The notion that the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 from July 6th to 9th should include a significant Classics and Old Gaffers element to mark the Bicentenary of this great harbour surfaced only relatively recently. Yet this week a high-powered sub-committee was bursting with ideas when it held its first meeting and firmed the concept in place. It immediately set about recruiting additional boats and classes for an event in which, in its established form, has already regularly included several notable classic One Design Classes. W M Nixon continues the story.
The genie is out of the bottle. The Volvo Dun Laoghaire Classics is accelerating towards full realisation. For although the classics component of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta was always there, hidden in plain sight in the form of classes of Glens, Howth 17s, Mermaids, Water Wags and IDRA 14s racing merrily away, everyone had rather taken it for granted.
But when some far-sighted thinker realised that we don’t really have a date for the completion of Dun Laoghaire Harbour - for it was barely half built when it became Kingstown in 1821 - then the year of starting the great work in 1817 is the only fixed point in a process which has more or less continued until the present day.
The great granite pond is a monument to Work in Progress, a work whose Bicentenary falls in 2017. And there’s certainly something classic about it. This is a harbour the Greeks and the Romans at the height of their power would have been proud to build. And the array of historic yacht clubs along its waterfront have more than enough of the neo-classical to their architecture to match the sense of history which imbues every stone, and speaks of a sailing history which, in next year of all years, will deserve something special in the way of events afloat and ashore.
Admittedly many of the great international classic yachts will have their programme planned years ahead. But if we lower our expectations to smaller craft with which Dun Laoghaire’s regular sailing history can be more readily identified, all sorts of things become possible. And encouragement can be drawn from the fact that the concept which really brought this year’s Volvo Cork Week to life was the introduction of the Beaufort Cup for a special “series within the series” for crews from the defence forces and national safety agencies with a maritime arm.
As the eventual winning skipper, Commandant Barry Byrne of the Defence Forces, was able to reveal here in Afloat, putting the idea of the Beaufort Cup into action only started back in February of this year. Yet by July there was a fine fleet of 34 yachts, appropriately internationally crewed and ready for action which included a race round the Fastnet Rock.
But here it is still November, yet the VDLR 2017 Classics Sub-committee is already beavering away. It’s chaired with energy and enthusiasm by Cathy MacAleavey, whose contemporary classics boat credentials are well matched to her family’s deserved reputation in Olympic involvement, as she has personally been involved in building both Water Wags and Shannon One Designs with the legendary Jimmy Furey in Roscommon, and she is a regular participant in both classes and at classic events.
One fortuitous element which is already working in favour of attracting distantly-based Classics to Dun Laoghaire is that a fortnight later, the 25th Anniversary Glandore Classics get under way in West Cork from 23rd to 28th July. Thus one of the cross-channel classes which has in times past injected much life and colour into Glandore is the Royal Anglesey Fifes from the Menai Straits. They’re highly-organised in the road-trailing department, and they’ve shown themselves receptive to the notion that they might come across on the ferry to Ireland a fortnight early for four days of VIP treatment at the VDLR 2014 before trundling on down to Glandore.
Certainly as participants in Classic Regattas themselves, Cathy and her very can-do sub-committee are keenly aware of the special needs of classics large and small, and they’re preparing every effort to ensure that those who do decide to make the journey to Dublin Bay will find the effort well worth while.
The huge improvement in the road transport of boats opens up all sorts of fresh possibilities. Way back in 1955, the Cork Harbour One Designs of 1896 and the Dublin Bay 21s of 1902 made a great effort to get together in Dunmore East. But by the time each little flotilla of these already old boats had reached the Waterford Estuary port in decidedly mixed weather, their crews were so pleased to get there at all that two days passed in celebration before a couple of not very decisive inter-class races were sailed.
In fact, they were so indecisive that each group of One Designs returned to their home port firmly of the opinion that their boats had won. But these days, the Cork Harbour One Design in her classic form is well known thanks to the pioneering international campaigning of Clayton Love Jnr with the restored CHOD Jap, and there are other CHODs now back under their original rig in Cork Harbour. Admittedly the only DBSC 21 likely to sail again any time in the foreseeable future is Naneen, which is to be re-built for Hal Sisk by Steve Morris in Kilrush, nevertheless if the CHODs could see their way to roading it to Dun Laoghaire, they’d be very welcome.
In terms of distance nearer to Dublin Bay, in addition to the Menai Strait Fifes there are other interesting classic fleets across channel such as the Mersey Mylnes in Liverpool, and the Seabird Half Raters in North Wales - RORC CEO Eddie Warden Owen has a family-owned Seabird in Treardur Bay.
The original concept drawing for the Seabirds was reputedly created in the 1890s on a cigarette pack under the illumination of a Southport street lamp by a yacht designer called Scott Hayward, who later came to live on the shores of Belfast Lough and raised a family of some eccentricity – one of his sons was Richard Hayward, the Irish folklorist, author and broadcaster.
Some 118 years down the line, Scott Hayward’s little Seabirds continue to thrive, but whether they’re ready to travel in the same enthusiastic way as the Royal Anglesey Fifes is another matter. However, in Scott Hayward’s adopted home in the north of Ireland, they’ve some interesting classic One Designs which are showing increasing signs of spreading their wings.
The best-known to Dublin Bay sailors will be the Glens of Strangford Lough, which maintain close relations with the Dun Laoghaire class. But other old gems which have benefitted recently from restoration projects have been some of the Fairy class in Belfast Lough and Lough Erne, and the 18ft LOA Waverleys of Belfast Lough. One of them, the MacLaverty brothers’ Durward, sailed round Ireland under Bermudan rig in 1961, but now all have reverted to the original gunter rig and undergone some very thorough restorations which deserve to be more widely seen.
Another One Design class which deserves to be better known is the 29ft Rivers of Whiterock on Strangford, but they’re hefty big boats (they’ve a ballast ratio of 62%) which don’t like being road-trailed, so they’ll probably continue to be Strangford Lough’s best-kept secret.
However, for those boats of other types which could well road-trail to Dun Laoghaire, this list is only tapping into the one design tradition. But then, as the OD ideal in turn goes back to 1887 in Dublin Bay, it is something which deserves to be given special attention and good racing sport. Some classic boat enthusiasts may think that racing is almost superfluous in the sacred quest to preserve old boats, but the fact is that it’s racing – and very keen racing at that - which keeps boats like the Howth 17 in thriving condition, and going from strength to strength.
Thus we’ll also see the Shannon One Designs emerge from their myriad of lakes and waterways to make the scene in Dublin Bay, and they’ll provide a fascinating sight on Dublin Bay. But we hasten to make the point that individual classics and gaffers will be very welcome too. So who knows, but maybe the only restored and actively sailing Dublin Bay 24, the immaculate Periwinkle from South Brittany, might be persuaded north to set hearts a-flutter as she competes with others for the new Kingstown Cup to mark the Bicentenary of this extraordinary harbour.