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Displaying items by tag: Champion of Champions

It has had at least two different event descriptions since it was first sailed all of seventy years ago. Back then, Irish sailing was finding its feet in the late 1940s, becoming re-energised in the exciting developmental world of modern dinghy racing. It was the time of Fireflies, and of the visionary move of establishing the recently-formed Irish Dinghy Racing Association’s new IDRA 14 Class. On the water, all-classes Dinghy Weeks were being held, and the idea of rounding it all out with an annual Championship of the Champions – the Helmsmans Championship – seemed a natural from the word go. W M Nixon celebrates the continuing existence of something which - for many years - was unique to Irish sailing.

The Helmsmans Championship quickly became a key part of what Irish sailing is all about. And even though it become more and more of an artificial construct over the years as different class types proliferated, with the selection of one Championship boat to accommodate widely-different boat-type experiences inevitably becoming ever more problematical, there’s a stubborn streak in us which keeps it going as a celebration of true amateur sailing.

For the line–up of helmsmen racing GP14s this weekend – it’s only male helms, alas, though women sailors have won in times past – sees the deliberate absence of the professional and semi-professional stream. This is down home sailing out in strength, even if some of the participants – such as Olympic Finn U23 Bronze Medallist Fionn Lyden of Baltimore (he’s the nomination of the Irish Team Racing Association) – will harbour hopes of moving on to Olympic Pathways.

alex barry2Alex Barry, defending champion with the Salver newly won at Royal Cork YC in October 2016, with ISA President David Lovegrove (left) and RCYC Admiral John Roche. Alex Barry represented the RS 400, but the championship was sailed in National 18s. Photo Robert Bateman

All-Ireland Championship Competitors (Class - Helm - Club - Crew Name):

Shannon One Design - Stephen O'Driscoll - Lough Derg Yacht Club - John O'Driscoll
J24 - JP McCaldin - Lough Erne Yacht Club / Sligo Yacht Club - Liz Copland
Laser Radial - Sean Craig - Royal St George Yacht Club - David Johnston
2016 Champion RS400 - Alex Barry - Monkstown Bay SC/Royal Cork YC - Richard Leonard
Puppeteer 22 - Colin Kavanagh - Howth Yacht Club - Conor Barry
Dublin Bay Mermaid - Sam Shiels - Skerries Sailing Club - Eoin Boylan
Squib - Greg Bell - Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club - Martin Weatherstone
IDRA14 - Alan Henry - Sutton Dinghy Club - Simon Reville
SB20 - Stefan Hyde - Royal Cork Yacht Club - tbc
RS200 - Neil Spain - Howth Yacht Club - John Downey
RS400 - Gareth Flannigan - Ballyholme Yacht Club - David Fletcher
GP14 - Shane McCarthy - Greystones Sailing Club - Andy Davis
ITRA - Fionn Lyden - UCCSC, BSC, Schull - Liam Manning
ICRA 3 - Paul Gibbons - Royal Cork Yacht Club - Grattan Roberts
Ruffian 23 - Chris Helme - Royal St George Yacht Club - Alan Claffey
Laser Standard - Liam Glynn - Ballyholme Yacht Club - Ryan Glynn

You only have to give reasonable attention to that list to grasp the diversity of people, talents and boat experience that they’re trying to bring together for meaningful racing on the beautiful waters of Lough Owel (it’s pronounced “ool”) in Westmeath.

Further to emphasise the “down home” spirit of it all, the hosts, the recently re-furbished Mullingar Sailing Club (they celebrated their Golden Jubilee in 2014, including publishing a fine club history co-ordinated by Veronica Lucey) may be very centrally placed in Ireland. But they’re possibly further from any other yacht or sailing club than any other comparable club in the country, so they have to be true to themselves and their love of local sailing. 

msc history3MSC’s Golden Jubilee History captures the flavor of a very rural and genuinely locally-based sailing club. Courtesy MS

lough owel4Lough Owel’s special location provides an ideal setting for Irish Sailing’s Championship of Champions

It certainly seems that way, for prosperous Mullingar is a world unto itself, the quintessential Irish country town. Yet it does have waterways connections, for the Royal Canal (re-opened in 2010) encircles the town like a moat on its way from Dublin to join the Shannon near Longford.

And the shining jewel in the green countryside, the ideally-sized-for-good-sailing Lough Owel, is not only a marvelous recreational amenity, but its pristine water is Mullingar’s reservoir, and it also doubles as the reservoir for the Royal Canal. 

Anyone who is into Irish canal lore will of course be familiar with LTC Rolt’s seminal book Green and Silver, about the circular voyage in the late 1946 on Ireland’s inland waterways, an inland cruise which started from Athlone in the hired converted lifeboat Le Coq and went eastward to Dublin on the Grand Canal, and then returned west via the Royal Canal to the Upper Shannon.

tom rolt5Tom Rolt’s hired converted ships lifeboat Le Coq on the Royal Canal near Mullingar in 1946

tom rolt6Punting up the famed Lough Owel feeder in 1946

Tom Rolt and his crew were particularly charmed by the Royal Canal, and intrigued by the inviting channel which came into it at Mullingar to bring the water from Lough Owel. So they punted their way up the Lough Owel feeder. But these days, with its role as a public water supply, Lough Owel is not officially part of our already very extensive inland waterways system. 
However, there’s another link to those distant Green & Silver days which is decidedly special. If you go back to the very beginning of the list of previous winners of the famous silver salver here: you’ll see that the first winner in 1947 was the great Douglas Heard, who had become first President of the Irish Dinghy Racing Association in 1946. Douglas Heard was also a devoted advocate for the inland waterways, and when the closure of the Royal Canal was planned for the end of 1954, he voyaged the weed-filled length of it that summer in his motor-cruiser Hark (like Le Coq, a converted lifeboat) partly in protest at the closure, and partly in sad celebration that it had existed at all.

So it’s very moving to think that here we are in 2017, and the Championship of Champions is being staged on a lake which has a very real link to something of significance in the remarkable life of Douglas Heard, the first Champion Helm. And the fact that the Royal Canal is now fully alive again is perhaps the most astonishing thing of all, for the coming of the railways in the mid-19th Century soon out paid to its limited commercial success.

So sailing in Mullingar can find a real link, however tenuous, to the first winner of the Helsmans Championship. But before we finally get around to assessing this year’s prospects, there’s one final part of Mullingar Sailing Club’s story which must be shared. Since 1972, their next-door neighbour - until he died three weeks ago - was the world-renowned author J P Donleavy, creator of The Ginger Man. 

Donleavy’s 200-acre estate, with the rambling house of Levington Park at its heart, fronted along Lough Owel to the immediate southwest of Mullingar SC. And though he’d been something of a recluse in his latter years, it was not unknown for him in his early days next door to drop by the club when some sailing event was taking place, gradually fulfilling his role as something of the local country squire.

j p donleavy7The neighbour. Author J P Donleavy was Mullingar SC’s next-door neighbour from 1972 until his death in September 2017

Certainly MSC’s Fleet Captain Michael Collender is sure that Donleavy was occasionally about the club out of curiosity though not as a sailor, and thinks there a photo somewhere to prove it. But if they find it, they should be warned that as a result, Mullingar SC will inevitably become part of the J P Donleavy Research Trail for post-graduate doctoral students of literature. That could be a bit of a nuisance when your purpose in life is to provide economical sailing in pleasant but unpretentious premises which give convenient and immediate access to excellent sailing water.

gp14s lough owel8The GP 14s have always interacted particularly well with Mullingar SC. This is their 2014 Leinster Championship on Lough Owel. Photo courtesy MSC

mirror westerns lough owel9All classes welcome – Mirror Westerns on Lough Owel

Thus Mullingar SC and the GP 14 Association are kindred spirits, and the enthusiasm of the Irish GP 14 Association in providing eight boats of equal standard from all over the country for this Championship of Champions on Lough Owel has, as usual, been under-pinned by hard-headed practicality. For this, after all, is the class which negotiated the economic transit of an entire flotilla of Irish GP14s (was it 22 boats in all?) to Barbados for the worlds in April 2016, and the overall winner was Shane McCarthy of Greystones.

So with the Irish GP14 Class’s exceptional spirit, they have had enthusiastic owners delivering top boats to Lough Owel, the furthest being from as far away as the distant end of Lough Erne in Fermanagh. That’s J P McCaldin, who’s actually racing the championship as the J/24 representative. But he’s getting the double value GP 14 sailors expect, as the class’s national end-of-season event, the Hot Toddy, is going to be staged at Mullingar in a week’s time, and JP’s boat will be there on site, ready and waiting.

shane mccarthy10GP 14 World Champions Shane McCarthy and Andy Davis will be racing this weekend on Lough Owel

Another typically GP 14 touch is that the Irish Association is hoping to make the boats even more equal by providing them all with absolutely identical new genoas. At first glance, it all sounds a bit extravagant. But outgoing President Stephen Boyle of Sutton Dinghy Club (he sails as crew for his 17 year old son Peter, and has recently been succeeded, after a three year stint as President, by David Cooke of Skerries) assures me that the Irish GP 14 Association just don’t do extravagant. The eight brand new genoas from Jim Hunt and Andy Davis (Shane McCarthy’s crew) of HD sails will be getting a bulk discount, and will be immediately sold off once this event is over – “We might even make a tiny profit”.

Many of the Mullingar SC officer are themselves GP 14 sailors, the current officer board being Commodore: James Hackett, Vice Commodore: Sean Duffy, Rear Commodore Gearoid O’Bradaigh, Hon. Sec: Kieran Milner, Hon. Treas: Brian Walker, Junior Sailing: James Hackett, Fleet Captain Michael Collender, and PR Officer Veronica Lucey.

But MSC has been known to host exotics such as the Shannon One Designs and the Water Wags. Yet it’s Geeps, Mirrors and Lasers which set the regular pace, with the GP 14s in particular having a long and dynamic relationship with the club.

gp14s on lough owel11The gem of the midands. GP 14s enjoying idyllic early Autumn weather on Lough Owel

So they’re making a proper weekend of it, with a dinner tonight in the Annebrook Hotel in the heart of town, and racing going right to he finish tomorrow afternoon. Defending champion is of course RS 400 speedster Alex Barry of Monkstown Bay on Cork, but with the boat selected being the GP 14 and the extraordinary range of talent lined up to sail them, it’s wide open, even if the smart money will inevitably be on Shane McCarthy, who has his world champion crew Andy Davis with him.

We’ll know it all by Monday morning. But meanwhile, let it be said that it has been utterly heartening researching this piece, and talking to so many happily enthused club sailors. This is the real sailing in Ireland, l‘Irlande profonde. This is the Ireland that still thinks the event is the Helmsman’s Championship, and that it’s run by the Irish Sailing Association.
The rest of us will go along with the ISA’s re-branding as Irish Sailing. Personally, I think it’s a good idea. But this All-Ireland Championship thing we’re not so sure of. After all, when the Helmsman’s Championship was inaugurated seventy years ago, it was unique to Ireland, its brand name was new and unique.

So why change it to something which is imitative of another completely different area of sport in search of very ephemeral public recognition? We should only allow it if Irish Sailing somehow gets permission to flood the sacred turf of Croke Park, and stages the Helmsmans Championship there in the manner of Nero’s naval battle in the Colosseum. Then it would be acceptable to call it the All-Ireland Sailing Championship, for Croke Park is the only place where true All-Ireland sporting events can take place.

Published in W M Nixon

This weekend’s two-day All-Ireland Sailing Championship at the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire, racing boats of the ISA J/80 SailFleet flotilla, is an easy target for facile criticism. Perhaps because it tries to do so much in the space of only two days racing, with just one type of boat and an entry of 15 class championship-winning helms, inevitably this means it will be seen by some as falling short of its high aspiration of providing a true Champion of Champions.

Yet it seldom fails to produce an absolute cracker of a final. Last year, current defending champion Anthony O’Leary of Cork, racing the J/80s in Howth and representing both ICRA Class 0 and the 1720 Sportsboats, snatched a last gasp win from 2013 title-holder Ben Duncan of the SB20s, thereby rounding out an utterly exceptional personal season for O’Leary which saw him go on to be very deservedly declared the “Sailor of the Year” 2014.

So this year, with a host of younger challengers drawn from a remarkable variety of sailing backgrounds, the ever-youthful Anthony O’Leary might well see himself in the position of the Senior Stag defending his territory against half a dozen young bucks who will seem to attack him from several directions. And with winds forecast to increase in strength as the weekend progresses, differing talents and varying levels of athletic ability will hope to experience their preferred conditions at some stage, thereby getting that extra bit of confidence to bring success within their reach. It’s a fascinating scenario, and W M Nixon tries to set this unique event in perspective.

When the founding fathers of modern dinghy racing in Ireland set up the Irish Dinghy Racing Association (now the ISA) in 1946, they would have been reasonably confident that the immediate success of their new pillar event, the Helmsman’s Championship of Ireland, gave hope that a contest of this stature would still be healthily in being, and still run on a keenly-followed annual basis, nearly seventy years later.

They might even have been able to envisage that it would have been re-named the All-Ireland Championship, even if their original title of Helmsman’s Championship had a totally unique and clearly recognisable quality, for they’d have accepted its fairly harmless gender bias was going to create increasing friction with the Politically Correct brigade.

anthony OLeary2The Stag at Bay? Anthony O’leary sniffs the breeze last weekend, in charge of racing in the CH Marine Autumn league. This weekend he defends his All-Ireland title in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Robert Bateman

ai3Sailing should be fun, and run with courtesy – invitation to enjoyable racing, as displayed last weekend in Cork on Anthony O’Leary’s Committee Boat. Photo: Robert Bateman

But what those pioneering performance dinghy racers in 1946 can scarcely have imagined was that, 69 years later, no less than a quarter of the coveted places in the All-Ireland Championship lineup of 16 sailing stars would be going to helms who have qualified through winning their classes within the Annual National Championship of a thirteen-year-old all-Ireland body known as the Irish Cruiser-Racing Association.

And if you then further informed those great men and women of 1946 that those titles were all won in an absolute humdinger of a four-day big-fleet national championship staged in the thriving sailing centre and Irish gourmet capital of Kinsale, they’d have doubted your sanity. For in the late 1940s, Kinsale had slipped almost totally under the national sailing radar, while the town generally was showing such signs of terminal decline that there was little enough in the way of resources to put any food on any table, let alone think in terms of destination restaurants.

So in tracing the history of this uniquely Irish championship (for it long pre-dates the Endeavour Trophy in England), we have a convenient structure to hold together a manageable narrative of the story of Irish sailboat racing since the end of World War II. Add in the listings of the Irish Cruising Club trophies since the first one was instituted in 1931, then cross-reference this info with such records as the winners of the Round Ireland race and the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, beef it all up with the winners of the national championship of the largest dinghy and inshore keelboat classes, and a comprehensible narrative of our national sailing history emerges.

ai4The veteran X332 Equinox (Ross McDonald) continues to be a force in Irish cruiser-racing, and by winning her class in the ICRA Nationals in Kinsale at the end of June, Equinox is represented in the All Irelands this weekend by helmsman Simon Rattigan. Photo: W M Nixon

It’s far from perfect, but it’s a defining picture nevertheless, even if it lacks the inside story of the clubs. Be that as it may, in looking at it properly, we get a greater realization that the All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship (or whatever you’re having yourself) is something very important, something to be cherished and nurtured from year to year.

Of course I’m not suggesting that we should all be out in Dublin Bay today and tomorrow on spectator boats, avidly watching every twist and turn as eight identical boats race their hearts out with a variety of helms calling the shots. Unless you’re in a particular helmsperson’s fan club, it’s really rather boring to watch from end to end, or at least until the conclusion of each stage and then the final races.

This is very much a sport for the “edited highlights”. The reality is that no matter how they try to jazz it up, sailing is primarily of interest only to those actively taking part, or directly engaged in staging each event. When great efforts are made to make it exciting for casual spectators, it costs several mints and results in rich people and highly-resourced teams engaged in costly and often unseemly battles to which genuine sporting sailors cannot really relate at all.

But with its exclusion of Olympic and some High Performance squad members, the All-Ireland in its current form is the quintessence of Irish local and national sailing. It’s almost compulsive for its participants, it provides an extra interest for their supportive clubmates, and in its pleasantly low key way it’s a genuine expression of real Irish sailing, the sailing of L’Irlande profonde.

So of course we agree that it might be more interesting for the bright young people if it was raced in something more trendy like the RS400s if they could find sufficient owners to risk their boats in this particular bear pit. And yes indeed, the ISA Discussion Paper and Helmsmans Guidelines of 2012 did indeed hope that within three years, the All Ireland would be staged in dinghies.

But we have to live in the real world. Sailing really is a sport for life, and some of our best sailors are truly seniors who would be disadvantaged if it was raced in a boat making too many demands on sheer athleticism, for which the unattainable Olympic Finn would be the only true answer.

But in any case, if you watch J/80s racing in a breeze, there’s no doubting the advantage a bit of athletic ability confers, yet the cunning seniors can overcome their lack of suppleness and agility with sheer sailing genius.

ai5While they may be keelboats, in a breeze the J/80s will sail better with some athleticism, as displayed here by Ben Duncan (second left) as he sweeps toward the finish and victory in the 2013 All Irelands at Howth. Photo: Aidan Tarbett

ai6Yet a spot of sailing genius can offset the adverse effects of advancing years – Anthony O’Leary (right) with Dylan Gannon (left) and Dan O’Grady after snatching victory at the last minute in 2014. Photo: Jonathan Wormald.

But another reality we have to accept is that Ireland is only just crawling out of the Great Recession. And in that recession, it was the enduring competitiveness of ageing cruiser-racers and the sporting attitude of their owners which kept the national sailing show on the road. Your dyed-in-the-wool dinghy sailor may sneer at the constrictions of seaborn truck-racing. But young sailors who were realists very quickly grasped that if they wanted to get regular sailing with good competition as the Irish economy went into free fall, then they had to hone their skills in making boats with lids, crewed by tough old birds most emphatically not in the first flush of youth, sail very well indeed.

Thus in providing a way for impecunious young people to keep sailing through the recession, ICRA performs a great service for Irish sailing. And the productive interaction between young and old in the ICRA fleets, further enlivened by their different sailing backgrounds, has resulted in a vibrant new type of sailing community where it is regarded as healthily normal to be able to move between dinghies and keelboats and back again.

The final lineup of entries is a remarkable overview of the current Irish racing scene, and if you wonder why the winner of the GP14 British Opens 2015, Shane McCarthy of Greystones, is not representing the GP 14s, the word is he’s unavailable, so his place is taken by Niall Henry of Sligo.

2014 Champion Anthony O'Leary, RCYC
RS400 Alex Barry, Monkstown Bay SC
GP14 Niall Henry ,Sligo Yacht Club
Shannon OD Frank Browne, Lough Ree YC
Flying Fifteen David Gorman, National YC
Squib Fergus O'Kelly, Howth YC
ICRA 1 Roy Darrer, Waterford Sailing Club
Mermaid Patrick, Dillon Rush SC
Laser Std Ronan Cull, Howth YC
SB20 Michael O'Connor, Royal St.George YC
IDRA14 Alan Henry, Sutton DC
RS200 Frank O'Rourke, Greystones SC
ICRA 2 Simon Rattigan, Howth YC
ICRA 4 Cillian Dickson, Howth YC
Ruffian Chris Helme, Royal St.George YC

As a three-person boat with a semi-sportsboat performance, the J/80 is a reasonable compromise between dinghies and keelboats, and the class has the reputation of being fun to sail, which is exactly what’s needed here.

The Sailing Olympics and the ISAF Worlds may be terribly important events for sailing in the international context, but nobody would claim they’re fun events. Equally, though, you wouldn’t dream of suggesting the All-Ireland is no more than a fun event. But it strikes that neat balance between tough sport and sailing enjoyment to make it quite a good expression of the true Irish amateur sailing scene.

Inevitably from time to time it produces a champion whose sailing abilities are so exceptional that it would amount to a betrayal of their personal potential for them not to go professional in some way or other. But fortunately sailing is such a diverse world that two of the outstanding winners of the Helmsman’s Championships of Ireland have managed to make their fulfilled careers as top level professional sailors without losing that magic sense of fun and enjoyment, even though in both cases it has involved leaving Ireland.

Their wins were gained in the classic early Irish Yachting Association scenario of a one design class which functioned on a local basis being able to provide enough reasonably-matched boats to be used for the Helmsman’s, and the three I best remember were when Gordon Maguire won in 1982 on Lough Derg racing Shannon One Designs, then in the 1970s Harold Cudmore won on Lough Neagh racing Flying Fifteens, and in 1970 itself, a very young Robert Dix was winner racing National 18s at Crosshaven.

Gordon Maguire was the classic case of a talented sailor having to get out of Ireland to fulfill himself. His win in 1982 in breezy conditions at Dromineer in Shannon One Designs, with Dave Cummins of Sutton on the mainsheet, was sport at its best, though I doubt that some of the old SODs were ever the better again after the hard driving they received.

ai7Driving force. Gordon Maguire going indecently fast for a Shannon One Design, on his way to winning the Helmsmans Championship of Ireland at Dromineer in 1982. Photo: W M Nixon

Then Gordon spread his wings, and won the Irish Windsurfer Nationals in 1984 - a great year for the Maguires, as his father Neville (himself a winner of the Helmsmans Championship five times) won the ISORA Championship with his Club Shamrock Demelza the same weekend.

But Gordon needed a larger canvas to demonstrate his talents, and in 1991 he was a member of the Irish Southern Cross team in Australia, a series which culminated in the Sydney-Hobart Race. The boat which Maguire was sailing was knocked out in a collision with another boat (it was the other boat’s fault), but Maguire found a new berth as lead helm on the boat Harold Cudmore was skippering for the Hobart Race, and they won that overall.

gordon maguire8A man fulfilled, Gordon Maguire at the beginning of his hugely successful linkup with Stephen Ainsworth’s RP 63 Loki

And Gordon Magure realized that for his talents, Australia was the place to be. More than twenty years later, he was to get his second Hobart Race overall win in command of Stephen Ainsworth’s RP 63 Loki, and here indeed was a man fulfilled, revelling in a chosen career which would have been unimaginable in Ireland.

Harold Cudmore had gone professional as best he could in 1974, but it was often a lonely and frustrating road in Europe. However, his win of the Half Ton Worlds in Trieste in the Ron Holland-designed, Killian Bushe-built Silver Shamrock in 1976 put his name up in lights, and he has been there ever since, renowned for his ability to make any boat perform to her best. It has been said of him when racing the 19 Metre Mariquita in the lightest conditions, that you could feel him getting an extra ounce of speed out of this big and demanding gaff-rigged classic seemingly by sheer silent will power.

The restored 19 Metre Mariquita is a demanding beast to sail in any conditions…

...but in light airs, Harold Cudmore (standing centre) seems to be able to get her to outsail larger craft by sheer will-power.

ai11A different scene altogether, but still great sport – Harold Cudmore racing the classic Sydney Harbour 18-footer Yendys

But as for Robert Dix’s fabulous win in 1970, while he went on to represent Ireland in the 1976 Olympics in Canada, he has remained a top amateur sailor who is also resolutely grounded in Irish business life (albeit at a rather stratospheric level). But then it could be argued that nothing could ever be better than winning the Helmsmans Championship of Ireland against the cream of Irish sailng when you’re just 17 years old, and doing it all at the mother club, the Royal Cork, as it celebrated its Quarter Millenium.

It was exactly 44 years ago, the weekend of October 3rd-4th 1970, and for Robert Dix it was a family thing, as his brother-in-law Richard Burrows was Number 2 in the three-man setup. They were on a roll, and how. The manner in which things were going their way was shown in an early race when they were in a tacking duel with Harold Cudmore. Coming to the weather mark, Cudmore crossed them on port, but the Dix team had read it to such perfection that by the time he had tacked, they’d shot through the gap with inches to spare and Cudmore couldn’t catch them thereafter.

Decisive moment in the 1970 Helmsman’s Championship. At the weather mark, Harold Cudmore on port is just able to cross Robert Dix on starboard………Photo W M Nixon

ai13……but Dix is able to shoot through the gap as Cudmore tacks…..Photo: W M Nixon

ai14…..and is on his way to a win which will count well towards his overall victory over Cudmore by 0.4 points. Photo: W M Nixon

Admittedly both Harold Cudmore and the equally-renowned Somers Payne had gear problems, but even allowing for that, the 17-year-old Robert Dix from Malahide was the star of the show, and the final points of Robert Dix 9.5 and Harold Cudmore 9.9 for the 1970 Helmsman’s Championship of Ireland says it all, and it says it as clearly now as it did then.

The six finalists in the 1970 Helmsman’s Championship were (left to right) Michael O’Rahilly Dun Laoghaire), Somers Payne (Cork), Harold Cudmore (Cork), Owen Delany (Dun Laoghaire), Maurice Butler (Ballyholme, champion 1969) and Robert Dix (Malahide), at 17 the youngest title holder ever. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in W M Nixon

Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex (Sunday 3 October, 2010): Twenty-four-year-old Hollingworth Lake Sailing Club member – Stuart Bithell – and his 21-year-old crew, Christian Birrel, representing the Merlin Rocket class, have won the 50th Endeavour Trophy Champion of Champions event at Burnham-on-Crouch.

The young Merlin sailors are also successful 470 sailors with Bithell now concentrating on campaigning for a place in the 2012 Olympic Games. Today, in winds that reached 28kts in the gusts, the pair showed that consistency pays by clocking up another fifth place to add to their impressive string of top six results from yesterday. In doing so they managed to knock Graham Camm and Zoe Ballantyne (National 12) off the overnight leading position.

As he stepped ashore this afternoon, Bithell commented on the weekend's racing. "We did all the hard work yesterday by sailing a consistent series which put us in a good position going into today's races. We were pleased that we were able to sail well in both the light and heavy winds. The National 12 team sailed very well and were extremely consistent in the light winds but luckily for us, they couldn't quite hold it together today."

Going into the last race of the series there was still a chance of Camm and Ballantyne beating the Merlin Rocket team overall if they finished in the top four. However, the big winds that prevailed throughout the day proved too strong for the super-lightweight 17.5 stone National 12 sailors, so they decided to take the conservative approach in order to secure a decent overall position. They put a reef in their mainsail, kept the kite in its chute and, in doing so, took a 23rd place to count, which still put them in a respectable fourth place overall.

Ballantyne talking about the last two races said: "It was basically too windy for us lightweights today so we reefed to de-power but were still really struggling upwind. Downwind, we took the tactical decision that we would probably be faster without the kite. Interestingly it wasn't that much slower because we were able to sail straight downwind, so it actually paid quite well, and we survived."

Four time Endeavour Trophy Champion Nick Craig, and crewman Toby Lewis representing the Enterprise class had a set of mixed results in yesterday's light winds but today the pair really showed their true colours by winning both races. In the first race of the day they were initially led round the course by Chips Howarth and Simon Potts (Fireball), and Bruce Keen and Penny Clark (Musto Skiff) but in the strong, full-on conditions, team Howarth/Potts capsized shortly after the bear away on the first run, leaving a battle royal to continue at the head of the fleet. By the second run, Craig/Lewis had gained the lead and managed to cross the finish line just ahead of Keen/Clark. Howarth/Potts made a speedy recovery to secure third place.

A similar scenario happened in the final race when Craig/Lewis managed to hold off Keen/Clark for their second win of the series. Craig commented: "The boats are quite tricky to sail in the light winds which is why the likes of the National 12, Lark and Merlin sailors did so well yesterday, but today was perfect for us. It's is a great class for the event because it's a good all-rounder and we have the full support of Topper if anything goes wrong."

50th Endeavour Masters
With the wind showing no sign of abating early this afternoon, the race committee decided to run the special 50th anniversary Masters Championship immediately after the final race of the Endeavour series. The 13-strong fleet made up of former Endeavour Champions from the last 50 years was, not surprisingly, extremely competitive particularly with the likes of Ian Southworth/David Hayes, Alan Gillard/Graham Machon, Bob Suggitt, Steve Tylecote, and Nick and Caroline Martin returning to Burnham specifically for this historic occasion.

Craig, like several other Masters in the fleet had been competing in this year's Endeavour Trophy, so was obviously race-tuned for this one-off, one-race event. It wasn't particularly surprising therefore to see the 'master of the breeze' take the initial lead from Tylecote/Toby Lewis, with Bithell/Birrel in third. Fireball world champion Chips Howarth and Simon Potts sailed a faultless downwind leg and once in the lead had control to the finish.

Howarth commenting on the Masters' event explained how important it was to be racing: "It was fantastic for me because from a young age when I was sailing my Cadet at Bolton Sailing Club, I idolised the likes of Southy [Ian Southworth] and Alan Gillard. I used to really look up to these guys, so to be racing against them 25 years later, is fantastic. What's also wonderful is there's guys from yesteryear like the great Mike McNamara, the medium age guys like Southy, and some of the great sailors of today like Nick Craig and the young Merlin sailors. It's a bit like racing with three generations, and it's even better to have beaten them all."

Over a hundred visitors turned out at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club this afternoon where Stuart Munro the Commodore was joined by Robin Judah – the man behind the creation of the Endeavour Trophy 50 years ago – to present the prizes. As well as winning the magnificent Solid Silver Endeavour Trophy, Stuart Bithell and Christian Birrel – the overall winners – were awarded a £1,000 Musto voucher, and an invite for a chance to race at the Bitter End Pro Am Regatta in the British Virgin Islands.

At the prizegiving ceremony, special thanks were given to the event sponsors including Topper, Musto, Hyde Sails, English Braids, Selden, Noble Marine and Petticrows.

Endeavour Trophy Overall Results (after 8 races, and 1 discard)
1 MERLIN ROCKET – Stuart Bithell and Christian Birrel 25pts
2 ENTERPRISE – Nick Craig and Toby Lewis 39pts
3 RS200 – David and Jane Hivey 40pts
4 NATIONAL12 – Graham Camm and Zoe Ballantyne 43pts
5 FIREBALL – Chips Howarth and Simon Potts 43pts
6 MUSTO SKIFF – Bruce Keen and Penny Clark 45pts

50th Endeavour Masters' Championship Overall Results (1 race)
1 Chips Howarth and Simon Potts
2 Stuart Bithell and Christian Birrel
3 Nick Craig and David Hivey
4 Steve Tylecote and Toby Lewis
5 Ian Southworth and David Hayes
6 Bob Suggitt and Christina Berxl

For full results visit:

Published in Racing

Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) in Ireland Information

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is a charity to save lives at sea in the waters of UK and Ireland. Funded principally by legacies and donations, the RNLI operates a fleet of lifeboats, crewed by volunteers, based at a range of coastal and inland waters stations. Working closely with UK and Ireland Coastguards, RNLI crews are available to launch at short notice to assist people and vessels in difficulties.

RNLI was founded in 1824 and is based in Poole, Dorset. The organisation raised €210m in funds in 2019, spending €200m on lifesaving activities and water safety education. RNLI also provides a beach lifeguard service in the UK and has recently developed an International drowning prevention strategy, partnering with other organisations and governments to make drowning prevention a global priority.

Irish Lifeboat Stations

There are 46 lifeboat stations on the island of Ireland, with an operational base in Swords, Co Dublin. Irish RNLI crews are tasked through a paging system instigated by the Irish Coast Guard which can task a range of rescue resources depending on the nature of the emergency.

Famous Irish Lifeboat Rescues

Irish Lifeboats have participated in many rescues, perhaps the most famous of which was the rescue of the crew of the Daunt Rock lightship off Cork Harbour by the Ballycotton lifeboat in 1936. Spending almost 50 hours at sea, the lifeboat stood by the drifting lightship until the proximity to the Daunt Rock forced the coxswain to get alongside and successfully rescue the lightship's crew.

32 Irish lifeboat crew have been lost in rescue missions, including the 15 crew of the Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) lifeboat which capsized while attempting to rescue the crew of the SS Palme on Christmas Eve 1895.


While the number of callouts to lifeboat stations varies from year to year, Howth Lifeboat station has aggregated more 'shouts' in recent years than other stations, averaging just over 60 a year.

Stations with an offshore lifeboat have a full-time mechanic, while some have a full-time coxswain. However, most lifeboat crews are volunteers.

There are 46 lifeboat stations on the island of Ireland

32 Irish lifeboat crew have been lost in rescue missions, including the 15 crew of the Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) lifeboat which capsized while attempting to rescue the crew of the SS Palme on Christmas Eve 1895

In 2019, 8,941 lifeboat launches saved 342 lives across the RNLI fleet.

The Irish fleet is a mixture of inshore and all-weather (offshore) craft. The offshore lifeboats, which range from 17m to 12m in length are either moored afloat, launched down a slipway or are towed into the sea on a trailer and launched. The inshore boats are either rigid or non-rigid inflatables.

The Irish Coast Guard in the Republic of Ireland or the UK Coastguard in Northern Ireland task lifeboats when an emergency call is received, through any of the recognised systems. These include 999/112 phone calls, Mayday/PanPan calls on VHF, a signal from an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or distress signals.

The Irish Coast Guard is the government agency responsible for the response to, and co-ordination of, maritime accidents which require search and rescue operations. To carry out their task the Coast Guard calls on their own resources – Coast Guard units manned by volunteers and contracted helicopters, as well as "declared resources" - RNLI lifeboats and crews. While lifeboats conduct the operation, the coordination is provided by the Coast Guard.

A lifeboat coxswain (pronounced cox'n) is the skipper or master of the lifeboat.

RNLI Lifeboat crews are required to follow a particular development plan that covers a pre-agreed range of skills necessary to complete particular tasks. These skills and tasks form part of the competence-based training that is delivered both locally and at the RNLI's Lifeboat College in Poole, Dorset


While the RNLI is dependent on donations and legacies for funding, they also need volunteer crew and fund-raisers.

© Afloat 2020

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