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#isora – Yellowbrick (YB) satellite trackers will be fitted to ISORA offshore boats for the 2015 Irish offshore season transmitting critical boat data including boat speed and position for a series of races across the Irish Sea.

YB Tracking are responsible for tracking most of the classic and high profile offshore races all over the world inlcuding the Rolex Fastnet race.

ISORA Chairman, Peter Ryan said "I am delighted that the 'ISORA Avery Crest Ski sponsored Offshore Series 2015' can now be followed by our supporters at their yacht clubs, on a computer or even on their smart phones. Spectators will now be able to appreciate our experiences as we race in challenging conditions in keenly fought races as we cross the Irish Sea. This device will also provide us with additional safety information. "

The ISORA calendar attracts 20 to 30 boats for a series of offshore races across the Irish Sea.

Followers will be provided with a visual representation of the race on a computer generated chart with 'leader board' and league table. 

 

Published in ISORA
Tagged under

#sid – Sailing in Dublin Club (SID Club) has just acquired an additional cruising boat to add to its growing fleet writes Jessica O'Donnell. Silver Wind, a 35ft Sun Odyssey boat, was purchased thanks to the assistance of a grant from the Government's Sports Capital scheme with the balance paid from Club funds. SID put together dedicated grant and boat acquisition sub-committees drawn from club members and they put much hard work into securing this important new acquisition. The new boat, which was purchased with the aim of increasing participation in sailing, has been enthusiastically welcomed by SID's growing club membership.

Since its foundation thirty years ago, Sailing in Dublin Club has gone from strength to strength and its current fleet includes Laser Vagos; Ruff Diamond, a Ruffian 23; Obsession, a Sigma 33 boat, and now an additional cruising boat, Silver Wind. As a sailing collective, SID offers wonderful opportunities for racing and cruising without someone having to own their own boat. Its volunteer ethos means that there is also a pool of members to also draw upon to help with, and therefore offering more opportunities to learn more about, boat maintenance.

SID regularly participates in the DBSC series of races throughout the year, races in the challenging Irish Offshore ISORA races as well as Regattas in Dun Laoghaire and elsewhere close to Dublin. The Club's cruising ambitions have grown impressively and in 2015 SID has an exciting cruising programme which will see members sail in cruises along the east, south and west coast of Ireland stopping off in the likes of Dunmore East, Crosshaven, Baltimore, Dingle and Galway along the way. There are also plenty of shorter cruises and days sails closer to home against the backdrop of stunning Dublin Bay. With the new boat, there is now even more comfort and enhanced features for members when cruising. This cruising aspect is only one part of a vibrant club that also has an active dinghy section so there is certainly something for everyone!

While not a sailing school, there is a strong emphasis in SID on encouraging members to up-skill through their participation in recognised sail training provided by sailing schools around Ireland and abroad. A volunteer Training Officer and training sub-committee regularly update members on the availability of approved sail training courses whether related to VHF, First Aid, Sea Survival skills, operating a powerboat or other relative subjects. Club members, too, are happy to share their skills with others on different rungs of the sailing ladder and such co-operation and opportunities for sailing development from competent crew to skippering is one of the Club's most attractive features.

As a small and friendly club, there are opportunities for socializing after sails and throughout the year at Club dinners, BBQs and other events. With two female Commodores in succession the Club is also leading the way in promoting 'women on the water'. SID's excellent value – the annual membership subscription is only €370 – and variety and extent of sailing opportunities has seen the Club's membership grow impressively year on year. New members are always welcome and for anyone who would like to avail of a Guest Sail with SID, they can do so by going to the Club's website www.sailingindublin.ie The cost of a Guest Sail is only €40 and is redeemable against full membership subscription should a person wish to join the Club. With the bright evenings and summer approaching it is definitely time to get out sailing! To find out more about SID and what it has to offer click www.sailingindublin.ie 

Published in Dublin Bay

#isora – With the first ISORA coastal race in just two weeks time, (25th April with races from Dun Laoghaire and Pwllheli) offshore sailors gather next Friday for an  ISORA Pre–Season Talk & Reception at the National Yacht Club. ISORA Commodore Peter Ryan is extending the invitation to all Afloat.ie readers.

Ed Hill of North Sails will talk about offshore sailing and tactics and ISORA's own Liam Coyne will talk about "Planning for a two handed race". There will be tips on sail changes, dealing with practical problems in two handed racing and safety concerns.

The talk will be hled next Friday at the NYC at 19.30 hours

Published in ISORA
17th February 2015

Dickie Richardson 1926 – 2015

#isora – Dickie Richardson of Holyhead, who died last month aged 89, played a key role in the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association during the Golden Age of distance racing in the area during the 1970s. Yet although he was best known as one of the moving spirits in the formation of ISORA in 1971, there was much more to him than this.

He was a remarkable man with an extraordinary ability to turn his hand to anything. Professionally, he was a consultant anaesthetist with some of his most noted work being done in the cardiothoracic surgical unit at Broad Green Hospital in Liverpool when open heart surgery was being developed, an area in which he was much involved.

But as was made clear at his well-attended funeral in Bangor, North Wales, he was an engineer at heart, a man who loved making and doing. He derived deep satisfaction from building his own boats and understanding all the technical processes, whether it was laying up glassfibre, making aluminium castings, fabricating stainless steel fittings, or installing beautifully finished wooden lockers which usually incorporated some ingenious design features reflecting his long experience of sailing.

A Lancashire man through and through, somehow he brought the spirit of the sea into the heart of the Liverpool suburb of Eshe Road North where he and his doctor wife Elspeth lived and reared their three sons Angus, William and Michael in an eccentric household in which there always seemed to be a boat at some stage of construction filling the front garden.

While his increasing eminence in Liverpool's medical establishment meant that he had links to both the Royal Dee and Royal Mersey Yacht Clubs, his sailing heart on Merseyside was definitely with the homely Tranmere Sailing Club. He'd been one of the team of volunteers which built TSC's new clubhouse in the early 1960s, and there, after a day of working at boats whose craning-out he had gaffered in his own easy-going way at Tower Quay in Birkenhead, he could while the evening away in contented and productive chat about solving boat maintenance and management problems.

Invariably, he'd be filling the air with strong aromas from his favourite pipe which, when sailing, he made seaworthy in rough weather by having the tobacco so firmly tamped in place that he could safely invert the bowl when rain or spray threatened to extinguish the blessed glow.

It was during the working years in Liverpool that he had the greatest variety in his boats. His sailing was largely self-taught, having learned through cruising a small boat in short hops along the challenging North Wales and Anglesey coasts. Then as the family grew, he acquired the Albert Strange-designed 29ft yawl Emerald, built in North Wales in 1938. But he was also branching out into participation in offshore racing, and became a member of the RORC, taking part in an early Middle Sea Race aboard the innovative 40ft S & S sloop Deb, owned at that time by Solly Parker of North Wales. Subsequently she was owned by David Hague and re-named Dai Mouse III to be frequently raced in ISORA events, and these days she's famous as Sunstone, cruised worldwide by Tom and Vicky Jackson.

dick2.jpgSome of the ISORA fleet during the period when Dickie Richardson chaired the organization during the 1970s. Included in this group sharing Howth Harbour with the fishing fleet in pre-marina days are Philip Watson & Kieran Jameson's J/24 Pathfinder II (third left), the famous S&S 40 Dai Mouse III which is now better known as Sunstone (centre left), and the McGruer 17-ton yawl Frenesi (centre right). Photo: W M Nixon

dick3.jpgThe Richardson's first boat with offshore racing ambitions was the Hustler 30 Skulmartin in 1971, which they finished from a bare hull. They were pioneers in the use of sails made by John McWilliam, who in those days operated under the Tasker label. Photo: W M Nixon

Dickie was to make his own first foray into being an offshore racing owner with the Hustler 30 Skulmartin, which he finished himself from a bare hull. That was his boat when ISORA was founded in 1971, but in late 1973 he bought the almost-new Billy Brown-designed Half Tonner Garland of Howth, which had won her class in the newly-inaugurated ISORA Captain's Cup Week in Holyhead, an event which in time developed into ISORA Week.

Dickie up-graded his new boat with a fractional rig, re-named her Blackwater in line with his policy of having boats named after navigation markers such as lightships in the Irish Sea, and took her in 1974 to the Half Ton Worlds in La Rochelle with a youthful Harold Cudmore as helmsman. In a large fleet they finished eight overall, but it was clear that new designs from Ron Holland and Doug Peterson were the future of offshore racing success. So Dickie and his teenaged sons acquired the bare hull of a Holland-designed Golden Shamrock from the builders in Cork, and finished her to become the Half Tonner Harry Furlong, named after a rock on the north coast of Anglesey.

Their former shipmate Harold Cudmore meanwhile was putting together his own Holland-designed Shamrock campaign with the intensely competitive Silver Shamrock, which duly won the Half Ton Worlds in Trieste in 1976, while back in the Irish Sea the hugely popular ISORA programme was to see Shamrocks in all their variations, Harry Furlong among them, featuring at the front end of the fleet.

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Until ISORA got itself up and running in 1971, all sorts of organisations were involved with distance racing in the Irish Sea. This is a programme issued by the Irish Cruising Club for the 1963 season.

Until Dickie Richardson with others like Hal Sisk from Dun Laoghaire launched the idea of an Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association after the end-of-season Pwllheli-Howth race in 1971, the offshore programme around the area had been fragmented, and date clashes were almost inevitable. Many organisations – some of them very informal - were involved, with the Irish Cruising Club and the Royal Alfred YC active on the Irish side, while in the north the Clyde Cruising Club interacted with the Belfast Lough clubs to run races across the North Channel. Over on the Welsh and English side, the Mersey & North Wales Joint Offshore Committee had developed into the Northwest Offshore Racing Association, and it was this body – with rapidly increasing numbers, particularly from the Irish side – which became ISORA in 1971 with its remit extending to include when possible events in the North Channel, and the annual Round Isle of Man Race, while also including an annual RORC event which might take the fleet to Cork.

What resulted was something which nowadays would be seen as an impossibly crowded and time-consuming programme. But it has to be remembered that times were very different during the 1970s. The Troubles were at their height, and links of friendship across the Irish Sea in a period of active terrorism could be difficult by any means other than a sailing boat. Thus the successful functioning of ISORA was definitely a power for the good, and at its height it had a remarkable fleet of 107 boats from all round the Irish Sea and adjacent areas taking part in its annual season-long championship. Its comprehensive programme, which guaranteed at least seven long weekends of sailing and racing afloat interspersed with friendship ashore in the ports visited, was exactly what people needed in those stressful times.

Inevitably, the challenges of running such an extraordinary and wide-ranging organization on an entirely voluntary basis were enormous, particularly as Dickie Richardson as chairman knew he had to do it with a minimum of fuss. This involved heroic restraint in diplomacy on his part, as normally he wasn't one to suffer fools gladly. Yet with the success of his efforts and those of his committee, for a while the clout of ISORA was such that they were able to hold impressive ISORA Weeks in Cork, Dublin Bay, Cardigan Bay off Abersoch and Pwllheli and even on the Clyde, thanks to their ability to bring a large fleet with them.

But it was all being done in a changing situation. An improved road network in England may have meant that owners from the big inland cities of the north could now reach their boats in Wales more easily, but for some of them an hour or two of extra travel meant they could access boats to race with the RORC fleet from the Solent, which provided modern facilities that far out-stripped the excessively tidal and very primitive harbours of North Wales, and the still-undeveloped ports on the Irish coast.

Then too, because the biennial ISORA Week mopped up all available fleets to one venue, other places felt left out and became more active in promoting their own regattas such as the Scottish Series on Loch Fyne. This clashed directly with the Irish Sea's Round the Isle of Man Race, and it was the latter which faded.

Perhaps most importantly of all, however, social attitudes were changing. The rough and ready approach of it being acceptable for dedicated offshore racing enthusiasts to disappear off for a very long weekend at least seven times a summer, often in order to race an event of barely a hundred miles, just didn't do in the modern family-oriented world.

This led to the introduction by individual clubs of longer events which featured a more clearly defined timescale, with the first biennial Round Ireland Race from Wicklow in 1980, while the National YC's Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race – also biennial -arrived in 1993.

By that time the annual ISORA programme had been pared down to a more family-friendly scale, but sailing patterns had changed so much, with sunshine holidays afloat in warmer climes rising rapidly in popularity, that just a few years ago there actually was a move for the formal winding-up of ISORA. But happily that was averted, and the basics of the organization are still in being to provide manageable passage races for those who want them, and numbers are now modestly increasing.

Meanwhile for Dickie and Elspeth Richardson and their boys, in the late 1970s the focus of family life had increasingly moved towards their second home in Holyhead, while the pressure on the accelerator for offshore racing achievement was eased early in 1977 with the acquisition of the bare hull of an elegant Ohlson 38 which duly filled the front garden at Eshe Road North in Liverpool.

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The new Ohlson 38 Matthew Walker off Holyhead SC (where Dickie Richardson had been Commodore) in 1977. Less than six months earlier, she'd been a bare shell in the Richardson's front garden in Liverpool. Photo: W M Nixon

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Ready and willing. Despite the rapidity of her completion, Matthew Walker in full commission to cruise to southwest Ireland within six months of the Richardson family taking delivery of the bare hull. Photo: W M Nixon

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Classic Richardson work. In the summer of 1977, the stemhead fitting on Matthew Walker, which Dickie Richardson fabricated himself, still needed a bit of cosmetic work. But it did what was needed for the first cruise. Photo: W M Nixon

There was a longterm plan to re-emphasise their interest in cruising, but being the Richardsons, once the job was there to be done, it had to go ahead at great speed, for the hull had been delivered late. The new boat – called Matthew Walker – was put afloat in time for a summer cruise to southwest Ireland in the summer of 1977. Though she was still fairy basically finished in some areas, that could be sorted in time. But meanwhile she was certainly ready for sea and Dickie – after a final rush of work on the boat which saw him put in a seven day non-stop work programme – was sent below by his family to sleep as they cleared Holyhead Harbour. He woke up 48 hours later off the coast of West Cork.

In his work as a medical consultant, he was also always prepared to go the extra mile to achieve results, and in his Liverpool days he'd been on the Project Management Committee getting the huge new hospital into commission. He put in so much of his own time on this that when the massive facility finally opened, his sailing friends assumed that he'd be rewarded in some way in the British Honours List. But the word from within was that, in the quest to get the hospital up and running, he'd been so blunt abut the inadequacies of official management that he'd offended far too many NHS sensibilities to have any chance of receiving that well-earned gong.

On retirement Dickie and Elspeth moved to Porth y Fellyn in the almost rural western corner of Holyhead Harbour where they'd converted a former Methodist Chapel into a hospitable home for sailors in which they particularly valued their proximity to Holyhead Sailing Club, where he had served as Commodore, and frequently did duty as a Race Officer while being much involved with training and junior sailing, particularly through a thriving Optimist class.

Another project which suited his talents was done in concert with his longtime sailing friend Alan Stead, another sea-minded Liverpool anaesthetist who had also retired to the Holyhead area. They managed to secure a lease on some space on the inner part of Holyhead breakwater, got themselves an old crane, and offered DIY lay-up facilities to local boats in much the same style as Tower Quay in Birkenhead in the old days.

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A man enjoying his new boat. Dickie Richardson finally relaxes aboard Matthew Walker after getting her completed and ready for sea in record time. On the helm is his old friend and fellow Tranmere SC stalwart Bert Whitehead, who was Honorary Treasurer of ISORA in the challenging early days. Photo: W M Nixon

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Senior sailor. A recent photo of the late Dickie Richardson. Photo: Holyhead SC

In his own sailing, Dickie threw himself into cruising the Ohlson 38 Matthew Walker with the same enthusiasm he'd devoted to offshore racing, and the Rias of Northwest Spain and the islands of the Outer Hebrides became favourite destinations. As for his talented sons, in their late teens and early twenties Angus and William did a spot of yacht design and building, the tiny and very attractive wishbone ketch Poacher being one of their products. But then William, like his younger brother Michael, went on to qualify as an advanced oil drilling engineer, and when the boys were home on leave from distant oilfields, Dickie particularly enjoyed discussion of the specialist techniques they had to use in a technically demanding profession.

Elspeth died in Holyhead on Christmas Day 2010, aged 86, and sadly for Dickie, he was also pre-deceased by his eldest son Angus in 2011. He himself soldiered on until January 2015. He would have much enjoyed his own funeral – it was a classic of its type. And should anyone suggests that the 1970s were a dull decade, rest assured they were no such thing when Dickie Richardson was around and firing on all cylinders, gruffly full of ideas and schemes and bubbling with his own quiet can-do enthusiasm. It was always a lively time in the Richardson orbit.

WMN

Published in ISORA

Irishsailing – After the remarkable across-the-board success of the 2014 Irish sailing season, 2015 will have to be very special indeed to be remembered with such enthusiasm. But it's a special year in any case, as two major sailing Bicentenaries – one in the Irish Sea, the other in the Solent – will have added and poignant meaning, as the Centenaries a hundred years ago could not be celebrated because of the First World War.

As for Irish sailing generally, life moves on, there are new sailors on the water, successful young sailors are graduating to the next stage of their rapidly developing careers, and established stars continue to plan fresh campaigns, for sailing is indeed a sport for life.

Then too, new fixtures successfully introduced in 2014 will require nurturing, tuning and encouragement if they are to fulfil their potential in the coming year, while at the same time there's always extra effort needed to give proper support to established fixtures, which have to live with the reality that they might wilt through being taken for granted. Both new and longer-established boat classes will need continued enthusiastic involvement, and our well-loved classics and traditional craft must be cherished and sailed, for lack of use is the real enemy of boats, whether old or new.

As for the major administrative initiatives introduced in 2014, they will need constant monitoring, but deserve full support from the sailing and boating community at large, for it was in response to a grass-roots initiative that the radical and very necessary reforms of the Irish Sailing Association were undertaken. Those appointed to undertake the root-and-branch reform of the national authority have done so with commendable dispatch, so it is now the duty of the rest of us to support their continuing efforts. And we can best do that by enjoying our boats and our sailing and time afloat in its myriad of interests, while encouraging others to do the same. W M Nixon outlines on what the coming year may bring.

One thing at least is certain for the coming season afloat during 2015 in most of Europe. It will not mark any significant sailing Centenaries. Instead, we are immersed in four years of remembering the Great War of 1914-1918 a hundred years on, with all the added twists of that period's longer historical narrative in Ireland. In such a context, it may seem frivolous to point out that sports like yachting have no great Centenaries to mark at all in 2015. But this minor off-screen fact is a reminder of the all-involving horror and obscenity of total warfare on an industrial scale. It obliterated anything like normal life.

Yet as recreational sailing had been going on in some sort of organised form for hundreds of years – albeit in a fairly rudimentary way in its earliest years in the 16th Century – there may well have been several important dates to be marked during the time of the Great War itself, but they were allowed to pass as there was no sport afloat, while civilian life ashore was very subdued.

And in Ireland, with the Troubles persisting for four years after the end of the Great War until 1922, the Bicentenary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club in 1920 was to be a muted affair – the official History of the Royal Cork Yacht Club (published 2005) tells us: "Plans for a special dinner to celebrate the club's bicentenary in 1920 had to be cancelled, probably because of the disturbed conditions in the country"

So the idea of celebrating the Centenary of the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes in 1915 at the height of the international war - other than in a rather solemn shorebound way - would have been unthinkable. But that in turn fuels the celebrations when the peacefulgood times roll again. Thus the Royal Cork Yacht Club, having been unable to celebrate its Bicentenary in 1920, went on to have a fabulous two-year Quarter Millennium celebration in 1969-70. And as the RYS couldn't have a proper party in 1915, there's no doubt that the up-coming Bicentenary in 2015 will be the nucleus of international sailing's megafest-of-the-year.

There are of course several clubs which pre-dated the Squadron when it was founded in 1815. And there are many whose members outshine the small membership of the RYS in the breadth and energy of their sailing. But for 2015, let's just acknowledge that the prestigious Squadron has been at the heart of sailing history for a very long time, while their clubhouse's location right on the Solent at Cowes is so central that when any great Solent-related events are under way, the Squadron is in the middle of the story.

Thus it was on the Squadron lawn that in July that the Irish team celebrated their epic Commodore's Cup victory at the end of July 2014. And it will be towards the Squadron and its Bicentenary that the fleet will be racing in 2015's west-east Transatlantic Race. And then it will be the firing of the cannons from the historic Squadron battery which will signal the start of the 46th Fastnet Race on 16th August 2015.

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Party time at the Royal Yacht Squadron – the Irish team and their management gather to celebrate victory in the Commodore's Cup at the Squadron Castle in Cowes on August 1st 2014

There'll be many Irish boats involved, and the best-placed of them at the finish will be the winner of the Gull Salver, currently held by Martin Breen's Reflex 38 Lynx from Galway Bay SC, which was skippered to success by Aodhan FitzGerald in 2013's race. It's a coveted trophy, instituted to honour the memory of Harry Donegan of Cork and his famous cutter Gull, which was one of seven boats which inaugurated the Fastnet Race in 1925, and placed third. Since then, Irish Fastneteers have frequently been in the great race's top places, and best of all was in 2007 when Ger O'Rourke's Cookson 50 Chieftain out of Kilrush, sailing under the burgee of the revived Royal Western of Ireland YC, came sweeping in to the finish line at Plymouth to win the Fastnet Race
overall.

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One of the greatest moments in Irish sailing history – Ger O'Rourke's Chieftain sweeps towards the finish line to become the overall winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2007. Photo: Rolex

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Just the spot for a great Tricentenary celebration - the very complete sailing facilities provided jointly by the Royal Cork Yacht Club and Crosshaven will become a world focus in 2020 with the Club's 300th anniversary. Photo: Bob Bateman

The realisation that 2015 sees this significant RYS Bicentenary is a timely reminder that the Royal Cork's Tricentenary is only five years down the line. They're five years which will be gone in a flash, and already behind-the-scenes moves are afoot to ensure that the national sailing programme will properly facilitate the extraordinary anniversary being celebrated in Crosshaven in 2020.

But meanwhile other Irish sailing centres have their own regular programmes to operate in the intervening four years, and in terms of numbers and scale there's no doubt the top event in Ireland in 2015 will be the biennial Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta from 9th to 12th July.

Anyone – and there were many - who took part in this unique "suburban sailfest" in 2013 will know that the VDLR has come of age. It's an event which is comfortable with itself while at the same time being always in development and evolution mode. Each staging of this remarkable Dublin Bay happening sees lessons being learnt and implemented even while the multi-class racing is under way on several courses. And in the two year gap before the next staging, the experience gained is closely analysed and the programme refined to further improve the sport in every area.

You get some idea of the sheer depth of racing experience in Dun Laoghaire by noting that the Chairman of the 2015 Committee is Tim Goodbody, with Martin Byrne as Vice Chairman while the Race Director is Con Murphy. And those three sailing megastars are just the peak of a mountain of race administration experience which is being drawn in from all over Ireland to ensure that the fleet of 400-plus boats gets the best sport possible.

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The first regatta in 1828 at the new harbour at Dun Laoghaire, which will be the setting for Ireland's biggest event in 2015, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta from 9th to 12th July.

While there'll be keenly participating boats from all over Ireland as well as Scotland, England and Wales, the setup of Dublin Bay being right on the city's doorstep means that it's the locals who would pose an administrative problem for a less experienced team. As the dates for the VDLR approached in 2013, the weather forecast steadily improved, and thanks to the Regatta's "extra long weekend" format, the sudden arrival of summer meant that a host of boats from the greater Dublin area came in as last minute entries, their owners and crews managing to scrape the extra day-and-a-half needed off work. It's a scenario which would put an overstretched administration off course, but the VDLR team took it calmly in their stride, and the result was a successful summer festival of sunlit sails and great sport, with maybe two thousand taking part.

This year there's a more structured cross-channel involvement, as the venerable Royal Dee YC in Cheshire has leapt to life to celebrate its Bicentenary. Founded as the Dee Yacht Club in 1815 with the end of the Napoleonic Wars, it didn't get the Royal seal until 1947, but nevertheless claims to be older than the RYS. With growing fleets in North Wales and the Mersey, it has put together a Bicentennial Royal Dee Irish Sea Offshore Championship linked closely to ISORA, which will bring the fleet across to Ireland to take in four offshore day races sailed as part of VDLR 2015.

Irish National Championships which will be part of the VDLR 2015 programme include the J/109s, the RS Elites, the Beneteau First 21s, and the Wayfarers, while the Leinster GP 14 Championship is also included as an integral part of the Regatta.

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Party time in Dun Laoghaire – the Royal Irish YC during VDLR 2013. Photo: W M Nixon

As for Ireland's classic clinker-built vintage classes, one of the pleasantest surprises in VDLR 2013 was the large turnout of Mermaids, which had superb racing on the course area in the northwest corner of Dublin Bay. Despite having been born as the Dublin Bay SC Mermaid in 1932, this class of 17ft super-dinghies is no longer included in the regular DBSC programme owing to shortage of numbers for weekly turnouts. But it seems that as far as the VDLR is concerned, the Mermaid is now an event boat, and the fleets still thriving at other centres, together with some of the dormant Dublin Bay craft, bestirred themselves for the four days to enjoy good sailing for more than three dozen boats, something which is highly likely to be repeated in 2015.

The even more venerable Water Wags, founded 1887 with the current boats dating from 1903, continue to thrive in Dun Laoghaire, and the word is they expect to have at least twenty boats in action, while another wooden classic, the Mylne-designed 25ft Glen keelboat, is 50 years and more in Dun Laoghaire, and looks forward to having at least twelve boats racing in 2015.

All these specialized and historic classes are in addition to the numerous cruiser-racers which continue to be the backbone of Dublin Bay sailing. And while many of them will see the VDLR 2015 as a highlight of the year, in turning to consider the overall national programme, we find a sport which is shaking off economic recession to get on with an extraordinary plethora of local, national and international sailing events.

The problem is that most events of significance hope to locate themselves in the peak sailing period from late May to early September, so clashes are almost inevitable, and if you're interested in several different kinds of sailing, the overall choices can be bewildering in their complexity and logistical challenges.

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The Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival attracts an eclectic fleet – included here are a Shannon Gandelow, a West Cork Mackerel Yawl, the ketch Sile a Do, and an Heir Island Lobster Yawl (left).

For instance, the variety of events now available for the traditional and classic boats – usually but not necessarily under the Old Gaffer umbrella – would keep anyone busy for most of the summer. It starts with the Baltimore Wooden Boat & Seafood Festival from Friday 22nd May to Sunday 24th May, which you'd think very early
in the season for someone faced with fitting out an old wooden boat in Ireland's climate, but somehow they do it.

Then on the East Coast for the early summer Bank Holiday Weekend from May 29th to June 2nd, there's the Old Gaffer gathering in Dublin Bay at Poolbeg Y&BC with the annual race for the Leinster Trophy in the bay on Saturday May 30th, the event then morphs into the Dublin Port Riverfest in the Liffey on Sunday May 31st, and finally it all concludes with the race for the Asgard Trophy back in the bay on Monday June 1st.

The annual Lambay Race at Howth, a regular fixture since 1904, has seen its course becoming increasingly complex in modern times in order to satisfy the desire of modern racers for competition on every possible point of sailing. But in 2014, to celebrate the Centenary of the Lynch family's Echo, the venerable Howth Seventeens were sent on the traditional course north from Howth Harbour through the sound inside Ireland's Eye, then on round Lambay leaving it to port, and then back south inside Ireland's Eye again to the finish at Howth pierheads.

This was such an attractive proposition for Old Gaffers and Seventeens alike that on the day an extra Classics Division was added to cater for ancient craft, and it hit the spot. This option will be offered again for 2015's Lambay Race (it's on Saturday June 6th), and the word is that Dickie Gomes's 1912-built 36ft yawl Ainmara will be coming down from Strangford Lough to defend her title after 94 years. 94 years? Yes indeed - she won the Lambay Race in spectacular style in 1921 when still under the ownership of her designer-builder John B Kearney.

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After 94 years, Dickie Gomes's 36ft 1912-built yawl Ainmara (seen here on her home waters of Strangford Lough) hopes to return to defend the title in Howth's Lambay Race, which Ainmara won in 1921 while still in the ownership of her designer-builder John B Kearney. Photo: W M Nixon

The Old Gaffers attention then swings north as the Tall Ships are coming to Belfast from Thursday 2nd July to Sunday 5th July. This is going to be a serious biggie with those ships already signed up including a significant turnout of Class A vessels, which are square riggers and others of more than 40 metres in length. Belfast Lough lends itself particularly well to the Parade of Sail which follows a Tall Ships gathering, and in 2009 when they were last in the port they put in in a virtuoso display with the Dutch ship Europa in particular going to the trouble of getting herself over towards Whiteabbey in the northwest corner of the lough to allow her time get every stitch of sail set before proceeding seawards down-lough in colossal style, a much more impressive display than we've become accustomed to in Dublin, where the shape of Dublin Bay is such that it doesn't really provide the space for square riggers to set all cloth before getting out to sea.

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The Tall Ship Europa shows how it should be done in Belfast Lough in 2009, taking time out to set full sail before she starts to gather power to make the proper input into the Parade of Sail.

Like Dublin, Belfast has shown it can be hospitable to Old Gaffers, and it was a very welcoming main port during the OGA Golden Jubilee Cruise-in-Company in 2013, so for 2015 the OGA National President Sean Walsh hopes to up the ante by persuading his members from all round the Irish Sea to gather in Belfast, and to add spice to the mix, he hopes to persuade the Howth 17s to put in an appearance as well, to sail with local one designs like the 1903 Belfast Lough Waverley Class, which have been experiencing a revival in recent years.

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Old Gaffers in Belfast for their Golden Jubilee in 2013. The Irish Sea classic and traditional fleet will return to the same venue for the Tall Ships gathering in July 2015. Photo: W M Nixon

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The Belfast Lough Waverley Class Lilias (built 1903) sailing at the Titanic Centre in Belfast. In 2015, the Waverleys will be joined by some of the 117-year-old Howth 17s to participate in the visit of the Tall Ships. Photo: W M Nixon

The Seventeens have made long treks as a class before – in 1998, five of them were road-trailed to Carrickfergus to mark the class's Centenary, with the first five boats built by Hilditch of Carrickfergus. So though they'd trailed there, they then sailed the 90 miles back to Howth, just as the first boats had done a hundred years earlier. Then in July 2003, fifteen of the Seventeens took part in the Glandore Classics Regatta thanks to a brilliantly organised exercise in logistics using a flotilla of low loaders which could take three boats apiece.

For all of Ireland's classic and traditional boats in 2015, and an international fleet too, Glandore is very much up on the radar again, as a special effort is being made by a GHYC team led by Donal Lynch to encourage increased numbers in the CH Marine Glandore Classic Regatta from Saturday July 18th through Friday July 24th. It's a date which certainly allows Old Gaffers plenty of time to get down from Belfast, indeed some may even consider the option of making the voyage northabout to take in a round Ireland cruise while they're at it. And as that great magnet of the Irish Sea classic and traditional scene, the Peel Traditional Boat Weekend, isn't until Friday 31st July to Sunday 2nd August, it's just about possible to factor that in as well.

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Everything happening at once – the famous Pilot Cutter Jolie Brise was the star of the Glandore Classics in 2013, and as it was her own Centenary she celebrated by sailing round the Fastnet Rock – she has been a successful Fastnet Race participant several times. Photo: Brian Carlin

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The Glandore Classics attracts an international fleet, and 2013's regatta included a class of Fife One Designs from the Menai Straits, all of them keen to party and showing it. 2015's Glandore Classics is from July 18th to 24th. Photo: Cormac O'Carroll

All this is already happening for the oldies with August barely under way, yet for modern cruiser-racers the potential programme for any keenly-sailed Irish boat is equally complex, attractive and challenging. The season starts as usual with the Scottish Series from Friday 23rd May to Monday 26th May – there'll probably still be snow on the mountains of Arran. They've gone back to their roots by starting with a feeder race from Gourock to the main regatta centre at Tarbert on Loch Fyne. "Going back to the roots" is something of a theme for this year's staging of the Clyde Cruising Club's main racing event, as this is the 40th Scottish Series. Come to think of it, there are so many important 40th anniversaries happening in sailing these days that we have the admit that the decade which brought us the full horror of wide lapels and flared trousers also contributed some lasting elements of the international sailing scene, indeed it could be said that the modern era in sailing really began about forty years ago.

Back in Ireland, the ISORA programme will be well under way by June, while the Lambay Race on June 6th can be looked at with more interest by several boats, as the biennial National YC Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race doesn't start until Friday June 12th . Last time round, there was a total fixtures clash between the two events, but in times before that hyper-keen sailors such as the Tyrrells of Arklow with Aquelina have been able to fit in both, indeed one year they did it so well they won both too, and were rightly acclaimed as the Afloat "Sailors of the Month" for their success.

For 2015, defending champion in the Dingle Race is Brian O'Sullivan of Tralee with the veteran Oyster 37 Amazing Grace, which came good in the end in 2013 with a new breeze which knocked pending leader Antix (Anthony O'Leary) off the winning perch. But with the 2015 Dingle Race acting as a useful if rather indirect feeder for the Covestone Asset Management Sovereigns Cup in Kinsale from June 24th to 28th, there could be all sorts of sharp boats lining up to take the prize, for the Sovereigns Cup 2015 includes the all-singing all-dancing ICRA Nats 2015. 

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The welcoming port – Kinsale is one of Ireland's most popular destinations, and in 2015 its hosts the combined Sovereigns /ICRA Nationals from June 24th to 28th.

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Perfect sailing – racing in the Sovereigns at Kinsale in June 2013. Photo: Bob Bateman

Yet the timing of the combined Sovereigns/ICRA Nats is such that there's still plenty of time and space to get back to the Irish Sea for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2015 from July 9th to 12th, a reminder that much of the cruiser-racer programme for 2015 is in a neatly balanced and user-friendly timescale for everyone except perhaps those who wish to do either the entire ISORA or SCORA programme as well, so the problem mostly is going to be getting time off work.

And for the hyper-keen cruiser-racers, particularly those whose boats are small enough to be conveniently trailerable, further temptation looms in 2015 with the WIORA Championship at Galway Bay Sailing Club from July 22nd to 25th. For the fleets in the Shannon, on Tralee Bay, and in Clew Bay, it's a bit more than a day's sail away, but they'll be there to challenge Liam Byrne of the home club who won it in 2014 with his Corby 25 Tribal at Mayo SC in Clew Bay, while some top boats from more distant centres are expecting to trail to Galway Bay to spice up the competition.

By this stage of the season a more relaxed pace might be welcome, but the lively turnout of 80 boats in 2014 for the new-style four day Cork Dry Gin Calves Week out of Schull in early August (Tuesday 4th to Friday 7th August in 2015) suggests that for racing sailors, the best relaxation is more racing, but in a holiday setting. And yes, it has been noted that a true West Corkian sailing nut could indeed do all of Calves Week 2015, and still be on the Squadron line for the start of the Fasnet Race nine days later.

For dinghies in 2015, the big story is the debut of the newest version of the National 18, and just how popular will the Bray-bult foiling Moths become, while established classes will frame their programmes to accommodate sailors whose time is limited, also having to fit in with a national scene where the number of Race Officers with the necessary skills is inevitably a finite amount.

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The big stories in Irish dinghy racing in 2015 will be the arrival of the new National 18s at Crosshaven, and the revival of Dinghy Week there in late August. Here, in the Autumn of 2013, To Dwyer and Nin O'Leary test sail the prototype of the new 18 on Cork Harbour. Photo: Bob Bateman

The new Third Generation (or maybe it's fourth or fifth generation) National 18 may have been designed in England by Phil Morrison, and is being built there too. But it was the very active Crosshaven fleet with the Royal Cork Yacht Club which led the charge towards a new boat, and when it came to stepping up to the plate to pay twelve substantial new boat deposits to move it all along after the prototype had been rigorously tested in Cork harbour last Autumn, it was the Crosshaven fleet that provided eight out of those twelve cheques.

So it's entirely appropriate that in August 2015, the dinghy focus will swing big time towards Crosshaven and a short form "Dinghy Week" from August 21st to 23rd. The old style Irish Dinghy Weeks – the last one was in 1970 – became victims of their own success, they just got too large. But the different classes became over-optimistic about their continuing individual growth prospects. Then the pendulum swung too far the other way, and dinghy classes were alone and their events shrinking. But a resurgence of club and championship dinghy sailing in Crosshaven during 2014, and a growing realization that over-reliance on single-handed dinghy classes does not necessarily produce a socially-adjusted national squad of junior sailors, resulted in some clear and creative thinking about developing two-handed boats, and reviving some old classes such as the Mirrors.

The form of this new Dinghy Week is still in the melting pot, but at least eight classes have responded with enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the National 18s in Crosshaven will be such a focus of interest during 2015 with the first of the new boats making their debut that we'll have a season-long dinghy narrative developing on Cork Harbour, and the revived Dinghy Week will be just part of it.

As for inshore keelboats, the big one in terms of number is the combined British and Irish Championship Squib Championship at Howth from 27th June to 3rd July. The handy little Squibs are something of an oddity, as they serve so well as a cherished local class in so many Irish sailing centres that many owners see them as that, and nothing more – handy little club sailors to be raced on home waters a couple of times a week.

This means that when a major regional or national event is held, the number taking part will often only be a fraction of the total Irish Squib fleet. But for those who do make the trek, the competition is fierce and the racing great – in Howth, the high point was in 1996, when this "Nationals" event attracted a fleet of exactly a hundred boats, and on one never-to-be-forgotten morning, there they were, every last one of them on the starting line.

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A hundred Squibs all in a row at Howth on Tuesday July 25th 1996. Photo: Mandy Murnane

The most recent Squib event of national stature was the Freshwater Keelboat Regatta at Dromineer on Lough Derg on the weekend of October 18th-19th, and the battle for the top places was between the Kinsale and Belfast Lough fleets, with James Matthews and Rob Jacob of Kinsale rounding out their year in style with a good win.

But with the Squibs in England undergoing a revival – they were the second-biggest One Design fleet in Cowes Week 2014, bested only by the legendary XODs – there's no doubt there's a strong challenge coming across channel, and any Irish boat getting into the top ten will be doing well.

As for that annual Autumn Freshwater Keelboat Regatta at Dromineer, while it may have been much hampered by the spinoff from some ferocious weather out in the Atlantic with frustration for some of the sixty boats hoping to take part, it's an event of enormous potential, and the many who wish it well and have enjoyed it in the past will be ready and willing to do their part to make 2015's regatta a success.

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The Squibs enjoying a lull in the strong winds during the Lough Derg Freshwater Regatta 2014. Overall winner was Mucky Duck (no 51, James Matthews & Rob Jacob, Kinsale YC). Photo: Gareth Craig

All these specialised and localized events planned for 2015 will be the continuing background music to the usual events of national sailing focus, everything from the selection of the Irish team for the Student Yachting Worlds to the Helmsmans Championships to the steady increase in pace while 2015 develops as the pre-Olympic year. As the year rolls along, other stories will develop too. So perhaps it's appropriate that we exit this review as we entered it. Just pause to remember now and again that, a hundred years ago, you simply couldn't have gone freely afloat like this for sport and recreation at all.

But we can't close on such a solemn note. Seasoned Solent sailors may have noted our header photo from Guido Cantini at the Panerai Classics Regatta was looking just slightly odd, for some reason difficult to pin down. Well, as it happens, the photo was sent to us back in September just as we were contemplating the excellent cleanup up done by Jason Hurley of Jason Hurley Design on the Mercedes-sponsored billboard photo of Howth 17s on the end wall of Howth Yacht Club. As with many photos taken over the RYS starting cannons, the Cantini pic included an obtrusive part of the Fawley Oil Refinery across on what Isle of Wight people call "the north island". Though Fawley has been there for yonks, it still has the look of a temporary structure. So we got Jason to treat as just that. But here for your edification is the true picture. You could get a taste for this sort of thing. What about brushing out Whitegate, lads? And as for Milford Haven.........

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The unvarnished truth. In real life, the view from the RYS battery at Cowes can be slightly marred by the clutter of Fawley Refinery across the Solent on "the north island". Photo: Guido Cantini/Panerai

Read also: 2015 Irish Sailing Fixtures List (provisional)

Published in W M Nixon

#isora – The weekend's ISORA AGM and black tie prizegiving at the National Yacht Club heard that subject to confirmation with Greystones marina it was decided that two ISORA day races would take place simultaneously from Dun Laoghaire and Pwllheli to finish in Greystones in County Wicklow on the day before the up and coming Greystones Regatta.

The new fixtures arrangement will bring up to 20 or more top class offshore racing yachts into the Greystones regatta fleet.  The full ISORA race programme is available to download below as a PDF document.

ISORA chief Peter Ryan says the move designed to allow ISORA boats to partake in this new popular Wicklow event.

It was also decided to that the day races that start in Dun Laoghaire would not necessarily finish at the same venue but would finish in Wicklow or Howth, subject to weather conditions.

It was agreed to run 14 races as part of their series next season – 6 traditional cross channel races including the RORC Lyver Race and an offshore weekend that will include a Friday evening race from Holyhead to Douglas, Isle of Man and another race on the Sunday morning from Douglas to Dun Laoghaire.

The Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race will also be part of the ISORA Series. 

Published in Greystones Harbour
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#isora – ISORA held its annual prizegiving dinner dance at the NYC on Saturday 15th November. 171 members and guests packed into the dining room of the club to be treated to a superb night's dining and entertainment.
ISORA's guests at the event were Larry Power, Commodore of the National Yacht Club, Derek Matthews, Commodore of the Royal Dee Yacht Club and Barry MacNeaney, Commodore of the Royal Alfred Yacht Club.
The MC for the evening was Peter Ryan, Chairman of ISORA, who directed the traditional toasts made by each of the guests and Andrew Hall, past Chairman of ISORA. Due to the numbers of people in the dining room the Royal Navy tradition of not standing for the Loyal Toast to the "President of Ireland" was invoked. It was also noted that the Royal Dee YC will be celebrating their 200th anniversary next season and that between the three clubs present at the dinner, it represented 501 years of sailing existence!
Anne-Marie Ryan presented the numerous trophies and prizes to the members. The winner of the Overall ISORA championship for 2014 was Liam Shanahan and "Ruth". Liam was presented with the coveted "Wolf's Head" trophy by the Commodore of the Royal Dee YC, whose emblem is the "wolf's head". ISORA sailors and recent successful Round Britain & Ireland Race two-handed class winners, Liam Coyne and Brian Flahive were presented with ISORA's "Penmaen Plate", a trophy dedicated to a past Chairman of ISORA, Anthony Jones, and award to that member that has most exhibited the "Spirit of ISORA". Pwllheli Sailing Club won the Team Prize.

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Anne-Marie Ryan presenting the "Penmaen Plate" to Round Britain & Ireland Sailor. Liam Coyne. Photo: GP Foto

Other awards included a presentation to the Manx Sea Scouts who marshalled and looked after the ISORA fleet during their visit to the Isle of Man during the season.
At the dinner Commodore Derek Matthews of the Royal Dee YC announced that in celebrating their 200th anniversary next year they were organising, in conjunction with ISORA, the Royal Dee Irish Sea Offshore Championship next season. It will be a championship using offshore courses and will consist of the RORC Lyver Race from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire and the four Offshore Races as part of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. The event, while part of the VDL Regatta, will be based in the NYC.

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Anne-Marie Ryan presenting an award to Manx Sea Scouts for "Services Rendered" Photo: GP Foto

Earlier at the well attended ISORA AGM it was agreed to run 14 races as part of their series next season – 6 traditional cross channel races including the RORC Lyver Race and an offshore weekend that will include a Friday evening race from Holyhead to Douglas, Isle of Man and another race on the Sunday morning from Douglas to Dun Laoghaire. The Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race will also be part of their Series. Subject to confirmation with Greystones marina it was decided that two Day races would take place simultaneously from Dun Laoghaire and Pwllheli to finish in Greystones on the day before the Greystones Regatta. This will allow those boats to partake in this new popular event. It was also decided to that the day races that start in Dun Laoghaire would not necessarily finish at the same venue but would finish in Wicklow or Howth, subject to weather conditions etc.
Other issues discussed and agreed at the AGM that ISORA would continue its practice of specifying a mandatory Safety requirement in accordance with the ISAF Offshore Special Regulations.

Published in ISORA

#rayc – The Royal Alfred Yacht Club (RAYC) Coastal Series out of Dublin Bay provided a nail-biting finish to the silver fleet outcome with only one point separating first and second places overall. Full results are downloadable below.
Pippa IV and Yahtzee, despite only sailing in three of the four races, organised jointly with ISORA, and thereby not having the cushion of a discard were on equal points going into the last race of the Series. Pippa IV shaded it in the final tussle and emerged the victor.
In the Gold Fleet, following Jedi's success over the last couple of years with Liam Shanahan's Ruth nipping at his heels, it was the turn of Ruth to take the Trophy and round off a great year for the Liam Shanahan crew. 

Published in Royal Alfred YC

#isora – The National Yacht Club's top offshore yacht Ruth skippered by Liam Shanahan, that came within minutes of claiming the Round Ireland Race in June, has confirmed her overall win of the 2014 ISORA Championship following the race from Pwllheli to Dun Laoghaire yesterday. Overall results are downloadable below as a jpg file.

A J109 sistership, Mojito, won yesterday's ISORA race ten sponsored by Hendrick Ryan and Associate which featured six J boats taking the top five positions.

Overall, J109s also took the top three places with yesterday's winner the runner–up. Third was Mojito's Pwllheli club–mate Sgrech, the Stephen Tudor skippered 2013 champion.

Additional reporting by Peter Ryan below

The overall championship was decided at the last race when Liam Shanahan's "Ruth" crossed the finish line after the Hendrick Ryan + Associates "James Eadie" Pwllheli to Dun Laoghaire race on the 6th September. Fifteen boats came to the start line in Pwllheli. Of the line-up, six of the boats were "J" boats and of them five were J109's.

The forecast was for northerly winds all day ranging from 10-15 knots. At the start the wind was 10 knots and this sped the fleet down to the PSC racing Mark No 2 and then direct to Dun Laoghaire. "Jackknife" was the first to break away and was soon far out in front ahead of the five J109's. The fleet had just 2 hours to get to Bardsey or the tide would turn south against them. "Jackknife" just arrived at Bardsey as the tide was turning but the gate was firmly closed by the time the remainder of the fleet arrived. Not only that but the wind dropped.

In an effort to get out of the tide most of the boats attempted to stay as close as possible to the land side of the sound but unfortunately, there was no wind there. The lack of wind and the tide bunched the fleet, with the exception of Jackknife". The race re-started again when the winds filled in and "Mojito" led the charge out of the sound. "Predator" retired in Bardsey after storming through the stationary fleet.

The leg to Dun Laoghaire should have been a tight reach but the wind backed to the north-west and continuously veered and backed all day. All the remaining "J" boats with the exception of "Jedi", who had to retire at Bardsey, were bunched together as they headed across the Irish Sea. Seconds only separated them and there was little change in position over the remaining 57 miles.

With the winds veering and backing, the fleet just made it into Dublin Bay. "Sgrech" maintained a more northerly course and looked to be in a good position however "Mojito" managed to squeeze up and cross the finish line less than 2 minutes ahead of "Sgrech" to take the Overall and Class 1. Although "Jackknife" had finished an hour and a quarter before "Mojito", it was not enough to give them the race. "Adelie" took Class 1 while "Big Deal" took the Silver class.
"Ruth" only managed a third Overall but they did enough to take the Championship and the "Wolf's Head Trophy". They also won Class 1. "Adelie" took Class 2 while "Big Deal" took the Silver class.

The fast race meant that all boats had finished by mid-night allowing all the crews to gather in the NYC for the end of year party.

The prize giving will take place at the annual dinner in the NYC on the 15th November. The AGM will also take place that day. As normal, the race schedule for 2015 will be decided at the AGM. Suggestions for races are being sought and all should be sent to me at [email protected] . The dinner is always very popular and I would recommend that places be booked as soon as possible with the Manager in the NYC, Tim O'Brien, [email protected] .

It was the end of another great season of very mixed weather conditions. The season also produced two outstanding offshore performances by ISORA members. Liam Coyne and Brian Flahive's "Lula Belle" taking Class and 6th Overall in the recent Round Britain & Ireland Race and our new champion, Liam Shanahan and "Ruth" taking second place in the Round Ireland Race. ISORA are really proud of them.

Peter Ryan - Chairman

Published in ISORA
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#rorcsrbi – For twelve days, Ireland's sailing and maritime community followed with bated breath while the fortunes of Liam Coyne and Brian Flahive with the First 36.7 Lula Belle waxed and waned in the storm-tossed 1802-mile RORC Sevenstar Round Britain & Ireland Race. Last Saturday, they triumphed, winning the two-handed division and two RORC classes in this exceptionally gruelling marathon. W M Nixon delves into the human story behind the headlines of success.

It used to be said that Irish seamanship was the skilled and stylish extrication of the vessel from an adverse and potentially disastrous situation in which she and her crew shouldn't have been next nor near in the first place.

While we may have moved on a bit from that state of affairs with a less devil-may-care approach to seafaring, there's no escaping the fact that this morning we can now look back at two remarkable Irish victories in topline international offshore events in recent years in which both crews overcame major setbacks and situations, rising above very adverse circumstances which could well have deterred sailors from other cultures where the philosophy is not underpinned by the attitude: "Ah sure lads, things aren't good. Not good at all. But let's just give it a lash and see how we go".

It was seven years ago when a full entry list of 300-plus boats was slugging westward down the English Channel in the first stages of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2007. Already, the start had been postponed 24 hours to allow one severe gale to go through. But in an event still dominated by the spectre of the 15 fatalities in the storm-battered 1979 race, most crews were hyper-nervous about another gale prospect, and by the time the bulk of the fleet was in the western English Channel, many succumbed to the allure of handy ports to lee such as Plymouth, and in those early days of the race something like 48% of the fleet retired.

But aboard Ger O'Rourke's Cookson 50 Chieftain out of Kilrush on the Shannon Estuary, they were well into their stride. That year, the boat had already completed the New York to Hamburg Transatlantic Race, placing second overall. But owing to her Limerick owner's quirk of never confirming the boat's entry for the next major event until the current one is finished, they found themelves only on the waiting list for that year's already well-filled Fastnet Race entry quota.

Chieftain was 46th on that list. Yet while those who had made an early entry fell by the wayside, steadily this last-minute Irish star rose up the rankings. With three days to go, Chieftain got the nod. They went at the racing after the delayed start as though this had been a specific campaign planned and carefully executed over many months with a full crew panel, instead of a last-minute rush where crew numbers were made up by a couple of pier-head jumpers who proved worth their weight in gold.

Yet then, as the new strong winds descended on the fleet as the group in which Chieftain was already doing mighty well was approaching the Lizard Point, the troubles started, with gear failing and boats pulling out left and right. But the Irish boat was only getting into her stride. A canting-keeler, she could be set up to power to windward in a style unmatched by bigger craft around her. Approaching the point itself in poor visibility to shape up for the fast passage out to the Fastnet Rock with even faster sailing, things looked good. And then the entire electronics system aboard went down, and stayed down.

Here they were, not even a third of the way into a race which promised to be rough and tough the whole way, but a race in which they would at least have been expecting know their speed, performance and position down to the most minute detail. Instead, they were in an instant reduced to relying on a couple of tiny very basic hand-held GPS sets, and paper charts.

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Ger O'Rourke's Chieftain sweeps in to the finish at Plymouth to win the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race overall

Those paper charts were little better than pulp by the end of a very wet race in an inevitably extremely wet but searingly fast boat. But they did get to the end, and with style too. They won overall and by a handsome margin. It was the first-ever Irish total victory in the Grand National of Ocean Racing. The owner-skipper had to go up the town to buy himself a clean shirt for the prize-giving in the Plymouth Guildhall.

Yet when Ger O'Rourke's Chieftain swept into Plymouth and that triumph just over seven years ago, the boat was in much better racing shape than Liam Coyne's First 36.7 Lula Belle when he and Brian Flahive completed the final few miles back into Cowes around midday last Saturday to finish the 1802-mile Sevenstar Round Britain & Ireland Race.

Lula Belle had many gear and equipment problems after an extreme event where the natural pre-start nervousness had been heightened by a reversal by the Race Management of the originally clockwise course as the 10th August start day approached. It would have been folly to send the fleet westward into storm force westerlies in restricted waters. Eastward was the only sensible way to go.

Then the arrival of the remains of Hurricane Bertha – which seemed to be finding new vigour – led to new tensions with the start being postponed from midday Sunday to 0900 Monday. It was disastrous from a general publicity point of view. But it would have been irresponsible to send a fleet of boats – some of them mega-fast big multihulls – hurtling towards the ship-crowded narrows of the Dover Straits beyond the limits of control in a Force 11-plus from astern.

Even when they did race away, it was with a Force 8 plus from the west, with the Irish crew recording 42.5 knots of wind aboard Lula Belle (and from astern at that), before they lost all their instruments from the masthead on the first night out. For a double-handed crew, that was a very major blow. Two-handers are allowed to use their auto-pilot, and if all the wind indicators are functioning in proper co-ordination with it, then the boat can sail herself along a specific setting on the wind. It's as good having at least one extra hand – and a skilled and tireless helmsman at that - on board.

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Lula Belle on her way out of the Solent with 1800 miles to race and everything still intact. Photo: Rick Tomlinson

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There it was – gone. After the first night at sea, Lula Belle's masthead was bereft of everything except an often defective Windex. Photo: W M Nixon

Fortunately the auto-pilot itself was still working on its own, and they became well experienced in setting the boat on course and then trimming the sails to it in a continuous process which worked well except when the seas were so rough and irregular that they had to hand steer in any case, albeit with the apparent wind indicated only by the sole survivor of the masthead units, the little standard Windex. But it must have been damaged when everything else was swept away, as from time to time it jammed. When that happened, the only wind indicators available to the two men were the Sevenstars battleflag on the backstay, the tell-tales on the sails, or a moistened finger held aloft, as neither were smokers.

Despite this, they made their way north through the North Sea and all round Scotland and its outlying islands and right down the western seaboard of Ireland as far as the Blaskets before things went even more pear-shaped. In fact, the wheels came off.

Their ship's batteries had been showing increasing reluctance to hold power, essential for the continuing use of the autohelm and the most basic need for lighting and any still-usable electronic equipment including the chart plotter. But thanks to a trusty engine battery, they could start the motor to bring the ship's batteries back up to short-lived strength. Yet while approaching the Blaskets, the engine refused to start, and nothing they could do would coax it back to life. Inevitably they lost power, and for the final 495 miles of the race – the equivalent of 78% of a Fastnet Race - the boat was sailed and navigated entirely manually, with the required navigation lights provided by modified helmet lamps.

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The chart plotter shows only too clearly where power was lost completely just north of the Blaskets. Photo: W M Nixon

Yet they finished well last Saturday, around noon on August 23rd after twelve days racing. They won the two-handed division overall, they won Classes IV & V, and they placed sixth overall in a combined fleet in which big boats with a strong element of professional crewing dominated. So who are Liam Coyne and Brian Flahive, and what about Lula Belle, the heroine of the tale?

Afloat.ie caught up with them on Thursday morning in Dun Laoghaire marina, where they'd got home an hour or so before dawn to grab a quick sleep of a few precious hours before awakening to more sunshine than they'd experienced for a long time, as the Round Britain & Ireland was raced across an astonishingly sunless sea. As for the 450-mile passage home to Dublin Bay, it had been achieved through mostly miserable weather and an enforced and brief stop in Plymouth to try to get a final solution to the continuing electric problems, which had defeated the finest minds in Cowes.

But such hassle fades when the return home is completed, and the Lula Belle crew were in great form. They complement each other. Brian Flahive is from Wicklow and he's a studious, thoughtful type. He turned 31 just three days after the win, making it his best birthday ever, and a fitting highlight in a sailing CV which continues to develop, and began with local sailing and training courses with Wicklow Sailing Club after his sister Carol had acquired a Mirror dinghy.

Since then, Carol's seagoing has taken a slightly unexpected turn as she found her vocation in the lifeboat service, and that is now her main interest afloat - she is a helm on the Wicklow lifeboat. But her younger brother Brian was soon hooked on pure sailing, and from the Mirror he soon went on the 420s where his enthusiasm was noted by local keelboat owners, who in turn recruited him aboard, and soon he was noted by those assembling offshore racing crews too.

When you've talent, enthusiasm and time available, the word soon gets about in the limited recruiting pool available to Ireland's offshore racing folk. Soon, young Flahive was spreading his wings with his home port's biennial Round Ireland race, and participation in Irish Sea Offshore Racing. He proved adept at and interested in two-handed sailing in particular, and soon got to know another relative newcomer to the Irish Sea offshore racing scene, Liam Coyne.

Liam Coyne is 47, and something of a force of nature. There's a mischievous twinkle to his eye, but there's a very serious side to him too, even if – as when he admits he's extremely competitive – it's done in the best of humour. He's from Swinford in County Mayo, where any knowledge of boating might relate to the big lake of Lough Conn nearby. But as he left Mayo for the USA just as he was turning 20, his passionate sailing involvement has been entirely generated during his more recent life in Dublin.

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There's a mischievous twinkle, but Liam Coyne makes no secret of his competitive nature. Photo: W M Nixon

Back in the 1980s, well before Australia took off as the destination of choice for energetic and ambitious young Irish people, America was still the Land of Dreams. Coyne's teacher of English in Mayo was so sure of this that one of his courses was built entirely around the USA's immigration examination. He did a good job, young Coyne made the break, and he started to fulfill his ambition of getting to all the American states by spending time – sometimes quite a lot of it – in 26 of the States of the Union. Eventually with a winter approaching, he found the building site he was quietly working on in Boston was due to close completely for the colder months. But he managed to swing a job selling Firestone tyres (sorry, "tires") from the local agent's shops. It was a union created in heaven. Liam Coyne and tyres – the bigger the better – were made for each other.

He prospered in the tyre business in Boston and enjoyed his work, but there was always the call of home and a girl from Swinford who had qualified as a teacher. So he came back to Ireland in 1998, set up in the tyre business in Leinster, married the girl and settled down in south Dublin to raise a family.

Came the boom years, and the tyre business prospered mightily. Liam Coyne Tyres had five depots and employed 48 people. He was mighty busy, but seeking relaxation. So on the October Bank Holiday Monday in 2005, he and his wife went to the Used Boat Show at Malahide Marina and by the time they left, Alan Corr of BJ Marine had sold them a handy little Beneteau First 211, their first boat.

His knowledge of boats and sailing was rudimentary to non-existent. His maiden voyage, the short hop of 12 miles from Malahide to his recently-joined new base at Poolbeg Y& BC in Dublin port, took all of 14 hours as the tyro skipper battled with the peculiarities of tide and headwinds, happily ignoring the potential of the little outboard engine on the transom even though, as Alan Corr cheerfully told him later, it could have pushed the boat all the way to Arklow in half the time.

But he was enchanted by this strange new world, and the camaraderie of the sailing community as expressed in Poolbeg. He made a tentative foray into the club's Wednesday night racing, and was even more strongly hooked. But even though those Wednesday club races in the inner reaches of Dublin Bay were such fun that from time to time he still returns to race with his old clubmates at Poolbeg, he knew that his ambitions would dictate a move into a larger boat, and the bigger world of Dublin Bay sailing. So when the next Dublin Boat Show came along, he went to it and ended up buying a Bavaria 30 from Paddy Boyd, who was marketing Bavarias in the interval between being Secretary General of the Irish Sailing Association, and Executive Director of Sail Canada.

Paddy Boyd wised him up to the Dun Laoghaire sailing scene, and which club he might find the most congenial while being suited to his ambitions. For Liam Coyne was discovering offshore racing, and particularly the annual programme of the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association. He liked everything about ISORA, the friendships, the willingness to help and encourage newcomers, and the pleasant sense of a mildly international flavour between the English, Welsh and Irish contingents.

One of his fondest memories is of taking his Bavaria 30 across to North Wales for the annual Pwllheli-Howth race which traditionally rounds out the season, and is often blessed with Indian summer weather. As he headed away from Dublin Bay, he suddenly realised it was the first time he had ever left Ireland under his own command. All previous exits had been on scheduled ships or planes. It was a very special moment.

Yet while he treasures the memory of such special moments, it wouldn't be Liam Coyne if he wasn't moving on. He'd relocated his base of operations to the bigger scene of the National Yacht Club and Dun Laoghaire, and developed his taste for double-handed offshore racing and its link to a group whose only common denominator seemed to be that many of them shared an enthusiasm for racing vintage Fireballs in Dun Laoghaire harbour in the winter.

But in the summer, keelboat offshore racing with just two on board was increasingly their main line, and he was soon on terms of friendship with the likes of Brian Flahive, Barry Hurley and others, while the double-handed class in events like the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle, the Round Ireland, and the Fastnet itself were coming up on the radar.

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The newly-acquired First 36.7 which became Lula Belle greatly broadened the scope of Liam Coyne's offshore racing. Photo: W M Nixon

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The First 36.7 is of a useful size to be a very pleasant family cruiser, but Lula Belle has been a multi-purpose boat since Liam Coyne bought her, with the emphasis on double-handed offshore racing, and the longer the course, the better. Photo: W M Nixon

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Lula Belle's layout - the accommodation of a cruiser/racer with extras installed for serious offshore racing, but for proper cruising they'd also be required. Photo: W M Nixon

Having made his mark offshore partnered with Brian Flahive on the Bavaria, he very quickly moved up to the almost-new First 36.7 Baily, bought from Tom Fitzpatrick of Howth. His name of Lula Belle for the boat was inspired by a recently-deceased aunt who had invariably addressed all of his sisters as "Lula Belle" when requesting something like a cup of tea. It's certainly a distinctive name, and it was beginning to feature regularly in short-handed and fully-crewed offshore racing reports when Ireland fell off the economic cliff around 2007.

The tyre business was hit particularly hard, for they're items whose replacement people can try to avoid by shifting used tyres around on and between vehicles to get the last piece of tread usable. But fortunately, one of his key contracts was in the heavy industrial area, where they use tyres so big your everyday motorist has no notion of them, yet legal safety working requirements dictate their regular replacement.

Despite this, at one stage his fine workforce of 48 had become effectively just two, while three of the five depots were closed. "I can tell you" he says, "there were times when we were glad enough the wife had kept her teaching job". And they were raising a family, eventually with three kids with a much-loved holiday home at Enniscrone in southwest Sligo. Then too he had this 36ft racing boat too. Yet all his fine assets and the value of the family home in Dublin had effectively been slashed by at least 50% and often more.

But somehow he kept going, and he even continued to race offshore. By this time one of the leading figures in the Irish short-handed sailing scene, Barry Hurley, had moved to Malta, and when he was recruiting crew for a friend with a Grand Soleil 40 for the annual 620-miles Middle Sea Race from Valetta in late October, he filled four berths with able-bodied crew from Dublin including Barry Flahive and Liam Coyne.

That race brought something of another epiphany to match that moment of pure joy at realizing he was skippering his own boat out of Irish waters for the first time. They'd come through the Straits of Messina eastward of Sicily, and next turn of the course was the volcanic island of Stromboli. It was a blissfully warm summer's night, and Liam was at the helm in just shorts and shirt, enjoying the sail and revelling in the race.

Stormboli was gently erupting just enough to show it was there, and ideal to be a mark of the course. "I'll tell you," says Liam, "it was a very long way indeed from your usual October night in Swinford". The magic of the moment reinforced his ambition to see his business through the recession and out the other side, which he has now achieved with busy depots in Navan and Dublin, and staff back above the twenty mark. Yet oddly enough, it also reinforced a shared ambition with Brian Flahive to do the four-yearly Seven Stars Round Britain & Ireland Race, when conditions up in the northern seas off Shetland and across towards the Faroes can often make an October night in Swinford seem like the balmy Mediterranean by comparison.

But the idea just wouldn't go away, and they put down their names for the 2014 race. With the economy coming out of intensive care and two good managers running his two depots and the three kids though the very young stage, Liam Coyne felt he could take off the time for this major challenge. But even so it was done without any form of shore management support, and in fact he managed to mix it with some family cruising – to which the boat is surprisingly well suited – by taking his young son Billy (10) and daughter Katie (8) along with him for a leisurely delivery to Cowes by way of many of the choice and picturesque ports along the south coast of England, where his wife and the youngest child joined the party to see them off.

That was in the last of the summer. By the time the starting date was upon them, it was as if a giant and malevolent switch had been activated. The weather was horrible, and even when Bertha had finally grumbled along on her way, it was anticipated that the rush of bitterly cold north winds she'd drag down from the Arctic in her wake would be every bit as unpleasant.

Then came the complete reversal of the course, and the postponement of the start. For a crew who were being their own shore managers and technical support team, it added a last minute mountain of research work on the shape the weather might be when they finally got away, and all the mental strains of waiting overnight for the start. As the lowest-rated boat in the entire fleet, they may have had the consolation of knowing that if they finished with just one boat behind them then they wouldn't be last on corrected time. But by being the low-rater, they would probably finish so long after everyone else that any general celebration would be long over.

That said, when a double-handed team have already successfully bonded, they're better at withstanding the strain of an enforced wait for a delayed start than a larger crew. I can remember only too well when the RORC Cowes to Cork race of 1974 was postponed for ten hours by the then RORC Secretary Mary Pera. A Force 10 sou'wester was making the Needles Channel a complete maelstrom on the spring ebb, but it was forecast soon to ease, so we were to be sent off on the evening ebb.

To get through the wait, it seemed best to stay well away from the boat and have a quiet day if at all possible. But aboard the 47-footer on which I was sailing, there were action men who decided it was time for a party lunch. So although I slunk away alone up the back streets of Cowes (Kensington-on-Sea it was not), and found a little café where the owners were persuaded to provide lunch of boiled potatoes and steamed fish instead of the usual nausea-inducing fish'n'chips, back on the waterfront others meanwhile had different ideas. A massive former rugby international in our crew decided the best way to pass the time was a champagne reception in one of the Cowes clubs followed by a bibulous lunch, and he persuaded several shipmates to join him, though they were circumspect in their consumption while he went at it as though it would be the last festive lunch in his life.

When we finally got racing the wind had indeed eased, though things were still rough enough in the Needles Channel, where we slammed into a head sea with such vigour that the Brookes & Gatehouse speedo impellor – normally a particularly stiff-to-move bit of equipment – was shot into its hull housing so totally we assumed it had broken entirely. It took a few seconds to realize what had happened, and it worked again happily enough once it had been pushed back into working position with the usual robust heave.

However, our mighty rugby forward was not so happy. He was not a happy budgie at all. The news is that, though you may be battering along noisily but successfully with endless bangs and squeaks and groans of one sort or another, when an international rugby forward of classic size gets massively seasick, a new dimension enters the sound and vibration scene - it's as if the entire boat is shuddering from end to end.

But enough of that. In Cowes on the morning of Monday August 11th 2014, it was still blowing old boots from the west , but they tore away downwind like there was no tomorrow. And for some, as far as racing was concerned, there wasn't. Any tomorrow, that is. There were several overnight retrials that set out to be temporary but became permanent. Aboard Lula Belle, however, they were still going strong, but after recording that gust from astern of 42.5 knots (which meant it was pushing 50), the masthead broccoli decided it had had enough, and made its exit.

Some time long before the race, Liam had decided he'd ensure the minimum use of power by having a LED tricolour masthead light, and a technician had been sent aloft to fit it. But that first night, it took off on its own, but taking much else with it, and leaving a beautifully clean masthead, but damn all information for those down below other than a Windex with an increasing tendency to jam.

And already the sails were suffering, for although their gybes were hectic enough, they didn't have to worry about check-stays or runners. But the downside of that was the well-raked spreaders, which helped support the mast in the absence of any aft support rigging other than the standing backstay. The inevitably prominent upper spreader-ends were chafing holes in the mainsail which, despite repairs, were enormous by the finish.

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Speed at sea – Brian Flahive on the wheel as Lula Belle puts in the kind of sailing which knocked off 200 miles a day. Photo: Liam Coyne

But they blasted on, roaring on a reach up through the North Sea with Lula Belle doing mighty well, as the more extreme boats such as their closest rival, the Figaro II Rare, weren't quite getting the conditions to enable them to fly, whereas old Lula Belle was knocking off 200 miles in every 24 and saving her time very nicely.

North of the English/Scottish border, the strong winds drew ahead. The forecast, however, was for westerlies, so some boats in front laid markedly to the westward looking for them. But Coyne and Flahive sailed a canny race. What they knew of the weather maps suggested very slow-moving and messy weather systems with lots of wind. And from ahead. They reckoned the prospect of westerlies was just too good to be true. And they were right. On the entire leg up to Muckle Flugga, the most northerly turn, they never strayed more than five or six miles from the rhumb line, and thus they sailed the absolute minimum distance, albeit in very anti-social conditions, to get to the big turn.

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The sunless sea, with Lula Belle getting past Muckle Flugga on Shetland, the northerly turning point of the RB & I Race, and the sky promising plenty of wind Photo: Liam Coyne

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The win move. Although Lula Belle had taken a conservative route northward, once they'd rounded Muckle Flugga they took a flyer to try to get on the favoured side of a slow-moving yet very intense low. The plan succeeded, but they'd to go almost halfway to the Faroes for it to work. Photo: W M Nixon

By this time the faster boats had got back into a substantial lead, but here the situation suited the Irish duo. Those in front went battering and tacking into a fierce sou'wester, trying to get nearer the next turn at St Kilda. But the Irish boat's cunning scheme was to slug directly westward once they'd rounded Muckle Flugga, and not tack until they'd some real prospect of being in the harsh northerlies which they knew to be somewhere out beyond the very slow-moving low pressure area.

Thus they ended up midway between the Shetlands and Orkney to the southeast, and the Faroes to the northwest. As Liam Coyne drily puts it: "When you take a flyer like this and it works, it isn't a flyer any more – on the contrary, it's the only way". What they didn't know was that the boats trying to batter their way past the Outer Hebrides and down towards St Kilda had taken such a pasting that their immediate rival Rare had made a pit stop to rest up in the Shetlands, and others dropped out "for a while" only to find it had become a matter of retiring from the race.

But Lula Belle, having cast the dice to go west, had no option but to keep going, as she was nearly 50 miles west of the Rhumb Line, and more a day's fast sailing from any shelter. By this time, the Scottish forecasters had up-graded their gale warnings to severe storm Force 10. But thanks to their pluck in going west, Coyne and Flahive were up towards the northwest corner of the low, whereas the opposition were down in the southeast quadrant where the winds are usually significantly stronger.

Nevertheless at the change of the watch they shortened sail to the three-reefed main and the storm jib, even though the wind had fallen right away. Brian went off watch and then returned on deck after some sleep to find Liam had become becalmed, and had been so for some time. The centre of the low was passing straight over them. Now it was only a matter of time before the new wind came out of the north.

When it did it was nasty and cold, and the sea became diabolically rough and confused. But it was a fair wind, and they made on as best they could through the short northern night to close in on St Kilda. It was sunrise when they went past that lonely sentinel, and for once there was briefly sunshine to prove it, but it was watery bad weather sunshine as they settled in for the long haul to Ireland.

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A great fair wind at last, but it was so very very cold despite some sunshine. Photo: Liam Coyne

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Early morning as they pass St Kilda, with Lula Belle well placed in the race and her closest but higher-rated rivals astern. Photo: Iiam Coyne

By this stage the boat was very much their home, and they were both in good spirits. Despite the expectation of being in race mode for at least ten days and probably much more, they hadn't anything too much in the way of special easy-made instant food. When asked who had organized their stores and how they had been procured, Liam responded: "I just went to Tesco before the race, and filled her up. It's very easy when you've only two. I've had to do the stores for the boat with a crew of eight, and it's a pain in the neck".

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Getting an omelette just right is tricky at the best of times, yet this masterpiece was created aboard Lula Belle off the coast of Donegal in 30 knots of wind. Photo: Liam Coyne

As for living aboard, they used the two aft cabins for sleeping, with hot bunking dictated by which was the weather side. In cruising mode, the First 36.7 is a very comfortable boat, but in racing things tend to get put behind the lee-cloth on the weather settee berth in the saloon, for the fact is the boat is designed to be raced with a crew of 7 or 8, and she tends to be a bit tender without six bodies on the weather rail.

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Post-return temporary disorder in Lula Belle's saloon on her arrival back in Dun Laoghaire after sailing nearly 3000 miles in all since she'd last been in her home port. Though Brian (left) and Liam used the aft cabins for the short off-watch periods of sleep, the lee cloths on the settee berths were kept up to provide ready stowage for loose gear, preferably on the weather side. Photo: W M Nixon

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Having the toilet on the fore-and-aft axis is very convenient at sea. And having an "extra-easy-cleaned" compartment is a real boon for hygienc. As for the funnel and hose, that's essential in a men-only boat in racing mode. Photo: W M Nixon

To my mind, one of the best things about the accommodation is the heads (toilet if you prefer). Some folk might think the compartment is too compact, but the loo is aligned fore and aft, so there simply isn't the room to fall about when using it. With the fore and aft alignment, security and comfort is guaranteed at those special private moments. It should be a law of yacht design that any boat which is going to be taken further than half a mile offshore is designed with a fore and aft loo.

Such thoughts would not have been forefront in the minds of Lula Belle's crew as they set the A3 spinnaker for the long run to Black Rock off the Mayo coast. Inexplicably, and as evidence of their stretched shoreside management support arrangements, they'd failed to bring along a new Code Zero spinnaker from sailmaker Des McWilliam. They'd gone for it despite it putting three extra notches on their rating, but it was nowhere to be found. After the race, it was discovered among a pile of 20 sails in Liam's Dublin office. But out in the lonely ocean southwest of St Kilda, it wasn't there when it was needed.

Yet it was soon needed even more. The smaller sail that was put up simply disintegrated after a brief period of use. It was inexplicable, but reasons weren't important just then, they were now down to just two spinnakers, and a very long way to go downwind to the finish.

So they nervously got out the A4, and soon it was up and drawing and Lula Belle was back in business, sailing fast for Ireland. Liam went below for a much-needed kip, and a sudden squall over-powered the boat. By the time he got back on deck she'd broached completely and the sail was shredded. They were down to just one spinnaker, and one in very dodgy condition at that. To add to their joys, in a crash gybe the mainsheet carriage disintegrated and they'd "ball bearings, it seemed like hundreds of them, all over the place...."

So there they'd been, passing St Kilda and knowing that, despite the lack of sailing instruments, they couldn't have done the leg from Shetland any better, and more importantly knowing from Yellowbrick that Rare was now well astern. Yet here they were now, only a few hours on the way, and they were down to one spinnaker and a jury-rigged mainsheet arrangement and a long way to go and the weather starting to suit Rare. Could it get any worse?

It did. Approaching the Blaskets, as usual the ship's batteries were draining with unreasonable speed. But the engine, when called upon, was dead. Dead as a dodo. It turned over but just wouldn't start. They knew that in very short order they'd be even further cut off from the outside world than they were already, with no chart plotter and without even the comfort of Yellowbrick to tell them how they stood in relation to the opposition. No autohelm whatever, either. And they'd 495 miles still to sail.

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Moment of truth. The chart plotter's power dies just north of the Blaskets, the most westerly point of the 1802-mile course. Photo: W M Nixon

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Getting on with it. Just south of the Blaskets, Brian goes aloft to try and clear the constantly-jamming Windex. Photo: W M Nixon

So they picked themeselves up, dusted themselves off, and started all over again. Brian went aloft to the waving masthead to free the Windex, which was in its jamming mood. Then progress was good heading down towards the Isle of Scilly. But even so, midway across, alone at the helm and steering and steering and steering, Liam admits to a very low moment.

They were now almost midway between Cowes and Dun Laoghaire, So he thought to himself: Why not just turn to port and head for home? Head for that comfortable NG34 berth in Dun Laoghaire marina, instead of struggling on with sails which were bound to shred even further, and leave them eventually straggling across the line completely dog last and with everything to fix, and then they'd have to turn round and plug into the early Autumn gales all the way back round Land's End to Dun Laoghaire?

And what then? he thought. Well, then in four years times we'll have to do the damned thing all over again. All, all, over again. So we'll just finish the bloody thing now, and get the T-Shirt, and that will be that regardless of how far we're placed behind everyone else, and good riddance to it all.

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Welcome back. Knowing of Lula Belle's engine-less plight, the Cowes harbourmaster made sure they were brought into their Berth of Honour in style. Photo: Liam Coyne

So they stuck at it, they nursed the boat through the shipping separation zones at the Scillies without the spinnaker up because they knew the multiple gybing would destroy it, then as Rare didn't get past them until this stage, they knew that after such a long race she'd need to be 22 hours ahead at the finish and that was surely impossible. They were very much in with a shout of being better than last, so they nursed that mangled old spinnaker right up the English Channel (Mother Flahive's emergency sewing machine had done some marvellous repairs), and maybe the spreader ends were now showing out through the mainsail again, but what the hell, they got in round St Catherine's point and shaped their way back into the eastern Solent and on up to Cowes, and didn't Rare's crew and various bigwigs come out to tow them into port and confirm to them that they had indeed been there, they'd seen it, they'd done it, they'd won it., and now they could get the T-shirt.

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Been there, seen it, done it, won it, got the T-shirt.....Liam Coyne back at the bar of the National YC five days after winning the two-handed division and two RORC classes in the 1802-mile Seven Stars Round Britain & Ireland Race 2014, and with his boat Lula Belle safely returned to her home port of Dun Laoghaire. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in W M Nixon
Page 15 of 27

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