We’re into the last weekend in which the popular figure of James Horan will be making regular appearances on the Dun Laoghaire waterfront, and at national sailing occasions, as Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club. Next week at the RIYC Annual general Meeting, he stands down from the top post after two hugely productive years in which he has guided and inspired one of Ireland’s – and indeed the world’s – premier clubs through an accelerating programme of development and success, afloat and ashore, writes W M Nixon
Commodore Horan will hand over to his successor a thriving club which is emerging from an outstanding year which resulted in it being acclaimed as the Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year” 2016 at the National Sailing Awards in Dublin in February. And the RIYC faces confidently into this new season of 2016 - which will see it celebrate its 185th Anniversary – with the staging of several special events in addition to being well represented afloat, both nationally and internationally, at all levels right up to the Rio Olympics themselves.
Meanwhile, from the club’s elegant and well-equipped waterfront complex, the RIYC Training Division – current holder of the ISA’s Eastern Region Best Training Establishment Award – will continue to provide willing recruits to a fine sailing tradition in line with a club history which few comparable organisations anywhere in the world can match.
The evening sunshine helps to match the neo-classic style of the Royal Irish YC’s 165-year-old clubhouse with the new Mitsubishi Outlander
But before next week’s significant change of the watch, there was one final and very appropriate celebratory event with which to mark the end of the James Horan Years. For many years now, it has been a tradition that although the Sailing Club of the Year Award is nationally announced early in the year, the process is not completed until a reception is held in the winning clubhouse for a final formal handover of the famous ship‘s wheel trophy “on site”, a tradition which facilitates all members of the club to share in its success in their home clubhouse, while also allowing the Commodore to highlight those who have made special effort or achieved great results to bring about the win.
As the RIYC’s beautiful building is the world’s oldest purpose-built sailing clubhouse still precisely intact as originally designed – for it was completed in 1851 to the plans of John Skipton Mulvany – there’s no denying the sense of history kept alive with its elegant interior and impressive exterior. But while respecting its heritage in every way, the RIYC can live lightly enough with its ever-present history, operating on the principle that it respects and cherishes the past, lives keenly and efficiently in the present, and looks enthusiastically, with vision and planning, towards the future.
So although you find yourself in what might seem to some to be a museum – albeit a stylish and very much living museum - this past Tuesday, when the ship’s wheel trophy was finally lodged in its new home for the next twelve months, it was definitely party time. Even the weather obliged with a hint of a spring evening, and with the clocks put forward (albeit by barely a wet week) there was just enough of the day left to have the club flagpole fully dressed in celebratory bunting without infringing on flag etiquette for the lowering of colours at sunset.
A flash of sunshine highlighted the dressing of the club flagpole, while still allowing for proper regard of flag etiquette at sunset. Photo: W M Nixon
Within, the mood was warm, friendly and relaxed. And when we consider the RIYC record in 2015, being warm friendly and relaxed was the only option. Where to begin with a year’s sailing which successfully encompassed every aspect of our sport?
In fact, it’s scarcely fair to begin with just one year, as in recent decades the Royal Irish YC has been very much at the heart of Irish sailing, but in the past season one of its most dedicated owner-skippers, George Sisk, campaigned his 42–ft sloop WOW to become the Irish Cruiser-Racer Association “Boat of the Year” after victories at national championships on the east and south coasts.
George Sisk and Fintan Cairns
The longterm devotion of the club to its own and national sailing development was reflected in the fact that ICRA was co-founded in 2002 by another leading RIYC member, Fintan Cairns. He has also given distinguished service to Dublin Bay SC, and he was there on Tuesday with many of WOW’s decidedly senior crew (they say the acronym stands for “We Ould Wans”) to celebrate their own superb year, and a great year for their club.
Michael Boyd, Commodore Royal Ocean Racing Club, puts the world to rights with Tom Power, who skippered the boat which won the 1987 Fastnet overall, and is now one of WOW’s crew with George Sisk
Another leading member, Michael Boyd, serves as Commodore of the global offshore racing organisation, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, and his boat Quokka was top-placed Irish boat in the Fastnet Race 2015 to win the Gull Salver, and on Tuesday night he entertained us with awesome stories about the extreme conditions experienced during the RORC’s recent Easter Challenge Series in the Solent, when the fleet was frequently hit by huge 40 knots-plus mini-storms of the blackest hue, yet the harder it blew, the better the Irish boats seemed to do.
Tim Goodbody, a former RIYC Commodore and Fastnet Race winner in 1987, who chaired the Dun Laoghaire Regatta Committee in 2015 and also won many prizes afloat during the past year, with Jacqueline McStay (Rear Commodore RIYC)
Back home in Dublin Bay, longtime RIYC member Tim Goodbody had served as Chairman of the Organising Committee for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta in July, Ireland’s biggest event in 2015. But he also continued to win trophies when racing his own boat, and emerged as a top performer at the ICRA Championship in Kinsale, and as overall top scorer in Dublin Bay Sailing Club’s season-long championship. And all this from a sailor who in times past was a winning helmsman in the Fastnet Race, way back in 1987.
As for ocean cruising, Ireland’s premier national trophy - the Faulkner Cup which dates back to 1931 - has been awarded to Alan Rountree of the RIYC for his skill and determination in dealing with a severe storm in 2015 while returning single-handed from a voyage to the Azores in his 34ft yacht Tallulah, which he built himself. But then, when an RIYC member builds himself his dreamship at his remote house and workshop in the Wicklow Hills, you can be sure that the results will be a vessel superior to many professionally-finished craft.
Rio qualified Olympic sailor Saskia Tidey, Brendan Farrell, and RIYC Marine Manager (and Dun Laoghaire Lifeboat cox’n) Mark McGibney
The news that Alan Rountree was the latest recipient of the Faulkner Cup only came towards the end of the year, but this sense of the Royal Irish Yacht Club being on a continuous and active journey which lasts for twelve months of every year was reinforced in the days leading up to this week’s ceremony, with the news that the club’s Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey had qualified for a place in the Rio Olympics 2016 in the Women’s Skiff. Saskia herself was there to join a celebration which was further enhanced by the latest news, that young Tim Norwood of the RIYC had qualified over the weekend in some challenging weather for the ISA Junior Pathway.
Commodore Jim Horan, classic boat pace-setter Chris Craig, and Vice Commodore Paul Sherry
So Tuesday night provided a welcome and congenial breathing space in which to reflect on great achievements afloat in all sorts of condition, at all ages, and in all sorts of boats, while at the same time permitting refection on what makes one of Ireland’s many remarkable sailing clubs just that extra bit special in any particular year.
Billy Riordan of Mitsubishi Motors Ireland – himself a keen sailor, he’s an Oppie dad and an SB20 campaigner – outlined his company’s long association with the basically informal “Club of the Year” contest. It was actually first staged in 1979, but Mitsubishi Motors came aboard in 1986 - “We’ve been together since before the Berlin Wall fell” he quipped – so this year we’ll be celebrating a thirty year connection. While becoming Club of the Year may seem a light-hearted business with the fun of the hand-over ceremony, underneath it all there is serious thinking about what ensures a club is successful through providing the services required by its members while maintaining its traditions and updating them to modern needs.
At the same time, the club has to interact dynamically and successfully within the community – both the local community, at national level, and in the sailing community in general – and all this before it can devote its main energies to sailing, its promotion, its encouragement of newcomers, its training of juniors at whatever level, and ultimately all of it leading on the to the skilled and competent staging of major events, while on top of that there’s the quest for success and satisfaction by members in their own sailing and racing.
So running a major club is not for the faint-hearted, but in his thoughtful acceptance speech, Commodore Horan gave us much to reflect on about how he had sought to build on the sense of community of interest within the club at all levels both afloat and ashore, with a genuine interaction between the two, among members and staff alike. In achieving this, he had been greatly assisted by the RIYC’s Marine Manager Mark McGibney who – as the Commodore remarked – has succeeded in removing the mental barriers between sea and land within the RIYC complex. “The club no longer ends at the quayside, and the marina no longer ends at the quayside – the two now interact in the most healthy way, and we are all part of each other’.
A Commodore relaxes – Jim Horan with Jill Gibson Holman and Hugh Cunniam
Quite how Mark McGibney manages all this with such seemingly effortless success is a matter of wonder, as he is also the Dun Laoghaire Lifeboat cox’n. But he does, and the contribution he and the staff have made to the success and hospitable reputation which the RIYC has built up in the sailing community, while still functioning as a club whose ultimate responsibility is to its own members, is a wonder to behold.
All this is taking place in and around a 165-year-old building which is immaculately maintained in authentic style, for after all the Commodore – who has his own very quiet but extremely effective way of getting things done – is one of Ireland’s leading conservation architects. But he’s a keen sailor too, so he knows the needs of those who sail the sea, and as someone who appreciates the finer things in life, he is supported by a very keen house staff who ensure that the hospitality provided by the RIYC is in keeping with its great traditions and current prestige.
That end of term feeling. Shortly to retire RIYC Commodore James Horan (right) who stands down next week, is congratulated by ISA President David Lovegrove (left) whose AGM is today (Saturday) but he still has another year to serve
With the formal business out of the way, the official party could then mingle with the members, many of whom had already taken up that evening’s mainbrace and begun splicing it with considerable vigour. With a gathering of that calibre, the range of boat and topics, plans and techniques, and news and gossip being covered was mind-boggling, while at the same time hugely informative. Just as you’d expect, in fact, when the Club of the Year is contentedly and convivialy at home.