Sailing – why sailing? I am not really sure. I have always enjoyed being outdoors, my family on my mums side were sea folk to a greater or lesser degree. In fact my uncle, Derek Paine, built Water Wags (the oldest one design dinghy around). I had pottered around in boats a bit – my fist ever sail was in a tiny ‘Curlew’ dinghy with Derek’s son, David. When I was in my early teens, Heather and Marshall King moved to Greystones from the Isle of Man with their parents and joined the local sailing club in Greystones, GSC. There was a group of us, who sailed Mirrors,Lasers, Enterprises and Laser IIs in Greystones Sailing Club, many of those sailors went on to achieve great success in a variety of classes. The likes of Sean Craig, Roy Van Maanen and Craig Thompson were all active. The Enterprise was the class to be in at the time, with over 40 boats at the Nationals each year. My brother Iain and I sailed in the Enterprise World Championships in Bombay (where we saw some of the aforementioned Water Wags), other club members went as far afield as Zambia and Goa to sail in World Championships, and Marshall represented Ireland in the Olympics, as well as being a top rated match racer.
During my teenage years, I was introduced to cruising, with Heather and Marshall, their mum (Heather Snr.) and Tess Tinkler. The Isle of Man was a traditional June trip, and each summer we headed south for four weeks, to the Scilly Islands, Cornwall and Devon and the Channel Islands. This was all on Desiderata, a bilge keel Leisure 27.
In the final year of my degree, the Kings changed Desiderata for a beautiful Nicholson 35, Seareign. At the end of that summer, we headed south to Falmouth, and met Marshall, who had been in the US racing on the British
Universities Sailing Association team. That was the beginning of a great year, an Atlantic circuit. We took part in the second Atlantic Race for Cruisers (ARC) with 200 other boats. Over the course of the coming 10 months we headed south and west, to the Caribbean, via France, Spain, Portugal, Madeira and the Canaries. 23 days after leaving Gran Canaria we arrived in Barbados for Christmas. This was followed by sailing from the Grenadines north to the Virgin Islands, back to Antigua for Race week and home via Bermuda and the Azores. We returned to Greystones in early June, 1988.
When we returned home, we had a few more years in Enterprises, before moving into the newer, trendy Laser IIs. This fleet took off in Ireland and GSC has a small but competitive fleet. In 1992, the Laser II had its European Championships in Dun Laoghaire, with over 100 boats taking part. I crewed for Marshall, in one of the three GSC boats taking part (along with Sean Craig / Heather King and Craig / Glen Thompson). All three Greystones boats finished near the top, which was very impressive.
1992 was a good year for me, crewing with Marshall in the Laser II Europeans, again in the Enterprise Nationals in a very old boat, doing foredeck in the J-24 Nationals with John Ross-Murphy and then crewing for John in the Helmsmans’ Championships. However, things were changing and apart from sailing with Heather in a Wayfarer event (including taking a swim!) in the mid 90s, the Helmsmans’ was the last sailing I did until 2008.
Work brought me to Northern Ireland in 1999 and after a couple of years I really wanted to get back sailing. I bought a 50 year old wooden Wayfarer dinghy (no. 348) in 2008 and the bug returned. After some good years in the Wayfarer, including a couple of successful trips to the Nth American Mid-Winter Championships, I was back sailing from East Down YC (EDYC) on Strangford Lough. I had a RS400, then a RS200, I have recently built an International One Metre model racing yacht and in 2012 I bought Kotuku, an Albin Ballad, a 30ft cruiser racer from the 70s. Emily Watt has been regular crew in Wayfarers, RS200s, Kotuku and now Koala. This October, I parted company with Kotuku and now own Koala, a classic late 1960s Sparkman & Stephens design. Click here to learn more about the design. More recently, I stepped back into a Wayfarer and won the Irish Wayfarer Inland Championships, in Cullaun SC, near Limerick. I am also nearing the end of building an OK Dinghy.
I keep Koala at EDYC and am fortunate to have such good sailing waters so close to home. Strangford Lough is the largest sea lough in the British Isles and so provides a large sheltered sailing area. It is linked to the open sea by a long narrow channel (the Narrows), through which the tide flows in and out at up to 8 knots. The Lough can provide wonderfully exploratory cruising and challenging tidal streams all in the same day. It is also only a 6 hour sail to the Isle of Man, not too far to North Wales and the West Coast of Scotland is within easy reach (with Gigha always a compulsory stop off!)
Although Strangford lough is large, the ‘eggs-in-a-basket’ or drumlin landforms of the surrounding countryside continue into the lough, giving many islands, particularly on the western shore. There are also shallows, or ‘pladdies’, many of which are unmarked, or only marked with a perch. EDYC is located near Island Taggart, north of Killyleagh, with many of the smaller shallow draught keel boats moored in the channel between the club and Taggart (The Dorn), and larger boats out on moorings to the south-west of Taggart. It is here that Koala will be moored next year.
Looking SW from Strangford, the Mourne Mountains rise above the surrounding farmland. It’s here that also like to spend some time, rock climbing, mountain biking and hillwalking. I must have the ‘adventure gene’!