From dreaming of sailing, to dream sailing. I have built boats, sailed boats and read about boats. My other passion is photography. There are possibly too many sailing & photography blogs already, so one more can't hurt…
Our present craft is Thisbe, a Nicholson 32, based in Poolbeg Marina, on the River Liffey.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ruffian Match Racing on the Liffey

Poolbeg Marina recently acquired a few Ruffians. A very popular 23 ft keelboat one design, with several fleets in such place as Dun Laoghaire & Hong Kong.

So what do you with a few closely matched race boats ?  You start Match Racing !

Over a few weekends, the wrinkles were ironed out.  Last Saturday morning 12th November, The East-Link Bridge was raised and the newest racing fleet of Ruffians in the world went up from Poolbeg.

A start line was dropped across from the pontoon between The East-Link Bridge and The Samuel Beckett Bridge.  Windward and leeward marks positioned and for the first time that I know,  Match Racing was held on the River Liffey.


To be Continued ...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Solo Fastnet

At the end of last year, I was searching for information about The Fastnet Race, the famous biennial 608 mile race from Cowes, around Fastnet Rock and finishing at Plymouth. My eye caught a website called Solo Fastnet, the same course but single-handed !

It was to be hosted by SORC, the Solo Offshore Racing Club. We didn't even have a boat capable of a Category 2 race but the thought bubble hung over my head, could I even dare enter ?

I entered online before Christmas and then the day-dreaming really began.

We bought Thisbe, our Nicholson 32, in April. We began fitting Category 2 stuff, like a B Class AIS, serviced the liferaft, epirb etc and get ready to head for Southampton. I put up an add in Poolbeg Marina looking for crew to get Thisbe to England and John Wilkins answered the call. We met for 10 minutes on a Saturday morning and left Poolbeg on Sunday morning, 26th June bound for Southampton. When you find the right person, you just know it.

John had bought a sailboat in Denmark last year and single-handed her back to Dublin, so I picked his brains for tips, first lesson was how to dry socks on the tiller !

We decided to try for as much distance as possible before stopping so we watched in turn and the miles rolled by. We got the tide down the Irish Sea and passed Wexford at 6 knots.

4.30 A.M. on 27th saw John on watch passing The Smalls and 0600 had dolphins off to starboard.
The tide came and went against us during the day but we got our sea-legs. Chilli con carne was served at 18:00 !

On 28th, around 0600 and before passing Longships light off Land's End, the AIS alarm went off and we saw a very recoginisable shape off our port side, the trimaran Phaedo 3.

Fresh from breaking the Round Ireland Race race record, she was heading the same way as we were. They were bound for Cowes and Round The Island Race, around the Isle of Wight. Her crew were to set a course record of 2hr 23min for the 50 mile course.

Going in the same direction was the only thing we had in common. She passed us as if we were anchored, shot off to our starboard side, then tacked and had gone around Land's End and out of sight before we even drew level with Longships.

The wind was light and sea level but the Coast Guard weather report on channel 16 was for F 8. Within an hour, everything changed, so it was an easy decision to pull in overnight to Newlyn. John had been there before so that helped and knew a great restaurant. Newlyn is a real fishing port. Trying to buy diesel next morning, I was greeted with "so, are you a yachtie or what ?"

We left after checking the forecast with the lifeboat station. When lifeboat men pause before answering about the weather, look you up and down and ask what size of boat you have, it concentrates the mind wonderfully. A bit of a blow was forecast, but we had to go if Thisbe was to make the start.

It was a rough passage back out to sea but the boat felt safe.

Two military helicopters circled us for a long time before I called Falmouth radio on 16. I inquired if there was anything we should know about but was reassured it was a training mission.

Progress seemed slow along the South coast but we passed under The Lizard, Start Point, then on past Portland Bill and bit by bit, we closed on the Needles Channel. We approached in the dark, so we decided to enter via the North Channel and avoid the Needles altogether. The tide was against us as we approached Hurst point but was due to turn and turn it did. We flew up the channel, across the Solent in the dark and made for Ocean Village Marina on the river Itchen.

Navionics guided us all the way and we remarked how difficult it would have been piloting by sight on marks and lights.

It was our first time here and the depth of nautical history all around was not lost on us. The dirty night didn't matter, we spun into the marina, found the first free spot and shook hands. Thisbe had arrived for her race.

Next morning, we woke to a beautiful day. Big, fast machines all around. I thought some seals had  popped up by a nearby boat but when I looked again, it was divers. They were cleaning the waterline of some competitors boats !

I don't usually feel out of my depth but that morning I just wandered around soaking up the buzz of my first taste of real racing.

Two brand new Oyster Yachts were down the pontoon, waiting to be delivered to their new homes on the Med.

Their crew of young men and women were even more beautiful than the boats !

I walked and looked and talked and found the only other Irish competitor, Conor Fogarty and BAM. Sailor supreme, 30 TransAtlantics, twice around the world and he's a nice fella as well.

Conor and his crew had come in after us last night and were busy changing from delivery sails to racing sails. We didn't have to make any such decisions, our cruising sails would have to do.

I thought our orange storm jib looked the part, borrowed from a friend of Thisbe's previous owner. I had hanked it on the removable inner forestay, just in case. We attended a skippers briefing, got a great weather report and went for dinner. It was beginning to get serious.

John left to fly back to Dublin, so next morning by 11 a.m. we made our way out of the marina and headed for the start line on the Solent.

Going down the river, getting used to single-handing again, I looked around and saw this huge ship right behind me. A quick turn to starboard and dignity was restored.

It was blowing out in the open, so I reefed to what I thought would be safe enough to handle in close quarters with other boats. I found the race line and sailed over and back among all the others. At 12 noon, the gun went and off we went. I didn't make any errors but had to gybe too close to the line and just passed on the start side of the mark.  Beating down the channel towards the Needles, looking forward. As expected, the majority of much faster boats pulled away but I just kept tacking over and back, gaining ground bit by bit.

At the start, it was blowing 25 knots, within half an hour it was 30, then 35. I saw a gust on the readout of 42 knots just once but Thisbe felt balanced and plowed on through the waves.

Channel 16 was alive with Mayday and PanPan calls from boats retiring from the Round Island Race. Two lifeboats came in towing boats just past me but they gradually thinned out.

I decided go out the same way we had come in, by the North Channel. The Needles looked rougher and I had the plot on my instruments.

I tacked over and back near Hurst Point, the Needles in the distance.

Bit by bit, I clawed around, then had to tack over and back all evening to avoid the Shingles and get into open sea.

When I could relax a little, I made some hot food and counted my bruises ! This is what happens down below when stuff isn't secured properly.

Sailed on through the night but next day, the wind died. The tide pushed me back eastwards, Thisbe needs a bit of wind to move so it was hard to watch my position on the chartplotter going in the wrong direction. But it gave me a chance to fix broken bits. Two vang bolts had parted company, the gooseneck locking screw had sheared and a few little tears had appeared on the UV strip. Roller reefing and racing don't mix.

The sail would have to wait but the rest got fixed.

The next night was rough again and I reefed again. Now I think I was too conservative and reefed too much. I should have kept the speed up at the expense of pointing and would probably have gained more ground.

A pigeon hitched a lift for a few hours. I gave her broken up breakfast biscuits and water. In return, she crapped all over the cockpit and finally flew away without even looking back !

It was blowing a bit and the sea looked grey.

But I now know how to photograph a sea to make it look even more impressive than it actually was.

Following me on the tracker, my neighbour Gary got a screenshot of this beauty. Due to the IRC rating system, at one point I was leading overall and in my class, who knew !

After 4 days out, I knew I wasn't making enough progress to actually be in the race. Lots of boats had retired earlier from breakages or damage, so I think I was the last to retire. I called the race control and said I was making for Plymouth, the race finish.

On my way in, I overheard a Mayday call between a skipper, Falmouth radio, a helicopter pilot and lifeboat skipper. It lasted over an hour and was a textbook example of radio protocol and professionalism. Another thing that was different were the amount of Navy vessels along the South Coast.

 Plymouth is a great harbour, again, a reminder of England's maritime heritage. I went through the lock to Sutton Harbour Marina and was helped in by other competitors.

Thisbe and I were safe, so time for a little a glass made just for the job.

Had a great evening, drink, dinner and talking racing and what might have been. Many thanks to Nigel Colley, Rob Craige and all in SORC, who organised a great race.

John Wilkins, without him, I know I would have not made the start. Some year soon, I will actually finish a single-handed race !

After the dust had settled, 17 had finished from 43 starters. Conor Fogarty & Bam, a Sunfast 3600, came in 4th place in Class 1 and was first around The Fastnet.

Before the start, the name of the race was changed to Round The Rock, but I still prefer Solo Fastnet.

Solo Offshore Racing Club website:

Race Tracker website: