Sailing: Students hope to finish season of 'almosts' on high
AN all-Ireland squad made up of sailors drawn from Sligo, Mayo, Belfast, Wicklow, Dublin, Cork and Antrim will compete in the Student Yachting World Championships in La Rochelle this weekend.
At the end of an international season which has seen some of our best-known sailing stars hit the heights only to miss the podium at the very end, a lot of hope is being invested by the Irish sailing community in the national college team to finish on a high.
But that's the way it is at this level of sailing, and in their season-long build up to the big event in the Bay of Biscay, the team of 10 have been getting every sort of encouragement, advice, training and assessment from the best sources available.
The French started this series back in 1979, and it has been gradually growing in stature ever since. It's their baby, so it's their own affair if they persist in calling it a yachting event.
But everywhere else has long since thought of our sport as sailing, so it's pure Gallic pig-headedness to persist with the clunky 'yachting' tag, particularly for a series which highlights the sailing stars of the future.
The teams are provided by the winners of each country's national intercollegiate championship, and way back in 1988 Trinity went on to become the first Irish world champions.
This year, UCD did the business on the home front back in March by winning the Irish title in Dun Laoghaire, breaking a long stranglehold by CIT.
The Cork sailors had a great run of it in the Worlds, with second in 2007, first in 2009, when Nicholas 'Nin' O'Leary was skipper, fourth in 2009 and a sensational third in 2011 with George Kenefick the skipper.
That was a remarkable achievement as the draw had given CIT one of three boats that were definitely not up to standard.
UCD are captained by Cathal Leigh-Doyle from Ballincar in Sligo, while the crew skipper is Aidan McLaverty. Others in the line-up are Barry McCartin (tactician), Ben Fusco, Simon Doran, Theo Murphy, David Fitzgerald, Ellen Cahill, Isabella Morehead and Alyson Rumball.
In addition to supervised workouts in UCD's performance gym, they've been intensively training afloat under the watchful eye of 'Nin' O'Leary, John Downey, Marty O'Leary, Maurice 'Prof' O'Connell and Olympic helm Annalise Murphy -- who was a contemporary at UCD of many of the crew in first year but took time out for her sailing challenge.
Racing is from tomorrow through to November 3. It's a fleet event with 14 national teams including the US, Canada and Australia, with France's Euromed team the defenders. The programme includes inshore, offshore and coastal races, and early indications are of lightish north to north-east breezes in the racing area.
But a lot can happen weather-wise in the last week of October, and we can be sure many Irish sailing fans will be closely watching meteorological movements off La Rochelle for the next seven days.
The annual Rolex Middle Sea Race out of Malta had been a light wind event which came violently to life on Thursday with a massive thunderstorm.
It swept mid-size boats across the finish line to topple leading placings built up by line honours winner Esimit Euopa, the 100-footer from Slovenia, and Nik Zennstrom's 72ft Ran, the 2011 Fastnet winner.
Barry Hurley's 35ft Dinah has done well for Ireland in the two-handed division. Crewed by Andrew Boyle, he was lying second in class.