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#icra – The Irish Cruiser Racing Association has come through challenging times recently, but Commodore Nobby Reilly sees strengthening light at the end of the tunnel. W M Nixon takes a look at ICRA and its upcoming Annual Conference in four weeks time, and somehow concludes his piece with an earthy opinion on keel and rudder design from Ted Turner.

"When you're going backwards, it's hard to stop". Difficult to see where you're going, too. The speaker is Norbert 'Nobby' Reilly, currently serving his five year watch as Commodore of the Irish Cruiser Racing Association, which will hold its Annual Conference on Saturday November 23rd in the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire. At it, the ICRA Commodore is confident the attendance will share his very strongly held belief that going backwards is now history.

In its eleven short years of remarkable existence, ICRA has embodied the highs and lows of Irish life as we zoomed up to the dizzy heights of the Celtic Tiger years, and then fell off a cliff, plunging to reality after 2008.

When the going was good.....No. Let's re-phrase that. When the going was plain crazy, Irish sailing through ICRA was in the astonishing position of putting forward three teams for the biennial international Commodore's Cup.

To outsiders, it seemed absurd that those teams appeared to be racing against each other with even more venom than they were using against the international rivals. Where was the unwritten code of the green jersey? Not surprisingly, they didn't win the Cup itself, though one team was tantalizingly close. But not to worry, surely there'd be even more new boats and fresh paper millionaires along next time, we'd do better next time round.

Chance would be a fine thing. The writing was already engraved and not merely scribbled on the economic wall when just one Irish team, carefully put together by manager Barry Rose to harbour scarce resources, did finally win the Commodore's Cup in 2010.

It was a peak of achievement for Irish sailing, and despite the fact that ICRA is just basically four people – Barry Rose of Cork, Nobby Reilly of Howth, Fintan Cairns of Dun Laoghire, and number cruncher Denis Kiely of cyberspace – this virtual organization became the Mitsubishi Motors 'Sailing Club of the Year' for 2011, and a very popular choice it was too.

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Anthony O'Leary's Ker 39 Antix from Cork was one of the team which finally won the Commodore's Cup for Ireland in 2010. Photo: Kurt Arrigo/Rolex

But by that time the ICRA people had gone back to the knitting, for they knew the prospects for sailing in general – and particularly for Ireland's international offshore racing campaigns – could well get worse before they got better. So though they lived in hope, they threw renewed energy into being the organisation which looks after the needs and hopes of handicap racers in Ireland. While simple enough to outline, it's a complex mission, and in addition to high awareness of international developments, it requires constant monitoring of the mood at grass roots level, for the strength of Irish offshore sailing is drawn from active local clubs all round the coast in addition to the inevitable focus on the big centres around Cork, Dublin and Belfast.

Thus when the blow fell and Barry Rose and his management team had to reluctantly conclude there'd be no prospect of a viable Irish team to defend the Commodore's Cup in 2012, at home the efforts were re-doubled in order to ensure that each year's annual ICRA National Championship was an event worthy of its title, and worthy of past championships. Then too, there was a determination to see that those clubs which had supported the Nationals by sending boats to other venues were in their turn rewarded by an invitation to host the Nationals themselves, with the implicit promise that this would bring fleets of top calibre to new places.

As well, there were visionary programmes to introduce newcomers to offshore racing using many different methods, including open days with the flotilla of the SailFleet J/80s. All this showed that ICRA was very much open for business. And all the time Denis Kiely was keeping the numbers up to date so that there were realistic figures available, giving ready reference for comparisons between IRC and ECHO handicap systems, for one of ICRA's strengths has been that it accommodates people who can't see their way to giving their boat the complete IRC treatment, but can afford to go the ECHO route.

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Racing at ICRA National Championship 2013 in Tralee Bay Photo: Bob Bateman

So it is that even with the constraints of Ireland's recent economic experience, ICRA has performed extremely well. Despite some unseasonal weather, the 2013 Nationals at Tralee Bay had some splendid racing, and attracted a fleet of a size and calibre rarely if ever seen beyond Mizen Head.

In addition, Irish boats have been turning in some good showings abroad in addition to the achievements by the top performers at home, and the voters for the coveted ICRA Boat of the Year 2013 award – currently held by the Galway Bay SC Reflex 38 Lynx – have a bewildering array to choose from, as boats which took the prizes at events as diverse as the ICRA Nationals at Tralee and the Sovereigns Cup at Kinsale are joined by those who had success in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta in Dublin Bay, the top performer there being Nigel Biggs' Checkmate XV which went on to win the World Half Ton Classics.

Then there was the Tralee Bay veteran boat Amazing Grace's victory in the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race - as somebody said, she's not called 'Amazing' for nothing – while Lynx as 'Discover Ireland' was well placed in the Fastnet and comfortably tops of all the Irish boats to win the Gull Salver, though we'll resist the temptation to point out that discovering one small but significant part of Ireland is surely what the Fastnet Race is all about.

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Discover Ireland took the prize in the Fastnet Race. Photo: Bob Bateman

All this is before the more recent rush of achievement, with David Kenefick of Cork with his Figaro Solo boat Full Irish winning the Rookie of the Year award, while there's been the Irish success in crewing in the Middle Sea Race, and Paul Winkelmann has brought good news from the Far East with his Class 1 victory in the China Sea Race.

On the administrative front, ICRA received an unsought but welcome boost when Mike Urwin, the head of the RORC's Measurement Office, reported that the Irish system of using ECHO and IRC handicap systems in cruiser-racer events is something which could usefully be learned from and emulated elsewhere. Maybe so, but anyone contemplating using the ECHO system should note that it works best when people race regularly and frequently, for it is a fact that in Ireland many cruisers which wouldn't be seen as racers at all elsewhere are keen to get onto the starting line, and ICRA makes sense out of what they do.

So Nobby Reilly's confident assertion that forward gear was firmly re-engaged in ICRA during 2013 is clearly borne out by even the most cursory review of the year. Looking ahead to 2014, the prospects are bright. Barry Rose already has the makings of a Commodore's Cup team with one Irish boat and an Irish-crewed American boat already signed up. With that strong foundation in place, it will be fascinating to see how the bids for the third place take shape.

As for the ICRA Nationals, it could well be the biggest yet seen, as it's scheduled for the Royal Irish YC from June 13th to 15th, which will reinforce ICRA's strong fraternal links with ISORA. For international contenders, it also offers the juicy attraction of being neatly located for the Round Ireland Race from Wicklow on Saturday June 24th, with the bonus of the Royal Irish being recognised as an official assembly point for Round Ireland Racers too large to use Wicklow Harbour for the pre-race scrutineering. And for those who'd like to spice their sailing with a spot of high culture, the day after the ICRA Nationals conclude, Monday June 16th is Bloomsday, with a special Royal Alfred YC sailing event which will honour the sailing connections in the writings of James Joyce, which is something we might just examine in detail another day.

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The ICRA management team are always aware that they also have to consider the needs of keen boats and crews based far from the main sailing centres. This is the successful Dis-a-Ray on her home mooring at Tarbert in the Shannon Estuary. Photo W M Nixon

Meanwhile, though the ICRA focus will inevitably be on the east coast in 2014, the Association is well aware of its responsibilities to its fraternal organization, the West of Ireland Offshore Racing Association, which was much involved with 2013's main event in Tralee Bay. In 2014, the WIORA Championship will be at Mayo Sailing Club in Clew Bay from Wednesday 23rd to Saturday 26th July. It's a marvellous venue right on the doorstep of Westport, voted the "Best Place to Live in Ireland" in 2013. But it's so far from the main east coast centres that you're sailing for home whichever way you turn when coming out of Clew Bay. So Nobby Reilly is very keen that the ISA SailFleet J/80s should be taken to MSC's base at Rosmoney and made available for the WIORA Championships for junior crews selected and trained by yacht clubs from other coastlines, which is a brilliant notion.

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The WIORA Championship 2014 will be at the end of July 2014 at Mayo Sailing Club at Rosmoney in Clew Bay, where this new pontoon is a fine addition to facilities in a sailing area of outstanding beauty. Photo: Rory Casey

But the ICRA Annual Conference will also look beyond the needs of Irish sailing and the Commodore's Cup, as one of the main speaker attractions at the Conference on November 23rd will be Matt Sheahan. He may be the internationally-recognised Technical Editor of Yachting World, but he's one of us, as his folks cam from Dublin, and he also crewed betimes with his old mate Nobby Reilly on Comanche Raider, the big Rob Humphreys-designed offshore racer which was always one of the best-looking boats on the Irish Sea.

After the America's Cup excitement last month, it was Matt's cool on-the-spot analysis of the modifications which the Team Oracle USA people had made during the final series which most clearly brought home to readers just how tiny the game-changing mods could be, yet they helped the Americans come from far behind to retain the trophy.

A particular area of development was the fitting of tiny bulbs to the big catamaran's foils to reduce drag. We are all well aware that the fitting of bulbs under the bows of big ships must be worthwhile, as ship-owners – a notably parsimonious breed – will lash out on such things, confident that they make their vessels more easily driven and therefore more economical. Yet anyone who is accustomed to watching ship and boat hulls move through a seaway will guess that bulbs are at their most effective when there is minimal pitching, as a bulb going up and down, rather than just smoothly forward, will generate a whole new dimension of turbulence.

But the bigger the ship, the less the pitching, and the greater the benefit. When we remember that the America's Cup 72ft catamarans were sailing in what was for them smooth water, the fact that their hulls were not pitching, but rising relatively slowly on the foils, could be accommodated by the bulbs with a level of turbulence which was acceptable in view of the performance benefits shown a few second later. And once the benefit had been shown, the crucial thing then became just how far forward the bulb should be located relative to the foil – it seems an inch or so made a significant difference.

On ships, some bulbs are now remarkably long, with the total underbody being shaped to be as economical as possible in the prevailing conditions in which the ship will be functioning. What will work best averaged over a long period in narrow waters such as the North or English Channels may not necessarily work as well in open ocean, or indeed on wider waterways such as the Irish Sea or St George's Channel, but the Baltic area seems to create ships which work well in our channels.

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The extra large bulb under the bow of the Stena Superfast VII begins to become more evident as she slows down approaching Belfast. Note her quarter wave on the port side creating surf on the Holywood Bank. Photo; W M Nixon

We were making our way into Belfast early in the summer and one of the 30,000-ton Stena Superfast vessels coming in from Scotland overtook us. In open water, she'd been travelling from Cairnryan in Loch Ryan at 27 knots – which is cooking with gas – but even with a lot of slowing down approaching the head of the lough, she was a big waterborne presence, and we noted her wake breaking spectacularly on the Holywood Bank on her port quarter close astern.

But even more notable as she drew abeam was the bulb, at first immersed under an almost sinister little hill of water, but then revealed with its own bow-wave as the Stena Superfast VII slowed even further. The bulb seemed to be the size of a mini-submarine.

The ships of this marque were originally built for Baltic crossings in 2001 or thereabouts. Stena chartered two of them longterm two years ago, gave them a massive refit with new livery, and put them on the route serving their new £80 million terminal at Cairnryan. With a crossing time of just 2 hours and 15 minutes without the hassle of getting yourself all the way down to Larne for the shorter sea route, it looks as if big bulbs do the business.

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The bulb is the size of a mini-submarine, yet it helps the Stena Superfast VII to travel economically at a very competitive 27 knots on the Belfast-Cairnryan route. Photo: W M Nixon

But as with anything to do with the sea, it all has to be a total package. With bulbs as with boat hulls, you have to think tadpole. A tadpole has a bullet head with a long tail which may primarily provide motive power, yet it takes very little effort to move a tadpole quickly and easily through the water. If it didn't, frogs would have long since become extinct. But it's a relatively straightforward business parting the waters, it's how they close in behind that decides whether tadpoles or boats or bulbs are easily driven.

Down in West Cork, one of our agents (who had better be anonymous this time round) came upon this hull modification near the banks of the Ilen River. Somebody in Skibbereen had clearly taken on board the value of bulbs on the bow, but hadn't quite seen the notion through to complete fulfillment of all requirements.

At first it seems a clever use of Camping Gaz containers, but closer examinaton reveals it is Blugas. Maybe it's only Blugas bottles can be utilized in this way, or maybe it was a cunning advertising ploy to publicise the lesser-known product. Whatever, it looks as though a clever idea hasn't been completely thought through – this Blugas bow bulb needs a tail. And lest you think that we're trying to get this Ilen innovator into fresh expense, Afloat.ie's R & D department reckons just one traffic cone and the cunning use of epoxy, with the new tail filled with builder's foam, is all that is needed.

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Lateral thinking, West Cork style. Former gas cylinders have been pressed into use to create a bow bulb........

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....but we'd suggest the additional use, at the aft end, of a modified traffic cone might produce an even more effective shape.

The final word on the need for a tadpole tail was delivered by the great Ted Turner many years ago, when he was called upon to see if he could get some sort of improved performance out of a new 12 Metre, an America's Cup potential defender designed by the late Britton Chance. In his plans, the perenially innovative designer had replaced the usual sharp trailing edges of keel and rudder with quite wide flat surfaces. He claimed that if these cut-off endings were of the right width, a width which he'd calculated himself down the zillionth degree, then the keel and rudder would create a vortex on their flat trailing surfaces such that the sea would be beguiled into thinking that they actually finished quite a few inches further aft, and finishing moreover in a sharp trailing edge in keeping with accepted practice. With the reduction in wetted surface brought by the cut-off look, light air performance would also be greatly enhanced.

Well, it wasn't, and nor was performance in airs of any kind. You can't fool the sea. So after giving it his best shot, Turner asked if he could see the boat out of the water, as his inability to resist a challenge had meant he'd taken it on sight unseen. So there was the boat still dripping, and the flat back ends all too obvious as Professor Chance launched into a spiel about how it all worked perfectly in theory, and so there must be some other reason for the boat's poor performance.

Turner let him have his say, then demolished the theory. "Britty" said he in his best good old boy style, "Britty, even a standard piece of floating faeces finishes in a point".

Except that the great man didn't use the cumbersome term "standard piece of floating faeces". He used a rough four letter word beginning with 'T'. But this website having a family readership, and it the Bank Holiday weekend too, we won't use the T-word this time round. Have a good weekend.

Published in W M Nixon

#americascup – If the 36th America's Cup is staged at Hamilton Island, it will continue a long story, started from the Isle of Wight in 1851. W M Nixon introduces this exotic venue, then ponders the ultimate seaworthiness of multihulls. 

We signed off here on this sailing blog a fortnight ago with the admission that the sacredly monstrous America's Cup in its new form for the 34th Edition has got us hooked, as indicated by our own and general global interest in that key question: "What happens next?" That was Saturday September 28th. We didn't have long to wait. On Monday September 30th, it was announced that Hamilton Island Yacht Club of Australia has been accepted by cup holders Golden Gate Yacht Club as the Challenger of Record for the 35th America's Cup.

Hamilton what? Where island? Is it somewhere comparable to the Isle of Wight, where it all started way back in 1851 with the race round the island for the Hundred Guineas Cup? For once, we were ahead of the posse without having to go to google. Back in 2007, Gordon Maguire was signed up as lead helmsman on Mike Slade's 100ft Leopard for a serious tilt at the Fastnet Race record. But that was the year that the start was postponed for 25 hours because of a Force 9 sou'wester. And Maguire's window of opportunity to do the Fastnet was very narrow, as he was contracted to be at some event called Hamilton Island Race Week to skipper Matt Allen's Ichi Ban immediately afterwards.

He took a look at the new schedules, and reckoned the Fastnet start delay ruled him out, and flew out for Australia. But Leopard still broke the record. Yet all we can really remember about it now is it was the year Ger O'Rourke's Chieftain was Fastnet Race overall winner, and that this Hamilton Island place with its race week must have something very special going for it.

Five years down the line, it's more special than ever. Hamilton Island is owned by veteran campaigner Bob Oatley, a serial entrepreneur whose sailing credentials have been firmly established with a long string of boats called Wild Oats, with his current hundred footer Wild Oats XI holding the Sydney-Hobart Race record. Hamilton Island resort is one of his pet projects. For some of us, the fact that the daytime temperature seldom goes below 26 degrees is a distinct drawback, but others will think it paradise. It's among the Whitsunday Islands on the Great Barrier Reef coast of Queensland, and the Australian distances are enormous – you're talking about a dozen hours of steady driving north from Brisbane.

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Every America's Cup location should have at least one picnic site. Hamilton Island has all the facilities for the big one

Thus everybody hopes to fly there, as it has its own airport where the runway comes in one side of the island, and goes out the other. It's right beside the harbour, thus it's possible to get sailing immediately to avoid having the temperature floor you. And if you're minded to sail round the island to celebrate getting there, it shouldn't take too long, as Hamilton Island is just three miles long by two miles wide, though it's so indented with bays that it's only two square miles in all, about twice the size of Lambay.

That said, as it's among the coral of the Great Barrier Reef, not all the sailing around Hamilton Island is as straightforward as getting round Lambay. For even if you avoid Plum Pudding Reef and Fitzalan Reef and Hamilton Island Reef itself, and then keep clear of Perseverance Reef and Young Island Reef, there's still Surprise Rock Reef waiting to...well, surprise you.

But the word is the yacht club is very fully appointed, and just itching to host the America's Cup eight years down the line. However, what form the America's Cup will be eight years hence is anyone's guess, and currently it's open season in the global comment and criticism stakes, with advocates of multi-hulls in a defiant "We told you so" frame of mind as the world of sailing grudgingly admits that the 72ft foiling catamarans in the 34th America's Cup brought the thing to life.

Instinctive multi-hull resistance is nothing new. The Polynesians and other Pacific islanders may have been merrily trundling around their nice warm ocean for centuries on multihulls of all types, but attempts to transfer the concept to colder waters failed to do the business for many years. Way back in 1663, that extraordinary polymath William Petty, the man who created the Down Survey which tabulated Ireland, tested his own-designed catamaran Simon & Jude (which he'd had built in Dublin) in the Liffey and on Dublin Bay, and the new machine out-sailed a ship's gig and a "pleasure boatte" of renowned performance. The Simon & Jude was re-created for Hal Sisk by master shipwright John O'Reilly in Dublin in 1991, and a race was staged with one of the Bantry Boats and a little Dutch cutter enthusiastically playing the roles of the opposition, but the S & J outsailed them both.

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Ireland's first multi-hull, the Simon & Jude of 1663, was re-created by Hal Sisk in 1991 to re-stage her initial race when she comfortably outsailed a ship's gig, re-enacted here by one of the Bantry boats. Photo: W M Nixon

However, the concept soon came up against the ultimate seaworthiness trial after Petty built The Experiment, a much larger catamaran with accommodation. She certainly outsailed the Dublin-Holyhead packet boat by a significant amount, but failed to return from a test venture into the Bay of Biscay, and the old salts happily stuck with their traditional mono-hull craft.

In subsequent centuries the idea arose again from time to time, and in 1870 a Belfast amateur sailor, John MacKenzie, created the 21ft Jumelle, with a twin hulls of sufficiently modern appearance to make the classic 1870s gaff cutter rig fitted to her seem bizarre. By all accounts she could sail well in a straight line – speeds of ten knots were reported – but despite it being a time when yachting was developing rapidly, the people spending the money were notably conservative, and the Belfast Lough yachting establishment stayed determinedly with their mono-hulled cutters, schooners, ketches and yawls.

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John MacKenzie of Belfast designed and built the 21ft catamaran Jumelle in 1870, and achieved speeds of 10 knots.

This conservatism was also found in America. When the 28-year-old designer Nathanael Herreshoff turned up with his new catamaran Amaryllis for the American Centennial Regatta at Staten Island in 1876 and won in very convincing style, catamarans were promptly banned from all future events. But in truth it was only with the development of lighter building methods and more advanced engineering that multihulls could really show their full potential, and it wasn't until the 1960s with innovators such as the late great Dick Newick that serious offshore racing multihulls finally began to gain traction.

Let's face it, we'd all love multihulls and would happily tear about the seas with them, if two very fundamental problems could be solved. Firstly, how do you find a berth for them when they're twice the area of monohulls of similar size, and sometimes aren't the best at manoeuvring in confined space. And secondly, how can you get round the fact that they are even more stable upside down than they are right way up, and are completely lacking in the mono-hull's self-righting ability?

Putting these problems aside for the moment, there are some very attractive cruising multihulls, and for some time – particularly before I got hip and knee replacements when boats heeling over used to be a pain – I fancied, and still do, the Dragonfly range built in Denmark. We've something of an inside track on the Dragonfly 920 as two of the Howth diaspora, Johnny Malcolm and Black Bob Fannin, crew with Roland Sharp who has his Dragonfly 920 Ischnura based in the Thames Estuary, and they have now and again speeded round to Cowes to do the Round the Island Race with quite a modicum of success.

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The Danish-built trimaran Dragonfly 920 is one of Europe's most successful multihull performance cruisers

In 2011 they won the multihull division, and last year they came second. That race of 2012 was memorable, as Ben Ainslie was helming the mighty Eleanor, the re-creation of the legendary Westward, the 135ft Herreshoff schooner of 1910 vintage. This awesome vessel started in the early morning before the multihulls, slugging westward down the Solent in majestic style, but the cheeky little Ischnura was past her before the Needles despite breaking a jib sheet which cost her the win in her class, but she still was a good second.

This gives a hint of the Dragonfly's performance potential. She was hitting 15 to 20 knots comfortably round the back of the island, and having started at 0600, they'd finished the 50-mile circuit course by 1130. Ischnura is the version known as the Dragonfly 920 EX (which is Extreme if you really want to know), but though she's optimised for performance with extra sail area, she still has the advantage of being based around a single central hull which can be utilised to provide much better accommodation than a catamaran of the same 30ft size, for it's said that you need to go to 40ft or even 50ft before you can start putting decent accommodation in a catamaran.

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Berthing problems solved. The Dragonfly can fold her wings.

Thanks to swing wings, the Dragonfly range can halve their beam to come into a marina berth. The builders claim it can all be done from the cockpit taking a minute for each side, which is probably rather faster than the raising of the bowsprit by a gaffer in order to reduce overall length for berthing purposes. So with beam reduced and a light overall weight, the Dragonfly is also a proposition for easy trailing. In all, an attractive package, but building light and strong is expensive, as is providing the engineering for the swing wings, so it has to be faced that an almost-new Dragonfly 920EX sold recently for €142,000, which you can compare at your leisure with boats of similar accommodation, and reach your own conclusions.

But putting the price aside, and having dealt with the berthing problem, what's the situation regarding scary sailing? This week's vid of Jeanne-Pierre Dick's MOD 70 capsizing is a reminder of the ultimate vulnerability of multihulls, but in sailing Ischnura in a wide variety of situations, Johnny Malcolm says he has never felt cause for alarm, while the enjoyment factor as she ramps up the speed is fantastic. But he did mention that he wasn't aboard when Roland Sharp and Black Bob Fannin were tearing past the North Foreland in wind over tide and carrying the spinnaker in rather more wind than they should, and they did have a megafright, but lived to tell the tale.

But following the capsize of a Dragonfly 28 in the Round the Island race, the boat's enthusiasts – and they are many – simply stated that it's a fact of life: if you drive any trimaran too hard, you're going to capsize. However, it's when multi-hulls are sitting becalmed and get hit by a sudden gust that their ultimately non-self-righting characteristics can become unexpectedly evident. In the more mountainous parts of Scotland's West Coast, where the hills are high but the waters narrow, multihulls have had their problems. One of the most squally places is Loch Scathvaig, which thrusts deep into the Cuilins of Skye. A Dragonfly 28 sitting totally becalmed here was reported pitch-poled by a katabatic blast, and the water being deep, went completely upside down.

You don't need to be right under the heights of the Cuilins in order to experience sudden gusts of real power. Just round the corner and up the southeast coast of Skye along the Sound of Sleat is Isle Ornsay, a lovely spot whose only disadvantage is that when the wind is from the east, it can come storming across the Sound big time out of the brooding mountains of Loch Hourn, and sudden easterly squalls seemingly out of nowhere are another Hourn treat.

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Horrid end to a lovely day.....the new Pampero TS52 is flippd by a sudden squall in the Sound of Sleat, 1st August 2012

In 2012, a big new French cruising catamaran, a 52ft Pampero TS, was sitting flat becalmed off Isle Ornsay. The name of the marque proved an unfortunate choice. A Loch Hourn pampero squall arrived with a bang. Before she could get moving to improve sail carrying power, and before anyone could get to the mainsheet, she was upside down.

Everyone was taken off safely, and within days an ace Isle Ornsay team led by Pete Fowler had righted her and brought her into Mallaig. We happened to call by that fine port a few days later on our way back from the Outer Hebrides, and as our skipper Dickie Gomes used to be a multhull ace with the 40ft Northern Ireland-built Newick trimaran Downtown Flyer (we'll return to that story another day), we were interested to hear his views on the big salvaged boat in the quayside yard.

My word, she was big. Enormous. The mast alone was like a round tower or a minaret. And with everything on the boat and about her, there was a feeling of the suddenness of it all, the total upset to a pleasant day. We came upon two or three salt-stained playing cards scattered in the cockpit. The vision of a sophisticated French charter party leisurely playing cards with highly intellectual conversation and then – zap – came irresistibly to mind. The imagination was enough. Even our skipper, seldom at a loss for words, had little to say.

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At first glance the salvaged catamaran in Mallaig seemed to show few signs of her capsize.......Photo: W M Nixon

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...and gave all the impressions of being a powerful fast cruiser....Photo: W M Nixon

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....but soon the evidence could be discerned....Photo: W M Nixon

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...and then everywhere we found signs of sudden catastrophe. Photo: W M Nixon

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It was clear how spacious and stylish the big saloon had been....Photo: W M Nixon

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.....with its stylishly planned layout now damaged by oil and water Photo: W M Nixon

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Our skipper, formerly a very determined offshore multihull racer, was for once lost for words. Photo: W M Nixon

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It was easy to imagine how peaceful things had been before the squall struck. The charter party may even have been playing a game of cards in the cockpit......Photo: W M Nixon

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A pity. It had the makings of a good hand. Photo: W M Nixon

So even the big expensive multihulls have this ultimate drawback. There's no way around it, offshore multihulls should carry a health warning. But the rewards of living with the risk are fantastic sailing, and an ability to eat up the miles on passage in a style which leaves much larger craft in the ha'penny place.

The fact that it's decidedly different from orthodox sailing is all part of the package in making the America's Cup excitingly exotic. It needs multi-hulls, and it needs a bit of size. They talk of making them more affordable in order to attract more teams o the next series. But "more affordable" suggests smaller. Surely they couldn't be think of going below 60ft? And no doubt when the bubbles have settled a bit, some bright spark will say that the only way to maintain the excitement is to make the next generation 90ft.

Whatever, it's a long way over 162 years from the Isle of Wight to Hamilton Island. And it's a long way from he robust ocean-crossing schooner America to the extraordinary machines that captured global imagination in September. What happens next?

Published in W M Nixon

#boatyards – The interface between sea and land is infinite in its variety, and attractive to modern man as somewhere interesting to live. So if you set up a little coastal boatyard almost anywhere, very soon you'll be told that the property would be much more valuable if it was re-developed for residential use. Thus in Dublin, while we're more than happy to go along with the ancient north-south Liffey divide (Vikings to the north, Normans to the south, and the Irish somewhere out in Kildare), the reality is that in terms of property values, the divide is east-west, though admittedly with added north-south undertones.

This is fine and dandy for real estate theorists and the happy owners of desirable property near the coast. But with layup time and winterising schedules upon us, it makes life increasingly difficult for the dwindling band of boat owners who try to do their own boat maintenance and modification, and may even have built their boat from scratch in the first place, or at least from a bare hull.

Such people – and I'm one of them – operate in a different world. We amateurs working on boats, we barely qualify as a genuine economic activity. Our wives (very few of whom get directly involved) quite rightly dismiss it all as foostering. As for the rest of the community, we amateur bodgers are an embarrassment. We're out of sync with the new reality. These days, we live in an increasingly specialised society, where the preferred location for boat-building is in a purpose-built factory many miles inland where the land is cheaper, while waterfront servicing and repairs are swiftly executed in state-of-the-art units, where throughput has to be rapid and efficient.

Delays are anathema to people running these successful waterfront businesses. But delays and leisurely contemplation are essential for the DIY boat bodger, as he may eventually think of a much better way of coping with a problem which would have been dismissed as intractable by the professional, whose solution would have been the complete replacement of the troublesome item, and probably the complete replacement of the entire boat, all done before close of business that day.

The boat bodger doesn't think in terms of days, let alone close of business. All he needs is all the time in the world, and his own little space. In most modern coastal communities, neither is available. So we wax nostalgic about traditional yards where the boats came up a slip (at least a day's work in itself), and the work schedule stretched gently into the infinite beyond.

Every so often we still come across such places, and if we're on other business in the area, I am expressly forbidden from going near these paradises for boat nuts, as they're very heaven, and I'd be lost for the rest of the day But you won't find any in Dublin, where boat life now is all travel hoists and cranes and strictly scheduled throughput, while people think a slip is something that happens on a banana skin. However, if you get way from the big urban centres, there's more chance of finding yards which somehow retain enough of the traditional mood to relax the stressed boat owner, while at the same time embracing enough of the present to stay in business. And they're filled with boats which are themselves a living history of yacht design.

Perhaps the most remarkable boatyard place in Ireland is around Oldcourt in West Cork, where the Ilen River comes conveniently near the road as it meanders on its way down from Skibbereen to Baltimore. Several marine-related businesses seem to overlap here, there are boats of all shapes and sizes, and there are certainly some craft for which this is the final port of call. But as Spring arrives, somehow the numbers ashore get less, the number of emptied cradles increases, and despite the unhurried atmosphere, a lot gets done.

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Oldcourt achievement. The Cill Airne restaurant ship in Dublin was successfully converted for her new function at Oldcourt on the River Ilen in West Cork. Photo: W M Nixon

A remarkable Oldcourt achievement was the conversion of the Cill Airne, the restaurant ship now berthed in the heart of Dublin. Originally, she was Cork Harbour's tender to take passengers out from Cobh to great liners, and then she was a training ship for the marine academy. Her active seagoing career finished, she still had plenty of life in her for a new existence as a restaurant boat, but a conversion job in an orthodox dockyard would have been prohibitively expensive. Somehow they managed to get her up the river and alongside at Oldcourt, and once there, were able to take their time for a very fine job. In all, 132 different tradesmen, recruited mostly in West Cork, worked on the Cill Airne in the Ilen River. This past summer, when she was the focal point for the Riverfest during the Old Gaffers Golden Jubilee visit to Dublin, the boat-bodging gaffers were completely charmed to learn that this fine conversion had been done at an old-fashioned boatyard, just like the kind of place they dream of locating their own boats, if only they could find it in their area.

The heart and soul of Oldcourt, the warm spirit of the place, is embodied by the continuing restoration of the Ilen, the Conor O'Brien ketch which Gary MacMahon brought home from the Falklands quite a few years ago now. Her gentle restoration is an end in itself, and a balm for the soul. Love of wood is inherent in most of us, as an affinity for wood and an instinct to do something useful with it was a key survival mechanism at an important stage of human evolution. So it is still part of our makeup, and the Ilen restoration shed is a place of healing and mental comfort.

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Sweet work. The restoration of Ilen has been a reassuring feature of life in Oldcourt for some time. Photo: W M Nixon

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An early stage of the Ilen's restoration. Photo: W M Nixon

Up in the northeast of Ireland, hidden away behind the islands along the west side of Strangford Lough, is Billy Smyth's boatyard at Whiterock. If you were a film producer and requested your location scouts to find the classic traditional small boatyard to make a movie about sailing in times past, they would become ecstatic about Billy Smyth's. It's very basic yet remarkably efficient, while the quality of the work done by Kenny Smyth and his team is first class. And inevitably, there's the usual small quota of boats whose owners don't seem to want them launched now and again, and some from one year to the next. For some time, I'd been trying to trace a John B Kearney-designed 1936-built 6-ton yawl, the Rosalind, which had last been reported in the Poole area in the south of England many years ago. She'd gone under the radar, but she turned up this past summer in Billy Smyth's, where she has been under a cover for years in a corner of the yard, her owner's intention unfathomable.

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Just another boat under a cover in the corner of a boatyard...Photo: W M Nixon

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....but as the cover was hauled back......Photo: W M Nixon

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.....the 1936 John B Kearney 6-tonner Rosalind was revealed. Photo: W M Nixon

You may well think that it's only in Ireland that you can still find these gems of living boatyard history, but in the summer we were at the head of the Helford River in Cornwall, and found ourselves in the midst of the easygoing maritime mayhem which is Gweek.

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At the head of the Helford River estuary in Cornwall, Gweek Quay is a place of promise and fascination. Photo W M Nixon.

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Gweek is renowned as the birthplace of several Luke Powell pilot cutters. This is the Agnes, built in 2002 and based on a Scillonian pilot cutter of 1841. Photo: W M Nixon

In recent years, Gweek has been best known as the place where Luke Powell built his renowned Pilot Cutters, whose lines are unchanged from the mid-19th Century. But there's much more to Gweek than that. If your perception of England is of an over-regulated place where nothing much can happen without some peak-capped official's say-so, Gweek is an eye opener. Basically it's a creekhead boatyard, where the yard is filled with an astonishing variety of craft, many of them character boats, and some of which haven't been launched for a very long time.

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Serious work. GRP gigs emerge from the moulding shop at Gweek. Photo: W M Nixon

There's an unmistakable air of amiable anarchy, yet with underlying purpose. Some sheds were busy while we were there, finishing GRP double-ended gigs. Nearby was a large pop-up tent of a boatshed, and a looksee inside revealed it held the famous classic offshore yawl Lutine, restored recently at Gweek and taking a season off from seafaring. And all around another part of the creek, there were the houseboats.

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A pop-up boatshed invited a look inside.....Photo: W M Nixon

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...and we weren't disappointed. It was the classic offshore racing yawl Lutine. Photo: W M Nixon

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At Gweek, classic yachts share space with more humble craft....Photo: W M Nixon

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....and the owners are determined to have domestic comfort while in port. Photo: W M Nixon

Clearly, the houseboats, both in their location and appearance, are subject to no planning requirements whatever. Ancient hulls had their upperworks extended in stratospheric style. What looked like a former River Thames lighter in beside the trees had a three storey structure atop it like a Missisippi riverboat. And yet they weren't the last resort of people desperate for somewhere to live. Judging by the cars parked about the place, living in houseboats – however odd - was a lifestyle choice made by people who could well afford to live ashore.

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The houseboats in Gweek are a study in themselves. Note the "office & facilities block" on right, complete with public phone Photo: W M Nixon

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With no apparent planning restrictions, the Gweek houseboats can go for height........Photo: W M Nixon

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....even on boats where you wouldn't expect it. Photo: W M Nixon

So it's all of a piece that for some glorious years, the yard in Gweek was where Luke Powell built his cutters. They're arguably of an even older design type than the Galway Hookers, yet like the Connemara boats, they attract a passionate following, people who would sail on no other boats, and in a contemporary anchorage, a Powell cutter will certainly stand out, a glorious blast from the past.

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Not all Gweek projects are showing signs of progress. This may have been an International 6 Metre once upon a time, but she needs a lot of attention. Photo: W M Nixon

Blasts from the past were the theme of another boatyard visit, this time to Gloucester where the Severn winds its way between the Malvern and Cotswold hills. If you follow the doings of the tall ships, you'll know that T. Nielsen & Co's yard at Gloucester is the place to get sailing ship problems put right, and the yard in the midst of the historic docks in Gloucester has deservedly acquired a high reputation for serious work.

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Gloucester's historic docks provide a home for the Nielsen company, specializing in work on tall ships. Photo: W M Nixon

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There's always something of interest in the Nielsen corner in Gloucester, in this case a Victorian yacht awaiting restoration beside a Baltic ketch, while in the foreground is a narrowboat from the English canals. Photo: W M Nixon

This is big boy's territory – you get an appreciation of the scale of the Nielsen operation by realizing that one of the smallest craft they've worked on in Gloucester recently was the 52ft 1911-built Bristol Channel Pilot cutter Hirta, which had a complete re-build to emerge as new, and under her original name of Cornubia. A long time ago, Hirta was owned by Tom Cunliffe, who bought her in Scotland in 1982 and called into Howth on his way south at the beginning of a very productive partnership which included a Transatlantic cruise by the northern route. But pilot cutters, like Galway Hookers, weren't built of materials which were expected to last for ever, so it's good news that the Cornubia had this re-build completed in 2010, and is now based at Plymouth under the ownership of the Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter Trust.

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The 52ft pilot cutter Hirta in Howth in 1982. She has recently been re-built in Gloucester, and now sails under her original name of Cornubia. Photo: W M Nixon

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Tom Cunliffe, distinguished maritime writer and former President of the Old Gaffers Association, aboard Hirta in Howth in 1982. Photo: W M Nixon

The Nielsen people were in more familiar size territory when they did the lofting and made the rig for the Jeanie Johnston, and when we were there, they were busy with a major restoration on the Kaskelot, the three-masted 153ft Danish-built barque which was in one of the two dry docks, while other interesting craft at various stages of work were afloat in the dock.

Gloucester is where the heart of the country interacts with the sea, but in order to reach it from the Bristol Channel, vessels have to transit the long ship canal along the Severn valley up from Sharpness, which means that when you reach Gloucester, there's no question of people being impatient to nip out for a day sail – this is a place for working at seagoing ships. Yet Gloucester is also a port on England's myriad of inland waterways, in fact for a period it was an unrivalled entrepot for waterborne trade. But the historic docks are so perfect in their completeness that you get the feeling the burghers of Gloucester must have been on the very cusp of finishing this state-of-the-art waterways centre just as the railways were beginning to make such places redundant, and subsequent generations must have been tempted to flatten the impressive warehouses and fill in the basin.

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The three-masted barque Kaskelot undergoing major work in one of the Gloucester dry docks. Photo: W M Nixon

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Even on a Saturday morning, there's plenty of work going on for tourists to watch.....Photo: W M Nixon

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.....and there's a helpful information board to give you the dimensions of the ship in the dry dock.......Photo: W M Nixon

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....and there's even a photo to show you what she'll look like when the job is finished. Photo: W M Nixon

But miraculously Gloucester docks have survived, and not least of the elements in their current regeneration is the interest and energy of the Nielsen yard. We were there on a Saturday morning, yet they were busy on the Kaskelot. I didn't dare ask if it was a stipulation of their contract for having the use of the quayside and the dry docks, that they should continue working through the weekend when visitors are about. No doubt about it, the public loves work – they could watch it all day. And what used to be demanding and sometimes dangerous work is now a matter of recreational viewing. Who knows, but some time in the distant future, the government of Bangladesh may think it sensible to pay grants to the families who currently break up ships by hand on the shore of the Indian Ocean, in order to encourage them to continue their lethal but fascinating work for the edification of tourists.

Published in W M Nixon

#oldestyacht – Serenely she sits, with all the heightened elegance of a still beautiful grand dame who, despite a hectic youth, has lived long and well to take her place in a position of respect, verging on reverence, within the community. But then anyone, whatever the life they may have led, would be deserving of some sort of special appreciation if they'd managed to reach the age of 224 still in reasonably good order, still looking much as they did more than two centuries ago. Yet that is the case with the 26ft schooner yacht Peggy. When you attend upon her in her home in Castletown in the Isle of Man, it's as if time has stood still since the 1790s.

We sailed over to the Isle of Man recently for the Peel Traditional Boat Weekend. As it had been expanded to include the final Irish Sea gathering for the Old Gaffers Association Golden Jubilee, it was felt that the least we could do, before the revels began, was to pay our respects to the ultimate old gaffer of them all, across at her home port on the south coast of the island. And if the Peggy of Castletown isn't the oldest yacht in the world in more or less intact order, then we'll be fascinated to hear of any vessel having a better claim. For by any standards, the Peggy is extraordinary.

Thus we'll leave an account of the fantastic party in Peel for another day. It will be ideal for the depths of winter when such memories of enjoyment deserve to be savoured at leisure. But the Peggy deserves to be highlighted right now. For the fact is that if you're into boats and those who sailed them and their history, then the Peggy blows your mind. The story of her origins, of her adventures in sailing, and of how she has survived for more than 200 years, would the stuff of legend if it didn't happen to be completely true.

The story of the Quayle family of Bridge House right on the harbour in the ancient Manx capital of Castletown is long and distinguished. In the 18th Century, John Quayle was a leading figure in the administration of the Isle of Man. But though his son George Quayle (1751-1835) was a member of the Manx parliament, the House of Keys, for 51 years, he was also something of a Renaissance man, his interests as a successful merchant and ship owner including the co-founding of the Isle of Man's first bank, while his inventive talents were such that he won a gold medal of the Society of Arts.

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George Quayle (1751-1835)

Despite the challenging nature of the waters around the Isle of Man, he was also an enthusiastic amateur sailor. So when the impressive Bridge House was being completed in 1789, he saw to it that its eastern end included a private dock accessed through an arch from Castletown Harbour, the dock in its turn giving access to a "boat cellar" in which he planned to have slipping facilities for a 26ft sailing boat he was having built nearby.

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Bridge House, Castletown, IOM. George Quayle's quarters were on the right hand side of photo, and the blocked-off entrance to the Peggy's dock is at lower right. Photo: W M Nixon

It may well be that, like the J/24 some 174 years later, the size of the new boat Peggy was dictated by the size of the garage available. Whatever, there's no doubt she's a very neat fit in the boat cellar. George Quayle then provided a complete maritime unit around his new boat's berth, as he created his own personal quarters around it independent of the family home, the main feature directly above the Peggy's cellar being a fine living room replicating the Great Cabin of a sailing ship.

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The first sight of the Peggy when you descend to the boat cellar is memorable, though it takes some time to grasp that this is a boat built 224 years ago. Photo: W M Nixon

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The stern is completely typical of its era Photo: W M Nixon

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The sections reveal a hull with real speed potential. Note the original spars stowed on wall on right. Photo: W M Nixon

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The interior reveals how the topsides were raised to increase sail carrying power. Photo: W M Nixon

With his new boat comfortably housed, and his own quarters cleverly created to shelter him from the demands of busy family life, most folk would have taken things easy for a while. But George Quayle was a bundle of energy. Although the boat was built in 1789, with the demands of completing the big new house, he doesn't seem to have started sailing the Peggy – named after his mother – until 1791. But once she was in action there was no stopping him, both in spirited sailing, and in re-configuring the boat to improve performance. So although the lower part of the hull of the Peggy is probably much as it as when she was built in 1789, as he increased the sail area of the already massive schooner rig he also raised the topsides in order to carry the extra cloth without having her fill. Even then, he still had extra canvas "boards" to keep the sea at bay.

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The construction details and hull lines were taken off in the 1930s after Peggy had been released following a century of entombment

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The sail plan is arguably a primitive version of that set by the schooner America 55 years later

The Peggy – complete with miniature yet very real armaments, as French privateers were active in the Irish Sea – was always considered a yacht, and Quayle was keen to race her and further improve performance. Thus he was soon experimenting with "sliding keels" to combat leeway, and the reputation of the Peggy became such that a challenge was set up to sail in a regatta against the only flotilla of other racing yachts within reach, across at Windermere in the English Lake District.

George Quayle was related to a leading figure in Windermere sailing, John Christian Curwen, who had a couple of sailing pleasure boats imported from the Baltic. Also on the lake was a supposedly hot sailing machine owned by one Captain Heywood. So in 1796, Peggy sailed across to Cumbria, and was carted up the half dozen or so miles from the inner reaches of Morecambe Bay to the lake, which is 128ft above sea level.

It was quite an effort, and as yacht racing organisation was only in its infancy in 1796, the results weren't totally clearcut, though it seems that the Peggy outsailed everything else by several country miles. Intriguingly, two other boats from this pioneering regatta have also survived, though not so well as Peggy. These were the two Baltic boats owned by John Christian Curwen. They were still intact until the 20th Century, but then were fire-damaged while in store. The sad remains of both were on display in a corner of the Windermere Steamboat Museum when I was there around twenty years ago, but largely ignored. Much more interesting was the discovery that George Quayle's relation John Christian Curwen was in turn related to Fletcher Christian of Bounty notoriety, who was of course a Cumberland man. Up among the lakes, they were happy to tell us that there's no way Fletcher Christian stayed on Pitcairn until the end of his days – he got home to the lakes some way or other, so it's said.

But meanwhile the Peggy only just made it home to the Isle of Man after her successful foray to Windermere. She'd a real pasting in the Irish Sea beating back to Castletown, but in typical style George Quayle turned this to best advantage, cheerfully reporting in a letter that the "sliding keels" so improved windward performance that they safely made it back to port.

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The sailplan on the model is one interpretation of the abundance of spars available in the boat cellar Photo: W M Nixon

Today, in the boat cellar at Bridge House, you can see the Peggy and all the features which made her such an able flyer. She still has the slots through which George Quayle lowered his primitive centreboards, and on racks on the wall are the original spars she carried when in her racing prime. This indeed was and is a formidable racing machine, and it's no exaggeration to assert that, in her miniature style, she was an early example of the type which reached its supreme development with the schooner America.

And she has survived through a fortuitous miracle of preservation. The exact timing and circumstances in which it all happened are not precisely clear, but we know that after George Quayle died in 1835, the Peggy was entombed in her boat cellar, with the seaward entrance walled up. In time, the little dock was filled in, and the archway through to Castletown harbour closed off. Yet with the pervading salty air, this provided an ideal environment for boat preservation. When it was all opened up again in the 1930s, there was the Peggy, still in remarkably good order, still the same little ship which had successfully completed such a gallant expedition to Windermere in 1796.

Today, George Quayle's quarters in Bridge House accommodate the Manx Nautical Museum, with the Peggy – now formally owned by the Manx nation - the prime exhibit. But with every passing year, she becomes ever more important, so much so that 2014 will see a comprehensive project to conserve her, and in time - let us hope - put her on more accessible display with her full racing rig in place.

With imaginative design, it could possibly be done by putting a clear roof over the little dock. I didn't pace it out when we were there a couple of weeks ago, but guessing from the photos, it should be just about feasible to accommodate her there with all sail set.

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The former dock, now filled in, where Peggy was berthed before hauling into the boat cellar - note her stern just visible in doorway, while the windows in the room above reflect sailing ship Great Cabin style. This former dock could be re-configured for use as a covered display area where the newly conserved Peggy could be put on show fully rigged. Photo: W M Nixon

And after 224 years, she surely deserves a proper display. But for now, there are the intriguing challenges of conservation. Most of the timber is in remarkably good order, but the fastenings need replacing, as apparently they are "mineralising". That sounds remarkably like good old-fashioned rust to you and me, but "mineralising" is a word to cherish. So it won't surprise you to learn that, after the earnest piety of our visit to the Peggy, my shipmates then threw themselves into the festivities and fabulous hospitality of the Peel Traditional Boat Weekend with such enthusiasm that we were undoubtedly in a mineralised condition as we slugged our way back home across the Irish Sea.

Published in W M Nixon

#halfton – As we digest the multiple results of the Rolex Fastnet Race and run the effects of different measurement rules and allowance systems over the elapsed times of a fleet of almost absurd diversity, it is only natural to wish for some simple system whereby first past the post is the winner, and that would be the beginning and end of it. Yet there's something about offshore racing which makes the notion of using straightforward one-design boats a concept of only limited appeal. The sea itself is an environment of such diversity that it seems to call out for a variety of boats to sail upon it, while the people sailing those boats are of course ludicrously individualistic.

Not that there haven't been attempts over the years to introduce one design offshore racing classes. We'll see it again soon with the new Volvo boats, and at the moment the superb MOD 70s are showing just how attractive the one design ideal can be. But it's nothing new. In fact, the idea of one designs capable of going offshore racing goes back beyond the establishment of "ocean racing" as we know it in Europe today, and was in evidence in America when Thomas Fleming Day inaugurated American ocean racing with the first Bermuda Race in 1906 with three boats which were all totally different, and two of them finishing the course.

In the golden age of sailing development from around 1890 until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, several noted designers and builders on both sides of the Atlantic produced one design boats which were capable of racing offshore. One of the first was the Belfast Lough Number One Class of 1897, designed by William Fife, the design (slightly modified) being adopted the following year as the Dublin Bay 25. At 37ft LOA and 25ft LWL with a proper if decidedly Spartan cabin, they had the potential to be fast cruisers which could be offshore racers.

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The new Belfast Lough Number Ones racing in 1898. They had the potential to be one design offshore racers, but the sport hadn't yet been invented. Photo courtesy RUYC

Except that the concept of offshore racing as we know it today simply didn't exist. For sure, you'd things like the Royal Alfred YC's Channel Matches between Dublin and Holyhead from the 1870s onwards, and there were also some coastal passage races. Then too, boats like the Herreshoff-designed New York 40s could take part as a class in events like the NYYC annual summer cruise. But the notion of a one design boat which could perform well while staying at sea for prolonged periods with the crew sleeping on board - whether at sea or in port - was not really on the agenda at all until around 1909, when the designs for the 11-ton yawls of the Belfast Lough Island class were commissioned from Alfred Mylne of Glasgow.

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The Belfast Lough Island Class yawl Eriska in 1911. This was one of the first serious attempts to create a one design cruiser-racer class. Photo courtesy RNIYC

This was to be a one design class which could be used for regular club racing while at the same time providing sufficient comfort for the annual two weeks cruise to the Scottish West Coast which was the staple of Belfast Lough sailing, with the additional option of taking on cross channel races to the Clyde or Portpatrick.

It was one very crowded design brief. And with half a dozen potential owners making their personal views felt, plus the fact that the builder was John Hilditch of Carrickfergus, who was no stranger to controversy, creating the new class was a tricky business.

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The Island Class Trasnagh winning the cross channel race to Portpatrick in 1925 Photo courtesy RUYC

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The offshore one design dream briefly fulfilled – five boats of the Belfast Lough Island Class in Portpatrick in 1925 after racing from Bangor. Photo courtesy RUYC

There's also a feeling that Alfred Mylne, arguably the best of the Scottish designers after the death of G L Watson in 1904, wasn't really giving the task his full attention. In response to the demand for a comfortable cruiser, he certainly designed a boat of considerably more displacement, proportionately speaking, than his racing one designs such as the Dublin Bay 21s. Yet if anything the new Island Class boats seemed to have lower freeboard than many Mylne designs of comparable size, and they undoubtedly were very low slung in their later years when auxiliary engines and other additional cruising comforts were added.

Thus in full cruising trim, they could be extremely wet to sail aboard. I can remember as a kid being on the old Island Class yawl Trasnagh as we went through the Ram Harry tide race northeast of the Copeland Islands at the entrance to Belfast Lough. It was a bit startling to be sitting in a cockpit suddenly full of water. But owner Billy Barnes was completely unfazed by this state of affairs – that's the way it was with the Islands, but it meant their self-draining cockpit was an essential.

Then too, while they may have been a gallant pioneering attempt to transfer the one design ideal to a cruiser-racer, being Belfast Lough the owner's group managed to fall out with the builder. Hilditch wanted £350 per boat, but the owners wouldn't go a penny over £345. The argument dragged on until eventually Hilditch said he would build the boats for £345, but their stems would have to be markedly snubbed in order to save money.

Presumably the original line of the stem was an elegantly drawn-out overhang in much the same style as the Dublin Bay 21. But nevertheless, how any money could be saved by making it an awkward little tight curve in a distinctly spoon bow profile is difficult to believe, and those not directly involved reckoned it was a classic case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

Be that as it may, by 1913 the Islands had six boats racing, and they were an impressive sight in regular action off Cultra and Bangor, and at Belfast Lough regattas. Several also appeared at the Clyde Fortnight, taking the crossing of the North Channel comfortably if wetly in their stride. But the prospect of the continuing growth of the class was brought to a halt by the Great War of 1914-18, and after it the heart had gone out of much of sailing in the Belfast Lough area until things slowly picked up in the 1920s.

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Wet but fast – Island Class yawl Trasnagh powering through Donaghadee Sound in 1933 under her new Bermuda rig Photo courtesy RNIYC

Like many other classes, the Islands faced demands for a changeover to Bermudan rig, and they suited it well, though when some owners went all the way and removed the little bowsprits in the interests of a more modern appearance, the result was a boat which hung on her helm like a ton of bricks.

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Trasnagh entering Dun Laoghaire in 1980 in her later days under Bermuda rig and without the bowsprit, showing how little freeboard the boats had with an added auxiliary engine and other cruising equipment. In recent years she has been re-built in Devon, with her original gaff configuration restored. Photo: W M Nixon

By the 1930s, other areas were looking seriously at the notion of club one designs which could also race and cruise offshore, and the idea of the Bermuda-rigged Dublin Bay 24 was first mooted in 1934. Seldom can a class have had a longer gestation. This time it was World War 11 from 1939 to 1945 which brought things to a halt, and it was 1946-47 before the 24s were finally sailing on Dublin Bay, and starting to show their potential inshore and offshore.

Across in England, the members of the RORC in its early years after its foundation in 1925 were so individualistic that the notion of an offshore one design simply didn't arise. But then in the grim days of slow recovery after World War II, the great John Illingworth and others shook things up with the Laurent Giles-designed RNSA 24. With a transom stern making them not unlike large Folkboats, these 30 footers could have been a first offshore one design, but of course although the hulls were standard, everything else was different – Bill King, for instance, even rigged his RNSA 24 Galway Blazer as a ketch.

However, there was one little germ of an idea floating around which began to gain adherents, and that was level rating racing. By all means have different boats, but have them designed to rate under the RORC rule to exactly the same rating. It would encourage design development, yet it would produce an immediate winner. It seems such an obviously sensible notion that it's extraordinary to think its appeal is not universal. Yet people are always trying to find ways of shaving a point or two off their rating and getting every advantage from this. And as for boats which simply cry out to be straightforward offshore one designs, such as the great First 40.7, it emerges that few if any of them rate exactly the same.

Nevertheless the level rating ideal goes up the flagpole every so often, and in 1965 it took off in a big way with the re-allocation of a silver cup presented in 1899 by the Earl of Granard (he was to become Commodore of the National YC in 1930) to the Cercle de la Voile in Paris. Initially, the One Ton Cup was for racing on the Seine, then it was raced for by the International 6 Metre Class, and then in 1965 it found new life for an international series, inshore and offshore, for offshore racers rated at 22.0ft under the RORC Rule.

At this distance, it's difficult to imagine the excitement aroused by this new shine on the old cup. Some well-known offshore racers had some very odd things done to them in order to make them fit the very specific rating. But it worked, the idea took off big time, and the spinoffs soon followed. One Tonners were boats around 35-36ft long, Half Tonners which soon followed were 28-31ft, Three Quarter Tonners were 32-34ft, Quarter Tonners were around 25ft, and Two Tonners were 40 – 42ft. They all raced absolutely level in their class, first to finish was the winner, that was all there was to it, and for about twenty years this was the most exciting area of offshore racing.

Irish sailing was much involved, and over the years it was with the Half Ton Cup – boats around the 30ft mark – in which we made our greatest impact. The arrival of Ron Holland in Cork in 1973-74 provided the necessary design skills, and in 1976 Harold Cudmore and a Cork crew went forth on a somewhat shoestring challenge to the Half Ton Worlds in Trieste with the new Silver Shamrock, a re-worked version of the original Ron Holland Golden Shamrock production Half Tonner concept from 1974.

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Golden Shamrock, built in Cork, was Ron Holland's first production Half Tonner

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Victory parade. After Silver Shamrock won the Half Ton Worlds at Trieste in 1976, she sailed across to Venice and ran up the Grand Canal under spinnaker. Ronnie Dunphy on left of photo, Killian Bushe behind mast.

Harry Cudmore won a famous victory, and in celebration he and his crew sailed across to Venice and ran up the Grand Canal with spinnaker set. It was his first major international success in what was to become a glittering global sailing career, and as for the Half Tonners, they were firmly set on course to become the most popular of the Ton Cup classes.

During the 1970s and early '80s, fleet numbers were regularly pushing over the 40 mark at the annual World Championship, and though the peak had been 55 boats at Marstrand in Sweden in 1972 (when Paul Elvstrom won), they were still around the 40 mark in the early 80s, and could muster 35 at Porto Ercole in 1985.

The waxing and waning of particular kinds of racing is sometimes incomprehensible. But whatever caused it, the collapse of the Half Ton Worlds as a premier event was sudden and total. There were hundreds of eligible boats around, but with the economic gloom of the 1980s and people's sailing interests focusing elsewhere, as an event the Half Ton Worlds fell off a cliff, with the last one in 1993 at Bayona attracting just ten boats.

The event may have gone, but the many and often gorgeous boats were still very much in existence, increasingly seen as classics, and raced in handicap classes by devoted owners. In 2000 at Cork Week, two of them – the Irish boat SpACE Odyssey (Shay Moran, Enda Connellan, Terry Madigan and Vincent Delany) and the French boat Sibelius (Didier Dardot) decided that a Half Ton Classics Worlds, limited to boats built to the relevant rule between 1967 and 1992, might just be a runner on a biennial basis, and it has proven itself so, with entries two years ago in Cowes topping the 38 mark.

In 2007, it came to Dun Laoghaire with 25 boats providing a feast of nostalgia and great sport. The overall winner was the Rob Humphreys-designed one-off Harmony, owned by Nigel Biggs, who became so hooked on the value of the concept incorporated in this re-birth of the Half Tonner notion that he bought a vintage Humphreys-designed production boat, an MG30, and set about optimising her for racing in a class which is keen enough to make it worth the effort, yet not so excessively competitive as to self-destruct.

The result of the optimisation, which began with a consultation with David Howlett followed by a permitted redesign of the keel and rudder by Mark Mills, with all the ideas then implemented by John Corby at his yard in Cowes (with some of his own notions added), is of course Checkmate XV, the runaway superstar of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta in July, and surely one of the favourites for the Half Ton Classics 2013 which gets under way tomorrow at Boulogne in northern France.

For this event, Biggs' crew reflects his active involvement in sailing on both sides of the Irish Sea. From this side of the Irish Sea, he has recruited regular shipmates Jimmy Houston from RStGYC and Robbie Sargent from Howth, while the other side of the channel brings in longtime sailing friend Pete Evans (they go back to Laser Youth Racing in 1985), and George Rice and Gerry Ibberson.

Since the VDLR in July, Checkmate XV has been undergoing further tuning in her home shed in Cowes, with a smidgin being shaved off her IRC rating. For yes, it has to be admitted that, with the age range of the Half Ton Classics taking in such a wide band from 1967 to 1992, they actually race under IRC on a handicap basis. It sounds crazy. But it works, and the reality is that there isn't more than 30 seconds in any hour between the class rating extremities.

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King One for the road, and easily trailed with it – Dave Cullen's former world champion King One will also be at the Half Ton Classics in Boulogne, and has already been successful in the area with a win at Ramsgate Week last year. Photo: W M Nixon

Most of the classic Half Tonners from the era when the class was at its frontline international height are attractive boats, and they're of very manageable size while providing a bit of muscle. Trailering them is a straightforward proposition, and another entry tomorrow of special interest, Dave Cullen's King One from Howth, has made a speciality of sailing in those narrow easterly waters of the English Channel, where she was a participant last year in Ramsgate Week, which she won.

After more than a decade as a biennial event, the Half Ton Classics will now go annual, with 2014's championship already scheduled for Carnac in Brittany. We wish it well. We may have set out this week to follow the storyline of the once fervent hope that there could be genuine one design offshore racers, a hope so continually frustrated that instead people turned to the scope offered by designing different boat to fit one rating band. We have continued our voyage of discovery to find that boats of what was once the world's most numerous level rating class are so different - when all eras are brought together - that the only way they can have meaningful racing is by using the IRC handicap system, just like everyone else. Crazy maybe. But no crazier than the America's Cup.

Published in W M Nixon

#mirrorworlds2013 – For even the saltiest of seafarers, the Shannon One Design has a special allure. These slinky beauties of Ireland's inland waterways have an exotic attraction heightened by the fact that, despite their occasional visits to salt water, they only seem truly at home on the great lakes of the River Shannon. And when the organisers of the Mirror Worlds 2013 sounded out Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, Food and The Marine, to perform last Sunday's official opening ceremony at Lough Derg YC at Dromineer, they discovered he was one of these secret Shannon OD admirers. Simon Coveney has raced offshore, and in major regattas. He has made oceanic voyages. And in his younger days, he was even an Irish Mirror Champion. But it seems the sweetener that drew him to Dromineer was the chance of his very first sail in a 17ft clinker-built Shannon One Design at one of their most historic strongholds.

So it says much about the sheer fun-filled exuberance of the great International Mirror Dinghy festival which concluded last night at Dromineer that for ten days - apart from Simon Coveney's sail with John and Adair Leech on their Shannon One Design - the SODs were sidelined. The characterful little Mirrors – 91 of them from seven diferent countries – totally dominated the scene both on the Dromineer waterfront, and out on the magnificent lake. And they had a tremendous week of racing despite a difficult period of weather in which four different seasons in one day – indeed, sometimes in one hour – set PRO Con Murphy a daunting task in which he completed a full programme despite Met Eireann outdoing itself in the gloomy weather prediction stakes throughout the week.

For those of us hoping to savour this remarkable event at its very best, it was a matter of Carpe Diem, Seize the Day, and the magic day was Tuesday. The morning may have seen the brisk westerly bring one large rainsquall blotting out the Clare hills as the fleet scampered along under spinnaker, but for the rest of the day the sun was strong from a vigorous sky. And the wind was brisk, then strong and then stronger again, such that by mid-afternoon further racing was curtailed. But by that time the legendary Mirror zest for sailing had been expressed yet again with gusto.

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Minister for Agriculture, Food & The Marine Simon Coveney was able to fulfill a lifelong ambition to sail a Shannon One Design at Dromineer. Photo: Gerardine Wisdom

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At the opening ceremony were (front row, left to right) David Meredith (Vice Commodore, LDYC), Cllr Virginia O'Dowd, Commodore LDYC Denis Hassey, Minister Simon Coveney, Mayor North Tipperary Ger Darcy, President Int. Mirror Association Celia May, Cllr Phil Bulger, and Assistant Event Manager Lucy Sanders. Back row: Event PR Eleanor Hooker, Noel Coonan TD, Event Manager Ian Roberts, and Cllr Seamus Morris. Photo: Gerardine Wisdom

In fact, the regatta was already in full swing by the time Minister Coveney performed his official duties, as the Irish Mirror National Opens had completed a successful if sometimes flukey four day eight-race buildup to the big one in the week beforehand, with a fleet of 68 boats getting results which were encouraging for visitors and the home fleet alike. And for anyone new to the Mirror scene, it gave a comprehensive insight into the variety of people these unique 10ft 10ins boat attract these days.

Clear overall winners were Ridgeley Balladares and Rommel Chaves of the Philippines with a convincing scoreline of five firsts and a fourth, discarding a 48th in Race 7 and a DNC in Race 8. If you think - like most folk in Ireland - that Mirrors are useful little multi-purpose boats for kids, then the Philippine pair were an eye-opener. Balladares is 36 while Chaves is 40, and the word was their day job is as crew on a superyacht whose owner encourages their dinghy racing. Naturally there were some muttering about this making them pros in a classically amateur class, but my own feeling was they deserved an extra medal – anyone who is keen enough to go off for some concentrated dinghy racing after the 24/7 grind which is being crew on a superyacht deserves special recognition.

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New Irish Open Champions Ridgeley Balladares and Rommel Cahvez of the Philippines were on top form in the opening four day event. Still on the windward leg astern are senior Australian helms Simon Barwood (46) no 70784, and Ken Barnes (61) no 70790. Photo: Gerardine Wisdom

The runners-up were Cian Hickey and Caolan Croasdell of Skerries, which doubtless caused dancing in the streets of Fingal. They finished on 25pts to the 9 of the Filipino crew, and four points ahead of Alfie Wisdom and Sam Warren of the host club, while in fourth and fifth came names which were to come to greater prominence in the Worlds proper, with British crew Sarah Richards and her son George one point behind on 30. On 36 points in fifth were South African siblings Ryan and Michaela Robinson of Boskop YC, poised (if they but knew it) to become International Mirror World Champions 2013, and leading a strong South African contingent in anticipation of the Worlds there in 2015.

The diversity of these crews is classic Mirror profile. Hickey and Croasdell are fairly standard at 18 and 14 years respectively, while Wisdom and Warren are 20 and 14. But a new profile emerges with the Richards duo – Sarah is 41 while son George is 12. And the promising South African brother and sister Robinson crew had one of the lowest average ages of all, with Ryan being 16 while Michaela is 13.

But if you think this diversity encompasses international Mirror sailing, think again. The first entry for the entire regatta came from Ken Barnes of Montrose Bay in Australia, and he's 61. Then from Canada came Donovan Alp, and he's 60. But all were put in the ha'penny place by Rex Henderson from Australia's Royal Freshwater Bay YC who admitted to being 70, but who knows, it might be more. So these crazy Mirror maniacs are the living embodiment of the ISA's motto of sailing being a sport for life. And as for running a successful World Championship being a matter of club and community endeavour, in a little place like Dromineer, it just has to be – it wouldn't work any other way.

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An ideal venue – Lough Derg YC's current clubhouse was opened eight years ago. Photo: W M Nixon

Lough Derg YC (founded 1835) has an attractive, substantial and very efficient clubhouse which was opened after massive membership endeavour back in 2005, and deservedly saw LDYC taking the Mitsubishi Motors "Club of the Year" award. In effect, it functions as the lakeside village's community centre, and hosts such an extraordinary variety of events that in honour of one of them, the Dromineer Literary Festival, it was described this week as a Poetry Society with Sailing Club attached.

Just to show we're not making this up, this year's festival is from 3rd to 7th October, and all info is at www.dromineerliteraryfestival.ie. But meanwhile there was this business of the club taking on the biennial Mirror Worlds at a time when Mirror Dinghies are supposed to be rather passé despite their Golden Jubilee this year, and with the reality of Ireland being in recession and Dromineer being a place of limited visitor accommodation. In fact, it was the perfect formula to spur everyone on to greater effort. Just about everyone got involved, and the visitors from far and wide who couldn't find accommodation either in b&bs or people's houses found that there were berths available on the large variety of cruisers in the harbour.

So the people were indeed coming to Dromineer, and keen to race. A fleet of 91 boats isn't one to be sniffed at, and when you take on the mantle of a World Championship, you have the additional task of hosting teams of mandatory officials who have been guaranteed a certain level of comfort. It's a formidable organizational effort, but for a very long time in advance, Event Manager Ian Roberts and his Assistant Manager Lucy Sanders were putting their team together, and anyone who has been following the daily up-dates on Afloat.ie from Dromineer on the progress of the regatta will know that the sailors have been having a mighty fine time.

Even the daily reports have been a good example of team effort by the shore squad in the clubhouse and Mirror supporters out on the water. From the race course, Andy Johnston of Sutton Dinghy Club was filing in a stream of regular reports on tactical developments in each race, with additional input from Brian Raftery of Sligo. Back in the clubhouse, LDYC Press Officer Eleanor Hooker kept tabs on the reports she collated a daily report each evening which gave an excellent overview of the progress of a world class World Championship.

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The hefty 1958-built steel ketch Shindilla proved an ideal committee boat, but even she showed that Lough Derg can make waves. Photo: W M Nixon

Out on the water, PRO Con Murphy and his crew were based on the Levie family of Clonmel's substantial steel ketch Shindilla. Originally built in the Netherlands in 1958 for Bob Berridge of Galway and Cork, the 38ft Shindilla is the ideal size for a committee boat on Lough Derg, as she's not too large, yet her weight provides a solid platform on a bit of water which can sometimes serve up rollers which wouldn't shame the sea.

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The first race on the second day in the Worlds showed the Robinsons' winning style. The fleet shapes up with the port end suddenly becoming the favoured position...... Photo: W M Nixon

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.....but two Irish boats (Keri-Ann Boylan & Ros Morgan, and Ronan Gilmartin & Sean O'Leary) find themselves pushed beyond the limit, yet the Robinsons zap away in perfect style clear on port such that.........Photo: W M Nixon

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.....one minute after the start they're totally out on their own, sailing in clear air. Photo: W M Nixon

So the scene was set, with the community in the attractive village – on a good day it's the Tipperary Riviera - and the members in the bustling clubhouse all together on message. And there, wonderful as ever, was the lake, ready for it and astonishingly beautiful as only Lough Derg can be, particularly in a week when the changeable weather gave it a new brightness of sunlight and a welcome freshness after the choking and often windless heat of most of July. For although the Irish championship which started the regatta had occasional lack of wind pressure, for the Worlds it was a dream scenario with sailing at its best.

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A rainsquall sweeps across, blotting out the Clare Hills, but on the run the Robinsons have reinforced their lead. Photo: Gerardine Wisdom

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In the thick of it, running before Thursday's squall, are Tiarnan Dickson & Alex Leech (Lough Ree YC, white spinnaker), Jack Maye & Sarah White (Sligo YC, blue spinnaker), and Jack Ryan & Ben Graf (70636, Lough Ree YC). Photo: Gerardine Wisdom.

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Second start on Day 2, and some folk think the port end is still favoured.......... Photo: W M Nixon

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....but it isn't. Joshua Muller & Daniel Coetzer of South Africa hit it on the gun travelling well.........Photo: W M Nixon

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......and at first things are looking good for Muller and Coetzer. Photo: W M Nixon

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Close behind, there's a merry bunch, with Emilio Williams Doran & Michaal Broaders (70288) put astray by a starboard rush. Photo: W M Nixon

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Reality has intervened for Muller & Coetzer as boats stategically better placed at the start take over their apparent lead - in this case it's Jeremy and Lauren Stephens doing the business. Photo: W M Nixon

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The fleet came from seven nations, and here Eoin Hickey & Sadbh Culleton of Ireland lead from Viktor Hogbom & Malin Goransson of Sweden and Howard Leoto & Pakamani Yoko of South Africa. Photo: W M Nixon

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An Irish sailing memory to cherish – Lough Derg at its most handsome as David & Timothy Pilbeam (Australia), lead from Simon & Sidonia Barwood (Australia), Mark & Duncan Hawksworth (South Africa), George O'Connor & Aaron Rogers (Ireland), Robert Blake & Jack Fahey (Ireland), and Ben & Gabe Hill (GB).
Photo: W M Nixon

Seize the day, seize the moment – this was all very special. My own observation point was from Reggie Goodbody's gaff sloop Amaryllis, which is yet another Lough Derg curiosity, as her hull was built in Italy, then the boat was finished in Holland. But now she is such a ubiquitous feature of all Ireland's inland waterways that she's believed to be the only boat which has crossed the M50 under sail – she did it on the Royal Canal aqueduct.

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The only boat ever to cross Dublin's M50 under sail – Reggie Goodbody's Amaryllis in her home port of Dromineer. Photo: W M Nixon

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Calling it a day. Senior Canadian crew Donovan Alp and Daniel Coady return to Dromineer.......Photo: W M Nixon

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.....only to find that their allocated berth has been taken over by a family of swans.......Photo: W M Nixon

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....but Canadians are good at peace-making and the swans move on......Photo: W M Nixon

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....to a more appropriate berth beside the Shannon ODs, while out on the lake, racing has finished for the day as the wind freshens still further. Photo: W M Nixon

Amaryllis's hefty nature meant we couldn't mix it in the heat of the fleet with the proper photographers' RIBs, but we got the flavour of it, and more particularly we were comfortably back in time for the post-sailing atmosphere in Dromineer. Thus we saw senior crew Donovan Alp and Daniel Coady from Canada making their early return to find a very strong looking family of swans had taken up residence on the Canadian's allocated berth. Somehow, it was sorted out (Canadians are good at peace-making), and the swans re-located to a suitable spot beside the Shannon One Designs. while out on the lake the day's racing was signalled as over, and the fleet cascaded back to shore.

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Mirrors everywhere as the fleet cascades back into port. Photo: W M Nixon

By this time, I was so Mirror mesmerized that I'd got to the stage of thinking any boat with a pointy bow and white sails was an oddity. Normality had become a boat with a bluff little hull and red sails, sailed by people who race for fun. And Dromineer is the ideal spot for them. After racing at a saltwater venue, you have all the hassle of washing down boat, gear, sails and crew with fresh water. But that simply doesn't come up on the agenda in Dromineer. It's a sweet spot.

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Post race Dromineer. At the end of the day, there's no tedious requirement for washing off the salt. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in W M Nixon

#first21 – It's all so very 21st Century. The growth and development of this new Dublin Bay One Design has been healthily organic. And it hasn't been imposed from above – there's none of your old-fashioned de haut en bas here. Nor has it been dreamt up in some winter committee meeting by people with more notions than practical experience. On the contrary, it has developed at grass roots level, out of a genuine need, in an impeccably people-friendly way. And perhaps best of all, it involves a high level of re-cycling. For although this "new" boat perfectly fits the contemporary Irish sailing zeitgeist, the design has been around for 20 years. So making a new class out of it simply involves fulfilling the true potential of attractive little boats which have been just waiting to blossom since 1993.

Not that the First 211 was ignored when she made her debut back in the day. I can recall being utterly charmed aboard an early version in a Dublin Boat Show (remember them?) a long time ago. We old salts were particularly taken with the cute little porthole in the topsides, like a traditional little Edwardian cruising cutter, all made more charming by knowing the boat was designed by Groupe Finot and had drawn on the experience gained with Figaro Solo boats and Open 60s in order to produce a compact trailerable family cruiser with attitude.

But at the time the little boat made her debut, the Celtic Tiger was starting to flex his muscles. So the small-scale charms of the First 211 were overlooked in a mad rush for size and shine. Not that you couldn't get a deep shine on the boat's quality Beneteau hull, but you know what I mean. Yet for people with a particular set of sailing needs, the design has always neatly met their requirements, and today in its various forms, it is fulfilling many roles, including being the newest one design class in Dublin Bay.

It has come together in a diffident sort of way, and though they've had racing in the bay as a class for a year or so, next month's Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta will mark their debut as an official class on the national scene. There are 14 entries, made up mostly of local boats, but with a couple coming from the thriving class on Lake Windermere, plus another from Tralee Bay And there's one gallant boat from north of the Liffey, Brian Stewart's Mon Reve based at Malahide, where a summer evening's club race this week provided the opportunity to taste and test what is shaping up to be the new Dublin Bay 21.

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Happy man. Brian Stewart on a perfect summer evening in Malahide with his First 21 Mon Reve, and some good club racing in prospect.
Photo: W M Nixon

The designs of Jean Marie Finot first came to prominence in the late 1960s when he won the Quarter Ton Worlds with a boat which went on to become the 26ft Ecume de Mer in the production version. The Ecumes defined the early Finot style, and they're a super little boat, well worth restoring if you happen to come across one needing TLC. Admittedly some minor flaws may have appeared over time, but they're all eminently fixable.

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The 26ft Ecume de Mer of 1969 was hugely successful in launching Jean Marie Finot's international design career. And she really could sleep five adults in port.

Back in those days, the Sisk family of Dublin had a very successful Sparkman & Stephens 36ft sloop, Sarnia, an Italian-built version of the Swan 36 – she's still in Dun Laoghaire, and had a fine restoration job done a few years ago. But in 1969 Hal Sisk happened to see one of the earliest Ecumes de Mer at the Genoa Boat Show, and he also met up with Finot. Somehow he persuaded the rest of the family that they should have a very special 30ft aluminium offshore racer to the latest Finot designs to take every possible advantage of the new International Offshore Rule.

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"Naked as a jaybird". The 30ft Finot-designed Alouette de Mer was totally unpainted when she arrived in Dun Laoghaire by road in July 1971 – and she stayed that way for her first season. Photo: Hal Sisk

Alouette de Mer was built in a factory near Le Bourget airport in Paris, and arrived in Ireland ready for sea in every way except that she was totally unpainted. The Sisks had been persuaded with irrefutable French logic that it wasn't necessary, so she went newly afloat in July 1971 naked as a jaybird, and won her first race, and many thereafter. I can remember racing against her that year, but it wasn't until a late July evening when were sailing gently through the moorings in Dun Laoghaire, and saw Alouette de Mer on her moorings among more traditional boats, that the utter starkness of her appearance really registered.

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Spooky prescience - section of a page of the Seascape column in Irish Yachting & Motorboating, August 1971.

Nearby, Dun Laoghaire's most senior skipper James McAsey was quietly gliding along in his 1894-built gaff cutter Peggy Bawn, which he'd owned since 1919. It may well have been his last season sailing her. But many years were to elapse before Hal Sisk rescued Peggy Bawn from mummification to become a star of the international classic yacht circuit. At the time, Afloat magazine was known as Irish Yachting & Motorboating, and in the August 1971 issue, in a general column called Seascape, we published photos of the two boats and contrasted them. It certainly was some sort of weird prescience, even a bit spooky.

Subsequently, Alouette was painted red, but it didn't stop her winning. Though she wasn't the prettiest girl on the block, she was remarkably comfortable to be aboard, particularly in the cockpit - a Finot characteristic also found in the Ecume de Mer. Alouette personified racing enthusiasm, so when the Sisks decided that they had done enough for the cutting edge, and moved to the more traditional elegance of the 43ft Standfast designed by Frans Maas, Alouette went to Cork and the ownership of Hugh Coveney, who'd a great time sailing her with Harry Cudmore, before they in turn moved on to the new Ron Holland One Tonner Golden Apple.

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In those days, genoas were ENORMOUS – Alouette de Mer going well in her second season in Sisk ownership. The cockpit was notably comfortable. Photo courtesy Hal Sisk

The next Finot design to make any significant impact in Ireland was the Fastnet 34 built in Limerick, probably the roomiest performance 34-footer ever built. You'll still see them around – Derek and Viv White's 1976-built Ballyclaire in Strangford Creek is a well-loved example. But with French sailing becoming turbo-powered by the 1980s, the Finot design office moved on from being a one man band to become a substantial organization, Groupe Finot, and their work expanded into some very big racing machines. Yet they still could produce very sensible smaller boats when asked, and the First 25 of the mid-1980s is an excellent example.

So when the Beneteau organization focussed its attention on a new trailer sailer for the early 1990s, it was to Groupe Finot that they turned for innovation and fresh thinking generally. You get an impressive package with the First 21. She has twin rudders, which makes a lot of sense for ease of steering in any beamy boat with the beam carried well aft. But in this case there's a bonus, for when the lifting keel is raised the depth of the rudders is such that the boat stands upright, supported by the rudders.

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The plans of the First 21 show an effective rig, while the twin rudders keep the boat upright when dried out on the raised keel.

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The accommodation packs in as much as possible in a performance 21-footer.

For most sailors, twin rudders and a lifting keel provide enough innovation to be going along with, so when I joined Brian and his crew of Kieran the tactician and Zenda the trimmer and Derek the bowman on an evening when Malahide was like San Diego only better, the workings of these features was of prime interest.

The keel stays down permanently. It's held down by a strut which will give way if you biff a rock, but is vastly superior to having a weighted centreboard which solely relies on gravity to stay down. Replacing the strut mechanism is not cheap if you indulge in impactive pilotage, but it's much less costly than major hull repairs at the upper aft end of the keel.

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The keel is raised by 57 turns of a winch handle inserted in the socket at the top of the keel housing. Photo: W M Nixon

The keel is raised by 57 turns of a winch handle, so if the significant other in your life happens to acquire a First 21, you can get him or her one of those battery powered winch handles as a Christmas present. It will only need to be re-charged once in the season, as the boat is effectively a keelboat when in commission. But particularly in the Dublin context of limited and expensive waterfront boat storage space, the First 21 has the very attractive option of end-of-season trailerability and ease of getting her home if you happen to have space there. Brian Stewart lives in Castleknock, and it's only a morning's work to get Mon Reve onto the trailer and back to the house for free winter storage.

As for broadening the scope of sailing, Ireland's improved roads have brought West Cork comfortably into his summer sailing plans. That said, the boat is only just over 21ft long, and while she has very comfortable sitting headroom and is well thought out within her size limitations, and can at a pinch sleep four, this really is a boat only for enthusiasts to cruise in liveaboard style, but if you limit yourself to day sailing in your chosen area, she does very well indeed for general use by varied levels of sailing interest.

Auxiliary power is provided by an outboard, and much as we all may dislike the look of an outboard hanging out of the stern of an otherwise attractive boat, you get used to it and it's very convenient. Plus when you're racing you only look astern if you're leading the fleet, which greatly offsets the outboard's jarring visual intrusion.

While the functional appeal of twin rudders is obvious, the fact that inter-connecting them to a single tiller involves several links inevitably causes a certain amount of play in the steering. That said, I'm told some of the Dun Laoghaire hotshots have already worked out ways of reducing this play to virtually nothing, but it requires perfect setting of the tracking.

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The development of the First 21 class in Dublin Bay has greatly increased the knowledge and skills to make these attractive little boats perform even better Photo: David O'Brien

Mon Reve sets a very nice set of threads made in Malahide by Philip Watson, and they did sterling service in a cruiser race in which the smallness of the fleet was more than offset by its variety. In a pleasant southeast breeze racing a windward-leeward, we were the smallest boat in conditions which were bound to suit the fastest, as the upwind leg was against the last of the flood, while the ebb was building as we ran back to the finish.

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Brian and Kieran limbering up for the start Photo: W M Nixon

The enemy consisted of J/24, a Bolero 25, a Corby 25 and a Kelt 850. It makes you realize just how much of a compact cruiser a First 21 is when you realise these all seemed like big bullies. But Mon Reve punched above her weight. With Brian on the helm and Kieran calling the shots and keeping up a constant commentary on speed fluctuations, we gave it a good shot. As visiting ballast, I moved about the cabin sole, as it's crucial to trim to heel her such that you keep the lee rudder vertical at the very least, and ideally heeled a little. It was no hardship down below – you really can keep an eye on things through those ditzy little portholes in the hull topsides.

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The enemy through the porthole – the J/24 eventually won. Photo: W M Nixon

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This was as near as the much larger Kelt 850 got to Mon Reve Photo: W M Nixon

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The skipper concentrates with the Kelt 850 nicely tucked away Photo: W M Nixon

We were fourth round the weather mark, having seen off the Kelt 850, and then things got exciting. Far from collapsing, the evening breeze kept up strength, sweet and warm. Up ahead, the Bolero 25, having sailed a blinder of a beat to lead at the weather mark, blew it all with eccentric spinnaker work and let the J/24 through. With the tide building against us, first to finish was going to win on handicap, and both the J/24 and the Bolero were to have us on handicap by a minute or two.

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The Corby 25 had an idea about going off to starboard on the run, but it wasn't a winner and it brought Mon Reve into the hunt for a close finish. Photo: W M Nixon

But we'd a real tussle with the Corby 25. They went off on starboard gybe presumably to position themselves better across the increasing foul tide towards the finish line. But we found the groove on port, and made hay with a private air. If you look at the plans, you'll see the First 21 has quite a decently tall rig, and it worked a treat on Wednesday evening, with spinnaker and mainsail in harmony. The Corby finally got it together to scrape across ten seconds ahead, but Mon Reve was a very solid third on corrected time, and we'd had a lovely sail on an evening when no-one had expected the breeze to hold up.

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Happy boat, happy crew – Mon Reve back in her berth in Malahide Marina Photo: W M Nixon

So the First 21 is much more than just a clever trailer-sailer. She's a super little club racer, and she'll provide a fine one design class in Dublin Bay. And not just there, either. While Mon Reve and her friendly crew may have to go to Dun Laoghaire for a bit of level racing in a fortnight's time, it seems to me that Malahide would make the perfect centre for another nucleus of First 21s racing regularly as a class. They're one very likeable little boat, and Malahide needs a class like this.

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They're gearing up for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta's first series for the First 21 class – Mon Reve's keen crew are (left to right) Derek the bowman, Brian the VRO, Kieran the tactician, and Zenda the trimmer. Photo: W M Nixon

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Published in W M Nixon

#oga50 – It's not the boats that are the marina manager's nightmare. It's the bowsprits. That said, the boats themselves, with their long old keels and huge propellor apertures, or even with funny little props set under the quarter – these boats can be problematic. With configurations like this, you can bet for sure they can be awkward enough to manoeuvre. And handling them in confined spaces, you need a masters degree in prop crawl.

Yet that is still something to which normal boaties can relate. But then you throw in a bowsprit as big as a telegraph pole, pointing into everywhere it isn't wanted like a snouty mongrel, then you really do have a problem in a confined harbour normally used by shiny little boats that can spin in their own length, and stop within seconds of engaging in astern.

All of which goes to explain why the Old Gaffers Association, celebrating its Golden Jubilee with a Round Britain challenge with a couple of diversions to Ireland, has tended to focus on major ports with long pontoons and longer quays for its main gatherings. In Britain the festivities are sponsored by Associated British Ports, while in Ireland it has been Dublin Port and Belfast Harbour who have put out the welcome mats. So the fleet came to Dublin Bay from May 31st to June 4th to be hosted by the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Associations through the generous hospitality of Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club, and Dublin Port gave it all a fine fair wind.

The Old Gaffers Association was founded at Heybridge Basin beside the characterful little port of Maldon in Essex in 1963 to "preserve interest in, and encourage development of Gaff Rig, and to participate in the maintenance of our maritime heritage". Over the years, as some good Bermudan rig boats have matured, the gaff-rig-only line has been softened to include them, and the membership now even includes people with plastic boats.

The Golden Jubilee cruise – a season-long rolling event, with boats joining and leaving as they please - got under way from Maldon on April 21st 2013 in a very modest sort of way with just three boats initially participating, and only two of them – the 1898-built 31ft cutter Witch (Alistair Randall, originally built as the ferry to Gigha in Scotland) and the ferro-cement gaff-rigged take on a John Hannah design of 1924, the 37ft Bonify (Sue Lewis & Howard Wheelton) – planning to go the whole way round.

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Bonify (red hull) is one of the two boats which started the complete circuit from Essex rolling on April 21st. She is seen here at Poolbeg Y & BC as the Howth 17s start to arrive in port on Saturday June 1st. Photo: W M Nixon

But in their charm and individuality, Witch and Bonify symbolize the eclectic nature of the Old Gaffers Association, which cheerfully embraces all the odd old boats and eccentric owners that other organisations don't reach. And in their progress round the southeast of England, they were soon linking up with a a strong Dutch contingent which included craft as diverse as Rik Janssen's mighty Galway Hooker Cine Mara (superbly built in steel) and F J Schotman's exquisite little Lyle Hess-designed 28-footer Raven.

Gradually the fleet increased as the OGA50 made its way down the English Channel. But the vile weather of May hampered their progress, and few made it to a planned meet in the Isles of Scilly. However, despite headwinds a core group got round Land's End and across to Milford Haven, their numbers by now including 73-year-old Barbara Runnalls from Sussex gallantly sailing alone on the 23ft gaff cutter Moon River.

After days of adverse northerly gales in Milford Haven, the end of May finally signalled the start of something approaching summer, and they went north to Holyhead and a warm welcome from the local branch of the OGA. There too was Joe Pennington who had earlier sailed down from the Isle of Man singlehanded in his handsome big traditional cutter Master Frank, the only surviving Manx longline sailing fishing boat. On being congratulated on his achievement, Joe replied that when you've a Force 8 up your tail, there's no turning back...

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The Manx fishing boat Master Frank was sailed single-handed by Joe Pennington from Peel to Holyhead in a northerly gale to join the OGA50 Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

Through the last week of May, boats were converging on Dublin Bay from all corners of the Irish Sea, and in Howth the 115-year old classics of the Howth 17 class were in a flurry of activity to overcome the delays in re-fitting caused by the exceptionally cold Spring, as they were to race in the River Liffey between the bridges in the heart of Dublin on Sunday June 2nd as part of the maritime festival which would be a highlight of the OGA's visit.

The Howth fleet were joined on Thursday May 30th by the 36ft 1912-built yawl Ainmara (Dickie Gomes, Strangford Lough) which had scampered down from Strangford in a nor'wester which, downwind of the Mountains of Mourne, had been at the top end of Force 7. The old lady was on a busy programme, as she was designed and built by the great John B Kearney at Ringsnend in Dublin in 1912, and would be re-visiting her birthplace of 101 years ago for the first time in 90 years.

But during the time John Kearney owned her from 1912 to 1923, Ainmara had been overall winner of Howth's famous annual Lambay Race in 1921, so this had to be celebrated at Howth Yacht Club with an onboard party which had the old yawl well down on her marks. By the time it was over, Dickie Gomes had been assured by the Flag Officers that if he could see his way to staying on for this year's Lambay Race (it's on today), then HYC would make sure Ainmara won it again. But alas, as Ainmara was built in the same year as the Titanic but has survived rather better, this weekend she's berthed in Belfast at the Titanic Centre to play a central role in the OGA's visit to the northern port.

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The 101 year old Ainmara in Howth on May 30th to recall her overall win in the 1921 Lambay Race Photo: W M Nixon

Meanwhile, back around Dublin Bay, she still wasn't allowed to go straight home to Ringsend, as John Kearney's latter days from 1946 to 1967 saw him as an honoured Rear Commodore of the National YC in Dun Laoghaire. So on Friday May 31st under full sail to jib topsail, she progressed across Dublin Bay helmed by Pierce Purcell of Galway, whose late father was Commodore of the National YC from 1946 to 1948, when he owned the very attractive 35ft Kearney yawl Sonia.

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Pierce Purcell of Galway at Ainmara's helm in Dublin Bay – he crossed Ireland for the opportunity to sail a Kearney boat like his father used to own. Photo: W M Nixon

Sonia is now in Canada, but helming Ainmara across Dublin Bay was the next best thing. The Galway man brought Ainmara to the Dun Laoghaire harbourmouth nicely on time to be met by two of the Dublin Bay Mermaids (designed by John Kearney in 1932), which escorted the old yawl to the visitors berth at the National YC where Commodore Paul Barrington headed up his members in a welcome which was superb even by the National's notably high standards, with the club flagpole dressed overall and the signal JBK on the staff.

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"The old lady is ready to race". Ainmara poised at the pontoon at the National while her welcome party proceeds apace in the clubhouse. Photo: W M Nixon

The first sailing highpoint in the OGA visit to Dublin was to be a race on Saturday June 1st for the RMS Leinster Plate, newly presented by the Communication Workers Union to honour all those who were lost when the mailboat Leinster was sunk by German torpedoes at the Kish Lighthouse in the final months of World War I, and in particular the 21 postal workers who died in the ship's mail sorting room. The plan was to have a race which would retrace at least part of the Leinster's fateful route towards the Kish from Dun Laoghaire, but Race Officer John Alvey of Poolbeg Y & BC couldn't finalise the course for guaranteed finish at a reasonable time in mid-afternoon until early Saturday morning.

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It's the only way to fly. Afloat's David O'Brien with Dickie Gomes and crewman Brian Law after he'd conveyed them at record speed to the early morning Skippers' Briefing at Poolbeg Y & BC Photo: W M Nixon

So the Skippers' Briefing was at Poolbeg at 0800 hrs, with race start scheduled for Scotsmans Bay at 1100. This could have presented a logistics problem for Ainmara's crew already berthed in Dun Laoghaire, but fortunately nice Mr O'Brien from Afloat.ie turned up in the early morning with his fine Red Bay RIB, and they were delivered to the briefing and back again at speeds well north of 30 knots, also enjoying the first of many fine breakfasts supplied by Kate and her excellent catering team at Poolbeg.

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DBOGA Hon. Sec. Sean Walsh's heard 28 Tir na nOg had a good weekend of it, with a third on the Saturday and a first on Monday. Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

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The Lyle Hess 28 Raven from The Netherlands had a fine race on Saturday, finishing second overall. Photo: Barry O'Loughlin
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Master Frank (Joe Pennington) was to lead at the North Burford Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

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Ainmara starting to emerge from the pack Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

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Dutch competition – the little Raven shows the big Cine Mara the way Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

As the forecast was for the brisk west wind to go light by mid-afternoon, the course went no further seaward than the North Burford Buoy. The reaching start was lively with some very long bowsprits pointing every which way and travelling at high speed, but everyone emerged still more or less intact and at the North Burford Joe Pennington's mighty Master Frank – her crew including longtime Galway Hooker/Arctic hand Paddy Barry – was in the lead. But Ainmara, having got herself into the hunt by sending up her jib topsail as the breeze eased, was settling into the groove and revelling in conditions that might have been made for her. She was clear ahead by the next turn at the Rosbeg East, and though the final leg from Rosbeg South to a finish at Drumleck was tricky as the tide was by now sluicing eastward across it to make it a challenging beat. But thanks to the party in the National YC the night before, Ainmara had Mermaid National Champion Jonathan O'Rourke as guest helm. He sailed the old Kearney yawl so well she had a very clear handicap win after taking line honours by a country mile.

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Sean Walsh's Tir na nOg and Paul Holden's Chick Pea battling it out. Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

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Ainmara getting into her stride. Soon afterwards she hoisted her jib topsail, and was gone Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

While DBOGA Honorary Secretary Sean Walsh had a cracker of a race with his Heard 28 Tir na nOg, his crew including OGA National President Mike Shaw, when the numbers were crunched it was the lovely little Raven from Makkum in The Netherlands which took second, with Tir na nOg third. The top ten corrected time placings for the Leinster Plate give a useful overview of the widespread nature of the OGA Fleet:

Leinster Plate 2013 1st Ainmara (36ft yawl 1912, Richard Gomes, Strangford Lough) 01:45:39, 2nd Raven (Hess 28, F J Schotmann, Makkum, Netherlands) 01:54:26; 3rd Tir na nOg (Heard 28, Sean Walsh, Poolbeg) 01:55:56; 4th Verve (37ft Arthur Robb yawl, 1964, Brian Comerford, Dun Laoghaire) 02:07:15; 5th Master Frank (Manx Longliner, 1896, Joe Pennington, Isle of Man) 02:13:13; 6th Mona (Cornish Crabber, Denis Aylmer, Dun Laoghaire) 02:27:17; 7th High Barbaree (34ft Cornish Pilot Cutter, Tim & Liz Dodwell, Buckler's Hard, Hampshire, England) 02:27:46; 8th Chickpea (30ft Victorian cutter, Paul Holden, Howth) 02:28:39; 9th Cine Mara (42ft Galway Hooker, Rik Janssen, Schermer, Netherlands) 02:54:59; 10th Alice (Cornish Crabber, Mark Lynch, Howth) 02:56:59.

As the main fleet were finishing in the Leinster Plate, the Howth 17s were already making their way into Dublin Bay on their delivery race from Howth. In fact, two had arrived well in advance of the rest. These were Harriette Lynch's Echo and Ian Malcolm's Aura, which had come round to Dublin Bay hoping to do the Leinster Plate race. But having been late for the start, they strung along with the fleet nevertheless, and then when their doughty skippers and crews saw that the fleet clearly weren't going round the Kish as had been suggested months ago, they simply sailed their little boats out to the lonely lighthouse on their own, and having sailed round (it's in fine order, but smelling mightily of unconstipated seabirds) they sailed back again in plenty of time – despite a two-and-a-half hour beat in from the Kish - to join the party at Poolbeg. seabirds) they sailed back again in plenty of time to join the party at Poolbeg.

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The successful circumnavigator of North America, Andrew Wilkes and Maire Breathnach's 44ft steel-built gaff yawl Young Larry, comes into Poolbeg to join the party. Photo: W M Nixon

And what a party it was, rounded out by the presentation of the Leinster Salver to Dickie Gomes of Ainmara. Most of the Old Gaffers, having sailed so far to get to Dublin Bay, had never intended to go straight out again for a race. So for those of us arriving in late on Saturday afternoon to join the fleet for the first time, the effect of the crazy kaleidoscope of boats – everything from Rachel Leech's 64ft Tjalk Ebenhaezer brought across Ireland via the Grand Canal from Athlone, right down to the 12ft Droleen dinghy from Bray – was electric.

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Here they come – the first of the Howth 17s arrive at Poolbeg after a race fom their home port had ended in a dead heat between three boats. Photo: W M Nixon

And then the main fleet of the Howth 17s arrived, tacking up the river with jackyard topsails set. Somebody should have put up a trophy for their delivery race from Howth to the entrance to Dublin Port, for it was an epic sail in itself, much of it against the tide. With the distance to be sailed, it was assumed that a clear leader would have emerged by the time they reached the finish, so they had no-one at the end of the Bull Wall to time them in. It says everything about the spirit of the class that the three leaders were so close coming into the river that the Howth 17 Howth-Poolbeg Race 2013 has been declared a dead heat between Deilginis (Massey syndicate), Oona (Peter Courtney), and Rita (John Curley & Marcus Lynch).

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Rita (1) and Deilginis (11) dead heated at the finish of Saturday's race from Howth, and they each won a race on Sunday.
Photo: W M Nixon

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Rita (1) and Oona, the third boat in the dead heat in Saturday's race. Photo: W M Nixon

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Looking every inch a classic, Brian & Conor Turvey's Howth 17 Isobel turns elegantly to windward in the Liffey. Photo: W M Nixon

The Saturday night saw the Poolbeg complex a hive of socializing with boat talk and boat visiting and all the usual things that sailors get up to in port. We've already given a hint of the variety of boats, but the gathering in Poolbeg also included serious stuff like the mighty 55ft Annabel-J (Philip Cogdell), authentically built in 1995 with inspiration from classic Bristol Channel Pilot cutters, and the hugely impressive 44ft steel gaff yawl Young Larry (Andrew Wilkes and Maire Breathnach), which last year completed an extraordinary cicumnavigation of North Amrica, having transitted the Northwest Passage in one season.

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Through the bridge. The big pilot cutter Annabel-J and a trio of Howth 17s heading for the Eastlink. Photo: W M Nixon

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The fleet's in town – the two boats right foreground are the white 31ft cutter Witch (built 1898) and the 25ft Marguerite (built 1896). Photo: W M Nixon

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History in the making - Howth 17s and the lone Bray Droleen in the heart of the city Photo: W M Nixon

With boats like that all in the one place, you could have spent a week in detailed examinations. But soon enough it was Sunday morning, and at 1100 hrs the entire fleet passed through the raised Eastlink Bridge for a good-natured raft-up along the quays and up to the MV Cill Airne (the restaurant boat), aboard which Dublin Bay OGA President Tim Magennis was over-seeing commentary duties during a hectic day which included two in-river races by Howth 17s, a crazy and wonderful maritime ballet by Dublin Port's state-of-the-art multiple movement tugs, the Shackleton and the Beaufort, there were informal parades by all sorts of craft including an authentic currach with an even more authentic piper, then too there was Yoshe the famous old gaffer dog from the Netherlands in his little dinghy powered by a vintage Seagull outboard, a Sikorski helicopter from air sea rescue put in an appearance, and somewhere in the middle of it all the Howth 17s put in two races in very light conditions which made it like a sort of waterborne mystery play, but they still got two good sets of results even if the wind died before they could sail a final race.

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There was a very close river race between Marcus Lynch sailing Rita (1) and Davy Jones sailing Eileen (16) Photo: W M Nixon

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Deilginis (Team Massey) won the second river race. Photo: W M Nixon

So it was announced that instead of having to make do with only one winner, they were ahead of the game – they'd finished the day with two champions. The first heat was really close, with Rita (Marcus Lynch and John Curley) staving off repeated challenges by Eileen sailed by Davy Jones and George Curley, with Conor & Brian Turvey in Isobel placing third. The other heat, in even flukier conditions, saw the Massey team in Deilginis come from nowhere by working a private air along the north side of the river (they're Northsiders of course) to take a clear lead from Peter Courtney in Oona, with Silver Moon, sailed by Windsor Laudan and Steph Ennis, placing third.

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Senior sailors. Tim Magennis (President DBOGA, right) congratulates Dickie Gomes, skipper of Ainmara and winner of the Leinster Plate 2013, aboard the Cill Airne during the riverfest. Photo: W M Nixon

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Dublin Port's state-of-the-art tugboats gave a fantastic display Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

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Old Gaffer pooch Koshe sailed to Dublin from The Netherlands, and toured the Liffey with his vintage Seagull outboard.
Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

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Sails in the city Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

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Water music, Liffey style Photo: W M Nixon

Needless to say when the Eastlink Bridge lifted again at mid-afternoon, despite highfalutin plans for a parade of sail everyone seemed to try leaving at once, but fortunately good humour prevailed on all sides. Invitably with the nature of a project like the Round Britain Challenge, some boats were already starting to think of moving on towards the next major gathering at Belfast this weeknd. And not surprisingly in a crowd of gadgeteers like the Old Gaffers, there were those for whom the siren call of the Isle of Man at TT time was just too good to resist.

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When the Eastlink lifted, everyone tried to leave at once, but there were no bumps. 64ft Ebenhaezer from Athlone (foreground) had the sense to wait. Photo: Barry O'Loughlin

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Winding down – summer evening at Poolbeg Photo: W M Nixon

Through the Sunday night, boats were quietly slipping away from the convivial throng at Poolbeg to head northeast for Peel under the Manx hills, and petrolhead heaven. But for others, it was a matter of gentle morning departure, after fulsome thanks to the kind hosts and wonderful hospitality of Poolbeg, away for a gentle and very sunny Bank Holiday Monday rounding of the Baily with Annabel J and Ainmara together, the big pilot cutter on a very leisurely progress for the first day with a new crew, planning a stop for lunch at Lambay and an overnight at Skerries, while the old yawl, her prizes secure, went on past the roseate terns rampant at Rockabill, and fetched up that night comfortably in Ardglass.

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Quiet day at sea – Annabel-J on passage towards Lambay on Bank Holiday Monday Photo: W M Nixon

But for some really keen Old Gaffer sailors, Bank Holiday Monday in Dublin Bay meant the first race for the Asgard Trophy, created by conservator John Kearon from bits saved from the saving of Erskine Childers' Asgard up in Collins Barracks. With the high pressure system well settled on Ireland, it was into the afternoon before there was a hint of a breeze, but the fleet had waited in patience, and they got a race and a result.

This time round, it was Tir na nOg's turn to take the prize by 63 seconds from Denis Aylmer's Mona, which means that over the two races of OGA50 racing in Dublin, Sean Walsh's cutter is the overall winner. He certainly deserves it – the quiet but steady effort as DBOGA Honorary Secretary that Sean put in over the winter to bring it all together made for a fantastic time for everyone.

Asgard Trophy 2013 1st Tir na nOg (Sean Walsh, Poolbeg) 00:52:11; 2nd Mona (Denis Aylmer, Dun Laoghaire) 00:53:14; 3rd Verve (Brian Comerford, Dun Laoghaire), 00:53:48; 4th Dreva (1936 34ft gaff cutter, Joe Ormond, North Wales) 00:54:53; 5th Marguerite (1896 25ft gaff cutter, owned Tim Magennis Dun Laoghaire, sailed Sean Cullen) 00:57:03.

This weekend, the fleet are well gathered in the new Belfast Harbour Marina right beside the extraordinary Titanic Belfast centre, close to the newly-restored ship Nomadic, the "miniature Titanic". She is so newly re-commissioned that tonight's OGA50 party on board is the first official function on Nomadic in decades. And then the fleet heads on, some to return directly to their home ports, others to continue the circuit via the Caledonian Canal, and others like Annabel-J making a real job of it by going north to the Shetlands before finally shaping their course southwards to many hospitable ports before the OGA50 Challenge reaches its conclusion with a mighty gathering in Cowes in mid-August.

We enjoyed our new friendships made at Poolbeg in the glorious first weekend of June. Now we'll follow their summer-long progress with special interest, these lovely people with their long bowsprits, their weird and wonderful boats, and their engaging enthusiasm.

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Where is everyone? Ainmara was one of the first to reach Belfast, and is seen here berthed at the new Titanic Belfast centre on Tuesday evening. The OGA50 party continues there tonight. Photo: W M Nixon

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Published in W M Nixon

#oga – In testing conditions on Dublin Bay, one of its own took line honours in yesterday's inaugural Leinster Trophy race on Dublin Bay. The 36ft yawl Ainmara built by John Kearney in Ringsend in 1912 and campaigned by Dickie Gomes of Strangford Lough took the race over a round Dublin Bay course of eight miles.

Upwards of ten boats participated in the first race of the Old Gaffers Association's 50th anniversary this bank holiday weekend, hosted by the Poolbeg Yacht Club, part of a necklace of events in the Round Britain Challenge to mark the association's 50th anniversary.

The 36ft–yawl Ainmara, immaculately restored by Gomes, marked her return to Dublin bay waters last Friday when she sailed back to the National Yacht Club, her first return in 90 years. Gomes with crew Brian Law and Afloat's W M Nixon were welcomed by another Kearney design, the Dublin Bay Mermaid at the harbour mouth and escorted to her East Pier berth, for an evening of celebration at the club house where Kearney was a former flag officer. 

For more on the legacy of John Kearney read WM Nixon's blog and for more of the Old Gaffers click here.

Published in Historic Boats

#irishmaritimehistory –  It was a life which would have been remarkable by any standards, in any place, at any time. But in the Dublin of its era, this was a life of astonishing achievement against all the odds, in a rigidly structured society made even more conservative by a time of global unrest and national upheaval.

John Breslin Kearney (1879-1967) was born of a longshore family in the heart of Ringsend in Dublin, the eldest of four sons in a small house in Thorncastle Street. The crowded old houses backed onto the foreshore along the River Dodder in a relationship with the muddy inlet which was so intimate that at times of exceptional tidal surges, any ground floor rooms were at risk of flooding.

But at four of the houses, it enabled the back yards to be extended to become the boatyards of Foley, Murphy, Kearney and Smith. Other houses on Thorncastle Street provided space for riverside sail lofts, marine blacksmith workshops, traditional ropeworks, and all the other long-established specialist trades which served the needs of fishing boats, and the small vessels - rowed and sailed - with which the hobblers raced out into Dublin Bay and beyond to provide pilotage services for incoming ships. And increasingly, as Dublin acquired a growing middle class with the burgeoning wealth of the long Victorian era, the little boatyards along the Dodder also looked after the needs of the boats of the new breed of recreational summer sailors.

The young John Kearney was particularly interested in this aspect of activity at his father's boatyard, where he worked during time away from school. From an early age, he developed a natural ability as a boat and yacht designer, absorbing correspondence courses and testing his skills from 1897 onwards, when he designed and built his first 15ft sailing dinghy, aged just 18.

He was apprenticed in boat-building to Dublin Port & Docks across the river, qualifying as a master shipwright. But his talents were such that he rose to the top in all the areas of the port which required the designing and making of specialised structures, some of them very large. So in addition to building workboats of all sizes, he played a key role in projects like the new pile lighthouse at the North Bull, for which he developed support legs threaded like giant corkscrews, and rotated into the seabed like monster coachbolts.

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Murphy's Boatyard on the Dodder in Ringsend in the rare old times is perfectly captured in this woodcut by Harry Kernoff RHA. It was all disappeared in 1954, when the old houses of Thorncastle Street were replaced by a complex of Corporation flats of such good quality that they have recently had a major refurbishment.

He also pioneered the use of reinforced concrete for pre-fabricated harbour constructions, and when the Great War broke out in 1914, his special talents and experience were called upon to advise on quick-build ferrocement structures of all kinds. Although Ireland remained neutral as World War II broke out in 1939, the Dublin engineering firm of Smith and Pearson established a yard in Warrenpoint just across the border to build concrete barges and small ships for war work, and John Kearney was their consultant.

So far-reaching was his input into developing the infrastructure of Dublin port that when he retired in 1944, while his official title was as Superintendent of Construction Works, he was de facto the Harbour Engineer. But he couldn't be properly acknowledged as such, because he had never qualified from a third level college - it was far from universities that the Kearneys of Ringsend were reared.

However, this lack of an official title left him unfazed, for his retirement at the age of 65 meant he could concentrate full-time on his parallel career as a yacht designer, something that was so important to him that when his gravestone was erected in Glasnevin in 1967, it simply stated: John Kearney, Yacht Designer.

He had developed his skills in this area ever since his first boat in 1897. In 1901, when he was still 21, a 17ft clinker-built canoe yawl, the Satanella which Kearney designed and built for noted Dublin Bay sailor Pat Walsh, was praised in the London yachting press. Her owner camping-cruised this little boat successfully along the great rivers of Europe before World War 1, getting there simply by sailing his canoe from Dun Laoghaire into Dublin Docks, and striking a shipping deal with whichever ship's captain was heading for a port on the desired river.

Kearney had been busy for the ensuing nine years with his growing responsibilities in Dublin Port. But in 1910 he reserved a corner of Murphy's Yard, and in the next eighteen months, working in his spare time entirely by hand with the light of oil lamps, he built his first personal dreamship, the 36ft gaff yawl Ainmara, to his own design. In this his first proper yacht, he immediately achieved the Kearney hallmark of a handsome hull which looks good from any angle, a seakindly boat which was gentle with her crew yet had that priceless ability of the good cruising yacht – she could effortlessly maintain a respectable average speed over many miles while sailing the high seas in comfort.

Built in straightforward style of pitchpine planking on oak, Ainmara was highly regarded, and though the world was at war for four of the ten years John Kearney owned her, when he could sail his preferred cruising ground was Scotland. She was no slouch on the race course either. Her skipper became a member of Howth Sailing Club in 1920, and HSC's annual Lambay Race became a Kearney speciality, his first recorded overall win being in 1921 when, in a breezy race, Ainmara won the cruisers by one-and-a-half minutes.

Despite the turmoils of Ireland's War of Independence and Civil War, in the early 1920s John Kearney's position with the Port & Docks had become so secure that in 1923 he felt sufficiently confident to sell Ainmara in order to clear the way to build himself a new boat, the superb 38ft yawl Mavis, which was launched in July 1925. He was to own, cruise and race her with great success for nearly thirty years, by which time he was a pillar of the Dun Laoghaire sailing establishment – he'd a house in Monkstown, and had become Rear Commodore of the National Yacht Club, a position he held until his death in 1967.

Even with the demands of his work, and the continuing attention needed to run a yacht of the calibre of Mavis, he had found the time to design and sometimes also build other yachts of many types. What he didn't seem to have time for was simple domesticity. In later years his presence was enough to command respect, but in his vigorous younger days he could be waspish, to say the least, and a brief attempt at marriage was not a success.

Sibling relationships were also sometimes tense. Two of his brothers were boatbuilders and one of them, Jem, was almost always daggers-drawn with John. And Jem Kearney had regular battles with others, too. He was a classic Dublin character, and no stranger to salmon netting on the Liffey in circumstances of questionable legality. If one of these expeditions had been spectacularly successful, he would erupt triumphantly back into his family's little house on the East Wall Road and announce: "Pack you bags, Mrs Kearney, we're off to stay in the Gresham!" And he meant it, too. Mr & Mrs Jem Kearney of the East Wall Road became resident in the Gresham Hotel until the salmon money ran out.

So when he was building Mavis, John Kearney would only work with his brother Tom, and they were a fantastic team. But even that didn't last. One November night, working away at planking the hull, they took a break for a mug of tea at 9.30pm, and couldn't find the sugar. Each blamed the other for its absence. The row was seismic. The following night, each turned up with his own personal supply of tea, milk and sugar. And the work continued as smoothly as ever. But not one single word was exchanged between the two brothers for the remaining eight months of the project. It was years before they spoke again.

Quite what this meant when Mavis launched herself on St Stephens Day 1924 we can only guess. Like Ainmara eleven years earlier, Mavis could only be accommodated in Murphy's shed by being built in a large trench, and an exceptional Spring tide on December 26th 1924 saw her unplanned flotation. There was no damage done, but history doesn't record whether it was John and Tom who sorted the problem together despite not saying a word.

The immaculate Mavis made an immediate and successful impact, and Skipper Kearney and his beloved gaff yawl were honoured guests at regattas all along the east coast. While continuing to work full time for the Port & Docks, he kept up the spare-time yacht-building, but after the experiences with Mavis, when a regular Kearney crewmember, Billy Blood-Smyth, commissisoned a new 35ft gaff yawl from the skipper, it was client and designer who had to work together in the familiar corner of Murphy's yard to build the boat which became Sonia, launched in 1929.

Irish sailing was in a very quiet phase through the 1930s. Just about the only expanding organization was the Irish Cruising Club, and naturally John B Kearney and Mavis were on the first membership list in 1930, with Mavis a regular competitor in its offshore races, with a notable victory in the stormy 1935 race to the Isle of Man, a performance which won special praise from another participant, Humphrey Barton who was to found the Ocean Cruising Club 19 years later.

mavisclyde

Mavis coming into port after winning the Clyde Cruising Club's annual Tobermory Race in 1938. Club rules at the time stipulated that as proper cruising yachts, the competing boats should tow their tenders throughout this race. Much effort went into designing sweet-lined dinghies.

Mavis also was overall winner of the Clyde Cruising Club's Tobermory Race in 1938. But while his own sailing was going splendidly, John Kearney was concerned at the sluggish state of sailing development in Ireland. In order to give younger people an opportunity to own their own boat, in 1932 he created the design for the 17ft Mermaid, a large clinker-built sailing dinghy which was designed to be constructed for around £180 - roughly the same price as a motorbike. The Mermaid was adopted by Dublin Bay SC, but it took a long time to gain momentum, and it wasn't until the late 1940s and early 1950s that it became the most popular class in the greater Dublin area. It is still active today with nearly 200 boats built, and more than 40 took part in its 80th Anniversary championship last summer in Skerries, the winner being Jonathan O'Rourke from the National YC,while the furthest travelled was Patrick Boardman's Thumbalina from Rush, which had started from Foynes on the Shannon Estuary, home to the most distant Mermaid fleet, and had – most impressively - sailed all the way round the south coast to Skerries to mark the 80th birthday.

mermaid

The Mermaid was designed in 1932 to be built at the same price as the average motor-bike

With his retirement in 1944, John Kearney's design work came centre stage, and he was busy to the end, creating more than 20 cruising yachts in all. And life in Monkstown was pleasant. Over the door of the room where he did his design work, he'd a little motto on a brass plate: "God gives us our relatives. Thank God we can choose our friends". His close friends were all from sailing, and it was a crew member who had joined Mavis in 1946, the formidable Miss Douglas, who became his friend and housekeeper and looked after him to the end of his long and remarkable life.

jbkearney

John Kearney, aged 83, working at the drawings of his last design, the 54ft yawl Helen of Howth Photo: Tom Hudson

sonia

Sonia, built 1929, cruising in British Columbia, her home waters since 1958 Photo: Jeff Graham

John Kearney's entire life is in its way a great legacy, and his fine boats are his tangible memorials. They've ventured to the far corners of the world. For instance, the 30ft Evora, a lovely Bermudan yawl which he designed for building by Skinner's of Baltimore in 1936, was last reported from Darwin in Australia. The pretty Sonia of 1929 is well at home these days in British Columbia. And as for Mavis, the crème de la crème, she is currently undergoing a painstaking restoration in Maine by shipwright Ron Hawkins, who is very encouraged by the amount of original material he is able to retain.

mavis2

Ron Hawkins in Mavis at an early stage of his restoration project Photo: Hal Sisk

mavis3

Ron Hawkins has been much encouraged by the amount of original material he has been able to retain in restoring Mavis Photo: Denise Pukas

John Kearney's first proper yacht, the 9-tonner Ainmara from 1912, has been owned for 47 years by former Round Ireland record holder Dickie Gomes of Strangford Lough. Last year, she celebrated her Centenary with a cruise to the Outer Hebrides. This year - next week in fact - she hopes to be in Dublin Bay for the Old Gaffers Association Golden Jubilee. And as it will be at Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club, Ainmara will be back home in Ringsend for the first time in 90 years, and John Breslin Kearney will be well remembered, and celebrated too.

ainmara

Still going strong. Dickie Gomes is the happy owner aboard Ainmara, which will be returning to Ringsend next week 101 years after she was built there to his own designs by John B Kearney Photo: W M Nixon

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

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