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Flying Fifteen Irish Northern Championship at Portaferry Sailing Club

by Cormac Bradley 26 Jul 19:14 BST 24-25 July 2021
(l-r) Stewart Harrison, winning helm, Flying Fifteen Northern Championship, Shane McCarthy, Commodore Portaferry Sailing Club, John McAlea, Race Officer and Conor, winning crew Flying Fifteen Northern Championship © Ben Mulligan

For those who were unable to make the first "away" regatta since the summer season of 2019, you missed glorious sunshine, great hospitality, fickle winds, and challenging tides!

The venue was Portaferry on the northern shores of the narrows at the entrance to Strangford Lough and the event attracted a 14-boat fleet, made up principally of Strangford clubs, Strangford Lough Yacht Club, Strangford Sailing Club, Killyleagh Yacht Club and Portaferry Sailing Club. There was one Belfast Lough boat and two from southern Ireland, from Dun Laoghaire and Dunmore East respectively.

The races area was towards the Killyleagh side of the Lough and Race Officer John McAlea did very well to get all five races in. Conditions on Saturday were light, probably of the order of 5-7 knots and in those conditions, tide was always going to be a significant factor.

Race wins were shared between three boats on Saturday: Brian Willis and John McPeake (4074) in Race 1, Shane McCarthy & Jeremy Rodgers (4018) in Race 2 and Alan McLernon & Crew (3782) in Race 3. The third race win was quite something at face value as the FF was using the sail number IRL1974. However, by the close of business on the Saturday, as ever, consistency allowed the cream to rise to the top. McCarthy & Rodgers (4018) had posted a 5,1,2 race score to leave them with a 4-point cushion on the second boat. At this stage they were the only boat with a single figure points total. Stewart Harrison & Conor (3892) sat in second place overnight with a 3,5,7 and two boats were tied in 3rd, Alan McLernon, and Brian Willis (17pts).

Most boats had at least one good race, but such was the vagaries of the racing that a good result in one race was not an indicator of form in the next. Consider some of the score cards that were on display on Saturday night - 12, 4, 3 from McCleary & Dougan (4037), 2,10,10 from Roger Chamberlain (3962) and 9, 2, 9 from Mulligan & Bradley (4081). Still, the sun had shone all day and we were all back ashore in time to see the majority of the SA V the Lions. Portaferry Sailing Club fed everyone as part of the entry fee and the post-mortems and other assessments of "Life, the Universe, and Everything" went long into the evening.

If Saturday was light, then Sunday gave the appearance of being better - at least looking at the water surface on the way out to the start. It would be a different matter on the racecourse! RO McAlea had obviously been doing some beseeching to have wind because promptly at 11:00 he started the sequence for Race 4. In Race 4 McCleary played the Pied Piper and took a number of boats with him to the right-hand side of the course. Two of these, McCleary himself and Charlie Boland & Rob McConnell (3883) bailed out early and went left to try and reconnect with the fleet. That left Mulligan & Bradley ploughing a lonely furrow on the right and it got lonelier as they never re-engaged with the rest of the fleet.

Stewart & Connor led for most of the race but were challenged by McCarthy at various stages. Their upwind speed invariably got them out of trouble when the downwind legs didn't quite work out. Behind these two, McLernon, Chamberlain and Willis were having a good race. McCleary finished 9th while Boland got up to 7th.

Harrison's win had opened Pandora's Box in terms of the destiny of the title. Effectively, if Harrison won again and McCarthy was worse than 5th, Harrison could take the title. McAlea responded to the movement of the wind by moving the weather mark leftwards from his committee boat position. Remember that in the previous race, going right was the death-knell for this correspondent.

A pin-end port tack start by Mulligan caught the fleet on the hop but came to a quick halt by starboard tacked boats coming out of the middle of the line. An individual recall was sounded; and one boat was seen to go back - Boland & McConnell. The boats that worked the left-hand side found that they were being hammered by those who had gone right, the complete opposite of the previous race. Harrison led at the first weather mark with McCarthy buried in the peloton, in 9th place. McCleary, who had struggled in the previous race now found himself as the fox to Harrison's hare and McLernon was also watching the hare very closely. McCarthy's frustrations must also have boiled over when his spinnaker drop on the middle leeward mark (laps of three) resulted in Rodgers standing on the foredeck flicking a spinnaker halyard to free the jib.

While there was some movement in the fleet the light winds and the tendency to work a single side of the beat meant that the pecking order didn't change dramatically. And thus, though he recovered to 6th place McCarthy & Rodgers lost the title to Stewart & Connor by virtue of the latter pair winning the last race. And for all the endeavour of the port tack start, Mulligan and Bradley went over the finish line to silence - ruled as an OCS! The post-race discussion with the RO was polite and brief - he had photographic evidence!

Overall Results: (top five)

PosSail NoHelm & CrewR1R2R3R4R5Pts
13892Stewart Harrison & Conor3571110
24018Shane Mc Carthy & Jeremy Rodgers5122610
33782Alan McLernon & Crew7914315
44037Andy McCleary & Colin Dougan12439218
54074Brian Willis & John McPeake112451020

So, a very good weekend for Stewart Harrison and his crew Conor, who flew in from Scotland to sail the event. Commiserations to Shane McCarthy & Jeremy Rodgers who also sailed a very consistent regatta.

Congratulations also to Niall Bradshaw who won the bronze division. Speakers at the prize-giving were Shane McCarthy, John McAlea from PSC and Class President Hammy Baker. All three thanked everyone for attending and made particular reference to the volunteers who had given up their weekend in order that we all could sail. A small token of appreciation from the fleet was presented to John McAlea as RO and the gentleman who had offered the use of his boat for the Committee Boat on the Friday night. Shane reminded the audience that the National Championships are due to be sailed out of Whiterock in late August before he bade everyone "Safe Home".

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