A newbie’s season

Dun Laoghaire Flying Fifteen

Conor Cronin on his voyage of discovery in the Fifteens, and on why he and Peter are staying …

When Peter and I were discussing our sailing options two years ago, and looking at what we would do, the Fifteens were probably the first option that we considered.

I’ve watched the Dun Laoghaire Fifteens race since I started sailing at 14, and always it’s been a strong fleet with competitive racing. And, while in the past we had our disagreements (about jockey wheels on Mermaid trailers!), the Fifteen looked like being the place we should end up.

That said, we still had to think about our sailing at the time. We had made the brave move to build our fibreglass Mermaid, having been relatively confident that the class would accept us in. As most people know, this didn’t exactly go to plan!

And when the national fleet made the decision not to allow the project an extended trial, well that left us in a serious predicament.

For two years we sailed under DBSC’s PY fleet, hoping to prove to the local Mermaid fleet that our performance was not a threat, and that we could compete without winning everything, a point well proven by the fact that we started at the same time as them on a Saturday, and by the fact that we were regularly beaten by the traditional wooden boats.

But after two years of sailing, and not knowing whether we’d won or lost until we got to look at the website, we approached the local fleet to ask them if we could be adopted into just the local fleet, a request which they refused, leaving us with the tough decision to sail PY and remain frustrated by a lack of competition on a Saturday afternoon, or to leave the Mermaids behind entirely and move on.

I should add that I started my sailing life in Mermaids, and with the exception of a brief trip to the Hook lighthouse in a leaky old IDRA with no lifejackets in the 70’s with Ciaran Crummy, so did Peter. So it meant leaving behind a long heritage of a fleet we knew well, of people we knew well and trying to start again.

So I got on to Peter Sherry, telling him we were looking to charter a boat and see if the Flying Fifteens were the boat for us, or did we need to look elsewhere.

David Kelly and Joe Duggan were the first people to get back to us about a loan of their boat, 3558, which had been sitting doing nothing for quite some time, and a deal was struck to get us the use of the boat, and some repairs made.

Arrangements were made to park in the National, and we were welcomed from the off, by well-wishers and people offering us advice, hints, tips and help. And that was just to get the mast up! That was its own challenge, having never seen a mast ram before.

But with the help of people who were around on the day we got the boat set up, and learned how to work everything, how to set up the boat something close to ok (we still haven’t got it right!) and, even with thanks to the lovely red arrow that’s been on the deck since Gerry Dunleavy owned the boat, which way we should be going!

We still had lots of other things to figure out, like how much kicker was needed, or the fact that, for some strange reason, the outhaul should never be slackened, even though it was something I’d done in every other boat I’d ever sailed!

We had to figure out how much rig tension to use, how to use the spinnaker chute, something I hadn’t done in over 10 years when I stopped sailing Mirrors.

Not to mention the things that need repairing or replacing to keep us in working order so we could sail at all. Nothing major, but all things that come with sailing a new boat, and in particular one that hasn’t been sailed in a few years.

And of course there were the random acts of kindness, like Keith Poole giving us the little patch that covers the back of the tiller, Joe Coughlan lending us his rig tension checker – lots! Ian Matthews and Dave Gorman teaching me about the ram, tips on position in the boat from Ciaran Crummy, wild on-the-water gestures from Chris Doorley advising us … all these things coming during the season, but which made such the difference to our sailing.

Our first race … never happened! We were so busy trying to get sorted with the boat we didn’t get out on time, but we got out for the second race that Saturday, and while I still don’t know how, managed a 6th, which was quite surprising! Admittedly there were only seven boats out, but for my first race I think it was important psychologically to not finish last!

The season was quite up and down for us. Best result was a 4th on a Thursday night, 2nd on a Saturday afternoon around the cans, 5th with the regular Saturdays. But the big difference for us was Racing.

We were racing again, not just going round a course as fast as we could. We’ve had some interesting racing all season, lots of it with Sean Nolan, Tom Leonard and Joe Coughlan, and the occasional bit of it right up at the pointy end of the fleet.

We did shock people once or twice when they didn’t expect to see us going round a weather mark first, and yet there we were.

I have to admit that on those couple of occasions, I had taken the benefit of something I’d learned sailing Mermaids. I spent a few years watching the Fifteens who started before us and seeing which way the good boats went, and whose kite went up first!

And on those couple of occasions that’s exactly what I’d done again, taking the advice of a guy named Dick Ward, who had always told us to “follow the fellas that know what they’re doing! And by the time you’re getting there first, you should know what you’re doing!”

Our season and results were of course helped by the fact that we got a new suit of sails half way through. Well, new to us from David Mulvin, who sold us a lovely suit that made an enormous difference to us, taking us from 10’s and 12’s to 8’s and 9’s.

The season also took us on our first away trip in a few years. I hadn’t competed at a large event outside of Dun Laoghaire in a few years, not since the last time I’d done Mermaid nationals. So while we knew about making sure a trailer was in good condition and all that before travelling, trailing a Fifteen is a little different!

The Fifteen has the distinct advantage that it can nearly all be done by one person: the mast is light, the cover is easy enough to deal with.

But first the bearings had to be checked. Never an easy task the first time, especially if you know it’s been a while since they were looked at. We had checked them and re-greased them at the start of the season, as they were being used for the first time in a long time, but were still in good condition.

It was a job we were used to, because when we made the decision to dry sail the Mermaid, we knew it would have to be done at least once a year then. But to warn any inexperienced bearing changers out there, ask around the fleet. There’s no limit to the number of people willing to help that first time you try gingerly to remove the back bearing, not realising it’s going to need much more brute force than you anticipated!

It’s a messy job, one should always be prepared for that, but it’s necessary. Don’t be afraid of the bit of grease. It’s the kind of job that if they’re checked at the beginning of the season, the middle before your first travel, and the end before you put the boat away for the winter, there shouldn’t be any problems, and you’ll be able to replace damaged bearings before they cause you any serious problems. It’s worth advising though, that no matter how good you think they are, have a spare set for roadside repairs!

But with the bearings done, we had a second problem, our tyres weren’t fit for the road. They were barely fit for the slip! But in stepped Joe Coughlan to the rescue, giving us the use of his old road tyres, having replaced his own.

So now that the trailer was ready, and the mast was down, I had the sudden epiphany that I had no desire to trail the boat with the rudder still attached (not a problem in the Mermaid where it was lifted in and out every day), and this meant needing help, and an allen key I didn’t have, and a bit more of that brute force I mentioned.
Be careful when doing this job that the jockey wheel is all the way down, so it gives more space under the boat for removing it, and that you have someone to catch it once it’s coming out.

And then came the undercover, not the most convenient thing to try and manoeuvre, especially not when you have to try and get it over and under the boat but over the trailer at the stem, slightly awkward. And then the boat was strapped down. We were a little unsure of where the best place to strap was, but again, we took the advice of the more experienced travellers.

As I say, having the experience of trailing a boat before with the Mermaid, we didn’t have any major hassles. Just the need a couple of times to make sure that the straps hadn’t gone a little loose, or that that wheels were ok, or the mast was still secure.

Our first (and only) away event was Carlingford, for the east coasts. We had intended to go to nationals as well, but this unfortunately didn’t work out for us. So Carlingford, although at the end of the season was to be our first journey beyond Dun Laoghaire.

We arrived early the Saturday morning, to find the car park full of boats already, and people getting rigged up, and while I ran in to enter us, Peter started to get the boat ready.

I came back out to find he’d spent most of the time chatting but we were quick in making up that lost time, taking the top and bottom covers off, untying the mast and fitting it back in place.

Re-rigging the ram, the spinnaker halyard, the uphaul-downhaul, the kicker, these things took far less time this time around than they had when we had first got the boat. We almost had the hang of things! The rudder was fit back in and the tiller attached, the sails attached, and everything rigged up in preparation to launch.

That is where the trouble started. I think mostly because we’re used to the convenience of the winch in the National, and the pontoons, both of which were absent in Carlingford.

Launching meant getting very wet very early. We had to get the boat in, and then I had to hoosh Peter into the boat, get the main up while holding the boat in place, and then he had to pull me in so we could get going. Unfortunately we had ourselves a little unexpected problem.

The pin that connects the rudder to the tiller sheered while I was trying to use the rudder to get us moving a little while we weren’t under sail. So I had no idea what direction we were going to go when I moved the tiller and we found ourselves drifting straight back to the little area of rocky beach to the side of the slip.

After spending about 10 minutes there trying to fix the problem, we were left with no option but to recover the boat onto the trailer, and fix the problem on shore. Which meant we missed the first race.

Once the problem was fixed we were able to get going and made it just in time to be about 2 minutes behind the rest of the fleet starting the 2nd race. In a fleet of 34 boats that’s not a good place to be, but we did have that advantage again of being able to see where boats were getting advantage and so we started the job of moving up the fleet, and thanks to a bit of luck managed to finish 22nd.

The 3rd race wasn’t so fruitful, as we finished 27th, but again, the importance of keeping boats behind us for purely psychological reasons was there.

Retrieving the boat this time round was much easier as not only did we know what to expect, but we had a whole fleet to help us, so we weren’t long in being up on shore and rolling sails.

Due to my commitments, we were commuting to Carlingford, and so didn’t get to spend the evening partying with the rest of the fleet, or even stay too long for a drink afterwards. But we were back up bright and early the following morning for day 2. We needn’t have bothered being so early, the light winds didn’t have us going anywhere fast.

With race 4 being raced very light, it was a very challenging race, especially trying to decide which way to go downwind. But a very fortunate decision downwind gave us a 15th, where lots of boats didn’t finish at all.

A 24th in the last race left us with a very respectable 25th overall, which I certainly wasn’t going to complain about in our first season at our first event, having missed a race!

As an experience, the travelling is definitely worth it. It’s always good to get a look at yourself in a national fleet rather than just be racing against the same people every week. You may end up against those people anyway, but it’s different water! And while it’s a lot tougher, as everyone seems to up their game, it puts a greater challenge on you, and helps you to hone up on skills and learn new things.

So the big question now is what next?!

We decided early in the season that no matter what, the boat we were sailing probably wasn’t the boat for us. It’s age, the work needed, and the money to get it up to date and fit for hard racing on top of the price of buying it just wasn’t going to be a part of our plan.

However, the Flying Fifteen is definitely the boat for us. Fast, competitive racing was what we wanted, and definitely what we got. The boats are very quick, and yes that means sometimes we get wet, but that’s part of the fun.

The sailors are all excellent, meaning that we’re always having to try hard to keep up, and to try and get up the fleet. We’re currently making arrangements to buy a boat, and we’re definitely committed to doing at least 2 of the events this year.

And the real selling point of the Flying Fifteen fleet? The people and the welcome we got from them. Having spent a couple of years being looked at as something of a pariah, to suddenly being welcomed and talked to and encouraged. People offering advice on the boat, advice on things that they’d seen us doing during races, people helping when we were doing anything to the boat, even people coming and being personally supportive during the run of my musicals which occasionally take me away from sailing.

For anyone looking for excellent racing, fun on the water, fast action, and a camaraderie second to none, this is the fleet to be a part of.

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