Tuesday 25 October 2016

Joining the yachtie crew

Landlubber Liam Collins sails with Olympic medallist Annalise Murphy and finds that even she gets seasick

Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30

Maiden voyage: Liam Collins goes sailing with Annalise Murphy
Maiden voyage: Liam Collins goes sailing with Annalise Murphy

Annalise Murphy is casually steering the 1720 yacht towards the mouth of Dun Laoghaire harbour, although to my mind we're coming up quite fast on a moored boat with a distinctive blue hull.

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"Tack," says the Rio silver medallist and we pull a few ropes and suddenly we're going in the direction we're supposed to.

I've never been on a sailing boat before but I'm somewhat reassured that for the Wednesday afternoon cruise we amateurs are in the hands of Annalise, her coach Rory Fitzpatrick and some of the other Olympic sailing team.

I feel even better when Annalise reveals that she might even get seasick, but less assured when she adds that coming up from Dalkey on her own trimaran a few days earlier she capsized 13 times between there and Dun Laoghaire harbour.

I'd no idea I'd end up in the boat with Annalise when I got the invitation from the Irish mining company Providence Resources to go for an evening sail, a little bit of racing and a barbecue back on deck of the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire.

But seeing as Tony O'Reilly Jnr and his company have sponsored the Irish Olympic sailing team since before the London Olympics, the least a few of them could do was take his guests on a little jaunt, although they seemed to enjoy the occasion as much as anybody else.

Liam Collins receiving a replica silver medal from the Olympian
Liam Collins receiving a replica silver medal from the Olympian

There are three ancient yacht clubs along this stretch of Dun Laoghaire harbour and one wag later explains the different ethos of the three institutions - the one nearest the city, the Royal Irish is for Protestants, the one furthest The National is for Catholics, and the one in the middle, the Royal St George, "is for Catholics who think they're Protestants".

Annalise is a member of The National but there seems to be a camaraderie among the sailors, no matter what club they belong to, that you seldom find on dry land.

When the first race starts, Annalise, her ponytail bobbing in the light breeze, gets us comfortably ahead as she explains that the boat, a 1720 yacht takes its name from the Royal Cork Yacht Club, which was founded that year.

The race progresses and through some inventive trickery we're overtaken by the Olympians Ryan Seaton and Finn Lynch.

"Finn is the most competitive sailor in Dun Laoghaire," she says after they cheekily overtake us.

For the second and third races we're transferred to their boat - but Annalise doesn't make the same mistake. At one point we're so close I could touch the boom on the other boat and the tension between the two crews is palpable as they dispute the advantage. But then you don't get to go to the Olympics by suppressing a healthy competitive streak.

In the end, Annalise and her crew win both races and we head back with reasonably good-natured accusations of gamesmanship and chicanery flying between the two crews.

Ambling back we come across Water Wags - small wooden sailing boats, some of them a 100 years old, racing in the inner harbour.

Among them are Annalise's parents Cathy and Con Murphy - so, as they say in sailing circles, it wasn't off the ground she licked it.

Annalise tells me later that her mother went down to a famous boat-maker in Roscommon to learn the craft - and has since built two boats under his supervision, including the one she is now sailing.

Annalise hasn't had much time to herself since coming home from Rio with the silver medal she won in the Laser Radial sailing competition.

She smiles as she tells us that the previous Sunday she sailed down to Dalkey Island to get away from all this new-found fame with a few friends, but had hardly settled on the ground for a picnic when a star-struck parent arrived with a baby looking for a selfie.

Even Tony O'Reilly Jnr wants the silver medal around his neck as he toasts the Irish sailor's success and hopes some of it will rub off on Providence Resources when it drills for oil in the Druid Field off the Cork coast next year.

Back on dry land, burger in one hand, a glass of red in the other, I mingle with the sailing fraternity to find that they're no longer talking about the Rio Games- it's all about Tokyo now and the next Olympics in 2020.

I don't know when I'll be back in the refined atmosphere of the yacht club, but following Annalise's success it seems that everybody within striking distance of water wants to go down to the sea in ships of one variety or other.

Sunday Independent

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