In the years to come, Thursday, April 4th 2019 will be remembered as a pivotal date in the development of Dun Laoghaire Harbour as a maritime, recreational and community amenity, a key moment in the significant growth of a shared attitude by the town, the harbour, and the sailing and boating community towards this unique facility’s future writes W M Nixon.
The occasion was the public announcement in the National Maritime Museum of everything that that this year’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2019 (it’s from July 11th to 14th) will bring to participants and townsfolk alike. But it was also used by officialdom - in the persons of Government Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, and Councillor Ossian Smyth, An Cathaoirleach of Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown – as the high-profile occasion when a shared vision towards the civilised recreational development and wider use of the harbour for broader community benefit became further enshrined as official government and local authority policy.
The change in official attitude has been developing for some time now. But Thursday night marked a very clear and positive tipping point. much of the planning is still at a very early stage. Indeed, much of it is still in the minds of participants in unofficial think tanks who were very much present as enthusiastic individuals at Thursday night’s gathering. But there are many hurdles to clear and schemes to fully develop before the new approach and its projects can be jointly revealed in any final and official way.
So, for now, we can only say that it was a marvellous occasion, with the changed official attitude and the many new ideas inducing an attitude of optimism, enthusiasm and energy which brought the Museum to life in a way seldom if ever seen before, and it provided a very effective launch pad for VDLR 2019.
When the Official Launching of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 was staged at the same venue in April two years ago, Ireland’s lively Springtime weather treated us to a downpour of Biblical proportions. Puddles formed where puddles had never formed before. Known puddles became lakes. Yet the show went on in style with a large attendance.
And when the event itself rolled up in July 2017 with a fleet of 488 boats, we were rewarded with perfect regatta conditions – summer breezes which held up in Dublin Bay and the extended racing area, with wind directions and sailing circumstances which favoured in-harbour finishes and total regatta conditions to highlight the harbour’s Bicentenary Celebrations, rounded out by warm summer evenings to facilitate al fresco parties along a buzzing waterfront.
So when, at the beginning of this week, it looked as though Thursday evening’s official launching of VDLR 2019 in the same august setting was going to be threatened by the possibility of a brief but unseasonal flurry of sleet and snow, it was accepted with equanimity. Bring it on, was the attitude. “It can only mean even better weather in July than there was in 2017 ” – that was the official approach……
In fact, being at sea level we avoided the sleet and snow, but beforehand there was rain in abundance with the additional threatened joys of severe hailstorms and possible thunder. Yet once you were safely within the venue’s special ambience, with the Museum’s well-conserved 1887 Dublin Bay Water Wag in pride of place to honour the Harbour’s remarkable and magnificent sailing history, it was like being transformed into summer - the place was heaving with sailing, maritime and harbour enthusiasts in profusion, and when those clearly official statements were made from the stage, the mood became turbo-powered.
We’d gone into the convivial gathering knowing that entries already stood at 410 boats, a really solid entry basis when we remember that many local crews – or at least crews within easy reach of Dublin Bay – hold back their entry until they’re more confident about the summer’s developing weather pattern.
This is reflected in the fact that upwards of half of the signed-up entries are visiting craft. More than 70 different sailing clubs are represented, including the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - from which there are currently 111 entries. Within the fleet which finally assembles, there will, of course, be many crewmen from far overseas, while the thriving Hong Kong racing scene will be represented by Jamie McWilliam’s Ker 40 Signal 8, and there’s always a good chance that a French (and other European) boat or two (and possibility more) will emerge to surprise us.
As it is, a strong international flavour in the Rugby sense will attach to the RC 35 Class, which has been going from strength to strength, built around the healthy presence of solid fleets of performance boats plus or minus 35ft LOA in the Clyde, Belfast Lough, Dublin Bay and North Wales. The VDLR 2019 is one of the pillar events in their Celtic Challenge series, and it is no accident that the defending overall champion in the VDLR itself, John Maybury’s J/109 Joker II, comes right from the heart of this hyper-competitive sector.
At the different level of involvement, one of the great successes of 2017 was the Classics and Traditional Division, where the overall winner and deservedly proud awardee of the Kingstown Cup marking the Bicentenary Rob Mason’s own-restored 1897-vintage Myfanwy, a classic 37ft Alexander Richardson design home-ported in Milford Haven.
Myfanwy has since been sold on, bound for the top-end Classics scene in the Mediterranean. But although Rob is now engaged on another major restoration project, the Milford Haven men hope to be back in Dun Laoghaire from southwest Wales, though this time on Andy Whitcher’s superbly-maintained modern classic Cheverton Caravel sloop Fawn.
And Welsh involvement won’t stop there, for addition to the strong RC 35 contingent from North Wales, the Treardur Bay Sailing Club from Anglesey are celebrating their Centenary, and are bringing over fleets of the Seabird Half-Raters (120 years old) and their Myth class dinghies – they’re sea-going 14ft cousins of the Shannon One Designs -which will be celebrating their centenary next year.
In fact, you can find significant anniversaries in classes throughout the fleet, as the ever-elegant always-youthful International Dragons are 90 years old in 2019. But while all these significant dates are of intense interest to those directly involved, for every participant the primary interest is well-organised racing afloat, and shoreside facilities and events which - while pleasantly busy and always friendly and efficient - don’t at any stage find themselves being overwhelmed by the demands of a diverse fleet and its even more diverse crews.
This is where the Dublin Bay tradition of voluntary sailing administration comes most strongly to the fore. It’s something found at every centre in Ireland. It’s built into our sailing DNA as it is in other sports. But it’s the sheer numbers which necessarily have to be involved in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Week – 300 at least - that would make this voluntarism most apparent were it not for the fact that it’s done so willingly and with such quiet enthusiasm that participants seem to scarcely notice. But believe me, we are profoundly aware of it, and Organising Committee Chairman Don O’Dowd was graceful in his heartfelt public appreciation of the many – the very many - who help.
In the VDLR context, the main man is the Chairman of the Organising Committee, and we interviewed current incumbent Don O’Dowd of the Royal St George Yacht Club in this blog back on the 16th March, which gave some idea of the background and abilities needed to run this incredible show and keep everyone in a complex harbour town happily on side ashore and afloat.
But while that meeting with the Chairman last month was distinctly informal, Thursday night was very much official business, with Government Minister and local TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor heading up a platform party which put sailing in its proper context in Dun Laoghaire and Dublin Bay As Don O’Dowd commented: “Since it first set sail in 2005, Dun Laoghaire Regatta has grown biennially, and showcases the very best of Irish sailing action on the water. With a festival this size, the regatta also adds a lot of shoreside summer colour to Dun Laoghaire. With over 300 sailing races across 30 classes, and 2,500 competitors ranging from Olympic and world-class professionals to weekend sailors, there is a growing acknowledgement of the role of sailing as an economic driver in the harbour town”. The Minister added: “The Regatta has a huge and very welcome sporting, tourism and commercial impact on Dun Laoghaire. The whole town works to make it a success.” “The Regatta brings a significant amount to the local economy. Using the Irish tourism multiplier, the average expenditure per competitor will be €100 per day which for 2,500 competitors will be €250,000 per day and €1,000,000 over four days”.
With facts like that to support her view, the Minister was well placed for her statement of intent regarding a more environment-friendly approach to the future use of the Harbour. And that in turn was supported by Chairman O’Dowd adding: “In an effort to protect our waters, VDLR 2019 are running the event as a Clean Regatta through the international Sailors for the Sea programme, supported by the MaREI Centre, which will see us implementing a number of Clean Regattas Best Practices to reduce our environmental impact."
This news chimed very well with Councillor Ossian Smyth as a leading figure in the Green Party, and provided the framework for his clearly stated determination to support Dun Laoghaire Harbour’s fulfilment of its potential as a real and accessible health benefit for everyone.
Clean waters, clear air – and all within easy reach of an attractive town elegantly set under harmonious hill and mountain slopes, right beside an entertaining capital city. It’s quite a package. So, come July, it will be up to the sailors to do it justice with their eclectic fleet.
As well as Class One, key classes in the line-up include the other IRC rating classes and the RC35s, with a visiting fleet of vintage Half Tonners from Howth contesting Class Two. In addition, One-Design classes will include the Beneteau 31.7s, Beneteau 211, Sigma 33 (celebrating their 40th Anniversary) Ruffian 23s, Howth 17s, Dragons (on their 90th) the RS Elites, who stage their British Championships as part of the VDLR, currently with 34 entries, and the Flying Fifteens.
The Flying Fifteens will have an extra edge as they’re on the countdown to their Worlds at the National YC in September, while the dinghy classes will include the GP14, Wayfarer, Squib, Mermaid, IDRA 14s, and single-handed Lasers and Moths.
And not least of its attractions is value for money. As Don O’Dowd concluded: “The VDLR owes its prominence in international sailing events to a number of factors. One of the core attributes to attracting so many entrants is that it is one of the least expensive sailing events in Europe, thanks to generous sponsorship and support, thereby providing great value for money in a wonderful sailing setting.”
The sponsors are:
- Volvo Car Ireland in partnership with Spirit Motor Group (Title sponsor)
- Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council
- Collen Construction
- Helly Hansen
- Royal Marine Hotel
- UK Sailmakers
The fact that many of them have been with the Regatta since its inception in 2005, and see it as friends as much as sponsors, speaks volumes for the calibre of the key people running the event, and in this context it is appropriate to highlight one very special individual – Brian Craig - whose name briefly came up in another context during what has been one of the busiest weeks in Irish sailing – of which more anon.
Irish Sailing held its Annual General Meeting a week ago. But it scarcely grabbed the headlines for the good reason that the turbulent times of seven years or so ago are now firmly behind us, and changes of office and new appointments were almost routine. The popular Jack Roy (who was of course at Thursday evening’s reception) will continue as President for another year, and as he is a leading Race Officer on frequent occasions including the VDLR, and an active sailor when he can find the time, we can merely marvel and wonder where he gets the energy and enthusiasm in the midst of a busy day job.
There were three retirees from the Irish Sailing board – Brian Craig, Simon McGibney and Colin Kavanagh – with Colin Kavanagh being re-nominated by the board while Simon McGibney was replaced by his successor as ICRA Commodore, Richard Colwell, who was nominated by Howth Yacht Club. Also nominated as Directors were James Lyons (Kinsale YC) and David O’Brien (Royal Cork YC).
So there it is. After seven years of wise guidance, Brian Craig has quietly stood down from the Irish Sailing Board. It is another chapter in an extraordinary life story of sailing and service to sailing. The word is that he is now engaged in another important role in sailing administration which is even more of a background nature than his usual approach, which makes an entire philosophy out of doing good work by stealth.
Every so often, he has had to put his head above the parapet – for instance, he was Chairman for the first two Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regattas in 2005 and 2007, with an approach which has set the tone of the event ever since. And he also had to be more visible when he and his team brought what was then the ISAF Youth Worlds to Dublin Bay in 2012, making it an outstanding event despite the tough economic times.
Brian Craig’s continuing voluntary contribution has been recognised with awards like the ISA Volunteer of the Year, the 2010 National Award to Volunteers from what is now Sports Ireland, and he was December 2012’s “Sailor of the Month” after that outstanding Youth Worlds. But such rewards mean less to him than being able to see a thriving Irish sailing scene, and despite the earliness in the season, the past week or so have brought him great satisfaction.
For instance, there’s the busy university sailing scene, always a special interest for him. They’d their National Team Racing Championship at the imaginative venue of Lough Key, a double pleasure as he is also an inland waterways enthusiast. UCD skippered by Lucy McCutcheon won. Then last weekend it was the Student Nationals in J/80s at Howth – CIT won, skippered by Harry Durcan.
At the same time, the Irish Optimists, the quintessence of our junior sailing and another Craig interest, were at the British Spring Opens in Lymington with a squad of 28 in a fleet of 155. They were very much in the hunt with four in the top ten and two on the podium – James Dwyer Matthews of Kinsale, taking first while Luke Turvey of Howth was third.
As for the other end of the scale, it was Brian Craig who played a key role in organising the marvellous welcome home for Annalise Murphy after she’d won the Silver at the 2016 Olympics – the front line showing by Finn Lynch in this week’s Olympic Classes regatta in Palma will stand well in the Craig view of things.
And then on Thursday night, there he was, quietly in the midst of the party to launch the latest edition of his beloved Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. The ultimate Main Man, and first Chairman of a major regatta, the VDLR, which has now gone on to acquire international status.