Considering the rich history of yachts and racing, it might seem odd that classic would be applied to boats constructed from modern materials.
But time marches on and the fleet gathered at Kinsale this week steps back to an era within living memory of vastly different boats from the cutting-edge designs of the 21st century.
The last ‘ton-rule’ boats were associated with the International Offshore Rule (IOR) that gave us many of the best-known racing yachts that could arguably be considered the golden era of popular sailing.
Large, heavy boats requiring big crews saw thousands of amateur sailors join the sport to support the boat-owners who created opportunities for participation.
The fleet racing at Kinsale this week in the Euro Car Parks Half Ton Classics Cup are entirely made up of boats from that era, some as old as 40 and many restored and modernised.
The appeal of taking, in many cases clapped-out wrecks often for a nominal price and bringing them back into racing condition has breathed new life into hulks that would otherwise be rotting eyesores.
The economic advantage is still not for the faint-hearted; restoring an old half-tonner is estimated to cost up to half the price of a modern new build 30-footer so six-figure sums are still bandied about.
But for the classic enthusiast, there is also the attraction of keeping part of sailing history alive in the most practical sense, much as the older classic wooden racing boats are also living, breathing things.
Half-ton class President Philippe Pilatte describes the restored half-tonners as “competition with roots” and many of the boats still carry their original livery and even sail numbers.
Overall leader Swuzzlebubble carries the old style KZ country prefix on its sail plus the Maori koru unfolding fern on its bow. The boat was originally built in 1977 and was a top performing contender in the era of Admiral’s Cup that was the pinnacle of IOR racing until the rule’s demise in the 1990’s.
However, like many others Swuzzlebubble was rescued and brought up to date with a modern rig, deeper keel and modern-era sails. Other recognisable features of these former IOR boats is their heavy displacement and ‘rock and roll’ antics on downwind legs that prove challenging for crews but popular for spectators.
But with age comes limitations and winds off Kinsale this week have been gusting to near gale force at times so completing an eleven-race series has been a challenge for principal race officer Anthony O’Leary.
Nevertheless, seven races have been sailed to date and with a moderate breeze expected today ahead of higher winds tomorrow, a four race programme ending with a coastal course that counts for bonus points could make or break Phil Plumtree’s hopes of adding a third classics cup victory to Swuzzlebubble’s record.
Chasing hard is David Cullen on Checkmate XV from Howth Yacht Club in second with Nigel Biggs on Checkmate XVIII a point behind in third. Howth’s Jonny Swan on Harmony is also in contention in fourth place.
Meanwhile, high winds on the East Coast disrupted plans for training ahead of the Optimist National Championships at the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire yesterday where hundreds of younger sailors and parents have gathered.
A previous mothballed initiative has been revived in the form of The Volvo Junior Squad Programme identifies and develops Irish junior sailors through training and coaching, introduces them to international racing, and prepares them for the next stages of their sailing career.
The launch coincided with the one year anniversary of Annalise Murphy winning Ireland’s first Olympic medal in Sailing at the Rio 2016 Games.
The programme includes coaching and training on the water, but also on-shore workshops which look at sports psychology, fitness, nutrition, and physiotherapy.
Overseeing the programme is Irish Sailing Academy Coach Ross Killian and the Junior squads are part of the ISA Performance Pathway which aims to nurture and develop sailors along a journey of six phases, leading ultimately to international regattas and Olympic level competition.
Three classes of boats will be included; the Optimist, Topper and Laser 4.7 classes. Squad sizes will vary and will be selected through the programme’s application process.
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