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Almost 40 Laser sailors enjoyed great sailing over the weekend in Belfast Lough, hosted by Ballyholme Yacht Club at the Danske Bank Private Banking sponsored Irish Laser Master Championships. Despite the forecast of little wind on the Saturday followed by too much on Sunday, the conditions were much more enjoyable. Saturday was a bit gentler Westerly with the odd hole but there was plenty of hiking and the odd gust into the high teens or low 20's, whilst Sunday was a bit stronger but thankfully manageable with flat seas due to a fairly steady Southerly. Race Officer Aidan Pounder was heard to comment that somehow the wind strength on Sunday seemed to lower on each downwind leg - divine intervention maybe.

The racing was very tight for most with little room on the start-line for those not used to accelerating as quick as some of the others. Top and bottom mark roundings are always busy and there were more than a couple capsizing at the leeward mark on top of other Lasers - in fact one mast slicing the tiller extension rope somehow on the other. However you could almost see a smile on the victims face as instead of a long slog of a beat home, he happily accepted a tow.

It was always going to be a close championship between Cork's Nick Walsh and Ballyholme's Gareth Flannigan even if Gareth has been seen more in RS400's over the last couple of years. Both have won the overall title before, and it was Flannigan who set the early pace with a marked lead in Race 1 followed by 2 second places. Unfortunately Walsh hadn't fully read the sailing instructions which detailed different coloured buoys for the start and finish line and having thought he had finished high in the first race, was signalled by a colleague to finish properly and ended up counting an 8th. This proved pivotal as he then won 4 of the next 5 races (and by some margin on the Sunday) discarding the last race of Saturday but the race one event gave Flannigan some wriggle room.

More used recently to getting his RS400 crew mate David Fletcher (who won the final race of Saturday) to do the hiking for him, Gareth struggled a little on the breezier Sunday and was often found at the first mark mid-fleet or in the final race almost last. In the 5th race he even found himself upside down not once but twice after an initial rear end bump from Theo Little - a rare sight for the multiple Irish champion. However his downwind speed came to his rescue and needing a 4th in the final race, scrambled back through the fleet to win the championship by a single point from Nick Walsh.

Monkstown's Paul O'Sullivan won the Apprentice Masters whilst Great Grand Master Chris Boyd somehow kept his body with a 5th overall place and the GGM trophy. Grand Master Charlie Taylor also showed great speed as always in the breeze with 4,8,3 on the Sunday. Royal St George's Shirley Gilmore was Lady Master in the Radials with Colm McLarnon winning overall. With one year to go before the Laser Masters World Championships come to Dun Laoghaire, there was a lot of chatter on how to qualify for next years event, especially as 8 hope to go to Croatia this year but with only 6 guaranteed spaces. Ron Hutchieson spelled out that 3 out of the 5 provincial/national Championships will count towards ILCA ranking points and there should be a few more Masters seen at the next event at Wexford Harbour.

The event was great craic as always with the traditional Laser Masters dinner attended by most of the competitors and partners. Many thanks must go to Garth Maxwell of Dankebank Private Banking for sponsorship, and Quay Marina for assistance. It was great to see lots of visitors from Cork and Dublin bay to come and play with the large Ballyholme contingent.

Results

Radial
1st Colm McLarnon
2nd Shirley Gilmore (1st Lady Master)

Apprentice Master
1st Paul O'Sullivan
2nd David Fletcher

Master
1st Gareth Flannigan
2nd Nick Walsh
3rd Theo Lyttle

Grand Master
1st Charlie Taylor
2nd Richard Ramsay

Great Grand Master
1st Chris Boyd

Overall
1st Gareth Flannigan
2nd Nick Walsh
3rd Theo Lyttle

Published in Laser

Mayor Alderman Deborah Girvan of Ards and North Down Borough Council attended the first night of 'Dolphin & Sharks' at Ballyholme Yacht Club on Belfast Lough last Friday night writes Mark Mackey. The visit is to encourage the next generation of young sailors. Over 50 children aged from six–years–old enjoyed an evening of swimming with their friends off the slipways and playing with body surf boards.

The Mayor was down to see the launch of the new training fleet of six SailQube dinghies, the purchase of which has been supported by the Borough Council. The SailQube is a polyethylene–built Optimist dinghy – the very popular youth dinghy aimed at younger sailors, and will be used to encourage the smaller "Dolphin" sailors to sail by themselves. The Mayor also had a try in the new Training rib also supported by the Council which will help grow the numbers able to be looked after.

Ballyholme offer adult and youth courses throughout the summer – next Saturday is the annual RYA Push the Boat Out Free Trysail event running all day from 9:30. Everyone is very welcome to come down and try sailing for the first time on a variety of different boats depending on what you may fancy – singlehanded or double handed dinghies, catamarans, keelboats. You just need to enrol online at ballyholme.com.

Published in Belfast Lough

Nearly 30 sailors attended the joint  420 and Fireball Ulster Championships last weekend with a mixture of conditions to test out the sailors writes Mark Mackey. Most of the visitors travelled up from Cork and Dublin to compete in the two different classes – both are double handed dinghies with a single trapeze wire for the crew, but there the similarities end.

The 420 is a rounded more plastic style mini version of the 470 class which is sailed at the Olympic Games by both male and female crews. The 420 is used as a youth pathway class and many of the teenage sailors had already visited Ballyholme over Easter at the ISA Youth Championhips. All-girl crews dominated the event despite the strong winds on Saturday, occupying the first 3 places overall. It was great to see local sailor Adam Lockart getting a run out having struggled to find a regular crew – Daniel Thompson from Wexford Harbour helped out this weekend.

The Fireball is a much sleeker craft orginially built in wood – in fact many were built in the Ballyholme chnaging rooms over the winters back in the 1970's. These days they are glass-fibre with lots of controls and tweaks to be made whilst racing. As opposed to the teenage crews of the 420's, the Fireball attract the older generation with many of the sailors well into their 60's and some their 80's – a marvellous example of the length of time that people can continue to compete and enjoy sailing. These are not sedentiary boats however with big mainsails that power them up to speeds that are only surpassed by the Olympic skiffs and multihull dinghy classes. See Fireball class report here.

After Saturday's breeze and lumpy seas, the sunshine came out for Sundays races with a light 5-8 knot breeze and flat water. A range of conditions is always useful to test out the best sailors who still manage to excel no matter what they are faced with. Malahide's Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher followed their second place 2 weeks ago with top of the podium in the 420 class, while Noel Butler and Stephen Oram are no strangers to the top of the Fireball fleet either. Both classes gave their thanks to the club, sponsor P&O Ferries and Race Officer Robin Gray. 

420 Ulsters: 

1st Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher, Malahide YC
2nd Grace O'Beirne and Kathy Kelly, Royal St George YC
3rd Nicola and Fiona Ferguson National YC

Published in 420

A small group of Fireballs, combined with a slightly larger group of 420s enjoyed a light weather start to the regatta season under the burgee of Ballyholme Yacht Club, on Belfast Lough’s southern shore for the Ulster Championships this past weekend. Ballyholme has always been a popular destination for the Fireballs with a combination of an excellent Race Officer in Robin Gray and traditional northern hospitality the mainstays of that attraction. While our smaller numbers changed the requirement for on-site hospitality, Robin Gray was as excellent as ever, getting six races in in challenging circumstances, particularly on the Saturday. Sunday was easier in terms of the wind direction but for the competitors, the challenge of going the right way and avoiding the wind lulls on the course was just as demanding.

Noel Butler and Stephen Oram (National Yacht Club, 15061) dominated the winners’ enclosure by taking five race wins. In the sixth race they swapped roles on the boat, with Stephen taking over as helm. That led to an opening of the door to another winner, Niall McGrotty and Neil Cramer (Skerries Sailing Club, 14938) which was enough to secure second overall ahead of Michael Ennis & Marie Barry (National Yacht Club, 14854). However, while Butler & Oram won all the races, they didn’t have things completely their own way even in those races. In the first race of the Saturday, Frank Miller & Cormac Bradley (Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club, 14713) led around the first weather mark and Michael & Marie pushed them all the way in the fifth race before a tight cover had to be applied on the last leg of the course from Mark 4 of the trapezoid to the finish to make sure Michael & Marie didn’t sneak out from underneath them. Niall & Neil also pushed the eventual winners and the “pink ladies”, Louise McKenna and Hermine O’Keeffe (Royal St George Yacht Club, 14691) while not quite pushing the overall winners were also close enough to benefit from any mistakes the leaders made. Saturday started overcast and cool but cleared and warmed as the day progressed, to the extent that we came ashore after three races to blue skies and glorious sunshine. Saturday’s wind was better than Sunday with some trapezing being possible. The consequence was that the racing was reasonably tightly bunched. Dinner was eaten al fresco at a nearby by pub/restaurant. Our weather was made all the more intriguing by hearing that DBSC’s racing in Dun Laoghaire had been cancelled due to strong wind.

On Sunday we woke to clear blue skies and a much more fickle breeze but Race Officer Robin Gray made an early declaration of his intent by not appearing at the club but rather, going afloat on the committee boat directly from Bangor marina. While some of the other light crews may have had some trapezing on Sunday, this correspondent only hooked up very rarely during the day’s proceedings. As the biggest combination on the water, Miller & Bradley were off the pace in the lighter first two races and it was only in the last race when there was a bit more wind that they were able to stay with their opposition. Trapezoid courses were the order of the weekend in order to accommodate the two fleets and the preference of the 420s for this course configuration.

Fireball Ulsters – Ballyholme Yacht Club

(with 420s)

R1

R2

R3

R4

R5

R6

Nett

1

Noel Butler & Stephen Oram

NYC

15061

1

1

1

1

1

5

5

2

Niall McGrotty & Neil Cramer

SSC

14938

2

5

2

3

3

1

11

3

Michael Ennis & Marie Barry

NYC

14854

4

3

4

2

2

3

14

 

Published in Fireball

Lighter breezes at Ballyholme have been providing some very different sailing conditions for today’s third day of racing in the ISA Youth Nationals on Belfast Lough. But in all classes the overnight leaders have stayed in front, with an exceptional pace being set by Justin Lucas of Tralee in the Optimists. He has been able to discard an 11th and 12th in a fleet of 62 boats, to have him on 22pts to the current next in line, 12 year old Luke Turvey of Howth and National who was 7th and 3rd in the most recent contests, nevertheless he’s back at 50pts.

The battle of the titans in the Laser Radials was frustrated by lack of wind in their race area, they only completed one race but it saw points leader Ewan MacMahon back in 11th while his closest challenger Johnny Durcan took a useful 4th and Aaron Rogers of Rush got back in the game with a third. Current scoreline is McMahon 21, Durcan 28 and Rogers 31.

Full results are here. Optimist trials results may be found here.

After the strong breezes of yesterday, many of the 200 plus sailors plus the race management team were glad to see flatter seas this morning with a light and cold 6 knot breeze.

Topper sailingTopper sailors make the most of the light winds on Belfast Lough. Photo: Simon McIlwaine

Unfortunately for Course Areas 1 and 2 for the ISA Youth Pathway fleets, the breeze soon died away a little and all classes only managed one race despite many attempts across the day. With lighter winds, the tide cam into play for some of the fleets making it difficult to stay behind the line and most classes struggled with General Recalls, Uniform and Black flag starts.

Course 3 is set a little closer to Ballyholme Bay and further out into the lough than the other fleets and got the best of the conditions today with the Optimists managing 3 races - the last of which dragged on with a long final race. Sadly the breeze then filled in but the young sailors were by then tired and cold and sent home with Race 4 of the day postponed until tomorrow.

Harry Twomey made the most of the difficult conditions with two 1sts in the first and last race of the day. Johnny Flynn won the middle race with a great downwind leg which was finished at the bottom gate. The most consistent sailor however has been Justin Lucas fully deserving his overall lead at the end of Day 3 with three top 5 results and now counts only 22 points after 10 races with discards.

On Course 1, Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher got the best start of the 420 fleet whilst Geoff Power and James McCann struggled to keep speed and had to tack off after getting leebowed. The girls 1st place squeezes up the points margin between themselves and the boys who continue to lie 1st overall.

In the single race for the Laser fleet County Antrim's (Whitehead) Andrew Mitchell had his best race of the series with a bullet. Johnny Durcan saw the greater breeze on the left hand side of the course being enjoyed by the 420 fleet and managed a 4th whilst Ewan McMahon now discards the 11th he scored when struggling on the right hand side.

On Course 2, Caoimhe Foster had a great race in the Laser 4.7 with a win from Jack Fahy who continues to lead overall. Newcastle's Erin McIlwaine (also the daughter of our photographer) had a great day with a win in the Toppers and moves up to 3rd place on equal points with joint Donaghedee/Ballyholme's Dan McGaughey. Rob Keal continues to lie first overall with Conor Horgan in second. Adam Irvin from the Irish National Sailing School in Dun Laoghaire won his first race in the Topper 4.2's with Lewis and Hannah leading still overall.

Three races are now scheduled for all classes tomorrow on the final day of racing in an attempt to catch up from those races postponed. 

Published in Youth Sailing

Its full title is the Irish Sailing Association Youth Pathway Nationals and Optimist Trials. It is a designation with a great air of seriousness about it, contrasting markedly with current public debate about providing more fun sailing, while making regattas as much about sport and enjoyment afloat and ashore as they are about winning.

Yet from time to time, sailing does have to be serious – deadly serious – if we’re going to have any more significant international medals such as those won at the Olympics by Annalise Murphy, at the Laser Radials Worlds by Ewan McMahon,, and at the ISAF Youth Worlds by Doug Elmes and Colin O’Sullivan. The way those great achievements - hard won through a very serious training and participation programme - were able to immediately lift the public mood with their clearcut international success deserves full recognition. W M Nixon tries to put it into perspective for those whose own sailing does not aspire to the giddy international heights.

When you look at that title of “Youth Pathway Nationals and Optimist Trials”, you wonder that as many as 190 boats in six different classes have turned up at Ballyholme for the four days of racing. For there’d been a certain collective madness beforehand, with some folk talking of beyond 200 or even up to 250 boats. But that could be put down to an excess of exuberance following the impressive turnout of 125 Lasers for the Munster at Baltimore.

420 ballyholme2On a tight spinnaker reach in Ballyholme Bay, McDowell and Gallagher narrowly lead the 420s from Heather Spain and iseult Kneafsey of the National, with Lucy Kane and Grace Jennings (East Antrim) next in line. Photo: Mark Mackey
For that was - for many - a fun event in a fun place, with a fun fleet except for maybe the top ten - and even they were frequently seen to laugh. And for sure, there are kids who are having a ball at Ballyholme right now. But for just this one long weekend of the year, there are serious moves being made which will decide the development of junior sailing at the top level in the year ahead, and in many of the years beyond that. We should be worried if it weren’t so brutally focused, rather than being unduly concerned about junior sailing becoming too serious.

That said, the seriousness produces its lighter moments, though you could sympathise with the Topper person who noted that there are five Topper places up for grabs for admission to the Topper Pathway Scheme, yet there are 32 Toppers (39 including the 4.2s) racing their little hearts out at Ballyholme. “What are we going to say?” asked this conscience of the Topper class, “What are we going to say to the young skippers who come 6th, 7th and 8th.....?”

Then there was the Optimist dad who arrived into the Race Office letting the world know that his family’s budget for the event was already shot to ribbons. Heaven only knows what the accommodation pressure would have been like if the more optimistically anticipated fleet of 250 boats with all classes had all turned up. For as it is, accommodation pressures have resulted in people being forced to rent houses for the week – for there’s no way you can get a rental starting on a Wednesday night – and deciding that the sensible thing is to come for a week’s holiday for the whole family. Inevitably, it means lots of money running out the door before the one or two family members who are actually racing start their proper sailing.

laser ballyholme3After two days Ewan MacMahon of Howth has the overall lead in the Laser Radials. Photo Mark Mackey

So anyway this Opty dad is telling anyone who is listening that the budget is already shot with the family spending a whole week in a house in a village he’d never heard of before. But now, worse still, somebody has just told him that his daughter is seen as one of the rising stars of the class, and they wouldn’t be surprised, once this weekend’s racing is finished, to see her name down as a potential member for the Irish squad at the Optimist Worlds 2017 at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Thailand in July.

“And do you know what that means?” he demands. “It means that if we accept that offer of a place at the Worlds, within a week we have to divvy up €2,000 for the International Optimist Dinghy Association of Ireland. I can tell you something” he continues, now in full flight, “if she’s anywhere within range of a place with only one or two races still to go, we’ll be seriously thinking of feeding her a dodgy chicken sandwich.....”

Such are the joys of being an Opty dad. And it was something to contemplate along with the fondest recollections at an event on Thursday night in my own home club of Howth, when friends from times past – some of them friends from very long times past – joined with the great and the good including ISA President Jack Roy and his wife Rosemary, and HYC Commodore Joe McPeake – together with a whole raft of former HYC Commodores – to celebrate the award by World Sailing (formerly ISAF) of a Gold Medal to Howth’s own Helen-Mary Wilkes for her decades of service to the International Optimist Dinghy Association worldwide.

helen mary wilkes OptimistAt the conferring of Honorary Membership of Howth Yacht Club on Helen-Mary Wilkes in celebration of her Gold Medal from World Sailing are (left to right) Jack Roy (President, Irish Sailing Association), Joe McPeake (Commodore Howth YC, who is holding a copy of Robert Wilkes’ History of the International Optimist Class,) Helen-Mary Wilkes, and Robert Wilkes. Photo: John Deane

Her international career started when it was noted that she was the key player as Secretary of the Organising Committee when Howth ran the Optimist Worlds in 1981. After that, Helen-Mary’s international service was of such quality and duration that her most recent years with the IODA have been as President of Honour. For, in the many years she was actually running it all on a day-to-day basis with the backroom support of her husband Robert, they saw an increase of 78% in international membership of the world association to bring the total to 87 countries, and 57 of those countries regularly took part in international championships, while boat numbers increased stratospherically.

It was by no means an easy ride, for with main builders in several countries and different continents, the Optimists were by no means totally One-Design. But fortunately Helen-Mary Wilkes had the very man in Ireland with the skill, patience and diplomacy to sort this out - David Harte of Schull, at that time a Howth resident. As an Optimist builder himself, “Harty” knew everything about these very important little boats, and between 1995 and 1997 he was on an almost continuous worldwide mission to persuade the eight main builders to standardise the class to the highest One-Design requirements, an objective in which he succeeded.

david harte5David Harte of Schull, who in 1995 -1997 was instrumental in ensuring that the eight production builders worldwide of the International Optimist Dinghy were producing a truly One-Design boat.
David Harte being one of these people who seems ageless, it takes a bit of an effort to realize that he was doing this all of twenty years ago. But the result has been a much more total global acceptance of the Optimist. And in speaking to Thursday night’s gathering, Helen-Mary and Robert Wilkes addressed people’s concerns that the current event in Ballyholme, and other major Optimist championships in Ireland, are becoming too serious for the good of the young sailors.

“We’re every bit as interested in the kids who are into Optimists just for club racing and local sailing as we are for the high flyers. Over Easter, there are five major Optimist regattas under way at different venues in Europe. In all, more then 4,500 Optimists are sailing at every possible level of competition in these events. Yet at none of those regattas is selection for special strands of training under way. Ultimately, it is all about sailing for sailing’s sake. It only happens to be the case that it’s in Ireland the Easter Regatta is also being used for the trials. Inevitably, there’s criticism that the kids are being put under too much pressure here. But as a matter of policy, the International Optimist Dinghy Association is as interested in friendly local racing as it is in international competition”.

oppies lasers6“Get ’em up and move ’em out....” Optimists and Lasers swing into the launch sequence at Ballyholme. Photo: Pierce Purcell Jnr
Meanwhile last night up at Ballyholme they were able to post two days of good racing results in westerly winds for the Laser Radials, 420s and Optimists, and one day of racing for the Toppers, Laser 4.7s and Topper 4.2s.

LASER RADIALS
After a 7th, 4th and 6th on Thursday, when Aaron Rogers of Rush SC was the overnight leader, Ewan MacMahon of Howth came back like a rocket yesterday and posted 1,1, and 2nd to leave him leadng on 14pts to the 20 of Henry Higgins of the Royal St George in second (4,(26) 2,4,2,8), with Johnny Durcan of Royal Cork finishing strongly with a bullet in yesterday’s concluding race for a scoreline of 2,8,10, (42 BFD) 3, 1 and a points total of 24. Rush SC pair of Conor Quinn and Aaron Rogers are next on 27 and 28 in a fleet of 43.

420
Geoff Power and James McCann of Dunmore East have recovered from an OCS yesterday to take over the lead in a healthy fleet of 16, they have totalled 6 points with a used scoreline of 2,1,1,1,1, with Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher of Malahide taking one of the two spare wins after the Power display of, well, power, the Malahide crew now lie second on 12 points, just one point ahead of the other race winners, Kate Lyttle and Niamh Henry of Royal St George.

OPTIMISTS
Justin Lucas (13) of Tralee and Royal Cork had been hotly tipped as the favourite for the Optimists, and he has certainly lived up to the billing with a scoreline of 1,1,(12),11,4,5,1 after two days of racing in a 62-strong fleet. There has been some post-racing re-arrangement of results with protest outcomes, but Lucas is well clear of Royal Cork’s Michael Carroll with 23 points to the 37 of Carroll in second, while James Dwyer Matthews (Cork & Kinsale) is tied on 40 with the leading junior Luke Turvey (Howth and National,) who goes to fourth on the higher discard. Leah Ricard of the National is top girl at 9th overall.

LASER 4.7
The National YC’s Clare Gorman leads after the first day of racing for the 4.7s, with a scoreline of 4,2, and 1 to give 7 pts against the 9 of Royal St George’s Jack Fahey in second, third slot being held by David Carroll of Kinsale & Crosshaven while Tom Higgins of RStGYC and Eva MacMahon of Howth tie on 16, but Higgins takes 4th on the discard in a fleet of 33.

TOPPER
Rob Keal of Royal Cork had a good first day of it yesterday to lodge two firsts and a fourth, giving him 6pts against the 11 of second placed Kate Fahy (RStGYC & Lough Derg) while East Down’s Sarah Jennings’ 13pts keeps her in third ahead of Royal Cork’s Conor Horgan on fourth in a fleet of 32.

TOPPER 4.2
Lewis Thompson of Ballyholme and Donaghadee has had three straight firsts to the three seconds of Ballyholme’s Hannah Dadley-Young, third overall is Donaghadee/Ballyholme’s Joshua McGregor with two hirds and a fourth while Adam Irvin of the Irish National Sailing School is fourth on 4,5,4.

ballyholme oppies7Justin Lucas of Tralee Bay is leading the 62-strong Optimist fleet. Photo: Mark Mackey

It is interesting to contemplate all this highly-regulated contemporary modern sailing on Belfast Lough, for it was far from Lasers and 420s and four days of intensive racing from committee boat starts that we were reared when we spent our first years afloat in and around Ballyholme Bay.

In those days, proper junior training and a structured junior racing programme weren’t so much in their infancy as barely a gleam in anyone’s eye. At a certain age – before any of us was even into our teens – we were given a new 14ft clinker sailing dinghy of the Ballyholme Insect Class, and told to get on with it on the assumption that, having sailed with adults in keelboats, we’d know how it was done.

grass hopper8Steep learning curve. We weren’t even into our teens when we were presented with a 14ft Ballyholme Insect Class, and told to get on with it. Photo: W M Nixon
With a massive lack of imagination, we called her Grasshopper. In truth, Rockhopper would have been more on target. The distinctly exposed Ballyholme Bay is sheltered to the northeast, ’tis said, by Ailsa Craig, which is 40 miles away. Admittedly the bay has a decidedly featureless shoreline at low water, which limits sailing options even if you aren’t hampered by strong onshore winds. But when the tide is well in, all sorts of little islands and channels are created, and we learnt our sailing threading our way through this miniature maze of skerries.

ballyholme bay9Ballyholme Bay at Low Water has a rather featureless shoreline....

ballyholme bay10....but at High Water it becomes a much more interesting place, with all sorts of islands and channels.........

grass hopper11......through which a sailing dinghy with centreplate half-raised can thread her way. Photo: W M Nixon
There was of course no such thing as an accompanying rescue boat, but from time to time we sailed in consort with a friend whose boat was a smaller sister, a 12ft–clinker dinghy, but made more exotic with a little bowsprit.

Safety rules were few. We were expected to wear kapok lifejackets when actually sailing, but not otherwise, and they’d immediately be used as fenders if we came alongside rocks or small jetties. As for sailing limits, we were supposed to stay in Ballyholme Bay south of a line from Luke’s Point on the west side over to a rock called Jenny’s Isle off Ballymacormick Point to the northeast. However, at high water you could sail with the centreplate half up inside Jenny’s Isle and the tidal islets beyond it, so you could keep going east, while staying within that outer limit line, until you’d gone clean round the world.

grooms port12Groomsport, a little fishing harbour which was our first “foreign port.” It is less than two miles from the anchorage at Ballyholme Bay Photo: W M Nixon
But there wasn’t that much mischief in us, so it was quite a day when official permission was given to sail all the way to the nearby fishing harbour of Groomsport, our very first Foreign Port of Call. And after that, the south shore of Belfast Lough from Orlock Point to Grey Point was our cruising paradise, and we’d disappear off for the entire day with a basic lunchbox and the hope of augmenting it with mackerel.

day cruise13Off for a days cruising, with a lightly packed lunchbox and a couple of mackerel lines to augment the meal. Photo: W M Nixo

day cruise14Cruise in company. The fleet gathers at Swinley Bay three miles west of Ballyholme, and lifejackets soon become fenders. Photo W M Nixon

If the wind fell light in the evening, we could row home, and over the years nobody gave our daylong absences any thought. There were some close calls, but we never actually capsized the boat. Which was just as well, for if you capsized an Insect, she stayed capsized, and you were barred for a week from Ballyholme Yacht Club for what was deemed reckless and unseamanlike behavior.

That was how you learned to sail back in the day. Eventually it was reckoned we knew enough to be reasonably harmless to others if we went racing with what was then Ballyholme’s only dinghy class. A long way indeed from the hotshot dinghies of today, and their accompanying coaches in their RIBs.

Published in W M Nixon

Reliving last week's dramatic conclusion to the Topper World Championships in Ballyholme Yacht Club in Northern Ireland with a ten–minute epic video by Digby Fox. It was the second biggest world's turnout in the history of the event. More details in our review here and watch the video below. 

Published in Topper

Things were looking good for the Irish squad going into the final day of the Topper Worlds at Ballyholme YC, with Jack Fahey of Lough Derg and Royal St George the Thursday overnight front runner. In leading the Irish charge, he was cushioned ahead of Michael Carroll of Kinsale/Crosshaven in second and Sophie Crosbie of RCYC at third. But the points margins through Friday have been very tight, and the breezy pace of racing in the Gold Flight in the day’s sunshine has taken its toll.

Elliott Kuzyk of Parkstone YC on Poole Harbour in the south of England had been among the front runners in the early stages of the week. But he’d to carry a penalty from Race 4, while a third and a fifth in the opening races had seen his points total astray relative to the stellar early showings by the Irish trio and the top English challenger, Sam Cooper of Lancashire.

However, Kuzyk forcefully demonstrated he has what it takes when the chips are down, with an all-conquering showing in Friday’s stronger wind in the clearer fleet provided by the Gold Flight. Three firsts, a second, a fourth and a fifth saw him able to discard his other fifth and the penalty to move into the overall lead, while another south of England helm, Tim Hartnell from Lancing, moved into second overall with his concluding races scoring a first, three seconds and a third.

Early leader Sam Cooper also got back in the hunt, a second, two fourths and a seventh being enough to get him up to third and the Bronze Medal just ahead overall of Michael Carroll, who at fourth was best of the Irish. But Scotland’s Calum Bell managed to get between Carroll and Jack Fahy to slot into fifth, while Fahy was off form in the last four races, with a scoreline of 14th, 24th, 16th and 12th. But he still managed to be sixth overall while Sophie Crosbie of Royal Cork was seventh.

The Silver Flight brought reward for the large Chinese contingent, as it was won by Yubai Zhang, but there was a long lineup of British sailors thereafter, with Andrew Sturt second and Daniel Thompson third atop a continuous line of British success until 9th place, where Jonathan Sargent of Howth was first of the Irish.

The 4.2 division were kept ashore in Friday’s stronger winds, and the overnight lead of Thailand’s Max Yuang-Ngam is now the final result, with China’s Rabbit Su in second and Thailand’s Paton Mervielde third.

But although the final outcome of the main event may have been frustrating for the Irish squad after the high hopes of Thursday night, in the Ladies Division of the 5.3s the news was much better, as Sophie Crosbie’s 7th overall put her first, the National YC’s Ella Hemeryck at 11th overall was a clear second, and Jenna McCarlie of County Antrm YC (Whitehead) was third at 17th overall.

top wor4The new Topper World Champion, Elliot Kuzyk (GBR)

top wor5Max Yuang-Ngam (Thailand) is the 2016 Topper 4.2 World Champion

Overall results here

Published in Topper

The Topper Worlds 2016, in full swing at Ballyholme Yacht Club on Belfast Lough this week, have been showing that Ireland is well ranked in the current fleet. But the future could well be in Asia, as the younger sailors from Thailand and China have been setting the pace in the junior division.

In all, 197 boats are competing, and the 84-strong home division have been giving a good showing in very close racing at the top of the main section after three days racing the Topper 5.3. Just six points cover the top eight places, and while England’s Sam Cooper (West Lancashire YC) is currently leading with a scoreline of 2,1,1, 2, and discarding a third, Jack Fahy of Lough Derg & Royal St George is just one point astray on a score of 3,1,1, 2 and discarding a fourth.

top worlds2 Whoops! Is that a head and sail contact at the Rooster Topper Worlds 2016….?

Scotland’s Harris Cartwright slips into the ranking in third, but then Sophie Crosbie of Royal Cork and Michael Carroll (RCYC/Kinsale YC) are fourth and fifth, with Michael O’Suilleabhain next of the Irish in eighth, only one point behind Carroll as three boats are tied on fifth.

It’s a different story in the Juniors racing the Topper 4.2, where Max Yang-Ngam of Thailand (Phuket YC) discards a second to leading by 9 points to the 19 points of second-placed Rabbit Su of China, while Britain’s Curtis McKay is third, but on 26 points. The large Chinese contingent (28 in all) are doing well in his section, while Ireland’s best is currently Hannah Dadey-Young (Ballyholme YC) at 10th overall, with Aoife McMahon (Howth) at 14th.

Topper_worlds_Ballyholme Gravity is on your side when you’re getting 197 Toppers afloat at Ballyholme – it’s when you’re getting a tired fleet back up again after racing that the teamwork really shows...

Published in Topper

The 2016 Topper Worlds at Ballyholme from July 23rd will see a strong international fleet with a large contingent from China, but for the first time ever, the most numerous national contingent will be from Ireland. The World Championships will be held on the waters of Belfast Lough from the 23rd to the 29th of July 2016, hosted by Ballyholme Yacht Club in Bangor, County Down. It’s the first time that the Topper Worlds have been held in Northern Ireland in sixteen years – they were staged at Cushendall in County Antrim in 2000.

Bill Brassington, President of the International Topper Class Association, has stated: “The International Topper Class is extremely excited to be returning to Ireland for our 23rd World Championship in 2016. Ballyholme Yacht Club and the waters of Belfast Lough are set to provide exciting and competitive racing afloat and a friendly community ashore, which competitors and their supporters will greatly appreciate.”

The event comprises two World Championship series, and as the International Topper is a World Sailing recognised centreboard dinghy, the winners of these Championships are officially acknowledged as World Champions. The first World Championship will be made up competitors using the standard 5.3m2 sail, and has over 150 entrants.

The second World Championship is comprised of approximately 50 boats using the smaller 4.2m2 sails. The Intercontinental Cup will be presented to the top female sailor in the 5.3m2 fleet and an International Masters event will be held which is open to all male and female sailors over the age of 21.

There is a strong international element to the Rooster International Topper World Championships, with competitors from ten countries across four continents. China will send a team of 32 sailors to the Worlds, the largest entry from outside Europe, and the third largest country group overall in the Championships.

The second largest entry is from Great Britain, while for the first time ever, the largest entry is from Ireland with a total of 84 Irish sailors to date. Other countries that will be represented at the competition are Turkey, Macau, Japan, South Africa, Australia, Thailand and France.

It’s expected that by the time racing is under way, the event will have attracted over 200 sailors who, together with their coaches, family members and supporters, will bring over 700 visitors to Northern Ireland. These visitors may be interested in touring some of the local attractions such and taking in the natural beauty that Northern Ireland provides, as the area has much to offer within easy travelling time.

The light and durable design of the award winning International Topper makes it perfect for youth competitors. In fact, the Topper is an Olympic Youth Pathway class in both Great Britain and Ireland. The average age of competitors is therefore quite young but there will be sailors of all ages competing at this year’s Worlds, with the youngest competitor being 7 years old while the oldest is 61.

Over 48,000 Toppers have been built and sold worldwide and the boat is sailed in over 50 countries. The International Topper Class is delighted that many former Topper sailors have moved on to Olympic participation. In Great Britain, five former Topper sailors are competing in the Rio 2016 Olympics: Giles Scott, Alison Young, Nicola Groves, Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign.

Representing Ireland at the Rio 2016 Olympics will be Ballyholme's former Topper sailors Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern, along with Annalise Murphy and Finn Lynch, who won Silver in the Topper World Championships in 2011. Helena Lucas MBE will also be competing for Great Britain in the Paralympics.

Published in Topper
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