Irish team race away for first Commodores' Cup victory


SAILING:SCARCELY HAD the Tricolours been raised on halyards from each of the three boats and the cheering faded than the reality of Ireland’s victory at the Rolex Commodores’ Cup started to dawn.

For almost four decades, Irish crews have travelled to the Victorian yachting town of Cowes hunting an international trophy.

Initially, it was the Admiral’s Cup, but since its demise, largely due to the unrestricted influence of professional crews, a new event aimed squarely at the best amateurs evolved around the Commodores’ Cup.

On Saturday, as expected, the three boats from the Royal Cork Yacht Club sailed out on the wind-swept Solent for a final joust against some capable crews who were committed to deliver a knock-out blow to Irish hopes.

Having steadily increased their overall lead on each of the preceding six races, the team comprising Antix, and Roxy 6 were almost certain to win. Almost.

On too many occasions as event favourites, Ireland was in the running almost to the final day only to be denied. All it would take was for one of the boats to be disqualified and the other two to finish poorly.

And for the runner-up, Hong Kong, to win all three classes.

It was a mathematical combination of a tall order which that, however improbable, Irish crews still found it unspeakable to mention the likelihood of victory for fear of jinxing the result.

With virtually the entire team composed of Cork sailors, unity of purpose was to the fore, and that avoided the internecine skirmishes of some previous years when Ireland had up to three teams competing.

So the boats sailed out for one final push towards goal. An attempt by a French boat to force Antix into a foul saw team captain Anthony O’Leary confidently brush it off, opting to take the penalty turn delay instead of starting and so avoid a messy protest hearing that might have seen Antix disqualified.

The other two boats watched carefully and stayed well clear of any jockeying for starting position lest they too fall foul of an effort to inflict costly points on them.

Hong Kong also started well, especially in Class Three where Rockall III accelerated quickly off the line to put Ireland’s Roxy 6 under pressure.

But the conditions were at the top end of the wind-range experienced for the week, with sustained gusts of near gale force, though the sea was relatively calm in the sheltered waters of the Solent.

Antix sailed well to recover from the starting-line incident even though the French boat protested anyway, apparently not having seen the Irish boat take its penalty. Hong Kong’s Mandrake gifted a chance to O’Leary when their spinnaker-drop went badly and the sail became a sea-anchor.

And Class One big-boat leader Alice II for the British White team blew out their kite. So Antix claimed a second place to become the top-scoring boat of the series.

In Class Two, Dave Dwyer’s revelled in the conditions and stayed well ahead of Hong Kong’s Blondie IV to finish the series with another first place. And despite Rockall III’s growing strength, Roxy 6 placed a close second to complete the event for Ireland with an increased lead.

Ashore, once the de-rigging and unloading of the boats had been completed, a short walk along Cowes High Street followed for the prize-giving at the politely hospitable Royal Yacht Squadron.

With the entire, 50-strong contingent invited to the stage, to loud applause from the crews of the defeated teams, a long list of trophies was presented: best team of the inshore races, best team of the offshore races, best team from a European country.

And best of all, the Commodores’ Cup. Ireland’s long-awaited moment had arrived and a popular victory it was too.

By late evening, the trophy had been safely stowed and the Pier View pub, as unofficial head-quarters of the team, at last saw its patrons and its walls shook with a deafening rendition of the Fields of Athenrythat is certain to echo through Cowes for years to come.