Displaying items by tag: W M Nixon
Sailing round Ireland, whether cruising or racing, is a fascinating and uniquely satisfying experience for any Irish sailing enthusiast. Who did it first from an Irish port? W M Nixon introduces a possible candidate from 1860.
We try to tell ourselves that cruising round Ireland is no big deal these days. And even though the biennial Round Ireland Race from Wicklow (this year's starts on Saturday June 28th) throws crews straight into whatever the weather happens to be providing on our exposed Atlantic coasts, when you've become accustomed to hearing the tales of extreme sailing off Cape Horn by Volvo racers and the like, Ireland's west coast in summer seems like an old pussy cat by comparison.
Yet despite the all-round sailing abilities of modern boats, the safety and convenience factor provided by reliable auxiliary engines, and the proliferation of new or improved harbours with convenient pontoon berths on every coastline, cruising round Ireland still has the capacity to feel very special indeed. This is particularly so if you allow yourself at least four weeks to do justice to the extraordinary variety of ports, harbours and coastlines that you'll encounter during a voyage which can be 1200 miles long if you give the most interesting areas the attention they deserve.
As for racing round, most Irish sailors would like to have at least one racing circuit in their CVs. Others become almost addicted to the guaranteed satisfaction of being there in the start at in late June in every even-numbered year, while the bonus of completing the course is still magic. And as for getting among the trophies, well, that's simply ecstatic.
The essence of the round Ireland mystique lies in doing it from an Irish port in an Irish boat. The earliest known distance race along the Irish coast occurred in 1860. It was from Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour, with one of the smaller boats winning despite there being no handicaps. This "first of the first" was the 39-ton cutter Sybil (Sir John Arnott), sailed by the renowned amateur skipper Henry O'Bryen. But despite the race being sailed again in 1861, 1862 and 1888, and despite the enthusiasm from the 1850s onwards for "cross channel matches" between the east coast of Ireland, the North Wales/Liverpool area, and the Isle of Man, the notion of a round Ireland race, if it did arise, simply didn't get any significant support, and thus the first race round came as part of something else.
In the extravagant golden days of 19th Century yachting with enormous craft sailed by large professional crews, Ireland might be taken in as part of a circuit cruise of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. And the first race round all the islands took place in 1887 in an anti-clockwise marathon from Southend in the Thames Estuary, organised by the Royal Thames YC to celebrate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.
The 80-on Genesta (right) was winner of the first Round Britain and Ireland Race in 1887. She is seen here two years earlier in her unsuccessful America's Cup Challenge against Puritan
In a fleet of eleven starters, the smallest was the 40-ton cutter Sleuthhound, while the largest was the 255-ton schooner Selene. Only six of this pioneering fleet finished, and the winner was the 80-ton cutter Genesta (Sir Richard Sutton), which had unsuccessfully challenged for the America's Cup two years earlier. Inevitably, one muses on the prospects for current America's Cup challengers, successful or otherwise, in sailing this offshore course....But enough, the fact is that this was, in a sense, an early round Ireland race. And as for cruising round Ireland, that doughty cruising trailblazer R T McMullen, a Royal Thames member, had not been permitted to take part in the Golden Jubilee Race as his 16-tonner Orion was considered too small. But he sailed the course anyway as a long high-speed cruising passage, and thus in 1887 we had an early round Ireland "cruise".
So that bit of information goes into the fascination of the story of sailing round Ireland. And the more we know of the pioneering days of sailing, the more we are astonished by what some of the early cruising folk achieved when the sport was undeveloped, and the secrets and local knowledge of the remote coastlines of Ireland, the bits that were barely outlined in the official charts, were jealously guarded by people who didn't want them known. Smugglers and pirates for instance, or those who hoped to sell local knowledge on a regular basis, such as those retained as personal pilots by strangers cruising the coasts.
Then too, the development of cruising round Ireland has been much affected by the turbulent national history. Cruising and simply sailing along the coast are quintessentially activities of peace and prosperity. You need peace to cruise, and you certainly need some level of individual prosperity for the yacht owners themselves, though speaking personally a general air of prosperity ashore when you get to port is something which adds greatly to cruising enjoyment – "picturesque poverty" gives me the creeps
When we first cruised round Ireland in 1964, the western and southwestern seaboards were only just beginning to come to life after many decades of low economic activity, and it was good to see it. But it's much more enjoyable to cruise those areas these days, when – despite the recent recession – there's a lot of life about the place, and local sailing is thriving. And for those who would suggest that it's getting too crowded, I can only say you're not trying. There are many wide open spaces and secluded uncrowded anchorages if you look for them, and have a boat capable of self-sufficiency with proper anchoring arrangements which don't rely on pontoons or visitor's moorings.
But every time you do the circuit, the curiosity about who did it first from an Irish port becomes ever greater. Until the Great Famine of 1845, there had been flowerings of recreational sailing along the Atlantic coasts, with the Royal Western of Ireland Yacht Club emerging from a regatta at Kilrush on the Shannon Estuary in 1829. In an era when those who had wealth and free time had lots of it, and the entertainment industry was in its infancy, the yachts of the time were kept busy.
At its most prosperous, the Royal Western had eighteen substantial yachts based in Kilrush Creek in 1838. It's surely likely that in some seasons their delivery passages to the early regattas in Galway Bay, Belfast Lough, the Clyde, Dublin Bay and Cork Harbour inevitably became round Ireland "cruises". But as the Royal Western faded away in the horrors of the late 1840s, such things were forgotten.
The potential round Ireland sailing craft included another Shannon Estuary boat, the Knight of Glin's notably successful racer Rienvella, a 30-tonner which in 1834 was recorded as winning in both Galway Bay and at Cork. And of course the Corkmen were no slouches in racing and in cruising to races. In 1830 Caulfield Beamish of Cork turned up in Belfast Lough with his cutter Paddy (which he'd designed himself) to race against the boats of the nascent Royal Northern YC, a group which in 1838 became totally Clyde-based, though that is not necessarily attributable to the fact that the Cork boat beat them all back in 1830.
Caulfield Beamish's Paddy from Cork winning a race in hectic style in Belfast Lough in 1830.
Be that as it may, boats like Paddy and other top racers of subsequent decades in the 19th Century regularly made long passages to the main racing venues, and a west coast boat returning from events in the Irish Sea/North Channel area would naturally contemplate going northabout. But while some owners enjoyed doing these voyages, they were thought of as cranks by their peers, who expected inter-event deliveries to be done by professional crews, while the gilded owners just turned up to strut their stuff at the regattas.
Judge Boyd's 34-ton yawl Aideen on her mooring in Howth in 1889, the year he cruised her round Ireland.
Thus it was a long time before round Ireland cruises as we recognise them today were being undertaken, and for many years the earliest proper round Ireland cruise we definitely knew of wasn't undertaken until 1889, when that great man Judge Boyd of Howth (he figures in Joyce's Ulysses) cruised round in his 34-ton 50ft yawl Aideen. And the only reason we know of it was because it was mentioned in a profile of the Judge in a Yachting Monthly of January 1910. Yet the way it was mentioned suggests that, while rare, by 1889 Round Ireland cruises were by no means a complete novelty. But how on earth to find out about earlier ones?
Enter Wally McGuirk with a Christmas present. The loan of an interesting book may strike you as a weird Christmas present, but when the lender is Wally McGuirk, it's a gem. Wally's business card says it all: "We buy and sell anything marine". He's also a certifiable innovator, and serial boat builder – his current craft, the handsome big steel cutter Swallow, is the eighth boat he has built for himself, and is doubly interesting through being the last boat designed by O'Brien Kennedy.
But that's by the way. Somehow in his mega-busy life, Wally finds time to trawl through second-hand bookshops, and in one in England he came across a facsimile printing of a jewel of early cruising which, to my shame, I'd never heard of, but we'll try to make amends now.
You may know of the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, a private journal of 1906 which was a runaway success when it was published in facsimile in 1977. Well, The Log of the Olivia, published in facsimile by Richmond Press in England in 1983 from the original which had come down the ages to distant relatives of the author, is cruising's equivalent to the Country Diary, except that it's even more historically significant as it dates from the period 1859 to 1867. It is the personal sailing diary, illustrated with his own skilled and charming sketches, of one William A Power, who sailed from Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) on Dublin Bay in his 25-ton cutter Olivia.
The many voyages of William Power's 25-tonner Olivia from Dublin Bay between 1859 and 1867, which included two round Ireland cruises They sailed so many times through the Irish Sea and the North Channel that they may well have worn a groove in the ocean. "RMYC" refers to Royal Mersey YC, despite the fact that Olivia was based in Dublin Bay, but Power later also listed the Royal Irish as his club.
This excellent facsimile is primarily for print connoisseurs and bibliophiles. As someone who thinks books should be devoured rather than venerated, this is strange territory for me. And equally, in our era of Google, the virtually total blank which was drawn in 1983 in filling in the background to William Power and his fine cruising yacht is almost bewildering. Yet even in 1983, a quick look at the two volume guide to Yachting, first published by the Badminton Library in 1894, would have revealed that Olivia's builder, Michael Ratsey of Cowes, was well known in sailing circles as a boatbuilder and designer, and very active through the middle decades of the 19th Century, with one of his best known racers, the cutter Myosotis, being built as late at 1877.
Thus in being the owner of Olivia, William A Power clearly knew his stuff, but whether he commissioned the boat new or bought her second hand we still don't know. At 25 tons Thames Measurement, she would have been around 45ft in overall length, for the 1860s preceded the era when TM yachts became absurdly narrow and thus unreasonably long in order to exploit the measurement rule.
We can get a very good idea of what Olivia looked at by considering the bare hull of The Nita, which was retrieved from rural seclusion in the Irish Midlands by Hal Sisk and his team in 2006. The Nita was designed and built in iron in 1868 by Bewley, Webb and Co of Dublin for the Dopping-Hepenstal family of Lough Gowna in County Longford. Despite the fact that in her long sailing life The Nita never left the waters of Lough Gowna, she was of an able seagoing shape very typical of her time, and as she too was 25 tons TM, 44ft LOA and 12ft beam, the similarities to the Olivia are remarkable.
The Nita, designed and built by Bewley, Webb and Co in Dublin in 1868. In her dimensions and lines, she is remarkably similar to the Olivia. Photo: Iain McAllister
However, in every other way, the life of the wide-ranging Olivia was totally different. At the moment we know nothing of William A Power except that he was initially recorded in Hunt's Universal Register of Yachts as a member of the Royal Mersey YC (cross-channel inter-club links were strong in those days) and the Royal Western of Ireland YC, which by the 1860s had moved its base from the devastated western seaboard to Dublin Bay. Then Hunt's in 1868 records Power as being a member of the Royal Irish YC, which begins to make more sense, and also the Prince Alfred, later the Royal Alfred YC.
Writing this in the midst of the two week midwinter shutdown, we have no means of accessing membership records of any of these clubs, but it something which will be a fascinating trail to follow. As to William A Power, inevitably you'd guess he was a Power of Power's Whiskey, for the extent of his cruising suggests someone who was on an unearned income. But not an excessively generous one – by the standards of her time, the Olivia was a very modest cruising yacht, and Power cruised her with himself in command, and one or two paid hands, plus any sea-minded friends he can persuade to come along.
Grabbing some shut-eye in the crew's quarters during Olivia's round Ireland cruise in September 1860. While reasonably comfortable, this was no luxury yacht
Yet despite the limited resources, the cruising he did in the period 1859-1867 was simply sensational. South to Spain, east to Norway, north to the Faroes, and just about everywhere else in between. In a programme like this, in which the Olivia carved her own private roadway up and down the Irish Sea and North Channel, almost inevitably a round Ireland cruise was fitted in, but it seems to have been done in 1860 almost as an afterthought, as the Olivia had already cruised that year north to Orkney and Shetland.
It was Thursday August 30th 1860 when they sailed south from Dublin Bay, so it was a September cruise – not a month normally chosen for a round Ireland venture. And while the coasts they'd visited in the cruises of 1859 and the other cruises of 1860 had been relatively prosperous, the west coast of Ireland in 1860 was anything but.
Thus you get a feeling that the cruise was being done almost out of a sense of duty rather than in anticipation of enjoyment. And as knowledge of any special cruising attractions along the west coast had not yet been assembled in published form, by the standards of today's round Ireland cruises the experiences "enjoyed" by Olivia's crew were very thin indeed. In Cork Harbour, for example, the peak of the season was clearly well past, and up the west coast they were stuck in Cleggan for almost a week as one wet gale followed another.
After three very mixed weeks, they returned to Dublin Bay. But in due course, Power and the Olivia did another round Ireland cruise which seems to have afforded him more pleasure – that's when he did the summery sketch of the boat in Sligo Bay. In a brief initial scanning of this remarkable book, you can very quickly see where the author is enjoying himself – the word count increases and the sketches become lively, whereas when the weather is bad, you can have about four words devoted to an entire week stuck in port.
Power tells it all, including the fact he put Olivia aground on a falling tide in Achill Sound (many cruisers have done the same since), but as he carried legs they were able to keep themselves upright. To pass the time, the crew hunted down a seal that provided a very high protein diet for the rest of the voyage, which reminds us this was a very long time ago - it's surely not something a contemporary crew would contemplate.
Caught out by a falling tide while straying from the channel in Achill Sound, William Power and his crew put out the legs to keep Olivia safely upright, and then bagged themselves a seal to supplement their diet for the non-stop passage the rest of the way home to Dublin Bay.
All this is just from an initial brief impression of The Log of the Olivia. It was the night before Christmas Eve when Wally appeared out of the dark with this extraordinary book. With 2014 upon us and festivities finally drawing to a close, it's clear that one of the top questions will now be: Who was William A Power? Meanwhile, a prosperous New Year to everyone.
#rshyr – Veteran owner Bob Oatley's Reichel Pugh 100 Wild Oats XI, skippered by Mark Richards, has taken her seventh line honours win in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, with an evening finish at Hobart at 19.07.27 hrs AEDT writes W M Nixon.
Up-dating our report from last night's midnight posting of Sailing on Saturday, the slim hulled fleet leader continued to build on her light airs lead over Anthony Bell's much beamier hundred footer Perpetual LOYAL, the former Rambler 100. The gap between the two became even greater when Wild Oats began to feel the benefits of a building nor'easter the further south she got, while Perpetual was virtually becalmed.
Thus the gap expanded to more than fifty miles. But then as Perpetual began to feel the breeze, she showed her potential and was zooming down the Tasmanian coast at speeds of up to 28.2 knots, closing the gap to 25 miles. However, by this time Wild Oats was shaping her way into the Derwent estuary and the often tricky final virtually inland stages to the finish. She was comfortably across the line in mid-evening in an easing breeze which had her speed down to 9-11 knots, though at one stage while in Storm Bay the power in the new nor'easter had her down to storm jib and heavily reefed main.
But as darkness closes in, the wind has gone in the Derwent, and while Perpetual LOYAL has only 18 miles to the finish, her current speed of 3 knots could make it a long and frustrating night, and though she has a lower rating than Wild Oats, it looks unlikely she'll beat her on handicap. But for now Wild Oats XI is the undisputed 2013 holder of the prestigious Illingworth Cup for first to finish, named in honours of the noted English offshore racing skipper Captain John Illingworth who, in 1945, suggested that a proposed post-Christmas cruise-in-company from Sydney to Hobart should be sailed as a race instead. He won it too, and the rest is history.
Now with the Tasmanian weather into a more volatile state, all sorts of possibilities arise for the new holder of the Tattersall's Cup for the overall winner under IRC. Wild Oats did the double in 2012, but under current placings and speed of those still racing at 1000 hrs Irish time, she lies at 69th overall, while the leader is Bruce Taylor's Reichel Pugh 40 Chutzpah.
Second place is currently held by the Farr 43 Wild Rose owned by Roger Hickman, which back in the day was the original Wild Oats, so it would make for a nice double if she could pick up that extra place on handicap.
Of boats of Irish interest, the First 40 Breakthrough, skippered by Barry Hurley of the Royal Irish YC, was at one stage third on handicap overall, but has currently slipped to 31st overall, which shows just how rapidly things can change. My apologies, by the way, to the two Irish owners of First 40s, one in Baltimore and the other based on the Algarve, for saying that we don't have any of these fine boats in the Irish fleet – as you'll gather, I've been very quickly put right on that one.
The Clipper 70 Derry-Londonderry-Doire skippered by Sean McCarter of Lough Swilly lies 42nd overall on IRC, but is first of the 12-strong Clipper fleet, so keep an eye on that, and keep fingers crossed too. Ich Ban with Gordon Maguire on the helm was 36th OA, but might get lucky in the final stages. It may be complex in the extreme, with the time lapse adding o the confusion, but this is turning out to be one specially fascinating Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race.
#rshyr – It is developing into one of the most complex Rolex Sydney-Hobart Races sailed in many a long day. And as it's in the upside-down Southern Hemisphere, weatherwise everything moves in different ways. W M Nixon isn't sure he has a clue what's going on, but he happily throws in his pennyworth to add to the confusion.
One surefire way to get publicity is to keep things secret, just releasing tasty bits of info at the last minute. With the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race providing a focal point of sailing attention at a time when most of the world is being distracted by minor matters such as celebrating Christmas, or simply getting through midwinter storms, the opportunities to make a show-stopping impact are magnified.
A dearth of maritime stories at home makes the saltheads leap at anything of cheerful sailing interest. For there are only so many ways that you can report that ferries aren't sailing at all, or are delayed. If we never hear the phrase "operational reasons" again, it will be too soon. And sad and all as we are about the huge whale in Achill, we were too far away to do anything about it. But give us something like the sudden appearance of Karl Kwok's startling new 80ft Beau Geste in Sydney just a couple of days before the race to Hobart begins, or the news on Christmas Day that a First 40 formerly thought of as just another Australian boat is actually an Irish entry in disguise and slipped in under the radar, then we come to life.
Naturally there'd been plenty of stories circulating about the new Kwok boat. However, as the other serious biggies in the Hobart fleet began to strut their stuff around Sydney harbour through December, inevitably they hovered up the attention. But then on Sunday, out of the blue, Beau Geste sailed into Sydney after a crisp and very satisfying four day test passage across from New Zealand, which is cooking with gas
Anybody mind if we come in? The brand new 80ft Beau Geste arrives in Sydney on December 22nd after her speedy maiden voyage from New Zealand. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi
You can understand the reluctance of skipper Gavin Brady and the rest of Karl Kwok's team to seek the limelight. The previous much-admired Farr-designed 80ft Beau Geste, winner of many trophies, had suddenly as near as dammit broken in two off Norfolk Island during the 2012 Auckland-Noumea Race. The good folk of Norfolk Island did their best to help out, as did ships and fishing boats in the neighbourhood, but to this day nobody is too sure how the big boat stayed afloat long enough to be got to port.
There they were, all the gear intact, but the hull a write-off. They say that when you're unhorsed you should get back in the saddle immediately if the horse isn't injured. But this was one terminally injured nag. So they did the next best thing. They went to designer Mareclino Botin, he who created the Volvo 70 Camper which was the most radically different of the generally similar Volvo flotilla last time round, and ordered up a new canting keel 80 footer with debut planned for the 2013 Sydney-Hobart Race.
Built by Cookson in Auckland with beefed up engineering by comparison with the previous boat, but carrying some of her gear, the new boat is of interest every which way, as Botin used to be in partnership with Shaun Carkeek, who has designed the much-fancied 60-footer Ichi Ban for Matt Allen. And you can see (or maybe imagine) certain distant style resemblances between the two boats. But as the new Kwok boat follows Botin's enthusiasm for having the mast well aft (it was so far aft in Camper it was astern of the canting keel), it wouldn't be an exaggeration to describe Beau Geste as a one-masted schooner, though no more so than Volvo 70s like Giacomo.
Baptism of fire. The Sydney-Hobart 2013 is Beau Geste's first race – she'd barely been afloat for a month when it started on Thursday. Photo: Rolex/Daniel Forster
Nevertheless, the first time this slightly offbeat boat had a crack at the opposition was in that initial crazy eight minute drag race down Sydney harbour at the start of the race to Hobart on Thursday. Of which more anon. But meanwhile, what's this about an Irish entry disguised as a bog standard Australian one?
Well, they sprang it on us all with perfect timing on Christmas morning. There in the entry list is Breakthrough, a First 40, a boat type always of high interest - when the design was new, back in 2010, two of them took first and second overall in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race.
It was a marketing dream for Beneteau, for each race to Hobart will always produce a particular set of conditions which will suit one boat type to a T. In 2010, it was the very new First 40 which hit the spot, coming forward to step into the very big shoes so capably filled for years by the marvellous First 40.7.
They may have got everything right, but circumstances conspired against the new First 40 being a runaway marketing success. Primarily, it was the global recession taking hold big time, particularly in Europe. But then too, there was still plenty of life in the First 40.7, with thriving class associations, and one design racing in events like Cowes Week.
Whatever, we've only seen two First 40s in Irish ownership since the design appeared, one in Baltimore and used for cruising, the other based in the Algarve. But now the good news is that Barry Hurley is actually the skipper of Breakthrough on the race to Hobart. It must be true, as you read it here on Afloat.ie on Christmas morning while talking to that fat white-bearded man in the red suit.....But enough. Even if the official CYCA listing suggests Mathew Vadas is the skipper, man in charge is Barry Hurley, already with two Hobart races notched, and with him he has brought Kenny Rumball, Keith Kiernan and Catherine Halpin, all of the Royal Irish YC, to sail in partnership with the Vadas team, and hoping to repeat that Hurley touch which brought a class win in the Middle Sea Race back in October.
As for the big boat start – well, it was eight minutes like we'd never seen before. Morning clouds had cleared to leave Sydney Harbour at its sparkling best in a brisk sou'easter, reaching start to the first mark, and the biggies went off first at max revs with Wild Oats and Perpetual LOYAL neck and neck for the lead, with Anthony Bell's Perpetual in the weather gauge.
The power of Perpetual LOYAL's hull is plain to see – but that power with its extensive wetted area comes at the expense of light weather performance. Photo: Rolex/Daniel Forster
But the "old" Wild Oats never ceases to surprise, or maybe Mark Richards and his crew know her so well that they can hit top performance while others are still winding up to it. They simply held Perpetual up above the line to the first mark until they were able to peel away for a short run to the turn which left enough of a gap between them and the big black boat to allow Beau Geste to nip in between in second place.
The abiding memory of that eight minute sprint was the way the different boats had sudden bursts of acceleration. You'd to keep reminding yourself that the smallest craft in this flotilla were 70ft Volvos, for all were having speed bursts like dinghies on the plane.
So that was interesting, but then as they started the beat south in open water, it became clear that Wild Oats with a reef in the main was holding on very nicely ahead of the supposedly more powerful Perpetual, while the smaller Beau Geste was sagging to lee. But then, schooners never could point high, whereas Wild Oats' pointing ability in a lumpy sea was a wonder to behold.
The skinny one....thanks to her slim hull, in the light airs on Day 2 Wild Oats was able to re-take the lead from Perpetual LOYAL. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi
The Volvo 70s may have been developed for big winds in open water, but the former Groupama, now racing for New Zealand as Giacomo, has shown she can hang in when the breezes are light. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi
Through the first night, the wind went light, and things were further turned on their head by ace navigator Stan Honey taking Perpetual LOYAL well to the east, which did her a lot of good. By morning they'd worked out an eleven mile lead on Wild Oats, but through the second day of light winds, Wild Oats ground down the big black boat, and as they crossed Bass Strait yesterday evening it was the old dog for the long road, Wild Oats still in the lead and hoping to have the advantage of an afternoon/evening arrival up the Derwent to Hobart before tonight's freshening northerly is replaced by southwest to west winds which could reach gale force, stacking the odds against the little fellows.
By comparison with some of the boat shapes racing to Hobart, Matt Allen's 60ft Ichi Ban with Gordon Maguire on the helm looks almost traditional. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi
With the renowned Adrienne Cahalan as navigator, the 55ft Wedgetail is in with a shout. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi
But meanwhile the top Irish hope, Gordon Maguire with Matt Allen's 60ft Ichi Ban , has been hanging in very nicely and things could fall sweetly their way. That said, while the 60ft Ichi Ban has been staying on the tails of the big boats ahead, not so far astern is the next size group with the lead held by Bill Wild's Reichel Pugh 55 Wedgetail. Formerly Yendys, this is one of Australia's proven all rounders. And for this first race to Hobart under the Wild command, Wedgetail's navigator is Adrienne Cahalan, who is renowned for seeing skippers on to the Hobart podium. But then, she was born in Offaly, and that makes all things possible.
The Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race would be a great event at any time. But the annual staging of this 628-mile challenge when much of the Northern Hemisphere is lying low under the effects of mid-winter celebrations provides welcome entertainment and interest for sailors worldwide. The 69th Sydney-Hobart starts next Thursday, December 26th. W M Nixon sets the scene, and highlights Irish interest
Australia is a very large land mass packed tight with valuable metals and minerals of all kinds. With each advance in mining technology, the country's huge natural wealth is more easily accessed, and the general affluence of the relatively small population increases even further.
Thus while much of the rest of the world has been experiencing economic turmoil and recession for the past five years, in Australia it was only a distant rumour. And though the challenge of mining Australia's resources may be a tough business, dominated by some very rough diamonds, all round the coast of this sparsely populated continent there are civilised enclaves of sea-minded folk who live a very agreeable life remote from the harsh realities of industrial mining.
So when they go sailing, they do so in some style in their usually sunny climate. If they compete afloat, it's with all the exuberance of a sports-mad nation with a largely outdoor way of life. And when they compete at the top level, it's increasingly a no-expenses-spared business which leaves much of the rest of the penny-pinching world floundering in their wake.
Australian sailing is on a roll which is really only just getting going. Two of the key people in the three man afterguard of the successful 34th America's Cup defender Oracle back in September were Australia's Jimmy Spithill and Tom Slingsby. The Challenger of Record for the 35th America's Cup is Hamilton Island Yacht Club, sailing headquarters on the island resort located along Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Hamilton Island is one of many pet projects of serial entrepreneur Bob Oatley. And defending champion in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race in five days time is the hundred foot Wild Oats XI, owned by the 85-year-old old Oatley, and skippered by Mark Richards.
Seen in the context of the Southern Ocean, the Sydney-Hobart course may look relatively sheltered, but it has served up some very rough sailing in its 69 years.
Wild Oats will be defending both the Tattersall's Cup for the handicap win in 2012, and her 2012 course record of 1 day 18 hours 40 minutes and 20 seconds, an average of 14.7 knots. But in the way of Australian sailing these days, those who would topple her provide a formidable lineup. The dark horse in every way is Anthony Bell's 100ft Perpetual LOYAL. With her black hull and black sails, it takes an effort to realise this is Rambler 100 re-born. For when we in Ireland knew this boat back in August 2011, she was very white and very upside-down, having snapped her canting keel at the Fastnet Rock.
Black sails, black hull – Anthony Bell's dark horse Perpetual LOYAL was previously the all-white Rambler 100. She is seen here between Wild Oats XI and the Volvo 70 Giacomo (formerly Groupama) from New Zealand in the Solas Big Boat Challenge in Sydney Harbour on December 10th.
But now this JK design, still reckoned the potentially fastest hundred footer in the world, has had a complete re-vamp by original builders Cookson in New Zealand, and her former existences as Speedboat and then Rambler 100 have been airbrushed out of the picture. She's as good as new or even better, and she's keen to trot, with superstar Tom Slingsby included in her crew to Hobart.
Also competing in the elite hundred foot division is Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin 100. The legendary Fischer is 86, he's doing his 45th Sydney-Hobart, and his boat comes with quite a pedigree. Originally she was the 98ft Maximus, and New Zealand-owned. Some years back, she was in the Solent for Cowes Week under the command of Harold Cudmore. One morning there was a fine north wind, and Cudmore roused out his crew. He reckoned the fresh to strong northerly – a surprisingly rare wind in the Solent – offered the best chance at the Round Isle of Wight record. In those days, round the island record breakers – usually multi-hulls – knew they were in business if they left after breakfast and were back from the 50-mile circuit in time for lunch. The Cudmore-Maximus combo left after breakfast, and were back in time for morning coffee.
Fourth of the flat-out-racing hundred footers is Grant Wharington's Wild Thing, another former 98-footer which woke up one morning to find she'd become a hundred. She's been around the block a bit – it was ten years ago when she took line honours in the Hobart Race – and her skipper is no stranger to sailing controversy. But no-one could accuse him of lacking enthusiasm.
The fifth hundred footer edges towards the cruiser-racer end of the spectrum. German-owned by Gerhard Ruether, and Cyprus-registered, the Bruce Farr-designed Zefiro is fitting in the Hobart Race as part of a world cruise, but the word is that she's a wolf in sheep's clothing, able for 13 knots to windward in heavy weather.
However, with some forecasts suggesting a record-breaking offwind sprint, heavy weather windward ability may well count for little. But in any case, public interest is with the Wild Oats/Perpetual LOYAL contest, as the two boats are distinctly different, with Wild Oats significantly slimmer in beam. She's very much the people's choice, for though today's Australians may be enjoying unprecedented affluence, it's not so long since they were a determinedly self-reliant, can do, and DIY sort of nation.
The slim hulled Wild Oats XI powering along towards the Harbour Bridge.
Wild Oats is always Work in Progress. Her crew reckon her latest underwater configuration has all the look of a Swiss army knife.
So the fact that Wild Oats is always Work In Progress, with mods being tried all the time, particularly appeals to the traditional Australian outlook on life, and for 2013's race she is sailing with all sorts of performance-enhancing retractable fins which make her look like a Swiss army knife when she's in the boat hoist.
With Perpetual LOYAL put into action in her new guise only as recently as November, there have been few opportunities to see how the two star biggies perform against each other. The Solas Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour ten days ago was entertaining, but even Sydney's extensive natural harbour doesn't really provide the space for hundred footers to give of their best. In fact, it was Peter Harburg's up-graded Volvo 70 Black Jack (she's the former Telefonica) which led the fleet, hundred footers and all, to the first mark, which shows that she's very much a contender to Hobart.
As for the tussle between Wild Oats and Perpetual LOYAL, it looked fantastic, and Oats had got just ahead again after the more powerful yet slightly lower-rated Perpetual had passed her on the beat. But it ceased to be a tussle when Perpetual shredded a huge gennaker ($170,000 to you, sir) which, as Anthony Bell admitted, was much bigger than they should have been carrying anyway, but that's what happens when you're showing off in harbour.
Not surprisingly, it was the smaller "big boats" which scored best on IRC in the restricted space, with the win being taken by Rob Hanna's TP52 Shogun V by 1 minute and 34 seconds from Matt Allen's new 60ft Ichi Ban. But as Shogun is currently in inshore mode and is not racing to Hobart, the winner among the Hobart contenders was Ichi Ban. And that is all good news in Ireland, as she is helmed by our own Gordon Maguire, Afloat.ie Sailor of the Month for January 2013 after he'd skippered Stephen Ainsworth's 63ft Loki to overall victory in the Australian Offshore Championship.
Everything about Ichi Ban is interesting. Her owner Matt Allen is a pillar of the Australian sailing establishment, as he's a former Commodore of the Hobart race organisers, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, and is current President of Yachting Australia. But if that gives you a vision of an elderly alickadoo in a blazer, forget it, the man is a bundle of energy with remarkable international connections. He is much involved with the Premier Composites facility in Dubai where the new boat was built by a team headed by Neil Cox, while the design is by Shaun Carkeek of Cape Town.
Will she be on target? Shaun Carkeek's design for Matt Allen's new 60ft Ichi Ban was aimed at meeting the Sydney-Hobart race's special requirements as averaged over many races
The Ichi Ban team selected a 60-footer, as they reckon that the numbers over the years indicate that's the optimum size for the Hobart race. But as the Solas challenge showed, it also does very nicely for shorter stuff while avoiding the huge expenditure of bigger boats.
There's no lack of bigger craft in the race to Hobart, and here there's further Irish interest, as the eight boats in the Clipper Challenge are involved for the first time, taking on the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race as part of their 17 stage round the world venture, which gets to Derry/Londonderry at the end of June.
It's a stroke of genius on the part of Robin Knox-Johnston and his team, as it puts their Clipper series right into the middle of mainstream sailing. Times was when sailors and sports writers were a bit sniffy about the Clipper project. In fact, one newspaper sports editor dismissed it as a sporting challenge equivalent to racing a fleet of tourist buses filled with paying passengers from Dublin to Killarney.
Personally, I reckon racing tour buses down the Killarney road would be very sporting indeed, but never mind. As it is, with every determined staging of the Clipper Challenge, it has risen in stature. Out in Australia, they think very highly of it indeed, and now with our own Sean McCarter of Lough Swilly YC skippering the home team's boat Derry-Londonderry-Doire (or DLDD for short) interest here is rising all the time.
Clipper skipper Sean McCarter as he was aged four, and already at the helm in Lough Swilly in 1984
Sean McCarter in command of Derry-Londonderry-Doire during the current Clipper Race series round the world. Photo: Clodagh Whelan
Sean is 31, but he first featured in the pages of Afloat when he was a very junior helm of four years old in a 1984 feature we did about Lough Swilly. He seems to have been sailing pretty much continuously ever since, and has built up a very loyal crew following among those who have sailed on Derry-Londonderry-Doire, particularly impressing with his capable leadership when, after a knockdown on the very stormy leg from Cape Town to Albany in southwest Australia, they'd to divert to Port Elizabeth in South Africa with injured crewmembers
But then they pressed on for Albany, a port even more appreciated than most when they reached it. It was quite a party, as DLDD's Irish crewmembers include Conor O'Byrne, the Guard who is going all the way round, and Clodagh Whelan of Poolbeg Y & BC, who has rewarded herself with three Clipper ocean stages in celebration of a significant birthday landmark. It's a significant birthday for sure, but the sailing experience has to be quite something to make it special, for since she took up sailing twelve years ago, Clodagh has managed a minimum of a thousand offshore miles every year, including three round Irelands and three Dun Laoghaire-Dingles. Her current berth out of Poolbeg is on Eamon Flanagan's db34 Decibel, but Decibel will have to wait for her crewing services until July 2014, as she will be re-joining DLDD for June's Transatlantic leg to Ireland.
"We're here". Conor O'Byrne tired but very happy as DLDD reaches Albany after the event-filled passage from Cape Town. The moustache was grown for Movember. Photo: Clodagh Whelan
Clodagh Whelan aboard DLDD. In 2013, she fulfilled her personal objective of a minimum of a thousand offshore miles per year several times over.
Meanwhile, like all the other 93 crews from boats large and small racing to Hobart in less than five days time, for those on DLDD it will have to be the quietest Christmas they've ever had, as this can be one very unforgiving experience for anyone who has overindulged. Then too, the challenge of getting out of the harbour and into open water unscathed can be quite enough in itself, as tensions are high and the adrenalin is pumping overtime.
With a fleet of 94 boats and the handicap trophy of the Tattersall's Cup the premier award, in theory it could be anyone's race. But with five days to go, it currently has the look of a big boat's race, as the biggies may get to Hobart with the fair wind all the way. That said, the Solas Challenge showed that racing the big boats up to their optimum level is hugely challenging, whereas the two very potent Volvo 70s Black Jack and Giacomo seem totally manageable by comparison, and astonishingly fast.
And then, just slightly further down the size scale, there's the new Ichi Ban, full of potential, but still new. Extremely new. As Gordon Maguire reported in typically under-stated style on 17th December in an update to the folks back home: ".....we have been super busy, working seven days a week to get the boat ready for Sydney to Hobart. It's coming together very nicely....."
With a Golden Jubilee Regatta being planned for New Zealand in 2015 to celebrate the glory years of the One Ton Cup from 1965 to 1983, W M Nixon ponders on the requirements for a genuine classic yacht or traditional boat, and makes a plea for saving a very special 12 Metre.
It's said there are enough relics of the True Cross to build a full-size replica of Noah's Ark. You'd need to be very clever with the epoxy saturation techniques to do it, as most of the pieces are very small. But apparently it's reckoned the required volume of timber is out there at shrines throughout the world.
This question of ancient or even vintage authenticity arose as soon as last week's blog about the Peel Traditional Boat Weekend appeared. One commentator, while not prepared to put his head above the parapet even under anonymity in the proper comments section, was quick to point out that not only is it obviously not a weekend as it runs from Wednesday night until Monday, but the three awards winners mentioned were clearly not as they seemed.
The lovely little Menai Straits-based schooner Vilma, while evoking memories of the Welsh slate schooners, is no such thing. She started life as a ketch-rigged Danish fishing boat in 1934. As for the startling bisquine-rigged 50-footer Peel Castle from West Cork, we're in Disneyland. She was originally a motorised Penzance fishing boat built in Porthleven in 1929. But after nine years of patient restoration work completed in the Ilen River in West Cork in 2008, this exotically rigged vessel with her three masts fanning every which way sailed happily to Greece where, one would guess, her rig seemed very much at home.
And as for the "Best in Show" awardee, the 36ft Ainmara, only her hull and deck are as designed and built by John B Kearney in Ringsend in 1912. In Kearney's eleven years of ownership, she set a nuggety little gaff yawl rig with a keel-stepped mainmast only 37ft 6ins in overall length. But these days, she sports a sky-scraping Bermudan rig set on a deck-stepped alloy mast which the owner built himself, and painted brown to look like wood. As for her high-rise coachroof, that was installed in the late 1920s by Harland & Wolff in Belfast, whose speciality was ocean liners, and it shows.
Of the boats whose photos we displayed last weekend, only the little Albert Strange yawl Emerald, the Ramsey longliner Master Frank, the Pilot Cutter Madcap, the cruising cutter Dreva, the Manx nobby White Heather, and the 57ft 1957-vintage offshore racer Drumbeat looked anything like they did originally. The Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan was also of course authentic in appearance, but she was a new build of 15 years ago to the ancient design.
As for the others present in a large and eclectic fleet, many were old boats modified, sometimes very extensively, to provide individualistic vessels suited to the owners' tastes and particular requirements. Being an almost pathological boat modifier myself, I have to confess that my sympathies were largely with these boat changers. Whatever the outcome of their efforts, they were always interesting, and in most cases resulted in a much-improved boat, the success of the modifications being attested to by the very fact that they were at Peel and looking so well they picked up prizes.
But that said, our visit at the beginning of the "weekend" across to the 224-year-old Peggy at Castletown had brought something of an epiphany. She is an object of veneration. There was something extraordinarily moving about seeing and touching the boat which George Quayle had taken across the Irish Sea in 1796 to race successfully against the Windermere yachts. For sure, Quayle changed the Peggy about all the time in her very early years. But the boat we see and sense today is pretty much the boat of 1796, and her conservation planned for 2014 will be watched with special interest.
Hull details of the 1789-built Peggy of Castletown. Though the modifications added within three or four years of her building are evident, this is largely the boat which was taken to Windermere in 1796. While the original boat is being conserved during 2014, it is high time somebody in the Isle of Man thought of building a replica to go sailing.
She's of such historical significance that she's definitely not for sailing again. But as she has had her lines taken off and her construction details annotated, it strikes me that it's high time somebody in the Isle of Man built a replica to take out sailing. It would certainly add something very special to the Peel Weekend, a matter of entertainment and interest rather than obscure arguments about authenticity. But as the classic boat movement continues to gather pace, the arguments about what is or is not a genuine classic grow with it, and the heat of the argument has nothing to do with the size of the boats involved.
Thus at the delightful little port of Bosham in Chichester Harbour down in West Sussex, passions have been aroused at what is now the premier vintage and classic dinghy regatta, the Bosham Revival. The Portsmouth Yardstick handicap system is allegedly being exploited by some boats in the 14ft Merlin Rocket class, a vintage developmental design where boats which are effectively new build are being passed off as originals to the historic Jack Holt Passing Cloud design. This is being done on the basis of including an ancient thwart or knee from an otherwise totally decayed original.
Such an approach has been an embarrassing part of the classic yacht restoration movement from the start. By contrast, we are all aware of the painstaking care Hal Sisk and his team went to in restoring the 1894 Watson cutter Peggy Bawn, treading carefully on the lines between restoration, re-build and new build. As for conservation, if you claim you've conserved an historic boat, then it's a museum piece, and won't sail again.
Absolutely oozing authenticity.......the restoration of the 1894 Watson cutter Peggy Bawn by Hal Sisk and his team provides a global benchmark. She is seen here at Glandore Classic Regatta.
But of course, in revitalising significant and almost derelict old boats, the desire to sail them again is probably the prime motivation. And as for what qualifies as a classic and authentic under some old measurement rule, we're likely to see yet another wave of debate with the news that the great Chris Bouzaid and a team in the Royal New Zealand YS plan to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the One Ton Cup's best era in New Zealand in 2015.
As mentioned here in a recent blog, the One Ton Cup was originally presented in 1898 by the Earl of Granard (later the Commodore of the National YC in Dun Laoghaire in the 1930s) for international racing in France between boats rating One Ton under a French measurement rule. It later lay dormant for a long time, but then in 1965 it was revived for RORC level rating competition for boats around 36ft LOA in an instantly successful series at Le Havre.
That was won by the Sparkman & Stephens-designed Diana from Denmark, a classic S & S offshore racer of the time, with rudder attached to the trailing edge of the keel. But 1965 was also the year in which a young American, Dick Carter, won the Fastnet with his own-designed 33ft Rabbit, steel built with separate spade rudder. So for the 1966 One Ton Worlds in Denmark, Carter turned up with the new steel 37ft Tina, beautifully built by the Maas Brothers in Breskens for Ted Stettinius, and they won the One Ton Cup from an exceptionally competitive international fleet.
The quality of the steelwork in Tina's hull is evident as she heads for victory in the 1966 One Ton Worlds.
The hull lines of Tina reflected Dick Carter's enthusiasm for the sections of the boats built to classic Scandinavian Square Metre Rules such as the 30 Square Metre. Steel was used to build the hull as Carter reckoned it conferred a rating advantage under the RORC rule, but it also enabled the skilled Maas Brothers builders to create an extraordinarily slim keel which was still sweetly faired at the garboards.
Dick Carter was the first to discern just how much rating advantage could be obtained by a large foretriangle under the RORC Rule in the mid-1960s, and as a result Tina's sailplan looks very odd today.
Chris Bouzaid's S & S design Rainbow from New Zealand won the One Ton Worlds in 1969 - and she also won the Sydney-Hobart Race.
The moment of truth in the final race – an offshore event – in the 1969 One Ton Worlds. Although Carter-designed boats were supposed to be better off the wind, while S & S designs excelled to windward, in the final miles running to the finish of the concluding offshore race Rainbow (right) wore down the defending German champion, the Carter-designed Tina-derived Optimist, and snatched the lead to take the One Ton Cup back to Auckland.
Carter designs won again in 1967 and 1968, but in 1969 with the racing from Heligoland in the midst of the North Sea, it was the very dedicated crew of the Bouzaid team from New Zealand with the Sparkman & Stephens-designed Rainbow who took the trophy. After that, the One Ton Cup had a dozen glorious years, typical being 1974 when the whole world focussed on the racing between Hugh Coveney's Ron Holland-designed Golden Apple from Cork and Jeremy Rogers' Doug Peterson-designed Gumboots from England, with Gumboots taking the win by a hairsbreadth.
This would be another gold standard participant in the One Ton Golden Jubilee Regatta in New Zealand in 2015. The 1974 Ron Holland-designed Golden Apple, owned by Hugh Coveney and built in Cork by Killian Bushe with Harold Cudmore as skipper, almost won the One Ton Cup, and was one of world sailing's superstars in the mid-70s. Photo: Courtesy RCYC
When Ireland finally won.....close-packed start at the One Ton Worlds at Cork in 1981, when the NYC's Frank Woods entered the Castro-designed Justine III (IR 290) with Harold Cudmore as skipper. In this challenging set-up, the positioning of Justine is a joy to behold. Photo courtesy RCYC
Golden Apple's main sailor had been Harold Cudmore, and after he'd won the Half Ton Cup in 1976, the One Ton Cup finally became his when he skippered the NYC's Frank Woods' Castro-designed Justine III to victory in the 1981 series at Cork. But in 1984 with the RORC Rule being replaced by the IOR, One Ton cuppers around 36ft became history, so the suggestion from New Zealand is that the Golden Jubilee Regatta should be restricted to the absolute classics created by the RORC Rule between 1965 and 1983.
Heaven knows there are enough of them about, but for most folk thirty years ago is a very long time, so fifty must seem like eternity. This is something which struck me a few years back up in Killbegs in Donegal when I was trying to get an arty photo, framed by the bows of super-trawlers, of a white boat lying to a mooring in sunshine. She looked like a Dick Carter boat, and when a little puff of wind swung her stern to, the name on the transom showed this wasn't just any old Dick Carter boat. This was Tina.
Quite what she was doing in Donegal I don't know, though I believe her owner lived in that mountainous county. But I haven't seen her there during the past few years, even though the local yacht fleet is increasing, with Killybegs due to get a 65-boat marina, while Killybegs Sailing Club is an important part of the northwest triumvirate of Killybegs SC, Mullaghmore SC, and Sligo YC.
So it's now a long way indeed from the old days when that late great Killybegs fishing skipper James MacLeod was so keen on the sea that in his time off fishing he nipped down to Rosses Point to race his GP 14 with the Sligo fleet. Now there was a man, and no mistake.
This morning, however, the current whereabouts of Tina have added interest with the news of the One Ton Golden Jubilee in New Zealand in 2015. Having seen the interest which the Half Ton Classics have engendered, we can guess at some of the boats which will emerge in order to be eligible for the One Ton Classics in 2015. But in such a line-up, the steel-built Tina of 1966 would be Gold Standard.
With classics restoration, you need a balance between love of old boats, and a can-do ability. Obviously you also need lots of money, but that could be disastrous in itself, as the spirit of the boat has to be preserved. Many rich people automatically think new is best, and in purely functional terms it is certainly much better value, but with classic boats and yachts, you're into strange territory.
A case in point is to be found on the shores of Chichester Harbour, where the mortal remains of the 12 Metre Flica are to be found in a shed beside the marina at Birdham Pool, which is itself a place of historical fascination, as it was the first yacht harbour to be created in a pool which backed up an old tide mill.
Flica was the big boat around Cork Harbour in the 1950s. Owned by a man of style, Aylmer Hall, she exuded all the style of a classic which had been designed by the great Charles E Nicholson in 1928, working in conjunction with the tank and wind-tunnel research team of the owner, aviation magnate Richard Fairey.
During the period 1928-1938. Flica was the most successful 12 Metre of all in the Solent. She is seen here off Cowes under the ownership of Hugh Goodson in 1936.
In terms of longevity at the sharp end of the 12 Metre fleet, Flica was only to be rivalled by the Sparkman & Stephens designed Vim which appeared in 1939, but as World War II interrupted international racing for the Twelves, it was Flica which had the longest run of success, and she was reckoned as the boat to beat for much of the 1930s when she was owned by Hugh Goodson.
The 12 Metres of that era – boats around 66ft in overall length – were wellnigh perfect, being elegant of appearance, manageable in size, and yet large enough to be impressive. Thus it was a stroke of genius by Aylmer Hall to acquire Flica in 1950 when life in Ireland was becoming decidedly dull and small-minded, for Flica was none of these things. To add greatly to gaiety of the nation and life's rich tableau, she even managed to be spectacularly dismasted during the Cobh People's regatta of 1957, fortunately without anyone being seriously injured, but they talked of little else around Cork Harbour for years.
When Aylmer Hall brought Flica to Cork Harbour in 1950, he introduced much-needed style when there was little enough of it about in Ireland. Photo courtesy RCYC
Flica storming seaward from Cork Harbour on a less-than-summery day. At such times, people wondered what it would be like if her mast broke. At Cobh People's Regatta in 1957, they got their answer, but fortunately nobody was seriously injured.
Quite how this supreme classic is now mouldering in the shed at Birdham I don't know, and perhaps I'd rather not know, as it must be a great sadness for someone. I first happened upon her in 2012, and already it looked as though restoration had long since ground to a halt. In late September this year, there was little or no change, only more dust, so much so that the locals must see her now as part of the scenery, an inexplicable bit of background which is simply accepted.
Flica as she was in late September 2013, awaiting a restoration which seems to have ground to a halt. Photo: W M Nixon
Flica is now a long way from the Solent champion of the 1930s, and the Queen of Cork Harbour in the 1950s. Photo: W M Nixon
Her counter stern seems more beautiful than ever – this was Charles E Nicholson on top of his form Photo: W M Nixon
The empty interior, looking aft. The accumulation of dust suggests this restoration has long since ground to a halt. Photo: W M Nixon
Seeing a significant boat merely as unremarkable background is something which can happen to all of us. Back in 1996, we cruised to St Malo in order to see the first yacht built by James Kelly of Portrush. Built in 1897 for Belfast-based cruising pioneer Howard Sinclair, who designed the boat himself, the 40ft Nuada had originally been called Saiph. But Sinclair acquired a taste for having new boats built, so after a year he designed and had James Kelly build a 15-tonner called Yucca (his boat names were just horrible), and Saiph became Nuada in Scottish ownership, and in time a distinguished part of the Clyde Cruising Club fleet for many years.
Somehow or other she found her way to France, and we'd got to hear about her in the ownership of Bernard Julienne of St Malo, so this provided a good excuse to cruise to that wonderful port. We even took along a bottle of Bushmills whiskey to present to Bernard, as it's distilled just six miles from where Nuada had been built, in a little boatyard where James Kelly subsequently built many yachts, including three boats of the Dublin Bay 21 Class, and seven Howth/Dublin Bay 17s.
And no, it's not a Convocation of Silly Sailing Hats. In St Malo in 1996 beside the bow of the 40ft Nuada, which was built in Portrush in 1897, Ed Wheeler of the Irish Cruising Club presents a bottle of Bushmills whiskey (distilled just six miles from Nuada's birthplace) to Bernard Julienne, owner of the boat. Photo: W M Nixon
Nuada was in mid-restoration, or rather what people hope is mid-restoration with all the interior stripped out and everything cleared for action. In reality, you're about a tenth of the way there. So naturally much of our interest was in this massive work project, the prospect of which was overpowering. We clowned about a bit with the Bushmills presentation and took our leave, for as it was lunchtime, and this was France, there was nobody around to ask about the boat next door, which was also in a sorry state. She was much bigger than Nuada, and looked really interesting. She was called Pinta.
It was only in the post formal clowning around that we got a photo which showed anything of the boat next to Nuada. And it was only later that we discovered she was originally Vanity V from 1936, the last 12 Metre designed and built by Fife of Fairlie. Photo: W M Nixon
Some time later we discovered Pinta was originally Vanity V of 1936, the last 12 Metre to be designed and built by Fifes of Fairlie. Like it or not, there's a pecking order in classics. We may have originally gone to St Malo to see the first yacht built by James Kelly. But the fact that we'd been right beside the last and greatest 12 Metre from the Fife stable has become the dominant memory of our time there. Cruel as it was, the restoration or otherwise of Nuada became something very far down the line from a new interest in whether or not Vanity V ever got restored.
Happily, she did. Vanity V has since become an adornment of the Baltic classic yacht scene. Wouldn't you just love to do something similar for Flica?
The Peel Traditional Boat Weekend at the hospitable port on the west coast of the Isle of Man has been developing steadily since its inception in 1991. Located in the middle of the Irish Sea, the Peel gathering has become a magnet for boat enthusiasts of all kinds from Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland. W M Nixon sampled it for the first time in August 2013, and found that it deserves its hospitable reputation.
#peel – Cruising around the Isle of Man is dictated by its extraordinary tides. We may not be talking of the exceptional ranges of the Bay of Fundy, but you're right up with the North Coast of Brittany in the island's huge rise and fall. As for the ports, there are only two which have been fitted with automatic gate flaps that retain enough water in their harbours for civilised berthing at marina pontoons when the tide has receded.
These are the island's capital of Douglas on the east coast, and the ancient fishing stronghold of Peel on the west. At other ports such as Ramsey, Laxey and Castletown, you have to be prepared to dry out alongside. There are anchorages of sorts available at the main sailing centre of Port St Mary on the south coast (where it is also possible to lie afloat alongside at low water, but it's an unbelievably long way down), at Derbyhaven in behind the island's southeast corner of Langness, and at Port Erin towards the southwest corner, but they don't really provide the restful berths which cruising folk hope to find at the end of a day's sail.
We'd hoped to round out our two year sailing celebration of the centenary of Dickie Gomes' 36ft yawl J B Kearney Ainmara by an easygoing circuit cruise of the Isle of Man (the old girl won the Round Isle of Man Race in 1964, when she was but a stripling of fifty-two summers), and conclude it with participation in the Peel Traditional Boat Weekend 2013, in its turn the concluding event in the Irish Sea of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Old Gaffers Association, in which we'd already been much involved in Dublin and Belfast. But it was a programme which just couldn't be made to integrate.
While the Isle of Man would be attractive to cruise round if the harbours at Ramsey, Castletown and Port St Mary provided floating berths, the fact that only Peel and Douglas have marinas enclosed within gate flaps makes it very tempting to keep your boat at one of these two ports, and see the rest of the island by other means.
Though I haven't seen it stated in any relevant cruising directions (perhaps because it's so bleeding obvious), the sensible time for a three or four day cruise around the Isle of Man is when high water is morning and evening. That means you can arrive off your chosen port for the night at a civilised hour, and go in immediately. Even if you've had to dry out overnight, you can still depart at your leisure in the morning on the new tide, and though you may have to push tidal streams to the next port, the tides are much smaller when high water is morning and evening rather than noon and midnight, so you have a chance of overcoming any adverse streams. Then too, the weaker tide means there's less likelihood of rough water, which in certain areas of the Isle of Man is something of a speciality.
But the format of the Peel Traditional Boat Weekend scuppered this fine plan of a leisurely island circuit. The Weekend is staged when high water is pushing towards lunchtime, as the waterborne highlights of what is really a five day boatfest are Parades of Sail on the Friday and the Sunday. On those days, everyone is expected to head seawards just as soon as the automatic gate flap goes down, then they tear around on the Irish Sea for a couple of hours with all sail set, showing off big time, and then they scuttle back into port before the gate comes up again.
It works very well, but it means that you're totally Peel-focused for the berthing of your boat while the festival is in full swing. So we reckoned the only solution was to give in gracefully. Ainmara secured a marina berth handily off the Creek Inn, and there we were every night from Wednesday August 7th until Sunday August 11th, absorbing Manx culture by the bucket-load, and taking on board nautical ideas, rig designs, and boat layouts of every imaginable type, plus a few totally unimaginable as well.
Ainmara manoeuvring into her convenient berth in Peel Marina off the Creek Inn. Photo: W M Nixon
High summer in the Isle of Man. Looking seaward down the inner harbour at Peel towards the castle. Photo: W M Nixon
It was the ideal scenario for a plague-like outbreak of harbour rot, but as already reported here on August 24th, we made an immediate point of visiting the world's oldest yacht, at her abode in the characterful old port of Castletown before contemplating anything else. And then between the jig and the reels we saw a lot of this fascinating island by many different means of transport, only drawing the line at the ancient tram which runs between Douglas and Ramsey, because even for the most easy-going cruising man, it is just too slow.
Perhaps it's there to offset a central part of Manx culture, the TT motorcycle jamboree. The tram may well be a deliberate reminder of the slow and safe life, but the TT is all about fast and dangerous, and it's almost a religious cult. With the quaint little winding roads, the Isle of Man is probably the only place in the world where the tourism authorities will object if the road engineers want to straighten out a particularly dangerous corner.
One of our ship's complement of three, Brian Law, is a mad keen biker, so he really was in seventh heaven, but we kept him grounded with more sedate ways of travel such as the little old very smoky narrow gauge steam railway which runs from Douglas eventually to Port Erin - and don't forget to start your journey with the fireman's breakfast off a shovel in Douglas station.
The only way to start the journey – the Fireman's Breakfast in Douglas Station, served on a shovel. Photo: W M Nixon
The Peel to Port Erin Express. Needless to say, each vintage compartment had a No Smoking sign. Photo: W M Nixon
But having done the island from end to end, the crew of Ainmara would like it to be known that the best way to cruise the Isle of Man is up front on top of a double-decker bus. Much of the island scenery is a sort of miniaturised Ireland or Scotland, so at first it seems completely bizarre that urban double-deckers run on many of the routes. And up top, it has to be admitted that at times the old bus gets a mighty wallop from a tree branch. But the views are marvellous, you get to meet a fascinating array of the locals, the bus will take you scenically to an extraordinary variety of towns and villages, and at day's end you return to Peel, the most characterful place of all, and there sits your boat serenely off the inn, and the party just getting going. It's cruising perfection.
And for anyone into traditional or classic or just interesting boats, Peel is paradise. We'd got the flavour of it as we'd arrived in the sunshine of a perfect summer's day on the Wednesday, going through the narrow entrance with Mike Clark's Manx nobby White Heather – traditionally rigged with huge lug mainsail – to starboard, while to port beside the harbour office was the superbly restored varnished Ray Hunt-designed 57ft Drumbeat, originally built for Max Aitken with twin centreboards – one for each tack – back in 1957, and newly arrived as an Isle of Man resident after her second total restoration.
Mike Clark's restored Manx nobby White Heather sets the classic lug rig.
The superstar of 1957. The restored Drumbeat with her varnished hull is a new resident of the Isle of Man. This view is looking seaward towards the Outer Breakwater over the footbridge and gate flap at the entrance to Peel Inner Harbour with its marina. Photo: W M Nixon
Peel's marina has revitalised this former fishing port. Photo: W M Nixon
Peel has always had something special, and since it got its gate flap in 2005 and the 124-berth marina three years later, the harbour area has been on the up and up, and the maritime community spirit in the town is a real tonic. We got our first taste of it that night in the Peel Sailing and Cruising Club where there was a merry buzz and a sense of anticipation with greetings for many old friends already there, and more on the way with the clubhouse affording a fine view of the outer breakwater, above which the upper rigs of gaffers could be seen as they headed for port in the last of the evening light, providing an entertaining guessing game as to which boat would be revealed as they swept past the outer end.
In the morning the harbour was sunlit and lively with more boats which had come in on the midnight tide. We finalised our entry and found that as were to do our duty by making a holy show of ourselves during the Parades of Sail for the delectation of the public, our hosts in turn would feed and water us in port, with the makings of breakfast put aboard each morning, and a fine feed for all crews each night in the Masonic Hall, the only place in Peel big enough to cater for the crowd.
All this hospitality at the Peel Traditional Boat Weekend involved many people and several organizations with a raft of sponsors, so it was a bit difficult to keep track, but as the two days of sport afloat had their timing dictated by the opening of the gate-flap, it was literally a case of going with the flow and enjoying yourself.
The basics of the weekend's administration were provided by Mike Clark of the traditional Manx Nobby White Heather and his PL 2013 team, but while they with their access to the Masonic Hall had the space for the crowd scenes, Andy Hall the Commodore of Peel S & Cr C and his many volunteers provided an additional key focal point in their fine clubhouse. So we'd all these delightful folk making a massive and very effective voluntary input to our enjoyment, and that was before we acknowledged the contribution of the top honchos of the various Old Gaffer Associations from all round the Irish Sea.
Mike Clark of White Heather heads up a remarkable squad of volunteers to make the Peel Festival a success. Photo: W M Nixon
Peel is a natural centre to draw in boats from Scotland, Ireland north and south, North Wales, and northwest England, so much so we had to stop ourselves thinking it was like a conference of Sub-Saharan African states, as the gathering was eventually to include Their Excellencies the Presidents or Senior Plenipotentiaries of Nioga, Dboga, Nwoga and Soga. More boats came in on every tide with more than 70 finally in the fleet, and as they wouldn't be able to get out across the gate-flap until late morning next day (Friday August 9th) for the first Parade of Sail, there was ample time in the sunshine to inspect the gathering in its glorious variety.
Stu Spence's 1875-vintage Pilot Cutter Madcap from Strangford Lough was in, recently back the Isles of Scilly where they'd renewed the rudder stock after breaking it west of Brittany, and steering themselves unaided by the cunning use of trailed buckets all the way to Scilly, where with considerable ingenuity they fixed the rudder. The crew for this remarkable feat included noted Isle of Man sailor Joe Pennington whose own restored Manx longliner Master Frank was another of the stars of Peel.
"Dock probes". Bowsprits were everywhere – these are on Mona, Vilma and (foreground) Madcap Photo: W M Nixon
The sterns came in all shapes and sizes – these are (left to right) Madcap, Vilma and Mona Photo: W M Nixon
The Bisquine-rigged Peel Castle from West Cork, and outside her the Warington-Smyth cutter Dreva from North Wales. Photo: W M Nixon
We still await a photo which does justice to the West Cork-based Bisquine-rigged Peel Castle under sail (it would need to be in a lot of wind). Meanwhile, this one of her setting up her spars gives some idea of the eccentric rig which Graham Bailey has installed. Photo: W M Nixon
Ingenuity on a massive scale had also been involved in the creation of Graham Bailey's lugger Peel Castle from West Cork, which despite her name was originally a 50ft Penzance fishing boat built in Cornwall in 1929, but had been so named because Peel Castle was a familiar landmark for the roving Penzance fleet, and it is also the title of a much-loved fishermen's hymn. Though built as a motorized vessel, this fine vessel effectively had a sailing hull, thus when Graham bought her in 1999 he was acquiring a traditional sailing hull just as new as he could get. He spent nine years restoring and converting her at Oldcourt on the Ilen River, rigging her as an eye-catching French bisquine. With three masts in a fan configuration, she certainly looks unusual, but her sailing record speaks for itself, as she has cruised the length of the Mediterranean to Greece, and was in Peel in the latter stages of a three-month round Ireland cruise with extras which had already included a detailed cruise of the Hebrides and a passage out to St Kilda.
The Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan was built in Clondalkin, West Dublin, by a co-operative which still functions successfully after 15 years. Photo: W M Nixon
The Albert Strange yawl Emerald sailed south by Scottish owner Roger Clark was one of many smaller craft taking part in Peel 2013. Photo: Carol Laird
Joe Pennington's Manx longliner Master Frank is the sole survivor of a once numerous Ramsey-based sailing fishing fleet. Photo: W M Nixon
Irish traditional boats were flagshipped by the big Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan, which has been built and kept going for a remarkable 15 years by a co-operative based in Clondalkin in West Dublin, while the long story of Welsh slate schooners was represented by Scott Metcalfe's Vilma from the Menai Straits. She may have started life in 1934 as a ketch-rigged Danish sailing fishing boat, but when Scott and his wife Ruth restored the hull at their boatyard in Port Penrhyn on the Straits, they fitted her with a classic Welsh schooner rig, with the square sails aloft on the foremast mainly handled from deck. The hull certainly shows Vilma's Baltic origins but her rig, as we were to see when the Parade got going, is very much Welsh schooner, and apparently easy to handle, though that may have been the skill of the crew.
Vilma was one of the stars of the show. Photo: Carol Laird
Finally the gate-flap opened later than expected on the Friday morning, and those who were up for the Parade – not everyone by any means – went out onto a lively sea with the sun coming and going and a good breeze sweeping in from the west. Provided we didn't have to go to windward, Ainmara could carry full main, and so long as we kept reaching, she could carry jib tops'l too. So with Brian on the helm, she reached up and down in all her finery, and though we had to throw the outer tack a couple of miles out in a rumbly seaway each time we shaped up to parade back towards Peel, when nearing the shore on the inward track we asked our helmsman to tack as far up the outer harbour as he could at the inner turn in order to provide the smoothest possible water for elderly gentlemen hopping about the deck to clear sheets.
Zapping along – Ainmara at full speed as she shapes her course in towards Peel Castle and the circuit of the Outer Harbour. Photo: W M Nixon
Being a biker, Brian is an ace close quarters helmsman, and each time coming in he brought Ainmara right into the upper reaches of the outer harbour as though he expected to go straight on up the main street. Then a long elegant curving tack, and out we went again with everything setting to perfection before open water was reached, and the old girl outsailing everything else large and small, all great fun.
We'd more of the hospitality that evening with a substantial supper in the Masonic Hall and a great session in the sailing club with Adrian Spence and Joe Pennington in fine form as they detailed their experiences in getting the rudderless Madcap in to Hughtown from somewhere off Ushant, and then a blow-by-blow account of the re-installation of the re-built rudder.
Everybody has a right to their opinion....Joe Pennington, Dickie Gomes and Adrian "Stu" Spence in conference in Peel S & Cr C. Photo: W M Nixon
The Peel people were as good as their word in putting the makings of breakfast on board each morning, but they had started gently enough with standard bacon and egg and the usual extras on the Friday. Then Saturday started the grown-up breakfasts, with a bag of magnificent Manx kippers placed into the cockpit. Our captain became the kipper skipper. We were pleasantly surprised at how much of a dab hand our master and commander was in cooking them lightly to perfection, and by the time we got back from the island, it was difficult to imagine starting the day any other way.
That Saturday (August 10th) was a sort of public interaction day, and included a "dirty boatbuilding" competition beside the harbour, with each team being given enough material to build a small boat – well, not so much a boat, more something that would just about float - then they were given a time limit to finish. The whistle blew to start, it blew again to signal time up, and the winners were the first team whose crewed boat managed to get across the harbour. They had all the teams they needed, though few enough old gaffer owners took part, as they reckoned most of their winters were spent like this, and they'd prefer to do just about anything else, while for Ainmara's crew, it was the day of the great steam train ride.
It may be the Peel Traditional Boat Weekend, but walkies are still expected. Photo: W M Nixon
Back in Peel for the Saturday night festivities, Andy Hall, Commodore of the Peel S & Cr C (which is twinned with Down Cr C) had told us not to eat ourselves silly early on, as the real feasting would take place in his club from 9.0 pm onwards. It was a masterwork of voluntary enthusiasm. His members threw themselves into preparing a mountain of queenies (the succulent Manx queen scallops) cooked six different ways, and a very eclectic clientele (for this seems to be one of the highlights of the Manx social calendar) threw themselves into a massive over-consumption in which all pretences at dining delicacy went by the board. We ate ourselves to a standstill with strangers now the best of friends, but it wasn't an exceedingly late night, for with a week's supply of protein taken aboard in one go, we'd to go back to the boat at a reasonably early hour to sleep it off.
It must have all been cooked to perfection, for there were no ill effects in the morning (Sunday August 11th) and we could breakfast off the skipper's kippers with relish. But while our guts were well settled, the weather was anything but. Though a passage home was a possible if rugged proposition for that Sunday with a fresh to strong sou'wester expected, strong west to nor'wester forecast for the Monday would have meant a dead beat, and no go at all for ancient craft.
We were all three on a three-line whip to be back by Monday night. So instead of taking part in Sunday's Parade of Sail, Ainmara returned across the Irish Sea while we could. Even if it did involve a demanding slug of a passage, it was a shrewd move, for anyone from the east cost of Ireland who stayed until Monday didn't get back until Tuesday.
It was a couple of weeks before news of the awards filtered through. Not surprisingly, both Vilma and Peel Castle received major trophies. But as we'd been a no show in the second Parade of Sail, it was a complete surprise that Ainmara had been awarded the Creek Inn Trophy for Best in Show for her one appearance on the Friday. It was the jib tops'l wot done it. All credit to Mike Sanderson of Sketrick Sails for making the old girl a very elegant set of threads. It was a sweet ending to two seasons of centenary celebration.
"It was the jib tops'l wot done it......" Ainmara in fine form, on her way to winning the Creek Inn Trophy for 'Best in Show'. Photo: Carol Laird
With a good selection of excellent sailing weather once the summer had finally set in, 2013 defied economic recession to produce a memorable season in Ireland, with a strong emphasis on World Championships and other high profile events. W M Nixon wonders if 2014 can keep up the pace.
Blasts from the past are a feature of many of 2014's planned championships, causing us to reflect on why classes and events wax and wane over the years. A GP 14 Worlds coming up on 10th-15th August on Strangford Lough? Time was when we won such things. The 40th Anniversary Scottish Series at Tarbert on the achingly beautiful waters of Loch Fyne? In recent years, there has been a disturbing decline in numbers taking part in this unique event, including those from Ireland. Yet during a certain glorious period of massive turnouts, top Irish boats of international renown provided a string of overall champions.
As for the continuation of the revival of ISORA Racing in the Irish Sea, with interesting new additions to the programme? Well, it's definitely happening, but we've still a long way to go to revive the heady days of the 1970s, when ISORA was the new kid on the block and thriving mightily, with the best year seeing 107 boats competing in a championship which was spread over seven weekends throughout the season, each weekend featuring a very well-supported offshore event, usually complete with an overnight element in the racing, involving logistics which might see some crew members away from home for four days – and all that just for one offshore race.
And as for multihulls being high on the global sailing interest stakes after the advent of the MOD 70s and the new-look America's Cup, the Formula 18 Worlds 2014 at Ballyholme in July (5th-11th) will be bringing one of the world's best-established catamaran classes to frontline prominence in Ireland. Introduced in France in 1994, and taking hold so rapidly it received international status by 1996, the Formula 18's 2013 Worlds at Marina di Grosseto on the west coast of Tuscany in Italy saw a fleet of 161 boats hail French national champion Billy Besson as the new World title-holder after he saw off the challenge of Britain's Hugh Styles. Best of the Irish were Ballyholme's Adrian Allen and Brian Swanston, who were also part of a team promoting the 2014 Worlds at their home club with the full support of North Down Borough Council.
The Ballyholme Formula 18 which spread the word about the 2014 Worlds on Belfast Lough at the 2013 Worlds in Italy.
It's Ballyholme YC which also produced some of Ireland's top performers in the GP 14s at World level, with Bill Whisker winning the global title in 1974. And there's a certain unexpected connection towards another event in the recollection - it was a young East Down YC skipper, Richard Croasdaile, who was the first overall champion in the inaugural Scottish Series way back in 1975, racing the Nicholson 30 Kavala II. Mathematical pedants will be pleased to note that 2014's big party in Scotland (it's from May 23rd to 26th) marks the 40th year, not the 40th birthday, which will be in 2015. So the Croasdaile win was in both the First Year and Year Zero. And anyone who thinks it doesn't matter much either way has clearly never been involved in the minutiae of sports and particularly club history.
Be that as it may, Nick Stratton's win in Scotland in 1977 with Hydro-Djinn also had strong Irish links, but the event really hit the big time in 1981 with fleet numbers rocketing and the overall winner Frank Woods of the National YC's new Tony Castro 36f t One Tonner Justine III, skippered by Harold Cudmore.
Justine III went on to win the One Ton Worlds at Royal Cork that same year, but it was some time before Royal Cork boats became heavily involved in the Scottish Series. There was a Cork presence at the top in 2003 with the local Tarbert-based Cork 1720 King Quick (Ruairidh and Graeme Scott) taking the overall title. But then for four years with the Scottish Series at its height of success, Ireland and particularly Cork swept the board at the top, with Anthony O'Leary's first Antix (a Corby 36) winning in 2004, then Tim Costello of Dublin Bay's first Mills-designed Tiamat won in 2005, then in 2006 it was Antix again, and the fabulous run of success (more than somewhat connected to the Celtic Tiger years) concluded with the overall title in 2005 going to Conor Phelan's Mills 40 Jump Juice from Cork.
The pace of expansion of the Scottish Series almost continually from 1975 onwards meant that older events suffered, none more so than the traditional annual race round the Isle of Man which had always been staged in that final holiday weekend of May, but saw its once high entries totally eclipsed. However, now that numbers have eased back so markedly in the Scottish event (which can, after all, be a very long trek for Irish boats) the Isle of Man as a destination if not a circuit is re-appearing in Irish Sea offshore events, which in 2014 will see an ISORA Programme which tries to be as user friendly as possible while optimising links to other events.
Obviously the Irish Sea's two offshore highlights in the first half of the season are the ICRA Nationals at the RIYC from Friday June 13th to Sunday June 15th, and the Round Ireland from Wicklow on Saturday June 28th, but a crew minded to have the webbed-foot way of life can take full advantage of the 2014 programme planned by ISORA Commodore Peter Ryan and his Committee to log a formidable amount of sailing, though with defending overall champion Stephen Tudor of Pwllheli on top form with his J/109 Sgrech, just getting into the frame would be quite an ambition in itself.
Stephen Tudor's J/109 Sgrech set the pace in ISORA racing in 2013. Her skipper is one of the key movers in the new Welsh IRC Nationals from August 1st-3rd at Pwllheli
The Isle of Man is back in the picture with the historic Tranmere SC Midnight Race to Douglas from the Mersey area re-emphasised on Friday June 6th, while Sunday June 8th sees a day race from Douglas to Dun Laoghaire. Meanwhile for those who have stayed on in Ireland, June 7th sees Howth's annual Lambay Race, the premier regular Fingal sailfest, with defending champions Windsor Lauder and Steph Ennis with the vintage Club Shamrock Demelza - in Neville Maguire's ownership, Demelza was ISORA Champion in 1984.
For those determined to sail on with a spot of high culture after the ICRA Nationals from June 13th to 15th, the Royal Alfred YC is staging its annual Bloomsday Regatta on Monday June 16th, which still leaves a spare weekend for the countdown to the Round Ireland on Saturday June 28th.
Defender in that is the Guoy family's Ker 39 Inis Mor, which races in Ireland under Clifden Boat Club colours. In winning 2012's Round Ireland, Inis Mor snatched victory from Piet Vroon's Ker 46 Tonnere de Breskens, but Tonnere then went on to have a fabulous season in Irish waters by sweeping the board at Cork Week.
Piet Vroon's Ker 46 Tonnere de Breskens storming along to be overall champion at Cork Week 2012. Photo: Bob Bateman
Big boat start at Cork Week 2012. Cork Week 2014 will be in a more compact form, with practice races on Monday July 5th, and the series proper from Tuesday July 6th to Friday July 11th. Photo: Bob Bateman
Cork Week 2014 is from Tuesday July 8th to Friday July 11th, but there's a full programme of practice races on the Monday (July 7th). Racing Chairman Anthony O'Leary and RCYC Admiral Peter Deasy are acutely aware of the need to offer an attractive economical package, and this new slimmed-down look has emerged from research with regular participants, and an in-depth analysis of what is working elsewhere.
With July fully under way, other aspects of life afloat start to come centre centre stage, and July 5th to 13th sees the 85th Anniversary Cruise of the Irish Cruising Club along the coast of southwest Ireland. It concludes at Glengarriff on Sunday July 13th, for it was in Glengarriff on 13th July 1929 that a cruise-in-company of just five yachts brought the ICC into being. The club held a massive Cruise-in-Company with Transatlantic participants in 1979 to celebrate its Golden Jubilee, and it has since held many other waterborne events, both in Ireland and abroad. But even though the members seem to live for ever, some very distinguished ones reckon it's unlikely they'll be around for the Centenary in 2029, so the 85th Anniversary – with the fleet capped at 85 boats – seemed a good idea, and already the word is that boats signed up have pushed through the thirty mark.
Glengarriff, birthplace of the Irish Cruising Club in 1929. The 85th Anniversary of the ICC will be celebrated here at the conclusion of a Cruise-in-Company on July 13th 2014.
Among the sailing highlights of 2013 were the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the Old Gaffers Association, in which the Irish Sea set a pace few other areas could match. Although there will be OGA events in Ireland in 2014 (and the word is of a branch being formed in Cork Harbour), obviously the pace won't be quite as hectic as 2013. But if you've a mind to savour the old gaffer and traditional boat movement at its colourful and eccentric best, get yourself to Peel on the Isle of Man around 25th to 28th July, when the Peel Traditional Boat Weekend is one of the best maritime festivals of them all.
Peel in the Isle of Man. Its Traditional Boat Weekend (July 25th to 28th) is one of the maritime highlights of the classic boat scene in the Irish Sea. Photo: W M Nixon
However, for those who prefer racing with three-sided sails, one of the most beautiful coastal areas in all Ireland will be the venue for the WIORA Championships at Mayo SC on Clew Bay from July 23rd to 26th. Unless you've a boat small enough to trail, it's a long sea haul from other centres, but ICRA Commodore Nobby Reilly has made the brilliant suggestion that the SailFleet J/80s should all be taken to Mayo SC for this championships, with top offshore clubs then nominating junior crews to race them on Clew Bay.
A new event, the Welsh IRC Nationals at Pwllheli, ushers in August, and it's very handy for boats from the east coast of Ireland, with marvellous sailing waters against the gorgeous backdrop of Snowdonia. Dates are 1st to 3rd August. As the 4th is a Bank Holiday in Ireland, it's very time-friendly, and with Stephen Tudor in a key role, the only extra requirement for a very classy event is for the weather to play its part.
Back in Ireland meanwhile, time-honoured events such as the West Cork regattas in the first half of August and the Cruinniu na mBad (the Gathering of the Boats) at Kinvara on Galway Bay at mid-month are always guaranteed to provide sport and entertainment at many different levels, but for serious racing people the focus from August 10th to 15th is on Strangford Lough and the GP14 Worlds at East Down YC.
It will make for an interesting comparison with the Formula 18 Worlds at Ballyholme a month earlier. There's no doubt the Formula 18 is becoming an important part of the DNA of world sailing. But will it ever become part of Irish sailing's DNA in the same way as the GP14? Classes come and go more slowly in Ireland than elsewhere, but they do come and go nevertheless. Yet the GP 14 shows every sign of going on for ever in the Emerald Isle, and the 2013 Irish Nationals at Sutton DC on Dublin Bay at the end of August was a triumphant blast of the past, the present and the future.
Ever-young old stager. Curly Morris of Larne sails forth in his immaculate GP14 at the Nationals in Sutton at the end of August. Photo: Ron Maher
SDC Commodore Andy Johnston and his team hosted a friendly group of keen racing folk who revelled in the sport their lovingly-prepared boats provided, while the Hill of Howth, after a dry and sunny month, provided a background which looked more like one of the isles of Greece than somewhere on Ireland's east coast.
It was a festival for ever-young old stagers, with Curly Morris of Larne turning up with his immaculate wooden boat Trouble I've Seen to provide a taster for the calibre of the fleet we'll see on Strangford Lough in August 2014.
They just keep sailing along.......Veteran skipper Curly Morris raced the GP14 Irish Nationals at Sutton in August 2013 in anticipation of the August 2014 Worlds on Strangford Lough. Photo: Ron Maher
2014 Irish Sailing's Key Dates
May 23rd to 25th Scottish Series
June 6th-8th ISORA Tranmere-IOM-Dun Laoghaire races
June 7th Lambay Race
June 13-15th Dun Laoghaire ICRA Nationals
June 16th Bloomsday Regatta
June 28 Wicklow SC Round Ireland Race
June Derry's Clipper Round the World Race stopover
July 8th-11th Cork Week
July 5th-13th ICC 85th Anniversary Cruise-in-Company to Glengarriff
July 5-11th Ballyholme YC Formula 18 worlds
July 20 Dun Laoghaire's Optimist Europeans
July 23 to 26th WIORA Championship, Mayo SC
July 25th to 28th Peel Traditional Boat Weekend
August 1st to 3rd Welsh IRC Championship Pellheli/Abersoch
August 10th-15th East Down YC GP14 World Championships
September ISAF Worlds in Santander, Spain (first opportunity to qualify for 2016 Olympics)
In this Irish Sailing review of 2013, W M Nixon looks back on a year of the unexpected. There were reversals of fortune where some top sailors had seemed set for success, but new stars emerged to provide hope for the future. And perhaps best of all, after a gruesome start, the weather relented at mid-summer to provide one of the best sailing seasons in years.
Thanks to the diaspora of Irish sailing talent with the Paddy presence continually increasing in Australia, these days we effectively have a year-round sailing season, and major southern hemisphere events like the Sydney-Hobart are seen as an associated part of the year's events at home.
Thus New Year's Day has the useful distraction of a leisurely perusal of the results from Hobart, and January 1st 2013 was most satisfactory. Gordon Maguire may not have repeated his overall win of the 2011 race with Stephen Ainsworth's superb 63ft Loki, but he was tops of his class, comfortably out-sailing every boat of comparable size, and his second overall to Bob Oatley's hundred footer Wild Oats XI (which had also established a new course record) meant that the Irish skipper was confirmed as clear overall winner of the Australian Offshore Championship 2012-2013, a very satisfactory conclusion to the five year Ainsworth-Maguire partnership
Back home meantime, winter was tightening its grip, and even the hyper-keen Fireballs frost-biting in Dun Laoghaire found their turnouts occasionally down to single figures, though the Lasers in Howth in their 38th winter season found numbers holding up well, with prizes well spread among several Leinster clubs. The growing turnout including sailors whose fathers – and possibly even grandfathers – had sailed in that first Laser league way back in 1974. Ronan Cull won the Standards, Aoife Hopkins the Radials, and Daragh Sheridan won the Grand Masters.
But for most sailing folk, January and February are for hibernation with just the occasional emergence to honour some notable achievement from the previous season, and better still several previous seasons. So it was a very special AGM of the Irish Cruising Club in February in Dun Laoghaire when Fergus & Kay Quinlan of Bell Harbour on Galway Bay took the premier trophy, the Faulkner Cup which dates back to 1931, for the third year in a row for their exemplary global circumnavigation in the 12 metre cutter Pylades, which Fergus built himself in steel.
The homemade success – Fergus and Kay Quinlan's 12m van de Stadt-designed Pylades
Winter showed little sign of easing in Ireland in March, but the sailing in the Caribbean area was at its best, and at the Star Class 86th Bacardi Cup series in Miami, Cork's Peter O'Leary was right in the hunt for a podium place in the fleet of 63 boats. But having to carry a 27th after he'd discarded a 36th meant he finished 8th overall, despite his scorecard including a 1st, 2nd and 6th.
So it was a junior brother of the O'Leary clan of Crosshaven, young Rob, who was most in the sailing headlines in March, as he stood down from sailing in the Universities Team Racing Championship over the St Patrick's Weekend in mid-March at Tralee Bay SC in order to put all his efforts into organising this Firefly racing in Kerry for 28 teams which included international input.
Rob O'Leary was trebly rewarded for his altruism, for in a weekend when the rest of Ireland was suffering snow and storms, somehow Tralee Bay had its own very sailable micro-climate. And the crowded programme was handsomely completed, with the organiser having the satisfaction of seeing his own squad from University of Limerick, captained by Ross Murray, emerge as champions.
Ross Murray captained the winning University of Limerick team in the Irish Universities team Racing Championship at Tralee Bay over the St Patrick's Weekend in mid-March.
Then in the following month O'Leary had his chance at the helm, and he took it in style to make Limerick the winners of the Student Yachting Worlds Selection Trials, raced over four Saturdays in April in the SailFleet J/80s at Howth. University College Dublin having won the SYW in October 2012 by a huge margin, they'd a place as of right in the 2013 Worlds, thus Limerick were in theory poised to make the Irish 2013 challenge even more formidable. But as we shall see, the ephemeral nature of college sailing personnel meant that April 2013 was really when Irish college sailing was at its peak for the year.
There was no easy optimism about the new season during May, as a bitterly cold Spring hampered sailing enthusiasm. However, the big winds which often came with the low temperatures suited Olympian Annalise Murphy racing at the Delta Lloyd Spa Regatta in the Netherlands, and she won Gold in style. But those rugged conditions were daunting for others, particularly among the dedicated contingent sailing to the Scottish Series in wintry headwinds. Conditions relented during the event itself, but Irish boats missed out on the frame, though Liam Shanahan's J/109 Ruth, largely crewed by junior instructors from the National YC, was well in contention.
Summer arrived suddenly at the end of May, just in time to provide 24 boats of the Cruising Association of Ireland with idyllic conditions for a Cruise-in-Company to North Wales. Back home in Dublin Bay, that first Bank Holiday Weekend of June had fine weather for the visit of the Old Gaffers Association, celebrating their Golden Jubilee with a rolling Round Britain Cruise which came far enough west to take in Dublin and Belfast.
The Old Gaffers Race in Dublin Bay. This is Dutch skipper Rik Janssen's own-built steel Galway Hooker Cine Mara developing full power. Photo: Barry O'Loughlin
Sean Walsh of the Dublin Bay OGA won the Golden Jubilee Race Series in the bay with his Heard 28 Tir na nOg by taking third in the Leinster Plate, and then winning the Asgard Trophy. Photo: Barry O'Loughlin
Dickie Gomes' 101-year-old Ringsend-built 36ft yawl Ainmara from Strangford Lough on her way to winning the Leinster Plate race staged by Poolbeg Y & BC of Ringsend. It was the first time Ainmara had been back to Ringsend in 90 years. Photo: Barry O'Loughlin
It was Dublin Bay – thanks in part to the involvement of the 115-year-old Howth 17s – which provided more gaff rigged boats than anywhere else except the final Golden Jubilee assembly in the Solent in mid-August, and with Dublin Bay's racing tradition, they'd sport afloat, ashore, and in the River Liffey. DBOGA stalwart Sean Walsh with his Heard 28 Tir na nOg got the best overall result by winning the concluding race for the Asgard Trophy, and taking third in the opening race for the Leinster Plate, where the winner was Dickie Gomes's 101 year old 36ft yawl Ainmara from Strangford Lough, celebrating her return to her birthplace of Ringsend after an absence of 90 years.
The biennial Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race got going on Friday June 7th with a good fleet of 22 boats, and for much of the race it looked as though RORC flag officer Anthony O'Leary of Crosshaven was going to take both line honours and the handicap win with his Ker 39 Antix. But a parking lot for the leaders in Dingle Bay saw results being inverted to provide an exuberantly celebrated victory for Tralee Bay's Brian O'Sullivan with his veteran Oyster 37 Amazing Grace.
Brian O'Sullivan's vintage Oyster 37 Amazing Grace racing in the ICRA Nationals in Tralee Bay after winning the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race overall. Photo: Bob Bateman
It was ironic that Tralee benefited from this brief calm off Dingle, for the middle weekend of June saw a distinct and savage kink in the weather with some very rugged conditions for the ICRA Nationals at Tralee Bay itself. That said, when the sailing was good, it was very good indeed, and with the ICRA event moving on seamlessly from the WIORA championship, a good turnout saw some excellent sport with the new Xp33 Bon Exemple helmed by Colin Byrne of Dun Laoghaire proving best of the visitors, while the veteran Dehler Optima 101 Dis-a-Ray (Ray McGibney, Foynes YC) put in an excellent performance across the two championships combined to maintain the honour of the Atlantic seaboard.
The uneven conditions in June as the summer of 2013 slowly settled into place had also provided brisk conditions at the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta at the former Olympic venue at Weymouth, and the Irish squad revelled in it, with northern duo Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern developing the promise shown at the Olympics 2012 to take Gold in the 49er, while Annalise Murphy took Bronze.
That spell of foul weather at mid-June also made things difficult for an Irish Cruising Club rally to the Isles of Scilly, but despite very unfavourable conditions crossing the Celtic Sea, 14 boats out of an intended 19 reached those enchanted isles, and the programme was largely completed. There was still plenty of breeze about when the large multihulls from France in the Routes des Princes arrived in Dun Laoghaire, but even so normal DBSC Saturday afternoon racing was busily under way when the big multis called off their racing after spectators were treated to the first of the MOD 70s' two capsizes in 2013. It was a publicist's dream, having something as spectacular as this happening on a Saturday afternoon in a natural ampitheatre like Dublin Bay, but it wasn't much fun for the crewman who sustained a badly fractured pelvis which resulted in a summer spent unexpectedly in Tallaght Hospital. And as for the jolly boaters of DBSC, they just carried on racing.
It took some time for the weather to renew its promise of early June, so there was still plenty of breeze about when a new event made its debut, RIOTI on Lough Ree on Thursday June 27th. There has been talk for years of an alternative to the biennial Round Ireland Race from Wicklow, but 2013 was when it finally happened. Lough Ree is as near the middle of Ireland as you can get, it's eminently suitable to race round, so the first Round Ireland On The Inside Race was staged by assorted eccentrics in some style, with Pat Mahon's Folkboat Ventus (Lough Ree YC) winning the cruisers, while Frank Browne of Portlaw in County Waterford won the Shannon One Designs, and Ian Malcolm of Howth led the Water Wags in an event which deserves to become a classic, and maybe even an annual one.
Pat Mahon's Folkboat Ventus (Lough Ree YC) won the cruiser class in the new RIOTI Photo: W M Nixon
Down on the south coast, meanwhile Commodore Cameron Good and his members opened their much improved clubhouse for Kinsale YC nicely in time for the Sovereigns Cup at the end of June, which saw a welcome return of wall-to-wall summer weather and glorious racing for crews many of whom were still licking their wounds from the rugged racing on Tralee Bay. But though it was basically an IRC and ECHO racing festival, it was the gallant veterans of the 1720 Sportsboat class who stole the limelight, with Olympian Peter O'Leary turning in a stellar performance with Spiced Beef to win the overall prize.
Superb racing in the Sovereigns Cup Photo: Bob Bateman
"They haven't gone away you know...." In fact, far from fading away, the Cork 1720s produced the winner of the Sovereign's Cup. Photo: Bob Bateman
July found the summer settling itself in comfortably over Ireland, and entries for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta accelerated as the dates approached and people realised that this "ultimate suburban sailfest" offered a very convenient opportunity to make hay while the sun shone. Which it did, and big time too, for the entire event. Though some of the 400 or so competing boats (120 of them visiting) might have enjoyed more breeze, skilled race officers used the special effects provided by tides and sea breezes to complete a busy programme for an astonishing total of 13 classes, with Nigel Biggs' classic Rob Humphreys Half Tonner Checkmate XV being best overall with a clean sheet to prepare her for victory in the World Half Ton Classics in France in September.
The vintage Half Tonner Checkmate XV (Nigel Biggs) was top scorer in the huge fleet in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta in July, and then went on to win the Half Ton Classic Worlds. Photo: Aidan Tarbett
VDLR 2013 – OVERALL RESULTS.
IRC CLASS 0 1. Grand Cru II (J McGarry) 2. Zephyr (S Cowie) 3. Dark Angel (A Ackland)
IRC CLASS 1 Bon Exemple (X Yachts GB) 2. Now or Never 3 (N Sandford) 3. Rockabill V (P O'Higgins)
IRC CLASS 2 1. Checkmate XV (N Biggs) 2. Scenario Encore (S&J Fitton) 3. Tribal (L Burke)
IRC CLASS 3 1. Quest (Cunningham & Skerritt) 2. Kilcullen Euro Car Parks (Howth YC K25 Team) 3. Nyah (S Hyde)
J109 1. Joker II (J Maybury) 2. Storm II (P Kelly) 3. Jalapeno (Barrington/ Burke/ Phillips)
SIGMA 33 1. White Mischief (T Goodbody) 2. Leaky Roof (A Harper/ E&K Robertson) 3. Rupert (R&P Lovegrove)
BENETEAU 31.7 1. Levana (J Mitton) 2. Prospect (C Johnston) 3. Levante (M Leahy/ J Power)
IRC Coastal 1. Aquelina (S&J Tyrell) 2. Wow (G Sisk) 3. Mermaid IV (S Fitzpatrick)
NON-SPINNAKER 1 1. Bite the Bullet ( C Bermingham) 2. White Lotus (P Tully) 3. Orna (P Dilworth)
NON- SPINNAKER 2 1. Demelza (S Ennis) 2. Vespucci (S&K O'Regan) 3. Nauti-Gal (J&J Crawford)
Ruffian 23 1. Diane 2 (A Claffey/ C Helme) 2. Ruff Nuff (D Mitchell) 3. Bandit (Kirwan/ Cullen/ Brown)
Shipman 1. Curaglas (J Masterson) 2. Gusto (C Heath/ G Mills) 3. Whiterock (H Robinson)
SB20 1. Should Be? (M O'Connor) 2. BomChickaWahWah (J O' Driscoll) 3. Seriously Bonkers 3 (M Cuppage/ P Lee)
RS ELITE 1. Storm (J Gunning/ S Polly/ D Kelso) 2. Momentary Laps... (J Patterson) 3. Toucan (G&M Vaughan)
BENETEAU FIRST 21 1. Chinook (A Bradley/ P Morgan) 2. Yikes (J Conway) 3. Carna (S Spence)
DRAGON 1. Phantom (P Bowring/ D Williams) 2. Jaguar (M Byrne) 3. Diva (R&R Johnson/ R Goodbody)
Flying Fifteen 1. The Gruffalo (I Matthews) 2. Melliffluence (B Mulligan) 3. The Big Bow Wow (N Meagher/ N Matthews)
GLEN 1. Glenluce (R&D O'Connor) 2. Glendun (B Denham) 3. Glenariff (A Lee)
HOWTH 17 1. Isobel (B&C Turvey) 2. Oona (P Courtney) 3. Pauline (S O' Doherty/ E Ryan)
Fireball 1. Let's Get Messy (B Byrne) 2. Tipsey McStagger (C&J Clancy) 3. Goodness Gracious (L McKenna/ F Rowan)
IDRA 14 1. Starfish (A Carr/ D Kilroy) 2. Delos ii (P O'Neill) 3. Slipstream (J Ascoop/ H Keenan)
MERMAID 1. Tiller Girl (J O'Rourke) 2. Jill (P Smith/ P Mangan) 3. Endeavour (R Bannon)
SQUIB 1. Why not (D Jago) 2. Iola (F Whelan) 3. Perfection (J Fleming)
WATER WAG 1. Mollie (C MacAleavey) 2. Swift (G Kilroy) 3. Pansy (V Delaney)
Sail Fleet J80 Bay Challenge 1. More Mischief (E Doyle) 2. Katie (T Dunne/ F Fahy/ C McGuinness/ D Grace) 3. Xerxes (D O'Neill)
PY 1. IRL 171 426 (F Devlin) 2. IRL Return of the Milky Bar Kid (H Sheehy) 3. UG (R O'Leary)
After this fabulous saltwater festival of racing, the July focus turned to classic boats and then fresh water, with first the Glandore Classics in West Cork, and then the month rounded out with the Mirror Worlds on Lough Derg. The diversity at Glandore was as evident as ever, with the lovely Fife ODs from the Menai Straits making a remarkable impact, but it's in no way a down-grading of the other boats to state that the runaway star of the show was the centenarian Jolie Brise. The famous French-designed and built pilot cutter won the first Fastnet Race in 1925, and she and her crew from Dauntsey's School made a special point of coming to Glandore so that they could have a properly emotional rounding of the famous rock.
The Centenarian pilot cutter Jolie Brise, winner of the first Fastnet Race in 1925, rounds the Fastnet Rock in commemoration during the Glandore Classic Boat Regatta 2013. Photo: Brian Carlin
Fabulous sport in an interesting selection of Irish weather – the Mirror Worlds in Lough Derg. Photo: Gerardine Wisdom
As for the Mirror Worlds 2013, what can we say? Everything you've heard about this great event is true. It did indeed muster an international fleet of 93 boats. The hospitality was undoubtedly laid back yet certainly superb. The sailing was Irish sailing at its very best, with Lough Derg in a lively mood. It did indeed go right down to the wire, with the young South African siblings crew of Ryan and Michaela Robinson winning from Ridgely Ballardes and Rommel Chavez from the Philippines. And yes, they did manage to get a senior government minister to perform the official opening ceremony. They pulled off this coup by discovering that Minister for Agriculture and the Marine Simon Coveney harboured a secret ambition to sail a Shannon One Design. The word was he'd do anything, even opening a sailing event on a Sunday evening at some considerable distance from his constituency, just to achieve this. Sailing a Shannon OD at Dromineer on Lough Derg? No problem. The Minister got his SOD sail. The event got its gala opening. And the racing was brilliant.
Government minister Simon Coveney achieves his dram of a sail in a Shannon One Design. Photo: Gerardine Wisdom
August is traditional the month for sailing elsewhere. The 81-year-old 17ft Mermaids erupted from their East Coast and Shannon Estuary strongholds upon Galway Bay Sailing Club at the start of August for their week long championship, and it was encouraging that one of the youngest teams – Skerries SC's Mark Boylan crewd by Niall Collins and Aileen Boylan – emerged as winners from a fiercely contested series, with Jim Carthy of Rush second, Paul Smith of RIYC third, and Jonathan O'Rourke (NYC) fourth.
Despite the fact that Dun Laoghaire had two helms in the top four, and the excellent turnout and great Mermaid sport at VDLR when Jonathan O'Rourke had won, the word is that Mermaid turnouts in Dun Laoghaire's regular racing have become so sparse that DBSC won't be providing them with a class in 2014. Perhaps with so much energy being focussed on the Water Wags, glossy Dun Laoghaire only has enough enthusiasm for one traditional clinker-built class.
Meanwhile at other places beyond the seas, August had its time-honoured international biennial festival of the sea, when boats have long since been turned away from a rapidly-filled entry list. 350 of them went off from Cowes in the Fastnet Race on Sunday August 11th, with a goodly Irish contingent among them. But it was very much of the year of the French, with father-and-son crew of Pascal and Alexis Loison on the JPK 1010 Night and Day making history as the first overall winners racing in the two-handed division.
Best of the Irish to win the Gull Salver was Martin Breen's Reflex 38 from Galway Bay SC, which sailed as Discover Ireland under the command of Aodhan Fitzgerald. It tells us everything about how completely international the Fastnet has become by noting that the Galway boat, while 18th overall, was actually fourth overall among boats from Britain and Ireland.
The Galway-based Reflex 38 Discover Ireland was top Irish boat in the Fastnet.
While traditional August regattas proceeded apace at venues on every Irish coast, as the month rolled on the preparations were finalised for major international events in Kinsale, Crosshaven, Dun Laoghaire and Howth. With his election in November 2012 as President of the International Disabled Sailing Association at the ISAF Conference in Dun Laoghaire, John Twomey of Kinsale was soon at work knowing that he could count on his home port to provide the special support for staging the IFDS Worlds, putting in place a programme which came to brilliant fruition in ideal weather
Summertime off Kinsale – racing for the Skud class in the IFDS Worlds 2013. Photo: Bob Bateman
In a good year for global events in Ireland, it was one of the most truly international. The Skud class saw Britain's Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell win from Italy's Marco Gualandris and Marta Zanetti, while Canada's John McRoberts was third. In the 2.4s, the winner was the Netherlands' Bijlard Guus, with Germany's Helko Kroger second, France's Damien Sequin third and Australia's Matt Bugg fourth in the numerically strongest fleet – forty-five 2.4s sailing out on the blue Kinsale sea. And in the Sonar, where in times past John Twomey has himself been among the medals, the winner was France's Bruno Jourden with The Netherlands' Udo Hessels second and Australia's Colin Harrison third, while John Twomey was best of the Irish at ninth – crewed by Anthony Hegarty and Ian Costelloe – in a fleet of 18 boats.
Round on the east coast at Howth, a lengthy buildup to the BMW J/24 Worlds 2013 had seen some locals take on board the suggestion that a very reasonably priced second hand market means these iconic little sloops could be acquired for a small layout. And then with elbow grease and sailing determination, you could be in the hunt at world level in a class which prides itself on its economical approach to top class sport.
Well, as the fleet gathered, it soon became obvious that some nations' versions of "economical approach" is another nation's notion of stratospheric expenditure. Ironically, however, in view of who is currently at the top of Europe's economic tree and who is towards the bottom, the impoverished Irish found themselves most at one with the German contingent. Germany will be hosting the J/24 Worlds in a couple of years times, so three young German crews turned up with their boats in Howth to test the water. And far from renting luxury waterfront houses as accommodation for the duration of the championship, all they wanted was somewhere to pitch their old bell tents.
The J/24 Worlds 2013 at Howth – who would think this photo was taken less than ten miles from Dublin city centre? Photo: David Branigan
The word from J/24 International is that Irish race officers are held in high regard, and David Lovegrove's performance at Howth through an extraordinary variety of weather further reinforced this view. Despite losing one day completely to calms, he put through the full programme, the racing was marvellous, and the US crews were in top form, though at least the winner, Tim Healy of Newport RI, was clearly an American of Irish descent. Defending champion Mauricio Santa Cruz of Brazil was second, while another US helm, Travis Odenbach from Rochester NY was third, having fallen from the grace of overall lead on the final day. And with the last race won by Germany's Tobias Feuerherd, who knows but success for the worlds in 2015 in Germany may already be a-building for the home team.
As for other classes in late August and early September, it was the ever-young Laser all the way in both Cork Harbour and Dublin Bay. The Vodafone Laser Nationals at the Royal Cork from August 22nd to 26th produced a very healthy spread of results in the Standard Rig division, with Chris Penney of East Antrim winning from Alan Ruigrok of Rush, while Russian visitor Maxim Nikolaev was third and Philip Doran of Courtown took fourth.
Gold Medallist. Annalise Murphy is borne ashore after her mighty win.
The Laser parade then moved on to Dublin Bay, and shifted up several gears to become the Europeans hosted by the National YC. While the Men's Standard Class was limited to 120 boats, with all the different divisions afloat the fleet total was pushing towards the 340 mark, an exercise in logistics which is almost beyond comprehension. Fortunately, some good Irish results brought clarity, with Annalise Murphy triumphing to win Gold in the Women's Radials, while 17-year-old Finn Lynch won Gold in the Under 21s, Silver in the Europeans, and Bronze in the Men's Radials.
This youthful achievement in September was boosted at the end of the month in Germany on Lake Constance, where the Irish Team in the European Under-23 Match Race Final was skippered by Philip Bendon of Baltimore to the Gold Medal. His crew were James Bendon, Christopher Tiernan and Bruno van Dyke, and their good showing kept British skipper Mark Lees back in second, while the Italian crew took the bronze.
Moving into October, Irish prospects for the Student Yachting Worlds were beginning to look a bit flaky. The French hosts had greatly tightened the format, moving the event to the no-nonsense venue of Pornic in Brittany, and down-sizing the boats to J/80s. Theoretically this should have favoured the two-pronged Irish campaign, as the SailFleet J/80s were readily available for intense training, but the economic realities of discerning post-college career paths poutweoighed the attractions of endless sailing opportunities, and by August it was clear that University of Limerick would not be availing of their right to be the Irish challengers, while defenders University College Dublin had seen changes in personnel such that they had little enough in the way of crew battle-hardened by previous SYWs.
Nevertheless the UCD crew, with Philip Doran as helm, gave it their best shot, while Dublin City University, as runners-up in the selection trials, took over the Limerick place at short notice and under skipper Ryan Scott, they assembled a crew entirely from the junior membership of Howth YC. Out of fifteen teams, with the French very much in control to win overall with Switzerland second and the US third, the Irish had to be happy with 8th and 9th, while the "Howth nippers" drew some additionl concolation from the news that clubmate Laura Dillon had skippered the winning team in the British Women's Open Match Racing Championship.
Ben Duncan on his way to winning the all-Ireland. Photo: Aidan Tarbett
October saw select keelboat classes descend on Lough Derg for their traditional Autumn Regatta at Dromineer, and further lustre added to the achievements of Irish SB20 champion Ben Duncan, who had a runaway win in a class which has revived itself in Ireland with a bootstraps operation during 2013. He then went on to win the Helmsmans Championshjp raced in the SailFleet J/80s in Howth at the end of October. The weather was going haywire with the buildup to the St Jude's Day storm, so it reflects all credit on both participants and the race management team that a full programme was put through in just one day, with a break in the middle to allow a vicious little front to go through. In fact, the race officer worked the weather window so well that all the photos seem to show glorious perfect sunny sailing. Seafra Guilfoyle of Royal Cork was runner up, with FF Champion Ian Mathews of the National third.
The Autumn saw the focus shifting towards the Mediterranean, and it brought success for Cork's David Kenefick in the Figaro Solo Circus. After various ups and down throughout the season in Atlantic waters, the Mediterranean Autumn programme saw it go down to the wire for the coveted Rookie of the Year title, and the final races saw everything go Kenefick's way to be the first Irish winner.
David Kenefick was Rookie of the Year in the 2013 Figaro Solo programme.
In recent years there has been Irish success in the Middle Sea Race out of Malta in late October-early November in the two-handed division, but for 2013's race a couple of the leading Irish two-handed teams threw in their lot with the fully-crewed Maltese-owned J/122 Otra Vez. It was a shrewd career move. They won Class 4, and placed 11th overall in a fleet of 97 boats. Next best of Irish interest was Dermot Cronin's First 40.7 Encore from Malahide, which finished exactly at mid-fleet.
Into November, and interest moves even further southward and even warmer, with the 360-mile Duba to Muscat Race. Adrian Lee's Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners, overall winner of the first RORC Caribbean 600 Race in 2009, and overall winner (as Ger O'Rourke's Chieftain) of the 2007 Fastnet, goes into the Muscat race as favourite, and doesn't disappoint, with a new course record too.
Adrian Lee's Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners on her way to comprehensive victory in the Dubai-Muscat Race. Photo: Tim Wright
And meanwhile out in Australia, a new Dubai-built 60ft Ichi Ban for legendary owner Matt Allen is emerging in preparation for the Sydney-Hobart 2013, starting December 26th. Among the team involved in this ultimate racing machine is Gordon Maguire. Which seems to be where we came in...
For more on 2013's Irish sailing highlights read Afloat's Sailor of the Month Awards
Bob Fisher, leading sailing writer and the supreme authority on the America's Cup, brought an inspiring vision of the highest peaks of the sport to the Royal St George YC's 175th Anniversary Champions Celebration last weekend. W M Nixon delves into the backstory of one of global sailing's true greats.
#americascup – There's a dilemma underlying the remarkable career of Bob Fisher. He is one of the best sailing writers in the world. He is probably the very best writer about yacht racing in the world. And he is the undisputed global authority on everything to do with the America's Cup – its history since the first race in 1851, its litany of extraordinary characters with their many wrangles, its technical advances, and its remarkable and sudden ultimate rise to become an event of truly global status during the 34th Series in September 2013 in San Francisco.
The dilemma? Well, The Fish is a true sailing polymath. For sure, he writes vividly about our sport. Yet he is also a talented racing dinghy builder – his own-built boats have won championships to international level. But he is also an extremely good sailor himself. Thus in his long career of writing about sailing, he has probably been a better natural racing sailor than about 98% of the people whose sailing achievement he happens to write about.
All of which explains his "absorbing interest" in the America's Cup, and his ability to produce the defining stories about it. For it is only at the America's Cup that Bob Fisher is best deployed as the reporter, commentator and historian while others do the sailing.
At other events during his long and varied career - he is now 77 - he has often been an active and successful participant in addition to being the man who files the stories at the end of the day's racing. And with this frequent personal involvement in the racing afloat and the apres sailing ashore, sailors see him as one of their own rather than a media person of whom they should be wary. Thus he can come up with the true inside stories which bring his words to life, raising them above reportage to become the vivid defining narrative of sailing as it really is.
Quite how he manages to do it is beyond most folk's imagination. He is doing enough to provide about half a dozen people of more ordinary energy levels with full time careers. Yet although there must have been times when the pace verged on being too hectic to handle, when you meet him participating and reporting in sailing events, or at a special sailing social gathering like the 175th Anniversary Champions Party at the Royal St George YC, it is to find you are undoubtedly in the presence of a great man, but also a man who enjoys it all to the full, with wide and civilised interests in many aspects of human life.
The notion of the 175th Anniversary of the Champions of the George originally came from Johnny Ross Murphy, and when he got friends and fellow members like the master-delegator Brian Craig, plus Derek Jago and Paul Maguire on side, the thing just grew and grew until with a group chaired by Craig, with the efficient Ciara Dowling making sure the nuts and bolts were in place, they worked at a list of who was eligible to be there.
At the Royal St George YC 175th Anniversary Champions Night were (left to right) Don O'Dowd (Rear Commodore (Sailing) R StGYC), Bob Fisher, Winkie Nixon, and Commodore Liam O'Rourke. Photo: Gareth Craig
They managed to go back 62 years, and the final total was 597 major winners of one sort or another, from Dublin Bay champions right up to ten Olympic sailors. On the night, the target figure of 250 attendees had been long since surpassed, and with diligent research they had unearthed some top performers from a very long time ago. Yet it was also very much of today, for even as we reviewed the achievements of 175 years, we were also thinking of RStGYC member Adrian Lee already on his way to establishing the new course record with his Cookson 50 in the 360-mile mile Dubai to Muscat Race, which had started that morning – his success raised the RStGYC major achievement tally to 598 almost before the party was over. At the same time, fellow member Damian Foxall was in Le Havre awaiting the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre 2013 as co-skipper on the MOD 70 Musandam-Oman, but Foxall had to go through frustrating days of waiting as the raced wasn't to start until Thursday November 7th.
Even as the RStGYC 175th Anniversary Champions Party was under way, club member Adrian Lee was bringing the major achievements list up to 598 with his success in the Dubai-Muscat Race 2013 with his Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners. Boat and owner were already in the list with their overall win in the inaugural RORC Caribbean 600 Race in 2009. Photo: Tim Wright
It was quite a night in Dun Laoghaire, and with some crews reunited after more than three decades, there was a lot of catching-up to be done and news to be exchanged. So it says everything about Bob Fisher's ability to convey the new excitement of the current America's Cup that he was able to get the full attention of people in their sea of nostalgia, with his presentation provided an excellent spicing for an evening which would otherwise have been just too totally club-focused.
Sharing the round table at the inter-speeches supper with The Fish, we found topics covered were wide ranging and not necessarily entirely about boats and sailing. But nevertheless it is Bob's boat-owning history, and his uses of his boats, with which the ordinary sailing Joe can most readily identify.
The word is that just about all the Fisher myths are gloriously true. He did indeed absolutely have to sell his own-built championship-winning Fireball at a major event in Switzerland in the 1960s immediately after winning and before departing the hotel, as he and his crew had neither the money to pay the hotel bill (which was enormous, this was Switzerland after all), nor the funds to get themselves home.
He did indeed win his first race at his birthplace of Brightlingsea in Essex at the ripe old age of two years and three months (he was skipper, working mid-cockpit, while his father was detailed off to be the helmsman). And currently at his adopted home port of Lymington on the western Solent, he does indeed co-own with Barry Dunning the 1895-built 40ft Solent One Design Rosenn, the sole survivor of what was probably the world's first one design keelboat class.
The Solent One Designs in their prime in 1895. They were probably the world's first proper one design keelboat.
The survivor – Rosenn (Bob Fisher and Barry Dunning) is the sacred relic of the Solent OD.
Thus it's likely that Bob and I were the only two members of the Old Gaffers Association at the 175th anniversary party in the George, as he now owns two gaffers, having given in to his crew's demand that while they can go along with gaff rig, sometimes they'd like to sail a newer boat. So he has obliged them by getting a boat three years younger than Rosenn, a lovely little Fife boat built 1898 which he has in Scotland in readiness for next year's 40th Anniversary Scottish Series, an event with which Bob has been closely associated since its inception.
It's the Scottish Series of 1992 which provides me with the most vivid image of Bob Fisher. Back in the 1980s, he was sailing consultant to the BBC soap Howard's Way, which was about the people – some good, some less so – running an expanding boatyard on the Hamble. To keep the series alive, the producers were looking for a new storyline which would take things in a believable direction, yet provide fresh excitement and business and technical problems with which a wider audience could identify.
Bob suggested that they should get the "yard" to start developing the building of a new-style Ultra Light Displacement Boat, a boat which would be big enough to provide accommodation of family cruising appeal, yet allied to a performance which would, in the ideal ULDB conditions, attract flat out racing types keen for sheer speed. The theory was that the human challenge in a project so far removed from the orthodox European boat type would create its own dynamic and drama.
He was given 48 hours to put the idea in a more concrete form. Now it so happened that some time earlier, he and Tony Castro had been doing a China Sea Race on a Castro-designed 40ft ketch, and though they could get her above ten knots on a good reach, hitting 11 seemed to be an insurmountable barrier. So in their frustration some very rough ideas were sketched out for a ULDB which would simply keep on increasing speed as the breeze built off the wind.
The rough drawings had been put away in a drawer and forgotten about, but after this script conference, Bob immediately phoned Tony Castro and asked him if he could find those drawings, and if so could he develop them up into a workable proposition for the day after tomorrow. More than a little midnight oil was burnt, but Castro came up with the goods, and the result was Barracuda, the 45ft prototype of the ULDB which in production went through various name changes, and was finally series built by Sadler Yachts as the Sadler Barracuda 45, with 19 being produced between 1985 and 1989.
The above-water profile of the Sadler Barracuda 45 looked so normal it was a wolf in sheep's clothing, with the rig as shown only hinting at the fact that enormous masthead kites could be flown when conditions suited.
The hull profile gave a clearer indication of the boat's true character as a ULDB. The production boats had a hydraulically-raised keel, but Bob Fisher's prototype had a fairly straightforward heavily ballasted and very deep centreboard which was raised by a 3:1 tackle inside the centreboard case which was led to a winch on the cabintop. Two members of the crew were selected for the end-of-day centreboard-lifting grind with a double grip handle, and timed. The all-time record of 63 seconds was achieved by Bob and his exact contemporary Steve Lemon at Tarbert – "we wanted to get into the Islay Frigate asap"
The accommodation layout of the production Sadler Barracuda 45 suggests that the builders were unable to resist filling every corner, whereas a true ULDB will have minimalist accommodation, kept strictly admidships. Although few if any of the buyers of the 19 production boats went for the bath option, their boats all came out at least a ton heavier than Bob Fisher's own Barracuda of Tarrant.
They were a complex build project, with a hydraulically lifting bulb keel which in theory came up far enough for the boat to dry out level, tri-podded on her keel and twin rudders. And with so much space in the roomy hull around the keel housing, they even suggested fiilling an under-utilised gap on the starboard side with a miniature bath, but it's thought that few if any owners availed of this option.
But the timber-built prototype Barracuda of Tarrant herself certainly did the business in developing the storyline for Howard's Way, and she also provided Bob and his wife Dee with ten extraordinary and hugely enjoyable years of active ownership in which they covered tens of thousands of miles thanks in no small part to Dee's exceptional organisational abilities, and her willingness to ensure personally that the boat was at the desired venue and race-ready when Bob arrived in from covering some major sailing event elsewhere in the world.
It says much about the boat's versatility that in 1989 she proved ideal for the two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race. Sailed by Bob with Robin Knox-Johnston, she scorched round the 2000 mile course to such good effect that she won her class without recourse to handicap, and finished ahead boat-for-boat of the boats in the next two classes above. It made for a change from a previous participation by Bob in this race, when he and Les Williams raced an 80-foot maxi whose sails were so heavy that in each stopover port, they'd to organise a farewell party so that guests could be spirited aboard the big boat in order to help with raising the mainsail.
But Barracuda by contrast provided the perfect combination of long-legged performance with manageable handling loads on both sheets and helm. Thus she frequently made the annual trek round Land's End and north to the Clyde for the Scottish series, and 1992 was a classic example. The main start for the feeder race to Tarbert was from Gourock, and I was crewing for my brother in his Belfast Lough-based Sigma 33. Back in 1992, the Sigma 33s were superbly fulfilling the Offshore One Design ideal, and heading south for Ailsa Craig on a beam reach in a brisk westerly, as the sun set we were streaking out past the Garrock Heads with at least 16 Sigma 33s in line abreast under spinnaker to leeward, and a dozen or so others in close attendance.
Offshore racing gets interesting when the sun sets, particularly so in one designs, for once the sun is gone, you're not allowed to luff. With 16 boats in line and competition intense in the Sigma 33s, there was more than a bit of mighty roaring (our skipper, my own brother, amazed me with his invective towards the boat next to us), leading in turn to shouted debates above the roar of the bow-waves as to how you define sunset on sailing water surrounded by mountains.
But then a great silver wraith came sweeping past as though the Sigma 33s were standing still, and all were briefly silent in admiration. It was Barracuda. Having started quite some time after us, she was zooming south in conditions she loved under an unbelievably large masthead gennaker, with the other boats in her class – some quite substantially larger – left many miles astern.
It was a magic vision in the special light of a long Scottish evening of late Spring. And it was made even more remarkable in that it seemed as though The Fish was sailing her single-handed. For there he was, unmistakable at the helm, his wonderboat perfectly under control with her twin rudders and sails beautifully trimmed, yet set up in such a way that the crew could retreat below for a mug of something hot as the cold Scottish night set in.
Bob and Dee's crews on Barracuda always seemed to be recruited from central casting to have strong characters to match their skipper. So it was entirely in keeping with the boat's style to imagine that they should have decided the skipper could be left on his own to steer the boat to match the setup of sails which briefly had the sheets made fast.
And in Barracuda's rapid passing, it left us the abiding image of Bob Fisher, stately at the wheel, monarch of all he surveyed, happily guiding his beloved dreamship as she swept onwards into the gathering night, with the glorious prospect of yet another wonderful sailing season stretching into the months ahead.
The mighty machine – Barracuda of Tarrant at the Scottish Series 1986. Twenty years before twin rudders became mainstream for large broad-sterned boats in Europe, Tony Castro incorporated them on Bob Fisher's new ULDB. In these squally conditions, a standard broad-sterned yacht of 1986 would have been spinning round to look at herself at frequent intervals. But with the skipper comfortably ensconced at the wheel under his famous black sou'wester, Barracuda tracks as though on rails, with her weather rudder completely clear of the water while her lee rudder is doing the business in a vertical position of maximum efficiency. This design of 29 years ago is still ahead of the game, and it's reckoned a boat built to the same lines and concept, but using the latest construction methods, would be one very potent machine today, Photo: www.patrickroach.com
#safetyonthewater –Can it really be true that lifeboat call-outs in Ireland in 2013 – most of them for recreational boating of some sort - showed a staggering increase of 43% over 2012? W M Nixon discusses the disturbing figures, and considers whether it is possible to re-build the traditional amateur seafaring tradition of competence and self-reliance.
Time was when the most respected sailing folk, the people with the highest standards in their boats and in their use of them for their dedicated style of seafaring, were accustomed to sail the sea on the principle that they would much rather drown than cause any inconvenience or danger to other seafarers in any way whatsoever.
This applied particularly in the matter of being rescued. Being rescued just wasn't done. It was a sign of appallingly poor seamanship. Indeed, having what other people might describe as an adventure of any kind was frowned upon. "An adventure" was looked upon by the pioneers of cruising - just as it was looked upon by their contemporaries, the top explorers - as evidence of incompetence.
It was an admirable if impossibly idealistic attitude, which had its roots in the earliest days of amateur seafaring. In that distant era, the first very few pioneers were venturing forth for pleasure on seas where working people with much less in the way of economic resources were struggling to make a usually poor and often dangerous living as fishermen. To emphasise the difference, pleasure sailors only fluttered about the place in summer like butterflies, whereas those who worked the sea in small boats had to face its ferocity all year round.
Also sharing the sea were the crews of cargo carrying vessels whose demanding owners did not welcome tales of their vessels being delayed and the valuable cargoes put at risk, even for the shortest possible periods, in order to assist or rescue some incompetent amateur. As for the regulators of the sea, the naval ships and the revenue cutters, they were naturally suspicious of people going about their inexplicable business with "pleasure" as their reported objective, sailing hither and yon in their strange little vessels.
They undoubtedly were "little" vessels, as the new sport of cruising with its codes of a high standard was developed by the emerging middle classes of the 19th Century. Unlike the aristocracy and monarchy, who would sail the sea in large yachts with crowds of attendants and everything – including rescue if needs be - done in a very public manner as part of the grand life's rich tableau, the middle classes valued privacy above everything else.
Thus the code of self-reliance in cruising evolved, propounded by folk like Richard Turrell McMullen, who developed the principle of total self-reliance to such an extent that even in coastal waters he cruised single-handed in his final years. And even when pleasure boats numbers and rescue services had developed to an impressive level in the late 20th Century, the "shame of being rescued" was still a very potent attitude which encouraged high standards in boat maintenance and seamanship.
Pioneering seafarer Richard Turrell McMullen in his 42ft Orion, with which he cruised the Irish coast in 1869. McMullen expounded a doctrine of self-reliance and competence in amateur sailors, and would have regarded being assisted by the lifeboats as a matter of extreme shame.
But today, well into the second decade of the 21st Century, the RNLI call-out figures for Ireland do not make happy reading for advocates of rugged seafaring self-reliance. Could it be that the ubiquitous presence of highly-visible lifeboats in our main harbours, with their presence further publicised at major rescues, is creating excessive haste in calling them out for non-emergency reasons?
Admittedly the summer of 2013 was so good that there were many more people afloat in June, July and August than in 2012's grim conditions. Thus many of those rescued will have been casual impulse boaters, rather than dedicated seafarers. But nevertheless a year-on-year increase of 43% in lifeboat launchings, most of them for recreational boating of some sort, is very discouraging for an activity which supposedly prides itself on its capacity for sensible self-regulation, and derives satisfaction from overcoming challenging conditions without assistance.
The Dun Laoghaire lifeboat on exercise in Dalkey Sound. This was Ireland's busiest station in the summer of 2013, with 34 call-outs in June, July and August Photo: David Branigan/Dun Laoghaire RNLI
For the record, Dun Laoghaire was the busiest station with 34 call outs. Portrush in County Antrim was next on 26, just ahead of Crosshaven with 25, while Fenit, Wicklow and Skerries (where their new boat, the Atlantic 85 Louis Stimson, was named and dedicated on Saturday September 7th) were all on 17.
The new lifeboat at Skerries, an Atlantic 85, was dedicated and named the Louis Simson on September 7th. The Skerries station had 17 call-outs during the three summer months.
Of course there are those who will claim that, in many instances, talking of "rescues" would be over-stating the case. When a situation looks like being serious from the outset, the Coastguards – and particularly their helicopter – will get involved. In fact, so many genuinely life-saving events involve helicopters that it's surprising no-one seems to have thought of a rescue helicopter service service funded by charities. Maybe they have, but have found it would be impossibly expensive. In any case, with lifeboats, there's the obvious and stirring maritime link. "Those in peril on the sea" must be one of the most recognisable phrases known to us, and providing charity support to lifeboats is a direct and very satisfying way of connecting with it.
But the fact that the lifeboats receive so much of their funding from charity, and are manned largely by volunteers, adds to the moral overtones when any rescue is successfully carried through. And as we cannot know how even the most minor boat difficulty might go pear-shaped at some future stage, then if the lifeboat gets involved, the perception is that you've been rescued however minor the problem may have been, and notwithstanding the fact that the lifeboatmen themselves may phrase their report to spare the rescued crew's blushes.
The lifeboatmen's attitude is better safe than sorry, and much better safe even if just slightly embarrassed. But an analysis of the incidents in Irish waters is intriguing, and they provided some events with unwelcome publicity. For instance, the ISA's Gathering Cruise-in-Company from Dun Laoghaire towards Dingle in July experienced four different lifeboat call-outs.
The highest-profile incident was the rescue of the crew of 30 from the tall ship Astrid when her engine failed on the short hop from Oysterhaven to Kinsale in fairly rough conditions of onshore winds. One possible story suggests that prior to her arrival in Ireland, one of Astrid's fuel tanks had been accidentally filled with fresh water, which is something that can easily happen in a large and complex old sailing ship during a busy turnaround time in port. In line with their spirit of self-reliance, Astrid's crew had reportedly declined offers of professional assistance in making the tanks diesel-ready again. But despite their best efforts, it seems there might have still been a small quantity of fresh water left, quite enough to cause what became a catastrophic engine stoppage.
The end of a dream. The sinking of the privately-owned Dutch sail-training tall ship Astrid was a catastrophe, but it wasn't a tragedy as all 30 on board were efficiently rescued by the lifeboats. Photo: Bob Bateman
In fairness to The Gathering Cruise-in-Company, the Astrid sinking was a big ship event with which they became associated almost incidentally. But the three other call-outs were directly linked. The second most serious (after the Astrid) of the Cruise-in-Company's call outs was for the Ballycotton Lifeboat for an injured crewman on a 42ft yacht six miles southwest of the port. Injuries were such that the casualty was transferred by lifeboat to a waiting ambulance at Ballycotton, then as the injured person was a key member of the 42ft yacht's crew of three, the lifeboat returned to the cruiser and escorted her to port.
The other two lifeboat callouts for the Cruise-in-Company were to assist a yacht with her propellor fouled by a fishing pot marker off Kilmore Quay, and to tow in one of the participating boats after her engine had failed off Kinsale.
The hazard of getting fouled in fishing pot lines is even greater in Ireland than other similar places like Cornwall, where Ben Ainslie has written of his family's experience of having their fine yacht driven ashore at the entrance of the Helford River and getting badly holed on rocks, after the propellor had knotted itself in a lobster pot line. The lobsters and crabs along the Irish coast being even more prolific, it's a constant problem when under power, and there are few challenges more daunting than motoring in late afternoon straight into the sun on passage from Carnsore Point to Kilmore Quay, and knowing that the entire route is a maze of pot markers, some quite clearly defined, others lurking just below the surface in the strong tides, and all virtually invisible with the notorious brightness of the sunny southeast right in your eyes.
So for cruising in Ireland, an obvious solution is one of those cunning little cutting devices fitted to the propshaft to slice through any ropes, but even they can be defeated by too much rope. When it does happen, a serrated bread knife with the means of and quick and easy attachment it to the boathook can sometimes work wonders.
But the proliferation of cruisers with SailDrives exacerbates the problem. They may fulfil the designer's dream of having the propellor immersed as deeply as possible, and in clear water too, but it means they're perfect targets for wayward pot lines, and you need a diver or a liftout to get at them if they become fouled.
But do propellers really need to be so deeply immersed? After all, in motorboats they're close under the surface, and often reasonably accessible by long-arm methods from a dinghy. Admittedly with a sailing boat with her extra pitching through having a mast, there is a danger that a shallow-mounted propellor will come out of the water as she punches into a head sea. But for years I'd a share in the Contessa 35 with a high-mounted propellor well aft, and it never came out of the water while motoring in a head sea. Yet thanks to the boat's pintail stern - which had few other merits - you could just about reach the prop from the dinghy, whereas today's wide-sterned boats might preclude that. Whatever, in re-aligning the engine in my current boat, something which just had to be done when I discovered the builders had installed it at an angle of 21 degrees plus, when the manufacturers insist it should be no more than 15 degrees with 7 degrees is an ideal target, I now have a setup where the propellor can be reached by clambering down the stern boarding ladder.
All of which is little enough comfort for a cruising boat with a fouled propellor being rescued by the Kilmore Quay lifeboat during the Cruise-in-Company, but that in turn begs the question: Where were the other cruisers-in-company when this situation arose? The notion behind a cruise-in-company is that there's a feeling of mutual support, and minor problems can be dealt with by assistance from your fellow participants. But even in the companionability of a cruise-in-company, could it be that we've become so accustomed to hearing about the use of rescue services that even with buddy boats presumably near, an everyday get-you-home problem can still lead to an emergency call?
It seems to have happened with the lifeboat going to that engineless boat's aid off Kinsale and more recently the maritime community expressed shared embarrassment when the crew of a cruiser-racer of a notably able type called out the lifeboat when their engine failed as they sat becalmed off Wicklow Head.
But as boat numbers increase, professional privately-run services develop to meet the growing need for assistance like this. In boat-crowded places like Long Island Sound, and indeed on many parts of the coast of the USA, commercial assistance and get-you-home services have been a feature afloat for many decades. And anyone who has been around the Solent will be familiar with the SeaStart service, to which you can subscribe as a sort of insurance, and which now does commercially many of the tasks which used to take up too much of lifeboat time.
Even the colours of their boats suggest that SeaStart is the same reassuring presence afloat as the AA is ashore.
Interestingly, SeaStart now sees its role as including the education of its less-experienced subscribers in order to raise their standards of boat and equipment maintenance, and improve their attitudes to sailing the sea. Yet because it's all being done by what is essentially a commercial organisation, those availing of its services don't feel themselves being morally oppressed by a do-gooder organisation or an interfering nanny state.
It works well in a densely-boat-populated area like the Solent region, but we have to face the reality that Ireland has an enormous and often rough coastline, and boat numbers are relatively very few, and often far between. So for now and the foreseeable future, most of us in day sailing, cruising and offshore racing are going to have to rely on self-regulation with a sensible attitude to seafaring, and the use of voluntary services supported by charitable donations in emergencies.
The situation is of course very different in inshore racing, where highly organised club rescue teams with their crash boats, and an admirable ethos of efficiency among their crews, set a standard of self-help and self-regulation which is a credit to our sport. But as soon as the scope of the event spreads from the purely local, and the boat-size goes beyond dinghies, we find ourselves interacting with national emergency and rescue services.
So in seeing the MOD 70 trimaran capsizing in Dublin Bay in June and observing the flurry of helicopter and lifeboat activity – all very necessary as two crew were soon in hospital, one for an extended stay with a severely fractured pelvis – we were seeing a new world. It's a situation very far removed indeed from the schooner America making her unaccompanied way across the Atlantic in 1851, with no contact with anyone until, without fuss or bother, she prepared for the historic race around the Isle of Wight which in its turn was sailed without any expectation of the use of rescue services.
And for those of us in the less exalted areas of personal choice sailing, it really is a matter of self-regulation if we are going to avoid having the authorities impose regulation upon us. In considering this disturbing 43% increase in lifeboat call-outs in 2013, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the only reason there aren't threatening rumbles of regulation and inspection from the government is simply because of the dire circumstances of the national finances.
Were we not in a situation of government cutbacks on every front, it's highly likely there'd already be some advisory body looking at ways of making the boating world adopt a more responsible, self-reliant and disciplined attitude towards its activities. That in turn would lead to an increased inspectorate and more supervision, with further erosion of the sense of freedom in sailing the sea. And in the end, it's boat people who would have to pay for it themselves. It's up to us to protect this activity we cherish so much, and to treat it with the respect it deserves.