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Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

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For this week's Sailing on Saturday we take a look back eight years when WM Nixon cruised from Ireland to the Outer Hebrides in the 36-foot vintage restored sloop Ainmara

#hebrides – August is almost upon us. The heat has been fierce, and the summer season has been busy. Despite some blips in the weather, civilised folk will be thinking of sailing away from it all for a while. North and west perhaps, in the hope of finding uncrowded and beautiful places which may be cooler. The Western Isles, the Outer Hebrides, are calling us away.

Certainly they did so in August last year, but not for reasons of heat. On the contrary, the jetstream lay persistently along Ireland's south coast, and July's weather here was appalling. But the word came back that up in the Hebrides, they were already thinking of water shortages as the sun shone on and on.

We had contemplated taking the 1912-built 36ft Kearney yawl Ainmara to southwest Ireland for her Centenary cruise. But as owner Dickie Gomes is an enthusiast for the west coast of Scotland in any case, it was no contest. Twelve days in mid-August were allocated to celebrating the old girl's emergence from a 27-year restoration with some Hebridean island-hopping. And I became so taken with the idea that I made an offer that if we could get to the remote little pool of Rodel at the southern tip of Harris, I'd stand my two shipmates the Centenary Dinner at the inn beside that enchanted anchorage.

Rodel is a real honey-trap, as you need a good rise of the tide to get through the drying channel into the deep pool, and there you are - whether you like it or not - until the tide returns. But it's no hardship, as the place is beautiful, the inn is welcoming, and for a thoughtful insight into times past in the Western Isles, just up the road is the restored late mediaeval church of St Clement, complete with the famous MacLeod tomb with its carving of a sailing vessel, the inspiration for Wallace Clark's building of the Lord of the Isles galley with which he voyaged from Connacht to Stornoway.

The Centenarian on a silver sea – after a restoration lasting 27 years, Ainmara deserved to spend her hundredth birthday at a very special place Photo: W M Nixon  The Centenarian on a silver sea – after a restoration lasting 27 years, Ainmara deserved to spend her hundredth birthday at a very special place Photo: W M Nixon  

The cruise objective – Rodel is exactly in the middle of the long necklace of the Outer Hebrides     The cruise objective – Rodel is exactly in the middle of the long necklace of the Outer Hebrides  

It's the sort of place that everyone thinks they are the first to discover, and my own first discovery of Rodel came in 1977 when we sailed in aboard Johnny Roche's 26ft South Coast OD Safina. The party in the inn was mighty, and dawn was already hinting when we struck a deal in the old kitchen to buy a bolt of Harris tweed, woven within sight of the anchorage. We sailed home with the tweed in a sailbag in the foc's'le, and two of the crew then commissioned that great Dublin tailor Jack O'Rourke (father of current Mermaid National Champion Jonathan O'Rourke) to make them up a couple of suits from our seafaring cloth.

Although they both were of much the same age, one was an old fogey from birth, while the other was a permanently young trendy. So when Jack finally produced the suits to their two very different and clearly defined specifications, it took a real effort to realize that both outfits were cut from the same piece of tweed, as one was a very sharp and fashionable bit of work, while the other had all the timeless style of a sack of potatoes.

Next time back to Rodel was six years later with my own Hustler 30 Turtle, and some of those good folk of Rodel with whom we'd partied in '77 had since gone to the great weaving mill in the sky, while the inn was running out of steam. It still clung to some semblance of gentility with immaculate table linen, but portions for dinner were of such modest size that we simply had two dinners apiece, one after the other.

That was all of thirty years ago, and since then the word was the inn had closed down completely. But a few years ago there was a welcome whisper of a restoration under completely new ownership. So when Ainmara's centenary came up the agenda, it seemed the perfect setting for a mid-cruise Centenary Dinner, and we departed from Ballycastle towards the sunny Hebrides with this interesting cruise objective in mind, while astern the Irish coast continued to lie under cloud.

Despite his impressive record of international long distance offshore racing, these days Dickie Gomes takes care to avoid unnecessary nights at sea, so our progress towards Rodel was gentle yet effective, hopping our way via Port Ellen and Ardbeg in Islay, then on to Scalasaig in Colonsay, and then out to Tiree to be nicely placed for the passage across the Sea of the Hebrides to Barra.

There'd been only one other yacht in Gott Bay in Tiree when we arrived, but there were half a dozen getting under way in leisurely style that morning. Ainmara was the only boat to head west out through Gunna Sound between Tiree and Coll into the Sea of the Hebrides, shaping our course for Barra and motoring gently through a large shoal of basking sharks going about their leisurely work. There was a strengthening breeze from the northeast and the soft grey cloud cover was melting away. It may have been three days already since leaving Ballycastle, but coming out through Gunna Sound gave a special feeling of the cruise really getting under way, and it settled into a perfect 40 mile passage, beam reaching in sunshine with everything set to the jib tops'l on its first outing, and the distinctive peaks of the southern outliers of the Western Isles starting to rise above the horizon while still thirty miles ahead.

First port in the Outer Hebrides - Castlebay in Barra revelled in the August sunshine Photo: W M NixonFirst port in the Outer Hebrides - Castlebay in Barra revelled in the August sunshine Photo: W M Nixon

Castlebay basked in the sun, the heat was solid, and the tarmac on the quayside road was soft in the sun. At first we were in solitary splendour on the visitors mooring nearest Kisimul Castle, that ancient fortress of the MacNeils, but some other boats came in later in the evening. Up in the cool of the pub, glad to be out of the fierce sun, our gallant skipper met so many interesting folk that we were too late to get a booking at the funky little Café Kisimul on the quay, but had a reasonable meal in the hotel above the boat and retired aboard in a state of enchantment at being in the Outer Isles.

The morning brought a crisp easterly and hazy sunshine, so we were away early to make northing through the Sea of the Hebrides. We'd thought to drop into Eriskay for a lunch break, but the sailing was just too good, this was what we'd come for, we just kept going, and began to think that in a day or two we might even get to Rodel. Once the southeasterly headland on South Uist was astern, the sheets were eased and Ainmara settled into her stride with the jib tops'l pulling well, and the ancient mizzen staysail in its Killkenny colours of black and gold making its first appearance after a very long time in storage.

This is what we came for – glorious sailing in the Sea of the Hebrides with the ancient mizzen staysail (in the Kilkenny colours) pulling well. Photo: W M NixonThis is what we came for – glorious sailing in the Sea of the Hebrides with the ancient mizzen staysail (in the Kilkenny colours) pulling well. Photo: W M Nixon

God be with the days.....Ainmara alongside the cliff at Loch Boisdale in June 1963 to collect a bunch of heather for the bowsprit end Photo: W M NixonGod be with the days.....Ainmara alongside the cliff at Loch Boisdale in June 1963 to collect a bunch of heather for the bowsprit end Photo: W M Nixon

With progress like this, where on earth were we going to stop? Northward she romped, passing Loch Boisdale almost without a thought. Back in 1963 on our first cruise to the Outer Hebrides with Ainmara (when I already thought she was rather an old boat), one fine June morning we were gliding seawards down Loch Boiusdale, and noticed a healthy growth of heather on the nearby cliff. Once you've got north of Ardnmurchan Point, Scotland's Cape Horn, you're entitled to have a bundle of heather on the stemhead or bowsprit end. We hadn't yet got around to this back in 1963, but on that blissful morning we simply came alongside the steep shore, and nipped up the cliff to get the heather. It was Monday June 10th 1963. It was with some relief at the end of June that we noted the exact Golden Jubilee of that magic morning on Monday June 10th 2013 had passed entirely unmarked. You can have enough of Golden Jubilees.

Onward we sailed in August 2012 with gems of lochs like Eynort, Skipport and Uiskkevagh slipping by as this perfect day progressed. Flodday likewise was missed with cavalier disregard, then by Eport the wind was gone, but we motored on to Loch Maddy (48 miles from Castlebay) as we'd never been there before, and it left barely a dozen miles next day to Rodel.

We liked Loch Maddy, it's very Western Isles with the pier in one place and the village in another, and in the morning there was time for an heroic breakfast before heading down the loch in bright sunshine. There was a fine easterly breeze, and out in open water all plain sail was set and we started making impressive knots towards Rodel. I foolishly remarked that this looked like being the best sail of the cruise. Within minutes, it was as if somebody had knocked off a switch. We'd to motor for a while, then a gentle nor'easter had us beating in very leisurely style, and in mid-afternoon we were off Rodel with an hour or so to go to high water.

 While Loch Rodel itself provides only limited shelter, the pool behind Vallay Island is snug  While Loch Rodel itself provides only limited shelter, the pool behind Vallay Island is snug  
The tidal entrance looks tricky enough, but it's worth it for the perfect anchorage within  The tidal entrance looks tricky enough, but it's worth it for the perfect anchorage within  
The shoreline begins to take shape, with St Clements Church clear above the hotel at Rodel Photo: W M Nixon  The shoreline begins to take shape, with St Clements Church clear above the hotel at Rodel Photo: W M Nixon  

Ainmara is lining up for the Bay Channel into the pool Photo: W M NixonAinmara is lining up for the Bay Channel into the pool Photo: W M Nixon

The seabed is clearly visible as you pass through the channel close to the port hand marker Photo: W M Nixon   The seabed is clearly visible as you pass through the channel close to the port hand marker Photo: W M Nixon  

A very relieved skipper as we start to find deeper water in the pool Photo: W M Nixon   A very relieved skipper as we start to find deeper water in the pool Photo: W M Nixon  

Mission accomplished – Ainmara in Rodel to celebrate her Centenary Photo: W M Nixon   Mission accomplished – Ainmara in Rodel to celebrate her Centenary Photo: W M Nixon  

But as tides were neaps, the skipper was a bit nervous as we found our way through the shoal entrance in gentle style. You really do pass very close to the port hand marker. Yet once within the pool, my shipmates saw why I was so keen about this enchanting place, and we happily slowed down to Rodel speed for the rest of the day.

St Clement's Church at Rodel is one of the Outer Hebrides more significant buildings Photo: W M NixonSt Clement's Church at Rodel is one of the Outer Hebrides more significant buildings Photo: W M Nixon
The historic Macleod tomb in St Clement's Photo: W M NixonThe historic Macleod tomb in St Clement's Photo: W M Nixon

he stone carving on the MacLeod tomb which inspired the Lord of the Isles galley to be built in Greencastle in Donegal Photo: W M Nixon  The stone carving on the MacLeod tomb which inspired the Lord of the Isles galley to be built in Greencastle in Donegal Photo: W M Nixon  

Ashore, a visit to St Clements Church fitted the mood perfectly. There is a genuine sense of the past, and of the turbulent history which had once been the lot of this sleepy and now remote place. Down at the restored inn (it's called the Rodel Hotel these days, but for me it will always be the inn), we found the sympathetically-renovated establishment had a new dining room beside a new bar – the old rough bar out the back where we'd started negotiating for the tweed was long gone. And though the Countess of Dunmore's drawing room cum dining room where we'd enjoyed fine linen still exists, it is boarded up. But everything else is very much alive, we were able to have luxurious baths in Jock's Room (thanks Jock) and the setting was perfect with the evening sun still bright on the Centenarian sitting gracefully on her mooring and well visible through the restaurant windows, while the food aspirations were up to speed with a German chef and a friendly and obliging Spanish husband and wife couple front of house.

The Rodel Hotel has been restored in a manner which respects its original style. Photo: W M NixonThe Rodel Hotel has been restored in a manner which respects its original style. Photo: W M Nixon

Appropriately, the skipper had the best of it - he went for the surf'n'turf option which was far from your usual beef and salmon, it was Pabbay venison from the second-last island before St Kilda, combined with Sound of Harris hand-caught scallops. It sounds a bit overpowering, but worked very well, and kept himself in the best of spirits. Denis our third crewman being a sports addict, he was keen to see the Olympics Closing Ceremony on television after dinner, and we were invited to use the Residents' Lounge to do so in comfort. While the lads were settling themselves in there with the coffees and digestifs, I nipped furtively up to the bar to settle the bill - the other two hadn't really believed my "get to Rodel and I'll pay for dinner" proposal - and found what was clearly the man himself running the bar and everything else.

"Would you be our host?" I enquired. "I am indeed," said he, "for my sins I'm the proprietor of this place. Welcome to Rodel. I'm Donald MacDonald".

Such is life. We go all the way, nursing an old boat across hundreds of miles of potentially very turbulent water to Rodel in the Western Isles in order to celebrate her Centenary Feast in the Great Hall of the MacLeods of Harris, only to find it has become a MacDonald's.

A MacDonald's with a difference – Ainmara serene in the evening sunshine at Poll an Tigh-Mhail, seen from the dining room in the Rodel Hotel. Photo: W M Nixon  A MacDonald's with a difference – Ainmara serene in the evening sunshine at Poll an Tigh-Mhail, seen from the dining room in the Rodel Hotel. Photo: W M Nixon  

This article was first published on Afloat on July 27, 2013

Published in W M Nixon

The Cruising Club of America couldn't hand out its 2020 awards in person, so the club made it a special event and gathered a pantheon of great sailors on Zoom.

In early March in a normal year, Cruising Club of America members visit the New York Yacht Club in Manhattan for a weekend of meetings featuring an Awards dinner to recognize more than half a dozen worthy sailors as recipients of the club’s major awards. The pomp and circumstance of that event had to be adapted to a virtual space this year, starting with an hour-long presentation, largely pre-recorded, followed by a longer breakout-room segment in which members conversed with the winners in real-time.

As it turned out, sailing royalty showed up from all over the globe, including six previous winners of the Blue Water Medal: Jean Luc Van Den Heede (2019), Skip Novak (2014), Jeanne Socrates (2013), Peter Passano (2007), Tony Gooch (2003), and Bob and Beth Lux (1996). They provided a great welcome reception for the 2020 winner Randall Reeves.

In accepting his award, Reeves said he had had a great deal of good luck, starting with marrying his wife Joanna, who buoyed him up despite “resounding failures.” He also credited his luck at finding the right vessel for the trip, his 45-foot aluminium cutter Moli, “a boat fast enough and big enough, simple enough that I could handle it and fix what broke, yet strong enough to handle divergent requisites of big seas in the south and ice in the north.” He also credited former owner and Blue Water Medal winner Tony Gooch: “He was my living and breathing owners manual.”

Six-time circumnavigator Van Den Heede, who was unable to receive the 2019 award in person due to health reasons, said, “I started sailing because I read books. The first book I had the pleasure to read was by Alain Gerbault, the first man to get this medal [in 1923].” Van Den Heede said he was honoured to follow Gerbault and all the others who received the medal, adding, “these people are legends and I'm surprised to join them.”

Blue Water Medal Winner Jean-Luc Van Den HeedeBlue Water Medal Winner Jean-Luc Van Den Heede

2020 Cruising Club of America Award Winners

Randall Reeves—Blue Water Medal

Christian Charalambous—Rod Stephens Seamanship Trophy

Calypso Romero/Adrien Koller—Young Voyager Award

Stephen Brown—Far Horizons Medal

Salty Dawg Sailing Association—Special Recognition Award

Simon and Sally Currin—Royal Cruising Club Trophy

Alan K. Forsythe—Charles H. Vilas Literary Prize

Peter L. Chandler—Richard S. Nye Trophy

Published in Cruising

A survey carried out amongst Cruising Association (CA) members who keep their boats on the rivers and canals of Schengen countries has revealed that 80% are likely to sell their boats and give up cruising altogether, or move their base to a non-Schengen country.

Overall figures for coastal cruising boat owners are expected to be broadly similar although with more sailing out of Schengen waters to other cruising grounds.

The failure of the UK government to negotiate a fair deal with the EU means that UK citizens can now only visit Schengen countries for 90 days in every 180, making it impossible for boat owners to spend a whole season exploring Europe’s coasts and inland waterways.

The CA says that this flies in the face of Britain’s maritime heritage and shrinks the country’s pool of experienced, adventurous sailors. The CA’s President, Julian Dussek, is very concerned, stating:

"It will weaken the long-standing cultural ties between UK and EU boating communities, and damage efforts to rebuild tourism post- Covid. The knock-on effects could do serious damage to UK boat sales and the British marine industry in general.

“Unless we can find practical ways of overcoming this debilitating 90-day rule, British flagged boats will become a rare sight in Schengen waters. For a proud seafaring nation, this would be a real tragedy.”

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Patron of the Cruising Association, recently called on The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to step in to resolve the difficulties now facing the approximately 30,000 British sailors who currently keep their boats in EU waters, and who are facing this threat to long-distance cruising.

The 180-Day Campaign is gathering pace, with new members signing up to the Association in support of its efforts.

The CA is the largest UK organisation focussed solely on supporting extended cruising in small boats. It recently launched a 180-day Visa Campaign to encourage individual EU states to reciprocate the British provision to allow EU citizens to spend 180 days per visit in the UK by making long stay visas available to UK boating visitors.

Published in Cruising
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The Cruising Association has today launched its campaign to reduce the impact of Brexit on British small boat cruisers who have traditionally explored the coasts and inland waterways of Europe in sailing and motor boats.

There's a particular focus on the Netherlands, Greece, Spain and Portugal where the CA is lobbying for a 180-day cruising visa separate from the Schengen 90-day visa. The CA is also exploring opportunities for a simplified application process to the existing long-term tourist visas available for France and Sweden.

Along with other groups such as second homeowners, professional musicians, academics, etc. the CA has previously tried to engage with MPs and Ministers on this issue but, thus far, and with the COVID pandemic taking priority, there has been little will to address the 90/180 problem in the corridors of Westminster.

EU rules allow individual EU countries to issue long-term visas and a recent report that the Government is now considering addressing the problems for professional musicians is encouraging. The CA is making the case that any solution should also cover sailing and motorboat cruising.

In a well-crafted letter from the CA's Patron, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, addressed to The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP, Secretary of State, Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Sir Robin puts forward the CA's argument that the Schengen 90 days in 180 limit, that now applies to UK citizens, will cause severe difficulties and is unfair.

Each EU member country can set its own policy for visas and permits of more than 90 days, hence the CA has its 'local' teams working out the best strategy for each country.

More on this story and the full text of Sir Robin's letter to the Secretary of State here

Published in Cruising
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The Irish Cruising Club has been producing a printed Annual collating its members doings afloat and ashore through logs and narratives for ninety years now. And while these days this substantial collection is in circulation before Christmas as a matter of course - thanks to the succession of Honorary Editors being notably on top of production technology and sticking to a rather fierce deadline - it isn't until after the Club's AGM in February that any of it goes public, following which the many logs – and particularly the award-winning ones – are available online on the club's website.

Time was when the keeping of a proper log was de rigeur - effectively a legal requirement - on any cruising boat. So these days, when many "logs" are often no more than electronic data in a chart plotter, the leading cruising organisations' encouragement of the keeping of real logs – comprehensive productions which are in effect informative and entertaining journals - adds depth and quality to the development of cruising and our knowledge of cruising areas, whether popular or remote.

Last night ICC Commodore David Beattie presided over the AGM as a Zoom session, and while he'd to acknowledge a frustrating year in terms of members meeting personally other than in small socially-compliant groups and bubbles, the latest Annual – all 200 pages of it – speaks volumes for the members' energy in making the best of 2020's pandemic-limited cruising possibilities, that is when they could manage to get all their organisational and time-availability ducks in a row.

Colm O Lochlainn in Howth aboard his 9-ton yawl Klysma in the 1920s. A man of many parts, he was a sailor, printer, folklorist, and traditional musician who for many years was a professor in UCDColm O Lochlainn in Howth aboard his 9-ton yawl Klysma in the 1920s. A man of many parts, he was a sailor, printer, folklorist, and traditional musician who for many years was a professor in UCD.

Others responded to Annual editor Maire Breathnach of Dungarvan's request for virtually anything of interest to cruising folk, and the result is an entertaining mix of contemporary cruising logs, waves of nostalgia, and off-the-wall items in keeping with the club's ethos of taking itself seriously when matters of seamanship, sailing directions, and safety and regulation-compliance are concerned, but at other times not taking itself too seriously at all.

That said, the status of the Annual is almost sacred. For its first ten years or so in the 1930s, it was quality printed by one of the earliest members (and owner of the 9-tonner Klysma), the noted Gaelic scholar, folklorist and traditional music collector Colm O Lochlainn (1892 – 1972), whose many interests included his specialist printing company, the Three Candles Press.

Links to contemporary creativity were reinforced by one of those who made a significant input into the layout and illustrations being the club's first Honorary Treasurer, Billy McBride, whose day job was as an artist in the world-renowned Harry Clarke Stained Glass studios in Dublin.

A Billy McBride sketch of Espanola, the 15-ton cutter owned by Herbert Wright, founding Commodore in 1929 of the Irish Cruising ClubA Billy McBride sketch of Espanola, the 15-ton cutter owned by Herbert Wright, founding Commodore in 1929 of the Irish Cruising Club

Admittedly these high production standards couldn't always be retained in some subsequent years when the Irish economy was in poor health. But for many years now they've been more than equalled, and Maire Breathnach has not only raised the standards even higher, but she gives us a fresh link back to the days when Colm O Lochlainn used to serenade the members in to dinner on the uilleann pipes. For Maire is a dab hand on the concertina to professional level, and one of her contributions to the Annual is some recollections of a clockwise solo cruise round Ireland from Dungarvan in 1995 in her Seamaster 23 Shackler, when her traditional musical talents made for a very effective calling card in many ports.

Marie Breathnach's Seamaster 23 Shackler at Barnaderg under Diamond Hill in Connemara during her 1995 solo Round Ireland CruiseMarie Breathnach's Seamaster 23 Shackler at Barnaderg under Diamond Hill in Connemara during her 1995 solo Round Ireland Cruise

These days she and husband Andrew Wilkes sail a very different proposition to the handy little Shackler – their ship is the 64ft steel-built gaff-rigged pilot-cutter type Annabel J, which is sometimes seen gracing the waterfront in Waterford at Reginald's Tower when they're at home in Dungarvan. For although the pool just below Dungarvan bridge could take their previous smaller gaffer Young Larry, for Annabel J it has to be Waterford.

The 64ft cutter Annabel J at Reginald's Tower in Waterford.  Photo: Norman KeanThe 64ft cutter Annabel J at Reginald's Tower in Waterford. Photo: Norman Kean

They've been having quite the time since they last departed from that historic port in the Autumn of 2019, as pre-COVID their plan was to make a circuit of South America, which they last did in 2004 with the Swan 42 King of Hearts, thereby seeing Maire receive the ICC's premier award, the Faulkner Cup.

King of Heart's circuit of South America was not without its challenges, but with Annabel J they have to be prepared to deal with problems unknown to owners of modern craft, and in checking aloft while at Madeira on the southward passage, Andrew discovered some rot at the topmost sheave near the head of the pole mast.

Knowing the limitations of repair facilities available at Madeira as they'd been delayed there in getting their hefty big broken tiller replaced, they reckoned the best option was to nurse the boat to the more extensive facilities in the Canaries. And though the head of the mast did indeed give up the ghost, it only deprived them of the use of the topsail and the flying jib, and under the lower sails with skilled seamanship they brought Annabel J to Lanzarote in November 2019. There, Andrew started on the work of making the new upper section for the mast, while Maire was busy with the final editing push on the ICC Annual for 2019.

The ICC Annual for 2020, like that of 2019, was produced by editor Maire Breathnach while on the move. Cover image is aboard Derek Jones' Najad 44 Narnia from Strangford Lough in the Sound of Mull.  Photo: Viv White The ICC Annual for 2020, like that of 2019, was produced by editor Maire Breathnach while on the move. Cover image is aboard Derek Jones' Najad 44 Narnia from Strangford Lough in the Sound of Mull. Photo: David Stewart 

Clearly these people are operating in a different league to the rest of us, but by the time the massive rig was fully operational again, they were pandemic-trapped for two months in port with the strictly-enforced "Confinamiento". Yet by knowing that it was going to happen, Andrew had stocked up on varnish and paint to make the best of the Canaries' perfect fitting-out climate, and Annabel J emerged from the Confinamiento looking trimmer than ever, while Maire had advanced her fiddle-playing ability through Zoom classes with Niamh Dunne back in Ireland.

But though the lockdown had been lifted within the Canaries, "within" was the key word, so they made a virtue out of their limited options and cruised the islands in fascinating detail, resulting in a very complete log which adjudicator John Clementson reckoned was worthy of the ICC's Rockabill Trophy for Seamanship in recognition of the way the twosome on Annabel J had dealt with the collapsed upper mast, and then put things right so effectively that they created a fine cruise within 2020's limitations.

EXCEPTIONAL FAMILY CRUISE HONOURED

Yet it says everything about the spirit of the ICC in 2020's difficult conditions that another oceanic cruise narrated by a female co-skipper should win the ICC's premier trophy, the Faulkner Cup, which dates back to 1931. This special venture was the Atlantic circuit cruise from Galway Bay in the 43ft steel ketch Danu by Vera Quinlan and Peter Owens and their children Lilian and Ruari, a cruise which – despite being limited by restrictions from time to time - was completed in the summer at Parkmore near Kinvara to to make this family crew Ireland's Sailors of the Month for July, and subsequently they were also presented with Galway Bay SC's top cruising trophy.

When the going was good – Danu in the CaribbeanWhen the going was good – Danu in the Caribbean

But now with the Faulkner Cup – awarded three times in a row in 2010, 2011 and 2012 to Vera's father Fergus Quinlan and his wife Kay for their global circumnavigation with their own-built 12m steel cutter Pylades – they have, so to speak, received the favourable Supreme Court judgment, and it is based on a wonderful log which gives us a real insight into the challenges and rewards of intensive family cruising, while handling the added exacerbation of the pandemic problems.

For a proper cruise should be something of a work of art, rather than a continuing process of box-ticking, and with Vera being an oceanographer while Peter is a mountaineer, the cruise of Danu was indeed a matter of green days in forests and blue days at sea, with mountaineering and desert-crossing expeditions and island-hopping adding to the mixture, such that while Lilian and Ruari - 11 and 9 when the cruise got under way – had started out as decidedly switched-on kids to begin with, they were in a league of their own in the "cool as you like" stakes when they returned.

Settling in to the cruising routine – Ruari and Lilian paddleboarding in the Isles of Scilly, Danu's first stop on the outward passage from IrelandSettling into the cruising routine – Ruari and Lilian paddleboarding in the Isles of Scilly, Danu's first stop on the outward passage from Ireland

Broadening the scope – Ruari and Lilian with their father Peter climbing in the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain. Photo: Vera QuinlanBroadening the scope – Ruari and Lilian with their father Peter climbing in the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain. Photo: Vera Quinlan

Shore visit with a difference – Lilian and Ruari on the Sands of Merguza in Morocco. Photo: Vera QuinlanShore visit with a difference – Lilian and Ruari on the Sands of Merguza in Morocco. Photo: Vera Quinlan

"A man needs his own place….." – Ruari in his secret lair in the sail-stack aboard Danu"A man needs his own place….." – Ruari in his secret lair in the sail-stack aboard Danu. Photo: Vera Quinlan

Over the years the Irish Cruising Club has accumulated an almost embarrassing array of trophies, yet in a normal year the club's members are so wide-ranging on an almost global scale that each trophy usually finds a home at the annual awards ceremony. But out of respect for the frustrations through compliance-restriction which many experienced during 2020, adjudicator John Clementson reduced the awards to nine, two of which we've already mentioned, but here's the total list:

Irish Cruising Club Awards (ICC) Awards 2020

  • Faulkner Cup: Danu (Mauritius 43, Vera Quinlan & Peter Owens), Family cruise for Atlantic circuit
  • Rockabill Trophy for Seamanship: Annabel J (64ft gaff cutter, Maire Breathnach)
  • Round Ireland Cup: L'Iroise (38ft 1966 wooden ketch) Paddy Barry)
  • Fortnight Cup: Agathos (Jeanneau 45, Mick Delap) Three generations cruise in two weeks in Greece's Aeolian Isles
  • Perry Greer Bowl for best first log: Dame de Jade (Beneteau 312, Sally Cudmore) Detailed family cruising off south and southwest coasts of Ireland (Also Fingal Cup for Judge's favourite log).
  • Glengarriff Trophy for special cruise in Irish waters: Pylades (van de Stadt 12m cutter, Fergus & Kay Quinlan) detailed cruise Galway Bay to Bantry and return.
  • Marie Trophy for best cruise by boat under 30ft LOA: Calico Jack (Sadler 25, Conor O'Byrne) Detailed cruise from Galway to entire coast of Connacht.
  • Wild Goose Trophy for best log of literary merit: Margie Crawford for account of cruise to Antarctica in Tall Ship Europa
  • John B Kearney Cup for Services to Sailing: Stanton Adair (Commodore ICC 2017-2020)

When we remember that Paddy Barry has been awarded the Cruising Club of America's Blue Water Medal for his oceanic voyaging, and that in times past Conor O'Byrne received the Marie Trophy for a very competent hop from Galway to St Kilda and back in his little 25-footer Calico Jack, then we get some notion of how most cruising people's activities have been restricted in 2020. But in both cases, and in many other logs in the Annual, instead of grumbling they just got on with it and made the best of what was permissible.

The veteran Glenans ketch L'Iroise at Clifden during her circuit of IrelandThe veteran Glenans ketch L'Iroise at Clifden during her circuit of Ireland

In Paddy's case, it was a matter of bringing the former Glenans ketch L'Iroise back to life with owner Seamus O'Byrne, and sailing on an entertaining Ireland-circling cruise in which, despite social-distancing and whatever, they had an experience of which the adjudicator approvingly noted that: "Paddy doesn't just voyage – he goes to places and to people", such that with his many interests in classic boats, traditional music and folklore generally, it all makes for an extraordinarily entertaining narrative.

Another unusual take on the limitations of 2020 was provided by ICC Sailing Directions Editor Norman Kean and his wife Geraldine Hennigan with their Warrior 40 Coire Uisge. They reckoned the best way to comply with the limitations was to visit every uninhabited island or people-less anchorage between their home port of Courtmacsherry and Valentia Island, and thanks to having grown-up equipment to handle their ample ground tackle, they'd a surprisingly varied cruise, the most appropriate stopover being at Quarantine island near Baltimore, a somewhat spooky place, as a walk ashore suggests that not everyone put onto it survived quarantine.

Just the place to be in 2020 – Coire Uisge anchored off Quarantine Island in the western channel to BaltimoreJust the place to be in 2020 – Coire Uisge anchored off Quarantine Island in the western channel to Baltimore. Photo: Norman Kean

A landing on a very uninhabited island way back in 1975 is recalled in the Annual by William Dick, who was the crewman from Paul Campbell's 37ft yawl Verve who managed to leap ashore and clamber up Rockall in what was a first for any cruising boat. These days the anomalous status of Rockall is of increasing significance, so it's ironic that though it was an Irish boat which made this first landing, both the owner-skipper and the intrepid climber who got to the peak happened to have Scottish surnames……

William Dick landing on Rockall in 1975, with the dinghy from Paul Campbell's Verve from Dun Laoghaire being rowed by the late Mickey d'AltonWilliam Dick landing on Rockall in 1975, with the dinghy from Paul Campbell's Verve from Dun Laoghaire being rowed by the late Mickey d'Alton

There are several voyages into history in this fine Annual, and one of the most entertaining has to be Ed Wheeler's account of a cruise – either single-handed "or I might as well have been single-handed" – in the 26ft gaff sloop Calabar from Sydney north and west along the coasts of Australia to Darwin in 1971.

This had its origins in 1968 when Ed sailed with us in the 25ft Vertue cutter ice Bird out to Spain where, as funds were getting low, he took the offer of being a deck-hand on a former Liberty ship making her way –with many delays – out to China for scrap.

We'd time for an entertaining cruise eastward along the North Coast of Spain before this ship finally departed from Coruna, and while I sailed Ice Bird single-handed back to Ireland in very leisurely stages via Brittany and Cornwall, Ed found his voyage to China was also going forward in very leisurely stages dictated by endless breakdowns, with a guaranteed three weeks money-maker becoming a six months marathon at the end of which he'd the greatest difficulty in getting paid at all.

From Shanghai he ended up in Australia – as one does – building new highways in the Northern Territories for a 22-stone boss who was naturally known as the Colossus of Roads. Thus Ed amassed enough cash to buy this little boat in Sydney, which he re-named Calabar after the legendary song-celebrated barge on the Lagan Canal, and after an incident-filled cruise he sold her in Darwin and gradually wended his way back to Ireland.

And it all started with a little cruise to Spain…..The 26ft Calabar, which Ed Wheeler cruised along the Australian coast from Sydney to Darwin in 1971. Illustration by Pete AdamsAnd it all started with a little cruise to Spain…..The 26ft Calabar, which Ed Wheeler cruised along the Australian coast from Sydney to Darwin in 1971. Illustration by Pete Adams

Having bid each other farewell at the pierhead of San Sebastian in July 1968 as Ice Bird and I headed north for the delights of Brittany and Cornwall, by a series of extraordinary coincidences we didn't meet again – and totally unexpected at that - until February 1972 in Salthill in Galway, where I was booked into the hotel to show the newly-formed and very keen Galway Bay Sailing Club the film of a cruise to Iceland with Ice bird in 1967.

The extraordinary serendipity of meeting my old shipmate so totally out of the blue after four years, and in Salthill of all places, had a somewhat de-railing effect on the evening's smooth progress. When we finally got the 16mm movie up and running, for some reason the boat was sailing backwards, and there were distinct vehicle tyre-treads across some of the images.

So the full story of what happened in Salthill in 1972 had better stay in Salthill, and be gently put back to sleep with all those other memories evoked by the excellent Irish Cruising Club Annual of 2020. It's a publication that successfully demonstrates what could be done while being COVID-compliant in the relevant regulations, while at the same time making everyone mustard keen to get back to unfettered cruising just as soon as possible. Maire Breathnach deserves all congratulations for making it happen.

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Tuesday 9 February 2021 will see the launch of the UK's Beacon of Hope Sailing Project's ambitious and unique circumnavigation of the globe. The crew of sailors, all of whom have been through life-changing experiences or illness, will attempt to achieve at least two world records on their incredible journey. Firstly the fastest non-professional team to circumnavigate the globe against wind and currents in the wrong direction. Secondly the fastest Atlantic Crossing for a Farr 65 yacht.

The team of 10 team members will depart from Cowes on their 38,000 nautical mile journey in June 2022. The project founded by Aaron Baxter, 21, from Gosport, Thomas Miles, 21, of Newport and Matthew Harris 53, all of whom have been through life-changing illnesses, will take them through ten countries including, St Lucia, the Falkland Islands, The U.S.A., New Zealand and South Africa.

The team will co-ordinate with various charities en route, including the Just One Ocean conservation project based at the University of Portsmouth. The Beacon of Hope's Sailing project was created to support those who have endured traumatic life events and to help them to launch their own journeys into a new and confident life. It aims to demonstrate the healing effects of sailing on both mental and physical health by promoting growth in independence.

"After I had medically recovered from my illness, I was expected to move forward with my life immediately, be able to explain to my employers and friends what I'd been through as well as obtaining a new job straight away in order to live. I found this very difficult. I needed an opportunity to reflect on what I had actually just gone through and to plan how to get back on track. " – Thomas Miles – Co-founder

The vessel selected for the journey is 'Albatross II' a Farr 65 designed by Bruce Farr, previously known as the 'Spirit of Diana', one of only 5 vessels built at the cost of $1 million each to compete in the Millennium Round the World Yacht Race from 1999-2000. During their first round of fundraising from sponsors, members of the public and continuous partnerships the team will purchase and undertake the extensive refit of the vessel in order to make the vessel suitable for both the purpose of the training and the race.

Following the race, the Beacon of Hope Sailing Project C.I.C. plans to establish a base on the Isle of Wight as a lasting legacy of their journey. The team will continue to enter the vessel into regattas and races such as the Round the Island Race, the Fastnet, and, in time, even larger races such as the Vendee Globe. From this base they will offer sailing and water-sports activates, helping people on their journey of recovery also offering practical, workshops to support people on a return to a fuller life as well as the base for the race team.

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The Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) has awarded Northern Ireland one-armed solo sailor Garry Crothers its 2020 Seamanship Award. 

Despite a pandemic raging throughout the year, the OCC found numerous achievements to recognise in the cruising world including the Derry sailor's summertime transatlantic voyage where his progress was regularly reported in Afloat.

Crothers found himself in St Martin when Covid-19 struck. He needed to get back to Northern Ireland for his daughter's wedding in September. With no flights and no possible crew, he sailed solo non-stop directly to Derry in Northern Ireland taking 37 days.

Crothers lost an arm in a motorcycle accident but has not let this limit his solo sailing.

Crothers is also involved in sailing for people with disabilities (Sailability) and the OCC citation says he is 'a true role model and inspiration'. 

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Royal Cruising Club (RCC) Awards the Medal for Services to Cruising – 2020 to the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC).

The Royal Cruising Club (RCC) announced at the Awards Evening on 07 January, held on Zoom, that the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) has been awarded the Medal for Services to Cruising.

"The Medal for Services to Cruising was founded in memory of Jocelyn Swann for rendering outstanding services to yacht cruising.

The Ocean Cruising Club provided exceptional services to cruising yachtsmen during the COVID 19 pandemic. There was early recognition of the mayhem caused by the pandemic to the cruising community around the world. Many cruising yachtsmen found themselves and their yachts trapped in places they did not expect to be, at the wrong time of the year, and with tropical storms threatening for which they were not insured.

As Afloat reported previously, the Ocean Cruising Club rapidly became a trusted centralised source of information concerning border restrictions for recreational craft. Communications platforms were established to provide the wider cruising community, including non-members, with advice, support and practical help for hundreds of yachts, faced with challenges of unplanned ocean passages. This initiative was a major factor in helping coordinate support for two yachts which were dismasted, one hit by lightning and the rescue of a yachtsman when his yacht sank, after an unfortunate collision with a whale.

The Medal for Services to Cruising is awarded to The Ocean Cruising Club."

OCC Commodore Simon Currin remarked, "Congratulations to the whole team. This is great recognition for our Club. Some great news to lift the spirits during a grim new year."

The story behind the effort, which occurred in tandem with other organisations, is documented in the OCC's publication Flying Fish ('Retreat from Paradise' by Vice Commodore Daria Blackwell). 'Lessons Learned' during the pandemic response was documented by Regional Rear Commodore (Ireland) Alex Blackwell.

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Following years of planning, months of trepidation, days of stowing, and hours of farewells, over 300 crew set sail today from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for the start of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers - ARC 2020. It was a day that marked a great triumph for the sailors that have formed a unique community in Las Palmas Marina over the past two weeks of preparations. Additional challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have of course altered some things this year, but the vibrant mood and palpable excitement of departure day was as evident as it has been throughout the rally’s 35-year history and the ocean beckoned for the eager sailors to begin their adventure to Saint Lucia.

The entry list is here, no Irish entries were identified.

Ahead of the start, the sailors have enjoyed their time in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with the port city providing a warm welcome for the international crews. Preparing for a long ocean crossing creates quite a jobs list and the support from the local businesses in the marina to get all the yachts shipshape and ready to sail away has been terrific. A series of online seminars, individual Safety Checks, and assistance with local information from the World Cruising Club team has helped support skippers preparations and this year there have been many returning sailors in the fleet to offer advice for those crossing an ocean for the first time.

Robin Lemmens, sailing with her young family on Hanse 455, Veni Vidi Vixi was amazed how the time in Las Palmas has flown by, “In one short week we’ve prepared Veni Vidi Vixi to cross the great Atlantic. From provisioning to cleaning, weather routing to tuning into information sessions; there have been piles of laundry cleaned, folded and tucked away and food stored in every small space available. Amongst ticking items off the seemingly never ending ‘To Do List’, we’ve managed to connect with some of the amazing fellow sailors who will be there on the VHF, YB app or at least at the other end in our destination of Saint Lucia. Already, I am so looking forward to deepening the connections that have sprouted here in Las Palmas and I feel so grateful for the camaraderie - we are all in this together.” said Robin.

Easterly winds blowing across Gran Canaria from the Sahara brought the ARC fleet hazy sunshine for departure day, with a light breeze of 8-10 knots carrying through the inshore starting area. A procession of yachts large and small, monohulls and multihulls, made their way out of Las Palmas Marina as crews stowed fenders and lines and began to prepare their sails ready for the start. Horns echoed as they waved goodbye to spectators, some adorned in matching crew shirts and special outfits to mark the occasion, and at 12:35 the countdown began to the first start sound for the Racing Division.

Whilst the ARC is predominantly a rally not a race, it attracts some of the world’s greatest competitive sailors to take part. Sailing legend JP Dick returned for his third ARC, this time sailing his JP54 named The Kid double-handed with fellow Frenchman Fabrice Renouard. But it was pro-sailor and big-boat racing veteran Peter Perenyi who sailed his Marten 68 Cassiopeia 68 with an all Hungarian crew on board across the start line first at 12:45. With many miles ahead, it will be an interesting duel for the IRC rated racing fleet, with boats ranging from 39ft to over 80ft.

The Cruising and Multihull Divisions began their adventure at 13:00 with white sails set to glide through the line. The light winds gave a bit of a challenge for the skippers to navigate as they jostled to pass the Committee Boat and bid farewell to Gran Canaria. There were big smiles and cheers as they passed over the line to begin their ARC adventure.

Now the yachts are at sea, crews will adapt to ocean life and quite a change of pace from the pre-departure rush. As boats get south of Gran Canaria there should be some nice E-NE trades forming, with the classic route southern route looking best for the cruising fleet. Their progress can followed on the YB Tracking App and Fleet Viewer page of the World Cruising Club website. From the ARC departure today, the majority of boats will take 18-21 days to make the 2,700 nautical mile Atlantic crossing, arriving in Rodney Bay Marina, Saint Lucia.

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Dublin sailor Alan McMahon has published a book on his solo sailing adventures aboard a Hallberg Rassy 352 which he sailed across the Atlantic and back in 2018/19. 

'Sailing Away' is an autobiographical account of one man's 13-month adventure, sailing across the Atlantic from Europe to the Caribbean and back, single-handed. It is a story of breaking away from the shackles of the office to work remotely from the boat. Breaking away temporarily from family and friends and embracing the isolation of the ocean. The book is written in diary format with a day-by-day account of the experience of being a solo sailor.

The story starts in Dublin preparing the boat, a 35-foot Hallberg Rassy 352, before setting sail December 2018 from the Canary Islands. Alone at sea for three weeks, there were many high points as well as emotional lows. On arrival in the Caribbean, read about the life of a liveaboard sailor, sailing to nine exotic Caribbean islands and a near sinking when the boat ran into a fishing net. The return trip in May 2019 to Europe was via the Azores. A mid-Atlantic swim nearly left the author stranded, as the boat started to drift away. Another time during the night, he was thrown off balance and nearly overboard.

Sailing Away is an auto biographical account of one Dublin man's solo voyage across the Atlantic and backSailing Away is an autobiographical account of one Dublin man's solo voyage across the Atlantic and back

The Appendix section is packed with useful information and tips for anyone preparing for a major voyage.

The author is 47 years of age. He lives in Dublin, Ireland. Sailing the Atlantic is his second adventure; in 2003 he flew 25,000 miles around the world in the single-engine light aircraft, crossing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Flying was his passion until he made a switch to sailing in 2007. A complete novice to sailing he built his experience in incremental steps, starting by learning to sail on a small daysailor boat.

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The Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) Information

The creation of the Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) began in a very low key way in the autumn of 2002 with an exploratory meeting between Denis Kiely, Jim Donegan and Fintan Cairns in the Granville Hotel in Waterford, and the first conference was held in February 2003 in Kilkenny.

While numbers of cruiser-racers were large, their specific locations were widespread, but there was simply no denying the numerical strength and majority power of the Cork-Dublin axis. To get what was then a very novel concept up and running, this strength of numbers had to be acknowledged, and the first National Championship in 2003 reflected this, as it was staged in Howth.

ICRA was run by a dedicated group of volunteers each of whom brought their special talents to the organisation. Jim Donegan, the elder statesman, was so much more interested in the wellbeing of the new organisation than in personal advancement that he insisted on Fintan Cairns being the first Commodore, while the distinguished Cork sailor was more than content to be Vice Commodore.

ICRA National Championships

Initially, the highlight of the ICRA season was the National Championship, which is essentially self-limiting, as it is restricted to boats which have or would be eligible for an IRC Rating. Boats not actually rated but eligible were catered for by ICRA’s ace number-cruncher Denis Kiely, who took Ireland’s long-established native rating system ECHO to new heights, thereby providing for extra entries which brought fleet numbers at most annual national championships to comfortably above the hundred mark, particularly at the height of the boom years. 

ICRA Boat of the Year (Winners 2004-2019)

 

ICRA Nationals 2021

The date for the 2021 edition of the ICRA National Championships is 3-5 September at the National Yacht Club on Dublin Bay.

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