Mark Mansfield, Olympian and Professional sailor and a member of this year's Fastnet 450 Race organising committee reckons lessons learned in this COVID-hit 2020 sailing season means there can still be good compliant big boat racing even in these strange times.
The success of the 'Pop up' Fastnet 450 race and the ongoing success of the ISORA series this year is showing the way forward for what can be done in the future—if COVID 19 continues to be an issue next season and even beyond that. We only have to look at the season gone by to see the litany of cancelled events due to the pandemic and changing Government regulations.
First, there was the early and correct postponement (until July 2022) of the huge 300-year celebrations of the Royal Cork at Cork week 2020. Then Wave Regatta at Howth and the Round Ireland at Wicklow moved their dates to September, where eventually both had to cancel. The Scottish Series, an event always well represented by Irish Boats was next to go, then Bangor Town Regatta on Belfast Lough, then Calves Week in Schull and WIORA in Tralee followed. Most of these had issues with too many numbers gathering after racing, as Government COVID regulations were eased, then tightened again.
Clearly, with social distancing and maximum numbers allowed to gather at events, the social type big 3/4/5/ day regattas are going to be in doubt, perhaps even into next year, until this pandemic can be arrested.
Club racing and, in particular, Dublin Bay Sailing Club racing at Dun Laoghaire was able to go ahead, with the emphasis on the sailing and not gathering afterwards and keeping within Pods and maintaining Government Guidelines. On this point, Dun Laoghaire benefits over other venues in dealing with COVID ashore because of the enormous footprint that contains four separate clubhouses all neatly in a row in order to disperse sailors,
The clear winners, however, have been the success of coastal and offshore racing this year. ISORA has always been the driving force for offshore racing in Ireland, pushed on hard by Peter Ryan in Ireland and Stephen Tudor in Wales. The intermingling of the two fleets was not allowed to happen, but a fix was put in place and on this side of the Irish Sea, great racing has been had by Irish based boats, with the series winding up in a week or two.
The Round Ireland race was to have been one of the year's highlights with over 50 entries received, 30 from Ireland, but for various reasons, this was not possible to proceed. With many crews locked and loaded for this race, it was easy to see how a new pop up race, the Fastnet 450 could get 20 entries in just at two-week time frame. This turned into a very competitive, though tough 270-mile race from Dun Laoghaire around the Fastnet and into Cork, with the eventual winner being the Grand Soleil 40, Nieulargo of the Murphy Family from Cork. About 12 of the fleet were ISORA regulars who had honed their skills during the season on the shorter Coastal and overnight races. This event ensured COVID compliance with the emphasis on the racing and no before and after gatherings. Crews stayed in Pods. Zoom briefings, Zoom prizegivings and no social occasions meant no large gatherings.
So what about Next Year? 2021 already has some big events planned.
- Scottish Series –Tarbert May – 2021
- ICRA Nationals, NYC, Dun Laoghaire – May 2021
- Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race – 9th June
- 2021 Dun Laoghaire Regatta – July 2021
- Bangor Town Regatta – July 2021
- Sovereign's Cup, Kinsale – July 2021
- Calves Week, Schull – Aug 2021
- Perhaps another Fastnet 450 Race – to link in with D to D, ISORA and other big events?
Clearly a lot happening in Ireland, with some events even overlapping presently with each other, which I am sure will get resolved. Add to this, 2021 is a Fastnet Race year with a new finishing venue in Cherbourg, France.
Will it all happen? This is the Question. Will COVID 19 be suppressed to such an extent that large gatherings will again be able to happen? Only time will tell.
What is clear however is that Coastal and Offshore racing require fewer gatherings of people allowing social distancing to be maintained. These races are more about the sailing and not the socialising as often boats arrive at the finish well apart, and crews tired but satisfied, head home. So if an owner was going to pick and choose events to concentrate on, offshore and coastal races are more likely to happen than the inshore series. That has been made clear this year.
So what Offshore and Coastal racing is there next year?
Kinsale had a very successful Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale race this year and that will happen again in 2021. The very successful Fastnet 450 is being debriefed as we speak and an annual event likely to link in with other events. Who knows, it could be a Cork-Fastnet-Dun Laoghaire race next year (maybe less beating) to link in with Volvo DL week. Or maybe even the same course as this year to get boats down for the Sovereigns Cup?
There is also some talk of a Coastal/Offshore series down south, similar but smaller than ISORA, where a number of Day Coastal races would be run, along with the two larger offshore races between Cork and Kinsale clubs with an overall series winner. This might encourage boats from as far away as Kilmore Quay to the East to be involved, and Foynes to the West.
Clearly ISORA does a great job of arranging good coastal and offshore night races from Dun Laoghaire. Cross-Channel Irish Sea racing may still prove a problem in 2021 (we hope not) but if numbers are anything to go by, even an Irish based series in 2021 is likely to attract larger entry numbers.
Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race - The flagship event run by the National Yacht club can, with the benefit of hindsight from what happened in 2020, run a successful and compliant race in June, with the sailing being the important area and not the socialising. Hopefully, the COVID 19 situation will have improved to allow some socialising, but the important thing is to be able to pull back to a compliant race.
Why not arrange some Coastal and Offshore races between Dublin and Northern Ireland ports in 2021, maybe to link in with their big events? A race to get boats from Northern Ireland down to Dublin for Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta in Early July, followed by a race to get boats up to Bangor week a week or so later.
The bottom line—there is more likelihood that offshore and coastal events will happen in 2021 than the large inshore events that are centred around Yacht clubs. Let's plan for the Coastal and offshore events in 2021 and hope the big inshore events can still happen.
Great sailing to everyone for the rest of the year—there is still plenty of time to get some good racing in with clubs planning on extending the 2021 season later than normal.
2021 can be great, maybe a bit different, but great all the same.