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Do Ireland's One Design Sailing Classes Need A 2014 Pop–Up Regatta?

14th September 2013
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The 29ft sloops of the River Class
"Gloriously unknown". The 29ft sloops of the River Class, designed by Alfred Mylne in 1919, have not ventured outside Strangford Lough since 1951, and are perhaps Ireland's least-known class. One of the earliest local one designs to be designed with Bermudan rig, it was specified that the new boats "could be sailed by a man and his daughters", as so many young men had been lost in the Great War of 1914-18. Photo: John Wichell
Do Ireland's One Design Sailing Classes Need A 2014 Pop–Up Regatta?

#onedesignsailing – Pop-up shops, pop-up restaurants – they're everywhere. Or if they're not exactly everywhere, at least we've seen enough of them to know that the idea has a certain appeal when traditional ways of doing business have suffered in recession, with out-of-town multiples knocking the traditional retail trade for six.

So who's on for a pop-up regatta? As we slip into the Autumn leagues and look back on one of the best and busiest Irish sailing seasons in years, it only serves to emphasise the fact that the programme for next year is so quiet as to be almost invisible.

Oh for sure it's a Round Ireland Year, and with the late-June circuit from Wicklow having added status through its extra points for the RORC Championship, we're probably going to be seeing something even more high powered than last time round in 2012.

And there'll be Cork Week in July too. The gallant Corkmen swung with the punches back in 2012. When they realised that their sailing megafest of the boom years was going to be recession-shrunk and then some, the notion of describing it as "small-but-perfectly-formed" did the business until some genius came up with the concept of the Boutique Regatta, which seemed such an attractive idea – and it gave great racing – that maybe they'll air it again for next year.

As for the ICRA Nationals, they're scheduled for the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire from 12th to 15th June. It's a star venue with the club's prime position on Ireland's biggest marina, while the immediate access to a large fleet in an area where cruiser-racing is a significant part of life afloat virtually guarantees the event's success. As a bonus, the fact that the Round Ireland starts a week later makes for a very attractive proposition for visiting boats who might like to get a lot of quality racing under their keels before June is out.

On the cruising front, the Irish Cruising Club will be celebrating its 85th birthday with a week long Cruise-in-Company in West Cork in early July, culminating in a grand finale at Glengarriff on July 13th, which is exactly 85 years to the day since this unique club came into existence. They're limiting numbers to 85 boats, but with the invitation extended to associated cruising clubs overseas, it could well be that this impressive total will be reached.

So perhaps it's an exaggeration to talk of next year's programme as being empty. But it's certainly sparse compared to 2013's seemingly endless and brilliant tableau, which included three world championships with the Mirror Worlds on Lough Derg, the J24 Worlds at Howth, and the International Association For Disabled Sailing Worlds at Kinsale. There were also the well-attended Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta, and the rolling celebrations of the Old Gaffer's Association Golden Jubilee which brought classic and traditional boats to Dublin and Belfast. Glandore Classic Regatta followed soon after, while offshore the biennial Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race had brought boats to the Kerry coast for the storm-harried yet successful ICRA Nationals, followed soon after by the Sovereigns Cup in Kinsale. As for dinghies, while some classes faltered, the huge turnout for the Laser Europeans at the National YC this month emphasised the enduring appeal and popularity of Bruce Kirby's timeless gem of a design.

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A highlight of 2013 was the visit to Glandore Classics by the legendary Centenarian Jolie Brise, winner of the first Fastnet Race in 1925. Photo: Anthony O'Leary

It really has been a vintage year. But by and large, where the more prominent events featured racing, it was cruiser-racing which was dominant. And Ireland's enthusiasm for this branch of sailing received something of an international boost recently with the RORC measurement office praising the way in which we have successfully combined full-on IRC competition with the less extreme rating system provided by ECHO.

But it may well be that the unique situation of Dublin is the key to all this. The relatively limited weekend cruising options in the Dublin Bay area, and the fact that so many sailing folk live within a few minutes of their boat's berth, means that on a Saturday afternoon, and even more so on a Thursday evening, Dublin Bay SC is mustering impressively large fleets of cruiser-racers including many boat types which - in any other area - would not be thought of at all in the racing context. Yet DBSC can offer this attractive package of guaranteed sport in a very manageable time and travel package.

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The multi-tasker. The First 31.7 is a thriving Dun Laoghaire One Design Class which provides cruising comfort with sailing speed. Photo: David O'Brien

Anyone who thinks that racing a comfortable cruiser is not really sport at all is much mistaken. There's a special challenge to it – getting the best possible performance out of a boat which provides genuine liveaboard amenities is extremely satisfying. And in the Dublin context of sociable sailing, there are many who pop down to Dun Laoghaire harbour for the convenient promise of a race sailing with friends, people who might not otherwise sail at all.

And they certainly wouldn't dream of having a small boat of their own, and racing in a one design class. The hassle and the discomfort, not to mention the extra physical demands and expense, can make for a very unfavourable comparison with crewing on a cruiser where able and congenial crewmembers are always welcome.

But one design racing is an equally valid form of our sport, and in compiling a list of boats which can provide one design sport in Ireland, we were astonished to find the figure hitting the 39 mark. As for the variety of boat types, eclectic only begins to describe it.

ONE DESIGN SAILING CLASSES RACED IN IRELAND

Ballyholme Bay
Cork Harbour OD
Dragons
Etchells 22
Ette
Fairies
Fireball
First 31.7
First 211
Flying Fifteen
Glen
GP 14
Howth Seventeen
Heir Island 24
IDRA 14
J24
J80
Laser
Mermaid
Mirror
National 18
OK Dinghy
Optimist
Puppeteer 22
Rivers
RS Elite
RS Feva
RS 200
RS 400
Ruffian 23
SB 20
Shannon OD
Shipman 28
Sigma 33
Squib
Topper
Water Wags
Waverley

Wayfarer

1720

420

Most will be familiar, but some are gloriously unknown. The Ballyholme Bay, for instance, is a 21.75ft cabin sloop from around 1936, built in Scotland. Over the years the original nine boats were depleted by storm damage in their home anchorage, but there are still some around and the word is three are currently afloat and lining up for Ballyholme YC's traditional end-of-season pursuit race this Saturday for the Lufra Cup.

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Ballyholme Bay Class in their prime on their home waters. Photo: W M Nixon

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Originally there were nine boats in the Ballyholme Bay class, but numbers were gradually depleted as boats were wrecked in onshore gales on their exposed anchorage. Photo: W M Nixon

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The Cork Harbour One Design Maureen. Designed by Fife, they're Ireland's senior keelboat class, as they date from 1895-96. Photo: Bob Bateman

The Ette class are clinker-built dinghies based in Castletownshend, so named because all their names end in "ette". As for the Heir Island 24s, they're also found around West Cork, built of GRP and with their design inspiration drawn from both the North Wales Seabird Half Raters, and the traditional Heir Island yawls.

The Fairy Class of 1902 onwards is found both on Belfast Lough and Lough Erne, and this summer while sailing through the RNIYC anchorage at Cultra, it was intriguing to compare them with the relatively new boats of the RS Elite class, which is in its turn a very miniaturised derivative of the last America's Cup keelboat class.

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The old and the new – an RS Elite and one of the venerable Fairy Class in the RNIYC anchorage at Cultra on Belfast Lough. Photo: W M Nixon

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Fairy Class boats storming towards the finish line at RNIYC. The Belfast Lough boats changed to Bermuda rig many years ago........

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....but their sister-ships on Lough Erne have stayed with the original gunter rig.

The Flying Fifteens hold sway at several centres, but it's interesting to note that in Dun Laoghaire they buck the trend of being spread across all the waterfront club, as the FFers are exclusively sailors from the National YC. This may be one way to hold a class together against the many temptations to move to new boats that Dun Laoghaire offers, but another way of sustaining a class is to have it based on a peninsula of land or water.

A water peninsula? Well, how else would you describe Strangford Lough? Not only is it connected to the rest of the sea by a thin isthmus of water, but these Narrows are so tide-riven that Strangford Lough exists in a state of splendid isolation in which eccentricity thrives, and local ways of doing things hold sway.

Thus two local one design keelboats are dominant. The 25ft Mylne-designed Glens may have a sister class in Dun Laoghaire, and a couple of the boats may have ventured out of the Lough to go to the Mylne regatta in the Clyde a few years back, but their more senior cousins, the 29ft Rivers of 1919 vintage, haven't deigned to leave Strangford Lough since 1951, when they sallied forth to Belfast Lough for the Festival of Britain Regatta Week.

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Kenny Smyth of Whiterock Boatyard with his beautifully-restored River Class Laragh, which he'd rescued abandoned in a field. Photo: W M Nixon

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Kenny Smyth's Laragh in her usual position at the front of the River fleet on Strangford Lough, with the Mountains of Mourne in the distance beyond the classic County Down farmland. Photo: John Wichell

The dozen or so Rivers (nobody knows what happened to Number 4) have been saved from terminal decline by occasional bursts of fresh enthusiasm, one of the key movers being Kenny Smyth of Whiterock Boatyard, who found Laragh in a field in a state of dilapidation. He made such a lovely job of restoring her that the class revived, a recent recruit to the ranks of the owners being Brian Law, better known for his offshore racing feats in the trimaran Downtown Flyer. But despite other talents in the class, Kenny Smyth is still the man to beat, and they've had a good year in 2013, with ten of these interesting veterans making the start line.

But the likelihood of any River class boat ever leaving Strangford Lough to attend a regatta elsewhere is unlikely, and they're so absorbed in their own contented competition that it's unlikely they'd wish to inspire their home club of Strangford Lough YC at Whiterock to host a come-all-ye regatta for several one design classes.

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The Puppeteer 22s in their special berths in Howth Marina. The other leading local one design, the Howth 17, was designed by Herbert Boyd in 1897 in Howth House, the granite building at centre of photo. Photo: W M Nixon

So really it comes down to Dun Laoghaire if any venue is going to host a pop-up one design regatta next year. They already have half a dozen classes within the harbour, they invented the one design concept in 1887 with the original Water Wags, and it shouldn't be too difficult to entice the two significant one designs across the bay from Howth, the land peninsula which is another OD stronghold.

The Puppeteer 22s and the Howth Seventeens both draw their strength from the peninsula's vibrant sense of community. But both classes have been known to venture forth from time to time, with 15 of the Howth 17s managing to get to Glandore Classics back in 2003.

This past summer, two of them went even further afield, with the 2013 champion, the syndicate-owned Deilginis, and Ian Malcolm's 1898-built Aura, being road-trailed to the Classic One Designs Regatta in Cowes. In terms of numbers, the event was of course dominated by the Solent Sunbeams and the famous X One Designs, but the two little boats from Ireland carried their jackyard topsails with notable style, and Aura won the gaff-rigged class.

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There's posh for you! The Howth 17s Aura and Deilginis strut their stuff off the Royal Yacht Squadron castle at Cowes during the Classic One Designs Regatta in July. Photo: Judith Malcolm

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The sport is enhanced when other One Designs are about. A Solent Sunbeam seen from the Howth 17 Aura during the Classics at Cowes. Photo: Judith Malcolm

Yet the Howth Seventeens are just one class among many within easy reach of Dun Laoghaire harbour. But although next year's programme of major events doesn't look at all crowded, the dates will soon be filled. So anyone with the notion of a one designs special regatta should make it pop up soonest.

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WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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