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.
Peter Ryan and Stephen Tudor, on differing sides of theIrish Sea, both deserve to be canonised for their efforts in resurrecting and running the annual ISORA series. But with the greatest of respect to Peter, who writes and files the race copy both on the ISORA and AFLOAT websites, his reports are understandably delivered from a personal perspective which is always delivered from the action end at the front of the fleet. So what’s it like at the back? Does anyone really care? Perhaps not, but hey, we’re out there too, battling away in our own little competitive world. We plan, we prepare and we compete just as hard as the fast guys. It’s just that our boats are slower than theirs – that doesn’t mean that we’re not trying. In fact it could be said that we are fitter and more committed than everyone else as it always takes us much longer, and therefore more concentration and more effort, to complete the course than the elite teams out front who fairly zip along as they battle it out for line honours – line honours for those of us at the back of the fleet are just dreams with as much hope of being realised as Lotto wins. A fine example of this dogged determination was the twenty two hours it took Yahtzee to complete the course on the last race to Pwllheli (ten hours for the slow crawl, nay drift, almost becalmed, from Bardsey to the finish line) – now that’s commitment, especially when the six competitors behind us on the water retired on reaching Bardsey (retiring is total anathema to us Corinthian sailors).
So, here’s a tale from the back of the bus. A tale from a crew who nearly always finishes last(ish) but who last Saturday, in the last race of this season’s series from Pwhlleli to Dun Laoghaire, delivered the kind of performance and result that would be commonplace to the fast crews, but turned out to be the absolute confirmation of the old adage of “everything comes to he who waits….. and waits…. and waits”.
Work commitments, and not the adverse weather conditions, meant that the normal early morning Friday delivery trip toNorth Waleswas a non runner. The lack of suitable discards available meant that not competing was also not an option. So it was that with a crew of six we departed Dun Laoghaire at 20.00 hours Friday to motor sail across theIrish Seaand guarantee that we would be on the starting line at 08.00 hours Saturday. Arriving in Pwllheli at 06.00 hours, we anchored in the bay beside an engineless Adelie and grabbed a quick hours sleep before rising to cook the traditional Irish fry for breakfast. In fact this nearly had us late for the start but we arrived in the vicinity of the line just on the preparatory signal. With a forecast of very light winds, but building later in the day, it was with some surprise that we had enough wind from the south west for a beat both to the Tudwals and, as the wind veered westerly, also again to Bardsey Island. Uppermost in our minds was the absolute crucial necessity to make it through Bardsey sound before the tide turned against us at midday. Much to our delight, and surprise, we were the last boat through before we heard the tidal gate slamming loudly and firmly shut behind us. To our three fellow competitors left behind and attempting the near impossible task of getting through: we feel your pain, we have been that soldier on so many occasions. Respect for your dogged determination in sticking it out. It is the true Corinthian spirit of such competitors, out of the running before the race proper even starts, that makes ISORA the fantastic endurance event that we on Yahtzee know so well.
With the wind increasing to twenty odd knots and backing from the west to the south west we were ecstatic to find ourselves with a blast reach across the Irish Sea and with the wind angle too tight for the leaders to fly their asymetrics. This saw Yahtzee in the unusual position of being right in the mix with the nine boats that escaped through Bardsey. It was certainly a novel experience to be in amongst boats that normally to us are just tiny dots far far away on the horizon. Better still, we soon passed Adelie and slowly but surely drew passed Liam and Brian on Lula Belle – now both those overtakes were novel scenarios for us. Giddy with schoolboy like excitement, we settled down to a drag race where our waterline boat length saw us slowly but surely reeling in those up front.
Early evening saw us approachingDublinBaywith the wind now veering back westerly making the final approach home a beat – not our favourite point of sailing to put it mildly. Lula Belle got their kite up and glided past us much to our chagrin. Jaysus the competitive juices were flowing now. If anyone had told us earlier that we would have been raging to be passed by a First on the final stretch we would have laughingly told them to cop themselves on. Nonetheless, as they went right into Killiney Bay so as to pass through Dalkey sound and hopefully avail of a strong tidal flow, we battled on to the sound of Jedi, leading on the water, announcing over the VHF to the race finisher that they were twenty minutes from the finish line. Holy Moly but we could actually see Jedi and reckoned that we were at worst fifty minutes from home. Ye Gods, we were right in the mix here, a totally unprecedented situation. Calm nerves were required as we approached the finish line through the mouth of the harbour on a starboard tack with Lula Belle roaring up the harbour wall on port. This was going to be some finish. We even experienced the novel sight of our crew, with an average age somewhere in the mid fifties, hiking out like lunatics and praying for one final lift so as to force Lula Belle to dip underneath us (tacking was not an option for them as that would have driven them into the harbour wall). Time passed in a kind of slow motion state as we waited to see who was going to make it. To our heartache, with more momentum than us, they passed ahead of us with no more than half a boat length to spare, threw in a text book fast tack and crossed the line inches ahead of us. Note to Mr. race finisher – I know you were busy and doing your best, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful but the results listed them as thirty seconds ahead of us. Buddy, not in your wildest dreams were they thirty seconds ahead of us. We crossed the line side by side.
No matter, what a great finish to a great race. It true sporting fashion our skipper raised the crew in three cheers for Lula Belle – they appeared a bit shocked at that display of sportsmanship to be honest. Now for the real novel stuff. Here was Yahtzee, with the sun still shining, marching up to the National Yacht Club for the après race – that was a first. Normally we have to ring on the front doorbell as we arrive up in the gloomy darkness akin to a gang of hobos, long after official closing time, hopeful that the club manager will take pity on us and leave us in for a quick pint as all other competitors are long gone home. We even got to introduce ourselves to people who we have been competing against for years but who probably thought we didn’t actually exist. Phone calls were made to disbelieving family members inviting them down to the club for pints – disbelieving as we normally arrive home as the lark is rising. An assorted crew of Yahtzee SLAPS (sailing lovers and partners) came down for celebratory drinks that went on long into the night.
But best of all was Peter arriving over with the laptop to show us the results. Third overall – THIRD – and winner of both Class two and the Silver Fleet. Our best result ever. Congratulations on getting on the podium were gratefully received from all competitors who appeared genuinely pleased for us. To us it was as if we had won the bloody thing. And that’s the thing with sport. It’s not always about the guys who are winning week in, week out. To some, just like we tell our kids, it’s actually all about taking part. Not everyone can be a winner. But if you keep battling away, year in, year out, someday your time will come and you will receive the reward that your effort deserves.
As the night wore on and possible race and destination options for next season were being discussed, one suggestion that would really shake things up was put forward at our table. What about, for one race towards the end of the series, all competitors swapped boats? If they do it in show jumping with the swapping of horses then why not boats? For insurance purposes the skipper / owner would probably have to stay on his own boat, but what if the full crew on the boat leading the series had to race on the boat in last place and so on? No what would really be interesting. The crew of a J racing on a slower boat like Yahtzee orSarniaand vice versa? Interesting thought.
Congratulations to Stephen and all the crew on Sgrech on becoming ISORA champions 2012 – well deserved and always great to have a new champion. But to those of us at “the back of the bus” who will never win the series I say this – keep it up guys, keep on competing, keep on having the craic of being a competitor in a season long gruelling sporting event. And one day, well you just never know………..