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Ocean Cruising Club’s “Get-You-Home” Nerve Centre on Clew Bay Recalls Club’s Irish Links

20th May 2020
The ketch Danu leaving harbour in Antigua, homeward bound for Galway Bay with 12-year-old Lillian serenading from the foredeck The ketch Danu leaving harbour in Antigua, homeward bound for Galway Bay with 12-year-old Lillian serenading from the foredeck Photo: Peter Whatley

At Port Aleria on Clew Bay in Mayo, Alex and Daria Blackwell can see their Bowman 57 ketch Aleria when she’s on her moorings off their house. But at the moment, their minds are often elsewhere, as Daria is Vice Commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club, whose many voyaging members worldwide have sometimes been finding themselves on the wrong side of local Covid-19 Lockdowns.

Helping them to plot a route home, or at least to a more friendly environment, has been entrusted to the Vice Commodore and her husband-shipmate. Thus Port Aleria has become a nerve-centre for passage planning and monitoring for a wide variety of craft from many nationalities in a large number of locations. And one of them has been Danu, the Kinvara-based 39ft steel ketch which is currently on a Transatlantic circuit cruise with Vera Quinlan, her husband Peter Owens, and their two children Lillian (12) and Ruari (10).

Their dream cruise was beginning to take on several aspects of a nightmare, as some of the Caribbean islands imposed local hyper-strict lockdowns. But the crew of Danu are a notably resourceful and good-humoured foursome, and even in situations which others might have found maddeningly frustrating, they managed to make the best of it to add to their rich store of experiences. Eventually, they found their way to Antigua, which was one of the assembly points for a flotilla of OCC boats due to leave for Europe at much the same time from several islands.

There was further frustration with a lack of wind for some days, and with the need to conserve fuel and use sail as much as possible over what might be a 4,000 mile voyage - though with the possibility of a pit stop at the Azores – patience was need until the breeze filled in. When it did, they finally got away on Saturday in company with Peter Whatley’s La Boheme. Their patience is rewarded, as Danu is currently making good progress under sail in the right direction three days after departure.

Meanwhile, ocean voyagers everywhere are either trying to do the same thing, or are watching to keep an eye on how others are doing, and a couple from Northern Ireland, Kevin & Susie Harris with the 1993 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 47 Temptress of Down (originally Laragh based at Crosshaven), have been negotiating tricky waters as they draw towards the final stages of their global circumnavigation, which started in 2013.

TemptressThe much-travelled Sun Odyssey 47 Temptress of Down was Crosshaven-based when new in 1993.
“Final stages” is a very relative term when you’re cruising round the world, for in the case for Temptress and her crew, it has involved how best to get from Sri Lanka into European waters. The situation in the Middle East is so volatile that the Ocean Cruising Club are reluctant to advise going there, but the prospect of the long haul down round South Africa seemed equally unappealing, so Kevin and Susie kept with their plan of simply going for it through the notoriously windy Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

From time to time, yacht convoys get formed to transit these potentially hazardous areas in the hope of finding safety in numbers. But like circumnavigators Pat and Oliva Murphy of Howth with Aldebaran in 2007, the Harrises found themselves on their own, and just went for it despite the added problems of the spread of Covid-19.

Fortune favoured the brave, and they were through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean by May 2nd. After replenishing stores and resting up in Crete, where they were provided with generous supplies of welcome fresh produce by the neighbourhood farmers, Temptress and her crew are now in mainland Greece at Missolonghi (yes, Byron’s Missolonghi) with the country and its minimal Coronavirus infection rate rapidly emerging from lockdown.

Meanwhile, the Ocean Cruising Club’s support network is a reminder that the club was founded in 1954 by Humphrey Barton (1900-1980), who was very active in the Irish Cruising Club when he was working in Belfast as a consulting engineer in the 1930s. He continued to maintain these ICC links, and today the OCC has a significant Irish membership, with the Vice Commodore Daria Blackwell based in Clew Bay, while the OCC Roving Rear Commodore (Baltic) is Andrew Curtain of the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire.

The OCC Atlantic Fleet are in this Wind Prediction Tracker here

Published in Cruising
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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