Menu

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Displaying items by tag: Cruising

Kirsten Neuschäfer, of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, is awarded the Blue Water Medal for 2023 in recognition of the tremendous effort, determination, and skill she exhibited during her 235-day solo circumnavigation in Minnehaha, a Cape George 36 sailboat. Out of 17 starters, she was first among only three finishers of the Golden Globe Race; this singlehanded race around the world limits competitors to using sailboats and technology that was available when the first race was held in 1968.

The Blue Water Medal (pictured below) was originated by the founding members of the Cruising Club of America (CCA) and first awarded 100 years ago to “reward examples of meritorious seamanship and adventure upon the sea, displayed by amateur sailors of all nationalities…” In her comprehensive preparation for the race and her determined persistence throughout the eight-month marathon, Neuschäfer demonstrated she belongs on the very distinguished list of previous medalists including previous Golden Globe winners Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Jean-Luc Van Den Heede. She also takes her place alongside other solo circumnavigators such as Sir Francis Chichester and Bernard Moitessier.

Cruising Club of America (CCA) blue water medal

As an example of her determination, during one week in January while crossing the Southern Ocean, Neuschäfer spent several hours scraping speed-robbing barnacles off the bottom of her boat. She reported to race headquarters, “I discovered that the port side was like a reef: old barnacles and millions of new ones. Thankfully the starboard side was not that bad. I spent several hours cleaning ¾ of the hull so far with the scraper. It was cold, exhausting, but very gratifying to watch clusters of millions of tiny barnacles sink into the deep!

In winning what was only the third Golden Globe Race held, Neuschäfer became the first woman to win the race and the first woman to win any singlehanded race around the world. Along the way, she also stopped competing temporarily to rescue fellow competitor Tapio Lehtinen after his boat sank; she helped him safely aboard a passing ship and then continued the race. (Neuschäfer received the CCA’s Stephens Seamanship Trophy last year for making that rescue.)

When she learned of her selection as Blue Water Medal winner, Neuschäfer said, "I was already so incredibly honoured to receive the Rod Stephens Award. Now I am again so honored as to be receiving the Blue Water Medal from the CCA! This is an honour I never dreamed of—a medal, which in my mind is due only to the calibre of the most legendary of sailors, such as Sir Robin Knox Johnston and Moitessier themselves. I am truly humbled!"

When she finished the Golden Globe last April, Neuschäfer was still ready to go. She said, at the time, “You know, I’ve still got plenty of food and water. I’m still enjoying myself. I’d have no issue to just keep sailing.” We believe she will continue to do that and continue to set an example for all sailors, women and men.

“She is the real deal—a sailor who stands out in a crowd of historic sailors,” said CCA Commodore Chris Otorowski. “We are proud to be able to award the Blue Water Medal to her.”

The CCA will present the 2023 Blue Water Medal to Kirsten Neuschäfer in person at its annual awards event on March 1, 2024 in New York City.

Published in Cruising

In a week’s time, Sailing on Saturday will resume normal service with a preview on December 23rd of the up-coming Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race on December 26th, both generally and from an Irish angle, for we have some interesting participants with Gordon Maguire heading the charge aboard the all-conquering Caro.

But for now, acutely aware that the placing of Christmas Day on a Monday appears to have resulted in a so-called festive season marathon of potentially three undiluted weeks and more, we realise that some dyed-in-the wool sailing and cruising enthusiasts urgently need a heavy fix of maritime diversion.

So here’s a rambling peregrination through the odd world of cruising clubs and associations to provide holiday-long distraction, which if needs be can be read as you would most easily eat an elephant, in other words one bit at a time.

CRUISING’S INTERNATIONAL LINKS

There’s an easygoing yet quietly dynamic relationship between the leading cruising clubs on both sides of the Atlantic, drawing on the wealth of experience afloat and ashore gained over very many decades and even centuries by the very first clubs and their members.

These ways of doing things have emerged both from the protocols that began with the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork in 1720 with its subsequent re-branding in the 1820s to become the Royal Cork Yacht Club, and from the ambitions for direct cruising organisational development.

The fleet of the 1720-founded Water Club of the Harbour of Cork on manoeuvres in 1738. Individual or group cruising visits by these pioneering boats to West Cork and sometimes further were so frequent that they scarcely merited mention in the club records. Photo: RCYCThe fleet of the 1720-founded Water Club of the Harbour of Cork on manoeuvres in 1738. Individual or group cruising visits by these pioneering boats to West Cork and sometimes further were so frequent that they scarcely merited mention in the club records. Photo: RCYC

This first came to the top of the agenda in 1880 in London with the challenges of developing a new non-premises cruising club in London, a club whose members would share a fascination with cruising under sail and its engendering of friendship, sociability and mutual support of all kinds through flourishing in an organisation in which many of the members, while very much sailing enthusiasts, were avowedly non-racing people.

THE GROWTH OF CRUISING GROUPS

Today, with the Cruising Group within several of our sailing and yacht clubs in Ireland being the single largest sub-section of the membership, it’s difficult to visualize a time when the yachting establishment saw real sailing as only being in racing. But as it happens, it took a while to acknowledge the validity of this bedrock of our sport, and in the Irish context we realise yet again what a giant in our sailing progress was the physically diminutive Harry Donegan (1870-1940) of Cork.

Harry Donegan: his enthusiasm for sailing of all kinds and his generosity of spirit made him a great force for the good in the sport’s development in Ireland and beyondHarry Donegan: his enthusiasm for sailing of all kinds and his generosity of spirit made him a great force for the good in the sport’s development in Ireland and beyond

In Cork Harbour, the Water Club may have started as a non-racing organisation which expressed itself through fleet manoeuvres followed by hugely convivial dinners typical of the time, either on their small ships or at their shoreside focal point of the old castle on Hawlbowline Island. At these mega-feasts, indulgence was such that one of the club’s famous Rules stipulated that “no member to bring more than a bumper of wine to the dinner, except My Lords the Judges be present”.

WATER CLUB OF CORK SOON RACING

Disregarding the hint at a notoriously thirsty judiciary other than wondering how many readers might have been faced with the menu choice of “Dublin Lawyer” in a West of Ireland restaurant (see end of this blog for answer), we know from ancient newspapers of the mid-1700s that Water Club members were already challenging and wagering for races among themselves.

And by the time the club as Royal Cork was going full blast a hundred years later, racing had become so prominent that any RCYC yacht returning to the harbour from other sailing centres conspicuously flying winning flags would be given a nine gun salute as she passed the club battery. This attractive if noisy performance was charmingly resurrected by Admiral Colin Morehead in a lockdown-compliant way, when the Murphy-Fegan team on Niuelargo returned from winning the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race in 2021, as celebrated here  and here 

The Royal Cork YC’s purpose-built 1854 clubhouse at Cobh proved ideal for saluting returning winnersThe Royal Cork YC’s purpose-built 1854 clubhouse at Cobh proved ideal for saluting returning winners

SOUTHWEST IRELAND’S LONG-ESTABLISHED ROLE AS A WORLD-CLASS CRUISING AREA

In cruising back from Dingle to Cork, the crew of Nieulargo would have been sailing along a familiar coastline, as frequent vacation visits to southwest Ireland’s cruising paradise of West Cork and Kerry has been as much a part of Cork Harbour’s sailing heritage as the racing and fleet manoeuvres for one very long time. But as the racing became ever more intense in the latter half of the 1800s, with Dublin Bay leading the international charge in codifying its rules, cruising began to emerge as a distinctly separate discipline.

The keenly-raced Dublin Bay 21 Garavogue under her original rig. While the class is currently being restored by Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra under a simpler rig, in 1904 the first Commodore of the 1929-founded Irish Cruising Club, Herbert Wright, was to start his cruising with Garavogue’s sister-ship Estelle under this rig, while he also raced Estelle with Dublin Bay SC with determination and successThe keenly-raced Dublin Bay 21 Garavogue under her original rig. While the class is currently being restored by Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra under a simpler rig, in 1904 the first Commodore of the 1929-founded Irish Cruising Club, Herbert Wright, was to start his cruising with Garavogue’s sister-ship Estelle under this rig, while he also raced Estelle with Dublin Bay SC with determination and success

Its enthusiasts found fulfillment in the simple joy of sailing and voyaging in a competent manner, and the more complex challenge of developing and properly using seagoing boats that really could be comfortably lived aboard. At the same time, they were learning the skills of seamanship, navigation and pilotage that had previously been the often secretive province of the maritime professionals, that secrecy being the natural manifestation of a trade protection attitude.

CITY LIFE FOCUSED CRUISING CLUB DEVELOPMENT

That said, it took the rapidly increasing population of a vibrant city at some distance from the more popular sailing centres to create a specialist cruising club, and that came about in 1880 in London when a young lawyer originally from the West Midlands, Arthur Underhill, quietly but determinedly brought the Cruising Club into being.

Most of its founder membership was made up from his boyhood friends from “messing about in boats” days in suburban Wolverhampton, people who also shared his career decision to make their way in the bigger world of London. They continued their sailing, but now from South Coast havens mostly around the Solent, or sailing centres out in the Thames Estuary.

There is an Irish link to Underhill, as he was a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and did some sailing in Dublin Bay while here. Subsequently, the boat he owned for the longest length of time was the hefty vintage ketch Wulfruna, built in Waterford in 1874 and of such a size and weight that he needed some professional crew.

Cruising Club founder Arthur Underhill, a Trinity College Dublin graduate, at the helm of his 1874 Waterford-built ketch Wulfruna. While he was in complete charge as Corinthian skipper at sea, when coming into port he allowed his professional skipper to choose where Wulfruna would be anchored, for if a wrong choice was made, the professional crew would have to do the very heavy work of re-anchoringCruising Club founder Arthur Underhill, a Trinity College Dublin graduate, at the helm of his 1874 Waterford-built ketch Wulfruna. While he was in complete charge as Corinthian skipper at sea, when coming into port he allowed his professional skipper to choose where Wulfruna would be anchored, for if a wrong choice was made, the professional crew would have to do the very heavy work of re-anchoring

But he resolved the conflict between that and his Corinthian ambitions by being the skipper at sea. However, when he’d brought the boat to the chosen harbour, he allowed his professional skipper to decide exactly where they’d anchor, “as the crew would have to do all the heavy work of re-anchoring if his first choice was a mistake”.

FIRST CRUISING CHALLENGE CUP INAUGURATED IN 1895

It took about ten years for this novel Cruising Club to gain traction, but by the 1890s it was acquiring recognition, and it really became something comprehensible in the general sailing mindscape when the perpetual Challenge Cup for the log of the best Cruising Club cruise of the year was instituted in 1895.

The first awardee - for you don’t “win” a cruising cup - was Belfast doctor Howard Sinclair for his 1895 Round Ireland Cruise with the notably small cutter Brenda – originally just 23ft overall, she’d been lengthened by John Hilditch of Carrickfergus to 26ft in 1894.

FORMER RACER BECOMES FAST CRUISER

Brenda was typical of the first yacht of many a cruising beginner, as she was originally a cabin-less racing boat designed by the promising young Scottish naval architect W E Paton, and built by T. Norris in Belfast in 1886 for a J Irvine of Holywood on Belfast Lough’s south shore. She was of a reasonably healthy shape suitable for the fitting of a full deck and cruising accommodation for new owner Howard Sinclair by Hilditch in 1891, in a process they continued three years later with the length increase to create a wholesome boat.

Brenda in 1891, flying the RUYC ensign after her conversion from open racer to cruiser, but still with the straight stem as designed by W E Paton in 1886Brenda in 1891, flying the RUYC ensign after her conversion from open racer to cruiser, but still with the straight stem as designed by W E Paton in 1886

But Paton in 1886 was already busy elsewhere, as the trend in the red-hot racing centres of the Solent and Clyde was still towards ever-narrower heavily-ballasted gaff cutters setting an enormous spread of sail. So while the reasonably normal Brenda was getting ready for her first season in Belfast Lough, Paton had gone to extremes with the hyper-narrow Oona, built in the Solent for a demanding Scottish owner.

Officially, under the then widely-used Thames Measurement Rule of the Royal Thames Yacht Club, Oona was only a 5 tonner. But this seemingly small “weight” size was because of the absurdly narrow beam. In profile, she was a lot of boat. With very heavy displacement and a lead ballast keel chiming in at seven tons, she was in fact the ultimate expression of the “plank-on-edge” concept.

Whether Oona would have succeed or not in the 1886 racing is unknown, for as she was built in the south of England, Paton had to get together a crew to get this freakish craft to Scotland round Land’s End in time for the impatient owner’s new season.

Heading north in the Irish Sea, they were caught up in an easterly gale with very poor visibility. Whether or not they thought they were entering Dublin Bay, or whether they were trying to thread the needle of entering Malahide Estuary at high water is unknown, but it was on the Muldowney Bank at Malahide just north of Dublin Bay that Oona met her end.

The remains of the extreme super-heavy “plank-on-edge” cutter Oona on the beach at Malahide, Spring 1886. Underneath that slim deck are not the remains of some super-light skimming dish, but rather all that’s left of an extra-heavy “plank-on-edge” cutter which had a ballast keel of seven tons. Photo courtesy Hal SiskThe remains of the extreme super-heavy “plank-on-edge” cutter Oona on the beach at Malahide, Spring 1886. Underneath that slim deck are not the remains of some super-light skimming dish, but rather all that’s left of an extra-heavy “plank-on-edge” cutter which had a ballast keel of seven tons. Photo courtesy Hal Sisk

Either way, the morning light revealed the intact deck, though not much else, of the extreme boat on the beach inside Malahide’s Muldowney Bank, and there was no sign of the crew of five. The mystery of it all added to the tragedy. However, those who owned and appreciated successful more normal boats designed by Paton not only now had an onus on them to do extra-well afloat, but in Sinclair’s case he had decided to improve on the lost but promising young designer’s work.

SINCLAIR DESIGNS OWN BOATS, AWARDED CUP THREE TIMES IN ALL

Having shown what could be done with his own-designed improvements to a sensible Paton design with the Brenda, he became both a serial yacht designer-owner and a serial cruising trophy awardee. In 1896 and 1897 he was awarded the Challenge Trophy two further times in new boats each year, both built to Sinclair’s own design by James Kelly of Portrush, and both well able for the acclaimed cruises to Orkney and the Outer Hebrides.

In those circumstances, it would have been reasonable to expect Belfast Lough to become a hotbed of local and national cruising club development. But Sinclair faded rapidly from the scene for reasons that are really none of our business, so we’ll delve into them in all their curious detail.

HOWARD SINCLAIR’S COMPLICATED FAMILY LIFE LEADS TO EXILE

He was married to a younger sister of Beatrice Grimshaw (1870-1953), the Belfast writer who could only find the sense of freedom to write and live as she wished by settling very far away from Belfast, in Papua New Guinea. Meanwhile, her sister the first Mrs Sinclair was almost permanently ill, and when she eventually died, Howard Sinclair soon proposed marriage to her feisty younger sister, the lively Nicola.

 Howard Sinclair. Formerly a pillar of society in Belfast where his medical speciality was as a pioneer in tuberculosis treatment, his life took an unexpected turn that resulted in a special ceremony in Papua New Guinea, and lifelong “exile” in Devon in England Howard Sinclair. Formerly a pillar of society in Belfast where his medical speciality was as a pioneer in tuberculosis treatment, his life took an unexpected turn that resulted in a special ceremony in Papua New Guinea, and lifelong “exile” in Devon in England

But in the Presbyterian Belfast of which he was very much a part as an Elder of the Church, his religion forbade him to marry his deceased wife’s sister. However, on hearing of this, Beryl wrote from Papua New Guinea where she could easily arrange their marriage there in the ecumenically-minded Port Moresby, and they took up that offer. But after returning from the Pacific islands, living in Belfast was out of the question, so the newly-wed Dr & Mrs Sinclair went to live in Torquay in Devon on England’s south coast, where he remained a member of the Cruising Club until his death in 1948, but only made modest ventures afloat.

THE REMARKABLE MISS GRIMSHAW

Beatrice Grimshaw had meanwhile lived on in Papua New Guinea for 27 years, and then re-located to Australia where she died at the gallant and still independent age of 83 in 1953. She’s someone who deserves to be better known, and in 2022 Irish Cruising Club member Diana Gleadhill’s book Shadowing Miss Grimshaw was published to illustrate what a remarkable woman she was – as too is her spirited biographer.

BELFAST LOUGH’S HIGH LATITUDES CRUISING PIONEER

Back on Belfast Lough, the centrality of the place as a focal point for the greater development of cruising was further set back by the death in 1902 of Lord Dufferin, the high latitudes cruising pioneer who was Commodore of Sinclair’s now-former club, the Royal Ulster YC at Bangor. Yet in that same year the little Cruising Club in London made a mighty leap – it became the Royal Cruising Club.

This was a powerful recognition which the highly aspirational Dufferin would have rated highly, as he had put much energy into ensuring that the 1866-founded Ulster Yacht Club became the Royal Ulster YC in 1869, the year in which the Church of Ireland became disestablished to leave the way clear for Presbyterianism to be accepted as the main religion in northeast Ireland.

High latitudes cruising pioneer Lord Dufferin in his virtually self-invented role as “Admiral of Ulster”, wearing a uniform he designed himselfHigh latitudes cruising pioneer Lord Dufferin in his virtually self-invented role as “Admiral of Ulster”, wearing a uniform he designed himself

This may all seem remote from sailing. But ours is a sport which does not take place in a vacuum, and extra insight comes into any history and understanding of it in being aware of the changing socio-economic and political and religious background in which it is, in its quiet and peaceful way, trying to develop.

ERSKINE CHILDERS AND ASGARD ENTER THE SCENE

Put bluntly, you won’t get much cruising going on in times of war. Yet the two impinge, for another early member of the Cruising Club, and very active in it at the Royal Warrant’s conferral, was Erskine Childers, whose Asgard was awarded the Challenge Cup in 1913. But the awardee was Childers’ friend Gordon Shephard for his late season - very late season - delivery cruise of Asgard from Norway westward to Scotland, then down the Irish Sea to Dun Laoghaire, and then to a unplanned and hasty laying up – with much damaged gear and a broken bowsprit – with Dickie’s of Bangor in North Wales.

Erskine and Molly Childers, cruising the Baltic in the more peacful times of 1910 aboard AsgardErskine and Molly Childers, cruising the Baltic in the more peacful times of 1910 aboard Asgard

THE IMPATIENT CONOR O’BRIEN

It was unplanned as Childers was still London-based and had hoped that Shephard might get Asgard back to her home port in the Solent despite the ferocious November weather, but in the end all were glad enough to see her safely into the shed at the foot of the mountains of Snowdonia. That said, when the decision was quickly made in the Spring of 1914 to ship the guns for the Irish Volunteers from off the Belgian coast to Howth and Kilcoole on Erskine & Molly Childers’ Asgard and Conor O’Brien’s Kelpie, it meant that getting Asgard ready for sea took longer than expected, and Childers was late in making a rendezvous at Cowes with Kelpie, where the excessively punctual O’Brien had been conspicuously impatient.

Bare-footed and impatient – Conor O’Brien on Kelpie. Photo courtesy Gary Mac MahonBare-footed and impatient – Conor O’Brien on Kelpie. Photo courtesy Gary Mac Mahon

HARRY DONEGAN OF CORK AND FRANK GILLILAND OF DERRY

By this time others had been coming into the Irish cruising story, as RCC member Frank Gilliland of Derry was busily cruising and proselytising for the attractions of Donegal, and in Cork Harry Donegan was a compact Force of Nature. While a member of the Royal Cork at Cobh, his home club was the 1872-founded Royal Munster then at Monkstown, and he raced successfully with his 2.5 rater which he had also made inhabitable for cruising mostly to the southwest.

His curiosity and enthusiasm was such that he was soon compiling notes and harbour plans as sailing directions and cruising guides, but meanwhile as a canny Cork solicitor he’d enough energy and administrative savvy to be recruited by the owners of the new 1895-conceived Fife-designed 31ft Cork Harbour ODs as Class Secretary. He was never personally an owner, but it is said that at various stages he was to helm every one of them to a win.

A Fife-designed (1895) Cork Harbour One Design in full cry. Harry Donegan was the very effective secretary to the new class, but never owned one himself. However, it is said that he won races as helmsman in every one of the seven boats. Photo: Tom BarkerA Fife-designed (1895) Cork Harbour One Design in full cry. Harry Donegan was the very effective secretary to the new class, but never owned one himself. However, it is said that he won races as helmsman in every one of the seven boats. Photo: Tom Barker

DONEGAN’S USEFUL 1909 SAILING HISTORY

In 1909 he found a new outlet for his joy in sailing and his abundant spare energy - he was a lifelong teetotaller - by publishing History of Yachting in the South of Ireland 1720-1908. He was the first to admit that it was something of a cut and paste job, but that is hard work in itself, and it did much for Cork sailing confidence at a time when other centres were equalling or indeed overtaking the great South Coast harbour as a location for sailing development, while it has been a very convenient source of reference ever since.

By 1912 Harry Donegan had first aired his opinion that there should be some form of cruising club for Ireland. But as politics was another interest, and as he was the active Chairman of the Cork Branch of the post-Parnell Redmondite National Party, the increasingly turbulent times for the Home Rule movement was another Donegan pre-occupation in a rapidly developing situation.

POLITICS AND WAR DISTRACT FROM FORMATION OF AN IRISH CRUISING CLUB

This took in World War I from 1914-1918, the Easter Rising in 1916 in Dublin, the Irish War of Independence from January 1919 to July 1921, and the post-treaty Civil War from June 1922 to May 1923. In this rapidly-developing situation alliances were fluid, and by the time the remarkably localized Civil War broke out as the summer of 1922 got going, Donegan found himself in alliance with his former opponent Michael Collins in the latter’s new role as commander of the recently-created National Army of the treaty-recognising Irish Free State.

Gull at the start of the first Fastnet Race, August 1925. War dispatches carrier, first Fastnet Race contender, and cruising yacht of the moving spirit behind the foundation of the Irish Cruising Club – Harry Donegan’s famous Gull set a spread of sail that wasn’t for the faint-heartedGull at the start of the first Fastnet Race, August 1925. War dispatches carrier, first Fastnet Race contender, and cruising yacht of the moving spirit behind the foundation of the Irish Cruising Club – Harry Donegan’s famous Gull set a spread of sail that wasn’t for the faint-hearted

GULL DELIVERS MILITARY DISPATCHES

This reached a high point when Collins’s sister was shipped aboard the 1921-acquired 17-ton Donegan cutter Gull in July 1922 in Crosshaven, in order to begin the process of successfully carrying dispatches from the Free State General Emmet Dalton - who was besieging rebel strongholds in Cork city – safely towards General Collins at HQ in Dublin, while by-passing the mid-country routes where the rebels had destroyed strategic bridges.

In the midst of all this turmoil, more peaceful developments of ultimate significance for Irish cruising were taking place. In the early years of the 1900s, Glasgow was at its height of prosperity as one of the British Empire’s premier heavy engineering power-houses. But not all of its yachtsmen were billionaires with enormous sailing vessels and steamship yachts. Many ran smaller businesses or had salaried roles in the great companies, and their sailing and cruising was done in more modest boats, which each winter were laid up in small affordable boatyards dotted all around the upper Clyde, many of them best accessed by the Firth of Clyde’s impressive steamer service.

CLYDE CRUISING CLUB EMERGES

One such place was Port Bannatyne just west of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, where like-minded spirits - who had often met while cruising the Hebrides in summer - found themselves together again through many off-season weekends while fitting out their boats on Bute. In the autumn of 1909 while heading back to the mainland at Wemyss Bay (it’s pronounced “Weems”) on the Sunday evening paddle steamer, the idea finally crystallised among some of them to form the Clyde Cruising Club.

Thanks to the large cruising population sailing from that coast, it would turn out to be a uniquely successful synthesis of association and club, and was to include passage racing with its other activities of organising Meets and producing Sailing Directions. It was to have a significant influence in Ireland which was to reach something of a height in 1938, when John B Kearney of Dublin’s marvellous own-designed and built 39ft yawl Mavis was to win CCC’s famous annual Tobermory Race with a young Rory O’Hanlon at the helm at the finish.

John Kearney’s Mavis wins the Clyde Cruising Club Tobermory Race in 1938 with the young Rory O’Hanlon (later ICC Commodore) at the helm. The CCC rules stipulated that cruising yachts in their races should tow their dinghies as normalJohn Kearney’s Mavis wins the Clyde Cruising Club Tobermory Race in 1938 with the young Rory O’Hanlon (later ICC Commodore) at the helm. The CCC rules stipulated that cruising yachts in their races should tow their dinghies as normal

Meanwhile back in Ireland much had been developing on other fronts. Conor O’Brien of Foynes and Kelpie fame, having previously put much into his bare-footed mountaineering, was now moving into almost total devotion to cruising and voyaging – still bare-footed – and he saw as a possible if unusual career as a sailing voyager and writer for which he reckoned that membership of the Royal Cruising Club would provide a useful structure and source of publicity.

To become a member, he pulled off the most unlikely combination of supporters. In 1919 he got the High Sheriff of Derry, Commander Frank Gilliland RN – whom he had met through Royal Naval Reserve service during World War I – to propose him for the RCC, while his seconder was Erskine Childers.

Childers didn’t really like O’Brien personally at all, but in 1919 he was somewhat pre-occupied by his new role as one of the very able Directors of Propaganda for the new parallel Sinn Fein Government of Ireland, operating from the Mansion House in Dublin.

CONTRASTING NATURE OF O’BRIEN’S COMBINED SUPPORT DUO

The unlikeliness of this typically O’Brien unusual combination of people became abundantly clear in June 1923. His new 42ft ketch Saoirse, constructed after Kelpie was lost on a North Channel rock on the Scottish coast in 1921, was built to O’Brien’s own design in 1922 by Tom Moynihan and his skilled team in Baltimore despite the Civil War going on in the neighbourhood, and in 1923 was preparing to go to sea. On June 20th 1923, Saoirse departed from Dun Laoghaire on her ultimately totally successful pioneering global circumnavigation south of the Great Capes.

History in the making. Saoirse gets under way in Dun Laoghaire, June 20th 1923History in the making. Saoirse gets under way in Dun Laoghaire, June 20th 1923

Yet by that time, his RCC Proposer Commander Frank Gilliland was the Aide de Camp to the first Governor of a partitioned Northern Ireland. And he had a uniform to his own design. For like Lord Dufferin some decades earlier in his largely self-invented yet official role as Admiral of Ulster, Gilliland really did very much enjoy dressing up in self-created fancy uniforms.

THE END OF ERSKINE CHILDERS

By contrast, Erskine Childers had been very much a dresser-down. But when Saoirse took her historic departure, he was no longer on the scene as he had been executed in November 1922 in Dublin by the new Free State Government – whose Treaty support he opposed - for being armed with a tiny pistol for personal protection given to him by his former friend Michael Collins.

Be that as it may, the cruel and tragic ironies of the situation were blithely put aside as the untested Saoirse proved herself on her first long passage to Madeira a hundred years ago, replicated this past summer by a 28-boat celebration-filled rally of the Irish Cruising Club in Madeira.

For so long as things went well, Conor O’Brien knew he had access to the high road for international voyaging recognition in the 1920s through his RCC membership, as the continuing adjudicator for the club’s increasingly prestigious Challenge Cup was Claud Worth (1869-1936).

CLAUD WORTH, INTERNATIONAL CRUISING’S LEADING AUTHORITY EARLY IN THE 20TH CENTURY

He may have risen no higher than being Vice Commodore of the RCC, as Arthur Underhill stayed quietly in place at the head of his beloved “little club” until his death at the age of 89 in 1939, by which time Worth had also gone. But Claud Worth was both the real powerhouse in the RCC and in the international and national development of cruising and offshore sailing, as seen in 1908 when he realised that limited membership clubs could only do so much.

Claud Worth, the kindly and conscientious man who was a major force in cruising developmentClaud Worth, the kindly and conscientious man who was a major force in cruising development

CRUISING ASSOCIATION FOUNDED

Thus when he realised the constraints on cruising expansion of a limited membership club like the RCC, he was a moving spirit in the 1908 foundation of the Cruising Association in London, and subsequently an active member. And all this despite the fact that he found the time to design his own boats down to the last detail and to a professional standard, and then went on to project-manage their timber selection and construction while continuing his busy professional life as a pioneering opthalmological surgeon who was particularly noted for his specialist medical service during World War I.

So when he awarded the Challenge Cup to O’Brien three years on the trot in 1923, ’24 and ’25 for Saoirse’s then-remarkable circumnavigation, it was the ultimate voyaging Oscar of its day. And at the same time, Worth’s approval was invoked in the foundation of the Cruising Club of America, which has been celebrating its Centenary in 2023, with Claud Worth’s support having been sought for the idea of this new CCA in 1922.

CRUISING CLUB OF AMERICA ARRIVES WITH A FLOURISH

This 2023 Centenary of the CCA has been celebrated with a mighty book of the key elements in its history, the encyclopaedic Adventurous Use of the Sea. Cleverly edited by former CCA Commodore Sheila McCurdy, who is the daughter of that legendary designer of great boats, the late Jim McCurdy, it has been engagingly written by Tim Murphy, long associated with key roles in the international magazine Cruising World, for which he continues to be an Editor-at-Large.

 Published to celebrate the Cruising Club of America’s Centenary in 2023, Adventurous Use of the Sea by Tim Murphy, edited by Sheila McCurdy and with Dorade featured on the cover, is an eloquent introduction to some of the most outstanding people in offshore sailing Published to celebrate the Cruising Club of America’s Centenary in 2023, Adventurous Use of the Sea by Tim Murphy, edited by Sheila McCurdy and with Dorade featured on the cover, is an eloquent introduction to some of the most outstanding people in offshore sailing

It is no insult to these two creators to say that I find Adventurous Use a challenging and demanding read. It’s not because of a complex structure, because it’s very well put together and reads easily if you only skate through it. But the many superstar sailors highlighted are such utterly exceptional characters of outstanding achievement that if you give the elegantly-assembled words their proper attention, you find yourself totally involved in great lives lived by exceptional people who well embody the true American spirit.

GREAT LIVES LIVED TO THE FULL AFLOAT AND ASHORE

These are great lives lived to the full and beyond, both afloat and ashore, to such an extent that we more ordinary mortals find ourselves being left in a state of vicarious exhaustion after each chapter.

It begins with the definitive story of how a young New York sailing journalist in the early 1920s got together in downtown Manhattan with like-minded spirits to discuss and argue about sailing and the possibility a cruising club in a joint called Beefsteak Johns. It all sounds like something out of a Damon Runyon story, an impression lessened in no way by the journalist being called Bill Nutting. That was nominative determinism gone mad, but his subsequent life story indicated that it was very much for real.

For the only properly paying job that William Washburn Nutting could get in boat writing in New York at the time was as Editor of a magazine called Motor Boat. Yet although he was a square peg in a round hole, his energies were such that he succeeded commercially with Motor Boat to such an extent that the proprietors went along with his idea of a competition to design a motor-boat with auxiliary sails that could carry their Editor across the Atlantic, so that he could then furnish them with on-site reports from the already-legendary Harmsworth Trophy International Powerboat races in the Solent in 1922.

It could be a still from the film of a Damon Runyon story. CCA founding Commdore William Washburn Nutting in the day job as a tough and inventive New York maritime journalist in 1921It could be a still from the film of a Damon Runyon story. CCA founding Commdore William Washburn Nutting in the day job as a tough and inventive New York maritime journalist in 1921

OCEAN SAILING CRUISER DISGUISED AS “A MOTOR SAILER”

Somehow, Nutting slipped past them the fact that the winner, the William Atkin design for the ketch that became the 45ft Typhoon, was this desired motor-boat with auxiliary sails while insead she was actually a classic American characterful gaff ketch whose sailing potential was disguised by having a deceptively low rig.

He did this smoke and mirrors so well that the publishers paid for the building of the boat, and Nutting and his Beefsteak John cronies – eccentrically experienced sailors every one - sailed across to England with just a day and a half to spare before the powerboat contest started, and he kept himself covered by transmitting back sometimes imaginative accounts of the Harmsworth Trophy races.

The plans of the William Atkin-designed 45ft Typhoon were displayed to the publishers of Motor Boat in New York as being those of a motor-boat that needed the small rig to help get their motor-boating editor across the Atlantic to provide on-the-spot coverage of the 1922 Harmsworth Trophy International Powerboat Races in the SolentThe plans of the William Atkin-designed 45ft Typhoon were displayed to the publishers of Motor Boat in New York as being those of a motor-boat that needed the small rig to help get their motor-boating editor across the Atlantic to provide on-the-spot coverage of the 1922 Harmsworth Trophy International Powerboat Races in the Solent

For his mind was elsewhere, as his real purpose in being in Cowes was to meet Claud Worth and seek his ideas and support for creating an American version of the Royal Cruising Club. In this he succeeded, with Typhoon and Worth’s Tern III rafted together, while the two very different seafaring enthusiasts got on very well indeed.

An unlikely pairing – Claud Worth (left) and Bill Nutting (right) were soon friends. Photo: CCAAn unlikely pairing – Claud Worth (left) and Bill Nutting (right) were soon friends. Photo: CCA

Then in the best Nutting style, he also got to know and befriend everybody of else of sailing significance in Cowes, including County Limerick’s own Lord Dunraven of America’s Cup unjust notoriety, the great sailmaker Tom Ratsey who, on learning of a sail wardrobe deficiency in Typhoon, donated his own trysail from his famous ever-re-developing cutter Dolly Varden, while Nutting also began a close friendship with the growing sailing legend who was the rebellious young designer Uffa Fox, though also making his number with the Governor of the Isle of Wight who conveyed formal greetings from King George V the sailor king.

HARMSWORTH TROPHY FIRST RACED IN CORK HARBOUR IN 1903

There may be people who can skillfully work a room, but William Washburn Nutting could work an entire country when he put his mind to it. Meanwhile, somewhere in the margins, the Harmsworth Trophy concluded. And we should be more interested in it, as the first one was staged in Cork Harbour from Cobh to Cork City in 1903 in a waterborne reflection of the Gordon Bennett Motor Car Racebeing held in Wicklow and Kildare in the same year because automobile racing was forbidden in England.

POWERBOAT LEGEND GAR WOOD ENTERS THE STORY

This resulted in Irish hospitality being acknowledged by the visiting cars being painted in what became known as English Racing Green. As for that first Harmsworth Trophy race in Cork Harbour in 1903, the winner was Napier 1 of the UK piloted by Campbell Muir and Dorothy Levitt, while the 1922 races in the Solent – reported in colourful style by a cheerful Bill Nutting with his real purposes for being in the Solent having been fulfilled - was won yet again by the legendary American Gar Wood.

A long way from ocean cruising under sail. Speedster Gar Wood’s champion powerboat was one focus of Bill Nutting’s attention in Cowes in 1922A long way from ocean cruising under sail. Speedster Gar Wood’s champion powerboat was one focus of Bill Nutting’s attention in Cowes in 1922

Such was Nutting’s exuberance as he prepared to sail westward from the Solent that he may well have supplied the famous telegraphic exchanges at the conclusion of the Harmsworth Trophy. An impatient New York newspaper sent a querulous “How old Gar Wood?” enquiry. It can only have been Nutting at the other end who replied: “Old Gar Wood fine, how you?”

UFFA FOX JOINS THE STRENGTH

If he did send that ’gram, his mind was immediately turned elsewhere, as Uffa Fox had accepted an invitation to sail back to New York in Typhoon with the best of the summer already well gone, and Nutting knew that making the right impression with the hugely sociable but highly opinionated young designer could only add to his own reputation if things went well.

Fox did write some insightful material about the voyage, but it was all over-shadowed by the Typhoon being almost completely rolled twice in a Gulf Stream storm in the final few hundred miles to New York. Thanks to having a significant amount of her ballast in an external lead keel thanks to shipmate Casey Baldwin (for Nutting in his hurry to build had been prepared to make do with internal ballast), she eventually brought herself upright, and her motley crew were still with her.

The unique experience (and almost the ending) of a singular lifetime. A very young Uffa Fox (centre back) with his shipmates on Typhoon in the Azores before she was almost completely rolled in a November 1922 storm in the Gulf Stream while nearing New York. Photo: CCAThe unique experience (and almost the ending) of a singular lifetime. A very young Uffa Fox (centre back) with his shipmates on Typhoon in the Azores before she was almost completely rolled in a November 1922 storm in the Gulf Stream while nearing New York. Photo: CCA

FILTHY SETTING FOR MOVES TOWARDS CREATION OF CCA

So though she got safely to New York by November, much of her interior was be-fouled by oily bilge water, and malodorous items that had fallen out of various lockers. Yet it was in this filthy setting, when she finally berthed at night in Manhattan, that Typhoon’s crew and some of the sea-minded guys from Beefsteak John’s got together to celebrate Typhoon’s safe return and make positive moves to bring the CCA into being.

Section through Typhoon during one of the knockdowns, showing how the travel of stowed bits of equipment including the charts indicated the extent of the inversion. Image: CCASection through Typhoon during one of the knockdowns, showing how the travel of stowed bits of equipment including the charts indicated the extent of the inversion. Image: CCA

But nothing ever ran totally smoothly with Bill Nutting, such that nowadays it seems to be reckoned that there may well have been two or three different birth dates for the new club with its ultimately declared aim of “making adventurous use of the sea”.

This immediately suggests they were taking a slightly different approach to that of the RCC, for back in England the stiff upper lip attitude to cruising and voyaging was that anything that hinted at “an adventure” was thought of as evidence of incompetence.

There was a further parting of the ways as boats from the newly-formed CCA made up much of the fleet in 1923 for the revival of the sporadically sailed Bermuda Race of 1906 origins, and did so with such enthusiasm that by 1926 the CCA and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club were running the fully-established biennial Bermuda Race as a joint venture to successfully make it one of world sailing’s great offshore classics.

BILL NUTTING IS LOST AT SEA

But William Ashburn Nutting, the CAA’s founding Commodore in 1922-23, was already ploughing a different furrow. Having crossed the Atlantic twice along the middle and southern routes, he decided that 1924 required a following of the northern route westward to America pioneered by the Vikings, so he set off from Norway in the impulsively-bought Colin Archer-type (but not Archer-designed) cutter-rigged Liev Eiriksson.

In due course, after working the hospitality scene in the Shetlands, Faroes and Iceland, he and his convivial crew reached Julianehaab in Greenland, where their wide circle of much-socialised new friends included the Governor at Gothaab, A C Rasmussen. It was he who leaves us the last endearing but eventually tragic picture of William Washburn Nutting being very much Bill Nutting, an impression which makes us wonder how he ever met a single deadline in his picaresque journalistic career.

THE GREAT PROCRASTINATOR

It was already into September as Nutting and his shipmates prepared to leave Greenland, and Rasmussen’s account tells us all:

“They had originally intended to start at about nine o’clock in the morning, but their number of friends at Julianehaab was so great and the leave-taking took each one so long, that it was three o’clock in the afternoon before they were ready to leave. Loaded with souvenirs from Greenland and tokens of remembrance from all of us, the vessel put out from the bridge where the Danish colony had gathered to see them off, and the parting was as festive as it could be made under our primitive conditions. The ‘Vikings’ sang their gay songs at the parting. After it got out for some little distance, it (the Liev Eiriksson) made a curve back and they filmed us where we stood on the bridge waving. We then gave them three cheers and they set out on the voyage, which was to be their last”.

“She was an Archer type that out-Archered Colin Archer”. Bill Nutting bought Liev Eiriksson in Norway more or less on impulse in 1923“She was an Archer type that out-Archered Colin Archer”. Bill Nutting bought Liev Eiriksson in Norway more or less on impulse in 1923

The Liev Eiriksson and her crew were never seen again. The Greenland Sea can be vicious at any time, and its dangers in Autumn are exacerbated by ice in all sizes at its most mobile and menacing. Although the daylights is rapidly shortening, the few ships and the over-worked trawlers in the area will only be keeping a perfunctory lookout, and the meagre lights of a small sailing boat are barely visible at the best of times.

So although a US Navy search was instigated, it didn’t happen until November, and by that time most of the members of the new and growing Cruising Club of America accepted that they wouldn’t see their first Commodore again.

LEGENDARY NAMES IN THE MEMBERSHIP

But with the Bermuda Race to provide a focal point, and other members completing impressive cruises, the club under its second Commodore Herbert L Stone (another sailing journalist) was going from strength to strength with many legends of American and international sailing contributing to its vigorous progress. This had been reinforced in 1923 by the inauguration of the CCA Blue Water Medal “for yachtsmen of all nations” making a particularly meritorious seagoing achievement, with the first awardee in 1923 being French sailor Alain Gerbault with his solo Atlantic crossing of the Atlantic with the old-style English cutter Firecrest

As for the CCA’s own more special members, when you think of names like John Alden, Olin & Rod Stephens, Philip Rhodes, Paul Hammond, Carleton Mitchell, Irving Johnson, de Coursey Fayles, Jim McCurdy, Dick Nye, John Bostock, Stan Honey, Jean Socrates, Skip Novak and many others less well known because their achievements were in private voyaging rather than high profile racing, you soon realise that with this CCA narrative by Tim Murphy you’re reading through a powerhouse of sailing and voyaging in which the main actors are in a superleague of their own.

Many of the insights provided are refreshingly personal. For instance, everyone wonders why Olin & Rod Stephens’ all-conquering yawl Dorade of 1930 was so narrow, a feature which caused her to roll rhythmically when running in a seaway, regardless of the skills of the helmsman, and the rigour with which the spinnaker setting had been firmly bowsed down.

While her narrow hull’s profile was not so very dissimilar to the classic schooners she was racing against, Olin Stephens’ Dorade in her first Bermuda Race had the secret weapon of a hyper-efficient Bermudan rig created with his younger brother Rod. Photo: CCAWhile her narrow hull’s profile was not so very dissimilar to the classic schooners she was racing against, Olin Stephens’ Dorade in her first Bermuda Race had the secret weapon of a hyper-efficient Bermudan rig created with his younger brother Rod. Photo: CCA

Well, it seems that before finalising her lines, the young Olin – at that stage a tentative largely self-taught yacht designer – had been much taken by the sections of the elegant William Fife-designed 6 Metres from Scotland which had been brought over for the international racing for Seawanhaka Cup.

Then too, after grabbing a berth in the 1928 Bermuda Race, instead of joining the party at the finish, he spent the time swimming round in the warm waters of Bermuda and diving at each successful boat to assess the secrets of their hull shape.

Thus if you’ve wondered – as I have - just why the hull profile of Dorade and her 1935 successor Stormy Weather is that of a classic American East Coast racing schooner with the greatest depth at the heel , now you know. And as for Dorade’s narrowness, that’s because she has the hull section of a Fife 6 Metre.

But even though the beam was increased with her smoother-running successor Stormy Weather, the still rolling Dorade can give Stormy a good run for her money. But both boats in their time – and all Sparkman & Stephens designs of their golden era - benefitted enormously from the world-leading rigs that Rod Stephens put into them. He was the real hidden strength in the partnership’s success, which saw Dorade win Transatlantic races and two Fastnet races, while Stormy Weather then won the 1935 Fastnet Race.

BERMUDA RACE PARTIAL INSPIRATION FOR FASTNET CONTEST

Regardless of who was responsible for the winners of the increasingly successful Bermuda Race, it was immediately one of the inspirations towards the clarification of a notion towards the fulfillment of an idea that the Royal Cruising Club might run a 600-miles-plus race round the Fastnet Rock and back, starting from the English Channel.

The RCC very quickly made it clear that officially they wanted to have nothing to do with it, though Claud Worth said he’d sail his boat Tern out to Spain to time a finish at Santander, as he felt the suggested Fastnet course involved too many hazards, and anyway he reckoned such a race would be more attractive if it took the fleet south to a warmer climate.

The immortal Jolie Brise. This veteran winner of the first Fastnet Race is in good spirits for the Centenary Fastet Race in 2025The immortal Jolie Brise. This veteran winner of the first Fastnet Race is in good spirits for the Centenary Fastnet Race in 2025

But one of the main proponents of the idea, sometime RCC member George Martin who owned the impressive former Le Havre Pilot Cutter Jolie Brise, was single-minded in his determination that it was the Fastnet or nothing, and as he happened to be Commodore of a little known club called the Royal South-Western YC with a base in Devon, he started pushing the idea further with the RSWYC as the sponsoring club.

However, times were hard for this already small club, and although its Commodore was one of the heirs to the wealth of Martin’s Bank, his few fellow members were keen on amalgamating with the much stronger and more historic Royal Western Yacht Club in Plymouth. So when the first Fastnet Race was finally being promoted for its first staging by several including George Martin and the sailing writer James Weston Martyr who had returned from an American sojourn inspired by Bermuda Race participation, it was the Royal Western Yacht Club which was cited as the sponsoring organization.

With the Fastnet Centenary Year upon us in 12 months and two weeks’ time, it would be salutary to remember the RWYC’s orginal pivotal role in 1925, for in looking at the current Fastnet Race’s configuration with a start at Cowes and a finish in Cherbourg, the only surviving major element of the original Fastnet Race course of 1925 is now our own dear Fastnet Rock.

It is our rock, after all. Ireland’s own Fastnet Rock is the only significant element of the first Fastnet Race that is still a key part of the courseIt is our rock, after all. Ireland’s own Fastnet Rock is the only significant element of the first Fastnet Race that is still a key part of the course

But while success is an orphan, success has many fathers. The race was soon successfully set in place in August 1925 with Jolie Brise the winner from seven competitors including Gull, and immediately there was another father in line with the new Ocean Racing Club being established in Plymouth by all those present, including the ever-visionary and generously-minded Harry Donegan from Cork.

Unlike some fellow sailors in Ireland who felt that any major international race round the Fastnet should finish in an Irish port, he was both a realist and a keen sportsman, so he’d felt that the race as envisaged would provide the frequently-raced Gull with wonderful competition with real seagoing experience, and his podium place in third placed Gull for ever in international offshore racing history.

Powering along. Aboard Gull during the first Fastnet Race, when she was never out of the top three, and was leader during at least one stagePowering along. Aboard Gull during the first Fastnet Race, when she was never out of the top three, and was leader during at least one stage

Not that he’d been on the back pedal in sailing development in Ireland. During a 1922 cruise to West Cork (despite the ongoing but by now very localised Civil War), he’d met up with a like-minded skipper, Billy Mooney from Howth cruising the cleverly converted ship’s lifeboat ketch Lil. Like Donegan, Mooney was a keen club race – he was a successful Howth 17 owner-skipper – but he shared Donegan’s enthusiasm both for the notion of an Irish cruising club, and for the promotion of offshore racing once he personally had moved up to a more performance-oriented cruiser.

But they put the idea on the back burner for a while as the times were restless, people had absorbed just about as many new ideas and situations as they could, and anyway Conor O’Brien and Saoirse were in the process of carrying the torch for Irish cruising very successfully indeed.

Instead, in 1926 when the Fastnet was still in its initial yearly schedule, Harry Dinegan went back to race it again, and at the last minute heeded the entreaties to do the race from a newly-arrived young American enthusiast called Warwick Tompkins, later known to everyone as the multi-voyaging Commodore Tompkins and a CCA stalwart with his 1932-bought world-girdling former pilot schooner Wander Bird.

Five years after his Fastnet experience with Harry Donegan, “Commodore” Warwick Tompkins bought this former pilot schooner which became Wander Bird to be his world-girdling family homeFive years after his Fastnet experience with Harry Donegan, “Commodore” Warwick Tompkins bought this former pilot schooner which became Wander Bird to be his world-girdling family home

Although Gull failed to complete the race as her part of the fleet was caught in a damaging sou’easterly gale off the Irish coast, Tompkins has left us a vivid account of what it was like to race aboard Gull. And though they’d to retire into Cork Harbour, Domegan made it his business to take the young American by ferry and train to Pymouth in time for the post-Fastnet Dinner, when new Ocean racing Cub members would be signed in from among those who had completed the second Fastnet. Thanks to an entertaining and persuasive speech by Harry Donegan at the dinner, Warwick Tompkins was added to their number.

Warwick Tompkins’ recollection of being with Harry Donegan on Gull. He’s a bit unfair in describing Gull as “a plank-on-edge cutter of ancient vintage” when she was an unextreme reasonable Charles E Nicholson hull design of 1896 to provide a fast cruiser. And she was just 29 years old at the Fastnet Race 1925, though Harry Donegan did drive her so hard she spewed her bow caulking. Also, the wind Tompkins describes as Nor’easter was actually a Sou’easter. But he certainly gets the flavour of the great man, and “flying a kite” has multiple meanings.Warwick Tompkins’ recollection of being with Harry Donegan on Gull. He’s a bit unfair in describing Gull as “a plank-on-edge cutter of ancient vintage” when she was an unextreme reasonable Charles E Nicholson hull design of 1896 to provide a fast cruiser. And she was just 29 years old at the Fastnet Race 1925, though Harry Donegan did drive her so hard she spewed her bow caulking. Also, the wind Tompkins describes as Nor’easter was actually a Sou’easter. But he certainly gets the flavour of the great man, and “flying a kite” has multiple meanings.

A further direct link to the CCA was established by purest serendipity in July 1929, when the Irish Cruising Club was finally brought into being with a five boat cruise-in-company culminating in the foundation of the ICC on the balmy summer’s evening of July 13th 1929 in Glengarriff.

The perfect place to bring the new Irish Cruising Club into being – Glengarriff in West Cork at the head of Bantry BayThe perfect place to bring the new Irish Cruising Club into being – Glengarriff in West Cork at the head of Bantry Bay

Neither Harry Donegan nor Billy Mooney was personally ambitious in promoting the new club, as they wanted the leading RCC member in Dublin Bay to take on the role of Commodore. This was Herbert Wright of the RIYC who - having started his cruising with his new Ringsend-built Dublin Bay 21 Estelle in 1904 – had since moved up to the handsome 12-ton gaff cutter Espanola, which proved an admirable Commodore’s yacht while Herb Wright provided proper Commodorial gravitas allied to a nice line in acerbic wit in his elegantly-written cruising logs.

A proper serious sailing man. Herbert Wright of Dun Laoghaire became the first Irish Cruising Club Commodore in July 1929A proper serious sailing man. Herbert Wright of Dun Laoghaire became the first Irish Cruising Club Commodore in July 1929

HARRY DONEGAN’S INGENUITY

Thanks mainly to Harry Donegan’s remarkable ingenuity in bringing people together in a pleasing setting, the ICC came into being in a much more suitable way than the other cruising clubs, through this purposeful and highly entertaining Cruise-in-Company which was almost immediately blessed with the accompanying presence of a leading Cruising Club of America boat.

This was the much-loved ketch Seven Bells (Tom Cooke) which was on an Atlantic circuit cruise with a largely family crew which in time won the Blue Water Medal for 1929, bringing the beginning of a long-standing ICC relationship with that supreme trophy. For by the 21st Century, the ICC had a remarkable four Blue Water Medallists on its membership list in the form of Bill King of Oranmore in Galway, John Gore-Grimes of Howth, Paddy Barry of Dun Laoghaire and Connemara, and Jarlath Cunnane of Mayo.

Tom Cooke’s Blue Water Medal-awarded ketch Seven Bells CCA became part of the ICC founding cruise in 1929 by pure serendipity after a Transatlantic passageTom Cooke’s Blue Water Medal-awarded ketch Seven Bells CCA became part of the ICC founding cruise in 1929 by pure serendipity after a Transatlantic passage

As for links to other clubs, at the end of 2025 Conor O’Brien had received his third RCC Challenge Cup award on the completion of Saoirse’s circumnavigation in Dun Laoghaire, and in celebration of the success of his very special book on the voyage, Across Three Oceans, he crossed the path of the Ocean Racing Club with Saoirse’s sporting participation in the 1927 Fastnet Race, before which Uffa Fox had entered the picture again by taking off Saoirse’s lines in Cowes. This resulted in a precise set of lines which showed that O’Brien’s own almost-freehand original set of lines was pretty well spot-on, which suggests considerable skill on the part of Conor O’Brien and Tom Moynihan in 1922.

The ingenious increase in Saoirse’s sailplan which Conor O’Brien created with her existing main and mizzen masts for the 1927 Fastnet RaceThe ingenious increase in Saoirse’s sailplan which Conor O’Brien created with her existing main and mizzen masts for the 1927 Fastnet Race

CONOR O’BRIEN ON THE STRENGTH

One of the first acts of the new Irish Cruising Club was to make Conor O’Brien the first Honorary Member, and occasionally when he’d returned to live in the cottage of Barneen on Foynes Island, he’d go “into Ireland” to attend the club’s annual dinner. As for dining guests from other clubs, as the ICC still had passage and offshore racing as part of its activities until 1980, and it even organised Ireland’s early Admiral’s Cup teams.

So back in the 1930s, it maintained links with what had become the RORC, together with the RCC and the CCA, by having leading offshore sailor Bobby Somerset at the dinner, as he’d become the owner of Jolie Brise with which he won a Fastnet, and then when he went across the pond to do the Bermuda Race, his remarkable gaff-rigged boat showed she was no slouch against the CCA’s slick-looking Bermuda-rigged racer, but his race to Bermuda ended when a nearby schooner went on fire and he made a brilliant rescue of her crew under sail, bringing him the Blue Water Medal for 1932 and Honorary Membership of the CCA.

After the success of his round the world voyage, Conor O’Brien became the ICC’s first Honorary Member in 1929After the success of his round the world voyage, Conor O’Brien became the ICC’s first Honorary Member in 1929

Thus although world wars and other disturbances at times hampered progress, as the 20th Century drew towards its close the leading cruising clubs on both sides of the North Atlantic had developed a comfortable understanding of each other, and a readiness to function together in shared enterprises such as cruises-in-company at select venues, or joint meets to mark major anniversaries.

For Ireland and the Irish Cruising Club, this meant that in 1969-70 there had been a massive gathering from both sides of the ocean in Cork and along the coast westward to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club and the 40th Anniversary of the Irish Cruising Club. And then in 1979, there was a big-fleet multi-club Cruise-in-Company from Cork to Glengarriff to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the ICC.

In 1975, there had been a significant Irish presence in the Golden Jubilee Fastnet Race with Hugh Sherrard’s 1904-vintage former Clyde 30 Brynoth – for years a boat associated with the ICC, the RORC, and the RCYC – winning the Iolaire Block for the best-placed pre-1905 classic in the fleet.

The late Hugh Sherrard at the age of 75, hard-driving aboard the 1904-built Brynoth, winner of the Iolaire Block in the Golden Jubilee Fastnet Race of 1975The late Hugh Sherrard at the age of 75, hard-driving aboard the 1904-built Brynoth, winner of the Iolaire Block in the Golden Jubilee Fastnet Race of 1975

And nowadays, there is so much interaction between the clubs for exchanged information, social events and shared cruises to such places as the ICC’s Galician outpost in northwest Spain that it is wellnigh impossible to keep close track of them all. But it is made possible by a mutual level of understanding which was neatly demonstrated by current CCA Commodore Chris Otorowski, who is from the American club’s Pacific Northwest Station, well illustrating just how far the now 1,400 membership of the CCA has spread and expanded from those eccentric New York gatherings in Beefsteak John’s more than a hundred years ago.

Commodore Otorewski decided to give the ICC a special piece of silverware at the ICC’s annual dinner in Sligo in March 2023 to mark the CCA’s Centenary and the international goodwill between the cruising clubs. But then he bethought himself that as Dublin is the home of some of the very best antique silverware in the world, it made sense to buy the appropriate piece in silversmiths Weir’s of Grafton Street in Dublin when he got here on his way to Sligo.

So he and the ICC’s Vice Commodore Alan Markey made it a morning of proper retail therapy to head into Weir’s in best purposeful vacation mode, and in time emerged with a remarkably lovely Dublin silver friendship cup which drew a suitable breath-taken response of approval when it was unveiled in Sligo.

Irish silver at its best – the Friendship Cup presented by the CCA to the ICC in March 2023Irish silver at its best – the Friendship Cup presented by the CCA to the ICC in March 2023

And then Commodore Otorowski put it all firmly in place with his declaration on behalf of the CCA:

“By All Presents Known:

The Cruising Club of America and the Irish Cruising Club have a long standing and close relationship founded in their shared love of challenging the elements, cruising the world’s oceans and sharing seafaring experiences. A foundation of both clubs is the mutual respect, friendship and camaraderie of their shipmates.

In recognition of the relationship of both clubs, the “Friendship Cup” is hereby deeded, in perpetuity, to the Irish Cruising Club to be awarded annually by the ICC, in its sole discretion, to members or their spouses, who best exemplify the highest values of the ICC”

OFF TO MADEIRA

After that, it was with buoyant spirits that ICC Commodore David Beattie and Southern Rear Commodore Seamus O’Connor set to with fresh energy to bring together the Conor O’Brien Saoirse Centenary cruise to Madeira for July 3rd, which despite the very mixed weather of the summer of 2023, went very well indeed.

DUBLIN LAWYERS - THE REAL STORY

And if you’re still wondering about “Dublin Lawyer”, it’s the classic lobster in vast quantities with rich cream sauce, but with brandy instead of whiskey, as that latter variation is what only m’learned friends down from Dublin on circuit could possibly have afforded in the olden days.

Published in W M Nixon

The Cruising Association (CA) has launched an updated online portal and web pages for orca information and reporting, resulting from a year-long effort to gather and analyse data on orca interactions.

The updates to the portal and web pages reflect the research and analysis that the CA has undertaken since June 2022 and include the sharing of additional safety and deterrent advice, updated reporting forms and links to other resources, including current orca locations.

In June 2022, the CA launched its portal – available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish – in collaboration with Grupo Trabajo Orca Atlantica (GTOA), to share information and gather reports from skippers on orca interactions and uneventful passages. The initiative was in response to the increasing trend of behaviour demonstrated since 2020 within a population of orcas that feeds on and follows the migration of tuna exiting the Mediterranean from the Strait of Gibraltar and heading West and North around the Iberian Peninsula.

In 2022 two yachts were sunk due to interactions with orcas, and another yacht met the same fate in early May 2023. While fortunately, all crew members were rescued, this situation is of great concern to cruising sailors located within or transiting through the affected area, and there is only limited evidence-led advice available to help.

Research and Analysis

The CA orca project team has analysed over 300 interactions and uneventful passage reports received in 2022, and some patterns have emerged, which are shared on the portal. Of the 132 interactions, 99 yachts experienced damage.

The comparative data is published, with the CA portal the only database that is publicly accessible for use by sailors, scientists, and others interested in the data.

By gathering as much information as possible, the CA and GTOA will be better equipped to identify factors that may help reduce the risk of an interaction, along with those actions taken by a skipper, which are effective or not.

Online Reporting

Skippers are urged to submit orca interaction, and uneventful passage reports through interaction hotspots. The CA reporting portal is considered the central platform to monitor in detail interactions and uneventful passages, as it gathers comprehensive information in a structured way.

Data gathered includes sea state/wind speed, boat speed, day/night, cloud cover, distance off the land, sea depth, hull/antifoul colour, type of rudder, use of autopilot and depth sounder etc. Additional data fields added for 2023 include details on the number of orcas (whether adult or juvenile) in contact with the boat, whether trailing a fishing lure and reversing technique. These new fields are intended to test scientific theory-based advice and to look for best practices when reversing.

Stay Safe

Although various deterrent measures are discussed, there are currently no reliable legal methods. The CA portal provides a ‘Safety Protocol’ and a list of potential, yet unproven, deterrent measures. Examples include staying close to shore, staying in shallow water, using sand as a screen, reversing and making a noise onboard.

The CA will continue to share progress and information with the cruising community. You can find out more at www.theca.org.uk/orcas.

Published in Cruising
Tagged under

The Irish Cruising Club (ICC) gathers in County Sligo for its annual dinner this weekend, at which Commodore Dave Beattie will launch a new edition of Conor O'Brien's 'Across Three Oceans' to mark the centenary of the circumnavigation.

As Afloat reported previously, The new Irish Cruising Club/Royal Cruising Club book is the sixth edition of O’Brien’s pioneering account of his global circumnavigation south of the Great Capes with the 42ft Baltimore-built traditional gaff ketch Saoirse in 1923-1925. Compiled by Alex Blackwell and a special ICC/RCC Publications Committee, it includes extra material about O’Brien’s personal background and other after-thoughts on ocean sailing, which he added with additional analysis and further sea-going experience.

A new edition of Conor O'Brien's 'Across Three Oceans' marks the centenary of the circumnavigation and will be launched at the ICC dinner in SligoA new edition of Conor O'Brien's 'Across Three Oceans' marks the centenary of the circumnavigation and will be launched at the ICC dinner in Sligo

Fastnet Award

The ICC Dinner will also see the presentation to W M Nixon, of this parish, with the club's premier trophy for his 'exceptional achievements and for excellence in or closely related to cruising under sail'.

The Fastnet Award is a perpetual trophy that is not awarded every year, and Sligo will be the ninth occasion on which it has been presented.

Previous recipients include Paddy Barry and Jarlath Cunnane (inaugural Award, 2005), Robin Knox-Johnston, Commander Bill King, Killian Bushe and, in 2020, the Royal Cork Yacht Club.

Published in Cruising

That headline may suggest the latest Viking television melodrama. And at times Sailing To Antarctica, this new multi-aspect book of memoirs - written moreover in an Irish sea village with strong links to the Scandinavian sea rovers - brings the reader through epic events in remote areas which have Viking history written all over them. Initially, too, blood is very much there. But it was a peaceful interaction, with a first very junior job many decades ago in a primitive early blood transfusion service laboratory. It was to lead Joe Phelan into a distinguished career, to national and international levels, in pioneering medical and surgical technologies, and their support systems.

Meanwhile, in a remarkably balanced life, he took up sailing, and rose through the ranks as owner and crew with exceptional achievements in racing both inshore and offshore, and in world-standard cruising under sail which led to voyages in the ice-bound polar regions that went some way to meeting his lifelong interest in all aspects of nature, and his concern for the well-being of our planet.

When you’re not trying to market the place, you can be a bit more realistic in the naming – this is Cape Desolation. Photo: Joe Phelan   

When you’re not trying to market the place, you can be a bit more realistic in the naming – this is Cape Desolation. Photo: Joe Phelan

Now, at the age of 81 - albeit in very youthful style - Joe Phelan and his wife Trish, his emphatically equal partner and soul-mate of more than fifty years, continue to sail from Howth with their Hallberg-Rassy 31 Lydia, one of the best and most attractive performance cruisers of her size in Ireland. And Lydia is one of several sensibly-chosen boats they have owned in the course of a long sailing career.

SAILING AND THE OUTDOOR LIFE

Their children and grandchildren share their enthusiasm for sailing and the outdoor life. So the fact that they celebrated their Golden Jubilee Wedding Anniversary in the midst of the Irish Cruising Club Cruise-in-Company in Northwest Spain will suggest to a casual observer that they must be of high-level Dublin sailing establishment stock through several generations, and on both sides of the family.

For Joe has also served as a committee member and flag officer to Commodore level in several clubs, which will add to this easy assumption of a privileged background. But this week’s publication of his fascinating and very impressive memoir Sailing To Antarctica has revealed that they both emerged from families that were strangers to sailing, from fairly ordinary agricultural backgrounds, and folk who were only relatively new to Dublin.

Boat for the job. Although the Amel Super Maramu is a renowned ocean voyager, when Pure Magic returned to Europe in 2005 it emerged that she was the first to have visited Antarctica

Boat for the job. Although the Amel Super Maramu is a renowned ocean voyager, when Pure Magic returned to Europe in 2005 it emerged that she was the first to have visited Antarctica

Yet the packed-out, remarkably varied and very convivial gathering which filled Howth Yacht Club on last Wednesday night for the book launch - despite appalling weather – was a telling indicator of just how many interesting people’s lives, work and sport the Phelans have interacted with during their fascinating and increasingly high-flying careers ashore, and success-blessed projects afloat.

CREWS OF EXPERIENCED FRIENDS

The memoir is titled Sailing To Antarctica because Joe sees the highlight of his sailing achievement as being the right-hand man for owner-skipper Peter Killen of Malahide, headed to Antarctica in the 54ft Amel Super Maramu ketch Pure Magic in 2004-2005.

Made with a crew of experienced friends drawn mainly from the Howth-Sutton-Baldoyle-Malahide areas, it was apparently the first time that an Amel had made a detailed visit so far south, and thus their achievement was a matter of particular pride to the quality-renowned builders, and it most certainly was something very special indeed for those taking part.

FOUR BOOKS IN ONE

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about the great voyage south was that, while it was the personal high for Joe and his shipmates, for all of them it was just the highest peak in personal mountain ranges of notable lifelong sailing achievements. And Joe’s memoirs give such a vivid picture of growing up and spreading your wings in what is now the very different Ireland of our time, that Sailing To Antarctica is really three or four books in one.

At the core of it, the intensely personal picture in “Book 1” of an intelligent and energetic but sometimes rebellious boy finding his true nature in the Dublin of the late 1940s and the supposedly grim 1950s is done so well that at times you feel you’ve wandered into a more recent version of an episode of Ulysses, or a biographical account of the early life of James Joyce.

For like Joyce, Joe had an improvident father who managed to plough through much of the money from the sale of family farms in Kilkenny in the father’s case, and north Kerry in the mother’s case, thanks to getting into various crash-and-burn business ventures.

“And I’ve got my own white coat”. Joe Phelan in his “first indoor job”, starting a distinguished career in medical technology, analysis and testing, in 1960

“And I’ve got my own white coat”. Joe Phelan in his “first indoor job”, starting a distinguished career in medical technology, analysis and testing, in 1960

But unlike Joyce, Joe’s mother was made of much sterner stuff than the unfortunate May Joyce. Born Elizabeth Barrett, she’d been a woman athlete to national standards when young, but the advent of the Irish Free State in 1922 had seen the iron grip of the Catholic bishops tightening its remorseless claws of repression, until eventually women’s athletics was banned as being unseemly and anti-Catholic. However, as her father Edward Barrett had been Captain of St Anne’s Golf Club, the friendly “people’s club” at the north end of the Bull Island, she found fulfillment through a successful golf career which also saw her being involved in the sport’s administration.

Meanwhile she was holding the family together by ensuring that a substantial house was acquired and retained in Drumcondra even though her husband – despite conspicuous daily displays of religious piety – was still prone to financial misadventures. Nevertheless despite this pillar of maternal strength, it wasn’t always a comfortable environment, and young Joe seemed happiest escaping to the nearby beaches and the Hill of Howth, where on one occasion he almost fell over the cliffs in pursuit of his lifelong interest in ornithology and all sorts of marine animal life.

FIRST JOB AS A BREADMAN’S BOY

It says much about his uncomfortable time in school that his most vivid memory is from 1955 when – aged 14 – he got a holiday job as assistant to the local Johnston Mooney & O’Brien breadman, with the traditional cart drawn by an enormous horse. Joe proved so adept and keen to learn and be helpful that within weeks the breadman felt able to take a holiday, and left little Joe in sole charge of the giant horse, its cart, and the bread round.

Johnston, Mooney & O’Brien’s horde-drawn breadvans were a feature of Dublin lif until well into the 1950s

Johnston, Mooney & O’Brien’s horde-drawn bread vans were a feature of Dublin life until well into the 1950s

Joe’s account of setting up the entire outfit at first light over Dublin each morning is vivid. You can sense the presence of the massive and occasionally stamping horse, the aroma of the leather bridle and straps, and the tinkle and crashing of the metalwork. There is no way any kid of 14 would be allowed alone near such a potentially lethal setup in a dangerously confined space nowadays, but that’s the way it was in Joe’s schooldays, when he found it difficult to fit into the prescribed range of organised activities in sport in school, and felt happiest roaming outdoors.

Nevertheless, he managed to get through the Leaving Cert, but while many were leaving for England or America in search of better job opportunities, and some managed to go on to University College Dublin, Joe stayed on somewhat aimlessly for a while among his dwindling group of friends. And one night, most appropriately while playing poker with the select few, he heard of a job on offer as an assistant trainee laboratory technician in the nascent Irish Blood Transfusion Service, and he went for it.

A FIRST WIN IN THE GAME OF LIFE

He doesn’t say how he was doing in the poker, but he’d pulled a mighty win the game of life. In those days, the medical profession in Dublin was even more rigidly stratified than it is today, and most would have regarded this lowly post as a dead-end job. But Joe – with his energy, intelligence, and endless curiosity - made it a gateway to achievement, initially through this novel setup which was so new that it was not to receive statutory recognition until 1965, while Joe meanwhile was ascending the career path so steadily that by 1966 he was in a key role in Jervis Street Hospital.

He rose through ranks and positions in areas of health research and testing, some of which seem to have been created mainly in order to provide him with a pathway to success and genuine pioneering achievement, though at other times moving things forward was a real challenge. Initially, working conditions were primitive and very basic in equipment terms. But at the height of his career ,which included being in the forefront of organ transfer and transplant technologies and their logistics, when the new super-hospital was finally being built at Beaumont, it seemed the enormous laboratory facilities were being provided mainly to provide an outlet and testing ground for the wide variety of work being undertaken by Joe Phelan and his by-now large team.

Roy Dickson's Holland 39 Imp – with Joe Phelan in the crew – on her way to winning the Philip Whitehead Cup in the 1987 Fastnet Race. By 1994, Joe and lab colleague Jim Barden were able to persuade the expanded Beaumont Hospital that it should sponsor the Dickson boat in the Round Ireland race.  

Roy Dickson's Holland 39 Imp – with Joe Phelan in the crew – on her way to winning the Philip Whitehead Cup in the 1987 Fastnet Race. By 1994, Joe and lab colleague Jim Barden were able to persuade the expanded Beaumont Hospital that it should sponsor the Dickson boat in the Round Ireland race.

Indeed, so well-placed was he in the complex Beaumont Hospital hierarchy in its glamour days that in order to help promote the place’s zippy image, he persuaded the management to sponsor a Roy Dickson boat – with himself as a leading crew member - in the 1994 Round Ireland Race. In today’s environment of an over-stressed Health Service, this may seem unlikely, but back in 1994’s get-up-and-go approach to developing and promoting health facilities, it seemed entirely appropriate.

GETTING STARTED IN SAILING

So how does sailing suddenly enter the Joe Phelan story? Well, by the early 1960s, thanks to his dashing style in picking up girls at bus-stops as he tootled past while work-bound on his Heinkel scooter, he and fellow-worker Patricia “Trish” O’Driscoll had become an item, and soon had the makings of a quietly under-stated power couple.

Thus when a colleague at the research bench in the early Blood Transfuson Service labs in Pelican House mentioned she was much enjoying the sailing at Sutton Dinghy Club, it was a joint decision of Joe and Trish to borrow the barely affordable £90 through a sailing-friendly Finance Company manager to buy an IDRA 14, No 5, and head along – totally ignorant of the ins and outs of sailing – to the welcoming Sutton Dinghy Club, where they became members for a £1 annual sub, and were allocated a berth in the dinghy park for ten shillings.

Trish and Joe in their second IDRA 14, coming in from a race at Dunmore East

Trish and Joe in their second IDRA 14, coming in from a race at Dunmore East

There’s an appropriate circularity to all this, as Sutton Dinghy Club is just across Sutton Creek from St Anne’s Golf Club, where Joe’s mother had found an alternative outlet for her frustrated athletic talents. And now in 1963, close north cross the water in the friendly little sailing club, Joe and Trish were to find a fulfilling interest which was to add many new dimensions to their already interesting lives, and resulted in their home for a growing family becoming a slightly eccentric but extremely effective house overlooking Baldoyle Estuary, where the friendlier ghosts of the Viking era still linger, and the view across the wildfowl-active and sealife-filled tidal waters made for a nature-lover’s paradise.

The IDRA 14s in one of their heartlands at Clontarf, with Joe and Trish third from right. This is 1974 – the last year before the Ringsend Smokestacks arrived to dominate the view.

The IDRA 14s in one of their heartlands at Clontarf, with Joe and Trish third from right. This is 1974 – the last year before the Ringsend Smokestacks arrived to dominate the view.

Sailing is one of those sports where, the more you put into it, the more you get from it. Thanks to the positive and generous approach of Joe and Trish – with useful guidance from the friendly Sargent family, particularly the ever-helpful Gerry Sargent – Joe soon found his sailing horizons broadening rapidly.

SAILING WITH FOUR SUPERSTAR SKIPPERS

Not only was he progressing his own racing career as a skipper by up-grading the family’s IDRA 14 and broadening the campaigning scope, but his ready enthusiasm and can-do approach saw him - over the coming decades - racing and cruising regularly, both inshore and offshore, with top skippers of the calibre of Mungo Park, Neville Maguire, Roy Dickson and Peter Killen.

Those four names really say it all. By the time he was winding down his offshore racing career with the first three, he’d notched a class win the Fastnet Race of 1987 with the legendary Imp and Roy Dickson, and had sailed with Mungo Park in many ventures on the Sigma 36 Black Pepper, including the overall win in the 900-mile Brighton to Cadiz Race in 1990.

Mungo Park (left) with Black Pepper’s winning crew after the 900-mile Brighton-Cadiz Race – front row (left to right) are Joe Phelan, Jamie McBride, Paddy Cronin and Aidan MacManus.

Mungo Park (left) with Black Pepper’s winning crew after the 900-mile Brighton-Cadiz Race – front row (left to right) are Joe Phelan, Jamie McBride, Paddy Cronin and Aidan MacManus.

Before that, while maintaining his personal sailing through involvement with the Lasers and Squibs in Howth, he’d also been on the strength with the hyper-talented Neville Maguire in the Club Shamrock Demelza, working their way towards the overall win in the annual ISORA Championship, and getting a class podium place in the 1986 Round Ireland Race.

There was also a hard-driving Transatlantic race to Cork in a generously-canvassed yet decidedly hefty 50-footer which was being driven downwind to within an inch of her life by a crew of all-Dublin head-bangers. All was well and good until in gale force winds she had a mighty broach-gybe from which she lay down so thoroughly that only the quick thinking of Captain Cool, aka Brian Mathews, got them up again. Yet within half an hour they’d it all together once more with all sail set and back at warp speed, and demented whoops from helm and crew as new speed-burst records were set.

“PROPER CRUISING”

With such a varied suite of offshore racing memories in place, the time was approaching for Joe to give more emphasis to another of his sailing interests – proper cruising. And the Sigma 36 Black Pepper – for discerning sailors, the best of all the Sigma range – comes back into the story, as Mungo Park had sold her on to former Malahide Yacht Club Commodore, Peter Killen, who’d already made his mark with a high-powered cruise round Iceland in a little S&S 30 in 1983.

Ten years later, Peter was already contemplating his retirement life plans after an exceptionally busy career in merchant banking, and having much enjoyed the Iceland venture, his thoughts were drawn towards longer cruises into higher latitudes and more icy waters, for having sailed with him a couple of times, I can attest that his tolerance of cold conditions verges on the superhuman.

Peter Killen wears cold weather gear more as a concession to his shipmates……..

Peter Killen wears cold weather gear more as a concession to his shipmates……..

…..for in reality he is almost completely immune to the cold

…..for in reality he is almost completely immune to the cold

Joe is more normal on his response to the cold, but he found the lure of high latitudes irresistible, so in 1994 with a brilliantly selected crew, they took Black Pepper to East Greenland. Several Arctic experts had told them that a Sigms 36 wasn’t really suitable for ice work. But she was the boat available, she’d served them well already, and 1994 provided a vertical learning curve in coping with ice which was much more widespread than it is today.

Tricky spot. Black Pepper being pushed to the limit at the east end of Prinz Christian Sund in Greenland in 1994. Photo: Joe Phelan

Tricky spot. Black Pepper being pushed to the limit at the east end of Prinz Christian Sund in Greenland in 1994. Photo: Joe Phelan

ANTARCTIC AMBITION

By the turn of the Millennium, the two key men in the Greenland cruise were both contemplating retirement in the early years of the 21st century, and they found they shared an ambition to sail from Ireland to Antarctica to explore as much as possible of the great Southern Continent within the limits of ice levels, then to cruise in detail among the channels of the lower tip of South America in order to assuage Joe’s fascination with Charles Darwin and particularly the voyage of the Beagle. This was to be followed by visiting South Georgia for its own interest and its links to Ernest Shackleton. And then – after an off-season layoff in Capetown - to return to Europe and eventually bring the new boat back to Lawrence Cove on Bere island in Bantry Bay, where the Killen family had long had an alternative home in a very special place whose attractions they now shared with the Phelans.

Dream venue? It is for some – Pure Magic enjoying the summer in Antarctica. Photo: Joe Phelan

Dream venue? It is for some – Pure Magic enjoying the summer in Antarctica. Photo: Joe Phelan

FOUR BOOKS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE

But in effect, by the time we get to the story of how the new Peter Killen-owned Super Maramu 54 ketch Pure Magic sailed to Antarctica with Joe Phelan in a central role, we’re into Book 3 of Sailing To Antarctica. Book 1 is the story of Joe’s youth and childhood and youth and early sailing, Book 2 is the story of his very active sailing life in successful racing boats, and Book 3 (with exemplary maps by John Clementson ICC) is the voyaging of Pure Magic, which went on to to include an Atlantic circuit. In typical Killen-Phelan style, this took in a return visit to Greenland, while a subsequent year saw a voyage to Svalbard which means that the Killen ketch is now one of the few voyaging boats in the world which has lain to her own anchor off both the most northerly and the most southerly settlements on the planet.

Official business. The former Commodore of Sutton Dinghy Club and Rear Commodore Irish Cruising Club makes a formal visit to the most southerly yacht club in the world

Official business. The former Commodore of Sutton Dinghy Club and Rear Commodore of the Irish Cruising Club makes a formal visit to the most southerly yacht club in the world.

After this very epic stuff, Book 4 is the more relatable story of how Joe and Trish re-affirmed their dedication to having a boat of their own. There’d always been boats of some kind around the waterfront house in Baldoyle for both adults and children, but even while still actively involved in Pure Magic projects, Joe had up-graded to the ultimately immaculate Shipman 28 Skua, and then when the family SSIA bore fruit, they made the glorious choice of the very able and well-performing yet family-friendly Hallberg-Rassy 31 Lydia to keep life afloat central to three generations of Phelans.

Another dream fulfilled. The Hallberg-Rassy 31 Lydia in Lawrnce Cove on Bere island with three generations of Phelans. Photo: Joe Phelan

Another dream fulfilled. The Hallberg-Rassy 31 Lydia in Lawrnce Cove on Bere island with three generations of Phelans. Photo: Joe Phelan

This soothing relaxation was well-earned by the successful completion of the Pure Magic voyages. Joe is an invaluable senior member of any crew in many capacities, not least for his tendency to research in meticulous detail anything and everything about the areas they’re about to visit. So although most readers will be drawn to the sheer excitement of accessing the volcanic crater anchorage in the midst of the Antarctic Deception Island when a very sudden total deterioration of the weather clamped down the visibility in the narrow entrance channel known (for reasons you’ll discover in the bk) as Neptune’s Bellows, others will be drawn to Joe’s take on mid-19th Century voyaging, exploration and theorizing of Charles Darwin and Captain FitzRoy aboard the Beagle (and often in her small open boats) in the rugged waters of the Beagle Channel.

After the storm. A brief peaceful period in Telefon Cove off the crater harbour in Deception Island. Photo: Robert Barker

After the storm. A brief peaceful period in Telefon Cove off the crater harbour in Deception Island. Photo: Robert Barker

It could be northern Norway, but it’s Caleta Ola in FitzRoy-Darwin territory in the Beagle Channel area

It could be northern Norway, but it’s Caleta Ola in FitzRoy-Darwin territory in the Beagle Channel area

COPING WITH THE TANGO SCHOOL

Against that there’ll be those whose interest will come more alive with the account of being in Argentina while still southward bound, when the entire crew – easygoing friends for many years – found themselves persuaded to enrol together in a Tango school. The appropriately-attractive instructress did not believe in excess clothing, as it hampered her movements, but inevitably photos and stories circulated about these apparently respectable members of the Malahide, Portmarnock, Baldoyle, Sutton and Howth communities “cavorting with a half-naked woman”.

What on earth will they say back home? Bill Walsh takes on the Tango challenge in Argentina

What on earth will they say back home? Bill Walsh takes on the Tango challenge in Argentina

In the interests of truth to the narrative, this could not be excluded from the story under Lambay Rules. But fortunately in making a book out of Joe’s very many words and zillions of photographs, the Editor was Emma Walsh of The Literary Professionals, working in tandem with Carrowmore Books. As one of the crew in the Tango one-to-one class was her father Bill Walsh, she was quite happy to ensure that it is Bill who is seen as bringing Pure Magic to the dance floor.

Joe Phelan in serious mood in Antartica

Joe Phelan in serious mood in Antarctica

SHACKLETON’S GRAVE

On an altogether more solemn note, no Irish sailor can go to South Georgia without visiting Shackleton’s Grave. It is very effectively simple and totally moving, and its impact is increased with the realisation that the great explorer had so worn himself out in saving his Endurance crew and raising funds for Antarctic cruising that he was only 46 when he died of a heart attack, and not 47 as is commonly thought. Forty-six may not seem so very different from 47, but when you’re fully alive and already well senior of Shackleton at his end, it makes for quite an impact.

Time for thought. At Shackleton’s grave are (left to right) Joe Phelan, Robert Barker, Sean Colbert, Peter Killen and John Marrow.

Time for thought. At Shackleton’s grave are (left to right) Joe Phelan, Robert Barker, Sean Colbert, Peter Killen and John Marrow.

The voyage from South Georgia to Capetown may look fairly straightforward on the chart, but you’re in the lumpy bumpy weather of the Antarctic Convergence for much of it, and though you’re so far north that there are 12 hours of darkness, you’re still in the region of the huge tabular icebergs which in turn suggests there might be smaller less visible ice-made sinkers of fibreglass boats lurking ahead, while the bigger bergs make constant radar watch essential at night.

“You lookin’ at me?” King of the South, the Emperor penguin. Photo: Joe Phelan

“You lookin’ at me?” King of the South, the Emperor penguin. Photo: Joe Phelan

An air of menace. Substantial tabular bergs can drift well north into the area of dark nights. Photo: Joe Phelan

An air of menace. Substantial tabular bergs can drift well north into the area of dark nights. Photo: Joe Phelan

CAPETOWN AND ST HELENA’S VIRILE TORTOISE

But they got there to the utterly different atmosphere of sunny Capetown, and after the scheduled long stop, resumed the voyage back to Europe with one of the most entertaining stopovers (in hindsight) being at St Helena, laden for ever with its associations with the last days of Napoleon. This seems to have resulted in a comic opera sort of place, with Napoleon’s house now French national territory, while the rest of the island is administered as though it’s a London borough, complete with a surely excessive police force of six constables. They’ve so little to do that they’ll slap a parking ticket on one of the locals if he or she has presumed to park his car out of alignment with the while lines in the car park.

That however is as nothing to the problems of the few yachts lying in the rolly anchorage as the peace of evening descends, and sleep beckons. For the most famous resident of St Helena when Pure Magic was there was the 174-year-old giant tortoise Jonathon, who was dominant in the garden of the Governor’s residence, Plantation House. Jonathon was seeing out his days as pleasantly as possible with the company of a much younger female tortoise whom he fancied so much that, on some nights, he asserted his conjugal rights with such noisy vigour that it kept the whole island awake, including the crews on the boats in the anchorage.

Dream conditions. When the running rig was in proper action, the going was very good indeed. Photo: Joe Phelan

Dream conditions. When the running rig was in proper action, the going was very good indeed. Photo: Joe Phelan

Such unexpected little snippets of entertainment shouldn’t be allowed to distract us from realizing that Pure Magic made many remarkable cruises, of which the voyage to Antarctica was both a sailing highlight, and a life highlight for those involved. Sailing to Antarctica concludes with what I’d call Book 4, the picaresque story of how a multi-generational sailing family has led Joe and Trish into all sorts of remarkable experiences, including a cruise in the Friesian sandflats on a traditional Dutch barge, re-tracing Erskine Childer’s route for Riddle of the Sands.

Don’t ask. If you want to find out how a re-tracing of Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands with a traditional Dutch barge comes to be in a book called Sailing To Antarctica, you’ll just have to buy it and read it all for yourself.

Don’t ask. If you want to find out how a re-tracing of Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands with a traditional Dutch barge comes to be in a book called Sailing To Antarctica, you’ll just have to buy it and read it all for yourself.

Sailing to Antarctica is a wonderful read, a real insight into why and how Ireland has developed into one of the most entertaining, fascinating and stimulating places in which to live (and sail) today. But would we be reading it at all if Joe Phelan’s father had turned out to be an absolute whizz in business, and the Bishops had emerged as Lighthouses of Liberality in the new Irish Free State?  

Book published - let’s get ready to go sailing soon. Trish and Joe Phelan at Wednesday’s book launch in Howth Yacht Club

SAILING TO ANTARCTICA

A Memoir by Joe Phelan

Price €30 

Published March 2023 by Carrowmore Books

Published in W M Nixon

The UK-based Cruising Association (CA) is hosting a Zoom talk to feature several short presentations focusing on advice cruisers can use in practice. 

The talks will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&As from the audience at 1900 hrs on Wednesday, 8 March 2023.

The topics, led by the CA’s expert Regulatory and Technical Services Group (RATS), are: 

  • Orca Interactions - a presentation of the experiences, both interactions and uneventful passages, of sailors during the 2022 season in the waters where the Gibraltar Strait orca pod live, what has been learnt and what is planned for 2023 to help with the problem.
  • Windfarms - there are more than 40 operational offshore wind farms off the shores of the UK, with many more under construction or in various planning stages. The talk will explain the hazards and advise how best to navigate around and through a wind farm, both in the UK and elsewhere.
  • Cruising in Europe Now - we are still getting used to myriad changes and learning how to live in post-Brexit times, as well as finding out much more about how we can continue to go sailing and enjoy the delights of being ‘abroad’. The talk will summarise how the main changes are working in practice.
  • VAT - dealing with VAT issues is now an everyday reality for yacht cruising, particularly for those who cruise between the UK and the EU. This talk will provide practical guidance on what needs to be done to avoid inadvertent VAT liabilities.
  • CE/RCD issues - following the UK leaving the EU, the UK is replacing the well-known CE mark with its own version, UKCA, with full implementation now delayed until the end of 2024. This talk will summarise how the new UK system will work for yachts, which it may impact and how it may affect yacht movements or transactions.

For those who wish to take part but are not CA members, use this link here

Published in Cruising
Tagged under

The RYA Northern Ireland Cruising Conference will take place on Saturday, 28 January at the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club on Belfast Lough.

The event is set to provide an opportunity for the cruising community to come together, learn about the latest issues and opportunities and hear from experts on a wide range of informative and enjoyable topics. 

With a packed agenda, the Conference will have plenty of networking opportunities with other sailors, RYA staff, volunteers and speakers.

Registration will begin at 9.30 am, with the conference running from 10 am until 4.30 pm.

Speakers for the day include Carol Paddison and Mel Hyde from RYA. They will also be joined by Paul Magee from PGM Training, discussing Sea Survival and Margie Crawford from East Down Yacht Club, telling of her experiences cruising Antarctica.

Tickets for the event, which includes a two-course lunch, cost £35, and there is a reduced fee of £30 for RYA Personal Members.

Published in RYA Northern Ireland

This week's announcement of the 2022 Cruising Club of America awards for adventurous use of the seas puts the spotlight on achievements ranging from ocean crossings by young and old, a rescue at sea, and a new award recognising sailing innovation, to service to the Club itself.

As Afloat reported previously, for a lifetime of ocean-crossing achievement, Japan’s best-known ocean sailor, Kenichi Hori, has been named winner of the prestigious Blue Water Medal, awarded 95 times since 1923. 

His most recent voyage began in March 2022, when he sailed alone from San Francisco to Chiba, Japan, at age 83.

Young Voyager Award: Cal Currier

CCA Young Voyager Award: Cal CurrierYoung Voyager Award: Cal Currier

This high-school student from Palo Alto, California, had a big year in 2022—first learning to sail, then buying and preparing a modest, 30-foot sloop. Last summer, he set sail alone from Marion, Massachusetts, and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to Lagos, Portugal, via the Azores. 

Rod Stephens Seamanship Trophy: Kirsten Neuschäfer

Rod Stephens Seamanship Trophy: Kirsten NeuschäferRod Stephens Seamanship Trophy: Kirsten Neuschäfer

The South African sailor is this year’s recipient of the CCA’s seamanship award for playing a pivotal role in the successful rescue of a fellow 2022 Golden Globe Race competitor, Tapio Lehtinen. The race is on-going, and Neuschäfer’s 36-foot Minnehaha is contending for the lead with 12,000 nautical miles still to sail to the finish in Les Sables d’Olonne, France. 

Diana Russell Award: Mary Crowley

Diana Russell Award: Mary CrowleyDiana Russell Award: Mary Crowley

The winner of the inaugural CCA award, which recognises a club member for innovation in sailing design, methodology, education, training, safety, and the adventurous use and enjoyment of the sea, is a lifelong sailor. She is recognized for founding and directing the Ocean Voyages Institute, as well as her active support for several other non-profits dedicated to the marine environment. 

Richard S. Nye Award: Barbara Watson

Richard S. Nye Award: Barbara WatsonRichard S. Nye Award: Barbara Watson

The 2022 winner has served, and continues to serve, the Cruising Club of America (CCA) at the highest levels. She has served as a station Rear Commodore and historian, on the Club Nominating Committee, chair of the Events Committee, an editor of Voyages Magazine, and is currently the Yearbook Editor. Read more

Far Horizons Award: David Tunick

David Tunick often sails solo on his 55-foot Sparkman & Stephens yawl, Night WatchDavid Tunick often sails solo on his 55-foot Sparkman & Stephens yawl, Night Watch

Recognisng CCA members for a particularly meritorious cruise or series of cruises, the 2022 award, recognises the winner’s pair of transatlantic passages solo aboard his 55-foot Sparkman & Stephens yawl, Night Watch, more than two decades apart—the “bookends” to an extended cruise through the Baltic and Northern Europe.

The awards will be presented at the CCA’s Spring Meeting in New York, March 4, 2023. 

Photo credits: Cal Currier, Ocean Voyages Institute, Barbara Watson, GGR2022, David Tunick

Published in Cruising
Tagged under

Ballyronan Boat Club is a small club on the Northwestern shore of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, the largest body of inland water in the British Isles, and it was from this small outfit that the Commodore, Elwyn Agnew and four friends embarked on an ambitious adventure in the autumn of 2022.

Ballyronan is an RYA training centre and provides powerboat, sailing and windsurfing lessons from beginner to advanced. In his mission statement, Elwyn Agnew says, “The Club is keen to create great experiences and long-lasting memories”. And this venture has certainly done that.

Ballyronan Boat Club on Lough NeaghBallyronan Boat Club on Lough Neagh

From a throwaway remark developed the idea that the ARC – Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in Elwyn’s aptly named Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 45 Optimistic could be a runner. Optimistic is berthed in Carrickfergus Marina, and she was delivered in just under three weeks to Gran Canaria in September in preparation for the 37th edition of the Race. That trip covered 2300 nm and apparently was quite an adventure with sightings of whales and dolphins, fish jumping on board, glorious sunshine and lightning storms.

Optimistic's ARC track across the AtlanticOptimistic's ARC track across the Atlantic

The first stage of the rally sails from Las Palmas to Mindelo Marina, São Vicente on Cape Verde, approximately 850nm. Following the four to six day stopover, it’s on to Port Louis Marina, Grenada. The passage to Grenada in the Caribbean is approximately 2150nm.

The crew consisted of Elwyn and his daughter Emily and Michael Brown from Ballyronan, Anna Richmond from Vancouver, Canada and Matt Ruiz from London.

 The crew in Grenada (l to r) Emily Agnew (Ballyronan BC), Elwyn Agnew (Commodore Ballyronan BC) Anna Richmond (Vancouver) Matt Ruiz (London) and Michael Browne (Ballyronan BC) The crew in Grenada (l to r) Emily Agnew (Ballyronan BC), Elwyn Agnew (Commodore Ballyronan BC) Anna Richmond (Vancouver) Matt Ruiz (London) and Michael Browne (Ballyronan BC)

Michael Browne says that they were blessed with good weather, mostly 20 – 22 knots of wind with a few squally nights, and the voyage to Cape Verde took six days and then a further two weeks to Grenada which they reached on 2nd December.

Published in Cruising
Tagged under

Marking the final countdown to the start of ARC 2022 on Sunday, 20 November, a colourful Opening Ceremony parade was held today in Las Palmas Marina, celebrating the nations taking part in the 37th Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. At 11:30, crews from 144 boats representing 35 nations gathered in the southern corner of the marina to parade their country flags around the docks. Over 800 crew will be sailing on this year’s rally, and the assortment of cultures, languages and ages was keenly apparent in the ocean crossing community as the parade began.

With a spectacular, colourful carnival parade around the whole marina, crews waved their national flags patriotically and got into the spirit of the event. For many, this will be their longest ocean passage and for others, it is a regular trip across the pond, but for all, it has been the culmination of a lot of hard work and preparation in the build-up to this great adventure. Today’s Opening Ceremony recognised the crew coming from multiple different nations who are now forged together with a common goal of crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

The international conga line was led by the Banda Guiniguada, with the Batucada Samba Isleña beating a salsa rhythm at the back. Once the procession had completed its parade around the marina, World Cruising Club's Andrew Pickersgill welcomed sailors to the ARC. He acknowledged the support of the Tourist Board of Gran Canaria, the Ayuntamiento de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and the Port Authority who have supported participants as they prepare for departure. “I’m sure you will agree that Las Palmas Marina have been wonderful hosts for the start of your adventure, working hard to accommodate the myriad of yachts in the marina behind me. Whether this will be your first ocean crossing or you have sailed many before, we hope being a part of the 37th ARC is a great adventure for you. We hope the crossing will be a safe and enjoyable experience for you all and can guarantee that on the other side of the Atlantic, on the island of Saint Lucia, a warm Caribbean welcome awaits you.”

Juan Francisco Martin, Commercial Director of the Port Authority of Las Palmas, informed the listening crowd that for the start of their adventure, steady tradewinds had been ordered for a smooth departure from Gran Canaria and wished them a safe and enjoyable ocean crossing.

The flags of 35 nations were raised on poles overlooking the docks, which are now filled with a wide range of boats as eclectic as the crews on board. Around the marina are examples of almost every kind of ocean cruising boat available, with the ARC bringing together one of the most diverse fleets of any sailing event. From the largest yacht, Oyster 885 Karibu (GGY), to the smallest, French-flagged Vancouver 28 Oberoi (FRA), 105 monohulls, 38 Multihulls and one motorboat are set to make their departure with the ARC a week from today, on Sunday 20 November. There has been a significant swing towards multihulls once again this year, and 35 catamarans and three trimarans will be on the start line and perhaps again be the first to reach the rum punch at IGY Rodney Bay Marina.

As start day draws nearer, preparations for the crossing increase in urgency as provisions are stowed, equipment is checked and re-checked, and further crew members fly in daily to join the yachts. The average cruising boat can expect to be at sea for 18 to 21 days and there are plenty of jobs to be done for the boats and crews to undertake the adventures of sailing an ocean. In week two of the programme laid on by rally organisers World Cruising Club to support their preparations, many will take advantage of the free seminars led by some of the industry's most respected cruising sailors and marine specialists. Social events include the 70’s Disco costume party, the Farewell Drinks at the Real Club Náutico, and nightly sundowners.

The Start of ARC 2022 will take place on Sunday, 20 November. The atmosphere in Las Palmas Marina on the morning of the ARC start is not to be missed. The pontoons are buzzing with anticipation and final farewells as yachts begin to depart around 1100 to a soundtrack of music and calls of ‘Bon Voyage’ as they head out to the starting area. The sea wall alongside the Av. de Canarias (main road south) provides an opportunity to see the starts and watch the boats sail south from onshore, with the Multihulls leading the charge at 12:30, followed by the Racing Division at 12:45, and 13:00 for the largest Cruising Division fleet.

Published in Cruising
Page 1 of 27

Welcome to the Afloat.ie sailing and marine resources section. From weather reports to book reviews, Editor's Blog and events calendar.

You'll find plenty of in-depth information on what's happening in the world of sailing.

If you have ideas for our pages we'd love to hear from you. Please email us at [email protected]