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World Champion O’Connor Takes 2017 Irish SB20 Title Through Thick & Thin & Gin

18th September 2017
Altair from Cork Harbour (K Dorgan, Cobh SC) holding on the right in Sunday’s sunshine at the SB20 Nationals at Howth. They placed 17th overall in a hot fleet Altair from Cork Harbour (K Dorgan, Cobh SC) holding on the right in Sunday’s sunshine at the SB20 Nationals at Howth. They placed 17th overall in a hot fleet Photo: Serena Blacoe

New SB20 World Corinthian Champion Michel O’Connor of Royal St George YC took the class’s Irish title yesterday afternoon after a hectic series at Howth Yacht Club in which the 21–strong fleet experienced an entire year’s worth of weather in just three days writes W M Nixon.

Afloat, they came through thick and thin, and then ashore they cheerfully waded through gin as well. The Irish Nationals coincided with the first weekend of the HYC Autumn League at the peninsula port, and on the Friday night HYC Commodore Joe McPeake took the opportunity to introduce his members and friends to the new HYC–branded gin (we are not making this up), and the amiable SB20 crowd took that in their stride as well.

In fact, the SB 20s proved very popular guests. Long gone from their scene are the here-today gone-tomorrow types who sometimes soured the class in times past in Cowes Week, where the SB 20 people will tell you such problem children have now all moved on to the new J/70s. That’s maybe a bit unfair to the J/70s, but there you go.

sb nats2Marty Cuppage’s Sea Biscuit (Howth YC, foreground) trying to  keep things in hand on Broomsticks (M O’Leary, Greystones SC), but Altair under the lee bow is giving her a bad time. And at the finish, the Greystones boat was twelfth overall while the Howth boat was thirteenth.  Photo: Serena Blacoe

Meanwhile in Ireland the SB 20 class these days is made up of solid sporting enthusiasts with a great sense of camaraderie. And with the O’Connor win at Cowes in the Worlds at the beginning of September, the fleet at home had a gold standard benchmark to measure their performance at the Howth event, but the weather was determined to test them as well.

Friday’s races saw them pushing towards the limit, with 24 knots frequently on the wind clocks, while Saturday saw a more moderate northerly, but a well-forecast band of heavy rain moved remorselessly across the race area in mid-afternoon. Then on Sunday the weather Gods decided to relent, and they rounded out in sunshine, but with a rising barometer the distinctly crisp wind direction could be fickle.

sb nats3Peter Kennedy’s from Strangford (third overall at finish) ahead of Cillian Dickson (HYC) with Binn Eadair Racing (7th OA). Photo Serena Blacoe

Far from walking away with the series, O’Connor looked to be playing second fiddle to Stefan Hyde (formerly Cork, these days sailing under RIYC colours) in the early stages, as Hyde logged first, third and first to O’Connor’s three seconds on the Friday. Peter Kennedy of Strangford was next in line with an 8th, 1st and 5th, while Daragh Sheridan was best of the home fleet in the end, but his first day saw two thirteenths and a fourth.

However, in Saturday’s increasingly murky conditions, O’Connor came good with 2nd, 5th and 1st to Hyde’s 7th, 3rd and 7th, so it was Game On for Sunday’s sunny racing. There was a bit of covering going on, as O’Connor was prepared to take an 8th while Hyde was back in 9th, but by this time O’Connor could make do with a 3rd and 5th in the final races and still stay 3 points clear ahead on the leaderboard.

Overall, it was by no means a walkover. The honours were well spread, and the class were in a fine form in an excellent series enjoyed by participants and hosts alike. But before we run the top points place, could the Thought Police just make the point that the plural of gin and tonic is gins and tonic………

International SB20 Class Irish National Championship 2017 1st Michael O’Connor (RStGYC) 22pts; 2nd Stefan Hyde (Royal Irish YC) 25pts; 3rd Peter Kennedy (Strangford SC & Royal North of Ireland YC) 30pts; 4th Daragh Sheridan (Howth YC) 45 pts; 5th D Martin (Strangford Lough YC) 53 pts; 6th C. Galavan (RIYC) 66pts.

sb nats4After a decidedly mixed summer, even one day of that magic Autumn sunlight goes a long way. The Irish SB 20 fleet having themselves a fine old time at Howth on Sunday.   Photo: Serena Blacoe

Published in SB20 Team

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