- Elaine Bunting
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A Strangford spread
How about this for a bun worry?
This was the stupendous spread on Saturday at the East Down Yacht Club regatta. East Down is one of ten different clubs on Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland, where club racing is alive and thriving.
I was racing with my Dad and his friend Peter Ryan on Peter's Hawk 20 dayboat. I hadn't raced on Strangford since my teens, but as soon as I saw our course it all came flooding back: Jackdaw, Marlfield, Dunnyneill.
Afterwards we went ashore at East Down for a humongous selection of homemade cakes and sandwiches, tea and/or a pint of Guinness and some craic. The feast seemed never-ending. No matter how much food was eaten, volunteers working in the kitchen immediately replenished to the tables' full safe working load.
Two things stuck me about the racing. First, that local racing remains so enduringly popular here while big high-profile race fleets round the world are generally declining. A clubmember who'd been on the committee boat told that the regatta had 18 different starts "with seven or ten in each class".
I say enduringly popular because that is not much changed from the sort of fleet that the club would have seen 40 years ago. A newspaper cutting in the clubhouse at East Down showed a report from 1972 noting that 192 yachts had taken part.
The second thing that I thought interesting is that so many of the same types of boats I remember racing in my teens, and even before, are still here and being driven competitively and giving as much pleasure as ever.
Besides more modern IRC racers, there were Squibs and Flying Fifteens, the old and venerable local boats the Glens and Alfred Mylne-designed Rivers, and a great selection of cruiser racers from the 1970s and 1980s: Westerlies, Leisure 17s, Achilles 24s, locally built Ruffians, Ron Holland-designed Golden Shamrocks and quite a few quarter tonners.
Most of the yacht clubs on Strangford have regattas in summer, and between these and the regattas round the corner on Belfast Lough organised by Royal Ulster YC and Royal North of Ireland YC (Royal North is the only club I actually belong to), you could sail here any August and have the sort of racing and all-round fun that you and your crew would never forget.
Which is exactly what I'm thinking of doing. I think what I'll propose to our dear Editor is that he gives me a month in which to get fully embedded and report on the scene here. Anything less would be skimpy.
I'm told we finished 2nd in our class in the Hawk. I'm afraid I didn't get any photos of us racing as it was all a bit splashy for my camera phone.
And by the way, I thought the Hawk an ingenious design and great for those, like Peter Ryan, who have downsized from a cruising boat. It's stable and predictable and with simple and clever controls: 2:1 sheets for the jib so no winches are needed, the spinnaker stows in a chute and the halyard and retrieval line are continuous. The spinnaker pole stows on the boom using another continuous line, while the pole uphaul and downhaul and the spinnaker sheets are also continuous, leaving the boat almost completely free of rope.