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#oga50 – The continuing harsh weather has made it rugged going for vintage boats and veteran owners as they get themselves together for this year's Old Gaffers Association 50th Anniversary cruise, which started on April 21st in a brief spell of gentler Springlike conditions from Maldon in Essex, birthplace of the OGA in 1963.

The format of the cruise is a voyage round Great Britain, with some boats going all the way while others join and leave as they please. There's a diversion in a fortnight's time in the Irish Sea westward to Dublin Bay for the Bank Holiday weekend at the start of June, and this will see the OGA50's first assembly of classic and traditional boats in significant numbers. With the programme continuing throughout the summer, numbers will continue to build until it concludes with a mighty Golden Jubilee regatta in Cowes in mid-August.

The Old Gaffer enthusiasts are nothing if not individualists, with boats to match, so getting them to move in the same direction, and at the same time, is about as easy as herding cats. As for speeds, they vary enormously, so it is it all being done within broad parameters, with reliance on good will and the camaraderie of the sea to keep together a fleet of mind-boggling diversity.

The April starters from the heartlands of the association in places like Maldon and Pin Mill and other East Anglian ports were soon joined by a strong contingent from the Netherlands, and gradually they've made their way south and west with the first proper gathering taking place in Southampton Water on May 4th and 5th.

Sailing their home waters of the Thames Estuary takes it own special skills, but it's only natural that those who are more accustomed to working their way among sheltered mudbanks tend to see the coastlines down towards Land's End and the Atlantic as a particularly challenging area. Unfortunately, the seaways and the weather Down West have done nothing to diminish this, with Maytime snow falling in Devon, and winds of Force 10 seeing the boats holed up in every port from the Solent down to Penzance.

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Thames sailing barges at Pin Mill in East Anglia, a world away from the rugged Atlantic waters of Land's End. The founders of the Old Gaffers Association in 1963 kept their boats at snug ports like this, but their Golden Jubilee Cruise is taking on the challenge of sailing on waters of all kinds. Photo: W M Nixon

But with the handsome 55ft Annabelle J (Philip Cogdell) setting the pace as befits a 1995 take on the classic Bristol Channel Pilot cutter concept, this weekend the leaders have reached Milford Haven to link up with boats from South Wales and the Bristol Channel area. The festivities will be mighty, but with the challenge of Land's End astern, the distances are now modest, and it becomes a sort of royal procession, as in a week's time they'll be making the scene in Holyhead. And after that, it's only 55 miles across Channel to join the growing throng in Dublin Bay.

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The 55ft Annabel J steps out at the initial sailpast in Southampton a fortnight ago. She has been setting the pace in the gale-dogged progression down to Land's End and north to Milford Haven. Photo: Keith Allso

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Every finger a marlin spike.......a pair of hard chaws convince themselves that summer has arrived aboard Aeolus in the Southampton sailpast Photo: Keith Allso

Obviously such a relaxed programme anticipates that different crews will have their own variations on the basic themes, and already one of the Dutch participants, Rik Janssen's 46ft Cine Mara, has kept to the northwest after Land's End, and is heading for Cork. But that was always on the cards, as Cine Mara is a steel-built Galway Hooker, and if she doesn't actually get to Galway Bay, at least some Galwegians might come a-visiting if she can get to Cork before heading for Dublin Bay.

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The 46ft Cine Mara (Rik Janssen) is a steel-built Galway Hooker

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Built by the Dublin co-operative which owns and sails her, the Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan is a regular participant in Old Gaffer events. Photo: W M Nixon

By the time Dublin Bay is reached, there'll be enough gaffers of all kinds taking part to satisfy even the most fastidious enthusiasts, and entries include the senior of them all, Adrian "Stu" Spence's much-travelled 43ft former Bristol Channel pilot cutter Madcap from Strangford Lough, built in Cardiff in 1875. There's even a 64 footer coming direct from the west from the Midlands, down the Shannon from Athlone, then through the Grand Canal to the Liffey. This is Rachel Leech's 64ft Dutch tjalk Ebenhaezer, normally an adornment of Lough Ree, but the Poolbeg party was too good to miss.

Joining her from about as far east as it is possible to get in England is another cutter of special interest, the 1898-built Witch (Alastair Randall). With her home port on the lovely Walton Backwaters, Witch is a long way from her birthplace, as she was designed and built by Dickie's of Tarbert on Loch Fyne to be the sailing ferryboat for the Scottish island of Gigha, a role which she fulfilled for 20 year before being converted to a cruising yacht in 1918.

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The 31ft cutter Witch was built in 1898 to be the ferry boat for the Scottish island of Gigha.

Even as Witch was under construction in Tarbert, across the North Channel in Carrickfergus on Belfast Lough the first five boats of the Howth 17 class were being built by John Hilditch to the designs of Herbert Boyd. All five boats are still sailing 115 years later, they have thirteen newer sister-ships also surviving, and around a dozen of the class will be taking part in the OGA 50th events in Dublin Bay.

The programme is busy, to say the least. The main event on Saturday June 1st is a race for the cruisers for the RMS Leinster Trophy, which has been presented by the postal workers union to commemorate the hundreds who were lost on RMS Leinster when she was sunk by two torpedoes from a German U Boat in 1918 five miles east of the Kish, remembering in particular the 21 postal workers who died in the mail-sorting room when the ship went down in minutes.

The race course will start from Dun Laoghaire, and will follow at least part of the Leinster's route on that fateful day, before returning to Dublin Bay and a finish at Poolbeg. By that time the Howth 17s should be there, as they start from Howth at 0900hrs on the Saturday morning to get into Dublin Bay before the tide starts to run north.

On Sunday, the entire fleet goes up the Liffey through the East Link and is based along the quays, while the Seventeens stage a historic in-city race between the bridges. Then it's back to Poolbeg that evening, and on Monday things wind down in gentler style with a 1300 hrs start for an all-comers race in Dublin Bay for the Asgard Trophy, specially made by marine conservator John Kearon from spare materials saved from Erskine Childers' Asgard when he was in charge of the preservation process.

It's an appropriate way to conclude the Dublin Bay events, as many of the boats taking part are miracles of loving preservation projects. It's a matter of wonder, for instance, that the Howth 17s are not only still going, but they're still going strong. It's not as if they're handled gently when they're sailed. On the contrary, after 115 years, they're still raced flat out. Maybe there's a lesson for us all in this.

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It's the way they sail them....The 1898-built Howth 17 Aura (Ian Malcolm) enjoying a bit of extreme sport in wind-over-tide conditions in Howth Sound. Photo: Jaimie Blandford

 

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WM Nixon's Saturday Sailing blog appears every Saturday on Afloat.ie

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Published in W M Nixon

"Harbour rots ships and ruins men". So said Horatio Nelson. He not only knew it from his own extensive command experience, but from time to time during long stays in port, he proved it personally with cringe-making results. He should have remembered that other saying of the sea: A busy ship is a happy ship. And at a more basic level, surveyors and boat maintenance experts will tell you the simple truth, that boats and their equipment usually don't get worn out, but they slowly rot through disuse.

With modern materials, it's not rot as they'd have known it in Nelson's day. But whatever you might call it, it makes things non-functional. Yet a boat which is on the move - sailing regularly and extensively - soon has everything working sweetly, for the demands of the sea are such that the attitude of "sure 'twill do" soon provides its own come-uppance.

Out in the west, they've an attractive boat which is making a fair bid to be a perpetual motion machine, with everything functioning smoothly. It's not that long ago that Martin Breen of Galway bought the Reflex 38 Lynx, but since then she has been in the frame in so many major offshore events, and under so many different sponsorship names, that you could be forgiven for thinking he's owned her for more than a decade, and that there are two or three different boats involved.

At the time he bought her, we noted that she seemed to be the ideal size of boat for Irish conditions. The First 40.7, globally the most successful production-built frontline offshore racer of the past twenty years and a super boat with it, is just that little bit too big for Irish conditions in terms of personnel demands and maintenance requirements. But if you go down to some of the hotter 36ft and 34ft machines, you often find you're missing the boat in terms of catching tidal patterns, and the basic realities of seagoing comfort, even though the brilliant J/109 frequently proves otherwise.

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Settling in shortly after the start of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle, 2011

But 38ft LOA - that is just spot on. When Christian Stimson created what is now the Reflex 38 in 1998, he came up with a concept which has withstood the test of time. She can sail up to her rating, and has proven a steady and successful performer in a wide variety of conditions, proving that the comment by Robert Scheidt - that sailing is a consistency sport - applies every bit as much offshore as in the bays.

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Successful debut. Dawn comes gently over the boat in winning mode in the Dun Laogaire-Dingle Race 2011

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Pre-start manoeuvres off Wicklow at the 2012 Round Ireland Race

The new Breen boat made her Irish debut with the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race in 2011, and really stuffed it into the fleets from other Irish coasts, for she raced as Galway Harbour, and had an excellent overall win. Then last year it was active members of NUI Galway SC past and present who took her over under the leadership of Cathal Clarke, and they became the ICRA Boat of the Year with a superb all-round programme which included a class win in a major ISORA race, and the class win – including beating the hottest Reflex 38 from Britain – in the Round Ireland Race.

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Not always sunny – determined conditions in the Round Ireland Race 2012

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Grey day at sea, Round Ireland Race 2012, with Joan Mulloy from Mayo SC trimming the spinnaker

Between times, the boat didn't rest, as Martin Breen has his own crew for inshore regattas. But this year, the pace is into an even higher gear with Aodhan Fitzgerald (who has been involved since the boat first reached Ireland) in overall charge offshore in a programme which is simply mind-boggling. It was launched yesterday evening in Galway with the boat now in the Discover Ireland livery, and she'll be promoting the Emerald Isle and The Gathering Cruise in a series of campaigns which start today off Rinville at 1000hrs with the 60-mile Clarenbridge Crystal Race in Galway Bay. The crew will be clad from head to toe in new kit provided by Dubarry, with the boat setting a fine new set of threads from Des McWilliam, saling in conditions which look most unlikely to include any calm spots.

Then it's off to Scotland round Ireland's bumpy nor'west corner for the Scottish Series from May 24th to 27th with the boat to be raced by Martin Breen's GBSC team, then south to Dun Laoghaire to be on station for defending the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle title, starting the 266 mile course (which is also a Fastnet qualifier) on June 7th, then on from Dingle it's immediately into the WIORA and ICRA championships just round the corner at Fenit on Tralee Bay, then before June is out, they're challenging for the Sovereign's Cup in Kinsale.

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The gang's all here – the 15-strong crew panel's select offshore squad

The total crew panel is 15, ranging in age from 19 to 55, and for the offshore programme the lineup is Aodhan Fitzgerald (skipper/navigator), Johnny Murphy (tactician/trimmer), Neil Spain (driver), Ben Scallan (driver), Martin Breen (driver), Cathal Clarke (bowman), Joan Mulloy (trimmer), Nigel Moss (trimmer), Ruairi de Faoite (mast), and Louis Mulloy (bowman).

While the crew emphasis is on Connacht, in the way of offshore racing this team also includes people from most other parts of Ireland, people that you'd meet in the course of other campaigns, people who seem to fit in with your own boat's way of doing things. If you tried to delineate a clear career path on how to become part of a group like this, you'd find it very difficult. There is no clearcut way. It seems to happen by a mixture of telepathy and osmosis. You are impressed by the way people are sailing another boat, and you make it your business to get them inside your tent.

Because for sure, the business of successfully balancing different temperaments is going to be paramount in a season in which they're only getting going as the Sovereign's Cup draws to a close. The high point of the year is going to be the Rolex Fastnet Race in August. By the time the boat gets to Cowes, she'll have sailed more than a thousand miles in delivery trips.

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Stating the obvious? Starting the Rolex Fastnet Race with this message emblazoned on your topsides is going to invite ribald comment from the opposition. But displaying something similar has proven successful in the past.

And there she'll be in the Solent among 350 other Fastnet wannabees, with Discover Ireland boldly displayed along her topsides. They'll be getting some smartass comments about that. After all, what else is the Fastnet Race all about? Back in 1975, when the Golden Jubilee Fastnet Race included a fleet for classics racing for the Iolaire Block presented by Don Street, one splendid old gaff cutter had her crew all kitted out in crisp new T-shirts, each one imprinted with different letters. When they all lined up along the rail, those T-shirts read: "What is the way to the Fastnet Rock, please?" In Irish. And it worked. They won the Iolaire Block, even though Iolaire was herself racing. So let's hope that having discoverireland.ie emblazoned prominently on the topsides is going to be equally successful in the Fastnet Race for the boat formerly known as Lynx.

What with this extraordinary campaign, and the news this week about Galway plunging ahead with its new harbour, it's very clear that in the 21st Century, it's totally superfluous to warble on about the west being awake. For a long time now, it hasn't been asleep.

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WM Nixon's Saturday Sailing blog appears every Saturday on Afloat.ie

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Published in W M Nixon

#dublinbay – The notion of an island on the Burford Bank at the mouth of Dublin Bay was mooted by Afloat's W M Nixon in his Sailing on Saturday blog on January 5th 2013, but now the idea has been aired again by Dun Laoghaire Green Party politico Ciaran Cuffe in his blog. He brings in references to other studies more serious than our light-hearted speculation, and links to a presumably artificial island off Copenhagen which seems to have become, in appearance at least, a Danish version of Cork Harbour's Spike Island.

We would point out that there's virtually no tide in the Copenhagen area, while the waters are more sheltered than the tide-riven surf battered conditions found out on the Burford Bank. And the Burford is of course totally made out of sand which - as any beach walker in Dublin can attest – is capable of being moved in hundreds of thousands of tons by just one tidal cycle. But who knows, as our item on January 5th pointed out, the Bull Island is a recent creation. That said, we also carried the warning that an inhabited sand island off Clontarf disappeared in a storm in 1844, taking an unfortunate father and son with it.

Extract from Afloat.ie 05/01/13

BANKING ON AN ISLAND

Why on earth are people throwing up their hands in horror at the news that hundreds of thousands of tons of material extracted from tunneling in Dublin is going to be dumped about three miles out to sea just beyond the mouth of the bay? This isn't a problem. This is an opportunity.

It has long been obvious that the Leinster coast needs more islands. In watching Sean Cullen's fascinating presentation about the INFOMAR surveys in December at Poolbeg Y & BC, and in particular his computerized displays showing the details of Dublin Bay, it became immediately obvious that the Burford Bank is an island which is just waiting to happen.

Think of how much more interesting Dublin Bay would be with its own Sable Island stretching for a mile or two north-south out where the Burford is now awash, providing shelter and an anchorage and somewhere to see, and maybe even visit?

After all, it's not so long ago that the Bull Island simply didn't exist. Yet now, thanks to the limited technology of the 19th Century in building the North Bull Wall, there it is – the Bull Island is one of the most important, welcome and popular features of the entire bay.

So surely with 21st Century technology we can manage something, and further out in the bay at that. But before creating new islands, be mindful that Dublin Bay has lost at least one. There used to be a Clontarf Island, and you can still see the remains of a house that was reputedly on it when you turn right off the Alfie Byrne Road to go along the front of Clontarf towards Howth. It looks like the ribs of an old shipwreck, or even the framework of a wooden pier, but it's apparently the lower skeleton of the house still there, but the island long gone.

Clontarf Island was noted as a healthy place to be when Dublin was afflicted by plague, so in the 1830s a wooden summer house was built on it by a Dublin publican called Christopher Cromwell. He is said to have been a descendant of Oliver Cromwell, and no, I'm not making this up, but somebody else may well have done so once upon a time. Anyway, on the 9th October 1844 Christopher and his ten year old son William were overnighting out on their island, and a mighty storm came up and swept everything away, sadly including father and son – their bodies were found along the shore, while most of the house was splintered along the then-new Great Northern Railway embankment, which ran along the beach but is now well inland.

It may well be that the reclaiming of land along the East Wall road with the consequent narrowing of the Tolka Estuary meant the island was also being eroded by the river as well as the sea, but it is a fact that an island which was shown clearly on all maps until 1844 – and whose ownership was at times disputed – had simply disappeared after the massive Autumn storm of 1844.

So we should bear this in mind when planning to build Burford Island. But with the ready availability of the basic material thanks to all this stuff which is going to be tunneled soon in Dublin, some rapid planning is necessary before it is all wasted by being dribbled into the sea somewhere off the Baily.

The great yacht designer John B Kearney, in his day job as the de facto Harbour Engineer to Dublin Port, led the way in experimenting with screw-in piling to support the North Bull Lighthouse at the entrance to Dublin Port. It would be a fine memorial to him if we could use the Kearney technique to drive a couple of hundred giant corkscrews into the Burford Bank in order to hold the tunnel waste in place, and thereby allow a sandbank to build up just like the Bull Island above high water level.

With the creation and expansion of the Bull Island almost within living memory, we have a very accurate record of the sort of plants which thrive in island-building in Dublin Bay, and a repeat of this out at the Burford would be a wonderful exercise which would provide employment for many specialists, and also of course be a tourist attraction.

In no time at all we would have the new island well covered with tough marram grass. Soon after that we could experiment with easy-growing cordylines, as most people think they're palm trees, and who are we to teach them otherwise? For what we want is an island in place in jig time, and if it looks like vaguely like an island of the South Pacific, so much the better. In no time at all there'd be a golf course on it, and then a casino, and a hundred years hence people will want to keep it exactly as it has become, because by then it will be an important part of our heritage.

Dunmore East is a charmingly located and picturesque coastal village, whose enormous potential as a holiday and maritime centre is blighted by having an outdated and rather drab industrial zone at its core. For it has the misfortune to be trapped in its historical position as a long-established fisheries port. This means that the administration of the harbour – which should be the pleasant heart of the village – has been rigidly strait-jacketed into serving and promoting the demands of the fishing industry, often to the exclusion and certainly the detriment of the possible needs of any other potential harbour users, both afloat and ashore.

Were Dunmore East located on another part of Ireland's coastline, this might not matter too much. But the village is a popular holiday resort, and the harbour is in an absolutely key strategic location at local, regional, national and international levels in recreational boating. It is at the heart of a fine sailing area which – if there were proper berthing facilities available – would be ideal for hosting major events. An immediate example is the ICRA Nationals. Dunmore East would be a perfect location for this national annual cruiser-racer championship, yet there's no way it will be considered until the harbour is more welcoming to recreational boating.

But not only is Dunmore a potential venue port, it is the gateway to the largely untapped cruising potential of Waterford Estuary, and the Suir, Barrow and Nore rivers. In any other country in the world, this beautiful cruising land of the Three Sisters would be perceived as a national treasure. But in Ireland it is still receiving only minimal attention because the key to the whole place, the gateway port of Dunmore East, has not been welcoming.

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Dunmore East is both the heart of the coast, and the gateway to the magic cruising area of the Three Sisters - the estuaries of the Rivers Suir, Barrow and Nore. Photo: Google maps

Looking at the broader picture, Dunmore East's inhospitality affects the movement of cruising boats sailing along the coast. The large boat populations of the Irish Sea are discouraged from making the lengthy passage to the prime cruising areas of West Cork and Kerry because they're put off by knowing that if the urgent need arises, a visit to Dunmore East might not be a pleasant experience. Were the opposite the case, there would be an increase in the number of boats cruising the Irish coast generally. And a good experience in Dunmore East would also encourage them to sample the unexpected delights of cruising up to Waterford City or the port of New Ross, and visiting places little known to cruising men such as Duncannon, Arthurstown, Ballyhack and Cheek Point, not to mention the quiet anchorage behind Little Island in King's Channel.

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One of the Waterford Estuary's little known anchorages is in Kings Channel behind Little Island immediately east of Waterford City. Photo: W M Nixon

But you get only one chance to make a favourable first impression, and in recent years Dunmore East has been failing to do that. One of the saddest things about the place is the Visitors Book in the hospitable Waterford Harbour Sailing Club. Time was when each summer would produce a long list of the crews of visiting boats from near and far, and their enthusiastic comments. But these days the list has reduced to a trickle as the increasingly hostile demands of the harassed fishing industry have made the harbour bad-tempered, a place to be avoided.

Yet just along the coast, 15 miles to the eastward beyond Hook Point, there's a smaller port which manages to be both a thriving fishing port, and a welcoming marina. Kilmore Quay misses almost all the natural advantages of Dunmore East, as it's on an exposed and rocky coast. But it has just about everything else that Dunmore East lacks – it has enthusiasm, visible hospitality, and a can-do approach for boats of all sorts. So though it has the disadvantage that once berthed there, there is little you can do except stay put if the weather deteriorates, in every other way Kilmore Quay is streets ahead.

This is surely because Kilmore Quay is owned and run by Wexford County Council. With a vigorous council, enthusiastic county managers, and an energetic harbour master whose brief extends well beyond the stultifying limitations of the Department of Fisheries, Kilmore Quay is very much alive, while Dunmore East is moribund.

This would be fine if Dunmore East continued to be a major fishing port, but that's now a moot point. Fishing is becoming more truly industrialized by the day, and big boats with highly automated equipment and smaller crews are taking over the most profitable parts of the business. A port like Dunmore East, with its small size and draft limitations, is increasingly by-passed by the major operators. For sure, there'll always be fishing out of Dunmore East, but with an inbuilt boat size limitation it will increasingly be towards the artisan end of the fishing industry.

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Dunmore East looking south, with Gull Rock lower right hand corner. In a southwesterly breeze, the anchorage is well sheltered, but it can become uncomfortable and even dangerous in southeast to east winds. Photo: Kevin Dwyer

Currently, Dunmore East has probably now slipped beyond fourth place in the Republic of Ireland in terms of fish landings by weight. You get the picture from the 2010 figures by realising that at 163,447 tonnes, Killybegs outstrips all other significant Irish ports combined. Next in line is Castletownbere with 19,030 tonnes, while Dingle is third at 12,761. Although in 2010 Dunmore East was fourth at 8,387 tonnes, in terms of value it was outstripped by Kilmore Quay – Dunmore's landings were worth €13.6m, but Kilmore went for quality, and they got €13.7m for their 3,260 tonnes.

And as Kilmore Quay has more in the way of fish processing plants, the value-added element to their smaller but higher quality catch is also greater than Dunmore East's. In Dunmore East, the continuing encroachment by the needs and expectations of the modern shore-based holiday market means that property is more profitably utilised if it's catering for the personalised needs of the hospitality industry, rather than as an impersonal industrial unit, particularly one with the anti-social aromas of fish processing.

This decline in the fishing industry status of the long-established smaller ports is a European-wide problem, and a new inititative from Brussels seems to offer an opportunity for Dunmore East to be a suitable case for treatment, as interestingly revealed HERE.

Although it all still requires confirmation from the European parliament, many of the EU's maritime nations such as Portugal are quite far down the line in planning projects which will take full advantage of this "post-fishing" scheme, which will involve some quite serious money to be available between 2014 and 2020.

But however obvious the benefits which could accrue to Dunmore East, the rejection by the locals of a major harbour improvement project some years ago (it was to include a marina) has muddied the waters for future projects. The older generation in Dunmore East probably reckon they've accommodated enough change. Though the present layout will seem to today's generations to be a permanent feature of the environment, there are still many around who can well remember the massive re-vamp of the harbour when it was being undertaken by the OPW during the 1960s. It was meant to take about five years, but it took eleven. And at the end of it, the pleasant little cove of Dunmore, sheltered by an elegant pier designed in 1814 by the harbour genius Alexander Nimmo, had been changed greatly, with a breakwater extension going out beyond the pier, while within there was an enormous new concrete apron quay on a site brutally blasted out of pretty cliffs. Despite which, the kittiwake, most unusually nesting on cliffs which had become a central part of the village, had stayed on despite a decade of dynamite.

The kittiwakes may have stayed on, but big fishing is going from Dunmore East. So how best to change the harbour for continuing viability, without destroying the much-loved character of the place, while at the same time profitably accomodating all possible harbour users?

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Dunmore East as it will be in the summer of 2013, with the new 40–metre pontoon indicated under the lighthouse on he outer pier. The anchor (top) indicates the anchorage in offshore winds off the Strand Hotel. Plan courtesy Irish Cruising Club

This year will see a small step towards providing berths for visiting cruisers. It's indicated on this latest ICC plan, and will be a 40 metre (120 feet) pontoon running lengthwise along the quay down towards the end of the pier, near the old lighthouse. Access ashore will be via steps that are let into the quay, and it's reckoned that up to twelve boats of average size can be accommodated. Every journey starts with a first step, but this particular first step by its location will require a lot of steps - in fact, route march is more like it - as it's about as far as you can be from the Sailing Club and the village without actually starting to depart from the harbour again.

Welcome as this pontoon is, there's a risk that it might serve as a distraction from more imaginative action, and already there is another quayside pontoon in the southwest corner of the harbour for Dunmore East's many half-deckers. But here at Sailing on Saturdays, we'd suggest that to be of any real value, Dunmore East harbour needs more radical action, and our harbour design department has been busy.

Any modification of Dunmore East harbour for use by craft of all sizes, and mostly smaller than today's average fishing boat, must take account of the fact that, in severe southeasterly gales, the outer parts of the harbour are extremely exposed. Up in the sandy cove off the Strand Hotel, where the ICC sailing directions quite rightly suggest anchoring if the wind is pleasantly between southwest and northwest, it is well known to YouTube viewers that a southeasterly gale (such as occurred on 15th August 2012) can produce impressive onshore breakers going clean over the inn. It's bad enough in a summer storm, and as for winter... in winter – when the traditional fishing season used to be at its height – Dunmore East could fill up with visiting Dutch boats, and after a period of severe southeasters the hotelier at The Strand went up to check his roof, and in the middle of it found a traditional Dutch wooden clog, swept in from the sea and popped up there by a mighty breaking wave.

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Dunmore East as seen from the southeast, with the Strand Hotel at top of photo. Photo: Rex Roberts

When the Strand Hotel is building up its clog collection in sou'east storms, there's quite a scend which can snake its war round the corner and into the harbour. And of course any yachts lying on the WHSC mooring immediately northwest of the harbour are having a very rugged time indeed. So the suggestion here is that we modify the harbour entrance to keep that scend at bay, and at the same time extend the Gull Rock through the current moorings to provide well sheltered space immediately northwest of the WHSC clubhouse.

The first step in this project would be lengthening the extension to the Outer Pier. Every time you see the place in rough weather, you can't help but think that the engineer in the 1960s would probably have liked to make it twice as long in the first place. But if we're going to have our new breakwater coming along the line of the Gull Rock, in order for it to be long enough to be effective without closing the harbour mouth too much, we have to angle the new outer breakwater extension in a slightly more northerly direction. Not much, but enough to make all the difference to the channel room in the harbour entrance.

The Gull Rock Breakwater is envisaged as being just that – a breakwater. It will have to be about a metre above High Water Springs, otherwise people will try to go over it as they do with the North Bull Wall in Dublin Bay. But the concept is that it's a breakwater and nothing more – no promenade along the top, and preferably made of rock armour to chime with the Gull Rock, though cost may make it necessary to build in tetrapods.

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Thinking outside the box – Sailing on Saturday's line of thought for Dunmore East. The new breakwater suggested along the Gull Rock would simply be a breakwater, without a walkway along the top. Drawing by Afloat Studios.

With the extended outer pier and the new Gull Rock breakwater, a well-sheltered area is created for the installation of a marina. That's the beauty of a marina. All it needs is an area of sheltered water with the required depth, and just one single point of shoreside access. There's no need for expensively finished quay walls - a marina is a minimalist installation, and extremely good value once the space has been created.

We appreciate that there will be those who'll be horrified by the thought of any part of that pretty little coastline between the harbour and the Strand Hotel being enclosed behind a breakwater. But we'd emphasise that, as far as possible, the breakwater will be made to seem like a natural extension of the Gull Rock. And while Stony Cove and Badger's Cove will be within the new sheltered space, important locations like Men's Cove (Poul na Leenta) and Lady's Cove will be kept nice and fresh outside.

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This newer marina for smaller local craft in Dingle suggests a welcome level of co-existence between all types. Photo: W M Nixon

With the marina in place, the entire dock area can revert to being exclusively for fishing boats. But with the industry being rationalized into a more compact shape these days, in time there could well be space for hauling out all boats and other manner of marine work taking place in there. Who knows, but maybe those pontoons running along the quays in the northeast and southwest corners of the harbour – a hugely wasteful use of quay space - might themselves become unofficial little marinas. I found one such in an eastern corner of Dingle Harbour last summer, and it seemed to be working in a harmonious way to accommodate boats of very different type and purpose.

Well, there you have it – it's one idea for Dunmore East, doubtless there are many others. And although Sir Boyle Roche may have quite rightly opined that we should do nothing for posterity on the grounds that posterity have done nothing for us, for the sake of future sailors let us at least take note that the clock in Brussels is ticking, and the train with these new funds will soon be leaving the station.

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#irishcruising – Henry Ford famously said that if he'd started out by asking people what they wanted, they'd have demanded a faster horse. Quite. But if you don't have the lightbulb moment of a Fordian concept so utterly brilliant that it creates its own market, then a bit of humdrum research to find out what the market wants will seldom go amiss.

Encouraging cruising visitors to sail to our coasts provides a good example. Irish sailing has such a long history of its own that it takes an effort to imagine what sailing visitors to our shores are hoping for. But for cruising visitors in particular, if we have to narrow it down to just one aspiration, we'd probably find that they love to go home with a photo of themselves sailing along with the Fastnet Rock in the background.

Better still, a photo of their boat sailing past the Fastnet on a brisk but sunny day, with themselves at the helm – now that really will hit the spot. And then a video of them celebrating afterwards at some nearby and hospitable port over a convivial seafood feast in a characterful inn, accompanied by traditional music - that will do nicely too.

But it's likely many Irish sailors would no more bother to get themselves that Fastnet photo than New Yorkers would go out of their way to be photographed with the Statue of Liberty. It's an attitude which probably lessens the further away from the famous rock you are based in Ireland. But sailing folk familiar with the coast of West Cork will be well aware that the legendary oceanic submerged mountain is actually less than five miles from the pub on Cape Clear, so where's the big deal? You could easily go round it most days if you wished, so why bother to go round it at all? Even Rockabill off Fingal is further from Joe May's in Skerries than the Fastnet is from North Harbour.

But for visitors, getting that Fastnet money shot is a straightforward, achievable and highly-desired objective. And however much the locals on the Irish coast take it for granted, back home in the big population heartlands of Europe or America or wherever, it's quite a trophy for that neighbourhood sailor recently back from Ireland's rugged seas to have on display.

The magic Fastnet photo is also a popular ambition in that it gives a simple objective to any cruise. As Conor O'Brien observed when he took his old boat Kelpie to go off gun-running with Erskine and Molly Childers on their Asgard in 1914, it's good to have a straightforward objective when you go cruising. But possibly a second significant objective for our cruising visitors is to sail round Ireland, even if many of them find the West Coast so awesome once they get there that they linger on it, and return southward retracing their steps, rather than getting home via the "tame" east coast.

Whatever, I'd reckon that these days Irish boats cruising round Ireland are out-numbered by visitors. For visitors, it's a neat objective, and it has all the attraction of going foreign, whereas a crew on a boat from one of Ireland's main sailing centres will have sailed an almost equally arduous voyage to our Atlantic coasts only to find that, thanks to our excellent new road system, they walk into the pub somewhere like Inishbofin, and find the place is filled with people from their home town who came up to Bofin only that morning.

But whether they're from Ireland or abroad, visitors to Inishbofin and other desirable cruising destinations bring a bit of life to the place, and they spend money too. In these straitened times, it makes sense to find out what they expect in the way of facilities to persuade them to stay on and enjoy themselves, maybe tempting them to visit again. Even better, they might encourage others to do so as well, for it's an irony of this supposed age of impersonal electronic communication that word of mouth seems to work better than ever as a marketing tool.

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Cruising sociability – gentle West Cork evening of early summer in Baltimore Photo: W M Nixon

So what will make them happy and keen to come? About a year ago, Failte Ireland commissioned "A Review of Tourism Policy Regarding the Development and Funding of Marina and Berthing Facilities in Ireland". The company given the contract – an English consultancy based in the heart of the Solent area with its massive maritime recreational infrastructure – sensibly recruited a comprehensive expert advisory panel from among people in Ireland in the frontline of providing services to those cruising our coasts. Unlike Henry Ford, they'd at least made a gesture to finding out what people wanted. The result is a 68-page document which was effectively completed in December 2012, but is still embargoed. It awaits publication. The mills of Government truly grind slow, and never more so than at a time when, in any case, there's not a red cent available for expenditure on worthwhile maritime recreation infrastructural projects.

So let us pass the time before its eventual publication with a bit of blue sky thinking about the Irish sailing cruising product, and marketing it. Let's think big, and put broad brush strokes into place. And let's start from basics.

Why do we want to encourage more cruising boats to come to Ireland?

Because they will bring much-needed tourism income, while the presence of cruising yachts sailing along a beautiful coastline enhances the impression it makes as an area of peace and prosperity, with the abundant presence of those boats in popular harbours further reinforcing these positive perceptions, thereby helping to reinforce the entire tourism experience for those ashore and afloat.

What is the experience that people who come here for sailing cruising holidays expect?

Spectacular coastal scenery, good sailing conditions on clean water with decent breezes without being too rough, enough challenge in each day's sailing to give a sense of achievement when a hospitable and entertaining port is reached by evening, and in that port a convenient, welcoming and secure berth for the night among other friendly sailors.

A proper cruising yacht will be fully equipped with her own anchoring system, but if Visitors' Moorings are available they will be used, as the very presence of established moorings will provide the risk of fouling if you drop your own anchor. If a marina or at least a pontoon is available, most visitors will prefer to berth there, as a pontoon berth with shoreside access allows greater freedom of movement for individual crewmembers, who after all have been cramped up together on a confined boat all day.

Dyed-in-the-wool cruising enthusiasts and total boat-lovers may prefer the solitary splendour of lying to a mooring or an anchor. But most folk who are not totally addicted to traditional-style cruising will prefer the individual freedom and convenience provided by a marina berth.

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In Dingle, the preferred berth can be found in the marina Photo: W M Nixon

How can we provide the infrastructure to make cruising Ireland for visitors more enjoyable?

There are at least a thousand over-lapping answers to that, but at its most basic the long-established official policy of hoping to have a coastal necklace of marinas every 35 miles still holds good. Obviously that is only the most basic plan – it would need to be varied frequently to fit in with local coastal conditions, population centres, and established harbours – but it provides a structure.

Where do we expect most of our visitors to come from?

While there is a small but significant "Transatlantic trade", most visitors will come from ports in an arc from the northeast to the southeast of Ireland. This includes Scotland, the Isle of Man, Northwest England, Wales, Southwest England, and countries beyond Land's End such as France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and of course the many large sailing centres on the south coast of England.

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There's a small but significant "Transatlantic trade". The American cutter Exodus was welcomed to Dingle Photo: W M Nixon

The fact of having to round Land's End to get to Ireland for this latter group makes for two distinct visitor streams sailing to this country. The configuration of Ireland's south coast means that any boat rounding Land's End is virtually equidistant from all ports between West Cork and Wexford. With the prevailing winds from the southwest, and the most popular cruising grounds to be found in southwest Ireland, this southern stream will try to make westing as much as possible, preferably to West Cork and certainly no further east than Cork Harbour. They will only shape their course in a more easterly direction if they intend to go northwards through the Irish Sea.

The Bristol Channel makes for the great divide, as most boats in the area are berthed along its north shore, on the south coast of Wales and in Milford Haven. Thus they are part of the other visitor stream. If heading for Ireland, they'll almost invariably make their landfall in south Wexford, and so they will share the needs of people from all ports in the Irish Sea for a better selection of facilities in southeast Ireland, which is the greatest single problem facing the overall development of Ireland's cruising product.

Why is the lack of a good selection of harbours in southeast Ireland such a problem?

There's a large and increasing boat population on both sides of the Irish Sea, and they're keen to go further. While their own area is improving as a cruising ground in its own right, many more of these boats would be attracted to the idea of cruising to Ireland's south and southwest coasts if there were more and better harbours along the coasts in those challenging waters all the way from Arklow to Dungarvan

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The big-hearted little port. Despite its small size, Kilmore Quay manages to provide proper berthing for cruisers and a very active fishing fleet.

Photo: W M Nixon

It says everything about the limited facilities in all of southeast Ireland that the provision of a modest marina at Kimore Quay has been the greatest single cruising improvement in the region in fifty years. Kilmore Quay is excellent in its way, it's strategically useful, and is known for the warmth of its welcome. But because it is isolated on an exposed and difficult bit of coast, if you're caught out there in bad weather you've no options for even the most limited movement in reasonably sheltered waters – you just have to stay put and stick it out, or else leave your boat in Kilmore's shelter, and simply go home until the weather improves

By contrast, Dunmore East at the entrance to Waterford Estuary has marvellous natural advantages. Even if the weather is too extreme for offshore passages, there's plenty of sheltered cruising to be had up to Waterford and New Ross, with marinas at both places, while other anchorages are available in attractive surroundings.

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Crowded boats in Dunmore East, which has discouraged cruisers in times past.

Yet despite the friendly Waterford Harbour Sailing Club there doing the best it can in difficult circumstances, the fisheries harbour at Dunmore East has long been noted as actively hostile to cruising boats. It has been a coastal hospitality blackspot on the entire area. The word is that some minor gestures of improvement may be on the way, but as it is, it's difficult to see why it has deteriorated so much, and why positive steps haven't been taken much sooner.

Perhaps it's something to do with the fact that Waterford County Council is headquartered at Dungarvan in the west of the county, while just up the road in the northeast is the all-powerful and historic Waterford City Corporation. Whatever it is, Dunmore East harbour seems to be an administrative orphan. Yet it could be redeemed by being re-invigorated as a fishing port with a significant sailing presence.

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Mallaig on Scotland's West Coast used to be a byword for congested and conflicted berthing, but now with a small marina it accommodates cruising boats, fishing boats, a ferry port – and a boatyard too. Photo: W M Nixon

You only have to look at Dingle or Howth to realise that such a thing is perfectly possible. But if the powers that be from the southeast don't want to be seen going to other Irish harbours to see how Dunmore East might be re-born, then let them go to Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland. It used to be a byword for bad tempers, as fishing boats, ferries and cruising yachts battled for space. But now all is sweetness and light with the layout rationalized, and the cruising boats provided with their own neat little 50-berth marina which has made the place not merely somewhere you call by to implement crew changes using the famous west Highland Railway, but an attractive destination in its own right.

So we'll be very interested to see what "A Review of Tourism Policy Regarding the Development and Funding of Marina and Berthing Facilities in Ireland" has to say about Dunmore East. There are times you'd be thinking it's the magic key to the whole thing.

ECHOES OF THE REPUBLIC UP NORTH

Intriguing to see that the Royal Yachting Association's new National Handicap System for cruisers is being launched at Ballyholme YC on Belfast Lough. Is it really so new? After all, most clubs have been getting by with the up-graded Portsmouth Yardstick system for a very long time. And as well, just across the North Channel, the Clyde Yacht Clubs Handicap has been catering for different cruisers for years, and most Belfast Lough boats have been able to avail of that.

But then, things have always been a bit different on Belfast Lough. Back in the late 19th Century, it was a hotbed of pure One Design development, so maybe that tradition has something to do with the lack of a viable local cruiser handicapping system. And by heavens, when they said One Design For Level Racing, they meant it. Having been reared with Belfast Lough sailing, when I first sailed with an alleged One Design class in Dublin, I was amazed to find they ran two sets of results – scratch and handicap. Within the overall class programme, the competition for the handicap prizes was in its way every bit as intense as the straight one design racing.

Thus most boats got a look-in at the prize giving, but in Belfast Lough some never figured at all. Their mood was set by unflinching Calvinists. So in the rare event that one of their One Design fleets ever got above a dozen boats, they'd no hesitation in making the next one Number 13. They wouldn't have dreamt of that in Dublin, where Number 13 simply didn't exist. But I had my very first race aboard the Belfast Lough Waverley Class 18ft Montrose, jointly owned by my father and uncle. And Montrose was Number 13. There are those who would suggest this has affected my life ever since, but they're wrong – touch wood.

Be that as it may, regarding the RYA's claim to novelty for its NHS (I'm sure that won't be the final acronym, with the problems the National Health Service is having across the water these days), at least Mike Urwin of the RORC Measurement Office has made the point that in Ireland we've had a very successful "sundry boats" handicap system running for many years in parallel with the IRC (and the Channel Handicap and the IOR before that), our good and trusty old friend the ECHO system.

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The Great ECHO Mother. The unusual lines of the George McGruer-designed 42ft Tritsch-Tratsch, provider of the performance benchmark which facilitated the creation of ECHO back in the early 1970s

It goes right back to 1971, when the late Bill Lacy began to develop a poor man's IOR at Howth by rating local boats on their performance against Otto Glaser's 42ft George McGruer-designed Admirals Cupper Tritsch-Tratsch I. Tritsch Tratsch, a remarkable varnished sloop, was very under-canvassed by today's standards, but a wizard to windward as she had a unique hull based on 12 Metre thinking. Despite her small rig, she could out-sail everything in the area (and elsewhere as well), so she was an excellent benchmark from which the system developed, with Billy working along with Chick Brown, another Howth sailor of mathematical inclinations.

Across in Dun Laoghaire, Hal Sisk and Ernest Goulding had been working on something similar, and an area handicap system developed so successfully that it was given the grand title of East Coast Handicap Organisation, though those involved readily admitted that if anything, ECHO stood for Ernest, Chick, Hal and Others.

Whatever, it worked, rating crews and helms as much as boats. It was a system which was readily accepted in an area where One Design Classes readily allocated different performance figures, and in a country where the Golfing Union of Ireland had led the world in handicapping individual players. As for those of us who felt our modest successes had been allowed to raise our handicaps too much, we could always take our boats and get them weighed and measured for a rating from the more impersonal Channel Handicap System.

So now, 42 years after Bill Lacy and his friends started their ground-breaking system, they're hearing about something similar up north. One trusts that they're aware that not only is today the 13th of the month, but we're also in the year of superstition 2013.

As for Tritsch-Tratsch the Great Echo Mother, the last I heard of her she was in Maine, with an owner who cherishes slightly eccentric classic boats. She is that and more. But what a performer to windward.....back in 1972 she was slugging upwind on a very windy but sunny Sunday morning out in the middle of the Irish Sea, rocketing along and making mincemeat of the steep breaking seas in an ISORA race, with the rest of the fleet way behind.

A big ship hove into view, and paced along beside her, both of them covered in spray and spume, and the noise intense. Suddenly, it occurred to TT's crew that the ship might think they needed help. So they called her on the VHF, and told them on the bridge that everything was okay. Their reply would have gladdened any owner's heart:

"We can see that," said the ship. "But it's just that your boat is going great. Absolutely marvellous. D'you mind if we watch for a while?"

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#ruffian23 – Congratulations, Ruffian 23s – you've passed your 40th birthday. It was the Springtime of 1973 when we were invited by Dickie Brown to go down to Portaferry for a sail test of the prototype of the new 23ft Quarter Tonner which his brother Billy had designed, working at the drawing board in creative bursts around three o'clock in the morning "when I can think most clearly, as at that time the ether isn't cluttered up with other people's ideas".

The first glimmerings of the idea had probably started back in 1969, when we were all doing the Fastnet Race aboard Ronnie Wayte's Mayro of Skerries. Ronnie had built this 35-footer to designs of his own in fibreglass in his factory in Carrickmacross, where their normal product line was steel domestic oil tanks. Weird enough, you'd think. But I – whose experience of glassfibre boat-building was absolutely zilch - was much involved from the start, simply on the strength of having won overall in the Round Isle of Man Race in 1964 in an old wooden boat.

Things moved slowly down Carrickmacross way, so it was nearly five years after that minor Isle of Man triumph before the new boatbuilding project actually started. But we made it to the Fastnet start of '69, and finished 122nd in a fleet of 250 boats. The smart alecs remarked that it had taken a helluva lot of boats to beat us. But we could point out that we in turn had beaten another 122 boats, and it certainly still stands as the best Fastnet placing ever achieved by an amateur-designed boat built in Carrickmacross.

With Mayro's crew including Dick and Billy Brown, not to mention Barry Bramwell and Dickie Gomes, that race of '69 was a hotbed for notions of future offshore racing projects, and the Brown brothers of Portaferry in County Down on the shores of the Narrows into Strangford Lough were the first to make the notions become reality. Dickie was the sort of can-do man who could turn his hand to anything, particularly if it was to do with working around or building boats, while his older brother Billy was a university lecturer in physics and mathematics who was also a dab hand in creative technical design. Through 1970 they developed the concept of a 34-footer, with Billy drawing the lines and Dickie building the hull of the new boat upside down in three-skin glued timber in a substantial shed conveniently located at the foot of his shoreside garden.

We should all have such a shed. Officially, it was a pig-shed, for in those days you could construct whatever you wished in the way of agricultural buildings in the Northern Ireland countryside. But though at times it did resonate with porcine oinks, in the winter of 1970-71 this was where a rather wonderful offshore racer called Ruffian took shape in a remarkable family project.

Ruffian was a star performer from the start. But after her very successful first season, the Brown brothers realised that if they were to achieve their dream of creating a viable modern boat-building plant in their little home town, a place desperately short of steady employment, then it would have to be with a more manageable smaller boat, around the Quarter Ton size. Thus Weatherly Yachts came into being to build the Ruffian 23, though with the hopes of adding larger sizes in due course.

The prototype of the Ruffian 23 was still being finished by Dickie and his team when I got his phone call, but he reckoned if I could get a crew together and head down to Portaferry, they'd have her ready on the last Saturday of March. It was blowing old boots from the northeast on the day, classic March weather, but conditions were improving as my brother James and I with longtime shipmate Ed Wheeler drove down the winding road south along the Ards Peninsula to Portaferry.

And there she was: Ruffian 23 No 1, just launched and still being rigged. This wouldn't be a test sail. This would be a maiden voyage. But there was now more sunshine between the squalls, and she looked great, a proper miniature offshore racing yacht just asking to be sailed, a big-hearted little boat.

But from the photography point of view, "little" was the operative word. I went off in one of Portaferry's lobster boats pressed into service as a photographer's launch, having told the crew on the Ruffian that not only were they most emphatically not to stand up, but if they were sitting up to weather they'd to crouch down, otherwise the new boat would look tiny and result in photos which would fail to do justice to her gallant spirit.

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Squally weather in Strangford Narrows. In order not to exaggerate the Ruffian 23's small size, the crew crouched down as best they could while Dickie Brown remained totally relaxed at the helm. Photo: W M Nixon

This explains why, in the photos - which were taken sailing in the Narrows - Ed Wheeler on the weather rail seems to have been struck down by sudden cramp, while my brother James has succumbed to disablement low down in the cockpit or crouched in the companionway. As for Dickie on the helm, he was Oscar material with his cool performance as a relaxed skipper, sitting conspicuously comfortably despite the fact that every so often ferocious gusts would blast down and do their best to flatten the boat, and spin her too.

In some of the snaps she may look under-canvassed, but we'd plenty of cloth for the day that was in it. As soon as the photos were in the can, Dickie and I swopped places, and he told us to go off up the lough and enjoy ourselves. We did that very thing. Here we were with a completely new little boat which hadn't even been afloat 24 hours earlier, yet we'd an absolute blast up Strangford Lough in the sunshine, and the Ruffian 23 proved herself a gallant boat, a joy to sail with a marvellous beat northward and a tearing run back.

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She was a very good looking little boat in 1973 – and she still is. Photo: W M Nixon

This was the fun part, rounded out with the inevitable celebration in Dumigan's. After that there came the work of building the boats, and promoting the design in an era when the oil crisis of 1974 knocked the economy for six. Despite that, top sailors such as former GP 14 World Champion Bill Whisker from Belfast Lough were keen Ruffian 23 racers, while in 1973 Barry Bramwell had taken a souped-up boat to the Quarter Ton Worlds in the south of England, and though the winner was Ron Holland with his larger Eyghthene 24, the Ruffian 23 was in the frame and made a favourable international debut.

Then in 1975 a keen young offshore racing man, Jim Poole from Dublin Bay, kitted up his new Ruffian 23 Ruffino for a proposed three stage Round Ireland Race being promoted by Ballyholme YC, and he placed second overall, his crew being one Eamon Crosbie, who many years later in 2004 was to dominate the Round Ireland Race from Wicklow with his Ker 32 Voodoo Chile.

But back in the 1970s, despite the dire state of the economy the Brown brothers kept gallantly at it, and in 1976 the Ruffian 23 made her official Dun Laoghaire debut, at a Boat Show in the grounds of the Royal Marine Hotel which was visited by President Hillery - a sailing man himself - who spent a long time aboard the boat with Billy Brown.

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Dun Laoghaire Boat Show 1976, and President Hillery much enjoyed his visit with Billy Brown aboard the Ruffian 23. Photo: Michael O'Reilly

In all, about 200 Ruffian 23s were to be built, most of them by Weatherly Yachts in Portaferry, then about a dozen either finished or as bare hulls by BJ Marine in Dublin, and then two or three were built by the last owner of the moulds down in Baltimore.

Even allowing for two hundred boats in existence, the spread achieved has been remarkable. Most distant is Hong Kong, whose small but enthusiastic fleet keeps in contact with the two main Irish fleets in Dun Laoghaire and Carrickfergus. These two biggest groups maintain a strongly competitive friendship afloat and ashore, with the Dublin Bay sailors being particularly impressed by the way the Carrickfergus crews sweep them north for the annual entertainment of Burns Night on January 25th. And the most unexpected location is Iceland – two or three boats were sailed up there from Portaferry, underlining the boat's sea keeping and cruising qualities, which are of course the main attraction for Ruffian owners dotted all round the coast nowadays.

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Over the years, the Ruffian 23s have proved as able for cruising as they are keen to race. Photo: W M Nixon

This cruising ability has been recognized for a long time. In 1981 Ronan Beirne of Dun Laoghaire won the Irish Cruising Club's Round Ireland Cup with Rila, Ken Ryan's Ruffian 23. Ken being very much involved with international sailing administration both afloat and ashore, he seldom had the time to sail himself. His only stipulaton for Ronan's use was that the boat was to be sailed as often as possible, and cruising round Ireland hit the spot. Equally impressive was a jaunt out to St Kilda in 1983 by three Dun Laoghaire veterans aboard Siamsa. Mickey d'Alton, Leslie Latham and Franz Winkelmann had a combined age of 210, plus Franz was very tall and had to be more or less folded in two in order to get below. But despite all that, they made a fine cruise with their able little 23-footer to Scotland's most remote island.

In complete contrast to cruising was Neville Maguire's out-and-out racing approach. He and Dickie Brown were two of a kind, and when he asked the Portaferry man if he could have the lightest possible Ruffian 23, stripped of non-essentials like the rudder skeg and various comforts, and fitted with a tall and spindly fractional rig which he would assemble from spar parts for other racing boats, Dickie duly obliged. Neville's Spalpeen was the result, a successful little boat, but so spare and sparse that when he moved up to the Club Shamrock Demelza, it felt like he'd moved into superyacht territory.
After forty years, second and third generation Ruffian 23 sailors are making the scene, particularly with the long-established Dun Laoghaire division where the current class captain is Ian Cutliffe. He sails Ruffles, which his father Michael finished back in the day from a bare hull supplied from Portaferry, providing himself with a good-looking boat of character which could look after herself in a blow, and head confidently offshore whether racing or cruising, while also providing good club racing, a boat which punched way above her weight. The Ruffian 23 has stood the test of time in style, nicely in line for her Golden Jubilee in just ten years time.

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#offshoresailing – There were four of them, back in 1968 in New York. There was Dick Nye (1903-1988). Briefly a theatrical hopeful, he'd got no further than spear carrier in an opera. But Broadway's loss was Wall Street's gain – the ebullient Nye had a stellar career in the wheelings and dealings of mergers and acquisitions and takeover battles, and this funded a love of offshore racing which he hadn't discovered until he was 44 .

Also present was his son Richard B Nye, business colleague and longtime shipmate in a hugely successful shared offshore racing career on both sides of the Atlantic, and across it. "Richard was the detail guy. Richard could remember every tack and sail combination on every race they had ever sailed. I only exaggerate a little. Between the two of them, they got maximum performance out of boat and crew."

The speaker is Sheila McCurdy, Commodore of the Cruising Club of America 2011-2012. She knew the Nyes well and sailed with them too, as she is the daughter of the third man present, yacht designer Jim McCurdy (1922-1994). Having served his time with the great Philip Rhodes, rising to head the Rhodes office's sailboat division, he had now set up his own partnership with his former boss's son Body Rhodes, and a new 48ft offshore racer for Dick and Richard Nye was one of McCurdy & Rhodes' first commissions.

McCurdy worked harmoniously with the Nyes. In 1955 in the Rhodes office, he had overseen the creation of their previous boat, the 54ft yawl Carina II, which had won both the 1955 and the 1957 Fastnets overall, and her class in the Bermuda Race too, plus a couple of Transatlantics. Carina II had been and still was a great boat, but the CCA rule had moved on. Being a beamy centreboard yawl had been a rating disadvantage under the RORC Rule, which made Carina II's Fastnet double all the more remarkable. But by 1968 it no longer conferred any advantage under the American rule either, something which was expected to be emphasised with the new International Offshore Rule.

It was hoped this ground-breaking global measurement rule would be unveiled by 1970. However, the Nyes - once they'd decided to move - were men in a hurry, and in August 1968 with Jim McCurdy they finalized a design which they reckoned would be a useful template for those framing the IOR. It was that and more.

The boat which emerged from their deliberations became the fourth member of the quartet, a personality in her own right. And with the death of Richard B Nye on March 14th at the age of 81, only Carina is left - American sailing's great survivor. She is still winning major offshore races in her fifth decade, still giving enormous pleasure to all who sail on her, and comfortably belying her age of 44 with timeless good looks.

She was built in aluminium, and kept as simple as possible. How about teak laid decks, even with their inevitable weight? As they say on Wall Street – fuggedaboudit. It wasn't that the Nyes were tight with the money, though they did shop around for value – their previous Carina had been built in Germany in a yard near Hamburg, as that offered the best deal at the time. But they readily spent money on the boat, particularly on the sails and rig, when genuine benefit would result.

And Jim McCurdy had an interesting approach to expenditure in building one-off yachts. Despite being of Ulster-Scots descent – you'll find McCurdys on Rathlin Island, and they're big around Ballymena and in The Glens – Jim McCurdy had a refreshingly open attitude to budgets, at variance with the popular perception of the Ulster-Scots' reputation for parsimony. In response to questions from Arthur Beiser for the latter's authorative book The Proper Yacht (Second Edition 1978), McCurdy suggested that anyone thinking of building the dreamship should consider "throwing financial responsibility to the winds and grabbing your dream as it slips away into an even more unfriendly future. There are those who have acted in this fashion and their irresponsibility turned, in fact, into wisdom that produced a great reward in enjoyment of sailing".
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Jim McCurdy and Dick Nye aboard Carina in the 1972 Transatlantic Race to Spain, which they won by a huge margin. They were both great men for their cigars, earned here after a tactical gamble had paid off in spades.

Another time, he commented that those who concentrated on saving the pennies at every stage ended up spending more and achieving less than those who took the broader more generous view. Certainly with the previous Carina, when the Nyes' Wall Street speciality financial services firm was a much more modest operation than had become by 1968, the yacht style finish was to the highest standard, with all the trimmings. But with the sparse new boat, all was in line with the purpose of providing performance with just the basics of comfort needed by dedicated amateur crews for long races, and this remarkably handsome yet decidedly non-yachty sloop made her international debut at Cork in July 1969.

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Shortly after the start of the 1969 Transatlantic Race to Cork, with Huey Long's maxi Ondine and the new Carina leading the only Irish entry, Perry Greer's Helen of Howth, past the Brenton Reef Light Tower. Photo: Tom Matthews

She'd raced Transatlantic, against a fleet which included one Irish entry, Perry Greer's John B Kearney-designed 54ft centreboard yawl Helen of Howth, which ironically had in some ways been inspired by the previous Carina. But Helen's owner was an inveterate gadgeteer and liked his cruising comforts. Even in racing trim, the Irish boat was no more than a fast cruiser, floating well below her designed waterline. The new austere Carina by contrast was very much a contender. So although in a big boat race to Cork the winner was the souped-up 12 Metre American Eagle from the 66ft S&S yawl Kialoa – Ted Turner from Jim Kilroy: there were giants in ocean racing in those days – Carina won her class in style, and her crew were enthused about her easy speed and good handling characteristics. Even today, after hundreds of thousands of miles, it's said she has never broached.

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Jim Kilroy's 66ft yawl Kialoa II placed second in the 1969 Transatlantic Race to Cork.

That Cork visit resulted in Transatlantic links to the Nyes which two years later in 1971 had the 22-year-old Ron Cudmore sail as crew on Carina in a fast delivery passage across the Atlantic. Dick Nye wanted to get to the 1971 Admirals Cup, Ron wanted to get home from the US, and as no Transatlantic Race was scheduled, they could sail the northern Great Circle route with no mandatory waypoint to keep them clear of ice. Carina zapped across in just over a fortnight on the open ocean - "Fast and very cold," as Ron recalls. "great boat, awesome skipper".

Another Irish sailor who particularly remembers her arriving in Crosshaven back in 1969 is Neil Kenefick. Aged 11 at the time, he and his father were invited to sail on Carina from Cork to Kinsale as the Nyes fitted in a tiny bit of cruising before heading off for Dick Nye's favourite regatta, Cowes Week, which included the Admirals Cup in which Carina was a member of the winning American Team.

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Carina on the Solent in 1969, when she was a member of the winning American Admiral's Cup team. It's said that she has never broached, and here – tight spinnaker reaching under her original configuration of smaller rudder with trim tab on keel – she is giving the helmsman no problems.

Neil met up with them again in Cowes ten years later, when he himself was on the then-leading Irish Admirals Cup team aboard Golden Apple, and the Nyes were properly impressed. But Golden Apple was a 1979 Fastnet casualty, along with Ireland's Admirals Cup hopes, whereas Carina went round in style with three generations of Nyes aboard – Richard B's son Jonathan was in the crew. At the height of the gale Dick Nye, aged 76, roped himself into the cockpit the better to savour this storm of storms: "This is GREAT" he bellowed, "truly utterly GREAT!"

The boat had already won a Bermuda Race overall, and in 1982 with the old man finally feeling his years and retired from offshore racing, Richard Nye sailed as skipper on his own and Carina won the Bermuda Race overall again. The successes continued, but by the mid '90s the junior Nye was looking back on fifty years of active offshore racing. So Carina found an excellent new home with Rives Potts, whose CV included crewing for Dennis Conner in 12 Metres, and very varied boatyard work – it was he who had done most of the work in the angle-grinder event in Bob Derecktor's famous yard when Carina was given an up-dated keel and rudder profile to Scott Kauffmann designs in 1978.

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Carina's hull profile as it is today, with the new keel-rudder configuration to Scott Kauffmann designs fitted in 1978. Originally she's had a skeg-hung rudder with a trim tab on the keel. Photo: Rives Potts

Since then in Potts ownership, the only significant change has been a new mast in carbon. It has been noted that it lessens pitching. But other than that, this is still the same Carina, immaculately and lovingly maintained. In 2010 she won the Bermuda Race overall, then in 2011 she came cross the Atlantic and won Class 5 and placed fifth overall in the record fleet in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Then she simply sailed straight off to Sydney under the command of the next generation, and got sixth in class in the Hobart Race and won the informal "father-son" division, and then sailed on round the world with a particularly impressive east-west crossing of the Indian Ocean from Perth to Cape Town to get back to the US just in time for the Bermuda Race 2012, and she won overall in that yet again.

She won't be in the Fastnet this year, but it's likely she'll be back in 2015. Rives Potts is a flag officer of the New York YC, which will sending a fleet across for the Bicentennial of the Royal Yacht Squadron. And in that fleet, the boat for true sailors will be this modest 46-year-old black sloop, American sailing's great survivor, a global superstar.

THE HIPPY HAPPY MIRROR DINGHY

Did you know there used to be Mirror dinghies for hippies, driven by flower power? Believe me, there were – we bought one for family use back in 1977 from a former suburban hippy round Dun Laoghaire way. Instead of a simple paint job for the hull, she was decorated in flowers from end to end.

The guy we bought her from was Norman Long. These day, he is of course F. Norman Long, senior sailor emeritus, pillar of the yachting establishment, and basking in the deserved glow of having played a key role – along with Theo and Avril Harris - of getting the annual frostbite series inaugurated under the auspices of the Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club, way back in 1974 or even earlier.

But in his more relaxed moments yonks ago, Norman would have dreamt of making the scene in San Francisco. I don't think he got there, yet he grew his hair long, and he painted his boat with psychedelic flowers on a pink background. But regrettably, it wasn't that which drew us to the boat. We simply wanted a Mirror dinghy because it offered so much for an impecunious family with two small children and another on the way, and Norman's was for sale as he was getting involved with offshore racing.

The Mirror was the right choice for us. They're great little big-hearted boats, one of the cleverest dinghy design concepts of all time. She gave us two happy summers and was everything we needed for local mini-cruises – some boats twice the size couldn't carry as many people - and the very occasional race. But it wasn't until the flowers had gone that we made our debut with our new pride-and-joy. We smuggled her back home on the roof of our battered little car, and hid her in the garage - it hadn't become an office in those days. When she reappeared, immaculate yacht white with a neat dark green boot-top – a proper boot-top, not silly stripes – the neighbours thought it was a different boat entirely.

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Mirror action at Rosses Point in Sligo. This year the class is celebrating its Golden Jubilee, and the Worlds are at Lough Derg in August.
Photo: Bryan Armstrong

These fond memories are evoked by the fact that this month marks the Golden Jubilee of the Mirror Class Assocation. It was actually 1962 when DIY guru Barry Bucknell and ace dinghy designer Jack Holt pooled their considerable talents to produce the smallest possible boat which could do just about everything, and they succeeded brilliantly. Of course they're now mainly known for their racing, but for simply sailing they're great too, and seaworthy with it – one intrepid Mirror sailor managed to get all the way from Shropshire in England across Europe to the Black Sea.

The essence of the design is that it was dictated by what could be done with marine ply by amateur builders. The stitch-and-glue technique conferred strength and shape, while the need for economy and internal space dictated the pram bow.

Inevitably over the years, racing demands have meant that people have lost sight of the original very basic concept. For instance, they now have bermudan rig, where originally they'd a sensible sliding gunter set-up with all the spars stowable within the hull when un-rigged, which was very user friendly.

Less user-friendly was the need to keep weight and price down, thus they were built with ultra-light inexpensive plywood, of marine standard but pushing it a bit. It couldn't be neglected at all. So in time there were attempts to build competitive boats in lower maintenance glassfibre, and when the Worlds were held in Ireland in 2001, the Australians turned up with plastic boats which did the business.

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The shape of the Mirror dinghy is dictated by the demands of plywood construction, and the need for economy and light weight.
Photo: Bryan Armstrong

But in the long run, it's absurd to use fibreglass to build boats whose shape was created in the first place by the unique demands of plywood construction, utilising a totally hard chine shape. We mentioned that here some weeks ago in considering the 30ft van de Stadt-designed Royal Cape ODs. Those slippy little plywood sea sleds had given so much sport that somebody though it would be a great idea to build them in more durable glassfibre. But only four were built in plastic as the absurdity of sticking to the confines of a totally plywood design concept became obvious.

It should be possible to create a design which has the Mirror's excellent roominess, attractive sailing ability and compact size, while taking much greater advantage of the shape options which plastic construction offers. But of course, such a boat would need all the hassle of creating a new class, with its essential dedicated adherents. The Mirror dinghy comes with its own extraordinary ready-made hinterland of wonderful memories and great sport.

So we wish them a very happy 50th Birthday. And where does an impecunious sailing family go after two great years with a Mirror? Into a Squib of course – where else?

Published in W M Nixon

#roundirelandrecord –The idea that sailing round Ireland could be sport would have seemed crazy not so very long ago. Ireland's Atlantic coasts, indeed all Ireland's coasts, were seen as the sole preserve of a skilled and hardy breed, very special seafarers who were the only people able for the dangerously hard work made necessary by the need to make a living from fishing, commercial shipping or naval duties on some of the most restless water in the world.

Maybe we're getting back to that stage, with the professional crew of the MOD 70 Musandam – including Ireland's Damian Foxall - lining up today to take on the still impressive 44 hour round Ireland sailing record set back in September 1993 by Steve Fossett's superb 60ft trimaran Lakota. For they're doing it at a time when winter is refusing to loosen its grip, and the radio stations are broadcasting continuous weather warnings. Sail around Ireland? You wouldn't even have let the dog out of the house yesterday.

Yet at least we now know that it is possible to sail the 704 miles round Ireland at high speed and survive – and sometimes even enjoy it. But in the days when Ireland's Atlantic seaboard was known only to professional seafarers and locals scraping a living with small boats which hoped to scuttle back to shelter when storms threatened, it had a fearsome reputation. It was a viewpoint which those who sailed its waters had a vested interest in encouraging and preserving. It rightly made them heroic to others, while the jealously guarded navigational knowledge of local pilots was something which gave them a useful economic advantage.

In the late 19th Century, however, the spread of recreational sailing inevitably led to cruising yachtsmen sailing to ever more remote coastlines. Mostly they were affluent types whose boats were managed by professional captains. But in time the sportsmen were sailing their own boats, with amateur cruising under sail becoming a whole new branch of yachting. And there had long been yachts on the west coast of Ireland. In the briefly prosperous pre-famine era, the Royal Western YC of Ireland in 1838 listed 18 members' vessels of varying sizes based at its home port of Kilrush in County Clare. So the likelihood is high that some of them sailed round Ireland, even if only on delivery trips by professional crews.

But the earliest specifically round Ireland cruise from an Irish port that we definitely know of didn't happen until 1889, when Walter Boyd of Howth skippered his own 34-ton yawl Aideen round Ireland. Better known as Judge Boyd, Aideen's amateur skipper was a classic Dublin character – he's referenced in Joyce's Ulysses – but his enthusiasm for cruising Ireland's more rugged western coastlines was usually not shared by fellow yachtsmen, even if he did his best to spread the word that it was by no means as scary as popular opinion would have it.

We know little of Boyd's cruise, except that he did it and he must have sailed all the way. It wasn't until 1896 that we have the log of a round Ireland cruise which enables us to give some sort of guess at speed. Of course, the idea of sailing round Ireland non-stop was a complete non-runner until the Round Ireland Race was inaugurated from Wicklow in 1980. But in 1993 it was realised that Lakota's sensational new time was such a game changer that it was important to record the early pioneers before this new wave of multi-hull hyper-speed swept their memory away completely.

Thus it was that, 97 years after he wrote it, the number crunchers fell upon Belfast doctor Howard Sinclair's charming log of his clockwise cruise round Ireland in 1896 in the 30ft cutter Brenda. They worked out – after making allowances for time taken to get in and out of ports and anchorages – that he had averaged 2.63 knots. There were few enough eligible round Ireland circuits after that, for the advent of the auxiliary engine rendered most of the only very slowly increasing number of round Ireland cruises invalid as pure sailing projects. But in 1935, the speed improved slightly when Humphrey Barton – later founder of the Ocean Cruising Club – made an anti-clockwise cruise from Belfast Lough at an average of 3.34 knots in the engineless 37ft gaff cutter Dauntless.

Belfast Lough figures surprisingly prominently in these early round Ireland sailing chronicles. Perhaps it's because, of all the major Irish sailing centres, Belfast is furthest from the choicest cruising area in southwest Ireland. It's as quick for the Belfast men to sail home from Kerry by going on round, whereas Dublin Bay boats are heading further away from home until they reach Slyne Head up in Connemara, and Cork boats seldom if ever sailed round Ireland at all until Denis Doyle came along and cut a mighty swathe with Moonduster.

durward

The mighty atom. The Belfast Lough Waverley class sloop Durward is just 18ft long. Yet in 1961 (when setting a Bermudian rig) she sailed round Ireland at an average speed of 3.4 knots. Photo: W M Nixon

Whatever the reason, the next two cruises which increased the average speed both also started from Belfast Lough. Truly remarkable in 1961 was the speedy clockwise circuit by the 18ft Belfast Lough Waverley Class Durward, still the smallest keelboat to have done it, and a record which is likely to stand as keelboats rarely get any smaller. In those days, Durward (which is now based in Dun Laoghaire) set a handy Bermuda rig, whereas today she has changed to the gunter rig as originally designed, with a remarkably long mainboom. On the circuit in 1961, for which her cockpit was fitted with a temporary lid to mke a sort of cabin, she was sailed by brothers Kevin and Colm MacLaverty, with Mick Clarke as third hand, and their average speed with this gallant micro-cruiser was 3.4 knots, very good going with a 14ft waterline.

The average speed finally got above 4 knots three years later in an unintended anti-clockwise sailing circuit. We (this blogger, together with Russell O'Neill and Ed Wheeler) set out in 1964 in the vintage 36ft yawl Ainmara with every intention of availing of the engine as often as needed. But it seized solid before we'd even got clear of Belfast Lough, so it was sail all the way for an average of 4.83 knots which would have been around than 5.4 if we hadn't had to spend a long night lying a-hull in a southerly gale somewhere off the mouth of the Shannon.

ainmara

Ainmara, 101 years old, is currently owned by Dickie Gomes, who established a round Ireland record with the trimaran Novanet in 1986. But Ainmara was herself an "accidental" record holder, back in 1964 Photo: W M Nixon

By the 1970s, Round Ireland Races were coming up the agenda, so the record analysts of 1993 had something more tangible to go on. The first round Ireland race was a clockwise three stage two-handed event from Belfast Lough staged by Ballyholme YC, with stops in Crosshaven and Killybegs. Winner was the Dun Laoghhaire S&S 34 (Robert Mollard & Dick Watson), and with many light weather days, they averaged 4.95 knots. Five years later, the pace quickened with the first non-stop Round Ireland Race, clockwise from Wicklow in 1980, and the line honours winner, Johnny Morris from Pwllheli with the 36ft Force Tension, averaged 5.24 knots.

Then, The Doyler arrived with The Duster, and the numbers started to get interesting. The great Denis Doyle of Cork is gone from us now for a dozen years, and many of today's younger sailors can scarcely be aware how this most modest of men, with his lovely Crosshaven-built 1981 Frers 51 Moonduster, so greatly enhanced Irish sailing. And never more so than in his final twenty years, when he and Moonduster played a central role in the European offshore racing scene.

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The queen of all fleets. Denis Doyle's legendary Moonduster was the flagship of Irish offshore racing for twenty years. Photo: Bob Bateman

Once The Doyler had decided that the Round Ireland Race and Wicklow deserved his support, he gave it so wholeheartedly that today it receives the same points weighting in the RORC championship as the Fastnet Race itself. Oddly enough, though, Moonduster's two record times in the Round Irelands of 1982 and 1984 were so good that the challenge they posed moved the round Ireland record beyond the Round Ireland Race. For the Round Ireland Race is of course narrowed to a specific starting time, and you have to go clockwise. But after Denis Doyle had pushed his own average speed to 7.09 knots in 1982 up to 8.02 in 1984, inevitably speed sailors began to wonder just how fast you might go with choosing you own optimal starting time, and carefully selecting which way to go.

For there's no doubt that Moonduster's performance in 1984 was a real beauty. The wind was west to nor'west, with enough north in it to comfortably lay down to the Fastnet, and then only the briefest bit of sailing hard on the wind before it backed slightly and they were off on a hack up the west coast. As navigator John Bourke puts it: "We were seeing off an entire Irish county in every watch".

An average of 8.02 knots may seem little enough compared to today's massive multi-hull speeds. But for an amateur-crewed mono-hull sailing at a pre-ordained time on a land-circling course in a region of weather ranging between variable and volatile, it was quite something, and a challenge to all-comers. So although the Round Ireland Race itself continues to have its own monohull record time (it's currently held by Mike Slade's 100ft Leopard from the 2008 race), since 1986 the out-and-out Round Ireland Sailing Record has been held by three different multi-hulls choosing their own starting point and time, and which way to go. One of them did it from Belfast Lough, and the other two did it from the Kish Lighthouse in Dublin Bay, which has become the de facto recognized record starting point, as it was also from here that a new Round Ireland Mono-hull Record was established by Jean-Philippe Chomette's Open 60 CityJet in 2006.

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Jean-Phillippe Chomet's Open 60 CityJet set a straight monohull record from the Kish in 2006 Photo: David O'Brien

The weather expert in CityJet's successful crew was noted sailor/meteorologist Chris Tibbs, whose belief that reading the weather right for a round Ireland challenge is one of the most interesting met challenges in world sailing was borne out by the elegant way in which CityJet fitted into a west to nor'west wind pattern to sweep around clockwise in record style, and his analysis of this performance added to the growing knowledge of what's involved.

If you're thinking in round Ireland sailing record terms, first thing is to re-think the shape of the island. The popular perception is that the Emerald Isle is more or less rectangular, with distinctive north, east, south and west coasts, and very clearcut right angle corners at Fair Head, Carnsore Point, Mizen Head, and Bloody Foreland.

Not so, however, if you're in the records business. Anyone contemplating a round Ireland sailing record these days has to think in terms of a jolly green giant tadpole, with its blunt head pointing northeast towards the Inner Hebrides, and the fat tail pointing southwest into the wide blue yonder.

Those who would set a record will plan on as much fast reaching as possible on the longer eastern and western seaboards, and running before the wind around the northern nose, with any slugging to windward as brief as possible around the southerly tail.

So the smart money is on the situation where there's a big low loitering with intent to the southwest of Ireland, and the wind is set for two or three days in the southeast to east quadrant. Just like the last 36 hours, in fact, except that the pressure gradient has been more than a little too steep for record-breaking purposes. But with the isobars easing up a bit this morning, the setup is in place, and the only way is anti-clockwise. That said, there's a small concern that tonight might see a localised southerly twist down towards Mizen Head. But that should have gone back southeast by the time Musandam is getting there, and with any luck they might even get by with just the one tack sou'west of the Fastnet, though windward tacking is not the same problem with the Mod 70s as it was with some of the earlier multi-hulls.

In taking on the round Ireland challenge, it may well be that the alternative winning option of a west to nor'west wind occurs more frequently, which would dictate a clockwise route. But a nor'wester usually doesn't last as long, whereas the rarer sou'east to east wind can settle in for days. Or at least it seems like that at this time of the year, when it's bringing us the tail of Siberian weather, and would drive you nuts if you didn't have some worthwhile project like a round Ireland record on hand to make good use of it.

Of course, a crazily ideal situation might seem to be an intense low stuck right over the middle of Ireland, and you whirl round anti-clockwise, broad reaching on port gybe all the way. It's an interesting gambler's option, and it has succeeded in the past. But maybe it's too unstable a weather situation for serious record-breaking nowadays, because if the low is sufficiently intense to have strong winds all round its core to power the entire coastal sailing route, it can sometimes quickly fill and leave you becalmed, as low pressure areas lose power over the land. But if it does persist, even having its centre move just 50 miles can have the wind all over the place.

No, what you want is a good steady gradient, but not too steep, with winds southeast to east and the occasional bit of luck with slight but significant swings in the wind direction to enable you to make south all the way around the western seaboard without tacking, and east-northeast along the south coast equally free of tacking, once you've weathered the tadpole's tail.

It's a big ask. We can predict the weather fairly accurately a day ahead, but that accuracy is rapidly reducing with every hour beyond the start, when the show up and running and there's no going back. But things are looking good for this new challenge by Sidney Gavignet, Damian Foxall and their shipmates on Musandam, which is now due to start today. Heaven knows, but they could do with a little break. Having left Lorient late Thursday afternoon, they found conditions getting increasingly rugged as they came north, and much of the passage up St George's Channel was under bare poles in a howling sou'easter yesterday, making over to the lee of the Wales and getting into the relative shelter of Caernarfon Bay under snow-covered mountains as evening drew on.

Damian summed it up in a text to Afloat.ie, "A bit bouncy for a start.....shelter in Caernarfon Bay this evening and tonight, nice and flat, chilly though...sleet, snow forecast...option tomorrow morning better, potential start 0900ish. Enjoy your dinner this evening with the family and a bit of telly in front of the fire, we'll be thinking of you ☺"

It was mighty cold, it still is, but spirits were raised with hot food – the first of the day for the skipper and Thomas le Breton. And they have been able to consider their options, with the weather pattern for the next couple of day seemingly fairly clearcut, the wind set in between southeast and east with the occasional slight weaving, which can make a lot of difference at difficult headlands. But with the wind forecast to become locally east to northeast along the south coast between the Fastnet and Carnsore Point on Monday morning, they know they've got to be up and moving promptly this morning if they're going to knock the record for six.

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Robin Knox-Johnson's 60ft catamaran British Airways developing power off Dublin Bay at the start of her round Ireland challenge in May 1986. She came within an ace of capsizing a few seconds later, but then streaked away northeastward on a successful anti-clockwise circuit. Photo: Tom Lawlor

So what are the three previous multi-hull records they're taking on? Well, after Denis Doyle's definitive round Ireland speed of 8.02 knots in 1984, Robin Knox-Johnson was first into the fray with his 60ft Rod MacAlpine-Downie designed catamaran British Airways in May 1986. Compared to today's minimalist multihulls, with her acres of deck she now seems like an overbuilt aircraft carrier. But 27 years ago when we joined her in Plymouth to bring her up to the National YC in Dun Laogahire, who were organizing the first challenge using the Kish as the start and finish point, she seemed quite the business.

A period of southeasters was in prospect, but we'd some tense waiting around until things looked about right, then we slugged out to the Kish, and in plenty of breeze let her at it with rather too much enthusiasm. The weather hull had a mind of its own, and flew up.....and up - we were within an ace of capsizing. But down it came again, that wayward weather hull, and we shot up the Irish Sea, westward round the nose of the tadpole like a rocket, then on south at high speed on course towards Kerry. But the wind veered about twelve hours too soon, and we were plugging to windward in lumpy seas from north of the Blaskets all the way down to the Fastnet. So though we'd proper yachting, spinnaker and all, from the Fastnet to the finish, we only just edged over the Doyler's time to push the average speed up to 9.21 knots.

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She was a brutal big beast. The 83ft Novanet was 40ft beam, heavy to handle, and very reluctant to tack. But she set a new record in November 1986.

It was, as our doughty skipper put it, an eminently beatable time. And within four months somebody was trying to do that very thing. In those days, northerner Dickie Gomes (ironically the owner since 1966 of the 1964 record holder Ainmara) had a parallel existence as a multi-hull sailor, and in 1986 he was teamed up with former police sergeant Peter Phillips on the catamaran Novanet.

This was one monster. She was 83ft long and 40ft wide, and it took half a day to tack her when the going was good. But in straight line sailing, she could get up to a merry speed, and in September 1986, with a crew large enough to think of shaping up to sailing this eccentric giant, they set off from Belfast Lough. They went clockwise in a brisk west to nor'west breeze, which had enough north in it to let them lay down to the Fastnet, where things were looking good, as they were still only 20 hours on their way. But then the huge mainsail split, and that was that for the time being.

It was November before they could have another go. If you think the prospect of sailing round Ireland in March is grim, don't even think about November.....fourteen hours of darkness, and the winter winds in crazy mood. But in another west to nor'west wind pattern, it went well until they were past Achill Island in a rising wind and a freezing front went through to cause a crucial veer which made weathering the Black Rock a very dubious proposition. Yet their awkward big boat wouldn't have tacked in the deteriorating conditions. Either they ran her off, probably to beach her, or hoped they'd just enough clearance to scrape by the Black Rock's lethal offliers.

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The crew of Novanet after her successful challenge in November 1986 were (front row left to right): Dickie Gomes, Brian Buchanan, Brian Law and Peter Minnis, back row: Peter Phillips, Enda O'Coineen, (Richard Price of Novanet), Paul Hargreaves, Greg Peck and Bob Bradford. Photo: W M Nixon

They still don't really know how they did it. But with maybe only inches to spare, Novanet got past the Black Rock. This slightly freed her to clear Eagle Island and Erris Head, and after that it was off like a scalded cat under headsail only in a Force 10 past Tory and Inishtrahull and Rathlin Island, with the wind veering even further to speed them down to Belfast Lough and a new record average 10.05 knots. At least the Round Ireland Record was finally through the ten knot barrier. But still nothing sensational, you might reasonably think. Yet it stood for nearly six years. However, when it was toppled in September 1993, it was done so in very convincing style.

Con Murphy and Cathy MacAleavy of the National YC were multi-hull enthusiasts who managed to convince new-to-the-scene American sailor/adventurer Steve Fossett that he should bring his decidedly hot 60-ft trimaran Lakota to Dun Laoghaire for an early Autumn crack at the round Ireland record in 1993. Fossett had Dave Scully as his partner in the boat, and they also had up-and-coming multihull star Brian Thompson with them. They signed on Con and Cathy to bring crew numbers up to five, as many as they felt was needed for a boat which in her elegant way was as light as British Airways and Novanet had been heavy.

They'd expected to wait a while in Dun Laoghaire, but as their overall time window was narrow, when a deepening low settled into a course straight at Ireland from the southwest, they decided to ride it almost immediately. Not an ideal scenario nowadays, but don't forget that twenty years ago, they were trying to beat an average of only10.05 knots, and with a slippy boat like Lakota, they could cut themselves a bit of slack.

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Lovely weather for record-breaking. Lakota sets off in successful pursuit of the Round Ireland record, September 8th 1993. Photo: Air Corps

The conditions when they went off on Wednesday September 8th 1993 were dreadful for yachting, but perfect for record breaking. In a mighty cloud of spray and spume and rain, under shortened canvas, they zoomed north in a horribly wonderful sou'easter. And while the Irish land lay under the heavy rainclouds of this still energetic low, Lakota streaked on past Donegal under clear night skies and south past the coast of Connacht.

Because the weather had been developing so rapidly, this meant that off Galway's west coast they were crashing into old head seas from the southwest which threatened to damage the boat. And the crew too. Con Murphy, trying to grab some sleep in a bunk down aft, found himself hurled forward along the length of the accommodation. It's beyond imagination to visualize the loads created by slamming into seas like this at these speeds, but Lakota held together.

On both the south and west coasts they had to endure the calm patches which almost inevitably develop when you are using a low pressure area centred over Ireland, with the wind drawing off the land. They came to a stop at the Old Head of Kinsale, and then again at Wicklow Head. But quite soon they were going again, and there was time in hand and then some. The Kish was put astern again after 44 hours 42 minutes and 20 seconds an average of 15.84 knots. It's a record which has stood for 19 years, four months and 12 days. Will it still be standing on Monday?

Yes it will! Message received at 07.18 on Saturday:

Dear Chris,
We will not attempt the record this time, we are aiming back to Lorient. Conditions are "almost" ok, but we prefer to play the safe decision.
Hopefully we will come back later in the year, in better conditions. All our team thanks you a lot for all your efforts, we regret we won't see you but it will happen later. Best regards. Sidney Gavignet, Skipper MOD 70 Musandam

lakotacrew

The record holders. Con Murphy, Cathy MacAleavy, the late Steve Fossett, David Scully and Brian Thompson, crew of Lakota round Ireland, September 8th to 10th 1993

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Published in Round Ireland

#teamracing – The chances in Ireland of snowfall on St Patrick's Day are statistically better than the chances of the white stuff coming down on Christmas Day. The reason we haven't really got our heads round this notion is that in mid-March, it just disappears like....well, like snow off a ditch.

But spare a thought for the suffering citizens of southeast England. They effectively enjoy a Continental climate, which means their average chances of snowfall at Easter are higher than at Christmas, even allowing for Easters in late April.

Not so in Ireland. But nevertheless if you want to get the best of what's available in sailing over the Patrick's Day holiday, and reckon that the sea at its coldest is quite enough to be going along without rain falling as snow showers too, then head southwest pronto.

Twenty-eight university sailing teams have done that very thing, heading for Kerry and converging on Fenit in Tralee Bay where University of Limerick are the organisers of the annual Irish Intervarsities, team racing in Fireflies, with Tralee Sailing Club providing the facilities for the opening event of what promises to be a very busy season, as they have both the WIORA and ICRA championships down there in June.

fireflies

It may be 68 years since Uffa Fox designed the Firefly 12ft dinghy for mass production in hot-moulded multi-skin timber - "cooked life a waffle" - but it is still a favourite for the special demands of team racing, and more durable these days with GRP construction

The TSC season explodes into life this weekend, as the three-day Intervarsities zapped into action promptly at 1000hrs yesterday, with 72 races scheduled each day. Then today both the Tralee Marathon and Half Marathon come trotting through Fenit. And tonight, the club throws its traditional Launch Party, one of the more boisterous events of the year. As Commodore Pat Daly commented earlier this week, after a winter of slumber the members don't know what's going to hit them, but they'll enjoy it anyway.

For sure, they have the place to do it. The rest of Ireland tends to think of northwest Kerry as a wild and woolly place. But in fact Fenit is a snug little spot, with a sheltered south-facing coastline between it and Spa in towards Tralee town, while sailing in the impossibly beautiful bay has been transformed by the top class marina out at the harbour on Great Samphire Island. Yet it's less than an hour's sail across the bay to the Maharees, which is pure Atlantic Ireland, a place apart where they create the finest racing naomhogs on the west coast.

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Do not adjust your set....we have inverted this photo, taken July 2012, in order to better show the highly-refined racing naomhog Corty Herbst at the Maharees in Kerry. Corty Herbst (1924-2000) was an American who settled in the Maharees with his wife Joan in 1969, and became much involved with the local racing currachs, playing a key role for many years in organising the Maharees Regatta. Photo: W M Nixon

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Fenit's 130-berth marina is a friendly place, and the harbour is a fine example of practical co-existence between fishing boats, recreational sailors, and commercial shipping. Photo: W M Nixon

The harbour on Samphire Island is reached along a 0.75 km causeway and bridge which is always well lined with sea anglers, who live in a world of their own. If you arrive in aboard a cruising boat, you'll find it takes exactly seven minutes to walk that bridgeway to the nearest pub, and another couple of minutes to get up to the club. But as the Intervarsities are dinghy focused, everything will rotate around the fine clubhouse in its prominent position above its own launching slip and an excellent sailing area which is ideal for an intense event like this, as it offers several options to cope with changing wind directions.

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Tralee SC is at the heart of a boat-orientated complex which includes a busy sailing school

Having a major event so early in the season is always a bit of a gamble, but the pattern of the university year dictates the timing. This weekend's series is emphatically the Team Racing championship, which automatically secures the winners a place in the massive British University Team Opens at the end of April. But during April, the Irish colleges will also be in pursuit of a place in the Student Yachting Worlds in France at the end of October, very high on the agenda as UCD won it in 2012, so they already have a place as of right.

Thus there'll be an extra place up for grabs by whoever can top the Irish Worlds trials in April, which will be raced in the SailFleet J/80s. They're based in Howth this year, and the college trials will have racing on April 6th, 13th and 20th. It's all of more than academic interest, as the Student Yachting Worlds will also be raced in J/80s, which provides the prospect of the good old one two for Irish university teams at world level. Dream on.....

As for this weekend, it's the gallant Fireflies which are the workhorses for the three-boat teams. The logistics are mind-boggling, and UL's Robert O'Leary – best known in recent seasons as the helm out of Crosshaven on the family's cruiserfied 1720 Antix Beg – has stood back from being on the team in order to concentrate on the Sisyphean task of keeping things on schedule, or maybe even a bit ahead of the sched, as the winds might be pushing towards gale force northerlies later tomorrow afternoon.

With Irish women being way ahead of their male counterparts these days in success in international sports such as rugby, boxing and sailing, it's no surprise to find several of the leading teams in the Intervarsities on Tralee Bay have women captains, with University of Limerick – very much the pace-setters in college team racing build-ups earlier this year – headed by Lauren Joslin, while the international stars of UCD are captained by Zoe Flood.

Yesterday saw the first day of racing blessed with much better weather than was being been anticipated at mid-week, with Tralee Bay enjoying its own favourable micro-climate while massive clouds passed to north and south in a 12 to 16 knot westerly which was enlivened by only a couple of rainsqualls on the bay. That said, a "small hailstorm" was a reminder that winter has barely released its grip, but there was plenty of sunshine and spring was in the air.

University of Limerick lived up to the promise of earlier events this year with wins in all their races, while UCD were next with five wins out of six, followed by TCD. Today should see the programme moving along with northerlies and clearing skies, and there's an improving chance that the northerly gales being mentioned for tomorrow will be far enough west to allow the programme's smooth conclusion.

GATHERING THE GAFFERS

Trying to assemble a fleet of boats and then get them moving in any sort of co-ordinated way is about as easy as herding cats at a crossroads. It's a good explanation for the appeal of racing – put up a prize and start firing the guns in the starting sequence, and there's just a chance some sort of order might prevail.

Another technique is finding some anniversary of recognisable significance, and building an event around it. The word is that the Irish Cruising Club are going to have a Octogintaquinquessimal Cruise-in-Company in southwest Ireland next year to celebrate the 85th Anniversary of the founding of the club in Glengarriff on July 14th 1929. Anyone suggesting that if they could just hang on for another fifteen years, then they could have a real mega-celebration for the Centenary, is sharply reminded that the club has a very significant membership cohort of extremely senior seniors in a hurry, and they want to Do It Now.

Meanwhile, it seems the notion of a Golden Jubilee cruise this summer for the Old Gaffers Association in the form of a rolling circuit of Britain with two stopovers in Ireland, and boats joining and leaving as they please, is proving popular. Sign-ups for the Dublin visit from May 31st to June 4th have already gone through the fifty mark, with the style being set by some fine big cutters such as Brandaen from the Netherlands, Annabel J from the Solent, and Adrian 'Stu' Spence's 1875-vintage Pilot Cutter Madcap from Strangford Lough.

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The impressive Dutch cutter Brandaen has signed up for the Old Gaffers Golden Jubilee Cruise-in-Company, which comes to Dublin Bay from 31st May to 4th June.

It's all a long way from the first assembly in Ireland of boats intent on celebrating the special joys of gaff rig, which attracted precisely three craft to Dunmore East in 1955. For a long time there'd been amiable arguments as to which was the faster boat between the Cork Harbour One Design of 1895, and the similarly-sized Dublin Bay 21 of 1902. With Dinghy Week 1955 being staged in hospitable Dunmore East, a midway port of sorts, two Dublin Bay 21s and two Cork Harbour ODs set out from their respective harbours to meet for the first time ever in Dunmore for a deciding contest which would have the benefit of being witnessed by racing experts.

The weather decided otherwise. Not through gales, but because of an enormous flat calm. In Cork, the two CHODs were towed out of the mirror-like harbour mouth, but the tide brought them back in again, so one of them – Cygnet - moored to a navigation buoy. When the tide turned again to offer the chance of a second attempt at departure, in the hassle of releasing themselves a crewman was left behind on the buoy (I'm not making this up), and the sluicing ebb meant they couldn't return to collect him.

Fortunately George Radley's Querida was further back, and she was able to collect the stranded crewman in passing, so to speak. They made it to Ballycotton that night, and then to Dunmore East the following day. But only one of the Dublin Bay 21s made it over the longer distance from Dublin Bay. This was Naneen owned by Michael 'Styx' O'Herlihy, who the following year sailed to America on the Kearney 6-ton yawl Evora, and made his fortune in the US as producer of the successful TV series Hawaii Five-O. His crew was the youthful Cass Smullen, and it took the pair of them fifty hours to get to Dunmore East, which made Dyko Morris, who retired from the voyage at an early stage with his DB21 Geraldine, even more convinced he'd done the right thing.

With an element of exhaustion and over-exuberant celebration at getting to Dunmore East at all, the actual races don't seem to have been totally conclusive, in fact there were only a couple of contests with one day lost through gales. Honours were fairly even – the Dublin Bay 21 had the edge in lighter breezes when her topsail could be set, but when it piped up the Cork Harbour OD, with her high-peaked gaff main and never carrying a topsail, seemed to have the best of it.

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Cork Harbour OD in classic style, with high-peaked gaff mainsail, but no tops'l, romping seaward from Cork Harbour. The restored boats will be having special races at Cobh Traditional Sail Regatta from June 28th to 30th. Photo: Tom Barker

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When the Dublin Bay 21 could carry her topsail, she seemed to have the edge on the Cork Harbour OD, but the Cork boat seemed faster in strong winds.

Years later, Styx O'Herlihy and George The Rad used to wax nostalgic about this unique event, for in hindsight it was a sort of last hurrah. In 1963 the Dublin Bay 21s decided to change to Bermudan rig, and at much the same time the Cork Harbour One Designs were being turned into Bermuda rigged cruisers, for which they did very well. They'd heftier hulls than the Dublin Bay 21s, and thus could provide more accommodation, and at a time before bare hulls in fibreglass for home completion as cruisers had become available, it was a useful option for an economy cruiser.

The story takes an odd turn, for although the Dublin Bay 21s stayed together as a racing class, they ceased to function after the damage in Dun Laoghaire harbour by the remnants of Hurricane Charlie in 1986. But the Cork Harbour One Designs found new life as Bermuda-rigged cruisers, and thus survived in order for several of them to be converted back to their original gaff rigged racing setup as the interest in classic yachts grew. Particularly notable was Jap, which was found in a hidden creek of Falmouth Harbour and brought magnificently back to life for Clayton Love Jnr by Fairlie Classics. He notched many classic regatta successes with her before selling her on to David Sheriff, who last year skippered Jap to top boat overall in the Classics Regatta at Cowes in July.

corkharbourodbermudan

With their conversion to Bermuda-rigged cruisers as seen here in 1981, the Cork Harbour One Designs survived to avail of the classics revival, which has seen several of them restored to original form. Photo: W M Nixon

This year there'll be a chance to see the restored local fleet of Cork Harbour One Designs in action at the Cobh Traditional Sail Regatta from June 28th to 30th. Whether or not we'll see any of them making the scene for the first time ever in Dublin Bay with the Old Gaffer events four weeks earlier is probably mostly a matter of logistics. But if they're heading for the east coast, they can rest assured there's no requirement to leave a crewman behind on a navigational buoy on the way.

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#sailing – With all the high-profile Irish entries in the RORC Caribbean 600 race falling by the wayside in this year's breezy staging of the sunshine classic, it has been left to two hard-working charter boats to do the business for Ireland, and they've done us proud.

Appropriately, both boats are owned by people who are involved with the wind energy business. The bigger of the two, the Farr-designed 100ft Cape Arrow which has placed 13th overall, is owned and managed by Tuskar Shipping, which is in turn owned by Fastnet Shipping, a Waterford company which is run by Sinead and Trevor O'Hanlon and specialises in servicing the offshore wind industry.

Cape Arrow is professionally skippered by Andrea Balzarini. But the other Irish front runner, the 76ft Lilla which has won Class 1 and placed 8th overall, has owner Simon de Pietro of Kinsale YC very much hands-on as skipper, while his wife Nancy is the navigator. They demonstrated their joint skills last year by winning overall in the cruiser division in the biennial Newport-Bermuda Race, but this time round they'd their boat going so well they had the class win in the open division.

Both of them maintain close ties with Ireland. Her people are from Sligo, while his mother lives near Buttevant in County Cork and is co-director of the Buttevant-based family firm, DP Energy. The company is in the forefront of wind harnessing technology, and is also at the heart of the major project to install a huge tidal farm with multiple turbines in the ferocious streams which run off Islay in the southwest Scottish Hebrides, with the turbines being serviced from Northern Ireland.

That particular challenge would be enough for most people, but as well they manage Lilla as an active charter boat, fitting their occasional races around an active working programme when the boat is skippered in choice cruising locations by Ian Martin. It's a busy life, and there's extra interest in that Lilla is now something of a classic – she was built in Bordeaux in 1993 in aluminium to a Philipppe Briand design. Thus the win in Class 1 in the Caribbean 600 made for a nice 20th birthday present for a boat which is still as good as new, and very elegant with it.

The annual sprint around the islands with the Caribbean 600 provides an opportunity for some of the biggest sailing charter boats to show how they can go like the clappers if given the chance, and it provided some intriguing results even if the prime positions were largely as predicted. Thus the line honours winner as expected was Mike Slade's 100ft Leopard, though she was five hours outside the record time set by George David's Rambler 100 in 2011, which was a decidedly mixed year for that big boat, as by mid-August she was upside down off Barley Cove with her keel gone AWOL in the Fastnet Race.

On corrected time, again as expected it was a battle between Hap Fauth's Judel Vrolik 72 Bella Mente and Ron O'Hanley's Cookson 50 Privateer, with the latter having a well-deserved win by 22 minutes. So that's all right, then. But maybe the real story is when we delve into the other boat times, and note that the schooner Adela placed third overall on IRC, and finished just half an hour after the out-and-out racing machine Privateer.

Adela is a massively big - as in enormous - 180ft steel-built schooner, designed by Djikstra and built by Pendennis in Falmouth in 1995. To blast round the course in a machine like this in a way which enables her to sail up to her rating with such impressive style is just a fantastic achievement by skipper Greg Perkins.

Admittedly when you see Adela out of the water, it's to realize she's not so much a wolf in sheep's clothing as a cheetah in haute couture. Above the waterline, she's all sweeping counter and elegant clipper bow, but below it she's a workmanlike fin and skeg profile which really does give her performance a lot of oomph.

Even so, the loads which a boat this size imposes on her sails, rig and equipment is something which can only be partially measured electronically. There's a huge element of experienced judgment in driving her to the limit without seriously breaking something, and to do it round a course like this which involves frequent directional changes shows skill of a very high order. So let's hear it for the big steel lady.

And spare a thought for those who dropped out. The 100ft Liara skippered by Peter Metcalf from Northern Ireland hadn't got very far from the breezy start when her mast came down, while damage to both the 78ft Whisper (Mark Dicker) and the First 40 Lancelot II (Michael Boyd, Niall Dowling and John Cunningham) likewise saw them under the DNF category. As for the storm-battered Irish-owned Swan 48 Wolfhound which was registered DNS, she may still be out there somewhere around 70 miles north of Bermuda. Her crew were taken off in a severe storm by a ship which heard their EPIRB, but when last seen in atrocious sea conditions, Wolfhound was still afloat.

BERMUDA RIG IS FOR WIMPS

Those crusty old Dublin Bay salts who have been dumping big time on this blog for our enthusiasm for the Dublin Bay 21s in their original gaff-rigged form, bashing us with their negative memories of near-sinkings and actual sinkings and hellships that generated lee helm when the mainsheet was let fly in strong winds, they may well think we've retired hurt from the fray. Not a bit of it. We've only been re-arming. Now we'll let them have it with both barrels.

What on earth do they think the original owners had in mind when they ordered the boats in the first place? Were they looking for comfortable little cruisers to doddle around the bay? Not a bit of it. They were looking for boats suitable for wild sportsmen, not for boats approved of by conservative seaman.

Of course the Dublin Bay 21s were demanding and difficult and sometimes dangerous to sail. That was what it was all about. There's no sport in safety. And of course they were hard work, and an ergonomic disaster area in terms of ease of handling. That's the way life was in 1902, and the ways of the sea were supposed to be harder than the cosseted life ashore. So let's take a look at another photo of a Dublin Bay 21 under her original gaff rig with jackyard tops'l, and see why they represented such an awful but irresistible challenge.

SailSat230213pic 2

In steady conditions, the Dublin Bay 21 under full sail was manageable, but she provided a real challenge when sailed hard in a blow.

The photo must have been taken in the late 50s, with the boat setting what was to become her last suit of gaff sails. Though they're bearing up reasonably well, a certain bagginess would exacerbate any helming faults. The tiller is well across, suggesting marked weather helm, but don't forget the rudder was well raked, which exaggerated the appearance of the amount of helm necessary, and as the boats aged there was increasing flexibility – to put it mildly - in the connection between rudderhead and tiller.

Thus basically the boat is quite reasonably well balanced. But imagine what happens if a sudden squall strikes. As our old salts have pointed out, the narrow side deck means that the Dublin Bay 21s start to fill with Dublin Bay through the non-self-draining cockpit quite quickly. The mainsheet must be eased as quickly as possible. The ergonomics are terrible, with the mainsheet controlled from cleats outside the cockpit coaming, so a lot of the time in a sudden wind increase the mainsheet – with its tails in a jumble below – is simply let fly, thereby immediately and completely altering the balance of the boat. It would defy all the laws of centre of effort and centre of lateral resistance if she didn't suddenly develop marked lee helm.

So the skill lay in controlling the easing of the mainsheet, one helluva challenge when you're up to your armpits in the cold ocean in ancient oilskins, and everyone is falling over everyone else. And as for suggesting the side-decks should be made wider, that would only make the cramped cockpit even more crowded. But with a skilled helmsman and an even more skilled mainsheet man, preferably of superhuman strength, it could be kept under control, for basically as our second picture shows, it wasn't an inherent fault in the shape of the boat which caused wild fluctuations in balance, but rather a severe temporary imbalance of the sails.

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Under shortened rig of full main and jib, but with no tops'l or staysail set, this Dublin Bay 21 in a strong wind is showing marked but controllable weather helm, while the shape of her hull when heeled shows that it is inherently quite well balanced, without excessive fullness of the waterlines aft to distort steering characteristics.

Another topic which came up with the COS brigade (Crusty Old Salts) was the usefulness or otherwise of the topsails. A topsail is only as useful as the quality of its set, and if it isn't perfectly set up to become one with the main, then it can sometimes be worse then useless.

But as our final photo clearly shows, the luff of the Dublin Bay 21s tops'l was actually longer than the luff of the gaff mainsail. And it's the luff length that does the work in going to windward - it's worth remembering that in the great days of gaff rig racing with the big class, the top skippers were so certain of the need for luff length in windward ability that in heavy weather when they reefed the gaff mainsails, they then set up a jib-headed tops'l above the reefed sail in order to maximise luff length within the smaller sail area.

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The luff of the jackyard tops'l in a Dublin Bay 21 was slightly longer than the luff length of the mainsail itself, so in sailing to windward, when luff length is at its most important, a well-setting tops'l made a significant difference.

But the problem with a topsail is that if it doesn't click perfectly into place at the first attempt, sometimes it takes for ever to get it right. So with the pace of life becoming more hurried as Ireland entered the 1960s, the time no longer seemed to be available to set up the complete Dublin Bay 21 gaff rig just to go out for an evening race, and the Howth 17s today don't permit topsails for evening club racing.

Back in 1963, when the Dublin Bay 21 crowd were arguing the merits of changing over to Bermuda rig, one of the points in favour of the change was the time it would save. That great sailor and Dublin Bay 21 enthusiast Cass Smullen said this was stuff and nonsense, and claimed he could set up the complete gaff rig of the Dublin Bay 21 in 25 minutes single-handed. So one of the boats was moored just in front of the National YC, and a crowd gathered, drinks in hand, to watch Cass take on the challenge. He did the job in 21 minutes. But they still changed to Bermuda rig.

BIBLICAL EPIC TO IONA

My apologies to Ivan Nelson (see comment at the end of last week's blog – Ed) for the ham-fisted use of English in discussing last week how a Kerry currach – a naomhog from the Dingle Peninsula – came to be sailing to Iona with the first bible in Irish for delivery to the sacred archives there. The bible was of course translated into Irish in 1602 (Old Testament) and again in 1680 (New Testament). We all remember it well. But somehow neither of these translations had ever found its way to Iona, so it was a first in that sense.

Anyway, it's thanks to the crew of Harry Whelehan's 32ft Sea Dancer out of Howth that we got to know of this Kerry voyage, which was done very low key, and in easy stages. Easy stages, that is, if you think it's easy taking a currach all the way up the west coast of Ireland and then past Malin Head and on to Iona.

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The Kerry currach delivering the Irish bible to Iona last summer completed the voyage in true Christian spirit, with no designated skipper. Photo: Mark Tierney

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It wasn't all swanning along under sail. In order to get from Ventry to Iona, they often had to pull with a will. Photo: Mark Tierney

The crew of Breanndan Begley, Anne Bourke, Danny Sheehy and Liam Holden did the voyage in three stages over three summers, and in such a spirit of Christian goodwill that the crew of Sea Dancer were unable to tell who if any was the skipper. But the Kerry folk did what they set out to do, then rowed around a few more Scottish islands before heading south, eventually getting to Wicklow. We look forward to hearing about their completion of the circuit of Ireland this summer.

NAOMH BAIRBRE HOME

Thursday nights won't be quite the same now. The six part series on TG4 by Donncha mac Coniomaire and his two shipmates (one of them his father Tomas) about their voyage along the Celtic seaways to Orkney southabout round Ireland from Connemara in the 47ft Galway hooker Naomh Bairbre has come to a successful conclusion. But it certainly shortened the winter watching this demanding ship and her engaging crew making their way to diverse ports which acquired added interest when viewed through the Irish Gaelgoir lens.

Mostly it drew pleasantly to a close as all good cruises do. But there were a few sad moments n the final epiode when they sailed up to Derry to pay their respects to the Galway Hooker An Lady Mor. Donncha had worked in a successful cross-community restoration project on this historic boat back in 2006, and the restoration team then sailed her from the Foyle to Connemara and back when the job was done. But now she lies abandoned and purposeless, ashore in Derry docks, deteriorating rapidly. She could be restored if somebody took action now – I can remember a successful restoration on the same vessel in the mid 1980s by Mick Hunt in Howth. Can't something be done now for An Lady Mor in Derry's year as City of Culture?

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Can she be restored in the City of Culture? An Lady Mor, seen here being launched in Howth in 1985 after restoration by Mick Hunt, is urgently in need of restoration again, this time on the banks of the Foyle. Photo: W M Nixon

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Published in W M Nixon
Page 8 of 12

RNLI Ireland Information

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

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

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

How many RNLI stations are there in Ireland?

46 stations

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

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