What’s this about the tiny Glandore Harbour Yacht Club having the largest, most active Dragon Fleet in the country? Sally Fegan-Wyles reports from West Cork
On a cold winter night fifteen years ago, a bar-side conversation turned a great idea into reality. GHYC members were reflecting on the lack of local participation in the summer sailing school. Children were coming from Dublin and Cork, or even further afield, but not from the area around Glandore. The problem was that there was no tradition of sailing for fun in the local farming or fishing families. Yachts were for blow-ins.
It was Debbie Bendon who suggested providing free introductory classes to children from the local primary schools, hoping that if they had a great time, some of them might persuade their parents that they should come to the summer school courses. Debbie, Avril Cooke, and Neville Scott started to work with Glandore Primary School Headmaster Vincent O’Neill, and parents Noreen O’Mahoney and Kathleen Hayes to make it happen.
Fast forward 15 years, and meet Kevin Hayes, dairy farmer, former senior sailing instructor GHYC ISA training, and Captain of the Glandore Fleet of 13 Dragons. No one in Kevin’s family had been on the water before the national schools programme started, but now there are five sailing Hayes’, Michele, Clare, Kevin, Rebecca and Peter, three of whom crewed at the 2016 Irish Dragon Championship in Kinsale.
And it’s not just the Hayes, hundreds of local youngsters from four local primary schools (Glandore, Leap, Union Hall and Abbystrewry) have been through the programme, which is now run by Anne O’Mahoney. Many of them have gone on to attend further sailing courses, and are now coming back as sailing instructors, either in Glandore, or in sailing clubs in the US, where GHYC graduates have a great reputation.
Interview with Kathleen Hayes
How did you feel when you first heard of the programme?
“Ever since I saw a line of little mirrors coming into the harbor, with the heads of the summer school children hardly up to the sides of the boat, I was determined that someday my children would learn to sail. So we jumped at the chance. Michele was the first, and I went down to the harbor with my camera to watch. She came off the water on such a ‘high’- the fun they had, and the level of excitement- if we could only bottle the joy that those children felt our fortune would be made.”
Was Kevin equally keen?
“He took to it like a duck to water. Normally a rather shy child, he could not wait for us to leave when we dropped him off. Already when he was 10-11, he was helping to teach the children from the other schools. All five of our children then went to the GHYC summer school for the full set of sailing courses, and then did the instructors course. So far Michelle, Clare and Kevin have all worked as instructors, with Rebecca starting this summer, and Peter chomping at the bit.”
And what about yourself?
“I would have loved to sail, but its too late for me to learn. Instead I get out on the water on any boat I can hitch a ride from, and I take pictures. Still trying to capture the joy of sailing”.
A simple idea has changed the nature of GHYC, building a level of local engagement that is not always seen in yacht clubs, and ensuring that GHYC has a very bright future.