David Brannigan: Depleted fleet but Galway still offers best of the West

On its initial billing, this week’s Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) national championships might have been dubbed “the West versus the Rest” but now that the event is actually underway, a moniker of a different kind might be apt, writes David Brannigan

After some debate over the selection of Galway as the host venue for the 2018 championship, many owners and crews elected not to make the long passage to the City of Tribes.

Many but not all.

In fact, the west coast fleet has rallied a respectable turnout for the event that also includes the West of Ireland Offshore Racing Association Championships and accounts for the bulk of the 50-plus boats moored in Galway Harbour.

And of those south and east boats that did travel, both by sea and road, the quality of the challenge facing the west coast boats is unmistakable. So much so, the event could easily be dubbed “The West versus the best.”

However, the distance involved for a sea passage had too much of a deterrent effect for the biggest boats in the national fleet that already have marginal turnouts: Class Zero is effectively dropped following the decision by Conor Phelan’s Jump Juice from the Royal Cork and Frank Whelan’s Eleuthera from Greystones not to attend.

That still leaves some good boats in competition but with the pedigree of those visiting boats, they will be difficult to beat over the coming days.

An early commitment to the 2018 championship for John Maybury’s Joker 2 places the Royal Irish YC owner in line for a fourth consecutive ICRA Class 1 national championships title.

The Dun Laoghaire boat has had a remarkable run of form over the past few years and especially this season. Already, Maybury’s boat placed second overall in the Volvo Round Ireland Race in June featuring a Defence Forces crew.

Skippered by Commandant Barry Byrne, Joker 2 was top Corinthian boat and also won the new services trophy for the 705-mile race in which they were runner-up.

That result was a prelude to Volvo Cork Week last month when Byrne’s team retained the Beaufort Cup that they previously won in 2016, also racing Joker 2 that year.

With such a commitment to its programme, Maybury made the decision to sail to Galway seem easy but it wasn’t shared by many of the other Dublin and Cork contenders in his class, notably other J109’s and some of his regular class competition.

Shock results not withstanding, Maybury is in line for a fourth title.

Class 2 is likely to feature some closer racing and sees the RCYC’s Anthony O’Leary pit his modified 1720 Sportsboat Antix Beag up against local talent, notably led by Liam Burke’s Farr 31-footer Tribal from Galway Bay Sailing Club who must also contend with another Crosshaven stalwart, Ronan and John Downing’s Half Tonner Miss Whiplash.

This class is notable for its ability to trailer to the event but a class with the Half Ton Classic Cup in Belgium conflicted with the ICRA event and several notable Irish crews have been unavailable.

It’s a similar story in Class 3 whee boats such as the Corby 25-footer are popular trailer boats and Howth YC’s Richard Colwell, the ICRA Vice-Commodore is a favourite though with plenty of Galway boats to challenge him, especially with the fresh to strong breeze forecast where local knowledge of the conditions on Galway Bay will be a distinct advantage.

In Class 4, following damage to Paul Coulson’s mast on Cri Cri during launching in Galway this week, his stablemate Quest, the 27-year-old Quarter Tonner Quest owned by Jonathan Skerritt from the Royal Irish YC will have to face a brace of West Coast J24 footers who in turn will be watching out for class supremo Flor O’Driscoll, the Cobh skipper based out of the Royal St. George YC in Dun Laoghaire.

A fresh forecast is expected, Galway Bay is known for its robust conditions and three days of racing remain: are the visitors up to the task?

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