#icranats – Take sixty-one offshore racers, recruited from Ireland's leading sailing centres. Place them in a bay of stunning beauty, set among spectacular mountains perhaps, but nevertheless a bay which is inescapably located right on Ireland's Atlantic weather frontier. Then take a witch's brew of weather, with at least three different low pressure areas circling with malice around your race area on an axis of about 400 miles.
That done, carefully calibrate the line of the Polar jetstream so that its most vivid red hues on the charts are located precisely over your chosen location, massively accentuating the power of any breezes or rainstorms occuring within its ambit. Then sit back and contemplate the extreme results of your wicked work. And what you have is precisely the setup which developed as the four day WIORA Championship and ICRA Nationals were staged at Tralee Bay.
For the ICRA Nats from Thursday June 13th to Saturday June 15th, they'd scheduled six races in a no-discard series. They did well to get a series with the minimum staging of three races, two on the Thursday in champagne sailing conditions, and then as the weather went down the tubes on Friday, just one hour long event in filthy rain to hit the quota.
Sailingwise, Saturday was totally blown out. But they'd a result already, and of course by having the incorporated WIORA series starting a day earlier, the most enthusiastic participants saw themselves as losing only one day's racing out of a four day series. Horses for courses, perhaps, but for some determined western sailors, this was exactly as it should have been. They're singularly proud of the fact that WIORA has held an annual championship since 1976 – it's an education to read on their website the champions list of gallant western boats and skippers going back 37 years – while ICRA is the new boy on the block, still wet behind the ears with its foundation as recently as 2002.
Tralee Bay, a place of stunning beauty a great sailing venue twice visited by the ICRA national fleet. Photo Bob Bateman
The lead-in to the series at Tralee was deceptive, as the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race of June 7th, used by many as a feeder, was gentle summer sailing at its very best. The very best, that is, if you won on a rising breeze from the back of the fleet, which is what Tralee skipper Brian O'Sullivan and his crew managed with their veteran Oyster 37 Amazing Grace. But maybe not so good for the O'Leary family with their Baltimore/Crosshaven Ker 39 Antix, which achieved line honours in handsome style in Dingle, only to see their placing slip to 14th overall as the tail-enders became the leaders.
The Oyster 37 Amazing Grace from the host club. Photo: Bob Bateman
So as the boats gathered in Fenit a couple of days later, there was keen anticipation to see if the pattern of the Dingle race results could be reversed. And there was a completely new boat in the picture too. The latest race machine from X Yachts of Denmark, the XP33, made her debut only last November. But Conor Fanning of X Yachts secured one for Ireland, and with Colin Byrne of Dun Laoghaire on the helm and the legendary Jochem Visser on the strength, clearly this boat Bon Exemple was one to watch.
IRC one champion Bon Exemple, is the new Xp33 design. Photo: Bob Bateman
Not all boats had entered both championships, so the WIORA Overall Results posted soon after Friday's gloomy token race have notable absentees. In IRC0 the four entries appropriately had a western champion, Martin Breen's Reflex 38 Discover Ireland with Denise Phelan's Ker 37 from Jump Juice second five points behind. But in IRC 1 the points margin was in a different league – the XP 33 was put of sight with just 5 points, while John Gordon's X332 from Mayo had 20. Another western boat, Ray McGibney's Dehler 34 Dis-a-Ray from Foynes, won IRC2 with 9 points from two Corby 25s, Liam Burke's Tribal from Galway on 14, and Rob Allen's Smile of Kirush and Galway on 20. IRC 3 saw an east coast winner, Barry Cunningham's Quarter Tonner Quest from the RIYC by 10 points from the 15.5 of the host club's Gary Fort with his J/24 Jaguar.
Antix, the Ker 39, is the IRC Zero champion. Photo: Bob Bateman
When the ICRA imprimatur came into play on the Thursday, the competition notably intensified, and the pace of sunny Thursday was maintained into Friday's "grand soft day, thank God". The Antix crew were in fighting form in the five boat IRC 0, but fair play to the Galwaymen on Lynx Clipper, they were only 2.5 points adrift at the end, Antix on 5.5 to Lynx's 8, while ICRA Commodore Nobby Reilly of Howth took third with co-owner Alan Chambers on their Mills 36 Crazy Horse Mills 36, only 1.5 points behind Lynx.
The big turnout in IRC 1 saw Bon Exemple resume her successful debut, but not until after she'd trailed Pat Kelly from Rush with his J/109 Storm – the Fingal flyers finished only two points behind the hyper-hot new X boat, and another J/109, Ian Nagle's Jelly Baby from Cork, was in the hunt too, finishing on 10 to be 3 points clear of Paul O'Higgins Corby 33 from Dun Laoghaire.
IRC2 had an even better geographical spread of top boats, underlining the truly national nature of this event. Indeed, in this class it was international, as winner Nigel Biggs with his Half Tonner Checkmate may race for RStGYC in Ireland, but he's from North Wales, and you're as likely to find him competing in the Solent. Normally it's a direct ding-dong between Checkmate and David Cullen's classic Half Tonner King One from Howth, but Ray McGibney from Foynes with his veteran Dehler 34 Dis-a-Ray pulled off a coup by getting between them with second on 9 points while King One was third on 12, fourth going to Paul & Deirdre Tingle of Cork with the Corby 25 Alpaca while sister ship Tribal (Liam Burke, Galway) was fifth.
Barry Cunningham of Dun Laoghaire in IRC3 was the only skipper to pull off the double of winning overall in both WIORA and ICRA with his sweet little Humphreys Quarter Tonner Quest. The enthusiastic Losty team from Cobh with their restored French Quarter Tonner Illes Pitiuses were second on 8 points to Quest's 5, while local helm Gary Fort was in the frame again, third on 9 points with his J/24 Jaguar, well clear of fourth placed Alliance II, Vincent Gaffney's interesting and rare Laser 28 from Howth, on 16 points.
The marina in Fenit was the base for the60-boat ICRA championship fleet. Photo: Bob Bateman
When Tralee Bay SC staged the Irish Intervarsity Team Racing Opens for 26 teams back on the St Patrick's Weekend in March, they had great luck with the weather – reasonably gentle sunny conditions, while most of the rest of Ireland continued ion th grip of winter. So maybe the Kerrymen used up their quota of good weather luck three months ago. But although the last day may have been blown out on Tralee Bay for the ICRA Nats, when the sailing was good, it was very good indeed, and the images from this championship show sailing at its best.
Champions with ICRA commodore Nobby Reilly (centre) at TBSC. Photo: Gareth Craig
The 2013 Irish Cruiser racer national champions are:
Class 0 IRC
Antix Anthony O Leary. RCYC
Class 0 Echo
Discover Ireland Martin Breen GBSC
Class 1 IRC
Bon Example Colin Byrne RIYC
Class 1 Echo
Joker 11 John Maybury RIYC
Class 2 IRC
Checkmate Nigel Biggs RST G
Class 2 Echo
Surfdancer Charlie Mc Donnell RCYC
Class 3 IRC
Quest Barry Cunningham RIYC
Class 3 Echo
Jaguar Gary Fort TBSC
Growler Diarmuid Dineen TBSC IRC Non Spinnaker
Ridire Ban Mike Mc Donnell TBSC Echo Non Spinnaker