The first Irish Times yachting columnist didn’t exactly push the boat out to uncover a story this time 150 years ago. The first edition of the newspaper carried the less than provocative opening line: “There is but little stirring at present in the aquatic line.”
Since March 1859 there has, of course, been a significant lift in activity on Irish waters, and the modern sport has over 100 fixtures in prospect this season and I wrote about the 2009 season in my Friday sailing column in the Irish Times.
Behind the line-up of an Ocean race stop-over, 29 local events, 22 regional championships and 17 national championships, however, there is a suggestion among some organisers that because of the economic downturn, sailing could be heading back to 1859.
This is, of course, very much an exaggeration, because the wind and the waves are free (until the April 7th budget at least) and entry fees to most Irish events remain modest.
But there are concerns about how bumper participation of previous years,at regattas such as Kinsale’s Sovereign’s Cup, the Cruiser Nationals in Fenit and our only international graded event, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta (VDLR), can be maintained.
There is understandable anxiety over the possible drop off of British boats who, if current current exchange rates prevail, face a 30 per cent price hike to compete here. But you only to have to look at last year’s Cork Week event to realise that big fleets are not the only key to staging a successful regatta. Surely it is better to host a well-run event than a record-breaking one?
The ICRA National Championships is a case in point. It is to be staged for the first time on the west coast, at Fenit.
It is clear to many that the fleet will be smaller with fewer travellers, but the long journey west is a positive move on the part of the association who aim to build cruiser racing fleets in more locations round the coast. As an added incentive, a reduced entry fee remains open to March 31st.
In Dun Laoghaire, to combat the weakness of sterling against the euro, VDLR are already preparing to offer some form of incentive to British sailors to cross the Irish Sea. If they come they will join an important birthday celebration. Dublin Bay Sailing Club will be 125 years in existence this July.