearney hallmark of a handsome hull which looks good from any angle, a seakindly boat which was gentle with her crew yet had that priceless ability of the good cruising yacht – she could effortlessly maintain a respectable average speed over many miles while sailing the high seas in comfort.

Built in straightforward style of pitchpine planking on oak, Ainmara was highly regarded, and though the world was at war for four of the ten years John Kearney owned her, when he could sail his preferred cruising ground was Scotland. She was no slouch on the race course either. Her skipper became a member of Howth Sailing Club in 1920, and HSC's annual Lambay Race became a Kearney speciality, his first recorded overall win being in 1921 when, in a breezy race, Ainmara won the cruisers by one-and-a-half minutes.

Despite the turmoils of Ireland's War of Independence and Civil War, in the early 1920s John Kearney's position with the Port & Docks had become so secure that in 1923 he felt sufficiently confident to sell Ainmara in order to clear the way to build himself a new boat, the superb 38ft yawl Mavis, which was launched in July 1925. He was to own, cruise and race her with great success for nearly thirty years, by which time he was a pillar of the Dun Laoghaire sailing establishment – he'd a house in Monkstown, and had become Rear Commodore of the National Yacht Club, a position he held until his death in 1967.

Even with the demands of his work, and the continuing attention needed to run a yacht of the calibre of Mavis, he had found the time to design and sometimes also build other yachts of many types. What he didn't seem to have time for was simple domesticity. In later years his presence was enough to command respect, but in his vigorous younger days he could be waspish, to say the least, and a brief attempt at marriage was not a success.

Sibling relationships were also sometimes tense. Two of his brothers were boatbuilders and one of them, Jem, was almost always daggers-drawn with John. And Jem Kearney had regular battles with others, too. He was a classic Dublin character, and no stranger to salmon netting on the Liffey in circumstances of questionable legality. If one of these expeditions had been spectacularly successful, he would erupt triumphantly back into his family's little house on the East Wall Road and announce: "Pack you bags, Mrs Kearney, we're off to stay in the Gresham!" And he meant it, too. Mr & Mrs Jem Kearney of the East Wall Road became resident in the Gresham Hotel until the salmon money ran out.

So when he was building Mavis, John Kearney would only work with his brother Tom, and they were a fantastic team. But even that didn't last. One November night, working away at planking the hull, they took a break for a mug of tea at 9.30pm, and couldn't find the sugar. Each blamed the other for its absence. The row was seismic. The following night, each turned up with his own personal supply of tea, milk and sugar. And the work continued as smoothly as ever. But not one single word was exchanged between the two brothers for the remaining eight months of the project. It was years before they spoke again.

Quite what this meant when Mavis launched herself on St Stephens Day 1924 we can only guess. Like Ainmara eleven years earlier, Mavis could only be accommodated in Murphy's shed by being built in a large trench, and an exceptional Spring tide on December 26th 1924 saw her unplanned flotation. There was no damage done, but history doesn't record whether it was John and Tom who sorted the problem together despite not saying a word.

The immaculate Mavis made an immediate and successful impact, and Skipper Kearney and his beloved gaff yawl were honoured guests at regattas all along the east coast. While continuing to work full time for the Port & Docks, he kept up the spare-time yacht-building, but after the experiences with Mavis, when a regular Kearney crewmember, Billy Blood-Smyth, commissisoned a new 35ft gaff yawl from the skipper, it was client and designer who had to work together in the familiar corner of Murphy's yard to build the boat which became Sonia, launched in 1929.

Irish sailing was in a very quiet phase through the 1930s. Just about the only expanding organization was the Irish Cruising Club, and naturally John B Kearney and Mavis were on the first membership list in 1930, with Mavis a regular competitor in its offshore races, with a notable victory in the stormy 1935 race to the Isle of Man, a performance which won special praise from another participant, Humphrey Barton who was to found the Ocean Cruising Club 19 years later.


Mavis coming into port after winning the Clyde Cruising Club's annual Tobermory Race in 1938. Club rules at the time stipulated that as proper cruising yachts, the competing boats should tow their tenders throughout this race. Much effort went into designing sweet-lined dinghies.

Mavis also was overall winner of the Clyde Cruising Club's Tobermory Race in 1938. But while his own sailing was going splendidly, John Kearney was concerned at the sluggish state of sailing development in Ireland. In order to give younger people an opportunity to own their own boat, in 1932 he created the design for the 17ft Mermaid, a large clinker-built sailing dinghy which was designed to be constructed for around £180 - roughly the same price as a motorbike. The Mermaid was adopted by Dublin Bay SC, but it took a long time to gain momentum, and it wasn't until the late 1940s and early 1950s that it became the most popular class in the greater Dublin area. It is still active today with nearly 200 boats built, and more than 40 took part in its 80th Anniversary championship last summer in Skerries, the winner being Jonathan O'Rourke from the National YC,while the furthest travelled was Patrick Boardman's Thumbalina from Rush, which had started from Foynes on the Shannon Estuary, home to the most distant Mermaid fleet, and had – most impressively - sailed all the way round the south coast to Skerries to mark the 80th birthday.


The Mermaid was designed in 1932 to be built at the same price as the average motor-bike

With his retirement in 1944, John Kearney's design work came centre stage, and he was busy to the end, creating more than 20 cruising yachts in all. And life in Monkstown was pleasant. Over the door of the room where he did his design work, he'd a little motto on a brass plate: "God gives us our relatives. Thank God we can choose our friends". His close friends were all from sailing, and it was a crew member who had joined Mavis in 1946, the formidable Miss Douglas, who became his friend and housekeeper and looked after him to the end of his long and remarkable life.


John Kearney, aged 83, working at the drawings of his last design, the 54ft yawl Helen of Howth Photo: Tom Hudson


Sonia, built 1929, cruising in British Columbia, her home waters since 1958 Photo: Jeff Graham

John Kearney's entire life is in its way a great legacy, and his fine boats are his tangible memorials. They've ventured to the far corners of the world. For instance, the 30ft Evora, a lovely Bermudan yawl which he designed for building by Skinner's of Baltimore in 1936, was last reported from Darwin in Australia. The pretty Sonia of 1929 is well at home these days in British Columbia. And as for Mavis, the crème de la crème, she is currently undergoing a painstaking restoration in Maine by shipwright Ron Hawkins, who is very encouraged by the amount of original material he is able to retain.


Ron Hawkins in Mavis at an early stage of his restoration project Photo: Hal Sisk


Ron Hawkins has been much encouraged by the amount of original material he has been able to retain in restoring Mavis Photo: Denise Pukas

John Kearney's first proper yacht, the 9-tonner Ainmara from 1912, has been owned for 47 years by former Round Ireland record holder Dickie Gomes of Strangford Lough. Last year, she celebrated her Centenary with a cruise to the Outer Hebrides. This year - next week in fact - she hopes to be in Dublin Bay for the Old Gaffers Association Golden Jubilee. And as it will be at Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club, Ainmara will be back home in Ringsend for the first time in 90 years, and John Breslin Kearney will be well remembered, and celebrated too.


Still going strong. Dickie Gomes is the happy owner aboard Ainmara, which will be returning to Ringsend next week 101 years after she was built there to his own designs by John B Kearney Photo: W M Nixon

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#oga50 – The continuing harsh weather has made it rugged going for vintage boats and veteran owners as they get themselves together for this year's Old Gaffers Association 50th Anniversary cruise, which started on April 21st in a brief spell of gentler Springlike conditions from Maldon in Essex, birthplace of the OGA in 1963.

The format of the cruise is a voyage round Great Britain, with some boats going all the way while others join and leave as they please. There's a diversion in a fortnight's time in the Irish Sea westward to Dublin Bay for the Bank Holiday weekend at the start of June, and this will see the OGA50's first assembly of classic and traditional boats in significant numbers. With the programme continuing throughout the summer, numbers will continue to build until it concludes with a mighty Golden Jubilee regatta in Cowes in mid-August.

The Old Gaffer enthusiasts are nothing if not individualists, with boats to match, so getting them to move in the same direction, and at the same time, is about as easy as herding cats. As for speeds, they vary enormously, so it is it all being done within broad parameters, with reliance on good will and the camaraderie of the sea to keep together a fleet of mind-boggling diversity.

The April starters from the heartlands of the association in places like Maldon and Pin Mill and other East Anglian ports were soon joined by a strong contingent from the Netherlands, and gradually they've made their way south and west with the first proper gathering taking place in Southampton Water on May 4th and 5th.

Sailing their home waters of the Thames Estuary takes it own special skills, but it's only natural that those who are more accustomed to working their way among sheltered mudbanks tend to see the coastlines down towards Land's End and the Atlantic as a particularly challenging area. Unfortunately, the seaways and the weather Down West have done nothing to diminish this, with Maytime snow falling in Devon, and winds of Force 10 seeing the boats holed up in every port from the Solent down to Penzance.


Thames sailing barges at Pin Mill in East Anglia, a world away from the rugged Atlantic waters of Land's End. The founders of the Old Gaffers Association in 1963 kept their boats at snug ports like this, but their Golden Jubilee Cruise is taking on the challenge of sailing on waters of all kinds. Photo: W M Nixon

But with the handsome 55ft Annabelle J (Philip Cogdell) setting the pace as befits a 1995 take on the classic Bristol Channel Pilot cutter concept, this weekend the leaders have reached Milford Haven to link up with boats from South Wales and the Bristol Channel area. The festivities will be mighty, but with the challenge of Land's End astern, the distances are now modest, and it becomes a sort of royal procession, as in a week's time they'll be making the scene in Holyhead. And after that, it's only 55 miles across Channel to join the growing throng in Dublin Bay.

The 55ft Annabel J steps out at the initial sailpast in Southampton a fortnight ago. She has been setting the pace in the gale-dogged progression down to Land's End and north to Milford Haven. Photo: Keith Allso

Every finger a marlin spike.......a pair of hard chaws convince themselves that summer has arrived aboard Aeolus in the Southampton sailpast Photo: Keith Allso

Obviously such a relaxed programme anticipates that different crews will have their own variations on the basic themes, and already one of the Dutch participants, Rik Janssen's 46ft Cine Mara, has kept to the northwest after Land's End, and is heading for Cork. But that was always on the cards, as Cine Mara is a steel-built Galway Hooker, and if she doesn't actually get to Galway Bay, at least some Galwegians might come a-visiting if she can get to Cork before heading for Dublin Bay.


The 46ft Cine Mara (Rik Janssen) is a steel-built Galway Hooker


Built by the Dublin co-operative which owns and sails her, the Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan is a regular participant in Old Gaffer events. Photo: W M Nixon

By the time Dublin Bay is reached, there'll be enough gaffers of all kinds taking part to satisfy even the most fastidious enthusiasts, and entries include the senior of them all, Adrian "Stu" Spence's much-travelled 43ft former Bristol Channel pilot cutter Madcap from Strangford Lough, built in Cardiff in 1875. There's even a 64 footer coming direct from the west from the Midlands, down the Shannon from Athlone, then through the Grand Canal to the Liffey. This is Rachel Leech's 64ft Dutch tjalk Ebenhaezer, normally an adornment of Lough Ree, but the Poolbeg party was too good to miss.

Joining her from about as far east as it is possible to get in England is another cutter of special interest, the 1898-built Witch (Alastair Randall). With her home port on the lovely Walton Backwaters, Witch is a long way from her birthplace, as she was designed and built by Dickie's of Tarbert on Loch Fyne to be the sailing ferryboat for the Scottish island of Gigha, a role which she fulfilled for 20 year before being converted to a cruising yacht in 1918.

The 31ft cutter Witch was built in 1898 to be the ferry boat for the Scottish island of Gigha.

Even as Witch was under construction in Tarbert, across the North Channel in Carrickfergus on Belfast Lough the first five boats of the Howth 17 class were being built by John Hilditch to the designs of Herbert Boyd. All five boats are still sailing 115 years later, they have thirteen newer sister-ships also surviving, and around a dozen of the class will be taking part in the OGA 50th events in Dublin Bay.

The programme is busy, to say the least. The main event on Saturday June 1st is a race for the cruisers for the RMS Leinster Trophy, which has been presented by the postal workers union to commemorate the hundreds who were lost on RMS Leinster when she was sunk by two torpedoes from a German U Boat in 1918 five miles east of the Kish, remembering in particular the 21 postal workers who died in the mail-sorting room when the ship went down in minutes.

The race course will start from Dun Laoghaire, and will follow at least part of the Leinster's route on that fateful day, before returning to Dublin Bay and a finish at Poolbeg. By that time the Howth 17s should be there, as they start from Howth at 0900hrs on the Saturday morning to get into Dublin Bay before the tide starts to run north.

On Sunday, the entire fleet goes up the Liffey through the East Link and is based along the quays, while the Seventeens stage a historic in-city race between the bridges. Then it's back to Poolbeg that evening, and on Monday things wind down in gentler style with a 1300 hrs start for an all-comers race in Dublin Bay for the Asgard Trophy, specially made by marine conservator John Kearon from spare materials saved from Erskine Childers' Asgard when he was in charge of the preservation process.

It's an appropriate way to conclude the Dublin Bay events, as many of the boats taking part are miracles of loving preservation projects. It's a matter of wonder, for instance, that the Howth 17s are not only still going, but they're still going strong. It's not as if they're handled gently when they're sailed. On the contrary, after 115 years, they're still raced flat out. Maybe there's a lesson for us all in this.


It's the way they sail them....The 1898-built Howth 17 Aura (Ian Malcolm) enjoying a bit of extreme sport in wind-over-tide conditions in Howth Sound. Photo: Jaimie Blandford


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"Harbour rots ships and ruins men". So said Horatio Nelson. He not only knew it from his own extensive command experience, but from time to time during long stays in port, he proved it personally with cringe-making results. He should have remembered that other saying of the sea: A busy ship is a happy ship. And at a more basic level, surveyors and boat maintenance experts will tell you the simple truth, that boats and their equipment usually don't get worn out, but they slowly rot through disuse.

With modern materials, it's not rot as they'd have known it in Nelson's day. But whatever you might call it, it makes things non-functional. Yet a boat which is on the move - sailing regularly and extensively - soon has everything working sweetly, for the demands of the sea are such that the attitude of "sure 'twill do" soon provides its own come-uppance.

Out in the west, they've an attractive boat which is making a fair bid to be a perpetual motion machine, with everything functioning smoothly. It's not that long ago that Martin Breen of Galway bought the Reflex 38 Lynx, but since then she has been in the frame in so many major offshore events, and under so many different sponsorship names, that you could be forgiven for thinking he's owned her for more than a decade, and that there are two or three different boats involved.

At the time he bought her, we noted that she seemed to be the ideal size of boat for Irish conditions. The First 40.7, globally the most successful production-built frontline offshore racer of the past twenty years and a super boat with it, is just that little bit too big for Irish conditions in terms of personnel demands and maintenance requirements. But if you go down to some of the hotter 36ft and 34ft machines, you often find you're missing the boat in terms of catching tidal patterns, and the basic realities of seagoing comfort, even though the brilliant J/109 frequently proves otherwise.

Settling in shortly after the start of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle, 2011

But 38ft LOA - that is just spot on. When Christian Stimson created what is now the Reflex 38 in 1998, he came up with a concept which has withstood the test of time. She can sail up to her rating, and has proven a steady and successful performer in a wide variety of conditions, proving that the comment by Robert Scheidt - that sailing is a consistency sport - applies every bit as much offshore as in the bays.

Successful debut. Dawn comes gently over the boat in winning mode in the Dun Laogaire-Dingle Race 2011

Pre-start manoeuvres off Wicklow at the 2012 Round Ireland Race

The new Breen boat made her Irish debut with the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race in 2011, and really stuffed it into the fleets from other Irish coasts, for she raced as Galway Harbour, and had an excellent overall win. Then last year it was active members of NUI Galway SC past and present who took her over under the leadership of Cathal Clarke, and they became the ICRA Boat of the Year with a superb all-round programme which included a class win in a major ISORA race, and the class win – including beating the hottest Reflex 38 from Britain – in the Round Ireland Race.


Not always sunny – determined conditions in the Round Ireland Race 2012

Grey day at sea, Round Ireland Race 2012, with Joan Mulloy from Mayo SC trimming the spinnaker

Between times, the boat didn't rest, as Martin Breen has his own crew for inshore regattas. But this year, the pace is into an even higher gear with Aodhan Fitzgerald (who has been involved since the boat first reached Ireland) in overall charge offshore in a programme which is simply mind-boggling. It was launched yesterday evening in Galway with the boat now in the Discover Ireland livery, and she'll be promoting the Emerald Isle and The Gathering Cruise in a series of campaigns which start today off Rinville at 1000hrs with the 60-mile Clarenbridge Crystal Race in Galway Bay. The crew will be clad from head to toe in new kit provided by Dubarry, with the boat setting a fine new set of threads from Des McWilliam, saling in conditions which look most unlikely to include any calm spots.

Then it's off to Scotland round Ireland's bumpy nor'west corner for the Scottish Series from May 24th to 27th with the boat to be raced by Martin Breen's GBSC team, then south to Dun Laoghaire to be on station for defending the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle title, starting the 266 mile course (which is also a Fastnet qualifier) on June 7th, then on from Dingle it's immediately into the WIORA and ICRA championships just round the corner at Fenit on Tralee Bay, then before June is out, they're challenging for the Sovereign's Cup in Kinsale.

The gang's all here – the 15-strong crew panel's select offshore squad

The total crew panel is 15, ranging in age from 19 to 55, and for the offshore programme the lineup is Aodhan Fitzgerald (skipper/navigator), Johnny Murphy (tactician/trimmer), Neil Spain (driver), Ben Scallan (driver), Martin Breen (driver), Cathal Clarke (bowman), Joan Mulloy (trimmer), Nigel Moss (trimmer), Ruairi de Faoite (mast), and Louis Mulloy (bowman).

While the crew emphasis is on Connacht, in the way of offshore racing this team also includes people from most other parts of Ireland, people that you'd meet in the course of other campaigns, people who seem to fit in with your own boat's way of doing things. If you tried to delineate a clear career path on how to become part of a group like this, you'd find it very difficult. There is no clearcut way. It seems to happen by a mixture of telepathy and osmosis. You are impressed by the way people are sailing another boat, and you make it your business to get them inside your tent.

Because for sure, the business of successfully balancing different temperaments is going to be paramount in a season in which they're only getting going as the Sovereign's Cup draws to a close. The high point of the year is going to be the Rolex Fastnet Race in August. By the time the boat gets to Cowes, she'll have sailed more than a thousand miles in delivery trips.

Stating the obvious? Starting the Rolex Fastnet Race with this message emblazoned on your topsides is going to invite ribald comment from the opposition. But displaying something similar has proven successful in the past.

And there she'll be in the Solent among 350 other Fastnet wannabees, with Discover Ireland boldly displayed along her topsides. They'll be getting some smartass comments about that. After all, what else is the Fastnet Race all about? Back in 1975, when the Golden Jubilee Fastnet Race included a fleet for classics racing for the Iolaire Block presented by Don Street, one splendid old gaff cutter had her crew all kitted out in crisp new T-shirts, each one imprinted with different letters. When they all lined up along the rail, those T-shirts read: "What is the way to the Fastnet Rock, please?" In Irish. And it worked. They won the Iolaire Block, even though Iolaire was herself racing. So let's hope that having emblazoned prominently on the topsides is going to be equally successful in the Fastnet Race for the boat formerly known as Lynx.

What with this extraordinary campaign, and the news this week about Galway plunging ahead with its new harbour, it's very clear that in the 21st Century, it's totally superfluous to warble on about the west being awake. For a long time now, it hasn't been asleep.

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#dublinbay – The notion of an island on the Burford Bank at the mouth of Dublin Bay was mooted by Afloat's W M Nixon in his Sailing on Saturday blog on January 5th 2013, but now the idea has been aired again by Dun Laoghaire Green Party politico Ciaran Cuffe in his blog. He brings in references to other studies more serious than our light-hearted speculation, and links to a presumably artificial island off Copenhagen which seems to have become, in appearance at least, a Danish version of Cork Harbour's Spike Island.

We would point out that there's virtually no tide in the Copenhagen area, while the waters are more sheltered than the tide-riven surf battered conditions found out on the Burford Bank. And the Burford is of course totally made out of sand which - as any beach walker in Dublin can attest – is capable of being moved in hundreds of thousands of tons by just one tidal cycle. But who knows, as our item on January 5th pointed out, the Bull Island is a recent creation. That said, we also carried the warning that an inhabited sand island off Clontarf disappeared in a storm in 1844, taking an unfortunate father and son with it.

Extract from 05/01/13


Why on earth are people throwing up their hands in horror at the news that hundreds of thousands of tons of material extracted from tunneling in Dublin is going to be dumped about three miles out to sea just beyond the mouth of the bay? This isn't a problem. This is an opportunity.

It has long been obvious that the Leinster coast needs more islands. In watching Sean Cullen's fascinating presentation about the INFOMAR surveys in December at Poolbeg Y & BC, and in particular his computerized displays showing the details of Dublin Bay, it became immediately obvious that the Burford Bank is an island which is just waiting to happen.

Think of how much more interesting Dublin Bay would be with its own Sable Island stretching for a mile or two north-south out where the Burford is now awash, providing shelter and an anchorage and somewhere to see, and maybe even visit?

After all, it's not so long ago that the Bull Island simply didn't exist. Yet now, thanks to the limited technology of the 19th Century in building the North Bull Wall, there it is – the Bull Island is one of the most important, welcome and popular features of the entire bay.

So surely with 21st Century technology we can manage something, and further out in the bay at that. But before creating new islands, be mindful that Dublin Bay has lost at least one. There used to be a Clontarf Island, and you can still see the remains of a house that was reputedly on it when you turn right off the Alfie Byrne Road to go along the front of Clontarf towards Howth. It looks like the ribs of an old shipwreck, or even the framework of a wooden pier, but it's apparently the lower skeleton of the house still there, but the island long gone.

Clontarf Island was noted as a healthy place to be when Dublin was afflicted by plague, so in the 1830s a wooden summer house was built on it by a Dublin publican called Christopher Cromwell. He is said to have been a descendant of Oliver Cromwell, and no, I'm not making this up, but somebody else may well have done so once upon a time. Anyway, on the 9th October 1844 Christopher and his ten year old son William were overnighting out on their island, and a mighty storm came up and swept everything away, sadly including father and son – their bodies were found along the shore, while most of the house was splintered along the then-new Great Northern Railway embankment, which ran along the beach but is now well inland.

It may well be that the reclaiming of land along the East Wall road with the consequent narrowing of the Tolka Estuary meant the island was also being eroded by the river as well as the sea, but it is a fact that an island which was shown clearly on all maps until 1844 – and whose ownership was at times disputed – had simply disappeared after the massive Autumn storm of 1844.

So we should bear this in mind when planning to build Burford Island. But with the ready availability of the basic material thanks to all this stuff which is going to be tunneled soon in Dublin, some rapid planning is necessary before it is all wasted by being dribbled into the sea somewhere off the Baily.

The great yacht designer John B Kearney, in his day job as the de facto Harbour Engineer to Dublin Port, led the way in experimenting with screw-in piling to support the North Bull Lighthouse at the entrance to Dublin Port. It would be a fine memorial to him if we could use the Kearney technique to drive a couple of hundred giant corkscrews into the Burford Bank in order to hold the tunnel waste in place, and thereby allow a sandbank to build up just like the Bull Island above high water level.

With the creation and expansion of the Bull Island almost within living memory, we have a very accurate record of the sort of plants which thrive in island-building in Dublin Bay, and a repeat of this out at the Burford would be a wonderful exercise which would provide employment for many specialists, and also of course be a tourist attraction.

In no time at all we would have the new island well covered with tough marram grass. Soon after that we could experiment with easy-growing cordylines, as most people think they're palm trees, and who are we to teach them otherwise? For what we want is an island in place in jig time, and if it looks like vaguely like an island of the South Pacific, so much the better. In no time at all there'd be a golf course on it, and then a casino, and a hundred years hence people will want to keep it exactly as it has become, because by then it will be an important part of our heritage.

Dunmore East is a charmingly located and picturesque coastal village, whose enormous potential as a holiday and maritime centre is blighted by having an outdated and rather drab industrial zone at its core. For it has the misfortune to be trapped in its historical position as a long-established fisheries port. This means that the administration of the harbour – which should be the pleasant heart of the village – has been rigidly strait-jacketed into serving and promoting the demands of the fishing industry, often to the exclusion and certainly the detriment of the possible needs of any other potential harbour users, both afloat and ashore.

Were Dunmore East located on another part of Ireland's coastline, this might not matter too much. But the village is a popular holiday resort, and the harbour is in an absolutely key strategic location at local, regional, national and international levels in recreational boating. It is at the heart of a fine sailing area which – if there were proper berthing facilities available – would be ideal for hosting major events. An immediate example is the ICRA Nationals. Dunmore East would be a perfect location for this national annual cruiser-racer championship, yet there's no way it will be considered until the harbour is more welcoming to recreational boating.

But not only is Dunmore a potential venue port, it is the gateway to the largely untapped cruising potential of Waterford Estuary, and the Suir, Barrow and Nore rivers. In any other country in the world, this beautiful cruising land of the Three Sisters would be perceived as a national treasure. But in Ireland it is still receiving only minimal attention because the key to the whole place, the gateway port of Dunmore East, has not been welcoming.


Dunmore East is both the heart of the coast, and the gateway to the magic cruising area of the Three Sisters - the estuaries of the Rivers Suir, Barrow and Nore. Photo: Google maps

Looking at the broader picture, Dunmore East's inhospitality affects the movement of cruising boats sailing along the coast. The large boat populations of the Irish Sea are discouraged from making the lengthy passage to the prime cruising areas of West Cork and Kerry because they're put off by knowing that if the urgent need arises, a visit to Dunmore East might not be a pleasant experience. Were the opposite the case, there would be an increase in the number of boats cruising the Irish coast generally. And a good experience in Dunmore East would also encourage them to sample the unexpected delights of cruising up to Waterford City or the port of New Ross, and visiting places little known to cruising men such as Duncannon, Arthurstown, Ballyhack and Cheek Point, not to mention the quiet anchorage behind Little Island in King's Channel.


One of the Waterford Estuary's little known anchorages is in Kings Channel behind Little Island immediately east of Waterford City. Photo: W M Nixon

But you get only one chance to make a favourable first impression, and in recent years Dunmore East has been failing to do that. One of the saddest things about the place is the Visitors Book in the hospitable Waterford Harbour Sailing Club. Time was when each summer would produce a long list of the crews of visiting boats from near and far, and their enthusiastic comments. But these days the list has reduced to a trickle as the increasingly hostile demands of the harassed fishing industry have made the harbour bad-tempered, a place to be avoided.

Yet just along the coast, 15 miles to the eastward beyond Hook Point, there's a smaller port which manages to be both a thriving fishing port, and a welcoming marina. Kilmore Quay misses almost all the natural advantages of Dunmore East, as it's on an exposed and rocky coast. But it has just about everything else that Dunmore East lacks – it has enthusiasm, visible hospitality, and a can-do approach for boats of all sorts. So though it has the disadvantage that once berthed there, there is little you can do except stay put if the weather deteriorates, in every other way Kilmore Quay is streets ahead.

This is surely because Kilmore Quay is owned and run by Wexford County Council. With a vigorous council, enthusiastic county managers, and an energetic harbour master whose brief extends well beyond the stultifying limitations of the Department of Fisheries, Kilmore Quay is very much alive, while Dunmore East is moribund.

This would be fine if Dunmore East continued to be a major fishing port, but that's now a moot point. Fishing is becoming more truly industrialized by the day, and big boats with highly automated equipment and smaller crews are taking over the most profitable parts of the business. A port like Dunmore East, with its small size and draft limitations, is increasingly by-passed by the major operators. For sure, there'll always be fishing out of Dunmore East, but with an inbuilt boat size limitation it will increasingly be towards the artisan end of the fishing industry.


Dunmore East looking south, with Gull Rock lower right hand corner. In a southwesterly breeze, the anchorage is well sheltered, but it can become uncomfortable and even dangerous in southeast to east winds. Photo: Kevin Dwyer

Currently, Dunmore East has probably now slipped beyond fourth place in the Republic of Ireland in terms of fish landings by weight. You get the picture from the 2010 figures by realising that at 163,447 tonnes, Killybegs outstrips all other significant Irish ports combined. Next in line is Castletownbere with 19,030 tonnes, while Dingle is third at 12,761. Although in 2010 Dunmore East was fourth at 8,387 tonnes, in terms of value it was outstripped by Kilmore Quay – Dunmore's landings were worth €13.6m, but Kilmore went for quality, and they got €13.7m for their 3,260 tonnes.

And as Kilmore Quay has more in the way of fish processing plants, the value-added element to their smaller but higher quality catch is also greater than Dunmore East's. In Dunmore East, the continuing encroachment by the needs and expectations of the modern shore-based holiday market means that property is more profitably utilised if it's catering for the personalised needs of the hospitality industry, rather than as an impersonal industrial unit, particularly one with the anti-social aromas of fish processing.

This decline in the fishing industry status of the long-established smaller ports is a European-wide problem, and a new inititative from Brussels seems to offer an opportunity for Dunmore East to be a suitable case for treatment, as interestingly revealed HERE.

Although it all still requires confirmation from the European parliament, many of the EU's maritime nations such as Portugal are quite far down the line in planning projects which will take full advantage of this "post-fishing" scheme, which will involve some quite serious money to be available between 2014 and 2020.

But however obvious the benefits which could accrue to Dunmore East, the rejection by the locals of a major harbour improvement project some years ago (it was to include a marina) has muddied the waters for future projects. The older generation in Dunmore East probably reckon they've accommodated enough change. Though the present layout will seem to today's generations to be a permanent feature of the environment, there are still many around who can well remember the massive re-vamp of the harbour when it was being undertaken by the OPW during the 1960s. It was meant to take about five years, but it took eleven. And at the end of it, the pleasant little cove of Dunmore, sheltered by an elegant pier designed in 1814 by the harbour genius Alexander Nimmo, had been changed greatly, with a breakwater extension going out beyond the pier, while within there was an enormous new concrete apron quay on a site brutally blasted out of pretty cliffs. Despite which, the kittiwake, most unusually nesting on cliffs which had become a central part of the village, had stayed on despite a decade of dynamite.

The kittiwakes may have stayed on, but big fishing is going from Dunmore East. So how best to change the harbour for continuing viability, without destroying the much-loved character of the place, while at the same time profitably accomodating all possible harbour users?


Dunmore East as it will be in the summer of 2013, with the new 40–metre pontoon indicated under the lighthouse on he outer pier. The anchor (top) indicates the anchorage in offshore winds off the Strand Hotel. Plan courtesy Irish Cruising Club

This year will see a small step towards providing berths for visiting cruisers. It's indicated on this latest ICC plan, and will be a 40 metre (120 feet) pontoon running lengthwise along the quay down towards the end of the pier, near the old lighthouse. Access ashore will be via steps that are let into the quay, and it's reckoned that up to twelve boats of average size can be accommodated. Every journey starts with a first step, but this particular first step by its location will require a lot of steps - in fact, route march is more like it - as it's about as far as you can be from the Sailing Club and the village without actually starting to depart from the harbour again.

Welcome as this pontoon is, there's a risk that it might serve as a distraction from more imaginative action, and already there is another quayside pontoon in the southwest corner of the harbour for Dunmore East's many half-deckers. But here at Sailing on Saturdays, we'd suggest that to be of any real value, Dunmore East harbour needs more radical action, and our harbour design department has been busy.

Any modification of Dunmore East harbour for use by craft of all sizes, and mostly smaller than today's average fishing boat, must take account of the fact that, in severe southeasterly gales, the outer parts of the harbour are extremely exposed. Up in the sandy cove off the Strand Hotel, where the ICC sailing directions quite rightly suggest anchoring if the wind is pleasantly between southwest and northwest, it is well known to YouTube viewers that a southeasterly gale (such as occurred on 15th August 2012) can produce impressive onshore breakers going clean over the inn. It's bad enough in a summer storm, and as for winter... in winter – when the traditional fishing season used to be at its height – Dunmore East could fill up with visiting Dutch boats, and after a period of severe southeasters the hotelier at The Strand went up to check his roof, and in the middle of it found a traditional Dutch wooden clog, swept in from the sea and popped up there by a mighty breaking wave.


Dunmore East as seen from the southeast, with the Strand Hotel at top of photo. Photo: Rex Roberts

When the Strand Hotel is building up its clog collection in sou'east storms, there's quite a scend which can snake its war round the corner and into the harbour. And of course any yachts lying on the WHSC mooring immediately northwest of the harbour are having a very rugged time indeed. So the suggestion here is that we modify the harbour entrance to keep that scend at bay, and at the same time extend the Gull Rock through the current moorings to provide well sheltered space immediately northwest of the WHSC clubhouse.

The first step in this project would be lengthening the extension to the Outer Pier. Every time you see the place in rough weather, you can't help but think that the engineer in the 1960s would probably have liked to make it twice as long in the first place. But if we're going to have our new breakwater coming along the line of the Gull Rock, in order for it to be long enough to be effective without closing the harbour mouth too much, we have to angle the new outer breakwater extension in a slightly more northerly direction. Not much, but enough to make all the difference to the channel room in the harbour entrance.

The Gull Rock Breakwater is envisaged as being just that – a breakwater. It will have to be about a metre above High Water Springs, otherwise people will try to go over it as they do with the North Bull Wall in Dublin Bay. But the concept is that it's a breakwater and nothing more – no promenade along the top, and preferably made of rock armour to chime with the Gull Rock, though cost may make it necessary to build in tetrapods.

dunmore map

Thinking outside the box – Sailing on Saturday's line of thought for Dunmore East. The new breakwater suggested along the Gull Rock would simply be a breakwater, without a walkway along the top. Drawing by Afloat Studios.

With the extended outer pier and the new Gull Rock breakwater, a well-sheltered area is created for the installation of a marina. That's the beauty of a marina. All it needs is an area of sheltered water with the required depth, and just one single point of shoreside access. There's no need for expensively finished quay walls - a marina is a minimalist installation, and extremely good value once the space has been created.

We appreciate that there will be those who'll be horrified by the thought of any part of that pretty little coastline between the harbour and the Strand Hotel being enclosed behind a breakwater. But we'd emphasise that, as far as possible, the breakwater will be made to seem like a natural extension of the Gull Rock. And while Stony Cove and Badger's Cove will be within the new sheltered space, important locations like Men's Cove (Poul na Leenta) and Lady's Cove will be kept nice and fresh outside.


This newer marina for smaller local craft in Dingle suggests a welcome level of co-existence between all types. Photo: W M Nixon

With the marina in place, the entire dock area can revert to being exclusively for fishing boats. But with the industry being rationalized into a more compact shape these days, in time there could well be space for hauling out all boats and other manner of marine work taking place in there. Who knows, but maybe those pontoons running along the quays in the northeast and southwest corners of the harbour – a hugely wasteful use of quay space - might themselves become unofficial little marinas. I found one such in an eastern corner of Dingle Harbour last summer, and it seemed to be working in a harmonious way to accommodate boats of very different type and purpose.

Well, there you have it – it's one idea for Dunmore East, doubtless there are many others. And although Sir Boyle Roche may have quite rightly opined that we should do nothing for posterity on the grounds that posterity have done nothing for us, for the sake of future sailors let us at least take note that the clock in Brussels is ticking, and the train with these new funds will soon be leaving the station.

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#irishcruising – Henry Ford famously said that if he'd started out by asking people what they wanted, they'd have demanded a faster horse. Quite. But if you don't have the lightbulb moment of a Fordian concept so utterly brilliant that it creates its own market, then a bit of humdrum research to find out what the market wants will seldom go amiss.

Encouraging cruising visitors to sail to our coasts provides a good example. Irish sailing has such a long history of its own that it takes an effort to imagine what sailing visitors to our shores are hoping for. But for cruising visitors in particular, if we have to narrow it down to just one aspiration, we'd probably find that they love to go home with a photo of themselves sailing along with the Fastnet Rock in the background.

Better still, a photo of their boat sailing past the Fastnet on a brisk but sunny day, with themselves at the helm – now that really will hit the spot. And then a video of them celebrating afterwards at some nearby and hospitable port over a convivial seafood feast in a characterful inn, accompanied by traditional music - that will do nicely too.

But it's likely many Irish sailors would no more bother to get themselves that Fastnet photo than New Yorkers would go out of their way to be photographed with the Statue of Liberty. It's an attitude which probably lessens the further away from the famous rock you are based in Ireland. But sailing folk familiar with the coast of West Cork will be well aware that the legendary oceanic submerged mountain is actually less than five miles from the pub on Cape Clear, so where's the big deal? You could easily go round it most days if you wished, so why bother to go round it at all? Even Rockabill off Fingal is further from Joe May's in Skerries than the Fastnet is from North Harbour.

But for visitors, getting that Fastnet money shot is a straightforward, achievable and highly-desired objective. And however much the locals on the Irish coast take it for granted, back home in the big population heartlands of Europe or America or wherever, it's quite a trophy for that neighbourhood sailor recently back from Ireland's rugged seas to have on display.

The magic Fastnet photo is also a popular ambition in that it gives a simple objective to any cruise. As Conor O'Brien observed when he took his old boat Kelpie to go off gun-running with Erskine and Molly Childers on their Asgard in 1914, it's good to have a straightforward objective when you go cruising. But possibly a second significant objective for our cruising visitors is to sail round Ireland, even if many of them find the West Coast so awesome once they get there that they linger on it, and return southward retracing their steps, rather than getting home via the "tame" east coast.

Whatever, I'd reckon that these days Irish boats cruising round Ireland are out-numbered by visitors. For visitors, it's a neat objective, and it has all the attraction of going foreign, whereas a crew on a boat from one of Ireland's main sailing centres will have sailed an almost equally arduous voyage to our Atlantic coasts only to find that, thanks to our excellent new road system, they walk into the pub somewhere like Inishbofin, and find the place is filled with people from their home town who came up to Bofin only that morning.

But whether they're from Ireland or abroad, visitors to Inishbofin and other desirable cruising destinations bring a bit of life to the place, and they spend money too. In these straitened times, it makes sense to find out what they expect in the way of facilities to persuade them to stay on and enjoy themselves, maybe tempting them to visit again. Even better, they might encourage others to do so as well, for it's an irony of this supposed age of impersonal electronic communication that word of mouth seems to work better than ever as a marketing tool.


Cruising sociability – gentle West Cork evening of early summer in Baltimore Photo: W M Nixon

So what will make them happy and keen to come? About a year ago, Failte Ireland commissioned "A Review of Tourism Policy Regarding the Development and Funding of Marina and Berthing Facilities in Ireland". The company given the contract – an English consultancy based in the heart of the Solent area with its massive maritime recreational infrastructure – sensibly recruited a comprehensive expert advisory panel from among people in Ireland in the frontline of providing services to those cruising our coasts. Unlike Henry Ford, they'd at least made a gesture to finding out what people wanted. The result is a 68-page document which was effectively completed in December 2012, but is still embargoed. It awaits publication. The mills of Government truly grind slow, and never more so than at a time when, in any case, there's not a red cent available for expenditure on worthwhile maritime recreation infrastructural projects.

So let us pass the time before its eventual publication with a bit of blue sky thinking about the Irish sailing cruising product, and marketing it. Let's think big, and put broad brush strokes into place. And let's start from basics.

Why do we want to encourage more cruising boats to come to Ireland?

Because they will bring much-needed tourism income, while the presence of cruising yachts sailing along a beautiful coastline enhances the impression it makes as an area of peace and prosperity, with the abundant presence of those boats in popular harbours further reinforcing these positive perceptions, thereby helping to reinforce the entire tourism experience for those ashore and afloat.

What is the experience that people who come here for sailing cruising holidays expect?

Spectacular coastal scenery, good sailing conditions on clean water with decent breezes without being too rough, enough challenge in each day's sailing to give a sense of achievement when a hospitable and entertaining port is reached by evening, and in that port a convenient, welcoming and secure berth for the night among other friendly sailors.

A proper cruising yacht will be fully equipped with her own anchoring system, but if Visitors' Moorings are available they will be used, as the very presence of established moorings will provide the risk of fouling if you drop your own anchor. If a marina or at least a pontoon is available, most visitors will prefer to berth there, as a pontoon berth with shoreside access allows greater freedom of movement for individual crewmembers, who after all have been cramped up together on a confined boat all day.

Dyed-in-the-wool cruising enthusiasts and total boat-lovers may prefer the solitary splendour of lying to a mooring or an anchor. But most folk who are not totally addicted to traditional-style cruising will prefer the individual freedom and convenience provided by a marina berth.

In Dingle, the preferred berth can be found in the marina Photo: W M Nixon

How can we provide the infrastructure to make cruising Ireland for visitors more enjoyable?

There are at least a thousand over-lapping answers to that, but at its most basic the long-established official policy of hoping to have a coastal necklace of marinas every 35 miles still holds good. Obviously that is only the most basic plan – it would need to be varied frequently to fit in with local coastal conditions, population centres, and established harbours – but it provides a structure.

Where do we expect most of our visitors to come from?

While there is a small but significant "Transatlantic trade", most visitors will come from ports in an arc from the northeast to the southeast of Ireland. This includes Scotland, the Isle of Man, Northwest England, Wales, Southwest England, and countries beyond Land's End such as France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and of course the many large sailing centres on the south coast of England.


There's a small but significant "Transatlantic trade". The American cutter Exodus was welcomed to Dingle Photo: W M Nixon

The fact of having to round Land's End to get to Ireland for this latter group makes for two distinct visitor streams sailing to this country. The configuration of Ireland's south coast means that any boat rounding Land's End is virtually equidistant from all ports between West Cork and Wexford. With the prevailing winds from the southwest, and the most popular cruising grounds to be found in southwest Ireland, this southern stream will try to make westing as much as possible, preferably to West Cork and certainly no further east than Cork Harbour. They will only shape their course in a more easterly direction if they intend to go northwards through the Irish Sea.

The Bristol Channel makes for the great divide, as most boats in the area are berthed along its north shore, on the south coast of Wales and in Milford Haven. Thus they are part of the other visitor stream. If heading for Ireland, they'll almost invariably make their landfall in south Wexford, and so they will share the needs of people from all ports in the Irish Sea for a better selection of facilities in southeast Ireland, which is the greatest single problem facing the overall development of Ireland's cruising product.

Why is the lack of a good selection of harbours in southeast Ireland such a problem?

There's a large and increasing boat population on both sides of the Irish Sea, and they're keen to go further. While their own area is improving as a cruising ground in its own right, many more of these boats would be attracted to the idea of cruising to Ireland's south and southwest coasts if there were more and better harbours along the coasts in those challenging waters all the way from Arklow to Dungarvan


The big-hearted little port. Despite its small size, Kilmore Quay manages to provide proper berthing for cruisers and a very active fishing fleet.

Photo: W M Nixon

It says everything about the limited facilities in all of southeast Ireland that the provision of a modest marina at Kimore Quay has been the greatest single cruising improvement in the region in fifty years. Kilmore Quay is excellent in its way, it's strategically useful, and is known for the warmth of its welcome. But because it is isolated on an exposed and difficult bit of coast, if you're caught out there in bad weather you've no options for even the most limited movement in reasonably sheltered waters – you just have to stay put and stick it out, or else leave your boat in Kilmore's shelter, and simply go home until the weather improves

By contrast, Dunmore East at the entrance to Waterford Estuary has marvellous natural advantages. Even if the weather is too extreme for offshore passages, there's plenty of sheltered cruising to be had up to Waterford and New Ross, with marinas at both places, while other anchorages are available in attractive surroundings.


Crowded boats in Dunmore East, which has discouraged cruisers in times past.

Yet despite the friendly Waterford Harbour Sailing Club there doing the best it can in difficult circumstances, the fisheries harbour at Dunmore East has long been noted as actively hostile to cruising boats. It has been a coastal hospitality blackspot on the entire area. The word is that some minor gestures of improvement may be on the way, but as it is, it's difficult to see why it has deteriorated so much, and why positive steps haven't been taken much sooner.

Perhaps it's something to do with the fact that Waterford County Council is headquartered at Dungarvan in the west of the county, while just up the road in the northeast is the all-powerful and historic Waterford City Corporation. Whatever it is, Dunmore East harbour seems to be an administrative orphan. Yet it could be redeemed by being re-invigorated as a fishing port with a significant sailing presence.


Mallaig on Scotland's West Coast used to be a byword for congested and conflicted berthing, but now with a small marina it accommodates cruising boats, fishing boats, a ferry port – and a boatyard too. Photo: W M Nixon

You only have to look at Dingle or Howth to realise that such a thing is perfectly possible. But if the powers that be from the southeast don't want to be seen going to other Irish harbours to see how Dunmore East might be re-born, then let them go to Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland. It used to be a byword for bad tempers, as fishing boats, ferries and cruising yachts battled for space. But now all is sweetness and light with the layout rationalized, and the cruising boats provided with their own neat little 50-berth marina which has made the place not merely somewhere you call by to implement crew changes using the famous west Highland Railway, but an attractive destination in its own right.

So we'll be very interested to see what "A Review of Tourism Policy Regarding the Development and Funding of Marina and Berthing Facilities in Ireland" has to say about Dunmore East. There are times you'd be thinking it's the magic key to the whole thing.


Intriguing to see that the Royal Yachting Association's new National Handicap System for cruisers is being launched at Ballyholme YC on Belfast Lough. Is it really so new? After all, most clubs have been getting by with the up-graded Portsmouth Yardstick system for a very long time. And as well, just across the North Channel, the Clyde Yacht Clubs Handicap has been catering for different cruisers for years, and most Belfast Lough boats have been able to avail of that.

But then, things have always been a bit different on Belfast Lough. Back in the late 19th Century, it was a hotbed of pure One Design development, so maybe that tradition has something to do with the lack of a viable local cruiser handicapping system. And by heavens, when they said One Design For Level Racing, they meant it. Having been reared with Belfast Lough sailing, when I first sailed with an alleged One Design class in Dublin, I was amazed to find they ran two sets of results – scratch and handicap. Within the overall class programme, the competition for the handicap prizes was in its way every bit as intense as the straight one design racing.

Thus most boats got a look-in at the prize giving, but in Belfast Lough some never figured at all. Their mood was set by unflinching Calvinists. So in the rare event that one of their One Design fleets ever got above a dozen boats, they'd no hesitation in making the next one Number 13. They wouldn't have dreamt of that in Dublin, where Number 13 simply didn't exist. But I had my very first race aboard the Belfast Lough Waverley Class 18ft Montrose, jointly owned by my father and uncle. And Montrose was Number 13. There are those who would suggest this has affected my life ever since, but they're wrong – touch wood.

Be that as it may, regarding the RYA's claim to novelty for its NHS (I'm sure that won't be the final acronym, with the problems the National Health Service is having across the water these days), at least Mike Urwin of the RORC Measurement Office has made the point that in Ireland we've had a very successful "sundry boats" handicap system running for many years in parallel with the IRC (and the Channel Handicap and the IOR before that), our good and trusty old friend the ECHO system.


The Great ECHO Mother. The unusual lines of the George McGruer-designed 42ft Tritsch-Tratsch, provider of the performance benchmark which facilitated the creation of ECHO back in the early 1970s

It goes right back to 1971, when the late Bill Lacy began to develop a poor man's IOR at Howth by rating local boats on their performance against Otto Glaser's 42ft George McGruer-designed Admirals Cupper Tritsch-Tratsch I. Tritsch Tratsch, a remarkable varnished sloop, was very under-canvassed by today's standards, but a wizard to windward as she had a unique hull based on 12 Metre thinking. Despite her small rig, she could out-sail everything in the area (and elsewhere as well), so she was an excellent benchmark from which the system developed, with Billy working along with Chick Brown, another Howth sailor of mathematical inclinations.

Across in Dun Laoghaire, Hal Sisk and Ernest Goulding had been working on something similar, and an area handicap system developed so successfully that it was given the grand title of East Coast Handicap Organisation, though those involved readily admitted that if anything, ECHO stood for Ernest, Chick, Hal and Others.

Whatever, it worked, rating crews and helms as much as boats. It was a system which was readily accepted in an area where One Design Classes readily allocated different performance figures, and in a country where the Golfing Union of Ireland had led the world in handicapping individual players. As for those of us who felt our modest successes had been allowed to raise our handicaps too much, we could always take our boats and get them weighed and measured for a rating from the more impersonal Channel Handicap System.

So now, 42 years after Bill Lacy and his friends started their ground-breaking system, they're hearing about something similar up north. One trusts that they're aware that not only is today the 13th of the month, but we're also in the year of superstition 2013.

As for Tritsch-Tratsch the Great Echo Mother, the last I heard of her she was in Maine, with an owner who cherishes slightly eccentric classic boats. She is that and more. But what a performer to windward.....back in 1972 she was slugging upwind on a very windy but sunny Sunday morning out in the middle of the Irish Sea, rocketing along and making mincemeat of the steep breaking seas in an ISORA race, with the rest of the fleet way behind.

A big ship hove into view, and paced along beside her, both of them covered in spray and spume, and the noise intense. Suddenly, it occurred to TT's crew that the ship might think they needed help. So they called her on the VHF, and told them on the bridge that everything was okay. Their reply would have gladdened any owner's heart:

"We can see that," said the ship. "But it's just that your boat is going great. Absolutely marvellous. D'you mind if we watch for a while?"

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#ruffian23 – Congratulations, Ruffian 23s – you've passed your 40th birthday. It was the Springtime of 1973 when we were invited by Dickie Brown to go down to Portaferry for a sail test of the prototype of the new 23ft Quarter Tonner which his brother Billy had designed, working at the drawing board in creative bursts around three o'clock in the morning "when I can think most clearly, as at that time the ether isn't cluttered up with other people's ideas".

The first glimmerings of the idea had probably started back in 1969, when we were all doing the Fastnet Race aboard Ronnie Wayte's Mayro of Skerries. Ronnie had built this 35-footer to designs of his own in fibreglass in his factory in Carrickmacross, where their normal product line was steel domestic oil tanks. Weird enough, you'd think. But I – whose experience of glassfibre boat-building was absolutely zilch - was much involved from the start, simply on the strength of having won overall in the Round Isle of Man Race in 1964 in an old wooden boat.

Things moved slowly down Carrickmacross way, so it was nearly five years after that minor Isle of Man triumph before the new boatbuilding project actually started. But we made it to the Fastnet start of '69, and finished 122nd in a fleet of 250 boats. The smart alecs remarked that it had taken a helluva lot of boats to beat us. But we could point out that we in turn had beaten another 122 boats, and it certainly still stands as the best Fastnet placing ever achieved by an amateur-designed boat built in Carrickmacross.

With Mayro's crew including Dick and Billy Brown, not to mention Barry Bramwell and Dickie Gomes, that race of '69 was a hotbed for notions of future offshore racing projects, and the Brown brothers of Portaferry in County Down on the shores of the Narrows into Strangford Lough were the first to make the notions become reality. Dickie was the sort of can-do man who could turn his hand to anything, particularly if it was to do with working around or building boats, while his older brother Billy was a university lecturer in physics and mathematics who was also a dab hand in creative technical design. Through 1970 they developed the concept of a 34-footer, with Billy drawing the lines and Dickie building the hull of the new boat upside down in three-skin glued timber in a substantial shed conveniently located at the foot of his shoreside garden.

We should all have such a shed. Officially, it was a pig-shed, for in those days you could construct whatever you wished in the way of agricultural buildings in the Northern Ireland countryside. But though at times it did resonate with porcine oinks, in the winter of 1970-71 this was where a rather wonderful offshore racer called Ruffian took shape in a remarkable family project.

Ruffian was a star performer from the start. But after her very successful first season, the Brown brothers realised that if they were to achieve their dream of creating a viable modern boat-building plant in their little home town, a place desperately short of steady employment, then it would have to be with a more manageable smaller boat, around the Quarter Ton size. Thus Weatherly Yachts came into being to build the Ruffian 23, though with the hopes of adding larger sizes in due course.

The prototype of the Ruffian 23 was still being finished by Dickie and his team when I got his phone call, but he reckoned if I could get a crew together and head down to Portaferry, they'd have her ready on the last Saturday of March. It was blowing old boots from the northeast on the day, classic March weather, but conditions were improving as my brother James and I with longtime shipmate Ed Wheeler drove down the winding road south along the Ards Peninsula to Portaferry.

And there she was: Ruffian 23 No 1, just launched and still being rigged. This wouldn't be a test sail. This would be a maiden voyage. But there was now more sunshine between the squalls, and she looked great, a proper miniature offshore racing yacht just asking to be sailed, a big-hearted little boat.

But from the photography point of view, "little" was the operative word. I went off in one of Portaferry's lobster boats pressed into service as a photographer's launch, having told the crew on the Ruffian that not only were they most emphatically not to stand up, but if they were sitting up to weather they'd to crouch down, otherwise the new boat would look tiny and result in photos which would fail to do justice to her gallant spirit.

Squally weather in Strangford Narrows. In order not to exaggerate the Ruffian 23's small size, the crew crouched down as best they could while Dickie Brown remained totally relaxed at the helm. Photo: W M Nixon

This explains why, in the photos - which were taken sailing in the Narrows - Ed Wheeler on the weather rail seems to have been struck down by sudden cramp, while my brother James has succumbed to disablement low down in the cockpit or crouched in the companionway. As for Dickie on the helm, he was Oscar material with his cool performance as a relaxed skipper, sitting conspicuously comfortably despite the fact that every so often ferocious gusts would blast down and do their best to flatten the boat, and spin her too.

In some of the snaps she may look under-canvassed, but we'd plenty of cloth for the day that was in it. As soon as the photos were in the can, Dickie and I swopped places, and he told us to go off up the lough and enjoy ourselves. We did that very thing. Here we were with a completely new little boat which hadn't even been afloat 24 hours earlier, yet we'd an absolute blast up Strangford Lough in the sunshine, and the Ruffian 23 proved herself a gallant boat, a joy to sail with a marvellous beat northward and a tearing run back.

She was a very good looking little boat in 1973 – and she still is. Photo: W M Nixon

This was the fun part, rounded out with the inevitable celebration in Dumigan's. After that there came the work of building the boats, and promoting the design in an era when the oil crisis of 1974 knocked the economy for six. Despite that, top sailors such as former GP 14 World Champion Bill Whisker from Belfast Lough were keen Ruffian 23 racers, while in 1973 Barry Bramwell had taken a souped-up boat to the Quarter Ton Worlds in the south of England, and though the winner was Ron Holland with his larger Eyghthene 24, the Ruffian 23 was in the frame and made a favourable international debut.

Then in 1975 a keen young offshore racing man, Jim Poole from Dublin Bay, kitted up his new Ruffian 23 Ruffino for a proposed three stage Round Ireland Race being promoted by Ballyholme YC, and he placed second overall, his crew being one Eamon Crosbie, who many years later in 2004 was to dominate the Round Ireland Race from Wicklow with his Ker 32 Voodoo Chile.

But back in the 1970s, despite the dire state of the economy the Brown brothers kept gallantly at it, and in 1976 the Ruffian 23 made her official Dun Laoghaire debut, at a Boat Show in the grounds of the Royal Marine Hotel which was visited by President Hillery - a sailing man himself - who spent a long time aboard the boat with Billy Brown.

Dun Laoghaire Boat Show 1976, and President Hillery much enjoyed his visit with Billy Brown aboard the Ruffian 23. Photo: Michael O'Reilly

In all, about 200 Ruffian 23s were to be built, most of them by Weatherly Yachts in Portaferry, then about a dozen either finished or as bare hulls by BJ Marine in Dublin, and then two or three were built by the last owner of the moulds down in Baltimore.

Even allowing for two hundred boats in existence, the spread achieved has been remarkable. Most distant is Hong Kong, whose small but enthusiastic fleet keeps in contact with the two main Irish fleets in Dun Laoghaire and Carrickfergus. These two biggest groups maintain a strongly competitive friendship afloat and ashore, with the Dublin Bay sailors being particularly impressed by the way the Carrickfergus crews sweep them north for the annual entertainment of Burns Night on January 25th. And the most unexpected location is Iceland – two or three boats were sailed up there from Portaferry, underlining the boat's sea keeping and cruising qualities, which are of course the main attraction for Ruffian owners dotted all round the coast nowadays.


Over the years, the Ruffian 23s have proved as able for cruising as they are keen to race. Photo: W M Nixon

This cruising ability has been recognized for a long time. In 1981 Ronan Beirne of Dun Laoghaire won the Irish Cruising Club's Round Ireland Cup with Rila, Ken Ryan's Ruffian 23. Ken being very much involved with international sailing administration both afloat and ashore, he seldom had the time to sail himself. His only stipulaton for Ronan's use was that the boat was to be sailed as often as possible, and cruising round Ireland hit the spot. Equally impressive was a jaunt out to St Kilda in 1983 by three Dun Laoghaire veterans aboard Siamsa. Mickey d'Alton, Leslie Latham and Franz Winkelmann had a combined age of 210, plus Franz was very tall and had to be more or less folded in two in order to get below. But despite all that, they made a fine cruise with their able little 23-footer to Scotland's most remote island.

In complete contrast to cruising was Neville Maguire's out-and-out racing approach. He and Dickie Brown were two of a kind, and when he asked the Portaferry man if he could have the lightest possible Ruffian 23, stripped of non-essentials like the rudder skeg and various comforts, and fitted with a tall and spindly fractional rig which he would assemble from spar parts for other racing boats, Dickie duly obliged. Neville's Spalpeen was the result, a successful little boat, but so spare and sparse that when he moved up to the Club Shamrock Demelza, it felt like he'd moved into superyacht territory.
After forty years, second and third generation Ruffian 23 sailors are making the scene, particularly with the long-established Dun Laoghaire division where the current class captain is Ian Cutliffe. He sails Ruffles, which his father Michael finished back in the day from a bare hull supplied from Portaferry, providing himself with a good-looking boat of character which could look after herself in a blow, and head confidently offshore whether racing or cruising, while also providing good club racing, a boat which punched way above her weight. The Ruffian 23 has stood the test of time in style, nicely in line for her Golden Jubilee in just ten years time.

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#offshoresailing – There were four of them, back in 1968 in New York. There was Dick Nye (1903-1988). Briefly a theatrical hopeful, he'd got no further than spear carrier in an opera. But Broadway's loss was Wall Street's gain – the ebullient Nye had a stellar career in the wheelings and dealings of mergers and acquisitions and takeover battles, and this funded a love of offshore racing which he hadn't discovered until he was 44 .

Also present was his son Richard B Nye, business colleague and longtime shipmate in a hugely successful shared offshore racing career on both sides of the Atlantic, and across it. "Richard was the detail guy. Richard could remember every tack and sail combination on every race they had ever sailed. I only exaggerate a little. Between the two of them, they got maximum performance out of boat and crew."

The speaker is Sheila McCurdy, Commodore of the Cruising Club of America 2011-2012. She knew the Nyes well and sailed with them too, as she is the daughter of the third man present, yacht designer Jim McCurdy (1922-1994). Having served his time with the great Philip Rhodes, rising to head the Rhodes office's sailboat division, he had now set up his own partnership with his former boss's son Body Rhodes, and a new 48ft offshore racer for Dick and Richard Nye was one of McCurdy & Rhodes' first commissions.

McCurdy worked harmoniously with the Nyes. In 1955 in the Rhodes office, he had overseen the creation of their previous boat, the 54ft yawl Carina II, which had won both the 1955 and the 1957 Fastnets overall, and her class in the Bermuda Race too, plus a couple of Transatlantics. Carina II had been and still was a great boat, but the CCA rule had moved on. Being a beamy centreboard yawl had been a rating disadvantage under the RORC Rule, which made Carina II's Fastnet double all the more remarkable. But by 1968 it no longer conferred any advantage under the American rule either, something which was expected to be emphasised with the new International Offshore Rule.

It was hoped this ground-breaking global measurement rule would be unveiled by 1970. However, the Nyes - once they'd decided to move - were men in a hurry, and in August 1968 with Jim McCurdy they finalized a design which they reckoned would be a useful template for those framing the IOR. It was that and more.

The boat which emerged from their deliberations became the fourth member of the quartet, a personality in her own right. And with the death of Richard B Nye on March 14th at the age of 81, only Carina is left - American sailing's great survivor. She is still winning major offshore races in her fifth decade, still giving enormous pleasure to all who sail on her, and comfortably belying her age of 44 with timeless good looks.

She was built in aluminium, and kept as simple as possible. How about teak laid decks, even with their inevitable weight? As they say on Wall Street – fuggedaboudit. It wasn't that the Nyes were tight with the money, though they did shop around for value – their previous Carina had been built in Germany in a yard near Hamburg, as that offered the best deal at the time. But they readily spent money on the boat, particularly on the sails and rig, when genuine benefit would result.

And Jim McCurdy had an interesting approach to expenditure in building one-off yachts. Despite being of Ulster-Scots descent – you'll find McCurdys on Rathlin Island, and they're big around Ballymena and in The Glens – Jim McCurdy had a refreshingly open attitude to budgets, at variance with the popular perception of the Ulster-Scots' reputation for parsimony. In response to questions from Arthur Beiser for the latter's authorative book The Proper Yacht (Second Edition 1978), McCurdy suggested that anyone thinking of building the dreamship should consider "throwing financial responsibility to the winds and grabbing your dream as it slips away into an even more unfriendly future. There are those who have acted in this fashion and their irresponsibility turned, in fact, into wisdom that produced a great reward in enjoyment of sailing".
Jim McCurdy and Dick Nye aboard Carina in the 1972 Transatlantic Race to Spain, which they won by a huge margin. They were both great men for their cigars, earned here after a tactical gamble had paid off in spades.

Another time, he commented that those who concentrated on saving the pennies at every stage ended up spending more and achieving less than those who took the broader more generous view. Certainly with the previous Carina, when the Nyes' Wall Street speciality financial services firm was a much more modest operation than had become by 1968, the yacht style finish was to the highest standard, with all the trimmings. But with the sparse new boat, all was in line with the purpose of providing performance with just the basics of comfort needed by dedicated amateur crews for long races, and this remarkably handsome yet decidedly non-yachty sloop made her international debut at Cork in July 1969.

Shortly after the start of the 1969 Transatlantic Race to Cork, with Huey Long's maxi Ondine and the new Carina leading the only Irish entry, Perry Greer's Helen of Howth, past the Brenton Reef Light Tower. Photo: Tom Matthews

She'd raced Transatlantic, against a fleet which included one Irish entry, Perry Greer's John B Kearney-designed 54ft centreboard yawl Helen of Howth, which ironically had in some ways been inspired by the previous Carina. But Helen's owner was an inveterate gadgeteer and liked his cruising comforts. Even in racing trim, the Irish boat was no more than a fast cruiser, floating well below her designed waterline. The new austere Carina by contrast was very much a contender. So although in a big boat race to Cork the winner was the souped-up 12 Metre American Eagle from the 66ft S&S yawl Kialoa – Ted Turner from Jim Kilroy: there were giants in ocean racing in those days – Carina won her class in style, and her crew were enthused about her easy speed and good handling characteristics. Even today, after hundreds of thousands of miles, it's said she has never broached.

Jim Kilroy's 66ft yawl Kialoa II placed second in the 1969 Transatlantic Race to Cork.

That Cork visit resulted in Transatlantic links to the Nyes which two years later in 1971 had the 22-year-old Ron Cudmore sail as crew on Carina in a fast delivery passage across the Atlantic. Dick Nye wanted to get to the 1971 Admirals Cup, Ron wanted to get home from the US, and as no Transatlantic Race was scheduled, they could sail the northern Great Circle route with no mandatory waypoint to keep them clear of ice. Carina zapped across in just over a fortnight on the open ocean - "Fast and very cold," as Ron recalls. "great boat, awesome skipper".

Another Irish sailor who particularly remembers her arriving in Crosshaven back in 1969 is Neil Kenefick. Aged 11 at the time, he and his father were invited to sail on Carina from Cork to Kinsale as the Nyes fitted in a tiny bit of cruising before heading off for Dick Nye's favourite regatta, Cowes Week, which included the Admirals Cup in which Carina was a member of the winning American Team.

Carina on the Solent in 1969, when she was a member of the winning American Admiral's Cup team. It's said that she has never broached, and here – tight spinnaker reaching under her original configuration of smaller rudder with trim tab on keel – she is giving the helmsman no problems.

Neil met up with them again in Cowes ten years later, when he himself was on the then-leading Irish Admirals Cup team aboard Golden Apple, and the Nyes were properly impressed. But Golden Apple was a 1979 Fastnet casualty, along with Ireland's Admirals Cup hopes, whereas Carina went round in style with three generations of Nyes aboard – Richard B's son Jonathan was in the crew. At the height of the gale Dick Nye, aged 76, roped himself into the cockpit the better to savour this storm of storms: "This is GREAT" he bellowed, "truly utterly GREAT!"

The boat had already won a Bermuda Race overall, and in 1982 with the old man finally feeling his years and retired from offshore racing, Richard Nye sailed as skipper on his own and Carina won the Bermuda Race overall again. The successes continued, but by the mid '90s the junior Nye was looking back on fifty years of active offshore racing. So Carina found an excellent new home with Rives Potts, whose CV included crewing for Dennis Conner in 12 Metres, and very varied boatyard work – it was he who had done most of the work in the angle-grinder event in Bob Derecktor's famous yard when Carina was given an up-dated keel and rudder profile to Scott Kauffmann designs in 1978.

Carina's hull profile as it is today, with the new keel-rudder configuration to Scott Kauffmann designs fitted in 1978. Originally she's had a skeg-hung rudder with a trim tab on the keel. Photo: Rives Potts

Since then in Potts ownership, the only significant change has been a new mast in carbon. It has been noted that it lessens pitching. But other than that, this is still the same Carina, immaculately and lovingly maintained. In 2010 she won the Bermuda Race overall, then in 2011 she came cross the Atlantic and won Class 5 and placed fifth overall in the record fleet in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Then she simply sailed straight off to Sydney under the command of the next generation, and got sixth in class in the Hobart Race and won the informal "father-son" division, and then sailed on round the world with a particularly impressive east-west crossing of the Indian Ocean from Perth to Cape Town to get back to the US just in time for the Bermuda Race 2012, and she won overall in that yet again.

She won't be in the Fastnet this year, but it's likely she'll be back in 2015. Rives Potts is a flag officer of the New York YC, which will sending a fleet across for the Bicentennial of the Royal Yacht Squadron. And in that fleet, the boat for true sailors will be this modest 46-year-old black sloop, American sailing's great survivor, a global superstar.


Did you know there used to be Mirror dinghies for hippies, driven by flower power? Believe me, there were – we bought one for family use back in 1977 from a former suburban hippy round Dun Laoghaire way. Instead of a simple paint job for the hull, she was decorated in flowers from end to end.

The guy we bought her from was Norman Long. These day, he is of course F. Norman Long, senior sailor emeritus, pillar of the yachting establishment, and basking in the deserved glow of having played a key role – along with Theo and Avril Harris - of getting the annual frostbite series inaugurated under the auspices of the Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club, way back in 1974 or even earlier.

But in his more relaxed moments yonks ago, Norman would have dreamt of making the scene in San Francisco. I don't think he got there, yet he grew his hair long, and he painted his boat with psychedelic flowers on a pink background. But regrettably, it wasn't that which drew us to the boat. We simply wanted a Mirror dinghy because it offered so much for an impecunious family with two small children and another on the way, and Norman's was for sale as he was getting involved with offshore racing.

The Mirror was the right choice for us. They're great little big-hearted boats, one of the cleverest dinghy design concepts of all time. She gave us two happy summers and was everything we needed for local mini-cruises – some boats twice the size couldn't carry as many people - and the very occasional race. But it wasn't until the flowers had gone that we made our debut with our new pride-and-joy. We smuggled her back home on the roof of our battered little car, and hid her in the garage - it hadn't become an office in those days. When she reappeared, immaculate yacht white with a neat dark green boot-top – a proper boot-top, not silly stripes – the neighbours thought it was a different boat entirely.

Mirror action at Rosses Point in Sligo. This year the class is celebrating its Golden Jubilee, and the Worlds are at Lough Derg in August.
Photo: Bryan Armstrong

These fond memories are evoked by the fact that this month marks the Golden Jubilee of the Mirror Class Assocation. It was actually 1962 when DIY guru Barry Bucknell and ace dinghy designer Jack Holt pooled their considerable talents to produce the smallest possible boat which could do just about everything, and they succeeded brilliantly. Of course they're now mainly known for their racing, but for simply sailing they're great too, and seaworthy with it – one intrepid Mirror sailor managed to get all the way from Shropshire in England across Europe to the Black Sea.

The essence of the design is that it was dictated by what could be done with marine ply by amateur builders. The stitch-and-glue technique conferred strength and shape, while the need for economy and internal space dictated the pram bow.

Inevitably over the years, racing demands have meant that people have lost sight of the original very basic concept. For instance, they now have bermudan rig, where originally they'd a sensible sliding gunter set-up with all the spars stowable within the hull when un-rigged, which was very user friendly.

Less user-friendly was the need to keep weight and price down, thus they were built with ultra-light inexpensive plywood, of marine standard but pushing it a bit. It couldn't be neglected at all. So in time there were attempts to build competitive boats in lower maintenance glassfibre, and when the Worlds were held in Ireland in 2001, the Australians turned up with plastic boats which did the business.

The shape of the Mirror dinghy is dictated by the demands of plywood construction, and the need for economy and light weight.
Photo: Bryan Armstrong

But in the long run, it's absurd to use fibreglass to build boats whose shape was created in the first place by the unique demands of plywood construction, utilising a totally hard chine shape. We mentioned that here some weeks ago in considering the 30ft van de Stadt-designed Royal Cape ODs. Those slippy little plywood sea sleds had given so much sport that somebody though it would be a great idea to build them in more durable glassfibre. But only four were built in plastic as the absurdity of sticking to the confines of a totally plywood design concept became obvious.

It should be possible to create a design which has the Mirror's excellent roominess, attractive sailing ability and compact size, while taking much greater advantage of the shape options which plastic construction offers. But of course, such a boat would need all the hassle of creating a new class, with its essential dedicated adherents. The Mirror dinghy comes with its own extraordinary ready-made hinterland of wonderful memories and great sport.

So we wish them a very happy 50th Birthday. And where does an impecunious sailing family go after two great years with a Mirror? Into a Squib of course – where else?

Published in W M Nixon
Page 8 of 12

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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