Sea Area Folkboat Rally 1996
This year's rally was held in Carlingford Lough, which lies, on the East Coast of Ireland on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Races there are truly international as one crosses from one country to another. Once again we were the guests of the Dundalk Sailing Club whose hospitality is well known to all those Folkboaters who have been there before.
Getting to a rally on the other side of the Irish Sea is not without incident. In 1995 Mara had a fire on board before we left the Menai Strait and Spook IV got lost in the fog off Holyhead. They had somehow managed to misread the compass and headed east after leaving the harbour!
This year I had engine problems on Neomys. There was something wrong with the cylinder head which I had refurbished earlier in the year. At home the Tuesday before the rally a close inspection of the cylinder head revealed a failed weld in the aluminium. The only option in a hurry was a new head. A hasty call was made to Alex Martin Marine in Birkenhead who managed to locate one in Devon. The question now was would it arrive in time and would the exhaust and inlet ports match since it was for a slightly newer model. Well it did arrive on Thursday afternoon and it would fit. We rapidly packed clothes, food and engine parts and drove to the boat. Thursday evening was spent re-building the engine yet again and shortly after midnight we had it up and running. After a quick re-torque of the head nuts we departed on Friday morning for Cemaes Bay in company with Rococa, Spook IV and Siskin. The weather during the week ha been indifferent, but now we had a very pleasant sail in the sunshine along the north coast of Anglesey into Cemaes for the night and the first of the weeks celebrations - this one for Eric's 50th Birthday.
Unfortunately departure was timed for 0230 the next morning to catch the last of the west going ebb. Getting up in the dark is never easy and there was a stiff southerly breeze blowing. With this wind direction the anchorage was calm but in what seemed minutes we were blasting northwards to clear the Archdeacon Rock and the Skerries. The contrast was remarkable - from a warm cosy sleeping bag in a still anchorage to flat out into the pitch-blackness all in 10 minutes! With a 6 knot tide current under us in no time at all the Skerries light was abeam and falling astern as the boats creamed westwards. The dawn was magnificent and by 0430 it was daylight. Chris took over at the helm at 0600 and I slept. He being seasick over the side awakened me, though he did have the presence of mind and courage to keep steering with the tiller behind his back. We kept this headlong beam reach for six hours covering 36 nautical miles. Gradually as the hours passed the wind eased, the sun shone and by the time we reached Carlingford Lough at 1700 we had to motor the last few miles to the marina. It was good to see the Irish boats coming up from the south as we entered the Lough.
For those of you who are used to South Coast marinas the one at Carlingford is something else. Yes it has the usual pontoons and walkways but the protective screen around it is a bit different. Perhaps only in Ireland would you find such an example. The northern and north-eastern sides consist of concrete caissons topped with a wooden palisade wave screen. The south and south-eastern sides are formed from two sunken ships with flat steel sheets between funnels and plus a floating concrete tug built for the Royal Navy in 1917 and still afloat. The entrance to the marina is barely 20ft wide with a sharp turn to starboard soon after entering. At HW the decks of the sunken ships are under water but thoughtfully placed scaffold poles warn of the hazards below the waves. To cap it all, a Spaniard runs this Irish gem, Pedro, married to a local girl. His welcome is always marvellous and the whole operation is very efficiently run. The Lough itself is surrounded by beautiful rolling green mountains, which come almost to the water's edge, dotted with white farmsteads and houses. Carlingford village itself is steeped in history and is a very picturesque tourist high spot. It also boasts PJ's. PJ's is an Irish pub - its real name is the Anchor though no one calls it that. Enter from the main street and you are in a store, open until the pub closes. Through the swing doors is the bar - a single long room, nothing special in its decor but special because of its atmosphere. Outside at the back is a yard with trestle tables and two ancient petrol pumps no longer in use. At 11pm you can buy a pint of Guinness or a bottle of milk for the breakfast hangover and Cornflakes.
This year's rally began on the Saturday evening with an excellent reception and supper in the Dundalk S.C. prepared by the ladles of the club. Mercifully the first race on Sunday was in the afternoon. The sun shone - again and continued to do so all week (an Irish miracle) and there was a good breeze from the south. The first beat was out to buoy C14 against the tide so everyone kept well inshore much to the horror of the locals and to our own consternation when at low tide that evening we saw from the Clubhouse the rocks and reefs we had happily sailed over with echo sounders registering 1.5 metres! I can't remember much else about the rest of the race except that we had an exciting spinnaker battle and eventually finished a creditable 3rd behind Anoushka and Talisman. The week looked like being a repeat of 1995 with the two Irish boats from Howth vying with each other all the way. However everything changed in race 2 which, much to our surprise, Neomys won. Talisman was again 2nd and consistently produced 2nds and 3rds all week. Anoushka's crew with Neil Soffe but without Albert was obviously concentrating on the social life and came 4th or 5th for the rest of the races. Spook IV was much improved - Mike's "secret" weapons included lighter cabin sole boards and a new rudder, which was now about the same weight as those of the other boats. The original had been made of 2" solid oak held together with 1/2" wrought iron bars. It had been a very difficult lift for two strong men. At the end of race 2 we hove to in the sunshine, popped the kettle on for a brew and set about some cheese "butties". It is always a personal delight-to sail the boat hard and then relax and enjoy the comforts of the galley and the saloon.
Not for long however. Race 3 was a back to back, characterised by very light winds from the north. The closer we sailed to Warren-point the lighter it got. The boats inshore were out of the tide but the wind was lifting over the mountains so Spook IV and we persevered a quarter of a mile offshore. Just short of the mark Spook IV ahead and to leeward tacked onto port and crossed us about 20 yards ahead. I stayed on starboard and fell into a hole in the wind. Spook IV rounded the mark and by the time we made it they were well on their way on a broad reach to the Rostrevor mark. After that we couldn't catch her but finished second. That evening most of the crews went in search of live music in the Carlingford Arms. I joined Anoushka's crew who was living in some style on a friend's 40' yacht in the marina. One of Neil's crew was a wizard with the piano accordion. As the sky turned to turquoise in the NE and the stars twinkled overhead we had a memorable sing song.
Tuesday was windy from the North East with white caps in the Lough. We made a poor start but caught up several places. Prudence had dictated a reef and the working jib. Although slower downwind we were faster on the beats as the other boats especially the Varnes seemed over canvassed. Talisman was definitely heeling to 45deg + just ahead of us. Spook always does well in strong winds and won in style. That afternoon we had the cruising competition won by Argo and the Masterchef competition. The skipper had to provide a meal for the crew capable of being cooked in a force 4 though some of the menus were rather more exotic.
The evening was spent at PJ's followed by a night-cap at 2am on Rococa listening to 'Jethro' tapes.
The overall race position before Wednesday's final racing was extremely close with four boats in a chance: Spook IV, Talisman, Neomys and Anoushka.
The first race of the day over an Olympic course was to be Crew Race - a chance for the crew to get their own back when their skipper inevitably made a pigs ear of the spinnaker hoist.
Unfortunately there was some confusion over which buoys we were using ~ and Spook IV headed for the wrong gybe mark. By the time we had dropped the kites and beat back to the real mark the other boats were so far ahead we couldn't do better than 5th. Connor in Talisman won it.
The tide was still flooding against us at the start of the final race so most boats worked up the shore to the first mark. On the second windward leg with the tide on the turn Spook IV crossed over to the north shore and although they didn't pick up 'such tide they made up several places to the 2nd at the mark. Talisman stayed on the south shore with us but unfortunately dropped into a hole and we got away. On the reach and gybe Spook IV overhauled us to lie in first place at the leeward mark. This time we both crossed into a favourable tide and slugged it out together. With Spook IV on port we just managed to cross them tacked and hung on for the line. It was extremely close as we finished just ahead.
The racing is always good fun and very friendly at our rallies. Race officers are often amazed that protests are not made. Any disagreements on the water are soon forgotten over a pint in the evening. I am sorry Spook IV didn't win overall but there is always next year. There are rumours that Mike is making the boat even lighter over the winter. (Removing the compass perhaps). The final dinner provided by our hosts in the Dundalk Sailing Club was excellent as ever. There was even a marvellous jazz band, which had everyone dancing. Some folk continued carousing until dawn end when we finally set sail on Friday there were some bleary eyes and hangovers. (The helium filled balloons from the table decorations ended up on the stern rails of the boats). Not that this was the end of the weeklong party as we sailed to Howth for an evening in the Yacht Club there. Saturday gave us yet another great sail across the pond to Anglesey where we anchored in Rhoscolyn Bay for the night - and yet another party in the pub.
On Sunday we headed back to the mooring over Caernarfon Bar and a spinnaker run to Menai Strait, through the Swellies and finally home - another fantastic Irish Sea Folkboats Week.