#sailorofthemonth – As we look back over the extraordinary mixture of memories stirred up by the Irish sailing season of 2012, one exceptionally good deed stands out in a sometimes slightly wicked world.
Questions were asked about some major events in Ireland and abroad during 2012, while in others, distasteful rows blew up which could have been much more competently handled. But over and above it all, and glowing with increasing strength as the passing of time enhances the recollections, is the happy memory of the Four Star Pizza ISAF Youth Worlds in Dun Laoghaire in July.
With 63 nations involved, it was the most international sailing event ever seen in Ireland. It involved the active input of an army of volunteers ashore, and a navy of volunteers afloat. With so many people taking part at some level or other, the scope for friction – at the very least – was incalcuable.
Yet the ISAF Youth Worlds seemed to effortlessly achieve that true spirit of local, national and international goodwill to which to many comparable events aspire, but not all realize. It made a lasting impact, and was lavishly and deservedly praised by outgoing ISAF President Goran Petersson at the ISAF Conference in November.
Only with a very exceptional administrator and delegator leading an inevitably complex organization can such a satisfactory outcome be achieved. Irish sailing in general, and Dublin Bay in particular, is fortunate in being able to call on the services of Brian Craig to lead the administration in events as demanding as the ISAF Worlds. Not only did he put in the long hours necessary to ensure its smooth running, but long beforehand he gave generously of his time to ensure that Dublin Bay's claim to stage this event was internationally acknowledged and approved. Brian Craig is the Afloat.ie "Sailor of the Month" for December in celebration of his unrivalled contribution to the sailing season of 2012.
IT'S GREEN FOR GO IN HOBART
Irish sailors in Australia have been on a roll in the annual 628-mile Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, with major input into the crewing of the two top boats. After a virtually perfect race in tactical and navigational terms, veteran owner Bob Oatley's hundred footer Wild Oats XI took line honours, and in doing so knocked 16 minutes off the course record she established in 2005.
As Oatley's team - headed by skipper Mark Richards – constantly update and re-tune the big boat, the Wild Oats which established the new record yesterday was a very different beast from the winner of 2005. But the course they had to sail was the same challenging slog down the coast of New South Wales, across the Bass Strait, and up the often flukey estuary of the Derwent River to the city centre finish in Hobart.
One false call from experienced navigator Adrienne Cahalane – whose people hail from Offaly – and a mountain of effort beforehand and afloat would have amounted to nothing. But after blasting away from a perfect start to establish what is believed to be a record for the first short stage from the harbour to Sydney Heads, Wild Oats never put a foot wrong.
At times she was even showing as the overall handicap leader, which is unusual for the biggest boat in the fleet. But for much of the race, the handicap lead was being battled between the defending champion, Steve Ainsworth's 63ft Loki with Gordon Maguire (originally from Howth) as sailing master, and the hot new boat on the block, Peter Harburg's 66ft Black Jack, whose crew - including Olympic Gold Medallist Tom Slingsby - made no secret of targeting Loki.
Being slightly larger, Black Jack seemed to be establishing an unassailable lead, as the quicker you could get south, the more favourable the easterly winds became. This meant that far ahead, not only did Wild Oats end up sailing her own race, but she carried the breeze right to the end, while the wind was losing power out at sea. As the hours ticked by after the big boat was finished, the chances of either Black Jack or Loki saving their time on the Oatley boat evaporated. Wild Oats XI had the treble – line honours, course record, and overall win. But in the private race with Black Jack, Maguire and his team somehow found extra microns of performance, and though they were beaten by Wild Oats by more than two hours on corrected time, they in turn beat Black Jack by 2 hours 3 minutes.
It's a good weekend for Irish sailing down Hobart way. Jeff Condell of Limerick was also on the race, on the strength of veteran skipper Syd Fischer's 100ft Ragamuffin Loyal, and though with some gear breakages they weren't able to match the blistering pace set by Wild Oats, they still took second on line honours, quite an achievement when you remember the hands-on skipper is 85 and his unmatchable CV in sailing includes the overall Fastnet win way back in 1971.
Wild Oats on track for the treble in the Rolex Sydney Hobart 2012. Photo: Daniel Forster/Rolex
SO FAREWELL THEN, EUROPEAN YEAR 2012 FOR ACTIVE AGEING AND SOLIDARITY BETWEEN GENERATIONS, AND HELLO TO THE GORB
Did you know that we've just lived through European Year 2012 for Active Ageing & Solidarity Between Generations? Me neither. And even if someone had told me, I'd have forgotten the beginning of a title of such length and contrivance before I'd even got through to the end.
May God in His Mercy protect us from well-meaning bureaucracies. We know that there are agencies in Brussels which make a tidy living out of putting an often costly structure on activities which any healthy local community would regard as so normal as to be scarcely worthy of comment. But the European Commission for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion, with its European Year 2012 for AA & SBG, surely takes the biscuit.
The reason we've come across this absurdity is that in mid-November we received a news release from Brussels telling us that two Irish AA & SBG projects took second and third prize in a competition throughout Europe which attracted 1300 entries in six categories.
Millstreet Community School's Living Scenes programme, running for seven years, has seen retirees and teenagers "brainstorming together to come up with creative multi-media projects aimed at bridging the gap between young and old".
That won a second place in "Intergenerational Encounters", while third place in Journalism went to a four part RTE series about Age and the City, which we're assured was "highly entertaining for all ages".
This sort of thing is all very well, but is it life as we should know it? The whole business of ageing and retirement is built around chronological ageing, which misses the point entirely. It's what you do and how you feel that gives a much more accurate gauge of real age, rather than a sum of years. There's a large cohort of seniors out there who are so busy, so absorbed in getting on with multiple interests, that they would no more think of joining active ageing groups or taking part in formalized inter-generational encounters than they would contemplate no longer owning a boat, or not having a dog about the place.
Back in August I went cruising to the Western Isles in a hundred year old boat, and was Ship's Boy for a Skipper and First Mate who were both 74. But our doughty skipper belies all received opinion about ageing, as he looks after his high-maintenance old boat himself, plus he is also Senior Mechanic and Retrieval Driver for various vintage vehicles which his wife and daughter need for their string of show-jumpers.
As for the First Mate, he plays rugby for the Perennials, and just last winter the highlight of their season was a tour to the rugby paradise of Limerick. He reminisced during our cruise about the techniques required going shoulder-to-shoulder against Peter Clohessy – not an experience for the faint-hearted.
With this splendid double lineup of Active Ageing, I had to supply the Solidarity Between Generations, even if the Skipper was much more agile than the Ship's Boy. This was demonstrated when the Skipper became so irritated by the flapping of the leech of the high cut jib that, off the coast of Skye, he quickly climbed on the First Mate's shoulders in order to tension it.
There are some unkind people who suggest that if I was really interested in promoting Active Ageing, then I should have let fly the jib sheet while these venerable gymnasts were doing their thing. That undoubtedly would have added a certain je ne sais quoi to the performance. But instead I took a photo, for here indeed was something for Brussels' attention. If we're going to encourage active ageing, then we're going to have to accept that senior sailors are going to be clambering about on the broadest shoulders aboard in order to adjust the rig of their ancient boats. And we're going to have to accept that they're of a generation that regards safety harnesses and lifejackets as restrictive of movement.
So in the first instance, let Brussels commission us for a Feasibility Study for a GORB – a Golden Oldie Rescue Boat. This would follow the seniors about as they wander across the ocean, and gather them in when they fall off their own ancient craft. The GORB would need to be a proper cruising vessel, and as her crew would include a significant proportion of seniors, she in turn would need another GORB to follow her.
And another one again. We'd build up a fleet, eventually sailing round in a vast circle. We'll call it The Gathering Cruise.
These guys need a GORB. The combined age of this acrobatic troupe is 148 years, with neither safety harness nor lifejacket in sight. Photo: W M Nixon