“For everything to stay the same, everything must change….” It’s an enduring and profound thought from the classic Italian novel The Leopard. And it applies to Irish sailing at least much as it does to most other aspects of Irish life writes W M Nixon.
We might think our sailing changes little from year to year, yet it moves along, and certain very significant dates come steadily up the calendar with increasing presence. So although we’re currently looking ahead to 2019, there’s no escaping the magnificent reality that 2020 is the Tricentenary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, and as if that weren’t enough, Lough Ree YC is 250 in 2020, while the National YC in Dun Laoghaire will be 150 years from a foundation date in 1870.
In the background of such great events, Irish sailing moves along determined to make each year both new yet recognisably familiar, with major pillar events providing the basic structure of the year’s programme, often in a biennial and comfortable rhythm. And then, just as a little too much benevolent ennui starts to creep in, something unexpected and exciting will occur.
Such unexpected excitement might be provided by the sudden appearance of a new sailing star of genuine depth and talent. But as 2018 revealed, it is equally guaranteed by setbacks such as illnesses or injury among our aspiring Olympic sailors, or the cruel rig damage experienced by Tom Dolan just after the start of the Figaro Solo 2018.
And then there was the double-roll of Gregor McGuckin’s veteran Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance in September in the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe solo round the world race, resulting in his heroic rescue attempt under jury rig on the likewise dismasted but also seriously injured fellow-competitor Abilash Tomy.
That was rather more excitement than most of can live with for any great length of time. But as 2019 actually begins and we digest the showing by the Irish connections in the latest Rolex Sydney Hobart Race which will have started on December 26th 2018, the Golden Globe 50th Anniversary Solo Round the World 2018-2019 re-enactment will be entering its final chapter for those relatively few boats still in the challenge.
It’s an event of which – if making predictions - you can say “barring accidents” with real meaning. At the time of writing, the great Jean-Luc van den Heede is clear in the lead in his Rustler 36, with New Zealand well astern and Cape Horn next up. He now has “only” 10,500 miles to the finish, so we could be looking at a February return for the tough 73-year-old to Les Sables d’Olonne.
In France itself, Tom Dolan meanwhile finished his season as third overall with Smurfit Kappa out of 14 Figaro rookies in 2018 in their season-long championship, and he expects to take delivery of a new foiling Figaro 3 at the end of January in the hopes of continuing his upward spiral in the Figaro racing programme, one of the most demanding on the planet.
That will mean at least two of the new Figaro 3s will be of direct Irish interest, as current “Sailor of the Year” Conor Fogerty of Howth will also be taking delivery of one of these flying machines in 2019, though not until late April at the earliest.
So although the annual “Sailor of the Year” awards at the RDS (2019’s is on Friday February 8th) will mark the end of focus on 2018 and launch us into concentration on the coming season, there’s won’t be quite the same targeted and successful attention turning almost immediately to the RORC Caribbean 600, which in 2019 is on Monday February 18th.
In 2018, Howth YC took a first and second in class, but in 2019 the Michael Wright-led team who took second in Class 2 in the Caribbean 600 of 2018 are aiming instead for a charter in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race on December 26th, while Conor Fogerty – winner of Class 4 in the Caribbean in 2018 – will be involved in the development of the new “Formula Foiler Academy”.
That will be very much work in progress during 2019, as the new Beneteau Figaro 3 offers the most immediate access to a state-of-the-art foiling offshore racer. But priority of supply for the new machine is initially dominated by the needs of the official Figaro Solo fleet as it changes over to the foiler to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Figaro Race in 2019, whereas Conor Fogerty’s interest will be in racing with a minimum crew of three in order to identify rising talent who will be poised for full-on involvement tin a foiler racing programme in tandem with RORC events in 2020.
Thus if the new boat does arrive in late April, she may almost immediately be seen in ISORA events in the Irish Sea (the ISORA programme starts on April 27th), as Fogerty plans to be drawing on Irish-based talents and conveniently-accessed events to set his programme into action.
Meanwhile in the south of England, RORC Rear Commodore Stewart Greenfeld (from whom incidentally Fogerty bought the classic 1976 Half Ton World Champion Silver Shamrock) will be seeing how a Foiler Programme can be run in tandem with the established RORC fixtures, and while there will of course be Figaro 3s and other mono-hull foilers in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet race on August 3rd, it could well be that the new concept will be most ready for a proper debut at the RORC Caribbean 600 in February 2020, which is definitely a Fogerty priority.
All this takes us a long way from the everyday realities of the 2019 Sailing Programme in Ireland, so at this stage an early outline of the pillar events best shows the structure in which our new sailing year will take shape, knowing that 2019 will also be a major part of the final “make or break” period for Ireland to secure a place or places at the 2020 Tokyo Sailing Olympics. But as all that will be happening at events far away – sometimes very far away – it’s a topic for another day, while for now we concentrate mainly on the home scene.
2019 Main Sailing Events Programme
February 18th RORC Caribbean 600 Antigua
April 25th-28th Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Champ Royal Cork YC
April 27th First ISORA Race Irish Sea ORA
May 23rd – 27th Silvers Scottish Series Clyde Cruising Club
June 1st Lambay Races Howth YC
June 7th to 9th ICRA National Champs RStGYC
June 12th Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race National YC
June 26th to 29th Sovereign’s Cup Kinsale YC
July 11th to 14th Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta Dun Laoghaire
July 21st to 26th Wayfarer Int Championship Greystones SC
July 24th to 27th WIORA West Coast Championship Foynes YC
August 3rd Rolex Fastnet Race Cowes RORC
August 6th to 9th Calves Week Schull Harbour SC
August 9th to 12th Welsh IRC Championship Pwllheli SC
August 9th to 12th Cruinniu na mBad Festival Kinvara
August 15th to 19th Optimist Nationals Howth YC
September 2nd to 13th Flying Fifteen Worlds National YC
In 2018 it was still winter in April, but the Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Championship 2019 – now the biggest event in our Junior Sailing - is aiming for the final weekend of that unpredictable month, Royal Cork is taking on the major challenge of hosting it - and there isn’t a more useful predictor of the coming season’s performance potential than this very special sailfest.
Cruiser-racing inevitably makes greater demands on crew numbers, so it’s not surprising that in this currently very basic calendar for 2019, cruiser-racer events have had to be very quick out of the traps in setting their dates to guarantee their place in the sun in a crowded programme.
It has already been commented several times that the seven weeks from the Scottish Series getting under way on May 23rd to the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta concluding on Sunday July 14th could get very busy indeed for the keenest cruiser-racers. But most events have been cut down to a minimum number of days – “You’ve only to take one day off work at most” we’re assured – so in theory a boat with a large and willing crew panel could contemplate doing much racing in home waters after going in late May to Scotland, where Pat Kelly’s Storm is defending overall champion from 2018, having won the growing RC 35 class from John Hall (Something Else, NYC) while the Douglas brothers with the J/133 Jacana (Carrickfergus SC) won Class 1 from the Ker 36 Jump Juice (Conor Phelan, Royal Cork).
Back home, the programme takes them immediately to Howth’s Lambay Races (June 1st), then a week later there’s the businesslike ICRA Nationals starting Friday June 7th at Royal St George in Dun Laoghaire, and that’s barely settled before the biennial Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race gets going from the National YC on June 12th. But its timing at least allows the hyper-keen to do this long one and still get back to Kinsale for the popular Sovereign’s Cup series from June 26th to 29th.
That timing in turn then allows a weekend’s break before the big one arrives, Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2019 from July 11th to 14th. 2017’s staging of this still-developing multi-class mega-fleet event came so near to perfection that it will be a real achievement to get anywhere near it in terms of sport and enjoyment, but we can be sure the various committee are already well advanced in plans to give 2019 even more oomph.
That said, a repeat of the perfect regatta weather of 2017 is in the lap of the Gods, but steps can be taken to make the programme more interesting regardless, and it’s expected that the RC 35s will be making their first proper stab at having a real impact in Dublin Bay.
This is the initially Scottish development which puts that large cohort of 32ft to 38ft LOA boats found within the relatively narrow 1.015 to 1.040 IRC rating band into a group, and has them racing as a separate class. It accommodates the large numbers of J/109s, but equally it accommodates lonelier craft like First 36.7s - the 2018 champion is the First 36.7 Animal (Kevin and Debbie Aitken).
In its way, it’s a case of everything having to change in order for everything to stay the same, but in carving out this class, a new sense of active cohesion has been provided in a significant but previously “invisible” natural grouping, and Dublin Bay in July may well prove to be ideal place and event to demonstrate how effective it can be.
After the intensive period from late May to mid-July, there’s a sense of the pace changing, and the focus moving elsewhere. Those who are doing the Fastnet will already be into their countdown with its new earlier date of August 3rd, and sailing schools, in particular, will be bringing their Fastnet programmes into the final stages.
As well, the professional yacht preparation organisations will be doing final tuning with their special chartered high-performance craft. There’s no doubt that for cash-rich time-poor yachties, this is a very effective way to go. But those involved in the time-honoured traditional owner-campaigned Fastnet Race shouldn’t be too ready to write off their own chances. They should remember that the last three Fastnets have all been won by owner-skippered largely amateur-crewed craft, though for Irish skippers and crews, perhaps it’s better for 2019 to forget that those three previous winners have also all been French……..
Meanwhile back in Ireland the sailing will have be going merrily along with those multi-purposed Wayfarers having their International Championship at Greystones in late July. In calling them “little-raced” we’re reflecting their popular image, but some are raced very keenly indeed, and will already have availed of the class’s access to racing in Dun Laoghaire Regatta. But nevertheless the Wayfarer’s image persists as an able boat suitable for all forms of sailing, of which racing is only one.
That same late-July period sees hospitable Foynes YC on the Shannon Estuary come even more vibrantly to life as it hosts the WIORA Championship, and then in early August there’s double focus on West Cork, as the participants in Calves Week at Schull may find themselves sharing the Fastnet as a race mark with the tail-enders in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Either way, Calves Week (2019’s is from August 6th to 9th – a “week” is whatever you’re having yourself in West Cork) has built itself a deserved reputation with the neat balance between moderately serious racing and fun times with it - long may it continue.
Well up the West Coast, at Kinvara in the southeast corner of Galway Bay, it’s the 40th Anniversary of Cruinniu n mBad from August 9th to 11th, the annual gathering of the boats founded in 1979 by the late Tom Moylan. The traditional Galway hookers in all their many sizes will be at their immaculate best as this special edition is staged, and with some interesting newly-restored craft also setting traditional rig these days, the fleet is expected to be larger and more varied than ever before.
The following week sees yet more four-sided sails dominate the scene, but this time it’s on the East Coast and the sails are white, as it’s the Optimist Nationals at Howth. Ever since the Youth Pathway Championship at Crosshaven in April, the competition will have been developing, and the only word for the pace will be intense, but the kids thrive on it.
September seems to have become a favoured month for World Championships in Ireland, and 2019 will see a real zinger, the Flying Fifteen Worlds at Dun Laoghaire hosted by the National YC sponsored by Subaru, with the fleet limited to 85 boats to which Ireland is automatically entitled to only seven. They may have been around for some time, but the Flying Fifteens continue to be a white-hot class, and the eventual overall winner could come from any one of half a dozen countries in an event which will be seen as part of the 150th Anniversary celebration of the much-admired National YC.
We cannot leave the sailing scene as it will be in Ireland in 2019 without reference to the growing good health of our classics. Any One Design Class goes through various inevitable periods of life, and a crucial stage is when extinction threatens. If they can survive that, then they tick over in a sort of limbo for some time (its length varies), but after that, there’s every chance they begin to be seen as classics, and their future become much more healthy.
The Howth Seventeens have successfully come through the limbo, and so too have the Mermaids, while all sorts of things are possible for the Dublin Bay 21s and their newer larger sisters, the Dublin Bay 24s. But way before either of them, the Water Wags emerged, and now their classic status has been recognised such that some time in 2019, they will pass through the threshold of 50 boats having been built to Maimie Doyle’s 1900 design. Their example is so inspiring that the old International 12s are now showing similar signs of a promising new life, though they’ve a very long way to go before they can match the Water Wags or the Shannon One Designs.
All this world of traditional and classic timber construction seems a different planet entirely to that of Safehaven Marine in Cork, where Frank Kowalski and his team build some of the most advanced powerboats in the world. Yet somehow in the midst of an exceptional work-rate, they found the time to establish a new Round Ireland and Rockall Powerboat Record two years ago. Now for 2019 their ambition is a crack at the Transatlantic Record by the northern route. It’s a fascinating project from any angle, and it’s just one of dozens of intriguing things that will be happening afloat in Ireland in 2019.