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#roundirelandrecord –The idea that sailing round Ireland could be sport would have seemed crazy not so very long ago. Ireland's Atlantic coasts, indeed all Ireland's coasts, were seen as the sole preserve of a skilled and hardy breed, very special seafarers who were the only people able for the dangerously hard work made necessary by the need to make a living from fishing, commercial shipping or naval duties on some of the most restless water in the world.

Maybe we're getting back to that stage, with the professional crew of the MOD 70 Musandam – including Ireland's Damian Foxall - lining up today to take on the still impressive 44 hour round Ireland sailing record set back in September 1993 by Steve Fossett's superb 60ft trimaran Lakota. For they're doing it at a time when winter is refusing to loosen its grip, and the radio stations are broadcasting continuous weather warnings. Sail around Ireland? You wouldn't even have let the dog out of the house yesterday.

Yet at least we now know that it is possible to sail the 704 miles round Ireland at high speed and survive – and sometimes even enjoy it. But in the days when Ireland's Atlantic seaboard was known only to professional seafarers and locals scraping a living with small boats which hoped to scuttle back to shelter when storms threatened, it had a fearsome reputation. It was a viewpoint which those who sailed its waters had a vested interest in encouraging and preserving. It rightly made them heroic to others, while the jealously guarded navigational knowledge of local pilots was something which gave them a useful economic advantage.

In the late 19th Century, however, the spread of recreational sailing inevitably led to cruising yachtsmen sailing to ever more remote coastlines. Mostly they were affluent types whose boats were managed by professional captains. But in time the sportsmen were sailing their own boats, with amateur cruising under sail becoming a whole new branch of yachting. And there had long been yachts on the west coast of Ireland. In the briefly prosperous pre-famine era, the Royal Western YC of Ireland in 1838 listed 18 members' vessels of varying sizes based at its home port of Kilrush in County Clare. So the likelihood is high that some of them sailed round Ireland, even if only on delivery trips by professional crews.

But the earliest specifically round Ireland cruise from an Irish port that we definitely know of didn't happen until 1889, when Walter Boyd of Howth skippered his own 34-ton yawl Aideen round Ireland. Better known as Judge Boyd, Aideen's amateur skipper was a classic Dublin character – he's referenced in Joyce's Ulysses – but his enthusiasm for cruising Ireland's more rugged western coastlines was usually not shared by fellow yachtsmen, even if he did his best to spread the word that it was by no means as scary as popular opinion would have it.

We know little of Boyd's cruise, except that he did it and he must have sailed all the way. It wasn't until 1896 that we have the log of a round Ireland cruise which enables us to give some sort of guess at speed. Of course, the idea of sailing round Ireland non-stop was a complete non-runner until the Round Ireland Race was inaugurated from Wicklow in 1980. But in 1993 it was realised that Lakota's sensational new time was such a game changer that it was important to record the early pioneers before this new wave of multi-hull hyper-speed swept their memory away completely.

Thus it was that, 97 years after he wrote it, the number crunchers fell upon Belfast doctor Howard Sinclair's charming log of his clockwise cruise round Ireland in 1896 in the 30ft cutter Brenda. They worked out – after making allowances for time taken to get in and out of ports and anchorages – that he had averaged 2.63 knots. There were few enough eligible round Ireland circuits after that, for the advent of the auxiliary engine rendered most of the only very slowly increasing number of round Ireland cruises invalid as pure sailing projects. But in 1935, the speed improved slightly when Humphrey Barton – later founder of the Ocean Cruising Club – made an anti-clockwise cruise from Belfast Lough at an average of 3.34 knots in the engineless 37ft gaff cutter Dauntless.

Belfast Lough figures surprisingly prominently in these early round Ireland sailing chronicles. Perhaps it's because, of all the major Irish sailing centres, Belfast is furthest from the choicest cruising area in southwest Ireland. It's as quick for the Belfast men to sail home from Kerry by going on round, whereas Dublin Bay boats are heading further away from home until they reach Slyne Head up in Connemara, and Cork boats seldom if ever sailed round Ireland at all until Denis Doyle came along and cut a mighty swathe with Moonduster.

durward

The mighty atom. The Belfast Lough Waverley class sloop Durward is just 18ft long. Yet in 1961 (when setting a Bermudian rig) she sailed round Ireland at an average speed of 3.4 knots. Photo: W M Nixon

Whatever the reason, the next two cruises which increased the average speed both also started from Belfast Lough. Truly remarkable in 1961 was the speedy clockwise circuit by the 18ft Belfast Lough Waverley Class Durward, still the smallest keelboat to have done it, and a record which is likely to stand as keelboats rarely get any smaller. In those days, Durward (which is now based in Dun Laoghaire) set a handy Bermuda rig, whereas today she has changed to the gunter rig as originally designed, with a remarkably long mainboom. On the circuit in 1961, for which her cockpit was fitted with a temporary lid to mke a sort of cabin, she was sailed by brothers Kevin and Colm MacLaverty, with Mick Clarke as third hand, and their average speed with this gallant micro-cruiser was 3.4 knots, very good going with a 14ft waterline.

The average speed finally got above 4 knots three years later in an unintended anti-clockwise sailing circuit. We (this blogger, together with Russell O'Neill and Ed Wheeler) set out in 1964 in the vintage 36ft yawl Ainmara with every intention of availing of the engine as often as needed. But it seized solid before we'd even got clear of Belfast Lough, so it was sail all the way for an average of 4.83 knots which would have been around than 5.4 if we hadn't had to spend a long night lying a-hull in a southerly gale somewhere off the mouth of the Shannon.

ainmara

Ainmara, 101 years old, is currently owned by Dickie Gomes, who established a round Ireland record with the trimaran Novanet in 1986. But Ainmara was herself an "accidental" record holder, back in 1964 Photo: W M Nixon

By the 1970s, Round Ireland Races were coming up the agenda, so the record analysts of 1993 had something more tangible to go on. The first round Ireland race was a clockwise three stage two-handed event from Belfast Lough staged by Ballyholme YC, with stops in Crosshaven and Killybegs. Winner was the Dun Laoghhaire S&S 34 (Robert Mollard & Dick Watson), and with many light weather days, they averaged 4.95 knots. Five years later, the pace quickened with the first non-stop Round Ireland Race, clockwise from Wicklow in 1980, and the line honours winner, Johnny Morris from Pwllheli with the 36ft Force Tension, averaged 5.24 knots.

Then, The Doyler arrived with The Duster, and the numbers started to get interesting. The great Denis Doyle of Cork is gone from us now for a dozen years, and many of today's younger sailors can scarcely be aware how this most modest of men, with his lovely Crosshaven-built 1981 Frers 51 Moonduster, so greatly enhanced Irish sailing. And never more so than in his final twenty years, when he and Moonduster played a central role in the European offshore racing scene.

moonduster

The queen of all fleets. Denis Doyle's legendary Moonduster was the flagship of Irish offshore racing for twenty years. Photo: Bob Bateman

Once The Doyler had decided that the Round Ireland Race and Wicklow deserved his support, he gave it so wholeheartedly that today it receives the same points weighting in the RORC championship as the Fastnet Race itself. Oddly enough, though, Moonduster's two record times in the Round Irelands of 1982 and 1984 were so good that the challenge they posed moved the round Ireland record beyond the Round Ireland Race. For the Round Ireland Race is of course narrowed to a specific starting time, and you have to go clockwise. But after Denis Doyle had pushed his own average speed to 7.09 knots in 1982 up to 8.02 in 1984, inevitably speed sailors began to wonder just how fast you might go with choosing you own optimal starting time, and carefully selecting which way to go.

For there's no doubt that Moonduster's performance in 1984 was a real beauty. The wind was west to nor'west, with enough north in it to comfortably lay down to the Fastnet, and then only the briefest bit of sailing hard on the wind before it backed slightly and they were off on a hack up the west coast. As navigator John Bourke puts it: "We were seeing off an entire Irish county in every watch".

An average of 8.02 knots may seem little enough compared to today's massive multi-hull speeds. But for an amateur-crewed mono-hull sailing at a pre-ordained time on a land-circling course in a region of weather ranging between variable and volatile, it was quite something, and a challenge to all-comers. So although the Round Ireland Race itself continues to have its own monohull record time (it's currently held by Mike Slade's 100ft Leopard from the 2008 race), since 1986 the out-and-out Round Ireland Sailing Record has been held by three different multi-hulls choosing their own starting point and time, and which way to go. One of them did it from Belfast Lough, and the other two did it from the Kish Lighthouse in Dublin Bay, which has become the de facto recognized record starting point, as it was also from here that a new Round Ireland Mono-hull Record was established by Jean-Philippe Chomette's Open 60 CityJet in 2006.

cityjet

Jean-Phillippe Chomet's Open 60 CityJet set a straight monohull record from the Kish in 2006 Photo: David O'Brien

The weather expert in CityJet's successful crew was noted sailor/meteorologist Chris Tibbs, whose belief that reading the weather right for a round Ireland challenge is one of the most interesting met challenges in world sailing was borne out by the elegant way in which CityJet fitted into a west to nor'west wind pattern to sweep around clockwise in record style, and his analysis of this performance added to the growing knowledge of what's involved.

If you're thinking in round Ireland sailing record terms, first thing is to re-think the shape of the island. The popular perception is that the Emerald Isle is more or less rectangular, with distinctive north, east, south and west coasts, and very clearcut right angle corners at Fair Head, Carnsore Point, Mizen Head, and Bloody Foreland.

Not so, however, if you're in the records business. Anyone contemplating a round Ireland sailing record these days has to think in terms of a jolly green giant tadpole, with its blunt head pointing northeast towards the Inner Hebrides, and the fat tail pointing southwest into the wide blue yonder.

Those who would set a record will plan on as much fast reaching as possible on the longer eastern and western seaboards, and running before the wind around the northern nose, with any slugging to windward as brief as possible around the southerly tail.

So the smart money is on the situation where there's a big low loitering with intent to the southwest of Ireland, and the wind is set for two or three days in the southeast to east quadrant. Just like the last 36 hours, in fact, except that the pressure gradient has been more than a little too steep for record-breaking purposes. But with the isobars easing up a bit this morning, the setup is in place, and the only way is anti-clockwise. That said, there's a small concern that tonight might see a localised southerly twist down towards Mizen Head. But that should have gone back southeast by the time Musandam is getting there, and with any luck they might even get by with just the one tack sou'west of the Fastnet, though windward tacking is not the same problem with the Mod 70s as it was with some of the earlier multi-hulls.

In taking on the round Ireland challenge, it may well be that the alternative winning option of a west to nor'west wind occurs more frequently, which would dictate a clockwise route. But a nor'wester usually doesn't last as long, whereas the rarer sou'east to east wind can settle in for days. Or at least it seems like that at this time of the year, when it's bringing us the tail of Siberian weather, and would drive you nuts if you didn't have some worthwhile project like a round Ireland record on hand to make good use of it.

Of course, a crazily ideal situation might seem to be an intense low stuck right over the middle of Ireland, and you whirl round anti-clockwise, broad reaching on port gybe all the way. It's an interesting gambler's option, and it has succeeded in the past. But maybe it's too unstable a weather situation for serious record-breaking nowadays, because if the low is sufficiently intense to have strong winds all round its core to power the entire coastal sailing route, it can sometimes quickly fill and leave you becalmed, as low pressure areas lose power over the land. But if it does persist, even having its centre move just 50 miles can have the wind all over the place.

No, what you want is a good steady gradient, but not too steep, with winds southeast to east and the occasional bit of luck with slight but significant swings in the wind direction to enable you to make south all the way around the western seaboard without tacking, and east-northeast along the south coast equally free of tacking, once you've weathered the tadpole's tail.

It's a big ask. We can predict the weather fairly accurately a day ahead, but that accuracy is rapidly reducing with every hour beyond the start, when the show up and running and there's no going back. But things are looking good for this new challenge by Sidney Gavignet, Damian Foxall and their shipmates on Musandam, which is now due to start today. Heaven knows, but they could do with a little break. Having left Lorient late Thursday afternoon, they found conditions getting increasingly rugged as they came north, and much of the passage up St George's Channel was under bare poles in a howling sou'easter yesterday, making over to the lee of the Wales and getting into the relative shelter of Caernarfon Bay under snow-covered mountains as evening drew on.

Damian summed it up in a text to Afloat.ie, "A bit bouncy for a start.....shelter in Caernarfon Bay this evening and tonight, nice and flat, chilly though...sleet, snow forecast...option tomorrow morning better, potential start 0900ish. Enjoy your dinner this evening with the family and a bit of telly in front of the fire, we'll be thinking of you ☺"

It was mighty cold, it still is, but spirits were raised with hot food – the first of the day for the skipper and Thomas le Breton. And they have been able to consider their options, with the weather pattern for the next couple of day seemingly fairly clearcut, the wind set in between southeast and east with the occasional slight weaving, which can make a lot of difference at difficult headlands. But with the wind forecast to become locally east to northeast along the south coast between the Fastnet and Carnsore Point on Monday morning, they know they've got to be up and moving promptly this morning if they're going to knock the record for six.

britishairways

Robin Knox-Johnson's 60ft catamaran British Airways developing power off Dublin Bay at the start of her round Ireland challenge in May 1986. She came within an ace of capsizing a few seconds later, but then streaked away northeastward on a successful anti-clockwise circuit. Photo: Tom Lawlor

So what are the three previous multi-hull records they're taking on? Well, after Denis Doyle's definitive round Ireland speed of 8.02 knots in 1984, Robin Knox-Johnson was first into the fray with his 60ft Rod MacAlpine-Downie designed catamaran British Airways in May 1986. Compared to today's minimalist multihulls, with her acres of deck she now seems like an overbuilt aircraft carrier. But 27 years ago when we joined her in Plymouth to bring her up to the National YC in Dun Laogahire, who were organizing the first challenge using the Kish as the start and finish point, she seemed quite the business.

A period of southeasters was in prospect, but we'd some tense waiting around until things looked about right, then we slugged out to the Kish, and in plenty of breeze let her at it with rather too much enthusiasm. The weather hull had a mind of its own, and flew up.....and up - we were within an ace of capsizing. But down it came again, that wayward weather hull, and we shot up the Irish Sea, westward round the nose of the tadpole like a rocket, then on south at high speed on course towards Kerry. But the wind veered about twelve hours too soon, and we were plugging to windward in lumpy seas from north of the Blaskets all the way down to the Fastnet. So though we'd proper yachting, spinnaker and all, from the Fastnet to the finish, we only just edged over the Doyler's time to push the average speed up to 9.21 knots.

novanet

She was a brutal big beast. The 83ft Novanet was 40ft beam, heavy to handle, and very reluctant to tack. But she set a new record in November 1986.

It was, as our doughty skipper put it, an eminently beatable time. And within four months somebody was trying to do that very thing. In those days, northerner Dickie Gomes (ironically the owner since 1966 of the 1964 record holder Ainmara) had a parallel existence as a multi-hull sailor, and in 1986 he was teamed up with former police sergeant Peter Phillips on the catamaran Novanet.

This was one monster. She was 83ft long and 40ft wide, and it took half a day to tack her when the going was good. But in straight line sailing, she could get up to a merry speed, and in September 1986, with a crew large enough to think of shaping up to sailing this eccentric giant, they set off from Belfast Lough. They went clockwise in a brisk west to nor'west breeze, which had enough north in it to let them lay down to the Fastnet, where things were looking good, as they were still only 20 hours on their way. But then the huge mainsail split, and that was that for the time being.

It was November before they could have another go. If you think the prospect of sailing round Ireland in March is grim, don't even think about November.....fourteen hours of darkness, and the winter winds in crazy mood. But in another west to nor'west wind pattern, it went well until they were past Achill Island in a rising wind and a freezing front went through to cause a crucial veer which made weathering the Black Rock a very dubious proposition. Yet their awkward big boat wouldn't have tacked in the deteriorating conditions. Either they ran her off, probably to beach her, or hoped they'd just enough clearance to scrape by the Black Rock's lethal offliers.

novanetcrew

The crew of Novanet after her successful challenge in November 1986 were (front row left to right): Dickie Gomes, Brian Buchanan, Brian Law and Peter Minnis, back row: Peter Phillips, Enda O'Coineen, (Richard Price of Novanet), Paul Hargreaves, Greg Peck and Bob Bradford. Photo: W M Nixon

They still don't really know how they did it. But with maybe only inches to spare, Novanet got past the Black Rock. This slightly freed her to clear Eagle Island and Erris Head, and after that it was off like a scalded cat under headsail only in a Force 10 past Tory and Inishtrahull and Rathlin Island, with the wind veering even further to speed them down to Belfast Lough and a new record average 10.05 knots. At least the Round Ireland Record was finally through the ten knot barrier. But still nothing sensational, you might reasonably think. Yet it stood for nearly six years. However, when it was toppled in September 1993, it was done so in very convincing style.

Con Murphy and Cathy MacAleavy of the National YC were multi-hull enthusiasts who managed to convince new-to-the-scene American sailor/adventurer Steve Fossett that he should bring his decidedly hot 60-ft trimaran Lakota to Dun Laoghaire for an early Autumn crack at the round Ireland record in 1993. Fossett had Dave Scully as his partner in the boat, and they also had up-and-coming multihull star Brian Thompson with them. They signed on Con and Cathy to bring crew numbers up to five, as many as they felt was needed for a boat which in her elegant way was as light as British Airways and Novanet had been heavy.

They'd expected to wait a while in Dun Laoghaire, but as their overall time window was narrow, when a deepening low settled into a course straight at Ireland from the southwest, they decided to ride it almost immediately. Not an ideal scenario nowadays, but don't forget that twenty years ago, they were trying to beat an average of only10.05 knots, and with a slippy boat like Lakota, they could cut themselves a bit of slack.

lakota

Lovely weather for record-breaking. Lakota sets off in successful pursuit of the Round Ireland record, September 8th 1993. Photo: Air Corps

The conditions when they went off on Wednesday September 8th 1993 were dreadful for yachting, but perfect for record breaking. In a mighty cloud of spray and spume and rain, under shortened canvas, they zoomed north in a horribly wonderful sou'easter. And while the Irish land lay under the heavy rainclouds of this still energetic low, Lakota streaked on past Donegal under clear night skies and south past the coast of Connacht.

Because the weather had been developing so rapidly, this meant that off Galway's west coast they were crashing into old head seas from the southwest which threatened to damage the boat. And the crew too. Con Murphy, trying to grab some sleep in a bunk down aft, found himself hurled forward along the length of the accommodation. It's beyond imagination to visualize the loads created by slamming into seas like this at these speeds, but Lakota held together.

On both the south and west coasts they had to endure the calm patches which almost inevitably develop when you are using a low pressure area centred over Ireland, with the wind drawing off the land. They came to a stop at the Old Head of Kinsale, and then again at Wicklow Head. But quite soon they were going again, and there was time in hand and then some. The Kish was put astern again after 44 hours 42 minutes and 20 seconds an average of 15.84 knots. It's a record which has stood for 19 years, four months and 12 days. Will it still be standing on Monday?

Yes it will! Message received at 07.18 on Saturday:

Dear Chris,
We will not attempt the record this time, we are aiming back to Lorient. Conditions are "almost" ok, but we prefer to play the safe decision.
Hopefully we will come back later in the year, in better conditions. All our team thanks you a lot for all your efforts, we regret we won't see you but it will happen later. Best regards. Sidney Gavignet, Skipper MOD 70 Musandam

lakotacrew

The record holders. Con Murphy, Cathy MacAleavy, the late Steve Fossett, David Scully and Brian Thompson, crew of Lakota round Ireland, September 8th to 10th 1993

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Published in Round Ireland

#teamracing – The chances in Ireland of snowfall on St Patrick's Day are statistically better than the chances of the white stuff coming down on Christmas Day. The reason we haven't really got our heads round this notion is that in mid-March, it just disappears like....well, like snow off a ditch.

But spare a thought for the suffering citizens of southeast England. They effectively enjoy a Continental climate, which means their average chances of snowfall at Easter are higher than at Christmas, even allowing for Easters in late April.

Not so in Ireland. But nevertheless if you want to get the best of what's available in sailing over the Patrick's Day holiday, and reckon that the sea at its coldest is quite enough to be going along without rain falling as snow showers too, then head southwest pronto.

Twenty-eight university sailing teams have done that very thing, heading for Kerry and converging on Fenit in Tralee Bay where University of Limerick are the organisers of the annual Irish Intervarsities, team racing in Fireflies, with Tralee Sailing Club providing the facilities for the opening event of what promises to be a very busy season, as they have both the WIORA and ICRA championships down there in June.

fireflies

It may be 68 years since Uffa Fox designed the Firefly 12ft dinghy for mass production in hot-moulded multi-skin timber - "cooked life a waffle" - but it is still a favourite for the special demands of team racing, and more durable these days with GRP construction

The TSC season explodes into life this weekend, as the three-day Intervarsities zapped into action promptly at 1000hrs yesterday, with 72 races scheduled each day. Then today both the Tralee Marathon and Half Marathon come trotting through Fenit. And tonight, the club throws its traditional Launch Party, one of the more boisterous events of the year. As Commodore Pat Daly commented earlier this week, after a winter of slumber the members don't know what's going to hit them, but they'll enjoy it anyway.

For sure, they have the place to do it. The rest of Ireland tends to think of northwest Kerry as a wild and woolly place. But in fact Fenit is a snug little spot, with a sheltered south-facing coastline between it and Spa in towards Tralee town, while sailing in the impossibly beautiful bay has been transformed by the top class marina out at the harbour on Great Samphire Island. Yet it's less than an hour's sail across the bay to the Maharees, which is pure Atlantic Ireland, a place apart where they create the finest racing naomhogs on the west coast.

racingnaomhog1

Do not adjust your set....we have inverted this photo, taken July 2012, in order to better show the highly-refined racing naomhog Corty Herbst at the Maharees in Kerry. Corty Herbst (1924-2000) was an American who settled in the Maharees with his wife Joan in 1969, and became much involved with the local racing currachs, playing a key role for many years in organising the Maharees Regatta. Photo: W M Nixon

fenitmarina

Fenit's 130-berth marina is a friendly place, and the harbour is a fine example of practical co-existence between fishing boats, recreational sailors, and commercial shipping. Photo: W M Nixon

The harbour on Samphire Island is reached along a 0.75 km causeway and bridge which is always well lined with sea anglers, who live in a world of their own. If you arrive in aboard a cruising boat, you'll find it takes exactly seven minutes to walk that bridgeway to the nearest pub, and another couple of minutes to get up to the club. But as the Intervarsities are dinghy focused, everything will rotate around the fine clubhouse in its prominent position above its own launching slip and an excellent sailing area which is ideal for an intense event like this, as it offers several options to cope with changing wind directions.

traleebaysc

Tralee SC is at the heart of a boat-orientated complex which includes a busy sailing school

Having a major event so early in the season is always a bit of a gamble, but the pattern of the university year dictates the timing. This weekend's series is emphatically the Team Racing championship, which automatically secures the winners a place in the massive British University Team Opens at the end of April. But during April, the Irish colleges will also be in pursuit of a place in the Student Yachting Worlds in France at the end of October, very high on the agenda as UCD won it in 2012, so they already have a place as of right.

Thus there'll be an extra place up for grabs by whoever can top the Irish Worlds trials in April, which will be raced in the SailFleet J/80s. They're based in Howth this year, and the college trials will have racing on April 6th, 13th and 20th. It's all of more than academic interest, as the Student Yachting Worlds will also be raced in J/80s, which provides the prospect of the good old one two for Irish university teams at world level. Dream on.....

As for this weekend, it's the gallant Fireflies which are the workhorses for the three-boat teams. The logistics are mind-boggling, and UL's Robert O'Leary – best known in recent seasons as the helm out of Crosshaven on the family's cruiserfied 1720 Antix Beg – has stood back from being on the team in order to concentrate on the Sisyphean task of keeping things on schedule, or maybe even a bit ahead of the sched, as the winds might be pushing towards gale force northerlies later tomorrow afternoon.

With Irish women being way ahead of their male counterparts these days in success in international sports such as rugby, boxing and sailing, it's no surprise to find several of the leading teams in the Intervarsities on Tralee Bay have women captains, with University of Limerick – very much the pace-setters in college team racing build-ups earlier this year – headed by Lauren Joslin, while the international stars of UCD are captained by Zoe Flood.

Yesterday saw the first day of racing blessed with much better weather than was being been anticipated at mid-week, with Tralee Bay enjoying its own favourable micro-climate while massive clouds passed to north and south in a 12 to 16 knot westerly which was enlivened by only a couple of rainsqualls on the bay. That said, a "small hailstorm" was a reminder that winter has barely released its grip, but there was plenty of sunshine and spring was in the air.

University of Limerick lived up to the promise of earlier events this year with wins in all their races, while UCD were next with five wins out of six, followed by TCD. Today should see the programme moving along with northerlies and clearing skies, and there's an improving chance that the northerly gales being mentioned for tomorrow will be far enough west to allow the programme's smooth conclusion.

GATHERING THE GAFFERS

Trying to assemble a fleet of boats and then get them moving in any sort of co-ordinated way is about as easy as herding cats at a crossroads. It's a good explanation for the appeal of racing – put up a prize and start firing the guns in the starting sequence, and there's just a chance some sort of order might prevail.

Another technique is finding some anniversary of recognisable significance, and building an event around it. The word is that the Irish Cruising Club are going to have a Octogintaquinquessimal Cruise-in-Company in southwest Ireland next year to celebrate the 85th Anniversary of the founding of the club in Glengarriff on July 14th 1929. Anyone suggesting that if they could just hang on for another fifteen years, then they could have a real mega-celebration for the Centenary, is sharply reminded that the club has a very significant membership cohort of extremely senior seniors in a hurry, and they want to Do It Now.

Meanwhile, it seems the notion of a Golden Jubilee cruise this summer for the Old Gaffers Association in the form of a rolling circuit of Britain with two stopovers in Ireland, and boats joining and leaving as they please, is proving popular. Sign-ups for the Dublin visit from May 31st to June 4th have already gone through the fifty mark, with the style being set by some fine big cutters such as Brandaen from the Netherlands, Annabel J from the Solent, and Adrian 'Stu' Spence's 1875-vintage Pilot Cutter Madcap from Strangford Lough.

brandaen

The impressive Dutch cutter Brandaen has signed up for the Old Gaffers Golden Jubilee Cruise-in-Company, which comes to Dublin Bay from 31st May to 4th June.

It's all a long way from the first assembly in Ireland of boats intent on celebrating the special joys of gaff rig, which attracted precisely three craft to Dunmore East in 1955. For a long time there'd been amiable arguments as to which was the faster boat between the Cork Harbour One Design of 1895, and the similarly-sized Dublin Bay 21 of 1902. With Dinghy Week 1955 being staged in hospitable Dunmore East, a midway port of sorts, two Dublin Bay 21s and two Cork Harbour ODs set out from their respective harbours to meet for the first time ever in Dunmore for a deciding contest which would have the benefit of being witnessed by racing experts.

The weather decided otherwise. Not through gales, but because of an enormous flat calm. In Cork, the two CHODs were towed out of the mirror-like harbour mouth, but the tide brought them back in again, so one of them – Cygnet - moored to a navigation buoy. When the tide turned again to offer the chance of a second attempt at departure, in the hassle of releasing themselves a crewman was left behind on the buoy (I'm not making this up), and the sluicing ebb meant they couldn't return to collect him.

Fortunately George Radley's Querida was further back, and she was able to collect the stranded crewman in passing, so to speak. They made it to Ballycotton that night, and then to Dunmore East the following day. But only one of the Dublin Bay 21s made it over the longer distance from Dublin Bay. This was Naneen owned by Michael 'Styx' O'Herlihy, who the following year sailed to America on the Kearney 6-ton yawl Evora, and made his fortune in the US as producer of the successful TV series Hawaii Five-O. His crew was the youthful Cass Smullen, and it took the pair of them fifty hours to get to Dunmore East, which made Dyko Morris, who retired from the voyage at an early stage with his DB21 Geraldine, even more convinced he'd done the right thing.

With an element of exhaustion and over-exuberant celebration at getting to Dunmore East at all, the actual races don't seem to have been totally conclusive, in fact there were only a couple of contests with one day lost through gales. Honours were fairly even – the Dublin Bay 21 had the edge in lighter breezes when her topsail could be set, but when it piped up the Cork Harbour OD, with her high-peaked gaff main and never carrying a topsail, seemed to have the best of it.

corkharbourod

Cork Harbour OD in classic style, with high-peaked gaff mainsail, but no tops'l, romping seaward from Cork Harbour. The restored boats will be having special races at Cobh Traditional Sail Regatta from June 28th to 30th. Photo: Tom Barker

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When the Dublin Bay 21 could carry her topsail, she seemed to have the edge on the Cork Harbour OD, but the Cork boat seemed faster in strong winds.

Years later, Styx O'Herlihy and George The Rad used to wax nostalgic about this unique event, for in hindsight it was a sort of last hurrah. In 1963 the Dublin Bay 21s decided to change to Bermudan rig, and at much the same time the Cork Harbour One Designs were being turned into Bermuda rigged cruisers, for which they did very well. They'd heftier hulls than the Dublin Bay 21s, and thus could provide more accommodation, and at a time before bare hulls in fibreglass for home completion as cruisers had become available, it was a useful option for an economy cruiser.

The story takes an odd turn, for although the Dublin Bay 21s stayed together as a racing class, they ceased to function after the damage in Dun Laoghaire harbour by the remnants of Hurricane Charlie in 1986. But the Cork Harbour One Designs found new life as Bermuda-rigged cruisers, and thus survived in order for several of them to be converted back to their original gaff rigged racing setup as the interest in classic yachts grew. Particularly notable was Jap, which was found in a hidden creek of Falmouth Harbour and brought magnificently back to life for Clayton Love Jnr by Fairlie Classics. He notched many classic regatta successes with her before selling her on to David Sheriff, who last year skippered Jap to top boat overall in the Classics Regatta at Cowes in July.

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With their conversion to Bermuda-rigged cruisers as seen here in 1981, the Cork Harbour One Designs survived to avail of the classics revival, which has seen several of them restored to original form. Photo: W M Nixon

This year there'll be a chance to see the restored local fleet of Cork Harbour One Designs in action at the Cobh Traditional Sail Regatta from June 28th to 30th. Whether or not we'll see any of them making the scene for the first time ever in Dublin Bay with the Old Gaffer events four weeks earlier is probably mostly a matter of logistics. But if they're heading for the east coast, they can rest assured there's no requirement to leave a crewman behind on a navigational buoy on the way.

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#sailing – With all the high-profile Irish entries in the RORC Caribbean 600 race falling by the wayside in this year's breezy staging of the sunshine classic, it has been left to two hard-working charter boats to do the business for Ireland, and they've done us proud.

Appropriately, both boats are owned by people who are involved with the wind energy business. The bigger of the two, the Farr-designed 100ft Cape Arrow which has placed 13th overall, is owned and managed by Tuskar Shipping, which is in turn owned by Fastnet Shipping, a Waterford company which is run by Sinead and Trevor O'Hanlon and specialises in servicing the offshore wind industry.

Cape Arrow is professionally skippered by Andrea Balzarini. But the other Irish front runner, the 76ft Lilla which has won Class 1 and placed 8th overall, has owner Simon de Pietro of Kinsale YC very much hands-on as skipper, while his wife Nancy is the navigator. They demonstrated their joint skills last year by winning overall in the cruiser division in the biennial Newport-Bermuda Race, but this time round they'd their boat going so well they had the class win in the open division.

Both of them maintain close ties with Ireland. Her people are from Sligo, while his mother lives near Buttevant in County Cork and is co-director of the Buttevant-based family firm, DP Energy. The company is in the forefront of wind harnessing technology, and is also at the heart of the major project to install a huge tidal farm with multiple turbines in the ferocious streams which run off Islay in the southwest Scottish Hebrides, with the turbines being serviced from Northern Ireland.

That particular challenge would be enough for most people, but as well they manage Lilla as an active charter boat, fitting their occasional races around an active working programme when the boat is skippered in choice cruising locations by Ian Martin. It's a busy life, and there's extra interest in that Lilla is now something of a classic – she was built in Bordeaux in 1993 in aluminium to a Philipppe Briand design. Thus the win in Class 1 in the Caribbean 600 made for a nice 20th birthday present for a boat which is still as good as new, and very elegant with it.

The annual sprint around the islands with the Caribbean 600 provides an opportunity for some of the biggest sailing charter boats to show how they can go like the clappers if given the chance, and it provided some intriguing results even if the prime positions were largely as predicted. Thus the line honours winner as expected was Mike Slade's 100ft Leopard, though she was five hours outside the record time set by George David's Rambler 100 in 2011, which was a decidedly mixed year for that big boat, as by mid-August she was upside down off Barley Cove with her keel gone AWOL in the Fastnet Race.

On corrected time, again as expected it was a battle between Hap Fauth's Judel Vrolik 72 Bella Mente and Ron O'Hanley's Cookson 50 Privateer, with the latter having a well-deserved win by 22 minutes. So that's all right, then. But maybe the real story is when we delve into the other boat times, and note that the schooner Adela placed third overall on IRC, and finished just half an hour after the out-and-out racing machine Privateer.

Adela is a massively big - as in enormous - 180ft steel-built schooner, designed by Djikstra and built by Pendennis in Falmouth in 1995. To blast round the course in a machine like this in a way which enables her to sail up to her rating with such impressive style is just a fantastic achievement by skipper Greg Perkins.

Admittedly when you see Adela out of the water, it's to realize she's not so much a wolf in sheep's clothing as a cheetah in haute couture. Above the waterline, she's all sweeping counter and elegant clipper bow, but below it she's a workmanlike fin and skeg profile which really does give her performance a lot of oomph.

Even so, the loads which a boat this size imposes on her sails, rig and equipment is something which can only be partially measured electronically. There's a huge element of experienced judgment in driving her to the limit without seriously breaking something, and to do it round a course like this which involves frequent directional changes shows skill of a very high order. So let's hear it for the big steel lady.

And spare a thought for those who dropped out. The 100ft Liara skippered by Peter Metcalf from Northern Ireland hadn't got very far from the breezy start when her mast came down, while damage to both the 78ft Whisper (Mark Dicker) and the First 40 Lancelot II (Michael Boyd, Niall Dowling and John Cunningham) likewise saw them under the DNF category. As for the storm-battered Irish-owned Swan 48 Wolfhound which was registered DNS, she may still be out there somewhere around 70 miles north of Bermuda. Her crew were taken off in a severe storm by a ship which heard their EPIRB, but when last seen in atrocious sea conditions, Wolfhound was still afloat.

BERMUDA RIG IS FOR WIMPS

Those crusty old Dublin Bay salts who have been dumping big time on this blog for our enthusiasm for the Dublin Bay 21s in their original gaff-rigged form, bashing us with their negative memories of near-sinkings and actual sinkings and hellships that generated lee helm when the mainsheet was let fly in strong winds, they may well think we've retired hurt from the fray. Not a bit of it. We've only been re-arming. Now we'll let them have it with both barrels.

What on earth do they think the original owners had in mind when they ordered the boats in the first place? Were they looking for comfortable little cruisers to doddle around the bay? Not a bit of it. They were looking for boats suitable for wild sportsmen, not for boats approved of by conservative seaman.

Of course the Dublin Bay 21s were demanding and difficult and sometimes dangerous to sail. That was what it was all about. There's no sport in safety. And of course they were hard work, and an ergonomic disaster area in terms of ease of handling. That's the way life was in 1902, and the ways of the sea were supposed to be harder than the cosseted life ashore. So let's take a look at another photo of a Dublin Bay 21 under her original gaff rig with jackyard tops'l, and see why they represented such an awful but irresistible challenge.

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In steady conditions, the Dublin Bay 21 under full sail was manageable, but she provided a real challenge when sailed hard in a blow.

The photo must have been taken in the late 50s, with the boat setting what was to become her last suit of gaff sails. Though they're bearing up reasonably well, a certain bagginess would exacerbate any helming faults. The tiller is well across, suggesting marked weather helm, but don't forget the rudder was well raked, which exaggerated the appearance of the amount of helm necessary, and as the boats aged there was increasing flexibility – to put it mildly - in the connection between rudderhead and tiller.

Thus basically the boat is quite reasonably well balanced. But imagine what happens if a sudden squall strikes. As our old salts have pointed out, the narrow side deck means that the Dublin Bay 21s start to fill with Dublin Bay through the non-self-draining cockpit quite quickly. The mainsheet must be eased as quickly as possible. The ergonomics are terrible, with the mainsheet controlled from cleats outside the cockpit coaming, so a lot of the time in a sudden wind increase the mainsheet – with its tails in a jumble below – is simply let fly, thereby immediately and completely altering the balance of the boat. It would defy all the laws of centre of effort and centre of lateral resistance if she didn't suddenly develop marked lee helm.

So the skill lay in controlling the easing of the mainsheet, one helluva challenge when you're up to your armpits in the cold ocean in ancient oilskins, and everyone is falling over everyone else. And as for suggesting the side-decks should be made wider, that would only make the cramped cockpit even more crowded. But with a skilled helmsman and an even more skilled mainsheet man, preferably of superhuman strength, it could be kept under control, for basically as our second picture shows, it wasn't an inherent fault in the shape of the boat which caused wild fluctuations in balance, but rather a severe temporary imbalance of the sails.

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Under shortened rig of full main and jib, but with no tops'l or staysail set, this Dublin Bay 21 in a strong wind is showing marked but controllable weather helm, while the shape of her hull when heeled shows that it is inherently quite well balanced, without excessive fullness of the waterlines aft to distort steering characteristics.

Another topic which came up with the COS brigade (Crusty Old Salts) was the usefulness or otherwise of the topsails. A topsail is only as useful as the quality of its set, and if it isn't perfectly set up to become one with the main, then it can sometimes be worse then useless.

But as our final photo clearly shows, the luff of the Dublin Bay 21s tops'l was actually longer than the luff of the gaff mainsail. And it's the luff length that does the work in going to windward - it's worth remembering that in the great days of gaff rig racing with the big class, the top skippers were so certain of the need for luff length in windward ability that in heavy weather when they reefed the gaff mainsails, they then set up a jib-headed tops'l above the reefed sail in order to maximise luff length within the smaller sail area.

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The luff of the jackyard tops'l in a Dublin Bay 21 was slightly longer than the luff length of the mainsail itself, so in sailing to windward, when luff length is at its most important, a well-setting tops'l made a significant difference.

But the problem with a topsail is that if it doesn't click perfectly into place at the first attempt, sometimes it takes for ever to get it right. So with the pace of life becoming more hurried as Ireland entered the 1960s, the time no longer seemed to be available to set up the complete Dublin Bay 21 gaff rig just to go out for an evening race, and the Howth 17s today don't permit topsails for evening club racing.

Back in 1963, when the Dublin Bay 21 crowd were arguing the merits of changing over to Bermuda rig, one of the points in favour of the change was the time it would save. That great sailor and Dublin Bay 21 enthusiast Cass Smullen said this was stuff and nonsense, and claimed he could set up the complete gaff rig of the Dublin Bay 21 in 25 minutes single-handed. So one of the boats was moored just in front of the National YC, and a crowd gathered, drinks in hand, to watch Cass take on the challenge. He did the job in 21 minutes. But they still changed to Bermuda rig.

BIBLICAL EPIC TO IONA

My apologies to Ivan Nelson (see comment at the end of last week's blog – Ed) for the ham-fisted use of English in discussing last week how a Kerry currach – a naomhog from the Dingle Peninsula – came to be sailing to Iona with the first bible in Irish for delivery to the sacred archives there. The bible was of course translated into Irish in 1602 (Old Testament) and again in 1680 (New Testament). We all remember it well. But somehow neither of these translations had ever found its way to Iona, so it was a first in that sense.

Anyway, it's thanks to the crew of Harry Whelehan's 32ft Sea Dancer out of Howth that we got to know of this Kerry voyage, which was done very low key, and in easy stages. Easy stages, that is, if you think it's easy taking a currach all the way up the west coast of Ireland and then past Malin Head and on to Iona.

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The Kerry currach delivering the Irish bible to Iona last summer completed the voyage in true Christian spirit, with no designated skipper. Photo: Mark Tierney

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It wasn't all swanning along under sail. In order to get from Ventry to Iona, they often had to pull with a will. Photo: Mark Tierney

The crew of Breanndan Begley, Anne Bourke, Danny Sheehy and Liam Holden did the voyage in three stages over three summers, and in such a spirit of Christian goodwill that the crew of Sea Dancer were unable to tell who if any was the skipper. But the Kerry folk did what they set out to do, then rowed around a few more Scottish islands before heading south, eventually getting to Wicklow. We look forward to hearing about their completion of the circuit of Ireland this summer.

NAOMH BAIRBRE HOME

Thursday nights won't be quite the same now. The six part series on TG4 by Donncha mac Coniomaire and his two shipmates (one of them his father Tomas) about their voyage along the Celtic seaways to Orkney southabout round Ireland from Connemara in the 47ft Galway hooker Naomh Bairbre has come to a successful conclusion. But it certainly shortened the winter watching this demanding ship and her engaging crew making their way to diverse ports which acquired added interest when viewed through the Irish Gaelgoir lens.

Mostly it drew pleasantly to a close as all good cruises do. But there were a few sad moments n the final epiode when they sailed up to Derry to pay their respects to the Galway Hooker An Lady Mor. Donncha had worked in a successful cross-community restoration project on this historic boat back in 2006, and the restoration team then sailed her from the Foyle to Connemara and back when the job was done. But now she lies abandoned and purposeless, ashore in Derry docks, deteriorating rapidly. She could be restored if somebody took action now – I can remember a successful restoration on the same vessel in the mid 1980s by Mick Hunt in Howth. Can't something be done now for An Lady Mor in Derry's year as City of Culture?

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Can she be restored in the City of Culture? An Lady Mor, seen here being launched in Howth in 1985 after restoration by Mick Hunt, is urgently in need of restoration again, this time on the banks of the Foyle. Photo: W M Nixon

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#circumnavigation – A traditional global circumnavigation was celebrated in Dun Laoghaire last night with the award of the Irish Cruising Club's premier trophy, the Faulkner Cup, to Fergus Quinlan of Kinvara on Galway Bay for the log of the third stage of the 40,486 mile global circumnavigation he completed last year with his wife Kay aboard the 12M steel cutter Pylades, a van de Stadt design which he built himself between 1995 and 1997.

Those of us who have stayed on in Ireland to live through the recession should maybe have taken more notice when, around four or five year ago, architects like the skipper of Pylades started finalising plans to take off for the dream cruise, round the world in easy stages until there was a chance there might be some signs of the green shoots of recovery back home. Of all trades, it was the architectural profession which would have been the first to notice that the flamboyant growth of the tiger years was starting to wilt.

A previous decade in which long distance cruising came top of the agenda was the 1930s, when the Great Depression likewise gripped the world. Then about ten year ago when New Zealand was in localised recession, people simply spent more time sailing in what is a sailing paradise. They already had the boats to do it with, now they'd the free time. But as they didn't have the money for fancy new sails and other gear, they made do with the equipment they had. So this upsurge in sailing activity was of little benefit to the marine industry, but by living frugally afloat the people could enjoy themselves, and returned to work refreshed as the economy stared to pick up.

But in any case, when you've built a boat as good as Pylades, long distance voyaging is the only way to go. She's all of a piece, and is yet another manifestation of the versatility of Dutch designer Ricus van de Stadt (1910-1999). A couple of weeks ago, we were discussing his vision in the use of plywood construction with the Black Soo type from 1956, and Zeevalk before that in 1949. But in 1955 he was also ahead of the posse in glassfibre with the appropriately named Pionier 9, one of Europe's first production boats in GRP. Though long out of production, they're still going strong – there's one of them lying to a mooring in Malahide Estuary, just across the channel from the yacht club.

And as you'd expect from a Dutchman, he was tops with steel. The Caribbean 12 design from which Pylades was built is double chine for ease of construction, yet is still a handsome boat of the ideal size – for the life of me I can't see why anyone needs a proper cruising boat to be more than 38ft long.

With Pylades, Fegus and Kay Quinlan have made the ideal circumnavigation, quietly adhering to their own rule of staying with the boat all the way – they didn't do the usual modern thing of flying home from time to time. But they maintained an informative website, and as someone in a creative profession and a traditional musician too, Fergus is a dab hand with the words and the notions, His log is filled with much entertainment and information and the sort of thoughts that come to you on the long ocean passages – did you know, for instance, that continental separation continues at about the same speed as your fingernails grow?

It's the third year running that Pylades has been awarded the Faulkner Cup, which dates back to 1931 but hasn't been taken three times on the trot before, so history was made last night at the ICC AGM. You don't of course "win" cruising trophies, you're awarded them, which quietly deals with the notion that the essence of cruising is its non-competitive nature.

But were it not for cruising awards, we'd have few enough sources of information to trace the development of this branch of sailing, and to inspire others. Yesterday evening the adjudicator Brendan O'Callaghan had to allocate a round dozen cruising achievement trophies, while there were six other special awards by the committee, including the Wright Salver which went posthumously to Mike Balmforth for his remarkable book Cruising Ireland, published last June, while Sean Flood received the Donegan Cup for his tireless work as Ambassador for Sail Training International. Olympic sailor Annalise Murphy and her parents Con Murphy and Cathy McAleavy were awarded the John B Kearney Cup for services to sailing by this very special family whose breadth of involvement in our sport is unrivalled.

Other cruising trophies included the Strangford Cup to Jarlath Cunnane of Mayo for a 4,500 miles venture north of Russia with his much-travelled Northabout, the Atlantic Trophy went to Maire Breathnach of Dungarvan for the transoceanic crossing which completed the circuit of North America by the gaff ketch Young Larry, Paul Butler of Dun Laoghaire took the Round Ireland Cup for his informative account of a classic circuit, Brian Black of Strangford got the Rockabill Trophy for his voyage to Greenland with the 35ft Seafra, and Dickie Gomes (also of Strangford Lough) received the Fingal Cup for the Centenarian 36ft Ainmara's cruise to the Outer Hebrides and Scotland's west coast.

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The John B Kearney-designed and built 36ft yawl Ainmara anchored off at Plockton in Wester Ross during her Centenary Cruise to Scotland which was awarded the ICC's Fingal Cup. The club's John B Kearney Cup for Services to Sailing, commemorating Ainmara's renowned designer-builder, was awarded last night to leading Dun Laoghgaire sailing family Con Murphy and Cathy MacAleavy and their daughter, Olympic sailor Annalise Murphy. Photo: W M Nixon

In other cruises, Garry Villiers-Stuart received the Wild Goose Cup for a "pilgrimage voyage" with the 1890-vintage cutter Winifeda of Greenisland, the Marie Trophy for the best cruise by a boat less than 30ft LOA goes to Mick Delap whose gaff cutter North Star is just 24ft long, the Glengarriff Trophy goes to former Fireball champions Adrian and Maeve Bell from Strangford for a cruise in Irish waters which was good despite the weather, the Perry Greer Bowl for a first log goes to Ann Lyons for a cruise among Celts fom Cork eastward, the Wybrants Cup for the best cruise in Scotland goes to Harry Whelehan of Howth whose venture to the Hebrides with the 32ft Sea Dancer found itself providing support for a currach from Kerry delivering an Irish language Bible (the first such apparently) to the religious community at Iona, and the Fortnight Cup for the best cruise in 16 days went to David Williams of Strangford Lough who managed to take the owner-built steel cutter Reiver to southern Brittany, 600 miles in the fortnight, and they got far enough south to be clear of the baleful effects of the jetstream which was blighting the weather over Ireland.

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Awarded the Fortnight Cup. The 35ft steel cutter Reiver, to a design by Ian Nicolson of Alfred Mylne, was self-built by David and Peter Williams of Strangford Lough, and launched in 1988.

THE CARIBBEAN 600 SHOW GOES ON

Irish hopes in the RORC Caribbean 600, which starts on Monday from Antigua, received a horrible setback a week ago when Alan McGettigan of Dun Laoghaire's recently-acquired Swan 48 Wolfhound foundered just north of Bermuda. The boat was on a very challenging delivery passage from Connecticut via Bermuda to Antigua to take part in the race, and the crew of four with the owner in command were in no doubt about the scale of the task they faced. But with snowstorm Nemo developing over northeast America, the conditions in the Gulf Stream became extreme, and with multiple systems failures, a rescue by activating the EPIRB became necessary.

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Wolfhound was a Swan 48 to this 1994 Frers design.

Nevertheless the sinking of a boat of this quality is extremely unusual, but we'll have to await the word from the crew (the ship which picked them up gets to Gibraltar next Tuesday) to learn if it was impact against the ship which sank Wolfhound. She was one of the Frers designed Swan 48s of which 57 were built between 1995 and 2003. The design was developed as the natural successor to the very successful Sparkman and Stephens-designed Swan 48 which was one of the classics which established the Nautor brand, so although Wolfhound was called a Swan 48, she was in fact just a smidgin under 51ft. This gives her even more Irish interest, as it means that at the time of her building, she was a sort of up-dated production version of Denis Doyle's legendary Moonduster, built by Crosshaven Boatyard in 1981, which was last reported to be based in Norway with an offshore sailing school in Trondheim.

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The Duster sails on. Denis Doyle's famous Frers sloop steps out seven years ago near her home port of Trondheim in Norway.

Meanwhile out in Antigua Irish hopes in the Caribbean 600 now rest with Dun Laoghaire's Michael Boyd, Niall Dowling and John Cunningham with the chartered First 40 Lancelot, the Reichel Pugh 78 Whisper skippered by Mark Dicker, and Northern Ireland's Peter Metcalfe in command of the 100ft Liara, though of course American Ron O'Hanley with the highly-fancied Cookson 50 Privateer, will find he immediately reverts to the nationality of his ancestors if Privateer does the good deed.

Defending champion Ran, the JV 72, isn't taking part this year, but her newer near sister Bella Menta (Hap Fauth, USA) is probably the bookies' favourite, though Mike Slade's ubiquitous hundred footer Leopard is on a roll after setting a new record in the Transatlantic race (she was on charter to Nik Zennstrom of Ran who fancied a bit of extra comfort to cross the pond) and can never be ruled out of contention.

NAOMH BAIRBRE AND A SILE NA GIG

The addictive Turas Huiceara on TG4 at 9.30 pm on Thursdays continued this week with Donncha and his hard-working pair of shipmates on the giant Galway Hooker Naomh Bairbre managing to get their enormous mainsail back in action with the new boom made from a tree felled in Stornoway.

Their voyage in search of Gaelic links along the Celtic seaways brought them to the Orkneys where - as suggested here last week - there's little enough trace of the Gael in a Viking-dominated archipelago. But a visit to St Magnus Cathedral, the remarkably fine mediaeval church in the Orcadian capital of Kirkwall, discovered what is apparently the most northerly Sile na Gig, a piece of unsubtle Celtic statuary incorporated into a stone archway.

There is no doubting what this little stone carving is all about - it makes even the most blatant Playboy centrefold seem totally demure by comparison. If this is the image of Irish womanhood being given to the Vikings of Orkney, no wonder they came down here in their hundreds expecting rape and pillage.

Finally heading south, the Naomh Bairbe found her way into the Caledonian Canal, with the site of the Gaelic-destroying Battle of Culloden nearby providing a mournful visit. But such are the demands of a continuous cruising narrative that there wasn't time to put Culloden into perspective, relating it to 1745 and the expedition into Scotland by that world-class messer Bonny Prince Charlie. You could understand, though, why he mightn't be mentioned – it's difficult to be serious about a man named after three sheepdogs.

Going down Loch Ness, there were interesting insights into the survival or otherwise of Gaelic in Scotland, with one speaker making the point that its disappearance means that people aren't really able to properly read the maps of their homeland, as the names of the significant features are all based on Gaelic.

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The Gaelic says it all. The Scottish mainland's exposed most westerly point is Ardnamurchan. It means the Headland of the Great Seas – this photo was taken in unusually smooth conditions, with the wind off the land, a rare experience0. Photo: W M Nixon

In fact, both the Clyde Cruising Club Sailing Directions in Scotland, and the ICC books on the Irish coast, make a point of including a large glossary of Gaelic coastal terms, as it does indeed greatly aid in "reading" a coastline. It may be a help to the survival of the old tongue, but on the other hand it simply reinforces Gaelic's featherweight status as no more than a holiday language.

Next Thursday sees the final episode of the Turas Huiceara saga. Whatever about its success as a television programme, it has been a fascinating cruise on an interesting boat, and I can only hope the crew of the Naomh Bairbe start to get some quiet enjoyment as they get nearer to home in Connemara.

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Published in W M Nixon
9th February 2013

Sails and the City

#americascup – It's time for the reality check in San Francisco. This morning, season tickets guaranteeing "the best seats on the bay" for the America's Cup 2013 go on sale. The America's Cup Season Pass includes a ticket to the choicest seating in a prime waterfront location at the America's Cup Village, with an elevated close-up view of the race start and the top turning marks of the course.

Perhaps talk of a "reality check" is pitching it too high. They'll sell out, as did the tickets to the same locations for the preliminary on-the-water sparring during 2012. But for those running the project, whether directly involved in everything to do with the sailing, or in the background co-ordination of the city's participation, each and every last pointer to the marketability of the ultimate sailing event is going to be closely analysed. The hope will be that conclusions can be drawn as to whether or not it's possible to generate enough interest in viewable sailing to make waterfront communities get more committed to it at official level.

So it's not a question of whether or not the tickets sell out. Rather, it's a matter of how quickly, and to whom, and for how much. The economic interaction between sailing and cities is extremely difficult to quantify, so the goldfish bowl which is the America's Cup in the Bay City will provide an excellent opportunity for gauging public interest, and where it all might go.

As it is, the city fathers in San Francisco are having quite a bumpy ride with the America's Cup. It took all sorts of negotiations and deal-making to secure civic backing to let the big sailing circus happen in the bay in the first place. Since then, a public appeal to build up a $20 million non-profit organisation to underpin the staging of major sporting events in the city, starting with the America's Cup, has been greeted mainly by silence – and it's not the agreeable silence of hundred dollar notes floating into plastic buckets.

San Francisco mayor Ed Lee is still in the early stages of creating this promotional organization, called OneSF, but if the America's Cup fails to hit its earning expectations, the hope of attracting events like the Superbowl in the near future will be severely hampered.

Coming as it does in the week when the Volvo Ocean Race organisation confirmed the list of ports round the world which will be hosting its stopovers in the next staging of the circumnavigation, it's of special interest. We're now getting a plethora of information as to which cities are hitting the target. But other than that they all want to do it, it's difficult to discern a shared pattern for success.

And when you add the complexities of big city politics, it can be anybody's guess as to what makes for the magic formula. But for the Volvo stopover wannabees, I'd suggest that being the finishing port is not a winning proposition. This seems to have been underlined by Galway's two experiences with the race. The first time round when Galway was a stopover, admittedly it was still something of a novelty, and we weren't stony broke. But the fact that there was still racing to be done gave it a special dynamic.

Second time round, you'd have thought Galway being the finish port would have done the business, but precious little business was done. The buzz wasn't the same. The national economic situation was dire and the weather was crap, and today the unhappy legacy of ill feeling still lingers on. There was no strong sense of the city, apart from the immediate harbour area, benefiting in any way.

There have been all sorts of explanations. In the economic extremities of the time, it's even possible that Ireland's new road system played a part. The Dublin to Galway motorway was unfinished for the first Volvo visit. But it was very much up and running the second time round. Thus economically stressed families in the capital could contemplate a day visit to Galway and get all of the excitement of the Volvo Ocean Race show without spending a cent in the western city, and still be comfortably home that same night. All they needed was a tankful of diesel for the people carrier, and enough cash for the road tolls. Crazy theory maybe, but who knows.....

By the same token, the Tall Ships in Dublin at the end of August was a gift for financially-stretched families. So much of it was just one great big free show, and though there was one day of awful weather, the rest of it had as good weather as the summer of 2012 could provide. So the citizens were happy with their free maritime show. And a happy citizen is a happy voter, so the city fathers were happy. But whether or not the traders were happy is another matter, though heaven knows those on the quaysides charged enough for snacks which would have been half the price in a normal retail outlet.

Yet for those who party, it was a marvellous excuse for a party. There are times when the sailing events into which we all put so much thought and effort in order to chime with public interest are simply seen by Joe Public as no more than a good excuse for a party. And when it's not convenient to party, interest is zero. One setting where you'd think sailing and public interest would comfortably interact is during Cork Week, when the fleets on the in-harbour courses are racing in dramatic style close in on the Cobh waterfront. It's so good you'd think they could sell tickets to those who want to watch. But in truth there are probably more people on the boats admiring Cobh than there are people ashore in Cobh bothering to look out at the racing.

I'd a telling insight on general interest in sailing at Wicklow during the start of the Round Ireland Race in June. While there was the usual crowded buzz around the harbour and Wicklow SC, I reckoned a better overview could be had up the road at Wicklow Golf Club.

Well, it hit the spot perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that when the good times return, if you happen to be involved in organizing some sort of corporate function associated with the start of the Round Ireland Race, then see if you can cut a deal with the golf club. They've a bit of space, and there's a splendid view of the entire starting area and the first mile or so of the race itself.

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The start of the Round Ireland Race 2012 as seen from the clifftop tee at Wicklow Golf Club Photo: W M Nixon

Best view of all is at the tee which is right on the clifftop. There happened to be a four ball driving off as the last minute ticked away to the start. It took me a bit of overuse of the zoom lens to get a pic, yet it still made a double-page spread for the Afloat Annual. But as for the four happy golfers who could have enjoyed the best view possible of the start of the Round Ireland Race – they didn't take a blind bit of notice. When people bang on about making sailing accessible and visible to all, I sometimes think of those golfers. But maybe that's not quite fair. Golfers are a different species. If there'd been a golf course on Cape Trafalgar on the 21st October 1805, I don't think anyone playing on it would have noticed anything at all unusual out at sea on that particular day.

DERRYNANE STAYS IN BUSINESS

Derrynane in far southwest Kerry must be Ireland's most complete cruising anchorage. It's utterly beautiful, it provides perfect natural shelter, its feeling of being away from it all is total, and ashore there's everything you could want, from superb beaches and glorious walks, to a perfect pub nearby.

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Derrynane, probably the most complete cruising anchorage in Ireland. Photo: W M Nixon

But that's only the start of it. The place is suffused in history and topical interest. It's the home port of Damian Foxall, and in times past it was the summer sailing base for Conor O'Brien of Saoirse fame, whose signature you can see in the guest book at Keating's pub. And the Dunraven family of America's Cup notoriety also had their summer place at Derrynane.

Before that again, it was of course the ancestral home of Daniel O'Connell, The Liberator, and a run ashore would be given added depth with a visit to his family's Derrynane House, which has been entrusted to the nation since 1964. Despite its setting near the sea, it slumbers in an almost tropical torpor, an architectural mishmash of considerable charm. And for sailing folk, it has added interest in that O'Connell was himself a sailing enthusiast, co-founder of the Royal Western YC at Kilrush in 1829, and one of those who re-started the Royal Irish YC on 4th July 1846.

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Ancestral home of a sailing man. Derrynane House is "an architectural mishmash of considerable charm"

A week ago, however, it was announced that Derrynane House would be closed for six months from April 2013 for a major re-furbishment on which €1.2 million would be spent. I marked it down as an item of information to be included this week for anyone cruising the southwest who would normally plan a visit to Derrynane and the house in their programme. But the good people of the neighbourhood, many of whom are involved in the hospitality industry, have decided otherwise.

Righteous indignation is a marvellous energizer, particularly when it is genuinely righteous. When you think of it, of course, there is nothing more absurd than planning to close the jewel for visitors in the neighbourhood crown right in the middle of the year of The Gathering. Whatever, the quiet roar of righteous indignation from the people of Derrynane and Caherdaniel blew away all the nonsense of closure this summer, and the re-furbishment is being re-planned to happen outside the summer season.

If the re-furbishment programme is being re-structured, maybe they can expand it to include a major tidy-up of the ancestral graveyard down by the harbour. Things may have improved in it recently, but I was there last Easter, and it was in a disgraceful condition.

SHACKLETON IS SOMETHING ELSE

Those who re-create the astonishing 800 mile voyage by Ernest Shackleton and his men in the sailing lifeboat James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia have tended to add even further to the lustre of Shackleton and his shipmates. Their voyages have usually been in the Antarctic summer, whereas the original epic passage took place in late April and early May, which would have been the equivalent of undertaking a major Arctic voyage in the 22ft boat at the beginning of November.

Thus the recent successful Caird voyage by Tim Jarvis and his shipmates is the same as an Arctic voyage at the end of July. But that is still a great achievement by most standards. It's just that Shackleton's voyage was so far beyond our comprehension that we needs must grasp at anything which will put it in context.

He and his shipmates were superhuman, and none more so than Tom Crean. Even the most casual study of life aboard shows that Crean was central to the survival of all. Anyone who has ever tried to heat a cup of coffee in heavy weather on a comfortable cruising boat at sea will have some appreciation of Tom Crean's efforts in ensuring that everyone on board the tiny vessel had one life-saving mug of hot milk every night.

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Not yachting as we know it...Ernest Shackleton and his crew launch the tiny James Caird at Elephant Island as the Antarctic winter starts to set in on April 24th 1916.

It's absurd to compare the superhuman task of heating milk aboard the James Caird with your average yotty's heavy weather experiences, but as it happens, in a sense this was a yachting venture which happens to chime with something done by Conor O'Brien from our Derrynane story.

After he returned with his Baltimore-built Saoirse from his circumnavigation in 1923-25, Conor O'Brien received an order from the Falkland Islands company for a larger version which would become the inter-islands trading ketch Ilen. Ilen was built in Baltimore (she's back there now, being restored at Oldcourt) and in 1927 O'Brien was to sail her out to the Falklands. But the only way he could get insurance was if she was registered as a yacht, so it was Ilen RIYC, complete with burgee, which sailed to the south Atlantic.

With Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance, while everyone wanted him to sail under the white ensign as befitted a national hero who should have been part of the Royal Navy, there were technical objections. But it was neatly solved by Shackleton becoming a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and Endurance went to Antarctica as a yacht of the RYS, entitled thereby to fly the white ensign.

NAOMH BAIRBRE RUMBLES ON

There is only one thing more boring than a sailing boat under motor, and that is a sailing boat under motor in the rain. But we had a lot of that on Thursday night on TG4's Turas Huiceara, the six part series on Thursdays at 9.30pm which traces the voyage of the 47ft Galway hooker Naomh Bairbre along the Celtic seaways to the north of Scotland and back to Connemara.

Last week we'd left Donncha and the lads in Castlebay in Barra with a double whammy. Their main boom – all 34ft of it – had broken. And in TG4 HQ somebody had forgotten to switch on the sub-titles button, which as Donnacha mentioned in his response here on Monday, had baffled everyone – apparently even some fluent Irish speakers were having difficulty understanding the Barra Gaelic.

Not all, though. Anyone who polished up their Irish in the Gweedore Gaeltacht in Donegal would have had no problem. Many years ago I was out in Barra with Johnny Roche in his South Coast One Design Safina (super little boat, she's based in Poolbeg these days, owned by John B Kearney's nephew) and one of our crew was Denis Drum, purveyor of fine art to the gentry, and world class chef. Denis noted the little fishing boats landing lobster and crab in abundance, and decided to get some, but the guys in the pub told him the story that all the catches go straight to Paris for the highest prices, and that he'd no chance.

Nothing daunted, Denis went down and turned on the old charm, but no success. So he switched on his Irish sub-titles button, waxing lyrical with the old tongue he'd learnt in Gweedore. It was magic. He was given as much shellfish as we could possibly need, and more, and all for free. There was so much that a cockpit locker lid had to be used for the serving dish. We were up to our ears in lobster and crab for several days. So Barra-speak can be understood in Ireland.

But not by most of us, and maybe it's just as well. I've since seen the programme on the TG4 Player with the sub-titles, and Calum MacNeil's story of the MacNeils of Barra and their interaction with the home of their ancestors was not a a pretty yarn. Seems the MacNeils of Barra became experts in seaborn cattle raiding to the land of the O'Neills, and their speciality was sweeping into Clew Bay on Reek Sunday and grabbing the cattle while all the locals were on top of Croagh Patrick for the annual pilgrimage. It must have been someone connected to the MacNeils who made sure that sub-title button was switched off.

Well, anyway, this past Thursday, still without their mainboom they had to motor all the way in order to visit St Kilda. Fair play to Steve Mulkerrins who built the Naomh Bairbre in Chicago in 2003-2006, he made a good job of installing the auxiliary engine, because the big girl did it all without a bother, but it would have made for much better television if it had been under sail.

That said, the film gave an excellent impression of the utter remoteness of St Kilda, and its inherent sadness. But by this time the rain was set in, and they seemed to have it with them all the way back in to Skye for the Highland Games, where the caber wasn't big enough to be a new mainboom (the average caber is "only" 19ft 6ins).

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Cruising off Skye in sunshine in August 2012. But the Naomh Bairbre wasn't so fortunate – in Skye she found neither sunshine, nor a new mainboom. Photo: W M Nixon

So they went north to Stornoway where a lovely man felled a fine Sitka spruce in the woods beside the castle and hallelulia, Naomh Bairbre is sailing again. Next Thursday they get round the north of Scotland (we'll need some convincing that there's much of Gaelic interest on the south shore of the Pentland Firth), and then start heading back towards Ireland through the Caledonian Canal, hopefully finding some sunshine on the way. There was little enough of it last Thursday night, and in February it's as welcome as a glass of cool water in the desert.

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Published in W M Nixon
2nd February 2013

Whisper Leads the Charge

#D2D – The 78ft Reichel Pugh-designed Whisper, course record holder for the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, is leading the charge for Ireland under the command of Mark Dicker in the RORC Caribbean 600 in a fortnight's time. In all, there's direct Irish input into four of the fifty entries. And as the inaugural staging of this annual "instant classic" back in 2008 saw the overall win going to Adrian Lee's Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners, Ireland has an almost proprietorial interest in racing out of Antigua on Monday February 18th around various choice Caribbean islands, and back to Antigua again in the midst of its warm blue sea.

Or more accurately, it's Dublin Bay which seems to be claiming ownership. Michael Boyd of Dun Laoghaire, who was overall winner of the Round Ireland in 1996 with the J/35 Big Ears when there was a record fleet of 55 boats, has teamed up with clubmate Niall Dowling and American-based John Cunningham to charter the First 40 Lancelot II in Antigua. Although the First 40s may have not yet acquired the legendary status of their predecessors, the First 40.7, their debut in 2010 was quite something – they took first and second in the Sydney-Hobart Race that year, and there's half a dozen of them cutting the mustard in RORC races in Europe.

As for Whisper, she's supposedly a cruiser-racer. But she's a wolf in sheep's clothing – her fifth overall in the 2009 Fastnet Race was a matter for very favourable comment from the pundits, and her speedy scamper to Dingle that same year came within an ace of sailing the 260-mile course within 24 hours. She did the Caribbean 600 last year and notched a respectable 6th in Class and 12th overall, but at one stage was much better placed.

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Wolf in sheep's clothing – Whisper pretending to be a cruising boat in Castletownbere as she makes her way home in easy stages after establishing the course record in the Dingle Race. Photo: W M Nixon

Another cruiser-racer with winning potential is Alan McGettigan's recently-acquired Swan 48 Wolfhound, which will eventually call Dun Laoghaire home. But at the moment she's trying to make the best of winter weather windows to make her way from east coast USA to Bermuda, thence to Tortola, and on to Antigua for the start in the nick of time.

Up among the biggest boats in the fleet is professional skipper Peter Metcalfe from Northern Ireland, who started his offshore racing on his father's Ruffian 23. You could fit a Ruffian 23 into the saloon of his current command, the 100ft Liara, built in 2009 by Performance Yachts of New Zealand. But with Mike Slade's Leopard – holder of the Round Ireland Course record since 2008 – also in the Caribbean 600 this time round, Liara has a race on her hands, as the fleet includes several much larger Superyachts.

And there are some potent smaller craft too, though "smaller" in Caribbean 600 terms is very relative. American Ron O'Hanley with his Cookson 50 Privateer only lost out on the overall win last year because he was carrying a penalty for a rule infringement, so he's back to sort out unfinished business, and if he does the business, we'll claim him as Irish.

Another "almost made it" is the Oyster Lightwave 48 Scarlet Oyster campaigned by the Applebey family. The two Schumacher-designed Lightwaves – the 395 and the 48 briefly produced by Oyster Marine - had been almost forgotten, even though there were three of them in Cork. But the Appleby family saw potential in one of them, gave her an upgrade and a new keel and rudder, and hey presto, they've a handy-sized contender at a fraction of the price of a new boat, a tale for our times in the midst of all these extraordinary superyachts.

THE GHOST OF BLACK SOO SAILS ON

The story here a fortnight ago about the boats which had raced 1750 miles downwind from Cape Town to St Helena over Christmas and the New Year for the Governor's Cup, and then availed of a "sailing ski lift" to be shipped back to the Cape on Royal Mail vessel serving the remote island, has rung a bell or two.

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Martinus Groenewald's RCOD Reaction off Cape Town. The winner of the recent Governor's Cup race to St Helena, she is a hull sister of the van de Stadt-designed Black Soo, but her larger coachroof provides more space in the 6.9ft beam.

It was commented that the winner, Martinhus Groenewald's Reaction, appeared to be related to the famous van de Stadt designed hyper-narrow and hyper-light Black Soo, which always looked modern despite being built as long ago as 1957. Turns out that they're pretty much hull sisters. The Royal Cape One Designs from 1961 were evolved from Black Soo's sister Zeeslang, which was the first to the hull design, and was built for Kees Bruynzeel, the Dutch plywood potentate.

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Black Soo at Portaferry in 1963, showing the stark hull profile which always seemed ahead of its time Photo: W M Nixon

But although Zeeslang was subsequently restored in South Africa, and then sold to Switzerland where she is now a treasured classic, poor old Black Soo, which first came to Ireland in 1962 with Dick and Billy Brown of Portaferry, eventually succumbed to the Irish weather which is murder for even the finest plywood, and was broken up at Poolbeg in Dublin three or four years ago.

One of the problems with marine ply construction is that it provides nooks and crannies where rainwater can lie, and as the original plywood-built Royal Cape ODs were very hard raced, they soon showed their age. Johnny Wolfe of Baltimore was telling me that he raced on them in South Africa in 1972, and some of them seemed old even then.

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Black Soo's sister-ship Zeeslang is now a treasured classic in Switzerland

But in 1981, a local firm in Cape Town started building a fibreglass version, and as they were able to cleverly shape the interior mouldings to be useful for the accommodation while also providing strength for the hull, it made them much roomier below. Nevertheless, with a beam of only 6.9ft it was still distinctly cosy, but with the RCOD's larger coachroof it was infinitely more commodious than either Zeeslang or Black Soo, which were noted as having "full crawling headroom".

However, when you go to all the trouble of tooling up for glassfibre series production, people wonder why you don't break away from the restrictions of the hard chine shape as dictated by plywood construction in the first place. There were those who wondered if the Royal Cape OD's renowned ability to plane offwind in big breezes at better than 20 knots without burying the nose could not be achieved with something which looked a little more elegant, and was maybe just ever so slightly roomier.

So in all, only four glassfibre Royal Cape ODs (including Reaction) were built, and the boats are no longer racing as a class. But Reaction is cherished by her owner and crew, she still can do her thing in the big breezes downwind, and the ghost of Black Soo was a happy spirit when Reaction won the Governor's Cup three weeks ago.

BOOM AND BUST

Last weekend we enthused about Turas Huiceara, the six part series on TG4 at 9.30pm on Thursdays about taking the mighty 47ft Galway hooker Naomh Bairbre southabout around Ireland to the Isle of Man, and then north to the Hebrides in pursuit of stories about the Gaelic links along the Celtic seaways.

Our apologies to those who followed our advice and don't have the cupla focal, as this week on Thursday night they forgot to switch on the sub-title button across in TG4 HQ in Connemara or Harcourt Street or wherever it is, and the Naomh Bairbre trundled along in wall-to-wall undiluted Irish.

So far, no answer has come from there in response to our email to TG4 wondering is this the way it's going to be from now on. They can hardly claim it's to preserve the atmosphere, as it's set in the midst of commercials – horrible ones at that - which are almost entirely in English, featuring English actors.

But as for St Barbara being the patron saint of sudden surprises and explosions, we certainly continued to get a bang for our buck. A week ago, it was a right old wallop for the entrance to the sea lock at Ardrishaig. This Thursday past, it was the mainboom breaking while on passage from Staffa towards Castlebay on Barra.

The mainboom on Naomh Bairbre is huge, so this softened the lads' cough more than somewhat. But they seemed resigned to doing without it, even if its sudden exit from the dramatis personae led to a somewhat unbalanced view of Castlebay, with precious little attention for the sensitively-restored Kisimul Castle. It's the ancestral stronghold of the MacNeils, who are a branch of the O'Neills.

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Castlebay in Barra in the Outer Hebrides. Kisimul Castle is a stronghold of the MacNeils, an offshoot of the O'Neills. As a former outpost of Irish sea power, it deserved more detailed attention from TG4. Photo W M Nixon

Barra was and arguably still is an outpost of Irish sea power, but they didn't seem to bother with visiting the cocky little castle on its rock in the harbour. But then neither do they appear to have done anything about replacing the mainboom, which would be Number One priority for any thoroughgoing cruising man, who would approach the problem in a scavenging frame of mind.

After all, it's about the size of a telegraph pole, and there are telegraph poles in abundance in the Western Isles. But then, as this endearing programme signed off with clips of some stuff still to come, here we were, glimpsing the Highland Games in Stornoway or some such place. A giant Scotsman was making a fine job of tossing the caber. I have to admit I didn't see a caber at all. I saw a new mainboom for the Naomh Bairbre.

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Would a caber do the job? The mighty mainboom on the Naomh Bairbre currently needs replacing on Turas Huiceara, TG4 Thursdays, 9.30pm.

Published in W M Nixon
Tagged under
25th January 2013

Friendly Frugal Fireballs

#fireball – Has it really taken the Fireball dinghy 51 years to become an overnight success in Dun Laoghaire? Not at all. They've been hugely successful here before. But there's undoubtedly a renaissance under way, and a very special re-invigoration it is too.

It was in 1962 that innovative designer and technologist Peter Milne eventually finalised the concept for a novel 16ft racing dinghy evolved from the classic American Class A Scow. By 1995 it was thriving to such an extent globally and in Ireland that the 1995 Fireball Worlds in Dublin Bay attracted 85 entries from 13 countries.

The winners of both the Europeans and the Worlds were the home talents, two young fellows from the National Yacht Club called John Lavery and David O'Brien. Wonder where they are now....probably stalwarts in some suburban bowling club. Yet in the 18 years since that Irish high point, the class at one stage almost faded completely from view, but now it is the hottest ticket in town.

Somehow, it has remained a novel boat concept ever since it was first conceived, and its minimalist and economical image fits perfectly with the needs of performance sailors in this era of acute recession. In the current winter season, the class's thriving frostbite series in Dun Laoghaire is attracting fleet numbers that other boat types would die for in summer, with an esprit de corps to match.

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Minimalist boat, maximized sport – the Fireball is providing a cheerful and effective response to our recessionary times

The Irish Fireballs also have a busy summer programme, but there's another aspect to the class which makes them even more special. They're a hotbed for the growing number of sailors who are keen on the expanding two-handed classes which have become such an important feature of each summer's main offshore races.

Currently, the Dun Laoghaire Fireballers who have made the strongest mark on the two-handed international scene are Andy Boyle and Barry Hurley. Together, they were to win the double-handed division with Barry's JOD 35 Dinah in the Middle Sea Race at the end of October. But before that, Andy became part of an even bigger picture when he successfully stepped into a last-minute vacancy to partner Nick Martin on his J/105 Diablo J in the Round Ireland Race in June.

They won the two-handed class round Ireland, and placed 9th overall, a formidable performance. This then placed Diablo J nicely on track to win the two-handed division in the RORC's season-long points championship overall. And at the RORC's annual prize-giving in November, this all became stratospheric as Diablo-J was acclaimed Yacht of the Year.

So when you race with the Dun Laoghaire Fireballs these days, you're crossing tacks with guys who have taken on the best on the high seas, as other sailors include Brian Flahive who double-hands with Liam Coyne on the First 36.7 Lula Belle which – like Diablo-J with Nick Martin and Andy Boyle - is in the mix for this year's Fastnet Race, as too is another Dun Laoghaire Fireball Frostbite duo, Mike Murphy of Waterford and Alex Voy of Dromineer, who'll race the much-travelled JPK 9.60 Alchimiste round the rock.

The attraction of the class is that it provides so much for so little. A Fireball may be 16ft long, but look at her sideways and she's almost invisible. Be that as it may, she supports the full rig with spinnaker and trapeze, which gives the helm and crew equal status. And the Magic Ingredient is the class's supportive attitude to anyone who is involved, or maybe just thinking about joining.

They overcome the strangeness of the world of sailing for beginners or would-be Fireball sailors with an out-reaching and friendly approach which, in the final analysis, is just plain good manners and co-operation. Just what Ireland's needs to get out of the current slough. Meanwhile, the Fireballs are getting on with it, and they're attracting back former fans. Class Chairman Neil Colin is on his "second Fireball career", his enthusiasm renewed as he heads up an organization which gives all sorts of help to new owners, and knows where boats can be sourced on loan either for sailors coming from abroad to do one event in Ireland, or for a test drive for those who are beginning to think that the Fireball might just be the answer for dinghy sailing in our frugal times.

THE SECRET OF WMDWOOTY

Or Maybe Gaff Rig Wasn't So Great After All

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Dublin Bay 21 in a breeze under the original rig, with the helmsman looking remarkably calm despite the potential mayhem of his situation

Following last week's piece about the Golden Jubilee of the Old Gaffers Association bringing a fleet to Dublin Bay this summer, and how it was a sad coincidence that the Old Gaffers Association was founded to preserve gaff rig in 1963 at exactly the same time that the owners of the Dublin Bay 21ft ODs were converting to a more easily handled but much less spectacular Bermudan rig, we've had a robust response from Paddy Boyd in Canada. His view of the DBSC 21s in their classical prime is free of the rose tinting of our own view, and as it fairly leaps off the screen, we'll let it rip:

"I was interested in the old gaffers article, particularly as I remember, albeit not very vividly, the change to Bermudan rig in 1963 as my late father was the DB21 class captain at that time. As I recall, he had to take some stick for abandoning tradition, not least from Seamus Kelly (Quidnunc of an Irishman's Diary in The Irish Times), who was a member of his crew on the Oola.

My earliest sailing memory is as pump hand/mainsheet trimmer on the Oola, perhaps the busiest job on board in anything over a Force 3! Removing the vast amounts of cold Dublin Bay brine was, in those days, by way of a brass bicycle pump affair that leaked, by way of small but vicious jet of the aforementioned brine from the badly sealed barrel cap, directly into the mouth and nose of the operator.

Meanwhile, because the main sheet was led down below, one was always ready for the scream to ease sheets from the skipper as the volumes of water coming over the coaming approached overwhelming levels.

I haven't yet decided what was the best day of my fledgling sailing career: the day my father invested in a Whale Gusher 25, or the decision to change to a smaller, more manageable sail plan. I'm tending towards the latter.

You wrote: But please believe that in their prime, the Dublin Bay 21s were just about the most perfect, the most beautiful, the most gallant small gaff cutters ever created. With their spectacular jackyard tops'ls, they were demanding creatures. They were thoroughbreds, a joy to sail, and the providers of tremendous sport.

Beautiful? – absolutely

Demanding? – for sure,

Gallant? - maybe,

A joy to sail? – not for the pump hand/main sheet trimmer

Providers of tremendous sport? – I can't comment, because I couldn't see anything when down below upwind, and even when we bore away I was put sitting on the boom facing aft. I hardly ever saw anything of the rest of the fleet, because my Dad's greatest sailing attribute was his unfailing optimism with a tendency to take flyers, so much so that his crew made a burgee with the acronym of his most spoken phrase WMDWOOTY – "we might do well out of this yet"

But most perfect? – here I have to disagree most vehemently. Am I the only person who thinks that they were a poor design, - overcanvassed, narrow side decks allowing huge amounts of water in at relatively small angles of heel, unbalanced and inefficient requiring too many crew in too small a space?

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Sensible but prosaic – the new Bermuda rig kept the Dublin Bay 21s racing until 1986

The ease of handling under the new rig, allied to the extended headroom provided by the new doghouse, certainly made them more family friendly and, I believe extended their working life.

Beautiful though they were, you still needed two halyard hands to hoist the gaff main, and the use of the topsail was, in my memory, very limited.

Dare I even whisper the notion that perhaps we should finally provide a decent burial and live with the nostalgia, and not try to recreate the reality?"

Them's Paddy's sentiments. Those of us whose only experience of racing a gaff rigged DBSC 21 was in a carefully choreographed visitors race in which the sails had been set up beforehand, with all the hard sailing work then done by the regular crew, can scarcely argue against someone whose childhood development was so affected by the boats. Nevertheless, if a boat is an undisputed classic, enthusiasts will make allowances. Was a DBSC 21 uncomfortable? Certainly. But not nearly as uncomfortable as the Howth 17s, which are DIABOLICALLY uncomfortable except for the helmsman, who has an awkward cockpit seat of sorts.

As for the DBSC 21s being unbalanced, it could be argued that it was all to do with sail trim – the boat was only unbalanced if the sails were trimmed wrong, and of course with true classic boats you don't really expect to steer them, you sail them by trimming the sails, and the rudder is little more than a trim tab.

All our photos of the DBSC 21s under gaff rig show them setting cotton sails, which suggests that they never sailed with Dacron/Terylene gaff sails. It's likely they changed the rig when new synthetic sails became inevitable, and towards the end the baggy nature of the overworked old cotton sails must have added to any imbalance. It's difficult to tell from the photos just how heavy or otherwise they were on the helm, my own recollection is they were pleasant and manageable to helm.

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Summer Saturday afternoon in Dublin Bay, and two DBSC 21s make smooth windward progress

Our final DBSC 21 photo today shows an idyllic Saturday afternoon scene in Dublin Bay in the late 1950s. Though the tiller on the nearer boat is quite markedly across the deck, that could be something to do with a loose arrangement with the head of the rudder stock - the wake suggests the rudder was not being heavily deployed as the boat makes sweetly to windward. In all, a poignant photo as we see the boats doing what they were meant to do, not what they're doing now.

NAOMH BAIRBRE IS BACK WITH A BANG

If you thought the original rig on the DBSC 21s was something of a widowmaker, wait till you see the gaff mainsail on the Naomh Bairbre. With the depths of February almost upon us, any images of Irish summer sailing are welcome, and TG4 has an intriguing 6-part series running on Thursday evenings at 9.30pm. It's about taking the Galway Hooker Naomh Bairbre along the Gaelic seaways from Conamara round the south coast of Ireland to the Isle of Man, then north to the Outer Hebrides before returning to Galway via Ireland's north and west coasts. The idea is that this will make clear the lively cross-water links maintained by the people along the Celtic fringe.

The Naomh Bairbre is named for St Barbara, the patron saint of sudden surprises and explosions, and at 47ft is probably the biggest Galway Hooker ever created. She was built in Chicago over a three year period by Steve Mulkerrins, and then in 2006 with the late great Tom Joyce of Inis Mor as skipper, she made an exemplary Transatlantic crossing.

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The majestic Naomh Bairbre got a rapturous welcome when she arrived from America in Conamara in July 2006

She really is huge, but since that voyage six years ago we've heard little about her, so it's good to see the big lady in action again. There have been some good sequences of sailing – the first episode particularly had keen camera work – but as so often happens, trying to link a cruise with the development of a narrative about the coasts being visited is a difficult business. Sometimes when cruising you have to accept that having a boat can be just about the least effective way of visiting anywhere. The needs of the boat take over the project, and any relationship with life on the shore is dominated by these immediate maritime requirements rather than following up gentle lines of enquiry about history and the local way of life.

Thus a passage through the Crinan Canal to take in a visit to the ancient fortess of Dunadd, former capital of the 6th Century cross-channel kingdom of Dal Riada, is rather taken over by the difficulties of getting the mettlesome Naomh Bairbre – still with her battering-ram of a bowsprit fully extended – manoeuvred through the narrow canal. She had certainly arrived in Ardrishaig with a bang, but that's St Barbara for you.

We left the crew of three just about to reach Iona on Thursday evening, and look forward to the remaining four programmes. It really is a challenge to take a boat whose design evolved to sail on a reach between Conmara and the Aran Islands through tricky rocky channels which run every which way, and we're with them all the way.

OUR FEATHERED FRIEND

Yesterday's item about the dolphin in Hawaii which successfully sought help from a diver in getting cleared of a fishing line caught tightly round its head, with a hook embedded in one of its fins, recalled a story told me by Dermot Russell, that wordsmith extraordinaire and ace fisherman of Blackrock, Cork.

Dermot and a couple of friends used to head seaward down Cork Harbour in a little boat for a spot of sea angling most summer weekends. As they were good at the fishing they were always accompanied by herring gulls, for herring gulls didn't get to be one of the most successful species on the planet by backing losers.

One day they noted one of their feathered friends was in distress with its beak clamped shut by a fishing line. The bird was so weakened by hunger that they were able to capture it, in fact they reckon the creature was actually seeking help. Clearing the line was managed despite the increasing hazard to the helpers as the razor-sharp beak was freed. But in the end there seemed to be an extra trans-species understanding about it all. As Dermot put it: "I don't suppose you've ever been thanked by a seagull, but I know we were".

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Published in W M Nixon
Tagged under
18th January 2013

New Ground for Old Gaffers

#oldgaffers – There's a painful irony in the Old Gaffers Association choosing Dublin Bay as one of the focal points for their season-long Golden Jubilee celebration this summer. In 1963, the OGA came into being "to preserve interest in, and encourage development of Gaff Rig, and to participate in the maintenance of our Maritime Heritage". But that same year, the owners of the seven Dublin Bay 21ft One Designs persuaded veteran yacht designer John B Kearney to convert their beautiful Alfred Mylne-designed 1903 gaff cutters to Bermudan rig.

Today's sailors may wonder why old salts get so emotional about the Dublin Bay 21s. The past is a different and distant country, a long way away, and the heyday of the Dublin Bay 21s was aeons ago. But please believe that in their prime, the Dublin Bay 21s were just about the most perfect, the most beautiful, the most gallant small gaff cutters ever created. With their spectacular jackyard tops'ls, they were demanding creatures. They were thoroughbreds, a joy to sail, and the providers of tremendous sport.

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The crème de la crème. In their prime, the Dublin Bay 21s were the most beautiful small gaff cutters in the world

Yet in 1963, with sailing being taken over by plastic boats and modern rigs, the DBSC 21ft owners felt they'd no choice if they were to attract newcomers as crews and owners. And for some decades, the boats with their masthead Bermudan rigs continued as a viable class. Today, however, the seven mouldering hulls are entombed in a Wicklow farmyard. And when the Old Gaffers Association make a four day visit to Dublin from May 31st to June 3rd, tangible reminders of the glory days of gaff rig racing in Dublin Bay will actually come from outside the bay, with the Howth 17s racing round the Baily to join the festivities which will be focused on Poolbeg Y & BC in the mouth of the River Liffey, where most of the members of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association are based.

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Thriving survivors of a golden age of gaff rig racing. The Howth 17s Aura (1898) and Pauline (1900) in the annual race round Lambay. The race round the North Dublin island was first sailed in 1904. Photo: John Deane

Despite its seemingly uncompromising name, the Old Gaffers Association is a rather amorphous body. Doubtless there was a time when an Orwellian attitude of "four sides good, three sides bad" prevailed with regard to the shape of your mainsail. But there are now so many vintage boats which were Bermudan rigged at birth that they are also happily involved and accepted.

It seems you only have to think that your boat is either traditional or a classic, and you're in. So with my reasonably mature Bermuda-rigged little American glassfibre sloop, I too have joined the Picklefork Club. The what? The Picklefork Club. It's simple, really. The symbol of the old gaffers on their burgee is the profile of gaff jaws, which you'd think is unmistakable. But while cruising in the English Channel some years ago with old gaffers all about and flying the flag, my determinedly ignorant shipmates decided this could only represent something called the Picklefork Club. So for the remainder of the cruise (which involved going to St Malo to see a boat built by James Kelly of Portrush in 1897, but that's a story for another time) it became the Picklefork Club, and has remained so ever since.

Yet although the Old Gaffers have been around for 50 years, and the Howth 17s for 115, they've never officially got together, so the Poolbeg assembly will be a breaking of new ground. It promises to be a fascinating gathering, as the theme of the Golden Jubilee is a rolling clockwise circuit cruise of Great Britain, with boats joining and leaving as they wish, its route veering sufficiently west to take in Dublin Bay and Belfast Lough.

Some boats will go the whole way, on through the Caledonian Canal and down the east coast of Scotland and England. It is expected this voyaging group will include boats from the strong Dutch and French memberships, which will bring craft like a giant Galway hooker built in steel from the Netherlands. As local boats from all corners of the Irish Sea are also expected, it will be one very eclectic fleet, and then some. Variety being of the essence for this main fleet, the arrival of a one design class of classically gaff-rigged boats of unimpeachable vintage will enliven things on the Saturday afternoon (June 1st) as the Seventeens race in from Howth.

A love of old boats and a sense of community is the cement that holds the Seventeens together, but it is the bracing effect of racing which energises the class. Since May 4th 1898, the weekly Saturday afternoon race at Howth has been the backbone of the class's busy annual programme. It's almost set in stone, but fortunately there were enough like-minded people in Howth who thought the OGA Golden Jubilee was a Good Thing, Worthy of Support, in order to float the idea.

So not only are the Seventeens going to race to Poolbeg (and on a Bank Holiday Saturday too), but for good measure on the Sunday they'll be racing between the bridges on the Liffey. As for the bigger boats in the main fleet who wish to race, on the Saturday there's a race for the RMS Leinster Trophy (named for the mailboat torpedoed in 1918) from Dun Laoghaire round the available islands and buoys to Poolbeg, and then on the Sunday they race in Dublin Bay for the new Asgard trophy, made up from spare timber saved by John Kearon, conservator of Erskine Childers' Asgard.

In all, it's a user-friendly programme which shouldn't be too demanding for even the oldest Old Gaffer. And as it's all about shared enthusiasm, we can be sure that the hard core of devotees will enjoy themselves whatever the weather. But for the rest of us, let's hope the jetstream is sufficiently distant to ensure that the first weekend of June 2013 bring glorious summer to Dublin Bay.

ANOTHER GONG FOR BEN

Today's choreographed awards ceremonies, with the buildup of what is often pseudo tension as the short list is recited, are something many of us would happily avoid in any capacity. So it was a breath of fresh air earlier this week when news of the annual YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year awards across the water came in, complete with photos of the trophy going to Ben Ainslie.

Recently made Sir Ben, he's a busy boy. In post-Olympic mode, he's up to his tonsils with an America's Cup campaign, and was booked to be on his way back to San Francisco when the trophy was due to be formally handed over in London.

But Ben is based in Lymington, as too is YJA Chairman Bob Fisher, while Lady Pippa Blake, who was to perform the ceremonial in London, lives further east along the Solent at Emsworth. So what could be easier than they all get together of a January morning at the Royal Lymington, and get the photos of the handover just before Ben takes off for the US of A.

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An awards ceremony for our times – Bob Fisher, Pippa Blake and Ben Ainslie in Lymington with the YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year 2012 trophy. Photo: PPL

Awards ceremonies should always be like this – dontcha just love the Fish's matching shirt and pullover in a class of pale lilac? Nevertheless, we appreciate that some folk might think this is all just a little bit too casual, so we'd better give it a Court Circular makeover:

Lymington, Monday

Sir Benjamin Ainslie, Keeper of the Four Gold Medals, was this morning received by Lord Fish of Brittlesea in the Royal Lymington Yacht Club, with Lady Pippa Blake in attendance. After the usual exchange of pleasantries about the weather and the minor problems encountered in the Southampton traffic when journeying from West Sussex, Lady Blake then presented Sir Benjamin with the YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year Trophy for 2012, which Sir Benjamin was pleased to accept.

Following some discussion as to whether the photographs would be better taken in the clubhouse or on the balcony, both settings were used. Lady Blake was then thanked by Lord Fish of Brittlesea, and conferred with the title of Designated Driver, as the catering facilities in the Royal Lymington Yacht Club were closed, it being Winter Hours.

Lady Blake then conveyed the party to the Chequers public house for a bar luncheon, where they savoured the vegetarian option, the battered cod with hand cut chips, and the succulent beefburger. Sir Benjamin enjoyed his last pint of Badger Beer for some time as they don't have stuff like this in Frisco, and then went home to complete his packing and leave for America.

SAILING'S SKI LIFT

Even in a mighty maxi, windward work in the open sea in a real breeze is rugged going. On one such occasion, as we wondered at the bashing the big boat was taking while reflecting that even with it, the speed was still nothing great, a veteran of many big boat races on the rail beside me gave the received and terse opinion:

"Nothing goes to windward like a 747".

All too often, the joy of a downwind skite is diminished by the thought of having to slug back up again. Why can't sailing have the equivalent of a ski lift? Well, if you sail out of Cape Town, it does.

The bi-annual Governor's Cup race over Christmas and January from the Cape's historic navy port of Simon's Town to St Helena is 1,700 miles of fast sleighride in the barreling southeasterly trade winds. Despite being up against 19 other boats, some of them seriously big ones, the winner was the relatively small sloop Reaction. Owned by Thinus Grinwald, she's one of those slippy little van der Stadt designed Royal Cape ODs, boats with a distant relationship to Black Soo, another van de Stadt offwind flyer which was long based in Ireland.

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Governor's Cup winner Reaction is lifted aboard the Royal Mail vessel at St Helena for the return to Cape Town

Black Soo was phenomenal offwind in a big breeze, but she was very tough going to windward in a blow. Doubtless it's the same with Reaction. But they didn't have to test it, as they'd booked to have her shipped back with seven of the other smaller boats from St Helena to Cape Town on the Royal Mail vessel which serves that very remote South Atlantic island.

On this sailing ski lift, it took them five very pleasant days to get back to the Cape, and even with all the partying on St Helena, there was more conviviality on the ski-lift cruise home. With just four on board, Reaction had gone to St Helena in 11 days and 23 hours. It boggles the mind to think how long they'd have taken to sail back.

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Any more for the Skylark? Eight boats secured themselves a sailing ski-lift uphill against the southeast trades, 1700 miles back home from St Helena to Cape Town

Published in Dublin Bay Old Gaffers
12th January 2013

Rock Breaking Records

#fastnet – Why are people surprised that, despite the international mood of economic gloom, online entries for the Rolex Fastnet Race 2013 in August went through the roof earlier this week, with the ceiling of 300 boats – nine of them Irish - hit in record time, well within 24 hours of the lists opening, with the first one in just seven seconds after the gun fired?

Fact is, the Fastnet is incredibly good value for money for ordinary offshore sailors based along either side of the English Channel, and on both coasts of the southern North Sea. It's set up on a plate ready-to-go, its start and finish are within convenient sailing distance of them all, yet it's an event of historic and almost mythic global status, made even more so by the disastrous storm of 1979.

To have it in your sailing CV, regardless of where you place at the finish, is still something which mightily impresses non-sailing colleagues at work, and down the pub too if you live more than half a dozen miles from the sea. Yet taking part in it is no big deal financially for the English Channel/Southern North Sea sailors when you factor in the enormous number of existing boats which are well capable of doing it.

If we set aside the original cost of the boat by regarding that transaction as history and not part of the new financial equation, thanks to today's much more rigorous inter-governmental safety and equipment standards, it's not too onerous to bring an ordinary production performance cruiser up to the RORC requirements.

So taking the existence and ownership of the boat as a given, what is needed is enthusiasm, energy, the availability of shipmates, and that precious place in the entry list. It's a setup which suits Offshore Sailing Schools very well indeed – they made extra sure of securing their entries, and are pushing above 10% of the total list. As for private owners, for some nowadays the entry place seems to have become top of the priorities, and people are securing their slot in the hope of then putting their campaign together on the basis of this essential building block. Either way, there's already a waiting list, but it can activate into entry acceptance remarkably quickly, even if some secured entries hang on until the last minute, days after it's clear they'll be no-shows.

Back in 2007, one of Ireland's greatest offshore skippers, Ger O'Rouke of Limerick, was campaigning his Cookson 50 Chieftain with enormous vigour, and in June/July he raced the Transatlantic from New York to Hamburg. But he had an understandable superstition about finalizing his entry for the next big race before finishing the race of the moment, and thus when Chieftain got into Hamburg, she may have won her class and placed second overall, but as far as the Fastnet Race 2007 was concerned, she was still only No 46 on the waiting list.

But Ger took her down to the Solent, and based himself in the Hamble to be near the scene of the action, making sure the Fastnet race office knew he was there and ready to go, so that as places became available from the waiting list, the over-worked race officers could be sure that one boat at least was a certain substitute. Meanwhile he was also keeping an eye on other boats in uncertain pre-Fastnet mode around the Hamble, because after the time-consuming Transatlantic campaign, Ger was a bit short of crew, and he was quietly sussing out Fastnet hopefuls to make up his numbers if he got the call.

Less than 48 hours before the race was due to start, Chieftain was in. So in terms of accepted boat management practice, you might say she was a last minute entry, with her crew numbers completed by pierhead jumpers. Having cleared the acceptance hurdle, they frustratingly couldn't get racing right away, as the start was postponed for a day because of a Force 9 south'wester. Even when it did get going in quite a rugged slug to windward down the English Channel, something like 150 boats soon retired.

But Chieftain was loving it, though even before she'd bashed her way past the Lizard, all the installed electronics crashed. They navigated the rest of the race with a little handheld GPS and a few wet and disintegrating paper charts. Not to worry, they had a hugely acclaimed overall win, the first ever by an Irish boat, and Ger O'Rourke was Ireland's Sailor of the Year 2007. Not bad going for a last-minute entry crewed by pierhead jumpers.

With stories like this cascading down the years, it's little wonder the Fastnet is something special. And though it involves a little more effort for Irish boats to get to the start, it's still a mega-happening within easy reach, tantalizingly so when rounding the rock itself. Thus although we've only managed a sneak preview of the initial entry list, and while accepting that some may fall by the wayside because of rigorous crew requirements further down the lines, nevertheless the news is it's good news, Ireland has a quality entry, and there'll be much more to it than simply having the Fastnet Race in the old sailing CV.

In alphabetic order, they're Alchimiste (JPK 9.60, Mike Murphy), Antix (Ker 39, Anthony O'Leary), David Kenefick Sailing (Figaro II, Marcus Hutchinson), Jedi (J/109, Andrew Sarratt) Joker (J/109, Chris Andrews), Lula Belle (First 36.7, Liam Coyne), Lynx Clipper (Reflex 38, Aodhan Fitzgerald), Raging Bull (Sigma 400, Matt Davis) and Spirit of Jacana (J/133, Andrew, Bruce & James Douglas).

At least three other boats have special Irish interest – Nick Martin's J/105 Diablo-J, currently RORC Yacht of the Year after winning the two-handed championship including the double handed division in the round Ireland, with Dun Laoghaire's Andrew Boyle signed on to crew again, and the two recent round Ireland winners - Laurent Gouy's Ker 39 Inis Mor, and Piet Vroon's Ker 46 Tonnere de Breskens.

Of the directly Irish boats, we note that the O'Leary family's Antix – a sister-ship of Inis Mor – has never done a major long offshore race before, not even the Round Ireland, but she's has won oodles of stuff round the cans and in shorter offshores, so her transference to the wide open spaces will be interesting. Further down the line, Lynx Clipper entered by Aodhan Fitzgerald is of course NUI Galway, the Reflex 38 which is current ICRA Boat of the Year. And it's good to see Matt Davis's successful Sigma 400 Raging Bull (ISORA Champion 2011) back in the lists – she missed 2012 completely through coming ashore in Skerries in a nor'east gale in May, but has now been restored by Noonan Boats down Wicklow way.

Young David Kenefick's Figaro programme under the tutelage of Marcus Hutchinson will be well under way by Fastnet time, and this should provide useful publicity and unmatchable experience. As for the hot J/109s of Dublin Bay, two of them – Jedi and Joker – have made the cut, while their bigger sister, the Douglas brothers' J/133 Spirit of Jacana from Carrickfergus, is back again to defend her position as top-placed Irish boat in 2011. Smallest of all the Irish entries is Mike Murphy's JPK 9.60 Alchimiste – at 31ft she has one of the shortest overall lengths in the entire fleet, but with her beam upwards of 11ft she's a big-hearted little 'un, an impressive French creation.

We don't know at this stage which Irish boats are on the waiting list, but as it is that's a good solid lineup, with some welcome surprises. Looking at the fleet overall, defender Ran (JV 72, Niklas Zennstrom) is going again, as too is mono-hull record holder, the Volvo 70 Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker). There's a notable absence of American boats this time round (though their successful JV 72 Bella Mente is in the hunt), but we should bear in mind that the next Rolex Fastnet, in 2015, will coincide with the Bi-Centenary of the Royal Yacht Squadron, so we can expect the New York Yacht Club to be leading a formidable expeditionary force to events around that, including the Fastnet Race.

And looking beyond that, it's not too long to the Tri-Centenary of the Royal Cork in 2020. For Royal Cork's Quarter Millennium in 1970, they made it a two year event to accommodate American boats planning to take in the 1969 Fastnet. Doubtless plans are already well in hand to do that again with the Rolex Fastnet Race of 2019.........Put it in your diary now.

GLORIOUS GALATEA AND HAPPY HENN

There was some scepticism about last week's piece about Ireland's first America's Cup Challenger in 1886. Not as to whether it had taken place – it's quite clear in the America's Cup records that in 1886, Lt William Henn had challenged through the Royal Northern Yacht Club with his new cutter Galatea. No, the disbelief was about the notion that Lt Henn and his supportive wife and their crew (including Peggy the pet monkey) had lived aboard Galatea, which stayed on in America in order to challenge again the following Spring, as Henn reckoned the Autumn breezes off Marblehead were too light.

We've since unearthed this antique photo of Galatea's main saloon, which would suggest that you could have lived aboard the big steel cutter in rather more luxurious comfort than the Henn family's many tenants would have enjoyed in their small farms along the north shore of the Shannon Estuary. But in terms of America's Cup racing potential, it tells us why Galatea was just about as effective as a Shannon gandolow in taking on the American defender Mayflower, an Edward Burgess designed 100ft cutter which won every race whether Autumn or Spring, the biggest margin being a whopping 29 minutes and 9 seconds.

Yet today the fascination is with Galatea's extraordinary saloon, which seems to have at least two leopardskin rugs, and a proper fireplace – absolutely essential in any proper racing yacht. As to William Henn retaining his modest naval title of Lieutenant, it seems that he took early retirement from the Royal Navy in order to go sailing, his personal fortune being sufficient to do so, and he was so keen on sailing the sea that before Galatea was built on the Clyde in 1885, he lived aboard his previous yacht for seven years.

At the time of his challenge, the American press commented on "this retired Naval Officer with his rich Irish charm", while his gallant wife seems to have been Scottish, hence his challenge through the Royal Northern YC, and other links to the Clyde. This makes it unlikely that the remains of Galatea can be found (as is popularly supposed) in the Fergus estuary on the north shore of the Shannon estuary, off the remains of Paradise which was the old Henn house. According to Lloyd's Register of 1910, Mrs Henn is still listed as owning Galatea, but is now apparently a widow, and resident on the Isle of Bute, while Galatea is listed as being in proper order, but having her base at Port Glasgow.

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The main saloon on the Irish-owned 1886 America's Cup challenger Galatea provided all comforts and catered for every possible need, except the needs of a racing boat.

Published in W M Nixon
Tagged under

#sailorofthemonth – As we look back over the extraordinary mixture of memories stirred up by the Irish sailing season of 2012, one exceptionally good deed stands out in a sometimes slightly wicked world.

Questions were asked about some major events in Ireland and abroad during 2012, while in others, distasteful rows blew up which could have been much more competently handled. But over and above it all, and glowing with increasing strength as the passing of time enhances the recollections, is the happy memory of the Four Star Pizza ISAF Youth Worlds in Dun Laoghaire in July.

With 63 nations involved, it was the most international sailing event ever seen in Ireland. It involved the active input of an army of volunteers ashore, and a navy of volunteers afloat. With so many people taking part at some level or other, the scope for friction – at the very least – was incalcuable.

Yet the ISAF Youth Worlds seemed to effortlessly achieve that true spirit of local, national and international goodwill to which to many comparable events aspire, but not all realize. It made a lasting impact, and was lavishly and deservedly praised by outgoing ISAF President Goran Petersson at the ISAF Conference in November.

Only with a very exceptional administrator and delegator leading an inevitably complex organization can such a satisfactory outcome be achieved. Irish sailing in general, and Dublin Bay in particular, is fortunate in being able to call on the services of Brian Craig to lead the administration in events as demanding as the ISAF Worlds. Not only did he put in the long hours necessary to ensure its smooth running, but long beforehand he gave generously of his time to ensure that Dublin Bay's claim to stage this event was internationally acknowledged and approved. Brian Craig is the Afloat.ie "Sailor of the Month" for December in celebration of his unrivalled contribution to the sailing season of 2012.

IT'S GREEN FOR GO IN HOBART

Irish sailors in Australia have been on a roll in the annual 628-mile Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, with major input into the crewing of the two top boats. After a virtually perfect race in tactical and navigational terms, veteran owner Bob Oatley's hundred footer Wild Oats XI took line honours, and in doing so knocked 16 minutes off the course record she established in 2005.

As Oatley's team - headed by skipper Mark Richards – constantly update and re-tune the big boat, the Wild Oats which established the new record yesterday was a very different beast from the winner of 2005. But the course they had to sail was the same challenging slog down the coast of New South Wales, across the Bass Strait, and up the often flukey estuary of the Derwent River to the city centre finish in Hobart.

One false call from experienced navigator Adrienne Cahalane – whose people hail from Offaly – and a mountain of effort beforehand and afloat would have amounted to nothing. But after blasting away from a perfect start to establish what is believed to be a record for the first short stage from the harbour to Sydney Heads, Wild Oats never put a foot wrong.

At times she was even showing as the overall handicap leader, which is unusual for the biggest boat in the fleet. But for much of the race, the handicap lead was being battled between the defending champion, Steve Ainsworth's 63ft Loki with Gordon Maguire (originally from Howth) as sailing master, and the hot new boat on the block, Peter Harburg's 66ft Black Jack, whose crew - including Olympic Gold Medallist Tom Slingsby - made no secret of targeting Loki.

Being slightly larger, Black Jack seemed to be establishing an unassailable lead, as the quicker you could get south, the more favourable the easterly winds became. This meant that far ahead, not only did Wild Oats end up sailing her own race, but she carried the breeze right to the end, while the wind was losing power out at sea. As the hours ticked by after the big boat was finished, the chances of either Black Jack or Loki saving their time on the Oatley boat evaporated. Wild Oats XI had the treble – line honours, course record, and overall win. But in the private race with Black Jack, Maguire and his team somehow found extra microns of performance, and though they were beaten by Wild Oats by more than two hours on corrected time, they in turn beat Black Jack by 2 hours 3 minutes.

It's a good weekend for Irish sailing down Hobart way. Jeff Condell of Limerick was also on the race, on the strength of veteran skipper Syd Fischer's 100ft Ragamuffin Loyal, and though with some gear breakages they weren't able to match the blistering pace set by Wild Oats, they still took second on line honours, quite an achievement when you remember the hands-on skipper is 85 and his unmatchable CV in sailing includes the overall Fastnet win way back in 1971.

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Wild Oats on track for the treble in the Rolex Sydney Hobart 2012. Photo: Daniel Forster/Rolex

SO FAREWELL THEN, EUROPEAN YEAR 2012 FOR ACTIVE AGEING AND SOLIDARITY BETWEEN GENERATIONS, AND HELLO TO THE GORB

Did you know that we've just lived through European Year 2012 for Active Ageing & Solidarity Between Generations? Me neither. And even if someone had told me, I'd have forgotten the beginning of a title of such length and contrivance before I'd even got through to the end.

May God in His Mercy protect us from well-meaning bureaucracies. We know that there are agencies in Brussels which make a tidy living out of putting an often costly structure on activities which any healthy local community would regard as so normal as to be scarcely worthy of comment. But the European Commission for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion, with its European Year 2012 for AA & SBG, surely takes the biscuit.

The reason we've come across this absurdity is that in mid-November we received a news release from Brussels telling us that two Irish AA & SBG projects took second and third prize in a competition throughout Europe which attracted 1300 entries in six categories.

Millstreet Community School's Living Scenes programme, running for seven years, has seen retirees and teenagers "brainstorming together to come up with creative multi-media projects aimed at bridging the gap between young and old".

That won a second place in "Intergenerational Encounters", while third place in Journalism went to a four part RTE series about Age and the City, which we're assured was "highly entertaining for all ages".

This sort of thing is all very well, but is it life as we should know it? The whole business of ageing and retirement is built around chronological ageing, which misses the point entirely. It's what you do and how you feel that gives a much more accurate gauge of real age, rather than a sum of years. There's a large cohort of seniors out there who are so busy, so absorbed in getting on with multiple interests, that they would no more think of joining active ageing groups or taking part in formalized inter-generational encounters than they would contemplate no longer owning a boat, or not having a dog about the place.

Back in August I went cruising to the Western Isles in a hundred year old boat, and was Ship's Boy for a Skipper and First Mate who were both 74. But our doughty skipper belies all received opinion about ageing, as he looks after his high-maintenance old boat himself, plus he is also Senior Mechanic and Retrieval Driver for various vintage vehicles which his wife and daughter need for their string of show-jumpers.

As for the First Mate, he plays rugby for the Perennials, and just last winter the highlight of their season was a tour to the rugby paradise of Limerick. He reminisced during our cruise about the techniques required going shoulder-to-shoulder against Peter Clohessy – not an experience for the faint-hearted.

With this splendid double lineup of Active Ageing, I had to supply the Solidarity Between Generations, even if the Skipper was much more agile than the Ship's Boy. This was demonstrated when the Skipper became so irritated by the flapping of the leech of the high cut jib that, off the coast of Skye, he quickly climbed on the First Mate's shoulders in order to tension it.

There are some unkind people who suggest that if I was really interested in promoting Active Ageing, then I should have let fly the jib sheet while these venerable gymnasts were doing their thing. That undoubtedly would have added a certain je ne sais quoi to the performance. But instead I took a photo, for here indeed was something for Brussels' attention. If we're going to encourage active ageing, then we're going to have to accept that senior sailors are going to be clambering about on the broadest shoulders aboard in order to adjust the rig of their ancient boats. And we're going to have to accept that they're of a generation that regards safety harnesses and lifejackets as restrictive of movement.

So in the first instance, let Brussels commission us for a Feasibility Study for a GORB – a Golden Oldie Rescue Boat. This would follow the seniors about as they wander across the ocean, and gather them in when they fall off their own ancient craft. The GORB would need to be a proper cruising vessel, and as her crew would include a significant proportion of seniors, she in turn would need another GORB to follow her.

And another one again. We'd build up a fleet, eventually sailing round in a vast circle. We'll call it The Gathering Cruise.

oapsailing

These guys need a GORB. The combined age of this acrobatic troupe is 148 years, with neither safety harness nor lifejacket in sight. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in W M Nixon
Page 9 of 12
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