When 2018’s rain-free heat-wave of zephyrs and calms was at its peak in July, old salts of every age and gender naturally and inevitably observed in their sagacious way that it would all end with a bang. They reckoned that Nature - having lost the run of herself for so long with what many folks misguidedly thought was good weather – would overcompensate in the opposite direction with what everyone would agree were unsettled conditions at the very least, with disturbed weather in which the inevitable swing of the seasons would feel exaggerated and accelerated. Conditions, in short, in which any sailing would feel more enjoyable if undertaken in the familiar surroundings of home waters, with a sheltered and familiar berth within easy reach. W M Nixon reckons it’s Down Home Sailing Time.
That wise sailor Tom Crosbie of Cork was renowned as the owner-skipper over many years ago of the handsome and able International 8 Metre If. The Norwegian designed-and-built If was an exceptionally large 8 Metre which maximised the comfort potential of this class, of which there were up to half a dozen in Crosshaven in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.
The skipper of If – cognisant of the ways of the weather as only a third generation Cork sailor can be - was wont to observe that any sensible Cork Harbour skipper would always ensure that his summer programme at the West Cork regattas was carefully planned to shape a course for home towards mid-August.
“No prudent Cork yachtsman would have his vessel west of the Old Head of Kinsale after the 15th August” was his mantra. “For that’s when the southwest monsoon sets in, and it stays set in”.
So although the fact that the West Cork ports are now significant sailing centres in their own right with programmes which can extend well into September, those who live in the cities and prefer to have their boats nearer home as Autumn draws in will know exactly what Tom Crosbie meant.
It’s perfectly natural to want to head west as July comes upon us. But equally, it’s only natural to head for home by the time the swallows start to gather on the telegraph wires for their own long return southward to winter quarters.
And back home in the major sailing centres, whether it be Kinsale or Cork Harbour with its many centres led in boat numbers by Crosshaven, we find that local sailing has been quietly going on. And up in the Dublin area, not only has local sailing been continuing apace, but this weekend seems to have developed into some sort of spontaneous festival of all that sailing can offer within easy reach of the capital.
From Skerries in the north down to Greystones in the south – or even to Wicklow, Arklow and Courtown if you wish to spread the Greater Dublin net as widely as possible – there seem to be more boats about each time you call by, and new talents are emerging on the sailing scene. For there’s no doubt about it, we’re in the numbers game here, and the population growth of Dublin, in particular, is creating its own dynamic whereby local sailing seems to have a new vitality.
It has been observed for some time, for instance, that numbers in the Dublin Bay SC cruiser-racer evening programme every Thursday in high summer hold up surprisingly well despite the fact that everybody who is anybody is supposed to be away.
In fact, there are those discerning crews who reckon the sailing in the bay is most pleasant in August – it’s less crowded, less frantic, and generally more civilised afloat and ashore. As one skipper observed: “We have developed these excellent shoreside facilities over the years in the forecourts. Our clubhouses are havens of civilization, and together we’ve brought them safely through all sorts of economic turmoil. In our crew, we find that August evening racing offers the best opportunity to savour it all.”
One useful test of the health of local sailing is to take the pulse of the senior local One-Design classes which symbolize each centre. In Dun Laoghaire, it’s the Water Wags. And in Howth, it’s the Howth 17s. Both of them are classes which go back well over a hundred years, and perhaps it’s the knowledge of this which induces a somewhat leisurely attitude in getting the fleets towards optimum strength each season.
Certainly last year, it was the end of August when the Water Wags finally got their act together with sufficient strength to honour their Class Captain, sailing polymath Hal Sisk, with the Water Wags’ first-ever turnout of more than thirty boats. And this year across in Howth, it is only as August has advanced that some boats are finding themselves fully race ready and more than willing to ensure regular turnouts of more than 14 boats, with the Massey family and Mikey Twomey’s 1907-built Deliginis emerging as class champions over their special August weekend.
These numbers may sound unspectacular by comparison with the fleet totals that turn out for regional, national and particularly international championships of dinghy classes. But when you’ve something which is at the heart of the local sailing community, quality is more important than mere quantity every time, and it implies a level of dedication which sets a useful example for other much more modern boats to follow.
Despite their great age, both the Water Wags and the Howth 17s are seeing boats either being re-built, or completely newly-constructed. This is something we’ll return to in the future, but for this weekend as the travellers return from their distant regattas, it’s to find that home sailing has been quietly going on, and the facilities and race teams are in place to provide an exceptional range of major events to move the 2018 Dublin sailing season into its Down Home phase.
As ever, there’s Dublin’s north-south divide. In the city, it’s made by the Liffey. And out in Dublin Bay, it extends along the increasingly busy shipping lane. Either way, Dun Laoghaire sailors see the Baily Headland at the north side of the bay as some sort of local Cape Horn which is best avoided, but the relatively new presence of the marina to the south in Greystones makes it an attractive and accessible venue by sea and land.
So this weekend’s Taste of Greystones Regatta at the north County Wicklow port will be a timely reminder that this is Greystones Sailing Club’s Golden Jubilee Year, and the impressive fleet in the dinghy park and the marina – with shoreside development now fully under way – is a reminder that Greystones’ Frank Whelan and his shipmates with the Grand Soleil 44 Eleuthera have been one of Ireland’s most successful boats in 2018, a superb demonstration of inspired inter-generational abilities and a potent display of the power of effective inter-disciplinary action between dinghy racers and keelboat campaigners.
The continuing rise of Greystones in the keelboat and dinghy rankings is acknowledged by the active support of both Dublin Bay SC and the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association for this weekend’s two-race regatta, and with all of Ireland providing a lee as the weather draws from the Atlantic, the advantages of East Coast sailing could well be much in evidence.
The short passage south to Greystones is also a useful reminder that our capital city is set in some extraordinarily beautiful coastal scenery, and County Wicklow is simply sublime. But even in Dublin Bay itself the background which we take for granted suddenly reveals itself in photos to be quite something (you’re too busy when racing to notice, you need to study the photos later), and this weekend the Bay is the setting for the First 31.7 Annual Championship, hosted by the Royal Irish YC with Jean Mitton of RStGYC defending champion.
This is another indicator of the underlying stability and community cohesion of Dublin’s social setup, for it takes a certain level of communal stability to maintain such a varied selection of One-Design Classes, each one requiring its own level of mutual agreement to thrive.
Thus while the glamour boats may have headed for Volvo Cork Week and Calves Week, back home in Dun Laoghaire the more workaday Sigma 33s, First 31.7s, Shipman 28s and Ruffian 23s know they have only to sail out of the harbour mouth to find a fleet ready and willing for congenial racing with competition at a civilised yet competent level.
This can have attractions beyond the home fleet, with the Ruffian 23s, for instance, having sister-fleets at Carrickfergus and Hong Kong. It was in fact Terry Kirkpatrick of Carrickfergus fleet who won the Championship in Dublin Bay this month, while in July the Hong Kong fleet came visiting with the news that despite the noted affluence of the Hong Kong sailing community, there’s a quiet undercurrent of enthusiasm for the gallant little Portaferry-built Ruffian 23s, with boat restorations under way.
Across in Howth, it’s another northern-orginating One-Design boat, the Puppeteer 22, which supports the Howth 17s in providing that backbone of a dedicated local class which keeps local life going while the high-flyers head off to the glamour events. To say that the Puppeteers – with regular turnouts on the 20 mark – live in a world of their own is to understate the case. It’s more a sort of parallel universe. But lines of communication are sufficient to reveal that the Annual Championship at the end of July was won by Blue Velvet (C & K Kavanagh).
The Howth Peninsula may find itself in a position of some isolation this weekend with the traffic restrictions of the Papal Visit imposing a psychological barrier, even if it will be perfectly possible to get in or our by road. But as an insular outlook is Howth’s default position in any case, the peninsula’s sailors are revelling in their situation and are celebrating it by having the Dinghy Regatta at the tidal Sutton Dinghy Club today, and the MGM Boats-sponsored Dinghy Regatta at Howth YC tomorrow.
The two clubs regularly complement each other, with Sutton people become HYC people when they’re sailing out of Howth, while Howth people revert to their youth when they descend upon SDC, for that’s where many of them learnt their sailing (and lots of other useful things besides).
So that’s how it is this weekend between Fingal and north Wicklow – it’s Down Home time, dedicated to celebration of the bustling sailing communities and attractive sailing opportunities right on our doorsteps in the Dublin area.
But don’t think for a moment that we’re sliding into a down-scaling of activities. On the contrary, this weekend may have its cosy theme, but come Monday we’re swinging into the serious part of the SB20 European Championship at the Royal Irish Yacht Club, which continues until Saturday September 1st with national stars such as 2018 Irish champion Peter Kennedy of Strangford Lough and his team having to fend off competition from top crews from Australia, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia and the Ukraine.
And then a week hence it’s Laser mega-time in Dublin Bay. It’s almost impossible to grasp the scale of the International Laser Masters Worlds to be hosted by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council in concert with the Royal St George YC and the National YC. Let’s just say it’s going to be enormous with an entry of 304 boats from 25 countries. But fortunately, we have this Down Home weekend to allow us a pause for breath in the meantime.