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Despite the Weather, Irish Youth Pathway Nationals Brings Fresh Perspective on Junior Sailing & Dun Laoghaire Harbour

6th April 2018
The Great Granite Pond as this weekend’s youth sailing venue. If we see Dun Laoghaire Harbour as a natural feature of Dublin Bay, rather than as some enormous artificial construct from which income should be extracted through every possible source, then its continued existence as a National Heritage site and relatively uncommercialised recreational amenity for the general good might make more sense The Great Granite Pond as this weekend’s youth sailing venue. If we see Dun Laoghaire Harbour as a natural feature of Dublin Bay, rather than as some enormous artificial construct from which income should be extracted through every possible source, then its continued existence as a National Heritage site and relatively uncommercialised recreational amenity for the general good might make more sense Credit: Irish Sailing

With 190 sailors from 25 clubs nationwide, the first ever Northern Ireland–hosted Youth Pathway Nationals 2017 at Ballyholme last year had a debut which was little short of sensational. The momentum has been maintained into 2018 for a real talent-spotting championship, and this weekend we’re in the midst of a participation of 213 young sailors in 197 boats, and they represent 28 clubs which vie with each other to provide the best possible infrastructure, training and logistical support for their very active junior sections. W M Nixon reflects on the many implications of both the event and this year’s venue, together with the volunteers who make it possible.

420 1509Dublin Bay as it can be – Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher of Malahide revelling in the first day’s sunshine racing with their top-placed 420. Photo: O'Brien

They’d a beautifully sunlit early morning start on Thursday in Dublin Bay, with a rising south to southeast breeze as the first races started at noon. But by 2pm the forecast greyness was beginning to spread up over the sky from the south, and soon the sunshine was only a memory. A vivid one nevertheless, but only the Optimists, 420s and Laser Radials on the complete four day programme benefitted from this brief yet very welcome respite from the longest winter in living memory.

justin lucas2The Champion from Clon…..Justin Lucas of Clonakilty, Tralee Bay SC & Royal Cork, is ahead in the Optimist fleet

They made the best of it, with 14-year-old Justin Lucas of Tralee Bay and Royal Cork (the word is he lives in Clonakilty) continuing his stellar progress as the pace-setter of the 70-strong Optimist class, with three wins in three races. But the two hosting clubs were in there battling away, with Moss Simington (RStGYC) finishing the day second overall on an 8, 2 and 14, while the National YC’s Rian Geraghty-McDonnell and Nathan van Steenberge were third and fourth on 7,5,2 and 10,9,5 respectively.

justin lucas3Winning speech – Justin Lucas is already well accustomed to taking big prizes, and he can handle success with grace and style

The Laser Radials and 420s got in two races, and in a repeat of last year in the Lasers, it was a McMahon of Howth out in front. But in 2018 it is Ewan McMahon’s younger brother Jamie who is doing the business on behalf of one of Ireland’s “sailingest” families - sister Eve is a star as well. On Thursday, Jamie logged two wins while Peter Fagan had two seconds and Hugo Kennedy took a 4th and third.

Jamie McMahon4Jamie McMahon. The McMahons of Howth are like the No 33 bus – if you missed one winning a race, then another one will be along soon. Last year, Ewan McMahon dominated the Laser Radials in the Youth Pathway Championship. This year, it’s his brother Jamie. Photo:

The 420s were looking good initially for 2017 Irish Junior Champion Micheal O’Suillebhain of Cork – with regular crewmate Michael Carroll, he won the first race. But a capsize in the second race had him out of it altogether, and Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher of Malahide quickly stepped into the breach - they’d been second the first time out, they now confirmed the overall lead by winning, with Morgan Lyttle and Patrick Whyte second overall on 4,2 and Nicola & Fiona Ferguson third with two thirds.

mcdowell and gallagher5Final preparations for a good day afloat – Emma Gallagher and Gemma McDowell with their 420. Photo: Irish Sailing/Facebook

mcdowell and gallagher6The triumphant return – Gemma McDowell on helm and Emma Gallagher on trapeze blasting back into Dun Laoghaire Harbour after winning the first day

When the class numbers went up to five yesterday with the Toppers and Laser 4.7s due to start their three day programme, it was back to the “new normal” on the weather front, and the start of racing was postponed to 2.00pm which then became total cancellation. There’d been a foul night of wind and rain which made you wonder if the ISPCC might come sniffing around the place, for there’s many a neighbourhood and a society where they’d think that sending kids out in little boats in weather like that is a deliberately calculated form of cruelty.

But having been an Oppie dad back in the day (it was so long ago that everyone called them Oppies at the time - the contemporary PC version “Opty” still doesn’t trip off the tongue), I never ceased to be amazed by the kids’ determination to get in some racing no matter what the weather. As to their notions of the voyaging an Optimist might be capable of during lay days, that didn’t bear thinking about – they’d put food for a day on board, and were prepared to sail for the horizon if they could get away with it.

This particular Oppie dadship ended in an interesting way, when my sole duty was to deliver the youngest son to an Optimist event, and then bring him back when it was over. None of this hands-on Oppie parenting stuff in our family – it was indicated that I was to make myself scarce between start and finish. When you’re a flustered haulier like that, at the close of the event you just link up with the junior skipper, hitch up with the boat trailer, and head for home. Thus it was some time before I noticed that as often as not, I was bringing back a different boat. Our little baby boy had become a successful Oppy dealer. And he soon wanted to move onto bigger things, which he has continued to do successfully ever since.

As for not noticing which particular boat I was towing, let it be said that there’s a renowned Dun Laoghaire character who was road-trailing a Dragon home from a major event in Brittany, and he was many kilometres along the route before he realized he’d got the wrong boat. But that’s by the way. My own limited Oppy dad experience is only to show that these kids are tough and extremely competitive, and we should save at least as much sympathy for the huge numbers of weather-battered volunteers who are beavering away through the four day programme to keep this complex regatta moving towards the target, which at the very least is to get a valid result.

Con Murphy Ross killian DonnellyCon Murphy is the total sailor – longtime Round Ireland Record holder, and Race Officer par excellence. Here he is on the right with Irish Sailing's Ross Killian (centre) and Pat Donnelly addressing participants at the National Yacht Club on Friday

On the three course areas as shown on our leader photo, former NYC Commodore and longtime Round Ireland Record holder Con Murphy (he set the record in 1993) is in charge of the big girls and boys’ racing with the 420s and Laser Radials, and he’s aboard Johnny McClean-Roberts’ cruiser in the more exposed area northeast of the harbour. He’s well-placed in terms of committee boat comfort, as Johnny’s vessel is the well-appointed Jeanneau 54 DS Quite Correct, which some years ago carried out the textbook rescue in the Irish Sea of the crew of a sinking boat whose spade rudder had torn adrift leaving a large hole in its place, resulting an award-winning exercise by Quite Correct, master-minded by Johnny’s longterm shipmate Brian Mathews.

Eddie Totterdell of the National YC is on one of the Dublin Bay SC Race Officer catamarans looking after the Toppers and Laser 4.7s to the northwest of the harbour. His continuing services to sailing are the stuff of legend, so it was thought only right and proper that when the draw was taken at the Sailors of the Year Awards ceremony in the RDS in February, the winner of the prize for two VIP places at the finish of the Volvo Ocean Race at The Hague in June should go to Eddy Totterdell – no better man.

eddy totterdell8Another of Irish sailing’s great volunteers, Eddie Totterdell is the very popular winner of the VIP ticket to the finish of the Volvo Ocean Race in June

It’s interesting to note that a recent news item on the Topper Class here on featured a request that anyone interested in joining the Irish Topper Class Committee should please get in touch pronto, for although the Toppers fit a definite niche in the market very precisely, that niche is for only a very few years. Then the young skippers and their committee-serving parents move on to bigger boats, so keeping the committee up to strength is a recurring problem.

It’s not one which seems likely with the Optimists, which are racing to the west of the harbour. They’re far and away the largest class numerically with something like 70 boats already racing, and maybe eighty in all if conditions start to suit the newer youngest sailors.

The Race Officer in their relatively sheltered area is Lough Derg Yacht Club Commodore John Leech, best-known in sailing as a stalwart of the Shannon One Design class, and a member of one of the leading sailing families along the rivers and lakes.

John LeechLough Derg YC Commodore John Leech, who is Chief Executive of Irish Water Safety, is another volunteer giving sterling service as a Race Officer for the Youth PathwayNationals.

His brother Garrett recently became Commodore of Lough Ree Yacht Club, which must lead to a certain level of sibling rivalry, for although Lough Derg YC dates back to 1835, Lough Ree has its roots in 1770, which makes it the second-oldest club in Ireland, bested only by the Royal Cork YC itself.

This all means that 2020 is going to be quite a year for club anniversaries, and there are already three clubs on the podium – the National YC is going to be in the Bronze Medal position at 150 years old, Lough Ree is firmly in Silver at 250 years, and Royal Cork is undoubtedly Gold Medallist at 300 years old.

Discussions of such matters will have helped to pass the time as they waited for conditions to abate to allow racing to resume. Another surefire topic is the future direction of Dun Laoghaire Harbour, a matter exacerbated by the damage sustained in the recent storms. How will such repairs be paid for in the long run? Should it be seen as much as a National Heritage site as much as a harbour?

water wags10Dun Laoghaire Harbour’s exceptional role as a National Heritage site is emphasized by considering how this photo of the original 1887 Water Wags taken from the end of the East Pier in the 1890s….Photo courtesy Water Wag Class

water wags11…….is complemented by this contemporary photo of their successors which were introduced in 1900, as seen from seaward in the same location

Well, as one of the points made in all the debates about the Old Granite Pond is that for all its artificial origins, there’s something about Dun Laoghaire Harbour which makes it seem like a natural feature of Dublin Bay, why not treat it as just that, and look on repairs as being the treatment of coastal erosion, rather than ordinary harbour maintenance matters?

Meanwhile, the wayward low pressure area which was causing all the trouble was tracking just a little too slowly up the west coast to save yesterday’s hoped-for afternoon races. In such a situation, the prompt decision to call off any prospect of further racing before today (Saturday) was much the best option.

We go into the weekend with two days left of the programme knowing that the Optimists need only one more race to have a championship result, while the Laser Radials and the 420s need two further race results, but the Toppers and the Laser 4.7s will need three. However, with the racing scheduled to start at 10.30am, it should be well manageable. But for now, the young sailing people of Ireland are surely learning even more about the weird weather we have to live with, because as the localised high pressure area forecast for today materialises, we’ll be looking at a Dublin Bay transformed.

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WM Nixon

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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