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Belfast Lough Sigma 33 Wins Glenarm Sailing Challenge

24th September 2021
David Eccles' Sigma 33 Mungo Jerrie was the Glenarm Sailing Challenge winner
David Eccles' Sigma 33 Mungo Jerrie was the Glenarm Sailing Challenge winner

What started off as a challenge in Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club on Belfast Lough by Gordon Patterson's Sigma 362, Fanciulla, a heavy 36-footer, to Gavin Vaughan's new Jeanneau 349, a 34-foot light displacement boat, in a race to Glenarm which lies on the east County Antrim coast about 25 miles north of Belfast Lough, became an event in itself. As it turned out, the winner was David Eccles' Sigma 33 Mungo Jerrie.

As the idea took hold, it was opened up to other cruisers in the club. On a misty low visibility Saturday morning last weekend (18th September), the atmosphere was only broken by the occasional foghorn, seven yachts usually berthed in marinas, and had gathered on the club moorings at Cultra the night before, readied for a start.

Some of the fleet on their way to Glenarm after the Belfast Lough startSome of the fleet on their way to Glenarm after the Belfast Lough start

The fleet ranged in length from 25 to 46 feet, and luckily, minutes before the start, a gentle breeze cleared the mist, and spectators ashore were able to watch the first offshore keelboat start at the Club since 1981.

May 1928 had seen the inauguration of the North Channel Race between RNIYC and the Clyde Cruising Club. This event had graced the fixture list for the next 53 years (apart from the war years) until eventually becoming part of the highly competitive NIOPS (Northern Ireland Offshore Points Series). After that, many of the Royal North cruising fraternity took part in Cruise in Company events on an ad hoc basis to such places as Glenarm, Rathlin Island, Campbelltown or Portpatrick. This year's event was planned to encompass the racing and cruising aspirations of the club's growing class of large keelboats.

The Glenarm Sailing Challenge's Denis Todd (left)) presents the trophy to David EcclesThe Glenarm Sailing Challenge's Denis Todd (left)) presents the trophy to David Eccles

David Eccles Sigma 33 Mungo Jerrie was first across the start line, followed by Alikadoo (Nigel Kearney) and Pegasus (Jonathan Park). The minimal breeze meant that progress was painfully slow to the mouth of the Lough before a more reliable southerly breeze filled in, filling the spinnakers. Several boats lost the competitive spirit and instead enjoyed the spectacular views of the Gobbins coastal path and Island Magee under engine before hoisting their sails again in the gradually strengthening winds. By late afternoon all had arrived in Glenarm.

Among the first to arrive were Charles Kearney's Maticoco, followed by Pegasus and Alikadoo. A Capella of Belfast (Julian & Patricia Morgan) was next to across, closely followed by Mungo Jerrie, the first to have sailed the entire course.
Fanciuilla (Gordon Patterson), the only other boat to have sailed the entire course, was next to finish, and then Gavin Vaughen's Toucan 6 completed the list of those who had started in the morning mists of Belfast Lough.

The Glenarm Chalenge fleet in Glenarm MarinaSome of the Glenarm Challenge fleet at Glenarm Marina

Afterwards, the party adjourned to The Bridge Inn in Glenarm to finish the evening. A steady westerly breeze allowed all boats to return to Belfast Lough the following day, determined to do it all again next year.

Gordon Patterson had said before the event, "the perpetual Cup will be named in honour of whoever wins between us on scratch handicap. Gavin would be the favourite as he would normally give the Sigma a little under two mins an hour, but if conditions are favourable, we are confident". As it turned out, the Sigma took the honours.

Betty Armstrong

About The Author

Betty Armstrong

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Betty Armstrong is Afloat and Yachting Life's Northern Ireland Correspondent. Betty grew up racing dinghies but now sails a more sedate Dehler 36 around County Down.

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