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While there may have been nothing exactly like the current schedule-wrecking Pandemic before, in times past - nationally and internationally - we've come through comparable catastrophes. And enough of previous generations have survived to tell the tale and provide guidance when future generations are faced with a similar situation.

Cynics will of course gleefully leap on the fact that if enough of us hadn't lived through the Black Death or whatever, it would take millions of years before anything remotely resembling the human race evolved again. And if that was the case, we could only hope that the new wave of evolution would have come up with a premier species kitted out with something rather less troublesome than the current human body's problematic skeletal framework, plumbing arrangements, power systems and thought units.

Be that as it may, we meanwhile have to make the best of what we've got, and can only wonder at how generally unaware the current generations seemed to be pre-Pandemic of the appalling effects of the Spanish Flu piling in on the end of World War I a hundred years ago.

In fact, I knew of only one senior sailing man who ever even mentioned it, and that was Billy Doherty, who in the 1960s used to charter his 36ft 1912-built J B Kearney yawl Ainmara to groups of us when we were relatively penniless schoolboys and students, mad keen to go cruising from Belfast Lough under our own command.

Billy Doherty of Donegal, the Godfather for a whole generation of young Belfast Lough sailors. It wasn't generally known that his lifeview was significantly shaped by narrowly surviving the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919. Photo: W M Nixon   Billy Doherty of Donegal, the Godfather for a whole generation of young Belfast Lough sailors. It wasn't generally known that his lifeview was significantly shaped by narrowly surviving the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919. Photo: W M Nixon  

A Donegal man, Billy became a popular neighbourhood policeman in Belfast, augmenting his income with some beautiful building of clinker dinghies. His passion for boats was such that in 1957 he commuted his pension to raise the lump sum to buy Ainmara, and thus the modest £20 weekly charter fee he charged us actually played a significant role in keeping her going, even if he sometimes did have to wait until somebody's maiden aunt was generous at Christmas in order to make up the final total.

As for the boat's availability, the only unchangeable fixture in Billy's season was the annual regattas at the beginning of August back among his people along the Donegal shores of Lough Foyle, where he'd a couple of salmon-fishing licenses to exercise, and Ainmara was expected to be flagship as the Greencastle Yawls – also known as the "Drontheim Boats" as they were descended in design from standard boats imported from Trondheim in Norway – raced in fierce competition.

The traditional Greencastle yawl evolved from a Norwegian typeThe traditional Greencastle yawl evolved from a Norwegian type

Outside of that, for June and much of July Ainmara was tearing about the seas with young ne'er-do-wells aboard, taking in cruises to St Kilda and round Ireland, and somehow winning the 1964 Round Isle of Man Race overall too. In fact, we got so much out of the boat that some of us helped Billy and his son Wesley with the fitting-out, and over the years we became friends and talked of much.

But it was only once in an East Belfast pub that Billy mentioned he'd almost been a victim of the Spanish Flu. Typically of young Donegal men with limited futures, in 1919 aged around 17 he'd gone to Glasgow in search of work, and Glasgow being in the midst of the epidemic, he'd soon contracted the disease.

People were dying all round him, and he'd only one thought in his feverish mind – to get back to Moville so that his mother would at least have a body to bury. Somehow he got himself aboard the packet-boat for Derry down at the Broomielaw on the Clyde, and collapsed in a large shared sleeping cabin where many of the other recumbent forms never woke up when the ship reached the Foyle.

The Glasgow-Derry steamer Rose was built in 1902, and became much-used by the people of Donegal in going to Scotland to search for work   The Glasgow-Derry steamer Rose was built in 1902, and became much-used by the people of Donegal in going to Scotland to search for work  

However, Billy Doherty did wake up, feeling better by the minute with lots of motherly home nursing, and each day more determined to live life to the full. Thus when the opportunity to buy Ainmara arose in 1957, it was no contest. He commuted his pension to raise the funds, and as a result for ten years he had the Grand Annual Return to Donegal, and many of the younger sailing enthusiasts on Belfast Lough had the benefit of a sort of one boat sail self-training organization in which they somehow learned to be their own sea-going skippers.

But perhaps the strain of surviving the Spanish flu in 1919 had left hidden ill-effects, for in 1967 Billy Doherty died of cancer. But the story of Ainmara continued, for one of the young sailors who had benefitted from the "Doherty Scheme", a relative newcomer to the sport called Dickie Gomes, was determined to buy her. I counselled him against buying a 55-year-old boat, but for Dickie it was Ainmara or nothing, and so it came to pass.

Dickie Gomes with Ainmara during her Centenary Cruise of Scotland's West Coast in 2012. He'd bought her in 1967 despite being advised against "getting involved with such an old boat", he owned her for more than fifty years, and she has since gone international under Swiss ownership, with her home port now at Dunkerque. Photo: W M NixonDickie Gomes with Ainmara during her Centenary Cruise of Scotland's West Coast in 2012. He'd bought her in 1967 despite being advised against "getting involved with such an old boat", he owned her for more than fifty years, and she has since gone international under Swiss ownership, with her home port now at Dunkerque. Photo: W M Nixon

Thus in 2012 after very many thousands of miles in several other boats, Dickie and I were together again on Ainmara's Centenary Cruise to Scotland's Western Isles, with a special Centenary Feast at the Rodel Inn on Harris in the midst of the most enjoyable cruise to the Outer Hebrides we'd ever had.

There was much to reminisce about, and if the vaguely remembered Spanish Flu of 1919 did come into the conversation, it would have only been in the context of having shaped Billy Doherty's life-view such that he brought Ainmara into our lives in a big way, resulting in our being in Rodel in these very special circumstances half a century later.

Of course, had the Spanish Flu been mentioned at all, it would have been dismissed as something which would never happen again in the face of the efficiency of modern medicine. Yet it has happened again, albeit in a different form of disease. But if we go around feeling sorry for ourselves and making comparisons with 1918-1921, we really are drivelling on in un-merited self-pity.

That said, even in normal non-pandemic peacetime a hundred years ago, life expectancy estimates were maybe only half of what they are now, and deaths at every age were much more common. But now with smaller families and every extra passing year of personal existence ever more valued, each individual life becomes precious, such that amongst many, general timidity is the default setting.

But if we don't straighten our thinking, we'll see thousands swept away in a completely new form of pandemic. They'll be gone in a wave of complete and utter boredom and inactivity. Thus all power to the Irish sailing community, for during the past 14 months they've made the very best of every sailing opportunity available while maintaining reasonable regard for the regulations, and the result is that we face into the beginning of the semi-season on 7th June with our sport in good heart.

This is how it was, In Real Time – the new Sun Fast 3300 Cinnamon Girl gets ready for her splash at MGM Boats in early March, 2020. Photo: W M Nixon   This is how it was, In Real Time – the new Sun Fast 3300 Cinnamon Girl gets ready for her splash at MGM Boats in early March, 2020. Photo: W M Nixon  

These thoughts are provoked by the realisation that the next Sailing on Saturday will be the first "real" one since March 7th 2020. In those very different times, a few days earlier I'd been present at the un-wrapping of the new Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl for Cian McCarthy of Kinsale at MGM Boats in Dun Laoghaire.

As ever in March, the general conversation was how to get more young people into sailing, with the theme being that the sailing community should be more friendly and accessible. But my argument in that last real SailSat was that sailing is first and foremost a vehicle sport, and if they could get more really sexy boats like the Sunfast 3300 out on the water, then the young folk would follow.

That was all for real. But only a week later, and we were into fantasy land. The plague from China was rampant, and on Wednesday, March 11th, the planned reception at the Royal Irish Yacht Club for the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race (scheduled for Wicklow SC on June 20th) was cancelled. Nothing daunted, we produced an account of a convivial virtual party for the Sailing on Saturday of March 14th, and it has been like that ever since, with us realizing that IRL isn't just a set of national identity lettering you have on your sails, it also means In Real Life, and it's something with which our connections have at times been very tenuous – occasionally to the point of non-existence - ever since.

You could say that we've been off the wall now and again, except that at times it was doubtful if there was a wall to be off in the first place. But now if we don't have walls, at least there's the semblance of an emerging programme, and unless things go exceptionally haywire on the general health front, in a week's time we'll be considering the riders and runners for the National Yacht Club's 280-mile Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race on Wednesday, June 9th.

Oh for sure, we ran a runners 'n' riders piece for the pop-up Fastnet 450 Race on August 22nd 2020, and our conservative reckoning that the Murphy family's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo from Cork was the best bet would have produced a modest if real return. But many of us now find something almost dreamlike in recollections of the Fastnet 450 – did it really happen at all?

Did it really happen? Nieulargo finishing to win the Fastnet 450 in the entrance to Cork Harbour. Photo: Nigel Young/North Sails   Did it really happen? Nieulargo finishing to win the Fastnet 450 in the entrance to Cork Harbour. Photo: Nigel Young/North Sails  

Thus there's something more tangible about the 1993-founded Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race - it's a regular rather than a pop-up event, and it's an ideal major happening to get the season going, for within the Pandemic limits which are likely to continue in some form for some time, the fact that the restrictions need to be imposed in only two ports makes it much more straightforward, as it can draw on experience gained with the Fastnet 450.

By contrast, this weekend in Scotland the much-confined Scottish Series is kept within the upper Firth of Clyde instead of across those generous waters north of Arran leading into Lower Loch Fyne off Tarbert, and the pre-series Special Instructions for 2021 which obtained for a while were a forceful reminder of just how free and easy the sailing game had been in the old days, as they read:

  • All shoreside and social activity has been cancelled
  • The volunteer engagement program has been cancelled
  • There will be no physical race office or notice boards, these will be virtual
  • There will be no physical jury or appeals hearings in person, these will be virtual
  • The venue has been changed to the Clyde Estuary
  • Fleets will be split into three groups spread out from the Cumbraes to Helensburgh
  • There will be no prizegiving ceremonies, shoreside briefings or vendor events
  • There will be two handed classes recognising the fact crews may need to operate with restricted numbers
  • Prizes won will be delivered after the event
  • The event will be reduced to three days
  • The top tier price bracket has been removed in recognition that the larger boats may need to run with lower crew numbers
  • Entry rates will be discounted below that of the 2019 prices
  • General entry will open on the 2nd April 2021 and close on the 14th May 2021 with an additional late entry admin fee applied from 1st May 2021

That was the way it was. Things have now eased a bit in Scotland, but nevertheless "light-hearted" is still not the mood of the moment. By comparison, the organisation of a straightforward passage race from one Irish port to another is surely a much more manageable business, and in Dun Laoghaire thanks to the Training Races, the sight of boats gathering is no longer quite the shock it was. IRL is emerging from the mists of pandemic.

Maybe next year…..? Tarbert on Loch Fyne during a normal Scottish SeriesMaybe next year…..? Tarbert on Loch Fyne during a normal Scottish Series

Published in W M Nixon

Despite all the setbacks of season, there is a busy climax for ISORA's 2020 offshore racers with two more races following quickly in the wake of last weekend's inaugural Fastnet 450 Race.

The Royal St. George line honours winner, Aurelia, will be back on her home Dublin Bay race track this Saturday for the final race of the ISORA Viking Marine Coastal Series 2020. 

Chris Power Smith's J122 is among a number of ISORA boats that completed last week's 270-mile Dublin to Cork offshore that return to the fray for the 35-mile Dun Laoghaire Coastal Race.

Lying first overall is Paul O'Higgins' Rockabill VI, second is Power Smith's Aurelia and third is the Skerries-based J109 Mojito campaign. 

The Archambault A31 A Plus is an ISORA Race winner Photo: AfloatThe Archambault A31 A Plus is an ISORA Race winner Photo: Afloat

According to ISORA chief Peter Ryan, also racing will be the Archambault 31 A Plus, the J99 Juggerknot 2, the J109 Indian, the X-45 Samatom, the Sunfast 3600 Hot Cookie and possibly her sistership YoYo too. 

Andrew Algeo's Juggerknot 2 at the Fastnet 450 Race start on Dublin Bay. Photo: AfloatAndrew Algeo's Juggerknot 2 at the Fastnet 450 Race start on Dublin Bay. Photo: Afloat

Unfortunately, it looks like the season has ended for Greystones competitor Red Alert that was dismasted racing to Cork Harbour.

This Saturday's final race has an overall 0.9 weighting.

National Yacht Club Race Officer Larry Power will start the last race of the coastal series at 10 am.

Samatom from Howth Yacht Club is an ISORA regularSamatom from Howth Yacht Club is an ISORA regular Photo: Afloat

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Ireland's sports organisations are taking a battering during the pandemic, and the operating model of sailing clubs, in particular, makes them especially vulnerable to a downturn in all activities afloat and ashore.'s W M Nixon wrote this piece yesterday for his home club at Howth, where the mood has been dampened by the news that the J/24 Nationals - scheduled at Howth for the first weekend of September – has been cancelled, as the nationwide J/24 Class felt it didn't merit the effort of long – sometimes very long - road haulages, when everything that they hoped to do ashore in connection with the event would be severely constrained or non-existent under the latest Government guidelines. The Nixon response has been to celebrate some of the Howth achievements which have been possible during August, and to those mentioned here he would add the success of the Howth 17 Nationals

Howth Yacht Club came very well out of the Optimist Nationals at Royal Cork ten days ago, with Johnny Flynn the new champion and Rocco Wright finishing third overall. So there was a certain amount of pressure of expectation on our two entries in the weekend's pop-up 266-mile offshore race on Saturday 22nd August from Dun Laoghaire (where the National YC's 150th Anniversary plans have been mangled by the pandemic) round the Fastnet Rock and back to Crosshaven, where most of the Royal Cork's planned Tricentenary plans have also been blown clean away, with entrants for events like the socially-distanced Oppie championship being limited to the island of Ireland.

When the 2020 Round Ireland Race from Wicklow - re-scheduled by the pandemic from mid-summer weekend in June to the 22nd August – was finally cancelled on August 9th with less than three weeks before its new date, the determined Cork trio of Mark Mansfield, RCYC Rear Admiral Annamarie Murphy, and SCORA Commodore Johanna Murphy decided to see if they could put a completely new race together for the same August 22nd weekend start, but with all entrants being firmly told it was pure racing – shoreside activity of any kind would be minimal.

There was barely a fortnight to go as the clearer outline of this pop-up event began to take shape. But it soon had entries pouring in with its catchy name of the Fastnet 450, which is the 150 years of the National YC and the 300 of the Royal Cork combined, while the actual distance from Dun Laoghaire leaving the Muglins, Tuskar, Coningbeg and Fastnet Rock to starboard and the Daunt Buoy to port before finishing at Roche's Point in the entrance to Cork Harbour is around 266 miles, though nearly all entrants were to sail more than 300.

Howth almost immediately had two boats into the 20-strong entry pot, both of them disappointed Round Ireland entrants in the form of Robert Rendell's XC 45 Samatom and Simon Knowles' J/109 Indian. Samatom inclines toward the cruising end of the performance cruiser spectrum, so if the race involved a preponderance of windward work – which proved to be the case – it wouldn't really suit her, and while she was in the running at times, eventually - after getting round most of the course including the Fastnet itself - she retired into Kinsale rather than continue over the final 15 miles to Crosshaven.

Robert Rendell's XC 45 SamatomRobert Rendell's XC 45 Samatom at the start of the Fastnet 450

But Indian was in there as a frontline contender from the start, her crew of all the talents of Fingal including – in addition to Simon Knowles himself – Anthony Doyle, Frank Dillon, Jon Hartshorn, Cillian & Rima Macken, Darragh White and the key man, John Flynn, who was there under double pressure, as his son Johnny Flynn is the new Optimist National Champion.

As Simon reports, although the wind after the start at 1300 hrs Saturday was sufficiently off the land to lay the course – sometimes with sheets slightly cracked - down the Wicklow and Wexford coasts towards the Tuskar, it was gusting to 30 knots, at times it headed to make it a dead beat, and with the spring ebb running full blast, the sea state was rough and the sailing was brutal.

As for the competition, it was fierce, as their most frequent contender was the Sunfast 3600 Hot Cookie (John O'Gorman NYC) a sister-ship of Conor Fogerty's OSTAR-winning BAM! with the special talents of Maurice "Prof" O'Connell on the strength, and Indian was also in face-to-face competition with two newer J boats, Andrew Algeo's J/99 Juggerknot 2 from the Royal Irish YC, and James Tyrrell's J/112E Aquelina from Arklow.

After they'd put the Tuskar astern and came hard on the wind late on Saturday evening, things were looking extra good for the Howth boat. For though the tide had turned to be against them, this smoothed the sea a bit and yet they were past the area of maximum adverse flood stream, while as a bonus, they and Juggerknot 2 found a favouable if brief twist in the wind which enabled them to lay the course, putting them right into the frame.

That little twist of wind wasn't to last, but it helped to keep them well in contention in a fleet where the current top performer from Cork, the Murphy family's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo – fresh from winning the Kinsale-Fasnet-Kinsale Race a fortnight earlier, and with her crew including Olympian Nin O'Leary – was battling for line honours at the sharp end with Chris Power Smith's higher-rated J/122 Aurelia (RStGYC), with the very fast little new Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl (Cian McCarthy, Kinsale, with Mark Mansfield on board) never too far astern in third.

Simon Knowles' J109 Indian from Howth Yacht ClubSimon Knowles' J109 Indian from Howth Yacht Club passes Dalkey Island at the start of the Fastnet 450 Photo: Afloat

It was an unremitting dead beat the entire length of the south coast. And with more wind offshore, that was the place to be, such that some boats were 35 miles at sea before they tacked for the Fastnet. Aboard Indian, they were well in the hunt, and after the 24-hour mark, everyone had settled down to the determined routine of endless windward work with seasickness conquered, proper meals being served, and Hot Cookie and the other two J Boats kept in hand, with the only problem being that the nearer they got to West Cork, the lighter the wind became.

So it was frustrating work getting to the Fastnet Rock itself in the dark, and they rounded at 0245 hrs on Monday morning in just 8 knots of breeze, lying a good 4th on corrected time, but knowing that in a long and meandering 60 miles run back to Cork Harbour, they'd somehow to keep a lot of boats covered in a difficult downwind leg where, once again, the best of the wind appeared to be offshore.

While on the wind, they'd been able to keep Hot Cookie well in control, but this long run suited the Sunfast 3600 better. Yet with her lower rating Indian was able to keep in touch, and coming in past the Old Head of Kinsale late on Monday morning, they knew the Cookie was ahead while Juggerknot and Aquelina were astern.

But the challenge of maintaining sufficient proximity to Hot Cookie made for a tough final three hours, yet they managed it, in fact they did so well that not only did they stay ahead of the Sunfast 3600 on corrected time, but they even closed the gap on her newer smaller sister Cinnamon Girl.

Indian's crew sorting themselves for a gybe are (left to right) John Flynn, Simon Knowles, Cillian Macken on helm, and Jon Hartshorn.Those final tricky downwind miles. With the Old Head of Kinsale well astern, and the finish coming into view, Indian's crew sorting themselves for a gybe are (left to right) John Flynn, Simon Knowles, Cillian Macken on the helm, and Jon Hartshorn

At the sharp end of the fleet, Aurelia took the line honours at 1026 hrs Monday, Nieulargo was next in 23 minutes later to take an unassailable overall lead, but back down the line Cinnamon Girl was bedevilled by very light patches, and all the time Indian was taking it out of her. So when Cinnamon Girl finally got across at 1146 hrs, she still was third overall, but it was by a smaller margin ahead of Indian, which was fifth across the line behind Hot Cookie, but corrected into a good fourth overall to round out a successful fortnight for Howth Yacht Club down Cork way.

As to what virtual celebrations are like, we'll have to wait until they get back to Howth to tell us. With the remains of Storm Frances now well cleared, having gone through in all its power since the Fastnet 450 finished, Indian leaves Crosshaven for home tonight (Tuesday) after the virtual prize-giving at the RCYC.

Published in Fastnet 450 Race

Day 3, Monday, 1600 hrs: The demanding Fastnet 450 course kept crews working very hard indeed until the last couple of miles running in towards the finish in the entrance to Cork Harbour under the iconic Roche's Point Lighthouse this (Monday) morning. Out at sea in the Harbour approaches, and struggling to reach the final turning point at the Daunt Rock Buoy, a sloppy sea and light winds had downwind sailing speeds down to below four knots as Chris Power Smith's J/122 Aurelia kept her cool to stave off a persistent line honours challenge.

Chris & Patanne Power Smith's line honours winner, the J/122 Aurelia, finally finds an encouraging breezeChris & Patanne Power Smith's line honours winner, the J/122 Aurelia, finally finds an encouraging breeze as she shapes her course for the finish from the final turning mark at the Daunt Rock Buoy. Photo: Robert Bateman

Aurelia crew Fastnet 450 RaceWe made it! Line honours winning crew from Aurelia celebrate keeping the superstars on Nieulargo at bay. Photo: North Sails Ireland

This came from corrected time leader Denis and Annamarie Murphy's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo, which in turn was constantly keeping an eye over the shoulder toward the much smaller Cinnamon Girl, Cian McCarthy's Sunfast 3300 with the determined Mark Mansfield aboard and always looking for a way to pull another Lazarus Act out of the hat.

But it was not to be. In fact, weather and wind-wise, the only time Cinnamon Girl really had conditions which truly suited her was during the short three-sail dash from the start at Dun Laoghaire to the Muglins at the entrance to Dublin Bay, where she duly led the entire fleet.

Just about done in……the little Cinnamon Girl's crew can finally ease the pressure as they cross the finish line after a tough race. Photo: Robert Bateman

Yet now approaching the finish many miles later off Cork with the Daunt finally astern, for the last three miles Aurelia found herself more comfortably in business at the front of the fleet, sailing in a slightly firmer breeze in a more purpose-like way for the finish, which she reached at 10.26, having covered 304 nautical miles to complete the 263.5 miles course.

When Nieulargo came in just 23 minutes later, she'd covered 303 miles, and immediately with her lower rating had jumped into an unassailable Corrected Time lead. But although the Murphy boat had Cinnamon Girl clearly beaten as they have the same IRC Rating, when the McCarthy boat finally finished at 11.46 she still had corrected time comfortably in hand on Aurelia to move into second overall on IRC, which no other boat can now challenge.

the highly-individual-looking Cinnamon Girl gave an extremely good account of herself despite having a tough ratingHandsome is as handsome does – the highly-individual-looking Cinnamon Girl gave an extremely good account of herself despite having a tough rating. Photo: Robert Bateman 

Interestingly, Cinnamon Girl had sailed 314 miles, but this reflected the successfully determined tacking on every wind shift she'd done in getting herself back in the frame while still beating towards the Fastnet, after her placing had slipped a bit yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.

Fourth to finish was John O'Gorman's Sunfast 3600 Hot Cookie (National YC) with The Prof on the strength. But although the Cookie had been in a CT battle for much of the race with Simon Knowles' J/109 Indian from Howth for the fourth overall slot, at the finish Indian succeeded in being ahead on CT of the O'Gorman boat, and she'd also staved off the challenge of both Andrew Algeo's J/99 Juggerknot II (Royal Irish YC), and James Tyrrell's J/112E Aquelina from Arklow, which was racing with a vigorous crew mix made up from both Arklow SC and the 250-year-old Lough Ree Yacht Club which, like the Fastnet 450's sponsoring clubs of the National YC and the Royal Cork YC, has been severely constrained in its celebrations.

James Tyrrell's J/112E Aquelina in the Fastnet 450Leave no turn unturned…..When the 250-year-old Lough Ree YC and the much newer Arklow SC get together to race James Tyrrell's J/112E Aquelina in the Fastnet 450, it's a case of all hands to the wheel. Photo: John Malone

It will be well into this evening when the low-rated tail-enders Big Deal (Derek Dillon, Foynes YC) and Blackjack (Peter Coad, Waterford Harbour SC) finally get to the finish. But while the weather in the end panned out to suit the biggies, both of these vintage craft had their time well in the frame at some stage during the course of an extremely interesting race. It's a race which has miraculously managed to be staged, despite everything that the pandemic problems and the cussed Irish weather have tried to throw at it. So all credit to those involved in organising and promoting it - they never gave up hope that it should and could and would happen, and we now have a real sailing highlight for this frustrating year.

The 2020 season has a highlight after all the frustration – Nieulargo crosses the finish line at 1049 hrs this morning to win the Fastnet 450. Photo North Sails

If this is as good as it gets, then that's just grand – having already won the Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale Race a fortnight ago, Nieulargo's crew celebrate the Fastnet 450 win at their home port of Crosshaven today. Back: Denis, Annamarie and Molly Murphy, Mark ‘Nipper’ Murphy (no relation), Killian Collins, Clive O'Shea. Front: Mia Murphy, Cian Byrne, James Fegan, Nin O'Leary Photo: North Sails

Read all our Fastnet 450 coverage in one handy link here

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Day 3, Monday, 0900hrs Chris Power Smith's J/122 Aurelia may have had nearly two miles in hand on Denis and Annamarie Murphy's Grand Soleil 40 when she led the Fastnet 450 fleet round the Fastnet Rock at 0040 hrs in the small hours of this morning (Monday). But in a downwind tacking duel which initially took them well offshore over the 58 miles to the finish at Roche's Point at the entrance to Cork Harbour, the slightest sneeze on Aurelia's part saw both Nieulargo and Cian McCarthy's Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl taking bites out of her lead, and at 0800 hrs this morning running in past the Old Head of Kinsale, the margin on Nieulargo was just under a mile, with Cinnamon Girl barely two miles further back.

Nieulargo pictured off the Cork Buoy this morning Photo: Bob BatemanNieulargo pictured off the Cork Buoy this morning Photo: Bob Bateman

The keenly-anticipated firm sou'wester has yet to materialize, and progress eastward has mostly relied on getting offshore and back into the stronger sou'west to west breeze which has doggedly remained in place out on the ocean for more than three days now. That said, after slowish initial progress eastward from the Fastnet, they began to record better speeds offshore, and approaching the Old Head, all three were comfortably over 7 knots, with Aurelia pushing above 8 knots to open the gap slightly on Nieulargo.

Derek & Conor Dillon's Dehler 34 Big Deal from FoynesDerek & Conor Dillon's Dehler 34 Big Deal from Foynes

Back at the Fastnet Rock, it is still light and lumpy, such that the lower-rated tail-enders, Derek and Conor Dillon's Dehler 34 The Big Deal from Foynes, and Peter Coad's veteran Blackjack, were still struggling to make their rounding as the leaders came past the Old Head of Kinsale. The front runners – slowed to 6.7 knots as we complete this report at 0900 – should be nearing the finish line by 1000 hrs, with every indication that Nieulargo will retain her lead in most of the main contests except for line honours, which Aurelia is fighting every inch of the way.

For now, all attention is focused on simply finishing a quite tough race.

Published in Fastnet 450 Race
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Day Two, Sunday, 2030hrs:  After a stimulating day's sailing along the length of the south coast, turning to windward in very sailable breezes and enjoying more sunshine than much of the rest of Ireland, the leaders in the Fastnet 450 are now struggling through a period of frustratingly light airs as they negotiate the Atlantic swell off the West Cork coast and try to find boat speed over the last twenty miles to the Fastnet Rock.

Things had been looking good for Chris Power Smith's J/122 Aurelia as she closed on port tack towards the land on course towards Glandore, and lifted up from under the following boats as the breeze backed. But as it backed it eased further and then went all over the place with a wind full of holes, and at around 1730hrs Aurelia tacked off Galley Head and went seaward again in search of firmer conditions.

AureliaChris Power-Smith's J122 Aurelia

But out at sea she found the Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo (Denis & Annamarie Murphy) likewise significantly slowed, so the Power Smith boat tacked again to maintain cover, and speeds are beginning to improve at 2000 hrs as they feel what may be the first of a forecast new sou'wester, but it's still very fitful.

Nieulargo, the Grand Soleil 44, Denis and Annamarie Murphy's Nieulargo

There's quite a generational thing going on board Aurelia, as her crew includes 16-year-old Max Goodbody and his father Richard, who normally sail on the family's J/109 White Mischief in Dublin Bay where the Father and Grandfather of all the Clan is legendary helmsman Tim Goodbody who, in a long and extraordinarily varied sailing career, didn't get around to doing his first Fastnet Race until 1987.

Yet although it may have taken him some time to take on the challenge of The Rock, he made a beauty of it when he finally did so, as he was lead helm on the Dubois 40 Irish Independent as the top-scoring member of the Irish Admirals Cup Team, and they won the Fastnet Race overall.

This made for quite a moment as Irish Independent came round the rock in daylight and already doing very well all of 33 years ago. So even though Aurelia will be rounding in the dark, it will be quite a milestone for family history, and if they can continue to stay ahead of Nieulargo (where some other formidable sailing families are involved), that will be all to the good for the Goodbodys.

With the new sou'wester being the harbinger of a full gale by tomorrow (Monday) night, it's expected that the fleet should be well across the finish line at the entrance to Cork Harbour by then. But for some of the less well-placed boats further down the fleet, the fact that they've been more or less slugging to windward since coming past the Muglins at the entrance to Dublin Bay since lunchtime yesterday has seen a couple of boats already diverting into Cork Harbour. Yet down off the coast of West Cork, the battle for the win is still being very emphatically played out, and the picture should be clearer for our next report tomorrow (Monday) morning. 

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Day two, Sunday 1400 hrs: Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia was the first of the three on-the-water leaders in the Fastnet 450 to tack far offshore for the longboard that will take her from the area of stronger west wind many miles out at sea into the lighter conditions along the West Cork coast and on down toward the turning point at the Fastnet Rock. The J/122’s decision maker made the call at 1100 hrs, but it was an hour later before Cian McCarthy’s fighting little Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl – even further at sea, but equally far west – put down the helm to head for the shore around noon, and as she closed towards Denis & Annamarie Murphy’s bigger but equal-rated Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo (vid below), the Murphy boat tacked on the McCarthy boat around 1220hrs.

It has been a difficult one to call, real ocean chess, as a slight backing of the wind off West Cork is forecast this afternoon, thereby freeing up those coming in from offshore, but providing the problem that they might overstand the Invisible Menace. The “Invisible Menace” is the Traffic Separation Exclusion Zone, a large rectangular box south and southeast of the Fastnet Rock. It might well enclose the least busy shipping Traffic Separation Zone on the planet, but it’s very real in offshore racing terms nevertheless, as you’re cast into outer darkness with ferocious time penalties if you so much as infringe on one square inch of this verboten space.

So ideally the perfect tactical ploy would be to time your tack onto port such that it brings you in on a curving course as the winds backs ever so slightly to take you close past the northeast corner of that unspeakable red box, but still sailing hard on the wind. The really unforgivable sin racing-wise would be to lose ground by having to ease sheets and pay off to keep the red zone’s nor’east corner to port. Any tactician causing that will be hung from the yard arm……

Looking at the overall picture, overall leader on IRC Nieulargo already looks to be freed enough to start worrying about that Northeast Corner Conundrum, but Cinnamon Girl is currently laying just west of Galley Head, yet further towards the shore it is noticeable that Aurelia is slowly but steadily curving more steadily to the west, while maintaining 7.2 knots to Nieulargo’s 7.1, with Cinnamon Girl – maybe footing a bit freer – making 7.0.knts.

Next in line to the northeast of them, the Sunfast 3600 Hot Cookie (John O’Gorman) and the J/109 Indian Simon Knowles are also now on port like the bulk of the fleet, and if Aurelia’s gradually changing course made good is anything to go by, they might have read it very neatly, but the nearer you get to that West Cork Coast, the odder the winds become, which is of course no reflection on the people who live there.

Blackjack (IRL 1988), a Pocock 37 skippered by Peter CoadBlackjack (IRL 1988), a Pocock 37 skippered by Peter Coad

In the big picture on IRC overall it is the turn of Peter Coad’s vintage Pocock 38 Blackjack from Dunmore East to be having a great time, she rates only 0.917 and has been ploughing steadily on to such good effect that she lies fourth overall, behind Nieulargo, Aurelia and Cinnamon Girl in that order on CT, while Hot Cookie (vid below) and Indian are 5th and 6th a matter of minutes apart. 

As for this morning’s drama of the Red Alert retirement, it was pretty total as she’d been dismasted, but all are well and she’s headed for Dunmore East while Ronan O Siochru’s Sunfast 37 Desert Star (Irish Offshore Sailing), which stood by in an exemplary seamanlike manner, has resumed racing and will receive full-time compensation.


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Sunday, day two, 0930hrs: After yesterday (Saturday) afternoon's swift ebb-assisted close reach down the East Coast from Dun Laoghaire to the first major turn at the Tuskar Rock, the fleet in the Fastnet 450 have found a determinedly west wind of between 15 and 20 knots blowing almost directly along the south coast, with only a slight tendency to draw off the land, so there's every likelihood they'll have a slug directly to windward all the way down to the Fastnet.

Fastnet 450 race course tracker The Fastnet 450 race course at 10 am this morning. See tracker below

Progress has been steady with the fleet gradually seeing the leaders extend ahead, but racing numbers are now down to 13 as more recent retirees have included the Sigma 33 Valfreya and the Oyster 37 Blue Oyster, while an incident around 0712 this morning saw the JOD 35 Red Alert (Rupert Barry, Greystones SC) pull out, and the Sunfast 37 Desert Star (Ronan O Siochru, Irish Offshore Sailing) change course to assist and accompany the Greystones boat towards Dunmore East.

Valfreya Sigma 33 - IRL 4297 Skipper: D Riome & M Leonard Retired - Sigma 33 Valfreya

JOD 35 Red Alert (Rupert Barry, Greystones SC)Dismasted - JOD 35 Red Alert (Rupert Barry, Greystones SC)

With firmer breezes offshore, all the racing fleet have stayed on starboard with only the occasional stab at port to see how it is shaping up before reverting to starboard again. The first night at sea has been particularly demanding for crews less hardened in the offshore racing game, and some boats that had been showing well in yesterday's daylight and straight-line sailing have found themselves slipping in the rankings during the dark.

Still in line abreast at the front, and now almost due south of Cork though around 30 miles offshore, Chris Power Smith's J/122 Aurelia (RStGYC) continues narrowly in line honours ahead of Denis & Annamarie Murphy's Grand Soleil Niueulargo, and Cian McCarthy's little Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl neck and neck, but a couple of miles further south.

cinnamon girl Sunfast 3300Cian McCarthy's Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl

In the main part of the fleet, only two boats had found the wind briefly obliging enough to enable them to hold the westward course as they put the Tuskar astern, they were Red Alert and Siimon Knowles J/109 Indian, but while Red Sert subsequently sipped to lee. Indian hung on to her small but significant advantage, and though now in the same wind as everyone else, is in a useful windward station close to the higher-rated Sunfast 3600 Hot Cookie (John O'Gorman, NYC) and ahead of the J/99 Juggerknot (Andrew Algeo).

Juggerknot IIJ/99 Juggerknot (Andrew Algeo)

A really steady performance has been put in by Peter Coad's vintage Pocock 37 Blackjack (WHSC), which revels in windward work and is boosted by a rating of only 0.917. Signing off at 0930 Sunday, we find on IRC overall Nieulargo continues to lead, Cinnamon Girl is second, Blackjack third, Aurelia fourth, Indian fifth, and Hot Cookie sixth.

Big Deal Dehler 34 - IRL 3492  Skipper: Derek DillonBig Deal, Dehler 34 (Derek Dillon)


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Day One 1830 - As the onset of the adverse flood tide approaches with the leaders sluicing south past Cahore Point with the last of the ebb and more than 50 miles of the Fastnet 450 course already sailed, an underlying pattern is in evidence, with boats offshore experiencing a more westerly wind, while those closing the shore have found more sou'west in it as it tries to blows along the line of the beach, with five of them tacking.

The smaller slower boats have been tending more towards this tacking option, as the prospect of a weaker foul tide close along the Wexford beach, and being nearest the hoped-for onset of a forecast veering, is an attractive possibility. Nevertheless, the star of the lower-rated fleet, John Conlon's Sunfast 37 Humdinger from Arklow, has been continuing to blast south well offshore, and in a significantly stronger tidal stream and wind with more west in it, has got herself back ahead of sister ship Desert Star (Ronan O'Siochru, Irish Offshore Sailing). The Star was in front for a while, but is now inshore on the tacking strategy.

Desert Star - Ronan O'Siochru, Irish Offshore SailingDesert Star (Ronan O'Siochru, Irish Offshore Sailing)

Thus at time of writing (1830hrs), Humdinger's crew are having the time of their lives, leading both IRC 2 and ECHO 2, and in a close third overall in the entire fleet on IRC, with only Nieulargo (Denis & Annamarie Murphy) and Cinnamon Girl (Cian McCarthy) ahead.

John Conlon's Sunfast 37 Humdinger from ArklowJohn Conlon's Sunfast 37 Humdinger from Arklow

Nieulargo meanwhile is continuing the line honours battle with Chris Power Smith's J/122 Aurelia, while the cheeky little Cinnamon Girl with Mono Mansfield aboard and the bit between his teeth continues to keep bigger sisters Hot Cookie and YOYO at bay.

Chris and Patanne Power Smith's J/122 AureliaChris Power Smith's J/122 Aurelia

As for the pride of Foynes, Derek and Conor Dillon's Deher 34 Big Deal which rivalled Cinnamon Girl in the precision of her start, she's in a ding dong with another little 'un. The First 31.7 More Mischief, but as we write the other small boat, the A 31 A Plus ((Grant Kinsman) appears to have pulled out, and looks to be heading for Arklow. This leaves us with 17 boats racing, as Andante was unable to leave Kilmore Quay to get to the start because of Storm Ellen, while the northern entry, the X38 eXcession, managed to batter her way south through the tail end of Ellen to Dun Laoghaire, but was unable to go any further.

Derek and Conor Dillon's Dehler 34 Big Deal clears the Muglins on Dublin BayDerek and Conor Dillon's Dehler 34 Big Deal clears the Muglins on Dublin Bay


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A brisk sou'wester provided a fast reaching start for the 266-mile Fastnet 450 Race at 1300 hrs today in Dublin Bay, with Chris Power Smith's J/122 Aurelia (RStGYC), John O'Gorman's Sunfast 3600 Hot Cookie (NYC) and Robert Rendell's X45 Samatom (HYC) seeming to get the best of it at the weather end of the line. But top contenders such as Cian McCarthy's new Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl from Kinsale and Denis & Annamarie Murphy's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo (RCYC) out towards the pin were more interested in keeping their wind clear in order to shape their course at max speed towards the Muglins and the stronger south-going tide beyond.

Those who held to weather found a flat gap off Killiney, while Mark Mansfield's presence on Cinnamon Girl manifesting itself in a pesky persistence in being in the lead every which way, while another notable performance was being put in by John Conlon's now-vintage Sunfast 37 Humdinger from Arklow, which was right in there going like a train and showing her transom to boats who should have been clear ahead.

Eventually, the Killiney Delayeds got themselves going again, and heading on south far enough off Bray Head to avoid any wind shadow. Aurelia began to show just in front of Nieulargo, but Cinnamon Girl was clearly being sailed by men possessed, as she stayed doggedly ahead of big sister Hot Cookie with The Prof himself on board.

It's always a mistake to assume an offshore breeze down the Wicklow and Wexford coasts turns it into a straightforward drag race. Even when the gradient wind has power to it, unexpected gaps always appear, and this afternoon were are twists and turns with rain about.

IRC leader Cinnamon Girl works her way along the Wicklow coast in the inaugural Fastnet 450 Race from Dublin to Cork Photo: Roger BatemanIRC leader Cinnamon Girl works her way along the Wicklow coast in the inaugural Fastnet 450 Race from Dublin to Cork Photo: Roger Bateman

But eventually, it's going to veer and ease, and in the demanding business of covering ground against the late evening's new north-going flood tide, smaller craft may find themselves having to resort to all sort of tide-dodging channels with bewildering names through the Wexford Banks, while the leaders find that as they close in on the corner at the Tuskar, those enigmatic sandbanks get placed by a profusion of non-nonsense rocks.

Signing this off after two hours of racing, with next thing on the agenda a thoughtful passing of Wicklow on the very day they'd hoped to have their last chance of staging the Round Ireland Race, we have Aurelia, Hot Cookie, Cinnamon Girl and Samatom more or less in line abreast across a mile of sea with 250 miles still to race, Nieulargo is right on their tail, and in the next less even line abreast just over a mile astern, we find Aquelina, Indian, and Juggerknot 2 with Humdinger out to sea half a mile away, going like a train and giving the newer boats a tough time – there'll be pensioners dancing in the streets of Arklow, even if it does contravene COVID guidance for the elderly.


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