#icra – Like all consumer sports, sailing has taken something of a battering during the years of recession. The hard core dedicated enthusiasts are still actively involved, for nothing will deflect the true old salt from his or her destiny in and around boats. But many of those who took up sailing as just one of several lifestyle choices in the affluent times have faded away.
It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. For anyone thinking of returning to sailing, or maybe getting involved for the first time, there's no better time than the present. The infrastructure is there to facilitate manageable expansion, and the people running the sport are keen to recruit newcomers, and bring back those who have strayed.
One area which is proving to be a happy hunting ground is university sailing. That said, it could equally be argued that it is the prodigious pace being set by the college matelots which is prodding the rest of the sailing community into positive action. Call it as you like, but the fact that the Galway University offshore racing boat was hailed as the latest ICRA Boat of the Year at the annual offshore racing conference last weekend struck us as being a very timely move.
We say that despite last week's column being prepared to wager a portion of the housekeeping on another boat altogether. We'll spare their blushes by not naming them, but up against the Galway juggernaut, all opposition fell astern. Team leader Cathal Clarke and his squad from the City of the Tribes put in a fantastic year with Martin Breen's Reflex 38, and as the entire crew were either students or recent graduates from NUIG, they provide the perfect personnel profile to make a healthy and useful longterm input into sailing.
Newly-elected ICRA Commodore Norbert Reilly of Howth is in no doubt that Irish sailing numbers have scope for expansion, and the 2013 programme will certainly keep those involved mighty busy. From early June until mid-July, you could be sailing with an offshore orientation almost continually, with the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race on 8th June, then on from Dingle to the ICRA Nationals round the corner in Tralee Bay from June 13th to 15th, then it's back to the south coast for the Sovereigns Cup at Kinsale from 26th to 29th June, followed by a return to the east coast with the Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta from 11th to 14th July.
The scope which this programme provides for introducing new crews to the sport is enormous, and it will certainly sort out the faint-hearted. The real hard chaws meanwhile will barely be up to speed by mid-July - like the Galway college offshore racing team, they'll be thinking in terms of the Fastnet Race in August.
And for anyone who complains that this is an awful lot of sailing, the answer is usually a brusque comment that, once your time comes, you'll not be sailing for a very long time indeed. Thus our thoughts this weekend are with Cork sailor Kieran Walsh. He's working in Dubai, but this week has been sailing as crew aboard Doug Worrall's First 36.7 Shahrazad in the annual Dubai to Muscat race, a three day RORC event.
You need to do such things to offset the rigours of working in the desert. But they did rather better than that. They won. It's a tough old life, but somebody has to do it.
THE GAFFER OF THE GAFFERS
Tim Magennis, newly-elected President of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association, was in fine form on Tuesday night as he welcomed an eclectic and enthusiastic audience to Sean Cullen's presentation about INFOMAR in Poolbeg Y&BC under the auspices of the Old Gaffers. INFOMAR is the twenty year programme - currently in its twelfth year – to survey the seabed around Ireland and the adjacent ocean in unprecedented detail, and Sean Cullen has proven such a dab hand in charge of the survey ship that he is consulted by other nations keen to get in on the acquisition of knowledge of the deep.
The Boyd men of Poolbeg. Owners of Herbert Boyd-designed classics at the OGA gathering in Poolbeg Y&BC are (left to right) Tim Magennis (Marguerite, 1894), Ian Malcolm (Aura, 1898) and Sean Cullen (Eithne, 1893). Photo: W M Nixon
As for Tim Magennis, it made for a high profile week, as he had something of a starring role on Thursday night in TG4's extensive filmed documentary about Erskine Childers. Most appropriately, the guru of the gaffers was involved on the television programme to explain the skills involved in sailing the engineless Asgard to Howth with the cargo of guns in July 1914, and especially to highlight the sheer brilliance with which Molly Childers helmed Asgard to bring her gently alongside the pier, neatly head to wind in a strong nor'wester, a formidable display of seamanship.
Sean Cullen's work in surveying the seas of Ireland and their hidden depths is fascinating. And it's a bit scary to discover just how much is still to be discovered, when we tend to assume every major hazard has been known about and on the charts for decades. The most striking example of this is a previously unknown pinnacle rock a few miles westward of Slyne Head. There's 12 metres over it, which explains why it has gone undetected for so long. But as the rock is a bit like St Patrick's Cathedral plonked down in the middle of an otherwise fairly flat bit of the seabed, until it was discovered it represented a potential danger for any supertankers which happened to be proceeding up the west coast of Ireland.
OLD BOATS ON A COLD COLD SEA
The gaff enthusiasts of Dublin Bay are gearing themselves up to welcome fellow gaffers at the June Bank Holiday weekend next year, as Dublin Bay will be an important focal point in the Irish Sea for the rolling cruise-in-company with which the many branches of the OGA will be celebrating its Golden Jubilee.
Of course, for some folk in Ireland, making a song and dance about preserving gaff rig seems decidedly weird. It's not that this select group have rejected gaff rig entirely. On the contrary, as far as the Howth 17s are concerned, it never went away. They still sail their boats rigged exactly as they were designed in 1898 by Herbert Boyd, and they see little reason to change.
The OGA gathering in Poolbeg provided a rare opportunity for the owner-skippers of three different Herbert Boyd-designed gaff classics to get together. Sean Cullen owns the 25ft Eithne, the first Boyd yacht, built by Boyd himself in the boathouse at Howth House in 1893. Tim Magennis owns the 24ft Marguerite (that was Marguerite in the early part of the Childers film), which was built by Jack Wellington, a sailor/boatbuilder from Scandinavia who somehow acquired the name Wellington when he settled in Malahide. And Ian Malcolm owns the Howth 17 Aura, one of the original batch of five Howth 17s which were built by John Hilditch of Carrickfergus in 1898, and sailed home to Howth by their owners.
Baby, it's cold outside.... Ian Malcolm's Howth 17 Aura sailing from Carrickfergus to Howth on the evening of April 15th 1998 to celebrate the Centenary of the first five boats of the class making the same delivery passage in April 1898. The land just visible is the County Down coast on the left, the Antrim coast in the distance, and Copeland Island on the right. Photo: Damien Cronin
That inaugural voyage of the Howth 17s was replicated for the Class's Centenary in April 1998 in a strong and very cold nor'easterly wind. At least it was a fair wind, but conditions were otherwise Arctic. As one of those who took part, Ian Malcolm, was uniquely qualified on Tuesday night to tell the OGA enthusiasts about what is involved in sailing vintage gaff rigged yachts from Belfast Lough to Dublin Bay, which will be part of the Golden Jubilee programme.
But at least they'll be doing it in June rather than April, and they'll be doing it in boats with lids rather than a Howth 17, which passes the Number One test for a genuine classic – they're diabolically uncomfortable boats to crew aboard, even in pleasant conditions. In April 1998 with temperatures plunging towards freezing point during the overnight 85 mile sail, they were torture chambers, but the crews didn't notice - they were completely numb with cold......