Displaying items by tag: W M Nixon
The only non-elitist thing about the Olympic Games is the fact that all countries – however large or small – are treated equally. A small country like Ireland is entitled to exactly the same number of places in competition as the superstates like the US or China. But apart from that, if any country’s national authority in any Olympic discipline is not treating its selected athletes as a pampered elite as an Olympic year arrives, then it is wasting everyone’s time. That’s how it should be in an Olympic year. But things definitely aren’t the same in the three clear years between each Olympiad. W M Nixon looks ahead to a completely different type of season in 2017.
Irish sailing had a good 2016 Olympics. Our waterborne elite did well - they did us proud. And the Irish national sailing season of 2016 – as we saw in last weekend’s review here – was special in many ways, for on top of Olympic success we staged two major world dinghy championships, witnessed perhaps the best ever Volvo Round Ireland Race, and brought home both silver and bronze medals from world youth championships.
That was how it was in 2016. But for 2017, we look forward to a very different kind of sailing year, in which everyone has the chance to be a star at local level, and our Olympic achievers and international medallists will be sailing as ordinary competitors along with everyone else.
In these circumstances, it’s intriguing to look at some of the events which will set the tone for the coming year. And if by some chance you’re feeling jaded as we sink into the depths of winter, rest assured that it’s an absolute tonic to talk with the voluntary organisers who are heading up the groups which are putting together the various packages which will provide sailing happenings of all sizes from one end of the country to the other.
These people have a level of infectious enthusiasm which, if you could bottle it, would make you a fortune. Their zest in our sport, and their joy in boats and the sailing of them, is a wonder to behold. And they’re so keen on it that they’re prepared to put in so very many hours of their free time – hours beyond measure, in fact – in administrative effort, that it would put many professional organisers to shame.
Such enthusiasm can bring its own special problems. Every sailing centre round the coast and on the lakes will expect its share of the action. So inevitably there will be a clashing of dates which will make for difficult choices for crews who had specific programmes in mind. But this morning, we’re not in the mood to beat the drum about ruthlessly rationalising the national programme. Let’s just tell you what’s happening, and you can draw your own conclusions and plan out your own season.
That said, the big one is undoubtedly the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta from the 6th to 9th July. 2015’s staging of this biennial festival experienced a quantum leap in the scale and scope of the event. Somehow, it moved onto a new plane. Under the chairmanship of Tim Goodbody, the organising committee built on the efforts of previous years, and the resulting myriad of sailing became a wonder to behold, and a joy to take part in. The plan for 2017 is to make it even better.
This outline hints at the scale of the event which will take place in July:
Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017
Racing open to 30 Classes.
Incorporating the following Championships:-
· Royal Dee Yacht Club Irish Sea Offshore Championship
· Sigma 33 and Wayfarer National Championships
· Beneteau 211 Irish Championship
· GP14 and 420 Leinster Championships
· SB20 Southern Championship
· J24 & Squib East Coast Championships
Celebrating 200 years of Dun Laoghaire Harbour:
The Kingstown 200 Trophy for the best classic keelboat/dinghy.
NOR and Online Entry will open mid November (Monday November 14th).
Super Early Bird Entry Prize Draw: All entries received and paid for in full by 31 December 2016 will automatically be entered into a Super Early Bird Prize Draw and 10% of these lucky people will have their Entry Fee refunded.
To get the flavour of it, a chat with Organising Chairman Tim Goodbody at mid-week brought everything to life. That said, he was in a thoughtful mood, as that morning he had sold his much-loved Sigma 33 White Mischief after seventeen very happy and successful years. This enthusiasm in talking about their boats was found to be a shared characteristic of all the voluntary organisers, something which those who think the future of sailing lies in group-owned professionally-maintained boats might like to ponder.
Be that as it may, the J/109 class in Ireland will be taking on board the fact that their newest star entrant Tim Goodbody is now a hundred per cent J/109 man. For until he was comfortable in the knowledge that his Sigma 33 White Mischief had gone to a good home (she has found a lucky owner in Arklow), you had the feeling that a tiny bit of his mind was elsewhere as he campaigned the new White Mischief, a J/109.
That said, he was frequently on the podium in the new class, but for Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 the rest of his crew will have to race as best they can without him, for he throws himself so thoroughly into heading up the large army of VDLR volunteers – with Ciara Dowling as an awesomely effective Executive Secretary – that there simply isn’t the time to think of campaigning in one of the hottest of the 30 classes as well.
A look at the heights of the 2017 programme shows how it is quite an achievement for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 to be the peak event at home, and it also reveals the difficulty for planning a programme for your boat and crew which will keep everyone – including the Commodore of your home club – in a happy frame of mind.
This list is by no means complete, but if you haven’t firmed up your club or association schedule by November, you’re not going to be taken seriously, as November is traditionally the month when the next year’s Corinthian crewing programmes take shape.
2017 Preliminary Programme
March 25th Horizon Energy Group PY1000 in Owenabue River at Crosshaven (RCYC)
May 26th – May 29th Scottish Series (Clyde Cruising Club)
June 3rd Lambay Races (Howth)
June 9th- June 11th ICRA Nats (Royal Cork)
June 14th Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race (National YC)
June 21st to 24th Sovereigns Cup (Kinsale)
June 30th – July 2nd Cork Dinghy Fest 2017
July 6th to 9th Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta
July 6th to 8th WIORA Championship, Aran Islands
July 23rd to 28th Glandore Classics
August 1st to 4th Calves Week (Schull)
August 6th 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race
August 14th – 18th Half Ton Classic Worlds (Kinsale)
October 21st Rolex Middle Sea Race
We happen to know about the first rather esoteric major event on the programme, the PY 1000 dinghy race in the Owenabue River at Crosshaven on March 25th, thanks to the enthusiasm of Nicholas O’Leary of Royal Cork. He’s back on home ground and busy with being the third generation of his family in the energetic and imaginative organisation and promotion of sailing.
The Horizon Energy Group PY 1000 is a come-all-ye for dinghies using the Portsmouth Yardstick handicap. And they don’t mess about with prizes – there’s €1,000 on it. As the tides suit, they’ll be using the full available length and breadth of the Owenabue River between Crosser and Carrigaline in a crazy sailing project to blow the winter cobwebs away, and it will be a useful training for ogranisational energy levels as young O’Leary puts his team through their paces in training for the Cork Dinghy Fest at the end of June.
Like Tim Goodbody, he can be slightly sentimental about his boats – in his case, it was seeing an old and much-loved Optimist he’d once raced which fired him up to spread the news. An email from him this week gets the flavour of Nicholas O’Leary’s approach to sailing:
“Top of the organisational agenda is taking on the Dinghy Festival at the end of June on behalf of the Royal Cork Yacht Club and the dinghy fraternity of Ireland and beyond. My good friend Marty O’Leary is chairman of the RS Class in Ireland, and we will again welcome three fleets from under his wing - The RS200 for their Nationals and the RS400 and Feva Southerns.
The array of dinghy classes within Ireland concentrate on doing their own calendar year after year. This is a huge undertaking and requires massive dedication by class captains, regional reps and the clubs that host. The Dinghy Fest takes the stress off such class reps for one of many events they would normally have to organise, and brings together the masses into one harbour to enjoy great racing and great craic ashore, particularly as it provides socialising with friends they haven’t seen due to other class commitments.
We are working on connections within the variety of classes nationwide, and one exciting grouping that we’re planning is an Extreme Fleet. To see one 49er screaming across Cork Harbour is a sight, but we plan to have one race course dedicated to an entire fleet of fast dinghies, with the foiling Moths - where we hope to see Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy racing against her coach Rory Fitzpatrick - as well as 29ers and 49ers, and the Cat class, with the Catamarans demonstrating their viable concept of mixed craft racing on the one race track, and results divided thereafter.
I know this Extreme Fleet will open the eyes of young sailors to see that there is life after an Optimist, 420, Laser or whatever fleet they are currently in, and that fast fun boats are accessible classes, alive within Irish waters. I sincerely think it’s very important for the future of youth sailing that they enjoy it, finding a class they are happy in rather than being marched up to the gates of a pathway and pushed through. Those who enjoy the sport will stay in the sport. If they excel to greater heights, then so much the better, but that shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all for everyone.
I don’t believe the success of an event is within its number of entries, but in its quality of racing provided. That is why my old housemate and current ISA Champion of Champions Alex Barry is joining our team in an advisory role to keep the high standard of racing up to scratch, and in line with what we would expect when racing Worldwide. I look forward to developments in the months to come, and will of course keep everyone updated with sailing news from near and far.”
So the dinghies of Ireland have the good example of somebody thinking in a far-sighted and coherent way. But with the offshore racers, the picture is as ever more complex. Yet it’s for sure we’re interested in the Scottish Series out on its own in May, as we provide the ex-Pat overall winner Dara O’Malley (originally from Westport, he’s Edinburgh-based) with his Hunter 707 Seaword in 2016, while regular contender John Hall from the National YC won Class 2 with his J/109 Something Else.
But in June things get mighty complicated, as there are two major cruiser-racer championships in Cork with a clear fortnight between them, yet during that fortnight the biennial Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race gets under way.
However, if you talk with the enthusiasts involved in organising any of these events, it all seems very manageable. Paul Tingle who is chairman to organise the ICRA Nats at Royal Cork from June 9th to 11th has recently moved from campaigning a Corby 25 with family and friends to the comparatively luxurious yet equally competitive surrounds of an X 34 which will also be called Alpaca. He sees the ICRA Nats at Crosshaven from June 9th to 11th as offering the special cachet of a National Championship in a manageable package. And at the end of it your boat is conveniently placed to be moved to Kinsale the following weekend for the time-honoured Sovereign’s Cup series the weekend after (June 21st-24th)
In fact, Paul Tingle and his counterpart at the Sovereign’s, Kevin Murray of Kinsale, are coming up with all sorts of ingenious suggestions for getting the boats from Crosshaven to Kinsale, ranging from a passage race to a simple offer to provide voluntary delivery crews. The thinking is that some crews and owners will welcome the opportunity for a weekend off to score some brownie points on the home front. But however they get to Kinsale, the participants in the Sovereign’s will find that the entire town is behind the event, which is very much aimed at being a fun happening.
Freed from the constraints of the IRC limitations within ICRA, Kinsale YC can open the door to sportsboats and even inshore keelboat classes, should they be so interested, and the emphasis is going to be very much on a regatta atmosphere rather than the more serious mood of a national championship.
Meanwhile, take note that the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race is on a Wednesday evening – June 14th – not the Friday evening as in 2015. The feeling is that in these demanding times, it make more sense to slip away from business cares on a Thursday and Friday to get comfortably finished racing by Sunday and probably earlier, rather than arrive in the office exhausted on a Tuesday after a 380-mile race which finished in the small hours of Monday morning. Last time round, it was J boats of several sizes which dominated, with the Shanahan family’s J/109 Ruth winning from sister-ship Mojito, but maybe in 2017 some other marque will get a look in.
For July, an east-west divide arose in planning the programme, when the fascinating concept of a West of Ireland Offshore Racing Association Championship on the Aran islands made the discovery that out in Kilronan, each summer weekend is spoken for in terms of hosting some major island festival. Thus the only clear one they could offer hyper-keen Atlantic Way sailor Cormac MacDonnacha of WIORA was July 8th & 9th, and as his fleet will be wanting to make their way home along the Atlantic seaboard on the Sunday, the WIORA Championship 2017 is July 6th to 8th. It will make for a painful decision for some crews who had hoped to go east for the big one in Dun Laoghaire taking place at exactly the same time.
The Rolex Fastnet Race next year is earlier in August than it has been for some time, going off on Sunday August 6th. And among the fleet will be an Irish boat defending a trophy won in 2015, the Jeanneau 37 Desert Star skippered by Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing of Dun Laoghaire. Desert Star was right on the podium among the many Irish boats in the previous race, and she was also overall winner of the Sailing Schools trophy, besting 32 other boats.
This was a notable success which underlined just how significant the concept of Fastnet Race experience has become in the definition of genuine seagoing ability. The camaraderie which developed among Desert Star’s crew of rookies from an extraordinary variety of backgrounds was heart-warming to behold, and it’s something which many wish to experience and share.
It’s very much what we hope for 2017, as it’s the perfect example of sailing for more ordinary folk rather than top level competition for superstars. So as we snuggle down into winter with just the special Frostbite, Brass Monkey and Turkey Shoot races available for those who want the occasional quick taste of sailing all year round, spare a thought for those dedicated souls who are so keen to get involved that they’ll go to sea just whenever they can, and that includes going offshore in the depths of winter.
For those dreamily contemplating next season from a comfortable armchair in front of a roaring fire, here’s a thought-provoking email I received last Sunday from Ronan O Siochru:
“We are flying downwind with a poled-out headsail
and double reefed main, 30 knots behind us in absolutely glorious sunshine
from Kilkeel back to Dun Laoghaire.
The guys are after sailing 500 miles in six days, and have been to Wales, the Isle of Man, England, and Northern Ireland. We have also experienced the raw energy of the North Channel and the Scottish sea state in November as we headed up to Cambeltown on the Mull of Kintyre.
They are getting some of the most intense, gruelling training in difficult conditions - cold, 16 hours of darkness each day, and sometimes very fast-changing weather. We haven’t seen another sailing boat in 500 miles, as we left Dun Laoghaire in the dark and haven’t been back since.
They are doing serious training, and are learning so fast they are really closing in on many so called 'experienced’ sailors who have been sailing for decades.
They are an interesting group coming from a variety of backgrounds, a
totally international crew, and all guys on this occasion - Irish, French, English, Italian and a Canadian. Their reasons for being here range from a Canadian naval architect looking to learn to
sail, to a Frenchman taking early retirement with a dream to cash in his
pension to buy a catamaran and do charters in the Caribbean.
And there are a few young bucks keen to avoid university, and instead sink their teeth into a grittier more active career……The course has been running since 3rd September, and culminates in the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore exam on the 26th November. Meanwhile, roll on 2017. The Fastnet calls.”
You’ll have glimpsed the photo gallery and heard the reports of the International Fireball Dinghy Class 50th Anniversary Irish Reunion last Saturday night in the Royal St George YC in Dun Laoghaire. Fifty years, by George……Most sailing folk still think of the Fireball as a fresh and unique off-the-wall sailing phenomenon, a crazy European take on the skimming-dish scows of the lakes of America’s mid-West. And we think of these very special racing dinghies as being something as new as tomorrow, ingenious boats for ingenious owners who like to do all sorts of personal tunings and tweaks to their pride-and-joy. So it brings us up short to find them celebrating their Golden Jubilee. W M Nixon gives his own take on the Former Fireball Fanatics.
If you’re from anywhere well outside the bubble which is southeast Dublin, you’ll assume that a group of guys who regularly drink in a place called the Tramyard will be a bunch of winos. But those in the know are well aware that the Tramyard in Dalkey is a more-than-agreeable coffee house where a regular group of morning habituees supping the essence of the sacred bean is a gathering of sailing friends who have been mates since studying in college or whatever they were doing at that exciting time of life, when all things were possible, and just to have an idea was enough to have the energy to implement it and do something with the result.
The inspiration for the Fireball design more than fifty years ago came partially from the classic scows of the lakes of mid-western America. This is a Melges Class A Scow.
As this Tramyard crowd have been regularly together for so long, they have not noticed the effects of the passing of the years on each other. So when Derek Jago got to reflecting among them last Autumn that maybe their best sailing years were spent in the Fireball Class, and that it was amazing to think it had been around for fifty years, former Fireball champion Brian Craig immediately suggested that if Derek would organise a post-50th Anniversary Reunion of the Irish Fireball Class past and present, then he – Brian - would see about making the Royal St George Yacht Club available as the venue, for after all it was the George – home club for most of them - which had the biggest Fireball fleet in the great days of the class’s Irish glory.
The party happens – Derek Jago (left) with former Fireballers Howard Knott, Peter Stapleton and Hilary Knott. Photo: Fotosail
Of course, when you do organise something like this, you will know what your own close circle of old friends now look like. But it’s a fascinating exercise in the observation of the aging process to wheel in people you mightn’t have seen in thirty and more years.
In fact, it might have been fraught with a certain risk of non-recognition of faces from the distant past. But the Irish Fireball Class was not only an outstanding success in its peak years, it went on to send out rising stars who were to make their mark in many other areas of sailing. Consequently last Saturday night proved to be a gathering of familiar faces of whom, in some cases, folk were saying: “But I never knew you were ever a Fireball sailor”.
Yet not only were they Fireball sailors once upon a time, but they were very proud of the fact. For in the nicest possible way, the Fireball was and is a bit of a cult thing. She was designed by Peter Milne, who at the time of her creation was working on the drawings for the latest Donald Campbell world water speed record challenger. In the midst of such a hothouse of technology and massive expenditure, it seemed like a breath of fresh air to take a little time out to create a boat which reduced sailing to its absolute essentials, and he did it so well that Peter Milne thereafter never quite matched this one divine inspiration.
And it was truly inspirational. After all, who would have thought that a minimalist boat, with just about zero freeboard and skinny with it, and with her slim hull further reduced in volume by having a cut-off pram bow, who could have thought it would be such a superb sailing machine when she’d a crew who gave total commitment to the concept and realized that the use of the trapeze was what Fireball sailing was all about?
The first in Ireland –Roy Dickson’s No 38 making a tentative visit to Dun Laoghaire in September 1962.
Champions – Roy Dickson crewed by David Lovegrove after successfully defending the Fireball Nationals in 1966.
Well, the first in Ireland was Roy Dickson of Kilbarrack and Sutton on the north shores of Dublin Bay, a man who cannot contemplate any boat without thinking about ways of improving it. He’d already been taking several sails on the wild side by building a Jack Holt-designed 16ft Hornet with a sliding seat in the manner of Uffa Fox’s famous sailing canoes, so when the design of the Fireball first appeared in Yachts & Yachting magazine in 1962, it was a eureka moment.
Roy’s first Fireball, no 38, made a tentative appearance across Dublin Bay in Dun Laoghaire at the end of the 1962 season, and next Spring it was revealed that other sailors from the north shore were following in his footsteps. They’d already set up a class association with Peter O’Brien as Chairman and Eddie Kay as Honorary Secretary, and it was expected that up to 20 Fireballs would be racing in Ireland by the end of the 1963 summer.
The founding father – Roy Dickson with his sons Ian (left) and David on Saturday night at the celebration of the Irish Fireball Class. Photo: Fotosail
Jan van der Puil (left) with 1995 World Champion John Lavery. Photo: Fotosail
Early days – at an IYA Easter Meeting in Wexford the new Fireballs cut a dash by comparison with the older IDRA 14 and Enterprise in the background. Photo: W M Nixon
Celebrating the Fireball – Anthony and Sally O’Leary, with Cathy McAleavey and Con Murphy. Photo: Fotosail
It was an extraordinary breakthrough, the memory of it all made even more vibrant by the fact that Roy Dickson himself was there in Dun Laoghaire last Saturday night, his innovative Fireball years recalled as just another chapter in his own fantastic sailing career, which has gone right to the top both inshore and offshore.
The Fireball spoke eloquently to several successive waves of Irish sailors, and in the period between the mid 1960s and the late 1990s, you’d be hard put to say just what was the key year, with an early dose of extreme excitement being the Fireball Worlds at Fenit on Tralee Bay in 1970, John Caig from England being the winner. For although an unmatched high was reached in 1995 when John Lavery and David O’Brien of the National YC won both the Europeans and the Worlds in a mega regatta staged by their home club on Dublin Bay, at other times Adrian and Maeve Bell from the north – they were with Lough Neagh SC at the time - were very much in the international frame, counting many major titles.
Fireballs on an early outing to Sligo, where the Worlds were staged in 2011.
As for staging Fireball World Championships, Ireland has stepped up to the plate four times, with a particularly epic Worlds in Kinsale in 1977 where the Godkin brothers set the pace in the local fleet. Then there was the glorious home win at Dun Laoghaire in 1995. And the most recent Worlds in Ireland were at Sligo in 2011, where the great Gus Henry may have been best known as a stalwart of the GP 14 Class, but he too is a top sailor who savoured the Fireball experience.
At the height of the class’s popularity, nearly three quarters of the boats in Ireland were said to be an own-build, and Roy Dickson was the pace-setter in innovation. It’s said that if Roy turned up at a major international regatta with some completely new but barely perceptible additional feature on his boat, by the next championship you could be reasonably sure that at least half the fleet would have copied him.
But for some years now the class has seen plastic boats in the ascendant, which restrains the innovators. And numbers in Ireland are admittedly no longer so spectacular, for in its top years the truly active Fireball fleet here numbered 70 boats, which for an out-and-out performance dinghy was quite something.
There’s still as little bulk to the boat as possible, but they’re now built in GRP, as seen here with Frank Miller's boat at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. Photo: VDLR
Yet while the fleets are reduced, the memories if anything are stronger than ever. The photos reveal the calibre of the people who were and are involved in Fireball racing in Ireland – it’s a national Who’s Who of sport afloat. And if that weren’t enough, the roll call of those who preceded John Lavery and David O’Brien in the intense battles to win the World Championship is of truly global stature in international sailing.
The first one of all in 1966 was Bob Fisher, no less, crewed by Richard Beales. Then Steve Benjamin of the US was in fine form in the 1970s, as he won in ’76 and then defended successfully at Kinsale in 1977. But in 1978 at Pattaya in Thailand, a new name came centre stage – the one and only Lawrie Smith. Then in 1981 the Worlds winner was future top dinghy designer Phil Morrison, with Fireball mods and tuning worthy of Roy Dickson.
Current Irish Fireball Class Chairperson, seen speaking at last Saturday’s party, is Marie J Barry. Photo: Fotosail
In 1994 it was ace sailmaker and multi-champion Ian Pinnell who won the Fireball Worlds, and this set the bar high for John Lavery and David O’Brien in Dublin Bay in 1995. Faced with the challenge, they implemented a rigorous two-year training and competition programme in the countdown to the big one, and it all came out as planned.
As the Fireball Worlds 1995 were staged in September, the rest of the Irish sailing community were well home from holidays and back at the day job, so those driving home from work on the Friday night heard it on the car radio as one of the top stories on the evening sports news. Ireland had won a world title. Better still, it was in sailing too. And it was on the peaktime national news. It was a moment to be recalled and savoured many times in Dun Laoghaire last Saturday night.
We can always use a cover like this – welcome news with David O’Brien and John Lavery from the Sept/Oct 1995 Afloat.
See full Fireball 50th photo gallery by Gareth Craig of Fotosail here
The recently-published ISA Survey of Club Racing commissioned and supervised by Board Member Jack Roy has started the process of putting together a realistic picture of how we sail and go afloat for recreation, and it was analysed on publication here in Afloat.ie.
It’s logical to have made the beginning with club racing, as racing provides its own narrative and a straightforward set of entry numbers and results. But it will become more complex as the national authority tries to provide realistic figures for day sailing’s less competitive aspects. And of course, once we enter the world of cruising as defined by sailing and boating projects which include passage making, both coastal and offshore, together with overnight on-board stops, then it can become much more difficult to get meaningful data.
Yet with the ISA’s Cruising Conference for February 20th already booked out within a few days of being announced on Afloat.ie, clearly that is an area in search of services and support, a section of sailing which is difficult to quantify yet obviously of strong interest to a significant number of boat enthusiasts. W M Nixon takes a look at how the complexity of our sport’s many specialities makes it difficult to provide a clearcut picture for possible recruits to sailing.
Where would we be without the International Optimist Dinghy? The little solo-sailing boxes and their attendant support teams of mum and dad and the dog and the old 4X4 or station wagon or people carrier or whatever may seem to take up an awful lot of space and time, and all just so that one little person can go sailing.
But at least that one little person does go sailing. The ISA figures are brutally straightforward. In terms of genuine turnouts afloat at clubs throughout Ireland, in boat numbers the active Optimists are exceeded only by the Lasers, and this is arguably because Lasers aren’t age-limited, whereas the Optimists most definitely are.
Optimist airborne. This is Ireland's second most popular class
Ireland’s most popular dinghy class, the Laser is seen here at the Zhik Irish Nationals at Ballyholme
So we give a qualified cheer for the success of these two little boats. But it’s qualified because they’re single-handers which fail to provide any crew-relating sailing skills. Leading sailing figures as diverse as Des McWilliam of Crosshaven and Norman Lee of Greystones have been eloquent in promoting the notion that we should be doing more – much more – to encourage two-handed boats, and if we can persuade people into three-handed boats, well, so much the better.
Certainly that’s one of the reasons why our header photo says so much. A lone sailor in an Optimist or Laser promotes too much of a solitary, even an isolated image. And a two-handed boat like the GP 14, whose strong fleet figures in the ISA survey show the class’s vigour, is arguably just an act for a dynamic duo – it’s Strictly Come Dancing goes sailing…..
But getting three together to race a characterful boat like the National 18 with style – now that’s something special, that really is a superb combination of people skills interacting with sailing talent. And it’s a joy to behold. Yet anyone can see that for a complete beginner to sailing, this extraordinary silhouette of Tommy Dwyer’s National 18 against the November sky above the Hill of Howth will have an otherworldly air about it – “That’s not for me” is as likely a response as “Let’s have a go at that”.
Even those of us who have been in sailing for longer than we care to remember find the image decidedly thought-provoking, for we have some idea of what has been involved in creating the circumstances for this seemingly effortless balancing act, this lighter-than-air effect in the unlikely setting of a November afternoon.
Over the past year or so we have been recounting in Afloat,ie how the Cork Harbour National 18 Class, with very tangible backing from the Royal Cork Yacht Club, have been in the forefront of the development of the new ground-breaking Phil Morrison take on the long-established National 18, which is a developmental class which from time to time takes a leap in hull design, and moves forward in order to keep the spirit alive.
The National 18s are part of the fabric of Cork Harbour sailing. Before the new Morrison boats arrived in July, the old fleet were seen here in May 2015 after their annual race to Ballinacurra in northeast Cork Harbour in company with the Dwyer brothers’ cruising ketch. Photo: W M Nixon
Acceptance of this is something which seems to be bred into Cork’s National 18 enthusiasts, many of whom have the advantage of being firmly of the opinion that a proper dinghy needs three people to sail it. But the social matrix which has built up around Cork Harbour over many decades with this concept at its heart is not something which will necessarily travel easily to other areas, and although the six boats of the National 18 flotilla which visited Howth for the Open Day got a great reception and gave many people from other classes a marvellous time afloat, it’s probable that the very different mood around sailing in Dublin means that something so technically and socially challenging as a three man dinghy is a step too far.
Sailing in the greater Dublin area seems to exist within a framework of independent balloons. While there are those who will happily move from one boat type to another and cheerfully spread their talents and enjoyment about, by contrast there’s the Dublin Bay Sailing Club Thursday Evening Phenomenon.
Thursday is when the DBSC cruiser classes go out to race. And there’s an entire cohort of people, mostly folk who work in offices in the city, who on a Thursday evening go straight to Dun Laoghaire, get aboard a pontoon-based cruiser owned by someone else, go out and race in some very specific crewing job, then come back in and have supper in club or pub with their shipmates, and then that’s it until next Thursday. Just one evening each summer mid-week is their entire sailing programme. Weekends are for something else. And as for the hassle and mixed joys of boat ownership and maintenance, that’s not their department at all.
It’s a very metropolitan, very citified yet specialized way of doing things, and Dublin is one of the very few cities whose location facilitates it. It will be fascinating to measure it, for Dublin’s way of sailing is steeped in history and tradition. But for now it’s refreshing to look at a place which has had a sailing tradition in times past, but somehow lost it, yet it’s coming back again, and one of the good news stories towards the end of 2015 is that the new Youghal Sailing Club has been accepted into the ISA fold.
Youghal at present is a difficult place for sailing, as the tidal power of the mighty Munster Blackwater sweeps straight through the estuary and along the old town’s waterfront, and the creation of any meaningful modern facilities will have the immediate difficulty of silting by incredibly adhesive black mud.
With the sun out, and the tide in, Youghal looks to be an ideal location for the easy installation of a marina….....Photo: W M Nixon
….but with the sun in and the tide out, the mud problem is revealed. Photo: W M Nixon
Thus, as dedicated Afloat.ie readers will have recently observed, no sooner had one group announced that a marina in Youghal was on the way than another longer-established group quietly suppressed the story, as they’re well aware of the engineering and dredging difficulties involved, and premature announcements will only slow any project in the long run.
In the fullness of time, a marina at Youghal will be a godsend for any cruiser plugging along the south coast. It’s not always the easiest coast in the world to make a passage along, sometimes it can seem an awfully long way to Cork from Dunmore East or Kilmore Quay even if you do make stopovers at Dungarvan or Helvick, and there are times when the hardiest seafarer is glad enough to get his boat secured to a good big pontoon.
But that’s for the future. Meantime, the locally-based keelboats are using either the restless anchorage off the town, or the more serene pool across the estuary at Ferry Point on the east shore, while the new club’s flotilla of GP 14s are stored in spare warehouse space during non-sailing time, and when they do go sailing it turns out their clubhouse is a moveable feast - it’s a caravan which can be towed to a choice of sailing locations.
A moveable feast. Members of the newly-affiliated Youghal Sailing Club with their caravan HQ, Adrian Lee in doorway. Photo: W M Nixon
On the national stage, it is young Youghal GP 14 sailor Adrian Lee who has been among those flying the club’s flag, and there’s hope in the air. When we were there in May on a fine day that promised a summer which never arrived, we couldn’t help but think that when they do get their facilities and maybe even a clubhouse, they’ll look back to the days of the caravan and ad hoc racing arrangements with sweet nostalgia. For sometimes, it’s much better to be travelling than it is to arrive.
But for the rest of us, the message from Youghal is simple. The sea is for sailing. Use it or lose it. By all means get proper people surveys done which indicate the way numbers are shaping up and things are going. But really, if you want to persuade people to go sailing, the best way is by example, getting afloat as much as possible yourself. And maybe then you’ll find the time to welcome aboard newcomers too.
Reviving Youghal sailing – on race days, the club’s caravan is simply towed down to the pier and the races are started from there. Photo: W M Nixon
Youghal’s massive public slip provides launching for the YSC sailing dinghies, but during 2015 the boats had to be stored at the other end of town when not in use. Photo: W M Nixon
The pace-setter. Adrian Lee of Youghal SC with his Duffin-built GP14. Photo: W M Nixon
Click to download: ISA Survey of Club Racing
Anyone with whatever you like in the way of a boat and a selection of sundry sails to power her along can have a season of pleasant memories - provided there’s a summer of reliably good weather. It takes an atrocious summer to prove the real mettle of a sailing and boating community. W M Nixon reckons Ireland had a great sailing year in 2015 despite the weather, and he takes an enthusiastic canter around its more outstanding events.
Is a summer of settled weather really what we need for the classic Irish sailing season? The classic Irish sailing season is a unique creature. For although we stage more than our fair share of major events with an increasing tendency to settle on the four day regatta format as being the ideal, the underlying backbone of our sport continues to be club racing, midweek and weekend alike.
Evening and weekend racing went through something of a dip in the boom years as people became bedazzled by the attractions of the big regatta shows, pouring their resources and energy into seeing and being seen in glamour events at key venues.
Yet after a while, you begin to get the notion that if absolutely everyone wants to be there and is there, then what’s the point? So maybe record turnouts had ceased to be fashionable in any case. But as it is, the onset of the austerity years meant that those who managed to continue to sail at all (for inevitably many took time out from our sometimes expensive vehicle sport) found that what was being provided on their own doorstep was the best value for money.
In this new cherishing of the local, once again we were reminded of how utterly dependent we are on something over which we have no control whatsoever. The weather. And within the big weather picture, the most important single factor is the wind. And the fact is, in a summer of good and settled weather, the time for evening racing is also the time of day which is least likely to have any wind at all.
So although fair-weather sailors may remember the weather of 2015 as something which is better forgotten altogether – a fact reinforced by some of the year’s worst conditions being in the peak sailing months – the reality is that most club Sailing Secretaries have happily been able to report a good season for regular club home events, with a high proportion of races completed.
Cherishing the local while spreading the wings a bit – the 118-year-old Howth 17s ventured across Dublin Bay for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. Photo: VDLR
Cherishing the local while staying local – the mostly veteran International Dragons in Glandore have had a good year. Photo: Kathleen Hayes
All too often in a good summer, as boats crawl across the evening finishing line on a shortened course in the faintest of zephyrs, you’ll hear the slightly apologetic mantra: “Well, we got a result”. But how much better it is that crews should arrive back into the clubhouse with the full course sailed, great sport enjoyed, and the exuberant mood of an evening well spent afloat racing just as hard as you can against people who are your friends and neighbours ashore. And as for those who complain that it was too cold and too wet, you can always retort with the old Scandinavian wisdom: “There’s no such thing as bad weather. Just bad clothes….”
We certainly heard a lot of that old saying during 2015, yet any overview brings a cornucopia of spectacular sailing memories with sunshine somehow breaking through at every turn. If we had to pick four highlights in Ireland, they’d be the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race on June 11th, the Sovereigns Cup/ICRA Nats at Kinsale from June 24th to 27th, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta on Dublin Bay from 9th to 12th July, and the Cork Dinghyfest 2015 at the Royal Cork in Crosshaven from August 20th to 23rd.
The wild and woolly west – racers in the WIORA Championship in Galway Bay took on everything the Atlantic could throw at them. Photo: Gareth Craig
Supporting those four pillar events are other popular happenings such as the WIORA Championship (a real cracker in 2015, staged on Galway Bay from Galway Port by Galway Bay SC), the much-loved West Cork regattas in their traditional time-frame of early August, sailed as a family-friendly four day event which nevertheless calls itself Calves Week, the time-honoured Regatta Weeks in the first half of August on the Shannon’s great lakes of Lough Ree and Lough Derg where Shannon One Designs set a stately pace for a fleet including visitors such as the increasingly vibrant Dublin Bay Water Wags (first established as a class in 1886), and the traditional and classic gatherings for the mostly gaff rigged craft in the Glandore Classics in July, preceded by the DBOGA’s Leinster Plate in Dublin Bay as May morphs into June, with the fleet returning to Poolbeg Y & BC in the heart of Ringsend where, in July, they could celebrate the re-birth of the famous John Kearney-designed Ringsend-built yawl Mavis at Camden in Maine.
Dennis Aylmer’s Cornish Crabber Mona won the DBOGA Leinster Trophy. Photo: Dave Owens
Cork Harbour OD Elsie (1896) and Victorian cutter Airlie find a bit of summer at the Glandore Classics.
The historic Mavis newly restored - she will definitely look much better with full rig in place, but for now she greets the Fall in Camden, Maine. Photo: Denise Pukas
With events being successfully slipped in under the meteorological radar as Race Officers looked out for some hopeful evidence that a malevolent weather front would soon be followed by a benign weather back, inevitably some happenings failed to make the cut. The biggest cancellation was Howth YC’s time-honoured Lambay Race on June 6th, when a dense southwesterly airflow gusting to 39 knots-plus would have made it irresponsible to start giving racing signals to an extremely diverse fleet which included some very elderly classics. But while visitors were disappointed, for the locals it was only a postponement, as they knew that, for them, the Lambay would be raced as part of some other event in the crowded HYC programme which, thanks to the annual Laser Frostbites, has been continuous since April 1974. And in due course the Howth classes did indeed contest their Lambay Races, and the HonSailSec could proudly announce: “We got a result”.
Meanwhile the frustrations of that big non-event on June 6th seemed to spur the reviving Howth fleet to greater effort, and they went on to make hay with the opposition in many classes at both the Sovereigns Cup/ICRA Nats in Kinsale in late June, and the big one, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta in July. And for those who sail on the south side of Dublin Bay, the expansion of local sailing horizons as Greystones Marina gets further into its stride is a wonder to behold. One of the most rapidly-growing events on the East Coast is Greystones Regatta at the end of August, which fits in with the late summer Bank Holiday Weekend in the UK, and can thus link in with cross-Channel events coming across from North Wales.
Boat of the year? George Sisk’s well-tested Farr 42 WOW was a star at both Kinsale and Dun Laoghaire, and was also in the frame in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race.
After the bumpy ride which it provided through the main summer months, while it might be over-stating it to say that the weather smiled throughout early Autumn, it certainly did everything it could to help weekend sailing events. The MSL Park Motors Autumn League at Howth had superb racing throughout six glorious Saturdays, and although the CH Marine Autumn League at Royal Cork had one or two days which were less than perfect, it ended on a high with perhaps the best day’s sailing of the year anywhere and at any time in Ireland, its special quality emphasized in retrospect by the fact that as we write this annual report in mid-November, the weather pattern has gone to pot with Winter Leagues so far blown out.
Off the island throughout 2015, we’d memorable results in the RORC Easter Challenge in the Solent in April, the British GP 14s in August, the Rolex Fastnet Race the same month, and the Rolex Middle Sea Race in October. As for the cruising front, it was here that prolonged periods of generally bad weather had the greatest ill effects, but nevertheless some fine voyages were completed, and the round Ireland cruise – always an attractive project in any year – was a real challenge completed by a variety of craft.
It was not to be a special year for new boats, with one outstanding exception. In one of the most remarkable examples of club, class, group and community effort, the completely new Phil Morrison-designed National 18 was finally brought to the water thanks mainly to the Cork Harbour division of the class, with very tangible financial support from the Royal Cork Yacht Club and energetic fund-raising by class members. They were the stars both of the British and Irish National 18 Championship at Crosshaven in July, and the Dinghyfest there in August.
Now that’s what we call an ensign…..The Colombian Tall Ship Guayas flies the flag on Belfast Lough in July
At the other end of the size scale, the Tall Ships came to Ireland in considerable strength to Belfast in July. At the time, their exuberant presence was a painful reminder that Ireland north and south is lacking in a proper sail training ship even though the gallant schooner Spirit of Oysterhaven does her best. But there’s no escaping the fact that Spirit is a large yacht rather than a ship in any traditional sense, so the work behind the scenes by Atlantic Youth Trust to provide a new 40 metre brigantine was of special interest. At the time of writing, the word is that AYT have got over the first hurdle by receiving a supportive Letter of Intent from the Irish Government which – in official circles – is considered significant, while in Northern Ireland the eventual implementation of the Stormont Agreement will open the way towards positive involvement with an all-Ireland sailing ship which will be much more than just a sail training vessel in the formerly-accepted style.
But that’s something for the future, meanwhile who were the top winners in 2015? On the international front, it was a decidedly mixed year for those who hope to represent Ireland in the Rio Olympics in August 2016, and as it’s all very much work in progress and will remain so until March 2016, we’ll move on to global events which provided winners whose results will stick.
In a very hairy Transatlantic Race in July, it was Carrickfergus navigator Ian Moore who called the shots to such good effect on the RP 63 Lucky that she won overall. We formerly knew Lucky as Loki which Gordon Maguire skippered to the overall win in the 2012 Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race. But she ceased to be Lucky after Moore moved aboard Bella Mente for Cowes Week, and in the Fastnet Race Lucky got hung up on the Shingles Bank shortly after the start (as many have done before), and there she stayed for hours.
In the Rolex Fastnet Race, first Irish boat to finish was Enda O’Coneen’s Open 60 Kilcullen, but the best-placed Irish was RORC Commodore Michael Boyd with the Grand Soleil 43 Quokka 8, while the most memorable result was by Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing in Dun Laoghaire who took his hard-worked Sunfast 37 round the course to such good effect that she was top-placed sailing school boat out of a class of 32 sailing school entries.
Ronan O Siochru and his Irish Offshore Sailing crew well on the way to winning the Sailing Schools’ trophy in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2015. Photo: Rolex
At the other end of the sailing experience spectrum, Dave Cullen of Howth took his classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV to the Worlds in Belgium with a crew of all the Irish talents, and won comprehensively.
Ian Moore then re-surfaced in October navigating aboard the Italian Cookson 50 Mascalone Latino in the 606-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race, and placed second overall to the TP 52 B2 (Michele Galli) by just seven seconds…….But even as everyone was still digesting this frustrating almost-made-it, there was good news for Ireland with Malahide YC father and son team of Dermot & Paddy Cronin winning the Double-Handed Division with their First 40.7 Encore with almost two hours to spare.
Antix takes second for line honours in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race
Nearer home, Anthony O’Leary of Cork was settling in with command of his new red Ker 40 Antix (formerly Catapult), getting off to a flying start with the Top Boat award in the Easter Regatta in the Solent. Then in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race in June (enjoying a magic bubble of good weather in a mostly miserable month), it looked like Munster’s Antix might take the overall win at mid-race as she battled with Adrian Lee’s Cookson 50 Lee Overlay partners for line honours. But it was a race for J Boats of several sizes, with Liam Shanahan (NYC) and his family on the J/109 Ruth having their performance so sharpened by a couple of hundred miles of boat-for-boat racing against sister-ship Mojito that they won the Dingle dash by 22 minutes, and Antix found herself back in eighth. Ruth then went on to further glory offshore, and became the ISORA Champion 2015.
Liam Shanahan on the helm of Ruth with the Skellig astern and victory ahead in the Dingle race. He also became ISORA Champion 2015.
The two big four-day regattas at Kinsale and then Dun Laoghaire were mirror images of each other, in that Kinsale started light and finished good and fresh, while Dun Laoghaire started with stacks of breeze and a dismasting or three, but then finished light. Either way, it was great sport, and veteran skipper George Sisk revelled in it all by winning his class in both events with his Farr 42 WOW, and in Dun Laoghaire he did so with such style he was also Boat of the Regatta.
Other winners in Kinsale included John Maybury’s J/109 Joker from Dun Laoghaire, Ross McDonald’s X332 Equinox from Howth, the Corby 25 Fusion (Richard Colwell & Ronan Cobbe) also from Howth, and the Howth Under 25 J24 helmed by Cillian Dickson.
While Kinsale had been strictly cruiser-racers, the huge 420 boats-plus Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta was variety gone mad, with a historic visit for her first race in Dublin Bay in 45 years by the restored Flying Thirty Huff of Arklow (Andrew Thornhill) at one end, right down to GP 14s having their Leinster Championship and Water Wags doing their thing at the other.
Huff of Arklow sailing again at Dun Laoghaire after 45 years away. Photo: VDLR
The GP 14s – racing their Leinster Championship – provided one of the most numerous classes at the Volvo Regatta in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: VDLR
At a time when the entire future of Dun Laoghaire Harbour is a matter of public debate with an intrusive cruise liner berth being proposed by commercial interests, Dun Laoghaire could not have chosen a better time to put on such a superb show of being Ireland’s premier leisure harbour, and it was arguably the best Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta ever since it was introduced in its contemporary form back in 2002.
Round up the usual suspects….the prize winners at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta. Photo: VDLR
Now you see them……George Sisk and his crew of old (and not-so-old) mates. Photo: VDLR
…..now you don’t (see them, that is). If anyone could tell us who or what this is on the breezy day at Dun Laoghaire, we’d be much obliged. Photo: Gareth Craig
With a total of 32 different sets of prizes to be given out at the end of the regatta, anyone who felt they knew what was really going on was clearly deluded, but out of it all there emerged the popular overall win over everyone by George Sisk and the golden oldies on WOW, and it was a victory cheered to the rafters.
In the dinghies, the new National 18s at Crosshaven at the end of July saw Tom Dwyer (RCYC) win his tenth Cock o’ the North trophy, an unprecedented record, and then in the British GP 14 Opens in August in Devon, Shane McCarthy & Andy Thompson of Greystones put it neatly away to bring home the title.
Creating a buzz – the advent of the new Phil Morrison National 18s in Cork Harbour was the result of remarkable class, club and community effort. Photo: Robert Bateman
Shane McCarthy & Andy Thompson of Greystones were the international pace-setters in the GP 14s.
The Dinghyfest at Crosshaven in late August lived up to its billings and then some, winners including Jack Ryan & Ben Graf (Lough Ree, Mirrors), Geoff Power (Dunmore East, Toppers), Paul McMahon & Laura Houlihan (Howth, RS400), Marty OLeary & Rachel Williamson (RStGYC, RS 200), Dara Donnelly & Cliona Coyle (NYC, RS Feva), Douglas Elmes & Colin O’Sullivan (Howth, 420), and Tommy Dwyer & Willie Healy (Cork, National 18).
The dinghy brigade were also well represented in the cruising stakes, as a remarkable round Ireland voyage by the Ogden brothers of Baltimore SC in their Drascombe Lugger showed what could be done by grit and sheer determination even in one of the worst summers ever experienced for round Ireland cruising.
And finally, the traditional season came to its close with the All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship raced in the first weekend of October in the SailFleet J/80s at the National Yacht Club under the masterful direction of Race Officer Jack Roy. By that time in the season, even the keenest Corinthian sailors are beginning to feel a little jaded, so they need a crisply run event. With the weather obliging with an increasing sou’easter as the weekend progressed, Jack Roy did the business from the Committee Boat. And out on the racecourse, defending champion Anthony O’Leary of Cork - crewed by Dan O’Grady of Howth and Cian Guilfoyle of Dun Laoghaire - did the business big time too, providing one of the most convincing wins seen in the All Ireland for several years.
The main man….Anthony O’Leary retained the All Ireland Title in convincing style. Photo: David O’Brien
Located on the fringes of Europe and set in challenging seas, Ireland does not offer an ideal setup for large-output series-production of recreational boats. We lack the economies of scale which are conferred on giant production companies in the crowded heartlands of Europe. There, the ready potential of a vibrant and easily-accessed market is allied with the availability of skilled workforces which are prepared to undertake the tasks in regimented and regulated settings. While these modern production plants may provide bright and well-ventilated conditions, nevertheless they’re markedly industrial in tone and style, and maybe not really in tune with much of life in our own highly individualistic island. W M Nixon takes a look at some of the stories of boat-building in Ireland, and reckons from current experience that specialized work is what we do best.
Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, over the years enthusiasts have given the Irish production fiberglass boat-building challenge their best shots. The continuing and much-enjoyed presence of boats of the Shipman 28 class at many of our sailing centres is a reminder that once upon a time, from the 1970s onwards in Limerick, there was a company called Fibreman Marine, later Fastnet Marine, which built the Swedish-designed Shipman 28 and then expanded the range to include the Fastnet 24, designed by Finot of France.
At much the same time, the Brown brothers were building the Ruffian range – of which the most popular was the Ruffian 23 – in their home town of Portaferry on Strangford Lough, while across the Lough at Killyleagh, Chris Boyd – who’d actually built the first Puppeteer 22s in Larne – set up shop a couple of years later in a new mini-factory and Puppeteers of several sizes rolled off the line.
Meanwhile on the shores of Cork Harbour, a popular range of variations on the Ron Holland Shamrock Half Ton design kept a harbour-side production plant busy for some years. And out west in Tralee, O’Sullivans Marine found themselves some decades ago in the forefront of design development with a new GRP National 18 built around the enthusiasm of the Cork Harbour fleet, and then they went on to build large numbers of the Tony Castro-designed 1720 Sportsboat. But having started as builders of smaller craft with a useful range of elegant lakeboats, they find that the lakeboat is what keeps them going today – it’s a case of going with the knitting while keeping well clear of more high-powered production temptations.
Other pioneers in Irish series boat-building have stayed in the marine business, but have moved their focus. How many know now that our very own marine conglomerate, BJ Marine with its wide boat-oriented interests at home and abroad, started life as a boat-building company with a range of van de Stadt GRP hulls, and then continued as the builder of the Ruffian 23?
God be with the days…..seventy Tralee-built 1720s racing at Cork Week 2000, with Mark Mansfield the winner and Anthony O’Leary second. Photo: Robert Bateman
Shipman 28s racing in Dublin Bay. They were built in Limerick in one of several factories in Europe which between them produced 1300 of these boats. Photo: Courtesy VDLR
Ruffian 23s in Dun Laoghaire Harbour. Originally built in Portaferry to be a Belfast Lough class, at their height they were raced at about ten centres including Hong Kong, but now their most resilient strongholds are Dun Laoghaire and Carrickfergus.
Indeed the story of BJ Marine is in many ways the story of the Irish marine industry, for as the late Dickie Brown of Ruffian fame said of the glory days of their little firm of Weatherly Yachts: “We were the right people in the right place at the right time in the rapidly developing international marine industry. But later, there was no way a little local firm could hope to compete with the giants of the industry in the production of what was, in effect, the sailing equivalent of the small family car.”
It wasn’t just on the coast that semi-production boatbuilders were thriving - or at least surviving - at this particular stage of the Irish marine industry’s development. On the inland waterways, particularly around Carrick-on-Shannon there were firms of all sorts, mainly building motor-cruisers, but as well the great pioneer, O’Brien Kennedy, having come home to build Shannon cruisers, then returned to his first love of sailing boats and created the Kerry 6-tonner, characterfully built in GRP of simulated clinker construction, and still much-loved even if Kennedy International Boats is a long-gone memory.
But since the heady days of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, several economic storms and revolutions in production methods and materials have blown away much of the Irish marine manufacturing and boat-building industry. The crazy years of the Celtic Tiger only emphasized its demise, as the great waves of new boats joining the Irish fleet were almost entirely imported, while the concurrent property boom meant that even the humblest waterfront boatyard provided other-use high-end development potential which so quickly pushed prices through the roof that anyone who wanted to work at or build boats had to think in terms of finding premises just about as far as they could be from desirable waterside facilities, for that was all that could be afforded.
And yet, some companies have come through. Red Bay Boats in County Antrim started in 1977 as builders of standard little angling craft, but they soon saw the potential of RIBs, and now they’re world leaders. Having introduced a completely new kind of fast powerboat day cruising with their impressive range of multi-function RIBs, they soon realized that today’s people in a hurry want a complete package. So in Cushendall, Red Bay Boats will provide shore storage for your boat when you’re not using it, yet when you carve out one of those short-break holidays which are the way we live today, they’ll have your boat ready and waiting for instant launching, and off you go for a high speed cruise among the Scottish Hebrides – they’ll even organise cruises-in-company.
Across Northern Ireland on Lough Erne, the Leonard family of Carrybridge have taken over Westwood Marine from its production facility in England, and since 2013 have been re-establishing the production line in ideal premises – a former aircraft hangar at the lakeside St Angelo Airport on the Enniskillen-Kesh road. Westwood’s designer is the versatile Andrew Wolstenholme, whose astonishing variety of craft includes the hefty steel 57ft cruising barge-style yacht Ida for Tom & Dee Bailey of Lough Derg. It was a designer-client relationship which was remarkably fruitful, as the only real stumbling block was Dee’s insistence that the boat include a really good full size hot press - it took some time for the very English designer to grasp that she meant an airing cupboard.
One example of Wolstenholme design – the 57ft barge yacht Ida (Tom & Dee Bailey) on Loug Derg. Photo: Noel Griffin
A very different example of Wolstenholme design – the Westwood A405 is now being built in Enniskillen.
For Westwood in their new Enniskillen base, Wolstenholme has been showing his skills in contemporary design with a complete revamp of materials used in the interior, but by any standards the Westwood A405 is a handsome modern craft, and anyone buying a new one from Enniskillen has the bonus of a year’s free berthing on Lough Erne.
Down at the other end of the country, adverse conditions is what keeps Safehaven Marine going strong. Everyone will be familiar with the dramatic videos of their pilot and patrol boats leaping abut like happy porpoises in the breaking water at the entrance to Cork Harbour when there’s a storm force southerly against the spring ebb. But by contrast, a visit to their production facility in Youghal is a soothing experience (once the enormous guard dog has accepted you’re a temporary part of the team), as it’s a sort of mini-cathedral of boat-building where craft capable of taking anything the sea can throw at them are built with meticulous attention in which the only noise comes when the vast extractor fans are activated. Building boats in modern plastics is inevitably a dusty business, and anyone who has worked at it will be fully appreciative of what Frank Kowalski has installed in Safehaven to keep the busy place dust-free.
Precision work in a dust-free environment – the main building hall at Safehaven Marine in Youghal. Photo: W M Nixon
However, having a setup like this implies the building of high ticket boats in which expense is virtually no object if it can be guaranteed that they’ll fulfill their very special purposes. But for the vast majority of specialist boatbuilders – both professional, semi-professional, and amateur – it’s a case of making do as best you can, and often you’ll find rather special boat being built in unlikely places, often to the extent that the locals don’t known what’s going on, for in some cases they’ll barely know what a boat is in the first place.
From time to time we’ve given away snippets of information abut Jarlath Cunnane’s new 37ft alloy Atkins ketch which he has been building himself in a very hidden little shed beside a drainage canal on Clew Bay. Jarlath of course built the ice-voyaging Northabout - also in alloy - with Paddy Barry and circled the Arctic Circle with the project completed in 2005. But now that the likes of top Chinese skipper Guo Chuan are breezing their way through the Northeast passage in a giant trimaran in a fast sail of a couple of weeks, Jarlath has moved on. Northabout has been sold to be a expedition vessel in Antarctica (her last Irish port was Kilrush in May) – and the new schooner Island Princess is handling a treat, and moving at leisure among the islands of Connacht, while the hidden shed is given over to other business.
Nearing completion – Jarath Cunnane’s own-built 37ft alloy schooner Island Princess at his well-hidden facility in County Mayo
Jarlath Cunnane’s new Island Princess is just about as different as possible from his previous expedition boat Northabout except that she too is built in alloy.
The leaving of Ireland. Northabout at Kilrush in early May shortly before departing for what will be a new Southern Hemisphere chapter in her career as an expedition yacht. Photo: W M Nixon
But deep in the heart of north county Cork, just about midway between Cork Harbour and Limerick, there’s a fine shed ready and waiting for the next bit of business. And the more unusual your requirements, the more interested Bill Trafford will be in doing it at Alchemy Marine, where he successfully completes boat projects which are so far off the wall that they’re over the hills and well into the next county.
Those of us who are into interesting boats will know that the most dangerous road in Ireland is the one from Carrigaline to Crosshaven, for the further along it you get, the more boats you will see moored in and around Drake’s Pool. They’re a briefly-glimpsed eclectic collection of boats of all ages, shapes and sizes, which means you’re constantly trying to see them while supposedly driving the car at the same time, which is not a good idea at all.
But back in August, the road along the north side of Crookhaven in far west Cork also became a Highway of Hazard. I always have a soft spot for any boats with the good sense to moor on the north side of Crookhaven, for although you’re not even half a mile from the much more fashionable and crowded anchorage off the village, you’re out of the tide. When the flood is making against a stonking westerly, the village anchorage is irritatingly uncomfortable, but a quick move, dropping the visitor’s mooring off the village, and then deploying our oversize windlass and ground tackle at the press of a button over to the north, and Bob’s you uncle, dinner can continue in total serenity.
So anyway one evening last August we were trundling eastward along the road looking favourably on the little group moored in towards Rock Island, and there among them was this heart-stoppingly beautiful little dark blue sloop which looked so much of a piece that I assumed she must be one of those incredibly pricey little semi-customised dayboats which top-end American builders up in Maine might occasionally produce at enormous expense, and even then only for very favoured customers.
Couldn’t have got it more wrong. Turns out she’s a completely re-booted Elizabethan 23 which Bill Trafford of Alchemy Marine up near Doneraile had been hoping to have re-crafted for a discerning owner from Crookhaven Harbour Sailing Club in time to make her debut at the Glandore Classics in July. But you can’t rush the final stages of a job like this for something so vulgar as a deadline, so Kioni quietly made her debut in West Cork in August, and she is simply amazing.
The Trafford speciality is seeing unexpected potential in glassfibre hulls of a certain age, for what he’s looking for is boats that look like yachts, with proper curved garboards and an encapsulated lead ballast keels. We now know that good glassfibre can last for ever, but in many cases the finish didn’t do justice to the superb materials in the original hull. But with more than a bit of tweaking, a beautiful butterfly can emerge from a very ordinary chrysalis.
Not that the Elizabethan 23 wasn’t something quite special in her day, which was 1969. Boatbuilder Peter Webster of Lymington was originally a baker in Yorshire, but he only wanted to builld boats, and he knew Lymington in Hampshire was the place to do it, and having a marina there – Lymington Yacht Haven – would provide the cash flow to support the boat-building. He started with the ground-breaking GRP Elizabethan 29 designed by Kim Holman, which set herself on the high road to success with major wins in Cowes Week and the Round the Island Race. But then Webster got some notions for a centreboard 23-footer, for which he sketched out rough drawings and then persuaded up-and-coming Welsh yacht designer David Thomas to put manners on them, with the result being the pretty-enough Elizabethan 23.
The original design for the Elizabethan 23 had this reasonably conservative coachroof…
….but a later builder decided that increased headroom was essential, and went highrise
First big job is to remove deck and coachroof, revealing a rather nice hull underneath
The duo’s most successful combined effort was the Elizabethan 30, which did well in Half Ton racing and was a superb little cruiser-racer generally, so much so that Webster’s pet boat was the bright red Elizabethan 30 Liz of Lymington which he sailed to the end of his days, and then left in his will to David Thomas, who then did the same, and he died well advanced in years last winter.
But meanwhile the mouldings for the Elizabethan 23 had been taken over by another builder who reckoned the enlargement of the coachroof was the only way to go, and it was in one of these boats with its Acropolis on top that Bill Trafford saw the potential to provide a sweet little 26ft day-boat, though with a couple of bunks, a proper sea toilet, and an inboard diesel, for the clear-headed Crookhaven Harbour sailor.
They defined lines of negotiation between what Bill wanted to do, and what the owner required, and work proceeded apace. The photos says it all. Kioni speaks for herself. And there is no doubt but that Bill Trafford’s eye for what a proper yacht should look like is world-class-plus.
Perhaps the most crucial job of all – getting the counter extension just right. Bill Trafford hit the target perfectly.
Bill Trafford’s eye for a boat is well matched by his skill in working with wood – we can see only one glaring design fault in this photo in the workshop as Kioni take shape in her new form.
The skill in getting the counter extension just precisely right sets the tone of the entire project. And as for the quality of the workmanship in wood – that’s truly a wonder to behold. But what’s this about a design fault in that nearest photo above? Not to worry – it’s not in the boat. It’s to do with the door to the workshop lavatory.
That great boat designer and builder Uffa Fox says in one of his books that whether it’s the privy in the garden, or the lavatory in the boatbuilding shed or wherever, then the door to the lavatory should always open inwards. Thus if you’re taking your proper leisure therein, and seated comfortably and wish to contemplate some good work whether it be in the garden or on the boat under construction in the workshop, then if you’re on your own you can leave the door open the better to appreciate your work. But if someone arrives unexpectedly, you can kick it shut without a bother…….
Although Kioni makes a feature of beautifully finished timberwork, it’s not excessive. The really skilled boat creator knows that less is more, and a discreet yet effective little toe rail is much more pleasing to the eye than some hulking great heavy bit of bulwark or beading.
Less is more – the tasteful little toe rail does what’s needed, yet is so much more in keeping with the new syle of the boat.
Just to get it all in perspective, this…
……came from this
So now you know the style of Bill Trafford’s work, and if you’re interested, his workshop is 70ft X 45ft with a door 15ft wide and 14ft high. He reckons he could do two Kionis a year. But be warned. He always has some other ideas at the back of his mind. His real ambition is to buy a battered old GRP Nicholson 43, lengthen her stern out into something like a Fife counter, give her straight stem the tiniest hint of a clipper bow, stick on an 8ft bowsprit, and turn her into a re-born gaff schooner…………
A standard Nich 43. Bill Trafford’s dream would be to turn her into a 47ft gaff schooner with a classic long Fife counter and a hint of a clipper bow
The Afloat.ie website, which is ranked by Google as Ireland’s leading source for the provision of a broad range of recreational and commercial maritime information, news and comment, has been completely updated in recent weeks. Yet though it has acquired a fresh, fast-moving look, and now provides a new and unrivalled multi-platform service, the change has been effected without any interruption to service. That said, our alert and more tech-savvy readers have been welcoming each addition to our service as it comes online. The new-style Afloat.ie is both a ground-breaking development for maritime communications and news exchange and analysis in Ireland, and yet it is also a healthy continuation of an integral part of our maritime life which stretches back more than fifty years. W M Nixon takes up the tale, and looks forward to where this remarkable story might lead us all.
In the early 1960s the Irish Dinghy Racing Association (founded 1946) was in the process of being re-born as the Irish Yachting Association. A competitive three-boat Irish campaign had been mounted for the 1960 Rome Olympics with the sailing events in Naples, and the confidence gained from this project gave the nascent national authority new energy and clearer direction.
The proposed wider remit for the new IYA aimed to make the Association of interest to all sailing and boating enthusiasts, and a sub-committee - drawn from all the main sailing centres through the yacht and sailing clubs which were the core of the national authority - was set up to explore ways of establishing an Irish sailing and boating magazine to reach the small but growing home market.
The intention was that the IYA should publish the magazine itself, as it was not initially a valid stand-alone commercial proposition. The first Irish Yachting was the July/August edition of 1962, and it continued as a bi-monthly publication through the 1960s, relying for content largely on modestly-paid contributors – both specialist and regional - and the editorial and production work co-ordinated by IYA Secretary Ursula Maguire, with the Association underwriting the cost of a magazine whose income was augmented by advertising.
Clayton Love Jnr of Cork. Working closely with the late Jimmy Mooney of Dun Laoghaire, as President of the Irish Dinghy Racing Association he transformed it into the Irish Yachting Association, and together they co-ordinated the introduction of Irish Yachting magazine in 1962. In 1968 he was one of the small committee which oversaw the conversion of Erskine & Molly Childers’ famous Asgard to become Ireland’s first sail training vessel, and at the same time he was negotiating the amalgamation of the Royal Munster Yacht Club with the Royal Cork Yacht Club to have the Royal Cork YC thriving for its Quarter Millennium Celebration in1969-1970. A noted IDRA 14 and Int. 505 sailor, he won the Helsmans Championship, and in this photo, he is wearing the original IYA tie.
The hope had always been that the interest in sailing and boating in Ireland, with a developing marine industry to support it, would increase to such an extent that the magazine would become of interest to a commercial publisher, as it was felt that an in-house publication from a National Authority lacked the bite and broader interest to compete properly with the British yachting magazines which circulated widely in Ireland north and south.
In 1970 this aim was achieved, with the rights taken over by a commercial periodical publishing group which agreed that Irish Yachting & Motorboating – as it soon became – would be a monthly magazine which would guarantee space for specifically IYA news and policies, yet would equally expect to publish contrary views and incisive analyses.
Historic highlight. David Wilkins and Jamie Wilkinson win the Silver medal for Ireland in the Flying Dutchman Class at the 1980 Olympics
New look Irish Yachting: Afloat's first edition in 1972. Today's magazine and website covers the same Irish maritime topics as it did 43 years ago
At the same time it would make added efforts to reach potential newcomers in every area of boating, and general readers in all other areas of maritime interest. As a result of this, the magazine’s name was then changed to Afloat, and through the 1980s and the 1990s, with occasional changes of publishers, the magazine played a central role in the development and growth of Irish sailing and boating.
Going global. The Feb/March 1992 edition of Afloat celebrated Ireland’s win in both the December 1991 Southern Cross series, and the overall win in the Sydney-Hobart race 1991, with John Storey’s all-conquering Atara as our cover girl...
Since then, as our regular readers will be aware, over the past 20 years Afloat has been on a firm commercial footing and has developed into the comprehensive publication and Internet forum it is today. It continued to be so through the difficult times of recession, and through radical changes both in the Irish marine industry – the main supporters of the published version of Afloat Magazine – and the ways in which those marine manufacturers and traders reach their potential markets.
Another big international win, this time in the 21st century. Ger O’Rourke’s Cookson 50 Chieftain from Kilrush in the early stages of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2007, which she won overall. The Limerick skipper deservedly became Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Year” on the strength of this great achievement. Photo: James Boyd
Consolidation of the global marine industry, combined with the fact that Ireland is now within a very few hours flying time from the main centres of marine manufacturing, have meant that Ireland has become, in effect, a province of the European boat business.
Equally, the growth of the Internet has been such that international marine corporations have been able to develop websites of such quality that they by-pass established means of reaching potential customers. In the final analysis, these website constitute advertising. But they have now reached such a standard of sophistication that the uninformed reader sometimes has difficulty in differentiating a subtle sales pitch from genuine news and comment.
This re-direction of marketing budgets has inevitably impinged on established methods of communication and public conversation in the maritime sphere as elsewhere. But open media outlets such as Afloat.ie have in turn been re-inventing themselves in order to continue to provide their best possible service in an increasingly challenging environment.
In fact, Afloat magazine was one of the first to embrace new technology in the Internet age, with our initial website launched in 1993 with support from Allianz Insurance as Founding Sponsor. Now, some 53 years after Afloat first published on paper, it is the leader in Irish maritime communications online, while at the same time continuing to publish a quarterly version of the magazine on paper, with the Afloat Autumn 2015 edition hitting the news-stands next week.
Quarterly form – the up-coming Autumn 2015 Afloat, on sale next week
Today's scenario on the Internet is such that:
Afloat.ie's popular online format has a strong returning readership with around 48% of daily visits being return visitors. In fact over the peak sailing months in 2014 Afloat surpassed its own records for unique (direct) visitors with an average of 52,024 visitors a month, and as this graph shows, our key figures in 2015 are up 12%, with a significant further underlying rise towards the latter part of the season, though nothing quite matches the spike when Musandam Oman was establishing a new Round Ireland Record back in the Spring.
Afloat.ie's improving performance through 2015, with a spike for the successful Round Ireland record bid by Musandam Oman
The team works hard to achieve top Google Search rankings, and together with a tightly bound community of readers, Afloat.ie's continually up-dated combination of opinion, hard news and features puts it at the very heart of the national conversation on sailing, boating and maritime affairs.
It's a satisfying result to date because the aim has always been to provide Irish sailing clubs, classes and the wider maritime community with comprehensive and reliable information in a dynamic independent site to promote our sport to the wider audience which only the Internet provides.
This has been supported this year by the ISA with their renewal of a necessary relationship with Afloat.ie which in a sense marks a return to the situation in 1962. It’s probably a unique tie–up in world sailing, but is necessary because athough Ireland has all the status of a leading sailing nation, globally speaking we have a small national economy.
In addition, the internationalisation of the marine industry, and its increasing reliance on in-house digital communication for product publicity, means that the only significant income stream in Irish sailing and boating is through the clubs and the Sports Council grants which keep the ISA functioning.
The working agreement between the ISA and Afloat allows the association to use Afloat.ie’s sailing news feed and the use of Afloat's Sailor of the Year Award, and it is proving to be a successful link-up. It’s healthy in that Afloat.ie can provide a platform for much livelier discussions and topics than is the case with the ISA’s own website, which is obliged to be somewhat in the nature of a Government Gazette.
The Internet poses many problems, not least for traditional media, but in all my years as a sailing writer I have never seen the potential that exists for exciting Irish sailing communications as clearly as I do today with the current output from the Afloat website. It means that the spirit of the unique and lively Irish sailing and boating community is reflected by their means of communications with each other, and with the outside world.
The ISA has a valuable communications budget that needs to be spent very wisely to cover all areas of our sport, and to achieve this I would urge the ISA and Afloat to seek a stronger relationship. It would be a dynamic move which would help to provide additional communication services to sailing clubs throughout the country, while also reaching out to a wider market, and I am firmly of the opinion that it would fit well with the new direction that the reformed ISA is trying to take.
W M Nixon, seen here at last month’s Cruising Association of Ireland rally in Dublin, became Editor of Irish Yachting when it began commercial monthly publication in 1970. Photo: Aidan Coughlan
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 Afloat.ie “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.
The 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
Sailing 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.
The 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.
While 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
Yet 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.
Driving 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.
A 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.
A 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
……but Dix is able to shoot through the gap as Cudmore tacks…..Photo: W M Nixon
…..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
As we near the end of the traditional sailing season, inevitably there’ll be heart-searching among boat owners as to the success and value obtained from their summer afloat – can they really justify the expense of continuing to keep a boat? And with so many imponderables in our sport after a summer which was decidedly mixed in its weather - to say the least - the larger sailing community will be scrutinising those classes which seem to be barely hanging in, those classes which are doing quite well, and those few classes which are spectacularly successful. W M Nixon takes a look at the International Dragons in Glandore, the Flying Fifteens in Dun Laoghaire, and the Puppeteer 22s in Howth to try and find that magic Ingredient X which helps - or has helped - these three very different examples to stay ahead of the game.
The wish to own a boat is a vocation, a calling, a quasi-religious emotional endeavour. It’s all very well for high-flown consultants to tell us that if sailing is going to have general appeal and expand, then publicly-accessed freely-available try-a-sail boats will have to be based at every major club. But dedicated sailors know that what comes easy, goes easy. A spell of bad weather, and your jolly public groups who turned up in droves for a bit of free fun afloat will disappear like the will-o’-the-wisps they were in the first place, seeking instead to find somewhere warm and bright and out of the rain and readily providing the latest novel form of entertainment.
Meanwhile, those who are dyed-in-the-wool boat addicts will have barely noticed the idly-interested strangers coming and going. For whatever the weather, they’ve a boat to maintain, gear to repair, a crew to keep together, and some sensible purpose to find in order to give it all deeper meaning. For they know that unless they’ve a boat and her problems and possibilities occupying a significant part of their mind, they’re going to lose the plot completely.
Nevertheless, in the huge spectrum of boat ownership and sailing classes, why is there so much difference in the successful buzz created by some classes at certain localities, as opposed to the dull and declining murmur emanating from classes which are clearly on the way out?
After all, there are very few utterly awful boats afloat. No boat is completely perfect, though some may seem less imperfect than others. But in today’s throwaway world, if some class of boat is not a reasonably good representative of her general type, then she’ll never make the grade in the first place. And even in times past when news and views moved more slowly, the word soon got around if some much-touted type of boat was in truth a woofer.
Flying Fifteens provide the best of sport in a very manageable two-man package
The perfect harbour for vintage International Dragons – Glandore, with a goodly selection of classics in port, and Dragons of all ages dotted among them
That said, boat-owning is such an all-consuming passion that once a sailor has finally (or indeed hastily) committed to a particular boat type, then he or she will tend to be absurdly dismissive of any remotely comparable craft. But in the last analysis, the desire to own a boat is irrational. So we shouldn’t be surprised that once the decision is made, irrational attitudes manifest themselves in every direction.
And anyway, as John Maynard Keynes once remarked in a totally different context, in the last analysis we are all dead. So in the meantime, it behoves us to get as much reasonable enjoyment out of life as possible. Thus if owning and sailing a boat is your way of obtaining pleasure without harming anyone else, then good luck to you and me, and let’s look together at boat classes which are doing the business.
In considering the International Dragons in Glandore, the International Flying Fifteens in Dun Laoghaire, and the emphatically not-international Puppeteer 22s in Howth, we are indeed casting the net wide, for really they couldn’t be more different. The 29ft International Dragon originated in the late 1920s from the design board of Johan Anker of Norway, and she has become a by-word for Scandinavian elegance in yacht design, but today she’s totally a racing machine and has strayed far from her original concept as a weekend cruiser for sheltered waters.
Golden days of classic Dragon racing at Glandore
As for the Flying Fifteen, they originated from designer Uffa Fox having a brainstorm in 1947, in that he took the underwater hull section of the renowned International 14 dinghy in which he was something of a master both as designer and sailor, but above the waterline he drew out the bow to an elegant curved stem, then he lengthened the gentle counter lines to finish in a long sawn-off transom. That done, he added a little hyper-hydrodynamic bulb ballast keel which seemed very trendy, but in truth it’s severely lacking in useful lateral resistance. Nevertheless it gives the boat the reassuring feel of being a small keelboat rather than a big dinghy, and atop it all he put the rig of an International 14 dinghy of that era.
The clean lines of a modern Flying Fifteen fleet. Try to imagine that within each hull there’s an International 14 dinghy, and above it is the original rig
The result was a boat which is really only useful for racing, and it is a design so much of its times that it’s said that many years later the designer himself tried to disown it. But the owners would have nothing to do with this, they liked the compact and very manageable racing-only package which the Flying Fifteen provides, and these days the class has an interesting world spread, and an attractive policy of staging their World Championships at agreeable sunshine destinations where – thanks to their guaranteed ability to turn up with a fleet of viable size – they can arrange block discounts to provide the owners with a very appealing package.
After the sheer internationality of the Dragons and the Flying Fifteens, the Puppeteer 22s are something of a culture shock, as almost every one in existence has ended up based in Howth, where they have such a busy club programme that they only very seldom go south of the Baily, though they do have one annual adventure to Malahide for the Gibney Classic, and once a year they take part in the historic Lambay Race. But otherwise, they’re totally and intensely focused on club racing off Howth.
The Puppeteer 22s seldom stray far from their home port of Howth, for at home they get superbly close racing with a fleet of up to 26 boats in evening racing. This is former ISA President Neil Murphy racing hard at the helm of Yellow Peril, neck and neck with Alan Pearson’s Trick or Treat. Photo: W M Nixon
They were designed by Chris Boyd of Strangford Lough in the mid 1970s to be fractionally-rigged mini-offshore racers, and in all about thirty-three of the Puppeteer 22s were built by C & S Boyd in Killyleagh (Sarah was Chris’s wife). For a while it looked as though they might take off as a semi-offshore One Design class in the north, but somehow they began to trickle down to Howth. They appealed to those sailors who felt that the alternative of a Ruffian 23 with her huge masthead spinnaker was a little too demanding on crews, whereas the Puppeteer’s fractional rig is fairly easily managed. And today the class in Howth is in such good health that even in the poor weather of 2015 they were obtaining regular midweek evening racing best turnouts of up to 26 boats.
Obviously the Puppeteer 22s are now very much a completely localised phenomenom. But while the Flying Fifteens in Dun Laoghaire and the Dragons in Glandore may be representatives of well-established international classes, the fact is in both cases their neighbourhood success is largely due to a distinct local flavour driven by individual enthusiasm. And in Glandore while it’s recognized that the vintage Dragon class was started by Kieran and Don O’Donohue with the classics Pan and Fafner, the man who beats the drum these days for the racing at Glandore as providing “the best and cheapest Dragon racing in the world” is the inimitable Don Street.
Most people will expect that they will be slightly older than the boats they own, and the older you get the greater you’d expect the age gap to be. But Don’s classic Dragon Gypsy is 82 years old. Yet Don himself manages to be that proper little bit senior to her, as he’s 85 and still full of whatever and vinegar, as they’d say in his native New England.
The one and only Don Street in his beloved Glandore. His International Dragon Gypsy is 82 years old, but he still manages to be the senior partner at 85.
Conditions are pleasantly sheltered for the Dragons in Glandore Harbour, but when the fleet goes offshore – as seen here for last year’s championship - they can find all the breeze and lively sea they might want, and more.
The things that Don has done with Gypsy – between intervals of the renowned ocean voyaging with his 1905-built yawl Iolaire which he has now sold – are remarkable, as he sailed Gypsy from Glandore to the classic regatta in Brittany, which is a prodigious offshore passage for an open cockpit racing boat along what the rest of the world would see as significant portions of the most exposed parts of the Fastnet Race course.
Yet although he did such wonderful business with Gypsy on great waters, he has no doubt that the secret of Glandore Dragon racing’s local success is the sheer nearness and convenience of it all. “Down to the pier and out to the boat in five minutes, the starting line is right there, and we don’t race those boring windward-leewards, rather we use club buoys, government navigation marks, islands - and lots of rocks……”
His argument is that with lovely Glandore Harbour being such an fascinating piece of sailing water, part of the interest in keeping up the pace in a local class lies in using those local features, rather than pretending they simply don’t exist by setting courses clear of the land. But of course when the Glandore fleet – which continues as a mix of classic wooden and glassfibre boats – hosts a major event such as last year’s Nationals – which was won by Andrew Craig of Dun Laoghaire in Chimaera – then the courses are set in open water, and they’d some spectacular sailing with it.
In many ways Glandore is a special case, as the population swells in summer with people coming for extended vacations. When that’s the case, their commitment to local Dragon racing can be total, and not least of the occasional local summertime alumni is the great Lawrie Smith. He may have won the Dragon Gold Cup from a fleet of 66 boats last month in Germany under the burgee of another club, but when he’s racing Dragons in Ireland, he’s emphatically under the colours of Glandore Harbour Yacht Club.
Despite these glamorous international links, it’s the folk on the home ground with their dedication to the Dragon Class in Glandore who keep it all going, and it’s Don Street with his dogged determination to prove you can run a Dragon out of pocket money, regardless of the megabucks some might be ready to splash out, which gives the Glandore Dragons that extra something. And in the end it’s all about people, and shared enthusiasm. If you’ve a warm feeling about the Dragon class, and particularly for classic boats in it, then you know that in Glandore you’ll find fellow enthusiasts and every encouragement.
But up in Dun Laoghaire, if you take a look over the granite wall on to the east boat park at the National Yacht Club in summer, and see there the serried ranks of apparently totally identical Flying Fifteens all neatly lined up on their trailers, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s all just ever so slightly clinical, and certainly distinctly impersonal.
Just about as one design as they could be – the fine fleet at last weekend’s Flying Fifteen Irish Championship in Dublin Bay showed the vigour of the class, which has 47 ranked helmsmen in this country.
Yet you couldn’t be more utterly wrong. Today’s Flying Fifteens may have been technically refined to the ultimate degree to give maximum sport for the minimum of hassle. But their current runaway success – they’re far and away the biggest keelboat One Design class in Dublin Bay – is down to a friendly and very active local class association, and its readiness to reach out the hand of friendship and encouragement to anyone who might be thinking of joining the class’s ranks.
Recently the pace has been set by class captain Ronan Beirne, who recognises that simply announcing and advertising an event is not enough. You have to chivvy people and encourage them into their sailing – particularly after a summer remembered as having had bad weather – and then far from sitting back and smugly counting numbers, you have to keep at it, seeing that crewing gaps are filled, and that those on the fringes are brought to the centre.
The Flying Fifteens – which are essentially a National YC class – offer exceptional value and a very manageable package. The boats are dry-sailed in their road trailers, and instead of queuing for a crane, they have a rapid rota of slip-launching, with the expectation of renewing the wheel bearings each year. Salt water and road trailers are not good partners, but in order to ensure the most efficient launching and retrieval of the boats after each day’s racing, replacing wheel bearings has become something of an art.
The class in Dun Laoghaire secured good sponsorship from Mitsubishi Motors at the beginning of the year, and the sponsors in turn have been rewarded by a thriving class in which inter-personal friendships have developed to such a healthy state that you might find people crewing for someone who would be a complete and untouchable rival at other times in many other classes, but in the Dun Laoghaire Flying Fifteens he’s a fellow enthusiast who happens to be short of a crew on that day.
One of the enthusiastic newcomers to the class this year is Brian O’Neill, who originally hailed from Malahide and was best known for campaigning the family’s Impala 28 Wild Mustard with great success for several years, but now he’s very much a family man living in Dun Laoghaire with three growing kids, and sailing had gone on to the back burner.
Charlie O’Neill (aged 7) at Strangford SC with dad Brian’s newly acquired Flying Fifteen. Under the rapid moving launching system at the National YC, the dry-sailed Flying Fifteens use their road trailers to get the boats afloat in record time. The need for regular replacement of the wheel bearings is allowed for in each boat’s budget. Photo: Brian O’Neill
But as the National YC is just down the road from where he lives, he was drawn into its welcoming ambience, and soon became aware of the attractive and friendly package offered within the club by the Flying Fifteens. He bought one in good order from an owner at Strangford Sailing Club in the Spring, and was soon in the midst of it. Yet it takes up only a very manageable amount of his time, it simply couldn’t be more convenient, and the people are just great too.
Who knows, but having won the class’s last evening race of the 2015 season, he might even be prepared to travel to maybe one event at another venue in Ireland. But the primary attraction continues to be the class’s strong local ethos and ready racing at the National, the friendliness of fellow Flying Fifteen sailors, and the sheer manageability of the whole thing – this is not a boat where the ownership gets on top of you.
If you want to get the flavour of Dun Laoghaire Flying Fifteen racing, you get a heightened sense of it from the report in Afloat.ie of how David Gorman and Chris Doorly won last weekend’s Irish championship in classic style, and if this isn’t good value in sailing and personal boat ownership, then I don’t know what is.
Across Dublin Bay in those misty waters of Fingal beyond the Baily, your correspondent found himself reporting aboard Alan “Algy” Pearson’s Puppeteer 22 Trick or Treat last Saturday for the opening race of the MSL Park Motors Autumn League. I did so with some trepidation, for Alan has a super young crew recruited from Sutton Dinghy Club in the form of GP14 ace Alan Blay, Ryan Sinnott and Claud Mollard, but our cheerful skipper said that as the day was brisk, they needed the fifth on board for ballast.
In fact, I’d only once raced a Puppeteer before, in the lightest of winds when somehow we managed a win. But as this race progressed with the skipper and his young tacticians making a perfect call for the long beat in a good long course which made full use of the splendid sailing waters north of Howth, by the last leg after many place changes it looked as though another win might be on the cards.
Action stations. Puppeteer 22s closing in for their start. Photo: W M Nixon
At mid-race, Gold Dust led narrowly from Yellow Peril, but by the start of the last beat, Trick or Treat was leading from Gold Dust with Yellow Peril third. Photo: W M Nixon
In the MSL Park Motors Autumn League, the mix of classes can sometimes make for interesting situations. Having out-gybed Gold Dust, Yellow Peril is ploughing towards some biggies on another course altogether, and meanwhile there’s the inevitable lobster pot lurking on the way with just one tiny white marker buoy. Photo: W M Nixon
Algy Pearson’s Trick or Treat giving Yellow Peril a hard time to snatch the lead, which she then increased with a cleverly-read long beat. Photo: W M Nixon
But the pace in the Puppeteers is ferocious, and though we’d got a bit of a gap between Trick and former IDRA 14 empress Scorie Walls in Gold Dust, one sneeze from us and Gold Dust would pounce, and alas - we sneezed.
As long as we were carrying the no 2 headsail (what I’d call the working jib) we were level pegging with the formidable Walls-Browne team. But Gold Dust has a lovely new suit of sails (nice ones, Prof), and when the easing wind meant we’d to change up to the genoa, it emerged as a sail of a certain age, and having it set sapped our confidence.
It looked for a while as though Gold Dust (254) had been put fairly comfortably astern……..Photo: W M Nixon
……but an easing of the wind saw Gold Dust finding new speed, and with perfect tactics she was right there with just a hundred metres to go to the finish. Photo: W M Nixon
Until then, the boat had been sailed magnificently, tactics right, trim right, and throwing gybes with such style that the downwind pace never missed a beat. But trying to get that genoa right was a mild distraction, so when Scorie the Queen of the Nile came round the final mark to chase us up the last beat to weather Ireland’s Eye, we’d failed to throw a precautionary tack to keep a loose cover, and suddenly as she rounded she found a local favourable but brief shift of 15 to 20 degrees, and then it was all to play for.
Dissecting it all afterwards (you’ll gather it was a post mortem), we could see two places where we might have still saved the day, but we didn’t grab them, or maybe in truth they were beyond our reach. Whatever, Gold Dust was in the groove and we weren’t. Madam beat us by three seconds. But the banter afterwards and the evidence that Puppeteer people – owners and crews alike – move happily among boats to keep turnout numbers up, was ample proof that here was another truly community based class which perfectly meets a strong local need.
That winning feeling…..Gold Dust’s crew relax after taking first by three seconds. Photo: W M Nixon
The Howth experience. Howth YC Commodore Brian Turvey heads back to port after racing the MSL Autumn League with the Howth 17 Isobel which he co-owns with his brother Conor. Photo: W M Nixon
It had been a great day’s sport, and the Puppeteers being of an age and regularly turning out to race together, they run both a scratch and a handicap system, which is a great improver of local classes – after all, where would golf be without handicaps?
It shows how well Gold Dust has been going this year that her rating is such that we beat her on handicap by one minute and 19 seconds, but we in turn, having been second on scratch, were fourth on handicap, where the winner was the O’Reilly/McDyer team with Geppeto.
Forty years after they first appeared, the Puppeteer 22s are giving better sport than ever, but in a very local context rather than on the bigger stage that might have been anticipated. Yet for their current owners, they do the business and then some. For most folk, this is sailing as it should be. And as to this longterm success of classes which continue to thrive whether they come from a local, national or international background, certainly the quality of the boats is important to some extent. But mostly, it’s the people involved, and their realization that you’ll only get as much out of sailing as you put into it.
A super crew. Aboard Trick or Treat after racing are (left to right) Alan Blay, Ryan Sinnott, Alan Pearson and Claud Mollard. Photo: W M Nixon
Local man, local boat. Algy Pearson with his Puppeteer 22 Trick or Treat. The Pearsons have been sailng from Howth for three generations. Photo: W M Nixon
Ireland is a country of seaways, and waterways which are dominated by the majestic River Shannon. On our island, you can never be more than sixty miles from the nearest navigable bit of sea. Add in the myriad of inland waterways – whether canals, rivers, or lakes – and you have an enthusiastically watery country where it is possible for everyone to have a floating boat berth of some kind within an hour’s journey – and usually much less – from their home.
Afloat.ie’s W M Nixon has been cruising our inland waterways in detail for longer than he cares to admit, though he will concede his first venture on fresh water was in command of a 14ft clinker-built sailing dinghy with a tent, a cruise which took place well back into the depths of the previous millennium. But it’s an experience you’ll always wish to repeat as often as possible, and just last week he found himself going again to the waters and the wild, with a family cruise of three generations on the River Shannon’s great inland sea of Lough Derg.
Journeying westward to join the good ship Slaney Shannon Star at Portumna on the frontiers of Connacht, the car radio was warbling on about the poor weather, and wondering why in England they persist in having their final summer Bank Holiday on the very last weekend of August, instead of having it earlier when the chances of good weather must be better.
As it happens, we know that the chances of good weather at any time in the summer of 2015 were slim enough, though it was briefly present just now and again. Be that as it may, the reasons for taking your “summer holiday” as late as possible in the season seem obvious. Even in this era of flexi-time and working from home and project outsourcing or whatever, the idea of clearly-defined work time and holiday time are still ingrained in us. And of all our traditional holidays, surely it is the summer holiday which is the most avidly anticipated?
Anticipation is usually the keenest and often the best part of any supposedly enjoyable experience. And it’s an altogether more positive and youthful emotion than nostalgia, which soon reeks of sweet decay. Thus the later in the summer you can locate your summer holiday, the longer is the enthusiastic anticipation. So when we got an invitation early in the Spring for some days of family cruising on a fine big Shannon hire cruiser on the magnificent inland sea of Lough Derg in the last week of August, we leapt at it.
Yet let’s face it, it’s something of which you’d be very chary were the planned cruise on the sea, even down in our own lovely West Cork. They may have started the Fastnet Race this year as late in the season as 16th August but, as the late great Tom Crosbie of Cork Harbour was wont to observe, no prudent navigator would really want to have his beloved boat west of the Old Head of Kinsale after August 15th.
However, thanks to Ireland’s wonderful inland waterways, and the mighty Shannon and Erne river systems in particular, we have an all-seasons cruising ground sufficiently varied for even the saltiest sea sailor when summer is gone. And in that last precious week of August – when just one balmy moment of a late summer’s evening is worth ten such in June – you get the perfect combination for a refreshing break from routine and a thoroughly good time with it, with the country looking its lushest best, a marked contrast to spring when it is raw and bare.
Not least of the attractions of a three generations cruise is that the duties of the grandparents and grandchildren are simply to have a good time. It’s the middle generation who are there to provide planning and management. So apart from simply turning up in Portumna at the required time on a Tuesday afternoon, our only task was to get a proper lifejacket for Pippa the Pup, who isn’t really a pup, she’s a three-year-old miniature Jack Russell terrier, but there’s still a lot of the puppy in her. As it was the only job we’d to do, it got huge attention, but thanks to CH Marine’s crisp online service, Pippa had her new outfit many weeks before joining the boat, and almost immediately she realized that wearing the lifejacket was all about having a good time, so no problem there.
Our little skipper - Pippa with her new lifejacket. Photo: W M Nixon
We eased ourselves gently into the Shannon pace by stopping off from the journey westward in Nenagh for lunch at Country Choice, Peter & Mary Ward’s wonderful little food emporium. They don’t so describe it themselves, but “emporium” is the only word to describe a miniature Aladdin’s cave of goodies and wonderful food. This energetic couple were in something of a state of excitement, as the entire Ward operation had just received the word that they were short-listed for an award in the “Best Shops in Ireland” competition, the announcements to be made that weekend.
So it gave us something more to anticipate as we cruised Lough Derg during the following five days, for although much of our mini-voyaging was done along the luxuriant “Tipperary Riviera”, the fact that Tipperary provides some of the best agricultural produce in Ireland does not necessarily mean that it’s a county of foodies. On the contrary, at times the Tip cuisine is very basic indeed, ignoring some of the region’s finest specialities. So Country Choice in Nenagh and the Wards’ famous and enormous stall at the weekly display on Saturdays in the Milk Market in Limerick are beacons of hope and places of cheerful pilgrimage for those who think we Irish could make better use of our wonderful natural local produce.
Portumna at the north end of Lough Derg is a strategically vital crossing of the Shannon – the next bridge is well to the north at Banagher – so inevitably Portumna is a workaday, strung out sort of town with a decidedly utilitarian air to its hire cruiser base at the evocatively-named Connaught Harbour. But the word is that Waterways Ireland have some worthwhile plans to upgrade the entire Portumna-Shannon-Lough Derg interface, though it won’t include replacing the swing bridge which takes the main road across the wide river. Our skipper was already devising a cunning scheme to deal with the dictatorship of the bridge’s opening times even as we were arriving aboard and exchanging a hurried hullo and goodbye with the previous generation on the distaff side, who had cruised with son-in-law, daughter and grandchildren up to Lough Ree.
The vessel at the centre of this hectic multi-family interchange was the 42ft Slaney Shannon Star, a fine old workhorse which has been giving sterling service to Emerald Star Line clients for more than two decades. In fact, the Shannon Star Class is quintessential Emerald Star, as just 15 of them were built by Broom’s of Norfolk, and they were exclusively for the Irish company, which worked closely on the design and specification to produce the perfect boat for Shannon cruising. This creative combination produced a comfortable and practical non-nonsense layout, with a straightforward finish which doesn’t pretend to be anything unnecessarily fancy, and a useful big Perkins 76hp diesel which gives the very able and “lakeworthy” hull a cruising speed of 7 knots.
Slaney Shannon Star in the Castle Harbour at Portumna, ensign up and ready to go. Photo: W M Nixon
This layout plan gives the broad outline of the Shannon Star’s very effective accommodation, but the forward cabin is roomier than shown, with proper gap to open the door fully.
Within this package, as the layout plan shows there is comfortable accommodation for six without using the settee berths in the saloon, there’s also an extra berth in its own little cabin just under the in-saloon steering position (it became Pippa’s cabin when we were ashore to dine), and while steering from the inside position is very comfortable with good visibility, the flybridge offers splendid views and is sufficiently large to be sociable with it.
Those who sailed with our son David when he was campaigning the likes of the Corby 36 Rosie (now Rockall III) and other offshore racing machines a decade ago will know that he thrives on planning and execution, while his wife Karen is more than a match for him. Thus for Georgina and Pippa and me and Matthew (aged 6) and Julia (aka The Diva) age 3, it was just case of being here and going with the flow and being prepared for enjoyment, for there was a lot of that.
David’s plan for the first evening in Portumna was typical of the man. They’d spent a fair bit of the day completing the final stage of the long passage down-Shannon from Lough Ree, so time ashore in a hospitable environment with food available was the target. He came up with the scheme that we’d go for supper at the very characterful Ferry Inn just across the river. But before that, we’d take the boat through the swing bridge at the 7.45pm opening, and berth her at the pontoon immediately below the bridge, which would shorten the walk to the inn, and also make it free choice for departure time in the morning.
But this was only the beginning of the man’s ingenuity. Supper was well under way in the pub when he suggested that if the senior men didn’t linger too long over the puddings, they could use the last of the daylight to take the boat the mile or so to the little harbour at Portumna Castle, while the women and children – by now immersed in various electronic games and slow eating – could follow when ready by taxi.
We wanted a characterful pub with good food to start the cruise, and we found it at the Ferry Inn beside Portumna Bridge. Photo: W M Nixon
Sounds crazy, but it was a move of genius, for the berth beside the bridge is noisy with the road traffic and doesn’t give a sense of being away from it all, whereas the tiny harbour at the castle is pure holiday setting. The only fly in the ointment of this perfect plan was that as we approached the little harbour in the very last of the daylight, it was to find the entrance well-filled with a Shannon barge, but somehow we squeezed our 4.1 m (13ft 6ins) beam in past, and then there was just one space left in the most sheltered corner of this attractive mini-port to provide Slaney Shannon Star with a sweet berth for the first night of the cruise, and a warm wecome for the rest of the crew when they arrived in their own good time.
We’re no strangers to three-generational family holidays, but have less experience of three-generational lake cruising, and of course as the kids are growing up so quickly, the requirements vary from year to year. So in the morning sunshine, while the senior adults with an energetic little dog might have felt like no more than a walk in Portumna Forest Park, the parents with children had to seek out a proper children’s playground, but a skillful combination of plans saw all wishes in the walkies department being well met.
It has to be said that Portumna is definitely tops in at least one department. The Children’s Playground - it’s between the castle and the town - is world class, a creation of Cavanagh’s of Roscrea. They were established way back in 1806. But I doubt if their metal-working skills were being deployed for children’s playgrounds when the company came into being while Napoleon was still strutting his stuff around Europe, so all power to Cavanagh’s of Roscrea for adaptability.
The children’s playground at Portumna. Built by a company founded in 1806, it’s a wonder to behold. Photo: W M Nixon
As for Portumna Castle…..well, if you find your household heating bills depressing, cheer yourself up with the thought of the effort it seems to have taken to heat Portumna Castle. You’ll seldom see chimneys on this scale – it must have taken all the turf out of an entire raised bog eevry winter to heat this massive pile.
Portumna Castle – the mighty chimneys suggest even mightier heating bills. Photo: W M Nixon
Home sweet home, but far from the Baltic Sea – Triskel and her live-aboard skipper. Photo: W M Nixon
By complete contrast, back at the Castle Harbour we met up with a Polish sailor who had cruised the Baltic before he set off to start life anew in Ireland eleven years ago, and when he discovered the Shannon and all its attractions he moved aboard a little sailing cruiser eight years ago. He has lived on her ever since, in and around the Shannon lakes, and is well content, though when I guessed his boat might be an Anderson of some sort, he was very positive in making sure that I realized his beloved Triskel was an Anderson 22 Mark 2, and not one of the inferior original Mark 1 versions.
Having been bemused by contemplating the heating bills for Portumna Castle, I didn’t find out his name before he headed out of port, but by this time our skipper also reckoned it was time to go. David had an app which gave weather predictions so accurately that he could tell you exactly when the rain would fall on different parts of the lake, precisely how big the rain-drops would be, how long they’d be falling, and how much wind would be in the midst of them. Or so it seemed to the rest of us. But somehow he got us all moving together aboard ship out of Portumna Castle Harbour at morning coffee time, and we proceeded southwards down the splendid lake almost entirely in sunshine as big dark rain squalls ran north along the Atlantic seaboard to the west, while over to the east it was pitch black over mid-Tipperary and they’d some flooding. Yet aboard Slaney Shannon Star, this helmsman on the flybridge managed to get a bit of a suntan during the two hours plus passage down to Mountshannon.
From the lake, you get glimpses of other’s people’s little bits of paradise – this mini-port is one of the East Clare shore north of Mountshannon. Photo: W M Nixon
Lough Derg is 40 kilometres long (it’s 23 land miles in old money from Killaloe Bridge to Portumna Bridge) and around 20 kilometres across its widest part, but it follows the contours as befits a developing river valley to provide a handsome convoluted lake. While the coastal scenery is fairly flat up about Portumna, as you get south past Dromineer the land is rising to port and particularly to starboard, with the final approaches to Killaloe between the Arra Mountains and Slieve Bernagh becoming quite spectacular.
In classic cruising style, our skipper had decided the best way to deal with the lake was to get down to Killaloe on the first day, and then cruise back to Portumna at a much more leisurely pace. But even when you’re trying to log the miles, Lough Derg offers ample choices for quick stops, and as the weather app was talking about some decidedly lively southwest to west breezes later in the afternoon, the logical place for a stopover was Mountshannon.
This would mean that if the top did come off conditions for a while, we’d be located so that we could hold round a weather shore to get a smooth passage into the long “reverse estuary” down to Killaloe. But first, we’d to enjoy Mountshannon. It’s headquarters of the Iniscealtra Sailing Club (Iniscealtra is the neighbouring holy island, complete with Round Tower and a place of pilgrimage), but Mountshannon has the additional advantage of being serenely south-facing over a fine but sheltered bay, and it is home to an impressive fleet of yachts lying in a classic anchorage. There are the likes of Hallberg Rassys among them, and if you wondered what on earth a Hallberg Rassy ocean cruiser is doing on a lake, we suggest you get to Mountshannon and understanding will come.
An anchorage for proper yachts – some impressive craft are lying to moorings in Mountshannon. Photo: W M Nixon
We meanwhile understood that rain was coming, and fast, so after a neat bit of berthing even if I do say so myself, we nipped up to the village inn and took aboard broth and stews while the rain battered the street outside, and German and English visitors supped their pints of Guinness with that happily bemused little smile you’ll see on the faces of tourists who have discovered an Irish inn exactly as they hoped it would be, including the rain outside.
But even that cleared on cue, and we needs must visit Mountshannon’s unique attraction, the combined labyrinth and maze. A perfect opportunity for junior scouts to guide the oldies about. However, the wind had come through as expected, so much so that Mountshannon’s famous white-tailed sea eagles appeared to be grounded for the afternoon. But though Slaney Shannon Star was sitting serenely in a wellnigh perfect berth for a stormy night, the menfolk were just too interested in seeing how she’d perform in a real breeze of wind, with a bit of a sea running, to stay on in the same place.
Slaney Shannon Star snugly berthed at Mountshannon. The front is going through, and the wind has veered, but there’s enough of it to keep the sea eagles of Mountshannon grounded. Photo: W M Nixon
There really is a maze at labyrinth at Mountshannon, but it takes an aerial photo to show them properly
“It’ll only be slightly lumpy for a few minutes” was the mantra. And it has to be said the old girl coped superbly, though fortunately all warps had been lashed in place, as for a little while -until we were feeling the shelter of the Clare coast in under the delightfully-named Ogonnelloe – some quite substantial quantities of Lough Derg were sweeping at speed over the Slaney Shannon Star.
Sea test – Slaney Shannon Star finds a bit of a sea running on the lake. Photo: W M Nixon
For a while, quite a lot of Lough Derg was sweeping over Slaney Shannon Star on passage from Mountshannon to Killaloe, but it didn’t take a feather out of this able boat – those towels are laid out to dry, not to cope with leaks. Photo: W M Nixon
But in the Killaloe estuary, relative peace returned, the black clouds raced away to the east, the sun came out with a rainbow, and there was this sense of approaching somewhere important, heightened by the quality and variety of the lakeside and hillside houses. Some people find this Irish scattering of houses, each in its own little world, to be something of an irritation among some rather fine scenery. But I like it. There’s more than enough empty uninhabitable wilderness in the world, and except for the most spectacular mountains, Irish scenery is enlivened by houses dotted here and there in such a way that you think pleasantly of the agreeable way of life that might be found in them.
The storm squall has passed, and the lush country of the Tipperary shore is seen at its best with a rainbow in the approaches to Killaloe. Photo: W M Nixon
Once we were into the smooth water, Madam got on the phone to suss out the possibilities of an “Objective Achieved” supper at the renowned Cherry Tree on the Ballina side of Killaloe, and of course chef patron Harry McKeown himself answered the phone and recognized her voice immediately. But he went through the formality of booking a table for six in impersonal style before letting her know her cover was blown.
Whatever about Georgina’s problems in dining anonymously, for the rest of us it made for a idyllic evening, with the boat berthed as conveniently as possible at the berth generously provided by the Lakeside Hotel, the shortest walk imaginable to the Cherry Tree, a riverside window table to admire a sister-ship berthed directly across the water on the Killaloe side, and food glorious food while the light lingered in a fair approximation of a summer’s evening.
Our first berth at Killaloe was at the hospitable Lakeside Hotel on the Ballina shore. Photo: W M Nixon
Mission accomplished – the team have reached The Cherry Tree for dinner in Killaloe. Photo: W M Nixon
An interest in visiting Killaloe Cathedral in the morning had been expressed, so lo and behold our thoughtful skipper moved the boat across river in the morning on his own while the rest of us were still bestirring ourselves, thereby removing the need to walk across Killaloe’s ancient but much overworked bridge. It suffers from ludicrously excessive traffic – the lovely little riverside town does really urgently need a by-pass and the long-planned new bridge to the south. But St Flannan’s Cathedral well exceeded expectations. It’s of very modest size for anyone expecting a Shannonside version of Chartres or York Minster. But we knew it well from the outside, yet going in was a revelation, a haven of total peace in this Cathedral of the Waterways.
The Cathedral of the Shannon – St Flannan’s at Killaloe is on the banks of the old canal to Limerick which pre-dated the Ardnacrusha development. Photo: W M Nixon
A soothing place - Killaloe Cathedral. Photo: W M Nixon
Busy place - Killaloe is very much the southern capital of the Shannon waterway. Photo: W M Nixon
There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that we weren’t going to break the spell of peace by walking across the bridge, but as this meant the kids couldn’t avail of the playground on the Ballina side, it was a case of up sticks and away from the impressive new Waterways Ireland pontoons on the Killaloe side, and off we went north and east to Garrykennedy with its handy playground, on the way passing learner sailors in action off the University of Limerick’s Activity Centre on the Clare shore, and then – for it was a pleasant sunny sailing day after Wednesday’s weather kerfuffle – we passed a real live sailing cruiser going on her merry way, plus several powercruisers.
With lighter winds, sailing can resume at the University of Limerick Activity Centre near Killaloe. Photo: W M Nixon
Waterside paradise - lakeshore house near Killaloe. Photo: W M Nixon
The guess is it’s a Halcyon 23 enjoying the breeze on Lough Derg – and taking in one’s fenders is optional on the lakes. Photo: W M Nixon
All the little ports about Lough Derg have their own individual character, and Garrykennedy is about as different as possible from Killaloe, which in turn is very different from Mountshannon, while Dromineer – where we were to spend the night – is different again.
But most of the ports popular with today’s sailors on Lough Derg have it in common that once they were part of a busy waterways transport system, each with its own little mini-harbour which could accommodate the barges which might have come all the way from Dublin via the Grand Canal. The cream of the fleet were engaged in the sacred task of conveying Guinness’s Porter from St James’s Gate Brewery all the way to the connoisseurs of Limerick, whose tastes were and are so pernickety that when any variant in any product is contemplated in the Guinness organisation, somebody always wonders how it will do in Limerick…
Garrykennedy’s little harbour was created inshore of the 15th Century castle of the O’Kennedys. Photo: W M Nixon
Larkins of Garrykennedy is one of the most popular food pubs on Ireland’s inland waterways. Photo: W M Nixon
The décor in Larkin’s of Garrykennedy includes this superb half model of a Shannon One Design OD made by Reggie Goodbody of Dromineer. Photo: W M Nixon
So keen is Limerick to get its Guinness that in a storm one winter a canal boat (they were never called barges in their working days) headed out after sheltering in Garrykennedy and sank off Parker Point taking some of her crew down with her, but that’s a sad story for another day. For we got into Garrykenedy on a sunny day to find a handy berth in the old harbour, a good lunch in Larkins, and a classic Children’s Playground with real old-fashioned swings where Matthew and Julia proved fearless.
By the time you’re a day or three into your Waterways holiday, you lose track of time, but I think it was later that afternoon when the Slaney Shannon Star headed in the sunshine across to Dromineer. There, we found the most-sheltered spot at the quayside in the harbour was entirely taken up by a slovenly-berthed J/24 which, if it had been secured in a more thoughtful manner, would have left plenty of room for other boats.
However, the nearest handy berth put us right beside the playground, so bonus points for Dromineer. And then, as we had access to sheltered water, it was time for a bit of fun with the outboard dinghy, which was a winner with the kids, who were soon helming it with skill. You’d expect that of Matthew – he has helmed a Howth Seventeen – but Julia at just three years old was a very cool and quick learner.
The berth at Dromineer was ideal for family cruising, being right beside the children’s playground. Photo: W M Nixon
Outboard dinghy sport at Dromineer. Photo: W M Nixon
Matthew in charge, and The Diva not too pleased. Photo: W M Nixon
The Whiskey Still at Dromineer is a Lough Derg institution. Photo: W M Nixon
An overnight in Dromineer means supper at The Whiskey Still, and very good it was too, a real local which comes pleasantly to life as the evening draws on, and lots of folk to talk to about this intriguing place, which in the great days of Waterways transport, was by way of being the main port for North Tipperary. But since 1835 it has also been the home of Lough Derg YC, whose fine clubhouse was taking a brief rest between the excitements of the annual Lough Derg week and the imminent arrival tomorrow of the international fleet of cruising-racing Wayfarer dinghies.
The last walk of the day for Pippa discovered an energetic game of kayak polo under way off Dromineer’s little beach (yes, they really do have a beach, the immaculately-kept Dromineer has everything) but later that night the breeze freshened again and our fenders were squeaking a bit. We couldn’t be having that at all, so the skipper found us enough room along the other quay for us to warp into a berth where the breeze held us noiselessly off the wall for a night of peace.
Kayak polo at Dromineer. Photo: W M Nixon
Dennis Noonan of Round Ireland race fame on his Pegasus 800 Photo: W M Nixon
By this time we were so totally into Waterways time that I haven’t a clue when we left Dromineer next day, but we seem to have crowded several days of living into a morning. The playground had to be given a thorough work-over, the dinghy had to be taken out for a spin at least twice, then Pippa had her morning walk along to Shannon Sailing’s secluded marina where of all people we met up with the great Dennis Noonan of Wicklow and Round Ireland Race fame. He was aboard his able little Pegasus 800 which is for sale, and is a fine sailing cruiser if you’re interested in a proper yacht with full standing headroom. But there was little enough time to discuss boat sales, for in real life Dennis is a market gardener of long experience, so he and Georgina were immediately at it yakking away about genuine local produce and how to get people to appreciate what their neighbourhood can produce in season.
I meanwhile wandered off meet up with Robbie the Main Man in the workshop, and soon discovered he was the owner of an enormous 95ft boat – the Spera In Deo - which was lying in Dromineer harbour, a former Dutch mussel dredger which he had discovered in a ruinous state in Donegal after a fire. He was able to make her sufficiently seaworthy to bring her south along the Atlantic seaboard and into the Shannon crewed by all the usual gallant suspects, and while he still has much cosmetic work to do to the exterior, he has fitted out the interior in the most extraordinary way to make her the biggest four berth motor-cruiser in the world, as there are two enormous en suite double cabins - one with a Jacuzzi - while the headroom in the vast main saloon is theatrical in scale.
95ft of the biggest four berth motor cruiser on the Shannon – the Spera In Deo at Dromineer. Photo: W M Nixon
To grasp the scale of the Spera In Deo’s interior, you have to realize those are full-height interior doors for a house. Photo: W M Nixon
Eventually I was reunited with my brood in the Lake Café right on the harbour. It’s open from 8.30am until 5.0pm, which makes for a very civilised little village arrangement as The Whiskey Still then opens up for food. Declan & Fiona Collison, who run the Lake Café, used to run The Whiskey Still, so they know the Lough Derg hospitality scene inside out. But like everyone along this ancient waterway, they are as keen to talk about its fascinating past are they are interested in its present and future, and the Lake Café’s walls are adorned with aerial photos of Dromineer from around 1967 which really do bring home to you how much Ireland has moved on during the past half century.
Breakfast in Dromineer – Georgina, Matthew and Julia have the first of the day’s five meals….. Photo: W M Nixon
Dromineer as it was in 1967 – photo courtesy Lake Café.
Heading up-lough in “vivid sunshine”. Photo: W M Nixon
Not everything has come through intact or improved, however. Heading up-lough later that day in vivid sunshine, we went close past Illaunmore, Derg’s biggest island, where very many years ago we discerned what looked like a tiny creek leading to a little harbour. Though it was obviously private, our curiosity got the better of us, and we negotiated our motor-cruiser through the narrow gap to find a harbour. There was a small waterside chalet and a man out for a walk with his very tame golden pheasant, which we later learned was called Sammy. This was the late Martin Winston, and Illaunmore was the love of his life. He was never happier than when on his own island. But that was a long time ago. Martin Winston is long gone. And as far as we could see, the lovely little harbour where we were made so welcome with a fantastic spontaneous party generated within minutes, it now all seems completely overgrown.
But while the harbour in Illaunmore may have disappeared in the undergrowth, the other port of that day’s cruising so long ago, Terryglass, has come on with leaps and bounds. Indeed, when we visited Illaunmore with its fine little harbour, there was virtually no harbour at all at Terryglass, you berthed in a sort of creek where cattle came to drink lake-water. And the first time we were there being Hallowe’en night, the track up to the village where a friend had just bought the pub was quite a spooky experience.
Terryglass has become a busy port in the past three decades. Photo: W M Nixon
It’s always an irresistible challenge to try and disappear into the reeds. Photo: W M Nixon
But today Terryglass is one of Lough Derg’s more glamorous ports, while it’s a special place for David and Karen, as they were married in the lovely church in the village, that church whose spire is “Conspic” from all parts of the north end of the lake. But when you’ve a couple of lively kids, there’s no time to be sad or serious about the old days and disappeared harbours or new harbours and whatnot. They’ve splendid reed beds at Terryglass, and disappearing completely into the reeds is a natural challenge for youngsters with an outboard dinghy, so that was on the agenda before we ambled up to the village and supper in the Derg Inn.
It wasn’t a restaurant crawl we were on by any means, but brisk days on the lake are great for the appetite. That last day was typical. We’d the usual good breakfast on board, then after everyone went off on their various pursuits, we’d one of those light “Meals-without-a-Name” with the Collisons at the Lake Café, as their baking is superb. Then when we berthed in Terryglass, somehow Karen had another meal-without-a-name ready on the saloon table, followed by more reed-bashing-by-boat, and then with the kids needing an early meal followed by a reasonable bedtime, we fed well but early in the Derg Inn.
Not for the faint-hearted (1): The Pineapple Boat in the Derg Inn. Phot: W M Nixon
Not for the faint-hearted (2): On the swings at Terryglass. Photo: W M Nixon
There, I fearlessly rounded out the feast with a Pineapple Boat with strawberry ice-cream, raspberry coulis and cream – definitely not a nibble for the faint-hearted. Then back at the harbour where the kids went to the limit and beyond on old-style swings in the playground, with people arriving down to join their Terryglass-based cruisers for the weekend we could admire an extraordinary selection of dogs even unto an Irish wolfhound, and not a lifejacket among them except for Pippa. And after all that, the little people went willingly to bed, and in truth the rest were soon headed the same way.
Canine old mates of Terryglass harbour. Photo: W M Nixon
The end of a busy week – Mattthew, Julia, David and Karen on the final morning. Photo: W M Nixon
The bridge opening at Portumna is both a beginning and an end. Photo: W M Nixon
Changeover Saturday at a hireboat base is so busy there’s not time to be sad that it’s all ending. We were perfectly on time across from Terryglass for the 0945 bridge opening at Portumna, there was a berth stern-to right beside the cars, there was the usual final check round to make sure we’d left nothing behind, and then we were gone, only pausing briefly to hope that whoever next took the gallant Slaney Shannon Star down the short channel to the river and the lake was going to have at least half as good a time as we’d had.
But now the grandparents weren’t too tied to time. We could go home at leisure, ambling by road on up the Shannon, stopping here and there at river ports which are very different in character from lake harbours. Yet all have their special charms, so it was after dark when we finally got home. It wasn’t until Sunday that we finally opened Saturday’s Irish Times. And there was the announcement that Peter & Mary Ward’s fantastic weekly display of everything good in the Milk Market in Limerick had won the prize for the Best Market Stall in Ireland.
Winners! Peter & Mary Ward of Country Choice in Nenagh. Photo: W M Nixon
#d2drace – It's the Irish offshore race which ticks all the boxes.You start conveniently on a Friday night from a harbour which – despite everything that has been done to it in the name of modern architecture – continues to present the classically smooth granite façade of official Dublin-on-Sea. The race is on southward through the night down the east coast, past murky sandbanks which contrast with the luxuriance of the Garden of Ireland beyond the nearby shore. After that, it's round the tricky rock-strewn southeast corner and into the Atlantic, seeking a course between southwest and west along a green and purple coastline with fine mountains beyond, until your next major turn is the Fastnet Rock itself.
Then it's on round Ireland's most spectacularly beautiful southwestern coastline, past one great headland after another, each more impressive than the last. The final turning mark is reached, a rock so spectacular it's first choice for location shooting on sci-fi blockbusters. Thus is the mighty and mystical Skellig Michael put astern. And then, with the majestic scenery of the great mountains of Kerry setting the style, you head up a splendid inlet and sail through a small and almost hidden gap in its rugged northern coastline.
You've suddenly entered a secret yet commodious natural harbour, and may find yourself being welcomed by the amiable yet often spectacular resident dolphin. But far from finding you've arrived at a sparse little village which is appropriately dwarfed by the big country about it, on the contrary there's a proper little port town with an air of confidence and cosmopolitan chic, and the aromas of good cooking in the breeze off the land. But the contrast with the smooth metropolitan harbour town you left a couple of days earlier simply couldn't be greater. For you have just finished the 280-mile Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race, and all is very well with the world at one of Ireland's best destination ports. W M Nixon tells the story of the 2015 edition of this biennial classic.
We took leave of the fleet of thirty boats a week ago on this blog as they exited unspectacularly from Dublin Bay in the gathering dusk, helped by the new ebb, and searching for the brisk northerly which had been forecast. And to varying extents they did find it, though it was only those who went close along the land who found it in anything like the forecast strengths - those offshore could have done with more. But before we go into their travails and triumphs, let us again list the dramatis personae, ranked by IRC Rating:
Dingle Skellig Hotel Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2015, start 2100hrs Friday June 12th. Entries listed by rating.
1 Lee Overlay Partners, (Cookson 50, Adrian Lee, Royal St George YC) - 1.340
2 Antix, (Ker 40, Anthony O'Leary, Royal Cork YC & Baltimore SC) - 1.210
3 WOW, (Farr 42, George Sisk, Royal Irish YC) - 1.124
4 Pogeen (Pogo 1050, John Gilmore, Strangford Lough YC) -1.096 (Cruiser)
5 Aquelina (J/122, James & Sheila Tyrrell, Arklow SC) – 1.078
6 Aurelia (J/122, Chris & Patanne Power Smith, RStGYC) – 1.077
7 Endgame (A 35, Frank Doyle, RCYC) – 1.027
8 Dear Prudence (J/109, Jonathan Bourke, ManhattanYC) – 1.021
9 Mojito (J109,Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox, Pwllheli SC) – 1.018
10 Ruth (J/109, Shanahan family, National YC) – 1.017
11 Wakey Wakey (J/109, Roger Smith, Poolbeg Y & BC), - 1.015
12 Powder Monkey (J/109, Chris Moore, NYC) – 1.014
13 Jedi (J/109, J Treanor, A Sarratt, M McGuinness, RIYC, NYC, RStGYC) – 1.009
14 Exhale (X-Yachts 362 Sport, Derry & Hilda Good, RCYC) – 1.009
15 First of September (First 435, Jerry Whiston, PY&BC) – 1.003
16 Lula Belle (First 36.7, Liam Coyne, NYC) – 1.002
17 Alchimiste (JPK 9.60, Mike Murphy, National YC) – 0.998
18 Blue Eyes (Elan 340, Colm Buckley & Simon Knowles, Howth YC) – 0.987 (2-handed)
19 Joker (Sigma 38, David Gibbons, Kinsale YC) – 0.982 (2-handed)
20 Windshift (Jeanneau Sunfast 37, Brendan Coghlan, RStGYC) – 0.980
21 Persistance (Sigma 38, Jerry Collins, RStGYC) 0.978 (Cruiser)
22 Yahtzee (Beneteau Oceanis 411) Richard Mossop, Dun Laoghaire MYC – 0.978 (Cruiser)
23 Red Rhum (Dehler db1, Jonathan Nicholson, RStGYC) – 0.968
24 Desert Star (Jeanneau Sunfast 37, Ronan O Siochru, RStGYC) – 0.966
25 Ipanema (Dehler 37 CR, Martin Breen Galway Bay SC) – 0.959 (Cruiser)
26 Legally Blonde (Beneteau First 31.7, Cathal Drohan, RStGYC) 0.951
27 Amazing Grace (Oyster 37, Brian O'Sullivan & Frances Clifford, Tralee Bay SC) – 0.928
28 Big Deal (Dehler 34, Derek & Conor Dillon, Foynes YC) - 0.922 (2-handed)
29 Lady Rowena (Sadler 34, David Bolger, RStGYC) 0.911 (Cruiser)
30 Polished Manx (Sigma 33, Kuba Szymanski, Douglas Bay YC) – 0.899
As they sailed into the night, some were doing better than others almost regardless of the wind they found. And the D2D Race Tracker began its work on Afloat.ie to such good effect that within a couple of days its visitor hits had knocked "James Bond in Dun Laoghaire" off the top of the popularity sidebar on our website.
A great offshore race becomes a computer game. Thanks to the ISORA Averycrest Yellowbrick support, we could follow every twist and turn, then relish it all as seen here after the finish, when we could look back at leisure to see those who took flyers. That's Jedi and WOW from Dun Laoghaire who went way to the eastward going south through St George's Channel, with Jedi going deepest. Then Ipanema from Galway went looking for palm trees in the Celtic Sea and didn't do well, though the other markedly though not so extreme southward plunger, the J/122 Aurelia, placed third overall. Then in the open Atlantic off the coast of Kerry, Joker from Kinsale clearly reckoned she just couldn't go too far west...
The masthead-spinnaker-toting veteran Dehler DB1 Red Rhum (Jonathan Nicholson, RStGYC) was very much a contender in the early stages, and briefly took the overall lead again off West Cork, but at the finish she was 11th. Photo: W M Nixon
From the screen, it became increasingly clear as the first night went along that the racing superstar Antix was starting to look good. Anthony O'Leary of Cork's current British IRC Champion, the Munster-red Ker 40 formerly known as Catapult, had shaken herself clear of most of the rest of the bigger boat group, though a select band of craft of all sizes which has chosen a corner-cutting course out of Dublin Bay close by the Muglins were going well, with the Tyrell's J/122 Aquelina from Arklow setting the pace ahead of the masthead-spinnaker-toting veteran Dehler db1 Red Rhum (Jonathan Nicholson) and the pace-setters in both the Two-Handed and Cruiser Divisions, Colm Buckley and Simon Knowles with the Elan 340 Blue Eyes, and Brian O'Sullivan with the defending champion, the vintage Oyster 37 Amazing Grace.
In the early stages of the race, the Elan 340 Blue Eyes (left), raced two-handed by Colm Buckley & Simon Knowles (Howth YC) was showing very well against the entire fleet. She lost her good placing for a while in the calms off the southwest coast, but at the finish won the Two-Handed Division and placed twelfth overall, thereby putting sixteen fully-crewed boat astern. With her shortly after the start is the Sigma 38 Joker (David Gibbons, Kinsale YC) which placed second in the Two-Handed Division. Photo: W M Nixon
Their moment of glory was rather more than that. Close along the land, the little fellows were still finding the better breeze an hour later. But offshore the biggies were finding their style, and soon Antix was sitting on nearly 8 knots while Adrian Lee's Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners was powering through at 9, and though Aquelina was hanging in mighty well, the proper order was asserting itself by the time Wicklow Head was astern of the leaders at midnight, though Red Rhum, Blue Eyes and Chris Moore's J/109 Powder Monkey were still embarrassingly close. Further back in the fleet, David Bolger's comfortable Sadler 34 lady Rowena was going much too well for the peace of mind of the bigger newer boats around her.
However, through the remainder of the short June night, the two leaders were powering away, and by 0530 Antix and Lee OP had broken past the Tuskar Rock while the fleet astern found the new flood tide piling up against them to enable Antix to start to assert her position at the top of the leaderboard on IRC. This was what had been expected with the weather forecasts on Thursday morning, when predictions had been that a favourable wind pattern - briskly from the north - might enable Antix to get to Dingle within the 24 hours, with the stratospherically-rated Lee Overlay Partners doing even better.
But by Friday morning the wind expectations and the betting had softened. It seemed there were going to be at least two significant flat patches which would have to be negotiated before they could breathe the Kerry air. In those circumstances, the smart money shifted to boats with middle ratings in the fleet, and where better to settle than on the half dozen ever-reliable J/109s? And within those ever-reliable J/109s, where safer than the Shanahan family with Ruth, the 2014 ISORA Champion?
It has to be admitted that with Powder Monkey leading the charge for glory in the J/109s in the early stages, Ruth had her backers worried. But by the time they were out past the Coningbeg at 11 o'clock on Saturday morning, the money was looking a little bit safer, for although Antix was still reaching along in glorious style and fine weather with the Old Head of Kinsale the next mark in mind and her still on top of the handicap lead, Ruth was now emerging from the pack and was picking at the lead in the J/109s which had been taken over by the Welsh boat Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox), while early sprinter Powder Monkey had run out of steam and was now well back.
While the northerly breeze lasted, Lee Overlay Partners and Antix were in a race of their own. Horizon job doesn't even begin to describe it. And when the wind did go soft and then drew locally from ahead on Saturday afternoon during an otherwise perfect summer's day, they were better able to cope in clear conditions. But many miles astern, the most of the rest of the fleet were in those messy waters south of the Hook, where head winds in the usual lumpy sea make any progress difficult, and some took desperate tactical gambles.
Yet such is the nature of this race that the more optimistic continued to hope that their time might yet come, and so it proved through Saturday night. The underlying northerly breeze had returned as forecast, reinforced by being the night breeze off the land right along the south coast of West Cork. But for the two leaders ploughing along approaching the Fastnet Rock at midnight, they were sailing into another calm. The Fastnet Rock, legendary emblem of rough water, was no more than a great big pussy cat sitting serenely in its own bed of almost windless sea. Lee OP and Antix, within a couple of miles of each other, came as near as dammit to a halt.
Yet the rest of the fleet, led by the offshore-course-favouring J/122 Aurelia (Chris & Patanne Power Smith), were coming down from the Old Head of Kinsale through the velvet night in considerable style and at a very fine speed. Then through that night, as each cohort in turn came to the Fastnet and found it calm and then had some very slow progress towards the next bit of a reasonably moving air out by Mizen Head, the corrected time leadership changed almost by the minute, and certainly by the hour.
In such circumstances, with all the benefit of hindsight, we can see a trend emerging. The close racing between Mojito and Ruth had developed into an exhausting duel. But their heightened performance for that one-on-one challenge meant they in turn were out-performing all others. Oh for sure, from time to time other boats appeared at the top of the leaderboard. But thanks to the Mojito/Ruth contest - "a dogfight" was how Liam Shanahan later laconically described it - when anything remotely like reasonable sailing emerged, the two top J/109s were poised to take the lead.
It was at Cape Clear and heading on towards the Fastnet at 6 o'clock on Sunday morning that Ruth for the first time started to show ahead, though only just, when they were only 80 metres apart. But she stayed ahead of Mojito thereafter, even though like everyone else they spent a considerable time – three hours in the case of some boats – becalmed at the mouth of Bantry Bay. Yet all the time Ruth was somehow nibbling away, and as the northerly returned to give a summer day's beat out past Dursey Head and on towards the big turn at the Skellig, Ruth was building towards having two miles in hand on Mojito.
She never lost it thereafter, and as the chips were falling exactly the right way for whoever was leading the J/109s, they were able to get round the Skellig and up to the finish at Dingle carrying the port tack all the way, albeit hard on the wind, while those ahead had found things flukey towards Dingle, and those far astern were to find the wind veering to give a beat, and then falling away.
Moment of truth aboard Ruth. With Liam Shanahan on the wheel and crewman Kevin Daly on the mainsheet, they have just rounded the Skellig and can lay the course for the finish. If the expected veering in the wind can hold off for just a little while, they have the race in the bag........
The early overall leader Antix was no longer in a commanding position when she finally finished the D2D 2015 shortly after 2pm on Sunday, having to contend with a local south to east breeze to get across the line. But in the end, she did very well to correct to 8th place overall after a race in which conditions were against her. Photo: Alan Dooley
Lee Overlay Partners and Antix had stayed well ahead, but being stopped – as the whole fleet had been from time to time – is murder for the highest rated boats, and though they were both into Dingle in time for a late Sunday lunch, it would have needed the rest of the fleet to be set in concrete for half a day to give them a chance of the handicap win.
Yet not so far behind the two big glamour girls, the Steady Eddy performer Aurelia came in neck and neck with George Sisk's much higher rated Farr 42 WOW, and Aurelia was undoubtedly in with more than shout if things went even slightly pear-shaped for the tightly packed bunch astern. But it was not to be. Far from resembling a pear, the shape was perfect for Ruth, and she took the win with style, finishing at 1945 hrs still that crucial two miles ahead of Mojito, which in turn came in twenty minutes later to move into second on corrected time, with things now looking good for Aurelia in third.
It was fairly clearcut in terms of time for the first three places, but fourth slot was a very close run thing. If there was a prize for the most inappropriately-named boat in the race, it would have been no contest for Jay Bourke's J/109 Dear Prudence. She seemed to be crewed mostly by some of the most colourful characters on the Irish sailing scene. And in those difficult stages to the west of the Coningbeg and Saltees, Dear Prudence seemed to be taking unsuccessful flyers which belied her name. But as the race progressed, her motley crew – sorry about the cliché, but nothing else will do – began to get their act together, and they fairly milled their way through the fleet.
By the time Dear Prudence got out of the Bantry Bay calm, she was becoming a contender. Thereafter, the motley crew sailed like men possessed. To get to Dingle as quickly as possible, they made some inspired tactical decisions in the beat up to the Skellig. And then, on the final leg to the finish, they didn't sail an inch further than was absolutely necessary, skirting Valentia Island close inshore with a splendidly cavalier disregard for the supposed perils of doing so, and hounding down Frank Doyle's A35 Endgame and Mike Murphy's perky little twin-ruddered JPK 9.60 Alchimiste like a very hungry lion after his prey.
Possibly the most inappropriately-named boat on the planet, the J/109 Dear Prudence (seen here in another race) managed to snatch fourth place by 50 seconds thanks to shaving past the coast of Valentia Island on the way to the finish. Photo: W M Nixon
"And they told me Dingle was a rugged place with ferocious Atlantic weather....." Post-finish celebrations in Dingle say it all.
Thus from being an also ran going nowhere, Dear Prudence came in a commendable fourth, albeit by just 50 seconds ahead of Alchimiste. It was an astounding performance. And it added yet further lustre to the J/Boat sweep of the results, as they now took five of the first six places. In a wonderful race like this, every boat has a dozen stories to tell. In the end though, it is only the story of the winner that really matters. But before we focus on Ruth and her team, here are the complete results, and let it be noted that being a J/109 was no guarantee of success – in the final tally, they were spread between first and nineteenth overall. And in that final tally, an encouraging aspect has to be the widespread nature of the clubs taking part in this great race:
Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2015 (National YC & Dingle Sailing Club) Results
IRC Overall: 1st Ruth (J/109, B, W, A, T & P Shanahan, National YC) Corrected Time: 1 day 23hrs 30 minutes & 48 seconds; 2nd Mojito (J/109) Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox, Pwllheli SC) 1:23:51:50; 3rd Aurelia (J/122, Chris & Patanne Power Smith, Royal St George YC) 2:0:15:52; 4th Dear Prudence (J/109, Jonathan Bourke, Manhattan YC) 2:1:18:14; 5th Alchimiste (JPK 9.60, Mike Murphy, National YC) 2:1:19:04; 6th Aquelina (J/122. James & Sheila Tyrrell, Arklow SC) 2:1:31:10; 7th Endgame (A35, Frank Doyle, Royal Cork YC) 2:1:47:04; 8th Antix (Ker 40, Anthony O'Leary, RCYC & Baltimore SC) 2:2:02:27; 9th WOW (Farr 42, George Sisk, Royal Irish YC) 2:2:20:52; 10th: Wakey Wakey (J/109, Roger Smith, Poolbeg Y & BC) 2:3:40:56; 11th Red Rhum (Dehler db1, Jonathan Nicholson, RStGYC) 2:3:40:56; 12th Blue Eyes (Elan 340, Colm Buckley & Simon Knowles, Howth YC) 2:4:27:10; 13th Amazing Grace (Oyster 37, Brian O'Sullivan & Frances Clifford, Tralee Bay SC) 2:4:31:23; 14th First of September (First 435, Jerry Whiston, Poolbeg Y & BC) 2:6:16:00); 15th Lula Belle (First 36.7, Liam Coyne, NYC) 2:6:49:37; 16th Lee Overlay Partners (Cookson 50, Adrian Lee, RStGYC) 2:6:52:23; 17th Desert Star (Jeanneau Sunfast 37, Ronan O Siochru, RStGYC) 2:6:55:50; 18th Jedi (J/109, Johnny Treanor, Andrew Sarratt & Mary McGuinness, NYC, RStGYC, RIYC) 2:7:02:07; 19th Powder Monkey (J/109, Chris Moore, NYC) 2:7:08:03, 20th Windshift (Jeanneau Sunfast 37, Brendan Coghlan, RStGYC) 2:7:12:41, 21st Joker (Sigma 38, David Gibbons, Kinsale YC) 2:7:24:19; 22nd Big Deal (Dehler 34, Derek & Conor Dillon, Foynes YC) 2:7:28;21; 23rd Yahtzee (Beneteau Oeanis 411, Richard Mossop, Dun Laoghaire Motor YC) 2:7:58:48; 24th Exhale (X-Yachts 362 Sport, Derry & Hilda Good, RCYC) 2:8:36:27; 25th Lady Rowena (Sadler 34, David Bolger, RStGYC) 2:8:41:10; 26th Legally Blonde (First 31.7, Cathal Drohan, RStGYC) 2:9:04:48; 27th Polished Manx (Sigma 33, Kuba Szymanski, Douglas Bay YC) 2:9:32:37, 28th Pogeen (Pogo 1050, John Gilmore, Strangford Lough YC) 2:10:04:38; 29th Persistance (Sigma 38, Jerry Collins, RStGYC) 2:10:21:55. Ipanema (Dehler 37CR, Martin Breen, Galway Bay SC) DNF.
Two-handed Division: 1st Blue Eyes (Elan 340, Colm Buckley & Simon Knowles, Howth YC) 2:4:27:10; 2nd Joker (Sigma 38, David Gibbons, Kinsale YC) 2:7:24:19; 3rd Big Deal (Dehler 34, Derek & Conor Dillon, Foynes YC) 2:7:28:21;
Cruising: 1st Amazing Grace (Oyster 37, Brian O'Sullivan & Frances Clifford, Tralee Bay SC) 2:8:46:54; 2nd Yahtzee (Beneteau Oceanis 411, Richard Mossop, Dun Laoghaire Motor YC) 2:7:58:48; 3rd Lady Rowena (Sadler 34, David Bolger RStGYC) 2:8:41:10.
RUTH'S WINNING FAMILY STORY
The offshore racing story of the Shanahan family of the National Yacht Club goes back at least three generations, and while Liam Shanahan Jnr and two of his sons were racing the family's J/109 Ruth (which is named for his wife, the mother of their five children), father and grandfather Liam Senior, a renowned offshore racing skipper and international businessman in his day, was not only following their progress in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race on the Averycrest Yacht Tracker "every fifteen minutes", but recently he has – at the age of 84 – bought himself a brand new Beneteau Oceanis 38.
When you're from stock like that, offshore racing runs in the blood. Yet it was only within the past five years that Liam bought the new J/109 Ruth. He'd kept in touch with sailing, but a hectic working life – often overseas - meant his sailing was limited to occasional brief forays with a 1720 and an SB20.
But then he literally decided to spend more time with his family, and as much of it as possible sailing. In looking analytically with his oldest sons Ben and William at the sailing scene in Dun Laoghaire, they reckoned that the J/109 provided the best all round value, as there'd be One Design racing in Dublin Bay, there'd also be the scope to renew the Shanahan involvement with ISORA racing which their friend Peter Ryan in the National YC was promoting with vigour, and while the boat was clearly a genuine contender in the offshore racing scene, she provided the third option of real cruising potential.
A clean, simple yet sophisticated boat – the J/109 exactly fitted the Shanahan family's requirements
The saloon area on the J/109 is a successful compromise between comfort and seagoing efficiency
The J/109's straightforward galley is actually more workmanlike than is on many supposedly out-and-out cruisers
They decided to go for the total racing version, with the biggest steering wheel possible, and while Liam admits it takes a little bit of gymnastics for the helmsman to take up his position astern of it, the result is an easily controlled boat with very responsive steering – "you feel close to the feel of the water when you're on the wheel, it's finger-tip cntrol".
His approach to the offshore racing game was that it should first help to bind his family together in a shared enterprise which they all enjoyed, but as well the demands of crewing a J/109 meant they happily had to reinforce old friendships and create new ones in order to provide the necessary amateur crew panel to enable an active season which can go on for twelve months – this past winter is the first one in which Ruth has been ashore for eight weeks, the previous three winters she was raced all year round.
You get some idea of the scale of family ties and sailing friendships involved when you learn that at last year's ISORA Prize-Giving Dinner when Ruth was hailed as overall champion, the Shanahan group included no less than 28 people who had all raced on the boat since the stellar career of racing the J/109 began, all of whom regularly renewed their involvement as crew panel allocations and personal time availability required. For the race to Dingle, the crew lineup was typical, as it included Liam, Ben and William Shanahan, backed up by Kevin Daly, Simon Digby, Conall O'Halloran and Fiachra Etchingham.
It's a huge challenge maintaining such a network, yet it's one which Liam Shanahan clearly relishes, as he has a generous and continually developing philosophy of family, friends and community as expressed through sailing. And in ISORA especially, with like-minded people such as Peter Ryan on the Irish side and Stephen Tudor on the Welsh side, he has found a remarkably congenial atmosphere in which to express his approach to life, and his enthusiasm in bringing his family with him.
But in fact, when you see the Shanahan family in full flight, whether sailing together or socialising at something like last November's Round Ireland Awards Dinner in Wicklow, you could begin to wonder just who is encouraging whom, as the younger generation interact with the seniors in a mutually beneficial display of enjoyment of their own and their non-family shipmates' company, with private jokes, shared enthusiasm, and an almost telepathic in-family sense of communication and shared values.
In other words, they move as quickly and effectively ashore as they do afloat. It's impressive. And while there is this well thought out thinking behind it, it's not something that's shouted too much from the rooftops, but rather it is expressed through the shared purpose of doing well in racing, and doing it in an amateur capacity.
But in line with it, a few months ago Liam took the very definite step of formally transferring the ownership of Ruth to the five children – Ben (22), William (20), Alice (19), Tom (16) and Peter (14). For as he says himself, everything happens so quickly in a busy family, and soon they'll be moving out and going their various ways on all their different projects. But if they continue to have this shared responsibility for running a boat in all its complex aspects of logistics and personnel and decision-making, they'll have something which regularly gets them all round a table together discussing topics which are at least at one remove from the other sometimes tedious demands of modern life.
So in looking at Ruth's success in the D2D 2015, we find ourselves contemplating a very interesting exercise and experiment in family dynamic. Just so. For those who are interested simply in what boats are doing, the word is that Ruth was due back in Dun Laghaire before this weekend, as the universal family challenge of exams is top of the agenda for the current few days or so. Then she resumes racing next weekend with the hundred mile Royal Dee/ISORA Lyver Trophy Race between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire which, as part of the Royal Dee YC's Bicentenary celebrations, will bring the ISORA fleet to Dun Laoghaire for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2015. In that, a healthy turnout of J/109s racing as a One Design class will be keen to show Ruth and her five family owners that she won't necessarily have it all her own way.