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The Spirit of Sailing, A Commodores' Cup Boost & Youth Drop Out Rates

4th August 2014
The Spirit of Sailing, A Commodores' Cup Boost & Youth Drop Out Rates

#rorcbdcc – At a time when the future of Irish sailing is under examination by the sport's national association, the Irish success in winning what has been described as the world cup of offshore racing, the Commodore's Cup, is in my view, a considerable boost.

The 'spirit of sailing' appears to be under a degree of challenge at present, though it seems from talking to clubs and groups around the coast that the picture is not gloomy everywhere. However, there is an undeniable loss of numbers in quite a few clubs, a few of them major ones and racing seems to be taking the brunt of this.

It was interesting therefore to meet the Skipper of Team Ireland which won this top trophy in the home of British sailing, for the second time. Anthony O'Leary, members of the Irish team and officers of the Irish Cruiser Racing Association, were given a reception and 'welcome home' with the Cup at his home club, the Royal Cork in Crosshaven on Thursday night.

Those of us who had been competing in the Thursday night league that evening were back ashore at the end of racing, to be part of the occasion and it was interesting to hear Anthony reflect on the background to how the trophy had been won and the planning and commitment required of all those involved. He spoke of the value of learning sailing from an early age and remaining with the sport, but also of the dedication and demands which must be endured to be successful. Sailing can be developed as a lifetime sport from the days of youngsters in Optimists through to the highest levels of the sport, was his message, an issue also referred to by RCYC Admiral Pat Lyons and by the Commodore of the Irish Cruiser Racing Association, Norbert Reilly. These comments must have reflected on the thoughts of Irish Sailing Association President, David Lovegrove, who was also at the RCYC event.

The drop-out of younger sailors appears to be at the core of difficulties in several clubs, where keeping them involved is proving difficult. Perhaps it is the variety of boats or the lack of a pathway in the sport other than the higher competitive levels, or are some younger sailors being driven too hard towards trying to achieve winning as the only mark of being successful?

It will be difficult to resolve these questions but the sport needs to do so and particularly to ensure the involvement of younger sailors.


Norbert Reilly of ICRA at Royal Cork Yacht Club

So, what is the 'spirit of sailing'?

'A man must be obsessed about something and a boat is as good as anything.' That quote from E.B.White, an American editor and writer has often been used to summarise the spirit of sailing though, let me be clear that I do not see sailing as a male preserve, nor obsession with it!

E.B.White also wrote about arising in the morning "torn between a desire to improve the world and to enjoy it, which makes it hard to plan the day."

That can occasionally make the choice of going sailing against deploying oneself to more mundane household or even work demands difficult and potentially awkward in domestic relationships!

Most important of all, in my view, is enjoying going sailing. I have always taken the view that, if it is not enjoyable and if one has doubts about going out on a boat, then don't do so. We can be put off by unpleasant weather, though sometimes there is a need to endure it and if one is only involved in cruising, perhaps the boat may be used less than when the disciplines of racing bring a crew together.

An example of this thought process for me was on last Tuesday night when I was invited to take part in the annual Media Challenge organised by the ISA and Providence Resources at the Royal St.George YC in Dun Laoghaire with members of the Irish Olympic Squad. It was a bit blustery when Bill O'Hara as Race Officer outlined what the night's racing would involve in 1720s. These are a pretty demanding keel boat which move quickly. I had not helmed one before and found it challenging, but definitely enjoyable in the prevailing conditions.

Everyone involved declared that they had a good night's sailing though, if one was not involved in racing, one might have stood back, looked at the conditions and thought that remaining ashore was a better choice! But, when you do go out, it most often proves that sailing is fulfilling, can be enjoyable and that it is necessary to understand and attempt to master different conditions.



Mirror racing is back in Cork Harbour

Another boat I enjoyed seeing was the Mirror, back racing in Cork Harbour for their Southern Championships, sailed out of the RCYC at Crosshaven. It was good to see the red sails of the Mirror dinghies in numbers again. There were 23 boats, with 46 sailors in all ranging in age from 14 to 50+ It was the biggest turn-out for the 'Southerns' in years, I was told. The first boat I ever owned was a Mirror, which I sailed out of Monkstown Bay Sailing club. They are a great dinghy.

Mirrors hadn't sailed out of the RCYC since 2005. A few former 'Mirror sailors,' now with children of their own, decided it was time to get the boats they had once sailed out of hibernation and see if they were still fit for purpose. Both sailors and boats seemed to be and there is some thought that the event may lead to a revival of interest in this dinghy class in Cork. There was a lot of discussion at the event about the changes from the original wooden boats to the present fibreglass dinghies, with consequent changes in equipment and rigging.

"There is no doubt that the plastic Mirror is a fine design, but a good wooden boat can still challenge them," one of the 'woodies,' said. Indeed, a wooden boat from South Africa won the Mirror World Championships held at Lough Derg Yacht Club last year.

And of course, young Irish sailors have been victorious in the Mirror World Championships.



The Oman MOD 70 where Kerry's Damian Foxall (below) is co–skipper


Then there is the spirit of Damian Foxall from Kerry, one of the world's top sailors, who is Skippering the MOD70 of Musandam-Oman Sail in the Artemis Challenge in Cowes Week in the Solent. This is part of the Oman Sail project for which he is working. It is that country's national initiative established in 2008 which "uses the power of sport to contribute to the development of the Omani people," the government says. It is an "equal opportunity project" which runs sailing programmes "for thousands of young Omani men and women, aimed at inspiring a new generation to discover sailing, encompassing a national sailing squad and high achieving inshore and offshore racing teams, all of which benefit from world-class coaching and whose ultimate objective is to win an Olympic medal for Oman." The programme is pledged to teach 70,000 Omani children to sail by 2020 at eight sailing schools, four of which are already operational:

"The goal is to rekindle Oman's maritime heritage while raising the country's regional and international profile as a high-end tourist and foreign investment destination, through competitive sailing at home and abroad. Oman Sail seeks to instil confidence and to teach valuable, transferable life skills to a generation of Omanis."

Wouldn't it be marvellous if this island nation had such a State project and saw its national maritime traditions in such a manner?

Damian Foxall is co-Skipper of Musandam-Oman Sail which is part of the project. The Skipper is Sidney Gavignet of France.

For the past month, Oman Sail skipper Sidney Gavignet (FRA) and a mixed squad of Omani and European sailors have been at the centre of a tough series of inshore and offshore races around the French coast in conditions that varied from very light to downright stormy and produced their best performance since they first entered the event in 2008 by finishing third.

"We had a tough Tour de France, but pulled it off in the end through good team work, our squad really pulled together and we are very happy with the result!" said Sidney Gavignet.

After the Artemis Challenge they will take on the Round Britain and Ireland Race, where a line honours win is their goal.

Jan Dekker, the highly regarded America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veteran from South Africa will be with Damian on the MOD70 in the Artemis Challenge.

Gavignet set a Round Britain and Ireland non-stop singlehanded record set in 2010 on the 105ft Trimaran, Oman Air Majan.

"We are looking forward to the Round Britain, it is a challenging race and will be the last crewed race for us before I turn to solo training for the Route du Rhum at the end of the year," said Gavignet.



South Harbour on Cape Clear on a busy day

But sailing cannot and should not be dependent exclusively on racing and for the next few weeks the annual trek to West Cork beckons sailors from many parts. As one matures, gets older some would say and the joints do not bend or flex as easily as they did in years past, cramped conditions aboard cruiser/racers can be challenging. But there is the counterbalance of the enjoyment of leisurely time in places like South Harbour, Cape Clear, which is one of my ideal locations; at Sherkin Island, Baltimore, Schull and other places. Glandore is quieter these days than inprevious years for visitors, with the village hotel and the Glandore Inn, which had been sailors' main location on arrival in the village closed. The hotel is up for sale. Other pubs in the village are open and Glandore Harbour Yacht Club has its own clubhouse now. There are sunsets and sunrises to be discovered, early morning sailing in quiet areas and the enjoyments of cruising without time disciplines. [Read WM Nixon's recent sailing blog on West Cork]



Nice catch!

This is some photograph, of an angler in the water with a blue shark. Paul Bourke, Angling Information Officer with Inland Fisheries Ireland explained to me: "Jim Clohessy was out with some Norwegian anglers last week fishing from boats in the Bellavista fleet in Cork Harbour. Amongst this intrepid crew was Hans Olav Hagerup, an angling guide himself. Hans explained to Jim how his anglers, fish, catch and release for big halibut and as these fish are too big to get in the boat for a photo, the anglers get in the water instead. Little did Jim know what this would lead to when Hans had his first Irish blue from a small boat and jumped in the water! He won the Fisheries Ireland Catch of the Week for this one!


Published in Island Nation Team

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