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Unseasonal weather provided very challenging conditions for the 145 entrants in The Davy Munster Optimist Championships at Kinsale Yacht Club. Sailors travelled from as far away as Dublin and Galway for the event. Six races were planned over Saturday and Sunday.

Day 1 saw the Regatta Fleet grounded as the winds were just too strong but they had a full morning of shore based activities which included learning about wind, tides and the RRS. The AP flag was flown for the Senior and Junior fleets while the Principal Race Officer, John Stallard, waited for conditions to abate. The decision was made to remain in the outer harbour and after a 2 hour delay racing got under way. With torrential rain and gusting winds the conditions were testing for all on the water – sailors and committee/support boats alike– this combined with the delayed start meant that two races were completed.

Day 2 and both fleets got afloat on time. With 10-12 knots out of the southwest the Senior and Junior fleets got under way with minimal delay. There was quite a swell outside the harbour which provided a testing beat for the fleets and caused some to retire from the race. However both the Senior and Junior fleets completed the race in under 50 mins. The wind had shifted more southerly so after readjusting the course Race 2 got off with minimal delay. By now the swell was building somewhat and winds were 12 – 14 knots but the fleets were really enjoying sailing in the open waters outside Kinsale Harbour. As the wind had settled into the SSW the course stayed true and the 3rd race got underway within minutes of the final boat finishing. Competitors were quite happy to head ashore after Race 3 as the swell had proved to be quite tiring for all on the water.

The Regatta Fleet got afloat on Day 2 but under very testing conditions. The Regatta Fleet Race Officer, Siobhan Keane Hopcraft, decided to keep them in the inner harbour. Even in there the winds too strong for some however the fleet got 4 races sailed which was an achievement for all given the conditions.

Results:
Senior Fleet
Gold 
1st Rory O’Sullivan RCYC 
2nd Leah Richard NYC 
3rd Hugh Turvey HYC/NYC 

Silver

1st Kei Walker RStGYC

2nd Adam Doyle TBSC

3rd Ciara O’Regan RStGYC

Junior Fleet

Gold
1st Johnny Flynn HYC/RStGYC 
2nd Luke Turvey HYC/NYC 
3rd Fiachra McDonnell RBYC 
4th Sam Ledoux NYC 4th Killian Reidy FYC
5th Adam Walsh LRYC/HYC 5th Jessica Riordan RStGYC

Silver

1st Lucy Bateman RCYC

2nd Fiachra Farrelly HYC

3rd Rocco Wright HYC

Fair Sailing Award Aoibhin Farrelly HYC

Best Local Sailor Regatta Fleet Harvey Matthews
Best Local Sailor Junior Fleet Alejandra Peleteiro
Best Local Sailor Senior Fleet James Dwyer Matthews

Published in Optimist

142 boats across the 3 fleets are confirmed for this weekend's Munster Optimist Championships at Kinsale Yacht Club this weekend.

Six races are scheduled over the two days. The Senior and Junior fleets will race outside the harbour, weather permitting, with Principal Race Officer John Stallard at the helm while the Regatta Fleet will race in the outer harbour with Race Officer Siobhan Keane Hopcraft in charge of them.

As with all junior sailing events an enormous amount of support is required both on and off the water. A flotilla of Committee Boats, Mother Ships and support RIB’s plus the Dinghy Park will be manned by the many volunteers who are helping to make the event happen.

Kinsale Yacht Club has a very strong and active Optimist Class. The ever popular Christmas Regatta in December attracted an entry of 35 boats from a wide variety of clubs.

Published in Kinsale

Ballyholme Yacht Club has released a video of all the weekend action from Bangor Bay, the largest entry ever for the ISA youth national championships.

Read our full report here and see the latest video moments below: 

Published in Youth Sailing

One of the most notable aspects of the ISA Youth Pathway National Championship 2017, which has concluded this afternoon at Ballyholme on Belfast Lough with a good programme sailed, is the healthy way in which the new champions come from a wide range of clubs and sailing locations writes W M Nixon.

Admittedly, as the rising stars become more established as front runners, we find that bigger clubs at the main centres will make every effort to recruit this fresh talent onto their strength. Nevertheless with crews from as far away as Crookhaven Harbour, Dingle and Tralee Bay making their way up the long road to Ballyholme (and if you’re coming from Dingle, it is one very long road), there’s no escaping the feeling that the Annalise Effect is working. Irish junior sailing is not just undergoing a renaissance. It is putting out energetic new shoots in places where it was relatively dormant before, and the future looks rosy.

Prospects for today’s last races weren’t looking too good on some forecasts, with the lack of wind that bedevilled some of Saturday’s racing looking like persisting. But bang on cue a nice southwest to west breeze settled in on most of the sailing areas, and the fleets went at it as if they’d had no sailing at all until then, with the Optimist class particularly requesting that if at all possible they’d like three races.

ISA rory Fitzpatrick jack roy1"The bringer of sunshine”. After a championship of mostly grey weather, the sun came out when ISA star coach Rory Fitzpatrick took ISA President Jack Roy out for a spin around the three course areas.

That was a tall order with the last starting sequence required to be no later than 1300hrs. But with very efficient turn-rounds after each race, the thing was done and the series was completed with that wonderful feeling of a good regatta accomplished, which is a whole world away from the default position of “Well, we got a result....”

As for the final results, in the end there were no surprises from the overnight positions. But while some leaders may now look to have been securely in place for some time, in most classes they had to keep working at it until the very end.

In terms of sheer scale of win, the star of the show has to be Justin Lucas (13), who gives his clubs as both Royal Cork and Tralee Bay, so you can guess his career trajectory. In a fleet of 62, after thirteen races he was discarding a 12th and an 11th, leaving a scoreline of 1,1,4,5,1,2,3,5,1,1,4 and a total only 28 points against the 72 of next-in-line Conor Gorman of the National YC.

Third place kept up the pace for remote clubs, as it was won by Harry Twomey of Crookhaven Harbur, then the next two slots were filled by the leading 12-year-old juniors, Johnny Flynn and Luke Turvey, who are both members of Howth, but they also give allegiance to Royal St George and National respectively.

Top girl sailor was Emily Riordan of Royal St George, she was 8th overall on 98 points, second girl was clubmate Alana Coakley at 11th while the National’s Leah Rickard was third at 12th overall.

jack Roy ISA 2ISA President Jack Roy speaking at the awards ceremony at Ballyholme after the biggest ISA Youth Pathway Championship ever staged, with 208 registered sailors all under the age of 19 (and many very much younger) taking part.

The little ’uns in the Optimists may have served up the numbers and an overall winner with a stratospheric lead, but inevitably the glamour class was the Laser Radials which had gone into Saturday night with Silver Medallist Ewan McMahon’s lead somehow looking vulnerable as he closed with an 11th while Cork’s Johnny Durcan, after a winter spent Laser racing in Australia, was coming on by leaps and bounds.

However, any evidence of super-kangaroo abilities were in short supply for the Durcan camp today, for although McMahon still looked off the pace with a 14th in the first race, Durcan was DNF, and when that was added to a BFD in Saturdays first race, his challenge was effectively over, and in the end he was 9th overall.

So McMahon’s 9th in the final race was enough to retain his lead with a final points total of 41. But all the excitement in the Laser Radials was elsewhere, as the talk today has been of the huge rush of Rush. Aaron Rogers of Rush Sailing Club was in fact the initial overall leader, but today it was clubmate Conor Quinn (who also lists Carlingford Lough YC as his affiliation) who set the pace, with an 8th and then a first to move into second overall, while Rogers took third overall by round the series with a 7th and a 13th.

For quite a few years, the population of Fingal aka North County Dublin was the fastest growing in Ireland, so it was only a matter of time before the new demographic began to show in the national junior sailing results. However, the smart money might have been on Skerries Sailing Club to lead the way, and for a while they did so. But now Rush Sailing Club is showing itself the pace-setter inshore at junior level as seen at Ballyholme, and offshore with the Kelly family in their all-conquering J/109 Storm.

But if you looked solely at club affiliation as an indicator of what’s going on where, the 33-strong Laser 4.7 fleet at Ballyholme would only have lead to confusion, as 2017’s overall winner Jack Fahy lists his clubs as Royal St George, Royal Cork, and Lough Derg. Presumably he has club subscriptions at the top of his preferred Christmas gift list.......

Be that as it may, his scoreline of 6,1,2,1,2,5 discarding his final 8th provides something for everyone. That said, Caoimhe Foster of Royal Cork came on very well at the end, starting with a discarded 11th but recording three straight wins on the trot in the final trio of races, to share 22 points with Clare Gorman of the National with Fahy five points ahead of them at 17, Foster edging ahead into second on the countback to make her first girl.

It came within an ace of being first girls every which way in the 420s, as Malahide’s Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher took second in the first race astern of Nicola and Fiona Ferguson of the national, but with overnight leaders Geoff Power and James McCann of Dunmore East losing places back in fourth. The final race might have changed things overall, but Power & McCann did the business by being fourth with McDowell and Gallagher in fifth. So Dunmore East had it over Malahide by two points in the end at 18 to 20, while Royal St George’s Kate Lyttle and Niamh Henry were third on 21.

The competition is clearly close in the 420s, but in the Topper fleet of 32, much had been expected beforehand of northern star Jenna McCarlile of County Antrim Yacht Club at Whitehead, which is straight across the lough from Ballyholme.

But Jenna had a sporting quandary, as the first day’s racing clashed with her trial for the Ulster Under-16 Hockey Squad. She went for the hockey, and qualified. And then she threw herself into the sailing at Ballyholme. But even with three firsts, a 3rd and a 7th, the fact that the Toppers only had enough races for one discard made the mathematics impossible.

Nevertheless a sixth overall when short of a whole day’s racing is quite some achievement. But Heaven only knows what they’ll make of it all at Irish Topper HQ, as we read somewhere that only the first five places in the fleet at the Youth Nationals were eligible for positions in the Pathway programme......

Meanwhile among those who did the complete fixture, Rob Keale of Royal Cork continued his excellent progress with a scoreline of 1,1,4,3,2,4 with a discarded 10th to put him at 15, four points clear of Dan McCaughey of Ballyholme and Donaghadee, with Conor Horgan of Royal Cork third on 20 and Sarah Jennings of East Down fourth and also first girl. As for the Topper 4.2s, Lewis Thompson of Donagadee maintained his overnight dominance, in fact at the end he was discarding a second, but Adam Irvin of Irish National Sailing School in Dun Laoghaire came through on this final day to move into second overall with two seconds, while Hannah Dadley-Young of Ballyholme was third overall with two fourths today.

youth sailing prize crowd3This is the sort of crowd that soon overfills the marquee after the Youth Championship which beats all others. Meanwhile, all parents absent from this pic are loading up the boats for the long haul home…

Even as we post this on Afloat.ie, there are some little people with their tiny boats and long-suffering parents who still have a very long way to get home to many distant corners of Ireland after this cracker of a regatta. We wish them a safe journey. And for many of them, it’s back to school tomorrow after the Easter holidays. Gosh, what fun....

Full results are here. Optimist trials results may be found here.

Ballyholme YC adds:

Ewan McMahon won the ISA Youth Pathways despite another difficult day in a light shifting south westerly on Belfast Lough. His earlier form in the championships allowed him to discard the higher of his two results today and comfortably win overall. The two Rush sailors Conor Quinn and Aaron Rodgers had better results with a win in the last race for Conor to lift him to second overall from Aaron by one point. Royal North of Ireland's Sally Bell won 1st lady.

Geoff Power and James McCann wrapped up the 420 fleet even with the worst scores of the top four. The best results went to the Ferguson sisters - Nicola and Fiona - with two 1sts although not enough to break into the tight top three places. Only 3 net points over 9 races split the winners from Gemma McDowell in second place overall and 1st lady crew, and Kate Lyttle and Niamh Henry in third.

In the Laser 4.7 fleet on Course 2, Caoimhe Foster won both races on the final day to lift her to second overall and first lady. Jack Fahy had seen victory stolen from him before last summer at the Topper Worlds when he had been outgunned on the final windy day by the English squad sailors. This time his lead was large enough to maintain first place overall while Clare Gorman was third.

In the Topper fleet Rob Keal scored consistently to wrap up the championship. Local sailor from Ballyholme and Donaghadee - Dan McCaughey - won the final race to jump up to second overall while Conor Horgan was third. Sarah Jennings was first lady.

Another Ballyholme/Donaghadee sailor Lewis Thompson won the final two races and was the overall winner in the Topper 4.2 fleet with a net score of just 6 points from 7 races. Adam Irvin rose above Hannah Dadley Young for second place with Hannah first lady and third overall

The Optimist fleet on Course 3 managed to complete three races today with Race Officer Harry Gallagher determined to complete the full schedule. Justin Lucas continued his grip on the fleet with another 2 wins to add to his 3 earlier in the championship. Not only did he win overall but his net points were almost 50 points better than Conor Gorman in second and Harry Twomey in third. Emily Riordan was first girl.

ISA President Jack Roy thanked Ballyholme Yacht Club for successfully hosting the championships for the first time with the strong hint that it would return to the North again in future years.

Ballyholme Commodore Mark Mackey thanked all of the competitors and their families for travelling up to Bangor and making the event such a success - the largest entry ever. Thanks were also given to the Mayor Deborah Girvan and Ards & North Down Borough Council and Quay Marinas who supported the event, and CH Marine and McCready Sailboats who helped sponsor the prizes.

Thanks were also given by Jack and Mark to all of the Race Management team - the Principal Race Officer Robin Gray supported by Angela Gilmour, Harry Gallagher and Ruan O'Tiarnaigh, the Jury under Chris Lindsay and Gordon Davies, the 100 plus volunteers on the water and ashore helping at the event along with Eurosaf visitors and Andy Millington from the RYA marklaying team, and finally the event organiser Richard Glynn - more famous as the travelling father and sponsor of previous Topper World Champion Liam Glynn who is now campaigning in the Laser and just back from training in Croatia. Special thanks also went to the volunteers from local clubs in Belfast Lough and across Northern Ireland who took time off work this week and without who's help it would have been impossible to run three courses so successfully.

After the Prize Giving the teams for the various Irish Optimist squads travelling to the World Championships, Europeans, the ICT Poland and ICT France squads were read out - with particular special significance for Leah Rickard from the National Yacht Club who was born in Thailand and has qualified to travel to the World Championships which will be held there later this summer.

Published in Youth Sailing

Lighter breezes at Ballyholme have been providing some very different sailing conditions for today’s third day of racing in the ISA Youth Nationals on Belfast Lough. But in all classes the overnight leaders have stayed in front, with an exceptional pace being set by Justin Lucas of Tralee in the Optimists. He has been able to discard an 11th and 12th in a fleet of 62 boats, to have him on 22pts to the current next in line, 12 year old Luke Turvey of Howth and National who was 7th and 3rd in the most recent contests, nevertheless he’s back at 50pts.

The battle of the titans in the Laser Radials was frustrated by lack of wind in their race area, they only completed one race but it saw points leader Ewan MacMahon back in 11th while his closest challenger Johnny Durcan took a useful 4th and Aaron Rogers of Rush got back in the game with a third. Current scoreline is McMahon 21, Durcan 28 and Rogers 31.

Full results are here. Optimist trials results may be found here.

After the strong breezes of yesterday, many of the 200 plus sailors plus the race management team were glad to see flatter seas this morning with a light and cold 6 knot breeze.

Topper sailingTopper sailors make the most of the light winds on Belfast Lough. Photo: Simon McIlwaine

Unfortunately for Course Areas 1 and 2 for the ISA Youth Pathway fleets, the breeze soon died away a little and all classes only managed one race despite many attempts across the day. With lighter winds, the tide cam into play for some of the fleets making it difficult to stay behind the line and most classes struggled with General Recalls, Uniform and Black flag starts.

Course 3 is set a little closer to Ballyholme Bay and further out into the lough than the other fleets and got the best of the conditions today with the Optimists managing 3 races - the last of which dragged on with a long final race. Sadly the breeze then filled in but the young sailors were by then tired and cold and sent home with Race 4 of the day postponed until tomorrow.

Harry Twomey made the most of the difficult conditions with two 1sts in the first and last race of the day. Johnny Flynn won the middle race with a great downwind leg which was finished at the bottom gate. The most consistent sailor however has been Justin Lucas fully deserving his overall lead at the end of Day 3 with three top 5 results and now counts only 22 points after 10 races with discards.

On Course 1, Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher got the best start of the 420 fleet whilst Geoff Power and James McCann struggled to keep speed and had to tack off after getting leebowed. The girls 1st place squeezes up the points margin between themselves and the boys who continue to lie 1st overall.

In the single race for the Laser fleet County Antrim's (Whitehead) Andrew Mitchell had his best race of the series with a bullet. Johnny Durcan saw the greater breeze on the left hand side of the course being enjoyed by the 420 fleet and managed a 4th whilst Ewan McMahon now discards the 11th he scored when struggling on the right hand side.

On Course 2, Caoimhe Foster had a great race in the Laser 4.7 with a win from Jack Fahy who continues to lead overall. Newcastle's Erin McIlwaine (also the daughter of our photographer) had a great day with a win in the Toppers and moves up to 3rd place on equal points with joint Donaghedee/Ballyholme's Dan McGaughey. Rob Keal continues to lie first overall with Conor Horgan in second. Adam Irvin from the Irish National Sailing School in Dun Laoghaire won his first race in the Topper 4.2's with Lewis and Hannah leading still overall.

Three races are now scheduled for all classes tomorrow on the final day of racing in an attempt to catch up from those races postponed. 

Published in Youth Sailing

Its full title is the Irish Sailing Association Youth Pathway Nationals and Optimist Trials. It is a designation with a great air of seriousness about it, contrasting markedly with current public debate about providing more fun sailing, while making regattas as much about sport and enjoyment afloat and ashore as they are about winning.

Yet from time to time, sailing does have to be serious – deadly serious – if we’re going to have any more significant international medals such as those won at the Olympics by Annalise Murphy, at the Laser Radials Worlds by Ewan McMahon,, and at the ISAF Youth Worlds by Doug Elmes and Colin O’Sullivan. The way those great achievements - hard won through a very serious training and participation programme - were able to immediately lift the public mood with their clearcut international success deserves full recognition. W M Nixon tries to put it into perspective for those whose own sailing does not aspire to the giddy international heights.

When you look at that title of “Youth Pathway Nationals and Optimist Trials”, you wonder that as many as 190 boats in six different classes have turned up at Ballyholme for the four days of racing. For there’d been a certain collective madness beforehand, with some folk talking of beyond 200 or even up to 250 boats. But that could be put down to an excess of exuberance following the impressive turnout of 125 Lasers for the Munster at Baltimore.

420 ballyholme2On a tight spinnaker reach in Ballyholme Bay, McDowell and Gallagher narrowly lead the 420s from Heather Spain and iseult Kneafsey of the National, with Lucy Kane and Grace Jennings (East Antrim) next in line. Photo: Mark Mackey
For that was - for many - a fun event in a fun place, with a fun fleet except for maybe the top ten - and even they were frequently seen to laugh. And for sure, there are kids who are having a ball at Ballyholme right now. But for just this one long weekend of the year, there are serious moves being made which will decide the development of junior sailing at the top level in the year ahead, and in many of the years beyond that. We should be worried if it weren’t so brutally focused, rather than being unduly concerned about junior sailing becoming too serious.

That said, the seriousness produces its lighter moments, though you could sympathise with the Topper person who noted that there are five Topper places up for grabs for admission to the Topper Pathway Scheme, yet there are 32 Toppers (39 including the 4.2s) racing their little hearts out at Ballyholme. “What are we going to say?” asked this conscience of the Topper class, “What are we going to say to the young skippers who come 6th, 7th and 8th.....?”

Then there was the Optimist dad who arrived into the Race Office letting the world know that his family’s budget for the event was already shot to ribbons. Heaven only knows what the accommodation pressure would have been like if the more optimistically anticipated fleet of 250 boats with all classes had all turned up. For as it is, accommodation pressures have resulted in people being forced to rent houses for the week – for there’s no way you can get a rental starting on a Wednesday night – and deciding that the sensible thing is to come for a week’s holiday for the whole family. Inevitably, it means lots of money running out the door before the one or two family members who are actually racing start their proper sailing.

laser ballyholme3After two days Ewan MacMahon of Howth has the overall lead in the Laser Radials. Photo Mark Mackey

So anyway this Opty dad is telling anyone who is listening that the budget is already shot with the family spending a whole week in a house in a village he’d never heard of before. But now, worse still, somebody has just told him that his daughter is seen as one of the rising stars of the class, and they wouldn’t be surprised, once this weekend’s racing is finished, to see her name down as a potential member for the Irish squad at the Optimist Worlds 2017 at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Thailand in July.

“And do you know what that means?” he demands. “It means that if we accept that offer of a place at the Worlds, within a week we have to divvy up €2,000 for the International Optimist Dinghy Association of Ireland. I can tell you something” he continues, now in full flight, “if she’s anywhere within range of a place with only one or two races still to go, we’ll be seriously thinking of feeding her a dodgy chicken sandwich.....”

Such are the joys of being an Opty dad. And it was something to contemplate along with the fondest recollections at an event on Thursday night in my own home club of Howth, when friends from times past – some of them friends from very long times past – joined with the great and the good including ISA President Jack Roy and his wife Rosemary, and HYC Commodore Joe McPeake – together with a whole raft of former HYC Commodores – to celebrate the award by World Sailing (formerly ISAF) of a Gold Medal to Howth’s own Helen-Mary Wilkes for her decades of service to the International Optimist Dinghy Association worldwide.

helen mary wilkes OptimistAt the conferring of Honorary Membership of Howth Yacht Club on Helen-Mary Wilkes in celebration of her Gold Medal from World Sailing are (left to right) Jack Roy (President, Irish Sailing Association), Joe McPeake (Commodore Howth YC, who is holding a copy of Robert Wilkes’ History of the International Optimist Class,) Helen-Mary Wilkes, and Robert Wilkes. Photo: John Deane

Her international career started when it was noted that she was the key player as Secretary of the Organising Committee when Howth ran the Optimist Worlds in 1981. After that, Helen-Mary’s international service was of such quality and duration that her most recent years with the IODA have been as President of Honour. For, in the many years she was actually running it all on a day-to-day basis with the backroom support of her husband Robert, they saw an increase of 78% in international membership of the world association to bring the total to 87 countries, and 57 of those countries regularly took part in international championships, while boat numbers increased stratospherically.

It was by no means an easy ride, for with main builders in several countries and different continents, the Optimists were by no means totally One-Design. But fortunately Helen-Mary Wilkes had the very man in Ireland with the skill, patience and diplomacy to sort this out - David Harte of Schull, at that time a Howth resident. As an Optimist builder himself, “Harty” knew everything about these very important little boats, and between 1995 and 1997 he was on an almost continuous worldwide mission to persuade the eight main builders to standardise the class to the highest One-Design requirements, an objective in which he succeeded.

david harte5David Harte of Schull, who in 1995 -1997 was instrumental in ensuring that the eight production builders worldwide of the International Optimist Dinghy were producing a truly One-Design boat.
David Harte being one of these people who seems ageless, it takes a bit of an effort to realize that he was doing this all of twenty years ago. But the result has been a much more total global acceptance of the Optimist. And in speaking to Thursday night’s gathering, Helen-Mary and Robert Wilkes addressed people’s concerns that the current event in Ballyholme, and other major Optimist championships in Ireland, are becoming too serious for the good of the young sailors.

“We’re every bit as interested in the kids who are into Optimists just for club racing and local sailing as we are for the high flyers. Over Easter, there are five major Optimist regattas under way at different venues in Europe. In all, more then 4,500 Optimists are sailing at every possible level of competition in these events. Yet at none of those regattas is selection for special strands of training under way. Ultimately, it is all about sailing for sailing’s sake. It only happens to be the case that it’s in Ireland the Easter Regatta is also being used for the trials. Inevitably, there’s criticism that the kids are being put under too much pressure here. But as a matter of policy, the International Optimist Dinghy Association is as interested in friendly local racing as it is in international competition”.

oppies lasers6“Get ’em up and move ’em out....” Optimists and Lasers swing into the launch sequence at Ballyholme. Photo: Pierce Purcell Jnr
Meanwhile last night up at Ballyholme they were able to post two days of good racing results in westerly winds for the Laser Radials, 420s and Optimists, and one day of racing for the Toppers, Laser 4.7s and Topper 4.2s.

LASER RADIALS
After a 7th, 4th and 6th on Thursday, when Aaron Rogers of Rush SC was the overnight leader, Ewan MacMahon of Howth came back like a rocket yesterday and posted 1,1, and 2nd to leave him leadng on 14pts to the 20 of Henry Higgins of the Royal St George in second (4,(26) 2,4,2,8), with Johnny Durcan of Royal Cork finishing strongly with a bullet in yesterday’s concluding race for a scoreline of 2,8,10, (42 BFD) 3, 1 and a points total of 24. Rush SC pair of Conor Quinn and Aaron Rogers are next on 27 and 28 in a fleet of 43.

420
Geoff Power and James McCann of Dunmore East have recovered from an OCS yesterday to take over the lead in a healthy fleet of 16, they have totalled 6 points with a used scoreline of 2,1,1,1,1, with Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher of Malahide taking one of the two spare wins after the Power display of, well, power, the Malahide crew now lie second on 12 points, just one point ahead of the other race winners, Kate Lyttle and Niamh Henry of Royal St George.

OPTIMISTS
Justin Lucas (13) of Tralee and Royal Cork had been hotly tipped as the favourite for the Optimists, and he has certainly lived up to the billing with a scoreline of 1,1,(12),11,4,5,1 after two days of racing in a 62-strong fleet. There has been some post-racing re-arrangement of results with protest outcomes, but Lucas is well clear of Royal Cork’s Michael Carroll with 23 points to the 37 of Carroll in second, while James Dwyer Matthews (Cork & Kinsale) is tied on 40 with the leading junior Luke Turvey (Howth and National,) who goes to fourth on the higher discard. Leah Ricard of the National is top girl at 9th overall.

LASER 4.7
The National YC’s Clare Gorman leads after the first day of racing for the 4.7s, with a scoreline of 4,2, and 1 to give 7 pts against the 9 of Royal St George’s Jack Fahey in second, third slot being held by David Carroll of Kinsale & Crosshaven while Tom Higgins of RStGYC and Eva MacMahon of Howth tie on 16, but Higgins takes 4th on the discard in a fleet of 33.

TOPPER
Rob Keal of Royal Cork had a good first day of it yesterday to lodge two firsts and a fourth, giving him 6pts against the 11 of second placed Kate Fahy (RStGYC & Lough Derg) while East Down’s Sarah Jennings’ 13pts keeps her in third ahead of Royal Cork’s Conor Horgan on fourth in a fleet of 32.

TOPPER 4.2
Lewis Thompson of Ballyholme and Donaghadee has had three straight firsts to the three seconds of Ballyholme’s Hannah Dadley-Young, third overall is Donaghadee/Ballyholme’s Joshua McGregor with two hirds and a fourth while Adam Irvin of the Irish National Sailing School is fourth on 4,5,4.

ballyholme oppies7Justin Lucas of Tralee Bay is leading the 62-strong Optimist fleet. Photo: Mark Mackey

It is interesting to contemplate all this highly-regulated contemporary modern sailing on Belfast Lough, for it was far from Lasers and 420s and four days of intensive racing from committee boat starts that we were reared when we spent our first years afloat in and around Ballyholme Bay.

In those days, proper junior training and a structured junior racing programme weren’t so much in their infancy as barely a gleam in anyone’s eye. At a certain age – before any of us was even into our teens – we were given a new 14ft clinker sailing dinghy of the Ballyholme Insect Class, and told to get on with it on the assumption that, having sailed with adults in keelboats, we’d know how it was done.

grass hopper8Steep learning curve. We weren’t even into our teens when we were presented with a 14ft Ballyholme Insect Class, and told to get on with it. Photo: W M Nixon
With a massive lack of imagination, we called her Grasshopper. In truth, Rockhopper would have been more on target. The distinctly exposed Ballyholme Bay is sheltered to the northeast, ’tis said, by Ailsa Craig, which is 40 miles away. Admittedly the bay has a decidedly featureless shoreline at low water, which limits sailing options even if you aren’t hampered by strong onshore winds. But when the tide is well in, all sorts of little islands and channels are created, and we learnt our sailing threading our way through this miniature maze of skerries.

ballyholme bay9Ballyholme Bay at Low Water has a rather featureless shoreline....

ballyholme bay10....but at High Water it becomes a much more interesting place, with all sorts of islands and channels.........

grass hopper11......through which a sailing dinghy with centreplate half-raised can thread her way. Photo: W M Nixon
There was of course no such thing as an accompanying rescue boat, but from time to time we sailed in consort with a friend whose boat was a smaller sister, a 12ft–clinker dinghy, but made more exotic with a little bowsprit.

Safety rules were few. We were expected to wear kapok lifejackets when actually sailing, but not otherwise, and they’d immediately be used as fenders if we came alongside rocks or small jetties. As for sailing limits, we were supposed to stay in Ballyholme Bay south of a line from Luke’s Point on the west side over to a rock called Jenny’s Isle off Ballymacormick Point to the northeast. However, at high water you could sail with the centreplate half up inside Jenny’s Isle and the tidal islets beyond it, so you could keep going east, while staying within that outer limit line, until you’d gone clean round the world.

grooms port12Groomsport, a little fishing harbour which was our first “foreign port.” It is less than two miles from the anchorage at Ballyholme Bay Photo: W M Nixon
But there wasn’t that much mischief in us, so it was quite a day when official permission was given to sail all the way to the nearby fishing harbour of Groomsport, our very first Foreign Port of Call. And after that, the south shore of Belfast Lough from Orlock Point to Grey Point was our cruising paradise, and we’d disappear off for the entire day with a basic lunchbox and the hope of augmenting it with mackerel.

day cruise13Off for a days cruising, with a lightly packed lunchbox and a couple of mackerel lines to augment the meal. Photo: W M Nixo

day cruise14Cruise in company. The fleet gathers at Swinley Bay three miles west of Ballyholme, and lifejackets soon become fenders. Photo W M Nixon

If the wind fell light in the evening, we could row home, and over the years nobody gave our daylong absences any thought. There were some close calls, but we never actually capsized the boat. Which was just as well, for if you capsized an Insect, she stayed capsized, and you were barred for a week from Ballyholme Yacht Club for what was deemed reckless and unseamanlike behavior.

That was how you learned to sail back in the day. Eventually it was reckoned we knew enough to be reasonably harmless to others if we went racing with what was then Ballyholme’s only dinghy class. A long way indeed from the hotshot dinghies of today, and their accompanying coaches in their RIBs.

Published in W M Nixon

Day Two of the ISA Youth Sailing Pathway National Championships and Optimist Trials saw all of the fleets afloat for the first time with over 200 sailors visiting Ballyholme Yacht Club

With a stronger breeze than yesterday averaging 12-14 knots but peaking just over 20 knots, fitness and stamina were important especially in the Laser Radial fleet where Ewan McMahon and Johnny Durcan showed the form expected with Ewan winning the first 2 races and Johnny the latter. The Radial fleet were a bit excitable in the first race of the day with 3 general recalls and Johnny earned himself a BFD dropping him to third overall. Henry Higgins splits the two of them overall. Sally Bell continues to lead the ladies although she copied Johnny's BFD in the first.

There was lots of tight racing in the 420 class with little separating the first few at the finishes. Wexford Harbour's duo of Geoff Power and James McCann however managed to escape at the end of each race with three bullets for the day, and now leads overall.

420 Geoff Power James McCann IMG 2469420 leaders Geoff Power James McCann from Waterford Harbour Sailing Club Photo: Simon McIlwaine

The Optimist fleet had four races today which tested all of the youngsters especially with a squall at the start of the last race with all but only a few getting too tired in the testing conditions to finish the last race.

Optimist Justin Lucas IMG 1142Optimist sailor Justin Lucas. Photo: Simon McIlwaine  Photo: Simon McIlwaine

The Laser 4.7 fleet started their racing today with Sally Bell's younger brother Harry from Royal North Ireland winning the first race. Jack Fahy won the second race and Clare Gorman the last but the most consistent and now leads overall with a 4,2,1

Laser 4 7 Clare Gorman IMG 7102Clare Gorman of the National Yacht Club leads the Laser 4.7s  Photo: Simon McIlwaine

Another family affair, Jack Fahy's sister Kate showed great form in the Topper fleet which was also racing for their first day lying second overall from East Down's Sarah Jennings. Rob Keal won the first two races however and leads overall with 1,1,4. The Topper 4.2 fleet saw a local fight between Lewis Thompson, Hannah Dadley-Young and Josh McGregor with Lewis also getting 3 bullets for the day.

Top 5 3 Rob Keal IMG 1580Rob Keal of Royal Cork is the Topper leader  Photo: Simon McIlwaine

Full results are here. Optimist trials results may be found here.

In the evening, Rio Olympic Silver medallist Annalise Murphy gave the young audience some great reflections of her journey from the Optimist Trials through the various Pathway Championships in her Laser Radial and what it took to medal in Rio after the disappointments of London. There were lots of tidbits for the competitors to remember and Annalise revealed the level of commitment required with some of the extracts from her training diary started at the age of 13.

Day 3 of the racing starts tomorrow at 11:00 for all classes. The Championships finish on Sunday.

Published in Youth Sailing

Over 130 boats took to the water today at Ballyholme Yacht Club on Belfast Lough on Day 1 of the ISA Youth Pathway National Championships and Optimist Trials. The event is supported by Ards & North Down Borough Council. Only 2 courses were sailed today with the Topper and Laser 4.7 fleets starting tomorrow instead.

On the Optimist course, 3 races were completed in a light steady westerly breeze- the first two races saw all of the competitors behaving themselves on the start line but the eager youngsters couldn't help themselves on the final start with a single general recall under Race Officer Harry Gallagher.

The sailors from Royal Cork Yacht Club showed the strongest form with 13 year old Justin Lucas winning the first two races and Cillian Forster the last. First Junior overall after Day 1 is Luke Turvey from Howth YC in 7th whilst first lady is Emily Riordan from Royal St George in Dun Laoghaire. Four races are scheduled for thw Optimists tomorrow.

On Course 1, Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher lead overall in the double-handed 420 class with 1,2,2 from Kate Lyttle and Niamh Henry (3,4,1)

Laser RADIALLaser Radials reach the weather mark in the first race of the ISA Youth Championships. Photo: Simon McIlwaine

The Laser Radial fleet is the glamour fleet this weekend with ISA Performance squad members Howth's Ewan McMahon and Cork's Johnny Durcan battling it out with future ISAF Youth Worlds selection in view later this year - however Aaron Rogers from Rush leads overall with 1,2,1. Royal North's Sally Bell leads the ladies.

Racing continues until Sunday with 4 races scheduled for the Optimists and 3 for the other classes starting at 11:00 tomorrow. Tomorrow night Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy will be present to give a welcome and a talk to all the youth sailors on how to campaign for future international success.

Published in Youth Sailing

With four days of an intensive programme getting under way tomorrow (Thursday) on three different course areas off Ballyholme Bay on Belfast Lough, the ISA Youth Sailing Nationals is making a spectacular debut in Northern Ireland writes W M Nixon.

The north in general, and Ballyholme in particular, have produced so many talented sailors that it seems surprising this is the first time the vibrant Ballyholme club, or indeed any club north of the border, has hosted the Youth Nationals in their contemporary guise.

But last summer’s successful Topper Worlds 2016 on Belfast Lough, and before that the F18 Worlds, have clearly shown that Ballyholme’s strong dinghy participation emphasis can confidently transfer itself into superb race management. And they’re certainly pulling out all the stops to deal with a total fleet numbers which should top the 250 mark by the time entries are finalised tomorrow tonight.

Yet even with entries finalised, it’s keeping pace with the new names in the rapid turnover of super-sailors in the junior divisions which test any analysis system. When you’ve a situation where you’re no longer a Youth Sailor after the age of 19, things happen very quickly. And though they’ll allow you to race a Topper at any old age you like (and some do), you’re only in the racing game if you’re under 16, while Optimists draw the serious line at 15, and all classes have further age sub-divisions.

Still and all, we’ll be looking forward to a real ding-dong in the Lasers between Johnny Durcan of Cork and Ewan MacMahon of Howth, who were first and second in last weekend’s 125-boat Munster Laser Championship at Baltimore. Let battle commence.

The ISA add: 

Starting tomorrow Ireland’s largest Youth Sailing regatta is the ISA’s primary talent spotting event. The first time the event is being held at Ballyholme Yacht Club and it has over 200 sailors registered – the largest entry ever.

Racing will be held over three race courses and five classes. Organsiers say there will be great racing on the water and good fun at the club ashore.

Evening talks as well as the races are open to all young sailors who sail in the five ISA Youth Pathway Classes (Laser Radial, Laser 4.7, 420, Topper, Optimist).

The ISA squad programmes will resume this summer in the Laser 4.7 and Topper classes, and these classes will have a squad trial to identify future ISA Pathway sailors. In addition, ISA spotters are out to assess sailors for Academy trials for the Laser Radials and 420s. (The Optimists will have separate Class-organised talent spotters).

Eight places on the ISA Topper Squad : In the Topper class up to eight sailors will be selected to join the ISA Topper Squad. The Squad coach and programme will be announced following the event. The programme aimed at developing young Topper sailors will provide training and also support at the 2017 Topper World Championship to be held in Brittany, France in July. Entry to the World championship is independent of ISA squad selection and through the International Topper Class Association.

Five places on the ISA Laser 4.7 Squad: Up to five sailors will be chosen at the ISA Youth Pathway Nationals to join the ISA 4.7 Squad. A further two sailors may be chosen at the 2017 Laser 4.7 Ulster Championship. The ISA 4.7 squad will provide training to help young sailors transition in the Laser 4.7 class. It will also aim to prepare and support the squad for the Laser 4.7 World Championship to be held in Nieuwpoort, Belgium in July. The squad coach and programme will be announced following event. Entry to the 4.7 Worlds is independent of ISA squad selection through the International Laser Class Association.

At 5.30pm each evening there will be a talk and Q&A session at the Ballyholme Yacht Club with speakers who have a deep knowledge of racing. The talks are open to all sailors and parents.

Full list of Evening Speakers:

Wednesday 19th April, BILL O'HARA will discuss “What to consider when preparing for an event - Rules Strategy for racing”. Bill is the current Principal Race Officer for the Volvo Ocean Race, International Umpire and Rules adviser to the Irish Olympic Team.

Thursday 20th April, MATTY MC GOVERN (Double Olympian 49er Class) will talk on “Team Work in Sailing – Preparing a Professional Approach”

Friday 21st April, ANNALISE MURPHY (Olympic Silver medalist) will share her insights in a talk entitled “Beat the Best: Preparing for Competitive Gains at the Olympics”.

Saturday 22nd April, Ross Killian & Russell McGovern (ISA Performance Coaches) will give video analysis and coaching tips from the day’s racing.

Published in Youth Sailing

A very special Golden Jubilee coming up in May provides links to an Irish Olympic Sailing Silver Medal, the Fireball World Championship, and the America’s Cup. W M Nixon finds the widest connections go even further than that to include a pioneering world voyage.

It was in May 1967 that the irrepressible Carmel Winkelmann oversaw the first results of a junior sailing initiative at the National Yacht Cub, her home club in Dun Laoghaire. It became a movement which went on which to have nationwide and worldwide ramifications, so much so that within Ireland we’re looking at an unbroken line in Irish sailing which is continued through the club which currently holds the title of ISA Training Centre of the Year, which for 2017 is Foynes Yacht Club on the Shannon Estuary.

That a successful club at the heart of the Atlantic seaboard can trace an almost magic thread back to something which happened at a club on Dublin Bay a long time ago is quite a story in itself. Particularly when the Atlantic seaboard club itself is imbued, as Foynes is, with the spirit of legendary circumnavigator Conor O’Brien. However, when the story is shaping up to continue with the Golden Jubilee as the latest chapter, it gives us an opportunity both to celebrate, and take stock of what it has all meant.

Annalise foynesFoynes Yacht Club, heirs to an Irish tradition of junior sail training which was first formalized by the National Yacht Club 50 years ago. At the Irish Sailing Awards ceremony when Foynes were announced as winners of the ISA Training Centre of the Year Award were (left to right) Simon McGibney (Foynes Senior Instructor), Sailor of the year and Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy of the National Yacht Club, Elaine O’Mahoney (Foynes Sailing Academy Manager), Pat Finucane (Sailing Academy Principal) and Conor Dillon (Instructor). In a club which is imbued with the spirit of world-girdling Foynes sailor Conor O’Brien, it’s particularly appropriate that Conor Dillon’s sailing CV includes winning the Two-Handed division in the Round Ireland Race, sailing with his father Derek Dillon on a 34-footer. Photo: Inpho
But business first. Anyone who has ever taken part in the Junior Training Programme at the National Yacht Club is hereby alerted – if you don’t know already – that on the evening and night of Saturday May 20th, there will be a very special celebration at the clubhouse. The organisers Carmel Winkelmann and Ann Kirwan are particularly keen to trace those who have moved away, but would find much nostalgic pleasure with the meeting of old friends by returning on this day of days. So if that applies to you, or you know anyone to whom it does, please make contact with the key club administrator whom everyone refers to as “Oonagh at the National”, the proper line of contact being [email protected], tel 01-280 5725.

nyc slipway 3Bright morning of Optimism. The National Yacht Club slipway in 1967, long before the days of an extensive front-of-club platform, with the new dinghies of the Optimist Class being launched out of the cramped boathouse under the club, and down a steep and often very crowded slipway

To grasp the significance of what is being celebrated, please try to visualize the National Yacht Club as it was fifty years ago. The building itself, standing directly in the harbour, has the air of a fishing lodge in the West of Ireland on its seaward side, and a hint of neo-classicism when seen from the town. But in the early 1960s it was very limited in its shoreside facilites for sailing dinghies. There was a boathouse entered through fine granite arches under the clubhouse itself, but to use it, masts needed to be lowered. It was served by a very steep and easily-crowded slip, while there was access to another slip on the east side of the cub which served a small area where dinghies could be stored. But while there was space for the established classes of Fireflies and some IDRA 14s, some room was also needed for the small tenders for larger yachts moored in the harbour, while the racing keelboats were served by club launches which might be substantial dinghies driven by vintage Seagull outboards.

The concept of a proper dinghy park was still only in its infancy, relatively speaking, for craft such as Dun Laoghaire’s Firefly and IDRA fleets which had been active since the late 1940s. Thus if anyone had a centreboard boat which could reasonably be expected to lie to moorings, she was obliged to do so, and the fleet of small craft lying off the club included the 17ft Mermaids and the 14ft Water Wags.

nyc slipway 3It could get very crowded on that steep slipway. Paddy Kirwan at the centre of a group making do with limited facilities

To compound the space problems afloat and ashore, during the 1960s the area in the southeast part of Dun Laoghaire Harbour off the National Yacht Club was the focal point for the cross-channel ferry berths. The railway-system serving Mailboat with its emphasis on foot passengers continued to use the Carlisle Pier to the west of the club, but the East Pier was known for a period as the Car Ferry Pier as a busy new roll-on roll-off terminal, which admittedly always had a temporary look about it, had been constructed there to accommodate the new trend in cross-channel travel.

Thus not only was anyone sailing a dinghy from shore at the National YC dong so out of decidedly limited facilities, but they immediately sailed into an area cluttered with a collection of moored boats of all shapes and sizes, and that in turn was set in an area which might have ferry ships berthed close by, or manoeuvring on either side.

john lavery5Learning curve. Gina Duffy and John Lavery on a close run in 1967. The latter has won many major championships, including the Fireball Worlds in 1995

The comparisons with today’s National Yacht Club with its spacious platform facing out over a much clearer harbour area, and beside it an installation of convenient berthing pontoons, could not be greater. But back in the 1960s, an equally important change was happening – there was a complete re-appraisal of what the most junior sailors really needed in boats and instruction to get the best from the sport.

For sure there were the Fireflies, but in terms of lower age limit they were really aimed at adolescents on the cusp of rapidly growing youth. The other available classes were even more adult-oriented. In fact, the underlying problem was that children going sailing were treated as miniature adults who would somehow pick up the skills of the game through a sort of osmosis, whereas for a crucial period of their lives they would have most benefitted from being treated as a different species, with different boats to meet their needs.

Yet even here, adult views dominated. The grown-ups thought that young people’s boats should at least look like small yachts. Thus a dinghy which was promoted for children by several clubs was the 11ft Yachting World Cartop Heron, which had originally been conceived as a DIY-build which could fit on the roof-rack of the average family car, and was designed with a gunter rig such that all its spars could be stowed within the boat.

It had some good ideas, and with a pretty sheer it fulfilled the adult expectation of what a miniature yacht should look like. But it was surprisingly heavy for its avowed rooftop requirement – you’d have needed a weight-trained family to get it on the car roof. And anyway, it was too large for really small kids who genuinely had the sailing bug.

slipway with ferry6The southeast corner of Dun Laoghaire Harbour was very different in 1967, with the East Pier re-designated as the Car Ferry Pier. Yet despite the limitations, the Optimist class quickly caught on after its introduction in 1967

So a revolutionary approach was needed, and it came thanks to one of the National YC’s international sailing stars, Johnny Hooper. He had achieved Ireland’s first Olympic Race win with Peter Gray in the Flying Dutchman in the 1960 Rome Olympics when the sailing was at Naples. But as an FD campaign towards the 1984 Olympics was prohibitively expensive with the venue in Japan, he returned to his first love of International 505 Racing, and it was at a big 505 championship in Scandinavia in 1965 or thereabouts that he first became aware of the game-changing possibilities of the Optimist for junior sailing.

Scandinavia being rightly renowned for the elegance of its yacht, it speaks volume for the versatility of the Florida-originating Optimist, the “simple little boxboat that sails surprisingly well”, that Scandinavia should lead the movement towards a world body for a boat which, whatever the traditionalists might think, the kids were clearly loving. Founded 1965, the International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA) had Viggo Jacobsen of Denmark as its first President with his wife Edith as Secretary, and in that same year Johnny Hooper set about introducing the idea of the Optimist to Ireland.

Now if some ordinary Joe had happened to by impressed by an Optimist at some foreign location, and had even brought one home to persuade his fellow sailors that they were looking at the future, the idea probably would have fallen very flat indeed.

But that’s not the Hooper way. Instead, from his highly respected position he quietly targeted fellow National Yacht Club members who were themselves active sailors, but also had children who would benefit from the Optimist experience, and in time a group emerged which was to include initially Johnny Hooper with his wife Bernie giving the longterm involvement, Peter Gray, Paddy & Barbara Kirwan , Don Douglas, Franz & Carmel Winkelmann, Michael McGrath, Arthur Lavery and several others, many of whom had reasonable DIY skills and could see the possibility of building an Optimist in the basement of their Dun Laoghaire homes without too much disruption of the household. By the Autumn of 1966, the project was under way.

paddy boyd7The first of the new fleet sails. Paddy Boyd (left) Ann Kirwan (centre) and Vivienne Lavery right) getting to know their boats

While Johnny Hooper had introduced the idea, he stood back from its continuing implementation, for the Hooper modus operandi was to give an idea enough strength to soon have wings of its own. That certainly happened in the National Yacht Club, for very quickly a manageably small committee was in being, and the formidable Carmel Winkelmann became its secretary. The NYC Junior Programme became her baby, and it always has since been seen as such, even though the number of people involved in administering the programme over the fifty years, as the NYC facilities have expanded and developed to meet the needs of a modern membership, will now run into the hundreds.

In fact, properly organized junior sailing with boats specifically designed for young people’s needs is now so central to Irish sailing that it takes a huge leap of the imagination to visualize the scene as the first small group of National Yacht Club Optimist Dinghies – most of them locally-built either by amateurs or professonals – began to emerge in May 1967 with numbers increasing as each weekend passed. New they may have been, but they reflected their era, with a public Blessing of the Boats outside the Brindley household as a new batch of boats appeared.

johnny smullen15 1Olympic sailor Johnny Hooper speaking at the Blessing of the Boats as a new batch of home-built Optimists awaits transfer to the National’s limited space.

ann kirwan9Dun Laoghaire was a different place in those days, with Water Wags and Mermaids expected to lie to mooring. Vivienne Lavery and Ann Kirwan testing their skills with the new Optimists – Ann’s boat (476) was one of the few professionally-built in the first batch of Optimists, she was created by the legendary Skee Gray
But though most young sailors in theory had his or her own boat, before anything approaching full fleet numbers was approached they’d a habit of letting anyone sail some boat or other in the early stages, so much so that although Ann Kirwan was part of it from a very early stage, she admits that even she can’t claim total accuracy when identifying the helm of a known boat.

bray regatta10Going abroad......the new Dun Laoghaire Optimists make their debut at Bray Regatta: Paul, Adam and Lucy Winkelmann with Paddy Kirwan putting in his renowned act as a South American Air Marshall at Bray Sailing Club.

This habit of inter-changing sailors became even more marked in that first year when the early class discovered that the most useful base for their day-time sailing was the little-used Irish Lights service barge moored in the western part of the harbour. Over there, NYC Optimist sailors found much clearer sailing water, and they were well away from the comings and goings of the two cross-channel ferries off their home club, not to mention excessive parental control. In effect, the barge became their day-time base, and they ate their packed lunches aboard it while deciding who would take which boat for the first stage of the afternoon’s sailing. Fifty years down the line, we might well wonder if the Commissioners of Irish Lights are aware of the key role their humble barge played in launching Ireland’s Junior Training Programme.....

david ryan11Vivienne Lavery and David Ryan getting away from the slip.

Once launched in its viable form in 1967, there was no stopping it, and the names which have emerged just from the National’s junior programme alone (for virtually all clubs now have one) take us over an extraordinary range, and up to the heights of Olympic participation, the winning of major world dinghy championships and associations with the America’s Cup.

It’s Johnny Smullen who provides the latter. The California-based Johnny Smullen in San Diego is now of world stature in anything to do with yacht and boat-building or indeed in marine construction generally, and his talent has been recognized at the highest level as he has worked on major projects for the very demanding Dennis Conner, aka Mr America’s Cup.

Johnny will have inherited his feeling for classics from his father Cass, a great sailor who was such an enthusiast for the Dublin Bay 21s in their original rather spectacular gaff-rigged form that when the class contemplated changing to a more easily-handled and convenient Bermudan rig in 1963, Cass claimed that he could easily rig a gaff-rigged DB 21 in 15 minutes flat. And that included setting the jackyard topsail to perfection. So he brought a DB 21 close into the clubhouse (as you could in those days), and in front of a drink-sipping crowd of observers on the verandah, he did the job within 15 minutes. But they still went ahead and converted to Bermudan rig.

Son Johnny meanwhile was enlisted in the NYC Junior Programme as soon as he reached he lower age limit, and when the 40th Anniversary was being celebrated back in 2007, he sent on his memoirs which well capture the flavour of it all:

San Diego, 17th May 2007

The way I saw it.

I am eight years old and my parents are wondering what to do with me for the summer, it went something like this: “Get him out from under our feet”. I was equally happy to stay at home and play in the back garden, invent stuff and dream up ways to frighten my sisters. Chasing them with worms was a good one.

I was enrolled in the adventure of my life.

At first I was lead to believe it was going to be a fun thing with the opportunity to meet new people and friends, maybe making me more sociable as I was quiet child in a world of my own. I bought into this and showed up for the first day. It was great, lots of people all different shapes and sizes, so there we were all sitting around playing with stuff and one-upping on how my father is better than yours, especially at snooker. The chatter fell silent when along came this very tall white-haired lady with an incredibly loud voice. It was at this point I became suspicious as I had just watched Paths of Glory and A Bridge Too Far, I had seen how the enemy rounded up people and put them in trucks and brought to places, unfriendly places.....

We arrived at Sandycove harbour where we were lined up on the pier. I though this was it, we were then forced to line up at the steps and walk down into the freezing water fully clothed and flail around, there were guards (instructors we were led to believe) everywhere, and just to make sure the torture was effective they made us hold our heads under water for 30 minutes, well 30 seconds, but it felt like minutes. Then we were all forced to walk back to the NYC where our fate was to be determined. Freezing and scared, I was cursing my family and wondering what I had done to them.

johnny smullen15 1He survived.....eventually Johnny Smullen became a keen Mirror dinghy sailor, but he was pessimistic enough to call his boat Splinter

We arrived back at Camp NYC and were lined up and made to wear large cumbersome protective coats, some were yellow, purple, some orange, I guessed they were labelling us, something to do with our religion. Some of these jackets had large protective collars probably to help protect us from the beatings to come, I thought. Our names were branded onto the “Life Jackets” as I started to call them, knowing they would play a key role in our protection.

We were divided into groups and lead away by the guards into this large damp room with arches and a dank smell of cotton, hemp and mould. This was where we were to remain for all the rainy days to be brain-washed, they started by teaching us knots. I was convinced this was going to be how to tie the very knot that would be the doom of us, I compared it to carrying the cross of Calvary. I decided then to be really bad at it in the hopes that one of my knots would slip open and I could dash to my freedom. We also had to jump up, and hand-over-hand along the light blue steel beam that ran across the dark room, this was to make our arms really strong, they had a plan for strong arms – I will tell you about that a little later.

Food consisted of a march up to Wimpeys for a spice burger and chips all drowned in vinegar to disguise the taste, if there was good behaviour we got to go to the Miami Café. The day was long (except Thursdays when we had to get out early) and after a week in Boot Camp we were all tired and weary. What had I done to my family to deserve this?

The second week came along and we were introduced to the ships, rather large wooden craft resembling a landing craft with the flat bow (I was always looking for the hinges). This is where the strong arms came into. We were grouped into six per team, and the guards waited until low tide when we had to carry the ship down a rickety wooden slip (there’s a reason for calling it a slip). Upon its surface there were large wooden rollers but we were forbidden to use those rollers, and to make sure they filed a fat spot on the rollers, deeming them useless. We picked up the incredible heavy boat, all six of us, one on each corner holding a knee, and two in the middle by the oar locks. Later I was to learn the place to be was up at the bow (by the door), it was lightest. I was adapting to this cruel camp. As we descended down to the icy water again fully clothed, we came across a bright green pungent slime. I had what I thought were special sailing shoes, but as soon as I touched the slime I was down. Down hard. The guards started yelling, I knew I had to get up quickly....remember Calvary!....We reached the bottom and stopped, the guards yelled again and made us wade right into the icy deep, still fully clothed. With the landing craft now floating, we had to master manoeuvring, the craft were lined up alongside the slippy slip, that’s the reason they call it a..................

I stepped on the gunwhale. Now at this point I did not understand the physics like I do today, and when you apply a load to any point of the gunwhale of a flat-bottomed craft two things will happen (once only). The opposing gunwhale will come up as you travel down, and because I am as tall as the craft is wide, somewhere in the middle he two surfaces will meet, your face and the opposing gunwhale. After the initial shock, the second shock comes from the icy cold water. Then I found out what the large collar was for as the guards hauled me out of the abyss semi-conscious. Once inside the craft, we were grouped into two and handed oars. Let the games begin.....

After a week of rowing and shipping oars and coming alongside we were all adapting well to boating, there’s nothing to it. Just as we are enjoying ourselves, we are reminded that this is a work camp with launch and retrieval exercise twice a day. The launch and retrieval is carefully timed at 6 and 12 hours intervals to make sure it was low tide and we’d the longest slimiest walk up the rickety slips, observed closely by the guards from the window of the snooker room glaring down at us. Boating is turning out to be challenging but fun, and the new friends are all pitching together to eventually plan an assault on the guards to free ourselves.

The third week came along and there were large wooden poles with white canvas and a stick with notches cut out of it, why on earth did they have to make it harder? It was perfectly simple with the clean decks and oars and oar locks, now the boats are so heavy with this rig up, my bow lifting position is not that smart as we carry down the slip with the sail pressed hard against my face. After countless days of theory brainwashing in the damp room, we have to pass a few tests to prove worthy to sail, if called upon, out to the US Aircraft Carrier John F Kennedy anchored out in Dublin Bay. The first test was to take the stick with the notches and stretch out the canvas and hook onto a rope loop, without falling over this was harder than carrying the feckin’ boat, the second was to line up two pins while hanging over the transom full of chips and spice burgers. If it had hair....

Most of us mastered that task after a few tries, and it wasn’t long before we were sailing out to the sterns of the ferry Hibernia or Cambria, whichever was in port at the time. This went on for a few weeks and as we settled into the routine it got easier as we went on.

During the time in the damp boathouse, usually when it was blowing dogs off chains outside and while I was trying to get the batteries out of the loudhailer, I noticed a beautiful varnished clinker planked boat, it was almost new, and a very wise man was looking after it. This Man was tough as the rivets holding it together and knew everything about the seas. I knew if I paid attention he would help get me through the summer, he did and he is almost responsible for what I do today. Thank you Jack!

The discipline of Boot Camp had turned us into great sailors, great card players, snooker players....it wasn’t until the third stage we found flagons. But not on the night of May 17th 1975, I was at home doing my homework that night....

Ah.....the memories, I hope I have stirred a few, it was the most wonderful time of my life and I wish I was there to get drunk with all of you and play cards till the wee hours, but meanwhile thanks

To Carmel, thank you very much; I always have my lifejacket.

To Jack Brennan, I am always thinking of you up there, and thanks for teaching me how to tie my shoelaces.

To all the instructors Paul, Ann, Jimmy, I never believed the story of the rabbit and the tree, but thanks anyway

And to all my dear family and friends

Lots of love, Johnny Smullen

PS It was me that stuck the coke bottle in the cannon at the front of the club....

johnny smullen15 1Johnny Smullen and Dennis Conner inspect the hull of the 1925-built Cotton Blossom

johnny smullen15 1Cotton Blossom II after restoration by Johnny Smullen

Inspired by Jack Brennan and other master craftsmen, Johnny has gone on to become a shipwright of such skill from his base in San Diego, California, that he in turn inspires others, one of his most famous projects being the complete restoration of the 49ft Q Class sloop Cotton Blossom II of 1925 vintage.

When a complete restoration is contemplated, Johnny doesn’t mess about. The word is that when he and Dennis turned up to finalise the deal on Cotton Blossom and bring her back to San Diego, they found the previous owners sorry enough to see her go, and rather proud of the style in which they’d maintained her. But after they’d gone to sort the details with the new owner, they went to take a last look at the boat. It’s said they found that Johnny had already delivered his opinion on the existing rig by cutting the shrouds and stays at the deck with bolt-croppers, and cutting the old mast off at deck level with a chainsaw.

Maybe that’s an apocryphal Johnny Smullen from taking delivery of another boat. Yet when you see Cotton Blossom in her restored form, it’s clear what Johnny says should indeed be Holy Writ. This is a project of world standard. But what’s even more remarkable is that despite everything the Sailing Boot Camp at the NYC might have inflicted on him all those year ago, Johnny’s love of boats and sailing is such that he has his own personal sweet classic, the lovely 36ft International One Design Altair. She’s sailed as often as possible, and though he can’t make it back to Dun Laoghaire next month for the Golden Jubilee as there’s very major project under way, Altair will be racing with the San Diego classics under the National Yacht Club burgee.

johnny smullen15 1Johnny Smullen’s own pet boat Altair reveals his abiding love of sailing.
John Lavery’s father Arthur was another of those pioneering Optimist dads back in the late 1960s, and John and his sister Vivienne were both in that first batch of trainee sailors. He ended up winning championships in more classes then you could quickly count, but the peak of it all came in September 1995 when he and David O’Brien of this parish won the Fireball Worlds in Dublin Bay.

In fact, the graduates from 50 years of a junior training programme at the National YC can be found in successful positions in many boat classes in many places, but it is the club’s outgoing attitude to those who wish to learn to sail which deservedly provided its most outstanding success. A long time ago a Mrs MacAleavey, a widow with no sailing connections, was looking for a club which would make her increasingly boat-mad daughter Cathy – who had recently bought a clapped-out 420 – feel encouraged in any way to learn to sail. Despite the fact that it was still in process of recovering from a fire in the clubhouse, the NYC showed itself the most welcoming along the Dun Laoghaire waterfront, so much so that Mrs McAleavey felt sufficiently encouraged to buy her daughter a new 420, and that in turn led on eventually to Cathy representing Ireland in the women’s 470 in the 1988 Olympics.

The three children she had with husband Con Murphy went on to get their introduction to sailing through the National YC’s junior programme, and daughter Annalise emerged with the talent and the burning ambition which resulted in a heart-breaking fourth at the 2012 Olympics in the Women’s Laser Radial when a medal had seemid almost certainly within her grasp. But memories of that were entirely laid to rest with the Silver Medal in the 2016 Olympics Rio after a difficult final race in which the lone sailor seemed to stay as cool as you please, while the nation at home watched with bated breath.

annalise murphy16The medal-winning moment as Annalise Murphy crosses the finish line in Rio to win Silver.

That it was ultimately a very personal achievement is something respected by her club, and they claim to have done nothing more than provide the first steps on the pathway, and a general spirit of encouragement. But nevertheless the success is all of a piece with the Golden Jubilee which will be celebrated on May 20th, and Carmel Winkelmann continues in her mission of providing a background of training for young sailors of all types, whether they aim only to be a competitive club sailor, or whether they aim for the ultimate heights.

Thus one of her projects in recent years was to find real support for young Finn Lynch, who had reached that difficult stage of being a top junior sailor, yet still had to find his feet as an adult. Thanks to support raised by Carmel, he became Ireland’s representative in the Men’s Lasers at Rio despite going through the final stages of the selection with a training injury recovery problem which may have had an adverse effect on his performance in as the youngest sailor in Rio, aged just 20.

Whether or not he would have been better off not being in Rio at all is neither here nor there. When you’re 20, four years can seem an appallingly long time. The Tokyo Olympics in 2020 must have seeemed aeons away for a young sailor who had shown many flashes of real talent. It was better for him to be in Rio while learning a lot, rather than kicking his heels in frustration in some dead end. And when he needed material help to see through the campaign, it was Carmel Winkelmann who was there to make to ensure that support was available. That will be something else for celebration on May 20th.

carmel winkelmann17Carmel Winkelmann and Finn Lynch at the National Yacht Club, June 2016. Photo W M Nixon

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