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Dublin and back

Like much of the British Isles, Carradale is experiencing a spell of unusually hot and calm weather, much to the chagrin of anyone choosing to go away on a holiday abroad at this time.

Carradale from Grogport

In the midst of this heat wave I receive a telephone call from a friend asking if I am free to assist in delivering a sailing boat from Dublin to Campbeltown, Ireland to Scotland. Having so recently parted with Cirrus, thus kissing goodbye to any chance of going sailing on my own boat, I jump at the opportunity this offers without a second thought. And learning that my services are required to help navigate and lend a hand on deck, raising and trimming the exotically made sails of a high performance racer, an X-Yacht, makes this all the more interesting.

For those not in the know, which means anyone in the world of yacht racing who has been asleep for the past thirty odd years, the Danish company X-Yachts has never manufactured anything else but boats specifically designed for the keenest of racers, high performance machines built with a view to speed around a sailing course. Ryan & Owen with TrixOne could deduce from this that crew comforts would be sparse on such a vessel, excess weight sacrificed for sailing performance, human needs taking second place, but fortunately for me the more modern boats have interior fittings and furnishings which match their sailing performance and make them a pretty good choice for someone who wants the best of both worlds – speed and comfort.

So it is that after half a day of travel by road and sea I find myself in a marina in Malahide (just outside Dublin) stepping on board to find my berth on Trix, a rather beautiful ex-racer. Owen, his wife Joanna, son Ryan and I soon find ourselves preparing for the voyage, tracking down the many sails and the various other bits of equipment which at one time or another some keen owner had seen fit to store on shore in the quest for improving performance, stocking up with food and other essentials and finding somewhere to stow everything on board in such a way that we can still stretch out our bodies in sleep. In all it takes the four of us two full days of preparation but finally we sort out how enough of the electronic equipment works to make it safe to leave and have run up and checked over the engine. By then the tides will only let us leave at the unholy hour of four the morning, this being the time when there is enough water for our two metre draught to slide out of the river to the sea.

There is a cool and rather clammy feel to the air at this hour but despite this Ryan, Joanna & Owen on Trixwe sniff expectantly for a gentle breeze so that we can hoist some of the exotic sailcloth we have on board and see what this boat can do, not too much wind, of course, but a little of the ‘light and variable’ that was in the forecast. Experience tells me however, and this passage now serves to confirm this, that when the weatherman uses this phrase he is really trying to say ‘take the dog for a walk and forget sailing today’! For three days we glide northwards along the Irish coast accompanied by the put-put sound of our engine, the sails adding nothing to our boat speed. Each day early morning chills are soon replaced by scorching sun, for which we are grateful, but the only wind passing over the boat is that made by our own passage through the still air. Not until we are much closer to home, at Glenarm in Northern Ireland, does the air begin to move at all.

The point of stopping here is that our trip coincides with the Cushendall Sailing Club’s annual combined race day and we are soon joined there by other boats from Campbeltown for a sailing race between the two clubs. On Trix, however, realisation soon dawns that were are going to be raising sail and competing in the race on an untried and untested boat. We will be tacking the boat for the very first time only after the race has started, on arriving at the first turning mark of the course. And there is some wind. Will we be up to it and what chance can we possibly have against the other fully trained and highly competitive crews?

Our motivation is intense as we harden in the sheets at the start line and Trix takes off like a scalded cat, barely in control at first, but then gradually as the race progresses the crew find their places and we get into the swing of things. It soon becomes clear that this is indeed a very fast boat, one that can out-sail most others of a similar size given proper handling. After a poor start, one boat after another slips behind us; we slide softly by trying to keep the smug expressions from our faces. Amazingly by the time the finish line is in sight we have crept up to second position although right on our stern now we can hear the bubbling forefoot of our closest rival, their black reaching sail straining forward. With such a small crew, we had made the decision to forgo the use of a spinnaker and we are now being overtaken rapidly with only fifty or so metres to go. Somehow we hang on, giving no quarter, to take second place honours across the line and give us all the buzz of excitement that racers everywhere will know. On handicap we are knocked down to 7th place overall but at least we can be proud that we had made a strong contribution to Campbeltown Sailing Club winning the race series, the first time for some years.

I would like to say that the final leg of sailing trip was as calm and uneventful as the first but on the day after the race we have to cross the dreaded North Channel, that twelve mile wide strip of sea between Northern Ireland and Scotland which funnels and accelerates the tides flowing into and out of the Irish Sea. We set off off early, motoring with no wind at all, but once clear of the land the breeze fills in and the sea starts to jump about in an alarming way as it so often does here. Changing to a smaller headsail under these conditions is a real challenge but between us we manage go get it done and plodding on, we arrive safely back in Campbeltown in bright sunshine by the middle of the day. Many thanks to Owen and his family for putting up with me and for giving me the sailing fix I needed. Gaffer by Copeland Island

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