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2022 Thomson NI GP14 Ulster Championship at Lough Foyle Yacht Club

by Ross Gingles 27 May 09:21 BST 21-22 May 2022

A fleet of 26 boats arrived to a very warm and highly organised welcome, at the extraordinary Lough Foyle Yacht Club, a place that proves it is people that make a club and a successful event.

Located at the picturesque Culmore Point, or the 'Big Corner', the club is nestled in a historic fort, where the River Foyle enters Lough Foyle. Blasted by the intermittent south westerly gusts coming down the river, and seeing the channel downstream in the race area, it was clear that the conditions were going to test the wits of all, and with the fleet practising hard for the forthcoming World championship in August, the dinghy park was a bustle of energy for what was gearing up to be a hotly contested Thompson NI Ulster Championship.

With the fleet eager to make their mark, racing took a few attempts to get under way, and after the second general recall the PRO Sam Lyness had the black flag out, claiming one of team Sutton boats, Hugh & Dan Gill. With the fleet up and away, the local pairing of Keith and Mateo Louden used their local knowledge to get right early and to good effect, though with the wind variable around the course, those who made good use of the puffs were also faring well. Following serval position changes on the long beats, the strategy of conservatively playing the right, allowed the pairing of Colman Grimes and Ross Gingles from Skerries SC to claim the first win of the weekend, followed by Ger Owens and Melanie Morris of the Royal St. George YC, who managed to keep Peter and Stephen Boyle of Sutton Dinghy Club at bay down the last reaching leg. Suttons Conor Twohig and Mathew Cotter put in a strong race to finish 1st Silver boat with the tenacious Lara Sunday and Jennifer Bryce of Newtownards SC 1st in bronze.

The second race was to see rain clouds blow in and the momentum of the river establish itself more ferociously, resulting in a much more dramatic weather mark rounding. Grimes and Gingles in "No Surprise" were now causing the opposite reaction, much to the dismay of the McGuiness brothers, who could do nothing to avoid the subsequent T-bone as the pair "surprised" them with a literal crash-tack onto port. The equally surprised Adrian Lee and Gareth Gallagher were next in the line to be caught in the same fray. Countless others were now finding the charms of mark rounding at Foyle! Having sat out the first race, the fresh-legged (possibly cold) pairing of Hugh & Dan Gill instantly made up for their earlier misdemeanour with a well deserved bullet. Ross Kearney and Andrew Vaughan of Royal North of Ireland YC took 2nd with Peter and Stephen Boyle showing their consistency with two 3rds now under their belt. Sam Wray and Luke Henderson of Sligo YC took 7th place and first silver and with some swapping around in the bronze fleet, it was now Michael Collender and Brian Walker's of Mullingar YC time to shine.

Race three took the form of follow the leader after a light air start which caught the fleet napping and many struggling to make the line. The ever-attentive Ger and Melanie were the first to spot the favoured right hand corner having made the observation earlier in the day, and with many believing the left should be advantaged, they were now largely uncontested and pulled out a very substantial lead and easy win. Anyone misjudging their lay lines paid a heavy price and Ross Kearney and Andrew Vaughan were rewarded with an 11th place after they attempted an early cross from the shelter of the right corner. The Gill's commendable conviction, that the left should pay, were rewarded with an 18th, while in contrast Josh Porter and Cara McDowell of Newtownards SC came 2nd having seen the advantages of Ger and Melanie's progress. Peter and Stephen Boyle made it a hattrick of 3rd places for the day and Michael Cox and Claire Crommie of Newtownards SC were first silver boat with a 5th now under their belts. Michael Collender and Brian Walker went on to improve their positions in the bronze fleet with a 10th.

A warm greeting, hot soup, and a multitude of cakes and sandwiches greeted the fleet once they had battled their way back up the river and got ashore. Once changed the fleet descended on mass to the Magnet Pub where a feast of further food drink was devoured by the now tired and contented sailors who enjoyed regaling the day's stories. The overnight results left the field wide open with Ger and Mel leading overall but unable to sail the next day as Ger was due to report back on his son's experiment; it turns out a bucket will stay attached to a tow hitch when driving to a sailing event, though it remains inconclusive whether his sister's Barbie doll could make the journey!

The morning of day 2 saw more of the same conditions, but with some new faces appearing on the scene, with JP and Caroline McCaldin, Ruan and Rebecca O'Tiarnagh and event hosts James Peter Hockley and Alan Thompson getting a short reprieve from their commendable organisational duties. Some tired bodies and rigging failures caused serval boats to not make it out and with "No surprise" on shore re-threading a halyard dashing their chances to stay in the mix, John and Donal McGuiness of Moville had a much better day and unimpeded were able to take the win followed by Keith and Mateo Louden of Lough Foyle YC in 2nd, with Diarmaid Mullan and Lauren Donaghy of Sligo YC in 3rd. Lauren was in a rush to make a flight to Amsterdam, so they both pulled out the stops, leaving the race course straight after. Anthony Hutton and Joy Whelan took a turn to bring home first bronze fleet boat.

Race 5 saw a familiar game of snakes and ladders in the unstable, puffy and shifty conditions. Ross Kearney and Andrew Vaughan were making the most of it, and were able to power through the chop that was now building to secure another win putting them in a good position to close out the series provided they could discard their 11th. Hugh ad Dan Gill took 2nd and Josh Porter and Cara McDowell 3rd.

Going into the final race the podium positions looked to be between the pairings of Ross Kearney and Andrew Vaughan, Peter and Steven Boyle, Alan Blay and Hugh McNally and Colman Grimes and Ross Gingles. The black flag was soon out and a clear start for the final race on a reasonably even line. The Boyles looked good for a while but overlaid the windward mark, Grimes and Gingles put in a decent beat to pop out in the front row with Conor Twohig and Mathew Cotter pipping them to the mark. The positions were held on the windy reach that followed, with Peter and Stephen Boyle followed by Ross Kearney and Andrew Vaughan and then Alan Blay and Hugh McNally. Conor and Matthew and Grimes and Gingles pulled out a pretty substantial lead on the rest of the fleet. Eventually Conor and Mathew were overtaken by Grimes & Gingles and close out the race with other race win. The Boyles came 3rd.

Ross Kearney & Andrew Vaughan came 4th in the final race which was enough to win the event and the title of Ulster Champions. Peter & Stephen Boyle retaining 2nd overall and Peter 1st placed youth. Colman Grimes & Ross Gingles with a 2nd race win held off Alan Blay & Hugh McNally to retain 3rd place by a point. Conor Twohig & Matthew Cotter impressive final race meant they finished 9th overall and held their lead in Silver with Michael Collender and Brian Walker taking Bronze over Jennifer Bryce & Lara Sunday.

A fantastic weekend of sailing has had by all.

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