Cruising is the side of sailing which sometimes finds it difficult to make its voice heard. Its essence is in the quiet enjoyment of seafaring and the peace of secluded anchorages. Unlike the absolute clarity of racing results, which create their own noise and are energised by a sense of competition with others, cruising folk are in competition mainly with themselves, and with their own self-reliant ability to see a voyaging venture brought to a successful conclusion. W M Nixon takes us through a weekend which is cruising-oriented, and concludes tomorrow with a celebration at the home port of Irish cruising’s most legendary figure.
In previewing the prospects for the sailing season of 2017 a couple of months ago, we suggested that it would be The Year of the Everyday Sailor. For inevitably, 2016 was a year of the high profile happenings featuring superstars, events such as the Volvo Round Ireland Race from Wicklow, the KBC Laser Radial Youth Worlds in Dun Laoghaire, and the absolute peak in Rio de Janeiro, Annalise Murphy’s Olympic Silver Medal.
But 2017 sees a total change of emphasis. With a clear two or three years before the 2020 Olympics start to come up the public agenda again, it’s time to savour and enjoy the sort of sailing most of us do all the time. Local events, neighbourhood regattas, regional offshore and club racing, and that most indefinable of all waterborne activities - cruising.
Last night in Dublin, the Irish Cruising Club held its Annual General Meeting and Prize Giving in which the logs of outstanding cruises – activities which usually stay well under the radar – were given full recognition.
Today in Cork, the Irish Sailing Association/Cruising Association of Ireland Annual Cruising Conference is being staged, and it has attracted so much interest that the venue has had to be moved to larger premises than originally planned. As last night’s ICC AGM was a distinctly crowded affair too, clearly the interest in cruising is stronger than ever. But quite how many have managed to attend both events we won’t know until this morning, yet it’s just about possible with a bit of early morning discipline.
Then tomorrow, the focus swings northwestward from Cork to Foynes on the Shannon Estuary, where a Family Day from 2.30pm to 5.30 pm sees a celebration of Foynes Yacht Club becoming the new Volvo ISA Training Centre of the Year, with ISA President David Lovegrove doing the honours for a club which is the very essence of voluntary enthusiasm and community spirit.
Of course, many of the 200 or so young people who emerge from the Foynes Yacht Club Sailing Academy hope to go on to the highest level of racing success. But equally, they will find their talents in sailing much appreciated aboard keenly-sailed cruising boats. And the club has a solid record in offshore racing, with FYC’s Simon McGibney the current Commodore of the Irish Cruiser Racing Association, while father-and-son team Derek and Conor Dillon from Listowel have sailed their Dehler 34 under the Foynes colours to win the two-handed division in the Round Ireland Race.
And then beyond that, Foynes was home port to the great Conor O’Brien (1880-1952) of 1923-1925 Round the World fame. He lived out his final days on Foynes Island, and is buried in the nearby churchyard, but the recently-confirmed plans to build a replica of his famous 40ft ketch Saoirse in her 1922 birthplace of Baltimore will draw further favourable attention to everything that Foynes has done, and is doing, for Irish sailing – racing and cruising alike.
It’s all interconnected, for when the Irish Cruising Club was formed in Glengarriff on Bantry Bay on 13th July 1929, one of the first things they did was make Conor O’Brien an honorary member, and the first time I saw the noted portrait of Conor O’Brien sketched by his wife Kitty Clausen, it was in Foynes YC more than a few years ago..
So last night’s ICC post-AGM dinner was well peopled with friendly ghosts, but as well it was a celebration of some really remarkable cruises on every scale. Then too, it marked two significant changes of the watch with Peter Killen of Malahide, who led by example with his Amel Super Maramu 54 ketch Pure Magic seemingly always on the move, retiring as Commodore to see the to post go north to Stanton Adair of Belfast Lough, a long-serving committee member and flag officer who will be leading his members in the ICC Cruise-in-Company to the Galician Rias of Northwest Spain this summer in his well-travelled Beneteau Oceanis 43 Grand Cru.
However, while Commodores and other top officers may be the public face of the ICC, the strength of the club is in its voluntarily-produced publications, with Honorary Editors who between them keep the two volumes of Sailing Directions for the entire Irish coast up to date with notable rigour, and produce an Annual journal of the club’s cruising logs.
Norman Kean of Courtmacsherry is very much in charge of the Sailing Directions which are publicly available, and he’ll be one of the keynote speakers at today’s conference in Cork. But in their way the logs in all their rich variety in the Annual can be every bit as informative, particularly as the club is now so far-ranging that its members can be found cruising on most of the planet’s oceans.
Here, there has been another change of the watch, with Ed Wheeler from he north producing his final and as ever excellent Annual to cover the 2016 season, and after four years he hands over to noted sailor/musician/writer Maire Breathnach of Dungarvan. Or at least she’s from Dungarvan and she spends about a third of her time there, but as she’s married to another formidable voyager, Andrew Wilkes of Lymington on the south coast of England, they spend about a third of their time there, where - with other Irish ex-Pats - they’ve created a sort of West Hampshire Gaeltacht.
However, the remaining third of their time is maybe most interesting of all, as its spent aboard their gorgeous 55ft gaff cutter Annabelle J, which they bought about 18 months ago to replace their steel gaff yawl Young Larry, with which they’d transitted the Northwest Passage.
The 1996 steel-built Annabelle J first entered Irish maritime consciousness during her previous ownership in 2013, when she was undoubtedly the Queen of the Fleet during the Old Gaffers Golden Jubilee Cruise-in-Company, which took in both Dublin and Belfast. However, if you’ve progressed along the waterfront in Waterford recently, you’ll see her there near Reginald’s Tower, berthed just ahead of the Sail Training ketch Brian Boru, for she’s simply too big to fit into the handy little pool just below the bridge in Dungarvan which Young Larry used to make her winter home.
Although she’s “only” 55ft long in overall hull length, Annabel J is 66ft from nose to tail with spars included, and she speaks “ship” rather than “yacht”. The basic design was by David Cox completed by Gary Mitchell and she was constructed by shipbuilders A & P of Appledore in Devon. Yet while they admit to Bristol Pilot Cutter influence on her design, the original owners made no direct claims for this, but the fact is that she’s such a strikingly handsome vessel that it’s difficult not to see her as the definitive modern version of a pilot cutter, even if she’s larger than most of the original Bristol Channel boats.
For Maire and Andrew, taking on such a vessel was a leap in the dark until they could be confident they could handle her with just the two on board, but a cruise of Ireland’s west coast to Donegal and back in 2016 – including a transit of the Joyce Sound pass inside Slyne Head – showed them they could manage her both in confined waters and at sea, so for 2017 the far horizons call.
However, for 2017 there’s also the additional challenge that Annabel J is now editorial headquarters for the most important annual record of Irish cruising achievement, but her crew being aces in the communications business, they’ll take it all in their stride even if Ed Wheeler has left a very high standard to maintain.
For his final edition of the Annual, the adjudicator for 2016’s logs was former Commodore Cormac McHenry, himself a Transatlantic veteran, and although the ICC now has an enormous selection of trophies to highlight various specialities of achievement, nevertheless he had to by-pass some very notable cruises in order to make his final selection.
The ICC’s premier trophy, dating back to 1931, is the Faulkner Cup, and its latest award is to Daragh Nagle, a member based in Victoria on Canada’s west coast, from where he cruises extensively with his wife Cathy and others in his 1987-built Moody 376 Chantey V.
Chantey V’s 2016 cruise was from San Salvador on the Pacific Coast of Central America northwest along the Mexican coast to the long inlet of the Sea of Cortez, followed by the big ocean hop to the Hawaii Islands, before heading eastward back to Canada.
For the long haul out to the islands, he recruited Portuguese-based ICC member John Duggan as first mate, a role he filled with added diligence as he also obligingly wrote up the log of that stage of the voyage – other first mates please note. And as his skipper was unable to collect the Faulkner Cup last night in person as he is at a family wedding in Malaysia, John Duggan was in Dublin last night to do it for him.
His views on the Pacific between West Coast America and Hawaii were interesting. He says it may seem Pacific after you’ve battled your way round Cape Horn, but by comparison with his usual Atlantic stomping grounds, it seemed an oddly unsettled area of water, with twitchy little waves patterns running every which way.
In fact, the going was so jerky at times that Chantey V broke her baby stay. The word from riggers is that the shorter the stay, the less able it is to absorb sudden snatches in loading. But whatever caused it, Darren Nagle spent a few hours getting well bruised at the lower spreaders before he’s rigged a satsfactory temporary baby stay to the stemhead to keep the rig in place for the rest of the voyage. By the time Chantey V got back to Victoria, this cruise totalled 7,858 miles for 2016, and just under 25,000 miles since they started their North America circuit three years ago.
As it happens, the Strangford Cup for an alterative best cruise goes to a venture which John Duggan has done a couple of times with his own 40-footer Hecuba, from the Iberian peninsula out to the Azores and then cruise in detail before returning to Spain or Portugal. In 2016 this very Atlantic cruise was undertaken by Seamus OConnor with his new Hallberg Rassy 42, and with three weeks in the Azores, he produced a mass of interesting information in addition to obviously enjoying himself, which is really what cruising is supposed to be all about.
Enjoyment takes many forms, yet cruising to northeast Greenland would not be many people’s first choice. But Brian Black of Strangford Lough finds he’s drawn back there seemingly year after year in his fairly standard 1985-built Trident Voyager Seafra. He writes of it in such an unassuming yet elegant way that his cruise first to the Faeroes then eastward of Iceland to Ittoqqortoormiit in northeast Greenland (it’s just south of the latitude of Jan Mayen) wins him the Wild Goose Cup for a log of real literary merit, and in it he finds the time to tell us of gig racing in the Faeroes and a visit to his favourite Arctic anchorage of Jyttes Havn.
The sun may have shone for Seafra in Jyttes Havn, but far to the southwest in Labrador, Neil Hegarty and his shipmates on the Dufour 34 Shelduck found the weather classic Grand Banks cold and foggy as they readied their Dufour 34 Shelduck for a rugged but efficient passage to Baltimore in West Cork via Newfoundland to complete a three year Atlantic circuit which has been already been garlanded with awards, and now adds the Atlantic Trophy to its laurels.
Even the briefest summary of the other main awards doesnl’t do them justice, but it gives some idea of the ICC’s level of activity:
Fortnight Cup: Best cruise within 16 days, Adrian & Maeve bell of Strangford Lough in the Baltic with their Arcona 430 Oisin Ban.
Round Ireland Cup: Donal Walsh of Dungarvan with his newly-acquired Ovni 385 Lady Belle. Thanks to his new boat’s lifting keel, not only was he able to explore shallow ports seldom visited such as Belmullet and Donegal town, but the fact that an Ovni is well able for seafaring meant he made St Kilda part of a round Ireland cruise while he was at it.
Fingal Cup: for the log which the judge most enjoyed goes most deservedly to Peter Fernie of Galway for a cruise round Ireland with co-owner Dave Whitehead in the Moody 27 Mystic. At least, it was basically round Ireland, but they also took part in the RUYC 150th Anniversary Cruise-in-Company with the ICC and the Clyde Cruising Club to Tobermorey, so through the minimum round Ireland circuit is 704 miles, the little Mystic had logged 1,228 miles by the time she got back to Kinvara.
Despite its many global adventures, the West Coast of Scotland still figures large in ICC activity, and it has its own trophy, the Wybrants Cup, awarded in 2016 to Robin & Denise Wright for a Hebridean jaunt including St Kilda in their 12m Jeanneau Geronimo.
And the charms of the Irish coast aren’t forgotten, they have their own Glengarriff Trophy, and most approoriately for 216 it goes to the new Annual Editor Maire Breathnach for her account of the mighty Annabel J’s stately progress up and down the Atlantic seaboard.
In fact, the Annabel J is the largest of the award winners this time round, and despite her traditional appearance, she’s also one of the newest. So anyone who has an image of the ICC as large glossy new yachts tearing about the ocean is somewhat mistaken, and the club makes a point of honouring its relatively humble origins with the Marie Trophy for the best cruise by any boat under 30ft. It celebrates the little 1893-built gaff cutter Marie which was the first awardee of the Faulkner Cup way back in 1931, and 85 years later, the Marie Trophy goes to Conor O’Byrne for his cruise from Gaway to the cruising paradise of southwest Ireland in the 1986-built Sadler 26 Calico Jack.
It says everything about the ICC’s breadth of achievement that the awards are only the tip of an iceberg of seagoing coasting and island-hopping variety. One particularly notable cruise which didn’t get any nod of special recognition was from Galway Bay to Russia by Fergus and Katherine Quinlan with their own-built van de Stadt 12 metre steel cutter Pylades, a wonderfully detailed account of many countries which contrasts very vividly with their previous big venture, a voyage round the world.
But then that world circuit saw Pylades being awarded the Faulkner Cup three years on the trot, so maybe there’s room for a new trophy “For A Cruise Which Is As Different As Possible From The Same Vessel’s Previous Award-winning Cruise”.
And then there’s no award for a cruise which provides photos which best capture the sprit of a cruising area, but for 2016 it would have gone to Paul Newport of Howth, whose cruise his wife Fiona to the Hebrides with the Najad 332 Puffin Eile was not only a gem of its type, but he brought back a couple of photos which make the place live for the rest of us.
The more dramatic is taken into the sun at Cragaig Bay on the island of Ulva west of Mull, with the distinctive Dutchman’s Cap island in the distance. In the foreground are four cruising yachts, all lying to their own anchors in the approved manner, all at a distance from each other which is enough for politeness and privacy, yet they’re not so far apart that there can’t be some sociable interchange if it is mutually wished.
The other is simply Puffin Eile lying to the visitor’s mooring in the lovely little island of Eriskay. Eriskay is so perfect that when we first went there, one of my shipmates was so impressed that he duly named his next boat after it. Yet somehow timetables in cruising the Outer Hebrides recently have meant that we’ve missed out on Eriskay while passing south or north through the Sea of the Hebrides, so it’s good to see the little place looking so well.
Getting a special satisfaction out of sailing your own boat to places like Eriskay is part of what cruising is all abut. But there are many other factors which contribute to true enjoyment of this mainstream yet low-profile aspect of sailing, and one of them is good food.
So it’s a brilliant idea that Rachel Allen of Ballymaloe should be another of the key speakers at today’s Cruising Conference in Cork. Only recently she featured here in Afloat as Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy has been doing the intensive 12-week Cookery Course at Ballymaloe, which is definitely not an undertaking for the faint-hearted.
But Ballymaloe’s connections with sailing are much wider than that, for it was windsurfer Rory Allen of Ballymaloe, who started the famous Round Great Island Race in Cork Harbour scheduled at the top of the tide, and it’s now an annual highlight. And Rachel herself is of the O’Neill sailing family, whom we’ve known afloat for many years. It goes back a very long time to when they’d the Nicholson Half Tonner Silver Mite, and we buddy-boated together from West Cork home to Dublin in good company with Denis and Brian O’Neill. The latter very obligingly hauled one of the Nixon kids out of Kinsale Marina when he fell in while being over-enthusiastic about fishing. I’m happy to tell “Disgusted of Dunmanway” that the young fisherman was wearing a lifejacket, but the O’Neill pull-up was very much appreciated nevertheless.