All-Ireland Junior Champion Chris Bateman of Monkstown Bay SC on Cork Harbour and seasoned participant Ronan Wallace of Wexford showed that local knowledge is not a pre-requisite to success in taking the top places in the time-honoured Round Ireland’s Eye Race, which on Saturday concluded Howth YC’s traditional Laser Winter Frostbite Series, a fixture event since 1974.
With the breeze already brisk and forecast to build, some of the competitors decided that discretion was better than valour and spectating had distinct advantages. The remaining 15 Standards and 3 Radials headed out for the Warm-up, or to be more accurate, Cool-down Race in the Sound. As a concession to the conditions - south-westerly gusting to 20 knots and changeable in direction - and to avoid wearing the sailors out too early, the ‘three triangles’ course was signalled by the Race Committee, always popular with the fleet on windy days when running dead downwind in a Laser with the water temperature below 10oC becomes unappealing.
A general recall showed the fleet was well up for the day and a U flag was broken out for the restart with Chris Bateman, visiting from Monkstown Bay SC for the day’s racing, being the only casualty. With swimming practice well underway, there was a ferocious battle between 4 or 5 sailors to avoid finishing last, with positions gained and lost on each leg as they each struggled to get to grips with the conditions.
Conor Costello was involved for a while but his heavy weather ability allowed him to break away, leaving Zander Mackay and Mark Kennedy to fight it out for the honour of being the last finisher - but with bragging rights over the retirees - before Mark ultimately took the place due to an unfortunate capsize at the last mark rounding. At the front of the fleet, the honours were equally hard-fought before Ronan Wallace took the gun in the Standards and Peter Kilmartin led the Radials home.
Paul McMahon and Darach Dinneen gave a masterclass in tactical thinking by opting to skip the warm-up race in favour of last-minute refreshments ashore, staying fresh and dry to then increase the fleet for the main event round the multi-faceted and challenging Ireland’s Eye. By the time of its start, the conditions had become even more challenging, with the dense-air breeze now regularly heading for the mid-twenties and a steeply-building sea. The late arrivals joined the rest of a fleet by now somewhat tired and wet and were rewarded with a clean start for the concluding highlight.
What followed would later be described as a fast, memorable, terrifying and challenging Capsizefest, with lots of what older generations of Laser sailors are rumoured to have called ‘orgasmic planing’.
A feature of the event is that sailors have the choice of leaving the Island to port or starboard, their assessment based on the impact of wind direction, tide, sea state and the extent of wind shadowing expected from the Island’s high points. Only two sailors, both in Standard rigs, chose the clockwise route this year, Mike Evans doing best of them to eventually finish fourth. The second decided to head for home after reaching his self-imposed capsize limit before reaching the Martello Tower at the north-west end of the Island, with approximately a fifth of distance completed and the long legs along the north and east still to do.
For those choosing anti-clockwise, sailing into an ebb tide on the seaward side of the island with a very confused win-over-tide sea to deal with at the corners meant the rounding of the southern tip and the Stack challenged many, resulting in lots of shiny hull bottoms being put on display as capsizes quickly turned into energy-sapping turtles. Having swum and sailed their way around, the leading pack rounded the northwest corner at the Martello Tower to head down the Sound for the finish with a close battle still underway in both fleets, the outcome being mainly determined by who had the fewest capsizes and most energy left.
Chris Bateman’s victory in his first outing at the event gave the Standard rig sailors with more experience of the local waters a lot to think about, and his return next year to defend his title - allowing them a chance to redeem their pride - is much anticipated. Ronan Wallace and Darragh Sheridan filled the remaining podium positions while in the Radials, Peter Hassett was the top survivor, followed by Peter Kilmartin in second.
The fleet adjourned to the Clubhouse to ease tired bodies, rehydrate, share tales of adventure and enjoy the lunch and prizegiving for the Frostbite and Round the Island.
Next event for the Laser fleet is Howth’s Icebreaker Series (Sundays, March 22nd – Apr 12th) before the 2020 Laser Class Leinster Championship is hosted at HYC on the weekend of May 9/10.