Michael Murray - Crewing on Hispania, one of the Grand Classic Racers
Author: John Murray Posted on: 7/9/13 Print Version


Hispania at San Tropez Classic week 2012
Crewing on Hispania, one of the Grand Classic Racers

From time to time we come across previous HYC sailors in strange places, but mostly near the sea. Many still sail actively, and some have continued to progress from their sailing experience in HYC to achieve levels only some would dare to dream.

Michael Murray started his sailing in the now defunct Kilbarrack Sailing Club, but most of his experience was gained in HYC. Here in the 1980's he sailed Optimists, Lasers, Squibs and sometimes the Howth 17's when he was lucky enough to be invited to crew.

For the past 3 years he found himself back in something similar but very much bigger than the Howth 17. He crews on Hispania, one of the few remaining Classic Racers still competing in regular regattas, mainly in the Mediterranean, and with an impressive 69 foot length over the deck and a massive 98 feet overall. About 4.5 times the overall length and twice the beam of a Howth 17.

Hispania Owner and Crew 2012 - Michael is Third from the left - back row
Michael emigrated in 1988 to Spain, maybe answering the call of his Spanish blood, but more likely fleeing from one of Ireland's other economic crises. Although based in Madrid for the last 25 years, hardly a weekend goes by but he makes his way to the coast to further advance his sailing. Primarily to Benalmadena where he races actively and has his own cruising yacht, but also to Portugal, the Balearics, Valencia, Barcelona, and Cadiz where has participated in many top racing cruisers. He has also completed the 2008 Arc Atlantic crossing aboard a 53 foot Jeaneau.

Michael has been sailing as regular crew on Hispania since 2011 when the boat was finally launched after restoration, and his involvement as crew on Hispania will take him to four events this year, in Menorca, Marseille, Monaco and Portofino at the Classic Boat Regattas, apart from many other locations for their training and exhibition sessions.

Michael still has many links with HYC, his dad John and Billy Morgan actively sail Nefertari in the Puppeteer fleet, and his niece Ines and nephew Pablo from Madrid participate every year in the Junior Sailing programme in HYC.

We asked Michael to tell us something about Hispania and his experience sailing on her.

Hispania - Paneria Classic week Imperia 2012
Hispania, What a boat?

It is an unbelievable experience to sail on Hispania. It makes worthwhile all those capsizes, wettings, disappointments, and long days of practice in Oppies, Lasers, and Squibs in Howth, the Atlantic crossing, and the many stormy races in cruiser regattas, and even those days of flat calm that haunt Howth sailors.

HISPANIA, which was originally built in 1909 for racing by the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, was restored in 2005. She is a 15 Metre International Class gaff-rigged cutter designed by William Fife that is 69 feet long over her deck, has a 12 foot beam and just under 9 foot of draft. But her overall length from bowsprit to the overhanging end of the boom is 98 feet. The 15 Metres refers to her Class rather than the length of the boat. Only 19 were ever built, and they were raced in Spain, France, Britain and Germany.

Michael Murray on Hispania
Her sister ship Tuiga was built for the Spanish Duke of Medinacelli, who was a friend of the King of Spain, and designed identically to the King's yacht, 'Hispania'. This was so that they could then race on equal terms against each other. Over the one hundred years, there have been great stories about Hispania. One recounts that notwithstanding the numerous races where Tuiga competed head to head with Hispania, the Duke's boat never beat the King's. But I suppose that a Duke who wants to keep his title doesn't go all out to beat the King.

It was a very popular class in its day, with the 19 boats racing actively. The class was proposed for competition in the 1908 Olympics but there were no entries. Sadly, World War 1 brought the class to an end. In subsequent years they changed hands many times, with owners in Sweeden, Germany, Britain and many other countries. Some were eventually abandoned and others were allowed to deteriorate badly. Tuiga was the first 15-Metre to be restored and has been owned by Monaco Yacht Club since 1993. She was joined by her sister ship, The Lady Anne, in 1999 and in more recent times "HISPANIA"' and 'Mariska`. All 4 returned to compete for the first time in 100 years in the Monaco Classic Week in 2011. The 2012 season was very successful and we are now looking forward to the 2013 regattas which started on the last weekend of August with an event in Mahón. This will be followed by regattas in Marseille, Monaco and Portofino.

Hispania, Lady-Anne, Tuiga and Mariska - Monaco Classic week 2012
Hispania, What an experience?

When you approach the boat you are overwhelmed by its elegance and majestic appearance; the whole boat seems to be suspended gracefully over the water. Having an L.O.W. of only 50 feet and nearly 100 L.O.A. there is a lot of boat that over hangs the water. Her solid wood boom which weighs around 1.2 tons protrudes past the stern three meters or so and her 6-meter bowsprit is firmly suspended over the water. Her beautiful teak deck seems endless. Everything including the wooden blocks is varnished to perfection.

On the water, the boat is both physically and technically very demanding. Her crew of around 18 (minimum recommended crew size for regattas) work extremely hard in trimming every element, as the boat is faithful to the spirit of tradition of vintage yachts. The huge rig is still handled only with tackles so there are no winches, hydraulics or technical equipment of any sort, truly old school, just like in 1909. Sailing on this 15 Metre class boat is an incredible experience which transports you into the past of high level racing.

There is an endless web of rigging, all ropes and lines whether general purpose, sheets or halyards are all traditional and of the same color which makes life quiet difficult aboard when faced with intense regatta conditions, especially for those of us accustomed to sailing on modern racing and cruising yachts with fancy high tech multi-color lines. It takes 10-12 people to raise the mainsail, and about half an hour to get all sails up, mainsail, topsail with corresponding jackyards and three foresails, staysail, main jib and jib top.

Hispania, Mariska and Tuiga on the starting line - Monaco Classic week 2012
We don't wear life jackets, well they wouldn't really fit in with the overall image of the Classic. But then, during the regattas, there are plenty of official boats and spectators around to take care of the safety issues.
The boat sails as elegantly as she looks. She quickly reaches nine knots. Being as heavy as she is, the waves seem to move around the boat instead of pitching or pounding her.

Nevertheless, she is still very sensitive to sail trim and crew positioning. With no winches, all sail control is manual and needless to say, every tack and maneuver involves a lot of manpower.

With a resurgence of interest in vintage boats, the attention to detail and there powerful rig makes this class a natural attraction at all the classic and vintage boat regattas and events.

No matter whether she is under way or lying alongside a pier, Hispania is beautiful and combining the speed of a racer and the splendor of her massive rig under full sail, she is a vessel any yachtsman, whether racer or not, would without a doubt love to sail.

Hispania demands of its crew a high level of physical fitness. Many hours spent in the Gym. Weekly practice and training sessions.

Mariska and Hispania
Monaco Classic week 2012
My main functions on the boat are tactics and navigation, however, I often have to take responsibility for the very demanding job of trimming the runners. And on Tuiga there is another Irishman, Harold Cudmore is their tactician. The hardest part for me is keeping ahead of the young Turks aboard Hispania, who with hard work and reliability are gaining incredible experience, and are now snapping at our heels. But I learned how to deal with all that in the Optimists in HYC and later in the Lasers and Squibs. Maybe from now on it means more time in the Gym, early to bed before the regattas, and less time celebrating,

With the phenomenal budget required to maintain this boat, keeping the 65 donors and sponsors in place, one wonders how long we can keep going in these difficult times. But I have had 3 years, and this year, and with a bit of luck next year, the memories of which will remain with me for many many years to come.

Viva Hispania!
Viva HYC!