This is the racehorse of Bellacragher Bay Boat Club, like all through-breds, good jockeys are needed. We are a bit short on volunteers at present; the maiden voyage was from Owenduff to Claggan. The very experienced catamaran instructor Philip o Sullivan was on the helm with Brian Masterson as crew, Philip put the boat through its paces and really gave a display. I couldn’t wait to have a go!
On a Cold damp May evening in 2008 blowing a cool northerly F5-6, I decided to take the cat for a quick spin, no need for a wetsuit; I was going to take it easy!
Twenty of the longest minutes of my life later, I was traveling at an unearthly speed towards Bunnacurry in Achill. My ankles were raw and welded to the hiking strap, I was struggling to hold onto the tiller, the rudders had a mind of their own and were trying to pull my arms out of their sockets. The hull I was sitting on started to lift again, I pushed the tiller away to bring it down but it wouldn’t budge. I was absolutely hammering it at an angle of 60deg, I wasn’t able to do anything about it so I had a look around to get my bearings and take in the whole thrill of what I was doing, no point in crying about it!
At some stage, the waves started building and the cat started jumping off them, I could only sit back and take it all in, I began to wonder if I would ever be able to pass on the experience to fellow sailors but in the meantime figure out what was making the steering so difficult.
The tiller extension angle was at about 70deg to the rudder arm yet I found it extremely difficult to move the rudders, there was something wrong, I didn’t get much more time to assess the situation as the boat came off a particularly large wave and buried the lower hull in the oncoming wave, the bow buried itself and I felt the stern rise at an extremely alarming rate, memories of doing a reverse bungee twenty years earlier came rushing back. The technical term for what was happening to me was “pitch-poling” the bow buries itself and the stern flips over it, the most dangerous type of capsize and certainly not to be recommended, the crew are usually catapulted a fair distance like I
was, I found myself doing some aerial acrobatics before plummeting to the sea bed thinking “Is that it? All over? I hope I put on this lifejacket right, does it work, why didn’t I put on a wetsuit? Why did I take out that boat?”
Some- time later I surfaced, and found that I appeared to be alive with no real injuries, I knew that it was vital to get to shore as soon as possible, the water was cold and without a wetsuit, shock and hyperthermia would soon set in. I swam to the boat which was upside down. I knew from reading countless articles that righting a capsized cat was not easy but I remembered the technique. I managed to get the boat to 90deg, (mast on or just below the water surface) but just couldn’t get the leverage to right it. I made a mental note to fit a fender to the mast top for the next time, then I realised that the cold must be working on my brain already as no one in their right mind would be thinking about the next time.
I was weighing up whether I was better off in or out of the water, we were drifting towards the shore 1⁄2 a mile away but at a slow angle, it would take some time to reach it. I opted to sit on the hull and suffer the wind chill rather than have the water wick the heat away.
I had told my brother Tom, Brian Masterson and David Campbell what I was doing and when David decided to have a look for me, he saw what happened and got to my estimated landfall within a few minutes.
When I landed, Brian helped me right the boat and as nothing seemed to be broken we took it back to Claggan, this time the tiller and rudders behaved themselves, I tried telling Brian what had happened but he just gave me a funny look.
I was later to find out that I had given the residents of Tonragee the best evening’s entertainment since Ireland beat Italy in the 1994 world Cup. Finton Cooney saw the boat flip over as he glanced out his door, and asked a neighbor to call Seamus Butler in Claggan, some boat has gone over out there, he will get to them” to which was replied “ no need, that’s him out there!”
I promised myself that the cat would not be taken out in anything over a Force 3 until we were comfortable with it and everything in perfect working order.
At the summer camp, two experienced sailors, Gregor and Padraig took it out in F5-6, twenty minutes and five capsizes later, I was going around with a smug if not patronizing smile, telling the boys that I told you so; it was too windy for taking out that boat.
Since then we have stuck to the F3 limit but if there are any of you that want to up the stakes you are very welcome, there will be a few documents to sign and a blood donation to give, just in case, and off you go!