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Displaying items by tag: W M Nixon

#circumnavigation – A traditional global circumnavigation was celebrated in Dun Laoghaire last night with the award of the Irish Cruising Club's premier trophy, the Faulkner Cup, to Fergus Quinlan of Kinvara on Galway Bay for the log of the third stage of the 40,486 mile global circumnavigation he completed last year with his wife Kay aboard the 12M steel cutter Pylades, a van de Stadt design which he built himself between 1995 and 1997.

Those of us who have stayed on in Ireland to live through the recession should maybe have taken more notice when, around four or five year ago, architects like the skipper of Pylades started finalising plans to take off for the dream cruise, round the world in easy stages until there was a chance there might be some signs of the green shoots of recovery back home. Of all trades, it was the architectural profession which would have been the first to notice that the flamboyant growth of the tiger years was starting to wilt.

A previous decade in which long distance cruising came top of the agenda was the 1930s, when the Great Depression likewise gripped the world. Then about ten year ago when New Zealand was in localised recession, people simply spent more time sailing in what is a sailing paradise. They already had the boats to do it with, now they'd the free time. But as they didn't have the money for fancy new sails and other gear, they made do with the equipment they had. So this upsurge in sailing activity was of little benefit to the marine industry, but by living frugally afloat the people could enjoy themselves, and returned to work refreshed as the economy stared to pick up.

But in any case, when you've built a boat as good as Pylades, long distance voyaging is the only way to go. She's all of a piece, and is yet another manifestation of the versatility of Dutch designer Ricus van de Stadt (1910-1999). A couple of weeks ago, we were discussing his vision in the use of plywood construction with the Black Soo type from 1956, and Zeevalk before that in 1949. But in 1955 he was also ahead of the posse in glassfibre with the appropriately named Pionier 9, one of Europe's first production boats in GRP. Though long out of production, they're still going strong – there's one of them lying to a mooring in Malahide Estuary, just across the channel from the yacht club.

And as you'd expect from a Dutchman, he was tops with steel. The Caribbean 12 design from which Pylades was built is double chine for ease of construction, yet is still a handsome boat of the ideal size – for the life of me I can't see why anyone needs a proper cruising boat to be more than 38ft long.

With Pylades, Fegus and Kay Quinlan have made the ideal circumnavigation, quietly adhering to their own rule of staying with the boat all the way – they didn't do the usual modern thing of flying home from time to time. But they maintained an informative website, and as someone in a creative profession and a traditional musician too, Fergus is a dab hand with the words and the notions, His log is filled with much entertainment and information and the sort of thoughts that come to you on the long ocean passages – did you know, for instance, that continental separation continues at about the same speed as your fingernails grow?

It's the third year running that Pylades has been awarded the Faulkner Cup, which dates back to 1931 but hasn't been taken three times on the trot before, so history was made last night at the ICC AGM. You don't of course "win" cruising trophies, you're awarded them, which quietly deals with the notion that the essence of cruising is its non-competitive nature.

But were it not for cruising awards, we'd have few enough sources of information to trace the development of this branch of sailing, and to inspire others. Yesterday evening the adjudicator Brendan O'Callaghan had to allocate a round dozen cruising achievement trophies, while there were six other special awards by the committee, including the Wright Salver which went posthumously to Mike Balmforth for his remarkable book Cruising Ireland, published last June, while Sean Flood received the Donegan Cup for his tireless work as Ambassador for Sail Training International. Olympic sailor Annalise Murphy and her parents Con Murphy and Cathy McAleavy were awarded the John B Kearney Cup for services to sailing by this very special family whose breadth of involvement in our sport is unrivalled.

Other cruising trophies included the Strangford Cup to Jarlath Cunnane of Mayo for a 4,500 miles venture north of Russia with his much-travelled Northabout, the Atlantic Trophy went to Maire Breathnach of Dungarvan for the transoceanic crossing which completed the circuit of North America by the gaff ketch Young Larry, Paul Butler of Dun Laoghaire took the Round Ireland Cup for his informative account of a classic circuit, Brian Black of Strangford got the Rockabill Trophy for his voyage to Greenland with the 35ft Seafra, and Dickie Gomes (also of Strangford Lough) received the Fingal Cup for the Centenarian 36ft Ainmara's cruise to the Outer Hebrides and Scotland's west coast.

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The John B Kearney-designed and built 36ft yawl Ainmara anchored off at Plockton in Wester Ross during her Centenary Cruise to Scotland which was awarded the ICC's Fingal Cup. The club's John B Kearney Cup for Services to Sailing, commemorating Ainmara's renowned designer-builder, was awarded last night to leading Dun Laoghgaire sailing family Con Murphy and Cathy MacAleavy and their daughter, Olympic sailor Annalise Murphy. Photo: W M Nixon

In other cruises, Garry Villiers-Stuart received the Wild Goose Cup for a "pilgrimage voyage" with the 1890-vintage cutter Winifeda of Greenisland, the Marie Trophy for the best cruise by a boat less than 30ft LOA goes to Mick Delap whose gaff cutter North Star is just 24ft long, the Glengarriff Trophy goes to former Fireball champions Adrian and Maeve Bell from Strangford for a cruise in Irish waters which was good despite the weather, the Perry Greer Bowl for a first log goes to Ann Lyons for a cruise among Celts fom Cork eastward, the Wybrants Cup for the best cruise in Scotland goes to Harry Whelehan of Howth whose venture to the Hebrides with the 32ft Sea Dancer found itself providing support for a currach from Kerry delivering an Irish language Bible (the first such apparently) to the religious community at Iona, and the Fortnight Cup for the best cruise in 16 days went to David Williams of Strangford Lough who managed to take the owner-built steel cutter Reiver to southern Brittany, 600 miles in the fortnight, and they got far enough south to be clear of the baleful effects of the jetstream which was blighting the weather over Ireland.

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Awarded the Fortnight Cup. The 35ft steel cutter Reiver, to a design by Ian Nicolson of Alfred Mylne, was self-built by David and Peter Williams of Strangford Lough, and launched in 1988.

THE CARIBBEAN 600 SHOW GOES ON

Irish hopes in the RORC Caribbean 600, which starts on Monday from Antigua, received a horrible setback a week ago when Alan McGettigan of Dun Laoghaire's recently-acquired Swan 48 Wolfhound foundered just north of Bermuda. The boat was on a very challenging delivery passage from Connecticut via Bermuda to Antigua to take part in the race, and the crew of four with the owner in command were in no doubt about the scale of the task they faced. But with snowstorm Nemo developing over northeast America, the conditions in the Gulf Stream became extreme, and with multiple systems failures, a rescue by activating the EPIRB became necessary.

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Wolfhound was a Swan 48 to this 1994 Frers design.

Nevertheless the sinking of a boat of this quality is extremely unusual, but we'll have to await the word from the crew (the ship which picked them up gets to Gibraltar next Tuesday) to learn if it was impact against the ship which sank Wolfhound. She was one of the Frers designed Swan 48s of which 57 were built between 1995 and 2003. The design was developed as the natural successor to the very successful Sparkman and Stephens-designed Swan 48 which was one of the classics which established the Nautor brand, so although Wolfhound was called a Swan 48, she was in fact just a smidgin under 51ft. This gives her even more Irish interest, as it means that at the time of her building, she was a sort of up-dated production version of Denis Doyle's legendary Moonduster, built by Crosshaven Boatyard in 1981, which was last reported to be based in Norway with an offshore sailing school in Trondheim.

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The Duster sails on. Denis Doyle's famous Frers sloop steps out seven years ago near her home port of Trondheim in Norway.

Meanwhile out in Antigua Irish hopes in the Caribbean 600 now rest with Dun Laoghaire's Michael Boyd, Niall Dowling and John Cunningham with the chartered First 40 Lancelot, the Reichel Pugh 78 Whisper skippered by Mark Dicker, and Northern Ireland's Peter Metcalfe in command of the 100ft Liara, though of course American Ron O'Hanley with the highly-fancied Cookson 50 Privateer, will find he immediately reverts to the nationality of his ancestors if Privateer does the good deed.

Defending champion Ran, the JV 72, isn't taking part this year, but her newer near sister Bella Menta (Hap Fauth, USA) is probably the bookies' favourite, though Mike Slade's ubiquitous hundred footer Leopard is on a roll after setting a new record in the Transatlantic race (she was on charter to Nik Zennstrom of Ran who fancied a bit of extra comfort to cross the pond) and can never be ruled out of contention.

NAOMH BAIRBRE AND A SILE NA GIG

The addictive Turas Huiceara on TG4 at 9.30 pm on Thursdays continued this week with Donncha and his hard-working pair of shipmates on the giant Galway Hooker Naomh Bairbre managing to get their enormous mainsail back in action with the new boom made from a tree felled in Stornoway.

Their voyage in search of Gaelic links along the Celtic seaways brought them to the Orkneys where - as suggested here last week - there's little enough trace of the Gael in a Viking-dominated archipelago. But a visit to St Magnus Cathedral, the remarkably fine mediaeval church in the Orcadian capital of Kirkwall, discovered what is apparently the most northerly Sile na Gig, a piece of unsubtle Celtic statuary incorporated into a stone archway.

There is no doubting what this little stone carving is all about - it makes even the most blatant Playboy centrefold seem totally demure by comparison. If this is the image of Irish womanhood being given to the Vikings of Orkney, no wonder they came down here in their hundreds expecting rape and pillage.

Finally heading south, the Naomh Bairbe found her way into the Caledonian Canal, with the site of the Gaelic-destroying Battle of Culloden nearby providing a mournful visit. But such are the demands of a continuous cruising narrative that there wasn't time to put Culloden into perspective, relating it to 1745 and the expedition into Scotland by that world-class messer Bonny Prince Charlie. You could understand, though, why he mightn't be mentioned – it's difficult to be serious about a man named after three sheepdogs.

Going down Loch Ness, there were interesting insights into the survival or otherwise of Gaelic in Scotland, with one speaker making the point that its disappearance means that people aren't really able to properly read the maps of their homeland, as the names of the significant features are all based on Gaelic.

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The Gaelic says it all. The Scottish mainland's exposed most westerly point is Ardnamurchan. It means the Headland of the Great Seas – this photo was taken in unusually smooth conditions, with the wind off the land, a rare experience0. Photo: W M Nixon

In fact, both the Clyde Cruising Club Sailing Directions in Scotland, and the ICC books on the Irish coast, make a point of including a large glossary of Gaelic coastal terms, as it does indeed greatly aid in "reading" a coastline. It may be a help to the survival of the old tongue, but on the other hand it simply reinforces Gaelic's featherweight status as no more than a holiday language.

Next Thursday sees the final episode of the Turas Huiceara saga. Whatever about its success as a television programme, it has been a fascinating cruise on an interesting boat, and I can only hope the crew of the Naomh Bairbe start to get some quiet enjoyment as they get nearer to home in Connemara.

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Published in W M Nixon
9th February 2013

Sails and the City

#americascup – It's time for the reality check in San Francisco. This morning, season tickets guaranteeing "the best seats on the bay" for the America's Cup 2013 go on sale. The America's Cup Season Pass includes a ticket to the choicest seating in a prime waterfront location at the America's Cup Village, with an elevated close-up view of the race start and the top turning marks of the course.

Perhaps talk of a "reality check" is pitching it too high. They'll sell out, as did the tickets to the same locations for the preliminary on-the-water sparring during 2012. But for those running the project, whether directly involved in everything to do with the sailing, or in the background co-ordination of the city's participation, each and every last pointer to the marketability of the ultimate sailing event is going to be closely analysed. The hope will be that conclusions can be drawn as to whether or not it's possible to generate enough interest in viewable sailing to make waterfront communities get more committed to it at official level.

So it's not a question of whether or not the tickets sell out. Rather, it's a matter of how quickly, and to whom, and for how much. The economic interaction between sailing and cities is extremely difficult to quantify, so the goldfish bowl which is the America's Cup in the Bay City will provide an excellent opportunity for gauging public interest, and where it all might go.

As it is, the city fathers in San Francisco are having quite a bumpy ride with the America's Cup. It took all sorts of negotiations and deal-making to secure civic backing to let the big sailing circus happen in the bay in the first place. Since then, a public appeal to build up a $20 million non-profit organisation to underpin the staging of major sporting events in the city, starting with the America's Cup, has been greeted mainly by silence – and it's not the agreeable silence of hundred dollar notes floating into plastic buckets.

San Francisco mayor Ed Lee is still in the early stages of creating this promotional organization, called OneSF, but if the America's Cup fails to hit its earning expectations, the hope of attracting events like the Superbowl in the near future will be severely hampered.

Coming as it does in the week when the Volvo Ocean Race organisation confirmed the list of ports round the world which will be hosting its stopovers in the next staging of the circumnavigation, it's of special interest. We're now getting a plethora of information as to which cities are hitting the target. But other than that they all want to do it, it's difficult to discern a shared pattern for success.

And when you add the complexities of big city politics, it can be anybody's guess as to what makes for the magic formula. But for the Volvo stopover wannabees, I'd suggest that being the finishing port is not a winning proposition. This seems to have been underlined by Galway's two experiences with the race. The first time round when Galway was a stopover, admittedly it was still something of a novelty, and we weren't stony broke. But the fact that there was still racing to be done gave it a special dynamic.

Second time round, you'd have thought Galway being the finish port would have done the business, but precious little business was done. The buzz wasn't the same. The national economic situation was dire and the weather was crap, and today the unhappy legacy of ill feeling still lingers on. There was no strong sense of the city, apart from the immediate harbour area, benefiting in any way.

There have been all sorts of explanations. In the economic extremities of the time, it's even possible that Ireland's new road system played a part. The Dublin to Galway motorway was unfinished for the first Volvo visit. But it was very much up and running the second time round. Thus economically stressed families in the capital could contemplate a day visit to Galway and get all of the excitement of the Volvo Ocean Race show without spending a cent in the western city, and still be comfortably home that same night. All they needed was a tankful of diesel for the people carrier, and enough cash for the road tolls. Crazy theory maybe, but who knows.....

By the same token, the Tall Ships in Dublin at the end of August was a gift for financially-stretched families. So much of it was just one great big free show, and though there was one day of awful weather, the rest of it had as good weather as the summer of 2012 could provide. So the citizens were happy with their free maritime show. And a happy citizen is a happy voter, so the city fathers were happy. But whether or not the traders were happy is another matter, though heaven knows those on the quaysides charged enough for snacks which would have been half the price in a normal retail outlet.

Yet for those who party, it was a marvellous excuse for a party. There are times when the sailing events into which we all put so much thought and effort in order to chime with public interest are simply seen by Joe Public as no more than a good excuse for a party. And when it's not convenient to party, interest is zero. One setting where you'd think sailing and public interest would comfortably interact is during Cork Week, when the fleets on the in-harbour courses are racing in dramatic style close in on the Cobh waterfront. It's so good you'd think they could sell tickets to those who want to watch. But in truth there are probably more people on the boats admiring Cobh than there are people ashore in Cobh bothering to look out at the racing.

I'd a telling insight on general interest in sailing at Wicklow during the start of the Round Ireland Race in June. While there was the usual crowded buzz around the harbour and Wicklow SC, I reckoned a better overview could be had up the road at Wicklow Golf Club.

Well, it hit the spot perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that when the good times return, if you happen to be involved in organizing some sort of corporate function associated with the start of the Round Ireland Race, then see if you can cut a deal with the golf club. They've a bit of space, and there's a splendid view of the entire starting area and the first mile or so of the race itself.

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The start of the Round Ireland Race 2012 as seen from the clifftop tee at Wicklow Golf Club Photo: W M Nixon

Best view of all is at the tee which is right on the clifftop. There happened to be a four ball driving off as the last minute ticked away to the start. It took me a bit of overuse of the zoom lens to get a pic, yet it still made a double-page spread for the Afloat Annual. But as for the four happy golfers who could have enjoyed the best view possible of the start of the Round Ireland Race – they didn't take a blind bit of notice. When people bang on about making sailing accessible and visible to all, I sometimes think of those golfers. But maybe that's not quite fair. Golfers are a different species. If there'd been a golf course on Cape Trafalgar on the 21st October 1805, I don't think anyone playing on it would have noticed anything at all unusual out at sea on that particular day.

DERRYNANE STAYS IN BUSINESS

Derrynane in far southwest Kerry must be Ireland's most complete cruising anchorage. It's utterly beautiful, it provides perfect natural shelter, its feeling of being away from it all is total, and ashore there's everything you could want, from superb beaches and glorious walks, to a perfect pub nearby.

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Derrynane, probably the most complete cruising anchorage in Ireland. Photo: W M Nixon

But that's only the start of it. The place is suffused in history and topical interest. It's the home port of Damian Foxall, and in times past it was the summer sailing base for Conor O'Brien of Saoirse fame, whose signature you can see in the guest book at Keating's pub. And the Dunraven family of America's Cup notoriety also had their summer place at Derrynane.

Before that again, it was of course the ancestral home of Daniel O'Connell, The Liberator, and a run ashore would be given added depth with a visit to his family's Derrynane House, which has been entrusted to the nation since 1964. Despite its setting near the sea, it slumbers in an almost tropical torpor, an architectural mishmash of considerable charm. And for sailing folk, it has added interest in that O'Connell was himself a sailing enthusiast, co-founder of the Royal Western YC at Kilrush in 1829, and one of those who re-started the Royal Irish YC on 4th July 1846.

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Ancestral home of a sailing man. Derrynane House is "an architectural mishmash of considerable charm"

A week ago, however, it was announced that Derrynane House would be closed for six months from April 2013 for a major re-furbishment on which €1.2 million would be spent. I marked it down as an item of information to be included this week for anyone cruising the southwest who would normally plan a visit to Derrynane and the house in their programme. But the good people of the neighbourhood, many of whom are involved in the hospitality industry, have decided otherwise.

Righteous indignation is a marvellous energizer, particularly when it is genuinely righteous. When you think of it, of course, there is nothing more absurd than planning to close the jewel for visitors in the neighbourhood crown right in the middle of the year of The Gathering. Whatever, the quiet roar of righteous indignation from the people of Derrynane and Caherdaniel blew away all the nonsense of closure this summer, and the re-furbishment is being re-planned to happen outside the summer season.

If the re-furbishment programme is being re-structured, maybe they can expand it to include a major tidy-up of the ancestral graveyard down by the harbour. Things may have improved in it recently, but I was there last Easter, and it was in a disgraceful condition.

SHACKLETON IS SOMETHING ELSE

Those who re-create the astonishing 800 mile voyage by Ernest Shackleton and his men in the sailing lifeboat James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia have tended to add even further to the lustre of Shackleton and his shipmates. Their voyages have usually been in the Antarctic summer, whereas the original epic passage took place in late April and early May, which would have been the equivalent of undertaking a major Arctic voyage in the 22ft boat at the beginning of November.

Thus the recent successful Caird voyage by Tim Jarvis and his shipmates is the same as an Arctic voyage at the end of July. But that is still a great achievement by most standards. It's just that Shackleton's voyage was so far beyond our comprehension that we needs must grasp at anything which will put it in context.

He and his shipmates were superhuman, and none more so than Tom Crean. Even the most casual study of life aboard shows that Crean was central to the survival of all. Anyone who has ever tried to heat a cup of coffee in heavy weather on a comfortable cruising boat at sea will have some appreciation of Tom Crean's efforts in ensuring that everyone on board the tiny vessel had one life-saving mug of hot milk every night.

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Not yachting as we know it...Ernest Shackleton and his crew launch the tiny James Caird at Elephant Island as the Antarctic winter starts to set in on April 24th 1916.

It's absurd to compare the superhuman task of heating milk aboard the James Caird with your average yotty's heavy weather experiences, but as it happens, in a sense this was a yachting venture which happens to chime with something done by Conor O'Brien from our Derrynane story.

After he returned with his Baltimore-built Saoirse from his circumnavigation in 1923-25, Conor O'Brien received an order from the Falkland Islands company for a larger version which would become the inter-islands trading ketch Ilen. Ilen was built in Baltimore (she's back there now, being restored at Oldcourt) and in 1927 O'Brien was to sail her out to the Falklands. But the only way he could get insurance was if she was registered as a yacht, so it was Ilen RIYC, complete with burgee, which sailed to the south Atlantic.

With Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance, while everyone wanted him to sail under the white ensign as befitted a national hero who should have been part of the Royal Navy, there were technical objections. But it was neatly solved by Shackleton becoming a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and Endurance went to Antarctica as a yacht of the RYS, entitled thereby to fly the white ensign.

NAOMH BAIRBRE RUMBLES ON

There is only one thing more boring than a sailing boat under motor, and that is a sailing boat under motor in the rain. But we had a lot of that on Thursday night on TG4's Turas Huiceara, the six part series on Thursdays at 9.30pm which traces the voyage of the 47ft Galway hooker Naomh Bairbre along the Celtic seaways to the north of Scotland and back to Connemara.

Last week we'd left Donncha and the lads in Castlebay in Barra with a double whammy. Their main boom – all 34ft of it – had broken. And in TG4 HQ somebody had forgotten to switch on the sub-titles button, which as Donnacha mentioned in his response here on Monday, had baffled everyone – apparently even some fluent Irish speakers were having difficulty understanding the Barra Gaelic.

Not all, though. Anyone who polished up their Irish in the Gweedore Gaeltacht in Donegal would have had no problem. Many years ago I was out in Barra with Johnny Roche in his South Coast One Design Safina (super little boat, she's based in Poolbeg these days, owned by John B Kearney's nephew) and one of our crew was Denis Drum, purveyor of fine art to the gentry, and world class chef. Denis noted the little fishing boats landing lobster and crab in abundance, and decided to get some, but the guys in the pub told him the story that all the catches go straight to Paris for the highest prices, and that he'd no chance.

Nothing daunted, Denis went down and turned on the old charm, but no success. So he switched on his Irish sub-titles button, waxing lyrical with the old tongue he'd learnt in Gweedore. It was magic. He was given as much shellfish as we could possibly need, and more, and all for free. There was so much that a cockpit locker lid had to be used for the serving dish. We were up to our ears in lobster and crab for several days. So Barra-speak can be understood in Ireland.

But not by most of us, and maybe it's just as well. I've since seen the programme on the TG4 Player with the sub-titles, and Calum MacNeil's story of the MacNeils of Barra and their interaction with the home of their ancestors was not a a pretty yarn. Seems the MacNeils of Barra became experts in seaborn cattle raiding to the land of the O'Neills, and their speciality was sweeping into Clew Bay on Reek Sunday and grabbing the cattle while all the locals were on top of Croagh Patrick for the annual pilgrimage. It must have been someone connected to the MacNeils who made sure that sub-title button was switched off.

Well, anyway, this past Thursday, still without their mainboom they had to motor all the way in order to visit St Kilda. Fair play to Steve Mulkerrins who built the Naomh Bairbre in Chicago in 2003-2006, he made a good job of installing the auxiliary engine, because the big girl did it all without a bother, but it would have made for much better television if it had been under sail.

That said, the film gave an excellent impression of the utter remoteness of St Kilda, and its inherent sadness. But by this time the rain was set in, and they seemed to have it with them all the way back in to Skye for the Highland Games, where the caber wasn't big enough to be a new mainboom (the average caber is "only" 19ft 6ins).

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Cruising off Skye in sunshine in August 2012. But the Naomh Bairbre wasn't so fortunate – in Skye she found neither sunshine, nor a new mainboom. Photo: W M Nixon

So they went north to Stornoway where a lovely man felled a fine Sitka spruce in the woods beside the castle and hallelulia, Naomh Bairbre is sailing again. Next Thursday they get round the north of Scotland (we'll need some convincing that there's much of Gaelic interest on the south shore of the Pentland Firth), and then start heading back towards Ireland through the Caledonian Canal, hopefully finding some sunshine on the way. There was little enough of it last Thursday night, and in February it's as welcome as a glass of cool water in the desert.

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Published in W M Nixon
2nd February 2013

Whisper Leads the Charge

#D2D – The 78ft Reichel Pugh-designed Whisper, course record holder for the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, is leading the charge for Ireland under the command of Mark Dicker in the RORC Caribbean 600 in a fortnight's time. In all, there's direct Irish input into four of the fifty entries. And as the inaugural staging of this annual "instant classic" back in 2008 saw the overall win going to Adrian Lee's Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners, Ireland has an almost proprietorial interest in racing out of Antigua on Monday February 18th around various choice Caribbean islands, and back to Antigua again in the midst of its warm blue sea.

Or more accurately, it's Dublin Bay which seems to be claiming ownership. Michael Boyd of Dun Laoghaire, who was overall winner of the Round Ireland in 1996 with the J/35 Big Ears when there was a record fleet of 55 boats, has teamed up with clubmate Niall Dowling and American-based John Cunningham to charter the First 40 Lancelot II in Antigua. Although the First 40s may have not yet acquired the legendary status of their predecessors, the First 40.7, their debut in 2010 was quite something – they took first and second in the Sydney-Hobart Race that year, and there's half a dozen of them cutting the mustard in RORC races in Europe.

As for Whisper, she's supposedly a cruiser-racer. But she's a wolf in sheep's clothing – her fifth overall in the 2009 Fastnet Race was a matter for very favourable comment from the pundits, and her speedy scamper to Dingle that same year came within an ace of sailing the 260-mile course within 24 hours. She did the Caribbean 600 last year and notched a respectable 6th in Class and 12th overall, but at one stage was much better placed.

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Wolf in sheep's clothing – Whisper pretending to be a cruising boat in Castletownbere as she makes her way home in easy stages after establishing the course record in the Dingle Race. Photo: W M Nixon

Another cruiser-racer with winning potential is Alan McGettigan's recently-acquired Swan 48 Wolfhound, which will eventually call Dun Laoghaire home. But at the moment she's trying to make the best of winter weather windows to make her way from east coast USA to Bermuda, thence to Tortola, and on to Antigua for the start in the nick of time.

Up among the biggest boats in the fleet is professional skipper Peter Metcalfe from Northern Ireland, who started his offshore racing on his father's Ruffian 23. You could fit a Ruffian 23 into the saloon of his current command, the 100ft Liara, built in 2009 by Performance Yachts of New Zealand. But with Mike Slade's Leopard – holder of the Round Ireland Course record since 2008 – also in the Caribbean 600 this time round, Liara has a race on her hands, as the fleet includes several much larger Superyachts.

And there are some potent smaller craft too, though "smaller" in Caribbean 600 terms is very relative. American Ron O'Hanley with his Cookson 50 Privateer only lost out on the overall win last year because he was carrying a penalty for a rule infringement, so he's back to sort out unfinished business, and if he does the business, we'll claim him as Irish.

Another "almost made it" is the Oyster Lightwave 48 Scarlet Oyster campaigned by the Applebey family. The two Schumacher-designed Lightwaves – the 395 and the 48 briefly produced by Oyster Marine - had been almost forgotten, even though there were three of them in Cork. But the Appleby family saw potential in one of them, gave her an upgrade and a new keel and rudder, and hey presto, they've a handy-sized contender at a fraction of the price of a new boat, a tale for our times in the midst of all these extraordinary superyachts.

THE GHOST OF BLACK SOO SAILS ON

The story here a fortnight ago about the boats which had raced 1750 miles downwind from Cape Town to St Helena over Christmas and the New Year for the Governor's Cup, and then availed of a "sailing ski lift" to be shipped back to the Cape on Royal Mail vessel serving the remote island, has rung a bell or two.

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Martinus Groenewald's RCOD Reaction off Cape Town. The winner of the recent Governor's Cup race to St Helena, she is a hull sister of the van de Stadt-designed Black Soo, but her larger coachroof provides more space in the 6.9ft beam.

It was commented that the winner, Martinhus Groenewald's Reaction, appeared to be related to the famous van de Stadt designed hyper-narrow and hyper-light Black Soo, which always looked modern despite being built as long ago as 1957. Turns out that they're pretty much hull sisters. The Royal Cape One Designs from 1961 were evolved from Black Soo's sister Zeeslang, which was the first to the hull design, and was built for Kees Bruynzeel, the Dutch plywood potentate.

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Black Soo at Portaferry in 1963, showing the stark hull profile which always seemed ahead of its time Photo: W M Nixon

But although Zeeslang was subsequently restored in South Africa, and then sold to Switzerland where she is now a treasured classic, poor old Black Soo, which first came to Ireland in 1962 with Dick and Billy Brown of Portaferry, eventually succumbed to the Irish weather which is murder for even the finest plywood, and was broken up at Poolbeg in Dublin three or four years ago.

One of the problems with marine ply construction is that it provides nooks and crannies where rainwater can lie, and as the original plywood-built Royal Cape ODs were very hard raced, they soon showed their age. Johnny Wolfe of Baltimore was telling me that he raced on them in South Africa in 1972, and some of them seemed old even then.

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Black Soo's sister-ship Zeeslang is now a treasured classic in Switzerland

But in 1981, a local firm in Cape Town started building a fibreglass version, and as they were able to cleverly shape the interior mouldings to be useful for the accommodation while also providing strength for the hull, it made them much roomier below. Nevertheless, with a beam of only 6.9ft it was still distinctly cosy, but with the RCOD's larger coachroof it was infinitely more commodious than either Zeeslang or Black Soo, which were noted as having "full crawling headroom".

However, when you go to all the trouble of tooling up for glassfibre series production, people wonder why you don't break away from the restrictions of the hard chine shape as dictated by plywood construction in the first place. There were those who wondered if the Royal Cape OD's renowned ability to plane offwind in big breezes at better than 20 knots without burying the nose could not be achieved with something which looked a little more elegant, and was maybe just ever so slightly roomier.

So in all, only four glassfibre Royal Cape ODs (including Reaction) were built, and the boats are no longer racing as a class. But Reaction is cherished by her owner and crew, she still can do her thing in the big breezes downwind, and the ghost of Black Soo was a happy spirit when Reaction won the Governor's Cup three weeks ago.

BOOM AND BUST

Last weekend we enthused about Turas Huiceara, the six part series on TG4 at 9.30pm on Thursdays about taking the mighty 47ft Galway hooker Naomh Bairbre southabout around Ireland to the Isle of Man, and then north to the Hebrides in pursuit of stories about the Gaelic links along the Celtic seaways.

Our apologies to those who followed our advice and don't have the cupla focal, as this week on Thursday night they forgot to switch on the sub-title button across in TG4 HQ in Connemara or Harcourt Street or wherever it is, and the Naomh Bairbre trundled along in wall-to-wall undiluted Irish.

So far, no answer has come from there in response to our email to TG4 wondering is this the way it's going to be from now on. They can hardly claim it's to preserve the atmosphere, as it's set in the midst of commercials – horrible ones at that - which are almost entirely in English, featuring English actors.

But as for St Barbara being the patron saint of sudden surprises and explosions, we certainly continued to get a bang for our buck. A week ago, it was a right old wallop for the entrance to the sea lock at Ardrishaig. This Thursday past, it was the mainboom breaking while on passage from Staffa towards Castlebay on Barra.

The mainboom on Naomh Bairbre is huge, so this softened the lads' cough more than somewhat. But they seemed resigned to doing without it, even if its sudden exit from the dramatis personae led to a somewhat unbalanced view of Castlebay, with precious little attention for the sensitively-restored Kisimul Castle. It's the ancestral stronghold of the MacNeils, who are a branch of the O'Neills.

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Castlebay in Barra in the Outer Hebrides. Kisimul Castle is a stronghold of the MacNeils, an offshoot of the O'Neills. As a former outpost of Irish sea power, it deserved more detailed attention from TG4. Photo W M Nixon

Barra was and arguably still is an outpost of Irish sea power, but they didn't seem to bother with visiting the cocky little castle on its rock in the harbour. But then neither do they appear to have done anything about replacing the mainboom, which would be Number One priority for any thoroughgoing cruising man, who would approach the problem in a scavenging frame of mind.

After all, it's about the size of a telegraph pole, and there are telegraph poles in abundance in the Western Isles. But then, as this endearing programme signed off with clips of some stuff still to come, here we were, glimpsing the Highland Games in Stornoway or some such place. A giant Scotsman was making a fine job of tossing the caber. I have to admit I didn't see a caber at all. I saw a new mainboom for the Naomh Bairbre.

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Would a caber do the job? The mighty mainboom on the Naomh Bairbre currently needs replacing on Turas Huiceara, TG4 Thursdays, 9.30pm.

Published in W M Nixon
Tagged under
25th January 2013

Friendly Frugal Fireballs

#fireball – Has it really taken the Fireball dinghy 51 years to become an overnight success in Dun Laoghaire? Not at all. They've been hugely successful here before. But there's undoubtedly a renaissance under way, and a very special re-invigoration it is too.

It was in 1962 that innovative designer and technologist Peter Milne eventually finalised the concept for a novel 16ft racing dinghy evolved from the classic American Class A Scow. By 1995 it was thriving to such an extent globally and in Ireland that the 1995 Fireball Worlds in Dublin Bay attracted 85 entries from 13 countries.

The winners of both the Europeans and the Worlds were the home talents, two young fellows from the National Yacht Club called John Lavery and David O'Brien. Wonder where they are now....probably stalwarts in some suburban bowling club. Yet in the 18 years since that Irish high point, the class at one stage almost faded completely from view, but now it is the hottest ticket in town.

Somehow, it has remained a novel boat concept ever since it was first conceived, and its minimalist and economical image fits perfectly with the needs of performance sailors in this era of acute recession. In the current winter season, the class's thriving frostbite series in Dun Laoghaire is attracting fleet numbers that other boat types would die for in summer, with an esprit de corps to match.

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Minimalist boat, maximized sport – the Fireball is providing a cheerful and effective response to our recessionary times

The Irish Fireballs also have a busy summer programme, but there's another aspect to the class which makes them even more special. They're a hotbed for the growing number of sailors who are keen on the expanding two-handed classes which have become such an important feature of each summer's main offshore races.

Currently, the Dun Laoghaire Fireballers who have made the strongest mark on the two-handed international scene are Andy Boyle and Barry Hurley. Together, they were to win the double-handed division with Barry's JOD 35 Dinah in the Middle Sea Race at the end of October. But before that, Andy became part of an even bigger picture when he successfully stepped into a last-minute vacancy to partner Nick Martin on his J/105 Diablo J in the Round Ireland Race in June.

They won the two-handed class round Ireland, and placed 9th overall, a formidable performance. This then placed Diablo J nicely on track to win the two-handed division in the RORC's season-long points championship overall. And at the RORC's annual prize-giving in November, this all became stratospheric as Diablo-J was acclaimed Yacht of the Year.

So when you race with the Dun Laoghaire Fireballs these days, you're crossing tacks with guys who have taken on the best on the high seas, as other sailors include Brian Flahive who double-hands with Liam Coyne on the First 36.7 Lula Belle which – like Diablo-J with Nick Martin and Andy Boyle - is in the mix for this year's Fastnet Race, as too is another Dun Laoghaire Fireball Frostbite duo, Mike Murphy of Waterford and Alex Voy of Dromineer, who'll race the much-travelled JPK 9.60 Alchimiste round the rock.

The attraction of the class is that it provides so much for so little. A Fireball may be 16ft long, but look at her sideways and she's almost invisible. Be that as it may, she supports the full rig with spinnaker and trapeze, which gives the helm and crew equal status. And the Magic Ingredient is the class's supportive attitude to anyone who is involved, or maybe just thinking about joining.

They overcome the strangeness of the world of sailing for beginners or would-be Fireball sailors with an out-reaching and friendly approach which, in the final analysis, is just plain good manners and co-operation. Just what Ireland's needs to get out of the current slough. Meanwhile, the Fireballs are getting on with it, and they're attracting back former fans. Class Chairman Neil Colin is on his "second Fireball career", his enthusiasm renewed as he heads up an organization which gives all sorts of help to new owners, and knows where boats can be sourced on loan either for sailors coming from abroad to do one event in Ireland, or for a test drive for those who are beginning to think that the Fireball might just be the answer for dinghy sailing in our frugal times.

THE SECRET OF WMDWOOTY

Or Maybe Gaff Rig Wasn't So Great After All

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Dublin Bay 21 in a breeze under the original rig, with the helmsman looking remarkably calm despite the potential mayhem of his situation

Following last week's piece about the Golden Jubilee of the Old Gaffers Association bringing a fleet to Dublin Bay this summer, and how it was a sad coincidence that the Old Gaffers Association was founded to preserve gaff rig in 1963 at exactly the same time that the owners of the Dublin Bay 21ft ODs were converting to a more easily handled but much less spectacular Bermudan rig, we've had a robust response from Paddy Boyd in Canada. His view of the DBSC 21s in their classical prime is free of the rose tinting of our own view, and as it fairly leaps off the screen, we'll let it rip:

"I was interested in the old gaffers article, particularly as I remember, albeit not very vividly, the change to Bermudan rig in 1963 as my late father was the DB21 class captain at that time. As I recall, he had to take some stick for abandoning tradition, not least from Seamus Kelly (Quidnunc of an Irishman's Diary in The Irish Times), who was a member of his crew on the Oola.

My earliest sailing memory is as pump hand/mainsheet trimmer on the Oola, perhaps the busiest job on board in anything over a Force 3! Removing the vast amounts of cold Dublin Bay brine was, in those days, by way of a brass bicycle pump affair that leaked, by way of small but vicious jet of the aforementioned brine from the badly sealed barrel cap, directly into the mouth and nose of the operator.

Meanwhile, because the main sheet was led down below, one was always ready for the scream to ease sheets from the skipper as the volumes of water coming over the coaming approached overwhelming levels.

I haven't yet decided what was the best day of my fledgling sailing career: the day my father invested in a Whale Gusher 25, or the decision to change to a smaller, more manageable sail plan. I'm tending towards the latter.

You wrote: But please believe that in their prime, the Dublin Bay 21s were just about the most perfect, the most beautiful, the most gallant small gaff cutters ever created. With their spectacular jackyard tops'ls, they were demanding creatures. They were thoroughbreds, a joy to sail, and the providers of tremendous sport.

Beautiful? – absolutely

Demanding? – for sure,

Gallant? - maybe,

A joy to sail? – not for the pump hand/main sheet trimmer

Providers of tremendous sport? – I can't comment, because I couldn't see anything when down below upwind, and even when we bore away I was put sitting on the boom facing aft. I hardly ever saw anything of the rest of the fleet, because my Dad's greatest sailing attribute was his unfailing optimism with a tendency to take flyers, so much so that his crew made a burgee with the acronym of his most spoken phrase WMDWOOTY – "we might do well out of this yet"

But most perfect? – here I have to disagree most vehemently. Am I the only person who thinks that they were a poor design, - overcanvassed, narrow side decks allowing huge amounts of water in at relatively small angles of heel, unbalanced and inefficient requiring too many crew in too small a space?

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Sensible but prosaic – the new Bermuda rig kept the Dublin Bay 21s racing until 1986

The ease of handling under the new rig, allied to the extended headroom provided by the new doghouse, certainly made them more family friendly and, I believe extended their working life.

Beautiful though they were, you still needed two halyard hands to hoist the gaff main, and the use of the topsail was, in my memory, very limited.

Dare I even whisper the notion that perhaps we should finally provide a decent burial and live with the nostalgia, and not try to recreate the reality?"

Them's Paddy's sentiments. Those of us whose only experience of racing a gaff rigged DBSC 21 was in a carefully choreographed visitors race in which the sails had been set up beforehand, with all the hard sailing work then done by the regular crew, can scarcely argue against someone whose childhood development was so affected by the boats. Nevertheless, if a boat is an undisputed classic, enthusiasts will make allowances. Was a DBSC 21 uncomfortable? Certainly. But not nearly as uncomfortable as the Howth 17s, which are DIABOLICALLY uncomfortable except for the helmsman, who has an awkward cockpit seat of sorts.

As for the DBSC 21s being unbalanced, it could be argued that it was all to do with sail trim – the boat was only unbalanced if the sails were trimmed wrong, and of course with true classic boats you don't really expect to steer them, you sail them by trimming the sails, and the rudder is little more than a trim tab.

All our photos of the DBSC 21s under gaff rig show them setting cotton sails, which suggests that they never sailed with Dacron/Terylene gaff sails. It's likely they changed the rig when new synthetic sails became inevitable, and towards the end the baggy nature of the overworked old cotton sails must have added to any imbalance. It's difficult to tell from the photos just how heavy or otherwise they were on the helm, my own recollection is they were pleasant and manageable to helm.

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Summer Saturday afternoon in Dublin Bay, and two DBSC 21s make smooth windward progress

Our final DBSC 21 photo today shows an idyllic Saturday afternoon scene in Dublin Bay in the late 1950s. Though the tiller on the nearer boat is quite markedly across the deck, that could be something to do with a loose arrangement with the head of the rudder stock - the wake suggests the rudder was not being heavily deployed as the boat makes sweetly to windward. In all, a poignant photo as we see the boats doing what they were meant to do, not what they're doing now.

NAOMH BAIRBRE IS BACK WITH A BANG

If you thought the original rig on the DBSC 21s was something of a widowmaker, wait till you see the gaff mainsail on the Naomh Bairbre. With the depths of February almost upon us, any images of Irish summer sailing are welcome, and TG4 has an intriguing 6-part series running on Thursday evenings at 9.30pm. It's about taking the Galway Hooker Naomh Bairbre along the Gaelic seaways from Conamara round the south coast of Ireland to the Isle of Man, then north to the Outer Hebrides before returning to Galway via Ireland's north and west coasts. The idea is that this will make clear the lively cross-water links maintained by the people along the Celtic fringe.

The Naomh Bairbre is named for St Barbara, the patron saint of sudden surprises and explosions, and at 47ft is probably the biggest Galway Hooker ever created. She was built in Chicago over a three year period by Steve Mulkerrins, and then in 2006 with the late great Tom Joyce of Inis Mor as skipper, she made an exemplary Transatlantic crossing.

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The majestic Naomh Bairbre got a rapturous welcome when she arrived from America in Conamara in July 2006

She really is huge, but since that voyage six years ago we've heard little about her, so it's good to see the big lady in action again. There have been some good sequences of sailing – the first episode particularly had keen camera work – but as so often happens, trying to link a cruise with the development of a narrative about the coasts being visited is a difficult business. Sometimes when cruising you have to accept that having a boat can be just about the least effective way of visiting anywhere. The needs of the boat take over the project, and any relationship with life on the shore is dominated by these immediate maritime requirements rather than following up gentle lines of enquiry about history and the local way of life.

Thus a passage through the Crinan Canal to take in a visit to the ancient fortess of Dunadd, former capital of the 6th Century cross-channel kingdom of Dal Riada, is rather taken over by the difficulties of getting the mettlesome Naomh Bairbre – still with her battering-ram of a bowsprit fully extended – manoeuvred through the narrow canal. She had certainly arrived in Ardrishaig with a bang, but that's St Barbara for you.

We left the crew of three just about to reach Iona on Thursday evening, and look forward to the remaining four programmes. It really is a challenge to take a boat whose design evolved to sail on a reach between Conmara and the Aran Islands through tricky rocky channels which run every which way, and we're with them all the way.

OUR FEATHERED FRIEND

Yesterday's item about the dolphin in Hawaii which successfully sought help from a diver in getting cleared of a fishing line caught tightly round its head, with a hook embedded in one of its fins, recalled a story told me by Dermot Russell, that wordsmith extraordinaire and ace fisherman of Blackrock, Cork.

Dermot and a couple of friends used to head seaward down Cork Harbour in a little boat for a spot of sea angling most summer weekends. As they were good at the fishing they were always accompanied by herring gulls, for herring gulls didn't get to be one of the most successful species on the planet by backing losers.

One day they noted one of their feathered friends was in distress with its beak clamped shut by a fishing line. The bird was so weakened by hunger that they were able to capture it, in fact they reckon the creature was actually seeking help. Clearing the line was managed despite the increasing hazard to the helpers as the razor-sharp beak was freed. But in the end there seemed to be an extra trans-species understanding about it all. As Dermot put it: "I don't suppose you've ever been thanked by a seagull, but I know we were".

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Published in W M Nixon
Tagged under
18th January 2013

New Ground for Old Gaffers

#oldgaffers – There's a painful irony in the Old Gaffers Association choosing Dublin Bay as one of the focal points for their season-long Golden Jubilee celebration this summer. In 1963, the OGA came into being "to preserve interest in, and encourage development of Gaff Rig, and to participate in the maintenance of our Maritime Heritage". But that same year, the owners of the seven Dublin Bay 21ft One Designs persuaded veteran yacht designer John B Kearney to convert their beautiful Alfred Mylne-designed 1903 gaff cutters to Bermudan rig.

Today's sailors may wonder why old salts get so emotional about the Dublin Bay 21s. The past is a different and distant country, a long way away, and the heyday of the Dublin Bay 21s was aeons ago. But please believe that in their prime, the Dublin Bay 21s were just about the most perfect, the most beautiful, the most gallant small gaff cutters ever created. With their spectacular jackyard tops'ls, they were demanding creatures. They were thoroughbreds, a joy to sail, and the providers of tremendous sport.

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The crème de la crème. In their prime, the Dublin Bay 21s were the most beautiful small gaff cutters in the world

Yet in 1963, with sailing being taken over by plastic boats and modern rigs, the DBSC 21ft owners felt they'd no choice if they were to attract newcomers as crews and owners. And for some decades, the boats with their masthead Bermudan rigs continued as a viable class. Today, however, the seven mouldering hulls are entombed in a Wicklow farmyard. And when the Old Gaffers Association make a four day visit to Dublin from May 31st to June 3rd, tangible reminders of the glory days of gaff rig racing in Dublin Bay will actually come from outside the bay, with the Howth 17s racing round the Baily to join the festivities which will be focused on Poolbeg Y & BC in the mouth of the River Liffey, where most of the members of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association are based.

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Thriving survivors of a golden age of gaff rig racing. The Howth 17s Aura (1898) and Pauline (1900) in the annual race round Lambay. The race round the North Dublin island was first sailed in 1904. Photo: John Deane

Despite its seemingly uncompromising name, the Old Gaffers Association is a rather amorphous body. Doubtless there was a time when an Orwellian attitude of "four sides good, three sides bad" prevailed with regard to the shape of your mainsail. But there are now so many vintage boats which were Bermudan rigged at birth that they are also happily involved and accepted.

It seems you only have to think that your boat is either traditional or a classic, and you're in. So with my reasonably mature Bermuda-rigged little American glassfibre sloop, I too have joined the Picklefork Club. The what? The Picklefork Club. It's simple, really. The symbol of the old gaffers on their burgee is the profile of gaff jaws, which you'd think is unmistakable. But while cruising in the English Channel some years ago with old gaffers all about and flying the flag, my determinedly ignorant shipmates decided this could only represent something called the Picklefork Club. So for the remainder of the cruise (which involved going to St Malo to see a boat built by James Kelly of Portrush in 1897, but that's a story for another time) it became the Picklefork Club, and has remained so ever since.

Yet although the Old Gaffers have been around for 50 years, and the Howth 17s for 115, they've never officially got together, so the Poolbeg assembly will be a breaking of new ground. It promises to be a fascinating gathering, as the theme of the Golden Jubilee is a rolling clockwise circuit cruise of Great Britain, with boats joining and leaving as they wish, its route veering sufficiently west to take in Dublin Bay and Belfast Lough.

Some boats will go the whole way, on through the Caledonian Canal and down the east coast of Scotland and England. It is expected this voyaging group will include boats from the strong Dutch and French memberships, which will bring craft like a giant Galway hooker built in steel from the Netherlands. As local boats from all corners of the Irish Sea are also expected, it will be one very eclectic fleet, and then some. Variety being of the essence for this main fleet, the arrival of a one design class of classically gaff-rigged boats of unimpeachable vintage will enliven things on the Saturday afternoon (June 1st) as the Seventeens race in from Howth.

A love of old boats and a sense of community is the cement that holds the Seventeens together, but it is the bracing effect of racing which energises the class. Since May 4th 1898, the weekly Saturday afternoon race at Howth has been the backbone of the class's busy annual programme. It's almost set in stone, but fortunately there were enough like-minded people in Howth who thought the OGA Golden Jubilee was a Good Thing, Worthy of Support, in order to float the idea.

So not only are the Seventeens going to race to Poolbeg (and on a Bank Holiday Saturday too), but for good measure on the Sunday they'll be racing between the bridges on the Liffey. As for the bigger boats in the main fleet who wish to race, on the Saturday there's a race for the RMS Leinster Trophy (named for the mailboat torpedoed in 1918) from Dun Laoghaire round the available islands and buoys to Poolbeg, and then on the Sunday they race in Dublin Bay for the new Asgard trophy, made up from spare timber saved by John Kearon, conservator of Erskine Childers' Asgard.

In all, it's a user-friendly programme which shouldn't be too demanding for even the oldest Old Gaffer. And as it's all about shared enthusiasm, we can be sure that the hard core of devotees will enjoy themselves whatever the weather. But for the rest of us, let's hope the jetstream is sufficiently distant to ensure that the first weekend of June 2013 bring glorious summer to Dublin Bay.

ANOTHER GONG FOR BEN

Today's choreographed awards ceremonies, with the buildup of what is often pseudo tension as the short list is recited, are something many of us would happily avoid in any capacity. So it was a breath of fresh air earlier this week when news of the annual YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year awards across the water came in, complete with photos of the trophy going to Ben Ainslie.

Recently made Sir Ben, he's a busy boy. In post-Olympic mode, he's up to his tonsils with an America's Cup campaign, and was booked to be on his way back to San Francisco when the trophy was due to be formally handed over in London.

But Ben is based in Lymington, as too is YJA Chairman Bob Fisher, while Lady Pippa Blake, who was to perform the ceremonial in London, lives further east along the Solent at Emsworth. So what could be easier than they all get together of a January morning at the Royal Lymington, and get the photos of the handover just before Ben takes off for the US of A.

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An awards ceremony for our times – Bob Fisher, Pippa Blake and Ben Ainslie in Lymington with the YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year 2012 trophy. Photo: PPL

Awards ceremonies should always be like this – dontcha just love the Fish's matching shirt and pullover in a class of pale lilac? Nevertheless, we appreciate that some folk might think this is all just a little bit too casual, so we'd better give it a Court Circular makeover:

Lymington, Monday

Sir Benjamin Ainslie, Keeper of the Four Gold Medals, was this morning received by Lord Fish of Brittlesea in the Royal Lymington Yacht Club, with Lady Pippa Blake in attendance. After the usual exchange of pleasantries about the weather and the minor problems encountered in the Southampton traffic when journeying from West Sussex, Lady Blake then presented Sir Benjamin with the YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year Trophy for 2012, which Sir Benjamin was pleased to accept.

Following some discussion as to whether the photographs would be better taken in the clubhouse or on the balcony, both settings were used. Lady Blake was then thanked by Lord Fish of Brittlesea, and conferred with the title of Designated Driver, as the catering facilities in the Royal Lymington Yacht Club were closed, it being Winter Hours.

Lady Blake then conveyed the party to the Chequers public house for a bar luncheon, where they savoured the vegetarian option, the battered cod with hand cut chips, and the succulent beefburger. Sir Benjamin enjoyed his last pint of Badger Beer for some time as they don't have stuff like this in Frisco, and then went home to complete his packing and leave for America.

SAILING'S SKI LIFT

Even in a mighty maxi, windward work in the open sea in a real breeze is rugged going. On one such occasion, as we wondered at the bashing the big boat was taking while reflecting that even with it, the speed was still nothing great, a veteran of many big boat races on the rail beside me gave the received and terse opinion:

"Nothing goes to windward like a 747".

All too often, the joy of a downwind skite is diminished by the thought of having to slug back up again. Why can't sailing have the equivalent of a ski lift? Well, if you sail out of Cape Town, it does.

The bi-annual Governor's Cup race over Christmas and January from the Cape's historic navy port of Simon's Town to St Helena is 1,700 miles of fast sleighride in the barreling southeasterly trade winds. Despite being up against 19 other boats, some of them seriously big ones, the winner was the relatively small sloop Reaction. Owned by Thinus Grinwald, she's one of those slippy little van der Stadt designed Royal Cape ODs, boats with a distant relationship to Black Soo, another van de Stadt offwind flyer which was long based in Ireland.

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Governor's Cup winner Reaction is lifted aboard the Royal Mail vessel at St Helena for the return to Cape Town

Black Soo was phenomenal offwind in a big breeze, but she was very tough going to windward in a blow. Doubtless it's the same with Reaction. But they didn't have to test it, as they'd booked to have her shipped back with seven of the other smaller boats from St Helena to Cape Town on the Royal Mail vessel which serves that very remote South Atlantic island.

On this sailing ski lift, it took them five very pleasant days to get back to the Cape, and even with all the partying on St Helena, there was more conviviality on the ski-lift cruise home. With just four on board, Reaction had gone to St Helena in 11 days and 23 hours. It boggles the mind to think how long they'd have taken to sail back.

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Any more for the Skylark? Eight boats secured themselves a sailing ski-lift uphill against the southeast trades, 1700 miles back home from St Helena to Cape Town

Published in W M Nixon
12th January 2013

Rock Breaking Records

#fastnet – Why are people surprised that, despite the international mood of economic gloom, online entries for the Rolex Fastnet Race 2013 in August went through the roof earlier this week, with the ceiling of 300 boats – nine of them Irish - hit in record time, well within 24 hours of the lists opening, with the first one in just seven seconds after the gun fired?

Fact is, the Fastnet is incredibly good value for money for ordinary offshore sailors based along either side of the English Channel, and on both coasts of the southern North Sea. It's set up on a plate ready-to-go, its start and finish are within convenient sailing distance of them all, yet it's an event of historic and almost mythic global status, made even more so by the disastrous storm of 1979.

To have it in your sailing CV, regardless of where you place at the finish, is still something which mightily impresses non-sailing colleagues at work, and down the pub too if you live more than half a dozen miles from the sea. Yet taking part in it is no big deal financially for the English Channel/Southern North Sea sailors when you factor in the enormous number of existing boats which are well capable of doing it.

If we set aside the original cost of the boat by regarding that transaction as history and not part of the new financial equation, thanks to today's much more rigorous inter-governmental safety and equipment standards, it's not too onerous to bring an ordinary production performance cruiser up to the RORC requirements.

So taking the existence and ownership of the boat as a given, what is needed is enthusiasm, energy, the availability of shipmates, and that precious place in the entry list. It's a setup which suits Offshore Sailing Schools very well indeed – they made extra sure of securing their entries, and are pushing above 10% of the total list. As for private owners, for some nowadays the entry place seems to have become top of the priorities, and people are securing their slot in the hope of then putting their campaign together on the basis of this essential building block. Either way, there's already a waiting list, but it can activate into entry acceptance remarkably quickly, even if some secured entries hang on until the last minute, days after it's clear they'll be no-shows.

Back in 2007, one of Ireland's greatest offshore skippers, Ger O'Rouke of Limerick, was campaigning his Cookson 50 Chieftain with enormous vigour, and in June/July he raced the Transatlantic from New York to Hamburg. But he had an understandable superstition about finalizing his entry for the next big race before finishing the race of the moment, and thus when Chieftain got into Hamburg, she may have won her class and placed second overall, but as far as the Fastnet Race 2007 was concerned, she was still only No 46 on the waiting list.

But Ger took her down to the Solent, and based himself in the Hamble to be near the scene of the action, making sure the Fastnet race office knew he was there and ready to go, so that as places became available from the waiting list, the over-worked race officers could be sure that one boat at least was a certain substitute. Meanwhile he was also keeping an eye on other boats in uncertain pre-Fastnet mode around the Hamble, because after the time-consuming Transatlantic campaign, Ger was a bit short of crew, and he was quietly sussing out Fastnet hopefuls to make up his numbers if he got the call.

Less than 48 hours before the race was due to start, Chieftain was in. So in terms of accepted boat management practice, you might say she was a last minute entry, with her crew numbers completed by pierhead jumpers. Having cleared the acceptance hurdle, they frustratingly couldn't get racing right away, as the start was postponed for a day because of a Force 9 south'wester. Even when it did get going in quite a rugged slug to windward down the English Channel, something like 150 boats soon retired.

But Chieftain was loving it, though even before she'd bashed her way past the Lizard, all the installed electronics crashed. They navigated the rest of the race with a little handheld GPS and a few wet and disintegrating paper charts. Not to worry, they had a hugely acclaimed overall win, the first ever by an Irish boat, and Ger O'Rourke was Ireland's Sailor of the Year 2007. Not bad going for a last-minute entry crewed by pierhead jumpers.

With stories like this cascading down the years, it's little wonder the Fastnet is something special. And though it involves a little more effort for Irish boats to get to the start, it's still a mega-happening within easy reach, tantalizingly so when rounding the rock itself. Thus although we've only managed a sneak preview of the initial entry list, and while accepting that some may fall by the wayside because of rigorous crew requirements further down the lines, nevertheless the news is it's good news, Ireland has a quality entry, and there'll be much more to it than simply having the Fastnet Race in the old sailing CV.

In alphabetic order, they're Alchimiste (JPK 9.60, Mike Murphy), Antix (Ker 39, Anthony O'Leary), David Kenefick Sailing (Figaro II, Marcus Hutchinson), Jedi (J/109, Andrew Sarratt) Joker (J/109, Chris Andrews), Lula Belle (First 36.7, Liam Coyne), Lynx Clipper (Reflex 38, Aodhan Fitzgerald), Raging Bull (Sigma 400, Matt Davis) and Spirit of Jacana (J/133, Andrew, Bruce & James Douglas).

At least three other boats have special Irish interest – Nick Martin's J/105 Diablo-J, currently RORC Yacht of the Year after winning the two-handed championship including the double handed division in the round Ireland, with Dun Laoghaire's Andrew Boyle signed on to crew again, and the two recent round Ireland winners - Laurent Gouy's Ker 39 Inis Mor, and Piet Vroon's Ker 46 Tonnere de Breskens.

Of the directly Irish boats, we note that the O'Leary family's Antix – a sister-ship of Inis Mor – has never done a major long offshore race before, not even the Round Ireland, but she's has won oodles of stuff round the cans and in shorter offshores, so her transference to the wide open spaces will be interesting. Further down the line, Lynx Clipper entered by Aodhan Fitzgerald is of course NUI Galway, the Reflex 38 which is current ICRA Boat of the Year. And it's good to see Matt Davis's successful Sigma 400 Raging Bull (ISORA Champion 2011) back in the lists – she missed 2012 completely through coming ashore in Skerries in a nor'east gale in May, but has now been restored by Noonan Boats down Wicklow way.

Young David Kenefick's Figaro programme under the tutelage of Marcus Hutchinson will be well under way by Fastnet time, and this should provide useful publicity and unmatchable experience. As for the hot J/109s of Dublin Bay, two of them – Jedi and Joker – have made the cut, while their bigger sister, the Douglas brothers' J/133 Spirit of Jacana from Carrickfergus, is back again to defend her position as top-placed Irish boat in 2011. Smallest of all the Irish entries is Mike Murphy's JPK 9.60 Alchimiste – at 31ft she has one of the shortest overall lengths in the entire fleet, but with her beam upwards of 11ft she's a big-hearted little 'un, an impressive French creation.

We don't know at this stage which Irish boats are on the waiting list, but as it is that's a good solid lineup, with some welcome surprises. Looking at the fleet overall, defender Ran (JV 72, Niklas Zennstrom) is going again, as too is mono-hull record holder, the Volvo 70 Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker). There's a notable absence of American boats this time round (though their successful JV 72 Bella Mente is in the hunt), but we should bear in mind that the next Rolex Fastnet, in 2015, will coincide with the Bi-Centenary of the Royal Yacht Squadron, so we can expect the New York Yacht Club to be leading a formidable expeditionary force to events around that, including the Fastnet Race.

And looking beyond that, it's not too long to the Tri-Centenary of the Royal Cork in 2020. For Royal Cork's Quarter Millennium in 1970, they made it a two year event to accommodate American boats planning to take in the 1969 Fastnet. Doubtless plans are already well in hand to do that again with the Rolex Fastnet Race of 2019.........Put it in your diary now.

GLORIOUS GALATEA AND HAPPY HENN

There was some scepticism about last week's piece about Ireland's first America's Cup Challenger in 1886. Not as to whether it had taken place – it's quite clear in the America's Cup records that in 1886, Lt William Henn had challenged through the Royal Northern Yacht Club with his new cutter Galatea. No, the disbelief was about the notion that Lt Henn and his supportive wife and their crew (including Peggy the pet monkey) had lived aboard Galatea, which stayed on in America in order to challenge again the following Spring, as Henn reckoned the Autumn breezes off Marblehead were too light.

We've since unearthed this antique photo of Galatea's main saloon, which would suggest that you could have lived aboard the big steel cutter in rather more luxurious comfort than the Henn family's many tenants would have enjoyed in their small farms along the north shore of the Shannon Estuary. But in terms of America's Cup racing potential, it tells us why Galatea was just about as effective as a Shannon gandolow in taking on the American defender Mayflower, an Edward Burgess designed 100ft cutter which won every race whether Autumn or Spring, the biggest margin being a whopping 29 minutes and 9 seconds.

Yet today the fascination is with Galatea's extraordinary saloon, which seems to have at least two leopardskin rugs, and a proper fireplace – absolutely essential in any proper racing yacht. As to William Henn retaining his modest naval title of Lieutenant, it seems that he took early retirement from the Royal Navy in order to go sailing, his personal fortune being sufficient to do so, and he was so keen on sailing the sea that before Galatea was built on the Clyde in 1885, he lived aboard his previous yacht for seven years.

At the time of his challenge, the American press commented on "this retired Naval Officer with his rich Irish charm", while his gallant wife seems to have been Scottish, hence his challenge through the Royal Northern YC, and other links to the Clyde. This makes it unlikely that the remains of Galatea can be found (as is popularly supposed) in the Fergus estuary on the north shore of the Shannon estuary, off the remains of Paradise which was the old Henn house. According to Lloyd's Register of 1910, Mrs Henn is still listed as owning Galatea, but is now apparently a widow, and resident on the Isle of Bute, while Galatea is listed as being in proper order, but having her base at Port Glasgow.

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The main saloon on the Irish-owned 1886 America's Cup challenger Galatea provided all comforts and catered for every possible need, except the needs of a racing boat.

Published in W M Nixon
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#sailorofthemonth – As we look back over the extraordinary mixture of memories stirred up by the Irish sailing season of 2012, one exceptionally good deed stands out in a sometimes slightly wicked world.

Questions were asked about some major events in Ireland and abroad during 2012, while in others, distasteful rows blew up which could have been much more competently handled. But over and above it all, and glowing with increasing strength as the passing of time enhances the recollections, is the happy memory of the Four Star Pizza ISAF Youth Worlds in Dun Laoghaire in July.

With 63 nations involved, it was the most international sailing event ever seen in Ireland. It involved the active input of an army of volunteers ashore, and a navy of volunteers afloat. With so many people taking part at some level or other, the scope for friction – at the very least – was incalcuable.

Yet the ISAF Youth Worlds seemed to effortlessly achieve that true spirit of local, national and international goodwill to which to many comparable events aspire, but not all realize. It made a lasting impact, and was lavishly and deservedly praised by outgoing ISAF President Goran Petersson at the ISAF Conference in November.

Only with a very exceptional administrator and delegator leading an inevitably complex organization can such a satisfactory outcome be achieved. Irish sailing in general, and Dublin Bay in particular, is fortunate in being able to call on the services of Brian Craig to lead the administration in events as demanding as the ISAF Worlds. Not only did he put in the long hours necessary to ensure its smooth running, but long beforehand he gave generously of his time to ensure that Dublin Bay's claim to stage this event was internationally acknowledged and approved. Brian Craig is the Afloat.ie "Sailor of the Month" for December in celebration of his unrivalled contribution to the sailing season of 2012.

IT'S GREEN FOR GO IN HOBART

Irish sailors in Australia have been on a roll in the annual 628-mile Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, with major input into the crewing of the two top boats. After a virtually perfect race in tactical and navigational terms, veteran owner Bob Oatley's hundred footer Wild Oats XI took line honours, and in doing so knocked 16 minutes off the course record she established in 2005.

As Oatley's team - headed by skipper Mark Richards – constantly update and re-tune the big boat, the Wild Oats which established the new record yesterday was a very different beast from the winner of 2005. But the course they had to sail was the same challenging slog down the coast of New South Wales, across the Bass Strait, and up the often flukey estuary of the Derwent River to the city centre finish in Hobart.

One false call from experienced navigator Adrienne Cahalane – whose people hail from Offaly – and a mountain of effort beforehand and afloat would have amounted to nothing. But after blasting away from a perfect start to establish what is believed to be a record for the first short stage from the harbour to Sydney Heads, Wild Oats never put a foot wrong.

At times she was even showing as the overall handicap leader, which is unusual for the biggest boat in the fleet. But for much of the race, the handicap lead was being battled between the defending champion, Steve Ainsworth's 63ft Loki with Gordon Maguire (originally from Howth) as sailing master, and the hot new boat on the block, Peter Harburg's 66ft Black Jack, whose crew - including Olympic Gold Medallist Tom Slingsby - made no secret of targeting Loki.

Being slightly larger, Black Jack seemed to be establishing an unassailable lead, as the quicker you could get south, the more favourable the easterly winds became. This meant that far ahead, not only did Wild Oats end up sailing her own race, but she carried the breeze right to the end, while the wind was losing power out at sea. As the hours ticked by after the big boat was finished, the chances of either Black Jack or Loki saving their time on the Oatley boat evaporated. Wild Oats XI had the treble – line honours, course record, and overall win. But in the private race with Black Jack, Maguire and his team somehow found extra microns of performance, and though they were beaten by Wild Oats by more than two hours on corrected time, they in turn beat Black Jack by 2 hours 3 minutes.

It's a good weekend for Irish sailing down Hobart way. Jeff Condell of Limerick was also on the race, on the strength of veteran skipper Syd Fischer's 100ft Ragamuffin Loyal, and though with some gear breakages they weren't able to match the blistering pace set by Wild Oats, they still took second on line honours, quite an achievement when you remember the hands-on skipper is 85 and his unmatchable CV in sailing includes the overall Fastnet win way back in 1971.

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Wild Oats on track for the treble in the Rolex Sydney Hobart 2012. Photo: Daniel Forster/Rolex

SO FAREWELL THEN, EUROPEAN YEAR 2012 FOR ACTIVE AGEING AND SOLIDARITY BETWEEN GENERATIONS, AND HELLO TO THE GORB

Did you know that we've just lived through European Year 2012 for Active Ageing & Solidarity Between Generations? Me neither. And even if someone had told me, I'd have forgotten the beginning of a title of such length and contrivance before I'd even got through to the end.

May God in His Mercy protect us from well-meaning bureaucracies. We know that there are agencies in Brussels which make a tidy living out of putting an often costly structure on activities which any healthy local community would regard as so normal as to be scarcely worthy of comment. But the European Commission for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion, with its European Year 2012 for AA & SBG, surely takes the biscuit.

The reason we've come across this absurdity is that in mid-November we received a news release from Brussels telling us that two Irish AA & SBG projects took second and third prize in a competition throughout Europe which attracted 1300 entries in six categories.

Millstreet Community School's Living Scenes programme, running for seven years, has seen retirees and teenagers "brainstorming together to come up with creative multi-media projects aimed at bridging the gap between young and old".

That won a second place in "Intergenerational Encounters", while third place in Journalism went to a four part RTE series about Age and the City, which we're assured was "highly entertaining for all ages".

This sort of thing is all very well, but is it life as we should know it? The whole business of ageing and retirement is built around chronological ageing, which misses the point entirely. It's what you do and how you feel that gives a much more accurate gauge of real age, rather than a sum of years. There's a large cohort of seniors out there who are so busy, so absorbed in getting on with multiple interests, that they would no more think of joining active ageing groups or taking part in formalized inter-generational encounters than they would contemplate no longer owning a boat, or not having a dog about the place.

Back in August I went cruising to the Western Isles in a hundred year old boat, and was Ship's Boy for a Skipper and First Mate who were both 74. But our doughty skipper belies all received opinion about ageing, as he looks after his high-maintenance old boat himself, plus he is also Senior Mechanic and Retrieval Driver for various vintage vehicles which his wife and daughter need for their string of show-jumpers.

As for the First Mate, he plays rugby for the Perennials, and just last winter the highlight of their season was a tour to the rugby paradise of Limerick. He reminisced during our cruise about the techniques required going shoulder-to-shoulder against Peter Clohessy – not an experience for the faint-hearted.

With this splendid double lineup of Active Ageing, I had to supply the Solidarity Between Generations, even if the Skipper was much more agile than the Ship's Boy. This was demonstrated when the Skipper became so irritated by the flapping of the leech of the high cut jib that, off the coast of Skye, he quickly climbed on the First Mate's shoulders in order to tension it.

There are some unkind people who suggest that if I was really interested in promoting Active Ageing, then I should have let fly the jib sheet while these venerable gymnasts were doing their thing. That undoubtedly would have added a certain je ne sais quoi to the performance. But instead I took a photo, for here indeed was something for Brussels' attention. If we're going to encourage active ageing, then we're going to have to accept that senior sailors are going to be clambering about on the broadest shoulders aboard in order to adjust the rig of their ancient boats. And we're going to have to accept that they're of a generation that regards safety harnesses and lifejackets as restrictive of movement.

So in the first instance, let Brussels commission us for a Feasibility Study for a GORB – a Golden Oldie Rescue Boat. This would follow the seniors about as they wander across the ocean, and gather them in when they fall off their own ancient craft. The GORB would need to be a proper cruising vessel, and as her crew would include a significant proportion of seniors, she in turn would need another GORB to follow her.

And another one again. We'd build up a fleet, eventually sailing round in a vast circle. We'll call it The Gathering Cruise.

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These guys need a GORB. The combined age of this acrobatic troupe is 148 years, with neither safety harness nor lifejacket in sight. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in W M Nixon

#sydneyhobart – Christmas partying is on hold for top ex-Pat sailor Gordon Maguire as he and his crew make the final preparations to defend their place as champions in the premier offshore event in the Southern Hemisphere, the annual Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race.

Since its inauguration in 1945, the 628 mile classic to Tasmania across the challenging Bass Strait has started every year on St Stephens Day. However, in the early events, going off on the thrash to Hobart was considered an integral part of the Christmas festivities – it wasn't unknown for crews to be still partying even as they raced down Sydney Harbour towards open water.

But these days, with an elite lineup next Wednesday of some of the greatest offshore racing boats in the world, it is incumbent on all crews to be hyper-fit and well able for anything the sea can throw at them. If you're not - as has been shown in some of the storm-battered stagings of this great race - the result could be fatalities.

The worst storm of all came in the 1998 race, and the helicopter vids of that would test the offshore racing enthusiasm of even the keenest hardcase viewer. It's quite something to witness 80ft plus Maxis racing along like over-pressed dinghies out in the open water of the Bass Strait. But when you see one of these biggies leap out of the top of a wave and crash into the sea beyond with the huge rig shuddering like a leaf, then you get some idea of what the Sydney-Hobart mystique is all about.

For anyone prone to seasickness, Christmas dinner the day before might be no more than boiled whitefish and mashed potatoes. And out there in the bash southward down the coast of New South Wales, it's a rough world in every sense, with sympathy is in short supply. Last year one of the participants was the famous American vintage 48-footer Carina, built 1969. Having won the 2010 Bermuda Race, she then won her class in the 2011 Fastnet Race and placed fifth overall, an extraordinary achivement. So then the junior members of the crew simply sailed her out to Sydney straight across the Atlantic and the Pacific in time for the 2011 Hobart Race. When the senior crew members joined up, they hadn't been offshore since the Fastnet, and weren't as battle-hardened as the young toughs. So on the second night, slugging into a southerly buster, some very distinguished American yachtsmen were not at all well. Sympathy? No chance. The heartless young Turks simply let the world know that "The Roar of the Dinosaur was Heard Across the Valley of the Lee Rail..... "

For Gordon Maguire and the crew of the 63ft Loki, as defending champions they've everything to lose next week. But the boat is in top form – they lead the points table in the current Australian offshore championship - and with Maguire as sailing master, owner Stephen Ainsworth has one very special talent.

When Loki won the race last year, it was Ainsworth's 14th attempt. But Gordon Maguire won at his very first shot, back in 1991 when he was helming, with Harold Cudmore as boat captain, aboard the 41ft Atara. She was part of the three boat Irish team that stormed Australian sailing to win the Southern Cross series, which culminated in the Hobart race where the Cudmore/Maguire victory sealed the team win.

For next Wednesday's start, the forecast is for fresh sou'easterlies initially, then going east and even northeast before a new westerly sets in late Friday. With plenty of wind expected in the mixture, this pattern suggests that one of the hundred footers – there are four of them in the race – might get to Hobart in a new record time.

As all the biggies are owned and sailed by tough cookies sent out by Central Casting to be the very personification of over-the-top Australian exuberance, the battle of the giants for line honours inevitably draws the initial headlines, and it has added Irish interest as Offaly-born Adrienne Cahalan is navigator (her 21st Sydney-Hobart) on one of the most fancied hundred footers, Wild Oats. But the Tattersall Cup for the overall IRC victor is one of Australia's most revered sporting trophies, and as the big boat brouhaha settles, all attention in Hobart will focus on who is coming up the Derwent towards the finish with a chance of snatching the lead.

When Loki was confirmed as overall winner by 50 minutes in the last days of 2011, the real party started, and Gordon Maguire was ceremonially thrown into the harbour. He didn't mind that at all. He soon texted the folks at home to tell them that the water in Hobart was nowhere near as cold as the water up at Lambay had been back in August 2011, when he'd to go over the side to clear a lobster pot line from the propellers of his father Neville's motor-cruiser.

MORE CLASSIC BOATS FROM PORTRUSH

Our story last week about the Howth 17 Deilginis, built by James Kelly of Portrush in 1907 and restored this year with a new deck by Rui Ferreira of Ballydehob, has rung the bell for classic boat enthusiasts. That fine north coast sailor Robin Ruddock (who restored Wallace Clark's 36ft yawl Wild Goose after she'd suffered the indignity of spending a month under water at the mouth of the River Bann) plays a key role in keeping the Kelly memory alive, for there's no boat building at all these day in Portrush.

But when he was at his busiest, between the 1890s and the 1930s, James Kelly made Portrush a remarkable centre for the master shipwright's art and craft. Initially, he set out to build Drontheims. those elegant double-ended clinker-built 26 footers which were derived from boats imported from the Norwegian port of Trondheim, and were developed along the north coast as multi-purpose vessels. As most of them were built at Greencastle in Donegal, they became known as the Greencastle yawls, but other builders right along the north coast produced their own local variants, and James Kelly was so good at it that he soon had Portrush rivalling Greencastle as a boat-building centre.

But his reputation soon spread beyond the Drontheims, and during the 1890s he started building yachts, two of the most noted being the 9-tonner Saiph in 1897, and the 15-tonner Yucca in 1898. They were both designed by their owner, Howard Sinclair, a Belfast doctor who was an early cruising pioneer – in 1896 he was the first winner of the Challenge Cup of the Cruising Club (later the Royal Cruising Club) for a round Ireland venture with his 5-tonner Brenda, built by Hilditch of Carrickfergus. He was awarded the cup again in both 1896 and '97, for cruises to the Outer Hebrides and the Orkneys with Saiph and Yucca.

James Kelly cheerfully admitted that there was much better money in yacht building than in the construction of fishing boats, but he kept the fishing boat side of his business going, albeit on the back burner. By the early 1900s, however, he was right up there with the leading yacht builders in Ireland, and two of the new Dublin Bay 21s came out of the Kelly yard in 1903-04, Garavoge and Oola.

Thanks to Hugh McGrattan of Portrush, we have this eloquent photo of Garavoge just before her launch in 1903. There is an entire universe in this portrait of the elegant yacht and the crowd about her, with the owner and his friends, and the rightly proud workforce and their friends, all basking in the goodwill at the height of the Edwardian era. And the new Mylne-designed boat looks marvellous – if anyone ever asks you what a classic counter stern should really look like, you couldn't do better than this.

In her long career, one of Garavoge's owners was Gordon Campbell, Lord Glenavy – he was a real mover and shaker in Dublin Bay sailing as he was also active in the Water Wags and the Mermaids, and in 1934 it was his suggestion which led eventually to the Dublin Bay 24 class.

His son was Patrick Campbell the humorist and TV personality, who wrote of sailing in Garavoge – his account of returning from Wicklow Regatta in fog is a gem. When he was told in 1978 that the Twenty-Ones were still active and that Garavoge was still with them, he expressed surprise, saying he thought that by that time "the better bits of Garavaoge would have long since been turned into a dog kennel, or at the most optimistic level, a sturdy home for hens".

With the remains of the seven boats of the Dublin Bay Twenty-One class now mouldering in a farmyard in County Wicklow, Campbell's drollery has become all too true. After he'd seen the photo last week of the Kelly-built 1907 classic Deiliginis so beautifully restored, Robin Ruddock asked what had become of Garavoge. It would have been too cruel to tell him.

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Launching day for the Dublin Bay Twenty-One Garavoge at Portrush in 1903. The builder James Kelly is believed to be beside the rudder. Photo courtesy Hugh McGrattan

THE YACHT DESIGNER IN THE CELLAR

My appreciation here a fortnight ago of the late Mike Balmforth and his remarkable career in many branches of the marine industry has started a line of chat in some nautical forums about the T24, T27 and T31. It was one of Mike's first jobs in the boat business, building these performance cruisers with Chris Perfect in Chichester, and mention of the marque has revealed a network of Guy Thomson fans.

Guy Thompson was a leading East Anglian offshore racing enthusiast during the 1940s, 50s and 60s who worked for the Bank of England at their massive headquarters in Threadneedle Street. But he was also a very talented and innovative amateur yacht designer, so much so that a succession of boats he designed for himself – all called Calliope – were always in the EAORA prize list. Thus it's perhaps not strictly true to say that he worked for the Bank of England. He was employed by them. But his real work was down in the cellars, in an unused room he discovered which, over the years, he turned into a proper little secret yacht design office.

We shouldn't be surprised by this – after all, Kenneth Grahame, for many years the Secretary of the Bank of England, also found the time to write the children's classic The Wind in the Willows.

Nevertheless, Guy Thompson's parallel career as a part-time yacht designer was in a league of its own, and when he retired from the Bank, he left behind this secret room stacked to the ceilings with yacht designs and drawings.

Maybe he was too much of a free-thinker to have functioned as a professional designer. As it was, his unique position allowed him to be way ahead of the posse, and in the 1960s when noted East Anglian dinghy racer Dick Pitcher (he was an ace in the Flyng Dutchman) decided he wanted a small performance cruiser, he went to Guy Thompson.

Pitcher's specification was for five berths, full standing headroom, excellent all round performance, and all within 24ft LOA. The result was a little boat called Goosander with which Pitcher won everything about him in 1967, and soon the production version, the T24, was on sale.

As the plans show, there was so much good sense and innovative thinking in the T24 that it's a pity Guy Thompson wasn't designing full time – many yacht designs at this period were dull and unimaginative in the extreme. But the T24 hit the button for those who could think outside the box, and one of the first in Ireland was Kilderkin for Lance McMullen of Dun Laoghaire. His previous boat had been the 36ft ex-6 Metre Rainbow, yet his new much smaller boat was an improvement in almost every way.

Sadly, in the 1960s some of the new GRP production boats were built with wooden decks and coachroofs on the fiberglass hull, and the T24 was one of them. It didn't take long before the clashing behavioural characteristics of the two materials caused problems, and a later owner of Kilderkin recalls her as leaking along much of the hull/deck join.

But like all T24 owners, he fondly recalls her gallant performance, particularly to windward in a breeze. When you think of what some of the boring standard boats of the 1960s were like, you can appreciate why the astonishing little T24 was like a breath of fresh air. And our friends on the forum assure us that a reasonably able amateur handyman with time available can fix those deck leaks.

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The boat designed in a cellar in the Bank of England. Guy Thompson's T 24 had the accommodation and performance of many boats half as big again. And don't forget if someone is taking a photo of your boat, always sit down - otherwise she'll look even smaller than she is already

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If you want to see how five berths, full standing headroom and a scintillating performance can be fitted into a hull just 24ft LOA, take the time to study these plans of the T24.

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#olympic – If there was an Olympic category for Nasty Tricks, there'd have been a runaway Gold Medal for whoever anonymously revealed – just as London 2012 was getting under way – that red hot Irish sailing prospect Peter O'Leary had infringed regulations at the 2008 Olympics by betting successfully on the outcome of the Star Class, in which he'd been a participant, but had failed to make the cut for the medal races.

Since 2008, O'Leary had upped his game in major style. With David Burrows of Malahide as crew, and a new state-of-the-art Star class boat as his 2012 campaign accelerated, he was very much in the hunt with the Silver Medal at the class's huge Bacardi Cup regatta in Miami in March. Then they won Gold in the pre-Olympic event at Weymouth, the Sail for Gold regatta in June.

A month later, when everything was looking good in the final couple of days countdown to the big one for Ireland's medal prospects, both in the Star class, and with Annalise Murphy in the Women's Laser Radials, the anonymous bomber struck. There was no time for the International Olympic Committee to make any sort of investigation of the Beijing bet allegations, let alone a definitive one. So they declared the matter sub judice until after the games were over, and the great regatta went ahead with O'Leary a participant, albeit a wounded one.

For although the IOC may have put the matter to one side, this didn't oblige everyone else to do so. Had the O'Leary/Burrows crew fulfilled their previous form, and their good showing in the opening races of the Olympics, we can be sure the matter would have raced to the top of the news agenda if they'd been within shouting distance of one of the top prizes. But the strain of all the wrong sort of attention showed, and the Irish crew slipped down the rankings. Though they qualified for the medal races, they finished a lowly tenth of the ten boats, so the Beijing betting controversy was no longer relevant.

Now the matter has been closed at official level with a statement on Tuesday from the International Olympic Committee at their end-of-year conference. They have let O'Leary off with a warning, as they've found "no proof of any match-fixing" and that O'Leary "was not fully aware" in 2008 of a new protocol against participants betting on Olympic results.

So a nuclear cataclysm has been reduced to a storm in a teacup. But make no mistake, at the time this was nuclear and then some. The entire Irish Olympic sailing project was knocked off balance right at the start of the Games. The ill effects on the O'Leary/Burrows crew were obvious. But we can only guess at the collateral damage to Annalise Murphy as she became the focus of all Ireland's Olympic sailing hopes, under severe stress as her initial excellent prospects for Gold slipped to a fourth at the finish.

In the end, it was just completely and utterly sad.

WHALE'S EYE VIEW

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HE'S BEHIND YOU! The Christmas panto season comes early to West Cork on Sunday December 2nd as a humpback whale take a mighty leap behind Wave Chieftain, whose squad of whale-watchers look steadily the other way. Photo: Simon Duggan/Provision

Whales are brainy, and they've a sense of humour too. The thought sprang irresistibly to mind when Monday morning's papers carried this wonderful photo, taken on Sunday off Baltimore at the precise moment a humpback whale did a mighty leap out of the sea behind a ship's complement of earnest whale watchers aboard the dive boat Wave Chieftain, with every last one of them looking the other way.

They're allowed a certain amount of watchfulness relaxation aboard Jerry Smith's Wave Chieftain now and again, as they've shown that when it's a matter of life and death, they can conduct successful sea searches against all the odds. Back in August 2011, Wave Chieftain found the five missing crewmembers from the capsized Rambler 100 with perhaps only minutes to spare before an incident became a tragedy.

Whatever, this is some whale – we'd thought Fungie at Dingle was impressive, but a humpback is in a different league altogether. Nevertheless if you're near Fungie and he's in a jumping mood, it's more than enough to be going along with. After the 1995 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race we stayed on for a few days to savour the many joys of West Kerry, and one afternoon with what seemed like a million people on board, we went out in the sunshine to the harbour mouth to see the mighty dolphin.

The crowd aboard included waifs and strays from other boats which had raced to Dingle, so you can guess that the coherence of the shared thoughts and recollections was uneven at best. But the fact is, we returned to port with everyone convinced that Fungie had jumped clean over the boat, going neatly between the mast and the backstay.

There'd been a complete carnival atmosphere out at the Dingle entrance, with the fleet of spectator boats whirling every which way as the mighty dolphin leapt among them. People were jumping overboard to join him, including Johnny Rooney from our boat, and how somebody wasn't decapitated in the threshing of propellers heaven only knows, but the atmosphere was such that you felt you could walk on water – that's the effect Fungie can have.

Earlier in 1995, we'd a rather more scary encounter with a whale while sailing out to Spain (a busy year, was 1995), trundling along minding our own business and not looking for whales at all. Snug behind the sprayhood in the cockpit on a damp evening while the Autohelm did all the work, the mate and I were having a mug of tea with the essential fig rolls and chocolate digestives when we suddenly realised we were sailing past an enormous whale which was parallel to us, and only about ten feet away.

She really went on and on and on, she was enormous – and we soon knew it was a she, for she was keeping herself between us and her calf. If the gap had been any less, a swish of her tail would have ended for ever our enjoyment of Barry's tea with the fig rolls and the chocolate digestives.

Out in Spain, we met up with some experienced ocean sailors, and I recounted this experience to one who had in his time seen a blue whale, the biggest of all. He upset me with his response. "I don't believe you," said he. "But I swear it's true" said I, "we really did get close to this whale that was pushing towards a hundred feet in length". "Of course you did" said he. "I accept you saw this whale, and I know that a size like that is within the realms of possibility. But I don't believe for a minute that you two were drinking tea at that time of day".

 

MIKE BALMFORTH

Mike Balmforth had not been in good health for years, but it was still a shock to get the message on Sunday that this stalwart of the maritime world had died peacefully that morning after a sudden deterioration in his condition. He was busy about the world of boats and maritime communications to the very end, and only three days before his death I'd received the usual efficient Balmforth email in response to a query I'd sent him about a boat I'd glimpsed while cruising in Scotland in August.

That was the Balmforth way – do the job without making a song and dance about it. His achievements in many areas were prodigious, yet unlike many people whose activities cover a broad area, he was the most low-key operator you could meet – he simply didn't have the time or inclination to be flamboyant. Nor was he noisily energetic, but he got things done.

Most recently, he has achieved further acclaim with his comprehensive Cruising Companion to sailing the Irish coast, a continuation of the concept he developed to cover the west coast of Scotland in a way that puts interesting flesh on the bare bones of the basic sailing directions. That he made such a good job of it was because of his great experience in cruising, and in so many areas of the marine industry and the world of boats and sailing, combined with his wide knowledge in the demanding sphere of maritime publishing.

But unlike many writers, he was equally good in administration and management. I first became aware of this back in the early 1960s when he was Honorary Secretary of Queens Universty SC in Belfast. The rest of us simply wanted to get on with college sailing and having a good time, but Mike was the man who did the work behind the scenes to ensure that grants for new boats were increased and the money used to best effect.

Even in his schooldays he played a key role in the junior section at Strangford Lough YC at Whiterock, so as he was active in Scotland in many positions of maritime significance at the time of his death, his effective input into maritime administration spans more than half a century. As too does his involvement with the practical side of boats and boatbuilding - with his father (who was to die all too young), Mike had built one of the first Enterprise dinghies to be seen in Strangford Lough, thus when he went up to Queens his technical knowledge in commissioning new racing dinghies for the Sailing Club was invaluable.

mikebalmforth

The late Mike Balmforth's last boat, the Dawn 39 Greenheart completed in his back garden to his own specifications, is a superb cruising vessel, a fine expression of his special skills as a sailor and maritime technician. Photo: W M Nixon

He was to be involved in a number of areas both geographically and career-wise before settling in Scotland. He built production cruisers – the T24, T27 and T31 – with Chris Perfect's company in the south of England on the shores of Chichester Harbour. He then became a staffer with Yachting Monthly in London, rising to be Deputy Editor. His sailing horizons expanded – he was a regular participant in offshore racing in many areas including the Fastnet Race, and he honed his cruising skills. Then he really began to find his feet as a partner with Caledonian Yacht Services in Glasgow, an all-embracing organization based on yacht brokerage but busy in most areas of boats and boat-building.

With his marriage to Alison, the doctor daughter of a boatbuilder in Argyllshire, his position in Scotland was complete, yet he always retained close links to Ireland. However, the west coast of Scotland and particularly the Clyde area was where he was busiest, and he was soon much involved with that large and very effective organization the Clyde Cruising Club, while at the same time developing his business interests in several sections of the marine industry.

He also oversaw the completion of several cruising boats for his own use, starting with bare hulls and installing functional yet attractive accommodation, and deck layouts which worked very well, both based on his intelligent experience of seafaring. With craft such as the very special Ruffian 8.5 Sgeir Bhan, and two boats of the David Alan-Williams designed Dawn 39 class, Mike had boats which he could race and cruise in the case of the Ruffian 8.5, and cruise extensively with the Dawn 39s.

The first Dawn 39 he owned in partnership, the second one was his true dreamship, the handsome Greenheart which was completed from the bare mouldings in his back garden on the shores of the Clyde. Aboard Greenheart, he and Alison and their family and friends cruised happily to many places both near and far, and she was and is one of the most admired cruising boats afloat.

Throughout this time he was keeping up a formidable pace of work, yet as his worsening heart condition increasingly restricted the amount of physical work he could undertake, he simply transferred his abundant energies and very active mind to developing Clyde Marine Press. His renowned managerial and administrative ability and skill in committee work led to his appointment to council or committee on an increasing number of public bodies and national associations, while his knowledgeable collation of pilotage information saw him being elected as a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation.

All this was achieved despite deteriorating health which eventually required quadruple heart surgery, and resulted in complications which meant that for the final years of his life, he required kidney dialysis every 48 hours. But he never complained, he kept up a work rate which was greater than that of many men in full health, and he and Alison continued with their busy and sociable life in Scotland and abroad.

This was complemented by a growing family – their two sailing sons Des and Robin both made them very happy grandparents. Mike Balmforth may have reached the three score years and ten, and his achievements are many, but his life has been cut short. He is much mourned by his many friends, and our heartfelt sympathy goes to Alison, and to Des and Robin and their families.

Published in W M Nixon
Tagged under
24th November 2012

Sailing Needs Students

#icra – Like all consumer sports, sailing has taken something of a battering during the years of recession. The hard core dedicated enthusiasts are still actively involved, for nothing will deflect the true old salt from his or her destiny in and around boats. But many of those who took up sailing as just one of several lifestyle choices in the affluent times have faded away.

It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. For anyone thinking of returning to sailing, or maybe getting involved for the first time, there's no better time than the present. The infrastructure is there to facilitate manageable expansion, and the people running the sport are keen to recruit newcomers, and bring back those who have strayed.

One area which is proving to be a happy hunting ground is university sailing. That said, it could equally be argued that it is the prodigious pace being set by the college matelots which is prodding the rest of the sailing community into positive action. Call it as you like, but the fact that the Galway University offshore racing boat was hailed as the latest ICRA Boat of the Year at the annual offshore racing conference last weekend struck us as being a very timely move.

We say that despite last week's column being prepared to wager a portion of the housekeeping on another boat altogether. We'll spare their blushes by not naming them, but up against the Galway juggernaut, all opposition fell astern. Team leader Cathal Clarke and his squad from the City of the Tribes put in a fantastic year with Martin Breen's Reflex 38, and as the entire crew were either students or recent graduates from NUIG, they provide the perfect personnel profile to make a healthy and useful longterm input into sailing.

Newly-elected ICRA Commodore Norbert Reilly of Howth is in no doubt that Irish sailing numbers have scope for expansion, and the 2013 programme will certainly keep those involved mighty busy. From early June until mid-July, you could be sailing with an offshore orientation almost continually, with the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race on 8th June, then on from Dingle to the ICRA Nationals round the corner in Tralee Bay from June 13th to 15th, then it's back to the south coast for the Sovereigns Cup at Kinsale from 26th to 29th June, followed by a return to the east coast with the Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta from 11th to 14th July.

The scope which this programme provides for introducing new crews to the sport is enormous, and it will certainly sort out the faint-hearted. The real hard chaws meanwhile will barely be up to speed by mid-July - like the Galway college offshore racing team, they'll be thinking in terms of the Fastnet Race in August.

And for anyone who complains that this is an awful lot of sailing, the answer is usually a brusque comment that, once your time comes, you'll not be sailing for a very long time indeed. Thus our thoughts this weekend are with Cork sailor Kieran Walsh. He's working in Dubai, but this week has been sailing as crew aboard Doug Worrall's First 36.7 Shahrazad in the annual Dubai to Muscat race, a three day RORC event.

You need to do such things to offset the rigours of working in the desert. But they did rather better than that. They won. It's a tough old life, but somebody has to do it.

THE GAFFER OF THE GAFFERS

Tim Magennis, newly-elected President of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association, was in fine form on Tuesday night as he welcomed an eclectic and enthusiastic audience to Sean Cullen's presentation about INFOMAR in Poolbeg Y&BC under the auspices of the Old Gaffers. INFOMAR is the twenty year programme - currently in its twelfth year – to survey the seabed around Ireland and the adjacent ocean in unprecedented detail, and Sean Cullen has proven such a dab hand in charge of the survey ship that he is consulted by other nations keen to get in on the acquisition of knowledge of the deep.

timagennis

The Boyd men of Poolbeg. Owners of Herbert Boyd-designed classics at the OGA gathering in Poolbeg Y&BC are (left to right) Tim Magennis (Marguerite, 1894), Ian Malcolm (Aura, 1898) and Sean Cullen (Eithne, 1893). Photo: W M Nixon

As for Tim Magennis, it made for a high profile week, as he had something of a starring role on Thursday night in TG4's extensive filmed documentary about Erskine Childers. Most appropriately, the guru of the gaffers was involved on the television programme to explain the skills involved in sailing the engineless Asgard to Howth with the cargo of guns in July 1914, and especially to highlight the sheer brilliance with which Molly Childers helmed Asgard to bring her gently alongside the pier, neatly head to wind in a strong nor'wester, a formidable display of seamanship.

Sean Cullen's work in surveying the seas of Ireland and their hidden depths is fascinating. And it's a bit scary to discover just how much is still to be discovered, when we tend to assume every major hazard has been known about and on the charts for decades. The most striking example of this is a previously unknown pinnacle rock a few miles westward of Slyne Head. There's 12 metres over it, which explains why it has gone undetected for so long. But as the rock is a bit like St Patrick's Cathedral plonked down in the middle of an otherwise fairly flat bit of the seabed, until it was discovered it represented a potential danger for any supertankers which happened to be proceeding up the west coast of Ireland.

OLD BOATS ON A COLD COLD SEA

The gaff enthusiasts of Dublin Bay are gearing themselves up to welcome fellow gaffers at the June Bank Holiday weekend next year, as Dublin Bay will be an important focal point in the Irish Sea for the rolling cruise-in-company with which the many branches of the OGA will be celebrating its Golden Jubilee.

Of course, for some folk in Ireland, making a song and dance about preserving gaff rig seems decidedly weird. It's not that this select group have rejected gaff rig entirely. On the contrary, as far as the Howth 17s are concerned, it never went away. They still sail their boats rigged exactly as they were designed in 1898 by Herbert Boyd, and they see little reason to change.

The OGA gathering in Poolbeg provided a rare opportunity for the owner-skippers of three different Herbert Boyd-designed gaff classics to get together. Sean Cullen owns the 25ft Eithne, the first Boyd yacht, built by Boyd himself in the boathouse at Howth House in 1893. Tim Magennis owns the 24ft Marguerite (that was Marguerite in the early part of the Childers film), which was built by Jack Wellington, a sailor/boatbuilder from Scandinavia who somehow acquired the name Wellington when he settled in Malahide. And Ian Malcolm owns the Howth 17 Aura, one of the original batch of five Howth 17s which were built by John Hilditch of Carrickfergus in 1898, and sailed home to Howth by their owners.

h17heavyweather

Baby, it's cold outside.... Ian Malcolm's Howth 17 Aura sailing from Carrickfergus to Howth on the evening of April 15th 1998 to celebrate the Centenary of the first five boats of the class making the same delivery passage in April 1898. The land just visible is the County Down coast on the left, the Antrim coast in the distance, and Copeland Island on the right. Photo: Damien Cronin

That inaugural voyage of the Howth 17s was replicated for the Class's Centenary in April 1998 in a strong and very cold nor'easterly wind. At least it was a fair wind, but conditions were otherwise Arctic. As one of those who took part, Ian Malcolm, was uniquely qualified on Tuesday night to tell the OGA enthusiasts about what is involved in sailing vintage gaff rigged yachts from Belfast Lough to Dublin Bay, which will be part of the Golden Jubilee programme.

But at least they'll be doing it in June rather than April, and they'll be doing it in boats with lids rather than a Howth 17, which passes the Number One test for a genuine classic – they're diabolically uncomfortable boats to crew aboard, even in pleasant conditions. In April 1998 with temperatures plunging towards freezing point during the overnight 85 mile sail, they were torture chambers, but the crews didn't notice - they were completely numb with cold......

Published in W M Nixon
Tagged under
Page 9 of 12

Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) in Ireland Information

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

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

Irish Lifeboat Stations

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

Famous Irish Lifeboat Rescues

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

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

FAQs

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

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

There are 46 lifeboat stations on the island of Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

© Afloat 2020

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