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In a first-ever for ISORA, there will be two separate offshore qualifying races for its overall Wolfs Head Trophy this Saturday, one in Ireland and one in Wales.

The change arises from differences in COVID-19 regulations on either side of the Irish Sea. It's something of a bravo move by ISORA chiefs aiming to keep channel racing going in a week that has already seen the Round Ireland Race, the highlight of the offshore calendar, fall victim to the pandemic.

28 boats are entered so far for the first offshore of the season over a course size of 55-miles, nearly double the length of recent coastal races.

ISORA's top prize for the famous Wolf's Head is decided over the best of five races but this must include three qualifying offshore races. These races are long offshore courses and traditionally cross channel.

Unfortunately, though, differences in crew number limitations, port access and difficulties with overnight stays onboard have all conspired to make it impossible to run a qualifying race which is equitable and equally available to all competitors.

The result is that Saturday's racing will be scored taking account of the respective fleet sizes in both races.

Given ISORA entries currently show only two Welsh boats entered, it looks like it will be a small race in Wales and a larger race from Dublin Bay.

ISORA's Wolf's Head Trophy for overall honours racing offshore in the Irish SeaISORA's Wolf's Head Trophy for overall honours racing offshore in the Irish Sea Photo: GP Photo 

ISORA racing in these difficult times has only been possible because of the association's investment in technologies which allow remote desk-top race management and as ISORA's Stephen Tudor told Afloat, [the association is] "Making the best of difficult times to get sailors on the water both sides of the Irish Sea!"

Saturday's race four consequently is a 55 miler, weighted 1.1. In Ireland, it will be a Dun Laoghaire offshore and back to Dun Laoghaire and in Wales from Pwllheli to Pwllheli. The course will be published by 1200hrs on Friday, 31st July. The forecast for Dublin Bay indicates more light westerlies that have been a feature of ISORA's 2020 Viking Marine Coastal Series thus far.

Published in ISORA
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The dominant form of the 2019 Irish yacht of the year, Paul O'Higgins' JPK10.80 Rockabill VI continues to stalk the ISORA racecourse, picking up another win at 1.30 am this morning off Dun Laoghaire Harbour in the well attended night race, according to provisional results via the ISORA Yellowbrick tracker.

The 25-boat race was the third in the ISORA 2020 Re-Boot series and the third race of the Viking Marine sponsored Coastal Series of four.

The fleet started off Dun Laoghaire outfall buoy at 8 pm (the same as race one and two) and headed south to the Muglins and onto Breeches just north of Wicklow before heading back up the Dublin coast and a finish off Dun Laoghaire Pier heads.

Rockabill VI Paul O'Higgins' JPK10.80 was the overall winner of the ISORA night raceRockabill VI Paul O'Higgins' JPK10.80 was the overall winner of the ISORA night race

Aurelia was line honours winner

Chris and Patanne Smith's J122 Aurelia from the Royal St George Yacht Club was the line honours winner but dropped to second overall on corrected time over the 32-mile course sailed in light south and south-west winds.

Third overall was the National Yacht Club's First 40.7 Tsunami (Vincent Farrell) in a clean sweep for Class Zero boats.

Vincent Farrell's First 40.7 Tsunami from the National Yacht ClubVincent Farrell's First 40.7 Tsunami from the National Yacht Club

J99 wins IRC One

In IRC Class One, Andrew Algeo's J/99 took the gun from the J/109 Mojito with Prima Luce, third.

Patrick Burke's Prima Luce was third in IRC OnePatrick Burke's Prima Luce was third in IRC One

Black Velvet Takes IRC Two win

Leslie Parnell's Beneteau 34.7 Black Velvet from the Royal Irish Yacht Club was the Class Two winner from Greystones Harbour JOD 35 entry Red Alert. Third was Humdinger.

Published in ISORA

​​The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Eamon Ryan T.D. today (20th July 2020), announced that Ireland has received State aid approval from the European Union to operate a new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) out to 2025.

Minister Ryan said:

“As the Minister for Climate Action, I am delighted to welcome this announcement today from the EU Commission. It endorses the Government’s commitment to the Green Deal and launches a renewable energy revolution in Ireland. The RESS will provide us with a platform for rapid deployment of onshore and offshore wind and solar projects at scale and at least cost, replacing fossil fuels on our energy grid. It also offers communities the opportunity to produce their own power and share in the ownership of Ireland’s energy revolution.”

“As stated in the Programme for Government, Our Shared Future, we have committed to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030 (a 51% reduction over the decade) and to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The RESS is one of the flagship measures that will assist Ireland on its way to achieving this target”.

The RESS will play an integral part of the progression to the ambitious 70% renewable electricity target by 2030 set out in the Programme for Government and to Ireland’s contribution towards an EU-wide renewable energy target of 32% by 2030, within a competitive auction-based, cost-effective framework.

Key features:

  • The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) is a competitive auction-based scheme which invites renewable electricity projects to bid for capacity and receive a guaranteed price for the electricity they generate for a maximum of 16 years.
  • The RESS will operate for a 5 year period out to 2025 (with an option to extend subject to evaluation) with a series of auctions planned, depending on the pipeline of renewable electricity projects. This will provide pathways for renewable developers including offshore wind projects. The scheme will set out the indicative timelines and volumes for auctions over the coming period and provide clarity for developers in relation to when they need to have their projects 'auction ready'.
  • The RESS is being rolled out with the cooperation of both the Commission of Regulation of Utilities (CRU) and EirGrid. EirGrid will implement and operate the auctions with CRU providing competition advice as well as auditing and monitoring the auction process.
    Increasing Diversity of Renewable technologies. The Scheme is open to a range of renewable technologies that will broaden the renewable energy mix and enhance security of supply including solar and offshore wind.
  • Preference categories: RESS includes the use of preference categories to enable technology diversity. The first RESS auction (RESS 1) includes a specific solar category, which would represent approximately 10% of the overall auction.
  • Community-led category: RESS includes the use of preference categories for community projects. RESS-1 includes a specific community category of up to 30 GWh. This will allow communities to develop their own renewable energy projects and sell the energy back to the grid
    Community Participation: The Programme for Government, "Our Shared Future", recognises the importance of community involvement in energy projects. Communities have been designed into RESS. The first RESS auction includes mandatory community benefit funds for all projects and a dedicated community projects category. Additional community policies and supports are included in the State Aid; financial support for community-led projects, mandatory community benefit funds, investment opportunities for communities and citizens, and additional community categories for future RESS auctions.
  • The scheme will also include an EU state aid evaluation during the five year period to examine and evaluate the intended objectives of the scheme.

In conclusion Minister Ryan added,

“To date, onshore wind energy has been the most cost-effective technology available to Ireland, however to drive on and meet our renewable energy ambitions, other technologies such as solar and offshore wind will play a critical role in diversifying our renewable generation portfolio for the period out to 2030.”

Published in Power From the Sea
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After a long and open discussion by the RORC Race Management team, senior members of the RORC Committee, and with advice from medical experts, it has been decided that any overnight race that the Club would run would not adhere to the UK Government guidance currently in place. As a result, the Ushant race has been cancelled and in its place will be organised a long day race in the English Channel using laid and virtual marks, starting and finishing in Cowes.

"It was a difficult decision as we were all keen to run a proper offshore race," said RORC Racing Manager Chris Stone. "The crux of the decision was based around the guidance that overnight stays away from home are permitted, but only with others from the same or one other household. So whilst a group of up to six people from different households can meet outside, and therefore race a boat (subject to social distancing), they cannot stay together overnight. Our medical expert also pointed out that it would be impossible to honour the 1m+ social distancing guidance when down below in all but the largest race boats."

"The RORC has to take a responsible position when organising offshore races and although teams are in the open air where transfer of the virus is dramatically reduced, we had to consider the position while below decks and the current Government guidance on staying away from home overnight," said RORC Commodore Steven Anderson. "The decision only affects the Ushant race and we will consider the options for the Cherbourg race (Friday September 4th) at the end of July."

RORC Mini Series

The RORC will now put in place a series of long day races which will include the 'Race the Wight' on Saturday August 1st, a round the cans day race in the Channel on Saturday 15th August and another long day race on Saturday 22nd August, with the Cherbourg race (or its replacement, on Saturday September 5th) and trophies awarded to each class winner, the Two Handed division and overall.

Race the Wight

Given that Government guidance now allows up to six people from different households to race on the same boat, the RORC Race Management team have also reviewed the eligibility criteria for the forthcoming Race the Wight, scheduled for the 1st August. There is no change to the Two Handed division, but the number of crew on any boat will be limited to six in total, or two thirds of the IRC crew number (rounded down), whichever is the least, with a minimum of three people.

RORC Racing Manager Chris Stone notes: "With the changes in regulations we believe that adopting the maximum crew of six people or two thirds of the boats IRC crew number (rounded down) is a fair solution for all the fleet and allows the smaller boats a greater opportunity to observe social distancing guidelines."

Published in RORC
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A new ISORA app has been developed by the offshore sailing body to register competing crews before each race.

The 2020 ISORA season got underway last Saturday with a 35-mile Viking Marine sponsored coastal race from Dun Laoghaire Harbour and was won by the Royal Irish's WOW (George Sisk) as Afloat reported here.

The 'ISORA Crewmanager App' logs crew names and mobile phone numbers as well as shore contact names and phone numbers.

Skippers are required by ISORA's Sailing Instructions to register all crew using the app that the association says will only be used for:

  • for safety purposes and in an instance of an emergency.
  • if required in association with the ISORA COVID Protocol and Contact Tracing

The App is available for Apple and Android phones.

Published in ISORA
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ISORA has made good on its promise to publish its 'Back to Boating' Protocol this week (downloadable below), the offshore racing body is eager to get back racing at the earliest possible opportunity on the Irish Sea.

The first race will be on July 4th and it will be a coastal race of 35 miles duration. The revised programme (below) has in excess of 300 miles of racing for Round Ireland Race qualification purposes with two races of 75 miles each and a night race too.

The ISORA programme is also tying in with other major key sailing events such as an August 14th race as part of the Welsh IRC Championships, an August 29th race as part of Greystones Harbour Regatta off County Wicklow and a September 12th Lambay Race off Howth as part of WAVE Regatta.

ISORA 2020 Revised Calendar

The ISORA documents (downloadable below) are live working documents and the intention of the Race Management team is to update it as and when restrictions are relaxed/changed in the various territorial waters relevant to each race.

Published in ISORA
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The Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association (ISORA) is working on a protocol that will allow coastal racing to begin at the end of this month.

The return to full racing, however, hinges strongly on the two-metre social distancing being reduced, according to ISORA Chief, Peter Ryan.

The protocol will be issued early this week, Ryan told Afloat.

Irrespective, ISORA racing will be provided for two-handed and family pods this month. The body is unique in that it provides racing on both sides of the Irish Sea and has a combined fleet of up to 70 boats.

The news is a fillip for Dublin, Liverpool, Isle of Man and Pwllheli racers who are keen to get back on the water after a three-month delay to the summer season. Significantly, a number of key competitors have already been back on Dublin Bay in different crew configurations including some new two-handed combinations. Others, however, are still ashore and some boats still in sheds since lockdown began in March.

The ISORA move chimes with Dublin Bay Sailing Club's plans to resume racing from July 20.

It is proposed that all ISORA starts and finishes would be done using onboard trackers eliminating any need for committee boats.

Welsh J109 Mojito (Peter Dunlop and Vicky Cox) from Pwllheli is a former ISORA champion Photo: AfloatWelsh J109 Mojito (Peter Dunlop and Vicky Cox) from Pwllheli is a former ISORA champion Photo: Afloat

If offshore racing resumes on 29th June, it provides further welcome impetus to the season highlight of the 700-mile Round Ireland Race that has been rescheduled for August 22nd. The race has received a buoyant entry to date with 44 entries, the latest being a second Belfast Lough entry over the weekend.

ISORA will at all times comply with the recommendations of Irish Sailing, RYA and RYA Cymru Wales, Ryan confirmed.

Published in ISORA
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Back then, we didn’t know we were living. “Back then” was the first eight or so years of the 21st Century - not forever ago at all. Yet now it feels like not so much a foreign country as more like a different universe. Because back then, there was a buzz. Everything was on the move. It was Action Stations All Areas. It wasn’t a case of “Is it permissible under Government Regulations?” or “Can we do it?” It was more a matter of “When will we do it?” and “How soon will we do it?”

We may now have the makings of a Road Map out of the Covid-19 paralysis, but all the roads in it are long, and some are very winding indeed. As each stage is reached, it will be day-to-day pilotage rather than visionary navigation. And of course, its implementation will all depend on the scourge receding according to the hopeful scientific expectations.

How different it was back then, back when everything was a matter of just get up and go. Of course, there were some crazy episodes. One year, for instance, Ireland had something like three teams racing in the Commodore’s Cup. And they were racing against each other with such determination that there were absurd inter-Ireland protests.

So inevitably we didn’t finally win the Commodore’s Cup until 2010 with its ferocious economic downturn, with a very sober cost-effectively-planned recession-aware single team, put together with infinite patience by Anthony O’Leary and ICRA. But the recession was so deep that there was no defence in 2012, and while the same O’Leary determination won the Commodore’s back in 2014, there was a sense of it being a satisfactory way to end an era, but an unmistakable ending nevertheless.

2 red antix2“The Red Antix” - Anthony O’Leary’s Ker 40 Antix was RORC “Yacht of the Year” and led Ireland to victory in the 2014 Commodore’s Cup in an outstanding success that marked the end of an era. Photo courtesy RCYC

Yet in looking back to those early years of this now uncertain Century in which we are living with increasing difficulty, there are boats and successes which stand out, boats and achievements which seem to have endured some special test of time.

Everyone will have their own favourite superstar boats, and if we scratch about in the memory bin, others will emerge. But for me the first three that spring to mind are George Radley’s Holland 39 Imp and Eric Lisson’s Granada 38 Cavatina – both from Cork - and Ger O’Rourke’s Cookson 50 Chieftain from Kilrush.

Of course, there were other outstanding boats, such as the O’Leary family’s Antix in the white and silver and red versions. Yet there was something mainstream and extremely sensible about the superb O’Leary campaigns, whereas the wild card element is unmistakable in the doings of Chieftain and Imp and Cavatina.

Chieftain GearDrying out process….Chieftain in Plymouth after the Rolex Fastnet Race 2007. Photo: Ger O’Rourke

We focused on Chieftain a couple of weeks ago in highlighting her outstanding overall win in the 2007 Fastnet Race to round out an extraordinary global programme, a programme which had seen her win her class and come fourth overall in the 2005 Sydney-Hobart Race, and then place second in the 2007 New York to Hamburg Transatlantic race before going on to sweep the board in the Fastnet of that same year.

That was a sometimes chaotic gale-swept race which was already out of kilter at the start. The RORC fleet was still becoming accustomed to having the Fastnet start on the Sunday at the end of Cowes Week instead of the time-honoured Saturday, yet in 2007 a sudden gale saw its further postponement to the Monday 13th August, so it was right into the next weekend by the time most of the greatly-reduced fleet finished. And though Chieftain had finished late on the Thursday evening to take the win, the exhausted skipper had his work cut out getting his crew kitted out in clean white shirts for the prize-giving on the Friday.

4 chieftain crew finish4Magic moment – Chieftain’s crew – with Ger O’Rourke at centre – after they’d been told in Plymouth they were overall winners of the Rolex Fasten Race 2007. Photo courtesy Ger O’Rourke
Ger has been through the mill more than somewhat since, as he had the misfortune to break his back in a kite-surfing accident in South Africa and spent a year out of action mending up after open-spine surgery. But he was in a fine nostalgic form when phoning out of Lockdown the other day, and sent on some photos of that Day of Days in Plymouth and the full names of his diverse international crew, who were Ger O’Rourke (IRL) skipper, Jochem Visser (NED) navigator, Dee O’Rourke (IRL) pit, Edwin O’Connor (IRL) Trim, Ryan Houston (NZ) Drive, Cam Marshall (NZ) Bow, Matthew Stuart (NZ) Trim, Tom Whelan (IRL) Trim, Robert Gullan (UK) Mid-bow, Donie Hegarty (IRL) Trim, Kevin Johnson (IRL) Trim, and Tom Whitburn (UK) Pit.

5 chieftain prizegiving5New white shirts all round – crewmember Dee O’Rourke and her skipper father Ger in the middle of Cheftain’s crew at the Rolex 2007 Fastnet Prizegiving

International they may be, but Ger’s roots in Limerick are so strong that he even has a link to the Limerick ketch Ilen, as Gary Mac Mahon of Ilen reckons it was he who introduced the hyper-energetic young Ger O’Rourke to sailing. Back in the 1980s, Willie Sexton’s bar on Henry Street in Limerick was where all the movers and shakers met on a Thursday night, and Gary mentioned in Sexton’s during a typical early-summer Thursday night that the following evening he was off to do a weekend boat delivery under sail, and Ger O’Rourke overheard that and said that he’d be interested in giving this sailing a try for the first time and…….well, history can take it from there.

In the case of Imp, the wild card recognition is because anything to do with George Radley and boats has a streak of wild card brilliance about it. George is a cradle sailor, yet his approach to sailing is sui generis, and the rest of the world can only wonder at what he’ll do next.

6 imp racing6Doing it his way. George Radley at the helm of Imp Photo: Bob Bateman

But in the case of Cavatina, the wild card is found firstly in the reality that although there were maybe about three dozen Granada 38s built between 1979 and 1983, Cavatina seems to be the only one which has been consistently campaigned offshore under the IRC rule, and she has been doing it with great success since before the turn of the Century.

In fact, her rating has seemed so favourable that when RORC measurer Mike Urwin was at Cork Week one year, he was asked to run the tapes over Cavatina to find out what was the secret ingredient. He reported back that there was no secret ingredient, she just happened to fit the rule very neatly, and maybe the secret ingredient was that her crew happened to sail Cavatina very well in offshore races of adult length.

7 cavatina racing7A very normal-looking superstar….Eric Lisson’s Cavatina on her way to winning the Round Ireland Race 2006. Photo: Round Ireland/David Branigan8 cavatina crew8Boat and crew as one – the Cavatina team in Wicklow, scene of some of their major successes

There’s probably a doctoral thesis to be written about Cavatina and her crew, who seem to have remained remarkably consistent in their makeup over the years under the ownership first of Eric Lisson, and more recently of Ian Hickey. Boat and crew, they know each other inside out, such that in any set of circumstances everyone will know what sail combination should be set in order to maximize performance, and they can often seem to communicate this knowledge through a sort of telepathy.

Thus they’re always seen as a threat by others in the Round Ireland Race when they’ve come from behind more than once to take the overall win, they’ve had at least two excellent Fastnets with second overall in 2005’s race and their class win in 2007 when Chieftain took the top prize, and before that in the same year, Eric Lisson and Dave Hennessy brought Cavatina the two-handed division and overall win in the Azores & Back Race.

Dave HennessyGlobal circumnavigators – Dave Hennessy and his wife Katrina Emtage on Laragh

Dave has also logged a four-year global circumnavigation with the 1989-built Jeanneau Sun Magic 44 Laragh with his wife Katrina Emtage between 2013 and 2016, and they’ve been back to northwest Spain and the Azores since. On top of that, in shore life he’s a renowned melodeon player on the traditional music scene in Cork and beyond. In fact, he seems to achieve so much that you feel inclined to enquire of your usually reliable Cork sources if they’re sure we’re talking about one and the same Dave Hennessy around boats and music, and they’ll enigmatically reply they’ve often wondered the same themselves, but it seems he is just the one person, and here he is with melodeon and friends on YouTube

Meanwhile, we look at the Covid-19 Exit Programme, and wonder why - as the Government has taken such extensive powers to itself - they didn’t simply de-commission today’s Bank Holiday, and keep it in reserve for deployment at a time when people like those who sail Imp and Cavatina can make better use of it…

Published in Offshore
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Although ISORA has announced a further postponement of its May fixtures, the ambitious offshore sailing body has also published a revised calendar for the rest of the season (downloadable below) as it commits to running a full programme this season on the Irish Sea and, as Afloat reported previously, it proposes a start date of 31st July for the 160-mile Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race.

The first two coastal races have already been postponed and the flags were raised yesterday to announce the postponement of Race 3 and Race 4 - these were the first two offshore qualifying races from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead scheduled for 2nd May and the Conwy to Dun Laoghaire on 23rd May.

Looking at reshaping the 2020 series ISORA Chairman Peter Ryan said 'we are committed to running a full series in 2020 by providing the offshore racing requested by competitors. To achieve this, we will continue to listen to suggestions and consider all options. We will introduce all of the cutting-edge technologies to achieve this'

"ISORA is very flexible and we will react quickly when there is clarity in what will be allowed"

He also said: 'There is, however, a lot of speculation about when the lock-down restrictions will be eased or lifted, what form of social distancing will be imposed and for how long these will last. We then need to consider the impact these restrictions will have on sailing and offshore racing. We are, of course, reliant on the advice given by our National Governing Bodies RYA & IS. Whilst considering options the safety of our competitor and those who support us is of paramount importance'.

Silver Shamrock 0066Conor Fogerty's 'Silver Shamrock' at the start of an ISORA coastal race on Dublin Bay Photo: Afloat

ISORA does, however, have the ability to be very flexible in setting a revised programme and will react very quickly when there is clarity in what will be allowed.

ISORA CommiteeThe ISORA Committee met to agree a revised calendar via the Zoom platform: Screenshot courtesy ISORA

We have looked at a number of options in what may be a very crowded calendar for late summer and autumn.

1 Rockabill sailing1Reigning ISORA Champion Rockabill VI (Paul O'Higgins) of the Royal Irish Yacht Club Photo: Afloat

In considering options we are conscious that ISORA has always provided the races required to qualify for the Round Ireland Race (new date August 22nd) and we hope to provide this again this year.

Ryan says 'we also want to support other established Championships and Regattas, such as the Wave Regatta 11th - 13th September and the IRC Welsh National Championship 14th to 16th August. The ISORA-organised 160-mile Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race is also in the mix with a proposed start date of 31st July'

The document downloadable below sets out the latest proposal for the revised 2020 ISORA Series.

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The postponed date of Friday, July 31st is being considered as a feasible time to think of starting the ISORA-organised 160-mile Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race, which was originally planned for July 9th to link this summer’s celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Dun Laoghaire’s National Yacht Club with the massive Tricentenary Celebrations of the Royal Cork Yacht Club.

The COVID-19 lock-down and its aftermath may have wiped out or changed much of 2020’s keenly-anticipated major fixtures, with the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race on 20th June from Wicklow postponed to August 22nd, while all the main Royal Cork regatta and championship events for July have been cancelled.

But now that the analyses of the disease and its treatment and progress are developing positively on a daily business, it has become a question of “when” rather than “if” on whether or not there can be a meaningful start of the 2020 sailing programme in the best of the summer months, while still adhering to nationwide health guidelines.

A port-to-port offshore race by its very nature involves much less shoreside infrastructure than a major regatta, and Dun Laoghaire’s Peter Ryan of the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association, a key player in its renewed vitality in recent years, reckons ISORA can thus play a leading role in getting sailing going again, as the Association operates flexibly, and may even offer the slight possibility of a couple of shorter races earlier in July.

2 peter ryan2In addition to his successful longtime involvement with ISORA, Peter Ryan was Commodore of the National Yacht Club when it won the Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year Award for 2011.

Talking to Sailing on Saturday late this week, while Peter Ryan emphasised that his thoughts were speculative and entirely his own, he reckoned that thinking in terms of starting what would have been ISORA’s big one in 2020, the historic re-sailing of the path-finding 1860 offshore race from Dublin Bay to Cork, could be on the cards by Friday, July 31st.

“It gives a modern connection to such an extraordinarily historic event that running it would cheer everyone up after a period in which we’ve lost so much in so many ways,” says Ryan. “And it would fit in neatly with getting the Irish Sea fleets to Cork to be conveniently on station for the beginning of the four-day Calves Week at Schull on Tuesday, August 4th.

“Then too, it would still leave plenty of time for those who wish to return to the Irish Sea for the Welsh IRC Championship at Pwllheli from August 14th to 16th August. And it would provide a very useful qualifying race for those who need to build up their sea time for the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race on August 22nd. So everything points to being ready to think in terms of the Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race on Friday, July 31st”.

mojito J109ISORA pre-start manoeuvres off Dun Laoghaire, with the successful Pwllheli-based J/109 Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox) in foreground. With a minimal requirement for shoreside infrastructure and organization, ISORA can be very flexible in modifying its programme. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien
This is encouraging stuff, with the reassuring sense of quiet but thoughtful leadership at a time when it’s most needed. That said, the simple basic nature of ISORA’s functioning enables it to be nimble in adapting to changing circumstances. Yet in highlighting the significance of the Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race, Ryan definitely is associating his organisation and its revival of the sailing programme with sailing events of exceptional historical significance.

It was June 23rd 1861 when a distinctive 95ft schooner with markedly raked masts slipped into Cork Harbour and came to anchor off Cobh. She’d the look of a vessel which had recently sailed many offshore miles, but her congenial ship’s company were sailing under the burgee of the Royal Victoria Yacht of Ryde on the Isle of Wight, and they flew a well-used British ensign. So despite the absence of a properly-maintained ship’s log, the officials of this naval port accepted the schooner’s bona fides of being on an easygoing family cruise from the Solent to southwest Ireland, and accorded them the privileges which this conferred in terms of the waiving of harbour dues, while the Cobh-based Royal Cork Yacht and Royal Western of Ireland Yacht Clubs both made them welcome.

At the time Cobh – or Queenstown as it then was – was very much the hub of Cork Harbour sailing. For although there was a nascent club across on the western shore at Monkstown, it was 1872 before it became the Royal Munster Yacht Club, while Crosshaven was a tiny fishing port, with one of the few yachts about the place being the Newenham family’s 25-ton cutter Mask, lying to her moorings upriver on the Owenabue River.

4 sirius arts centre4The Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh. Originally the 1854-completed Royal Cork YC clubhouse, it was here that the first Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race of 1860 finished, and where the crew of the mysterious schooner Camilla were made welcome on June 23rd 1861.

But Queenstown was buzzing, for in July 1860 the Royal Cork Yacht Club, under the enthusiastic guidance of its 80-year-old Admiral Thomas G French, had led the way in the inspiration for the first proper offshore race in British and Irish waters. The Royal St George Yacht Club in Dublin Bay had organized a week of regattas in early July, and after they’d concluded, no less than 16 boats – of very varied size and type – had accepted Admiral French’s challenge of racing the 160 miles to Cork, and it started on the 14th July.

5 kingstown queenstown5The Entry List for the second race of 1861 was very much an ad hoc affair, with RCYC Admiral Thomas French encouragingly visiting each boat pre-start in Kingstown, and confirming their entry and the fee paid on this list, believed to be written in his own hand. Image courtesy RCYC
6 entries 1860 race6Printed version of the entry list for the first race of 1860 as it appeared in H P F Donegan’s History of Yachting in the South of Ireland, published 1908. Sir John Arnott certainly hedged his bets – he had two entries, and one of them, Sibyl helmed by the amateur Capt. Henry O’Bryen, was the winner

Much of it was raced in rugged windward conditions, but light airs prevailed at the finish off the Cobh waterfront for a real knife-edge conclusion, with Sir John Arnott’s 39-ton cutter Sybil – designed and built on Cork Harbour by Joseph Wheeler of Lower Glanmire – winning line honours and the race by three minutes from J.W.Cannon’s 40-ton cutter Peri, with Cooper Penrose’s 90-ton schooner Kingfisher another two minutes astern of Peri.

Sybil was skippered by the amateur ace Captain Henry O’Bryen, who had reputedly relinquished the helm for a total of only one hour during the race, a triumph for Corinthianism before it had became profitable or popular, if we may mix metaphors for a moment.

7 race instructions7The hand-written Race Instructions for 1860 were also on a “make it up as you go along” basis. It reads: “Ocean Race. A flag boat will be moored off the harbour, and no yacht may pass between her and the Light House on the East Pier until 11 am, when a gun will be fired from “Urania” as the signal for starting. The yachts may lie where they please provided they do not pass between the Light House and flag boat before the gun fires”.

But Sybil’s owner Sir John Arnott (1814-1898) was something else, a real go-getting Scottish-born entrepreneur who’d arrived into Cork in 1837 aged 23 and launched himself into a sometimes rocky commercial career which at various stages involved heavy investment in department stores in Ireland and Scotland, horse racing both as an owner of thoroughbreds and of noted race courses, steamship companies, railways, and for a while the inevitable newspapers, in his case The Northern Whig in Belfast and The Irish Times in Dublin.

8 john arnott8Victorian entrepreneur Sir John Arnott, who had two yachts entered in the first Kingstown to Queenstown Race of 1860

Arnott was always a man in a hurry, so it’s possible that he thought the distinguished flag officers of the Royal Cork were a bit conservative in their management. Thus he was one of a bunch of shaker-uppers who set up a new club in Cobh, the Queenstown Yacht Club, which they cleverly up-graded by taking on the tattered-remains of the old Royal Western of Ireland YC, founded in 1828 in Kilrush by Maurice O’Connell and his nephew Daniel of Derrynane among others, but wandering more or less homeless after the horrors of the Great Famine of 1845-47 had wiped out fripperies like yachting on Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard.

After a vague period in Dublin, suddenly the old Royal Western emerged re-born in 1861 in Cobh with Sir John Arnott as Commodore, and for their first season under this new arrangement, they showed nimbleness of foot by organising - at very short notice - a regatta to provide a race for this strange schooner which had suddenly arrived in their midst.

For although the schooner had the name of Camilla across her shapely transom, the dogs in the street in Queenstown knew that this was the one and only America, the 1851-built New York flyer which, by convincingly winning a rather hastily-assembled race round the Isle of Wight on the final day of Cowes Week 1851, had won a silver cup worth one hundred pounds sterling for her New York Yacht Club syndicate of owners.

9 america wins9America wins, Friday, August 22nd 1851. Almost everything about her was different, including her notably flat-setting cotton sails, but she was soon being imitated
10 americas cup notice10The poster for Cowes Week 1851. The social pace was so hectic that they only had time for three races, and in the notice for Friday 22nd August, the inclusion of “yachts of the Clubs of all nations” was actually aimed at expected entries from the Imperial Yacht Club of St Petersburg in Russia. They failed to arrive, but in the meantime the schooner America had turned up, though she had to wait through the week until she could finally race on the Friday. From these only semi-planned beginnings, there emerged The America’s Cup.

In 1861 when the schooner was briefly in Cork, this rather unlovely cup – ewer is the technical name - was yet to become known as The America’s Cup, and there wasn’t to be a challenge to take it from the Americans until 1870. But ten years after her famous victory round the Isle of Wight, the myth and mystique of the schooner America was well established as part of world sailing lore, and the Young Turks in Cork sailing associated with John Arnott made the most of it, with this special schooner race quickly organised by the Royal Western of Ireland for June 28th, Camilla/America’s opposition being W D Seymour’s 85-ton La Traviata, W Wyse’s 140-ton Urania, and C H Smith’s “little” 66-ton Echo.

Camilla/America’s sails were tired and so were her crew, yet she still managed to take line honours in this slightly mysterious race. But it was by only one minute from the much-smaller La Traviata, which had been amateur-helmed by W D Seymour’s son to a clear handicap victory. After the finish, young Seymour was borne ashore shoulder-high by the cheering waterfront crowds to achieve a Cork Harbour sailing and sporting eminence to match that of Henry O’Bryen who – in a shrewd bit of window-dressing worthy of Arnott’s at their best - had been drafted in as Vice Commodore of the Royal Western of Ireland.

However, all these seemingly-rebellious Young Turks in the re-born RWIYC had retained their membership of the Royal Cork YC and would in time become part of its establishment lineup. But if they’d hoped to promote their “new” club by persuading the Camilla/America to take part in 1861’s staging of the Kingstown to Queenstown Race, they were disappointed, for as we shall see, the famous schooner had serious business elsewhere, and was soon gone.

11 royal st george yacht club11The Royal St George Yacht Club hosted the start of the first Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour race in 1860. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

As it is, the 1861 race was started in Dublin Bay on 19th July, and once again mustered 16 starters with the winner being Colonel Huey’s slippy 62-ton cutter Osprey, with designer-builder Joseph Wheeler’s own 48-tonner Avalanche having to make do with second despite having led into Cork Harbour in light airs, while E J Saunderson of Lough Erne YC was third with another even smaller and slippy craft, the 34-ton cutter Phasma.

Admiral French’s own 61-ton yawl Spell took part this time (see first name on written entry list above), but although he was to continue as RCYC Admiral until his death in 1866, he’d already been 77 when he took over as Admiral in 1857, and his enthusiastic promotion of the Kingstown-Queenstown race’s first staging in 1860 suggested an old man in a hurry to promote an idea which he’d been carrying for some time.

Certainly, at its third staging on July 11th 1862, there’s a clear impression that others had taken it over, as the host club on Dublin Bay has become the Royal Irish YC from their impressive 1851-completed clubhouse, while the trophy is an expensive bit of silver plate presented by the Royal Western YC.

12 royal irish yacht club12The Royal Irish Yacht Club hosted the start of the third and final Kingstown to Queenstown Race in 1862
For anyone seeking abstruse historical connections, it’s of interest that The Liberator, Daniel O’Connell of Derrynane (1775-1847) had been present at both the foundation of the Royal Western in Kilrush in 1828, and the meeting in Dublin on July 4th 1846 when the 1831-founded Royal Irish YC had been revived. Meanwhile, in 1862, the Kingstown-Queenstown Race once again attracted 16 starters (though there’s no note of any entry limit), and they ranged in size from three 35-ton cutters – Ariadne (G Higgins), Coolan (G Robinson) and Glance (A Duncan – to two 130-ton schooner, Galatea (T Broadwood) and Georgiana (Capt Smith Barry).

The clear winner was the 50-ton cutter Phosphorous owned by W Turner - who is doubtless immortalized in modern Cork by Turner’s Cross - while C J Tennant’s 90-ton cutter Clutha was second on the water, but Galatea won the schooners and was reckoned second on handicap.

They arrived into the finish at Cobh where the Royal Western of Ireland was now well-established as the second club with premises at Westbourne Place next the Queen’s Hotel, and a membership which by 1863 included the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Carlisle, as well as Sir Robert Peel, at that time Chief Secretary for Ireland. So heaven only knows what politicking was going on behind the scenes, for the Royal Cork, still with T G French as Admiral, had been well settled into its purpose-designed new clubhouse (now the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh) since 1854, and no-one doubted its claim of seniority in its descent from the Water Club of 1720.

As it happened, 1863 was probably the high point of the RWIYC’s time in Cobh, for the rest of the decade saw a period of economic decline, and the Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race wasn’t staged again. While the Royal Cork came through the thin times as it had come through many others, in 1870 the Royal Western of Ireland YC was quietly wound up at Cobh. But in the west of Ireland, and particularly with the Glynn family of Kilrush and The Knight of Glin across the Shannon Estuary, enough of its memorabilia, artefacts and records survived for it to be revived with the opening of Kilrush Marina, with the club’s greatest modern success being Ger O’Rourke’s overall victory with the Cookson 50 Chieftain in the RORC Rolex Fastnet Race 2007.

This may all seem to be something of an impenetrable maze of history, but it’s perfectly straightforward by comparison with the story of the schooner America, and how she came to be in Cork.

Everyone knows that she was hurriedly built early in 1851 in New York by Brown’s Shipyard, to the designs of the 31-year-old George Steers, for a swashbuckling syndicate of New York Yacht Club members led by John Cox Stevens. The project was to send a challenger across the Atlantic to race the English in Cowes Week at a time when the Great Exhibition in London was signalling the global achievements of the British Empire and its worldwide commercial success and dominance.

13 america profile13America as she was rigged when she won on August 22nd 1851. The boom on the jib broke during the race, which lost her about 15 minutes in repairs, but she was still well ahead at the finish.
14 round isle of wight14 The 57-mile course for August 22nd 1851 – the Isle of Wight was rounded clockwise

Not one of the top British racing yachts looked remotely like America, with her low rig and its raked masts, and her extremely hollow waterlines forward. But after she’d made her mark in a very distinctive fashion in just one race round the Isle of Wight on Friday, August 22nd 1851, several English racers were very expensively altered to take on board some of her ideas.

As for her American owners, they were gamblers to a man, so they collected their winnings, and celebrated mightily in New York, supported by their fellow-citizens to such an extent that grinchy Manhattan lawyer George Templeton Strong confided to his diary: “Newspapers crowing over the victory of Stevens’s yacht, which has beaten everything in the British seas. Quite creditable to Yankee shipbuilding, certainly, but not worth the intolerable, vainglorious vaporings that make every newspaper I take up now ridiculous. One would think yacht building were the end of man’s existence on earth”.

Quite so. Henry James would have been pleased with that. But as for America’s owners, they dropped ideas of sailing her home, and sold her in the Solent for 25,000 dollars to an Irish army officer of French Huguenot extraction, John de Blaquiere, who was soon to become the fourth Baron de Blaquiere of Ardkill in County Derry, where the family had thousands of acres acquired through their skills in tax gathering for the government, while the title came from supporting the Act of Union in 1801.

America 15An amazingly well-balanced hull, with a rudder more like a trim tab. In her original form, America was steered by a small tiller, and the fact that her rudder stock had a very small rake forward may have helped her lightness of helm

Despite these links, de Blaquiere never brought America to Ireland, but did some remarkable cruising to the Mediterranean, with the famous racing boat demonstrating her seagoing credentials by coming through a very severe storm off Malta in February 1852, while her legendary lightness of helm was eulogised by an experienced guest sailor: “Many yachtsmen will remember the almost mop-handle diminutiveness of her tiller, I steered her when going seven knots close-hauled and in some Bay of Naples swell, standing to leeward of the tiller and pressing against it with my little finger only”.

America’s hull was so sweetly balanced that her slim rudder was little more than a trim tab, but it was a trim tab made as effective as possible by being so vertical that the stock is almost inclined forward, unlike the unhealthy measurement-rule induced rudders of a later era, with their excessive and inefficient aft-raking of the stock.

Yet with all her virtues, as John Rousmaniere has commented in “The Low Black Schooner”, his brilliantly succinct account of this remarkable vessel, in the mid-1850s: “America was neglected because she had succeeded to the ambiguous status that is reserved for all trend-setters past their time.” However, in 1856 she was bought by yet another Irish peer from the north, this time Lord Templeton whose lands were in County Antrim, but he never brought America to Ireland either. In fact, he scarcely used her, though he did re-name her Camilla, and it was under this name that she was sold to ship-builder Henry Pitcher, who did extensive re-build work at his yard on the Thames.

16 america brailed16America’s rig underwent various forms in later life, and at one stage she had topmasts on both the main and fore masts, with the mainsail and the boomless foresail brailed up to their gaffs, the foresail’s gaff boom being left aloft. A retractable addition was also fitted to the bowsprit.

He then sold her in 1860 to a “mysterious character” called Henry Edward Decie, supposedly a 28-year-old former officer in the Royal Navy, where they’d been obliged to let him go, as they say in HR circles, because he’d been excessively zealous in chasing pirates on the coast of South America, and had knocked lumps out of a Brazilian warship by mistake.

Maybe so. At least that was his story, but we’re into murky waters here, and things were becoming even murkier in the USA with the Civil War looming. A dodgy character like Decie with a super-fast boat like Camilla ex-America - with her proven transatlantic capacity - was just what the Confederate States were looking for in assembling a fleet of fast blockade runners.

Henry Decie seems to have been Captain Cool, and he certainly loved sailing. Family cruising too. In August 1860, having won a race in a regatta at Plymouth, Camilla sailed away with Henry Decie and his wife or maybe she was his mistress and her six children and a crew of thirteen (nothing superstitious about our Henry), and after calling at several places including Lisbon and the Cape Verde Islands, on April 21st 1861 she fetched up on the other side of the Atlantic at Savannah, Georgia. There, the rebel Confederate Government had her bought within a month for 60,000 dollars on condition that Decie remained in charge, and undertook a voyage to Europe with a mission to purchase armaments and organize the building of warships.

So the former schooner America set off back to Europe still under the command of Henry Decie on the 25th May 1861 for her third Atlantic crossing, and on board with Decie and his shipmates were two Confederate Agents with Bills of Exchange to the tune of 600,000 dollars, plus Letters of Credit for much more. This was serious stuff. Yet on June 23rd it was as a light-hearted cruising vessel that she arrived into Cork Harbour, claiming the immunity and privileges conferred by her Royal Victoria Yacht Club burgee and British ensign, with Decie saying that he’d just strolled over from Cowes for a little competition.

17 savannah port17 The modern port of Savannah in Georgia, USA. The schooner Camilla ex-America departed Transatlantic from here on 25th May 1861, but when she arrived in Cork Harbour on June 23rd, her skipper Henry Decie claimed they’d just sailed over from Cowes.

That was duly arranged in jig time by the Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland in Cobh. We can only guess as to who really knew what was going on. The two Confederate agents soon disappeared into the bustle ashore and onward on their mission, and Henry Decie and the Cork Harbour schooners went yachting, but then he had to depart again within a day or to rendezvous with the agents.

In time, Camilla reverted to being America, and she finished the Civil War serving on the Union side. In various ownerships and eventually, in the charge of the US Navy, she survived until 1945. But the 100,000 dollars which President Franklin D Roosevelt had allocated for the maintenance of the old girl never reached her in the hectic end-of-war period, and in 1945 the roof of the shed she was housed in collapsed under a freak fall of snow, and that was the end of the wonderboat of 1851 which had briefly been a sensation when she sailed into Cork Harbour in 1861.

Published in Dublin Bay
Page 2 of 35

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