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#sailorofthemonth – The Afloat "Sailor of the Month" Award has been a central feature of Irish sailing since 1996, and before that we ran various Sailors of the Year awards with several categories. But with the development of the "Sailor of the Month" concept, and its peak of achievement in one single "Sailor of the Year", the intention has been to give expression to the fact that the world of boats and thinking frequently about being afloat is a year-round Irish interest, even if in times past there was a distinctly defined sailing and boating season.

YOU CAN VOTE FOR YOUR SAILOR OF 2014 BY SCROLLING DOWN TO THE END OF THIS PAGE! 

(VOTING HAS NOW CLOSED)

The overall national award will be presented to the person who, in the judges' opinion, achieved the most notable results in, or made the most significant contribution to Irish sailing during 2014.

 

The boating public gets to nominate their top three through the online poll, Afloat.ie gets a vote too and the Sailor of the Year judges decide the final winner.

 

With modern materials and changed attitudes, there is now genuine year-round boat activity within Ireland, albeit at a much more muted level in winter than in high summer. But as well, the increasing size and awareness of the Irish diaspora, and the way that rapidly improving global communications keep us in frequent and intimate communication with Irish sailors in every corner of the world - whether afloat or ashore - means that for the greater Irish sailing community, it is endless summer.

The worldwide responses we get in the comments sections of Afloat.ie confirm that while you may take the Irish sailor out of Ireland, you can never take Ireland out of the Irish sailor. And for us at home, our interest in our sailors abroad stems from a reassuring and inspiring sense of global community.

As for specific boat and sailing interests, for most Irish sailors these are very broad indeed, covering everything from the most challenging offshore racing, voyaging and cruising right through the entire gamut of coastal and club activity and on into the supposedly serene but often surprisingly brisk sailing and boating to be found on our lakes and inland waterways.

And the boat types involved reflect this broad range of interest - they are of all sizes, made in many different materials, and of every type from the utmost state-of-the-art flyer to a heavy yet lovely traditional boat constructed in a way our forefathers would find familiar. This is the complex and complete world afloat that we try to cover in our Sailor of the Month awards. And while the decision as to who is going to be the Afloat.ie Sailor of the Year 2014 will not be taken until February 2015, with Christmas upon us it is timely to start re-visiting the many remarkable individual achievements of 2014.

But you'll have to bear with us regarding the totality of the list. The Afloat.ie Sailor of the Month for November will not be announced until next week, while in time-honoured tradition, the December awardee will be named on December 15th, as we reckon the Irish Sailing Season 2015 will then begin on December 26th with the start of the Sydney-Hobart Race.

The 70ft Derry/Londonderry's victory in the Clipper Fleet in the Syndey-Hobart Race brought Lough Swilly skipper Sean McCarter January's accolade.

JANUARY 2014 – SEAN McCARTER

Sean McCarter of Lough Swilly Yacht Club became Sailor of the Month for January after some very successful skippering of the Irish entry Derry/Londonderry/Doire in the current Clipper Round the World Race. With the latest edition's major breakthrough in having the Tony Castro-designed 70ft Clippers included in the classic annual Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race as part of the fleet, and as a class in their own right, the 31-year-old McCarter's skills as a racing skipper, honed from a very early age on Lough Swilly, became evident as he sailed his boat to a clear four hour class victory in the challenging race to Hobart.

FEBRUARY 2014 – SAM DAVIS

Sam Davis of Conly Island in Strangford Lough was the Afloat.ie "Sailor of the Month" for February in recognition of his exceptional achievement in receiving an unprecedented threesome of top Irish Cruising Club awards for his great single-handed voyage from Tonga in the midst of the Pacific round Cape Horn, and home to Ireland through the length of the Atlantic. Taken chronologically, his first award in this batch of three was the Rockabill Trophy in celebration of his great skill in bringing his Rival 41 Suvretta through Force 12 winds and successfully finding shelter in the Falkland Islands. It was ironic that he should experience such tough going in this area of ocean, as Suvretta had twice rounded Cape Horn in her three years away from Strangford Lough, and had enjoyed relatively easy conditions both times while doing so.

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Sam Davis's Rival 41 Suvretta in Cala Brechnock in the Beagle Channel in the Cape Horn region of South America. Photo: Sam Davis

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The Intervarsity Fireflies in early Spring action in Wexford to bring Philip Doran the title for March

MARCH 2014 – SIMON DORAN

Simon Doran of Courtown SC sailed his fourth intervarsities for UCD in Wexford early (vey early!) in the Spring of 2014, and he played a key role in bringing the Dublin College in as the new Irish Champions for 2014. The name Doran was not to disappear from the UCDSC listings, however, as his younger brother Philip was also a member of the winning team, and he took over over the baton of carrying the family name in intervarsity sailing in the year ahead, getting fourth overall in a truly international fleet as captain of the UCD team in the Student yachting Worlds in France in October.

APRIL 2014 – RYAN SEATON & MATT McGOVERN

Their meteoric rise from 33rd to 11th in the ISAF Global Rankings for the 49er Olympic Class gave international recognition to the April achievement of Belfast Lough's Ryan Seaton (24) and Matt McGovern (26). They brought home the Silver Medal from the ISAF World Championship in Hyeres on France's Mediterranean coast, and although it was a high-achieving month for Irish sailing generally at home and abroad, it made them clear winners of the Afloat.ie Sailors of the Month title for April.

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Ryan Seaton & Matt McGovern took the silver in the 49er

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Dickie Gomes's 1912-built 36ft Ainmara from Strangford Lough showing the kind of performance which saw her retain the Leinster Trophy in Dublin Bay. Photo: Carol Laird

MAY 2014 – DICKIE GOMES

Dickie Gomes of Strangford Lough, who was Round Ireland Open Record Holder from 1986 to 1993, and was also the Round Ireland Race winner in 1988, was the Afloat.ie "Sailor of the Month" for May 2014, following his successful defence of the Leinster Trophy for veteran and classic boats in Dublin Bay. It was on the final day of May that the Gomes-owned, skippered and self-maintained 102-year-old 36ft yawl Ainmara swept across the sunlit waters of the bay to take line honours, and win the title on corrected time for the second year running, after a close-fought battle with Old Gaffers Association International President Sean Walsh's cutter Tir na nOg.

JUNE 2014 – ANTHONY O'LEARY

Top Cork skipper Anthony O'Leary's success in achieving the overall title in the British Open IRC Championship made him the runaway winner of Afloat.ie's "Sailor of the Month" title for June.
O'Leary's dedication in campaigning his veteran Ker 39 Antix is a by-word for enthusiasm in Irish and international sailing. Allied to his long-proven skill in getting that vital extra ounce of performance from boat and crew, the result was a prodigious record of success throughout 2014, culminating in a comprehensive victory for Ireland in the Commodore's Cup at the end of July. Then for O'Leary personally it got even better, as he went on to win both the Helmsmans Championship and the 1720 Nationals in September, while in November his beloved Antix was declared the RORC "Yacht of the Year"

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Quokka, chartered by Michael Boyd and Niall Dowling, was a consistent contributor to the three-boat Irish team's winning points total in the Brewin Dolphin Commodore's Cup 2014. Photo: Rick Tomlinson

JULY 2014 INTERNATIONAL AWARD – THE COMMODORE'S CUP TEAM

It was a busy and successful sailing season for Irish crews at home and abroad, but one team achievement stood above all others in setting the tone for the year. Ireland's runaway victory in the international and multi-faceted Brewin Dolphin Commodore's Cup series from July 20th to 26th raised the mood of the nation in a very encouraging way. And while many were involved, there is no doubt that one man, the Team Captain Anthony O'Leary of Cork, was head and shoulders above all others in making the primary contribution.

JULY 2014 – SEAFRA GUILFOYLE

The Royal Cork Yacht Club's Cup of Success was running over in July, as the Commodore's Cup victory followed on to a Silver Medal at the ISAF Worlds for 18-year-old Seafra Guilfoyle of Crosshaven, who became the Afloat.ie "Sailor of the Month".
Racing in the boys Laser Radials at the Youth Worlds at Tavira on the Algarve in Portugal from July 14th to 20th, by the last day Guilfoyle was certain of a medal, with the final race to decide which one. As it happened, he came tantalisingly close to Gold, but the Silver amounted to a personal best

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Seafra Guilfoye in Silver Medal style

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On their way - Lula Belle streaks eastward up the English Channel in the early stages of the Round Britain and Ireland Race. Photo: Rick Tomlinson

AUGUST 2014 SAILORS OF THE MONTH – LIAM COYNE & BRIAN FLAHIVE

Liam Coyne of Dun Laoghaire and Brian Flahive of Wicklow were the Afloat.ie "Sailors of the Month" for August 2014, following their stunning and comprehensive success in the 1,802 mile RORC SevenStar Round Britain & Ireland Race. In it, with the standard First 36.7 Lula Belle, they topped the Two-Handed Division, won two of the RORC classes against opposition which included fully-crewed boats, and finished sixth overall in a fleet in which the results were otherwise dominated by much bigger boats with a large professional element in their crews. In fact, some of the crews were wholly professional. But the two Irish amateurs not only did the race out of their own time and resources, but they had to be their own shore management and technical support team as well.

SEPTEMBER 2014 – HAL BLEAKLEY

On Saturday 27th September, Hal Bleakley quietly retired from a lifetime of service to yacht racing, standing down after his final day as Race Officer for Dublin Bay Sailing Club in the last race of the summer programme in the Club's 130th year of playing a key role in the bay. Hal Bleakley personifies all that is best in DBSC, and indeed in Irish sailing and the maritime community generally. He got steadily on with the job with hours, days and weeks of often voluntary effort, and it was usually done quietly in the background, for that was Hal's way. In his working life, he was a leading figure in technical management and general administration in Ireland's aviation industry from 1959 to 2000, and he brought the high standards of his profession to his many interests afloat.

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Hal Bleakley's calm and competent presence contributes greatly to the smooth running of Irish sailing. Photo: David Branigan

OCTOBER 2014 – BARRY HURLEY

Barry Hurley, who learnt his sailing on Cork Harbour out of Cobh, is best known as a star of the short-handed offshore racing scene. But in recent years he has been carving a formidable reputation as a team co-ordinator on board fully-crewed boats, and October 2014's 606-mile Middle Sea Race out of Malta against a record fleet of more than 120 boats was an outstanding achievement for him. In a central role aboard Josef Schultheis's Xp44 XpAct, Hurley and his shipmates took first in class on IRC and ORC, and second overall in both IRC and ORC. It was his tenth Rolex Middle Sea Race, and it was aboard a boat which as always was immaculately presented, while the gathering of crew from far and wide for XpAct resulted in ten very experienced sailors from five different countries, with four of them from Ireland, coming together in Malta a week before the start to finalise an outstanding challenge.

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NOVEMBER – JUSTIN SLATTERY

Successes in the first two races of the current Volvo Ocean global contest placed Justin Slattery in an unassailable position as our Sailor of the Month for November. Completely absorbed in his fifth world race which is itself a record for an Irish sailor (and he won in 2005-06 with ABN Amro), Slattery has had the satisfaction of seeing his Abu Dhabi team justify his feeling that on the previous circuit three years ago, they were hampered by a slow boat. With the current race of 2014-2015 in a fleet of Farr-designed one–design Volvo 65s although Abu Dhabi - skippered by Ian Walker - was not necessarily always in the lead on the first leg from Alicante to Cape Town, she was ahead when it mattered at the finish. And with the entire fleet of one–designs racing within the same closely defined area of water for theCape Town inshore event, she showed the quality and depth of her style with another win. In the thick of it all, Justin Slattery was in his usual key roles in a multi-functional position - he can be bowman, trimmer or helmsman. Born in Cork with a boyhood in Wexford, Justin Slattery (40) is one of many Irish sailors who took his first proper steps afloat with Eddie English on Cork Harbour, and his early experiences still stand well to him.

DECEMBER – ANDY JOHNSTON

Sutton Dinghy Club on the north shore of Dublin Bay has been a pace-setter in the revival of Irish dinghy racing and club activity generally during 2014. Commodore Andy Johnston led his members through an outstanding season in which they were once again making an impact at national and international level, while the club's training programme and sailing school under the direction of Hugh Gill was highly effective in bringing newcomers to the sport, and building up a strong esprit de corps among its dedicated team of young instructors. In addition to success in open dinghy events at all levels, SDC succeeded in regaining the historic Book Trophy for team racing from Royal Cork Yacht Club. The trophy dates back to 1944, but for the past sixteen years the sailors of Crosshaven had kept it firmly in their grasp. 2014 also marked the 75th Anniversary of the foundation of the club at its homely base beside Sutton Creek, so the concluding highlight of the year was a 75th Anniversary Gala Dinner in mid-November in the club's home-from-home, the popular Marine Hotel at Sutton Cross. A remarkable total of 204 well-wishers and people who have distinguished sailing connections with Sutton DC from way back attended. It was Ciara O'Tiarnaigh and her Organising Committee who looked after the nuts and bolts of this star-studded event, but throughout a long and very special season, it was Andy Johnston who led the way and held the ultimate responsibility. Nevertheless, in making him our Sailor of the Month for December 2014, we are saluting the spirit of Sutton Dinghy Club, and the resilience of all Irish dinghy sailing.

Help us decide...

As in previous years, Afloat magazine is asking the public to help decide who should be crowned Ireland's Sailor of the Year for 2014. 

VOTE BY SCROLLING DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE! 

The overall national award will be presented to the person who, in the judges' opinion, achieved the most notable results in, or made the most significant contribution to Irish sailing during 2014.

The boating public gets to nominate their top three through the online poll, Afloat.ie gets a vote too and the Sailor of the Year judges decide the final winner.

The awards are administered and judged by Afloat magazine.

The 2014 Sailor of the Year will be named early in March at a joint presentation by Afloat and the Irish Sailing Association (ISA).

The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Thanks for your interest!

Published in W M Nixon

Irishsailing – After the remarkable across-the-board success of the 2014 Irish sailing season, 2015 will have to be very special indeed to be remembered with such enthusiasm. But it's a special year in any case, as two major sailing Bicentenaries – one in the Irish Sea, the other in the Solent – will have added and poignant meaning, as the Centenaries a hundred years ago could not be celebrated because of the First World War.

As for Irish sailing generally, life moves on, there are new sailors on the water, successful young sailors are graduating to the next stage of their rapidly developing careers, and established stars continue to plan fresh campaigns, for sailing is indeed a sport for life.

Then too, new fixtures successfully introduced in 2014 will require nurturing, tuning and encouragement if they are to fulfil their potential in the coming year, while at the same time there's always extra effort needed to give proper support to established fixtures, which have to live with the reality that they might wilt through being taken for granted. Both new and longer-established boat classes will need continued enthusiastic involvement, and our well-loved classics and traditional craft must be cherished and sailed, for lack of use is the real enemy of boats, whether old or new.

As for the major administrative initiatives introduced in 2014, they will need constant monitoring, but deserve full support from the sailing and boating community at large, for it was in response to a grass-roots initiative that the radical and very necessary reforms of the Irish Sailing Association were undertaken. Those appointed to undertake the root-and-branch reform of the national authority have done so with commendable dispatch, so it is now the duty of the rest of us to support their continuing efforts. And we can best do that by enjoying our boats and our sailing and time afloat in its myriad of interests, while encouraging others to do the same. W M Nixon outlines on what the coming year may bring.

One thing at least is certain for the coming season afloat during 2015 in most of Europe. It will not mark any significant sailing Centenaries. Instead, we are immersed in four years of remembering the Great War of 1914-1918 a hundred years on, with all the added twists of that period's longer historical narrative in Ireland. In such a context, it may seem frivolous to point out that sports like yachting have no great Centenaries to mark at all in 2015. But this minor off-screen fact is a reminder of the all-involving horror and obscenity of total warfare on an industrial scale. It obliterated anything like normal life.

Yet as recreational sailing had been going on in some sort of organised form for hundreds of years – albeit in a fairly rudimentary way in its earliest years in the 16th Century – there may well have been several important dates to be marked during the time of the Great War itself, but they were allowed to pass as there was no sport afloat, while civilian life ashore was very subdued.

And in Ireland, with the Troubles persisting for four years after the end of the Great War until 1922, the Bicentenary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club in 1920 was to be a muted affair – the official History of the Royal Cork Yacht Club (published 2005) tells us: "Plans for a special dinner to celebrate the club's bicentenary in 1920 had to be cancelled, probably because of the disturbed conditions in the country"

So the idea of celebrating the Centenary of the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes in 1915 at the height of the international war - other than in a rather solemn shorebound way - would have been unthinkable. But that in turn fuels the celebrations when the peacefulgood times roll again. Thus the Royal Cork Yacht Club, having been unable to celebrate its Bicentenary in 1920, went on to have a fabulous two-year Quarter Millennium celebration in 1969-70. And as the RYS couldn't have a proper party in 1915, there's no doubt that the up-coming Bicentenary in 2015 will be the nucleus of international sailing's megafest-of-the-year.

There are of course several clubs which pre-dated the Squadron when it was founded in 1815. And there are many whose members outshine the small membership of the RYS in the breadth and energy of their sailing. But for 2015, let's just acknowledge that the prestigious Squadron has been at the heart of sailing history for a very long time, while their clubhouse's location right on the Solent at Cowes is so central that when any great Solent-related events are under way, the Squadron is in the middle of the story.

Thus it was on the Squadron lawn that in July that the Irish team celebrated their epic Commodore's Cup victory at the end of July 2014. And it will be towards the Squadron and its Bicentenary that the fleet will be racing in 2015's west-east Transatlantic Race. And then it will be the firing of the cannons from the historic Squadron battery which will signal the start of the 46th Fastnet Race on 16th August 2015.

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Party time at the Royal Yacht Squadron – the Irish team and their management gather to celebrate victory in the Commodore's Cup at the Squadron Castle in Cowes on August 1st 2014

There'll be many Irish boats involved, and the best-placed of them at the finish will be the winner of the Gull Salver, currently held by Martin Breen's Reflex 38 Lynx from Galway Bay SC, which was skippered to success by Aodhan FitzGerald in 2013's race. It's a coveted trophy, instituted to honour the memory of Harry Donegan of Cork and his famous cutter Gull, which was one of seven boats which inaugurated the Fastnet Race in 1925, and placed third. Since then, Irish Fastneteers have frequently been in the great race's top places, and best of all was in 2007 when Ger O'Rourke's Cookson 50 Chieftain out of Kilrush, sailing under the burgee of the revived Royal Western of Ireland YC, came sweeping in to the finish line at Plymouth to win the Fastnet Race
overall.

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One of the greatest moments in Irish sailing history – Ger O'Rourke's Chieftain sweeps towards the finish line to become the overall winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2007. Photo: Rolex

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Just the spot for a great Tricentenary celebration - the very complete sailing facilities provided jointly by the Royal Cork Yacht Club and Crosshaven will become a world focus in 2020 with the Club's 300th anniversary. Photo: Bob Bateman

The realisation that 2015 sees this significant RYS Bicentenary is a timely reminder that the Royal Cork's Tricentenary is only five years down the line. They're five years which will be gone in a flash, and already behind-the-scenes moves are afoot to ensure that the national sailing programme will properly facilitate the extraordinary anniversary being celebrated in Crosshaven in 2020.

But meanwhile other Irish sailing centres have their own regular programmes to operate in the intervening four years, and in terms of numbers and scale there's no doubt the top event in Ireland in 2015 will be the biennial Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta from 9th to 12th July.

Anyone – and there were many - who took part in this unique "suburban sailfest" in 2013 will know that the VDLR has come of age. It's an event which is comfortable with itself while at the same time being always in development and evolution mode. Each staging of this remarkable Dublin Bay happening sees lessons being learnt and implemented even while the multi-class racing is under way on several courses. And in the two year gap before the next staging, the experience gained is closely analysed and the programme refined to further improve the sport in every area.

You get some idea of the sheer depth of racing experience in Dun Laoghaire by noting that the Chairman of the 2015 Committee is Tim Goodbody, with Martin Byrne as Vice Chairman while the Race Director is Con Murphy. And those three sailing megastars are just the peak of a mountain of race administration experience which is being drawn in from all over Ireland to ensure that the fleet of 400-plus boats gets the best sport possible.

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The first regatta in 1828 at the new harbour at Dun Laoghaire, which will be the setting for Ireland's biggest event in 2015, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta from 9th to 12th July.

While there'll be keenly participating boats from all over Ireland as well as Scotland, England and Wales, the setup of Dublin Bay being right on the city's doorstep means that it's the locals who would pose an administrative problem for a less experienced team. As the dates for the VDLR approached in 2013, the weather forecast steadily improved, and thanks to the Regatta's "extra long weekend" format, the sudden arrival of summer meant that a host of boats from the greater Dublin area came in as last minute entries, their owners and crews managing to scrape the extra day-and-a-half needed off work. It's a scenario which would put an overstretched administration off course, but the VDLR team took it calmly in their stride, and the result was a successful summer festival of sunlit sails and great sport, with maybe two thousand taking part.

This year there's a more structured cross-channel involvement, as the venerable Royal Dee YC in Cheshire has leapt to life to celebrate its Bicentenary. Founded as the Dee Yacht Club in 1815 with the end of the Napoleonic Wars, it didn't get the Royal seal until 1947, but nevertheless claims to be older than the RYS. With growing fleets in North Wales and the Mersey, it has put together a Bicentennial Royal Dee Irish Sea Offshore Championship linked closely to ISORA, which will bring the fleet across to Ireland to take in four offshore day races sailed as part of VDLR 2015.

Irish National Championships which will be part of the VDLR 2015 programme include the J/109s, the RS Elites, the Beneteau First 21s, and the Wayfarers, while the Leinster GP 14 Championship is also included as an integral part of the Regatta.

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Party time in Dun Laoghaire – the Royal Irish YC during VDLR 2013. Photo: W M Nixon

As for Ireland's classic clinker-built vintage classes, one of the pleasantest surprises in VDLR 2013 was the large turnout of Mermaids, which had superb racing on the course area in the northwest corner of Dublin Bay. Despite having been born as the Dublin Bay SC Mermaid in 1932, this class of 17ft super-dinghies is no longer included in the regular DBSC programme owing to shortage of numbers for weekly turnouts. But it seems that as far as the VDLR is concerned, the Mermaid is now an event boat, and the fleets still thriving at other centres, together with some of the dormant Dublin Bay craft, bestirred themselves for the four days to enjoy good sailing for more than three dozen boats, something which is highly likely to be repeated in 2015.

The even more venerable Water Wags, founded 1887 with the current boats dating from 1903, continue to thrive in Dun Laoghaire, and the word is they expect to have at least twenty boats in action, while another wooden classic, the Mylne-designed 25ft Glen keelboat, is 50 years and more in Dun Laoghaire, and looks forward to having at least twelve boats racing in 2015.

All these specialized and historic classes are in addition to the numerous cruiser-racers which continue to be the backbone of Dublin Bay sailing. And while many of them will see the VDLR 2015 as a highlight of the year, in turning to consider the overall national programme, we find a sport which is shaking off economic recession to get on with an extraordinary plethora of local, national and international sailing events.

The problem is that most events of significance hope to locate themselves in the peak sailing period from late May to early September, so clashes are almost inevitable, and if you're interested in several different kinds of sailing, the overall choices can be bewildering in their complexity and logistical challenges.

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The Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival attracts an eclectic fleet – included here are a Shannon Gandelow, a West Cork Mackerel Yawl, the ketch Sile a Do, and an Heir Island Lobster Yawl (left).

For instance, the variety of events now available for the traditional and classic boats – usually but not necessarily under the Old Gaffer umbrella – would keep anyone busy for most of the summer. It starts with the Baltimore Wooden Boat & Seafood Festival from Friday 22nd May to Sunday 24th May, which you'd think very early
in the season for someone faced with fitting out an old wooden boat in Ireland's climate, but somehow they do it.

Then on the East Coast for the early summer Bank Holiday Weekend from May 29th to June 2nd, there's the Old Gaffer gathering in Dublin Bay at Poolbeg Y&BC with the annual race for the Leinster Trophy in the bay on Saturday May 30th, the event then morphs into the Dublin Port Riverfest in the Liffey on Sunday May 31st, and finally it all concludes with the race for the Asgard Trophy back in the bay on Monday June 1st.

The annual Lambay Race at Howth, a regular fixture since 1904, has seen its course becoming increasingly complex in modern times in order to satisfy the desire of modern racers for competition on every possible point of sailing. But in 2014, to celebrate the Centenary of the Lynch family's Echo, the venerable Howth Seventeens were sent on the traditional course north from Howth Harbour through the sound inside Ireland's Eye, then on round Lambay leaving it to port, and then back south inside Ireland's Eye again to the finish at Howth pierheads.

This was such an attractive proposition for Old Gaffers and Seventeens alike that on the day an extra Classics Division was added to cater for ancient craft, and it hit the spot. This option will be offered again for 2015's Lambay Race (it's on Saturday June 6th), and the word is that Dickie Gomes's 1912-built 36ft yawl Ainmara will be coming down from Strangford Lough to defend her title after 94 years. 94 years? Yes indeed - she won the Lambay Race in spectacular style in 1921 when still under the ownership of her designer-builder John B Kearney.

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After 94 years, Dickie Gomes's 36ft 1912-built yawl Ainmara (seen here on her home waters of Strangford Lough) hopes to return to defend the title in Howth's Lambay Race, which Ainmara won in 1921 while still in the ownership of her designer-builder John B Kearney. Photo: W M Nixon

The Old Gaffers attention then swings north as the Tall Ships are coming to Belfast from Thursday 2nd July to Sunday 5th July. This is going to be a serious biggie with those ships already signed up including a significant turnout of Class A vessels, which are square riggers and others of more than 40 metres in length. Belfast Lough lends itself particularly well to the Parade of Sail which follows a Tall Ships gathering, and in 2009 when they were last in the port they put in in a virtuoso display with the Dutch ship Europa in particular going to the trouble of getting herself over towards Whiteabbey in the northwest corner of the lough to allow her time get every stitch of sail set before proceeding seawards down-lough in colossal style, a much more impressive display than we've become accustomed to in Dublin, where the shape of Dublin Bay is such that it doesn't really provide the space for square riggers to set all cloth before getting out to sea.

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The Tall Ship Europa shows how it should be done in Belfast Lough in 2009, taking time out to set full sail before she starts to gather power to make the proper input into the Parade of Sail.

Like Dublin, Belfast has shown it can be hospitable to Old Gaffers, and it was a very welcoming main port during the OGA Golden Jubilee Cruise-in-Company in 2013, so for 2015 the OGA National President Sean Walsh hopes to up the ante by persuading his members from all round the Irish Sea to gather in Belfast, and to add spice to the mix, he hopes to persuade the Howth 17s to put in an appearance as well, to sail with local one designs like the 1903 Belfast Lough Waverley Class, which have been experiencing a revival in recent years.

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Old Gaffers in Belfast for their Golden Jubilee in 2013. The Irish Sea classic and traditional fleet will return to the same venue for the Tall Ships gathering in July 2015. Photo: W M Nixon

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The Belfast Lough Waverley Class Lilias (built 1903) sailing at the Titanic Centre in Belfast. In 2015, the Waverleys will be joined by some of the 117-year-old Howth 17s to participate in the visit of the Tall Ships. Photo: W M Nixon

The Seventeens have made long treks as a class before – in 1998, five of them were road-trailed to Carrickfergus to mark the class's Centenary, with the first five boats built by Hilditch of Carrickfergus. So though they'd trailed there, they then sailed the 90 miles back to Howth, just as the first boats had done a hundred years earlier. Then in July 2003, fifteen of the Seventeens took part in the Glandore Classics Regatta thanks to a brilliantly organised exercise in logistics using a flotilla of low loaders which could take three boats apiece.

For all of Ireland's classic and traditional boats in 2015, and an international fleet too, Glandore is very much up on the radar again, as a special effort is being made by a GHYC team led by Donal Lynch to encourage increased numbers in the CH Marine Glandore Classic Regatta from Saturday July 18th through Friday July 24th. It's a date which certainly allows Old Gaffers plenty of time to get down from Belfast, indeed some may even consider the option of making the voyage northabout to take in a round Ireland cruise while they're at it. And as that great magnet of the Irish Sea classic and traditional scene, the Peel Traditional Boat Weekend, isn't until Friday 31st July to Sunday 2nd August, it's just about possible to factor that in as well.

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Everything happening at once – the famous Pilot Cutter Jolie Brise was the star of the Glandore Classics in 2013, and as it was her own Centenary she celebrated by sailing round the Fastnet Rock – she has been a successful Fastnet Race participant several times. Photo: Brian Carlin

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The Glandore Classics attracts an international fleet, and 2013's regatta included a class of Fife One Designs from the Menai Straits, all of them keen to party and showing it. 2015's Glandore Classics is from July 18th to 24th. Photo: Cormac O'Carroll

All this is already happening for the oldies with August barely under way, yet for modern cruiser-racers the potential programme for any keenly-sailed Irish boat is equally complex, attractive and challenging. The season starts as usual with the Scottish Series from Friday 23rd May to Monday 26th May – there'll probably still be snow on the mountains of Arran. They've gone back to their roots by starting with a feeder race from Gourock to the main regatta centre at Tarbert on Loch Fyne. "Going back to the roots" is something of a theme for this year's staging of the Clyde Cruising Club's main racing event, as this is the 40th Scottish Series. Come to think of it, there are so many important 40th anniversaries happening in sailing these days that we have the admit that the decade which brought us the full horror of wide lapels and flared trousers also contributed some lasting elements of the international sailing scene, indeed it could be said that the modern era in sailing really began about forty years ago.

Back in Ireland, the ISORA programme will be well under way by June, while the Lambay Race on June 6th can be looked at with more interest by several boats, as the biennial National YC Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race doesn't start until Friday June 12th . Last time round, there was a total fixtures clash between the two events, but in times before that hyper-keen sailors such as the Tyrrells of Arklow with Aquelina have been able to fit in both, indeed one year they did it so well they won both too, and were rightly acclaimed as the Afloat "Sailors of the Month" for their success.

For 2015, defending champion in the Dingle Race is Brian O'Sullivan of Tralee with the veteran Oyster 37 Amazing Grace, which came good in the end in 2013 with a new breeze which knocked pending leader Antix (Anthony O'Leary) off the winning perch. But with the 2015 Dingle Race acting as a useful if rather indirect feeder for the Covestone Asset Management Sovereigns Cup in Kinsale from June 24th to 28th, there could be all sorts of sharp boats lining up to take the prize, for the Sovereigns Cup 2015 includes the all-singing all-dancing ICRA Nats 2015. 

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The welcoming port – Kinsale is one of Ireland's most popular destinations, and in 2015 its hosts the combined Sovereigns /ICRA Nationals from June 24th to 28th.

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Perfect sailing – racing in the Sovereigns at Kinsale in June 2013. Photo: Bob Bateman

Yet the timing of the combined Sovereigns/ICRA Nats is such that there's still plenty of time and space to get back to the Irish Sea for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2015 from July 9th to 12th, a reminder that much of the cruiser-racer programme for 2015 is in a neatly balanced and user-friendly timescale for everyone except perhaps those who wish to do either the entire ISORA or SCORA programme as well, so the problem mostly is going to be getting time off work.

And for the hyper-keen cruiser-racers, particularly those whose boats are small enough to be conveniently trailerable, further temptation looms in 2015 with the WIORA Championship at Galway Bay Sailing Club from July 22nd to 25th. For the fleets in the Shannon, on Tralee Bay, and in Clew Bay, it's a bit more than a day's sail away, but they'll be there to challenge Liam Byrne of the home club who won it in 2014 with his Corby 25 Tribal at Mayo SC in Clew Bay, while some top boats from more distant centres are expecting to trail to Galway Bay to spice up the competition.

By this stage of the season a more relaxed pace might be welcome, but the lively turnout of 80 boats in 2014 for the new-style four day Cork Dry Gin Calves Week out of Schull in early August (Tuesday 4th to Friday 7th August in 2015) suggests that for racing sailors, the best relaxation is more racing, but in a holiday setting. And yes, it has been noted that a true West Corkian sailing nut could indeed do all of Calves Week 2015, and still be on the Squadron line for the start of the Fasnet Race nine days later.

For dinghies in 2015, the big story is the debut of the newest version of the National 18, and just how popular will the Bray-bult foiling Moths become, while established classes will frame their programmes to accommodate sailors whose time is limited, also having to fit in with a national scene where the number of Race Officers with the necessary skills is inevitably a finite amount.

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The big stories in Irish dinghy racing in 2015 will be the arrival of the new National 18s at Crosshaven, and the revival of Dinghy Week there in late August. Here, in the Autumn of 2013, To Dwyer and Nin O'Leary test sail the prototype of the new 18 on Cork Harbour. Photo: Bob Bateman

The new Third Generation (or maybe it's fourth or fifth generation) National 18 may have been designed in England by Phil Morrison, and is being built there too. But it was the very active Crosshaven fleet with the Royal Cork Yacht Club which led the charge towards a new boat, and when it came to stepping up to the plate to pay twelve substantial new boat deposits to move it all along after the prototype had been rigorously tested in Cork harbour last Autumn, it was the Crosshaven fleet that provided eight out of those twelve cheques.

So it's entirely appropriate that in August 2015, the dinghy focus will swing big time towards Crosshaven and a short form "Dinghy Week" from August 21st to 23rd. The old style Irish Dinghy Weeks – the last one was in 1970 – became victims of their own success, they just got too large. But the different classes became over-optimistic about their continuing individual growth prospects. Then the pendulum swung too far the other way, and dinghy classes were alone and their events shrinking. But a resurgence of club and championship dinghy sailing in Crosshaven during 2014, and a growing realization that over-reliance on single-handed dinghy classes does not necessarily produce a socially-adjusted national squad of junior sailors, resulted in some clear and creative thinking about developing two-handed boats, and reviving some old classes such as the Mirrors.

The form of this new Dinghy Week is still in the melting pot, but at least eight classes have responded with enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the National 18s in Crosshaven will be such a focus of interest during 2015 with the first of the new boats making their debut that we'll have a season-long dinghy narrative developing on Cork Harbour, and the revived Dinghy Week will be just part of it.

As for inshore keelboats, the big one in terms of number is the combined British and Irish Championship Squib Championship at Howth from 27th June to 3rd July. The handy little Squibs are something of an oddity, as they serve so well as a cherished local class in so many Irish sailing centres that many owners see them as that, and nothing more – handy little club sailors to be raced on home waters a couple of times a week.

This means that when a major regional or national event is held, the number taking part will often only be a fraction of the total Irish Squib fleet. But for those who do make the trek, the competition is fierce and the racing great – in Howth, the high point was in 1996, when this "Nationals" event attracted a fleet of exactly a hundred boats, and on one never-to-be-forgotten morning, there they were, every last one of them on the starting line.

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A hundred Squibs all in a row at Howth on Tuesday July 25th 1996. Photo: Mandy Murnane

The most recent Squib event of national stature was the Freshwater Keelboat Regatta at Dromineer on Lough Derg on the weekend of October 18th-19th, and the battle for the top places was between the Kinsale and Belfast Lough fleets, with James Matthews and Rob Jacob of Kinsale rounding out their year in style with a good win.

But with the Squibs in England undergoing a revival – they were the second-biggest One Design fleet in Cowes Week 2014, bested only by the legendary XODs – there's no doubt there's a strong challenge coming across channel, and any Irish boat getting into the top ten will be doing well.

As for that annual Autumn Freshwater Keelboat Regatta at Dromineer, while it may have been much hampered by the spinoff from some ferocious weather out in the Atlantic with frustration for some of the sixty boats hoping to take part, it's an event of enormous potential, and the many who wish it well and have enjoyed it in the past will be ready and willing to do their part to make 2015's regatta a success.

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The Squibs enjoying a lull in the strong winds during the Lough Derg Freshwater Regatta 2014. Overall winner was Mucky Duck (no 51, James Matthews & Rob Jacob, Kinsale YC). Photo: Gareth Craig

All these specialised and localized events planned for 2015 will be the continuing background music to the usual events of national sailing focus, everything from the selection of the Irish team for the Student Yachting Worlds to the Helmsmans Championships to the steady increase in pace while 2015 develops as the pre-Olympic year. As the year rolls along, other stories will develop too. So perhaps it's appropriate that we exit this review as we entered it. Just pause to remember now and again that, a hundred years ago, you simply couldn't have gone freely afloat like this for sport and recreation at all.

But we can't close on such a solemn note. Seasoned Solent sailors may have noted our header photo from Guido Cantini at the Panerai Classics Regatta was looking just slightly odd, for some reason difficult to pin down. Well, as it happens, the photo was sent to us back in September just as we were contemplating the excellent cleanup up done by Jason Hurley of Jason Hurley Design on the Mercedes-sponsored billboard photo of Howth 17s on the end wall of Howth Yacht Club. As with many photos taken over the RYS starting cannons, the Cantini pic included an obtrusive part of the Fawley Oil Refinery across on what Isle of Wight people call "the north island". Though Fawley has been there for yonks, it still has the look of a temporary structure. So we got Jason to treat as just that. But here for your edification is the true picture. You could get a taste for this sort of thing. What about brushing out Whitegate, lads? And as for Milford Haven.........

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The unvarnished truth. In real life, the view from the RYS battery at Cowes can be slightly marred by the clutter of Fawley Refinery across the Solent on "the north island". Photo: Guido Cantini/Panerai

Read also: 2015 Irish Sailing Fixtures List (provisional)

Published in W M Nixon

#roundireland – The biennial Round Ireland Race from Wicklow is the jewel in Ireland's offshore racing crown. It may only have been established as recently as 1980, but now it is a classic, part of the RORC programme, and an event which is very special for those who take part. In fact, for many Irish sailing folk, having at least one completed Round Ireland Race in your sailing CV is regarded as an essential experience for a well-rounded sailing life. Yet despite fleets pushing towards the 60 mark in the 1990s, even before the economic recession had started tobite the Round Ireland numbers were tailing off notwithstanding the injection of RORC support, and the more recent bonus of it carrying the same points weighting as the Fastnet Race itself. At a time when the basic Fastnet Race entry list of 350 boats is filled within six hours of entries opening for confirmation, and when the Middle Sea Race from Malta has confidently soared through the 120 mark, while the 70th Sydney-Hobart Race in seven weeks time will see at least a hundred entries, the Round Ireland Race fleet for 2014 was only 36 boats, of whom just 33 finished. W M NIXON wonders how, if at all, this situation can be improved.

"The Round Ireland Race is the greatest. Why don't more people know about it? Why aren't there at least a hundred top boats turning up every time it starts? It's a marvellous course. We had great sailing and great sport. Can somebody tell me why a genuine international offshore racing classic like this has been going on for 34 years, and yet in 2014 we see an entry of only three dozen boats?"

The speaker isn't just any ten-cents-for-my-opinion waterfront pundit. On the contrary, it's Scotsman Richard Harris, skipper and part-owner with his brother of the potent 1996 Sydney 36 Tanit, the overall winner of the Round Ireland Race 2014. And he's asking these questions as someone who has raced with success in both the Fastnet and Sydney-Hobart Races, and has campaigned his boat at the sharp end of the fleet with the RORC programme from the Solent, and in any worthwhile offshore racing he has managed to find in his home waters of Scotland.

Harris is getting into fine form, as we're at the Tanit table for Wicklow Sailing's Club's Round Ireland Prize-giving Dinner-Dance in the Grand Hotel in Wicklow town last Saturday night. With a boxload of trophies for Tanit to collect, anyone would be in exuberant spirits. But his views on the quality of the Round Ireland Race are clearly thought out and genuinely held, and he is enthusiastically supported by his navigator, Richie Fearon.

Fearon is the man to whom the Tanit crew give the lion's share of the credit for their success, which was achieved by just six minutes from Liam Shanahan's J/109 Ruth from the National YC in Dun Laoghaire. He was the only one in Tanit's crew who had done the race before, and in an all-Clyde lineup, his was the only Irish voice, as he sails from Lough Swilly YC in Donegal. His previous race was in 2010 with the Northern Ireland-based J/124 Bejaysus (Alan Hannon), which finished 7th overall. But for the Derry man, second time round made the course if anything even more interesting.

"You get a wonderful sense of the race progressing all the time, of moving along the course" says Fearon. "In the Fastnet, for instance, there are periods when you feel as though you're sailing in a sort of limbo. But in the Round Ireland, you're always shaping your course with the next rock or island or headland or wind change or tidal time in mind. There's a fascinating and challenging mix of strategy and tactics and navigation and pilotage, all of which results in one of the most interesting distance races in the world. They really should get more people to do it. It gives a wonderful feeling of achievement and completeness when you just finish the course. And it's even better if you do well, as we felt we'd done in 2010. But believe me, winning overall, and in a boat as interesting as this with a crew of guys as good and as friendly as this, that's the best of all!"

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Richie Fearon of Lough Swilly YC, seen here kitted up off Cape Town for the Transatlantic race to Rio, navigated Tanit to the overall victory in the Round Ireland 2014

So how do you explain to such people, people who have become Round Ireland enthusiasts with all the zeal of recent converts, just why it is that Ireland's premier offshore event can barely attract a viable quorum when the yacht harbours of Europe are bursting with high-powered offshore racing boats which are constantly on the lookout for events worthy of their attention, not to mention commercial offshore racing schools and training programmes which need events like the Round Ireland Race to stay modestly in business?

How indeed, when we already have enough difficulty in explaining it all to ourselves. Inevitably, we have to look at the history, and the setting of that history. The last time I was at the Round Ireland Prize-Giving Dinner-Dance in Wicklow, there'd been enough participants from my home port of Howth in that year's race to make it worthwhile for us to hire a bus to go down through the Garden County for the party. We were in the midst of the Celtic Tiger years when people's expectations were becoming very pretentious, and I remember two foodies seated nearby in the bus pompously hoping to high heaven that the evening's meal wouldn't be the inevitable rural feast of beef or salmon.

But the charm of Wicklow town is that, though it's barely a forty minute drive from the capital, it is very much of the country - l'Irlande profonde as you might say. 'Tis far you are from big city notions of fancy menus to appeal to jaded metropolitan taste-buds. So it was indeed beef or salmon. Not that it really mattered that much to the crowd on the bus from Howth. They were well fuelled with on-board liquor by the time we got there, and the return journey in the small hours was made even longer by the need for frequent comfort stops, thus all they'd needed in the meal was absorbent food to mop up the booze.

Some things have changed greatly in the past few years, not least that there was so little Howth involvement in 2014's race that one very modest car would have done to get all the participants to last Saturday night's prize-giving dinner dance in Wicklow. But some things, thank goodness, don't change. It was still beef or salmon. And very good it was too, as salmon is excellent fish if you don't try to pretend that it's steak and grill it. That brings out its least attractive taste elements. But a baked darne of salmon with a well-judged sauce, such as we had last Saturday night, is a feast for a king. And I gathered the roast beef was very good too.

But it all reinforced the feeling that we were in the biggest hotel – the only hotel? - in a small Irish country town. Yet apart from the sailors at the night's event, there was nothing to suggest that Wicklow is a port, for there's something about the layout of the place which makes the harbour waterfront wellnigh invisible unless you seek it out. It's a delightful surprise when you do find it, but it's very much a little working port, rather than a natural focus for recreational boating and the biennial staging of one of the majorevents in the Irish sailing calendar.

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You almost have to take to the air to see that Wicklow is a little port town, for as this photo reveals, the main street turns its back very decisively on the workaday harbour in the Vartry River.

It was back in 1980 that Michael Jones of Wicklow Sailing Club took up boating magazine publisher Norman Barry's challenge for some Irish boat or sailing club, any maritime-minded club at all, to stage a round Ireland race. Jones went for the idea, and Wicklow have been running it every other year ever since. It may be the jewel in Irish offshore sailing's crown. But in Wicklow's little sailing club, it is the entire crown, and just about everything else in the club's jewel and regalia box as well.

Whether or not this is good for the general development of sailing in Wicklow is a moot point, but that's neither here nor there for the moment. What matters is that as far as the growth and development of the Round Ireland Race is concerned, in the early days of the 1980s the fact that Wicklow was a basic little commercial and fishing port with only the most rudimentary berthing facilities for recreational boating didn't really matter all that much, as most other harbours in Ireland were no better.

In 1982, the great Denis Doyle of Cork decided to give the race his full support with his almost-new Frers 51 Moonduster. Denis was someone who strongly supported local rights and legitimate claims, and he reckoned that the fact that Wicklow Sailing Club had filled the Round Ireland Race void, when larger longer-established clubs of national standing had failed to step up to the plate, was something which should be properly respected. So in his many subsequent participations in the Round Ireland Race, Moonduster would arrive into Wicklow several days in advance of the start, she would be given an inner harbour quayside berth of honour in a place as tidy as it could be made in a port which seems to specialise in messy cargoes, and Denis and his wife Mary would take up residence in a nearby B & B and become Honorary Citizens of the town until each race was started and well on its way.

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Like father, like son. Denis Doyle's son Frank's A35 Endgame from Crosshaven berthed in Wicklow waiting for the start of the Round Ireland Race 2014, in which she placed fourth overall and was a member of the winning team for the Kinsale YC Trophy. Photo: W M Nixon

It was an attitude which they brought to every venue where Moonduster was raced. The Doyles believed passionately that boosting the local economy should be something that ought to be a priority in any major sailing happening, wherever it might be staged. Denis had been doing the biennial Fastnet regularly for many years before he took up the Round Ireland race as well, and for a longtime beforehand he and Mary had also had the Honorary Citizen status in Cowes, as he would make a job of doing Cowes Week beforehand, living in digs in the town, while at race's end in Plymouth, there'd be a local commitment as well, albeit on a smaller scale.

This was all very well for Wicklow and the Round Ireland in the circumstance of the 1980s, but by the 1990s other ports were developing marinas and providing convenient facilities, yet Wicklow stubbornly stayed its own friendly but inconvenient self. When we look at the geography of the harbour, we can see why, and see all sorts of things that might have been done differently a very long time go.

For instance, when the Vikings were first invading and intent on making Wicklow one of their key ports, it could have been developed in a much more useful way if only the native Irish had made them welcome. Can't you just see it? "We'll overlook the rape and pillage for now, lads, these guys represent substantial inward investment". Just so. Had there been that far-sighted attitude, the locals could have invited the men in the longships to come on up the River Vartry, and into the magnificent expanse of the Broad Lough. What a marvellous vision that would have revealed. With some minor rock removal and a little bit of dredging in the entrance, it could be a wonderful extensive natural harbour in a beautiful setting. Had that happened, just think how differently the facilities of modern Wicklow harbour might now be.

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The navigable part of Wicklow Port as it is today. The water does not really come to a sudden straight-line stop as shown on the left – that's just the bridge. Plan courtesy Irish Cruising Club

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The bigger picture. Had the Vikings not been stopped such that they had to establish their settlement at the mouth of the Vartry River, they might have been able to create a much larger harbour settlement further in around the shores of the Broad Lough, with obvious advantages for Wicklow Port as it might have become today

Instead, the Vikings struggled ashore on the first available landing place at the first bend of the river, and established a beach-head which became such a successful little fort that eventually they were able to burn their boats. But by thattime, they were totally committed to having Wicklow town in its present cramped location. Access to the Broad Lough at high water (there's a very modest tidal range tidal) was soon restricted by the bridge, and then other river crossings, such that today nobody thinks of it as a potential harbour at all, if they ever did.

But meanwhile the current inner harbour is a cramped and dirty river which seems to be ignored by the town as much as possible, such that even the Bridge Tavern, the birthplace of Wicklow's most famous seafarer, Captain Robert Halpin of SS Great Eastern and trans-oceanic cable laying fame, turns its back firmly on the port. And as for the outer harbour, while it's a delightful place on a summer's day, it is not a serious proposition for berthing a large fleet of boats preparing for a major 704-mile offshore race, but people have to make do with it as best they can.

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Despite being the birthplace of the most famous Wicklow seafarer, Captain Robert Halpin, the Bridge Tavern turns its back on the harbour. Photo: W M Nixon

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Wicklow's Outer Harbour on the morning of the Round Ireland race 2014 is a lovely sunny spot..............Photo: W M Nixon

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....but it is the inner harbour, shared with fishing and other commercial craft and assorted non-maritime quayside businesses, which will shelter the fleet preparing for the Round Ireland Race. Photo: W M Nixon

It was in the 1990s when the Round Ireland fleet was at its peak that the problems with the harbour's limited facilities were at their most acute, and it may be dormant memories of those difficult conditions which contribute to today's shortage of enthusiasm for the race. Back in the 1990s, the average cruiser-racer was not kitted out as a matter of course to RORC requirements, thus those undergoing their first scrutiny in order to be allowed to race round Ireland had to get to Wicklow several days in advance, and then often spendmoney like water to get up to scratch, the necessary bits and pieces being supplied by chandlers' vans parked on the quay.

It was crazy, not unlike a waterfront version of Ballinasloe Horse Fair - all that was missing was Madame Zara in her shiny caravan giving out nautical horoscopes in sepulchral tones for the wannabe Ireland circumnavigators. Perhaps she was there, but the two times I was going through the process with my own boat, it was so hectic I wouldn't have noticed. All I wanted to do was get to sea and away on the race, and get the filth of Wicklow harbour washed off the boat as soon as possible, as we'd drawn the short straw and had been berthed right in against the quay, so everyone has used our boat as a 35ft doormat on their way across to their own craft.

But the finish of the race at Wicklow – now that was and is completely different. The place seems to have transformed itself while you've been away bashing through sundry waters and a lot of the Atlantic in the intervening five days. Everyone is feeling like a million dollars, and Wicklow seems the only proper place in the whole wide world to finish a major offshore race. And as for the Round Ireland Prize Giving Dinner Dance, the venue of the Grand Hotel and beef or salmon for the meal is all part of the formula, it's central to the mystique of this extraordinary event.

In the days of the big entries with massive sponsorship from Cork Dry Gin, the prize-giving was Dublin-centred even if the race had started and finished in Wicklow. And the big bash in the city would start with a huge reception leading on into a gala dinner (I don't remember much dancing) in a glitzy Dublin hotel. In truth, it seemed a bit remote from little boats making their ways alone or in ones and twos back into Wicklow after the profoundly moving experience of racing right round our home island.

By the time you'd done all that, only others who have done the same could truly share your feelings about the experience. Big parties in anonymous city hotels were not the ideal setting for the Autumnal prize-giving and de-briefing. Thus the contemporary final hassle of getting down to Wicklow for the Round Ireland Dinner on a black November night in a veritable deluge of a downpour could be seen as the last stage of a long weeding-out process.

But once you're into the Grand Hotel and the party is under way, it's magic and the camaraderie really is quite something. Old rivalries and grievances fade away. It is also, to a remarkable extent, a family gathering – the number of family crews involved is surely exceptional. And the tone of it for 2014 is set by the presence of the winner of the KYC Trophy for the best three boat team, for the winners had as their top-placed boat the A35 Endgame, fourth overall and owner-skippered by Frank Doyle RCYC, son of Denis and Mary Doyle.

However, inevitably the status of the race and its future development and expansion is something which just won't go away. Any doubts about its importance were soon dispelled by considering the special guests at the dinner, as they included the President of the Irish Sailing Association David Lovegrove, the Vice Commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club Michael Boyd of the RIYC, and the Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club, Jim Horan, whose club in 2014 was for the first time in association with Wicklow Sailing Club on the Round Ireland Race. The RIYC acted as hosting club in Dun Laoghaire for visiting boats which didn't want to go on down to Wicklow until shortly before the start, but wished toavail of modern marina facilities and the amenities of a large sailing port in the meantime.

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The switched-on crews going to Dun Laoghaire before the start of the Round Ireland Race 2014 knew that the best approach was to make themselves known at the Royal Irish YC and get a berth there, instead of allowing their boats to be banished to the "Siberia" of Dun Laoghaire Marina's remote visitors berths. Photo includes the MG38 McGregor IV from Essex which finished tenth overall (left), and the Oyster 37 Amazing Grace from Kerry, which had been in the frame but was forced to retire with equipment failure. Photo: W M Nixon

It was a partnership with potential, but it will need to be worked on. For although boats from other parts of Ireland knew that on arrival in Dun Laoghaire the secret of being well looked after was to make your number directly with the RIYC, boats from further afield coming into Dublin Bay tended to contact the marina, and thus they were stuck into Dun Laoghaire Marina's absurd visitors' berths, which are right at the very outer end of the pontoons, way out beyond acres of currently empty berths, such that it's said that anyone on them is one whole kilometre's walk from dry land.

Before the Round Ireland Race, the eventual winner Tanit was brought up from the Solent to Dun Laoghaire by a delivery crew who contacted the Marina Office, and she was stuck out in the Siberia of those Visitors Berths. It did mean that when she was first properly seen in Wicklow Harbour on the morning of the race, her impact as clearly an extremely attractive and very sound all round boat was all the greater. But nevertheless, if that is Dun Laoghaire Marina's idea of making visitors welcome, then they need to do something of a reality check, and it was a telling reminder that many Dun Laoghaire and Dublin Bay sailors are so absorbed in their own clearly defined and time-controlled activities afloatthat it leaves them with only limited attention for events outside their own sphere of interest.

As for Dun Laoghaire's general public, is there any interest at all? If the start of the Round Ireland Race was shifted to Dun Laoghaire, as some suggest, do you think the vast majority of the locals would take a blind bit of notice? At least in Wicklow they do make a bit of a fuss on the day of the start, with a community-sponsored fireworks display the night before.

In a final twist, in setting up the new Wicklow-Dun Laoghaire relationship, nobody had thought of the Greystones factor. Most had been unaware that the new Greystones marina is unexpectedly very deep. But such is the case, as I learned on Saturday night from the man from Newstalk. It's one of the reasons it cost the earth to build the little place. But it did mean that, in the buildup to the Round Ireland Race, while two of the deepest boats, the Volvo 70 Monster Project chartered by Wicklow's "Farmer" David Ryan, and the Farr 60 Newstalk, were unwilling to berth in Wicklow itself, they'd only to go a few miles north to find a handy berth in Greystones, where they were still very much in Wicklow county. There, they were the focus of much attention. For as we've discovered at Afloat.ie, if we lead a story #greystones, the level of interest is amazing.

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The exceptionally deep water in Greystones Marina provided trouble-free berthing for the Volvo 70 Monster Project and the Farr 60 Newstalk. Photo: W M Nixon

Perhaps after their attendance at the Round Ireland Dinner in Wicklow last Saturdaynight, Tanit's crew now have a better understanding of why the Round Ireland Race is in its present format. And I certainly understand why the level of close personal attention which goes into the race administration by the small team in Wicklow SC running it adds greatly to its appeal for dedicated participants. Before going to Wicklow, I'd been checking with the eternally obliging Sadie Phelan of the race team whether or not Richard Harris would be there, as I had to admit I thought his boat was only gorgeous. "Of course he'll be there" says Sadie, "and I'll put you at his table".

Not only that, but the winner Tanit's table and the runner-up Ruth's table were cheek by jowl, so much so that I was almost sitting at both of them. It would have taken a team of scribes to collate all the information flying back andforth, but everything was of interest.

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Just six minutes separated them at the end.....winner Richard Richard Harris of Tanit (left) and runner-up Liam Shanahan of Ruth at the Round Ireland prize-giving in Wicklow last Saturday night. Photo: W M Nixon

Richard (42) and his brother have owned Tanit for about twelve years, but as his brother is into gentler forms of sailing, the offshore campaigns are exclusively Richard's territory. In early sailing in the Clyde, they'd campaigned a Sweden 36 with their late father while Richard's own pet boat was a classic International OD. But as his interest in offshore racing grew, heidentified the Australian Murray Burns Dovell-designed Sydney 36 as ideal for their needs. He found there was only one in Europe, a 1996 one, little-used and in the Solent. They soon owned her, and changed her name to Tanit as the family firm is Clyde Leather, a vibrant firm which is the only suede tannery in Scotland.

Thus as raced in the Round Ireland, Tanit had the logo of Clyde Marine Leather on her topsides - a useful sideline is suede products for marine use, including a very nifty range of attractively-priced DIY kits for encasing your stainless-steel steering wheel in suede. Show me a boat which has a bare steel wheel, and I'll show you a boat which is on auto-pilot for an indecent amount of the time. But if you are doing the suede coat thing on your helm, be sure to cover the spokes as well, it makes all the difference for ultimate driver comfort.

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The boat from God knows where....Tanit (left) was an unknown quantity when she made her debut in Wicklow Harbour on the morning of the Round Ireland Race 2014, but father and son crew Derek & Conor Dillon's Dehler 34 Big Deal (right) from Foynes had already taken part in a couple of ISORA races, and went on to win the two-handed division and place 8th overall. Photo: Kevin Tracey

Gradually, they built up Tanit's campaigning in the Clyde, and most of the crew who currently race the boat have been together for seven years. They also chartered a boat to do the Hobart Race of 2008, but as Scottish offshore racing numbers declined, they decided to give it a whirl with the RORC fleets in the English Channel by moving Tanit down there. They found that the programme of concentrated doses of large-fleet intense offshore racing, all taking place at a venue two hours' flight from Glasgow, suited them very well – they could be totally domesticated when at home without the distraction of the boat being just half an hour's drive down the road.

The Sydney 36 of Tanit's type ceased production in 1997, the Sydney 36 you'll tend to come across now on Google is a new 1998 design. So when Tanit's rudder was wrecked after the 2011 Fastnet (a good race for them), it was something of a disaster as a replacement rudder could no longer be supplied off the shelf. It was even more of a disaster for the unfortunate woman who was driving her five-day-old Range Rover around the boatyard in Southampton where Tanit had been hoisted after returning from the Fastnet finish in Plymouth, for not only was her absurdly big shiny new vehicle severely damaged in somehow colliding with the rudder of the Scottish boat, but it turned out that an inevitably custom-built replacement would cost a cool 35K sterling for her insurance company, as that was one very special rudder.

It was a disaster all round, for by the time they'd identified a high tech builder of sufficient repute prepared to build the new rudder, they had missed most of the 2012 season. Then the 2013 Fastnet Race had too much reaching to suit them, as Tanit is at her best upwind and down. So with Richard's brother making louder noises about selling Tanit in order to suit his more sybaritic preferences afloat, the Round Ireland Race 2014 came up on the radar as being an opportunity for what might well be the last hurrah with a much-loved boat.

They needed a navigator, and preferably one with some experience of the Round Ireland course. Fortunately John Highcock of Saturn Sails in Largs, who regularly races with Tanit as one of those ace helmsmen who can seem to smooth the sea, had sailed with Richie Fearon and suggested him with the highest possible recommendation, so the Swilly man was brought on board.

The rest of the crew were complete round Ireland virgins, but they found the race suited their style and level of sailing very well indeed. In any Round Ireland Race, seasoned observers can usually identify beforehand the half dozen or so boats which will be serious contenders for the overall handicap prize, but which one actually wins will depend on the way the chips fall. But Tanit was something of an unknown, a wild card. Yet it wasn't very far into the race before it became clear that this was a good boat on top of her game, if things came right she'd the makings of a winner.

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Tanit settling in after the start. The quicker they got south, the sooner they got back into the sunshine........

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....and nearing the Tuskar Rock on the Saturday evening, they were back in sunshine, and well in contention on the leaderboard.

Within the limits of having a sensible boat which professionals would describe as a comfortable cruiser-racer, they campaign flat out. All meals are built around expeditionary and military Ration Packs, which can be quite expensive to buy in ordinary circumstances, but if you can show they're going to be used for a worthy objective, it's possible to swing a deal, and as Richard's wife Vicky is a physiotherapist who is involved with military reserves, the value of Tanit's campaigns is accepted in the right places. The result is a nourishing supply of reasonably attractive easy-prepare instant food which, as Richard reports still with some wonderment, makes no mess at all in and around the galley, yet keeps the crew on full power.

By the time they got up off the Donegal coast, Tanit was right in there, battling with the defending champion, the Gouy family's Ker 39 Inis Mor, for the overall handicap lead, while up ahead the two biggies, Teng Tools (Enda O'Coineen and Eamonn Crosbie) and the Volvo 70 Monster Project, with David Ryan of Wicklow, kept finding new calms as they tried to shake off the smaller craft.

It was a slow race, but Richie Fearon managed to place Tanit so that she stayed ahead of a calm up in his home waters, and was keeping station on Inis Mor very handily indeed, while the gap with boats astern widened all the time. Or so it seemed. But then the Round Ireland Race pulled one of its regular tricks, and Liam Shanahan and his team on the J/109 Ruth began to shift before they'd even got past Tory Island, and they appeared to carry a useful breeze and a fairtide the whole way from Donegal into the Irish Sea, or at least that's how it looked to the rest of the fleet.

But in closing in over the final stage from Rockabill to Wicklow, navigator Fearon – who was incubating a nasty virus which required antibiotic treatment for a week after the race - convinced Tanit's skipper that they should stay offshore, while Ruth – which seemed to have the race nicely in the bag – followed the Irish habit of hugging the coast. Inis Mor was already finished on Friday morning, but Tanit knew she was beatable by them, and when they came across the line at 1030, it was to move into the CT lead. And going offshore proved to have been their win move.

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Trophies of the chase – crewman Chris Frize (left) and skipper Richard Harris with some of Tanit's prizes in Wicklow last Saturday night. Photo: W M Nixon

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Family effort. Father and son team of Derek and Conor Dillon from Listowel in Kerry (they sail from Foynes) won the two-handed division with their Dehler 34 Big Deal, and placed 8th overall. Photo: W M Nixon

It was a time of screaming frustration for Ruth. She'd been crawling along near Bray Head, barely 15 miles from the finish, as long ago as 0700. She rated only 1.016 to the 1.051 of Tanit. A finish in the middle of lunchtime would do fine. It was so near. It was so far. Finally they got to Wicklow, but Tanit had them beaten by six minutes. Then for the Scottish boat there was just the chance that Ian Hickey's very low-rated veteran Granada 38 Cavatina might do it again. But the wind ran out for her too. Meanwhile Frank Doyle's Endgame came in at mid-afternoon to slot into fourth on CT behind Inis Mor, but Cavatina was fifth, all of five hours corrected astern of Tanit. The Scottish boat was now unbeatable leader.

Tanit's crew for this classic sailing of a true offshore classic was Richard Harris, Richie Fearon, John Highcock, Alan Macleod, Chris Frize, Andy Knowles and Ian Walker. They've a lovely boat of which they're justifiably very fond, but reality has intruded, and now she is indeed for sale. The price is 48K sterling which seems to me very reasonable when you remember that she is remarkably comfortable to sail, that sails and gear have been regularly up-dated, and that we know for certain that the rudder alone is worth 35K.......She's conveniently located for an Irish potential owner, as she's currently ashore in Glasgow. Certainly she has a performance weakness, for as Richard admits, she'll easily get up to 7 knots on a reach, but stubbornly stays there and goes no faster, yet if you harden on to the wind, she'll still be doing 7 knots. But if you go downwind, then whoosh – it's a horizon job on most other boats. Be careful what you wish for, though. With a boat like Tanit in an average fleet, there'll be no excuse for not doing well......

The rest of the trophy placings are here, and on Saturday night they were one lovely compact crowd of people. The family emphasis was inescapable, and it was a particular pleasure to meet the Kerry duo, father and son crew Derek and Conor Dillon from Listowel, who sail out of Foynes in their Dehler 34 Big Deal. In 2015, they plan to take on the two-handed division in the Fastnet, so getting 8th overall and winning the two-handed class in the Round Ireland 2014 was part of a very useful campaign trail.

Finally, as to how to keep the Round Ireland race's distinctive Wicklow flavour while allowing the entry numbers enough room to comfortably expand, it's such a tricky question that it will require a radical solution. A very radical solution. The mistakes of the Vikings must be undone. The Vartry entrance must be dredged, The bridges must all be removed. And the Broad Lough must be tastefully developed to give Wicklow the harbour it deserves, and the Wicklow Round Ireland Race the facilities it needs to cater for a fleet of a hundred and more boats. Simple, really.

ROUND IRELAND RACE TROPHY WINNERS 2014

Line Honours: Denis Doyle Cup - Monster Project (David Ryan, WSC)
IRC Class CK: CK Cup – Monster Project
IRC Class Z: Class Z Cup - Newstalk for Adrenalin (Joe McDonald, NYC)
IRC Class 1: Tuskar Cup – Inis Mor (Laurent Gouy, CBC)
IRC Class 2: Fastnet Cup – Tanit (R Harris, SYC)
IRC Class 3: Skelligs Cup – Ruth (L Shanahan, NYC)
IRC Class 4: Tory Island Cup – Cavatina (I Hickey, RCYC)
Class 5 (Cruiser HF) – Cavatina
Class 6 (pre 1987) Michael Jones Trophy – Cavatina
Class 7 (two-handed) Noonan Trophy – Big Deal (D & C Dillon, FYC)
ICRA Trophy (best Irish boat) - Ruth
Ladies Award: Mizen Head Trophy - Pyxis (Kirsteen Donaldson)
ISORA Award – Ruth
Team Award: Kinsale YC Cup – Endgame (F Doyle), Wild Spirit (P Jackson) & Fujitsu (D B Cattle).
IRC Overall: Norman Barry Trophy – Tanit
Round Ireland Overall: Wicklow Cup - Tanit

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Monster boat, monster prizes. Line honours and Class C winner David Ryan of Wicklow, who raced the Volvo 70 Monster Project to success, with Roisin Scanlon, also WSC, who crewed on the Monster during the Round Ireland Race Photo: W M Nixon

Published in Round Ireland

#classicboat – In the summer of 2014, the RNLI in Crosshaven received an unexpected cheque from an unusual source. As ever with lifeboat fund-raising, it was very welcome. But it's not every day you get €1500 out of the blue from a high fashion magazine like Vogue Netherlands. W M Nixon unravels the tale of how this came about, and ponders the various challenges facing the enthusiasts who try to keep classic boats in full sailing commission.

Once upon a time, on a pure early summer day of clear sunshine in Connemara, the demands of the day job caused us to head up the driveway of one of the pleasantest country house hotels in all Connacht. But the bright mood of the morning was soon dispelled by finding the place full of bad tempered if beautiful people from Italy.

It turned out they were the complete creative team – photographers, models, directors, editors and all – from a leading Milan fashion magazine. They were in Ireland for a long-planned and lengthy photo-shoot of the coming season's trendy tweeds. They'd reckoned the Irish climate would guarantee they'd be up to their ears in ideal conditions to provide moody shots of even moodier models in ultra-fashionable tweeds on an extraordinarily moody bog with unbelievably moody Irish mountains beyond, the whole thing recorded under an uber-moody grey Irish sky.

But for day after day, the sun had shone from a cloudless sky, the breezes blew only very gently from a blue Atlantic, the fabulous range of the Twelve Bens could quite reasonably have been re-named the Twelve Benigns, while the great swathes of bog glowed in friendliness in the sun. Moodiness was out. All was sweetness and light. And the forecast was for more to come.

So after another day of screaming frustration, they upped and left, screeching that they could find more suitable conditions back home, just down the road in the Valley of the Po. Doubtless they could. But back in Connemara everyone simply relaxed and enjoyed it, for the Italians' bill had been paid in full, they maybe could even re-let some of the rooms in the hotel in the few days remaining of the booking, and sure wasn't the weather just wonderful anyway, and had we ever seen the garden looking so well?

If you think fashion people are out on a limb in relation to the rest of us, take time to reflect that for most of humanity, boat people are odd too. Even with the newest craft, we still think of them as living beings, whereas the rest of the world thinks that, regardless of their age, they're no more than vehicles, and uncomfortable, awkward, dangerous and expensive vehicles at that.

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Roundstone in Connemara on a gentle day with a sublime view towards the Twelve Bens in the evening sunshine – totally unsuitable conditions for a mood-laden fashion shoot. Photo: W M Nixon

So when you get some sailing person whose pulse is quickened only by classic or traditional boats – anything unusual so long as it is full of character, and preferably old - then you get someone who scores a double negative with the ordinary run of boat-loathing humanity.

And though high fashion may be comprehensible to a larger proportion of mankind than is enthusiasm for old boats, nevertheless it too is still a rather peculiar or at least very specialist interest with which to dominate one's life.

Thus it's just possible that when high fashion and dedicated classic boat fans link up, an unexpected bond can be formed. Certainly it seems to have happened when Vogue Netherlands got together in Crosshaven during the summer for a photo-shoot with Darryl Hughes' superbly-restored 1937 Tyrrell-built 43ft ketch Maybird.

And the successful outcome of it all, with a useful cheque being presented to Crosshaven RNLI afterwards, was a reminder that while boat restoration projects can indeed be brought to a successful conclusion, once the job is done, you then have to move on to the next stage of finding imaginative and useful things for the boat to do, as there's nothing worse for the wellbeing of any boat than doing nothing.

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After two good day's work afloat out of Crosshaven, a cheque for €1500 is handed over by Zoe Rosielle of Vogue Netherlands to Patsy Fegan, RNLI Deputy Launch Officer Crosshaven, with Shore Crewmember Robbie O'Riordan in support. Also in the picture are the rest of the Vogue Netherlands team, with three of Maybird's crew – Pat Barrett, Marie Keohane, and Darryl Hughes – top left, while fourth crewmember Joeleen Cronin took this photo

The story of Maybird has been told in snippets here before. She's a very near sister of the 16-ton ketch Aideen which was built by Jack Tyrrell of Arklow in 1934 for Billy Mooney, who in those days was Howth-based, but he later became a leading figure in Dun Laoghaire. Aideen was built to a Fred Shepherd design, but it's said that Shepherd had only been brought in to put manners on numerous very detailed drawings by Billy Mooney himself, including the layout – unusual at the time - of a centre cockpit.

Very conservatively rigged as a gaff ketch, Aideen was no slouch – she won her class in the 1947 Fastnet Race. Soon after, she was sold to Canada, where she was last heard of in 1974. Mooney claimed he'd to sell her because he could no longer afford to buy his crew dinner every time they won a race, and they were winning too often. That was a very Billy Mooney kind of remark, but certainly he almost immediately down-sized to the excellent little 6-ton John Kearney Bermudan yawl Evora of 1936 vintage, and with her he continued winning offshore until, with his retirement from work, he also swallowed the deep sea anchor and took up Dragon racing in Dublin Bay.

Meanwhile, during the mid 1930s an admirer of Aideen had been a keen sailing man originally from Cork, one W C W Hawkes, an officer in the Indian Army who commissioned Maybird, a near sister-ship of Aideen, from the Fred Shepherd-Jack Tyrrell team in 1937. Hawkes retired from India in the late 1930s to live in Restronguet on Falmouth Harbour in southwest England, but he was to have little enough use of Maybird with the intervention of World War II from 1939 to 1945, and his death in the late 1940s.

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The first-born. Billy Mooney's Aideen was built by Tyrrell's of Arklow in 1934. Her younger sister Maybird, built in 1937, had a slightly longer canoe stern. Maybird's modern accommodation layout is also different, with the galley moved aft to the starboard side at the foot of the companionway

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Maybird under her Bermudan rig in the late 1950s. Her restoration has included this rig's replacement by the original gaff configuration for the mainsail.

Subsequently, the 43ft ketch led a varied career, acquiring a Bermudan rig and an RORC rating for racing, and then in 1972 she was sailed out to New Zealand. Darryl Hughes came upon her there in 1990, and was smitten. Quite why some boats speak so eloquently to some people at certain times is sometimes difficult enough to understand, but the great project he has since completed with Maybird suggests that in this case it was the one very special boat for one very special person, and at just the right time.

He comes from a community in North Wales where there was no local tradition of industry or high-powered commerce, yet education at the local grammar school and a degree from Manchester University saw him moving into international companies, and by his thirties he was a rising star in general management in global organisations with a later emphasis on marine electronics.

This in turn fostered his interest in sailing, and he was learning the ropes with his own Nicholson 32 when a working spell in New Zealand led to his first sight of Maybird in the Bay of Islands. By 2007, with an early and well-funded retirement beckoning, he had her shipped back to England with a restoration in mind.

But the quotes he had for the job from established yards were horrendous, so he decided to do it himself as his own Project Manager. Sensibly, it was done in the heart of the English marine industry, where he could call on a diversity of talents to make progress with this project, which was soon well under way in Southampton in a temporary shed he'd created with tarps over a proper scaffolding structure.

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The owner-managed restoration project on Maybird under way in the temporary shed in Southampton. Photo: Darryl Hughes

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Mission accomplished – the restored Maybird emerges from the project workshop. Photo: Darryl Hughes

His long experience in international industry stood well to him, for the work went steadily ahead, and after two years the restored Maybird emerged as good as new, in fact better. And the project was completed for around a quarter of a million pounds sterling, about half of the most reasonable quote he'd received from the established yacht restoration yards.

For many people, such a restoration would be enough in itself, but Darryl Hughes showed his calibre by progressing on to keep Maybird as active as possible. She was raced in the classics in the 2011 Fastnet, and finished in a slightly better time than that recorded by Aideen in 1947. As well, she has been cruising extensively, sometimes on a semi-commercial charter basis, while also taking part in classic yacht regattas.

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When it all becomes worthwhile. The restored Maybird sails again, re-rigged as a gaff ketch to the original design.......

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.....and she turns in an encouraging performance, with a better time in the Fastnet Race of 2011 than Aideen had in the Fastnet of 1947.

An underlying theme has been his growing interest in Ireland and things Irish, thus he has based the boat for lengthy periods in Crosshaven while researching the history of the Hawkes family in Cork and in Cork Harbour sailing. But as well he has extensively cruised the Irish coast, and with his developing interest in literature he has twice taken a full part in the Yeats Summer School in Sligo in late July. The new pontoon just below the bridge in Sligo port might have been installed for Maybird's convenience, but Darryl Hughes is still the only person who is known to have sailed to the Yeats School as a matter of course.

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In 2011, Maybird returns to her birthplace of Arklow, where she was built in 1937. Photo: W M Nixon

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Immaculate workmanship. The beautiful restoration of Maybird's deck and coachroof, seen in Arklow in 2011, contrasts with the rough and ready beer keg pressed into use to aid boarding. Photo: W M Nixon

Currently, Maybird is based in friendly Poolbeg Marina in Dublin Port, and her owner has spread his wings even further with a course of study in Trinity College, while living on the boat and pondering the production of the required 15,000-word dissertation on Irish writing. Last winter, however, was spent in the congenial surroundings of the Salve Marina in Crosshaven, and thanks to that there was the involvement with Vogue Netherlands – we let Darryl take up the story:

"Vogue Netherlands wanted to organise a fashion shoot in SW Ireland, and their location scout came across Maybird wintering at Crosshaven in Cork harbour back in February 2014. I agreed that they could use her as long as they made a contribution to the Crosshaven RNLI station, and the shoot took place in early June over two days.

The entire Vogue contingent consisted of eight people - three models, photographer, photographer's assistant, make-up/hair stylist, wardrobe assistant and overall fashion director, together with three huge suitcases of clothes for the models plus extra camera gear, lenses etc etc. To sail Maybird we had a crew of three plus myself, the other sailors being Pat Barrett, Marie Keohane, and Joeleen Cronin, the daughter of the house in Cronin's pub. As you can imagine, my major concern was the safety of all aboard as the majority were not sailors.

We met the day before onboard and worked out that Maybird's aft cabin would do as the changing area for the models and the huge suitcases were manhandled down the companionway and through the galley. The aft cabin was then transformed into a Vogue changing room/hairdresser's salon. The plethora of laptops, lenses and spare cameras plus the film banks – yes, film, not all that digital malarkey I'm pleased to say- were stowed in the saloon. The saloon became the studio, but we had access to all of Maybird's chart table and instruments if required. Fortunately, all of the chart-table electronics are duplicated in the doghouse, which also has the 15" plotter screen.

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The aft cabin, luxurious by the standards of 1937, made for a rather cramped changing room/hairdressers salon during the Vogue Netherlands photoshoot. Photo: W M Nixon

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The galley and the chart-table together amidships at the foot of the companionway may seem a tight fit to modern sailors, but it would have seemed the height of comfort to cruising folk in the 1930s. Photo: W M Nixon

Once the stowage was sorted, we agreed that unless people were required on deck they stayed below. Everybody wore life-jackets and the only people that were allowed to take them off were the three models when the camera was rolling. Once the camera was silent the models donned their life-jackets again. We had a support RIB so that the cameraman could take pictures of Maybird sailing, so to an extent we had our own lifeboat with us, but my job was to keep all twelve "crew" on board.

We were blessed with gentle sailing conditions for the first day - wind max F3. The director wanted all Maybird's sails hoisted, and so we agreed set courses to sail. The crew set Maybird up, we chose courses that we could hold for as long a time as depth/traffic/hazards allowed, and then the photographer got to work with the models. We had an excellent rapport with the photographer, who understood that the skipper has the final say, and would stop shooting when we made the call "30 seconds to tack". Each of our legs or boards had to be agreed with the photographer in terms of where the sun was, the effect of shadows, background etc..

One of the models was starting to experience the early stages of sea-sickness as we approached the harbour entrance abeam of Roche's Point lighthouse, so we headed back inshore. Recovery was more or less instantaneous when back in flattish water.

Given the largely clement conditions we were out for some seven hours on the first day. But Day 2 was different. Wind was up to F5 gusting F6 and the sky overcast. The sea state was no longer smooth but more moderate to lumpy. I agreed with the director that we would go out, but we would not put up the mainsail - we would sail with jib, staysail and mizzen. I just wanted to keep things as simple as possible from a sail-handling viewpoint.

The cameraman wore his safety harness as well as his lifejacket as he was leaning over the bowsprit and over guardrails to take many of the shots that day, so I made sure he was clipped on. We agreed the models would not lean over the guardrails or do any poses that could lead to them falling off the boat. For this day, we were only on the water for some three hours.

Interestingly, the only pictures from Day 2 used were a black and white one with the female model standing on the foredeck. The sky really was nasty. No Photoshopping used there!

Despite Maybird's complexity in terms of numbers of sails and ropes, as she has a long keel she will sail on her own and hold her course when the sails are balanced so it was easy for her sailing crew to set her up and then crouch down out of the cameras way whilst the models did their stuff.

Both the photographer and his assistant were sailors back in the Netherlands, so that helped a great deal. The Maybird crew of four for one day, three on the other, really kept an eagle eye on the Vogue crew in terms of safety - that was the challenge, not sailing the boat. We tacked rather than gybed and as I say, when the wind did pick up, we sailed without the main - one of the great advantages of the ketch rig.

We managed to stay out of trouble, so our only dealings with the Crosshaven RNLI was to hand over a cheque to them".

That was only part of the good work done by Maybird in 2014. She was signed on to play a key role in an Irish Coastguard exercise in Dungarvan Bay later in the summer. Then once again the skipper's participation in the Yeats Summer School in Sligo resulted in a round Ireland cruise, with bits of Scotland thrown into the mix. And now she's a study centre in Dublin, helping to absorb the multi-facetted culture of our unique city. Truly, a busy ship is a happy ship.

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Maybird as seen from the S&R helicopter during an exercise in Dungarvan Bay. Photo courtesy Irish Coastguard.

Published in W M Nixon

#classicboat – The preservation of old boats can be a contentious issue, particularly so when the vessel is of significant historical interest at several levels, such as Erskine & Molly Childers' ketch Asgard. Technical and academic question arise as to when a refit become a major refurbishment, when does a preservation become a conservation, or when is a restoration veering into being a re-build? Alternatively, should you simply cut your losses and build from new, but using the original plans if the boat meant something very special to you and the larger maritime community? W M Nixon takes a look at three special boats of Irish interest which are currently at an important changes of course in their voyages through life.

Xanadu is no more. Espanola is seeking a new home. And Periwinkle is born again. And no, we're not launching into some imitation of the rolling cadences of Coleridge's Kubla Khan. On the contrary, we're just considering the current circumstances of three very different boats which have the shared factors of being at a significant juncture in their lives, and having strong links with Ireland.

My own first view of Xanadu was coming round the point at Courtmacsherry about a dozen years ago, and being much taken by a couple of big white raked masts vivid against the green West Cork background – clearly, it was an American ketch. Then close up, her handsome dark blue hull, with a delicately understated clipper bow, confirmed her Transatlantic appearance. And the elegant counter, with its raked and almost elliptical transom, reinforced this conclusion.

She was definitely of a type, and yet she seemed different. Something said that this classic yacht was neither a Francis Herreshoff nor a John Alden. Herreshoff was renowned for his large clipper-bowed Bermudan rigged ketches, of which the best known was the legendary Ticonderoga – "Big Ti". And though Alden was most famous for his schooners, he had shown he could turn his hand to classic ketches with raked masts and very positive clipper bows if that was what the client wanted.

But this striking yacht, newly making Courtmacsherry her home port just after the turn of the Millennium, didn't quite fill the Herreshoff-Alden bill. For sure, she had all the typical features. But they were in an elegantly under-stated style which gave her an almost mysterious air, and made you wonder just who might have been the designer, and when.

The story was pure gold. The 48ft Xanadu had been designed by the Argentine legend German Frers Senr, patriarch of a yacht design dynasty which is now well into its third generation. The origins of her hull above water was a sweet clipper-bowed ketch called Horizonte which old man Frers had designed for his own use in 1936, but one of his friends and customers liked the boat so much, and was prepared to pay even more to have her, that Frers never became her owner-skipper.

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Argentinian designer German Frers designed the 48ft Horizonte for his own use in 1936, but she was snapped up by an enthusiast for his designs, so it wasn't until 1982 that he was able to build the boat as Xanadu for himself (though she too was to be snapped up), and this time she was given a different under-body, with long fin keel and centerboard, and skeg-hung rudder.

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The 1936 hull profile for Horizonte.

In fact, it wasn't until 1982, and after owning several other boats of a more ocean-racing orientation to his own design, that Frers Senr had another look at the possibility of Horizonte for his dreamship. In re-sketching her, he retained the handsome above water profile. But as his son German Jnr was now cutting a mighty swathe through the international yacht design scene, with the 1981-built 51ft Moonduster for Denis Doyle of Cork only one of many hyper-successful boats at the front of the fleets, presumably the father took the son's advice on changing Horizonte's underwater profile to a long fin keel with centreboard, and a skeg hung rudder.

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Xanadu as she was in June 2014 – the underwater hull profile is very reminiscent of the German Frers Jnr F&C 44 design. Photo: W M Nixon

Certainly the resulting underwater shape is almost exactly the same as the famous Frers performance cruising ketch, the Argentine-built F&C 44, of which Ireland has a fine example in Otto Glaser's Tritsch Tratsch IV at Howth. But the new Xanadu was slightly larger, like Horizonte 16.3 metres (48ft LOA), with a wider stern and more volume in every way – she was big for her size. And once again no sooner was building in progress in steel in Buenos Aires than someone else wanted her, and made an offer that couldn't be refused.

An early owner was a colourful character whose private life was such that the boat, at various stages of completion, seems to have been shifted back and forth across the River Plate between Argentina and Uruguay in order to keep her out of the clutches of a scorned wife who was in pursuit of her share of all the owner-skipper's assets. But eventually Xanadu, as she had evocatively become, found her way into American ownership and embarked on a very civilized 15-year voyage round the world, which she completed with style.

Norman Kean found her for sale in Annapolis. Very much a Scotsman and an enthusiastic member of the Clyde Cruising Club, his work as an industrial chemist had brought him to the DuPont plant in Derry, and for several years he was an active member of Lough Swilly YC at Fahan, starting with a Sadler 25 which he completed himself from a bare hull and deck, with which he undertook round Ireland cruises, the long haul south to Brittany, and a venture north to the Faroes. The latter won him an award from the Clyde Cruising Club, but with his new base he was soon also active in the Irish Cruising Club, and then he up-graded his boat size to a Sigma 33 for six years.

But with the DuPont plant at Maydown facing the closure of most of its operations, he took up an offer of a posting to the main American plant. And when that contract was in turn fulfilled, he took a look at another offer with the company in the late 1990s, but decided that it was time to take the alternative lump sum offer of money, and a new road in life. He and Geraldine had the vision of buying a suitable boat from among the thousands on offer at the US East Coast's three main "boat markets" of Newport RI, Annapolis and Fort Lauderdale, and sailing her back across the Atlantic to run an owner-skippered-charter operation in Southwest Ireland.

Their ideal was a 42-44ft ketch, but then they saw Xanadu in Annapolis, and were smitten. Certainly she was a bit tired, but tired in a well-cared-for way. With a successful charter business keeping them busy each summer, they would have the resources to bring her back to showroom condition over the winter. So they brought her back across the Atlantic, loving their fine big ship even more with every mile sailed, and set about going into business with a base at Courtmacsherry.

And they came up against the brick wall that is Ireland's Department of Transport. After years of struggle and ultimate failure, Norman now looks back on it all with a sort of ironic amusement. "There mustn't be a worse place than Ireland in the whole world to set up an one-boat owner-skippered-charter operation" he wryly observes. "They just don't get it, and they just don't want to get it. Obstructions and objections and prohibitions are put in your way at every turn. They just want you to go away, and leave them in peace to deal only with companies, and the bigger the better".

Certainly the cultural clash between the spirit of the Irish Public Service, in which the ideal is to rise without trace or trouble through the ranks until you reach a level with a highly desirable pension and the possibility of early retirement, is about as different from the Norman Kean approach to life as possible.

But being a man of much energy and vision, he was soon finding other outlets, and became the Honorary Editor of the Irish Cruising Club Sailing Directions, raising them to a new level. He and Geraldine made a formidable research and production team, and for several years, as the new rigorously up-dated editions appeared at remarkable speed, it was the handsome Xanadu which featured as the cruising yacht in the photos in the Directions, showing she had somehow found her way into obscure anchorages, many of them tiny places by comparison with her hefty size.

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Xanadu on survey and research service for the ICC Directions at Inishvickillaune in the Blasket Islands. Photo: Geraldine Hennigan

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You wouldn't think you could get into a place as small as this, but research is everything....Xanadu in the tiny harbour of Carnlough on the Antrim coast. Photo: Geraldine Hennigan

But without the income of a skippered-charter operation, maintaining a steel ketch of this size and age was becoming impossible. In order not to be impossibly heavy, steel yachts have to be built with only 6mm plate, which is fine for strength but leaves nothing extra to allow for the local corrosion which is almost inevitable and difficult to detect when complex accommodation is fitted into hulls sprayed internally with insulation. Thus even with high level maintenance, it is reasonable to expect that a steel yacht will last only about fifty years without major work being undertaken.

With Xanadu, it was the more visible bits of the ship – the cockpit coamings and cabin sides, for instance, the places in the spray areas - which were most prone to rust. But there were also enough questionable spots, albeit minor, on the hull itself, hidden away by bulkheads, internal furniture and fittings and so forth, which were a cause for real concern. For as long as he could, Norman replaced or repaired the corroding areas, but it was a growing challenge – the ship seemed to be in rapid decline.

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The surveying and research for the ICC Directions continued with boats loaned by members – Norman at work in Lough Foyle in 2013 aboard the 35ft Witchcraft provided by Ed Wheeler of Strangford Lough. Photo:W M Nixon

Xanadu was taken temporarily out of commission, but the ICC's research duties continued with boats loaned by members on all coasts of Ireland. Yet every time Norman and Geraldine returned from this absorbing work, they had to face again the problems with their own boat. It was decision time. They had to put Xanadu up for sale, ideally to someone who had the resources to refurbish a still eminently saveable classic. Or else they'd have to watch her rust away before their very eyes.

But the economic recession was in full swing. And selling a boat from remote Oldcourt Boatyard in far West Cork was a very different proposition from frequent showing to the boat-keen crowds who mill about places like Annapolis. The months passed, the years passed, there was interest, but there was nothing which converted into anything realistic. They made the decision that Xanadu was not going to make the 50 years which is the normal life-span of a fully-maintained steel yacht. Instead, she would end her days at the age of 32 while there was still a bit of dignity to it.

It's making the decision which is the really painful part. Once it's made, you're absorbed by the challenges faced in stripping a complex 48ft structure down to a shell, and selling the bits and pieces for sometimes surprisingly good prices, while keeping some special parts for possible incorporation in a new boat.

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The last days of Xanadu. Seen here in June 2014, she'll be completely gone within a fortnight from today. Photo: W M Nixon

But as of this weekend, Xanadu is a bare shell, though still at home in the easygoing world of a friendly local boatyard. However, within a fortnight, this empty shell will be moved to the very different world of a scrapyard, and the final coup de grace will be delivered in a matter of hours.

In our modern world, in which such harsh events are kept hidden by professionals from sensitive eyes, we now and again need to reflect on the final reality. But despite Xanadu's fate, there are still many people who continue to preserve old boats for whatever reasons, and by very different means. So we'll round out this piece with the two very different stories of two historic boats which had very special links with Dun Laoghaire and Dublin Bay.

Espanola has sailed through this blog before. A 47ft cutter designed and built by Sam Bond at Birkenhead on the Mersey in 1902, she was originally called Irene VII, but in 1912 she was bought by Herbert Wright of the Royal Irish YC on Dublin Bay who'd been a founder owner in the Dublin Bay 21 class the year Irene was built. He actually cruised his DB 21 Estelle, which must have been an austere business, but certainly Irene seemed luxurious by comparison. And when the King of Spain visited the RIYC clubhouse during a formal visit to Ireland in 1912, as Irene on her moorings was the nearest boat to the clubhouse of any comfortable size, he was taken aboard her to see an Irish yacht, as he was himself a keen sailing man. Almost immediately, Herbert Wright - a fast-thinking stockbroker - re-named his new boat Espanola, and she has been Espanola ever since.

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Espanola as she was in 1929. (from a drawing by Billy McBride)

In Herbert Wright's ownership, she made some notable cruises, indeed he was so highly regarded in the Irish cruising community that when the Irish Cruising Club was formed with a cruise-in-company of just five yachts to Glengarriff in 1929, Espanola was one of them, and she came back to Dun Laoghaire as the new ICC Commodore's yacht. It was a role she continued to fill for a dozen years, so it would be quite something of she was still around for the ICC's Centenary in 2029.

Since leaving Ireland in the 1940s, she has had a varied life, but for many years now, she has been owned by Martin Birch, a lecturer at Lancaster University. This means his home port is Preston on the Lancashire coast with, its huge tides and shallow channels. Espanola is very deep draft, so if you set out to choose an unsuitable home port for her, Preston would come well up the list, except that the folk in Preston Marina have adopted her as their sort of pet classic yacht, so Martin has had every assistance possible to keep his big boat in pristine condition.

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Espanola as she is rigged today, with a more manageable gaff ketch configuration.

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Espanola is currently afloat under these high quality covers in Preston in Lancashire. Photo: Martin Birch

That said, when planks needed replaced she had to be taken to the Menai Straits and one of the boatyards there which are carving out a formidable reputation for quality work on classic and traditional craft. Getting Espanola to the Straits was no bother, as Martin has made some fine cruises with her, notably to the Outer Hebrides. So Espanola is in good shape for a boat of her age.

But after 25 years of total dedication in looking after this big vessel in challenging circumstances, Martin has decided it's time for a change, and Espanola is for sale. However, for someone looking for a flawless classic yacht pedigree, while her hull is totally authentic, Espanola's rig has now been changed from a big gaff cutter to an easily handled ketch, though still gaff rigged, while her accommodation has been made much more comfortable and roomy by the addition of an elegant full-length coachroof.

So today's Espanola is not totally as she was in 1902, but her full history has been traced by Martin Birch, and he has written a privately-published book about it which very effectively reveals why this is an important boat, though a challenge for any owner. However, if you're interested I'll put you in touch with him, but this isn't one for the faint-hearted.

But then, keeping any classic or historic vessel in seagoing shape is never something for the faint-hearted, so we'll conclude with a totally different approach to the methods adopted in the case of Xanadu and Espanola. It must be nearly ten years now since the six surviving Alfred Mylne-designed Dublin Bay 24s were spirited away to Brittany for a planned complete re-furbishment and their intended re-emergence as classic playthings for the mega-rich at a new resort centre to be built in the south of France.

The re-born class was to be known as the Royal Alfred 38s, as 24ft is only their waterline length, and people go by LOA these days. As to the Royal Alfred, it supposedly sounds more posh than Dublin Bay, and it was at a committee meeting of the Royal Alfred Yacht Club in Dublin in 1934 that Gordon Campbell, the second Lord Glenavy and owner of the Dublin Bay 21 Garavogue, first outlined the concept – and a very advanced concept it was too – for a larger more modern Bermudan-rigged one design for racing in Dublin Bay, and capable of some modest cruising.

By 1938, Dublin Bay Sailing Club took over the project, and a design was commissioned from Alfred Mylne in Glasgow. But though building work started in Scotland in 1939, World War II delayed everything, and the class didn't have their first race at Dun Laoghaire until 1947. They were an immediate success - they filled Gordon Campbell's brief to perfection, and for more than five decades they'd great racing in Dublin Bay, they also logged some truly remarkable cruises, and for good measure they did the business racing offshore, with one of them the overall winner of the RORC Irish Sea Race in 1963.

But the setup in Dun Laoghaire does not favour the continued existence of a class of 38ft classic wooden yachts, so the DB 24s had definitely run out of steam when they were swept up by the Royal Alfred 38 consortium. Then the recession arrived, and all sorts of rumours circulated about the boats being held as security against debts, of them being piled away any old how in a warehouse near Benodet in Brittany, and of lots of other things, none of them good news.

That is, until somewhere over a month ago, when I heard from an acquaintance with a Classic in the Balearics that he'd heard a rumour a restored Dublin Bay 24 had been seen sailing in the inner reaches of the Bay of Biscay, and seemed to be very much at home there. This I thought rather good news, as it seems to me to be a much more appropriate setting for these very special boats than the French Rivera with its harsh sun, where the classic yachts are so large that the Dublin Bay 24s, or whatever they were to be called, would be virtually invisible.

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The new Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle sailing off La Turballe, August 2014

For once, it's good news, albeit with a slightly sad tinge. The slightly sad note is that the Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle, which never left her birthplace in Scotland and was only united permanently with her sisters when they were all shipped to Brittany several years ago, is now absolutely no more. Well, her tiller still exists and is in use, but whether that's the original tiller from 1948 is another matter. And her lead ballast keel still exists. But the rest of Perwinkle is totally gone, burnt to ashes. Yet Periwinkle still sails, and is looking very well indeed.......

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Last glimpse of the 1948 Periwinkle, September 2012

It's quite some story. In 2012, the original Perwinkle was bought by the Francois Vivier organization in France, which specializes in classic boat-building to the highest professional standards, and also creating designs – some of them distinctly quirky, and some which can be built by amateurs. The ideals behind it all have taken off in such a big way in France and abroad that there's an almost religious fervor to some of Vivier's adherents, and the story of Periwinkle will in no way diminish this.

For they took the original Periwinkle, and with a team of qualified shipwrights and trainees, they meticulously took her apart bit by bit in order to see how she had been built, and to give them the information to build an exact replica, albeit in different wood technologies such as the use of laminated frames.

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Perwinkle built anew – the laminated frames go into place

Looked at a certain way, it's all a bit morbid – we're in the surgeon's dissecting theatre here. And no, I don't know if they had an audience, but it's for sure they would have had no troubling assembling one. Then, with all the information to hand, and with every last little dismantled bit and piece for further confirmation, Francois Vivier drew out new plans for the re-construction. Periwinkle re-born took to the water in August this year, and she looks only gorgeous.

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The new Periwinkle on her launching day – she'll be known as a Dublin Bay 24

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With her teak decks looking immaculate, the new Perwinkle goes afloat for the first time.

You'll be glad to hear she's known as a Dublin Bay 24. And such is Francois Vivier's following, I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear of a new class in the making on France's Biscay coast. For with Gordon Campbell's vision, the further experienced input of the committees of both the Royal Alfred Yacht Club and Dublin Bay Sailing Club, and Alfred Mylne's genius, they got one marvellous yacht.

So there it is. The three choices with an important but ageing classic yacht. Euthanasia. Or the continued dogged preservation against all the odds. Or a complete re-build. Not easy, any of them.

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No, you're not seeing things, this is undoubtedly a very new Dublin Bay 24. But it would be impossible to quantify how much she cost, as the entire dismantling and building project has been part of a larger training progamme.

Published in W M Nixon

#oldestyachtclubintheworld – Following WM Nixon's latest blog on Afloat.ie where he gives an account of early Irish yachts and yachting, leading yachting historian Hal Sisk has added to the story of how the sport was formed with claims the amateur sport of sailing became established in the 1850s on Dublin Bay.

Sisk also reveals that contrary to the conventional foundation myth for yachting, the English did not introduce yacht racing in the 1660s. Instead, a once off race is recorded on Dublin Bay where Sir William Petty wrote that he had successfully matched his experimental 30–ft catamaran on several occasions in the winter of in the winter of 1662/3.

In a written comment at the end of Nixon's Saturday blog: Sailing Artefacts Prove Irish Yacht Clubs Are The Oldest In The World, Sisk also asks how significant were the early yacht clubs and were the early yachts truly leisure craft?

He gives as an example, the Stuart royal yachts that were mini warships, built from funds voted for the Navy and in battle with the Dutch in 1673.

Finally, Sisk says the worldwide sport we know today owes more to the pioneering amateurs of Dublin Bay than to the wealthy yacht owners of the 18th and early 19th century. Thus as well as several spectacular silver trophies, the key figures of the Dublin's Royal Alfred YC gave us in the 1850s to 1870s the following yachting firsts:

--World's First National Yacht Racing Rules and Regulations (published by the RAYC in 1872, adopted by the Yacht Racing Association)

--World's First Offshore Racing Club (1868 to 1922)

--World's First Single and Double handed races (1872)

--World's Premier Amateur Sailing Club (1857--)

Add to that the Water Wags of Dublin giving the world the One Design concept in 1887, and we may well ask who made the greater contribution to our sport and who left the greater lasting influence?

Hal Sisk's full comments can be read a the end of the WMN Nixon's blog here.

Published in Dublin Bay

#yachtclubs – The antiquity of Irish recreational sailing is beyond dispute, even if arguments arise as to when it started, and whether or not the Royal Cork YC really is the world's oldest club in its descent from the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork from 1720. But all this seems academic when compared with the impression made by relics of Ireland's ancient sailing traditions.

In just six short years, the Royal Cork Yacht Club will be celebrating its Tercentenary. In Ireland, we could use a lot of worthwhile anniversaries these days, and this 300th has to be one of the best. The club is so firmly and happily embedded in its community, its area, its harbour, in Munster, in Ireland and in the world beyond, that it is simply impossible to imagine sailing life without it.

While the Royal Cork is the oldest, it's quite possible it wasn't the first. That was probably something as prosaic as a sort of berth holder's association among the owners of the ornamental pleasure yachts which flourished during the great days of the Dutch civilisation in the 16th and 17th Centuries. They were based in their own purpose-built little harbours along the myriad waterways in or near the flourishing cities of The Netherlands. Any civilisation which could generate delightful bourgeois vanities like Rembrandt's Night Watch, or extravagant lunacies such as the tulip mania, would have had naval-inspired organised sailing for pleasure and simple showing-off as central elements of its waterborne life.

Just sailing for pleasure and relaxation, rather than going unwillingly and arduously afloat in your line of work, seems to have been enough for most. Thus racing – which is the surest way to get some sort of record kept of pioneering activities – was slow to develop, even if inter-yacht matches were held, particularly once the sport had spread to England with the restoration of Charles II in 1660.

Ireland had not the wealth and style of either Holland or England, but it had lots of water, and it was in the very watery Fermanagh region that our first hints of leisure sailing appeared. It's said of Fermanagh that for six months of the year, the lakes are in Fermanagh, and for the other six, Fermanagh is in the lakes. Whatever, the best way to get around the Erne's complex waterways system, which dominates Fermanagh and neighbouring counties, was by boat. By the 16th Century Hugh Maguire, the chief of the Maguires, aka The Maguire, had a Lough Erne-based fleet, some boats of which were definitely for ceremonial and recreational use.

Sport plays such a central - indeed total - role in Irish life that it's highly likely these pleasure sailing boats were sometimes used for racing. However, the first recorded race anywhere in Ireland took place in Dublin Bay in 1663 when the polymath Sir William Petty, having built his pioneering catamaran Simon & Jude, then organised a race with a Dutch sailing vessel and a local "pleasure boatte" of noted high performance. This event, re-sailed in 1981 when the indefatigable Hal Sisk organised the building of a re-creation of the Simon & Jude, resulted both times in victory for the new catamaran. But because a larger sea-going version of the Simon & Jude, called The Experiment at the suggestion of Charles II himself, was later to founder with all hands while on a testing voyage in the Bay of Biscay, the multi-hull notion was abandoned in Europe for at least another two centuries.

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Contemporary drawing of the 17th Century catamaran Simon & Jude, which was built in Dublin and tested in the bay in an early "yacht race" in 1663.

We meanwhile are left wondering just what was this "pleasure boatte" was, and who owned and sailed it. Its existence and good sailing performance seems to have been accepted as unremarkable in Dublin Bay, yet no other record or mention of it has survived.

It was the turbulent life of Munster in the 17th Century which eventually created the conditions in which the first yacht club was finally formed. As the English Civil War spread to Ireland at mid-Century with a mixture of internecine struggle and conquest, the Irish campaigner Murrough O'Brien, the Sixth Baron Inchiquin, changed sides more than once, but made life disagreeable and dangerous for his opponents whatever happened to be the O'Brien side for the day.

Yet when the forces supporting Charles II got back on top in 1660 after the death of Cromwell in 1658, O'Brien was on the winning side. As the dust settled and the blood was washed away, he emerged as the newly-elevated Earl of Inchiquin, his seat at Rostellan Castle on the eastern end of Cork's magnificent natural harbour, and his interests including a taste for yachting acquired with his new VBF Charles II.

But there was much turmoil yet to come with the Williamite wars in Ireland at the end of the 17th Century. Yet somehow as the tide of conflict receded, there seemed to be more pleasure boats about Cork Harbour than anywhere else, and gradually their activities acquired a level of co-ordination. The first Earl of Inchiquin had understandably kept a fairly low profile once he got himself installed in his castle, but his descendants started getting out a bit and savouring the sea. So when the Water Club came into being in 1720, the fourth Earl of Inchiquin was the first Admiral.

In the spirit of the times, having an aristocrat as top man was sound thinking, but this was truly a club with most members described as "commoners", even if there was nothing common about their exceptional wealth and their vast land-holdings in the Cork Harbour area. Much of it was still most easily reached by boat, thus sailing passenger vessels and the new fancy yachts interacted dynamically to improve the performance of both.

Yet there was no racing. Rather, there was highly-organised Admiral Sailing in formation, something which required an advanced level of skill. However, many of the famous club rules still have a resonance today which gives the Water Club a sort of timeless modernity, and bears out the assertion by some historians that, as it all sprang to life so fully formed, the formation date of 1720 must be notional, as all the signs are that there had been a club of some sort for years beforehand.

But either way, it makes no difference to the validity or otherwise of the rival claim, that the Squadron of the Neva at St Petersburg in Russia, instituted by the Czar Peter the Great in 1718 to inculcate an enthusiasm for recreational sailing among Imperial Russia's young aristocrats, was the world's first yacht club. It was no such thing. It was in reality a unit of the Russian navy, and imposed by diktat from the all-powerful ruler. As such, it was entirely lacking the basic elements of a true club, which is a mutual organisation formed by and among equals.

Yet as the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork had no racing with results published in what then passed for the national media, we are reliant on the few existing club records and some travel writing from the time for much of our knowledge of the early days of the Water Club. That, and the Peter Monamy paintings of the Water Club fleet at sea in 1738.

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A remarkably well-disciplined fleet. Peter Monamy's 1738 painting of the yachts of the Water Club at sea off Cork Harbour. They weren't racing, but were keeping station in carefully-controlled "Admiral Sailing". Courtesy RCYC

Fortunate indeed are the sailors of Cork, that their predecessors' activities should have been so superbly recorded in these masterpieces of maritime art. The boats may look old-fashioned to a casual observer, yet there's something modern or perhaps timeless in this depiction of the fleet sailing in skilled close formation, and pointing remarkably high for gaff rigged boats as they turn to windward. Only a genuine shared enthusiasm for sailing could have resulted in such fleet precision, and in its turn in a memorable work of art. It is so much part of Irish sailing heritage that we might take it for granted, but it merits detailed study and admiration no matter how many times you've seen it already.

Shortly after Monamy's two paintings were completed, Ireland entered a period of freakish weather between 1739 and 1741 when the sun never shone, yet it seldom if ever rained, and it was exceptionally cold both winter and summer. It is estimated that, proportionately speaking, more people died in this little known famine than in the Great Famine itself 104 years later. While the members of the Water Club would have been personally insulated from the worst of it, the economic recession which struck an intensely agricultural area like Cork affected all levels of society.

Thus the old Water Club saw a reduction in activity, but though it revived by the late 1740s, the sheer energy and personal commitment of its early days was difficult to recapture, and by the 1760s it was becoming a shadow of its former self. Nevertheless there was a revival in 1765 and another artist, Nathanael Grogan, produced a noted painting of Tivoli across from Blackrock in the upper harbour, with a yacht of the Water Club getting under way for a day's recreation afloat, the imminent departure being signalled by the firing of a gun.

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The best way to get the crew on board....on upper Cork Harbour at Tivoli in 1765, a yacht of the reviving Water Club fires a gun to signal imminent departure.

However, it was on Ireland's inland waterways that the next club appeared – Lough Ree Yacht Club came into being in 1770, and is still going strong. That same year, one of the earliest yacht clubs in England appeared at Starcross in Devon, but it was in London that the development pace was being most actively set with racing in the Thames for the Cumberland Fleet. Some members of this group, after the usual arguments and splits which plague any innovative organisation, in due course re-formed themselves as the Royal Thames Yacht Club in the early 1800s. But the famous yet unattributed painting of the Cumberland Fleet racing on the Thames in 1782, while it is slightly reminiscent of Monamy's painting of the Water Club 44 years earlier, undoubtedly shows boats racing. And they'd rules too – note the port tack boat on the right of the picture bearing off to give way to the boat on starboard.

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Definitely racing – the Cumberland Fleet, precursor of the Royal Thames Yacht Club, racing in the River Thames at Blackfriars in 1782.

The Thames was wider in those days, but even so they needed strict rules to make racing possible. Dublin Bay offered more immediate access to open water, and there were certainly sailing pleasure boats about. When the Viceroy officially opened the Grand Canal Dock on April 23rd 1796, it was reported that the Viceregal yacht Dorset was accompanied by a fleet of about twenty ceremonial barges and yachts. Tantalisingly, the official painting is almost entirely focused on the Dorset and her tender, while the craft in the background seem to be naval vessels or revenue cutters.

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This painting of the opening of the Grand Canal Dock in 1796 tends to concentrate on the ceremonials around the Viceroy's yacht Dorset in the foreground, but fails to show clearly any of the several privately-owned yachts which were reportedly also present....

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.......but this illustration of the old Marine School on the South Quays in Dublin in 1803 seems to have a yacht – complete with owner and his pet dog on the dinghy in the foreground – anchored at mid-river.

However, a Malton print of the Liffey in 1803 shows clearly what is surely a yacht, the light-hearted atmosphere of waterborne recreation being emphasised by the alert little terrier on the stern of the tender conveying its owner in the foreground Meanwhile in the north of Ireland there was plenty of sailing space in Belfast Lough, while Belfast was a centre of all sorts of innovation and advanced thinking. Henry Joy McCracken, executed for his role in the United Irishmen's rising in 1798, was a keen pioneer yachtsman. As things took a new turn of determined money-making in Belfast after the Act of Union of 1801, some of his former crewmates were among those who formed the Northern Yacht Club in 1824, though it later transferred its activities across the North Channel to the Firth of Clyde, and still exists as the Royal Northern & Clyde YC.

Meanwhile in 1806 the old Water Club of the Harbour of Cork had shown new signs of life, but one result of this was an eventual agreement among members - some of them very old indeed, some representing new blood - that the club would have to be re-structured and possibly even given a new name in order to reflect fresh developments in the sport of yachting. The changeover was a slow business, as it had to honour the club's history while giving the organisation contemporary relevance. Thus it was 1828 before the Royal Cork Yacht Club had emerged in this fully fledged new form, universally acknowledged as the continuation of the Water Club, and incorporating much of its style.

But it was across the north on Lough Erne in 1820 that the world's first yacht club specifically set up to organise racing was formed, and Lough Erne YC continues to prosper today, its alumnae since 1820 including early Olympic sailing medallists and other international champions.

There must have been something in the air in this northwest corner of Ireland in the 1820s, for in 1822 the men who sailed and raced boats on Lough Gill at Sligo had a pleasant surprise. Their womenfolk got together and raised a subscription for a handsome silver trophy to be known as the Ladies' Cup, to be raced for annually – and it still is.

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Instituted in 1822, the Ladies' Cup of Sligo YC is the world's oldest continually-contested annual sailing trophy.

Annual challenge cups now seem such a natural and central part of the sailing programme everywhere that it seems extraordinary that a group of enthusiastic wives, sisters, mothers and girlfriend in northwest Ireland were the first to think of it, yet such is the case. Or at least theirs is the one that has survived for 192 years, so its Bicentenary in 2022 is going to be something very special.

Those racing pioneers of the Cumberland Fleet had made do with new trophies freshly presented each year. And apparently the same was the case initially at Lough Erne. But not so very far down the road, at Sligo, somebody had this bright idea which today means that the museum in Sligo houses the world's oldest continually raced-for sailing trophy, and once a year it is taken down the road to the Sligo YC clubhouse at Rosses Point to be awarded to the latest winner – in 2013, it was the ever-enthusiastic Martin Reilly with his Half Tonner Harmony.

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The Ladies Cup was won in 2013 by Martin Reilly's Half Tonner Harmony. Pictured with their extremely historic trophy are (left to right) Callum McLoughlin, Mark Armstrong, Martin Reilly, John Chambers, Elaine Farrell, Brian Raftery and Gilbert Henry

However, although the Ladies' Cup may have pioneered a worthwhile trend in yacht racing, it wasn't until 1831 that they thought of inscribing the name of the winner, and that honour goes to Owen Wynne of Hazelwood on the shores of Lough Gill. But by that time the notion of inscribing the winners was general for all trophies, and a noted piece of the collection in the Royal Cork is the Cork Harbour Regatta Cup 1829, and on it is inscribed the once-only winner, Caulfield Beamish's cutter Little Paddy.

The name of noted owner, skipper and amateur yacht designer Caulfield Beamish came up here some time back, when we were discussing how in 1831 he took a larger new yacht to his own design, the Paddy from Cork, to Belfast Lough where he won a stormy regatta. So you begin to understand the mysterious enthusiasm people have for sacred relics when you see this cup with its inscription, and realise that it's beyond all doubt that this now-forgotten yet brilliant pioneer of Cork Harbour sailing development personally held this piece of silverware.

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Caulfield Beamish's new cutter Paddy from Cork (which he designed himself) winning a stormy regatta in Belfast Lough in 1831

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The Cork Harbour Regatta Cup of 1829.....Courtesy RCYC

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....and on it is inscribed the winner, Caulfield Beamish's earlier boat, Little Paddy, which he also designed himself. Courtesy RCYC

Another pioneer in yacht racing at the time was the Knight of Glin from the Shannon Estuary, who in 1834 was winning all about him with his cutter Rienvelle, his season's haul including a silver plate from a regatta in Galway Bay – it's now in Glin Castle – while he also seems to have relieved fellow Limerick owner William Piercy of £50 for a match race in Cork Harbour against the latter's cutter Paul Pry.

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The lads from Limerick hit Cork. William Piercy's Paul Pry racing for a wager of £50 against the Knight of Glin's Rienvelle in Cork Harbour in 1834. When Paul Pry won Cork Harbour Regatta a few weeks later, the band on the Cobh waterfront played Garryowen. Courtesy RCYC

But of all the fabulous trophies in the Royal Cork collection, the one which surely engenders the most affection is the Kinsale Kettle. It goes back "only" to 1859, when it was originally the trophy put up for Kinsale Harbour Regatta. But this extraordinarily ornate piece of silverware was not only the trophy for an annual race, it was also the record of each race, as it's inscribed with brief accounts of the outcomes of those distant contests.

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An extraordinary piece of Victorian silverware. The "Kinsale Kettle" from 1859 is now the Royal Cork YC's premier trophy.

Today, it continues to thrive as the Royal Cork Cup, the premier award for Cork Week. The most recent winner in 2012 was Piet Vroon with his superb and always enthusiastic Tonnere de Breskens. The fact that this splendid ambassador for Dutch sailing should be playing such a central role in current events afloat here in Ireland brings the story of our sport's artworks and historical artefacts to a very satisfactory and complete circle.

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More tea, skipper? The current holder of the Kinsale Kettle, aka the Royal Cork Cup, is Piet Vroon of Tonnere de Breskens. Photo: Bob Bateman

Published in W M Nixon

#chillout – As the sailing community ponders the global fall-off in casual sailing numbers, leading sailor Ken Read reckons that one of the reasons is because our sport is getting too serious. He says it's time for most sailors to take a chill-pill. W M Nixon muses on how this suggestion is reflected in Ireland.

Ken Read, former Volvo World Race skipper of notable success, and holder of heaven only knows how many major championships and sailing records, is these days the President of North Sails. A nice little earner, you might say. Let's hope so. But there's much more to it than that.

Being President of North is top of the tops. Time was when the head honcho at Hood Sails, particularly when it was Ted Hood himself, was the special one, filling a unique and highly visible position in the big picture. And other leading global sailmaking brands have also been on this pinnacle from time to time. But these days, Ken Read is the man. He holds the key point in the middle of the triangle formed by the marine industry on one side, the local, national and international sailing organisations on the other, and the sailors themselves on the third. By the nature of their trade and the way it operates, sailmakers are connected every which way, and the world's top sailmaker speaks for all.

So when the President of North Sails advocates a change of sailing attitude at a recent convention of J Boat dealers in America, the sailing world is well advised to take notice. It may be that he said things that many of us have been saying in a different form for many years. But the fact that it was said by the President of North Sails, and said in a concise and forceful yet good-humoured way, uniting many strands of thinking, was something which gave it an impact which no other leading commentator could achieve.

But then Ken Read has always been unique, ever since he was clearly having the time of his life as he rose to international prominence through the ranks of the J/24 Class. He seems to have an enviable gift of knowing how to party when it's right, and how to sail intensely well when the situation demands it. He inspires a very special loyalty among crews, and an admiration and affection among people generally when the big sailing events come to town.

Galway's Volvo Race stopovers provided the classic case in point. Long before selfies became all the rage, just about every club sailor who was next or near Galway docks came proudly home with a photo of themselves and their mates with Kenny Read. As for the great man himself, as the fleet raced away down past the Cliffs of Moher at breakneck speed, he still found time to post a message saying how much he'd enjoyed his time in Galway, sending out a cheery stream of consciousness about this great harbour town with a pub on every corner, and everybody in those pubs wants to buy you a beer, and the greatest golf links he'd ever played down at Doonbeg, so what's not to like?

But just in case anyone was in any doubt about how he'd fully immersed himself in the Galway and Irish thing, as the fleet had headed out through the Galway lock, here was the man himself in a Paddy hat you'd need a licence for. We gave you a glimpse of it at the top this morning, but the full impact needs a bit of space, so here it is again in untrimmed glory. It's something to be savoured, though I doubt you'll find it displayed on the walls of the North Sails boardroom.

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The Full Monty. Only a man very comfortable with himself would set out to go to sea in the most public way possible, and attired like this. Photo: David Branigan

Ken Read got his main point made immediately at the J Boat gathering. He wants recreational racing to take a chill pill. He argues that the message is simple: the harder we play, and the more we invest in our recreation, the fewer people will want to take part in the game.

You'd guess the key phrase is "recreational racing". In other words, he's talking of what you and I do in club racing, at local, regional and class championships, and in offshore races on the nearest bit of open water.

Obviously we're not talking Olympic aspirations, or indeed sailing towards one of the 143 world titles which sailing offers to dedicated participants. But if we did want a scapegoat for people being turned off sailing, I'd be minded to blame the dominance of the Olympics in the public's thinking about minority sports.

The Olympic circus is the sow that eats others' farrow. It takes up little specialist sports, and then forces them into unnatural shapes in order to attract their brief moment of global Olympic attention. And once it has them hooked, it dictates the amount of media interest they have to continue to generate in order to stay in the Olympic lineup. To do this, they contort themselves and their events even further in every unnatural way possible in order to get what is, ultimately, no more than the most ephemeral passing interest, and that from people whose attention really isn't worth the effort in the first place.

Sailing is essentially about participation, it's not naturally spectator friendly. The only truly absorbing way to watch a yacht race is by taking part in it, and enjoyable yacht races can take many forms. But as the Olympic juggernaut gathered speed and power during the past eighty and more years, the Olympic "ideal" of the purest possible yacht racing, with windward starts all staged from committee boats as clear as possible from the influence of the land on the breeze, and preferably in a tide-free zone, became the dominant theme. Even the most homely club sailing programmes found themselves being forced by fashion into the strait jacket of aping the sacred "Olympic course", and raced by one designs too.

But in his presentation to the J Boat men, Ken Read has blown it all out of the water. The Must Read list is:

- Rally and pursuit races are fun, and gaining in popularity.
- Get rid of the AP flag; people want to sail, not float around waiting for perfect conditions.
- Stop worrying that the starting line is off by 5 degrees; start the race
- Get rid of uncomfortable gut hiking off the lower lifelines
- All spinnakers should be coloured; no more white!
- Start some races downwind
- More variety of courses; not only W-L
- Increased use of reaching legs, particularly with boats that can plane
- Involve youngsters more in big boat sailing; not all want to do dinghies.
- More public access to the water, then sailing would become even more important
- Pros should be helping the amateurs by being available at regattas to give help and guidance.

It's a wish list which carries a couple of real stings in the tail. Making recreational waters more publicly accessible immediately suggests that you'll need public employees and regulators to run such access amenities, not only in supervising the launchings and retrievings, but also in keeping the facilities in good order. With experience painfully teaching us that what's everybody's business is nobody's business, the increase of public access to an intensely personal vehicle sport like sailing is quite a challenge.

As for suggesting that the top pros should be available at regattas to help amateurs, that's a tricky one. With much of modern sailing already having a pro-am mix in many events, you can see that there'll be competition to get the attention of top pros, and money will talk. That said, every so often you hear of sailors of truly global stature such as Robert Scheidt of Brazil, whose presence at some ordinary event manages to enhance everyone's day afloat.

But as for Irish sailing learning from the Read programme, it's really more a case of learning anew. For instance, this business of getting all ages involved in big boat racing. Well, we featured it here a couple of weeks ago with our analysis of the success of Dublin Bay Sailing Club. Inevitably, some subsequent commentators complained that while Dublin Bay may provide dinghy racing at mid-week, Saturdays are dominated by keelboats and particularly cruisers. Instead of being an undesirable situation, this sounds rather like what Ken Read is advocating.

The fact is, cruisers are simply much less hassle to organise for weekend racing. They're afloat and ready to go, you can even use them as changing rooms, they don't need crash boats, and they can provide that easygoing sociable atmosphere which needn't involve a debilitating level of commitment. Yet it gets people out enjoying sailing - and they come back for more. Dinghies by contrast are a flighty bunch, and you've no sooner gone to all the trouble of setting up regular Saturday racing for them than you find they're on their trailers, haring down the motorway to some distant regional championship.

Read's opening suggestion about rally and pursuit races will ring a special bell for anyone whose formative sailing years were at Ballyholme Bay on Belfast Lough. Although BYC is now the north's leading performance and dinghy events club, its membership is eclectic and its fleet diverse, so for as long as anyone can remember, they concluded their traditional season with a pursuit race.

These days their season is virtually year-round, but the Menagerie Race, as it's sometimes known, is still sailed every September. It generates excitement at all levels. Beforehand, with handicaps being taken at the start, there's the fascination of the handicapper's calculations to allot starting times for each class and the many individual boats from small dinghies to large cruisers. Then on the day itself, the weather is of special interest as different conditions better suit different boats. And then the finish is one of high excitement, as the final leg is sailed across the bay towards the line close off the club, a time of drama as everyone from biggest to smallest closes in towards a finish which may be decided by inches – it has not been unknown for a couple of crewmembers to be straining on the stemhead as they hold the spinnaker pole out forward well beyond the pulpit to gain a couple of feet.

Unlike your usual handicap race where the result may have to wait for the finish of the last boat across, a pursuit race provides a finish which is instantly satisfying for the winner at least, and also for spectators of limited attention span, which is just about all of them these days.

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Lufra in her youth, tearing along on the Clyde in the 1890s. Photo courtesy Iain McAllister

As anyone with experience of sailing at Ballyholme will know, the end-of-season Menagerie Race, as its quaint name suggests, goes back a long way. But it's usually better known as the Lufra Cup, and has been known as such since the mid-1940s, when it was presented for a race which was already a much-loved part of the programme.

So who or what was Lufra? In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the romantic Scottish-flavoured novels of Sir Walter Scott were best sellers. As the new sport of yachting developed, on both sides of the North Channel the work of Scott provided a fertile source of interesting names for boats – an entire class, the 18ft Belfast Lough Waverleys established 1903, derived all their evocative names from his long sequence of Waverly novels.

Lufra was a dog, but a noble and swift one. He figured in Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake (1810), a title which was itself borrowed from the Arthurian legend, but equally has since been borrowed again to name more inland-cruising water-buses than is decent. Whatever, Scott's long narrative poem recounted the usual bloodthirsty Scottish melodrama, set this time in the Trossachs. But from a cast which was large if not quite in the thousands, the character who stays in the mind is "brave Lufra, the fleetest hound in the North".

You'd think a unique and swinging name like that – I've always heard it pronounced "loof-rah" – would be encouragement enough to build a boat, and one of gallant performance and character at that. But it wasn't until 1894 that the first boat we know of called Lufra appeared from the busy G L Watson design office. Built by P R MacLean of Rosneath for T K Laidlaw of Glasgow, Lufra came at an interesting time of design development. With the appearance of the spoon-bow with the successful 10-Rate Dora in 1891 (she also had a centreboard, but that's by the way), the Watson office had started moving away from the clipper or fiddle bow, and with the big boats Britannia and Valkyrie in 1893, they developed a new kind of keel, more definably an appendage to the hull, and with a more marked toe which greatly improved windward ability.

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The timeless profile of Britannia in 1893. She still looked up-to-date at the end of her life in 1936, by which time her shape was also used for offshore racers and fast cruisers.

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The profiles and hull sections of Peggy Bawn and Lufra. Though they were broadly similar below the waterline, the fact that Lufra had an above-water profile similar to Britannia made her seem much more modern

But most yachtsmen, particularly those with an interest in occasional cruising, are conservative types. So for several years the Watson team were still being commissioned to design new boats of an older type, with fiddle bow, fairly slack and deep hull sections, and a deep heel to the keel. Hal Sisk's 1894 Watson-designed, Hilditch-built classic Peggy Bawn is a good example of this type. She may have been designed a year after Britannia, but her hull shape is light years away from the high-performance Britannia, whose hull continued to look state-of-the-art right up her unhappy scuttling by Royal Command in 1936.

Admittedly when launched Britannia was though of solely as a racing boat, but by the time of her enforced demise, offshore racers and fast cruisers were replicating her hull type. As for Lufra in 1894, she was somewhere between the two types. She had a spoon bow but similar hull sections to Peggy Bawn. However, above the waterline, the 40ft LOA 12-tonner Lufra was a miniaturised image of Britannia.

She was first brought to Northern Ireland from the Clyde in 1937 by Howard Finlay, who sailed on both Belfast and Strangford Loughs. Anyone who thinks of the 1930s and '40s as a dowdy period in Ireland north and south will find the photos of Howard and his mates aboard thenewly-bought boat something of an education. Howard himself had the chiselled good looks of a matinee idol designed to have a pipe clinched in his teeth, while his crew had the style of supporting actors in a Jimmy Cagney movie, or even an early Bogart film. You expect them to burst into exuberant song at any moment, or start shooting.

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The gang's all here. Howard Finlay (second left) and his crew of characters aboard Lufra in 1938. Photo courtesy Paul Finlay

Initially in the Finlay ownership, Lufra was white, but later he painted her black which emphasised the Britannia resemblance, while she was kitted with tan sails which looked very handsome indeed. While still white, she took part in Ballyholme's end-of-season Menagerie Race of 1943, which she won. But as there was no decent prize available, Howard put up the Lufra Cup for the 1944 race.

You might wonder that racing was going on at Ballyholme in the midst of World War II. But as Belfast itself was such a hectically busy place with building and repairing warships, aircraft and so forth, it was decided that it made sound welfare sense to encourage the key workers and managers, most of whom were doing incredibly long hours, to keep up their sporting activities in their brief free time. Thus it was only at the height of the war in 1940 that all sailing was cancelled, and by 1943 sailing was busy again, as there was no petrol available for motoring and other rival vehicle pursuits.

In those days, the Ballyholme Bay class, curious little 23ft keelboats with a tiny coachroof, were the hot racing things of Ballyholme despite not having spinnakers - they just whiskered out the jib. But despite this, as the finish of the 1944 race approached with a half mile broad reach across the bay, the top Ballyholme Bay Class boat, Jack Cupples' Caleta, seemed set for a win. But coming up rapidly from astern, Howard Finlay brought Lufra gybing smoothly round the last mark. Somehow his crew had the enormous spinnaker up and drawing for that final half mile leg, and they swept by Caleta to take the cup on the line, and a blurry Box Brownie photo records it all.

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Lufra sweeps across the line to win the 1944 "Menagerie Race" at Ballyholme, and so become the first winner of the Lufra Cup. Photo courtesy Paul Finlay.

It was pursuit racing at its best, as close astern was one of the 30ft LOA Belfast Lough Stars (near sisters of the Dublin Bay 21s, but setting a gunter mainsail instead of gaff with tops'l) and then the rest of the fleet were in within minutes. The handicapper who'd set the starting times was delighted. But some Bay Class types weren't quite so chuffed, and suggested that as Howard Finlay had presented the new cup, the right thing to do would be to hand it on to the boat which finished second. He told them very precisely what they could do with that notion.

Over the next few years, Lufra was in the frame now and then, though the handicapper made sure she never won her cup again. But by the 1950s she was becoming very expensive to run, and in those recessionary times, she was unsellable. In fact, her lead ballast keel was worth more than the boat complete. So the keel was removed and sold, and this most handsome boat was laid up afloat in the little quarry hole harbour in Donaghadee in the hope that the good times would return. But for Lufra, the good times never did return. She rotted and sank, and when the quarry hole was being excavated to become Ireland's first coastal marina in the late 1960s, the last surviving relics of "the fleetest hound in the North" were dredged up and taken away to a landfill.

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The restored 1903-built Belfast Lough Waverley Lilias (Jeff & Janet Gouk) was the 2011 winner of the Lufra Cup. Photo: W M Nixon

Yet the Lufra Cup lives on, and the list of its winners gives us a spare yet eloquent account of the sailing story at Ballyholme. Most appropriately, in recent years some of the winners of this trophy honouring Walter Scott's "fleetest hound in the North" have been boats of the old Waverley Class, now undergoing revival with impressive restoration projects. And years ago, when I was battling with racing Insect and Swallow class boats at Ballyholme, a frequent winner was a boat like a big sister of Lufra, Harry Townsley's 15-ton gaff cutter Anolis, which could go like a train on a reach in the kind of race Olympic idealists might sniff at, yet it was exactly what the punters wanted.

The winners over the years have included everything from a Laser (1993, and again in 2007, when sailed by Puppeteer designer Chris Boyd) to 1720s, with just about every type in between, and up or down too. I don't think an Optimist has ever won it yet, so current top cruising man Ed Wheeler has held the record for smallest winning boat since 1958, when he took the cup with his International Cadet.

Many of today's junior sailors may know little of the Cadet, though it still sails. Basically, it was a pram-bowed 10ft chine dinghy built (usually as DIY) in ply to a design by Jack Holt, who later designed the Mirror. The concept of the Cadet was as a mini-version of grown up racing dinghies, a proper training boat with a Bermudan rig which benefited from fine tuning, and setting a spinnaker.

But they were so very very small. The great Wic McCready, Northern Ireland's top junior sailor in his day, was a big lad who grew quickly. In his final year racing Cadets, in light weather he might be seen reposing with as much comfort as he could find by sticking his feet out over the stern. So when you saw a Cadet with Anolis thundering up astern and the finish line just feet away, it was very much little and large. As Ed Wheeler recalls it, crossing the line with Anolis's battering ram bowsprit right above your head concentrated the mind something wonderful.

So with the popularity of racing such as that provided for all ages in cruisers by Dublin Bay SC, and the golden thread of the Lufra Cup pursuit race at Ballyholme, it seems to me that maybe we're fulfilling many of the Ken Read objectives in Ireland already. As to setting unorthodox courses sometimes with pier starts, here in my own home port of Howth the 116-year-old Howth 17s were for a time strait-jacketed into Olympic courses which were much less stimulating than their time honoured courses in the interesting waters in and around Ireland's Eye, with handy pier starts just a few minutes sail from the anchorage, instead of having to sail for miles in search of the committee boat.

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The Howth 17s sweep along in style after making a pier start during the 1930s. Having been making pier starts since 1898, there were attempts after 2000 to get them to use Committee Boat starts. But these days they find that a pier start, with the line only a very few yards from the harbour anchorage, is the option preferred by most crews. Photo: W N Stokes

The result is a revival of Howth 17 racing, particularly in the amorphous area of Saturday afternoon racing, when modern life presents too many distractions and other duties to people who would otherwise be sailing. The convenience and charm of handy starts and racing in very inshore waters seems to have spread, and the word is that the SailFleet J/80s, which will be based in Howth again this year, would also like some convenient pier-starting races in their programme.

So maybe we're going to reach the stage of Olympic sailors being told that they're welcome to keep their sterile starts, and windward-leeward courses far from land, the rest of us prefer a different emphasis. Except, of course, that at the 2012 Olympics, for the final races the fleets were brought very close inshore to facilitate spectators at Weymouth.

It seemed like a case of the tail wagging the dog. And if the racing had been continued offshore, with clear winds and plenty of it, Ireland might well have come home from the 2012 Olympics with a Sailing Bronze. So maybe the real message is, let's make sailing more fun...........except for the Olympics.

Published in W M Nixon

#historicboats – These days we're told of the growing disparity between the economic recovery of Ireland's eastern region, and the relative economic stagnation of some of the rest of the country. But W M Nixon suggests that, for one part of the western seaboard at least, there's a special vitality to life around boats which challenges this perception, and could usefully be emulated elsewhere. And he signs off with a thought-provoking conclusion.

Connemara, Conamara. Spell it as you wish, but The Land of the Sea on Connacht's most westerly coast fires the imagination and inspires the spirit. It's a place of the mind as much as a place of wild mountains where rocky inlets wind their way deep into rugged country. So while purists might define it exclusively as the much intertwined coastline with its myriad islands between Spiddal and Killary, many of the rest of us can be so inspired by that special Connemara quality that we reckon it runs all the way from Galway Bay to Achill. And anyone from that magic coastline, or indeed anyone who has been inspired by it, carries the spirit of Connemara with them wherever they may be.

The boat people you meet out there, each with their own unique and often ambitious maritime agenda, will send you on your way re-enthused about boats and places and their many possibilities. And when someone from another place or indeed another country decides that it's in Connemara their true self and fulfilment is to be found, far from being seen as exiles they are instead seen as a new focal points for their old groups, and their soul-mates from times past descend on them in Connemara for inspiration and mental re-birth.

This weekend, the boat men from Clondalkin in outer Dublin are journeying to Renvyle on the furthest far west coast to help one of their own in his boat restoration programme at a storm-battered corner on a bit of coast which was almost washed away in the winter's seemingly endless climatic violence.

The men of Clondalkin are the community group who built and sail and continue to lovingly maintain the large Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan. Recently, they've been busy enough with replacing some planks on their hefty big boat. But their key organiser Paul Keogh is mindful of the fact that one of their own, Paddy Murphy, is in the west, living on an Atlantic point out beyond the old Oliver St John Gogarty house which is now the hotel at Renvyle.

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They dreamed the dream, and they made it happen. Key movers in the Naomh Cronan story were Stiophan O Laoire (left) and Paul Keogh, seen here at Poolbeg Y & BC as they come forward to accept a prize on behalf of the crew from Johnny Wedick, Hon. Sec. of the Dublin Bay OGA. Photo: Dave Owens

And between Paddy's house and the sea, beside a little hidden slipway which serves small boats which undertake the risky but rewarding challenge of harvesting Ireland's most fish-filled waters, the restoration project on the Aigh Vie is proving to be a demanding task. So this weekend the Keogh team – precise numbers unknown until everyone checks in this morning – are on site to re-caulk the Aigh Vie in a wild weekend of communal energy.

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On the Atlantic frontier at Renvyle, the Aigh Vie is under her roof, tilted over to port to facilitate work under the starboard side of the hull. Photo: W M Nixon

For the Aigh Vie is one very special vessel. She's one of the Manx fishing nobbies which reached their ultimate state of development in the first twenty years of the 20th Century before steam power and then diesel engines took over. The nobby evolved to an almost yacht-like form through vessels like the 43ft White Heather (1904), which is owned and sailed under original-style standing lug rig by Mike Clark in the Isle of Man, and the 1910 Vervine Blossom, now based in Kinvara, which was restored by Mick Hunt of Howth, but he gave her a more easily-handled gaff ketch rig which looked very well indeed when she sailed in the Vigo to Dublin Tall Ships Race in 1998.

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Mike Clark's Isle of Man-based 1904-built Manx nobby White Heather sets the original standing lug rig.

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The 1910-built Manx nobby Vervine Blossom was restored by Mick Hunt in Howth, and is seen her making knots under her gaff ketch rig at the start of the 1998 Tall Ships Race from Vigo to Dublin. Photo: David Branigan

It takes quite something to outdo the provenance of these two fine vessels, but the story of Aigh Vie (it means a sort of mix of "good luck" and "fair winds" in Manx) is astonishing. It goes back to the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U Boat off the Cork coast in May 1915, when the first boat to mount a rescue was the Manx fishing ketch Wanderer from Peel, her crew of seven skippered by the 58-year-old William Ball.

They came upon a scene of developing carnage. Yet somehow, the little Wanderer managed to haul aboard and find space for 160 survivors, and provide them with succour and shelter as they made for port. In due course, as the enormity of the incident became clear, the achievement of the Wanderer's crew was to be recognised with a special medal presentation. And then William Ball, who had been an employee of the Wanderer's owner, received word that funds had been lodged with a lawyer in Peel on behalf of one of the American survivors he'd rescued. The money was to be used to underwrite the building of his own fishing boat, to be built in Peel to his personal specifications, and the result was his dreamship, the Aigh Vie, launched in 1916.

Over the years, the Aigh Vie became a much-loved feature of the Irish Sea fishing fleet. Tim Magennis, current President of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association, well remembers her from his boyhood days in the fishing port of Ardglass on the County Down coast. In time, she was bought by the legendary Billy Smyth of Whiterock Boatyard in Strangford Lough, who gradually converted her to a Bermudan-rigged cruising ketch with a sheltering wheelhouse which enabled the Smyth family to make some notable cruises whatever the weather. His son Kenny Smyth, who now runs the boatyard with his brothers and is himself an ace helm in the local 29ft River Class, recalls that the seafaring Smyth family thought nothing of taking the Aigh Vie to the Orkneys at a time when the average Strangford Lough cruiser thought Tobermory the limit of reasonable ambitions.

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Aigh Vie as she was when bought by Paddy Murphy from Billy Smyth of Strangford Lough.

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First sail with the newly-bought ship. Aboard Aig Vie heading for Dublin down Strangford Lough, the crew includes Paddy Murphy (left) and Tim Magennis (centre)

It's some years now since Paddy Murphy bought the Aigh Vie, and sailed her back to Dublin with his crew including Tim Magennis. But around the same time, Paddy was moving his base west to Renvyle, where he reckoned his skilled trade as a blacksmith, and his talents in traditional music and folklore, would provide him with a living in the area where he felt most at home.

As for the Aigh Vie, clearly she was reaching an age where work needed to be done. And he was minded to restore her to something more nearly approaching her original 1916 configuration. So somehow or other, he took the big boat west on a truck, managing to negotiate those little winding roads through Tully Cross and down to his place by the sea, where she went under a roof and work began.

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The hull of the 1916-built Aigh Vie as seen in Renvyle shows the remarkably yacht-like lines of the Manx nobby.........Photo: W M Nixon

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.........in what was one of the last of the sailing type to be built before steam power took over. Photo: W M Nixon

It has been going on for some time now. The problem with being right on the frontier of Ireland's Atlantic weather is that no sooner do you start on some new area of timber repair and replacement, than the previous restoration section almost immediately starts to become weathered. Working largely on your own, you end up feeling you're going round in circles. So that's why the men from the Naomh Chronan are in Renvyle today to give the Aigh Vie project a mighty push forward.

For there's no doubt that while there's a lot done, there's a lot more still to do. But it does get done eventually if you keep the faith, and I was there back at the beginning of December to cheer Paddy along with all the usefulness of a hurler on the ditch. But at least I was accompanied by Dickie Gomes, who knows a thing or two about long-term boat restoration, as it took him 27 years to bring his 102-year-old Ainmara successfully back to life. But he did it so well that she won the Creek Inn Trophy for "Best in Show" at last summer's Peel Traditional Boat Weekend in the Isle of Man.

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A bit of mutual support between two owners of vintage wooden boats – Paddy Murphy and Dickie Gomes in Aigh Vie's shed at Renvyle. Photo: W M Nixon

Nevertheless I've to confess that sometimes I wonder if wood is worth the trouble. Before getting to Renvyle, we'd called by with Jamie Young at Killary Adventure Centre for bit of a love-in with his alloy-built Frers 49 Killary Flyer which - as Brian Buchanan's Hesperia IV - was winner of the Round Ireland Race 1988 under the command of Dickie Gomes. Except that you won't see that fact in histories of the Round Ireland. Because for 1988's race, she sailed as the sponsored entry Woodchester Challenger, and thus was not entitled to the top prize, despite having the best corrected IOR time in the fleet.

But everyone in the know knows that Gomesie won, particularly the crew of Denis Doyle's slightly larger Frers sloop Moonduster. The two boats had been neck and neck running past the Blaskets, and suddenly Hesperia's spinnaker shredded. But Dickie had his crew so well drilled that one half of them had a replacement chute up and drawing before the other half had finished getting in the remains of the torn sail. The boat scarcely missed a beat in her rapid progress, and when the whole business was completed in about three minutes flat, there was a round of applause from Moonduster. You'd sportsmen doing the Round Ireland in those days.

As it happens, one of Hesperia's crew for that neat bit of work was Kenny Smyth, so it made it more than appropriate that we were going on to see the Aigh Vie on which he cut his offshore sailing teeth. But it was good to linger for a while at Jamie's snug place, and marvel at how he, with aid from the ingenious folk of the west, had contrived a slip and an angled trolley so that Killary Flyer can be hauled on site into a sheltered corner, for she's a big lump of a boat to be handling ashore.

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She's a big boat to be hauling on a slip in a remote corner of Mayo. Early December beside Killary Fjord, and Jamie Young of the Adventure Centre with Deirdre and Dickie Gomes and the Frers 49 Killary Flyer ashore for the winter. Deirdre was a fulltime member of the boat's crew when Dickie successfully skippered her offshore as Brian Buchanan's Hesperia IV. Photo: W M Nixon

It was some time in the New Year that we heard the shocking news. One of the most severe storms had twirled the Flyer up like a toy boat from her sheltered corner, and deposited this Frers masterpiece on her ear. Jammed in against the steep shore, she was trapped as the tide came in, and the hull was flooded with severe damage to the electrics and electronics.

But this is the west, where they're accustomed to overcoming massive challenges. The extraordinary Tom Moran of Clew Bay Boats played a key role in a salvage project which saw a temporary road being built so that a giant crane could be positioned for the delicate job of inching the big boat back upright. That done, she could then be moved to Tom's place at Westport for restoration to begin.

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A couple of dents in aluminium? No problem. Following her brief episode of aviation, Killary Flyer's hull is already made good at Clew Bay Boats in Westport. Photo: W M Nixon

The whole business has been a marvellous advertisement for the effectiveness of hull construction using modern marine alloys. When aluminium was first created as the "Metal of the Future" two centuries ago, only the Emperor Napoleon could afford to have a cutlery set made in this exotic stuff. And though an early alloy boat put afloat in Lake Geneva performed reasonably well, as soon as a boat built with it was put into the salty sea, it just melted away.

But over the years the formulas have been adjusted to be corrosion proof in sea water, such that nowadays it's the ideal material for little boats which are going to have hard usage yet little maintenance, such as angling boats and the nippy craft used by rowing coaches.

And if you have a low-maintenance alloy hull yet give it a bit of cosmetic attention, it will look very well indeed, but it's not essential. As for the rough and tumble of life afloat, if you crash into a quay wall with a traditionally built wooden boat, she'll become shook from bow to stern – you never really know where the underlying structural damage ends, if at all. As for GRP and carbon or whatever, the damage will be more localised, but it still gets holed, and messily with it at that, while bulkheads may shift to an unknown degree

But a steel or aluminium hull will generally just be dented, and very locally at that. Repairs are manageable, even if it's skilled specialist work. So there's a lot in favour of steel and alloy. But steel rusts, and it never rusts quicker than in hidden pockets in the structure. But with remarkable advances in alloy welding and building techniques, the advantages of modern corrosion-free alloy construction become more evident every year for boats that are really going to be used, and not just seen as marina ornaments.

The Killary Flyer experience is ultimately a telling argument in favour of alloy construction. The hull was only dented in a couple of places where it was actually in direct contact with outcrops on the foreshore. Any dents have already been repaired by Tom Moran and his team, for they're able for anything to do with boats in any sort of material - I reckon if you wanted to build your dreamship out of resinated peat moss, then Tom would be game for the job.

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Can-do people of the west – Mary and Tom Moran of Clew Bay Boats have successfully taken on many marine problems and projects. Photo: W M Nixon

Sorting out the interior systems is going to be more of a challenge, for Hesperia was originally Noryema X, built for Ron Amey in 1975. In a sense, there's a feeling of homecoming in the fact that she's being restored in Westport. If you head directly inland from that lovely little town, you're soon up in the mountains in the Joyce Country. And way back in 1975, the alloy hull of Noryema X was built by the renowned Joyce Brothers. Their fabrication workshop may have been in Southampton, but the family wasn't that long out of the mountains of far Mayo.

However, once the innovative Ron Amey had taken delivery of the hull of his latest Noryema from the brothers Joyce, he then took it to Moody's big shed at Bursledon on the Hamble for completion by the boatyard's craftsmen. I happened to be Bursledon-based in the early summer of 1975, and it really was all a wonder to behold.

Amey had installed a caravan in Moody's shed, and he lived in it while overseeing every detail of the new boat's fitout, while at the same time running his business empire of Amey Roadstone from a telephone in the caravan. It was said that the great man wouldn't be really happy with his new boats until the final jobs were completed just before the Fastnet Race in August, and after that he'd then start to think of the next one. But Noryema X was something special. She became the last of the racing line, and despite her enormous rig, Ron Amey then used her for eleven years of cruising in the Mediterranean which concluded with her sale to Brian Buchanan of Belfast Lough at Marseilles in 1986. She has been based on our island ever since, the source of much seagoing pleasure for hundreds of Irish sailors.

So bringing her back up to Amey standards is quite a challenge, as she's now part of Ireland's sailing heritage. But with Tom Moran they've someone who seems to have links with every maritime specialist in the country, and if he draws a blank in Ireland, his connections around the Solent marine industry seem pretty hot too.

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Not quite where you'd expect to find an Arctic voyaging vessel, but Northabout seems at home in the Moylure Canal in the midst off Mayo fields. Photo: W M Nixon

Much encouraged by all this, for Clew Bay Boats is the sort of place where many good things seem possible, we then headed down to the Moylure Canal, a drainage waterway near Rosmoney at the head of Clew Bay where the great Jarlath Cunnane has created a tiny boat harbour and beside it a little place where, if so minded, he can build himself a boat.

Jarlath is the quintessential Connacht mariner, yet you'll never find him being sentimental about wooden boats. On the contrary, in the time I've known him he has built himself a steel van de Stadt 34ft sloop which he cruised very extensively, and more recently he took on the challenge of alloy construction to build the 44ft Northabout. Aboard this special boat, in teamwork with Paddy Barry, he has made cruises to remote and challenging places in voyages which, for most people, would have required full military logistical support.

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The new dreamship. Plans of the 37ft Atkins schooner which Jarlath Cunnane has been building over four years.

Knowing the scale of what he has done with her, it was bizarre to see Northabout sitting modestly in her berth in the little creek beside a Mayo field. But the presence of the long distance high latitude voyager was only part of the Moylure package. A few feet away in "the shed which isn't really a shed" was the new Cunnane boat, a sweet 37ft–Atkins schooner which, if you haven't yet appreciated the potential of good alloy boat construction, would surely win you over in a trice.

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Good alloy construction, as seen here in the stemhead of the new schooner, can withstand comparison with any material. Photo: W M Nixon

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The new schooner has a workmanlike and handsome hull......Photo: W M Nixon

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....which is aimed for comfort as much as speed, but she should be able to give a good account of herself in performance, and will be very comfortable for longterm periods on board. Photo: W M Nixon

Jarlath has taken four years on the construction, and when he gets to sailing the new boat, I'd say that the motto will be: "When God made time, he made a lot of it". This is a boat for leisurely cruising, a boat to enjoy simply being on board. In her finished state, she'll give little enough in the way of clues as to her basic construction material. Like Killary Flyer, and like Northabout too, she is in her own way a great advertisement for the potential of good alloy construction.

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As completion nears, it becomes ever less apparent......Photo: W M Nixon

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.....that the hull construction of the new schoner is in aluminium. Photo: W M Nixon

So we'll sign off this week with a special thought. As Irish life begins to move again, doubtless we'll soon hear increasing mutterings about the desirability of building a new Asgard sail training brigantine. Maybe we should keep the government out of it this time round, and build her through a voluntary trust organisation supported by public subscriptions and corporate donations. But however it's to be done, we should be starting to think about it.

And like many others, I've long thought that the ideal way forward would be with a steel hull built to Jack Tyrell's original Asgard II lines, which have a magnificently timeless quality to them. But I've changed my mind on that. Having seen what can be done with good alloy construction down in Mayo, and knowing the quality of alloy workboat construction being produced by firms like Mevagh Boatyard in Donegal and by the descendants of Jack Tyrrell among others at Arklow Marine Services in County Wicklow, it's difficult to escape the conclusion that the hull of the new ship should be built in aluminium.

It would be initially expensive, but it would confer great longterm maintenance advantages. And by going that way, we'd be able to provide all the double skins and safety bulkheads which will now be required without using up all available hull space, and without producing a boat so heavy she wouldn't be able to sail out of her own way. So let's hear it for an aluminium-hulled Asgard III.

Published in W M Nixon

#eastcoastports – Ireland's east and north coasts may lack the cruising glamour of the south and western seaboards, but W M Nixon suggests that the ICC's East & North Coast Sailing Directions points the way to an area with its own special charms. And he ponders a coastal mountain-measuring quandary in this blog first published in March 2014.

Now here's a thought. Could it be that Scrabo, the tower-topped hill which dominates the northern waters of Strangford Lough, is not as high as officially reckoned? Could it be that its recognised height of 538ft (which doesn't include the 125ft height of the tower itself) is a bit optimistic?

Such notions come from contemplating aspects of the new 12th Edition of the Irish Cruising Club's Sailing Directions for the East & North Coasts of Ireland, which is now on sale at £29.95 or €37.50. It's worth every cent, not just for those planning to cruise the area, but simply if you sail from any of the ports covered. And the interest lies not just in the essential information conveyed for safe navigation and pilotage along these many miles of varied coastline, but also in the implications of that information in a larger context.

As the ICC publishes two books with the most recent massive 13th edition of its best-selling South & West guide appearing last year, inevitably people will compare the two areas. And equally inevitably, the east coast can appear a rather humdrum sort of place by comparison with the lotus-eating charms of the south coast, and the spectacular glories of the west, while the north coast sometimes seems just too challenging to be contemplated at all. However, in one category the east and north coasts put the south and west coasts in the ha'penny place. The eastern and northern seaboards are absolutely tops in tides.

On the west and south coasts, apart from the Shannon Estuary and maybe Achill Sound and perhaps Cork Harbour entrance at Springs, tidal streams are relatively weak on the entire coastline going westabout between Hook Head in Wexford and Bloody Foreland in Donegal. And yes, I too have shot the tidal rapids at Lough Hyne, but that's a special case. Otherwise, it's useful to have the tide with you along the coast, and it's best to avoid wind-over-tide at major headlands. But generally, unless you've a long passage planned you can come and go at sociable hours for day sails rather than having your schedule dictated by tide.

Yet if you're voyaging that same journey from Ireland's southeast corner to the far northwestern extremity via the east and north coasts with the absolute shortest distance being 282 miles, the tidal streams are dictating your times of coming and going except between Skerries and Ardglass on the east coast, and west of Malin Head on the north. Elsewhere, it's conveyor belt coastline, and anyone sensible will go with the flow.

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Carlingford Lough is one of several inlets on these coastlines whose narrow entrances have strong tides. The mediaeval little township of Carlingford has its own largely drying harbour (foreground), but the marina further along the shore is accessible at all states of tides, and has facilities on site. However, village waterfront hospitality resources are somewhat spread out, as the hospitable Carlingford Sailing Club (extreme right), with its own slipway and welcoming clubhouse, is at a significant distance from the marina. Photo courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer

In addition, where natural harbours and sheltered inlets exist, in a surprising number of cases on the east and north coasts the entrances are narrow, and pushing the tide to get through can be a serious challenge. This is the case in Mulroy Bay, Lough Foyle, Larne Lough, Strangford Lough and Carlingford Lough. But the great inlets of the west, particularly the magnificent rias of the southwest, are drowned river valleys which close in only gradually, resulting in much gentler tides.

Strangford Lough's entrance by contrast is totally tide-dominated, and many local cruising boats solve the problem simply by never leaving the place. But as a study of this new book (yet another extraordinary effort from the ICC's remarkable sailing directions team of Norman Kean and Geraldine Hennigan) successfully reveals, Strangford Lough is indeed a wonderful world unto itself, and you could happily cruise here for a week without feeling the need to venture into the dark unknown to seaward beyond The Narrows, where the tides hit 8 knots and more, and the whirlpool of the Routen Wheel waits to trap the unwary.

It's the business of the sea pushing in and out Strangford Lough twice a day (and generating electricity while it does so) which provokes the thought that maybe Scrabo is not as high as generally thought. The hill is simply known as Scrabo, which sounds like somewhere in Transylvania – it could be Dracula's summer residence - but apparently it means nothing more exciting than "cow pasture" in Gaelic. They were hardy cattle in them days, as it can be rugged enough on top, for Scrabo's location relative to the serene inner reaches of Strangford Lough emphasises its exposed nature.

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Strangford Narrows, with a smooth yet powerful stream, though it can be anything but smooth when it meets open water and an onshore wind. The tides in the Narrows provide so much guaranteed energy that they have been harnessed by this generator to provide sufficient electricity for a thousand homes. Photo: courtesy ICC

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The Seagen tower with its turbines raised clear. Like this, it can be a hazard for sailboats passing too close. Currently, the scorecard reads: Seagen-1, Yacht Masts-0. Miraculously, no-one was hurt. Photo courtesy ICC.

But the point is that high water in those remote inner reaches and in Strangford Lough generally occurs a clear two and a half hours after high water in the Irish Sea. Thus down at the Narrows, the water may be still pouring into the lough, yet out in the Irish Sea the tide has peaked, the ebb is running north, and the sea level has been falling for a good two and a half hours by the time the final surge has reached the top, way up at the flat shore below Scrabo.

So it occurs to me that, could we but somehow measure by the most precise methods exactly from the centre of the earth, then mean sea level at Scrabo would always be less – maybe even a metre less – than on the ocean generally. And for all hills, whether it be Scrabo or Everest or whatever, the height above sea level is the gold standard. So the surface of the sea must curve over and above the curvature of the earth.

My ignorance of modern surveying methods being almost total, doubtless this idle speculation will bring down scorn, and we'll find that crude measures of sea level by observation at a local position have been long since superseded by more scientific techniques. Probably these days sea level has little enough to do with the level of the sea. But if you're someone who likes to muse on such things as the true height of Scrabo in the light of Strangford Lough's wayward tides, then you've the mind of a cruising person, and you'll find the new guide a delight, particularly if you reckon the east coast has been getting a raw deal in the perception stakes.

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The Economic Corridor. Dublin Port looking seaward at a quiet period between ship movements, which currently run at 40 per day. Grand Canal basin is bottom right, while the ancient maritime community of Ringsend is just across the River Dodder. The Dodder's east bank, now lined with corporation flats, used to be a hive of activity with at least four boatyards on the foreshore. Poolbeg Y & BC marina is beside Roingsend. Photo courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer

That said, it has to be admitted that between Dublin and Belfast, the "East Coast Economic Corridor" may sound glamorous to business folk, but it can make it all seem rather workaday to the rest of us when sailing the nearby sea. Then too, the dictation of the tide in setting the times of your passage-making gives a sense that you're commuting along the coast, rather than cruising it. Finally, while there may be several handsome ranges of hills and mountain along both coastlines, only in certain areas is there significant indentation of the coastline to give that air of excited anticipation as to what might be round the next corner. By contrast in the south and west you've many variations on the sense of anticipation exemplified by the always uplifting experience of coming northwards through Dursey Sound and suddenly seeing the entire panorama of the Kerry mountains revealed in all their purple glory.

But living in such a state of constant excited anticipation would be damaging for anyone's health. The real business of life is making the best of the hand you've been dealt, and these days the east and north coast deal is much enhanced by greatly improved harbours and marinas. These make for much more convenient access to port towns, which in their turn provide a better hospitality package which adds greatly to the enjoyment of a day's sail along a coast which may have been looking very well indeed.

Not least of the factors in this is that, along the east coast at any rate, it rains less than on Ireland's other coastlines. Sometimes a lot less. And it's at its best when the wind is the Atlantic breeze, the westerly off the land. When "the wind is off the grass", as the crewmen in the Irish Lights vessel describe their ideal conditions for working at buoys and other navigation aids, then sailing Ireland's east coast is very pleasant indeed.

Although the east coast officially begins at Carnsore Point, the ICC Directions sensibly begin just round the corner at Kilmore Quay, whose transformation by Wexford County Council into a useful sailing/fishing harbour has greatly changed everyone's perception of the area. And just to show that the Saltee Islands can now be seen at the very least as an interesting day cruising destination from Kilmore itself, the book includes a useful photo of the fair weather anchorage on the southeast coast of the Great Saltee.

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In times past, the Saltee Islands were seen by cruising folk as somewhere to get past as quickly as possible. But now that there's a fine little all-weather harbour and marina at Kilmore Quay, this photo of the fair weather anchorage off the southeast coast of the Great Saltee is of special interest. Photo courtesy ICC.

Heading up the east coast, the favoured first port of call tends to be Arklow, where developments in recent years have been an intriguing illustration of the way Ireland is administered. In any rational society, you'd have expected the Arklow Basin on the south side of the river – which has the benefit of having an exceptionally small tidal range – to be re-developed as a modern recreational harbour, a sort of Irish Honfleur.

But of course any attempts at this sensible line of action were stymied by inertia and entrenched interests, so the get-up-and-go section of Arklow society simply got on with things on the north side of the river. There, a marina has been developed in a new basin, and what amounts to a new township shows every sign of developing alongside it, while across the river the old basin slumbers on.

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Arklow is home to an ancient seafaring tradition, manifested itoday in a vibrant locally-registered merchant fleet which operates internationally. The new harbour and waterfront development on the north bank of the river (left) proceeds crisply ahead while the old Arklow basin on the other side ponders it future. Photo courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer

Undoubtedly the most exciting development on the east coast in recent years has been the creation of an all-weather harbour at Greystones, within easy sailing distance of Dublin yet just far enough to provide a sense of achievement. And there's a certain extra satisfaction in enjoying your breakfast aboard a cruising boat in the new marina while the commuter-filled DART trains trundle past headed towards the city, yet beyond in the morning sun the Wicklow hills look more beautiful than ever.

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"Good morning, Greystones, how are you?" Breakfast on a cruising boat never tastes better than when you're in the new Greystones Marina with the early sun on the Wicklow hills, and a DART train filled with commuters heads for Dublin. Photo courtesy ICC

With the coastal developments of the last twenty to thirty years, the east and north coasts have now been reborn as sailing and cruising areas with the two main yacht harbours at Dun Laoghaire and Bangor, while there are now medium size marinas at Greystones, Poolbeg in Dublin, Howth, Malahide, Carlingford, Carrickfergus, Glenarm, Ballycastle, and Fahan on Lough Swilly.

Additionally there are the key smaller facilities at Arklow, Warrenppoint, Ardglass. Portaferry, Belfast Harbour, Rathlin Island, the Bann Estuary, Derry/Londonderry and Rathmullan, while convenient landing pontoons have been installed at several other sites. Details on all these and much more can be found in the new ICC book, but anyone cruising the region develops fondness for some favourite spot, and as someone who has been cruising up and down these coasts for a while now, I have to say that the facility which has most transformed the cruising is surely the little marina at Ardglass, officially known as Phenick Cove.

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Kingpin harbour – Dun Laoghaire before the new "library" was erected at amazing speed in the middle of the waterfront. Photo courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer

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Ardglass. This little port has become one of the most useful of all, particularly for people who really do cruise. Photo courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer

It is just so conveniently located, you don't have to deviate at all from the direct course up and down Ireland's East Coast, and the welcome provided by marina manager Fred and his array of amiable animals is second to none. Quite how we managed before Ardglass marina was installed I don't know any more. But I think it involved far too many unnecessary nights at sea, whereas now you can have a convenient overnight in a quirky place where – if you're minded to eat ashore – you can ring the changes between one of the best Chinese restaurants on the coast, or else the golf club in the castle makes sailors more than welcome, and if you've had enough of the salty sea for a while, a very short taxi ride takes you into the utterly and very aromatically rural heart of the country and steaks at Curran's foodie pub.

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Bangor Bay's marina has settled in so well you could be forgiven for thinking the town was built around it. And you won't be surprised to learn that this part of North Down is known as the Gold Coast. Photo courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer

When these ICC Directions first appeared in book form in 1946, they covered only the east coast, and that only between Carnsore Point and the little harbour of Carnlough on the Antrim coast. In those days, there were few if any facilities for cruising boats beyond it on the Irish coast, so it was seen as the best jumping-off port for people headed for the more civilised cruising on Scotland's west coast.

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Ballycastle Harbour and marina required a king-size breakwater for full shelter, but its convenient location has been greatly beneficial for cruising the area. Photo courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer

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Thirty years ago, the notion of Rathlin Island as a popular cruising destination would have seemed absurd, yet the provision of a harbour has brought about a welcome change, and in summer there are always at least several (and often many) cruising boats in port. Photo courtesy ICC.

So it's around Ireland's northeast corner that the changes have been most beneficial, with a proper harbour at Glenarm and –miracle of miracles – a real harbour at Ballycastle. It has had to be built as a really massive affair, for you're now on the rugged north coast, but it has opened things up to great benefit, as it's a short day sail from the Hebrides, the charms of Rathlin Island with its excellent little marina are just across the Sound, and with the pressure taken off to get to any old harbour with some short of shelter, you can explore the Antrim coast at your leisure. You come away convinced that the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge looks even more spectacular when seen from sea, yet equally convinced by Dr Johnson's famous comment that while the Giant's Causeway may be worth seeing, it's not worth going to see.

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The north Antrim coast's famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is best seen from a cruising boat. Photo: W M Nixon

Further along the north coast, there's excitement at Portrush as a 200 berth marina is planned for this key port. For anyone interested in harbour construction, it will be a fascinating project, for although Portrush is eastward of the most exposed point of all at Malin Head, it still manages to have truly ferocious sea conditions during winter storms. So the proposed new breakwater will have to be on mega-scale, but from a cruising point of view the provision of secure marina berths here will add an entirely new dimension. Portrush has direct rail connection with the rest of Ireland, and it provides the best departure port if you want to make a quick passage to the Outer Hebrides. A course from Portrush shaped to leave Skerryvore to starboard will take you neatly to Castlebay in Barra while leaving the inconvenient tides and turbulent waters of Islay well clear to the east, and the rough water north of Malin well away to the west.

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Portrush as it is today. A plan for a 200 berth marina will necessitate an ambitious extension and reinforcement of the main breakwater. Photo courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer

But for anyone cruising on towards north Donegal, those demanding waters off Malin Head are part of the challenge, and plumb in the middle of them is storm-racked Inishtrahull. Amazingly, in the long distant past this little island supported several families, but these days its deserted state would make you wonder at the ICC book's assertion that there's quite a decent anchorage at Portmore on the island's hyper-rocky northern coast. So just to show that there is indeed an anchorage here, the book features a photo of Portmore with a fine cruising yacht serenely in the midst of it.

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Remote Inishtrahull, most northerly part of Ireland. Yet there is an anchorage here..............

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.....and the ICC book has the photo to prove it. Photos courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer/Ed Wheeler

West of Malin, the majestic north coast of Donegal includes the entrances to many inlets, the largest being Lough Swilly which is about the size of the Solent. The main sailing base is at the sandy creek at Fahan on the east shore where the provision of a marina brought expectations of proper well-planned shoreside supporting development to take the raw look off the place, but disappointingly it hasn't happened yet. We can only hope that the success of local sailor Sean McCarter as a skipper in the current Clipper Round the World Race will inspire the Fahan area to finish the job.

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A job that really ought to be finished properly. The marina at Fahan on the east shore of Lough Swilly in Donegal is badly in need of appropriate shoreside development. Photo courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer

Further west, and its pure Atlantic, but relieved by remote and secure inlets. Nevertheless it's difficult to grasp that the secluded and forest-sheltered anchorage at lovely Ards on Sheephaven is only a very few miles from the storm-tossed rocks of Tory Island, but such is the case. At Camusmore on Tory, the tiny harbour seems to be hurricane-proof, for although it was in the most violently-assaulted of all areas on Ireland's west coast during the thirteen storms of the past rough winter, surprisingly Tory is not among the harbours listed for government largesse in the current tranche of funding for urgent repairs.

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This snug tree-sheltered anchorage at Ards on Sheephaven does not accord with the popular perceptions of the rugged nature of North Donegal, yet here we see a lone cruising boat enjoying its gentle charms. Photo courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer

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It's bullet-proof, it's hurricane proof – it seems there was no need for the little nugget of a harbour at Camusmore on Tory Island to apply for emergency funding for any urgent repairs despite the winter-long assault by at least thirteen different storms. Photo: Courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer

But Tory Island's nearest mainland quay at Magheraroarty is down for repair funding, and away to the far southeast at the crowded little harbour of Courtown in Wexford, they've a harbour which is down for more than €1 million in repairs expenditure. Courtown is a difficult one, a narrow little river port where life is a continuing struggle to keep the sand at bay, and yet stop the quay walls from being undermined. When you see what they had to do at Tory and Ballycastle to keep their harbours in place, you can't help but wonder if the sum allocated to Courtown is anything like enough, but at least official interest is being shown.

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Courtown on Wexford's east coast is one of the harbours earmarked for urgent repair expenditure under this week's government scheme. Phot courtesy ICC/Kevin Dwyer

Many years ago, Paddy Barry set out to cruise round Ireland in his Galway Hooker St Patrick without using any anchorages recommended in the Sailing Directions by his fellow members of the ICC. It was just possible back then, and he overnighted at sixteen different places which were "unexplored". It would be virtually impossible to do that today, but even so it's entertaining to see if some favourite little places, some unknown quirky spots, have somehow slipped under the ICC radar.

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Has anyone overnighted there? The pool inside Chapel Island invites anchoring.

I can think of two, but have to admit that while I've seen them both, and seen boats in them, I've never taken a boat into either myself. One is a curious glaciated pool that is found behind Chapel Island in the southeast corner of Strangford Lough. At high water there's little enough shelter in the sound inside Chapel Island. But at low water, the classic Strangford Lough seabed emerges on either side, more than a metre high, while in the little pool you're lying in more than three metres. A couple of times I've seen a boat or two anchored in the area at high water while we've been hastening past entering or leaving the lough. But whether or not anyone has stayed on for the sweet entrapment at lower water I don't know, but would dearly like to hear from anyone who has.

The other secret place is one mile east of Rosslare ferry port. When the port was being almost completely redeveloped years ago, it seems they made this little harbour to accommodate all the local small boats which were being evicted from their long-established if often uncomfortable berths on the edges of the ferryport. It may well be that officially this harbour doesn't exist at all. As it is, there's a notice at it which states that the only people who are entitled to berth their boats there are persons normally resident in the electoral district of St Helen's, which is the area of Rosslare Ferryport. But for anyone cruising this tricky coast in a small boat, knowledge of the existence of this secret little harbour could even be a lifesaver when all other options have been closed off.
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The secret little harbour one mile east of Rosslare doesn't claim to be a glamour spot, but it provides a very useful facility for local boat-owners. Photo: W M Nixon

It says everything about the completeness of the ICC books that these two little exceptions are the only unmentioned places I've been able to think of in the new East & North Coast book, and both are undoubtedly special cases. So once again Norman Kean and Geraldine Hennigan have created a masterpiece of it kind, a book which not only adds to safety when cruising our different regions, but greatly adds to the enjoyment of studying every aspect of our coastlines.

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The latest and 12th Edition of the ICC's East & North Coast books continues a fine tradition of service to the cruising community which goes back to the first edition, a set of Roneo sheets produced in 1930. The new book is €37.50 (£29.95).

This blog was first published in March 2014.

Published in W M Nixon
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RNLI Ireland Information

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts.

The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and the Channel Islands.

The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,200 lives.

How many RNLI stations are there in Ireland?

46 stations

The RNLI currently operates from 46 stations in the Republic and Northern Ireland. Different classes of lifeboat are needed for various locations. So RNLI lifeboats are divided into two category types: all-weather and inshore.

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