In the early 1900’s a young 29 year old Corsican perfumer starting out in Paris was having little success in breaking into what was then an elite market. Not willing to accept his initial lack of success, Francois Coty pulled off a master stroke by accidentally “spilling” a bottle of his maiden scent “La Rose Jacqueminot” just inside the door and all along the floor in a trail to the perfume counter in the Parisian department store Les Grands Magasins du Louvre. It proved to be a master stroke as, attracted by the scent, customers swarmed the perfume counter and his entire stock was sold out in a matter of minutes. It was the start of a business empire that today stands proudly as a global top five beauty company.

In a more simple world back then, devoid of spin doctors, marketeers, PR gurus and various assorted “makey uppy” titles for what essentially are very expensive commercial wafflers, Coty, who is credited with being the founder of the now multi billion dollar modern fragrance industry, came up with what nowadays would be described as a mission statement for his new business:

Give a woman the best product you can make. Market it in the perfect bottle – beautiful in its simplicity yet impeccable in taste. Ask a reasonable price for it and you will witness the birth of a business, the size of which the world has never seen”   Francois Coty – 1904.

 

Besides pioneering the concept of bottle design, Coty was responsible for making perfume available to a mass market. Before Coty, perfume was considered a luxury item, affordable only to the very rich. Coty was the first to offer perfumes at many price points. His expensive fragrances, in their top end, designer, Lalique and Baccarat bottles, were aimed at the luxury market, but he also sold perfume in smaller, plainer bottles affordable to middle and working-class women. Essentially Cotys success was due to his getting his message across through his bottle [sic].

So where is all this going, I hear you yawn? And what has this got to do with ISORA? Well the similarities, I feel, are striking:

Give a (woman) sailor the best (product) racing you can make (offshore). Market it in the perfect (bottle) competition (ISORA) – beautiful in its simplicity (slog up and down or over and back across the Irish Sea in atrocious conditions 10 times a season), yet impeccable in taste (it’s offshore racing, competitive, with gallons of pints thrown in both before and after along with occasional bouts of mal de mer just to keep you on your toes). Ask a reasonable price for it (not as expensive as most would expect, allegedly, although owners/skippers may beg to differ – Ted Heaths quote of owning a boat being similar to standing fully clothed under a shower ripping up fivers does spring to mind though) and you will witness the birth of a (business) series (ISORA has risen Phoenix like from the ashes thanks to Peter and Stephen), the size of which the world has never seen (ok, may be stretching things here but I tell you what, every sailor in both Ireland and the UK now knows about ISORA’s favourite sons Liam Coyne and Brian Flahive – and we bred those two mad lunatics!)

Look, this whole Francois Coty and sailing analogy thingy may be a bit tenuous (you want to try coming up with something different and zany for each blog?) but the basic principal I am trying to get across actually makes perfect sense. We have something really special, unique, a bit off the wall in terms of endurance sailing but we really do need to bring ISORA to the masses. To be sure, nearly all of us can safely assume we will never end up doing the Volvo Ocean Race but just as Francois Coty looked at making fragrance affordable to the masses, so too should ISORA be looking at making offshore racing a realistic outlet for any aspiring adventure sailor. Cotys motto today for the 21st century is “faster, further, freer” and although it could be termed corporate gobbledegook, it doesn’t half encapsulate in three little words the madness surrounding offshore sailing. So it is incumbent on us to go forth and multiply, to preach the gospel of ISORA and do all we can to spread our tentacles even further in encouraging sailors in Howth, Malahide, Greystones and Wicklow to reinvent themselves as offshore sailors and help us re grow ISORA to the behemoth it was back in its 1970’s heyday.

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Saturday last saw the final race of a 10 race ISORA season, one that kind of ended up being more notable for matters outside the strict terms of an ISORA season than those that happened within it. After an initial 5 races, full of massive wind and seas, which also served as qualifying races for the bi annual Round Ireland Race, late June saw 9 ISORA boats in Wicklow SC on a beautiful sunny and windy Saturday morning preparing to head off with 25 other competitors around Ireland on a weeklong adventure they would never forget. Some would win, some would lose, but all would have stories to bore the arse off people for eternity – that’s the Round Ireland for you. As family commitments prevented my participation this year, to be down quayside that morning, watching my ISORA family members casting off their lines from the harbour wall and heading excitedly out between the piers for the start line, was akin to gazing through teary eyes as your best friend walked away arm in arm with your girlfriend. Nonetheless I was happy for our members and the adventure they were about to experience.

Kuba in Polished Manx back in the game after a dismasting in Holyhead – he may have been last boat home but in typical Kuba fashion he still managed to have a blast. Adelie, with Noel Butler skippering his first Round Ireland, absolutely nails the start and is first boat across the line – Monster Project who? Father and son ISORA newcomers Derek and Conor Dillon from Foynes use our series to get the mileage under their belts, say they know they can get around two handed but really want to win it. So they only go and win the two handed race at their first attempt – fairly outrageous that. Fantastic result for them but to be honest I expected them to shag off back to the South West and not stay around for the rest of the ISORA series and certainly not to pip us on Yahtzee for the Silver Fleet title in the very last race (no, I’m not bitter, honestly). Those of us not racing were glued to the tracker for 6 days and nights. The real story, nay tragedy though, was that of Liam Shanahan on Ruth. Having put in an outrageous performance for 5 days, and storming down the Irish Sea on Thursday morning to what looked like a certain win, they fell foul of a hole in the wind just south of Greystones and with their family members watching agonisingly on Wicklow Harbour wall, finally finished just 406 seconds shy of victory. It was heartbreaking to watch and those following on Yellow Brick and willing them home via Facebook commentary were gutted for them to have fallen short at the very last minute. Although they had the consolation of winning Class 3 there must have been tears on that boat that day.

After a further couple of ISORA races to keep things ticking over, the real talking point of the season arrived. Two mad suckers for punishment, Liam Coyne and Brian Falhive, ISORA two handed stalwarts, entered the inaugural two handed division in the four yearly Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland race. To be honest, I’m not sure I can do justice to their exploits over 13 days and nights of savagery in this short season summary. Here is a comment I posted on my own personal Facebook page, alongside a brilliant start line photo of the lads, for my non “yachtie” friends on Lula Belles first day competing:

“These two guys are Liam Coyne (on wheel) and Brian Flahive (on the rail) aboard Lula Belle a First 36.7 out of the NYC in Dun Laoghaire. I race against these guys in ISORA. Currently they are in the North Sea racing two handed in the Round Britain & Ireland race. 1,800 miles, only the two of them, 2 hour watches, about 14 days to complete the race. That's 2 hours on and off for 336 hours. They are battling up the East coast of Britain in huge winds and seas in the tail end of Tropical Storm Bertha (formerly Hurricane Bertha) - just the two of them as Ireland's sole representatives in this gruelling marathon. Lunatics for hardship, trailblazers for ISORA, tough as nails competitevely, hard hard men. You'll probably hear nothing in the press about these heroes but as you snuggle up in your warm scratcher tonight spare a moments thought for these two mavericks. Respect men. Real boats race offshore! Real sailors do it two handed! Be safe lads and be proud - we are.”

 At this stage any sailor worth their salt knows the detail of their epic win, battling mountainous seas in storm force winds, battered beyond belief, brakeage after brakeage, yet never quitting and ultimately nursing Lula Belle home to victory when others had long given up the ghost. Heroes who had a huge following on Facebook urging them home, their voyage redefined for those of us shore bound the term “glued to the tracker” and the cult following they built up is testament to the esteem they are held in. Winkie Nixon wrote a great report in Afloat but I tell you what Liam and Brian, there is a book in that story and I’ll write it for free if you are interested. Legends they are and fantastic aspirational role models for all Irish sailors. Paddy Power wouldn’t take my €100 on them winning the Spirit of ISORA award 2014, nor the grand I tried to punt on them winning Irish Sailors of the Year. If there is any justice in Irish sailing then they need to stock up on the Silvo now! Trailblazers for ISORA indeed.

And so to last Saturdays season finale – Pwllheli to Dun Laoghaire and all the titles to be decided. 15 boats entered what for me is always my favourite race, as long as we can get through Bardsey Sound. I love Pwllheli – when there is wind. The HSS ferry over to Holyhead for some late arriving crew members was interesting. Some of Ruths young crew members gave the old fellas a wide berth. I noticed one young gentleman sporting a Gonzaga SJ sailing jacket. As one who was also schooled by the Jesuits, it was then I realised that we were doomed in tomorrows race as we all know you can’t beat the J’s (boom!). The usual reprobates gathered in the Stena bar, shepherded by ISORA Commodore Peter Ryan – Matt Davis, Anthony “up Mayo” Doyle, Dave Jackson, Ger from Sgrech, Ed from Adlie and yours truly. As it was seasons end for the HSS they were running a promotion to clear the bar stocks - £2 a pint. Well, it would have been rude not to - so we ended up helping them out. Further pints in Hafan Pwllheli SC set the scene for the following days racing. Peter, through his business, had generously agreed to sponsor this final race and it was a sight to behold to see him handing out vouchers to each competing boats skipper for finger food and pints for their crewmembers in the NYC on finishing the following evening. One wag was heard to comment that clearly Commodore Ryan had received a detailed weather forecast that meant the redemption of said vouchers was next to impossible in the time frame indicated. No, in fairness, he obviously had also sponsored the wind as on arriving at the start line early the next morning it was clear we had c.20 knots to start with and indeed that wind held all day to provide a great blast across the Irish Sea with most boats in the bar by twilight and the last boat home before midnight.

Karma has a great way of ultimately providing justice and so it was, in what can only be defined as the season of the J’s, that while Jackknife was first boat home and Mojito won on corrected time, Liam Shanahans Ruth finally received the accolade that he and his crew richly deserved and were crowned ISORA champions for 2014. After the double heartbreak of being twice pipped at the post (ISORA 2013 and Round Ireland 2014), it was both fitting and just that Ruth was victorious this year. Alan Hansen once famously said “you can’t win anything with kids” – quite. And just for the record – they can’t all be Liam’s kids, can they?

Choose Offshore – Real Boats Race Offshore!

Fogra – is the emergence of team t shirts a sign of things getting very serious in ISORA? Down with that sort of thing!