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It’s called the SCORA Fastnet 450 which is a zinger of a name, whatever it means, and right now it’s taking shape as we go along in best pop-up style, having come centre stage after the Round Ireland Race was COVID-cancelled last week. And for those who would complain that it’s all much too short notice, at variance with the best traditions of sensible sailing organisation, well, they’re wasting their breath. For as we shall see in due course, the daddy of them all, the Kingstown to Queenstown or Dun Laoghaire to Cobh Race of July 1860, was something of a pop-up event too, all of those 160 years ago.

But to return to the here and now, the Fastnet 450 starts off Dun Laoghaire under the auspices of the National Yacht Club in two weeks time on Saturday, August 22nd, and the race begins with 150 years in the kitty, as that’s the anniversary the National YC is marking this year.

National Yacht Club, 150 years old this yearBusy times at the National Yacht Club, 150 years old this year

The course then zaps southward down the East Coast leaving the Tuskar Rock to starboard before heading on out past the Coningbeg for the long haul (it’s not always to windward) along the south coast to the Fastnet Rock, which is then left to starboard in a handbrake turn as the fleet heads back up the coast to finish at Roche’s Point at the entrance to Cork Harbour, and the social-distance complying welcome of Royal Cork Yacht Club at Crosshaven.

Crosshaven with the Royal Cork YC in prime position. Where it all began, and still at the heart of it. Crosshaven with the Royal Cork YC in prime position Photo: Bob Bateman

The RCYC then nonchalantly pops its cool 300 years of existence into the shared temporal pot, and bingo, we’ve the Fastnet 450, which somehow manages to seem right up to the minute and yet properly historical a well.

South Coast Offshore Racing

Clearly there are some very innovative and energetic minds in the South Coast Offshore Racing Association at work here, with SCORA Commodore Johanna Murphy of Cobh and Royal Cork YC’s Rear Admiral Annamarie Murphy working with Olympian Mark Mansfield. Speed is of the essence, and they managed to get the officially-vetted details in proper form up on the Royal Cork YC website at noon yesterday (Friday), so if this alleged Sailing on Saturdays seems to be hitting your screen well before Saturday in Ireland, please loosen up a bit – it’s already Saturday in Ulan Bator……

Fastnet 450 Notice of RaceThe Notice of Race for the Fastnet 450 - download the full document below as a PDF attachment

In the meantime, some targeted marketing (i.e. ringing around likely runners and putting up a click spot for expressions of interest on on August 2nd) was extremely encouraging, with 22 boats very strongly interested even before it went official. Being quite late in the season, those who think it’s a good idea were nevertheless a bit concerned that Irish Sea boats mightn’t want to end up positioned in Cork in late August, but these fears were groundless, as the preliminary indications showed a skewing of two-thirds East Coast, and one-third Cork.

Of course, with this emphasis on the ability to accommodate late entry decisions, some boats may wait until they see what the ten day forecast looks like before committing, but it is highly likely that the Cork fleet will be into double figures by the time the boats are being positioned to Dublin Bay. And though some of them will leave that to the delivery crews in the days immediately prior to race, if enough are planning to do it over the weekend beforehand (i.e 14th to 16th August) maybe they could make a little race out of that too, for people are just gasping for any sport they can get.

SCORA’s Fastnet 450 team are Johanna Murphy (Commodore), Mark Mansfield, and Annamarie Murphy (Rear Admiral, Royal Cork YC SCORA’s Fastnet 450 team are Johanna Murphy (Commodore), Mark Mansfield, and Annamarie Murphy (Rear Admiral, Royal Cork YC)

As it is, for now on Friday, August 7th it’s a list good on quality and quantity, with the pace-setters from the south coast inevitably being the top boats from last weekend’s Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale Race, where Mark Mansfield guiding Cian McCarthy’s new Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl found himself sailing on the same IRC rating of 1.023 as Denis & Annamarie Murphy’s Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo, which had the formidable talent of Nin O’Leary on the strength to provide an Olympian contest.

As reported, Nieulargo made a breeze of it, finishing five minutes after noon on the Saturday to take line honours, and though Cinnamon Girl was next in half an hour later, those rating figures were inescapable, and Finbarr O’Regan’s Artful Dodger (KYC) and Stephen Lysaght’s Reavra Too, also KYC, slipped into second and third on CT before Cinnamon Girl came home on fourth overall.

Cian McCarthy’s Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl finds herself being squeezed Sandwiched…..Cian McCarthy’s Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl finds herself being squeezed between eventual overall winner Nieulargo (Grand Soleil 40, left) and Tom Roche’s Salona 45 Meridien as the Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale fleet makes its way down Kinsale Harbour. Photo: Robert Bateman

However, it’s early days yet, and the paid-up within two hours listing (in arrival order) for the Fastnet 450 already shows plenty of talent for form spotters and results-predictors to pick over as we go through the stages of the growing entry list and developing weather towards the start.

As of 3.0pm Friday, the boats are Red Alert (Rupert Barry), Aplusd (Flynn Kinsman), Humdinger (John Coleman), Blue Oyster (Mark Coleman), Nieulargo (Denis & Annamarie Murphy), YO YO (Brendan Coughlan), Valfreya (Mark & David Leonard, Juggerknot 2 (Andrew Algeo) and Blackjack (Peter Coad).

Andrew Algeo’s J/99 Juggerknot Two is in the first wave of entries for Fastnet 450Andrew Algeo’s J/99 Juggerknot Two is in the first wave of entries for Fastnet 450. Photo:

Some people find the speed of development of this race unsettling, others find it stimulating, but either way we’re inevitably reminded of the great General Dwight D Eisenhower, who gave traction to the military theory that ultimately plans are worthless, but planning is everything. He never claimed it as his own original idea, but after he’d enshrined it, its apparently almost vulgar dismissal of accepted establishment beliefs came to be seen as disguising the brutal truth.

For if ever there was a peacetime period when set plans are useless, but continuous planning is essential, then we’re living through it right now in sailing as in everything else. For sure, you have to set out fixed times for races starting and the other event-planning paraphernalia. But both organisers and participants now have to realize that it all may have to be changed at very short notice, and then maybe changed again.

The SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race from Wicklow was one of the last major offshore races scheduled for 2020 which involved a significant shoreside element, for it is inextricably associated with the town and club which has been running it for forty years.

It was that indispensable shoreside element which was its undoing. But even as the cancellation of 2020’s Round Ireland was moving remorselessly up the agenda, the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association was demonstrating that it was possible to stage offshore events of limited scope by running races aimed separately at its fleets on each side of the channel, with the courses set within national territorial waters, and virtually no direct shoreside involvement at all - they were races for sailors run by sailors, but using robots and trackers

However, the clear boundaries to this approach became evident as we neared the date for the first cross-channel foray, which would have raced the combined fleet race from Dun Laoghaire in Ireland to Pwllheli in Wales this weekend. But the different regulatory systems in each jurisdiction raise difficulties which would have been exacerbated if an international entry gathered for the Welsh IRC Championship in Tremadoc Bay, and in a sudden yet inevitable announcement last weekend, those plan were abandoned.

A superb all-rounder – the Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo (Denis & Annamarie Murphy)A superb all-rounder – the Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo (Denis & Annamarie Murphy) will be looking to make it the double for August with the Fastnet 450 after winning the Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale Race every which way. Photo: Robert Bateman

Thus would-be organisers have had to stand back and assess what has or has not been permissible in the developing situation. And that hardy perennial of our sport in Ireland – straightforward club racing with known personnel involvement – is proving to be the backbone of our sailing in 2020.

And in the coastal and offshore scene, as it’s clear the only racing permissible has to be within Irish territorial waters, so the raw logic of a race from Dublin Bay to Cork with a Fastnet-rounding extension was inescapable if there was going to be any meaningful event before the season was out.

It’s essentially the basic race of the absolute essentials. The boat numbers are in Cork Harbour and the greater Dublin area, so boat movement prior to the event is minimized. Autumn will be just around the corner, so Dublin owners will be appreciative of having their boats no further from home than is absolutely necessary.

So how can we claim that the glaringly pop-up element of it all is nothing new, in fact it’s positively historic. Well, back in 1860 the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dublin Bay had organised a week of regattas in early July, and the dedicated Admiral of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, the remarkable Thomas G French of Cuskinny in Cobh - still going strong at the age of 80 years - saw an opportunity for implementing his long-held dream of a distance race from Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour.

But instead of having a great blaring of publicity beforehand for this then-novel idea, he quietly circulated the idea in what we now think of as pop-up style among those owners and skipper – they came from many parts of Ireland and from England too – in the days before the week in Dublin Bay, and during the course of the regatta socialising ashore, he continued to quietly press the idea.

Royal Cork YC at Cobh now the Sirius Arts CentreDestination for July 1860….the members of the Royal Cork YC at Cobh (now the Sirius Arts Centre) expected to be able to witness the finish of the race from Dublin Bay close at hand and in comfort, regardless of the flukey winds sometimes found within Cork Harbour

After the regattas had concluded, no less than 16 boats – of very varied size and type – had accepted Admiral French’s challenge of racing the 130 miles to Cork, and it started on the 14th July. But it was still very informal, with those entries only being finally firmed up on the morning of the race as the Admiral visited each boat in turn as they lay anchored, and personally collected the entry fees based on boat size, while wishing owners and crews the very best of luck and encouragement.

That year, Admiral French didn’t sail the race himself, as he wanted to get to Cobh to be sure the Royal Cork YC in its impressive premises (now the Sirius Arts Centre) was ready to receive the finishing fleet in appropriate style, a journey which in itself must have been quite an effort for an 80-year-old, as the railway system wasn’t to be extended to the Queenstown waterfront until 1862.

Entry List for the second Dubin to Cork race of 1861 The Entry List for the second race of 1861 was very much an ad hoc affair, with RCYC Admiral Thomas French encouragingly visiting each boat pre-start in Kingstown, and confirming their entry and the fee paid on this list, believed to be written in his own hand. He also competed personally in this second race – aged 81 – with his 61-tonnner Spell (top of list). Image courtesy RCYC

Printed version of the entry list for the first race of 1860 Printed version of the entry list for the first race of 1860 as it appeared in H P F Donegan’s History of Yachting in the South of Ireland, published 1908. Sir John Arnott certainly hedged his bets – he had two entries, and one of them, Sibyl helmed by the amateur Capt. Henry O’Bryen, was the winner

Before travelling back to Cork, the Admiral supervised the start of the race and saw it well on its way. Much of it was sailed in rugged windward conditions, but light airs prevailed at the finish off the Cobh waterfront for a real knife-edge conclusion, with Sir John Arnott’s 39-ton cutter Sybil – designed and built on Cork Harbour by Joseph Wheeler of Lower Glanmire – winning line honours and the race by three minutes from J.W.Cannon’s 40-ton cutter Peri, with Cooper Penrose’s 90-ton schooner Kingfisher another two minutes astern of Peri.

Sybil was skippered by the amateur ace Captain Henry O’Bryen, who had reputedly relinquished the helm for a total of only one hour during the race, a triumph for Corinthianism before it had became profitable or popular, if we may mix metaphors for a moment.

The hand-written Start Instructions for 1860The hand-written Start Instructions for 1860 were also on a “make it up as you go along” basis. It reads: “Ocean Race. A flag boat will be moored off the harbour, and no yacht may pass between her and the Light House on the East Pier until 11 am, when a gun will be fired from “Urania” as the signal for starting. The yachts may lie where they please provided they do not pass between the Light House and flag boat before the gun fires”

You would have thought Admiral French would have received eternal credit and respect for inaugurating this first recognisably modern offshore race. But Sybil’s owner Sir John Arnott (1814-1898) was something else, a real go-getting Scottish-born entrepreneur who’d arrived into Cork in 1837 aged 23 and launched himself into a sometimes rocky commercial career which at various stages involved heavy investment in department stores in Ireland and Scotland, horse racing both as an owner of thoroughbreds and of noted race courses, steamship companies, railways, and for a while the inevitable newspapers, in his case The Northern Whig in Belfast and The Irish Times in Dublin.

Victorian entrepreneur Sir John ArnottVictorian entrepreneur Sir John Arnott, who had two yachts entered in the first Kingstown to Queenstown Race of 1860.

Arnott was always a man in a hurry, so it’s possible that he thought the distinguished flag officers of the Royal Cork were a bit conservative in their management. Thus he was one of a bunch of shaker-uppers who set up a new club in Cobh, the Queenstown Yacht Club, which they cleverly up-graded by taking on the tattered-remains of the old Royal Western of Ireland YC, founded in 1828 in Kilrush by Maurice O’Connell and his nephew Daniel of Derrynane among others, but wandering more or less homeless after the horrors of the Great Famine of 1845-47 had wiped out fripperies like yachting on Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard.

After a vague period in Dublin, suddenly the old Royal Western emerged re-born in 1861 in Cobh with Sir John Arnott as Commodore, and Henry O’Bryen – in a shrewd bit of window-dressing worthy of Arnott’s at their best - drafted in as Vice Commodore of the Royal Western of Ireland despite his family’s connections with the Royal Cork going back to the original Water Club of 1720.

However, all these seemingly-rebellious Young Turks in the re-born RWIYC had retained their membership of the Royal Cork YC and would in time become part of its establishment lineup. But everything seemed up for grabs in the early 1860s, and though the Kingstown to Queenstown Race was sailed again in 1861, the management at either end was less clear.

Be that as it may, the 1861 race was started in Dublin Bay on 19th July, and once again mustered 16 starters with the winner being Colonel Huey’s slippy 62-ton cutter Osprey, with designer-builder Joseph Wheeler’s own 48-tonner Avalanche having to make do with second despite having led into Cork Harbour in light airs, while E J Saunderson of Lough Erne YC was third with another even smaller and slippy craft, the 34-ton cutter Phasma.

Admiral French’s own 61-ton yawl Spell took part this time (see first name on written entry list above), but although he was to continue as RCYC Admiral until his death in 1866, he’d already been 77 when he took over as Admiral in 1857, and his enthusiastic promotion of the Kingstown-Queenstown race’s first staging in 1860 suggested an old man in a hurry to promote an idea which he’d been carrying for some time.

Certainly, at the Kingstown to Queenstown Race’s third staging on July 11th 1862, there’s a clear impression that others had taken it over, as the host club on Dublin Bay has become the Royal Irish YC from their impressive 1851-completed clubhouse, while the trophy is an expensive bit of silver plate presented by the Royal Western of Ireland YC.

The Royal Irish Yacht Club hosted the start of the third and final Kingstown to Queenstown Race in 1862The Royal Irish Yacht Club hosted the start of the third and final Kingstown to Queenstown Race in 1862.

For anyone seeking abstruse historical connections, it’s of interest that The Liberator, Daniel O’Connell of Derrynane (1775-1847) had been present at both the foundation of the Royal Western in Kilrush in 1828, and the meeting in Dublin on July 4th 1846 when the 1831-founded Royal Irish YC had been revived. Meanwhile, in 1862, the third Kingstown-Queenstown Race once again attracted 16 starters (though there’s no note of any entry limit), and they ranged in size from three 35-ton cutters – Ariadne (G Higgins), Coolan (G Robinson) and Glance (A Duncan – to two 130-ton schooner, Galatea (T Broadwood) and Georgiana (Capt Smith Barry).

The clear winner was the 50-ton cutter Phosphorous owned by W Turner - who is doubtless immortalized in modern Cork by Turner’s Cross - while C J Tennant’s 90-ton cutter Clutha was second on the water, but Galatea won the schooners and was reckoned second on handicap.

They arrived into the finish at Cobh where the Royal Western of Ireland was now well-established as the second club with premises at Westbourne Place next the Queen’s Hotel, and a membership which by 1863 included the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Carlisle, as well as Sir Robert Peel, at that time Chief Secretary for Ireland. So heaven only knows what politicking was going on behind the scenes, for the Royal Cork, still with T G French as Admiral, had been well settled into its purpose-designed new clubhouse in Cobh since 1854, and no-one doubted its claim of seniority in its descent from the Water Club of 1720.

As it happened, 1863 was probably the high point of the RWIYC’s time in Cobh, for the rest of the decade saw a period of economic decline, and the Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race wasn’t staged again until 1888. While the Royal Cork came through the thin times as it had come through many others, in 1870 the Royal Western of Ireland YC was quietly wound up at Cobh. But in the west of Ireland, and particularly with the Glynn family of Kilrush and the The Knight of Glin across the Shannon Estuary, enough of its memorabilia, artefacts and records survived for it to be revived with the opening of Kilrush Marina, with the club’s greatest modern success being Ger O’Rourke’s overall victory with the Cookson 50 Chieftain in the RORC Rolex Fastnet Race 2007.

Ger O’Rourke’s Cookson 50 ChieftainThe Royal Western of Ireland lives again – Ger O’Rourke’s Cookson 50 Chieftain on her way to winning the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race overall. Photo: Rolex

Meanwhile, after the race of 1888, this fascinating course lay unused until 1937, when it was reinstated by the Irish Cruising Club. Naturally, Harry Donegan’s famous 18-ton cutter Gull led the contingent up from Cork to do the race, though she was under the command of Harry Donegan Jnr – “Young Harry” – as Skipper Donegan was already unwell. But he was delighted to see his beloved ship come into the harbour well in the lead approaching the finish at Cobh, until in a calm at the Spit Light within a short distance of the finish the tide set her onto the spit to the mortification of her young crew, as she dried out completely while John Kearney from the National YC in his own designed and built 38ft yawl Mavis took line honours, with the corrected time win being taken by one of the smallest boats in the fleet, Francis Cobbe’s Scandinavian built 6-ton Bermudan sloop Curlew from Malahide.

John Kearney aboard his own designed and built 38ft yawl MavisWaiting for the breeze – John Kearney aboard his own designed and built 38ft yawl Mavis in Dun Loaghaire Harbour. In the 1937 ICC Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race, Mavis took line honours at Cobh after Harry Donegan’s Gull had gone aground at The Spit.

When racing from the Irish Sea to Cork was revived after World War II, it was in the form of the RORC Beaumaris to Cork Race, but with the folk memories still there of hard won places being lost in the flukey conditions within Cork Harbour, the finish was moved to Roche’s Point, while race from Cowes insisted on being even further from land influences – they finished at the Daunt LV.

The biennial Beaumaris-Cork Race was kind to Irish boats, with winners including John McConnell’s hefty Bermudan cutter Susannah (National YC) in1964, and Johnny Pearson’s 8 Metre Cruiser-Racer Orana (Howth YC) in 1966. But with boats becoming faster and mileage demands rising, in the 1970s it became the Holyhead-Fastnet-Cork Race, and it had a real buzz about it during the great days of Irish campaigning towards an Admirals Cup Team, with a startling new 40ft boat – a Two Tonner called Irish Mist II designed for Archie O’Leary by Ron Holland – setting a scorching pace.

So now, with racing restricted to territorial waters, we’ve come full circle and then gone beyond it, with the Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour theme restored, but with the 1970s addition of the Fastnet loop brought back to give it a bit of bite. This Fastnet 450, it’s quite the business – it has something for everyone who is serious about offshore racing, and is a beacon of hope for everyone who tries to keep sailing alive through this weird year.

Crosshaven in the summer of 1975That was then…..Crosshaven in the summer of 1975, without a Travelhoist about the place. It’s the day after the RORC/ISORA Holyhead-Fastnet-Cork Race, and Otto Glaser’s McGruer 47 Tritsch-Tratsch II from Howth is dried out (with some difficulty) at the little quay for some necessary work, while beyond in style on their moorings are (left to right) Archie O’Leary’s new Irish Mist, a Holland 40 which was overall winner, Clayton Love’s Swan 44 Assiduous, and Denis Doyle’s S&S 47 Moonduster. Also in the photo are three Cork Harbour One Designs in their cruiser version with masthead Bermudan rigs.

All the Fastnet 450 Race news is here. Notice of Race downloadable below. Race entry form here.

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Eoghan Harris defends Afloat's WM Nixon over reader criticism of his recent article on life in the West Cork village in April


Donna McCarthy, who wrote complaining about W.M Nixon’s light-hearted piece about Baltimore, should offer him an apology for three reasons.

First, Donna has no right to talk about Nixon getting things wrong. He is totally innocent of her main charge - that he wrote about a dog defecating on the street. He did not. Donna herself dreamed that up and is solely responsible for any adverse media comment that may arise from it. Accordingly, she owes both W.M Nixon and Baltimore an apology and not the other way round. 

Second, Donna is clearly ignorant of the fact that WM Nixon adores Baltimore judging by his stunning 2014 article in Afloat, which covered the contribution of every local hero from the late Youen Jacob’s Cafe Brise, to Richard Bushe’s bar to Liam Hegarty’s boatyard. A link to this splendid narrative is here.

Finally, as I myself have written about every aspect of life in Baltimore since 1990, I want to say that W M Nixon has no master in writing about Irish maritime villages and towns. But in writing about Baltimore he kept his best wine to the last.

Eoghan Harris

Donna McCarthy acknowledged her error in interpreting Mr Nixon’s comments regarding the dog by way of a Facebook comment on April 8 here - Ed

Eoghan Harris is graceful in his defence of my position on the Dogs in the Streets of Baltimore, which is much appreciated, and particularly gallant in view of his current health circumstances, which would distract many a lesser man. Outsiders should be aware that we devoted drivers of Saab cars constitute a mutually supportive confraternity by comparison with which the Knights Templar are but a loose-knit rabble. W M Nixon

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Sunshine in December imparts a surreal look to everything it illuminates with its vivid low-angled delineation. And for anyone who happened to be on the Shannon Estuary between Kilrush and Scattery Island on Monday afternoon this week, the sense of mythology realised was accentuated by the very welcome sunlight gleaming on the elegant hull and sweet-setting vintage rig of the re-born 1905-built Dublin Bay 21 Naneen, sailing for the first time in thirty-three years.

It was back in September that we witnessed the launching of Naneen after the completion of the meticulously crafted re-creation of the hull, deck and cabin-roof of the Alfred Mylne-designed classic by Steve Morris and his team at Kilrush Boatyard. But while this certainly looked very much like the able and beautiful boat that she undoubtedly is, much still needed to be done in the detailed installation of fittings and other equipment to accommodate the simpler rig which Fionan de Barra and Hal Sisk’s Dublin Bay 21 Restoration Project is using to make these special boats more accessible and manageable in their home waters at Dun Laoghaire.

naneen sailing cabin2A successful Alfred Mylne design combines overall elegance with exquisite detail. The stylish cabin (which Mylne referred to as “The Den”) is a little masterpiece of coachroof design. Standing by the mast facing forward in a state of enchantment is Fionan de Barra – he sailed on Naneen in 1968 when she was owned by Willie Maguire. Photo: Kate Griffiths

Getting everything just right for Naneen’s first sail began to seem like one of those projects which feel as though they’re moving ever more slowly the nearer everything gets to the final objective, particularly in the fulfilling of very special requirements for the classic-style sails Yet there was something in the air last weekend which hinted at a fair wind for all classic boat enthusiasts in Ireland, and the first sail of the Naneen on Monday was the ultimate expression of it all.

For on Saturday night, the Howth 17s had held their annual dinner and prize-giving, an event which first began 122 years ago. But 2019’s gathering – hosted by Class Captain Susan Morgan – was very special, as it celebrated the completed restoration of the class to its current full complement of 19 boats after a quarter of the fleet was variously damaged – one becoming a complete write-off – when their winter storage shed on Howth’s East Pier had its roof demolished by Storm Emma on 2nd March 2018.

But now the class is back in full health, 54 races were completed during 2019, and though the top scratch performers were Deilginis (Massey, Twomey and Kenny) and Rita (John Curley & Marcus Lynch), the class’s sensible handicap system ensures that most boats are among the silverware.

A sense of the decidedly manic mood and enhanced spirit of community which saved the Seventeens is captured in this vid by Assistant Class Captain David O’Shea 

Getting the Seventeens restored to full strength has been a massive effort involving many people, and widespread and diverse craftsmen. But with a strong and supportive class organisation and several generous benefactors, it was a reasonably manageable project by comparison with the challenge of reviving the Dublin Bay 21s.

The DB21 class first raced in June 1903, with five boats competing in that opening season. Naneen didn’t appear until 1905, but she was special, as she was one of the few actually built in what was then Kingstown. Her builder was James Clancy, and the class reached what was reckoned the ideal number of seven boats with the addition of Geraldine in 1908.

db21 gaff rig3 1“You couldn’t see the boat for the acres of sail”. Under their original rig which they carried for fifty years, the Dublin Bay 21s were always a challenging proposition to race hard.
Setting a widow-making labour-intensive gaff cutter rig with a large jackyard topsail, the class became a by-word for hard-driving racing, such that by the early 1960s the hulls were becoming very tired. And crews were increasingly difficult to recruit as more easily-sailed boats in the new-fangled low-maintenance glassfibre construction came on the market.

So in 1964 the class changed to a much simpler Bermudan masthead rig. And though some reckoned the introduction of a standing backstay which was tensioned by a wheel-turned rigging screw was something which hastened the final exhaustion of the hulls, the new setup provided the class with another 22 seasons of racing.

Admittedly some of the boats were very tired indeed when Hurricane Charlie delivered the final coup de grace in Dun Laoghaire in August 1986. In those pre-marina days, the harbour became a total maelstrom, and when it finally emerged after the onshore storm feeling very bruised and battered, there wasn’t a remotely seaworthy Dublin Bay 21 left.

Most Dun Laoghaire sailors were resigned to the class’s demise, but architect Fionan de Barra was so much of a Dublin Bay 21 enthusiast that he wouldn’t hear of such a thing. Gradually he acquired the rights to all that remained of the seven 21s - whose beauty still shone through their various levels of damage – and after some time in storage in Arklow, they found a longterm home in a Wicklow farmyard while Fionan cast about for ways and means of giving them a new life.

naneen farmyard4The de-commissioned Naneen with two of her sisters in a Wicklow farmyard, awaiting a restoration plan
He’d given himself a herculean task. And when we realize that he recently celebrated his 80th birthday, we can get some notion of how he felt sailing for the first time aboard the re-born Naneen in those sublime conditions on Monday, the extraordinary achievement of his life’s most cherished dream after 33 years.

It was linking-up with Hal Sisk some years ago that really began to put the project into the realms of possibility. Hal is a veritable universe of classic yacht and boat restoration. His best-known project is the painstaking and very deservedly award-winning restoration of the 1894 G L Watson-designed 36ft cutter Peggy Bawn, which was undertaken by Michael Kennedy of Dunmore East with a small team of specialists between 2003-2005.

peggy bawn carrickfergus5The immaculately restored G L Watson cutter Peggy Bawn sailing in Belfast Lough off Carrickfergus, where she was built by John HIlditch in 1894. Photo: Trish Nixon
But before that, Hal had been a pioneer in Ireland with his restoration in 1984 of the 1884-built miniature Fife plank-on-edge cutter Vagrant. And while he has adhered to the original concept in having a new Dublin Bay Water Wag built, equally he has thought outside the box with a glassfibre version of the old Dublin Bay Colleens, which were once so popular there was an offshoot class in Argentina.

Thus Hal and Fionan began to develop ideas which retained the spirit of the class while making the boats more appropriate to the needs of today in Dun Laoghaire harbour, with its many other rival sailing attraction. They reckoned that retaining the pure Mylne-designed hull was essential, but that a simpler yet clearly vintage rig was needed for the time-constrained sailors of the 21st Century.

In the early stages of developing their thinking, they were able to draw on the fertile mind of naval architect and yacht design historian Theo Rye, who contributed so much to the Irish classic and traditional boat movement.

hal sisk theo rye6Hal Sisk and the late Theo Rye in Limerick in 2014 for the first launching of the innovative CityOne sailing dinghies (in background) which Theo designed for Gary Mac Mahon and the Ilen Boat-Building School. Photo: W M Nixon

But very sadly he was taken from among us with his untimely death aged only 48 in 2016. The essential role of technical consultant was in due course taken on by Paul Spooner, who fully understood Hal and Fionan’s aspirations towards finding an acceptable balance between the Dublin Bay 21s’ history, and the demands of the modern sailing scene. After further research and more than a few brainstorming sessions, a plan emerged to have new timber hulls built on the original lead ballast keels – thereby continuing the direct historical line of each individual boat – but it was decided the actual boat-building would use modern wood construction technology.

Finding the appropriate specialist boatyards suitable for the task was a search in itself, and for one of the hulls, they went to England and the renowned Elephant Boatyard on the upper reaches of the River Hamble off the Solent. But for Naneen – rather special with her all-Dun Laoghaire origins – they went to Steve Morris of Kilrush Boatyard in far West Clare on the Shannon Estuary.

sally okeeffe sailing7The characterful traditional Shannon cutter Sally O’Keeffe is one of Steve Morris’s best-known boat-building projectkilrush gleiteog8While work is continuing on two more Dublin Bay 21s in Kilrush, in another part of the big shed Steve Morris and his team are deploying more traditional boat-building skills to create this new Galway Bay gleiteog. Photo: Steve Morris

Anything that Steve Morris and his growing team undertake seems special in the quality of its workmanship, and the affable New Zealander’s abilities cover the broadest possible spectrum. Until Naneen came along, he was best known as the lead teacher-builder in the Querrin community’s creation of the Sally O’Keeffe, the utterly charming yet extremely effective re-creation of a traditional Shannon Estuary sailing working boat.

But while Sally O’Keeffe was built in the time-honoured simple planked wooden construction style, Steve has shown himself equally adept in working with the most modern materials, and the re-building of the Naneen to very clearcut standards and design requirements was a challenge he relished.

The hull was built upside-down using the SP Systems epoxy method. The main skin is 16mm yellow cedar t&g strip with two African mahogany quarter-sawn veneers on laminated African mahogany frames and ribs, with the original Alfred Mylne framing schedule being strictly followed. The entire centre-line is laminated iroko. As for the deck, in keeping with the original value concept, it is two layers of Robbins Elite marine ply on Douglas fir beams and carlins. When completed, both hull and deck were sheathed with two layers of 280 gram twill weave cloth set in epoxy.

naneen in frame9An early stage of the Naneen re-build, with the laminated African mahogany frames hinting at the classically beautiful hull which will be the finished product. Photo: Steve Morris
Clearly, with construction of this quality, the re-born Dublin Bay 21s are going to be in prime condition for a very long time. So it’s in line with this philosophy of the long view that the appropriate time was allocated to making the completed boat into a sailing proposition. But with a miserably wet and dark November veering inevitably into December, suddenly the weather lightened and the pace quickened, and an urgently exuberant missive from Hal this week captures the flavour of Monday’s extraordinary experience:

“We may not get such a perfect weather window before Christmas. And Naneen’s first sail was magnificent, despite being straight out of the box.

The large package with the special sails arrived by courier at home in Dun Laoghaire on Friday at 17.00, but I couldn’t get down to Kilrush until Sunday at 12 on Sunday, with three hours spent bending on the sails in a sunny calm. Then Fionán arrived down in the dark, and we stayed aboard Molly Bán (Hal’s purpose-designed motor cruiser and mothership).

Next morning, cold and clear - we’d to wait until 10.30 to even walk on the very icy marina pontoon, while Naneen's deck was straight ice. As it was completely calm we didn't expect to get out at all, so three hours hours were spent checking and fitting cleats and jib sheet fairleads and so on.

But then in early afternoon there came a light breeze. Carpe diem. Seize the day. We went out through the lock gate warped alongside Sally O’Keeffe, which would serve as photographer’s launch for Kate Griffiths if we managed to get a sail at all, and for forty magic minutes the fates were with us.

naneen maiden sail10After the wettest and windiest Autumn in years, the first days of December brought ideal conditions for Naneen’s maiden sail. Photo: Kate Griffiths

Everything works brilliantly! The Dyneema standing rigging (another embracing of modern materials) had been set up tight by Steve and Dan, and was just slightly slack on the lee side in an admittedly gentle wind. The breeze and late sunshine were just perfect, yielding astonishing colours – it reminded me of the time Peggy Bawn was in America, and that great photographer of classic yachts Benjamin Mendlowitz insisted we had a photo session in the evening light to make the most of Peggy’s many curves, and he was absolutely right.

naneen maiden sail11A magic weather window in December enabled the Shannon Estuary to provide a special image of the restored Naneen in classic Ben Mendlowitz style. Photo: Kate Griffiths

Naneen slipped along so effortlessly, leaving little wake, that at times it was all that Fintan could do to keep up with us with Sally O’Keeffe under power. Enchantment was total. All credit to the wonderful work of Steve Morris, Dan Mill, James Madigan, Fintan Carroll, and Kate Griffiths. And also Sue Pennison for the splendid rope and leatherwork, while on the day a special mention for Steve Hall of North Sea Sails of Tollesbury.”

naneen build team12Key members of the Naneen restoration team at her launching at Kilrush in September included (left to right) Steve Morris, James Madigan, Hal Sisk, Fionan de Barrra, Fintan Ryan and Dan Mill. Photo: W M Nixon

The new look for the Dublin Bay 21s makes us realise that in their original form, the huge rig was such an in-your-face feature that you scarcely noticed the remarkable and harmonious beauty of the hull and coachroof. But now with the simpler rig they’re there for full appreciation, and by next summer the first four restored boats should be in Dun Laoghaire and available for accessible sailing.

Their presence will fit well with the developing quest to provide a more meaningful interaction between town and harbour, but meanwhile, the growing size and vigour of the classic Dublin Bay Water Wag class is testament to the eternal attraction of wooden boats to time-honoured designs. For although today’s 14ft 3in Wags - as designed by Maimie Doyle in 1900 - may have seen as many as sixty boats built over the intervening 119 years, until recently there had always been a certain level of attrition, and when boats disappeared beyond trace, the class was scrupulous abut re-allocating their sail numbers to new boats, rather than allowing an artificial total to develop.

swift water wag13Guy Kilroy’s 2001-built Water Wag Swift in top racing trim. In 2020 the class – established in 1887 - will have more than fifty registered boats to the Maimie Doyle design of 1900. Photo: W M Nixon

But 2020 will be special, as an officially registered Water Wag No 50 will be sailing for the first time ever, owned by Mandy Chambers and created under a Boat Building School scheme at the Albola yard in San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain. There, another interesting project is the re-creation of a very ancient Basque whaler found in the St Lawrence river in Canada, which may be proof – were it needed – that enterprising Basque fishermen were well aware of the existence of North America before Columbus got there, but had kept it as a trade secret.

The reach of the vintage Irish one design classes has also extended across the Atlantic, as a Water Wag for David Espey and a Dublin Bay 24 are both being created in the Apprenticeshop in Rockland in Maine, while of course in France, Mike Newmeyer’s Skol ar Mor near the Morbihan has availed of the Water Wag, Shannon One Design and Howth 17 boat-building ambitions to keep school programmes busy, as has Paul Robert’s Les Ateliers de L’Enfer in Douarnenez, where Ian Malcolm organised the re-building of the fatally-damaged Howth 17 Anita under the classic boat principle that’s it’s a re-building of the same boat if you use the original ballast keel.

apprenticeshop maine14A new Water Wag for David Espey of Dun Laoghaire under construction (right) in the pleasant surroundings of the Apprenticeshop in Maine.

This utilisation of state-subsidised Boat Building Schools in France and Spain has been a Godsend for Ireland’s classics, but even though state support – if any – is extremely limited in this country and would be on a case-by-case basis through local authorities, it’s refreshing to find that craftsmen based in Ireland can rise to the challenge if given the chance.

Admittedly both Steve Morris and his expert team-mate Dan Mill of Galway hail from New Zealand, while Rui Ferreira down in Ballydehob – ace builder of Water Wags who is also currently putting a new deck on his second Howth 17 – is from Portugal. But the restoration of the Howth 17s to their pre-Storm Emma strength and better has found an encouraging level of traditional boat-building expertise hidden away in Leinster.

Brendan Tracy of Arklow – who worked on the restoration of Hal Sisk’s little 1884 Fife cutter Vagrant way back in 1984 – is still going strong, and after Storm Emma he put a new stem and other significant repairs into Michael and Jane Duffy’s Hera, one of the original five 1898 Howth 17s. And it was of course Larry Archer of Malahide, working in a shed out the back of the airport, who managed to find the time to restore Davy Jones and George Curley’s mega-damaged 1907-vintage Seventeen Rosemary, while at the same time making a very effective job of bringing Guy and Jacky Kilroy’s 25ft cutter Marguerite – built by Jack Wellington in Malahide in 1896 – up to a new standard of classic quality 

howth seventeens sailing15The 122-year-old Howth 17s marked the return to their full strength of 19 boats at their Annual Dinner and Prizegiving last weekend after successful restoration projects following the depredations of Storm Emma in March 2018. Photo: John Deane
Inevitably links to West Cork seem to emerge wherever you turn in our classic and traditional boat-building, and there’ll often be someone from the widespread Leonard clan involved, as was seen when Gerry Levins and Mick Leonard in Portmarnock made good some fire damage on Shane O’Doherty’s Howth 17 Pauline. So with other wooden boatbuilders such as Tiernan Roe of Ballydehob adding to the talent pool, all roads seem ultimately to lead to Oldcourt on the Ilen River above Baltimore, where Liam Hegarty made such a masterful job of bring the 56ft 1926 ketch Ilen back to life, and the current project is the re-building of the one and only Saoirse.

But for now, the focus of attention is the re-born Naneen. Her luminous maiden sail in the early days of December means Christmas has come early for classic boat enthusiasts throughout Ireland.

Published in Shannon Estuary
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It is ironic that the internationally-recognised abbreviated sail number identification on Irish racing boats should be IRL writes W M Nixon. For in global tech-speak, IRL is the acronym of “In Real Life”. If the rather intriguing way of existence we have in Ireland these days truly is Real Life, then all we can say is fasten your seat belts, put on the goggles, and be prepared to believe anything at least once.

Nowadays, our senses are so assaulted by hugely sophisticated electronic data that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to say where reality ends and artificiality begins. And in any case, the signals which the various human sensors are transmitting have to go though so many conduits before they reach the brain and the processing therein, that you could be forgiven for thinking that an extra layer or two in the out-of-body world can’t really make all that much difference. 

in real life2Now you see it, now you don’t – these competitors in the ICRA Nationals 2019 at the RStGYC in June are actually celebrating their participation In Real Life. Photo: O’Brien
Thus it could well be that the categorizing of anything as being In Real Life is a shrinking area. If we haven’t seen it on screen or experienced it through other Virtual Reality devices, then we don’t believe it. And what you see on screen can be whatever those who are screening wish it to be.

These meandering thoughts are prompted by the rumour from down Kerry way (where rumour is reality) that the association of the magnificent sea rock monastery of Skellig Michael with the Star Wars movie franchise has been so successful in promoting local tourism that there’s a move afoot to rename the entire and utterly sublime Kerry coast as “Star Wars’ Last Frontier”.

star wars vehicle3The Star Wars fighter/freighter flies past the Little Skellig on the way to land people and cargo on Skellig MichaelDoubtless, it emanates from Kilgarvan, which isn’t even on the coast, but this hasn’t stopped that mountainy village from producing some of the most off-the-wall ideas in Irish public life. So what are those of us, for whom Skellig Michael and the coast inside it have such special sailing associations, going to think? What are we to make of its possible re-packaging as something which is basically totally imaginary as part of an international entertainment brand?

For branding is what it’s all about. Those of us who have known and loved Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard, both by sea and land, for decades had distinctly mixed feelings about its re-branding as the Wild Atlantic Way. Certainly it’s a snappy little phrase, but snappy little phrases seem like something in questionable taste in attempting to capture the magnificence of this majestic coastline.

Yet as that great showman P T Barnum so pithily put it, “Nobody ever went broke by under-estimating public taste.” To say that the Wild Atlantic Way has been a marketing success is like saying that the Eiffel Tower is a tall and conspicuous iron structure. It has been pure marketing genius. And inevitably the marketing power of the Wild Atlantic Way has brought the problems of success, such that lovers of the Atlantic coast in unsullied form can only console themselves with the thought that many of the roads are so blessedly small that the inevitable tour buses cannot negotiate them.

cliffs of moher4Eternally magnificent in their raw state, but the Cliffs of Moher have become so packaged these days as to be almost institutionalised

Thus the visiting groups tend to be bussed to the more accessible places in such crowds as to spoil them, so much so that if you were anywhere near the Cliffs of Moher because your will to live is in some doubt, don’t worry about the uncertainty - the scene at the cliffs and its Visitor Centre and bus and car parks will soon make you genuinely suicidal.

Others react to this Wild Atlantic Way thing in a more positive style. A recent posting on the ketch Ilen site by Gary Mac Mahon of the Ilen Project in Limerick shows a photo of Conor O’Brien at the helm of the ketch Kelpie off Ireland’s west coast in 1913, and the Sage of Shannonside describes it as being a time when this was the “Wild Authentic Way”, which is neat.

conor obrien kelpie5 Conor O’Brien of Foynes Island at the helm of his ketch Kelpie off the West Coast of Ireland in 1913 when it was still the “Wild Authentic Way” Photo courtesy Gary Mac Mahon

Yet the re-branders persist in going about their work for all Ireland, and for some time they’ve been trying to get us to think of a particular area as The Ancient East, which immediately projects an image of a ruinous and overgrown region inhabited almost entirely by dribbling geriatrics. This may indeed be how the rest of Ireland likes to see us, but if the marketing wonks simply called it Leinster and encouraged the rugby team to keep winning, it would surely do much more good.

The biggest problem in terms of a snappy marketing phrase continues to be the Midlands. Those of us of a boat-minded persuasion are more than happy to think of it as the Shannon and its lakes, but maybe the difficulty is that the international perception of the word “Shannon” is of an airport where old-style Russian leaders used to sleep off an excess of drink, a place where there are secretive comings and goings of enormous and minimally-marked aircraft under cover of darkness. Definitely not an image one wishes to associate with a cherished holiday area.

Be that as it may, although Kerry is one of the biggest jewels in the crown which is the Wild Atlantic Way, being the Kingdom of Kerry (which is how it sees itself despite being up to the eyeballs with republicanism), it wants to reassert its own identity, and it seems that Star Wars Last Frontier is a front runner in the re-naming stakes.

It’s just grand, but where’s the reality of the Kerry coast in all this?
Not to worry. They can call it whatever they like, but it’s still the real deal under any name for those of us who have been sailing it for longer than we care to remember.

The first time was very well back in the previous Millennium when we slugged our way southward from Inishbofin off the Galway coast in the ancient yawl Ainmara, and after a night or two at sea found ourselves in Brandon Bay in Kerry, anchored off the hospitably little settlement of Brandon itself. It was a place well furnished for hospitality with three pubs, in one of which we had an enormous feed while swilling pints and watching the new television channel with Dev himself making a very prescient broadcast about the perils of this mysterious medium.

ainmara in brandon bay6First impressions of Kerry. Ainmara in Brandon Bay a long time ago, having sailed mostly to windward, and at one stage through a summer gale, from Inishbofin off West Connemara. Photo: W M Nixon

Whether you come along the coast from north or south, Kerry makes an indelible impression, and coming from the south the effect is heightened if you make your entrance through Dursey Sound under the creaking cable car. Emerging on the north side of the Sound, the entire glorious panorama of the Kerry coast is spread out across the horizon, from the Bull Island, the Blasket and the Skelligs to the west, right round to the rising purple heights of McGillycuddy’s Reeks (it’s easier to say it as “Mackle-cuddy” even if that’s not entirely correct) as they soar towards the peaks about Carrantuohill to the east.

Under these many hills and mountains are enough inlets and anchorages and harbours and inshore islands to interest you for a week or a fortnight, the magic of it summed up in names like Ventry, Dingle, Cromane, Kells Bay, Knightstown, Cahirsiveen, Ballinskelligs, Derrynane, Sneem, Parknasilla, Dunkerrin, Kilmakilloge, and Ardgroom with many others.

port magee7Portmagee on the mainland side of the south end of Valentia Sound is now seen as Port Star Wars

And there in the midst of them is Portmagee, which has reinvented itself as Port Star Wars, providing the quickest access to Skellig Michael. It’s the reality of modern life that the place is thriving because of its association with a contemporary sci-fi film series. And those who would be inclined to sniff at such a thing would do well to remember that they may be of a generation which first became most vividly aware of the special magic of Skellig Michael because it featured in Kenneth Clark’s classic 1969 TV series Civilisation, its extraordinary history as a remote island mini-monastery being featured, for its isolation meant it survived as an outpost of civilization while the rest of Europe was plunged for a century into the horrors of the Dark Ages.

skellig michael astern8One of the most special moments in Irish offshore racing. Liam Shanahan helming the 2015 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race winner Ruth with the Great Skellig put astern.

For most of today’s sailors, Skellig Michael rears its handsome head every second year as the final turning point in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race. In fact, the turning point is a waypoint to the west of the Skellig which is supposed to keep contestants safely clear of the Washerwoman Rock to the southwest of the Skellig, whose breakers are clearly visible in our header photo.

But in the 2017 race when the fleet were beating from the Fastnet to this turn, one boat which had better remain anonymous was doing very well by energetically tacking along the mainland shore, and they only came out to the Skellig waypoint turn at the last possible minute, which meant the tracker showed that they sailed through the gap between the Skellig and the Washerwoman, yet still complied with the requirement to leave the waypoint to starboard. You know who you are……..

Racing round the Skellig is better than not seeing it at all. But a leisurely visit ashore was best of all if, during a cruise in the area, the weather happened to be exceptionally settled and the ocean relatively swell-free. We’re talking of times past before the development of the current regulated visiting system, though doubtless a cruising man or woman with the golden tongue could talk their way ashore as being successors to the Irish voyaging monks of the early Middle Ages, a line we successfully took when getting onto the very attractive monastery island of Caldy off southwest Wales many years ago.

Skellig MapMap of Skellig Michael. The most sheltered landing place is at Blind Man’s Cove at the northern end.

Our visit to Skellig Michael was back in 1982, when things were very relaxed. The first Star Wars film had only been made eight years earlier, and any idea of associating the natural drama of Skellig Michael with the series was still many years in the future, so we were able to enjoy Skellig Michael in its last years of innocence with a certain air of unreality.

In fact, there was something unreal about that entire cruise, which was round Ireland anti-clockwise in the Hustler 30 Turtle in conditions so summery that we had our first transit of the Joyce Sound Pass inside Slyne Head, coming from the westward as though going through the Grand Canal in the midst of Kildare. Later we spent some leisurely time on the Great Blasket Island before overnighting in Knightstown on Valentia, then waking there early in the morning to an even more perfect day with a gently fading easterly, which allowed us to run under spinnaker out to the Skellig.

There, the wind obligingly fell away to enable an easy landing of two of the crew while the third reversed Turtle away from the island quay to await his turn to land later. But nearby, our friend Larry Swan from Galway with just his son aboard Finola was so determined that they should go ashore together that they anchored right under the cliff in 25 fathoms and made the joint visit which they thought well worthwhile, even if it did take them an hour and ten minutes to retrieve their ground tackle afterwards.

Subsequently, we learned that another cruising boats with whom we’d been socialising with some energy in Knightstown had taken so long to emerge into the new day that it was well into the evening by the time they got to the Skelligs. The day’s ferry schedule was long completed, there were no other cruising boats seeking to land, and they’d the luxury of having the landing place in Blind Man’s Cove to themselves for a quiet visit as the sun set.

skelligs landing10The height of luxury – on a very rare calm evening, you can have the Skelligs landing at Blind Man’s Cove to yourself, or at least you could before Star Wars came along.
While we were there, at the landing place and around the steep sea mountain itself there was something of a regatta atmosphere - not over-crowded with those who had come over from Portmagee via the launch service, yet with enough people for interesting variety, ranging from those who were clearly on a personal pilgrimage, to a group of athletic and sun-tanned young German women who were out-doing each other in the skimpy bikini stakes. Skellig Michael at that time could absorb it all, and it really is one of those places which exceed all expectation when you finally get there.

monastery skellig michael11A totally other-worldly place – the beehive stone huts of the miniature monastery on Skellig Michael high above the Atlantic.

Unfortunately these days too many people want to do that, so we cherish our memories of Skellig Michael, and while two of us found even the little monastery with its distinctive stone beehive huts almost too vertiginous, our third shipmate was immune to heights, and he crossed Christ’s Saddle to the hermitage on the highest point.

There he found the legendary Mr Murphy the stonemason and conservationist from Valentia, who spent each summer on the island on maintenance projects and went about his work at dizzying heights with quiet unconcern so that sometimes he seemed to hover like a hummingbird with such effortless ease with no visible support that our shipmate, in returning across the Saddle, was so inspired by what he’d seen Mr Murphy do that he almost fell off. But he’d the thoughtfulness not to tell us this for a day or two.

For contrast, we headed on to the anchorage of Derrynane and the abiding presence of Daniel O’Connell and Conor O’Brien and Lord Dunraven and all those other Derrynane summer people of times past, and finally after a last Kerry anchorage in the hidden natural harbour of Cleanderry (the entrance is only 25ft wide), we bade farewell to what may well become the Star Wars Coast and sailed south to windward through Dursey Sound with some very short tacks, and headed on to the delights of West Cork.

dursey sound12Departure from the Kerry coast – tacking southward through Dursey Sound on Turtle, with the cable car creaking its way across overhead, while the late Brendan Cassidy concentrates on getting the best windward performance, and Johnny Malcolm wonders if we aren’t getting a bit too near the mainland coast of Beara. Photo: W M Nixon

So would a re-branding of the Kerry seaboard as the Star Wars Coast, and thus something extra-special within the Wild Atlantic Way marketing project, be beneficial in the long run? The jury is surely out on that. But you can sympathise with the people of Kerry in trying to use names from elsewhere for their benefit. After all, does Kerry benefit in any special way from the quintessential Irish product being called Kerrygold? And apparently, it has been ruled in some court or other that “Kerry” is such a generic name that people are free to use it for products regardless of where they are produced in Ireland, or indeed anywhere in the world for all we know.

But the “Star Wars’ Coast”? Would that work IRL – In Real Life? Perhaps. But not as we know it, Jim….

Published in Cruising
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Most sailing folk in Ireland will have some level of awareness of the Bantry Boat. Even those who live most determinedly in the present, and look unswervingly to the future, will be vaguely aware that thanks to some fortuitous turns of history, on both sides of the Atlantic we now have flotillas or individual examples of sailing/rowing craft of a classic design which is pushing towards being 250 years old and more in its origins. Old they may be in concept, yet these boats provide a valid combination of rowing and sailing for seamanship and adventure training which has a special resonance today, and in coastal communities, they can be a focal point for active maritime involvement writes W M Nixon.

The ship’s gigs of the 18th Century were a reflection of the vessels they served. One of the best-known of them, the longboat in which Captain Bligh made his astonishing 3,500 mile voyage in 1789 in the Pacific after being set adrift by Fletcher Christian and his fellow-mutineers, was a modest 25-footer which was in keeping with the fact that her mother-ship the Bounty was an ordinary workaday ship just 90ft long.

But the longboat which was left behind on Bere Island after the failed French invasion of Bantry Bay by 43 ships in 1796 was all of 38ft long. For this was the proper 1790-built Admiral’s Gig of a flagship of the Revolutionary Navy, and in size and style she showed the important status of the ship and officers she served.

The slim and elegant service vessel’s abandonment in that rugged part of the world where West Cork is verging into Kerry was ultimately the saving of her, for in time she was taken into the boathouse in Bantry House. And that fortuitous place of shelter was the perfect preservation pod - neither too warm nor too cold, neither too dry nor too damp. Over the years, she was saved for posterity, while her contemporaries and the splendid ship she’d served had themselves long since disappeared completely, most of their plans gone too in the mayhem of war and civic turbulence.

bantry boat museum2The original “Bantry Boat” – built in Brest in 1790 – is now conserved in the National Museum at Collins Barrack in Dublin

It was around 1943 or even earlier that approaches were made from Bantry House to the Irish Government about accepting responsibility for this significant historical artefact, and in 1944 the authorities took it on. But 38ft is a lot of boat, and for long enough it seemed sufficient simply to find a safe storage space until in 1974 the nascent Maritime Museum of Ireland in Dun Laoghaire took the Bantry Boat on loan as the centre-piece of its growing exhibition.

It’s wellnigh impossible to tabulate just how many projects of maritime history the polymath Hal Sisk has been involved with, both over the years and in the present time. Back in the 1970s and for subsequent decades, the Bantry Boat was just one of them. On such matters, he would be regularly in contact with his friend Bernard Cadoret of the encyclopaedic French magazine Le Chasse Maree. This splendid publication, which he founded in 1981 with his wife Michele, is heroically devoted to the cause of maritime history and culture, both nationally and worldwide. The continuing existence of the Bantry gig was something which deservedly was given minute attention, with the vessel’s lines being taken off in Ireland by Paul Kerrigan in 1977 to provide a uniquely authentic set of plans and several articles in Le Chasse Maree.

bantry boat plans3The special vintage rig of the Bantry Boat will be seen as a performance challenge by any genuine sailing enthusiast.

In time the actual Bantry boat herself was taken into the care of ship conservation department at Liverpool University with which John Kearon (originally of Arklow, and later to conserve the Asgard) is so closely involved, and now the gig is on permanent display in the Collins Barracks section of the National Museum in Dublin. But meanwhile the fact that the true plans were in existence had played a role in the next stage of the story.

It began in 1986 when New York Harbor saw the staging of the first Atlantic Challenge events. The brainchild of American marine philanthropist Lance Lee in consultation with Bernard Cadoret, it was based on multi-activity competition between young crews representing the US and France, using replicas of the Bantry longboat.

Recently in, we’ve carried a report about how the various rowing disciplines and their specialised boat types have been trying to find enough common ground to create an umbrella body to represent the interests of a sport which is undoubtedly growing in all areas and categories, but has difficulty in speaking with a single voice. Yet whether or not the Bantry boats could ever be included in this new grouping is a moot point, for not only are they an intensive rowing experience, but sailing them is an advanced skill in itself.

bantry boat rowing4 Waterford has been involved in the Atlantic Challenge concept since 2005. This photo of their boat An-Seabhac when new gives and idea of the complexity of the seamanship skills required – the ten 10ft oars have to be stowed in careful order, and the boat is rowed with the complete three-masted rig – including the sails -stowed on board.

This was soon learned as the Atlantic Challenge developed from its modest beginnings in 1986. 1988’s was due to be staged in France, and Hal Sisk was invited to see if he could organise an Irish crew. In an inspired decision, he approached people in Bantry such as Dr Matt Murphy and Mark Wickham, and between the rowing club and the sailing club, they got a crew together and headed off to Douarnenez to compete in a borrowed boat, for building Bantry boats as a training and community exercise was becoming something of a movement in itself, and an international movement at that, as the listing of the biennial stagings of the Atlantic Challenge since its foundation reveals:

atlantic challenge canada5A joy to race under sail. Atlantic Challenge 2010 under way in Ontario, Canada

atlantic challenge canada6A truly international gathering – Bantry Boats in port in Canada


1986 New York, New York (USA
1988 Douarnenez (France)
1990 Roskilde (Denmark)
1992 Brest (France)
1994 Penetanguishene, Ontario (Canada)
1996 Bantry, County Cork (Ireland)
1998 Roskilde (Denmark)
2000 Douarnenez (France)
2002 Rockland, Maine (USA Maine)
2004 Fishguard, Wales (GB)
2006 Genoa (Italy)
2008 Jakobstad (Finland)
2010 Midland, Ontario (Canada)
2012 Bantry, County Cork (Ireland)
2014 Gulf of Morbihan (France)
2016 Roskilde (Denmark)

And now, for 2018, the Atlantic Challenge will be in Northern Ireland, on our largest lake of Lough Neagh, at Antrim Boat Club in the lake’s northeast corner from July 20th to 28th. The Lough Neagh men have form in this, as they won 2012’s international event at Bantry. But Organising Committee chairman Charlie Macallister and his team – and their clubmates in Antrim BC – are well aware of the high standards of organisation and hospitality they’ll be expected to provide. But equally there’s always the challenge of maintaining a Bantry Boat in good order, and finding, keeping, training and motivating a young crew to a level of performance and success which makes it all worthwhile.

antrim bc harmonie7Antrim Boat Club on Lough Neagh with the local Atlantic Challenge’s first boat, the Harmonie, at the club pontoon. Antrim hosts the 2018 Atlantic Challenge from July 20th to 28th.

lough neagh bantry boat8Lough Neagh Bantry Boat Harmonie making knots on her home waters

For although the ideal is to build one of the boats as a community effort, the reality is that two or three skilled boatwrights can soon build one on their own. But in order to use the boat to her full potential, you need the numbers of a football team, plus two or three extra, to provide the full crew. In an age where other forms of rowing, other forms of sailing and indeed other forms of sport and recreation are readily available as rival distractions for potential crew, that’s a formidable challenge.

Yet over the years, people have found that the attractions of setting up a local Bantry Boat project are irresistible. They provide so much in one package – a beautiful and historically significant boat which can push towards 10 knots when being rowed by her ten 10ft oars, then when it’s time for the sailing part o the competition, those huge oars have to be skillfully stowed in a strictly choreographed programme in order to allow the ancient yet very effective three-masted rig to be set up.

No-one with a taste for sailing which is decidedly different to your modern high-tech stuff could resist the challenge of getting optimum performance from a Bantry Boat’s rig. Subtle differences in the relative trim of the three sails can hugely affect performance, but it’s a joy when they get it just right – Charlie Macallister was telling me that at an event in Wales, he was aboard a support boat which timed one of the Bantry Boats smoking along at a good 16–knots under sail.

integrite at greenwich9A pleasure to behold – the Atlantic Challenge Longboat Integrite makes her debut appearance at Greenwich Maritime Museum in London

lyme regis bantry boat10A fresh expression of a coastal town’s maritime spirit. This is the Lyme Regis boat sailing in the English Channel off the coast of Dorset

So the appeal is there, and when it works for a local community – as it does so well, for instance, at Lyme Regis in the heart of England’s south coast – then it can be a very fulfilling and beneficial project. It works, too, when there’s a certain level of official support in more structured societies. In the early 1990s, Lance Lee gave encouragement to the setting up of an Atlantic Challenge boat-building shop in Russia. That produced boats and a programme which received a level of official approval, and in time the Russians sent a build-team to Finland to help them set up something similar there.

This all acquired an extra international dimension when the Russians won the most recent Atlantic Challenge contest at the historic port of Roskilde in Denmark in 2016, which means that come July, the complex competition of rowing, seamanship skills and sailing skill on Lough Neagh will see the Russians as defending champions.

So the original idea of 1986 continues to have growing international appeal 32 years down the line, yet in Ireland while we have some high-profile Bantry Boats, numbers have always been modest, and although it’s reckoned that in all perhaps as many as 80 Bantry Boats have been built worldwide, the sad reality is that some of them have had a decidedly short active lifespan, as the initial enthusiasm and shared effort of building the boat fails to be followed by the continuous and sometimes exhausting dedication which is needed to keep such a programme alive.

bantry boats at bantry11Home waters. Bantry Boats racing in the Atlantic Challenge at Bantry in 2012, when the winner was the Antrim crew with Bantry second

cork bantry boat12Cork’s Bantry Boat Fionnbarra, community-built by Meitheal Mara, and with rig perfectly set up.

Yet it can be done, but it needs somewhere very special, and one of those special communities – most appropriately - is Bantry itself. There, the town’s maritime awareness has been further buoyed up by the new in-harbour marina, the place is buzzing generally as one of the main towns of increasingly prosperous West Cork, and in Diarmuid Murphy – son of Dr Matt Murphy who was one of the first Bantry people Hal Sisk went to when researching the possibilities of a Bantry crew back in 1987 – we have a total maritime enthusiast. He’s the main man at Bantry’s Fish Kitchen restaurant and the Fish Market shop, and is suitably fired up and ideally placed to keep the local 1990-built Bantry Boat Unite in proper commission and fully crewed.

His enthusiasm is infectious. He reckons the winning combination lies in Bantry’s continually-growing maritime enthusiasm and the fact that they have expanding rowing and sailing clubs side-by-side:  “There’s great cross-fertilisation between the two, and guys or girls who come to us from the rowing club could end up becoming sailors, and vice versa. The too, there’s a great tradition of active team sports in West Cork in particular. Sailing or rowing a Bantry Boat is very much a team sport, and a good positive attitude helps it all along”.

Another factor is having a developing community which is growing, but not at an unhealthily fast rate. A notable contrast to Bantry in Ireland is Banagher on the Shannon, where a fine Bantry Boat was built in 2012, but with a shrinking population, the word is that these days they just can’t get the crew.

At the other end of the urban scale, the city of Genoa in Italy hosted the Atlantic Challenge in 2006 and the City Fathers had great hopes of having a local fleet. But here again we’re told they just can’t get a crew together - not because Genoa lacks population, but because there isn’t that localized sense of maritime community, with individuals prepared to give voluntarily of their time.

As for Dublin, thriving traditional coastal rowing clubs such as St Michael’s in Dun Laoghaire and Stella Maris in Ringsend already provide the energetic focal points which gather up all potential local enthusiasm, and there simply wasn’t the energy and resources space to keep a Bantry Boat on the go after one had been built in 1996. For everyone may have set out with the best of hopes, as these are seductively attractive boats, yet of the eighty built since 1986, many have faded away.

But when they prosper, it’s a wonder to behold, and everybody wants a part of them. When the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick made a deal to provide a new paint job and some repairs to Bantry’s Unite in the winter of 2008-2009, part of the deal was that when the job was done the boat could be used to row the Mayor of Limerick John Gilligan out to Scattery Island in the Shannon Estuary for the ancient dart-throwing ceremony to remind everyone that the Mayor of Limerick is Lord Admiral of the Shannon Estuary

bantry boat in shannon13Re-fitted by Limerick’s Ilen Boat-building School, Bantry’s own Bantry Boat from West Cork provides the launch vessel when the Mayor of Limerick John Gilligan asserts his rights as Admiral of the Shannon Estuary with the ancient dart-throwing ceremony at Scattery Island. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Such things are just grand when the boat has enjoyed a comfortable winter in the cosseted comfort of the Ilen School’s workshop. But maintaining a classically-built open 38-footer year-on-year in Ireland’s damp and windy climate is quite a challenge, and it was in pursuing this gloomy line of thought that my day was made by Diarmuid Murphy’s final cheery answer.

“Where do we store her for the winter? We store her in the unused hangar at Bantry Aerodrome” says he. There you have it, the Third Sacred Secret in the success of Bantry’s own longboat. And no, I didn’t know either that Bantry had its own little airstrip – but they do. And as there’s space in the hangar for Cork’s own Bantry Boat too, they give her winter sanctuary as well.

It rounds out the story. Bantry, by having the prefect preservation pod in the Bantry House Boathouse, kept the longboat alive and well until she was 154 years old. After that, she was taken over by others, and now at 228 years old, is safely conserved in the National Museum.

And as for some of the active descendants in Ireland, it’s the fortuitous presence of a disused hangar at Bantry Aerodrome which is central to their comfortable survival. When it all comes together on Lough Neagh on 20th July, this extraordinary story will open a new chapter. And it’s anyone’s guess where that will lead.

bantry aerodrome14Bantry’s best-kept secret – the airstrip. The under-used hangar on the right is ideal for sheltering two Bantry Boats through the winter.

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Irish sailing’s informal inter-club competition has named a “Club of the Year” annually since 1979, and since 1986 the title’s steadfast sponsorship support from Mitsubishi Motors has made it an integral part of the national sailing scene. Yet it has proven to be something which does not lend itself easily to imitations elsewhere. Other sailing countries have tried to establish versions of it. But somehow it has never worked as effectively as it has in Ireland, where the size of the country, the number, size and variety of our clubs, the sense of community within our sailing, and our very long history of having clubs in some form at the heart of our sport - all these factors contribute to making this special competition viable in Ireland.

These elements combine to contribute to a continually developing awareness of how a successful club must play a key role in its local community as well as making a contribution of significance to the national sailing programme, while at the same time encouraging new boat talent and interest at every level. At the same time, club officers and committee have to be acutely aware that they are functioning in a constantly changing socio-economic environment in which the “business model” of a sailing club has to be continually monitored, regularly modified, and sometimes radically changed if it is to continue operating successfully. W M Nixon tries to capture the mood of Wicklow Sailing Club as it takes on the mantle of “Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year 2017” with the new sailing season getting into its stride.

There’s something about Wicklow Sailing Club that makes everyone lighten up as they step through the front door of its friendly little clubhouse. It becomes a characterful little place where people of many backgrounds from a wide swathe of the Garden County and beyond express their shared enthusiasm for boats and people and those who sail them – and more particularly, for those who would like to sail them, but need encouragement to enter what is a strange world for people from a completely different landbound background.

For it was Wicklow Sailing Club’s energetic and imaginative ways of encouraging their own youngsters afloat, together with others from a non-sailing background, which contributed greatly to its becoming the Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year 2017” at a very relaxed summer’s evening ceremony this week.

Of course the club’s continued and determined staging of the biennial 704-mile Volvo Round Ireland Race, which attracted a record and very international entry of 63 boats with records tumbling every which way in 2016, was an important consideration in the winning of the award.

wicklow committee with sponsors3Wicklow SC’s committee and special volunteers on the podium with (left to right) Fergus Somers (committee), W M Nixon of adjudicators, Mark Redmond (Rear Commodore, Dinghies), Joanne Logan (Accounts Officer), Dave Ballesty (Juniors), Michael Martin (Rear Commodore, House), Charlie Kavanagh (Committee), Commodore Denise Cummins, Kyran O’Grady (Hon. Treas.), Eugene Lynch (Rear Commodore Cruisers), Frank Keane of FKH, owners of Mitsubishi Motors, Roisin Hennessy (Vice Commodore), Billy Riordan (CEO of FKH), Peter Shearer (Hon. Sec.), Angela Higgins (Committee & PR), Jack Roy (President Irish Sailing Association), and Hal Fitzgerald (WSC Commodore 2015-2016). Photo Roseita Burke

But those involved in the adjudication quietly kept tabs on Wicklow SC’s levels of more ordinary activity after the big event had been tidied away at the end of June. Its successful staging had seemed to involve just about every member of the club in some voluntary function, led by Race Organiser Theo Phelan and his Chairman Peter Shearer, so you might have expected Wicklow sailing to relax for a while.

Not a bit of it. Junior sailing and introductory courses under the direction of the likes of Dave Ballesty and Mark Redmond were up and running again within days, the local dinghy racing and cruiser-racing programme was back in action with Jason Moran scoring tops in the latter in Hydrogin, and on the national and international front, Wicklow’s own Barry Byrne – now Commandant Barry Byrne – skippered the Defence Forces’ J/109 Joker 2 to a convincing victory in the new Beaufort Cup, the inter-military and maritime agencies offshore sailing competition which, in its inaugural year in 2016 in Cork, attracted an international entry of 32 boats and crews.

wicklow committee with sponsors3Club activity resumes – Laser racing in Wicklow Bay

wicklow committee with sponsors3International success. Commandant Barry Byrne (centre), first skipper to win the new Beaufort Cup in command of the Defence Forces J/109 Joker Two, at the “Club of the Year” reception with his father Shea (left) and Dave Ballesty. Photo Angela Higgins
Such achievements, and those of other renowned Wicklow offshore sailors such as Brian Flahive, Simon Greenwood, Charlie Kavanagh and Alan Rountree, speak of a well-balanced club whose friendly premises - in the very maritime setting down at the beginning of the East Pier clustered close with the Wicklow lifeboat HQ, they’re in a sort of citadel of the sea – are popular for hosting events of local organisations which may have no connection with the sea whatever.

It was this particular sense of welcome which was most evident for those arriving for this week’s presentation, with Wicklow Sailing Club represented by new Commodore Denise Cummins and also by 2016 Commodore Hal Fitzgerald, while WSC’s national and international partners were there with Jack Roy, President of the Irish Sailing Association, and leading ISA Board members including Brian Craig of Dun Laoghaire and Sarah Byrne of Greystones as well as CEO Harry Hermon and members of his staff who deal directly with Wicklow, notably Eastern Region Development Officer Sarah-Louise Rossiter.

The leading international organisation with which Wicklow is most closely involved is of course the Royal Ocean Racing Club who provide massive support for the Round Ireland race. Although current Commodore Michael Boyd – a round Ireland winner in 1996 and top Irish boat in 2016 – couldn’t be there personally, he ensured he was very ably represented by his brother Paddy Boyd. Paddy is a veteran of several Round Irelands but is also, as it emerged on the night, a veteran of a certain event which made Wicklow Sailing Club the very first Sailing Club of the Year way back in 1979, in the brief pre-Mitsubishi Motors years - more of that later.

wicklow with juniors6Spanning the generations. At the award of the Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year 2017” trophy to Wicklow Sailing Club were (back row, left to right) Cillian Ballesty, Robert Bell King, Carl Somers, Kieran Fitzgerald and Ryan Fitzgerald, (middle row) W M Nixon, Billy Riordan (CEO Frank Keane Holdings), Jack Roy (President Irish Sailing Association), Frank Keane (Chairman FKH, owners of Mitsubishi Motors Ireland), Denise Cummins (Commodore, Wicklow SC (2017-2018), Hal Fitzgerald (Commodore WSC 2015-2016), and Gerard Rice (MD, Mitsubishi Motors) (front row) Jack Cummins and Hal Og Fitzgerald. Photo: Angela Higgins

Today, the Mitsubishi Motors team are still led by Chairman Frank Keane, who has been involved since 1986, and Frank and his son Brian and their group arrived into WSC to find themselves being welcomed not just by the great and the good in national and international sailing, but also by leaders of other Wicklow marine, business and administrative bodies whose presence very effectively demonstrated how WSC is at the nexus of the little commercial and recreational port’s interaction with the sea.

Mitsubishi Motors involvement with sailing continues to have a decidedly personal element, as Billy Riordan, CEO of Frank Keane Holdings, the parent company, is both a keen SB20 sailor in Dublin Bay and beyond, and an Optimist dad at major competitions all over the country. His group included Mitsubishi Motors MD Gerard Rice and their Wicklow agents, Dale Moran and Gavin Moran of the Morans of Avoca group, something which meant they were inevitably described in the course of the evening as being the Mitsubishi Motors agents for Ballykissangel – that’s showbusiness for you.

Keeping us all on the right track was Roseita Burke, Mitsubishi Motors Marketing & PR Manager, who is now renowned in sailing for getting good weather for this annual event. It’s usually staged early in the summer just as the “proper” season is getting into gear, and the winning clubs get into the spirit of it all by dressing overall as though it’s Regatta Day. But it all wouldn’t quite work unless we’d a sunny evening, and despite the week’s decidedly mixed weather, once again Roseita worked her magic, and the sun shone.

But if all this organizational effort goes unrecorded it’s soon forgotten, and an ace photographer is needed, so when key WSC administrator Peter Shearer - a former Commodore and Round Ireland Chairman who has now taken up the reins as Honorary Secretary - assured us that in Angela Higgins the club had its own amateur photographer who could produce work of professional standard and was very good at getting the right people into the right groups, it all seemed too good to be true. But as the results show, it was true, Angela was brilliant, and her huge contribution to the success of the evening speaks volumes for the voluntary spirit of Wicklow SC.

wicklow committee with sponsors3Kenya Lynch of Wicklow SC (left) and Sarah Byrne of Greystones SC, who is also a Director of the Irish Sailing Association. Photo: Angela Higgins
Inevitably in such a surge of life there were those who couldn’t be there, and ISORA Chairman Peter Ryan, whose organization had already run its first race of the year from Dun Laoghaire to Wicklow on April 22nd, and is personally a great fan of what Wicklow does for offshore racing, was absent with the sad death of his mother - our thoughts were with him. And our thoughts were also very much with WSC President and very long-serving and active member Gerry Nolan, who was over the moon about his baby being Club of the Year, but he’d been kept in dock in hospital under doctor’s orders. So good wishes were conveyed directly to him through his wife Angela, who was there for him at the party, and it was quipped that, being Gerry, he’d probably re-organised the hospital’s CCTV cameras in order to follow events in WSC.

It was such a remarkable gathering of so many viewpoints from within Wicklow and beyond that it was an ideal opportunity for new Irish sailing Association President Jack Roy to tell us, in his speech, of his hopes and plans for Irish sailing. This is a President for us all. He’s not just a President for the top international medal-achieving sailors, but a President for whom the interests of the ordinary club sailor or indeed anyone who’s interested in sailing - whether they race a bit or limit their activities to cruising or simply day sailing – merit close attention and support.

His parents were founder members of Greystones Sailing Club, and the President reckons the smaller clubs such as big-hearted Wicklow (it has about 160 members with all categories included) are the true life blood of sailing, “the core strength of our sport around the coast”.

During his Presidency he intends to visit absolutely every club in Ireland , which knowing Jack means in several cases it will be many times. His exuberant enthusiasm, shown through his many race officer duties and personal Squib sailing and cruising with his Halberg Rassy cutter, is an inspiration to his members, and it enables him to voice strong opinions on re-shaping sailing for its own good.

Despite being a commited boat owner himself, he is more than ready to welcome those who just want to taste sailing without financial commitment, and he particularly commended Wicklow’s club ownership of sailing dinghies which are made readily available for public use.

Jack Roy had many other fresh and invigorating ideas, but as we’ll be shortly doing a full interview with him for a future Sailing on Saturday, we’ll give those views and others a proper airing in due course. Meanwhile, this week he brilliantly conveyed the goodwill of the entire Irish sailing community to Wicklow SC in their success, and the gratitude of all involved to Mitsubishi Motors for their continuing support of an informal but important competition which helps us all to understand and support Ireland’s sailing clubs in a positive way.

On behalf of Mitsubishi Motors, Billy Riordan, CEO of Frank Keane holdings, spoke particularly if his own enthusiasm for the way in which the “Club of the Year” competition encourages clubs to re-think their relationship with the larger community around them. Sailing clubs are a vital interconnector between sea and land, and their unique position enables them to provide lines of communication which are of benefit to everyone, while the use of their premises for non-maritime events has contributed greatly to mutual understanding.

But as mentioned at the beginning, simply being in Wicklow Sailing Club makes everyone lighten up, and Billy went cheerfully off script to talk of his own experiences in taking part in the Round Ireland Race. This is a rite of passage for every Irish sailor, and for most of us - as in Billy’s case - the memories can be of great amusement as much as they are of more serious stuff dealing with the challenges of racing on the Atlantic Ocean.

wicklow committee with sponsors3It was like regatta time....Wicklow SC Hon. Sec. Peter Shearer (left) with Gerard Rice (MD Mitsubishi Motors), Frank Keane (Chairman, FKH, Dave Ballesty of Wicklow SC, and Brian Keane of FKH. Photo Angela Higgin

In response to all this, Wicklow Sailing Club Commodore Denise Cummins made a speech which so perfectly encapsulated the spirit of the club and the mood of the evening that it’s only right and proper to reproduce its key messages:

“It is my pleasure to welcome you all to Wicklow Sailing Club tonight. We are delighted to see so many friends from near and far joining us on this special evening. In particular we welcome the Club of the Year adjudicators, and are honoured to have Frank Keane and Billy Riordan and their team from Mitsubishi Motors.

We welcome Jack Roy our new ISA President, and also Paddy Boyd – well known to many of us – representing his brother Michael, Commodore of our very good friends at the Royal Ocean racing Club.

We welcome too the representatives from our local community, who give us as a club so much support. Representatives from the RNLI, from Wicklow Chamber & local businesses, from Sailfest, from the County Council, from local Sports Partnership, from nearby sailing clubs, from other water-sports clubs, and so on - it’s great that you are all here.

Our club President, Gerry Nolan, was really looking forward to this evening’s reception, but unfortunately as you have heard he is unable to be here. We are delighted to see that Angela could make it here tonight. We wish him well and look forward to seeing him again as soon as possible. But now that I think of it, he has remote access to our security cameras so I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he was keeping an eye on me right now!!

wicklow committee with sponsors3Georgina Campbell, Angela Nolan and’s W M Nixon Photo Angela Higgins
I have been a member of this sailing club for a number years now, not that long, but I certainly wasn’t here when WSC was first awarded the Club of the Year back in 1979, the first club to receive the award. However, we do have a photograph of the presentation of the award in 1979, a photograph which includes a bearded & only slightly younger-looking Winkie Nixon!

As Commodore of WSC, I would like to thank Mitsubishi Motors for this award, the Mitsubishi Sailing Club of the Year 2017. We are both delighted & very proud to accept this wonderful award. It will be displayed with great pride of place in our club.

I would also like to thank Mitsubishi Motors for continuing to sponsor this award and we acknowledge their contribution, reflected in the ethos in that company, not just to us as a club, but indeed to the local community. It underlines the recognition of the hard work of volunteer club members and the community. Our club is firmly based in the community and we receive a lot of support from the local community here in Wicklow.

The ethos and spirit of the club has evolved over many years and on my watch I want to ensure that this continues on into the future.

Last year’s Committee Boat, as we might call our club administration, started with an able crew of many helpers. This honour of running Wicklow Sailing Club is now bestowed on our 2017 group.

It is easy to take over when a ship has been running a good course, and sailed with skill and good judgment. A special thank you to Peter Shearer, Gerry Nolan and Kevin Desmond for working hard as our anchors, while Hal Fitzgerald was on helm as Commodore, and provided a steady hand on the tiller .

Theo Phelan as Race Organiser of the Round Ireland is our kite, our spinnaker, always on a run leading us ahead. Our mainsail handlers and trimmers - Dave Ballesty, Roisin Henessy and Mark Redmond - have organised and trained many sailors for years, and last year in particular the dinghy section was one of high achievement - they are the power house of sailing from the root up.

Brian Malone and Eugene Lynch are our headsail and foredeck men, converting the juniors and turning them into Cruising Adult Sailors.

Angela Higgins and Fergus Sommer are our telltales, helping us to pick up the change in wind and ensure we are in tune with our community, environment and surroundings.

Kyran O’Grady is our mast and boom, supporting every facet of the club while ensuring the sheets and halliards don’t get tangled, yet in addition he is the glue which holds the club together.

David Ryan is our bow-sprit, always looking at least eight feet ahead, always looking outward and forward. Not all clubs have this vision, let alone a visionary like Farmer Ryan with his practicality combined his direction and passion.

wicklow committee with sponsors3The men who make things happen. Leading offshore sailor and committee member Charlie Kavanagh (left) with Round Ireland Race organiser Theo Phelan and David “Farmer” Ryan Photo: Angela Higgins

Yet the boat whch is the club cannot sail without the wind, and our wind is our volunteers and our sailors, all our members who keep us moving forward, pushing us, carry us through the course, across the line to every finish.

Thank you to our friends in the local community who give us such great support. It is wonderful to have an opportunity to say a big thank you to everyone, who turn out week after week throughout the year, and who make the club the great place it is.

It is very fitting that the award is made during this week, which is National Volunteer Week. This deserves celebration. So while the club is all about sailing and fostering the community and getting people on the water, ultimately the club is also about having fun. Tonight is one of those many fun occasions. So now you know what you have to do for the remainder of this evening, which I hope you will enjoy.”

wicklow committee with sponsors3Celebrating their club’s success as Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year 2017” are WSC members (left to right) Paul Sinnott, Paul Carr, Tony Gillespie, Kevin Desmond (Trustee, Wicklow SC) and Derek Stuart. Photo: Angela Higgins

Which they most certainly did. And during it, Paddy Boyd reminisced about Wicklow’s first win back in 1979, when they got the trophy for organizing a sailing rally open to everyone. He was one of the few present this week who had taken part all of 38 years ago, and it showed Wicklow SC what it could do if it spread its wings. It certainly gave Wicklow the Great Idea. The following year in 1980, the Round Ireland Race was inaugurated. The rest you know.

wicklow committee with sponsors3That was then – Wicklow SC become the first “Sailing Club of the Year” in 1979

wicklow committee with sponsors3This is now. Wicklow SC are the Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year 2017” with (left to right) Hal Fitzgerald (WSC Commodore 2015-2016), WSC Commodore Denise Cummins, Frank Keane of FKH, and on the right are two from the original photo – Brendan Haughton (seated, Commodore WSC 1980) and W M Nixon. Photo Angela Higgins

Published in W M Nixon blogger W M Nixon has been awarded the Royal Irish Yacht Club's Maritime Journalism Award. The presentation was made at the RIYC's Dun Laoghaire clubhouse on Saturday evening. In making the award, RIYC Rear commodore Patsy Burke told the ceremony, 'Winkie Nixon makes even the most advanced sailing comprehensible and interesting to ordinary salors and even non sailors'.'s comprehensive online coverage of Irish sailing includes Nixon's weekly Sailing on Saturday blog that is dedicated to Irish sailing and boating affairs. hit over one million unique visitors to the site in 2016.'s combination of opinion, hard news and features puts it at the very heart of the national conversation on sailing, boating and maritime affairs.

Over 50% of readers come directly to that indicates regular readers recognise as an 'authoritative' source and return to our pages for a mix of hard news and information on the Irish marine scene.

From this base, readers are encouraged to subscribe to our daily e–news and social media channels to build on our tightly bound community of readers.

It's a satisfying result to date because it has been achieved at a time when watersports, in Ireland at least, are largely stagnant due to recession. is seeking to build on this success by investing further in our maritime journalism team, and Sailor of the Year Awards and other magazine initiatives to further promote the good work of Irish sailors on the national and international stage. – like the rest of the media – is operating in an incredibly challenging commercial environment. Producing in-depth, thoughtful, well-reported journalism is difficult and expensive.

Afloat is fortunate to have already gained the support of some of the biggest sailing organisations in the country including the ISA, ICRA, DBSC, ISORA, the INSS and the National Yacht Club among others. This year, is asking other such clubs and organisations to consider becoming a ‘foundation’ supporter for this work.

Afloat's unique interface is an engine for change to push for greater participation in sailing and boating, with an emphasis on keeping youth in the sport.

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Cruising is the side of sailing which sometimes finds it difficult to make its voice heard. Its essence is in the quiet enjoyment of seafaring and the peace of secluded anchorages. Unlike the absolute clarity of racing results, which create their own noise and are energised by a sense of competition with others, cruising folk are in competition mainly with themselves, and with their own self-reliant ability to see a voyaging venture brought to a successful conclusion. W M Nixon takes us through a weekend which is cruising-oriented, and concludes tomorrow with a celebration at the home port of Irish cruising’s most legendary figure.

In previewing the prospects for the sailing season of 2017 a couple of months ago, we suggested that it would be The Year of the Everyday Sailor. For inevitably, 2016 was a year of the high profile happenings featuring superstars, events such as the Volvo Round Ireland Race from Wicklow, the KBC Laser Radial Youth Worlds in Dun Laoghaire, and the absolute peak in Rio de Janeiro, Annalise Murphy’s Olympic Silver Medal.

But 2017 sees a total change of emphasis. With a clear two or three years before the 2020 Olympics start to come up the public agenda again, it’s time to savour and enjoy the sort of sailing most of us do all the time. Local events, neighbourhood regattas, regional offshore and club racing, and that most indefinable of all waterborne activities - cruising.

Last night in Dublin, the Irish Cruising Club held its Annual General Meeting and Prize Giving in which the logs of outstanding cruises – activities which usually stay well under the radar – were given full recognition.

Annabelle J 2The rugged power of a seaworthy vessel – Annabelle J on passage from Smerwick Harbour in the Dingle Peninsula to Kilronan in the Aran Islands during her 2016 cruise on Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard Photo: Maire breathnach

Today in Cork, the Irish Sailing Association/Cruising Association of Ireland Annual Cruising Conference is being staged, and it has attracted so much interest that the venue has had to be moved to larger premises than originally planned. As last night’s ICC AGM was a distinctly crowded affair too, clearly the interest in cruising is stronger than ever. But quite how many have managed to attend both events we won’t know until this morning, yet it’s just about possible with a bit of early morning discipline.

Then tomorrow, the focus swings northwestward from Cork to Foynes on the Shannon Estuary, where a Family Day from 2.30pm to 5.30 pm sees a celebration of Foynes Yacht Club becoming the new Volvo ISA Training Centre of the Year, with ISA President David Lovegrove doing the honours for a club which is the very essence of voluntary enthusiasm and community spirit.

Of course, many of the 200 or so young people who emerge from the Foynes Yacht Club Sailing Academy hope to go on to the highest level of racing success. But equally, they will find their talents in sailing much appreciated aboard keenly-sailed cruising boats. And the club has a solid record in offshore racing, with FYC’s Simon McGibney the current Commodore of the Irish Cruiser Racing Association, while father-and-son team Derek and Conor Dillon from Listowel have sailed their Dehler 34 under the Foynes colours to win the two-handed division in the Round Ireland Race.

And then beyond that, Foynes was home port to the great Conor O’Brien (1880-1952) of 1923-1925 Round the World fame. He lived out his final days on Foynes Island, and is buried in the nearby churchyard, but the recently-confirmed plans to build a replica of his famous 40ft ketch Saoirse in her 1922 birthplace of Baltimore will draw further favourable attention to everything that Foynes has done, and is doing, for Irish sailing – racing and cruising alike.

It’s all interconnected, for when the Irish Cruising Club was formed in Glengarriff on Bantry Bay on 13th July 1929, one of the first things they did was make Conor O’Brien an honorary member, and the first time I saw the noted portrait of Conor O’Brien sketched by his wife Kitty Clausen, it was in Foynes YC more than a few years ago..

model of Saoirse in Foynes MuseumAlways remembered. The model of Saoirse in Foynes Museum reminds us that she will soon be re-created full size

portrait of Conor OBrienThe portrait of Conor O’Brien by his wife Kitty Clausen, seen for the first time in Foynes Yacht Cub.

So last night’s ICC post-AGM dinner was well peopled with friendly ghosts, but as well it was a celebration of some really remarkable cruises on every scale. Then too, it marked two significant changes of the watch with Peter Killen of Malahide, who led by example with his Amel Super Maramu 54 ketch Pure Magic seemingly always on the move, retiring as Commodore to see the to post go north to Stanton Adair of Belfast Lough, a long-serving committee member and flag officer who will be leading his members in the ICC Cruise-in-Company to the Galician Rias of Northwest Spain this summer in his well-travelled Beneteau Oceanis 43 Grand Cru.

However, while Commodores and other top officers may be the public face of the ICC, the strength of the club is in its voluntarily-produced publications, with Honorary Editors who between them keep the two volumes of Sailing Directions for the entire Irish coast up to date with notable rigour, and produce an Annual journal of the club’s cruising logs.

Norman Kean of Courtmacsherry is very much in charge of the Sailing Directions which are publicly available, and he’ll be one of the keynote speakers at today’s conference in Cork. But in their way the logs in all their rich variety in the Annual can be every bit as informative, particularly as the club is now so far-ranging that its members can be found cruising on most of the planet’s oceans.

Here, there has been another change of the watch, with Ed Wheeler from he north producing his final and as ever excellent Annual to cover the 2016 season, and after four years he hands over to noted sailor/musician/writer Maire Breathnach of Dungarvan. Or at least she’s from Dungarvan and she spends about a third of her time there, but as she’s married to another formidable voyager, Andrew Wilkes of Lymington on the south coast of England, they spend about a third of their time there, where - with other Irish ex-Pats - they’ve created a sort of West Hampshire Gaeltacht.

Maire Breathnath off Cape Horn 5Maire Breathnach off Cape Horn at the helm of Andrew Wilkes’ Swan 44 King of Hearts during their cruise round South America in 2004. Photo: Andrew Wilkes

Annabelle J 2The new girl in town. Annabelle J as seen recently from Reginalds Tower in Waterford, with the sail training ketch Brian Boru astern. Photo Maire Breathnach

However, the remaining third of their time is maybe most interesting of all, as its spent aboard their gorgeous 55ft gaff cutter Annabelle J, which they bought about 18 months ago to replace their steel gaff yawl Young Larry, with which they’d transitted the Northwest Passage.

The 1996 steel-built Annabelle J first entered Irish maritime consciousness during her previous ownership in 2013, when she was undoubtedly the Queen of the Fleet during the Old Gaffers Golden Jubilee Cruise-in-Company, which took in both Dublin and Belfast. However, if you’ve progressed along the waterfront in Waterford recently, you’ll see her there near Reginald’s Tower, berthed just ahead of the Sail Training ketch Brian Boru, for she’s simply too big to fit into the handy little pool just below the bridge in Dungarvan which Young Larry used to make her winter home.

Although she’s “only” 55ft long in overall hull length, Annabel J is 66ft from nose to tail with spars included, and she speaks “ship” rather than “yacht”. The basic design was by David Cox completed by Gary Mitchell and she was constructed by shipbuilders A & P of Appledore in Devon. Yet while they admit to Bristol Pilot Cutter influence on her design, the original owners made no direct claims for this, but the fact is that she’s such a strikingly handsome vessel that it’s difficult not to see her as the definitive modern version of a pilot cutter, even if she’s larger than most of the original Bristol Channel boats.

For Maire and Andrew, taking on such a vessel was a leap in the dark until they could be confident they could handle her with just the two on board, but a cruise of Ireland’s west coast to Donegal and back in 2016 – including a transit of the Joyce Sound pass inside Slyne Head – showed them they could manage her both in confined waters and at sea, so for 2017 the far horizons call.

However, for 2017 there’s also the additional challenge that Annabel J is now editorial headquarters for the most important annual record of Irish cruising achievement, but her crew being aces in the communications business, they’ll take it all in their stride even if Ed Wheeler has left a very high standard to maintain.

For his final edition of the Annual, the adjudicator for 2016’s logs was former Commodore Cormac McHenry, himself a Transatlantic veteran, and although the ICC now has an enormous selection of trophies to highlight various specialities of achievement, nevertheless he had to by-pass some very notable cruises in order to make his final selection.

The ICC’s premier trophy, dating back to 1931, is the Faulkner Cup, and its latest award is to Daragh Nagle, a member based in Victoria on Canada’s west coast, from where he cruises extensively with his wife Cathy and others in his 1987-built Moody 376 Chantey V.

Cathy Daragh Nagle Chanty V 7Cathy & Daragh Nagle aboard Chantey V in the Sea of Cortez on the west coast of Mexico.

Chantey 8Chantey V is a standard Moody 376, designed by Bill Dixon and built 1986.
Chantey V’s 2016 cruise was from San Salvador on the Pacific Coast of Central America northwest along the Mexican coast to the long inlet of the Sea of Cortez, followed by the big ocean hop to the Hawaii Islands, before heading eastward back to Canada.

For the long haul out to the islands, he recruited Portuguese-based ICC member John Duggan as first mate, a role he filled with added diligence as he also obligingly wrote up the log of that stage of the voyage – other first mates please note. And as his skipper was unable to collect the Faulkner Cup last night in person as he is at a family wedding in Malaysia, John Duggan was in Dublin last night to do it for him.

His views on the Pacific between West Coast America and Hawaii were interesting. He says it may seem Pacific after you’ve battled your way round Cape Horn, but by comparison with his usual Atlantic stomping grounds, it seemed an oddly unsettled area of water, with twitchy little waves patterns running every which way.

Chantey V Moody 376Man aloft. Daragh Nagle rigging an emergency inner forestay in mid-Pacific. Photo John Duggan

In fact, the going was so jerky at times that Chantey V broke her baby stay. The word from riggers is that the shorter the stay, the less able it is to absorb sudden snatches in loading. But whatever caused it, Darren Nagle spent a few hours getting well bruised at the lower spreaders before he’s rigged a satsfactory temporary baby stay to the stemhead to keep the rig in place for the rest of the voyage. By the time Chantey V got back to Victoria, this cruise totalled 7,858 miles for 2016, and just under 25,000 miles since they started their North America circuit three years ago.

As it happens, the Strangford Cup for an alterative best cruise goes to a venture which John Duggan has done a couple of times with his own 40-footer Hecuba, from the Iberian peninsula out to the Azores and then cruise in detail before returning to Spain or Portugal. In 2016 this very Atlantic cruise was undertaken by Seamus OConnor with his new Hallberg Rassy 42, and with three weeks in the Azores, he produced a mass of interesting information in addition to obviously enjoying himself, which is really what cruising is supposed to be all about.

Enjoyment takes many forms, yet cruising to northeast Greenland would not be many people’s first choice. But Brian Black of Strangford Lough finds he’s drawn back there seemingly year after year in his fairly standard 1985-built Trident Voyager Seafra. He writes of it in such an unassuming yet elegant way that his cruise first to the Faeroes then eastward of Iceland to Ittoqqortoormiit in northeast Greenland (it’s just south of the latitude of Jan Mayen) wins him the Wild Goose Cup for a log of real literary merit, and in it he finds the time to tell us of gig racing in the Faeroes and a visit to his favourite Arctic anchorage of Jyttes Havn.

Gig racing in the Faroes 10Gig racing in the Faroes as watched by Brian Black while cruising towards northeast Greenland. Photo: Brian Black

Arctic anchorageFavourite Arctic anchorage. Seafra in Jyttes Havn, Greenland. Photo: Brian Black

The sun may have shone for Seafra in Jyttes Havn, but far to the southwest in Labrador, Neil Hegarty and his shipmates on the Dufour 34 Shelduck found the weather classic Grand Banks cold and foggy as they readied their Dufour 34 Shelduck for a rugged but efficient passage to Baltimore in West Cork via Newfoundland to complete a three year Atlantic circuit which has been already been garlanded with awards, and now adds the Atlantic Trophy to its laurels.

Neil Hegarty Ann Kenny 13Cold and foggy. Neil Hegarty’s Shelduck at Red Bay, Labrador. Photo Neil Hegarty

Neil Hegarty Ann Kenny 13Homeward bound. Neil Hegarty (right) with Ann Kenny of Tralee and icebergs off St Anthony, Newfoundland

Even the briefest summary of the other main awards doesnl’t do them justice, but it gives some idea of the ICC’s level of activity:

Fortnight Cup: Best cruise within 16 days, Adrian & Maeve bell of Strangford Lough in the Baltic with their Arcona 430 Oisin Ban.

Round Ireland Cup: Donal Walsh of Dungarvan with his newly-acquired Ovni 385 Lady Belle. Thanks to his new boat’s lifting keel, not only was he able to explore shallow ports seldom visited such as Belmullet and Donegal town, but the fact that an Ovni is well able for seafaring meant he made St Kilda part of a round Ireland cruise while he was at it.

Cathy Daragh Nagle Chanty V 7Donal Walsh’s newly-acquired Ovni 385 Lady Belle showing her versatility by comfortably finding enough water with keel raised to visit Donegal town (above), while she also made the passage out to St Kilda (below) with no bother. Photos Donal Walsh

Cathy Daragh Nagle Chanty V 7

Fingal Cup: for the log which the judge most enjoyed goes most deservedly to Peter Fernie of Galway for a cruise round Ireland with co-owner Dave Whitehead in the Moody 27 Mystic. At least, it was basically round Ireland, but they also took part in the RUYC 150th Anniversary Cruise-in-Company with the ICC and the Clyde Cruising Club to Tobermorey, so through the minimum round Ireland circuit is 704 miles, the little Mystic had logged 1,228 miles by the time she got back to Kinvara.

Despite its many global adventures, the West Coast of Scotland still figures large in ICC activity, and it has its own trophy, the Wybrants Cup, awarded in 2016 to Robin & Denise Wright for a Hebridean jaunt including St Kilda in their 12m Jeanneau Geronimo.

And the charms of the Irish coast aren’t forgotten, they have their own Glengarriff Trophy, and most approoriately for 216 it goes to the new Annual Editor Maire Breathnach for her account of the mighty Annabel J’s stately progress up and down the Atlantic seaboard.

In fact, the Annabel J is the largest of the award winners this time round, and despite her traditional appearance, she’s also one of the newest. So anyone who has an image of the ICC as large glossy new yachts tearing about the ocean is somewhat mistaken, and the club makes a point of honouring its relatively humble origins with the Marie Trophy for the best cruise by any boat under 30ft. It celebrates the little 1893-built gaff cutter Marie which was the first awardee of the Faulkner Cup way back in 1931, and 85 years later, the Marie Trophy goes to Conor O’Byrne for his cruise from Gaway to the cruising paradise of southwest Ireland in the 1986-built Sadler 26 Calico Jack.

It says everything about the ICC’s breadth of achievement that the awards are only the tip of an iceberg of seagoing coasting and island-hopping variety. One particularly notable cruise which didn’t get any nod of special recognition was from Galway Bay to Russia by Fergus and Katherine Quinlan with their own-built van de Stadt 12 metre steel cutter Pylades, a wonderfully detailed account of many countries which contrasts very vividly with their previous big venture, a voyage round the world.

Cathy Daragh Nagle Chanty V 7A long way from Pacific Islands. Dawn beyond the Ijsselmeer in the Netherlands, as seen from Pylades during the cruise to Russia. Photo: Fergus Quinlan.

But then that world circuit saw Pylades being awarded the Faulkner Cup three years on the trot, so maybe there’s room for a new trophy “For A Cruise Which Is As Different As Possible From The Same Vessel’s Previous Award-winning Cruise”.

And then there’s no award for a cruise which provides photos which best capture the sprit of a cruising area, but for 2016 it would have gone to Paul Newport of Howth, whose cruise his wife Fiona to the Hebrides with the Najad 332 Puffin Eile was not only a gem of its type, but he brought back a couple of photos which make the place live for the rest of us.

The more dramatic is taken into the sun at Cragaig Bay on the island of Ulva west of Mull, with the distinctive Dutchman’s Cap island in the distance. In the foreground are four cruising yachts, all lying to their own anchors in the approved manner, all at a distance from each other which is enough for politeness and privacy, yet they’re not so far apart that there can’t be some sociable interchange if it is mutually wished.

Cathy Daragh Nagle Chanty V 7The most perfect small Hebridean island…..Puffin Eile at Eriskay. Photo Paul Newport

The other is simply Puffin Eile lying to the visitor’s mooring in the lovely little island of Eriskay. Eriskay is so perfect that when we first went there, one of my shipmates was so impressed that he duly named his next boat after it. Yet somehow timetables in cruising the Outer Hebrides recently have meant that we’ve missed out on Eriskay while passing south or north through the Sea of the Hebrides, so it’s good to see the little place looking so well.

Getting a special satisfaction out of sailing your own boat to places like Eriskay is part of what cruising is all abut. But there are many other factors which contribute to true enjoyment of this mainstream yet low-profile aspect of sailing, and one of them is good food.

So it’s a brilliant idea that Rachel Allen of Ballymaloe should be another of the key speakers at today’s Cruising Conference in Cork. Only recently she featured here in Afloat as Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy has been doing the intensive 12-week Cookery Course at Ballymaloe, which is definitely not an undertaking for the faint-hearted.

annalise Murphy darina allen Rachel allenDarina Allen, Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy, and Rachel Allen at Ballymaloe Cookery School.
But Ballymaloe’s connections with sailing are much wider than that, for it was windsurfer Rory Allen of Ballymaloe, who started the famous Round Great Island Race in Cork Harbour scheduled at the top of the tide, and it’s now an annual highlight. And Rachel herself is of the O’Neill sailing family, whom we’ve known afloat for many years. It goes back a very long time to when they’d the Nicholson Half Tonner Silver Mite, and we buddy-boated together from West Cork home to Dublin in good company with Denis and Brian O’Neill. The latter very obligingly hauled one of the Nixon kids out of Kinsale Marina when he fell in while being over-enthusiastic about fishing. I’m happy to tell “Disgusted of Dunmanway” that the young fisherman was wearing a lifejacket, but the O’Neill pull-up was very much appreciated nevertheless.

anchorage Cragaig Bay Ulva off Mull19The cruising dream on Scotland’s West Coast. The anchorage at Cragaig Bay on Ulva off the west coast of Mull, with the distinctively-shape Dutchman’s Cap island beyond. Photo Paul Newport

Published in Ilen’s W M “Winkie” Nixon will be talking the talk at Galway Bay Sailing Club’s mid-week gathering at 8pm on Wednesday, February 1st in the re-vamped clubhouse at Rinville in Oranmore, and all are welcome.

The hospitable GBSC clubhouse is at the heart of one of the main sailing centres on a coastline as much renowned for its association with gaff-rigged traditional craft as it is for being the base for some of Ireland’s most modern offshore racers. But in a wide-ranging profusely-illustrated talk, one of the points Nixon will be making is that it was leading Irish amateur sailors who were in the forefront of the changeover from gaff to Bermudan rig.

Drawing on his extensive experience of sailing both abroad and in Ireland (which he has cruised or raced round more times than he can remember), as a sailing journalist and historian Nixon has discerned significant sailing trends which first emerged in Ireland, but became obscured by major national historical events.

However, he promises that the main theme of his talk – “When Gaffers Weren’t Old” – is the sheer pleasure and fascination of sailing. Admission is free and open to all, but a seaboot at the door will be there to receive €5 from anyone who feels like contributing to the Lifeboats.

Published in Galway Harbour

Wicklow Sailing Club are best-known as the big-hearted little organisation which keeps the iconic Volvo Round Ireland Race show on the road with such style that it is now one of Europe’s premier events, with a stellar international entry list of 63 boats – many of them world famous - in June 2016. But where some other smaller clubs might find their own members’ sailing activities distorted or diminished through the voluntary organisational effort which is required to keep a biennial mega-event on this scale running smoothly, in Wicklow the reverse is true writes W M Nixon.

The big race – at 704 miles it is nearly a hundred miles longer than the other classics such as the Fastnet, the Sydney-Hobart, the Caribbean 600, the Bermuda Race and the Middle Sea Race – is run with the full co-operation of the RORC, and back-up support from the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire. Yet in Wicklow the club spirit is such that not only are there volunteers ready and willing to provide further assistance to key personnel such as the Volvo Round Ireland Race Organiser Theo Phelan and his team, but there is ample evidence that this high level of voluntary effort spreads into every corner of club activity. This is particularly the case with a thriving junior training and racing programme, in which the leading figures have been Dave Ballesty and Mark Redmond.

wicklow harbourWicklow is a busy and colourful place on the morning of the Round Ireland start. Photo: W M Nixon

wicklow harbourWicklow in a different mood, as it might be seen while cruising, with a couple of visiting yachts in port including a pretty little schooner, and the Wicklow SC junior training squad heading back towards the club after a day’s instruction afloat. Photo Mike Harper

wick low18En fete for the Round Ireland, with the Royal Irish YC burgee discreetly beside Wicklow’s own flags to indicate the support of one of Ireland’s premier clubs. Photo: W M Nixon

Anyone who has been in Wicklow for the impressive, crowded and colourful Seafest which is clustered around the Volvo Round Ireland Race start at the midsummer weekend will have naturally tended to assume that, after the big event has been tidied up and its week of long-distance racing rounded out with the Friday night prize-giving, Wicklow sailing takes a well-earned rest.

Not so. The Round Ireland tents are folded away, and the real Wicklow, la Wicklow profonde, will have emerged within days. Toppers, Lasers, Picos and other two-handed dinghies will flock seaward for training, accompanied by busy instructor RIBS zooming about to encourage yet another new generation into proper sailing in a club which has produced notable sailors on the national and international scene such as Round Britain and Ireland two-Handed winner Brian Flahive, Commandant Barry Byrne the winning Skipper of the inaugural Beaufort Cup at Volvo Cork Week in 2016, award-winning international cruising man Alan Rountree who self-built – to an immaculate level – his much-travelled 34ft sloop Tallulah, and the popular Charlie Kavanagh, whose abilities as a seaman and sailing teacher are deservedly renowned.

wick low18Wicklow SC’s fleet of cruisers moored in the Outer Harbour. Photo: W M Nixon

wick low18Wicklow cruisers in action for a club race, WSC has produced several sailors of national renown

But being Wicklow, these kids coming up through a club which has been producing distinguished sailors since its foundation in 1950 will have voluntarism in their genes. Wicklow SC has only around 160 members, of whom barely a hundred are full adult members. Yet not only most of the adults, but many of the young people too, see voluntary work for the club - both in keeping its activities at a high level while maintaining its fabric and the fleet of club-owned training boats in proper order – as part of the Wicklow way of doing things. And of course among all sailing folk, whether racing or cruising, dinghy or offshore, Wicklow Sailing Club is a byword for hospitality and making newcomers welcome to our sport.

wick low18Getting them started. Guidance and instruction from Dave Ballesty for a group of junior trainees.

wick low18An unexpected bit of colour co-ordination for Wicklow’s famous lighthouse and the local Topper fleet

wick low18Lasers racing at Wicklow over the same waters where the Volvo Round Ireland start is staged, and where the finish is fought out

wick low18Wicklow Harbour seen from the southeast. It takes ingenuity and dedication to run a successful sailing club in what is essentially a busy small commercial port

With a thriving club life, it also plays a key role in its local community. Yet at the same time, every two years since 1980 it has organised the Round Ireland Race. And though there have been years when the entry has been thin enough, in 2016 everything came together with glorious success for a club which simply never gave up on the idea that a proper Round Ireland Race was central to the entire Irish sailing scene.

To say that the race organisers down the years since 1980 have beavered away behind the scenes to keep the show on the road only hints at the effort sometimes required to enable an event of this stature to fulfill its true potential. But since 2012, current organizer Theo Phelan has been working with a special statesmanlike dedication – some would call it Machiavellian skill – to raise the event onto a new plane. By 2016, with the full support of the RORC and its Irish Commodore Michael Boyd, together with the discreet assistance of the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire in order to provide a pre-race base for larger yachts, and the added involvement of superstar multi-hulls to make full use of a package which now included sponsorship from Volvo Car Ireland, the Round Ireland Race came of age and entered the big boys league.

wick low18Spreading the support base. Round Ireland Race organiser Theo Phelan (left) with Wicklow TD Andrew Doyle, and Jim Horan, Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club

Yet this all was done from one tiny club in a workaday commercial and country town whose small port has a very strong commercial bias. But when something is functioning as perfectly as Wicklow Sailing Club and the Volvo Round Ireland Race in 2016, perhaps it’s better not to dissect it all in too much detail. You might break the magic spell. So instead, we’ll just try and tell you who does what, and hope the story speaks for itself.

wick low18 In addition to its major role in sailing, Wicklow SC is very much a community focus with an emphasis on family life – this is a Games Night for all ages in the Clubhouse

Wicklow Sailing Club has learned to live with the biennial appearance of the big one by ensuring that the Commodore’s two year term sees that the Round Ireland Race – which has to be in a non-Fastnet year – will be happening in the second year of office, when he or she is well settled into the top role. But even this was something which had to be learned, and the club is eternally grateful to a former Commodore Johnny Johnson, who gallantly served three years in order to get the sequence right.

Sadie Phelan Peter ShearerTwo people who have given long and valuable service to Wicklow SC are Sadie Phelan (President 2016), and former Commodore Peter Shearer, who chaired the organising committee for the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016. Photo: W M Nixon

wick low18Round Britain & Ireland Two-handed Winners Liam Coyne & Brian Flahive were conferred with Honorary Membership of Wicklow SC – (left to right) Liam Coyne, WSC Commodore Hal Fitzgerald, President Sadie Phelan, and Brian Flahive.

However, when you’re drawing on such a small membership, the succession has to be carefully planned to make best use of the limited pool of talent, and when Wicklow Sailing Club’s officer and committee board underwent its usual total biennial change just ten days ago, Hal Fitzgerald stood down after his two year term as Commodore to be succeeded by Denise Cummins, who had been Honorary Secretary and thus will be tuned to every nuance of club life and administration when the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018 comes roaring over the horizon.

Last year’s full list gives an idea of the many talents needed to keep any club operating smoothly:

Wicklow Sailing Club - 2016

Officers, General Committee and Sub-committees

President: Sadie Phelan
Commodore: Hal Fitzgerald
Vice-Commodore: Brian Malone (Lead for Try Sailing - Cruisers)
Rear Commodore Sailing: David Ryan (lead for Berthing Round Ireland)
Rear Commodore House: Gerry Nolan (Long standing, long serving member, came to cruisers after many years on the GP 14 circuit)
Hon. Treasurer: Fergus Somers (Lead for Finance Ctte)
Hon. Secretary: Denise Cummins
Membership Secretary: Joanne Logan (& Finance Ctte)

General Committee:
Dave Ballesty (ISA Training Centre Principal, Try Sailing – Dinghies, & lots of other work), Eugene Lynch (Communications & VRIYR Official Race Programme), Roisin Hennessy (Lead for Dinghies), Paul Hennessy, Kyran O Grady (Lead for boat maintenance & house fabric), Peter Shearer, Angela Higgins (Ballesy) (Lead for Grants & Club Development).

Volvo Round Ireland Yacht Race Organising Committee:
Chair & Secretary: Peter Shearer
Race Organiser: Theo Phelan
Asst Race Organiser: David Ryan
Commodore ex officio: Hal Fitzgerald

Volvo Round Ireland Yacht Race Catering Committee:
Sandra Fitzgerald, Liam Whitty, Paul Hennessy PLUS many, many volunteers, particularly those who fed the returning boats.

ISA Training Centre Principal: Dave Ballesty, assisted by Mark Redmond and Roisin Hennessy

However, in a club of this size it would be very counter-productive if people insisted on a clear job description, and stuck rigidly to their own interpretation of the brief. A delicate balance has to be drawn and maintained between recognizing who is ultimately responsible for some task, yet being prepared to leap in to do the job or at least assist with it during periods of particular stress.

And of course in a town like Wicklow – which mercifully is just far enough from Dublin to be its own place, healthily clear of rigid metropolitan attitudes – there’s interest in how people spend their time in their day jobs, and the lineup keeping the Wicklow SC machine moving along includes the talents of one of Ireland’s leading thatchers, Kyran O’Grady, who in 2017 takes on the additional role of Honorary Treasurer, whole another key figure is David “Farmer” Ryan who organised the participation of the Volvo 70 Monster Project in the 2014 Race, and is getting his sailing off to an early start this year with participation in the RORC Caribbean 600 in February.

As for the season of 2016, everyone will be well aware that in the Volvo Round Ireland Race for mono-hulls, the overall winner, line honours winner and establisher of a new record was George David with Rambler 88, while the multihull winner – by a matter of seconds – was Oman Sailing (Sydney Gavignet), which also established a new record.

wick low18Theo Phelan and RORC Commodore Michael Boyd immediately after the latter had taken third place overall in the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016.

But for aficionados, perhaps the most popular prize was what might be called the Corinthian Award, which doesn’t actually exist, but if it did who would have gone to RORC Commodore Michael Boyd who took third overall in the standard First 44.7 Lisa after sailing a virtually faultless race, a race which incidentally he won overall in 1996, racing the J/35 Big Ears.

wick low18Jason Moran with his 2016 club trophies won with his Hydro 20 Hydrogin
Once it was all over, Wicklow life resumed, and local racing saw Jason Moran with the David Thomas-designed Hyrdo 28 Hydrogin win the cruiser classes, while the dinghy events were dominated by the annual Junior Regatta which produced a wide spread of results, and here’s a photo of the winners:

wicklow sailing club regattaWinners at the 2016 WSC Junior Regatta were (alphabetically) Cillian Ballesty. James Beattie Doyle, Ryan Fitzgerald, Charles Heather, Rick Johnson, Isobel O’Grady, and “a visitor from Courtown Sailing Club”.

Wicklow Sailing Club last won the “Club of the Year” award in 1979. In those pre-Round Ireland days, they were experimenting with events which would make sailing more accessible, and Irish ports more welcoming, to sailors from elsewhere. So they staged a sort of cruising rally open to absolutely everything which floated, and from anywhere, and it worked very well to be the highlight of a busy season for a club which was starting to find its feet.

They’ve certainly found their feet very well indeed now. The entire Irish sailing community owes a mountain of gratitude to Wicklow Sailing Club for never losing the faith on the Round Ireland race, and bringing it to its present eminence through sheer dogged persistence, and an awesome amount of hard work, nearly all of it voluntary. They become the very worthy Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year” 2017.

Junior sailing Instructors It is not generally known that Wicklow is in a unique micro-climate where sub-tropical conditions are frequently experienced, and Junior Instructors have to take special steps to protect themselves from the sun’s rays.

Published in W M Nixon
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