Friday 27 April 2018

Sailing: O'Driscoll in top form ahead of national assault

WM Nixon

The early autumn season sees the country engulfed in national and regional keelboats championships, with some leading transferable talents having to make painful choices between boats, skippers and venues.

Last weekend saw the 'half-keelboats', the Laser SB3s, conclude their Nationals at Howth. With nearly 50 boats making a show when it started with a day of sunshine and great sailing, everything was going according to plan, with local SB3 star Ben Duncan the overnight leader.

But the weather went down the pan for days two and three, although the lively breezes held up, and once again Duncan found himself toppled by the formidable talents of Gareth Flannigan from Ballyholme, who won going away on only 15.5 points. Sean Craig of Dun Laoghaire was second on 33 and Duncan was third on 35.

With the championship machine in top gear at Howth, next up on the grid is this weekend's J24 nationals. Numbers are more modest, but 18 boats are expected as the Irish class are gearing themselves up for the J24 Europeans in Howth next year.

Defending national champion is Mickey McCaldin from Lough Erne, but in this year's racing Flor O'Driscoll of Dun Laoghaire has been setting the pace in class racing in Ireland, and though the boats don't rate very well for open IRC Racing, he still managed to get a class second at Cork Week in head-to-head competition with Crosshaven's hot Quarter Tonners.

The stately ladies of the Dragon Class have assembled for their South Coast Championship at Kinsale, the first national gathering since Martin Byrne of Dun Laoghaire won the Irish Opens on Belfast Lough in July. Byrne is defending champion in this south-coast series, but with a fleet of 18 (seems the magic number these days) there are some formidable talents going to make life difficult, notably former All-Ireland Champion Helm Neil Hegarty, and former national title-holder Simon Brien from Belfast Lough.

The 1720 Sportsboat class expanded like wildfire after its introduction in Cork in 1994, then it seemed to be eclipsed by the Laser SB3s. But the gallant old 1720s are still to be found and they're showing signs of new life in West Cork with fleets at Baltimore and Schull, while the fleet is re-grouping in Cork Harbour and there are stirrings in the undergrowth in Galway.

Twenty-five boats are making the scene for their nationals in Baltimore which conclude today, and with five crew per boat you don't have to be a mathematical genius to calculate the size of the party tonight when the new champion emerges, with participants including top English helms Steve Coles and Michael Wilson.

Finally, Cove Sailing Club on Cork Harbour is on a roll. Last weekend's Cove-Blackrock Race, CSC's contribution to Cork Harbour Open Day, attracted a fleet of more than 100 boats. And the news was also up on the screen that former Cobh sailor Barry Hurley, class winner last year in the Single-Handed Transatlantic Race, had pulled off the win racing double-handed with Nick Martin in the RORC Cowes-Cherbourg Race.

Irish Independent

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