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How Can Irish Sailing Keep The ‘F In Fun’?

12th April 2017
Fun on the water at Royal Cork Fun on the water at Royal Cork Photo: Bob Bateman

Could British sailing’s own difficulties with maintaining the ‘fun factor’ to attract more racers and fans have repercussions for the ISA’s recent efforts to rejuvenate the sport in Ireland?

David Henshall writes for Yachts and Yachting about measures that can be taken to ensure the ‘f in fun’ isn’t lost from the British sailing scene.

And his conclusions would surely be just as pertinent on this side of the Irish Sea.

One issue identified is time, or the use of it. The article cites Finn Olympic medallist Luca Devoti as one helm at the pinnacle of the sport who sees that as more racing is compressed into the available time, “the more it favours the elite sailors that increasingly are dominating our sport”.

Indeed, it’s not difficult to see why amateurs might be dissuaded from prepping their boats for any weekend meet where the fleet will be ruled by more aspirational professional or semi-pro sailors on the elite track, for whom the results are all.

What can British clubs do to make inroads? Henshall suggests more midweek and after-work sailing meets — something Irish sailing clubs are already making efforts to do this summer season.

But it’s not just about scheduling, it’s also about creating the conditions for more fun on the water. That means considering what the majority of participants want from their races, not what the principal of peak competition demands.

Sailing weeks — combining on-the-water races on unorthodox courses, eschewing the standard windward/leeward runs, with a shoreline festival atmosphere — are cited as one way to buck the trend and maintain a sense of fun.

Open meets in the junior classes like Oppys and Toppers remain successful in the UK and Ireland alike, and fresh thinking at governing-body level is encouraging a new greater sense of ensuring the fun is in taking part, not just winning and striving climb the ladder of success.

 What’s more, classes like the lighting-quick Moth, while bringing a new sense of excitement to sailing for competitor and spectator alike, are also fuelling a revival of their non-foiling classic brothers 

The shake-up of the ISA-up of the ISA in recent years has seen a push for one-design classes, where the potential for fun is greater than in handicaps — after all, everyone sailing the same boat levels the playing field and reduces that sense of frustration lower-level sailors must feel when higher performance vessels leave them in their wake. 

mixed dinghies royal corkMixed dinghies compete at Royal CorkYacht Club's PY 1000 event in Crosshaven Photo: Bob Bateman

Things aren’t helped by a proliferation of new designs driven by the high-performance level, writes Henshall, which are “fragmenting the scene” and ultimately mean little to grassroots club sailors — the equivalent of trying to sell sports cars to commuters.

Can there be a balance between fun and performance? Henshall suggests the D-Zero design in Britain as a prime example, where neither is sacrificed for the other. The question is, is there a similar mid-range dinghy class that offers the same in Ireland?

What else can be done in the Irish sailing scene to ensure the ‘f in fun’ isn’t lost? Have your say in the comments below!

Leave a comment


  • Comment Link Simon Murray 13th April 2017 posted by Simon Murray

    In my opinion one design should be the way forward, in dinghies and small keel-boats.
    I have been saying this for some time, from an ex flying fifteener now sailing an SB20, that we have many classes, some old, some new, with differing fleet sizes, usually based where they have always been. Some now have low numbers. We need direction and leadership from above (ISA), to try and establish the more popular or most suitable, and try and encourage some sailors to convert to make better numbers in fewer classes, and thus get better racing, and thus better sailors. I understand there will reluctance to do this. We could also establish categories in each class, some already have this to encourage those at a lower level and/or beginning.
    As per article this gets more difficult with new technologies, and manufacturers introducing new boats!!

  • Comment Link Alex Blackwell 13th April 2017 posted by Alex Blackwell

    Once again the author of this article has entirely missed the point - particularly bearing the title of the article in mind: How Can Irish Sailing Keep The ‘F In Fun’?

    The fact is, and always has been, that sailing is not only all about racing, as has been implied here. "Fun" certainly does not equate with sailboat racing - irrespective of the type of boat.

    Yes, admittedly racing can be fun. In fact, I am off to join our club racing in a few short minutes.

    However "sailing" includes "fun" things like "messing about in boats", sailing off to an island or a beach to go exploring or have a picnic, or fishing for mackerel off the back of the dinghy while sailing along - which is what I spent my summers doing as a kid.

    So, as long as our governing body keeps insisting that "sailing" is a "sport", and that "racing" is the primary objective, sailing will keep on dying. And so long as this is the primary point of view, there will be attrition in young and old and SAILING WILL NOT BE FUN.

    We have tested and proven this thesis to be true at a major club level, but that is subject of a lengthier article.

    food for thought...

  • Comment Link Jeff Harrison 13th April 2017 posted by Jeff Harrison

    A more suitable single handed dinghy would be the Supernova - having the only one in Ireland I am slightly biased lol, but i did much research to finding an alternative to the Laser. The Supernova is a little bit faster but much more comfortable. For me sailing the Supernova is about getting out and having fun without the hassle of organising crew and overbearing boat maintenance. It is a fun and fast little boat that can do very well in a PY class. There is the benefit of affordable second hand boats if newer ones are too pricey. Also for lighter crews or for the stronger winds there is a small sail without the need of buying mast sections.

  • Comment Link Robert Wilkes 13th April 2017 posted by Robert Wilkes

    Fun yes but the Irish market is too small for multiple similar classes. Historically most new boats (e.g. Laser 2) split existing fleets, fail to reach critical mass and have to be sold at a loss.

  • Comment Link Paul Hegarty 13th April 2017 posted by Paul Hegarty

    For years there has been a failure to recognise that 2 person dinghies are far more fun and a better way to learn from others than 1 person dinghies.

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