Displaying items by tag: Cruising
Cruising and its organisations move at their own serene speed, and when Donal Walsh of Dungarvan received Irish Cruising’s supreme trophy - the Faulkner Cup - in February, it was recognition by his peers of an outstanding and seamanlike achievement made in the summer of 2018.
Sailing the Ovni 385 Lady Belle and crewed throughout by Clare Morrissey, with others on board from time to time, Donal Walsh made a seamanlike odyssey of 80 days and 3,450 miles to seven countries. He returned with a myriad of memories and much information which he has processed for others in the best traditions of cruising, with a properly kept and highly informative log.
Dungarvan in the west of County Waterford is in some ways one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets writes W M Nixon. It’s big enough to be considered a real town by Irish standards – it’s the County Town too - yet it isn’t so big as to seem impersonal. There’s a real sense of community, while it’s set in the midst of quietly beautiful scenery beside an array of spectacular hills and mountains. And though the more sheltered parts of its estuary harbour have a tidal element, it’s home to a significant fleet of boats based around the thriving Dungarvan Harbour Sailing Club.
Yet in times past Dungarvan did not figure high in any listing of cruising destinations, as boats on passage along the south coast saw it as being a long diversion from the direct route to and from Cork Harbour, when a very handy overnight berth would be available if you anchored at the entrance to Dungarvan Bay, in the sheltered spot immediately west of the busy little fishing port of Helvick.
And as for carefully finding your route all the way into Dungarvan if the tide suited, it seems that any chance of a convivial evening with local cruising enthusiasts would be remote, for once summer arrives, they’re all gone - gone far away to distant parts on fascinating cruises of their own. Or at least that was the impression gained at yesterday evening’s AGM of the Irish Cruising Club, chaired by Commodore Stanton Adair from Belfast Lough, and hosted by Howth Yacht Club.
Under the “homeless” 1929-founded ICC’s rules, the Club’s AGM is always to be held in Dublin, though these days with Home Rule the mood of the moment in Fingal, you’d wonder if Howth is truly a part of Dublin at all. Be that as it may, last night it was Dungarvan which was the talk of the town, for not only had Donal Walsh of Dungarvan been awarded the top prize, the Faulkner Cup, for his fascinating cruise to seven northwest European countries with his Ovni 385 Lady Belle, but in receiving it he was succeeding his sister Maire Breathnach as the awardee, as she got the nod in 2017 for her cruise to northeast Greenland with her husband Andrew Wilkes in their 64ft gaff cutter Annabelle J.
Finding any continuity between an Arctic cruise in a hefty classically gaff-rigged cutter, and a detailed largely coastal venture in an ultra-modern alloy-built cruising sloop with a lifting keel, may seem like quite a challenge, but that is typical of the exceptional diversity which the wide-ranging members of the ICC are achieving these days.
In the past couple of decades, they’ve seen several boats go round the world, they’ve seen transits of both the Northwest and Northeast passages such that the Arctic Circle has been circumnavigated, they’ve seen voyages to the far south, deep into Antarctica, and they’ve seen island-hopping explorations of the Pacific.
Donal Walsh’s 80-day 3450 mile cruise
But equally they’ve seen increasingly detailed cruises of the Mediterranean and Europe and the nearby islands of the Atlantic, and for 2018, adjudicator Dan Cross of Crosshaven – a sailing and cruising man of exceptional experience – decided that it was time the best of these got the top award. Donal Walsh’s 80-day 3450 mile cruise with Clare Morrissey and others aboard Lady Belle, from Dungarvan north to the Hebrides of Scotland, then on to the Orkneys, Shetland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, the Channel Islands, Brittany and Cornwall before the final haul across the Celtic Sea back to Dungarvan, fitted the bill to perfection.
While Lady Belle enjoyed some of the great weather of June and July, the sheer length of time which a 3450-mile cruise of this type involved inevitably saw them experience gales – 12 in all – and the weather was well broken when they returned home in August.
They came back to find that June and July in Ireland had been perfect weather, ideal for cruising home waters, so not surprisingly the other trophies allocated by Dan Cross see an emphasis on those who took best advantage of this, with the Strangford Cup for an alternative best cruise going to Derek White of Strangford for his leisurely and very convivial summery circuit of Ireland with his wife Viv on their vintage Fastnet 34 Ballyclaire.
The fact that the northerners take their holidays in July while those in the south see August as the holiday time worked in the northerners’ favour with 2018’s weather patterns, as the former got idyllic conditions for several detailed cruises in Irish waters. Another Strangford Lough boat – Peter Mullan’s Sun Odyssey 12m Oyster Bay – simply took advantage of the good weather to cruise gently to West Cork and back with the Voyage Purpose being an inspection of the historic ketch Ilen nearing completion of her restoration at Oldcourt near Baltimore, and he won the Glengarriff Trophy for his charming write-up.
Peter Mullen’s easy-going cruise
As it happens, Ilen figured again in the awards, as the ICC’s Western Committee allocated the Aran Islands Trophy to Gary MacMahon of Limerick for his inspirational leadership of this project. But meanwhile Peter Mullen’s easy-going cruise produced the best of the many 2018 sunset images in the ICC Annual, though perhaps you wouldn’t immediately guess its location - it was taken in the workaday port of Arklow.
Meanwhile, far to the northwest, Paul McSorley and John Gray voyaged from Lough Swilly out to Rockall and back under sail only in the Westerly Falcon 35 Viking Lord, “sail only” being a requirement as they wished to qualify for the Azores & Back Race. When they finally got to that distant and lonely rock, like everyone else they were surprised by just how small it is. But to prove they’d been there, they took an Irish product placement image of themselves with Rockall between them, framed by a packet of Tayto Crisps from County Meath and a bottle of Belfast Ale. Last night, they received the ICC’s Rockabill Trophy for seamanship for a job well done.
One of the ICC’s most senior and significant trophies is the Round Ireland Cup, and for 2018 it goes to one of the club’s most senior and significant boats, the 1890 Cobh-built 32ft cutter Winifreda, owned for generations by the Villiers –Stuart family. Everyone knows her as Winnie, and she’s all boat - the biggest 32-footer you ever saw - for she was built of double-skinned teak as a workboat in order to transport gunpowder and ammunition from the naval base at Haulbowline in Cork Harbour out to the forts at the harbour entrance.
1890 Cobh-built 32ft cutter Winifreda
It’s said that her hull planking is of such high quality that none of it has ever needed to be replaced, which at 129 years is quite something. But above deck and within the hull, she has been very cleverly altered to become a comfortable Bermudan-rigged cruising cutter, and in this form she has cruised thousands of miles.
These days, her custodian is Gary Villiers-Stuart and he has her based at Ulva Ferry on the West Coast of Mull in Scotland. But as she has been in the family since 1918 and was based for many years at the ancestral territory in West Waterford, he reckoned the centenary of ownership year of 2018 merited an anti-clockwise circuit of Ireland with the emphasis on West Waterford and particularly Helvick, where Winnie was worked as a fishing boat before she eventually was converted to a cruising cutter. It was some cruise, challenging at times and hugely sociable when special ports were reached, and the entire project exactly fits the Round Ireland Cup purposes.
Not everyone stayed in Ireland to avail of the good weather. Peter Fernie of Galway with his little Moody 27 Mystic decided a season or two in the usually more summery weather of Galicia had become a priority, but after a seamanlike crossing of the Bay of Biscay direct from Dingle, he arrived to find the rain in Spain while a call home revealed that summer had come. But he very worthily received the Marie Trophy for the best cruise by a boat under 30ft donated by northern skipper Michael McKee, who in turn was presented with the Wright Salver for his years of service (since 1962) to the club. And meanwhile back in Galicia, summer duly reasserted itself, but even so several ICC boats which have been based there since the club’s Galicia Rally in 2016 decided it was time to cruise home in order to be comfortably in place for the Royal Cork’s Tricentenary in 2020.
That in turn presented the adjudicator with a selection of fine cruises well worthy of trophies, but the main choices had been made, and in order to reflect the wide scope of the Annual’s contents, Dan Cross recognised cruises by members in non-club boats in more distant areas, including one by John Duggan into eastern Sweden (the Wild Goose Cup) while the Fingal Cup for the log which the adjudicator most enjoyed went to Ed Wheeler for his entertaining account of a jaunt through the remote fjords of southwest New Zealand.
Much nearer home, the business of boat delivery after a successful purchase in Europe is part of ICC life, and second-generation ICC member John O’Rahilly of Dun Laoghaire made such an efficient yet enjoyable job out of bringing his newly-acquired Wauquiez Gladiateur home from The Netherlands in just eight days that the adjudicator reckoned the project merited the Fortnight Cup, a senior ICC trophy which dates back to the days when people had jobs of regular hours, and with clearly-defined holiday periods.
John B Kearney Cup
Two of the ICC’s most eminent early members were designer-builder John B Kearney and 1925 Fastnet Race veteran Harry Donegan, and they are remembered with the John B Kearney Cup - an open award for an outstanding contribution to Irish sailing – and the Donegan Memorial Trophy, in the gift of the club’s Eastern Committee to honour someone special in their region.
The John B Kearney Cup went to Gregor McGuckin, hero of the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe race for his inspiring attempt to rescue an injured fellow-competitor when he himself was sailing under jury rig after dismasting in the Southern Indian Ocean, while the Donegan Trophy celebrated the many achievements of former ICC Commodore Peter Killen of Malahide, whose cruising has included outstanding ventures both to the Arctic and Antarctic, while at home he has been a tireless worker behalf of both the club and the RNLI.
However, for those just new to the game, the ICC offers encouragement to writers of their first log for publication in the form of the Perry Greer Bowl for the best such effort, and for 2018 it goes to Jim O’Meara of Cobh for his informative account of a detailed anti-clockwise circuit of the Bay of Biscay from northwest Spain, with his Jeanneau 37 Second Chance now laid-up in Brittany, poised to sail for home in the summer of 2019.
In all, there are 28 hugely varied cruising logs covering thousands of miles and dozens of cruising grounds in the new ICC Annual, the second one to be edited by Maire Breathnach (it’s Dungarvan again…), and she does it with style and skill.
The 1961 Round Ireland Cruise
One of the most attractive of her additions to the contents is a delve into the archives of cruises past, and this year’s is a gem – the 1961 Round Ireland Cruise from Carrickfergus by the tiny 18ft Belfast Lough Waverley Class keelboat Durward, beautifully written up as “The Time of Our Lives” by Kevin MacLaverty, who was crewed by his younger brother Colm and Michael Clarke.
Kevin and Colm are alas no longer with us, but Michael Clarke at 78 is still very much part of the sailing scene – at 78 he is Admiral of Lough Erne Yacht Club, Father of the J/24 Class, and a couple of years ago he was cruising round Ireland again, this time with Rob Henshall ICC in the Endurance 35 ketch Inspiration from Lough Swilly.
Michael Clarke came up with the goods for Maire Breathnach to beef up the 1961 log of Durward, and it’s a treasure trove of memories from 58 years ago. In those days, detailed cruises of Ireland’s west coast were a rarity, and for many sailors from elsewhere, the occasionally-sighted currach and even rarer Galway Hookers were much more a matter of wonder than they are nowadays, when new boats of all sizes to the traditional designs are being built, and people such as ICC member James Cahill of Westport have gone to the trouble of assembling a collection of 14 small craft to cover every known currach type.
But back in 1961, there was a pessimistic assumption that such boats would disappear in the face of progress, and even though Durward met her first currach in Blasket Sound, with the little black boat sailing in from the then-inhabited Great Blasket Island, within three years the last islanders had left to live on the mainland.
Now we know much more of these boats and their places and people, and hooker and currach racing is a feature of many parts of the coast. But in 1961, it was a very different world, a world in which taking an 18ft keelboat totally unaccompanied round Ireland required courage of a high order, and in recognition of this, the inclusion of the 1961 Durward log in the latest Irish Cruising Club Annual is something very special indeed
Lough Ree Yacht Club at Ballyglass, where the spacious waters of the great Shannon lake start to narrow back to river size for the passage south through Athlone, is already well into planning for its Quarter Millennium in 2020. Founded in 1770, its history ranks it second only to the Royal Cork YC of 1720 in the global seniority stakes.
But on Saturday, when it provided the hospitable centre-of-Ireland location for the fully-booked all day Irish Sailing Annual Cruising Conference organised by Gail MacAllister, the focus was very much on the present and future of cruising. A well-chosen range of topics and speakers absorbed the attention of a sailing and boating population which may not grab the headlines in the same way as the racing brigade, but countrywide their numbers are probably greater, while participants included racers who cruise with equal enthusiasm.
Lough Ree YC Commodore Garrett Leech and Irish Sailing President Jack Roy opened the varied proceedings, their own experiences setting the tone. The Leech family is synonymous with active Shannon cruising and racing, and Garrett’s brother John is Commodore of Lough Derg YC. As for the President, while he may be best known for his many competitive participations in a variety of boats and continuing race officer duties, these days he is also spreading his cruising horizons with the fine Hallberg Rassy 46 Tangaroa.
Thus he is personally well aware that though the legislation for the Irish version of a Small Ships Register was enacted as long ago as 2014, Irish Sailing is still working on behalf of those whom it represents to get it up and running. This lack of priority given to some official interactions with the recreational boating community was echoed by one of the afternoon’s speakers, Irish Cruising Club Sailing Directions Editor Norman Kean.
He has been ICC Directions Editor since 2005, but for the last three years he has also been on the Irish Sailing Representation Group, specializing in the problems with the official attitude to the changed situation in regard to use of red or green diesel, and he brought the conference up to date on developments there which - to say the least - are slow.
However, if there was a theme to this conference on many topics, it was the positive approach to problem-solving for cruising folk, and the first presentation by Paul Scannell and Mary Healy - on how they have taken to prudent sea coastal cruising with their formerly inland waterways 41-year-old Broom 37 motor-cruiser Arthur – provided much of practical interest for sail and power enthusiasts alike.
The harsh reality of the open sea at its most aggressive was the topic of Kylie McMillan’s presentation, which stemmed from her role as a crew-member aboard the J/109 Jedi when they’d a man-overboard situation off the west coast in strong to gale northerly headwinds during the 2018 Volvo Round Ireland Race. The exemplary and speedy retrieval controlled by First Mate Kenneth Rumball of the Irish National Sailing School has deservedly been awarded the RORC’s Seamanship Trophy, and Kylie’s gripping account of the experience brought the whole event to life.
The other side of sea rescues was then explored by Keith Devaney, Technical Crew Manager of CHC Helicopters who run the five state-of-the-art Sikorsky S92s on behalf of the Irish Coastguard. Keith is responsible for all 37 technical crew (the Winchmen) in the service, and after the self-help Jedi presentation, the air-sea rescue view was an intriguingly different angle.
The morning session was completed with experienced cruiser Vera Quinlan of Kinvara on Galway Bay (she has been sailing since the age of 10) presenting an informative video on her plans to do a 15-month Atlantic circuit cruise with her family – including Lilian (11) and Ruari (9) - on their Bruce Roberts-designed Mauritius 43 Daru. As she works in the INFOMAR programme with the Marine Institute, although she’ll be taking a career break it will be with a professional flavour, surveying sea conditions and placing an oceanographic buoy along the way.
After a sociable break for an excellent lunch, the ecological conditions of our oceans was very much the theme of the first afternoon speaker, ocean racing legend Damian Foxall, who has recently been appointed Irish Sailing’s Sustainability Ambassador. His CV in completing 10 round-the-world races with its close-up experience of the increasingly polluted state of our oceans now informs his entire approach to environmental matters, and he was passionate in his determination to make all sailors aware of the roles they have to play in reversing the trend.
One longterm development which will be significant in this is increased use of electric power as the basis of marine engines. But for most boats, the contemporary reality is still the standard internal combustion engine started by battery power. Toni O’Leary of Union Chandlery is typical in that her classic Contessa 26 in Cork Harbour has the diesel engine with battery support combination. As Technical Sales Supervisor with Union Chandlery for the last 16 years specialising in the electronics, electric and marine hardware divisions, she was able to give the best advice about proper on-board battery management, still an area of mystery to many boat-owners.
Norman Kean’s contribution was naturally well spiced with his own salty wisdom as a hugely-experienced cruising man, one who moreover is never reluctant to give his clear and sound views on the vast array of nautical topics with which he is fully conversant. But after he’d outlined the problems with fuel sourcing for recreational boats on Irelands remoter coasts and the apparent official indifference to it, some of the less dedicated attendees might well have wondered if the sometimes intangible benefits of cruising outweigh its many challenges.
This question was almost immediately answered by the final speaker, Niall Hatch of Bird Watch Ireland, whose guidance through the coastal birds of Ireland and their identification was a reminder of the many rewards of cruising at its best, though he also gave forceful reminders of the hazards of plastic waste. That said, we take it for granted that the close and easy sighting of seabirds in their element is part of every cruising day, just as we’re almost blasé about the regular appearance of whales, dolphins and porpoises off coastlines of breath-taking beauty, but Niall Hatch’s presentation was an eloquent reminder of the special pleasures cruising provides.
Thus this friendly conference – which had seen every presentation followed by insightful questions from the audience - concluded on a specially pleasant note which sent everyone on the road home with their interest in cruising well refreshed. As Gail MacAllister admits, they may have tried to pack too much into the busy day. But there wasn’t one item anyone would wish to have removed. And thanks to the sponsorship of Union Chandlery and Kilrush Marina, with additional support from UK Sails Ireland, Aster Yachting, W1DA, VHF.ie-training, and the Irish National Sailing School, it was a comprehensive success, buoyed up by the unstintingly friendly and very hospitable approach of Lough Ree Yacht Club.
The Irish Sailing Cruising Conference heads inland this year so that sailors from around the country can join each other for a day of speakers, presentations, storytellers and a social lunch. Lough Ree Yacht Club is known for their warm welcome and excellent facilities and will be hosting the conference on Saturday 16th February, 11 am to 5 pm.
As previously reported by Afloat.ie last month, there is a fascinating line up of inspiring speakers, all professionals in their field and keen to share a story and pass on some advice. Tickets are available directly on Eventbrite here
Taking care of our oceans and waterways is an international concern and has a direct impact on our sport and lifestyle. Round the world ocean sailor and 11th Hour Racing Sustainability Manager in the 2018 Volvo Ocean Race, Damian Foxall, will give an insight into sustainability and the changes Volvo Ocean Race made. And to compliment Damian, Niall Hatch of Bird Watch Ireland will be discussing the lives of our incredible range of coastal birds and giving tips on identification at sea.
"Niall Hatch of Bird Watch Ireland will give tips on identification at sea"
Ocean going sailors will be intrigued by the story of Paul Scannell and Mary Healy’s cruise round Ireland (very carefully!) in a 41-year-old inland waterways vessel. We all know how lumpy it can get out on the west and north west coast and these guys really know how to read weather charts and go when the going is good. “It is all about the prep and good crew.” says Paul.
Man over board is always a big concern and when one of Kylie McMillan’s fellow crew members fell overboard at night while racing round Ireland, the importance of having a plan and good training probably saved a life. Following requests from last year, Technical Crew Manager Keith Devaney and Chief Crewman Benny Meehan will be presenting on how to manage a helicopter lift.
Vera Quinlan is preparing to sail the Atlantic circuit with her two children under 12 and will be sharing a vlog on the work involved. Battery management is a big issue in this age of numerous tablets, phones and electronic equipment on board, so Toni of Union Chandlery will give everyone some advice on battery management on-board. And Norman Kean will bring everyone up to date with the most recent developments in leisure craft diesel and the impact it has on coastal sailing.
The continued support of sponsors Union Chandlery make this event possible and chandlery specialist Toni O'Leary will be on hand to give personal advice all day. Lunch, teas and coffees are included in the conference ticket, plus every attendee will enter a draw to win a Standard Horizon HX300E Handheld VHF from Union Chandlery. Kilrush Marina are also supporting the event this year and one lucky attendee will win a week’s marina berthage and sling wash, PLUS 4 attendees can win a night in their fantastic floating pods. And as always Irish Cruising Club Publications will also be offering a few free copies of their cruising guides
Tickets for Members are at a cost of €25 and non-members €30 (plus booking fee).
You can contact Gail MacAllister directly if you have any questions about the event on [email protected]
Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) has scooped an Atlantic Project Award for its work in leading the Cool Route project. This year’s Atlantic Project Awards were presented today (October 23rd) at a prestigious ceremony at the 5th Atlantic Stakeholder Platform Conference in Vigo, Spain. The Atlantic Project Awards, established in 2016, are designed to honour outstanding success stories achieved by projects in the geographical area covered by the Atlantic Strategy that showcase relevance to the implementation of the Atlantic Action Plan. They promote individual winners and at the same time highlight the incorporation and scaling up of best practices at regional, national, European and international level. This project was funded by the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme. The 2018 Atlantic Award recognises CIT’s work in Creating a Socially Inclusive and Sustainable Model of Regional Development.
The Cool Route project 2015-2018 is led by CIT’s Hincks Centre for Excellence in Entrepreneurship and had partners in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Faroe Islands and Norway. The Cool Route addresses the development of Marine Tourism, through the provision of small pontoons and marinas in peripheral coastal locations, which facilitate visits from all types of vessels, ranging from small private craft to liners. Even very large liners regularly disembark marine visitors using ship’s tenders. The project successfully completed a wide range of research into all aspects of is objectives.
Accepting the award on behalf of CIT from EU Commissioner Mr Karmenu Vella, Dr Orla Flynn, CIT Vice President for External Affairs, praised the staff at CIT and their Cool Route partners around the Northern Periphery and Arctic Area for securing such an excellent recognition of their work and added that she is very proud of the role which CIT has grown and developed throughout the European Union as a partner of first choice in many European Programmes. Dr Flynn advised Commissioner Vella that CIT works with European partners in over 100 different regions covering every EU Member State. CIT also has very active engagements in South East Asia, the USA, and Canada, placing it on a global stage in terms of International Research and Education. “CIT’s global reach in terms of academic quality and research is also mirrored by the significant numbers of International students studying at CIT, which offers a very wide range of courses in many disciplines ranging from level 6 to level 10. CIT and the Institute of Technology Tralee are due to merge to become the Munster Technology University and today’s award will have pride of place in that new Institution” said Dr Flynn.
Is Irish sailing heading south? Are significant sectors of the national fleet heading for new home berths in the Lotus Lands asks W M Nixon.
Every Autumn, we hear of boats which have headed down to southern Brittany or southwest France or northwest Spain, and they not only find a pleasanter summer climate on attractive coastlines with fascinating local culture, but they discover marina and boatyard costs – sometimes thanks to active government subsidies – which are much more manageable than at home, while the facilities, especially as regards boatyards, are often better too.
So when the owners and crew tot up the figures, it seems to be a No-Brainer. Thanks to the Ryanair Effect, they reckon the boat should stay right there. With Ryanair and other budget airlines, we’ve had one of the greatest revolutions in modern life - the ready availability of genuinely cheap air travel to formerly relatively obscure and inaccessible areas. And thanks to it, berthing your boat abroad in some attractive cruising area to the south can actually be a money-saver.
Thus we might argue that Ryanair and its rivals are damaging domestic Irish sailing as we have known it for decades, indeed for centuries, by enabling an important focus to move elsewhere. At traditional Irish sailing’s core, there was the expectation that your boat and your sailing would be within easy reach of home. But it seems that this might have started becoming too much of a good thing. Ready availability may seem a fine ideal, but could it be that the same old sailing just down the road at the same old place, and racing against the same old people, was making participants just a little bit jaded?
And then there’s the unpredictable Irish weather. We may have had an exceptionally “good” spell of weather in 2018 in June and July, but anyone with a feeling for Ireland as a whole realised this was freakish. Ireland simply doesn’t suit having endless sunshine and totally rainless conditions week after week. Anyone who cares about the real Ireland became increasingly uncomfortable with conditions which not only were seriously damaging for agriculture and other things central to Irish life, but it also diminished the benefits of sunshine and a feeling of wellbeing when you did finally got away yourself on the holliers.
In short, good weather at this ludicrous level was unnatural. And often, for sailing, it was windless too. But is this the way our climate is going whether we like it or not? Windy wet winters, and dry, windless, mind-numbingly bright summers seems to be a fairly widely-held prediction among climatologists. Some folk might think it heaven, looking forward to such a thing. But for anyone trying to work, more temperate summertime weather is the better proposition.
And as for rising temperatures globally, apparently, the effect is as though Ireland is moving south by four kilometres every year. And it has been going on for maybe as long as sixty years. Which is comfortably within living memory. It means that for many of us, the Kinsale we knew as kids is long gone - today’s Kinsale is by comparison somewhere down around the balmy Isles of Scilly…..
Certainly, it felt like somewhere very far south indeed of the Isles of Scilly, let alone the Kinsale of our youth, when I was there in July. We were yarning with the crew of a cruising boat from Rush, and our most immediate problem was to get comfortably out of the sun to discuss what cruising folk from one area often do when they meet up with another crew from the home coast – in this case, there in the shade with the sun blazing down on Kinsale, the main topic was developments on Lambay, our own local “big island” off the Fingal coast.
Equally, when some of the many Ryanair-facilitated Galicia-based Irish cruising boats meet up with another boat from their own port out in their adopted corner of sunny Spain, the talk is as likely to be the latest news from home as much as it is an exchange of tasty information about an interesting new harbourside restaurant just up the coast, or a good new marina-and-boatyard which is offering an even better deal than the one they have been already been enjoying for a couple of seasons.
Either way, while you might reasonably suggest that Kinsale in the July sunshine was every bit as attractive as northwest Spain, there’s another key factor. Keeping your boat for at least a few seasons somewhere else, with good sailing in the sun, gets you physically out of Ireland. For sure, you’re still reachable by the mobile. But there’s something about that magic moment when the rubber leaves the runway at the start of your hopefully brief and efficient journey to join the boat which is the true signal of breaking free from the day-to-day concerns which are ever-present when all your sailing is done in Ireland.
Of course, purists will argue that you’ve only really earned your break if you’ve sailed out to Spain or France or wherever, and in the case of the significant group of Irish boats in northwest Spain, for many of them it all started with last year’s Irish Cruising Club Galician Rally with sixty boats, organised so efficiently by Peter Haden and his team. His home port in Ireland is Ballyvaughan on the south shore of Galway Bay, but for many seasons now his Westerly Seahawk Papageno has been Galicia-based, and his acquired local knowledge of the coastline is of high quality.
Shared with fellow ICC members in such a positive way, it speeded the development of the Ryanair Effect, such that some estimates of the number of boats sailed out from Ireland which simply stayed on in northwest Spain after the rally go as high as 40%, which is a significant depletion of the top end of the cruising fleet back home.
And it’s accentuated when you realize that in cruising round the Bay of Biscay, you’ll almost always find Irish cruising boats semi-permanently based at useful ports with handy airport access in the best cruising grounds. Often, they’re based on syndicate ownership, which requires a high level of organization and an ability to live along comfortably with the needs and expectations of others, but then the people in these groups are accustomed to that in their professional and business lives anyway.
When all these cruising folk from different areas meet up at some wintertime gathering in Ireland, in addition to the usual comparisons being made between the attractions of Inishbofin and Cape Clear Island, you’ll find insightful analysis of the appeal of the islands of the Vendee such as Ile d’Yeu and Ile de Re, or islands within the Ria area of Galicia behind the mighty headland of Cape Finisterre. But at such gatherings, you’ll also realize that the Ryanair Effect certainly does not mean that the folk who have links to boats in Galicia or wherever have dropped out of the Irish sailing scene altogether.
On the contrary, with today’s long and hectic Irish sailing programme, they’re frequently afloat in some capacity in home waters when they’re not at their main boat in distant places. The sheer busy-ness of today’s sailing programme – a marked contrast to the leisurely schedules of the early 1900s – is now effectively year-round at some clubs, and it simply broadens the potential scope of sailing.
Nevertheless, with so many other leisure-time activities promoting themselves towards today’s consumers, the diluting results of the Ryanair Effect on our sailing cannot be denied, and it continues to spread with those Irish boats to be found based along all the more attractive coasts of South Biscay. Add in the fact that although the Mediterranean a few years ago was being condemned as too crowded, the opening up of the newer cruising area such as Croatia has long since added yet another distant paradise with reasonably economical berthing options and good air links for Irish sailors, all of which can diminish the attraction of the packages available at home.
But enthusiasm for the Mediterranean is nothing new – Conor O’Brien himself took the world-girdling Saoirse there with his new wife Kitty Clausen in the early 1930s, and they based themselves in the then very sleepy and quiet little Balearic island of Ibiza. Ibiza “sleepy and quiet.”? Now that really does stretch the imagination……
As for Mediterranean sailing having an air of novelty, rather it was more a case of relative inaccessibility through the expense of getting there in a reasonable time. After all, the almost legendary CIM, the Commite International de la Mediterranee which regulates the area’s magnificent fleets of classic yachts, has been in being since 1926.
And this year in just a week’s time, we have the Golden Jubilee of the Middle Sea Race, with a record fleet pushing towards 130 boats making that incomparable start out of Grand Harbour, Valetta. Fifty years of the Middle Sea Race? Yes indeed. But the fact that it is now factored into the sailing programme of many Irish sailors is due in no small part to affordable air travel, which has changed us from being a mid-size island seemingly remote on the edge of Europe into somewhere accessible which just happens to involve an extra hour in a jet plane. Like it or not, the Ryanair Effect is very much part of our modern sailing scene.
Dave FitzGerald lived a hundred lives, and he lived them to the full. His exuberant zest in existence expressed itself in everyday life, in his notable career as a miner, and in his joy in sport - be it sailing, rugby or hunting.
If any activity could be enhanced by what others might think of as a bit of mischief - however harmless- Dave would be game for it. Yet he had a serious side and could be a formidable administrator and manager when the situation required.
Born in Kerry, he was the son of a railway construction engineer whose peripatetic existence took him worldwide, resulting in the young David FitzGerald often travelling considerable distances alone to join his parents when on vacation from school. His own underlying seriousness was indicated by his boyhood ambition to be a miner at international level. To achieve that, he graduated from the Camborne School of Mines in Cornwall, which had been built around the Cornish tin-mining industry, and from it, he went forth to work in the world after being the School Boxing Champion and playing rugby for Cornwall.
Newly married to Jean, an early appointment was as manager of a chromium mine in Baluchistan in northwest Pakistan. It was wild country where he could hunt with a rifle, becoming fondly known as the Emir FitzGerald after he had out-performed the local chieftain in a sports shooting match. He claimed this was an unintended result – he’d meant to miss in order to maintain friendly relations.
His mining contracts took him over much of Asia, Canada and South America, and he was 8,000 feet underground in the St John D’el Rey Gold Mine in Brazil (the deepest in the world) in its final profitable years around 1960, when he received a faint and crackling phone call from Ireland to see would he be interested in opening up a new zinc and lead mining venture in Tynagh in East Galway. It was a rare opportunity to do the job he loved in his homeland, and his arrival in southeast Galway was to set his life path for very many years, and affect all those who got to know this remarkable man as he played a key role in bringing previously unimagined sources of income to an otherwise impoverished area.
As a sportsman, he naturally looked about for ways of attracting others to his areas of interest, and after trying to get a sailing club to thrive on the lake at Loughrea, he and fellow enthusiasts like the late Dave Whitehead reckoned that Galway provided the most likely opportunities. But he had the energy of ten men, and in addition to early attempts at getting sailing going on Lough Atalia within the city, Dave was much involved with Corinthians Rugby Club in the city, actively playing the game until well past the age when most men would have long since hung up their boots.
The hunting field was another passion, and he regularly rode to hounds with the Galway Blazers and the Northeast Galway Hunt. Being Dave, he seemed to specialise in hugely spectacular accidents, a typical one occurring near Athenry, of which he reported: “Luckily, I landed on my head….”
He continued to be concerned that the Galway city area was not availing of its great sea sailing waters, and he played a leading role in persuading Galway Bay SC that the future lay with a base at Renville near Oranmore. He led the way by acquiring a Snapdragon 26 called Pegeen on Dublin Bay, having usefully discovered that the Irish railway system still operated a prehistoric pricing system for the transport of boats on its flatbed trucks.
Pegeen being twin keel, she was ideal for this, and it cost him only seven shillings and sixpence (about 40c in today’s money) to have her transported from the Point Depot in Dublin across Ireland to the quayside in Galway city. Berthed at the little quay in Renville, Pegeeen was the beginnings of what is now the sizeable and modern Galway Bay SC fleet, and with her Dave played a key role in the club’s growth, introducing others to sailing even as he learned more of cruising the West Coast of Ireland until in 1966 he introduced a new thread to sailing in the bay by being elected a member of the Irish Cruising Club.
He was to go on to become the ICC’s first western-based Commodore, introducing many other new members of similar quality to the club. Yet while he was a great man for a party, he was equally renowned for the thoroughness of his approach to administration and management – longtime friend Pierce Purcell recalls how at GBSC committee meetings when Dave was the senior officer, he kept a little notebook in which he personally noted what each committee member had agreed to achieve before the next meeting, and the thought of the quietly probing question at that next meeting invariably ensured that the required action had been taken.
Yet this same serious administrator could be the life and soul of any party. While Commodore of GBSC, one of his duties was to be Santa Claus at the Christmas special, and in December 1981 he arrived into the clubhouse with the full Santa gear astride his hunter, demanding a whiskey for Father Christmas and a pint for the horse…….
As for work, while he was a demanding mine manager, he was deeply into the lore and culture of mining, and his favourite party piece was singing the miners’ anthem, The Ballad of Joe Hill. He sang it very well indeed with true feeling, and longtime friend and shipmate Peter Fernie recalled that sometimes, for extra effect when still in his prime, he sang it while standing on his head.
It was remarkable that a man so busy with work and so involved in sport and socialising was also much immersed in family life with Jean and their three daughters Grainne, Trish and Kathy, but Dave FitGerald was a devoted family man who was to go on to adore his grandchildren, while of his daughters it is Grainne who has most enthusiastically followed his delight in sailing, and particularly in cruising. She has become a leading figure in the Irish Cruising Club, having served on the Committee, then for a period as Honorary Secretary – a notably onerous task with such a diverse and widespread organization – and now she is back on the strength of the Committee while - with her partner Chris Curry - she ensured that Dave continued to sail well into his eighties.
Dave’s own boat-owning career followed the familiar path of gradually increasing in boat sizes as resources and physical powers permitted, and then easing back as the reality of the years took their toll. The little Pegeen was used to the maximum including an award-winning cruise to France, and then he moved up to the Fulmar 32 Pegeen Eile which – with Dave’s enthusiastic crews - proved well able for the challenges of Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard.
His largest craft was the one-off Holman & Pye-designed 40ft Partizan, whose crew needs well served his personal aim that anyone who turned up on the Galway Bay SC slip on an evening of the weekly league, and hoped to sail, would quickly get a place. As with his other boats, Partizan provided a welcoming berth on board for newcomers, and as helpful an introduction to sailing as could be managed by people whose zest for sailing sport was more than matched by their enjoyment of life in general.
With Partizan, Dave FitzGerald gained a place in Irish sailing history through being one of the eleven entries and taking second in line honours in the first Round Ireland Race from Wicklow in 1980, a ground-breaking event he did with such such seasoned shipmates as Denis Cudmore from Cork, Pat Fahey of Galway, Philip McAuliffe (then of Galway, now of Cork), Frank Larkin of Limerick and others. This ambitious project introduced a period when Partizan was a regular participant in events near and far, with Peter Fernie soon adding to the strength to provide Dave FitzGerald with the skilled and congenial ship’s company which made possible an extraordinary programme which almost invariably involved Partizan making an annual round Ireland passage, whether racing or not. Indeed, for a Round Ireland Race, she inevitably went round Ireland twice.
With time moving on, Partizan was becoming too demanding and a newer boat was needed. Dave FitzGerald made a very sensible change to the masthead-rigged Sigma 36 White Heather, which proved ideal for his needs in Galway Bay, yet was well able for longer distances, including a cruise to Spain.
But even for Dave FitzGerald, the pace had to slow. He’d retired from actively working in mining with a farewell party which is still the stuff of legend, and when Joan passed on after they’d lived for many years near Kinvara in Galway Bay’s southeast corner, he accepted that the focus of his family was now in the Dublin area, and settled in comfortable quarters near the south shores of Dublin Bay.
But his huge network of friends was maintained, albeit depleting by the year, and he maintained a lively interest in boats and sailing and club life to the end. His 90th birthday was celebrated at the end of January this year by a party of forty family and friends from mining, sailing and hunting at a special dinner in the library of the Royal St George YC in Dun Laoghaire, rounded out by the birthday boy giving a soulful rendition of The Ballad of Joe Hill, and then telling everyone that if he’d known he was going to live so long, he’d have taken better care of himself.
Now this great man is gone from among us. His funeral was held in Dublin on Friday, and then he was laid to rest in his home parish of Ardrahan in southeast Galway on Tuesday (May 29th), with the wonderful life of Dave FitzGerald celebrated by a congregation which well represented his many interests afloat and ashore, the attendance including Irish Lights Commissioners Chairman John Coyle, Galway Harbour Master Brian Sheridan, Michael Swan of the RNLI, and leading representatives of yacht and sailing clubs in the west and nationally including the Irish Cruising Club.
Single-handed sailor Mervyn Wheatley was taking part for the fifth time in the Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR) to raise funds for The Royal Marines Charity when he encountered hurricane force winds and massive 15m waves in which his boat was capsized. Although it righted itself, it was a shambles, full of water, the steering had failed, all the electrics had ceased and she was taking on water. He had skippered several legs in the Clipper Round the World Race and this would have been his 19th Atlantic Crossing. At the age of 73, the immensely experienced skipper with more than 400,000 miles beneath his keel, made the ‘traumatic decision’ to sink his Formosa 42, Tamarind, to prevent a hazard to other ships and to accept the hospitality of the Cunard Ship the Queen Mary 2. He was rescued thanks to "excellent seamanship" by a tender from the ship, which had been en route to Halifax, Nova Scotia from Southampton.
The Ocean Cruising Club recognised the exemplary seamanship shown by Captain Wells and his crew, so invited him to their Annual Awards Dinner aboard the SS Great Britain where he and Mervyn were reunited for the first time since the Queen Mary 2 docked in Halifax. Both their wives were among the many who applauded as Mervyn presented Captain Wells with an OCC Special Award in thanks for his timely actions.
Mervyn gave an eloquent and entertaining account of the rescue attempts and how his vessel managed to T-bone the QM2 then scrape along her sides, gouging tracks along the perfect paint until a tender was launched to pluck him from the sea. He then enjoyed the full hospitality of the luxury liner, which he admitted he could get used to.
After he received his award, Captain Wells warned the 135 attendees at the OCC Dinner not to tempt fate in order to obtain similar favour from the Cunard lines. He said it was not worth the risk. He continued to note that Mervyn Wheatley is so experienced that it was a pleasure to come to his aid. Captain Wells, Master of the Queen Mary 2 said, "I am honoured to be reunited with Mervyn. He is a highly experienced mariner and was hugely unlucky to have been hit by such a large wave, I was extremely glad we could help get him back to shore safely."
Cruising sailors Fergus and Katherine Quinlan were presented with an international sailing award by the Ocean Cruising Club in April in recognition of their voyage from Galway Bay to Russia and back in one season. The couple sailed Pylades, a 12m van de Stadt-designed cutter, built in steel by Fergus and Katherine at their home at Kinvara on the west coast of Ireland. The voyage was approximately 3800 miles and was of 109 days duration, beginning this time two years ago.
Saturday 14th May 2016: Katherine and I slip Pylades off its mooring at midday and motored west from Kinvara. The sea was quite in the bay, a limpid calmness which extended out beyond the shelter of the Aran Islands. Dolphins accompanied Pylades south, where one pod left off another joined, in the translucent seas they were clearly having fun under a blue sky as they bellied up beneath the bows in a high-speed sex romp. The Blasket Sound and its restless water has many faces but on our first morning underway it was shrouded in a slow fog. Its islands and their outliers were but ghostly images imparting an air of deep melancholy. By contrast the Dursey Sound, a few hours later, was a blaze of bright sunshine with figures who waved us through from both shores.
The Fastnet Rock emerged from a flat ocean in whispers of wind. Reflecting on a previous storm, we motor on our way. The calm allowed the easy sighting of many whales and myriads of dolphins. A waypoint was set for the Seven Stones Light Vessel; it was a cold night on our 3 hour watches. The plotter showing our position and Automatic Identification System [AIS] that of other vessels was, for us, a new experience. We noticed some of the AIS screen images becoming static, an object query revealed that their transmissions were old and thus, we had discovered ‘ghost ships’.
Adding to the nights’ interest, the galley sink refused to drain, grease was the likely culprit. Hot water and chemicals did not sort the problem. Neither did poking with wire. Presses were emptied, the seacock closed and the pipework dismantled, while removing the final connection the bronze flange of the seacock sheared off. Gingerly opening the seacock there was only the tiniest trickle, the skipper plunged a screw driver down the open valve, resulting in the ejection of an impressive lump of grease followed by a 38mm diameter column of solid Atlantic, thankfully the seacock closed to await a new fitting.
17th May; 06.20 abeam Lizard Point and dodging real ships. Entering Plymouth Harbour, we crossed the ‘bridge’ and anchored in the pool west of Drakes Island. Next morning, Pylades moved to the sixty euro a night, Queen Anne Battery Marina. In the adjacent Marine Bazaar, a tail for the sink outlet seacock was located and full flow restored. 13.00, we exit, bound west. ‘Passage Weather’ forecast wind F2 to 3 fair, the met office coastal F4-5 occasionally 6, with rain. The latter was correct, a rotten night at sea, compounded by ghost ships and AIS images approaching at 33 knots, which subsequently materialised as Motor Torpedo Boats. Later the skipper misjudged a trawler and was forced to jibe. Nevertheless, with wind aplenty great progress was made under a double reefed main and half a headsail.
20th May; Portland Bill Light 6 miles to port appeared through a clearing mist, as did the moon, reefs are released. Diverting to Poole Harbour we recollect the near miss of Hilaire Belloc’s yacht Jersey at the adjacent Anvil Point, a mathematical error by Katherine and Pylades almost followed suit – reduced wine rations. At 10.30 we picked a free mooring. Over the next two days we sheltered, work on boat bits, sip wine and watched the passing parade. Diversion came at night with a wind blowing against the strange tides of Poole, we became tide rode overriding the mooring buoy which dragged itself back and forth under the bow with alarming noises. A restless sleep occasionally altering the chaff points on the lines.
22nd May; with tidal gates calculated we sailed for the Needles, the west entrance to the Solent. The Cardinal buoy approached with an alarming bow wave, we passed within a hair’s breadth. Choppy swirling currents carried Pylades to the home of English ‘yachting’, the Solent filled with boats of all descriptions, we saw more boats in the next hours than in the previous ten years. Following in the path of the Howth Gun Runners we put in to Cowes.
A pleasant place, not overtly expensive. While Katherine did not search for a yachting cap as did Mary Spring Rice in July of 1914, we went in search of the Royal Marine Hotel where the crew of Asgard supped as they waited the arrival of the Kelpie. We were miss-informed that the hotel was now the clubhouse of the Royal London Yacht Club. Following consultation with the club records, we were introduced to Mr John Power of whiskey making fame. He was a repository of knowledge regarding the events surrounding the Asgard. To an expanding circle in the club we explained our quest regarding the relative benefits to the Irish people of the 1916 rising and the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. A club member exclaimed it was the most interesting discussion in the club for many a year. We were invited to give a talk on our return, however we explained that our route home was to be via Scotland. Our idea for a drink in the Royal Marine Hotel did not materialise, it had been demolished. As promised, a copy of the skipper’s book ‘The Republic of Reason & The Poverty Philosophy’ was delivered, not sure what The Royal London YC made of that!
23rd May; We took on fuel and reluctantly exited Cowes at 12.00, weaving our way through the showrooms of vessels and the familiar references gleaned from too many years reading – Practical Boat Owner and Yachting Monthly we left the sheltered waters of the Solent. Out of the blue the roar of a low flying fighter, a Spitfire, displayed its unmistakable profile, it banked at mast height around Pylades linking us back to wars and guns. Its electrifying scream brought back boyhood memories of the passionate desire to fly that ultimate air machine.
24th May; 05.00 passing Dungeness Point nuclear power station, a light wind built on the nose, we motored on and tied at a very quiet Dover Marina. Anne Korff from Kinvara arrived for a nostalgic passage to her origins, Germany. We took the aft fitting off the boom to free a jammed reef, top up the tanks and ensured all was well for the channel crossing. Next morning exiting with perfect timing we catch a favourable tide, likewise, with perfect timing the plotter screen went black, it left dozens of moving AIS images but showed neither the chart nor Pylades position. Improvisation was in order, Katherine repeatedly transferred our position from the GPS to the plotter, at least we knew which ship was going to run us down. The procedure kept us busy and worked, considering the amount of information those on board the Asgard and Kelpie had at their disposal in 1914, we could not complain.
From a position south east of the Goodwin sands Pylades proceeded on the requisite 90 degree crossing of the lanes. A few nervous hours in poor visibility dodging ships approaching from the northeast and then the southwest. At the same time the favourable flood tide swept us sideways down on the Ruytingen SW Buoy. This we assumed was the station of the Ruytingen lightship in 1914, the rendezvous for the yachts Asgard, Kelpie and the German Tug Gladiator out of Hamburg. Through the fog of time and history we imagined the racing hearts of the young men and women aboard those yachts on that 12th July as 1500 guns and heavy ammunition boxes were transferred. How could they foretell what glory, what blood, what disaster, these instruments of death would bring? Reflecting on these rich moments of history we were swept in to the deserted Dunkerque marina at 18.45.
26th May; it appears we cannot escape from the shadows of war! Heavy black smoke poured across the town and beaches of Dunkerque, another Spitfire screamed overhead. Vintage warships filled the bay, hundreds of soldiers in WW2 fatigues swarmed in the surf. Film making was underway, it was the 76th anniversary of the Dunkerque evacuation when 338,000 English, French and Belgian soldiers were snatched by a medley of boats, including yachts, from the approaching fascist army. Reflecting on the divisions of nationalism and competitive greed, forces which still destroy countries and people, the skipper works on the reef block which had jammed yet again.
27th May; through a light fog and past the dissipating warships we pushed along the coast to Ostend where we were greeted by the marina manager Patrick and his dog Shifty who promptly bit the skipper, no blood was drawn but might have been if he had one of the Mausers from the Asgard. An easterly wind hardens and keeps us in Ostend on walkabouts and doing odd jobs for four days.
1st June; 06.00 leaving Ostend harbour entrance a fishing boat trailing side nets lunged at us out of the fog, we spun Pylades on its length and headed out to sea. It was a stressful passage, particularly without the AIS, we were constantly transiting between the cockpit and the radar. The alternator failed, the radar was now draining the batteries, thankfully the fog had dissipated by the time we arrived in the Netherlands and tied at Breskins Marina. After much testing and fiddling we sought professional assistance. An electrical wizard wired in a bigger bulb at the control panel and explained in detail why this would solve the problem, the skipper now short €268 pretended he fully understood. In the meantime, Katherine was working her way through every facet of the computer to restore AIS and the Open CPN charts, to no avail. Northeast winds were forecast to blow firmly for the next week which would greatly impede progress towards the Frisian Islands. The marina manager suggested we travel inland north through the Netherlands. Brilliant, we concurred and bought a copy of the ‘Staande Mastroute’ an astonishing amount of information for €20.
3rd June, fog and ripping tides herald our arrival through the lock gates at Vlissingen into the calm and amazing canal system of the Netherlands. Motoring through swirling fog; ghostly traffic lights flashed their signals to proceed or pause as spectral bridges swing or lift before us. The infrastructure for the passage of Pylades is a feast of beautiful engineering and is provided as a vast state funded service. That evening we anchored in a pool off the ‘Jachtsluis’. We sipped wine, the cuckoo’s call echoed along the waterways while thunder rumbled in the distance, it was an excerpt from Beethoven’s 6th, the Pastoral Symphony.
5th June, commencing at 05.30 the day was travelled at 5 knots, looking into a thousand back gardens, gliding over motorways, steering our ship level with house roofs, bridges tilting and turning and children jumping into the canal. In the village of Woubrugge we paid €13.00 and rest. Next morning, we shift at 05.00, it was cold under a clear blue sky. After two further days of canal gliding, we arrived at the outskirts of Amsterdam. Heavy rail and road city traffic dictated a night passage. At midnight, bells clang, lights started to flash, we and one other yacht were ready, huge bridges, two rail and two motorways opened, the lights went green and a loud voice from the dark shouts Go! Go! We slammed the throttle to the floor, Pylades achieved a standing start from zero to 7 knots in seconds.
A minute later the bridges closed and trains and trucks resumed their voyages, our hearts were pounding. Over the next few hours we passed 12 bridges and two sluices, during which a man on a high-Nelly bike with coat tails flapping shouts encouragement as he whizzes past. It was he who opened each bridge as we passed.
Suddenly, white lights and a bow wave filled the canal from wall to wall, two full size commercial barges one pushing the other bore down, panic, the yacht in front slowed, if we followed suit Pylades would lose steerage and be sucked into the barge path. We throttled up, passed the yacht at speed and charged, steel barge-walls slid by a fender width to port. Exiting into the Amstel river at 03.00 we were shattered and bewildered by lights and ships. Thankfully the accompanying yacht suggested that we go back into the canal and tie for the night, this we gratefully did and fell into a fitful sleep.
7th June, Anne Korff left to fly home, we crossed to Amsterdam marina for fuel. By 14.00 we were sailing close hauled across the Markermeer. After a choppy approach into Lelystad, we celebrated our progress with a bottle of bubbly. Head winds on the shoal waters of Ijsselmeer forced the use of full mainsail and engine to batter our way to the calm waters of Lemmer in Friesland. Next day we ground twice as we passed a growing concentration of locks and bridges and had further close encounters with commercial barges.
Entering the pretty town of Leeuwarden, a lock-keeper swung a clog on a fishing line to collect a €7.00 toll. For the service we were getting, one could hardly complain, unfortunately in the rush a sterling coin ended up among the Euros. For this crime we were blocked at the next lock by the only keeper in Holland who couldn’t speak English. We grounded the boat into the canal bank to have an animated discussion, passers-by joined in to translate and placate, the people were astonishingly friendly and helpful. Pylades was waved through and we tied to the canal bank further on. Here we watched an air display and observed a jet-fighter stalling, it didn’t recover. Thankfully the pilot had ejected and landed with cuts, bruises and a few broken bones in a glass house, the jet hit another glasshouse and destroyed its tomato crop.
10th June; on the approaches to the Lauwersmeer in centre of a well-marked channel we ran hard aground. No amount of engine would get us off, we opened the full Genoa but the wind was insufficient to help. Just when we needed a big motorboat, there are none about. Two yachts eventually approached, from the north a traditional lee boarder and one from the south. They combined forces with our engine and got us off. Their shouted instructions were to stay close to the red marks away from the centre channel, every day we got a little more confused. In Yachthaven Lauwersmeer, the chilled bottle in our fridge exploded, we went for pints in the bar. Here we met the only Irish flagged boat of our journey, a Drascombe lugger on its way to sail in the wake of Dulcibella, the featured yacht in ‘The Riddle of the Sands’. A book written by the same Erskine Childers, who’s real life adventures in running rifles from the Ruytingen Lightship back to Howth, we were following.
The next day we passed the final lock and into the Waddenzee. Adjusting to a more solitary life Pylades pushed northwest between the Friesian islands of Ameland and Schiermonnikoog. We grew apprehensive, one of the buoyed routes shown on our chart had disappeared, another, the one we were following headed out into the North Sea and did not correspond with what we had. Proceeding further our soundings decreased and higher grew the sea. Many miles out from the shore where we could barely see the islands were sandbanks and breaking seas. Just when despair was about to consume us, the soundings went from 3 to a more tolerable 10 meters. For a crew used to the generous depths of the west coast, the experience was to say the least, stressful.
An easterly wind and tidal calculations decided that we should return to shoal water and land at the German Island of Borkum, again the entrance channel was surrounded by ribbons of banks with erratically breaking seas, it was indeed, a riddle of the sands. We were trying to imagine the difficulties without GPS, to get accurate bearings on the low islands would have been, tricky. An ill designed pilot launch passed very close at speed and buried us in its wash, one of its crew ran to its stern waving an apology. In the still harbour of Borkum we lay alongside a friendly German yacht.
12th June; a bus ride into a fairly dull holiday resort town, a German version of Butlin’s Holiday Camp. Noon next day we headed for deep water. With the wind on the nose we motor tack and battered our way 80 miles overnight to the river Elbe and Brunsbùttel. During the darkest hours, we saw a bank of lights stretching miles across our track, it was an anchor field. Like an ant amongst the elephants we threaded our way through 18 anchored light festooned vessels. 03.00 on this wet grey morning we left the German Bight and were sucked by the tide into the Elbe, sticking to the starboard edge of the channel a chain of grey ships with frothing bows overtake on their way to Hamburg. We found a gap in the procession and gunning the engine, skidded across the river to the gates of the Kiel Canal.
By 09.00 we were in the first lock with a ship and a scattering of small boats which had materialised out of the rain. This 60-mile short cut into the Baltic was built primarily to facilitate German Naval power prior to the First World War, it is so wide and straight that much of the passage could be on auto-pilot. Halfway along the canal we tied to the rain soaked marina at Rendsburg, an interesting medieval town.
15th June; 12.30 transiting the final lock, we entered the Baltic, canal fees, to our delight had been abolished. The marina at Kiel was fairly full, but after much manoeuvring we found a slot for €20 per night. Walking the city, thundering rain forced us into a shopping mall and hunger forced burgers and chips. A €10 taxi with busy wipers got us back to the Pylades wine bar. The morning brought fair weather, hiring a pair of high bikes we whizzed along the myriad of cycle lanes in a city where bicycles and pedestrians seem to have priority. Our new transport system shuffled, oil, laundry, shopping and finally a new chemical toilet for the confined waters of the Baltic and canals. The toilet on Katherine’s bike combined with a tricky back-peddle brake saw her crashing, thankfully without damage to either to rider or goods.
17th June; Kiel Week, the biggest sailing festival in the world with 2000 boats partaking in all sorts of events commences. To make space, we exit for the bleak and shallow marina at Wendtorf. Next morning found us underway to the island of Bornholm, Denmark. A securite call from German warship Rothwild warned of an underwater explosion at 12.45. the position given was about seven miles off, the warning was repeated every fifteen minutes and a final countdown over channel 16 in which the whole bridge of the warship participated. A few seconds after the zero there was a mighty dull double thump followed by an eerie silence. The skipper will regret for life, not calling and ascertaining that all was well on the warship, wishing them well and to enjoy the large fish supper. The wind was westerly and picking, under two reefs and some Genoa, cheered by a red sunset and under a full moon we fly along. Ships lights slid by in all directions. The next morning with more luck than ability the skipper cracked the electronic glitch, the AIS, GPS and the electronic charts were finally brought back together, bliss.
19th June; the following sea grew boisterous and the water shoal as we approached Ronne harbour in Bornholm. Calling the harbour for advice they said “you will probably be OK”. Apprehension peaked when there was no entrance green buoy as shown on the chart. As we rounded into the harbour the layout had changed from the chart, we tie and spend a day shopping, walking and fixing the staysail.
21st June; Mid-summer, was cold and the rain poured, but hope springs eternal, the barometer was 1011 and rising. Behind schedule, we skipped Poland and headed to Lithuania, with one reef in the main and a poled-out Genoa we ran east. An urgent call on the VHF stated that we had entered a prohibited area, a large tug escorted us away, it was only a minor course deviation. Air pollution in the Baltic on a clear day showed a brown mist on all horizons and at night only the glow of the main stars penetrated, of the milky way there was no trace. At dawn on the 23rd we entered the extensive harbour of Klaipeda, found a deserted yacht harbour and slept. A few hours later a gentle knocking and a kind face asked to move to Castle Harbour, “not a bother” we replied. Passing through an intriguing hand operated swing bridge we tied at a picturesque marina. The harbour master said they ‘maybe’ never had an Irish boat, he unfurled an Irish flag, we thanked him, even if it looks Italian.
24th June; A warm day spent walking the attractive town and sipping coffee in sidewalk cafes, people watching. Observing the almost complete absence of advertising and women wearing high heels, we developed an opinion, imagined or otherwise, that in the former countries of the USSR women walked as though they were about to go on stage, was it all that socialist gym and ballet? The next day calm and under a blue sky we pushed north. To starboard an interminal ribbon of sand that comprised the coasts of Lithuania and Latvia backed by a pine forest, its perfume washed over us. At 21.00 the idle offshore breeze got bored and dumped a squall with 35knots of wind, thunder and lightning on us, the sea built and died quickly.
26th June; 07.00 arrived Ventspils in Latvia and tied bow on with stern buoy. The only boat in the marina we received a warm welcome. We visited the Castle of the Livonian Order, basically they were an armed gang from 1230’s involved in various power grabs while enforcing the dominant superstitions of the era as a cover. Next morning went for a plunge off the nudist beach, the grey morning did not invite a long stay. Exited at 18.00 into a fine night with a light westerly a few ‘cities of light’ liners passed on their way to and from Riga. In the calm morning, we entered the three-mile approach to Kuressaare on the island of Saaremaa, Estonia. Narrow and only 2.7 meters deep with birds standing on shingle beaches at both sides of the boat. We were the second Irish boat in 12 years, in our honour, the tricolour was hoisted on the marina’s yardarm. There were 132 spaces in the marina with six boats.
Hiring a 49cc scooter with helmets, we both squeezed on to the tiny bike and roared off into town. Katherine shouted from aft to keep the speed down, the skipper retorted that we were doing just over 20 mph and were at full power. We got a camping gaz cylinder filled €5.00, go shopping, do the sights and rode into town for beers, our nightmare would be a line of 1000cc ‘angel’ bikes in front of the pub, thankfully there were none, our image and self-esteem are maintained! Next morn after a swim in murky tepid water, Katherine attempted wheelies on the scooter and we hand it back.
30th June; at dawn, we pushed north through the shoal channels between Hiiumaa and Vormsi and out into the Gulf of Finland, only two yachts sighted. Next day we entered the guest harbour of Pirita, built for the Moscow Olympics of 1980, now ‘down at heel’. The bus took about 15 minutes to the medieval city of Tallinn, fascinating with winding narrow streets and myriads of little bars and restaurants. An evening of splendid wine, food and ambiance in ‘Franks Bar’. Next day more exploration soaking up its history and architecture, we examined a spacious church which having been used as a centre for dance during the socialist period was gloomily being restored for worship.
3rd July 03.00 a red thundery dawn with a light wind astern, the barometer was falling, there were warning of gales as we crossed the Gulf of Finland bound for Haapasaari, Finland. Some ships were transiting the gulf, but no other yachts were sighted. Closing the Russian border, the GPS position of Pylades went wild, jumping a mile back west, then east, then north, it took about 15minutes to settle down. In the meantime, the skipper was transferring ‘old type’ compass fixes on to a chart. With binoculars, we picked out the leading channel buoys. Later asking the Finnish Border Guard, who might be responsible, “impossible to know” is the answer, the Russians, the Americans or NATO. We entered the tiny landlocked harbour and tied at a timber pier, unfortunately on top of a rock, where, in a rising gale we bumped through the night. Next morning at the diesel dock, Sonia the all-round shopkeeper, dock and diesel master, switched on the pump whilst instructing that if the dock pump did not work, “tickle it with your finger, my pump I think she is a woman”. As the rain lashed and the wind howled we fill with diesel and wandered the beautiful island. Costs were €10.00 per night.
An islander knocked on the boat and invited us to the community centre where an exhibition of historical photographs was on display, then to his house to meet his father. We learned about Haapasaari and its history. There are 70 houses on the island, during the winter only about 10 are occupied. Each house has a flagpole, when occupied they hoist a long tail version of the national flag, to inform all that help or company is available. This custom seems to prevail throughout Finland and Sweden. He warned us that the island has ticks some of which carry a risk of infection and advised against walking on the grass barefoot, adding that his brother was infected resulting in brain damage. We think they need a St. Patrick here to go banishing!
6th July; the gales ease, barometer 995 and rising, we checked out with the Finnish border guard and at 13.30 set course for Russia. At 15.35 crossing the border, we contacted the Russian Coast Guard, a deep gravelly voice bade us proceed. Hours later they call, “yacht Pylades, confirm that you are eight cables south of Somers Island”, we respond, correct that is our position; “proceed”. By 03.00 the following morning the westerly wind and sea had increase. While the marked shipping lane is dredged to accommodate cruise liners the approach to the Kronstadt had the feel of shoal water. During the final mile, the waves became very confused bouncing back from the fort walls, we hand steered. Through the entrance the lights were blinding, we approached the dock a woman in a soviet looking uniform booms “tie here”. The skipper leapt ashore and shook hands, she almost smiled and instructed regarding passports and
A thin uniform with a mustache arrived, he searched the ship and pulled out all our wine bottles. We believed that wine would be exorbitant in Sweden and Finland and loaded in Germany for the voyage. He photographed the hoard and left. Customs arrived and explained that we were only allowed four bottles each, much rancour and debate followed, but they had superior firepower so we lost about 45 bottles. The whole procedure had taken six hours, with resolute stoicism we re-hoisted sail and scudded east before the rain and wind.
On our final approach the thudding beat of Shostakovich’s 7th ‘The Leningrad symphony’ fills the cockpit. It had been first performed when the city was under siege by the German and Finnish armies, the most lethal siege in history, over 900-days one and a half million people died from bombardment and starvation. Hitler commanded that it be erased. The musicians who played at that heroic première were starving, three had died during rehearsals. To silence German forces, a Soviet military offensive, was launched just prior to the performance which was broadcast live to the city and German lines by loudspeakers. This première was considered by music critics to be one of the most important artistic performances of the war, its psychological and political effects triumphed over the soulless Nazi war machine. The concert prompted an hour-long ovation, one that still echoes.
High speed hydrofoil ferries darted past in all directions concentrated the mind, we kept our cool and maintained slow, steady, progress along the starboard edge of the channel. We then lost our cool when we saw a bridge under construction across our course to the marina, it was not shown on our chart. We steered for the unfinished gap; (later we were informed that our air draft of 15meters would not have been a problem anywhere under the bridge). The buoyage at the other side was missing so we gingerly sounded our way into the Central Yacht Club Marina. There, to our delight, through the rain, we saw the unmistakable Vladimir Ivankiv, waving. After handshakes and hugs we realised that we had reached the Russian Federation and the end of our journey east.
8th July; In need of exercise, we walked to the centre of Petersburg, the city slowly opened before us with all its waterways and magnificent architecture, even if somewhat gaudy to west European eyes. Soaking ourselves in its ambiance, we had a delightful lunch in town and travelled back to base on the amazing metro. One never had to wait for a train, it was always there or just coming. The grip of the new oligarch culture is apparent. The copious collective ‘propaganda’ posters pushing for gender equality, race equality and international solidarity of the soviet years, have been replaced with ‘advertising’ for personal consumer goods, motor cars and white teeth.
After another day exploring the city, we caught a train to Moscow on Sunday morning, traveling at up to 150 miles per hour, the Sapsan Express covered the 400 miles in under four hours. At €75 per night for two including breakfast, the hotel was excellent, how large the bed seemed after our boat bunk? The rest of the day was devoted to sightseeing. The scale of the city is vast, its people overtly friendly. The written language is extremely difficult to decipher, such as when we were trying to match a street name to a map, however when we did produced a map, people inevitable approached and would go out of their way to help and explai
And we danced by the light of the moon When Katherine was a young girl, she dreamed that one day she would dance in Red Square. That evening at Kremlin’s wall, we danced by the light of the moon.
13th July; we met with representatives of the Moscow Museum of Architecture as part of our quest to bring an exhibition of VKhuTEMAS to Ireland, but that is another story, click on the following….. Bolshevik Avant-garde
Our return to Pylades was via the romantic overnight sleeper train, all booked by Vladimir, our amazing OCC port officer. We wandered Petersburg again, unfortunately two places on our visiting list, the battleship Aurora had been removed and the Museum on Siege of Leningrad was shut and looking neglected. (The Aurora has been refurbished and is now back on station).
Time to leave, bidding farewell to Vladimir we presented him with the skipper’s book, took some photos and headed for the Kronstadt. We checked out without incident although the customs officer looked distinctly sheepish. Outside, the westerly wind was throwing up a nasty sea, progress was slow and the engine, being in high gear was complaining bitterly. We had to run off downwind to change the pitch of the Gori propeller, turning up with higher revolutions, we hoisted the mainsail and for six hours battered our way west. At 17.00 the wind had eased and we reset the propeller pitch, eventually the wind died completely and the sea went silky smooth. Crossing from Russian to Finnish waters washed with the light of a spectacular sunrise, Sibelius’s ‘Finlandia’ filled the air.
15th July; 04.00 tied at the Custom dock in Haapasaari and slept for five hours. By 09.45 were cleared and on our way. The wind was east 20 to 30 knots giving exhilarating sailing through the archipelago, due to their twisting nature most of the passages required hand steering and this was to hold true until departing Sweden. Pylades is set up with its plotter at the navigation table, waypoints being transferred to a simple above deck pointer, no problem for long distance, but the more common arrangement of an aft wheel and instruments would be handier in these waters. Our arrival in Lovisa was entertaining for the crowds gathered for the traditional boat festival. In the fresh breeze the skippers boat handling went pear-shaped, but an able seaman boarded to bring us to a different berth, we ran aground. Eventually we got off, got in, tied and settled. The town was pleasant, immaculately clean, built on a strict grid pattern. We visited the cathedral; the caretaker described its history explaining that the town has 8000 inhabitants and this church had services every day and two on Sunday. Now they have just one on Sunday with about 25 to 30 people in attendance. The building is extensively used for music recitals.
17th July; strong wind warnings persist in the gulf but we got used to its complexities and its swell free sheltered waters. It was cold and grey as we sailed west, by 16.00 we were in Helsinki, the marina was €25.00 a night, excellent showers and in the centre of a magnificent city, we loved it. For two days we luxuriated in the reflected ambiance of one of the world’s most egalitarian and advanced societies. We sat at a sidewalk bar and shared an excellent bottle of cava for €15.00, counted our blessings and deliberated on how one might develop such a society back home.
19th July; a calm summers day motoring until 17.00 we anchored off the fairway near Barósund. an idyllic location. The following morning at 05.30 we were under way, the water a mirror giving a perfect double take on this land of a thousand islands. In the city of Hanko, we caught up on our laundry and fixed the persistent leak in the pumped water system by replacing the accumulator tank with a new length of pipe. In this sociable harbour, Pylades being steel and grey with wind vane self-steering and solar panels, sparked discussions on boats and sailing grounds. More than a few expressed reservations about sailing in the tides and swell off the Atlantic seaboard, perhaps they had a point!
22nd July; 05.30 tricky exit as we were boxed in with stern lines, but get away without disturbing the natives. On these early mornings we seldom met other boats in the channels, by 10.00 Finnish and Swedish flotillas were passing in all directions until about 17.00 when all quietens. Later in the day we entered the archipelago of Äland, anchoring near Kökar. We have never used the engine as much but with calms, contrary winds and twisting channels one had little choice. On the afternoon of the 23rd July we tied at Marieholm, capital of the Äland Islands, a port busy with cruise liners, ferries and the last of their splendid old sail trading ships. We walked the woods to town and slept well. A troop of Irish scouts cruising on a tall ship paid us a visit, it was refreshing to see such a fine bunch of boys and girls.
25th July; the wind vane came out of hibernation, even though the passage to Sweden had only 25 miles of open water. There were ferries and even a few boats on passage, we anchored off Söederfladen and changed courtesy flag and timepieces. Next morn, we were away at 04.30 inhaling the wonderful pine fresh air of Sweden, by 13.00 everywhere one looked there were pleasure boats and ferries of all sizes. Entering the marina at Nynäshamns in a stiff breeze, our effort to get an instant bowline around the stern buoy went wrong and we tied it around the runner attachment, the wind put tons of pressure on the knot and we had to cut our way out. Hoping no one was watching, we went for an easier berth.
The marina had an excellent shower area, a shoe rack at the entrance, a spacious undressing room, an even larger open shower room, then a sauna where in searing heat one looked at boats through large triple glazed windows. A delightful ritual, even down to the dousing of coals to envelop the naked in steam. This homage to the body has a humanist feeling, perhaps a replacement to a declining theist beliefs. But maybe the explanation is more mundane, with few decent pubs, where else to spend long Nordic nights.
An expensive day, engine oil and gearbox ATF were changed and the Gota Canal booked on line for €718.00. We went to the ‘Systembolaget’ these are a chain of state owned shops for selling any alcohol over 4% proof. The prices were not as bad as we were led to believe- not as cheap as Germany- but definitely not worth the effort of stocking there and losing it at the Kronstadt. The shops were elegant, well stocked and the staff most helpful. A staff member explained that they are a state monopoly, they search the world for excellent wines, “our minimum purchase is 50,000 bottles, so we get quality wine at good prices for our people”.
29 July; Our navigation had been pretty good to-date, we were good at dodging trees, but that day we were heading into the wrong woods, a quick turn from the inlet leading to Norrköping to the correct one to Mem. We tied at Arkósund and uncovered the main Swedish fetish, it’s not sex or saunas, it is ice cream. Everywhere, queues for ice-cream. The ground shook as a motorcycle gang rode into town, studded jackets, tattoos, rings everywhere, the menacing formation pulled up in line and kick dirt as they sauntered into – an ice-cream parlour! Lutheran-bikers we concluded, the type who roar into town, fix things, pick up litter and roar off.
In the upper reaches of the Slätbaken inlet the scenery became rural, cattle in the fields, deciduous trees, we eased our way out of the Baltic. At 12.00 we checked in to the Gota Canal, all efficient and friendly, before we realised it we had passed through the first three locks to Soderköping. Next day ten locks and the crossing of Lake Asplängen, it was solid work for two, particularly Katherine who jumped off before each lock, carried the bow line forward and picked the stern line with a boat hook. For ascending locks, the stern line was secured tight and a line from the bow fairlead runs to a winch where the skipper grinds the slack as the boat rises. Each lock had its own complication. The staff were very friendly, they were not supposed to help with lines, but some did.
1st August; Pylades and a Swan 46 touched in a lock leaving a mark about the size of a small postage stamp on the hull of the Swan. The German owner went ballistic, started shouting about how the boat must be polished, during the altercation the skipper of Pylades suggested that perhaps the skipper of the Swan should take up golf, that didn’t help. Everyone else in the lock went quietly about their business. By 11.30 we were crossing choppy Lake Roxen, as we progressed through the day most other boats tied along the way and we found ourselves alone in the last bank of locks, we relaxed in Ljungsbro.
3rd August; Vattern was choppy, wind still on the nose but it was only 15 miles across. After a few more locks we rose to the highest point Pylades reached in Sweden, 93 meters over sea-level on stunningly beautiful Lake Viken. It fairly took our breath away on that fine morning, a place of magic, conducive to the birth of fairies and trolls. At the end of the lake we dashed through some bridges and tied at Töreboda, from then on it was downhill all the way and much easier. We finally left the Gota Canal at Sjötorp onto the vast Lake Vänern, cold and rough and again the wind blew from our destination. Thirteen hours later we called the rail bridge at Vänersborg, the polite reply said “come”, lights changed and a huge rail bridge reaches for the sky. It was a lovely town to roam.
Our next stop Trollhättan was also very beautiful, we stayed a few nights before descending its flights of locks to the Göta älv. Heading downstream, the river current gave us an additional 1.5 knots, however the wind gusting 35 knots on the nose was churning the water. Seeing a slot in the Gothenburg marina we executed a hairy manoeuvre, and got away with it. At €51.00 per night it’s was not the place to hang about, but we were not for moving. Through the night our rigging screamed and so also did the adjacent marina sign as it shredded. Next morning in a lull we moved further back and shelter behind the opera house. It’s a great walkabout city and we celebrated our arrival with a meal out at an excellent ‘Tapas’ bar.
10th August; discovering to our amazement that there was no diesel outlet in the city, we head off searching in driving cold rain. We were directed to a marina five miles downstream, where we wandered through thousands of vacant boats, finally locating the card pay pump, it did not work. The skipper’s expletives are unprintable. A helpful fisherman arrived and offered to fill for free, but his tank was empty. We found a berth and reckoned that if we had tried to pay we would be still there. Ten miles north the next day in Bjorko we bought fuel from a real live woman who persuaded us to stay, we did, it’s a gorgeous island, the sun came out. We walked in the woods and love it. Later three fully costumed Vikings with beer cans came aboard and sang songs of dead communists!
Exiting Sweden the southwest wind hardened, we close hauled in an exhilarating 45mile sail across the Kattegat holding the course to Skagen, Denmark. It was a vibrant town with many examples of Danish design and a reputation for art and artists. If the art was current, the artists might be ‘helping police with their enquiries’. we visited art galleries and museums. Over the next few days we hired bikes and cycled out to the lighthouse at Grenen beach where the seas of the Skagerrak and Kattegat skirmish. Conscious of the impending North Sea crossing, we watched weather patterns. Yachts waiting many weeks in Norway to cross, had turned south to seek favourable passage. A miracle, the weather began to shift. The original plan to get to westernmost point of Norway and wait was abandoned.
15th August; 11.30 with the barometer at 1020 we sailed west. The swell faded, a red sunset and rising moon herald a splendid night at sea. In the morning, a light westerly returned, we motored all day and through the cold night, the sea was glassy. Next day, oil fields, we pass steel behemoths sucking the residue of long dead microscopic plants and animals. Their stored energy pushing Pylades over their grave. A whale slid by and a pod of white beaked Dolphins visited. There was a stunning sunset as ‘Turner’ reds to the north blend with muted blues and greys to the south, Then Scotland’s version of ‘Tierra del Fuego’ came to life, the huge fire flares of the rigs, welcomed Pylades. Towards dawn a southeast wind picked and we were sailing, later as the wind touched 30 knots, we passed into the relative shelter of the Moray Firth, the wind increased further, hugging the windward south shore we jogged happily along all night under a scrap of headsail.
19th August; at dawn, we entered the snug marina at Inverness, the warm welcome offsets the slightly shabby town, perhaps we had become used to Nordic habitats. Next day we payed £233.00 and entered the Caledonian Canal, magnificent 200-years-old engineering working perfectly. One of the lock keepers remarked, “I have the nicest job in the fairest surroundings one could get”. They helped with the lines and engaged in great discussions on ‘Brexit’ and much else.
Lough Ness is long, narrow, deep and it funnels the wind on the nose. By 16.00 we walked Fort Augustus where the battle cries of Culloden still echo. The next day, by Loch Lochy’s shore a golden eagle held position in a westerly breeze and we caught our first sight of Ben Nevis.
23rd August; a busy morning descending Neptune’s Staircase to the fine stone basin at Corpach. To the south, the magnificent bulk of Ben Nevis brought great memories of a day spent on its airy ridges. The following morning, we were at sea rushing south on a fair tide through the Corran Narrows. Oban Marina was almost deserted, we ferried to town and stock up, the water at the marina was not recommended but a kindly occupant of Kerrera Island insisted we take 20 litres of bottled water. 04.00 next morning, with the light not yet in the sky we were underway.
There was a cold Autumnal feel to the air as a light wind freshened from the southeast. In a rollicking sail, Islay faded as Malin Head materialised to the south. Seven miles from the entrance to Lough Swilly the wind veered to the southwest and freshened considerably, squalling to 35 knots. We battered our way to the calmer waters of the lough and in darkness and rain felt our way in to Port Salon, assisted by a howling wind we bedded our anchor at 23.15. The morning was fine but blowing hard from the southwest, a lazy day was passed swinging to our anchor, on odd jobs, plotting our jumps home and topping up the diesel tank from cans.
26th August; 06.00 underway in a light south-easterly, the forecast was sympathetic for only a few days, so with regret we passed Tory Island. Donegal Bay was deserted, except for two Spanish trawlers, who, just north of Eagle Rock appeared intent on running us down. With a poled-out Genoa, we ran south in splendid conditions discussing the magnificent headlands and Islands of our coastline. 19.30 on the 28th August we tied a Kilronan and strolled to Tí Joe Mac, for a contemplative pint. A late breakfast with ‘fry up’ we resolved to do little all day, but slowly walk the beaches and make sandcastles.
Tuesday the 30th August, over canvassed and with mixed feelings we had a fast reach east to Kinvara bay and picked up our mooring at Parkmore. The 3800 mile, 109-day voyage to Russia had concluded. We loaded the dingy, outboard and gear into our van. Ashore, we looked out at Pylades, alone on its mooring and with a tear in our eye, drove slowly home.
Hugo Duplessis was a complete one-off, and his death at the age of 94 brings to an end a lifelong involvement with boats and cruising. Yet everything about him was in a sort of amiable contradiction.
As he’d a decidedly bushy appearance in his prime, with his splendid mop of curly grey hair matched by a strong and unruly beard, you’d have assumed that he would be a natural enthusiast for traditional construction, and boats of archaic rig.
This traditionalist image was accentuated by his approach to time-keeping. Or perhaps his relaxed attitude to precise punctuality was accentuated during the time he spent in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, running a cruising yacht charter company - Irish Atlantic Yacht Charters - from Bantry.
However it came about, for Hugo the soft air of West Cork seemed to encourage an already laid-back attitude to everything, and anyone chartering one of his two yachts soon learned that if they didn’t adopt the same leisurely approach, then they weren’t going to get the full value from the experience.
Yet the two ketches he had on charter were the giveaway to the other side of his character. Far from being colourful traditional vessels as some might have expected, they were straightforward glassfibre boats built in no-nonsense style by Westerly Marine – a 36ft Westerly Conway, Samharcin an Iar, and a 32ft Westerly Berwick, Aisling na Mara.
Robustly built and noted as boats requiring minimal maintenance, they were a reminder that in another earlier life in the south of England, the young cruising enthusiast and boat-building experimenter Hugo du Plessis (he underwent a name modification during his nine and more decades on the planet) had been an early enthusiast for glassfibre construction, to which he brought a complete precision which seemed to be lacking in other aspects of his life.
His curiosity and practical research into the full possibilities of the new material resulted in the publication of his authoritative book, Fibreglass Boats, in 1964. It is now in its fifth edition, still an authoritative reference book for building and repairs, and it has achieved continuing success on both sides of the Atlantic.
Yet if you spent time in Hugo’s company cruising in West Cork, it was sometimes difficult to reconcile this easygoing and colourful character with the precise and scientific approach which set the tone of his book. And equally, his obvious enjoyment of the lotus-eating aspects of being in port while cruising were at variance with his quiet determination to complete some extraordinary voyages in which, so long as he had the time that he felt the venture merited, he succeeded with achievements which received full recognition from cruising adjudicators.
After World War II ended in 1945, Hugo was cruising the English Channel almost before it was permissible, as live minefields were still present. But he survived this hazard, and by 1947 had been elected a member of the Royal Cruising Club, with which he was to be awarded six major cruising trophies before he made his move to Ireland.
Once here, he became a member of the Irish Cruising Club in 1978, and when he finally wound down his yacht charter business, he kept the 36ft Westerly Conway Samharcin an Iar for his own use, and most appropriately headed west. While the whole Atlantic was available to him, and he crossed it several times, it was the less-visited cruising areas which inevitably attracted him, and a detailed cruise of Venezuela in 1996 saw him being awarded the ICC’s premier trophy, the Faulkner Cup, while previously he’d collected the same club’s Atlantic Trophy in 1986 and the Strangford Cup in 1988.
He continued active ocean cruising until well into what other people would have though of as old age, but eventually he returned to base and home in Lymington by the Solent. However, he was a boat-owner to the end, co-owning a Colvic 23 Crimson Rambler III with his daughter Prim. He was seen afloat in this characteristically sensible little boat as recently as September last year. A remarkable man – our thoughts are with his family and friends.