Sam Hall is twelve. Did his first ISORA this weekend on Jacknife (if you’re going to start in ISORA then you may as well do it on a seriously fast J 125 with credible pretentions of winning the series). Twelve years old and not a bother on him.
“Yeah, it was all right. Got a nice couple of hours sleep on the rail. Am I tired – eh, nah”
Twelve - hello? You’ve got to admire and respect him for his bravery, attitude and sheer sang froid. In those conditions to do your first ISORA and be so casually flippant about your maiden race? Of course us oldies chatting with him afterwards in the NYC were also madly envious of his totally unfazed, relaxed manner (bodies made of rubber and totally fearless, kids of that age) as we, exhausted, nursed swollen hands, dodgy knees and stiff backs. Twelve years old. Stephen Tudor thinks he may have held the previous youngest competitor title as a fifteen year old doing ISORA’s with his father back in the seventies but this kid Sam will take some beating. Twelve years old, are you kidding me? Sam dude, you are my hero.
When I was a kid growing up in the seventies in Dunmore East, a very small, quaint, beautiful, picturesque traditional fishing village on the South East coast, the sound of two maroons being fired off in quick succession was the catalyst to the rapid exodus (“movement of Jah people” as Bob Marley sang) of the family and indeed the whole village in a mad scramble over to the harbour to park up on Shanoon, the cliff top overlooking the harbour, and wait for the action to unfold in the vast bay below. RNLI men and women rushing to the lifeboat station to don the traditional yellow oilies and sea boats and head fearlessly out into the unknown to offer their lives to help those in distress. Volunteers one and all from their local community, they never hesitate to offer immediate and unconditional assistance to those in danger. RNLI men and women are the true local heroes of their own landside community but also their seafaring brethren. We all know somebody in the RNLI, we all hope to never have to meet them in their line off work, but for what they unselfishly achieve we all will attest that RNLI men and women are both inspirational and aspirational heroes.
Kuba Szymanski was on an early morning delivery trip from Douglas to Holyhead. Shorthanded, with only two other crew members (the rest would arrive by ferry and were to rendezvous in Holyhead) and one of whom appears to have been on his maiden voyage, it was a filthy night with rough seas, strong gusty winds and heavy rain. Sometime around 02.30 as we returned from an interesting pint or three in Holyhead Sailing Club, the skipper and I met the Holyhead lifeboat crew running down the marina to answer a shout. It transpired a yacht about 15nm north of here, near the Traffic Separation Scheme and close enough to the Skerries to be concerning, had dismasted, issued a Pan Pan alert and the RNLI were heading out to assist. Oh dear, 15nm north, yacht, on passage to Holyhead in the middle of the night could only possibly be Polished Manx. We listened for a further couple of hours on our VHF as the situation unfolded before retiring to our bunks having heard that indeed it was Polished Manx and that Kuba and his crew had been located and the lifeboat was expecting to stand by them as they made their way in to Holyhead. A good outcome for a much loved and much respected member of our ISORA family. Everybody was safe with good seamanship followed and it was poignant to see Polished Manx being escorted by the lifeboat into the harbour just as all other competitors were heading to the start line. Kuba, who is the most engaging and committed member of the ISORA family is a bit of a hero himself amongst the fleet and it was with great relief that we learned his unexpected and unwanted adventure had finished without injury. That’s when it really struck home - that we are indeed a smallish tight knit ISORA family, a family of lunatic, like minded, masochistic, endurance adventurers, gluttons for punishment and extreme discomfort, who compete in this crazy hardcore racing for the craic – madness I say. And not without it’s risk and danger either. So Kuba, for a myriad of reasons, not least by his winning the Sprit of ISORA award 2013 and now reinforced by his handling of this incident, is also my hero (cheque payable in a currency of your choice Kuba, if you will kind sir, to Simon Byrne !) but also a hero to the ISORA family.
So heroes one and all – Sam, the RNLI and Kuba and perhaps including the rest of the ISORA fleet too? As David Bowie sang back in the olden days (the olden days is defined by my kids to anything pre 2000):
“We can beat them,
Just for one day,
We can be heroes,
Just for one day”
As for the race itself? Well, I could have just more or less copied and pasted the report from the previous race. Groundhog day anyone? Steady 35 gusting 40 knots, big sea, hard work, the obligatory two reefs in the main and reduced jib, exhausting but exhilarating as all ISORA races tend to be. Add in a touch of insanity too as it is well known that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Nope, nothing much different between the last race and this one. So, yet again we get wet, tired, emotional, exhausted, uptight and generally hammered around the boat but plough on once more across the Irish Sea because, well because that’s what we do – it’s our thing.
The course, due to prevailing conditions and the forecasted worsening later in the day, was set to end up as a drag race due east to Dun Laoghaire. No M2 or virtual marks today – with conditions as they were it was felt that a straight race east across the Irish Sea would prove challenging enough for the 14 competitors without adding any further complications. From our position on Yahtzee (another great start Skipper), it was Ruth, Sgrech, Mojito and Yahtzee first across the line. Very shortly we are passed at speed by Mermaid IV, Jacknife and 65 tons of steel in 2041 who with his size and weight will surely relish these fresh conditions and be first across the finish line. All crew on the rail, we set off on a port hand beat out of Holyhead and trying to get past the interestingly robust overfalls at the North Stack headland before decision time – continue to head further south to get the benefit of the couple of hours tide left and gain that benefit again when the tide will be going north on the Irish coast at mid afternoon, or take a more direct route hoping to get into Dun Laoghaire before the tide changes. And all the while it looked like we will be close hauled and out on the rail for the whole day – oh joy, another Stugeron event! Wind is in the south / south west, forecast to veer westerly and even some forecasts are predicting it will veer further later in the day to the north west.
We stay south for longer than the bulk of the fleet but are pleased to be in the company of Axiom for hours before they bear away – nice and novel for us to be in the company of an X boat. On the rail it is the usual ISORA fare – struggling upwind, arse getting numbed by the continuous jumping and slamming of the boat over swells and under some waves, loads of spray as we pound, pound, pound through a murky grey cold looking Irish Sea under a watery sun bravely struggling to break through the ominous grey clusters of cloud scuttling across the sky. For hours and hours. At this stage the rest of the fleet, in three distinct groupings, are too far north of us to discern what is going on. It is only on Facebook afterwards that I realise that Liam Coyne, on a sabbatical this season, Andrew Sarratt, Cathy Mullen and others are availing of Predict Wind tracker, marinetraffic.com and the Dun Laoghaire web cam at the harbour mouth to try and piece together what is actually going on. The commentary is entertaining and proves that those landside for this race are just as involved and committed as to what is happening – you can take the man out of ISORA, but you can’t take ISORA out of the man.
Jacknife (good man Sam, sure you may as well win the whole thing if you’re going to participate) takes line honours in a group of three leaders with just a minute and a half to spare from Conor Fogarty’s 2041 with the First 50 Mermaid IV a further twelve minutes behind. Forty minutes later sees the three J 109’s battling it out neck and neck across Dublin Bay with Liam Shanahans Ruth just pipping Stephen Tudor on Sgrech, with Vicky Cox and Peter Dunlop a further ninety seconds behind on Mojito – now that’s close racing after 52nm.
Final results on handicap see 2041 taking the overall win and Class 1, Adelie taking Class 2 and the bould Yahtzee winning the Silver Fleet. Another one down and only seven more to go. And what of young Sam Hall? Well he must be relishing going to school on Monday so when his mates brag of winning their rugby or soccer matches over the weekend, he can nonchalantly drop in that he raced a J 125 across the Irish Sea in a full on gale – as you do when you are twelve.
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