Strangford Lough Yacht Club were hosts over the 28th-29th June for the 2014 Cardinal Analytics RS Elite Irish Championships.  This was the first Irish championship to be held outside Belfast Lough, due to the newly established SLYC fleet emerging last year.  As an added bonus, the event organizers were able to keep the sun shining all weekend.

Racing got underway in light conditions on Saturday, and two of the local boats were so keen off the start line they came back for another look after the gun had gone.  Thankfully for these two – and without money changing hands – the PRO Davy Young abandoned the race.  Within minutes the wind had shifted left and a great breeze filled in which was to stay for the rest of the day.  In race one Tiffany Brien onKin took line honours, closely followed by her uncle Mark in Full Marks and Stephen Polly of Stormin third.  The rest of the finishes resembled match races, with nothing separating the remainder of the fleet.  Race two was a reversal of race 1, with Mark Brien in Full Marks taking line honours from Tiffany Brien in Kin, and Mike Vaughan in Toucan locking out the final place on the podium.  Yet again the following pack was extremely tight, with gains or losses of 3-4 places being spread over several seconds.  After a slight break for lunch Race 3 got underway, and it was local boat Tuppence helmed by Brian Corry to cause an upset by holding off the Briens to take line honours.  Despite this being their first event, Tuppence had great speed upwind and managed to get in sync with the shifts to hold on for their maiden win.  Kin came in second and Storm rounded off the top 3.  With the wind forecast for Sunday not looking too exciting, Davy Young wisely opted to sail a fourth race on Saturday when the wind was with us.  The Full Marksboys managed to stay out of trouble all the way round the course and get clean air – no mean feat in such a closely bunched fleet.  Jeff Ralston in Upfront sailed a consistent race to come home in second, with fellow RNIYC boat Sea Breezes IIhelmed by John McDowell coming in third.

By this stage the committee boat were getting tired after having to write all the sail numbers down in quick succession, and it was homeward bound for some beer and the championship dinner.  Onshore Mark Brien was able to update the Full Marks fans over the phone of their overnight lead.  We weren’t privy to the entire conversation but Mark’s reply of “don’t sound so surprised” must be a quote of the season.  General merriment continued all the way to Daft Eddy’s, with the Full Marks boys of Marks Brien, Ennis and McNeill confirming they were in full “regatta mode”.

Day 2 started with no wind, and those who sampled Gerry Reid’s concoction/drink the night before were grateful of the delayed start ashore.  At least the sun was still shining.  After another large wind shift, Race 5 got underway.  John McDowell on Sea Breezes IIwas fast out of the starting blocks and held on to the lead all the way round the course – despite this race being one of the most shifty and patchy in terms of wind of the whole series.  The Full Marks boys had a “sub – optimal” start, and dug deep to recover to 4th, with Jeff Ralston’s Upfront taking second and Stephen Polly on Storm rounding out the top three.  Unfortunately time ran out and we didn’t manage to fit in the final race, but Full Marks had done enough to secure their first Irish Championship win, having sailed an incredibly consistent and fast series.  Kin had to settle for second this time round, and Storm were pushed into third by a point.  Second to fifth place overall were separated by only 5 points, and further down the overall results were equally tight.  This must have been one of the tightest Irish Championships on record, and with multiple Squib, Dragon, Flying Fifteen, Sonata and Laser II champions gracing the start line the fleet is highly competitive.  SLYC had donated a perpetual trophy to the best-placed travelling boat, which went to Carl Allen’s More T Vicar of Edinburgh.  It was great to see Carl again, who is always a loyal supporter of the Irish fleet.  In the first chapter of his acceptance speech Mark Brien thanked the event organizers, PRO, committee boat crew, mark layers and sponsor for putting on a great event.  Having said his thank you’s and made a move towards his seat he then commenced the second chapter of his acceptance speech when he proposed that SLYC should host the British Championships in the not too distant future – I’m sure that can be arranged!