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Galway Bay Lambs Week Cruise Succeeds With Block Bookings

25th August 2021
God's Own Country, as seen from a satellite above Connemara and Galway Bay. While the three Aran Islands provide some shelter from the Atlantic, this is still a challenging area in which to organise a cruise-in-company and a couple of offshore races for a fleet of 46 boats
God's Own Country, as seen from a satellite above Connemara and Galway Bay. While the three Aran Islands provide some shelter from the Atlantic, this is still a challenging area in which to organise a cruise-in-company and a couple of offshore races for a fleet of 46 boats

With an impressive and eclectic fleet of 46 boats from West Coast ports which ranged from Clew Bay to the north to Kilrush in the Shannon Estuary to the south - in addition to the many harbours and anchorages within Galway Bay itself - last weekend's five day Lambs Week Cruise organised by Galway Bay Sailing Club took full advantage of the improving weather to take in Rossaveal, Kilronan on Inishmor in the Aran Islands, and Roundstone, the very essence of Connemara.

The theme of the five-day Lamb's Week – which began with most boats assembling at Rossaveal Marina on the Thursday evening – was accessibility, and the willing provision of encouragement for the less-experienced.

But one of the challenges in organizing a heavily-subscribed Cruise-in-Company of this nature in a very special place like the greater Galway Bay area is that while the number of very useful marinas at strategic ports is increasing, the number of pontoon berths available for visitors – even with rafting-up – is limited, and extra boats will have to find secure moorings, or rely on their own anchors.

It's one very complicated piece of coastline, but in experienced company it becomes a cruising paradiseIt's one very complicated piece of coastline, but in experienced company it becomes a cruising paradise

Any proper cruising boat should of course have adequate ground tackle. However, the problem of confined space in the best anchorages – often with established moorings cluttering the sea-bed - together with the rich proliferation of seaweed, means that your anchor can become irretrievably fouled, or else it doesn't take hold at all as it sits on a bed of kelp.

GBSC came up with a solution of breath-taking simplicity. They made a batch of concrete mooring blocks at their Renville base near Oranmore at the head of the Bay, and with the skilled services of Ocean Crest Marine, they'd a complete set of these additional reliable moorings in place when the first of the fleet arrived in Aran through Friday afternoon and evening with a race from Rossaveal in a brisk sou'wester which experienced the last of the Cruise's serious rain.

Problem: Shortage of Visitors' Moorings? Solution: Galway Bay SC simply made their own, and sent them on ahead of the fleet.Problem: Shortage of Visitors' Moorings? Solution: Galway Bay SC simply made their own, and sent them on ahead of the fleet.

Rossaveal was the assembly port for a diverse fleet – this is the Contessa 32 of Gillian Flattery and Blair Stannaway ready for the off.Rossaveal was the assembly port for a diverse fleet – this is the Contessa 32 of Frankie Leonard ready for the off.

Kilronan became the fleet base throughout Saturday and into Sunday morning (it will be the location for WIORA Week 2023), and with such numbers in port, it seemed natural to provide a race right round the Aran Islands for those with the need for a further spot of competition, though some thought they'd done quite enough racing with Friday's windward slog.

The pontoon-berthed section of the fleet in Kilronan. Photo: Declan DooleyThe quayside-berthed section of the fleet in Kilronan. Photo: Declan Dooley

Racing the Atlantic during Lamb's Week, Aaron O'Reily's Kondon Buntz in foreground.Racing the Atlantic during Lamb's Week, Aaron O'Reily's Kondon Buntz in foreground.

Twenty-one boats of all shapes and sizes – in other words, nearly half of the fleet – took on the challenge in a sunny 18 knots westerly, the highlight being the spectacular sight of the Cliffs of Moher as they made the southerly turn of the circuit at Finnis Rock. To add to the sport, it had been made a pursuit race, with the first boat – Patrick McCarthy's Snapper – getting away at 11:00 hrs, while the Queen of the Fleet, Tomas Furey's speedy big Rhodocar, was held back until 11:44.

Winning style – Mark Wilson's Scorpio sweeps along to a close victoryWinning style – Mark Wilson's Scorpio sweeps along to a close victory

First to finish – and winner of the King of Lambs Trophy – was Mark Wilson's Sigma 33 Scorpio from GBSC. But if anything it's the handicapper, Fergal Lyons, who deserves a Gold Medal at the very least, as Scorpio at 14:16:53 crossed the final line only 30 seconds ahead of Jackie Cronin's Jimmy Burn from Kilrush, which in turn was five seconds ahead of Conor Owens' Sealion (GBSC), while only one second behind that in fourth was Stephen O'Gorman's Green Monkey (GBSC).

Brothers Conor and Fergal Lyons aboard Out of the Blue. It was Fergal who produced the exceptionally well-judged handicaps.Brothers Conor and Fergal Lyons aboard Out of the Blue. It was Fergal who produced the exceptionally well-judged handicaps.

This was pursuit racing at its very best, as their starting times had been Scorpio: 11:23; Jimmy Burn: 11:33; Sealion: 11:14; and Green Monkey 11:42. It was superb sport which greatly impressed the Aran Islanders, and set the tone for a boisterous night in Kilronan. Yet they still managed to be underway in a reasonably timely manner on the Sunday morning for the calm hop northwestward to Roundstone, one of the Connacht coast's great cruising passages as it involves a rewarding mixture of open ocean sailing and reasonably intricate pilotage to conclude in a little port which rates highly on any discerning cruising person's dream list.

There was time for a lunchtime break and swims and shore visits at MacDara's Island – GBSC Commodore John Shorten likened the procession of the fleet to a miniature of the approaches to the Suez Canal – before going on into the embrace of Roundstone, with the partying ashore rounded out by a barbecue in the Village Hall, following which the overnight fog was successfully negotiated by Martin the ever-helpful unofficial Roundstone harbourmaster to ensure that everyone got safely back to the right boat.

Part of the fleet in RoundstonePart of the fleet in Roundstone
They brought the summer back with them – sunset at the return to RossavealThey brought the summer back with them – sunset at the return to Rossaveal

The morning brought total summer with bright sunshine and the temperature pushing towards 25 degrees as the majority headed back towards Rossaveal, while others had longer passages north and south after a hugely successful event which will be remembered as one of the highlights of the 2021 season on the west coast.

As ever with an event of this kind, there were many movers and shakers and volunteers involved, but if you suggested that John Shorten and Cormac Mac Donncha in particular - and the likes of Pierce Purcell and others - had something to do with this remarkable happening, you wouldn't be far off target.

The King of Lambs – Mark Wilson's Sigma 33 Scorpio was crewed by Cian Conroy, Cronan Quirke, Damian Burke, Aoife Macken, and Iso.The King of Lambs – Mark Wilson's Sigma 33 Scorpio was crewed by Cian Conroy, Cronan Quirke, Damian Burke, Aoife Macken, and Iso.

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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Lambs Week Regatta on Galway Bay

With a theme of accessibility, Lambs Week was devised to celebrate the unique sailing grounds of the West of Ireland. 

It comprises five days of sailing around Galway Bay and the Aran Islands.

Big boats, small boats, fast boats and slow boats are all welcome.

The fleet, which totalled 46 for the first edition in 2021, takes in three beautiful harbours of Ros aMhil, Cil Ronain and Cloch naRon, each keen to offer a warm welcome to the competing sailors. 

Organisers Galway Bay Sailing Club match similarly rated boats to see who can get the best out of the conditions for a 'Sail in Company'.  A Pursuit Challenge around the islands for both competitive and non-competitive boats is also held.

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