While sailing is now a year-round interest, and for many a year-round activity too, the notion of a traditional season is natural for anyone who lives in Ireland. Admittedly, there are times when we seem to be experiencing the four annual climatic seasons in just one day. But this sense of a seasonal change, and the appropriate alterations in activity which accompany it, are in our genetic makeup. And though marinas and the Autumn Leagues which they facilitate have pushed the season’s end back to the October Bank Holiday Weekend, for many, that’s it. It’s finally time for boats to be rested and energies deployed in other ways. W M Nixon reflects on highlights of the year.
These times we live in, they tend to emphasise big events – celebrity happenings you might call them – and our perceptions of a season past may be skewed by how the major fixtures played through. But your true Irish sailing season has at its core the classic club programme from April to October, with its plethora of weekend and weekday evening events. If you want to sense the beating heart of our sailing, you have to take the pulse of this local and club scene.
We know it’s not for everyone. Some dinghy crews only emerge for major regional and national championships. But week in, week out, it’s the regular local sailing, from the smallest club right up to the majestic programme of Dublin Bay Sailing Club, which sets the tone for the majority of sailors.
And for those who sailed regularly all through the time-honoured season, it has to be admitted that weatherwise, we experienced a very mixed bag. As we shall see, there were brief periods of good weather which blessed some events. But in any case, one dyed-in-the-wool cub sailor firmly told us that as far as he was concerned, it was a very good season.
“For sure, there was rain and wind,” he said. “But we need wind for sailing. If you get a long period of rain-free weather, the evenings are likely to be wind-free as well. Frankly I’d rather get a good race in rain than sit becalmed on a perfect summer’s evening. But as we’re an east coast club, we often get that east coast effect of Atlantic weather without Atlantic rain, which is ideal for club racing. By and large, it has been a good sailing season, and race management seems to be improving all the time. So 2017 is going to go down as a good year for club sailing, but only a very average year for sunshine”.
As for Irish sailing’s national structure, inevitably there’s a clashing of events. There is only a finite number of weekends available at peak season when different big ticket regattas and championships hope to be staged, but as well, each club and area quite rightly expect to bring prestigious fleets to its part of Ireland.
However, in 2017 there was increasing emphasis at official club level on making sailing fun again. We’d begun to take it too seriously, something reinforced by the grim years of the recession, and then the winning in 2016 of Annalise Murphy’s Silver Medal at the Olympics in Rio.
Of course the winning of Annalise’s medal was a matter for fun-filled celebration once it had happened, but the buildup to it was deadly serious, and that affected the tone of the national sailing mood in every area. But with the Medal in the bag, 2017 could reasonably expect to have a lighter mood, and this in turn helped us to adjust to an over-crowded programme, as crews could plan on a series of campaigns which balanced between serious events which provided proper championship results of national significance, and events which officially claimed to be providing everyone with a good time, even if some crews raced with deadly seriousness.
Either way, so much was going on that a review like this can only hope to give an impression of the season rather than a detailed analysis, but we’ll try to give it a comprehensible shape by listing the main events of Irish interest at home and abroad under either the “serious” or “fun” categorisations:
March/April: Intervarsity Championships – serious, UCD selected to represent Ireland
April: Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Nationals, Ballyholme - serious (and impressive), Ewan McMahon the star, Rush SC prominent in success
April: Season-long ISORA Championship get under way, several venues – inevitably serious. In due course, J/109 Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox, Pwllheli SC) has very close overall win – despite taking time out to do the Fastnet
May: Scottish Series at Tarbert– serious, Pat Kelly’s J/109 Storm and Stephen Quinn’s J/97 Lambay Rules top their classes.
June: Howth Lambay Weekend – Fun
June: ICRA Nationals Royal Cork – probably the most serious of them all. John Maybury’s J/109 Joker 2 RIYC), Ross MacDonald’s X332 Equinox (HYC), and Paul Gibbons’ Anchor Challenge (RCYC) win the three main classes.
June: National YC Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race – serious
June: Sovereign’s Cup at Kinsale – fun
June: Dinghyfest at Royal Cork – brilliantly balanced mixture of serious & fun
July: Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta – superb, and fun
July: WIORA Championship at Aran Islands – unique
July: Irish Cruising Club Rally in Northwest Spain – seriously well organised, great fun to take part
July: Glandore Classics – fun, yet serious too
August: Rolex Fastnet Race from Cowes – serious
August: Calves Week from Schull – prides itself on being a neat balance between fun and “quite serious racing”, and succeeds in being so.
August: Half Ton World Classics at Kinsale: Supposedly serious, but in the ultimate lotus-eating venue and with such an extraordinary selection of boats, it couldn’t help but be fun. And everyone likes the slightly eccentric overall winner, the legendary Swuzzlebubble
August: Crinnui na mBad, Kinvara – traditional and fun
August: Laser Nationals Royal Cork YC – serious
September: Autumn League at Howth – fun event, but run with such serious efficiency that they’d a full programme completed after six weekends despite losing two days of racing to the late season’s poor weather.
September: The SB 20 Nationals, incorporated into the first weekend of the Howth Autumn league as a three-day separate championship, had extra interest as it included recently-crowned SB 20 Corinthian World Champions Michael O’Connor, Davy Taylor and Edward Cook of Royal St George YC, who had won in the Worlds at Cowes. They added the Irish title to their 2017 trophy list.
October: Autumn League at Royal Cork - fun
October: Mini-Transat at La Rochelle – serious
October: Junior All-Ireland at Schull – serious
October: Senior All-Ireland Sailing Championship at Mullingar – serious and historic, as it is staged at one of the smallest, most rural clubs in the country, and raced in GP 14s.
October: Student Yachting Worlds in Marseilles in France – serious. Ireland – a winner in times past –places fifth this time round.
October: Rolex Middle Sea Race from Malta – serious
October: Volvo Ocean Race from Alicante – serious
This fun/serious differentiation seems to have been supported by our wayward climate, which often managed to come up with good weather just when it was needed for the fun events, yet it achieved this in the midst of a generally very unsettled and often plain inclement summer.
The photos are all that is needed to show how this was so during 2017’s premier event, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 from July 6th to 9th. It wasn’t a sun-blasted regatta, but it wasn’t a wind-blasted one either – it was just a brief period of exceptionally pleasant warm weather with enough breeze for good racing , yet not too much wind to make it difficult to provide the in-harbour finishes which were introduced in special acknowledgement of the fact that they were also celebrating the Bicentenary of the massive work starting on the construction of this truly monumental and architecturally magnificent artificial port.
With 34 classes racing and boat numbers pushing towards the 500 mark, obviously it would have been totally inappropriate to try to include the ICRA Nats within it, as some have suggested. But even with such good conditions in its relaxed form, it could easily have got out of hand. However, with Organising Committee Chairman Tim Goodbody apparently yet always very quietly here, there and everywhere to ensure that all was running smoothly with a skillfully delegated team, it ran like clockwork to round out his two year stint in the top role with considerable style and success.
One noted visiting crew enthused that it was the best four days of sailing they’d ever had, and that was before they became aware that they’d won the ultimate trophy, the Kingstown 200 Cup, complete with a hundred guinea purse and a framed picture of the first regatta ever staged in what is now Dun Laoghaire, the Kingtown Regatta of 1828.
That was Rob Mason and his shipmates from Milford Haven with the classic 37ft Alexander Richardson-designed 1897-built gaff cutter Myfanwy, which Rob restored himself and sailed to Dun Laoghaire for the newly-introduced Classics Division, which was supposedly a one-off gesture to the Bicentenary.
But it worked so well that there’s talk of repeating it in 2019. Be that as it may, after the last race I was commiserating with the the Myfanwy team on their final placing, as I thought they’d sailed well enough to be comfortably on the podium, but Performance Echo decided others. Maybe they sailed too well. Yet far from being disappointed, they were on top of the world, and then when they went along to the huge prize-giving at the Royal St George, it was to hear to their complete surprise that the much-admired Myfanwy had been awarded the Kingstown 200 Cup and the prize purse and the historic picture……
This classics success reflected a good year for the classic boats in Ireland, as six of the Howth Seventeens (1898) and a dozen of the Water Wags (1887 & 1900) made their way to the famous Sailing Week in the Morbihan in southern Brittany in May. Then at the end of July, the newest Howth 17s, Orla built in France for Ian Malcolm by the famous Skol ar Mor, arrived home, and in an epic effort in late August, in honour of Class President Hal Sisk, the continually reviving Water Wags managed their first turnout of more than thirty boats for their traditional Wednesday evening racing.
This has inevitably only been a skim across the events of 2017. An extraordinary season. Many hoped at the beginning of the year that it would see some relaxation after the intensity of the Olympic year, and while that may have been the overall mood, the achievements recorded above show that some sailors continued to take their own sailing very seriously indeed.
That is as it should be. But if I had to select a photo which captures the mood of 2017, the determination to make the best of it whatever the weather, then the Thomas Gautier image of Aoife Hopkins in devil-may-care mood, flying over a big sea off Douarnenez in Brittany on her way to winning the Laser Radial Under 21 European Championship, would undoubtedly be it. At that moment, Aoife was sailing for all of us.