18th December

Old gaffers come to Ireland

WM Nixon

The Old Gaffers Association, founded on England’s River Blackwater estuary in Essex in 1963 to preserve interest in gaff rig and maritime heritage, has expanded to become an all-embracing organization, providing a focal point for many old – and some not-so-old  ― sailing boats of all kinds.

The OGA has two thriving branches in Ireland – Dublin Bay and Belfast Lough - and when the concept of a cruise round Great Britain to celebrate the Golden Jubilee in 2013 began to take shape, it soon became clear that a diversion westward to the two ports in Ireland would be a central part of the programme.

9.3Coastline newsOGA

The Golden Jubilee Cruise got under way from on April 21 from the OGA birthplace in a very modest sort of way, with just three boats initially participating ― and only two of them planning to go the whole way round.  These were the 1898-built 31ft cutter Witch (Alistair Randall) and the 1924-designed 37ft Bonify (Sue Lewis & Howard Wheelton).

 Dutch contingent

In their progress round the southeast of England, they soon linked up with a strong Dutch contingent which included Rik Janssen’s mighty steel-built Galway Hooker Cine Mara,  and F J Schotman’s Lyle Hess-designed 28-footer Raven. Gradually the fleet increased as the OGA50 made its way down the English Channel, with the flagship now the 55ft Pilot Cutter Annabel-J (Philip Cogdell).

But the vile weather of May hampered their progress, yet despite headwinds a core group rounded Land’s End and crossed to Milford Haven, their numbers by now including 73-year-old single-hander Barbara Runnalls on the 23ft gaff cutter Moon River. When Holyhead was reached, the Manx longline sailing fishing boat Master Frank (Joe Pennington) joined the fleet after a fast sail from Peel.

Dublin gathering
By the end of May, boats were converging on Dublin Bay while just north of the Bailey, the 115-year old classics of the Howth 17 class were in last minute refit mode ahead of a race in the River Liffey between the East Link and Samuel Beckett Bridges on Sunday June 2.

The first race of the OGA50/Dublin Port Riverfest for the RMS Leinster Plate on June 1 was to retrace part of RMS Leinster’s fateful route towards the Kish from Dun Laoghaire, but as the forecast was for the brisk west wind to go light by mid-afternoon, the excellent course set by Race Officer John Alvey of Poolbeg Yacht and Boat Club went no further seaward than the North Burford Buoy.

The reaching start in Scotsman’s Bay was lively with some very long bowsprits pointing every which way and travelling at high speed. The final leg was a tricky beat to a finish mark at Drumleck, which saw the 1912 Ringsend-built 36ft yawl Ainmara (Richard Gomes, Strangford Lough) take line and corrected time honours, while Raven was second with Tir na nOg (Sean Walsh, Poolbeg) third.

Liffey race
Day 2 at 1100 hrs the entire fleet passed through the raised Eastlink Bridge to raft-up along the quays and up to MV Cill Airne, aboard which Tim Magennis and former Howth YC Commodore, Roger Cagney, were over-seeing commentary duties during a hectic day that included two in-river races by Howth 17s, followed by a maritime ballet by Dublin Port’s tugs, Shackleton and Beaufort, ending with a decidedly informal Parade of Sail. As the wind had died away before the Howth 17s could sail a final, they agreed to finished the day with two champions: Rita (No 1, Marcus Lynch and John Curley)  and Deilginis (No 11, Massey team).

Final day 
While many of the boats quietly slipped their moorings early on June 3 bound for the next event in Belfast, for some really keen old gaffer sailors, Bank Holiday Monday in Dublin Bay meant the first race for the Asgard Trophy.

Poolbeg-owned Tir na nOg took first prize by 63 seconds from Denis Aylmer’s Mona from Dun Laoghaire, which meant that over the two races of OGA50 racing in Dublin Bay, Sean Walsh’s cutter was deemed overall winner.  The result was greeted with delight in the Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club, which under Commodore Peter Tobin and his committee had provided first class operations on the water, with Katie O’Connor and her team in the clubhouse endlessly providing excellent food over the weekend.

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