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Sailing: Humphreys conquers Europe with Elan 350 design

The latest European 'Yacht of the Year' is just about as European as you could get. The announcement was made this week at the Dusseldorf Boat Show, which is plumb in the middle of the continent.

However, just because the show and this announcement are so much at the heart of Europe, don't think that any significant input from peripheral nations is inevitably excluded.

On the contrary, the winning Elan 350, a red-hot offshore racer which provides the option of cruising at impressive speeds, is the latest production design from the fertile brain of Rob Humphreys.

He learned his sailing on the Irish Sea and hails from the little Welsh port of Pwllheli.

So, although his international design office is based in Lymington on the shores of the Solent, if a crew of sailors from the shores of Snowdonia arrive in town, Humphreys can quickly trot into speaking Welsh with the best of them.

As for the language spoken by the builders of the Elan 350, it could be several, as the boats emerge from a factory in Slovenia, whose people have successfully survived being over-run by many ancient empires all now well gone into the mists of history.

Time was when a 35-footer was a handy little boat, but the latest 35-footers are enormous, with masthead gennakers and twin rudders to keep them tracking on a winning course, so this is a boat of major interest.

There's a good chance that we'll see the Elan 350 at this year's Irish Boat Show, which will be at Malahide Marina from May 20-22.

While the most eye-catching parts of the show will be boats afloat, it is planned to use the space ashore in Malahide Boatyard for proper exhibits in the manner of Annapolis in the US or Southampton in the south of England.

It will of course be a Boat Show geared to contemporary economic realities. But could we now make the suggestion here that, when the Irish economy begins to get up a head of steam again (and it will), a really impressive Boat Show with a significant afloat element could be staged on the Grand Canal Basin in the heart of Dublin in front of the stunning Libeskind-designed Grand Canal Theatre.

The international sailing focus, meanwhile, has moved from Australia to the Caribbean, where the springtime is supposed to provide superb sailing breezes in idyllic conditions.

That said, last year's RORC Caribbean 600 race in February was plagued by calms.

However, a boat which has shown that she can cut the mustard offshore, in winds light and strong, is Round Ireland Race champion Tonnere de Breskens, Piet Vroon's superb Ker 46. The Vroon team are lining up for the 600 next month and already Tonnere has put down an impressive marker for the Americans by winning her class by a huge margin in the Key West Regatta that concluded at the weekend.

Up in Miami, the Olympic Classes Regatta is now under way, and in early racing, Ireland's Annaliese Murphy is in the top five in the Laser Radials, while the Star Class crew of Peter O'Leary and David Burrows -- O'Leary's confirmed star pairing for the 2012 Olympics -- are in the top four in a class of 58 boats.

Irish Independent