The sailing community in Ireland is a tribe. And our many and various clubhouses are its temples writes W M Nixon. You get a real sense of this of this at the annual presentation of the Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Cub of the Year” award. For although the winner is announced here on Afloat.ie on the first Saturday morning of the New Year, it all only seems to be for real when the long-serving ship’s wheel trophy is finally and formally handed over to the winning club in its own clubhouse on the cusp of the new season.
The 2018 handover took place this week in the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire, winning for the fifth time in the informal competition’s 39 years of existence. The first time was back in 1981, under a previous sponsor. But since 1986, the enthusiastically supportive sponsor has been Mitsubishi Motors Ireland, and the presentation was made by their Managing Director Gerard Rice to NYC Commodore Ronan Beirne.
Ronan fills his demanding role with such under-stated skill and charm that you could be forgiven for thinking he has been reared since birth to become the Commodore of the National Yacht Club. But then you have to be someone very special for this role, as the entertaining and eclectic attendance at the ceremony effectively represented a group of people who may share membership of this very special club, yet they are much involved in many other things in national and international sailing as well, in addition to being high achievers on the water.
In his opening remarks, Jack Roy, the President of Irish Sailing, talked of his 44 years of NYC membership. For although he’d started his sailing at Greystones, when his fellow juniors there wanted to move on into the Enterprise class, young Jack – always one to think for himself – reckoned that a boat with a spinnaker was the only way to go, and as there was word of a class of 420s developing up the coast at the National, he got himself involved. Thus the NYC has found a soft spot in his heart ever since, even if – as Irish Sailing President - he is in effect a full member of every recognised club in the country, while in practical terms he is a real member of several.
The President took the opportunity to highlight again the extraordinary contribution for more than fifty years made to sailing – and particularly sail training and the encouragement of young sailors – by Carmel Winkelmann, whose presence at the reception this week was as ever the making of the party.
Mitsubishi Motors MD Gerard Rice spoke particularly of the way that the adjudicators seek much more than a club which has certain star members who ratchet up national and international sailing success. As it happens, the National does that in style, with Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy currently the peak achiever in a formidable array of successful sailors. But the key to a properly balanced club is one which provides thoughtfully and effectively for members at every level of sailing, in addition to interacting dynamically with the community in which it is set, and that is something the National YC does particularly well.
Commodore Ronan Beirne’s acceptance speech – delivered off the cuff in a smooth flow of informative eloquence – said everything about the club and why this experienced sailor fills his key role in such a reassuringly comfortable style. He interwove anecdotes from the fascinating history of the club – which will be celebrating its 150th Anniversary in 2020 – with a realistic appraisal of the club’s special and harmonious position within the community immediately about it in the southeast corner of Dun Laoghaire Harbour, coupled with its role as a player of national and international significance in the sailing scene. All of this makes it so busy in the clubhouse, on the waterfront, and out on the sea, that it provides employment for 45 people, many of them fulltime.
The Commodore gave us a fresh insight into why the National Yacht Club thrives as an oasis of tranquility in its special location. When Dun Laoghaire Marina officially opened on St Patrick’s Day 2001, many thought that the National YC – being the furthest from the entrance to this new world-standard facility – would inevitably suffer. But the Cub’s officers refused to see a problem – instead, they saw an opportunity to establish themselves as a welcoming place which is slightly apart, a complete facility which has extra shelter through being in its own corner of the harbour, and is able to provide all waterfront facilities right on site for its own members and visitors.
Ever since, the club has developed these previously hidden strengths, and our header photo shows very well how every square inch of waterfront space, and the surrounds of the clubhouse, have been utilised to provide a comprehensive service to meet the needs of members and visitors alike, such that the National – with its hospitality team headed by the very effective manager Tim O’Brien – is often the destination for which visiting boats in the ISORA fleet will head directly after finishing a cross-channel race.
One of the reasons the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association’s boats from across channel head for the National at race’s end is that ISORA has been revived to its current healthy state largely through the determination and enthusiasm of its Chairman Peter Ryan, one of many former NYC Commodores who has gone on to ably fill other significant roles in sailing. His energy in re-developing ISORA has been such that many of the Welsh crews have become NYC members, and it was remarked at this week’s reception that Peter Ryan could teach international negotiators a thing or two, as he has ensured that any border down the middle of the Irish Sea is entirely frictionless……
Another former NYC Commodore who has been lured into a new administrative job is Chris Moore, current Commodore of the ultimate umbrella body, Dublin Bay Sailing Club, whose Honorary Secretary Donal O’Sullivan is likewise very NYC - in fact, he is celebrating the Golden Jubilee of his membership of the National this year, having joined in 1968, and at the party he was planning to mark the big Five-O by having his first race of the season on Thursday.
Chris Moore meanwhile is Commissioner for the Round Ireland record, which meant he was a very busy man in 2016 when new mono-hull and multi-hulls records were established. But it remains to be seen whether they stand as long as the 1993 record set by someone who later became NYC Commodore, Con Murphy and his wife Cathy Mac Aleavey, as their record stood until 2016.
These days, in addition to being parents of Olympic Medallist Annalise, they’re into many other aspects of sailing with Con being a leading promoter of the International Moth, and they’re into classic boats too, particularly the Dublin Bay Water Wags which Cathy was telling me are planning other exotic outings in addition to their regular Wednesday night racing in Dun Laoghaire Harbour, with an expedition up the River Boyne in prospect during June.
Another area of Irish sailing in which the National is prominent is cruising, and former ICC Commodore Cormac McHenry was among those present this week, as he is in a key role in the National, being one of the Trustees. And for those who would think only of Ronan Beirne as being a leading figure in the NYC’s administration, let it be recalled that quite some time ago Ronan was probably the youngest-ever Honorary Editor of the Irish Cruising Club Annual – not a task for the faint-hearted.
Before cruising and serious racing, there’s the matter of learning to sail, and it was a special pleasure to meet Fiona Staunton, the NYC’s enthusiastic Junior Training Officer, who oversees what is arguably the most important section in the club. With the news that the NYC’s Ferguson sisters had just won the 420 Leinsters, clearly the throughput of new talent continues unabated to follow in the path set by the likes of Annalise Murphy, Finn Lynch, and many other before them.
Yet while stars need to shine, the organisation of attractive events and classes is key to the success of a winning club, and the National Yacht Club has several jewels in its crown, jewels which will shine with extra lustre in the coming years. The thriving Flying Fifteen class at the NYC is one of the biggest in Dublin Bay, and it will have a numbers boost with the Flying Fifteen 2019 Worlds being hosted by the club.
And as for the wonderful biennial Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, founded in 1993 by the late Martin Crotty and by Peter Cullen who was very happily with us in splendid form this week, administration of that has passed on to Adam Winkelmann – sailing administration runs in families – and this week he was confident that 2019’s staging of this popular classic will see a bigger fleet than ever.
The pace is hectic. The National Yacht Club thrives afloat and ashore. It is a very worthy Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year 2018.