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Lough Ree Clinkerfest To Celebrate Our Classic Boat-building Heritage With Sailing Sport

12th March 2022
“Keep calm and carry on….” Shannon One Design Senior Statesman Alan Algeo – a former Lough Ree YC Commodore – looking notably serene in the midst of a developing situation
“Keep calm and carry on….” Shannon One Design Senior Statesman Alan Algeo – a former Lough Ree YC Commodore – looking notably serene in the midst of a developing situation.

While the sailing programme during the past two years has managed to be played out afloat in a truncated form whenever changing regulations permitted, anything which involved a significant shoreside element of socialising was either cancelled completely, or else moth-balled in the hope that an eventual and complete relaxation of pandemic lockdown would permit its re-activation in due course by the clicking of some sort of organisational switch-gear.

It sounds simple enough. But it isn’t. The organisers of some new events which were originally lined up for the summer of 2020 are finding that, in effect, we’re now three seasons down the line. Not everyone is still here, and those of us who still are have become different people – slightly bewildered people at that, people who are finding it quite a job to re-create their mind-set of early 2020.

One such is Garrett Leech who - back at the beginning of 2020 - was in his final months as Commodore of Lough Ree Yacht Club as it entered its Quarter Millenial Year, and top item on his agenda was the organisation - at the early June Bank Holiday Weekend - of an event to be called Clinkerfest. This was to be a celebration of our many one design clinker-built boats – most of them classics - which had all the makings of a wonderful self-generating party, energized by the best of sailing sport afloat and shared enthusiasm ashore at one of the most hospitable clubs in the country.

Wall-to-wall SODs – they’re expected to be the most numerous class in the Lough Ree Clinkerfest at the June Holiday Weekend.Wall-to-wall SODs – they’re expected to be the most numerous class in the Lough Ree Clinkerfest at the June Holiday Weekend.

That’s how it was at the beginning of 2020. Yet in the wary mood of the current moment, he would be happy enough to see it re-launched at LRYC HQ at Ballyglass from June 3rd to 6th 2022 in a less exuberant style than would have been the case in Lough YC’s 250th year of 2020.

PENT-UP CLINKER ENTHUSIASM ALL OVER IRELAND

But dare we suggest that he is being too modest? There’s a pent-up clinker-boat-sailing enthusiasm all over Ireland which is just looking for an appropriately-controlled yet powerful pressure-valve releases, and it seems to outside observers that Clinkerfest 2022 is going to be right up there with the best of them in terms of numbers and conviviality.

Certainly, if last weekend’s First Centenary Dinner of the Shannon One Designs in the National Yacht Club is anything to go by, if people were a bit nervous that they’d forgotten how to party, it soon became clear that slightly-rusty socializing skills could be very quickly lubricated into smooth-running turbo-charged conviviality.

Class Chairman Philip Mayne and the formidably effective SODA Honorary Secretary Naomi Algeo (now known as Dr WHO for reasons which are too convoluted to explain here) successfully presided over an heroic splicing of the main brace.

Wing on wing, but in different boats – the Shannon One Designs have created their own unique sailing conditions and combinations.Wing on wing, but in different boats – the Shannon One Designs have created their own unique sailing conditions and combinations.

And thus there arose the idea of four Centenary Dinners, with one already logged at the National, two others to coincide with the Lough Ree and Lough Derg Regatta Weeks in August, and a concluding grand blow-out at Castle Forbes in County Longford in late August/early September to coincide with the exact dates of the Centenary of the first recorded Shannon One Design race, which was hosted by the North Shannon Yacht Club in which the man from Castle Forbes, the Earl of Granard, was involved.

There’s a definite symmetry to this, as the Earl of Granard – a sailing man of international repute who donated the hugely-significant One Ton Cup to world sailing in 1899 – also stepped up to the plate to be Commodore of the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire for ten years from 1931 as it emerged re-born from the moribund Edward Yacht Club.

But of course, human nature being what it is, he’s not remembered as Granard the Good, but rather is branded as Granard the Grey Squirrel. For at a wedding at Castle Forbes in 1911, some guests from the incredibly rich American branch of the family (think Malcolm Forbes and Forbes Magazine) turned up with half a dozen cute little grey squirrels as wedding gifts. The wedding gifts immediately skipped merrily across the Castle Forbes lawn into the woods, and our lovely native red squirrels have been plagued by these invasive Yankee rodents ever since.

And why not…..? Castle Forbes beside the location of the Shannon One Designs’ first recorded race in 1922 would provide the ideal setting for the 2022’s Fourth Centenary SOD DinnerAnd why not…..? Castle Forbes beside the location of the Shannon One Designs’ first recorded race in 1922 would provide the ideal setting for the 2022’s Fourth Centenary SOD Dinner

Thus there are all these crazy yet wonderful possibilities for celebration, but while they’re exclusively for the Shannon One Design Class, the Clinkerfest at Lough Ree will be an opportunity for other classes to share in the SOD stardust. Not that classes of the calibre of the Dublin Bay Water Wags yield in any way to the SODs in the matter of stardust. But in 2022 with Lough Ree Yacht Club and the Shannon One Design Association sharing the MG Motor “Sailing Club of the Year” award in its 44th year, it has to be admitted that the Clinkerfest itself is aglow with stardust.

UNESCO RECOGNITION OF CLINKER BOAT-BUILDING

For in addition to the well-deserved extra recognition accorded this year to both LRYC and SODA, clinker construction has itself acquired official global recognition as part of UNESCO Heritage. Our friends at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde in Denmark, who brought the 100ft re-created longship Sea Stallion to Dublin in 2003 as the original had been built here around 1040, have led the movement towards the proper recognition of traditional clinker construction. And while it has all been done under the umbrella of Nordic Clinker Construction, the fact is that some of the best classic clinker construction in the world is now done in Ireland, and we’ll see it at Lough Ree early in June.

They’ve been here before….Dublin Bay Water Wags racing on Lough ReeThey’ve been here before….Dublin Bay Water Wags racing on Lough Ree

At the moment, Garret Leech has commitment for Clinkerfest 2022 from SODs, Water Wags, Mermaids, International 12s and Cork Harbour Rankins, with the inclusion of the latter indicating that the more modern edge-glued clinker will be accepted, which opens up all sorts of additional possibilities, including perhaps the St Ayles Skiffs.

Currently absent from the commitment list are the IDRA 14s, but that’s probably because they hibernate longer than most - they’ll get around to it in time. As well, we would hope to see Michael Weed of Gweedore in Donegal with his exquisite re-creation of the 1896-vintage Bray Droleen, and while we’re on Donegal clinker-built boats, why not some Greencastle yawls, evolved from the ancient Drontheim boats from Tromso in Norway?

The Mermaids are accustomed to travel – they’re seen here racing with the Royal Cork YC at Crosshaven. Photo: Robert BatemanThe Mermaids are accustomed to travel – they’re seen here racing with the Royal Cork YC at Crosshaven. Photo: Robert Bateman

And always, of course, there are the classic 1936-design National 18s from Crosshaven, a joy to behold. Because for those of us of a certain generation, childhood acquaintance with clinker-built boats is the same as the emotional attachment which many sailors now give to the Mirror class, with its cross-generational bonding through the sharing of the building project in the re-purposed family sitting room.

MUTUAL LEARNING FROM FAMILY BOAT-BUILDING?

But while mutual learning was part of the Mirror experience, clinker boats from an earlier time were in an era when you were expected to learn about boats and sailing through some sort of osmosis within a sailing family. Thus when I found myself the owner of a 14ft Ballyholme Bay Insect well before I was even into my teens thanks to winning some family swimming contest, I was presented with a finished hull, but devoid of paint or varnish as it was reckoned that learning to complete it all myself, with the help of friends and potential crew, would be character building.

The timeless attraction of a well-built well-maintained classic clinker hull – Gerry Sargent racing his IDRA 14 at the Class’s 70th Anniversary Regatta at Clontarf. Photo: W M NixonThe timeless attraction of a well-built well-maintained classic clinker hull – Gerry Sargent racing his IDRA 14 at the Class’s 70th Anniversary Regatta at Clontarf. Photo: W M Nixon

With mature reflection, I rather think my father was going through a period of retrenchment after the distinctly flahoola mood in which he’d ordered the boat, and had done a deal with Jimmy French - who built the Insects just up the road from our house - to deliver the bare hull at a discount. But nothing daunted, I took the advice of the local maritime experts and started the process by larding the bare wood with linseed oil as a primer, with myself and all the linseed-oil-covered little friends being warned to stay away from the boat for a couple of days to allow the oil to dry properly into the timber, the warning being that she’d be very sticky for few days.

Well, our new Insect – already called Grasshopper though it turned out that rock-hopper would have been more on target – was still very sticky a week later. She was still sticky a fortnight later. She was still sticky three weeks later. A month later, when I came back one afternoon from school, she was no longer in the shed, and miraculously after ten days she re-appeared - unsticky, finished and ready to go, a miracle for which I have piously but unsuccessfully hoped for a repeat with all subsequent craft.

Leisurely start for the Ballyholme Insects in the 1950sLeisurely start for the Ballyholme Insects in the 1950s

With the Insects, sailing was expected to be self-taught, and somehow it worked – well, sort of….Photo: W M NixonWith the Insects, sailing was expected to be self-taught, and somehow it worked – well, sort of….Photo: W M Nixon

As for going afloat, we were simply left to get on with learning to sail ourselves. But with other kids in Ballyholme Bay in a similar situation with other dinghy types, it was a mutual learning curve, accelerated by playing tig among the moored keelboats. This had its moments, for I can remember a now-very-distinguished Belfast Lough sailing figure standing up facing backwards in his International Cadet, and roaring over his stern at a 12 -footer skipper to tell him that he – the skipper of the 12-footer - been tigged and was now on.

So absorbed was he in conveying this message that he was blissfully unaware that his Cadet was headed at a rate of knots straight for a moored Waverley sloop with such deadly accuracy that the Waverley was T-boned, and left with a perfect and very distinct imprint of a Cadet’s bow transom in her otherwise immaculate topsides.

But fortunately a classic Ballyholme Bay northeasterly gale came up that night (the place as an anchorage is derided as being “sheltered to the northeast by Ailsa Craig”), and the Waverley in question ended up in smithereens on Ballyholme Beach, so there was no day of reckoning to explain that perfect bow transom imprint.

For our safety we were restricted to staying within Ballyholme Bay on a line between Luke’s Point and a rocky islet off Ballymacormick Point called Jenny’s Isle, but of course we immediately twigged that this allowed us to set off to sail round the world while still complying, for at high water we knew of hidden channels which allowed us to escape eastward while still inside that line. But being well-behaved children we knew this was not in the spirit of the rules, so it was quite the day when permission was granted to sail the high seas and make our first cruise to the nearby fishing port of Groomsport.

Our 14ft Insect was called Grasshopper, but much of the time she was rock-hopper, inevitably drawn to exploring every tiny channel in the neighbourhoodOur 14ft Insect was called Grasshopper, but much of the time she was rock-hopper, inevitably drawn to exploring every tiny channel in the neighbourhood

Very soon this led on to a crazy week-long venture down the River Bann and across a very empty and sometimes stormy Lough Neagh, then on down the Lower Bann to tidal water at Coleraine with just a little tent for shelter in one of those weeks when it rained every day. This just about exhausted the possibilities of an Insect, but almost immediately I was catapulted into 26ft Swallow (which we now know was designed by O’Brien Kennedy), and that opened up the much wider horizons of voyaging to the Strangford Lough Regattas, with offshore racing in chartered bigger boats coming soon after.

First “foreign port”. The extremely youthful crew aboard Grasshopper in the little fishing harbour of Gromsport after voyaging from Ballyholme Bay. We were supposed to wear lifejackets, but that was only “while sailing”, so they were always discarded at the first opportunity. Photo: W M NixonFirst “foreign port”. The extremely youthful crew aboard Grasshopper in the little fishing harbour of Gromsport after voyaging from Ballyholme Bay. We were supposed to wear lifejackets, but that was only “while sailing”, so they were always discarded at the first opportunity. Photo: W M Nixon

The Insect was now very much in the past, with the class defunct at Ballyholme as GP14s and Enterprises took over, while for dinghy racing I was seduced into sailing Bob Greenhalgh’s new Ian Proctor-designed 17.5ft Osprey, which never caught on as a class in Belfast Lough, but was one of the sweetest boats I ever sailed.

However, the Insect had made her mark. So when we warble on about clinker boat-building, believe me I’ve been there – I know what it’s like to clean out a clinker bilge prior to re-painting, I know what its like to replace that dodgy strake which suddenly splits just a week before Opening Day.

Yet when an Englishman called Alan Hidden came to work in Northern Ireland and discovered an Insect and restored her and used her to found the Northern Ireland Branch of the Old Gaffers Asociation, we greeted the news with mixed feelings. Our hotshot racing Insects are now Old Gaffers…..?

Nevertheless if one or two of the individual Insects which I know have been restored in Northern Ireland turn up at the Lough Ree Clinkerfest on June 3rd, I hope they’ll be welcomed with kindness and understanding. For when you’re the sole survivors of a once-thriving class which was swept away by GP 14s and Enterprises, you’ll be quite bruised as it is.

The hyper-keen Scorpions - they packed a sting which soon marked the final death knell of the more ordinary Insect ClassThe hyper-keen Scorpions - they packed a sting which soon marked the final death knell of the more ordinary Insect Class

But in the case of Belfast Lough and the Ballyholme Insects, there was an additional assault from a hot and aggressively keen new class known as the Scorpions. As God’s Own Race Officer Gerald Barry of Cork observed at a Dinghy Week in Baltimore, never was a class more aptly named…….

Clinkerfest 2022 Clinkerfest 2022 - download the Notice of Race below

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WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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