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O Tiarnaigh to defend title

4th October 1996
THIS weekend's Church and General ISA Helmsman Championship at Ballyholme Yacht Club looks set to be a closely fought affair at the top ranks of the 18 boat fleet of Lasers II dinghies. While the event draws on representatives from a wide range of Irish sailing classes, smart money is certain to be on a top third section of Ireland's championship line up. While current champion Ruan O Tiarnaigh of the GP14 class will be putting in a solid defence Tom Fitzpatrick and David McHugh, this year's Laser II European Champions top the bill and the move by the national authority to allow the use of trapezes further boosts their chances of taking the sought after trophy for a second time.
However, considerable pressure is certain to come from Sean Craig who was narrowly beaten by the pair in the 1994 event. Laura Dillon who took bronze for Ireland at this year's IYRU Youth World's at Newport, Rhode Island is another competitive threat although she indicated that fatigue may have been responsible for a lower than expected performance at the junior championship at Malahide last month. The sole Irish Olympic team member from the Savannah regatta, Soling class skipper Marshall King, has plenty of Laser II experience added to his time on the circuit leading up to the games as preparation for the racing on Belfast Lough. King stepped in a Laser singlehander two weeks ago after an absence of six years to give fellow Olympian Mark Lyttle a real challenge at the class Northern Championship at Coleraine. In addition to these proven hopefuls, a host of other contenders feature in the line up and several younger sailors could yet pull some surprises. Also watch out for last minute Dragon class representative and national champion Simon Brien of the Royal Ulster YC who will add local water knowledge to his chances of success. Commenting on the obvious bias in favour of the class used for the championship, Paddy Boyd of the ISA said: "The only way, to determine fairly a true `champion of champions' is to neutralise all the variables - height, weight, age, strength - and there is no class currently available in sufficient numbers in Ireland that can do this. Invariably, every year someone is going to be advantaged by the choice of boat. However, we believe that the current format is a close as possible to the ideal." Meanwhile, last weekend also saw a high powered fleet in action for the ISA National Dinghy Match Racing Championship at the event's permanent home of the Royal St George YC in Dun Laoghaire. Several of this weekend's contenders were also sailing while Pete Barton of the Royal Lymington YC, a leading UK match and team racing sailor was also in attendance and provided a useful barometer of national standards. The final analysis after a full weekend of racing saw Craig with his cousin Roger crewing emerge overall champion after a tie breaker with Barton sailing with Rory Paton. The Fitzpatrick and Me Hugh duo were third but took the silver medal in the Irish stakes while Dillon took bronze with this year's junior helmsman champion Gerald Owens crewing. In all, 16 crews competed in the Viking Marine/Irish Times sponsored event and while racing was threatened by impending gale force winds, Principal Race Officer Pat Branigan avoided cancellations by starting early on Saturday morning although the finals could not be sailed due to 30 knot winds on Sunday afternoon. The fleet of Firefly dinghies will be sailing again next weekend for the National Dinghy Team Racing Championship at the same venue. Ciaran Foley's Stormbird from the Royal Irish YC has been awarded Yacht of the Year by the Royal Ocean Racing Club in recognition of a season of achievements on both sides of the Atlantic. Her year included the Newport to Bermuda race in which she placed third in class, sixth overall and won highest placed foreign yacht. Following her return to European waters, Stormbird went on to represent Ireland in the Commodore's Cup in which she finished third in class.
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