#teamracing – Three days of great racing on Tralee Bay, snatched from under the decidedly unsettled Patrick's Day weekend weather, saw the annual Irish Universities Sailing Association (IUSA) team championship raced at full pressure from March 15th to 17th writes WM Nixon. University of Limerick (UL) took the title from University College Dublin (UCD) in a cliff-hanger finish for the Gold Fleet, while University College Cork 1 (UCC 1) topped the Silvers. And in a healthy geographical spread of champions which augurs very well for the growing strength of college sailing in Ireland, the Bronze Fleet was won by Queens University Belfast (QUB).
Traditionally, St Patrick's Day is when the keener Irish sailors take the winter covers off their boat. But the university year dictates that all college racing is done in the off season, and most of the 26 teams which descended on Tralee with snow and northerly gales forecast had already put in several team racing events in 2013.
They were rewarded by Tralee Bay having some of the best weather going in all Ireland for the long weekend. And with Commodore Pat Daly of TBSC heading up the support effort from a host club which is noted for its hospitality (and that in Kerry, which is Ireland's Hospitality HQ), the event went in great style, with 196 races completed to provide a comprehensive awards list.
Hosting club ULSC had its noted helm Robert O'Leary stand aside from sailing duties in order to put through the organizing of this hugely demanding series, and the Limerick college were supported in their administrative efforts by sponsorship from Ulster Bank, while Banna Beach Resort just up the Kerry coast from TBSC's base at Fenit were able to row in with accommodation support towards housing a total of 156 sailors.
There was an international element to the event, as the Scottish Universities Sailing Association (SUSA) sent a representative selected squad. But in the end, all the trophies stayed on the island of Ireland after three days of varying but sailable weather. The format meant that the Bronze fleet were decided first with QUB captained by Jack Alexander-Gebhard taking the title, and then in the Silvers UCC 2 captained by Robin O'Mahony had the best of it from UL2 captained by Peadar O'Suillebhan.
Winning University of Limerick captain Ross Murray on Tralee Bay - he is also the current IUSA Sailor of the Year Photo: Cian Gallagher
In the Gold Fleet, UCC 1 (Rob Lehane captain) placed third, then in the final between UCD (captain Simon Doran) against UL captained by IUSA Sailor of the Year Ross Murray for best of five, it went to the wire with UL taking it on the line for three out of five wins.
With the team racing decided, this marks the conclusion of what could be called the college numbers game for 2013, although the UL team now have to go to England for the British Universities Team Opens at the end of April. But meanwhile elite crews are being selected by each university for the Irish selection trials for the Student Yachting Worlds in France. The selection will be a three day format, racing the ISA SailFleet J/80s (based this year in Howth) on April 6th, 13th and 20th. Interest is intense, as the Worlds will also be raced in J/80s, and Ireland will have two places. UCD well be there as of right, as current world champions, so there'll be a place for an additional Irish college team up for grabs in April.