Many Afloat.ie readers will go into Dublin as a matter of course five days a week as commuters. But that only gives a street-bound and narrow view of the city. It’s a different and fascinating place when you come in up the river. And when the bridges have been specially opened so that you can go all the way into the heart of town on the Liffey right up to the historic Customs House, it’s like a journey through the past with exciting glimpses of what the future may bring as the building industry starts to come back to life. W M Nixon reports on the weekend’s Cruising Association of Ireland Rally, which brought around three dozen boats of all shapes and sizes from many ports together to celebrate friendship, seafaring and the city.
They certainly kept themselves busy with this year’s annual Liffey Cruise of the CAI. With support from the City Council and Dublin Port, Rally Organiser John Leahy had put together a programme which maximised their time in the river, while providing enough opportunities to demonstrate manoeuvring skills in a variety of situations where breakdowns or misjudgements could easily have caused the expensive sound of breaking fibreglass.
It was a wonderful time to be in the city, for although the gentle Autumn day provided only the most occasional little flashes of sunshine, a gentle easterly breeze enabled the more enthusiastic to set gennakers or even spinnakers as they ran along a waterfront which is a bewildering mixture of the new and the half-built and the derelict, while the river itself was alive with kayaks and other small craft, suggesting that at last Dubliners are beginning to appreciate that there’s much more to the Liffey than simply being the separation zone between the civilized northsiders and the barbarous hordes lurking to the south of the watery divide.
On top of all this, the handsome German Tall Ship Gorch Fock was in port for an extended stay, and it had been arranged for the CAI to have their own dedicated and extended visit on board, arranged by Michael Byrne of Sail Training Ireland. As a bonus, close ahead of the Gorch Fock along the South Quays was the large expedition yacht Turmoil, a vessel of fascination in many ways. For she’s perfectly proportioned in the classic style of a trawler yacht, yet when you look at her for a minute it suddenly strikes you that she is actually all of four storeys high - as Jehan Ashmore of this parish pointed out recently, she is in fact as big as the new ships of the Irish Naval Service.
Contrasting styles – the unmistakable Gorch Fock, and ahead of her the workmanlike expedition yacht Turmoil. Photo: W M Nixon
Getting into the spirit of it all – Hair Raiser under downwind sail past the Dublin Conference Centre. Photo: W M Nixon
It takes quite a bit of arranging to ensure that a fleet of boats can get this far up the river to the Customs House, where all tastes in architecture are catered for, and there’s the opened Sean O’Casey bridge to negotiate too. Photo: W M Nixon
As it happens, there just wouldn’t have been time to have a proper visit to the Turmoil even if it could have been arranged, as the plan was through the East-Link at 3.0pm and then on past the opened Sam Beckett bridge and the opened Sean O’Casey pedestrian bridge beyond it for a grand circle and salute at the Customs House with an encouraging number of spectators, and then back downriver for rafting up at the pontoon at the Point Depot. It sounds simple enough, but numbers berthing were such that everyone was at least doubled up, and there were many trios.
All comfortably and sociably berthed up with never a bother. Photo: W M Nixon
Floating on air? Opening and closing the Sam Beckett Bridge proved to be a real tourist attraction. Photo: W M Nixon
However, it was high water, so the old city was looking its best, while for those watching from the shore, the ultimate attraction was in the closing of the two rotating bridges, the Calatrava-designed Sam Beckett being a particular marvel. It’s a big boy’s toy and then some, and a very international group of visitors to Dublin watched fascinated as this wonderful piece of moving sculpture slipped neatly back into place with great precision.
Meanwhile the fleet had slipped into its places with equal precision, but there was little enough time to relax with inter-boat visits and the usual boat banter, as the programme on the Gorch Fock was to get under way at 5.0pm, so suddenly John Leahy and CAI Commodore Clifford Brown were making themselves scarce with the announcement that they had to get across the river to finalise details with the Captain of the Gorch Foch, which is certainly a fine and important thing to be doing of a Saturday afternoon when half the country is no more than couch potatoes watching a rugby match.
Rally Organiser John Leahy (left) with CAI Commodore Clifford Brown, Denis Woods, and CAI Webmaster Simon Parker. Photo: W M Nixon
Advance guard. The CAI’s reconnaissance group take a quick lift across the Liffey to finalise arrangements with the Captain of the Gorch Fock. Photo: W M Nixon
Yet as anyone who has walked the quays of Dublin will know, suddenly it will seem a very long and footsore distance to get from the Point Depot round to the Tall Ships’ preferred berth. But the CAI are crazy like foxes - they’d secured the use of a big RIB waterbus, other RIBs were available, and getting across to breathe in the atmosphere of the great age of sail aboard Germany’s finest was an easy and convenient business.
The trouble is when you’re enjoying yourself time flies, and before anyone knew it, time had come to get on the party frocks and get along to the culminating assembly, complete with hog roast, on board the restaurant boat Cill Airne, where Captain Nils Brandt of the Gorch Foch and several of his crew and trainees were their guests.
Presentation of CAI flags and ensigns to Captain Nils Brandt and crew of the Gorch Foch by CAI Commodore Cifford Brown with (on left) John Leahy, Rally Organiser, and Charlie Murphy of Dublin Port who organised the many successful river arrangements. Photo: Aidan Coughlan
In all, a busy day, but the weather held up. However, when they took their departure back to sea out through the Eastlink at noon on Sunday, there was rain on the way if it hadn’t already arrived, but there never was any difficult wind, so everyone got neatly home.
And if all this seems like no more than lightly-structured wandering by a group of boats looking for something to do, nothing could be further from the truth. It was a diverse fleet with hundreds of thousands of far-ranging miles under their many keels.
Pat Murphy with his son Shane was there with the much-travelled Aldebaran, and though Pat’s much-loved shipmate Olivia has passed on since the last rally in September 2014, Aldebaran’s gallant presence was an eloquent reminder of the tremendous 9-year voyage round the world they made together. And at the other end of the offshore sailing spectrum, a Rolex Fastnet Race 2015 flag flew proudly from a forestay in the middle of the fleet.
The world-girdling Aldebaran heads up-river past the Cill Airne. Photo: W M Nixon
Still looking as good as new. Alan Rountree’s 20-year-old Tallulah, which he completed himself from a bare hull, heads downriver past the Jeanie Johnston. Photo: W M Nixon
Then during the parade in the river, there was the opportunity to admire again the wonderful job Alan Rountree completed twenty years ago when, up at his workshop in the Wicklow Hills, he finished the job of building his Legend 34 Tallulah from a bare hull. He did it so well she still looks like new, despite the fact that he has cruised tens of thousands of miles with her, some to distinctly northern latitudes and remote places, and many single-handed.
So it may have looked like nothing more than a gathering of like-minded yachties in search of a bit of fun. But they’ve certainly earned it, and their celebration of cruising matched their achievements.