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July's Half Ton Classics Cup due to be held a week before Cowes Week – at the same venue – has been cancelled.

The news will be disappointing but not unexpected in this COVID-19 hit season among the burgeoning Dublin fleet based largely at Howth.

Up to five Half Tonners have created a lively scene at Howth Yacht Club over the past few seasons with Dave Cullen's Checkmate XV, the Wright's Mata, Johnny Swan's Harmony, Dave Kelly's King One and Nigel Biggs Checkmate XVIII all very competitive campaigns. The Irish fleet is boosted by Cork Harbour's Miss Whiplash (Ronan Downing).

With no UK tour, the plan now is for the Irish Half Tonner fleet to focus instead on local regatta circuits as soon as all restrictive measures are lifted. Dave Cullen is planning to unite the local fleet for Howth's Wave Regatta this September that includes the ICRA National Championships.

In Belgium, the locaiton of another strong fleet, the Half Tonner calendar will concentrate around some local regattas in Nieuwpoort and the mid-September event in Ostend.

The next Half Ton Classics Cup will be in 2021 again at Cowes from 19-23 July.

Published in Half Tonners
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In the hotly contested Division 2 (A) of Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, Michael and Darren Wright continue their strong form on the Dublin Bay Race track by leading the 20-boat fleet in their Andrieu Half Tonner, Mata. The Class Two ICRA National Champions, who were crowned on the same race track a month ago and Irish Half Ton Cup winners in Kinsale a fortnight ago, are one of five tricked-up Half Tonners from Howth Yacht Club contesting the division.

Sovereign's Cup Class Two winner, Nigel Biggs is second in the customised Half Tonner Checkmate XVIII and third is the Royal Cork modified 1720 sportsboat skippered by Anthony O'Leary.

In what is perhaps a sign of what is to come over the weekend, Howth Yacht Club and Royal Cork Yacht Club entries control the top seven overall after the single race sailed on Thursday. 

Fergal Noonan's Corby 25 Impetuous is fifth with a new J97 campaign, The 'Jeneral Lee' (Colin and Kathy Kavanagh) in sixth.

Published in Volvo Regatta

With the difficulty in towing in Italy for wide loads and the fact that there is no Half Ton Cup this year in Europe, Dave Cullen chartered the legendary Farr 1977 Half Tonner “Gunboat Rangiri” for the Italian Half Ton Cup in Fiumicino last week. Its owner Claudio Massucci has taken great pride and effort to keep the boat original and it still had runners and a centreboard.

There was a modest fleet of ten boats, most of whom were largely original but David’s normal competitor, Superhero came from Belgium via Marseille and Corsica. Superhero, formerly from Howth, has since been modified and is now a “modern” half tonner so was the expected winner being only one of its type at the regatta.

With no time for practice, day one was blown out. Day two provided a great day of c.12 knots with bumpy seas and blazing sunshine. Gunboat was hit by a boat on port taking out their lifelines but scores of 3,2 & 1 put Gunboat Rangiri on the top of the overnight leader board. Saturday was a non-discardable long coastal race which was won by Superhero with Gunboat Rangiri third reversing the overnight leader board. They even managed to be hit by a Laser on port on the coastal race so it seemed they were a magnet to boats on port.

To take the Cup, the Checkmate crew needed a win in Sunday’s short coastal race with Superhero third. In winds starting at 2 knots and finishing in 16, it looked like Gunboat Rangiri had pulled it off and were congratulated by Superhero. As the crews packed up their boats, one of the lowest rating backmarkers “Prydwen” came in way afterwards to win the coastal race and blow Gunboat’s victory. It was somewhat ironic that Gunboat’s owner was sailing on Prydwen so scuppered his own boat’s victory.

The Checkmate crew, consisting of Dave Cullen, Nigel Biggs, Pete Evans, Aidan Beggan, Franz Rothschild, Jonny Sargent and Gary Cullen enjoyed some great hospitality and some of that famous champagne sailing.

Published in Half Tonners
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With a 21-strong record entry, three new boats, a formidable defending title-holder and a two-times runner-up all in the mix, next month’s Euro Car Parks sponsored Half Ton Classics Cup has all the ingredients for a memorable championship from Sunday 13th to Friday 18th August 2017 at Kinsale Yacht Club.

New owner Phil Plumtree will carry on Swuzzlebubble's pedigree and will be aiming to make 2017 her third title win since successfully launching in 2014 under Peter Morton. Greg Peck followed this with victory again in 2016 so on paper appears to present a huge challenge and a good reason to be the bookies favourite.

DSC 1393Kinsale’s own new Half Tonner Cortegada (George Radley) Photo: Bob Bateman

But three new boats represent unknown challenges and include Checkmate XVIII owned by Nigel Biggs, Paul Wayte’s brand new un-raced Headhunter and Kinsale’s own George Radley whose new Half Tonner Cortegada should have the edge for local knowledge.

DSC 1393Checkmate XVIII skippered by Nigel Biggs Photo: Bob Bateman

However, a handful of other contenders could yet upset the form guide.

DSC 1393Mike Evans skippers 'The Big Picture' from Howth Yacht Club. Photo: Bob Bateman

Trastada from Scotland also has a strong track-record as does General Tapioca from Belgium that has several titles under her belt. The Kinsale championship represents unfinished business for Paul Pullen’s gorgeous Falmouth entry Miss Whiplash who has been runner-up for the last two years and he will be on a mission to take the Cup in 2017. There are also six Irish boats participating, all of whom have had success but Dave Cullen’s recent victories on Checkmate XV at Dun Laoghaire Regatta and the Sovereigns Cup places him best of the home fleet.

Half Tonner Trasdata 0651Trastada from Scotland competed in Dublin Bay waters at Dun Laoghaire Regatta. Photo:

Amongst the six nations taking part, Finland will be represented by Superhero that is campaigned by long-standing Finnish Sailors Toni Stoscheck and Janne Tukolas.

Meanwhile, the ethos of the class will also be to the fore as the “True Spirit Award” remains the ultimate accolade for the boat that encompasses the spirit of the Half Ton Class and is open to any boat to win. “Gladiatorial on the water but best friends ashore” the class has a unique spirit where everyone shares and helps each other while protests are seriously frowned upon.

Pre-event front-runners for the award include Ian Van Burm’s beautiful evergreen wooden Half Tonner Fantasy and previously demonstrated the class spirit by sailing to the 2007 event in Dublin all the way from Belgium. Patrick Dijoud’s Pivoine will arrive by sea this year from France as the class’s newest addition.

One thing all of the teams are guaranteed is competitive racing under the stewardship of PRO Anthony O’Leary, plus a huge welcome from Kinsale Yacht Club and a week-long party that few will forget.

As well as being one of the most picturesque locations in Europe, Kinsale YC as the host venue is situated in the heart of Ireland’s culinary capital and is an area steeped in maritime history.

Published in Half Tonners

Sadly strong winds and huge seas meant that racing had to be cancelled on the final day of the Henri Lloyd Half Ton Classics Cup in Falmouth. Race Officer Jack Penty met with the skippers at 08.30 to review the situation, but it was clear conditions were essentially unsailable and the entire fleet unanimously agreed not to risk their historic little yachts.

That decision confirmed that the 1977 Bruce Farr designed Swuzzlebubble sailed by owner/helm Greg Peck, Steve George, Mike Relling, Kevin George, Mike Grieg, Andy Yeomans and James Dodd had won the 2016 Henri Lloyd Half Ton Classics Cup.

It was an extremely had fought series with many of the races being won and lost by mere seconds. Ultimately Swuzzlebubble's winning margin was just five and a half points from Paul Pullen's 1986 Andrieu designed Miss Whiplash, with Ireland's Jonny Swan and his team aboard Harmony, designed by Rob Humphreys in 1980, in third place. At the final prize giving all three teams received rousing cheers from their fellow competitors as they received their prizes from Paul Strzelecki, CEO of event sponsor Henri Lloyd.

Winning the Corinthian Championship for the first all amateur crew was Jonathan Cunliffe's 1985 Berrett/Finot designed Emiliano Zapata, which finished in eighth place overall.

The trophy for the first production boat went to Richard and Ursula Hollis's beloved 1985 Jeppersen X95 Crakajax. Richard and Ursula have been long standing supporters of the Half Ton Class and were very popular winners.

Perhaps the most prestigious perpetual trophy presented at the regatta is the Spirit Of Half Ton Trophy which is awarded to the person who best personifies the true spirit of the Half Ton Class. There were many possible winners of the trophy this year, but in a hugely popular decision it was presented to David Evans of Hullabaloo XV for his long standing support of the class, for his commitment to maintaining and racing his 1978 Stephen Jones Hustler SJ32 and for single-handedly sailing 380 miles through a force eight gate from his home port on Walton Back Waters in Essex to compete in Falmouth.

Greg Peck was clearly delighted to win the right to engrave his name on the trophy and was fulsome in his praise of his crew, his fellow competitors and the Flushing Sailing Club organisers.

Swuzzlebubble was originally built for Ian Gibbs to race for the New Zealand team in the 1977 Half Ton Cup in Sydney, and she has had a colourful career. Following changes to the IOR rule she underwent major surgery including exchanging her centreboard for a fixed keel, padding out her hull, changes to her rear sections and additional ballast, to compete in the 1979 Half Ton Cup in Scheveningen where she finished third. She was then sold to Bruce Lyster of Dun Laoghaire, Ireland under whose ownership she enjoyed continuing success including the UK Half Ton Championship of 1980 with Robert Dix at the helm. Her success continued under another Dun Laoghaire owner Gus Mehigan before she was sold to Switzerland, at which point she disappeared off the radar.

She wasn't heard of again until Peter "Morty" Morton tracked her down in a near derelict state in a Greek boatyard in late 2012. It took twelve months of hard work by Peter and his crew to get the boat back in racing shape and she made her Half Ton Classics Cup debut in 2014 at Saint Quay Portrieux, Brittany, where she roared to victory in impressive style.

Keen to race for the Half Ton Cup in home waters, Greg Peck persuaded Morty to part with her earlier this year and having got her home to Cornwall undertook some deck layout modifications and set about the task of putting together. a crew of old friends, many of whom have sailed with him for decades. Their performance on the water speaks for itself, but their spirit and camaraderie ashore have impressed everyone and there was a huge cheer when Greg confirmed that he hopes to defend his title in 2017.

To defend their title the Swuzzlebubble crew will be making their way to Kinsale Yacht Club in County Cork, Ireland from 14 to 18 August 2017. David Cullen will be leading the organising team for the event which will be hosted by Kinsale Yacht Club. Further information about this event will be published shortly

Published in Half Tonners
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Swuzzlebubble consolidated her lead on the penultimate day of the Henri Lloyd Half Ton Classics Cup 2016 but Howth Yacht Club entry Harmony lies third, one of three Irish Half Tonners in the top six overall. The Jonny Swan skippered entry is 14.5 points off the lead with Dublin club–mate Mike Evans in The Big Picture three points behind in fourth. Sixth is defending champion Dave Cullen in Checkmate. There are three more races today.

The penultimate day of the Classics Cup, sponsored by Savills and Mylor Rigging and Chandlery, could not have been more different to it's predecessors. Dawn broke with not a breath of wind, glassy seas and a heavy mist that persisted throughout the morning, causing Race Officer Jack Penty to hold the boats ashore for a couple of hours. Fortunately the mist cleared and a light west south westerly filled in so that by 12.30 the start for the first of the day's three races was in progress.

It took two general recalls followed by a start under the U Flag, meaning a 20% penalty if anyone had been over the line, to get the fleet away on race seven of the series. Once running it was a tricky windward leeward as the boats tried to pick their way around the shifty developing breeze. Mike Evans helming The Big Picture made the best of the situation to win by 19 seconds from overnight leader Greg Peck sailing Swuzzlebubble, with Paul Pullen's Miss Whiplash third and Jean-Philippe Cau and Claude Charbonnier's Sibelius fourth. There was a dead heat for fifth between Jonny Swan's Harmony and Patrick Boardman and David Kelly's King One.

With the breeze still refusing to build beyond single figures the race committee rolled straight into race eight. The patchy and shifty conditions meant there were big gains and losses to be made and at times it looked more like a game of snakes and ladders than a yacht race. Swuzzlebubble's experience and local knowledge stood her in good stead and she won by eight seconds from David Cullen's Checkmate with Miss Whiplash third, Francis Marshall's Concorde fourth and Harmony fifth.

A regatta course was set for ninth race and it was nip and tuck all the way with Harmony winning by a mere four seconds from Swuzzlebubble. Mel Sharp's Demolition finished third, her best result of the series, with King One fourth and The Big Picture fifth.

With nine races now completed a second discard came into play. Greg Peck's team of old friends aboard Swuzzlebubble consolidated their lead with a five and a half point delta over second placed Miss Whiplash. Harmony holds onto third with the gap between her and Miss Whiplash now at nine points. The Big Picture jumped up the leader board from sixth to fourth, just three points behind Harmony, while Sibelius added a pair of disastrous seventeenths to her race seven win, dropping her down the score board into fifth overall, half a point ahead of Checkmate.

After sailing the crews came together in the Regatta Marque for the Championship Dinner which featured a delicious paella supper, some fantastic fancy dress outfits, plenty of Half Ton cameraderie and a huge warm welcome for Paul Strzelecki, CEO of event sponsor Henri Lloyd, and his wife Jenny who arrived at the event in time to watch race nine.

With dinner over everyone repaired to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall for the daily prize giving, giving them the opportunity to view the museums special Olympic display which includes two of Ben Ainslie's Gold medal winning boats as well as many other historic Olympic exhibits.

Jonathan Cunliffe of Savills presented the daily prizes and then Paul Strzelecki made a special presentation to the winner of the new Henri Lloyd Concourse d'Elegance Trophy - for the best presented boat at the regatta. All the boats are kept in exceptional condition so to win this award the boat must be a true stand out. To huge applause the trophy was awarded to the beautifully restored Demolition owned by Falmouth based Mel Sharp. Demolition was designed in 1980 for Larry Marks, who took her to that year's Half Ton Cup in Sandham where she finished just outside the top ten, and is now raced by Mel and his crew of friends and family.

In theory, today's final day will feature up to three further races however, the weather forecast is anticipating some very strong south south westerly winds which are expected to build from around twenty knots in the morning to almost 30 knots with gusts of up to forty knots in the afternoon. Every effort will be made to complete the remaining races and the Race Committee has called a formal meeting with the skippers to review conditions first thing in the morning and agree on a racing plan for the day.

For full results here

Published in Half Tonners

#icra – The biggest Half Ton event of the year gets underway this morning as part of the Irish Cruiser Racing Championships at Kinsale Yacht Club. 

The annual (ICRA) Championship that combines the club's Sovereigns' Cup event runs until Saturday. Forecasted moderate to fresh south–westerly winds gusting up to 25 mph look set to provide perfect racing conditions.

There has been an exceptional response by sailing crews from almost every coastal county in Ireland and many from the UK, as 112 boats have entered the event. The four-day event will decide four national titles as well as the coveted Sovereign's Cup, ensuring close competition in each class.

Of the Half Ton boats listed to compete in Kinsale this morning, Checkmate won the international Half Ton Cup (HTCC) in France in 2013, and Harmony won it when the event was in Dun Laoghaire in 2009. Kinsale will prepare the crews for the big event of the season, the HTCC in Nieupoort, Belgium in late August.

An Irish boat has never won this event although Shay Moran had a third place in Nieupoort in 2003 and could have won in 2005 in Blue Berret Pi except for a technical hitch with a folding propellor.

Many believe it would be great to bring the HTCC back to Ireland, as the idea of holding a biennial Half Ton event was hatched by Shay Moran/Didier Dardot and Vincent Delany at Cork Week in 2001.

IRC 2 of the ICRA's is an ultra-competitive division. All eyes will be on the half Tonner 'Checkmate', that will be very well sailed. Others to watch will be 'Equinox,' 'Slack Alice,' 'Harmony' and 'The Big Picture.' Lighter/medium airs will favour the half tonners so it will be interesting to see how the weather affects this fleet.

The Half Tonners in action in Kinsale this morning are:

Checkmate XV- IRL2016- Dave Cullen- A Mills modified Humphreys MGHS30 of 1985.(formerly Blue Chip).

Big Picture - IRL5522- Michael and Richard Evans- A Mills modified Humphreys MGHS30 of 1987. (Formerly Red Eye).

Demelza - IRL100- Windsor Laudan- A Holland Shamrock of 1977.

Harmony - IRL1484- Johnny Swan- A modified Humphreys one-off in red cedar of 1980 vintage.

Maverick - GBR5369- Rene Koomen- A Humphreys MGHS30 of 1983.

King One- IRL8094- Pat Boardman- A modified Berret First Evolution of 1980. 

No Gnomes - IRL78- Leonard Donnery- A Holland Jubilee Shamrock. (formerly Silver Mite) 1978.

Meanwhile, in Division 0, the highest rated boat is the Ker 40 'Keronimo,' that is expected to plane at speeds in the high teens if the wind speed rises, so she will take some beating- particularly on the round the cans courses. 'Roxy' will worth watching also as she was on the 2010 commodores cup winning team and is expected to be well crewed. Conor and Denise Phelan's 'Jump juice' is also consistent and one to watch.

IRC 1 is a very competitive mix; the highest rated boat 'Bam' - a Sunfast 3600 - is somewhat of an unknown entity but her chined hull will suit the reaching around the cans courses. It will be very interesting to see how she stacks up against proven IRC performers such as the J109s and A35s.

Notable J109s include 'Jelly Baby' who is currently on fire having won the UK J109 nationals last week and the Vice Admirals Cup late last month. The A35 'Fools Gold' was overall winner of the Scottish series at the end of May and is expected to feature as is the D2D entrant JPK 9.60 'Alchimiste' and former ICRA Boat of the Year Pat Kelly's 'Storm.'

IRC 3 is no less competitive: all the Corby 25's will feature. However given good breeze is expected, word has it that 'Bad Company' and 'Dis a Ray' will be in the running for places.

IRC 4 features some strong quarter tonners that are expected to feature this year.

'Quest' and 'Black Fun' enjoy medium/heavy air, not forgetting a challenge from 'Anchor', a super all rounder.

If conditions favour planning, Flor O'Driscoll's J-24 is expected to do well, having come second at the J24 southerns held last weekend in RCYC.

It is hoped that the new divisions will make the event more competitive and enjoyable for all although the weather, as always, will be a major factor. As the current forecast suggests medium plus conditions, boats moded for such breeze or the larger boats in each division are expected to come to the fore.

Published in Half Tonners

#halfton – As well as defending Royal St. George YC champion Checkmate XV (Nigel Biggs), Ireland will send at least three more potent Half Tonners to the Classics Cup in France in two months time. Currently confirmed entries are Dave Cullen's King One and the Evans' brothers 'Big Picture' having just completed a major optimisation both from Howth with Harmony and George Radley's new boat from Kinsale yet to confirm.

The growing interest in the class is breathing life back into old boats that can be bought for as little as €5,000 and their ability to be towed is also seen as a great benefit.

While the Half Ton Classic Cup is raced on IRC and this is the prize the top boats have in their sights, the "Half Ton True Spirit" prize is regarded by many as the top prize and last year was won by a boat that had no optimisation whatsoever".

The entry list is expanding rapidly for the Half Ton Classics Cup which will be held at Saint Quay Portreiux in Northern Brittany from 7 to 11 July 2014. More than 30 teams are expected to attend, and this 7th edition of the regatta is anticipating a bumper turnout including many of the best known boats and sailors in the class.

Launched in 2003, the Half Ton Classics Cup led the way for the revival of the IOR Classes and its philosophy has helped to ensure that most boats remain as close to their original designs as possible.

This year the HTCC regatta will be a true European championship for small IRC rated boats, with all the top French and UK halftonners on the starting line.

With two weeks to go until the initial entry closing date of 31st May 2014, the Entry List alread includes some 25 boats with additional entries being added regularly. Among the well known names competing this year are past Half Ton Classics Cup winners General Tapioca, Chimp and Checkmate XV. There will also be several new faces at the event including Peter Morton, better known to many as the man behind the Quarter Ton Cup revival, who will be racing his IRC optimised Half Tonner Swuzzlebubble.

The regatta will be hosted by the Sport Nautique de Saint Quay Portrieux in collaboration with the Bruxelles Royal Yacht Club and the Half Ton Class Europe. Registration will open on Sunday 6 July, there will be practise racing on Monday 7 July and Championship racing will take place from Tuesday 8 to Friday 11 July.

Published in Half Tonners

#boatsforsale –  King One, the Howth Yacht Club based Half tonner that has competed for Ireland with success at Ramsgate week, the Isle of Wight and the Half ton Cup, is up for sale at €29,950. Skipper Dave Cullen, who won a string of trophies in the 1981 Half Ton Cup winner has updated the Modified Berret hull recent years. Now a 'serious contender' for the Cup again  the boat has had over €100k spent recently. Its 2014 IRC handicap is 0.953 and the yacht has a new Mark MIlls keel together with a new carbon Jason Ker rudder and tiller.

The GRP hull was stripped and faired just last season and also in 2013 Seatek racing stanchions and pulpit were fitted. 

Please click to view the full King One advert on Afloat boats for sale plus hundreds more yachts, motorboats and dinghies currently for sale.

Published in Half Tonners

#halfton – As we digest the multiple results of the Rolex Fastnet Race and run the effects of different measurement rules and allowance systems over the elapsed times of a fleet of almost absurd diversity, it is only natural to wish for some simple system whereby first past the post is the winner, and that would be the beginning and end of it. Yet there's something about offshore racing which makes the notion of using straightforward one-design boats a concept of only limited appeal. The sea itself is an environment of such diversity that it seems to call out for a variety of boats to sail upon it, while the people sailing those boats are of course ludicrously individualistic.

Not that there haven't been attempts over the years to introduce one design offshore racing classes. We'll see it again soon with the new Volvo boats, and at the moment the superb MOD 70s are showing just how attractive the one design ideal can be. But it's nothing new. In fact, the idea of one designs capable of going offshore racing goes back beyond the establishment of "ocean racing" as we know it in Europe today, and was in evidence in America when Thomas Fleming Day inaugurated American ocean racing with the first Bermuda Race in 1906 with three boats which were all totally different, and two of them finishing the course.

In the golden age of sailing development from around 1890 until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, several noted designers and builders on both sides of the Atlantic produced one design boats which were capable of racing offshore. One of the first was the Belfast Lough Number One Class of 1897, designed by William Fife, the design (slightly modified) being adopted the following year as the Dublin Bay 25. At 37ft LOA and 25ft LWL with a proper if decidedly Spartan cabin, they had the potential to be fast cruisers which could be offshore racers.


The new Belfast Lough Number Ones racing in 1898. They had the potential to be one design offshore racers, but the sport hadn't yet been invented. Photo courtesy RUYC

Except that the concept of offshore racing as we know it today simply didn't exist. For sure, you'd things like the Royal Alfred YC's Channel Matches between Dublin and Holyhead from the 1870s onwards, and there were also some coastal passage races. Then too, boats like the Herreshoff-designed New York 40s could take part as a class in events like the NYYC annual summer cruise. But the notion of a one design boat which could perform well while staying at sea for prolonged periods with the crew sleeping on board - whether at sea or in port - was not really on the agenda at all until around 1909, when the designs for the 11-ton yawls of the Belfast Lough Island class were commissioned from Alfred Mylne of Glasgow.


The Belfast Lough Island Class yawl Eriska in 1911. This was one of the first serious attempts to create a one design cruiser-racer class. Photo courtesy RNIYC

This was to be a one design class which could be used for regular club racing while at the same time providing sufficient comfort for the annual two weeks cruise to the Scottish West Coast which was the staple of Belfast Lough sailing, with the additional option of taking on cross channel races to the Clyde or Portpatrick.

It was one very crowded design brief. And with half a dozen potential owners making their personal views felt, plus the fact that the builder was John Hilditch of Carrickfergus, who was no stranger to controversy, creating the new class was a tricky business.


The Island Class Trasnagh winning the cross channel race to Portpatrick in 1925 Photo courtesy RUYC


The offshore one design dream briefly fulfilled – five boats of the Belfast Lough Island Class in Portpatrick in 1925 after racing from Bangor. Photo courtesy RUYC

There's also a feeling that Alfred Mylne, arguably the best of the Scottish designers after the death of G L Watson in 1904, wasn't really giving the task his full attention. In response to the demand for a comfortable cruiser, he certainly designed a boat of considerably more displacement, proportionately speaking, than his racing one designs such as the Dublin Bay 21s. Yet if anything the new Island Class boats seemed to have lower freeboard than many Mylne designs of comparable size, and they undoubtedly were very low slung in their later years when auxiliary engines and other additional cruising comforts were added.

Thus in full cruising trim, they could be extremely wet to sail aboard. I can remember as a kid being on the old Island Class yawl Trasnagh as we went through the Ram Harry tide race northeast of the Copeland Islands at the entrance to Belfast Lough. It was a bit startling to be sitting in a cockpit suddenly full of water. But owner Billy Barnes was completely unfazed by this state of affairs – that's the way it was with the Islands, but it meant their self-draining cockpit was an essential.

Then too, while they may have been a gallant pioneering attempt to transfer the one design ideal to a cruiser-racer, being Belfast Lough the owner's group managed to fall out with the builder. Hilditch wanted £350 per boat, but the owners wouldn't go a penny over £345. The argument dragged on until eventually Hilditch said he would build the boats for £345, but their stems would have to be markedly snubbed in order to save money.

Presumably the original line of the stem was an elegantly drawn-out overhang in much the same style as the Dublin Bay 21. But nevertheless, how any money could be saved by making it an awkward little tight curve in a distinctly spoon bow profile is difficult to believe, and those not directly involved reckoned it was a classic case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

Be that as it may, by 1913 the Islands had six boats racing, and they were an impressive sight in regular action off Cultra and Bangor, and at Belfast Lough regattas. Several also appeared at the Clyde Fortnight, taking the crossing of the North Channel comfortably if wetly in their stride. But the prospect of the continuing growth of the class was brought to a halt by the Great War of 1914-18, and after it the heart had gone out of much of sailing in the Belfast Lough area until things slowly picked up in the 1920s.


Wet but fast – Island Class yawl Trasnagh powering through Donaghadee Sound in 1933 under her new Bermuda rig Photo courtesy RNIYC

Like many other classes, the Islands faced demands for a changeover to Bermudan rig, and they suited it well, though when some owners went all the way and removed the little bowsprits in the interests of a more modern appearance, the result was a boat which hung on her helm like a ton of bricks.

Trasnagh entering Dun Laoghaire in 1980 in her later days under Bermuda rig and without the bowsprit, showing how little freeboard the boats had with an added auxiliary engine and other cruising equipment. In recent years she has been re-built in Devon, with her original gaff configuration restored. Photo: W M Nixon

By the 1930s, other areas were looking seriously at the notion of club one designs which could also race and cruise offshore, and the idea of the Bermuda-rigged Dublin Bay 24 was first mooted in 1934. Seldom can a class have had a longer gestation. This time it was World War 11 from 1939 to 1945 which brought things to a halt, and it was 1946-47 before the 24s were finally sailing on Dublin Bay, and starting to show their potential inshore and offshore.

Across in England, the members of the RORC in its early years after its foundation in 1925 were so individualistic that the notion of an offshore one design simply didn't arise. But then in the grim days of slow recovery after World War II, the great John Illingworth and others shook things up with the Laurent Giles-designed RNSA 24. With a transom stern making them not unlike large Folkboats, these 30 footers could have been a first offshore one design, but of course although the hulls were standard, everything else was different – Bill King, for instance, even rigged his RNSA 24 Galway Blazer as a ketch.

However, there was one little germ of an idea floating around which began to gain adherents, and that was level rating racing. By all means have different boats, but have them designed to rate under the RORC rule to exactly the same rating. It would encourage design development, yet it would produce an immediate winner. It seems such an obviously sensible notion that it's extraordinary to think its appeal is not universal. Yet people are always trying to find ways of shaving a point or two off their rating and getting every advantage from this. And as for boats which simply cry out to be straightforward offshore one designs, such as the great First 40.7, it emerges that few if any of them rate exactly the same.

Nevertheless the level rating ideal goes up the flagpole every so often, and in 1965 it took off in a big way with the re-allocation of a silver cup presented in 1899 by the Earl of Granard (he was to become Commodore of the National YC in 1930) to the Cercle de la Voile in Paris. Initially, the One Ton Cup was for racing on the Seine, then it was raced for by the International 6 Metre Class, and then in 1965 it found new life for an international series, inshore and offshore, for offshore racers rated at 22.0ft under the RORC Rule.

At this distance, it's difficult to imagine the excitement aroused by this new shine on the old cup. Some well-known offshore racers had some very odd things done to them in order to make them fit the very specific rating. But it worked, the idea took off big time, and the spinoffs soon followed. One Tonners were boats around 35-36ft long, Half Tonners which soon followed were 28-31ft, Three Quarter Tonners were 32-34ft, Quarter Tonners were around 25ft, and Two Tonners were 40 – 42ft. They all raced absolutely level in their class, first to finish was the winner, that was all there was to it, and for about twenty years this was the most exciting area of offshore racing.

Irish sailing was much involved, and over the years it was with the Half Ton Cup – boats around the 30ft mark – in which we made our greatest impact. The arrival of Ron Holland in Cork in 1973-74 provided the necessary design skills, and in 1976 Harold Cudmore and a Cork crew went forth on a somewhat shoestring challenge to the Half Ton Worlds in Trieste with the new Silver Shamrock, a re-worked version of the original Ron Holland Golden Shamrock production Half Tonner concept from 1974.

Golden Shamrock, built in Cork, was Ron Holland's first production Half Tonner

Victory parade. After Silver Shamrock won the Half Ton Worlds at Trieste in 1976, she sailed across to Venice and ran up the Grand Canal under spinnaker. Ronnie Dunphy on left of photo, Killian Bushe behind mast.

Harry Cudmore won a famous victory, and in celebration he and his crew sailed across to Venice and ran up the Grand Canal with spinnaker set. It was his first major international success in what was to become a glittering global sailing career, and as for the Half Tonners, they were firmly set on course to become the most popular of the Ton Cup classes.

During the 1970s and early '80s, fleet numbers were regularly pushing over the 40 mark at the annual World Championship, and though the peak had been 55 boats at Marstrand in Sweden in 1972 (when Paul Elvstrom won), they were still around the 40 mark in the early 80s, and could muster 35 at Porto Ercole in 1985.

The waxing and waning of particular kinds of racing is sometimes incomprehensible. But whatever caused it, the collapse of the Half Ton Worlds as a premier event was sudden and total. There were hundreds of eligible boats around, but with the economic gloom of the 1980s and people's sailing interests focusing elsewhere, as an event the Half Ton Worlds fell off a cliff, with the last one in 1993 at Bayona attracting just ten boats.

The event may have gone, but the many and often gorgeous boats were still very much in existence, increasingly seen as classics, and raced in handicap classes by devoted owners. In 2000 at Cork Week, two of them – the Irish boat SpACE Odyssey (Shay Moran, Enda Connellan, Terry Madigan and Vincent Delany) and the French boat Sibelius (Didier Dardot) decided that a Half Ton Classics Worlds, limited to boats built to the relevant rule between 1967 and 1992, might just be a runner on a biennial basis, and it has proven itself so, with entries two years ago in Cowes topping the 38 mark.

In 2007, it came to Dun Laoghaire with 25 boats providing a feast of nostalgia and great sport. The overall winner was the Rob Humphreys-designed one-off Harmony, owned by Nigel Biggs, who became so hooked on the value of the concept incorporated in this re-birth of the Half Tonner notion that he bought a vintage Humphreys-designed production boat, an MG30, and set about optimising her for racing in a class which is keen enough to make it worth the effort, yet not so excessively competitive as to self-destruct.

The result of the optimisation, which began with a consultation with David Howlett followed by a permitted redesign of the keel and rudder by Mark Mills, with all the ideas then implemented by John Corby at his yard in Cowes (with some of his own notions added), is of course Checkmate XV, the runaway superstar of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta in July, and surely one of the favourites for the Half Ton Classics 2013 which gets under way tomorrow at Boulogne in northern France.

For this event, Biggs' crew reflects his active involvement in sailing on both sides of the Irish Sea. From this side of the Irish Sea, he has recruited regular shipmates Jimmy Houston from RStGYC and Robbie Sargent from Howth, while the other side of the channel brings in longtime sailing friend Pete Evans (they go back to Laser Youth Racing in 1985), and George Rice and Gerry Ibberson.

Since the VDLR in July, Checkmate XV has been undergoing further tuning in her home shed in Cowes, with a smidgin being shaved off her IRC rating. For yes, it has to be admitted that, with the age range of the Half Ton Classics taking in such a wide band from 1967 to 1992, they actually race under IRC on a handicap basis. It sounds crazy. But it works, and the reality is that there isn't more than 30 seconds in any hour between the class rating extremities.


King One for the road, and easily trailed with it – Dave Cullen's former world champion King One will also be at the Half Ton Classics in Boulogne, and has already been successful in the area with a win at Ramsgate Week last year. Photo: W M Nixon

Most of the classic Half Tonners from the era when the class was at its frontline international height are attractive boats, and they're of very manageable size while providing a bit of muscle. Trailering them is a straightforward proposition, and another entry tomorrow of special interest, Dave Cullen's King One from Howth, has made a speciality of sailing in those narrow easterly waters of the English Channel, where she was a participant last year in Ramsgate Week, which she won.

After more than a decade as a biennial event, the Half Ton Classics will now go annual, with 2014's championship already scheduled for Carnac in Brittany. We wish it well. We may have set out this week to follow the storyline of the once fervent hope that there could be genuine one design offshore racers, a hope so continually frustrated that instead people turned to the scope offered by designing different boat to fit one rating band. We have continued our voyage of discovery to find that boats of what was once the world's most numerous level rating class are so different - when all eras are brought together - that the only way they can have meaningful racing is by using the IRC handicap system, just like everyone else. Crazy maybe. But no crazier than the America's Cup.

Published in W M Nixon
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