I spent last Sunday morning, under a blue sky, with a steady breeze, watching high-tech yachts racing. Impressively beating to the weather mark, reaching and running downwind on a triangle/sausage/triangle course, with a couple of incidents to test the equanimity and rule resources of the Officer of the Day. There were port-and-starboard incidents, a mark-hitting disputed by the Skipper involved but witnessed by his opponents and a T-boning of one yacht by another.
Heady stuff – and not a crew member aboard any of the yachts! There were also several other races in the Winter League without any incidents, but plenty of close competition.
I was with the members of a club which traces its history back to the late 1930s and, after spending several years away from its traditional base, has returned to race there.
Invited by the Club Commodore to the racing, he asked me to wait a few minutes before he was able to talk to me, as he was busy negotiating his yacht around a mark of the course. She was a few hundred yards away from him, but she answered immediately to his deft adjustment of the sails.
Race Officer Aidan Horgan, in yellow Hat, gives the skippers the pre-race briefing
Historic photo of original Cork Model Yacht Club
Impressive stuff as he brought her from an upwind rounding onto a downwind leg, flicked the jib and mainsail out to catch the wind from behind and she began to make speed downwind, a bow wave creaming from her hull, other boats keeping pace, some inching ahead, others trying to luff him, quite legitimately, so that he was constantly adjusting sails to try to stop his boat from being pushed away from the mark.
“Tough competition around here,” said Commodore John Eric Leach as his eight opponents and himself all began to close on the next mark. His fingers were busy on the controls, as were the eighty other fingers of his eight opponents.
I was watching the Cork Model Yacht Club racing on the Lough, a small inland lake on the southern side of Cork City and all those fingers were busy adjusting the controls on a radio box. If one had ever operated a Play Station I thought that would be good experience for the job of yacht controlling this type of yacht.
I was fascinated by this different type of sailing, explained to me by the Commodore and by Aidan Horgan, the club’s Public Relations Officer, who has no experience of real sailing, buy plenty of ability to cope with the modellers. “And I need it,” he chuckled as he declared the results of racing.
It’s worth your while here switching to the Podcast audio to hear these interviews.
I met Con Coughlan, one of the older club members who has built several model yachts and told me of two that stood out in his mind – Moonduster, the yacht of legendary Cork sailor Denis Doyle and NCB Ireland. It took him some time to get the original plans of the Duster, so that he could scale them down. Denis Doyle arranged that for him.
“I built two Moondusters,” Con told me, “because I wanted them not just as models, but to see them race.” He enjoyed building those, but found NCB to be more difficult to model. “It was difficult and had problems to get over when I built the model of NCB,” he said. It had its problems too in sailing in the Round the World Race, I told him, having crewed on it in the last leg of the race for 18 days across the Atlantic from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton.
The Model Yacht Club had sailed at Inniscarra on the River Lee, with the support of the sailing club there for several years, but is now back on its original waters at the Lough and rebuilding the club. As the historic photographs here show, model yachting had big support in Cork on the Lough in past years.
“We sail according to ISA rules,” I was told, “and interest is building. We welcome members to join, this is a great sport.”
The talk over coffee after racing flowed across the development of the boats, from the vintage classes and Marbleheads, those yachts much admired, to the radio controlled sails of today. “In years past boats were pushed out from one side of the Lough to the other, their sails set and the hope being that they would reach the other side. The Lough often used to have to be cleared of weed before racing could start. Now it is different, the City Council has done great work here. We still depend on the wind, but the sails are ready-controlled which adds a great edge to the racing.”
The sailing area has been designated in agreement with the Council, yellow marks laid and racing begins every Sunday morning at 11.30 a.m. There is also sailing on Wednesdays for ‘retired’ club members.
But at the Lough, the Cork Model Yacht Club just wants to enjoy the sport and encourage more enthusiasts.
As interest grows, some former members and older, more mature ‘model sailors’ are talking about returning older, vintage boats, to the water and installing radio control for the sails. A ‘vintage class’ is in the offing.
My thoughts while watching racing at the Lough went back to many years ago when I recall reporting an international model yacht championship at Malahide in Dublin and Commodore Leach told me that there are clubs elsewhere and that Ireland has had representation at international level.
Yachts can be bought from €300 upwards to start in the sport. For top aficionados, such as those involved in international racing, I believe the cost can go into thousands, “cheque book sailing” said one member.
And that’s just like sailing itself, isn’t it?
But at the Lough, the Cork Model Yacht Club, which has its own badge as shown here, just wants to enjoy the sport and encourage more enthusiasts.
For a Winter League, I rather liked the idea of yacht racing without even having to go to sea!