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Choose life… Offshore

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f…ing big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of f…ing fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the f… you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing f…ing junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, f…ed-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life . . . “
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh 1993

Choose life Mr. Renton?

By Simon Byrne

I’m lying on my bunk shattered, exhausted, physically spent but no sleep will come. There’s no time for that now. It’s 20.00hrs Sunday and we have been fifty two hours on the water. We rounded The Rock an hour ago – always a special moment in any sailors CV and never, ever to be taken for granted. Always remember - 1979 and the horror. Thirty four years ago, fifteen dead, nineteen boats abandoned and it still feels like only yesterday. On the approach we overtook four competitors – Lisador, Spindrift, Conundrum and Desert Star- left them for dead. It’s our time now. Adelie is just thriving on these newer, fresher conditions. Ocean Tango and Polished Manx are further back, hugging the coastline. The overtaking feels sweet, rewarding, but too late for us, too late for any aspirations of victory now. After days of frustrating wispy zephyrs the wind is finally building. Outside Peter, Robi, Kevin and Steve are driving her hard. A2 kite and full main in 15 - 20 knots of sou’ / sou’easterly - there’s more of that wind to come. We know it. The sea is going to get up too – we know that as well.

Off watch comrades Conor and Chesse are studying forecasts, pouring over tidal charts and familiarising themselves with the final approaches to the finish line in Dingle Bay - virgin territory for most of us. It’s eerily quiet, like as if we are all too aware of what’s about to unfold. Nothing is said – no words are spoken. We know this is going to be tough – tough as anything we have done before. My mind is transported back to dressing rooms of old and once more I recognise the fear, the anxiety, the pressure before stepping out of the security of my own cocoon, my own little safety net, my comfort blanket even and performing in front of the masses. Except there are no masses here, singularly alone out in the North Atlantic Ocean in thirty four feet of GRP fibreglass– nobody to impress, nobody to try and gain respect, gain plaudits or gain adulation from except ourselves. We’ve made a few mistakes – we know that. But now? Now it’s about the now. Remember Fat Boy Slim – “right here, right now”.

I roll off my bunk. Every sinew of every muscle aching and stiff. Stiff as a bull standing proudly in anticipation, gazing down from a hill above a meadow of fresh, ripe, nubile maiden heifers grazing on the fertile plain, oblivious to their impending impregnation. I’m too old for this shit. Fast approaching fifty and sharing a First 34.7 with a gang of kids. Fit, lithe, fearless and with that wild abandon of youth that all young men possess. Unknowingly possess because at that age nothing is impossible. No limits with kids. Youth is wasted on the young. If only I could do now what they take for granted.

By Simon Byrne (Yahtzee)

On our early morning delivery trip to Pwhelli SC last Friday much of our crews conversation centred on David Branigans sailing column in that day’s edition of The Irish Times where he commented on the increasing trend in cruiser racers towards “round the cans” races of no more than 90 minutes on the water within the safe environs of inshore waters as opposed to those willing to actually venture out into the apparently ravaging wilds existing outside the Burford Bank and head offshore to what for the bay sailors must seem like a whole new and completely alien universe:

“.....a suspicion lingers that some crews simply aren’t up to the task of delivering their boat from A to B when an overnight passage is involved and their boats lie idle or at best under used.”

And do you know what? He’s probably right in his assumption, which is such a shame. I’ve done round the cans just like most of us have and we will all willingly attest to its excitement, its competitiveness and its seemingly glamorous social standing in sailing circles. Out on the water early afternoon, may not even get wet or cold, back for pints and banter with all competitors late afternoon and home for supper with the family by seven. Nothing wrong with that either, if that’s your gig. Cruising too has probably more devotees than any other aspect of big boat sailing but, and forgive me for being a tad harsh or somewhat smart arsed here, I am a firm believer in the saying that “cruising is snoozing” – I’m just not old enough for cruising yet, although some would clearly beg to differ on that front. Of course with Yahtzee heading off to France shortly for the month of July, and my opting out due to family commitments (allegedly), that observation has also probably seen me struck from the crew roster for ever. But at the end of the day (God we miss hearing you say that in your Cork lilt Roy!) and when all is said and done, I think all ISORA participants, be they skippers or crew (but perhaps not all of the sailing widows), will wholeheartedly agree that offshore is where it is at.

The following may not be the official opinions of ISORA etc etc......... PR

Mid April comes around, it’s freezing cold with winter weather STILL here but the hardy souls that make up the wonderfully challenging ISORA fleet dust off the cobwebs, break out the foul weather gear and once more head out into the wilds. Waving goodbye to the wife and kids I quote Tom Crean “I’m just going outside and may be some time”. What I really meant was “I’ll see you mid September”.

Race one of the new season sees the course being changed from Arklow to Rockabill. Perhaps it was to accommodate the Munster and Leinster semi finals but more than likely it was to allow for more favourable tidal conditions by going North rather than South. After missing the whole of last season through storm damage Team Kingspan Raging Bull returned to fight it out with the now five J 109’s as favourites for the season. Yahtzee, having had a miraculous season finale in the Pwhelli to Dun Laoghaire race had high hopes of continuing where they left off and had a new kite to boot. Result? Matt Davis and his team take up where they left off in 2011 by winning while Yahtzee finishes last on the water, last in class and last in Silver Fleet – I can hear that continuity announcer from the TV in my head “ We apologise for the interruption to your viewing – normal service has now been restored”.

The second race was Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead in conditions that Yahtzee relished. Strong winds all day saw us right up in contention. With the skipper / owner absent it is always the worst time to blow out his new kite – so of course we did just that but still managed second in class and first in fleet. That’s two great results in 3 races although they were seven month apart. This dizzying display from Yahtzee even prompted Peter Ryan to call us a ”dark horse” and a boat to be watched. Hello?

So with the season now well and truly underway we all looked forward to the next race which was to see a long awaited return to the Isle of Man and no doubt was eagerly anticipated by Polished Manx.

 On Saturday February 10th 1973, in the first round of matches in that seasons Five Nations Championship, the English rugby football team ran out onto the pitch inLansdowne Road and were greeted with the unprecedented sight and sound of a rapturous five minute standing ovation. The background to this unusual display of “cead mile failte” was the refusal of bothScotland andWales to travel toDublin the previous season to fulfil their fixtures due to the troubles inNorthern Ireland and the ill perceived safety concerns that they felt. In typical Irish fashion, after welcomingEngland with one of the most emotional scenes ever witnessed in the grand old ground, they were duly smashed up and down the pitch ending up on the receiving end of an 18-9 hammering(!) – any Irish victory over that Perfidious Albion is always viewed here in “Eire” as a hammering. Hours later, at the after match gala dinner in the Shelbourne Hotel, the English captain John Pullin, whilst delivering his after dinner speech, brought the house down with the immortal words “we may not be any good, but at least we turn up!” 

Having soldiered on Yahtzee, a Beneteau Oceannis 411 (often described as a floating hotel rather than a lean, mean, racing machine what with it’s eight berths, two heads with hot water showers and the obligatory wine cooler in the cockpit) for the last four seasons of ISORA, I feel this quote more than sums up how it feels to consistently soldier on at the back of the fleet with the likes of our good friends on Sarnia and a few other dedicated stalwarts – always turning up, always competing as hard and as honestly as the big boys up front, but ultimately always coming home long, long after the J’s and the First’s have finished, showered, dined and imbibed.