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Proposal Seeks 'Shake-up' of ISA Policy to Stem Dinghy Sailing Decline

26th February 2013

#isa – A full 'shake–up' for sailing is on the agenda at Saturday's Irish Sailing Association (ISA) agm when a former dinghy champion takes aim at current policies he claims are 'damaging the sport'.

GP14 and Mirror dinghy sailor Norman Lee, an active Wicklow boater with a reputation for introducing people to the sport in both dinghy and cruising boats, says he wants 'the ISA focus off elite sailing and the emphasis instead to be on enjoying sailing for fun as per the association's own articles of association'.


'I want a full shake-up. Lets take the focus off the Olympics and have a root and branch reappraisal of sail training'.

A failure to provide support and encouragement to clubs and class associations in all parts of the country has led to a decline in dinghy sailing numbers according to the proposal published by the ISA on its website. The agm notice is also downloadable as a word doc below.

The agm is scheduled for Saturday, March 2nd at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire.

Lee is a member of Greystones Sailing Club, Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club and Lough Derg Yacht Club.

Lee says he wants a proper reappraisal of the sport.  'The ISA needs to amend its policies and return to its original objectives of the  amateur sport in Ireland'.

In particular Lee says the ISA currently has an over 'emphasis of the training of selected juveniles by the creation of elite squads of possible future Olympians'. This, says Lee, is without proper regard to the interests of those failing (for whatever reasons) to meet that standard or who are not able or cannot afford to give the time or family/financial commitment and this discourages people who are lost to the sport. 

Lee says the ISA needs to refocus on the original objective set out in article 2 of its Memorandum of Association, which is 'to promote the amateur sport of sailing in Ireland' and amend its policies and practices to address the matters referred to."

The full proposal in accordance with the ISA's Article 33 is as follows:

"That the meeting recognises that the current policies being followed by the ISA are causing or contributing to the decline in numbers participating in dinghy racing by:-

Failing to structure the Association's sail training schemes so as to encourage as far as possible the continued participation of young participants in the sport, so as to make sailing a "sport for life". The system produces 'Instructors' who put no value on participation in club activities, continue to see themselves as 'Juniors' and have not been exposed to 'Senior' fleet sailing. Experience shows that those that have participated in 'senior' racing in their teens are much more likely to continue sailing or come back at a later stage.

Discontinuing the log book requirement for juniors to prove participation in club and Class events has contributed to a general lowering of standards and the demise of some junior classes.

Failing to provide necessary support and encouragement to clubs and classes associations in all parts of the Country for the provision and continuation of well managed and competitive dinghy racing at club and national level.

Emphasising the training of selected juveniles by the creation of elite squads of possible future Olympians, without proper regard to the interests of those failing (for whatever reasons) to meet that standard or who are not able or cannot afford to give the time or family/financial commitment and who are thereby discouraged and lost to the sport.

And that ISA refocus on the original objective set out in article 2 of its Memorandum of Association, which is 'to promote the amateur sport of sailing in Ireland' and amend its policies and practices to address the matters referred to." would like to hear from as many sailors as possible on the proposal raised by Norman. Please leave your comments on this story in the box below.

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  • Comment Link Dave Cheyne - Irish RS200/400 Class Secretary Wednesday, 20 March 2013 23:06 posted by Dave Cheyne - Irish RS200/400 Class Secretary

    As a member of the Irish RS Association, I am somewhat perplexed that we are looking at the ISA to solve our "problem"
    Strikes me that we are all coming up with solutions, without asking those who aren't now sailing, why have they stopped?

    The world is a very different place, youth activities are completely different to how they were when we grew up - socialising takes place online as much as in person, thrills are easily achieved in other activities requiring less organisation than sailing does

    I think it is up to the classes to address the lack of inclusivity, and if the ISA can help, it is to continue to support sailing course management - after that, it is up to clubs and associations to make it fun for those who might be part of their family

    Ask people what they want, and provide it - let's not spend time theorising over what folk want

    I suspect sailing is too time consuming for most people, too expensive in the current climate (our sailors, after we surveyed them, placed cost of petrol, entry and accommodation at the top of their inhibitory influences)

  • Comment Link Bryan Armstrong Tuesday, 05 March 2013 20:35 posted by Bryan Armstrong

    My source for the comment that 80 to 90% of Oppie sailors do not sail again was the “life after oppies” page of the IODA website a few years ago and a conversation with an IODA committee member. I see now that the comment is no longer on the page, and to that extent I stand corrected.
    I don’t think that the research quoted on the site Robert Wilkes refers to can be treated as referable to the domestic Irish situation. After all, if a kid makes it to a World Championship it is likely that he/she is more motivated than most and therefore more likely to keep up sailing.
    One of the many problems in the debate is an absence of hard data. I wouldn’t have thought that it was rocket science for someone who had access to the information to compare a list of Oppie sailors of (say) 5 years ago with a list of the junior sailors in the classes where you would expect to see them, and work out how many are still actively sailing. The numbers in the post Oppie fleets would suggest that the answer is not a lot.
    IODA have been doing great work over the years and are of course entitled to say that where kids go after their time with them is not an IODA problem. However, if the dropout rate is actually so high it represents a massive wastage of the resources these children represent for Irish Sailing. It needs to be addressed.

  • Comment Link Stuart kinnear Tuesday, 05 March 2013 14:03 posted by Stuart kinnear

    As frostbite od/organiser/mark layer/rescue boat driver for 30 years I have watched dinghy classes come and go. I have watched with interest as the ISA introduced and refined their junior training regimes. I ask myself now did their efforts improve the take up of dinghy sailing. The answer must be no. Their concentration on the wrong classes was almost comic. I remember plainly when there was 70 GPS sailing from BYC (a gold and silver fleet). At this stage ISA then IYA were promoting 420. I also remember plainly 70 fireballs at open events. The IYA then sponsored the 470 buying boats and poaching from other classes to support this.
    Over the last 25 years when mirrors could produce 100 plus fleets ISA promoted optimist and laser.
    I watched with interest optimist training in DL when frostbite entries were 100 plus and surely the best training would have been to join one of the classes competing there. Where then was the guidance from the ISA.
    We have several strong class associations already in existence. The new Olympic classes have none. Surely we should back our existing strengths most of these are 2 handed adding a stronger social side for younger people.

    I met my wife sailing GPS and there are many more like me.

  • Comment Link David Harte Monday, 04 March 2013 22:12 posted by David Harte

    There are many things that need to be looked at here.

    1. Is the ISA responsible for the decline in fleet numbers.

    No, In the days when I was racing dinghies mid 70's there was only 1 staff member in the ISA it was not there job to promote numbers, but they were high, but the clubs and personal, volunteered to keep dinghy racing at the club level, but in those days sailing was really only a summer sport, so every body got involved for the few months, but now it is twelve months sailing, with ongoing training, coaching camps etc etc. If we were to count the number of sailing days that happen in Ireland these days in dinghy classes in one year, I believe it would be higher than any time in past history.

    2. Should the Log book with racing hours logged be reintroduced

    I believe the SBSS has issues that need to be looked at, the CERT has become more important than the SKILL, but I also believe that Start Sailing and Basic Skills should not have a racing logbook requirement, as these first two levels are for teaching skills, having FUN, making friends and not to force people into racing, introduction to racing can be looked at, at Improving Skills and the follow on levels.
    At our centre all our students from the community school are not introduced to the SBSS at any stage and has never been questioned, our focus is on the SKILL not the CERT and once you have the Skill racing becomes a lot easier.

    3. Is the Mirror being neglected by the ISA

    The ISA has a pathway of Dinghies that may or may not suit people, but they do suit Age groups, Weight ranges, Cost factor, Fitness etc, there are many classes that are not on that list, these classes work to there own devices, promote there class, run events, run training etc, If the ISA was to promote and fund all these classes there would be nothing left.
    I am in this group running a discipline that uses many classes, Team Racing, Our Nationals, Regional's, traveling teams, receive no funding and I don't believe the ISA should be responsible for funding, we work hard to promote Team Racing at school level with the use of Volunteers and Club involvement, which is the grass roots for the future of sailing in this country, the Celtic Tiger is gone, the hand outs are gone, so lets get our fingers out and get back to grass roots.

  • Comment Link Robert Wilkes Monday, 04 March 2013 14:43 posted by Robert Wilkes

    IODA does NOT "say that over 80% of Oppie sailors do not sail again when they leave at 15."
    There is no way of estimating the dropout level from the "10,000 - 20,000 youths participating on ISA junior training courses every summer."
    The only data published by IODA is at

  • Comment Link IMCAI [International Mirror Class Association of Ireland] Friday, 01 March 2013 17:39 posted by IMCAI [International Mirror Class Association of Ireland]

    In our earlier submission to ISA, we stated that LDYC had received a small monitary contribution from ISA toward running the Mirror Worlds. We have been informed by LDYC that this information is incorrect. LDYC state that they "have not received any monitary contribution from ISA towards running the World's".

    (we say this notwithstanding a small monitory contribution from ISA to LDYC).

  • Comment Link International Mirror Class Association of Ireland Friday, 01 March 2013 16:05 posted by International Mirror Class Association of Ireland

    IMCAI [International Mirror Class Association of Ireland]

    IMCAI wholly endorses the initiative taken by Norman Lee and Bryan Armstrong.


    This year the Mirror celebrates its 50th birthday. The Mirror class has been a cornerstone for the launch of thousands of sailing careers in Ireland and around the world. In our youth, many of us, including sailors from virtually all Classes look back fondly at Mirror Nationals in which up to 130 Mirrors gathered. Enduring friendships were made that have spread throughout all fleets including the cruising fraternity and to this day form a compelling bond among the sailing family.

    Mirrors also provided the grounding for so many successful sailors, from Round the World winners to Olympians:-

    Olympic Silver Medallist Stuart Bithell learned to sail in a Mirror; he said “the Mirror is great to learn in. I developed tactical skills which I took forward into the 420 and then onto the 470”. Round the World Yachtswomen, Dame Ellen Mac Arthur, who broke the record for the fastest solo circumnavigation in 2005 and Dee Caffari, the first woman to sail non-stop around the world both ways are big fans of the Mirror. Dee had this to say; “it does not matter how high performance your yacht or dinghy is today, I can almost guarantee that at some stage in a sailor’s career they have sat in a Mirror to learn the basic skills”. Double Olympic silver medallist and Round the World yachtsman Ian Walker said he “owed his career to the Mirror”.

    However, far more importantly Mirror Sailing has grounded tens of thousands of sailors that now just race for leisure in a host of different classes or merely potter about or cruise near or far.

    The Mirror is a superb boat, relatively stable but highly responsive. Importantly, the Mirror requires a crew of two which hones young sailor’s skills in communication and dependency. Skippers, crew and parents form an everlasting bond which has been such a huge contributor to the greater sailing family and which underpins the sport and indeed the ISA. The Mirror is also a very affordable boat with hundreds, if not thousands lying in sheds around the country.

    Present Status of Mirror Class:

    Against the above background, the decimation of the Mirror fleet in recent years is regrettable and represents a long term body blow to the development of the sport in general. The 2012 National Championships mustered just over 30 boats and Provincial titles often have less than 20 competitors. While one must be careful in apportioning “blame” for this decline, successive IMCAI Committees have worked extremely hard in promoting and developing the Class. Hundreds of hours of voluntary effort has gone into the management and development of the Class but it seems that no matter how much effort is put in, the Class continues to decline.

    It is clear that something is radically wrong. This is borne out by other dinghy fleets that are taking part in this debate.

    Role of ISA:

    There has been disquiet and much debate among the Mirror family for a number of years now in regard to the role of the ISA in supporting the Mirror Class. In general, there is a feeling of total disconnect between the Class and the ISA. Some believe that ISA is almost hostile to the Class.

    During the Mirror Europeans at Poole last year, the disparity in the level of coaching available to UK Mirror sailors and Irish Sailors was almost embarrassing. IMCAI took immediate steps to rectify this and put together an inaugural National Winter Coaching program. IMCAI sought funding / assistance from ISA but received no response.

    Instead, a host of volunteers came together to make the program a success, not least Lough Ree Yacht Club who provided fully heated club facilities, rescue boats, man power and indoor storage facilities. Parents raised the funds to pay the Coaches.
    There is something wrong when initiatives such as this have to be undertaken with zero input from ISA. For example, it would have been brilliant for Mirror sailors to have Annalise Murphy come and speak to them on a Saturday or Sunday as part of the Coaching program.

    Finally, with the Gathering and the Mirror World Championships at Lough Derg both this year, it would appear to provide a golden opportunity for ISA to promote Irish Sailing worldwide (we say this notwithstanding a small monitory contribution from ISA to LDYC).


    Clearly, the creation of elitist Classes by the ISA is not helping those Classes excluded from the program. This of course is unfair and indeed discriminatory. IMCAI believe that this has impacted severely on the Mirror Class, on sailors, on boat manufacturers and resale values of boats. As the sole representative body for sailing in Ireland, the ISA has onerous responsibilities. By giving exclusivity to certain Classes at the expense of rival Classes, ISA is effectively distorting the market. Two precedents involving similar though not identical situations have arisen with the SJAI [Show Jumping Association of Ireland] and the Irish Kennel Club. In both cases, the National Representative Associations had to significantly amend certain exclusivity practices and provide undertakings accordingly.


    IMCAI believes that ISA has lost its way and needs to undertake a root and branch reappraisal of its focus, in particular having regard to the aspirations contained in ISA’s 2020 Vision statement;-

    • Make Access to Boating Easier, Increase Participation in Boating Activities, Improve Standard of Sailing and Manage Legislation.

    • The profile of “sailing and boating as an activity for all” will be embedded in the activities of the ISA while increasing standards in every aspect in the sport will be the underlying principle of the organisation.

    Various contributors have made very pertinent points and clearly a committee needs to be set up to assist in steering ISA in a manner that reflects, in the first instance, the aspirations of members. Structural changes may well be required in order to represent ISA’s would be position to the Sports Council but the overriding requirement is to create a framework that can take on board the issues raised by such a large cross section of ISA members with a view to implementing changes. It would seem logical that the two proposers of the motion, Norman Lee and Bryan Armstrong would play a pivotal role in bringing this agenda forward.

  • Comment Link Glen Ward Friday, 01 March 2013 13:23 posted by Glen Ward

    Having followed this thread for a few days I think that the focus is still a bit too far up the ladder and looking for solutions to cater for established classes and systems that are clearly not functioning due to a lack of numbers.

    What the real problem appears to be is a lack of grass roots entry to the sport. There are plenty of clubs, classes and training organisations in the country not mention idle boats.

    I think the ISA needs to stop hiding behind the facade of technical policies, strategies & useless re-branding, and get their a***s out of the office and onto the streets to promote the sport. They should then carry the bucket around the government agencies and commercial organisations to raise extra funds to support getting the 'ordinary person' introduced to the sport. Finally,they should be negotiating with affiliated clubs and classes to share the imitative.

    Having lived in Dublin for nearly 10 years I have never once received any promotional or invitational literature through my door (as a member of the GP) with regard to introducing people to the sport. I'd say they could do more standing on Grafton st on a wet day than a week in their miserable offices.

    The celtic tiger is long gone so time to do a real days work and forget about overseas conferences which are not really relevant if you can't manage whats already on your doorstep. Unless numbers begin to dramatically improve its time to get in the right people and I'd say Dublin Zoo could provide more enthusiastic candidates.

  • Comment Link Ric Moz Friday, 01 March 2013 11:39 posted by Ric Moz

    A little harsh there Sean. Don't knock those for trying.

    The match racing was sailor led rather than much to do with the ISA. We went to the clubs with a firm proposal for what we wanted to do and some of them backed us by gaving us access to the boats. Support from the ISA totalled helping run 3 national championships. We got started when there where sailors interested in putting teams together and stopped when there weren't. Simple as that and no different to anyothe rclass assoc. There are a range of reasons that interest died off, one contributing factor was that it became clear that match racing was not going to make it as an Olympic sport.

    The learnings I got from match racing in terms of getting teenagers into racing went back to HYC, where they have set up a youth keelboat team as part of their training scheme in a class that would give them access to established events of the kind the cadets want to be part of (big events with a social element like VDLW) and where there where members with an interest in supporting them in getting to events.

  • Comment Link Brian Craig Thursday, 28 February 2013 23:21 posted by Brian Craig

    I have read with interest the online debate on Afloat about the role and direction of the ISA.
    A wide range of comments have been made which will all hopefully be reviewed by the board. I would like to add weight to a couple of points.
    1. Log Book – was, in my opinion, a key to the success of and enjoyment of junior/youth classes and was very important to the success of club regattas around the country. It encouraged ALL sailors who wanted to advance through the ISA Syllabus/Stages to travel away from their own club to outside regattas – this raised the standard, added to the enjoyment for the ‘social sailor’ and increased entries at regattas around the country. Now it is only the hot-shot sailors/parents who travel. It is the social fun that keeps the majority of people in the sport.
    2. ISA relationship with Clubs and Class Associations – we are told by ISA that the life blood (subscription income) is the clubs and classes. Surely then these bodies should feel the national authority is supportive and helping them grow their membership or class.
    The question to ask of the board/staff is do they see themselves as directing (i.e. often restricting initiative?) the clubs/classes OR supporting them? To have mutual trust surely the ISA should involve the clubs and classes more in decision making rather than trying to sell their decisions afterwards through roadshows & presentations.
    Looking after the basics- why when the key stakeholders are feeling neglected is the organisation expanding into other areas of activity some of which are encroaching on or eroding the activities of their own clubs/classes? This doesn’t build trust and working relationships. It should direct it energies at the CLUBS rather than trying to justify/communicate its existence to the members of the clubs – otherwise it becomes, as Gerry Byrne suggests, a glorified club rather than a national authority.
    3. Olympics and Governance – our sport is well respected when compared with other national associations and has as a result been well supported over the years by the Sports Council. The ISA has done a good job representing us in this regard over the years. The Olympic case has been well made by previous contributors.
    I look forward to the AGM

Sailing on Saturday W M Nixon

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