Sailing: Bourke steadies ship as Irish eye strong Etchells finish
Just when we thought we were seeing the last of the best of the great sailing summer of 2010, the weather turns a somersault, the sun returns, there are great sailing breezes, and the rain that had seemed to be inevitable is dumping big-time on those parts of Europe that don't really know how to deal with it.
Admittedly, after last weekend's high of the Commodores' Cup triumph, Irish sailors could have endured anything. The mood was ecstatic. Typically, a huge official banner from the Rolex Commodores' Cup 2010 somehow appeared almost instantly, fluttering over the next scene of the international action, the Etchells Worlds at Howth.
Perhaps this was pushing things a little too far. For although the three Irish crews in the Commodores' Cup were clearly world standard, in Howth the visitors, from all parts of the planet, have been showing the home crews just how to sail an Etchells 22.
The sublime talents of John Bertand of Australia, for example, have shown that, if anything, he is even better than when he wrested the America's Cup from Dennis Conner 27 years ago.
Faced with this brilliance, the weather tried to be horrible, but gave up after one horrible day on Tuesday. A gale in the morning, then great, threatening purple clouds in the afternoon -- tornadoes could have been on the menu, but happily they weren't. However, there was bucketing rain, and soon no wind at all -- and no racing either.
But since then, conditions have been ideal, the lost race was soon made up, and the Irish crews have been faced with such skill and speed in the fleet of 44 boats that merely to finish in the top six is regarded as good going. So, let's hear it from the rooftops -- in one of the races, now lost in a glorious blur of sails, sea and sunshine, Jay Bourke got a third place. It'll all be finalised today.
Meanwhile, out in deep water, the four-yearly 1800-mile Round Britain and Ireland Race -- won in 2006 by Ger O'Rourke with his Cookson 50 Chieftain -- is currently going at high speed, racing anti-clockwise.
Back in 2006, it was clockwise, and it was meant to be so again. But six days ago, looking at the tortuous weather charts, the organising Royal Ocean Racing Club reckoned they'd get a complete pasting off the west of Ireland if they got there when expected, so they sent them the other way.
There have been times when, as participants, we've wished that Wicklow Sailing Club would adopt the same flexibility for the Round Ireland Race. Come to that, an interesting twist would be to allow round Ireland participants to go whichever way they liked. Quirky or what?
Be that as it may, by going widdershins, the leading boats in the Round Britain and Ireland have been making fantastic speeds.
Front-runner Groupama 70 -- Franck Cammas' Volvo 70, which was originally Ericsson 4 and includes Damian Foxall as watch leader -- had got to the most northerly turn, the stack rock of Muckle Flugga at the tip of the Shetland Islands, only two days after the start in the Solent.
Handicap leader has been Piet Vroon's Ker 46 Tonnerre de Breskens 3, already the Round Ireland winner back in June. Captain Vroon, facing into his ninth decade, reckons this might be his last major offshore race, but for now there's work to be done -- the spread of the fleet means Tonnerre is being challenged from ahead and astern.
On the dinghy racing front, Ireland has taken another major trophy. The Mirror Europeans at Sligo, which concluded last weekend, attracted 73 of these universally popular little boats, and clear winners were Ross Kearney and Max Odell of Belfast Lough, while the host club's Beth and Shauna Armstrong were runners-up.