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Sailing's All–Ireland Highlights Dun Laoghaire's Recreational Value

10th October 2015
OLeary_all_ireland_winner afloat_wmnixon
Men on a mission – Dan O’Grady and defending champion Anthony O’Leary in campaign mode on the J/80 in last weekend’s All-Irelands at Dun Laoghaire, with Cian Guilfoyle on the rail putting his weight and height to best use. Photo:

W M Nixon takes a look back at last weekend’s All Ireland Championship with some thoughts on the unique atmosphere around Dun Laoghaire Harbour on a busy sailing weekend, while giving us an insight into the hugely successful sailing partnership between champion Anthony O’Leary and his Number One Dan O’Grady, leading on to the hope that our top amateur sailors can be given the respect they deserve by sailing’s professional administrators, then finally reminding everyone that proposed plans for Dun Laoghaire Harbour come under public scrutiny from October 14th onwards.

If ever a photo said more than a thousand words, then’s definitive vision of Anthony O’Leary taking a commanding lead in the finals of the All Ireland Sailing Championship in Dublin Bay on Sunday is it. Any further comment on the ins and outs of the sailing is superfluous. The current “Sailor of the Year” and his crew of Dan O’Grady and Cian Guilfoyle went on to win the series going away, and all the photos combine to provide the compulsive slideshow of a magnificent achievement and a peak moment in the Irish sailing season.

Had there been any doubt about the central role of our All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship in the Irish sailing psyche, then this writer had already been very quickly disabused of it by a properly irate response to last weekend’s Sailing on Saturday blog about some of the story around the Helmsman’s Championship. In it, our records had become confused, and we peddled the myth that Gordon Maguire had won the big one in 1982 at Dromineer on Lough Derg, when it was raced in Shannon One Designs.

We’d been led astray by an old black & white photo print trawled out of the antique filing system - a splendid pic showing a Shannon OD at full chat – for which the tag said that this was Gordon Maguire winning the Helmsmans Championship in 1982.

“Rubbish” was one retort we received, from Mossy Shanahan no less, one of several comments from those for whom 1982 is but yesterday. “In 1982 at Dromineer in the SODs, the great Dave Cummins of Sutton won it, and his crew and tactician was Mossy Shanahan, while the owner’s representative on board was the great Jimmy Furey, master builder of Shannon One Designs and other classic and traditional boats”.

The extraordinary combination of Dave and Mossy and Jimmy seem to have been the dream team, and a silent one too – Dave and Mossy had sailed successfully together for so long they scarcely exchanged a word, communicating instead by some sort of telepathy when racing. And as for Jimmy, if he says three words, it’s a speech. Whatever, they won every race in the final at Dromineer in winds in excess of 20 knots.

dave cummins
Dave Cummins was winner of the 1982 Helmsman’s Championship, defending the title he won in 1981. Photo: W M Nixon

On a damp Autumn day of dense air, that’s a lot of pressure to contend with in an open clinker-built boat so narrow and supple that it’s said that in a real breeze of wind, a Shannon One Design will turn round and look at you. Be that as it may, so out-of-kilter were our recollections that we then almost made another inaccuracy to assert that Gordon Maguire must have been second. In fact, he was third overall, second slot going to ace Lough Derg and Shannon One Design helm Peter Huskinson, one of whose more distinctive claims to fame is direct descent from the first person ever to be killed in a railway accident.

Dave Cummins was on top of his form in the early 1980s, as he also won the Helmsmans in 1981, but like Gordon Maguire he has since furthered his sailing career in Australia, while Peter Huskinson now lives in France where he has become a writer. Mossy Shanahan is of course still very much one of the strengths of the sailing talent of the Howth peninsula. And in a remote corner of County Roscommon on the west shore of Lough Ree, the talented Jimmy Furey continues to build classic small craft, and just last weekend the Dublin Bay Water Wags visited him in considerable fleet numbers, as one of his latest creations is a new Water Wag for Cathy MacAleavey, and it was rightly felt that the best way to introduce the new boat was a Water Wag Regatta at Lecarrow.

cathy macaleavey jimmy furey
Jimmy Furey and Cathy MacAleavey in the workshop in County Roscommon where together they built a Shannon One Design, and more recently have completed a Water Wag

clinker built4
Jimmy Furey’s superb craftsmanship is evident in this transom knee on the new Water Wag, which was celebrated with a class regatta last weekend on Lough Ree at Lecarrow. Photo: Cathy MacAleavey

It’s cross-linkages like this, taking us in unexpected directions every which way through our sailing community, which make the All-Ireland something very special. It may be a bit artificial in its concept, but until somebody thinks of something better, this Championship of Champions is the best we have to give us a very concentrated dose of top level Irish amateur sailing in all its crazy variety. And it has to be said that holding it in Dun Laoghaire in the first weekend of October gives it an extra zing, for the old granite pond is fairly hopping with boats and all sorts of waterfront activity at this time of year, as though the sea-minded citizens have suddenly noticed that the nights have become longer than the days, and every moment of sailing is now much more precious than it was in the long bright hours of June.

Any dedicated visitor to this website for the past six days will have had a good flavour of the Dun Laoghaire weekend’s hyper-activity, but to those many reported events we must add two extra happenings at the Royal Irish Yacht Club. On Saturday afternoon, University College Dublin Sailing Club were planning to hold a unique media event there to introduce their team for next week’s Student Yachting Worlds in France. This media event was unique in that, so far as we can ascertain, there was intended to be a distinct absence of media, as they hadn’t been asked.

But these days, you have to think of all sorts of cunning ploys to ensure publicity, and not asking the media is as good a way as any to get their jaded attention. And maybe next week, with the up-coming 35th annual series in full swing at La Baule near Saint-Nazaire from October 13th to 20th, we’ll get the bones of the story, as UCD have form in this event - they won in 2012 by an unprecedented margin with Aidan McLaverty as skipper and Barry McCartin as tactician, while Cork Institute of Technology won in 2008 when Nicholas “Nin” O’Leary was their skipper/helmsman.

But by Sunday, as the All Ireland was building to its climax out in Dublin Bay, at the Royal Irish they were looking the other way, hosting a classic and vintage car rally. If there’s one thing that might distract boatnuts, it’s gorgeous lovingly-maintained old cars. But duty called us along the way towards the harbour’s southeast corner, and there at the National Yacht Club we found that, in typical Dun Laoghaire style, the All-Ireland was just an add-on to the real business of the weekend, the annual Jelly Bean Factory Junior Regatta in a harbour busy with many events including Fireball intros and training from the sailing schools.

National yacht club mast
Party time down at the “Old Granite Pond” – never mind the weather, the flags are out at the National Yacht Club. Photo: W M Nixon

However, before leaping into a sea of jelly beans, the unfolding All-Ireland drama out in the Bay had to be recorded through its course, and though their second place in the first race showed that the O’Leary/O’Grady/Guilfoyle team were human after all, their progress thereafter towards the top was clinical.

Dan O’Grady (47) of Howth first got to crew with Anthony O’Leary back in the 1990s when Ireland was very much alive, and on track towards prosperity without having reached the lunatic phase of the Celtic Tiger when everyone lost the run of themselves with an economic disaster which has effectively deprived us of the best part of a sailing generation.

But back in the 1990s, there was hope in the air and enthusiasm was the theme. The two of them first sailed together in the 1720 Sportsboat Euros at Kinsale in 1998. How many boats do you think would have been in that, bearing in mind the class had been founded as recently as 1994, and still had an element of the experimental about it?

Well, Dan recalls the fleet as having been 72 strong. Seventy-two 1720s, and each with a crew of five descending on Kinsale…… Heaven help us, but the past is indeed a different country. There’s a quality of sport and sheer zest in life implicit in that large number which it’s still almost impossible to imagine today as we crawl slime-covered out of the recession

1720 big fleet
When the going was good…… Back in pre-recession days before other fancier classes had come along, the 1720s were able to muster numbers like this, with 72 boats for their Euros at Kinsale in 1998, when Dan O’Grady first crewed for Anthony O’Leary. But now the class is showing signs of new life, thanks in no small part to the enthusiasm of the O’Leary family.

But those were the days, and let it be recalled that the new O’Leary/O’Grady team didn’t win overall on their first outing. They were second, but the winner was Olympian Mark Mansfield on top of his form, and when Mansfield’s on top of his form, he’s in a league of his own.

Yet gradually over the years, Dan O’Grady found himself becoming an O’Leary associate when he wasn’t racing his own boat (he’d been an Olympian himself), and he says it’s a pleasure to be involved, as the crew panel is enormous, based as it sometimes can be on the entire circle of friends and sailing colleagues within the ambit of O’Leary senior and his three sons Peter, Nicholas and Robert.

There’s a quite proper mutual respect between father and sons in their sailing, but lots of give and take in a healthy family context too, with the bean an ti Sally (nee Aisher) keeping things under control when her menfolk get too exuberant.

It all reached a new peak in 2014 when Anthony in effect put the three-boat Irish Commodore’s Cup team together as a solo run, and Dan O’Grady found himself in the hot seat with Peter O’Leary on the boat which was the cornerstone of the team, Marc Glimcher’s new Ker 40 Catapult. The team captain’s confidence in Catapult and her people was fully rewarded, as she was top scoring boat in the entire series and thus the major contributor to Ireland’s historic victory. But as Dan said, it also brought him a moment of mixed feelings, for one day Marc Glimcher had to be away on business, and Dan suddenly found himself the oldest man in the crew.

Ker catapult
The Accumulator….. Dan O’Grady was recruited by Anthony O’Leary to be aboard the new Ker 40 Catapult, top scoring boat in the successful 2014 Irish Commodore’s Cup Team.

That said, he still has quite a few years in hand on Anthony O’Leary, but they both keep themselves very fit, as they showed so forcefully during the All Ireland on Sunday when that increasingly harsh sou’easter built up the pressure in every sense. As for the third hand, they knew they needed somebody of a hundred kilos to hit the weight target, and thanks to the unrivalled O’Leary network, young Cian Guilfoyle of the National YC – a cousin of the already successful Seafra Guilfoyle of Royal Cork – found himself spending the sailing weekend in some very distinguished and ultimately extremely successful company.

It was as well that he was on the strength, as otherwise the mighty Dun Laoghaire sailing machine would have gone unrepresented in the top four places overall, for they went to Alex Barry (Cork, second), Cillian Dickson (Howth, third), and Roy Darrer (Dunmore East, fourth) with Chris Helme of the Ruffian class and Royal St George YC flying the first flag for Dun Laoghaire in fifth.

Provided you stay within the weight targets, you are permitted to race a J/80 in the All-Ireland with four on board. Cillian Dickson took this approach, and with a first and second in last two races as the breeze piped up, it seemed a good way to go, but then Anthony O’Leary was second and first in those same races, though as Dan O’Grady reports, “we certainly could have used an extra pair of hands towards the end”.

As to what it’s like to race with Anthony O’Leary, ordinary mortals can only get a hint of it by discussing it with Dan O’Grady, as he himself is of star status, and thus when he’s sailing with The O’Leary, they’re operating at a different level to the ordinary run of sailors. But as with the Cummins/Shanahan linkup we were discussing earlier, the amount of talk on board is minimal, a good team knows what to do with as little talk as possible - excess chatter is a waste of energy.

But having given it their all, they arrived back into Dun Laoghaire precisely as scheduled, but red-eyed, salt-burned and exhausted, with those who had travelled long distance mad keen to head for home as soon as possible. For these were all amateurs and unlike professional sailors, Monday is not a rest day, so the underlying principle for the organisers should be to get the brief awards ceremony done and dusted just as soon as possible.

As it happens, such a priority was difficult to assert in the mood in the National YC, where most of the active members were winding down after providing support vessels and other help in staging The Jelly Bean Factory Junior Regatta, a crazy multi-class festival of kids’ sailing cheerfully sponsored by the Cullen family, who are the very epitome of the old saying that when running your own business, if you’re not having a lot of fun, or making a lot of money, then why are you doing it?

peter cullen
Peter Cullen of the Jelly Bean Factory, co-founder of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race in 1993, has made an enormous contribution to Irish sailing, and is firmly convinced that it should be fun. Photo: W M Nixon

They seem to manage both, and as ever it was great fun meeting up again with the JBF’s Peter Cullen, co-founder with Martin Crotty of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race back in 1993, who is as sharp as a tack. For when I complained that I’d have to return again to the seaward end of the boat park to get his brand pennants with the lettering running in the right directions, quick as a flash Peter says, no you don’t, just take their reflection in the bar window. So here’s the Jelly Bean factory flags the right way round, but the Mitsubishi Motors covers on the Flying Fifteens in their boat-park are reversed, so we’ll have to make amends for that when singing for our supper at the Flying Fifteens’ Annual Dinner in the National next month.

Jelly bean flags
Bright suggestion – by using the bar window reflection, we got the Jelly Bean Factory flags the right way round without having to take a long walk. Photo: W M Nixon

The All-Ireland championship event out in Dublin Bay had meanwhile being brought so efficiently to its conclusion by Race Officer Jack Roy and his wife Rosemary the Time-Keeper and their team that, in a neatly-choreographed harbour scene, the little ’uns of the Jelly Bean Regatta had almost completed returning to their home clubs along the waterfront when the compact flotilla of the J/80s came powering back in through the harbour mouth in that rising and undoubtedly rain-bearing sou’easter.

All ireland fleet
On time and on target – thanks to Jack Roy’s efficient race administration, the J/80s in the All Ireland 2015 were back on the pontoons with the results confirmed by 3.30pm. Photo: W M Nixon

They were all handily berthed in the pontoons off the National by 3.30pm, and before 4.0pm the photos and results were posted on, giving every hope that the scheduled All-Ireland Championship 2015 prize-giving – usually a brief little ceremony, but it’s very important to get it just right – could take place promptly as planned by 4.0pm. With competitors from as far away as Sligo, Crosshaven and Waterford, it was simple good manners to allow them to be on their way as soon as possible, as an All-Ireland Dinner in the club on the Saturday evening – timed early to accommodate that night’s rugby match – had already provided the weekend’s social highlight.

In fact, the off-stage un-folding of the Rugby World Cup drama was a counter-point to the weekend’s sailing, and as Anthony O’Leary stepped ashore shortly before 3.30pm, the successful defender – who played rugby for Munster in his day - expressed the hope that by the time the kick-off in the Ireland-Italy match occurred at 4.45pm, the O’Leary mobile would be sweeping home along the motorway past Port Laoise. That would have him comfortably on time to listen to the match on the remainder of the journey back to Cork, and perhaps even be in line to register in Cronin’s of Crosshaven at the magic hour of 7.0pm Sunday for the sacred and traditional review of the weekend’s activities by the great and the good of Crosshaven sport.

Quite why everyone now lost about thirty-five minutes out of their lives in unnecessary delays in the awards ceremony you’d be hard-pressed to say. All the amateurs were there on time, ready to do their duty, including the President of the ISA himself to perform the honours. But as soon as the Association’s professionals were relied on to keep things moving along, the wheels came off, with an official photographer gone missing, and no short sharp programme of events, such that when it finally dawned on the ISA’s pros that these top level amateur sailors were tired and wanted to go home, the man from the ISA suddenly tried to send them on their way without allowing time for the winner to thank his crew and the hosting club.

The abiding impression was of a lack of proper respect for amateur sailors. These management wonks seem to be over-impressed by the big money going the way of professionals and Olympians. But fortunately the 2015 All-Ireland winner, as a former Admiral of the Royal Cork Yacht Club and a former Flag Officer of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, knew a thing or two about protocol and good manners. So Anthony O’Leary redeemed the situation by quietly taking over simply through dignified personal presence, and saved us all with a graceful little speech to send everyone happily on their way, even if he himself was still not even out of Dun Laoghaire on the road for home when kick-off in the Ireland-Italy rugby match took place.

anthony O leary crew
Unwinding after the event - the very best of Irish Corinthian sailing enthusiasm in the National Yacht Club with (left to right) Cian Guilfoyle, Dan O’Grady, Anthony O’Leary and Rosemary and Jack Roy. Photo: W M Nixon

Meanwhile over the weekend we’d seen what an enormous leisure asset Dun Laoghaire Harbour can be in its present form, but we’d also seen that it needs to be busy - use it or lose it. But for those who think this columnist is a supporter of the idea of an enormous occasionally-used cruise-liner berth to provide added income to keep the harbour going as a commercial proposition, my apologies – what was supposed to be ironic pot-stirring to get some ideas inter-acting was taken instead as real firmly-held views.

The idea was to get people seriously discussing the harbour’s future, and how it might be financed, but instead we got quite a few knee-jerk reactions with very few creative visions among them. However, things are now moving along, and with the Oral Hearing about the Cruise Liner Berth with An Bord Pleanala scheduled for eight days from 14th October onwards, there should be every opportunity to publicise the situation. But just saying “No” will not be enough. The Irish people will have to be persuaded that keeping Dun Laoghaire Harbour in basically unchanged form will provide a public amenity of benefit to all to such an extent that its benefits will over-ride crude commercial requirements. It’s asking a lot.

(Ed notes: A Boat Rally Against Dun Laoghaire Cruise Berth will be held at 1pm today)


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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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