Reigning all Ireland Junior sailing champion Chris Bateman swapped his local waters of Cork Harbour for Lough Ree Yacht Club's 'Double Ree' double-handed dinghy regatta last weekend and provides this report for Afloat
On the last weekend of August 2020, Lough Ree Yacht Club held their renowned “Double Ree” sailing event. First held in 2018 and designed for the double-handed dinghy enthusiast, this event was immensely successful. That success was repeated this year, on the 29/30th of August.
On Friday afternoon, Lough Ree Yacht Club opened their gates to groups of enthusiastic competitors. With a pandemic looming overhead, masks were donned and one way systems were followed. These simple things became second nature and by the evening, tents were spread out across the fields surrounding the 250-year-old yacht club.
Three fleets of double handers were expected this year, which meant that each arriving car carried a different boat on its roof. The cars and trailers were hastily unloaded and each dinghy was put with its own fleet, each fleet having been allocated a corner of the dinghy park. This left fifteen 420s, fourteen Mirrors, and thirteen 29ers sitting at the lakeside.
Registration was completed in a controlled manner as darkness fell over the happy campers, all waiting in anticipation for the next day.
Saturday, the first race day came around. The sailors awoke to the unique sound of the lake water lapping against the shoreline. A low sun hovered over Lough Ree, revealing a cascade of white water, churned up by a twenty-knot northerly wind. With a start scheduled for 12:00 pm, the competitors lost no time rigging up their boats despite the cold temperature. Each sail was hoisted eagerly and the scene became loud as the sails flogged in the high wind.
The Mirror fleet launched first, braving the harsh conditions as each sailed out one by one. Even among their own fleet, the variation between boats was huge. They ranged from modern, finely tuned fibreglass constructed boats all the way to copper stitched plywood boats, beautifully finished with varnished decks and painted hulls. Their red sails were instantly recognisable as they bobbed on the short chop. Next to launch were the 420’s, who skimmed their way out of the slip, to be joined by the 29er fleet a few minutes later.
The race committee dived straight into the first race, having set a trapezoid course for each fleet to complete. In a flurry of action, each fleet set off on separate starts to begin the first race.
The dinghies battled up the course, struggling through the high, short chop. While the Mirrors had a head start, the different fleets would eventually converge with each other due to speed differences. The 29ers put on an entertaining show, with wild high-speed capsizes and general hooliganism. While yachtsmen shudder at the thought of such bad seamanship as capsizing, the three fleets showed a whole new side of dinghy racing that was fast and furious, while also very entertaining to watch!
Three races were completed that day and the battered sailors returned to shore, fit to collapse. After each fleet had battled it out on the water for over five hours, the results were set. In the Mirror fleet, overnight leaders were Matthew Fallon with crew Jonathan Flannery. In the 420 fleet, Ben Graf and Alexander Farrell were overnight leaders, while in the 29ers it was James Dwyer and Chris Bateman.
Day two began with a clear sky and a strong feeling of early winter. The wind was down and the water was calm. The fleets launched much earlier than the previous day, with a start scheduled for 10:30 am. As they sailed out to the course the wind picked up to a fickle five knots. Conditions were light and shifty, which meant that decision making on the course was crucial. The 29er fleet started first, then came the 420’s and the Mirrors. After a course change and three long races, the sailors drifted home, in what was a huge contrast to the previous day’s racing.
The light winds gave everyone a chance to appreciate the lovely waters of Lough Ree, with its green shorelines and various dotted islands. A true sailing venue, worthy of adventurers and racing yachtsmen alike. The Lough Ree Yacht Club celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, and this is where the “Double Ree” finished up, with the prize-giving held outside its front door. In the Mirror fleet (also their westerns), 1st place went to Jessica Greer with crew Mark Greer. In 2nd was Matthew Fallon and Jonathan Flannery, while in 3rd was Luke Johnston and James Boyd.
In the 420 fleet, it was Jack McDowell and crew Harry Thompson in 1st, with Ben Graf and Alexander Farrell in 2nd. In 3rd place was Harry Shackleton and Cara McDowell. (See also Afloat's 420 separate Double Ree report here - Web Ed)
In the 29er fleet, 1st place went to James Dwyer and Chris Bateman. In 2nd was Tim Norwood and Nathan van Steenberge, with Lauren McDowell and Erin Mcllwaine taking 3rd place.
The LRYC pulled off what many said would be impossible, which was to run a successful national event in a carefully controlled manner. By doing this, they have managed to spread enjoyment and some relief among the dinghy racing community. There was no better place to do this than on a lake such as Lough Ree, and every competitor and family that travelled to the “Double Ree” is very grateful to the people that made it happen.