The Irish Mirror Class Association’s National Bronze Fleet Event returned to its first venue of Sligo Yacht Club over the weekend of the 20th/21st August. The rules confine entry to helms in the Bronze fleet and those who have not competed in a national or regional event previously, so the entry tends to be dominated by the host club and this year was no exception with 11 of the 15 boats entered coming from Sligo. However, Sutton Dinghy Club provided two boats and Royal North of Ireland and Royal St. George were represented by a boat each. As in previous years, a sub-category for Novice sailors was included.
In view of the relative inexperience of the fleet, the race management team was a little nervous of a brisk Force 4 coming straight up the club slipway from the south. However, with the support of a well resourced rescue team and the fact that Sligo Bay is sheltered by Coney Island in a southerly, the decision was made to proceed, only slightly behind the scheduled start time. The plan was to hold 4 races each day, and as it turned out, the sailors were more than capable of dealing with the conditions, with only a few capsizes and minimal breakages, which were very manageable.
The first day developed into a battle between local cousins, Shauna and Ronan Armstrong, and sisters, Anna and Catherine McCollum of RNIYC, sailing a very familiar looking “Untouchable”. Other surprise early contenders were local sailors, Jamie Gillen and Bebhinn Morrissey, sailing one of the Mirror Class Association’s demonstration boats and Cormac Creamer and Ellen Smith. The Armstrong cousins were the overnight leaders by a single point over the first 4 races, leaving the championships wide open.
Overnight, the Novice category was led by Gavin and Natalie Roche-Griffin from RStGYC, followed by locals, Samuel Wray and Megan Hannon.
On Sunday morning, the wind had eased a little but was more westerly, leaving the sea a little lumpier. Again, while challenging, this presented no problems to the young sailors and the remaining 4 races went off without a hitch. The PRO and his assistant ruled that the result of Race 5 was a dead heat between the Armstrong cousins and Aideen McNamara and Saoirse Kelly of Sutton Dinghy Club. Aideen and Saoirse were sailing the second of the two Class Association demonstration boats and had a great event. Another win in Race 6 seemed to wrap it up for the Armstrongs, but they didn’t have it all their own way, with the Sutton pair winning Race 7 and the McCollums winning the final race to leave it tight at the end.
Among the Novices, the Roche Griffins continued their early run to win that category convincingly, finishing 5th overall in the Bronze event. The fight for second was between locals, Emilio Williams- Doran and Ellen O’Dwyer and Samuel Wray and Megan Hannon, with Emilio and Ellen taking it by two points.
The sailing was hotly contested with much congestion on the start lines. There were times that the decision of the PRO to use an inflatable as the Committee boat looked like a good call.
The timing of the event, coming at the end of the sailing course season, proved to be a major bonus, in particular, for the host club. The local sailors were highly motivated and had clearly benefited from the pre-event coaching they had received from Joe Mc Loughlin and Beth Armstrong. The majority of the helms had previously crewed and were able to bring the learning from this experience to their helming. Bronze Fleet sailors they may have been, but not for long, one thinks.
Once again the availability of the Mirror Class Association demonstration boats was a major benefit. It was interesting to note that several gaff rigged boats also appeared, reflecting a noticeable nationwide trend that many older Mirrors, with lots of life left in them, are beginning to come out of storage.
Vice Commodore, Brian Raftery presented the prizes on behalf of the club, while Fran Griffin presented Shauna with the IMCAI Bronze Trophy and spoke on behalf of IMCAI President, Brid Hickey, who was attending the British Nationals. Both thanked Bryan Armstrong and his team for managing a very successful event and commended all the sailors for their participation and performances and encouraged them to remain active in racing. Fran noted that the next event on the IMCAI calendar is the Westerns, scheduled for the weekend of September 10th and 11th in Galway Bay Sailing Club and encouraged as many boats as possible to attend.