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RS400 Fleet Sails for National Honours at Ballyholme Yacht Club

23rd September 2015
RS400_Nats
Jen Brittain

Ballyholme Yacht Club in Belfast Lough was chosen not just for its exemplary history of race management and churning out National Champions, and its excellent access to open waters with minimal tide, but also for its ease of access for the Northern UK Fleet of RS400 sailors, in the hope of attracting some of the biggest names in the UK fleet over writes David Cheyne. So it happened that Mike Sims and Richard Brown, recently crowned UK National Champions and reigning Inland Champs, were tempted, along with Josh Metcalfe and Jack Holden from North Wales, a regular top 5 UK team, to see how much our top teams had improved through 2015. How would the cream of Ireland’s two person dinghy sailors fare against the top names of one of the most competitive fleets in the UK.
Much has been said of the RS400 fleets continued expansion in Ireland, with fleets popping up everywhere, and now strongholds in Cork and Belfast Lough, and ongoing growth in Dublin, Howth and the inland clubs like Killaloe. But how is the standard of sailing coming on? One look at the shots taken from the committee boat down the start line, of about 150 metres length, with no midline sag, is testament to the skills and standard right through the fleet, along with the compression of the fleet which finished most of the 45 minute races within 5 minutes from front to back.
Within the fleet itself, there had been a quiet excitement building towards this event, with everyone turning up, resulting in a stunning line up of talent spanning 40 years, and with nearly the entire top 20 being National Champions or better. However, what was most impressive was how tight the racing turned out to be in rest of the 50 strong fleet. Nobody seemed to be struggling, and everyone was out fiddling with rig settings and fine tuning, only a year on from many people trying to work out how to sail the boats for the first time.
Racing on Friday looked like a walk in the park for the top UK team, who took all the bullets, however after a day off to reflect on the Saturday, when the wind refused to play ball, the Irish teams came out fighting and nearly overhauled the visitors who had a much more torrid time of things, with boats speed difference now neutralised, and any sense of intimidation no longer felt. Notable performances came from established pairing Paul McLaughlin and Mick McKinley of Cushendall, who seemed to be flying around the course and regularly chasing the top 5; Barry McCartin, 2014 and 2015 Irish Fireball Champion, and top Irish performer in 11th place at the recent Fireball Worlds, sailing with Finbar Bradley, not long in the fleet, constantly chasing the leading pack; top Irish Laser sailor and coach Chris Penney, with Simon Martin, and George Kenefick, 2011 ISA Helmsman’s Champion filling out the top ten.
It was clear however, that there was a top 5, with the two top UK teams and three Irish teams of 2014 Champions Alex Barry and Richie Leonard, 2013 Champions Bob Espey and Michael Gunning, and multiple Irish National Champion in many fleets, Gareth Flannigan, with Dave Fletcher of the home club, knocking ten bells out of each other, and indeed Espey out of his boat at one top mark rounding!
Going into the last day, Flannigan was looking strong in pole position, but the points quickly reversed with discards kicking in, and ever present Alex Barry overhauling the Ballyholme duo before Flannigan was black flagged in the penultimate race to really put the pressure on, as Barry claimed his first win of the series. With the expected jostling for position in the final start, it was the Monkstown team who squeezed out ahead, as Flannigan struggled to pull back through from mid fleet, and it was they who claimed their second successive Irish RS400 title.
So how was it for the rest of the competitors? Well, one of the great things about the fleet is the coming together of so many old friends and adversaries of years gone by, with the likes of 63 year old Liam Donnelly, along with Brian Holmes, Richard Bolton, Charlie Horder and Simon Hutchison of the Scorpion fleet of years gone by, all feeling enthused again to be able to compete against each other again after several years without a double hander to sail. It is such a refreshing sight to see 50 dinghies in a single class with jibs and kites whizzing about, after so much concentration on single handed racing in recent years. The fun of having to get so many variables covered in such a beautifully easy boat to sail fast, looks to be re-energising sailing in Ireland. Who knows what 2016 holds – bring it on!

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