Irish RS600 sailors might be forgiven for feeling somewhat like Defoe’s Crusoe, alienated from the rejuvenated fleets in the UK and adrift amongst the dominant Irish dinghy classes. Of the ten or so boats now on the island, a number of these were bought by sailors who, for years, laboured under the impression that they owned the only example this side of the Irish Sea. Having discovered that there were, in fact, other Irish dinghy sailors who relished the challenge of this notoriously temperamental skiff, six Crusoes gathered in the Coal Harbour in Dun Laoghaire on a grey September Sunday.
The boat, affectionately known as the ‘6’ in its heyday in the late 1990s and early noughties, gained a reputation for being one of the trickier boats to sail. With a 12.2 m2 fully battened mainsail, racks and a trapeze, the boat continues to be one of a few classes which is unapologetic in defying the cliché of being ‘easy to sail, but hard to sail well’. It is uncompromisingly hard to sail, and even harder to sail well. In many ways, learning to sail the 600 can be understood as a problem of interpretation. Although Australians might quibble, the 600 is a skiff, and, as such, there is only one way to sail the boat, flat and fast. However, there are a number of interpretations as to how this might best be achieved. Perhaps more so than any other sailing dinghy, technique is mediated by a sailor’s height, weight and physical fitness. Learning to sail the boat flat and fast requires the novice to accommodate themselves to the 600. In other words, sailors must develop their own interpretation of the boat.
Despite a forecast of cloud and marginal airs, four boats made the journey from Skerries Sailing Club. They were met by two local 600 sailors. Waiting for the breeze to materialise, sailors exchanged war stories, counting the ways in which the boat can shrug off a sailor or bring itself to grief. Racing began around 13:00, as clearing skies and a light south-easterly developed. A triangular course was laid just outside the Harbour Mouth. Lorcan Tighe, our race officer for the inaugural INSC RS600 Dun Laoghaire Open, should be given full credit for facilitating competitive racing in extremely light breezes. Indeed, the spectacle of having six of these rare animals in one place was such that several yachts felt compelled to trundle through the course under spinnaker!
No 600 sailor would choose to crouch on the foredeck, hunting for speed, but the sheer novelty of having six boats on the water was enough to sustain the fleet’s enthusiasm for three races. Father and son Stuart and Graham Burns demonstrated skills obviously honed over months of familial competition. Although he was pursued relentlessly by both his son and Colman Grimes, Stuart’s impressive light-air speed saw him take three bullets. Reconvening in the INSC clubhouse, prizes were awarded to Stuart Burns (1st), Graham Burns (2nd) and Colman Grimes (3rd).
The sheer difficulty of becoming competent, let alone expert, in the RS600 engenders a particular kind of camaraderie among the fleet. This camaraderie, coupled with the pleasure in discovering that there is competitive one-design racing to be found on the island means that, in 2018, the Irish 600 fleet will seek to match the renewed enthusiasm for the boat now found in the UK. The fleet will meet again in Skerries in October. There, plans will be laid for 2018.
Thanks must go to the four boats from Skerries who made the trip over and, in doing so, gave us our fleet. Thanks are also due to the Irish National Sailing Club who hosted the event and, in particular, race officer Lorcan Tighe.