The problem with Greystones is that it faces the sea writes W M Nixon. Or at the very least, there isn’t a part of the north Wicklow town in which you aren’t very aware that the sea is nearby. The Victorian and Edwardian enthusiasts for sea-air breathing and salt-water bathing who turned this quaint fishing village into a niche seaside resort and healthy residential area would scoff at the idea that always facing the sea in this way was a “problem”. But we’re talking about the optics here, folks.
The thing is that, when you’re in Greystones, you’re somehow unaware that it is located at the heart of one of the most scenically-blessed parts of Ireland. In fact, in looking at a selection of aerial images of Greystones as it snuggles by the coast in close relation to the most wonderful mixture of farm and woodland and uplands and fascinating purple mountains which draw the eye over the hills and far away, you could be forgiven for thinking this is the most beautiful part of Ireland, full stop. And in fact, you might well be right.
Yet in the old days, only the occasional lone aviator and those of us sailing past were fully aware of this magnificent backdrop to the little town. And as the harbour was a somewhat ramshackle affair based around the re-cycling of the failed first attempt to build the Kish Lighthouse (even here, we don’t have the space to tell the full story of that extraordinary saga), any passing cruising yacht was reluctant to go into the tiny, shallow, rough and ready small-boat-packed haven and tell the clientele at the harbourside Beach House what an utterly fantastic place they lived in.
However, some locals did appreciate it properly. Greystones Sailing Club celebrated its Golden Jubilee last year, and among its founder members were the parents of current Irish Sailing President Jack Roy, who cut his own sailing teeth in Greystones, still thinks of the place as home, and was Guest of Honour among a convivial crowd of distinguished folk from every walk of north Wicklow life at the 50th Anniversary party in June 2018.
But the Greystones Harbour area of 2018 and 2019 is a very different waterfront place from the Greystones of 1968 when the new sailing club began to stake its claim to a place along the beach and a compound to keep its sailing dinghies, plus a bit of space in the tiny harbour for its flotilla of small cruisers. For Greystones Harbour is now a proper marina with complete shoreside facilities run by BJ Marine and a shared clubhouse beside a spacious and secure dinghy park.
Progress towards this vibrant state of affairs has of course not always been smooth, particularly as key parts of it were happening during the Great Recession of a decade ago. But now, instead of being a place you sailed past and marvelled at the scenery in which it is set, it has become a destination harbour three times over.
For it is not only a strategically located and totally sheltered haven, conveniently near Dublin yet far enough away to stand out as a place in its own right, it’s also a gastronomic destination from land and sea, with attractions to suit foodies and gourmets of all persuasions, together with those who just like a hospitable and friendly place serving decent pints and good home-cooked fare. And on top of all that, Greystones Sailing Club has become a pace-setter on the national scene.
Commodore Daphne Hoolahan leads an enthusiastic membership with a formidably talented lineup of specialist officers, and while it may be unfair to single out individuals, when you have people of the calibre of Monica Schaefer as Honorary Sailing Secretary and Daragh Cafferky as the man in charge of keelboats and clubhouse matters, not to mention Norman Lee as Honorary Club Bo’sun in addition to managing the dinghies, then it’s clear we’re dealing with efficient can-do people, rather than dreamy ’twill-do folk.
The results bear it up. Just last weekend, Greystones’ own Shane McCarthy, crewed by clubmate Damien Bracken, regained the Irish GP 14 National title in blustery conditions at Skerries against a truly international fleet which reflected the fact that in 2020, Skerries will be hosting the International GP 14 Worlds.
But Skerries can only envy Greystones in its soaring success, for the Fingal port bears much the same relationship to the Greater Dublin area to the north as Greystones does to the south. Yet while Skerries continues to struggle to persuade the powers that be that its primitive harbour badly needs development to allow water and boat sports to grow properly and safely, Greystones sails securely on with confidence in a proper harbour.
And 2019 saw the Greystones hosting of a world dinghy championship too. The fact that it was the Wayfarer Worlds in July is in the best-established traditions of Greystones as something of a niche place, for the superb 16ft Ian Proctor-designed Wayfarer would be much more popular globally if more people were aware of its exceptional versatility - excellent club racing and a record of Icelandic and trans-North Sea voyaging are only two of its many attributes.
But Wayfarer people are a special crowd, they prefer personal quality to mindless quantity in the crews they race against. Yet even with that selective approach, the 2019 International Wayfarer Worlds attracted a cracking fleet of 53 quality boats from seven nations on both sides of the Atlantic, and while UK crews made up the bulk of the visitors, there was a very strong turnout from Denmark.
Yes, Denmark…..world leaders in the marine industry, yet the Danes have the savvy to cop on that the Wayfarer is something very special. And it makes this an extraordinary week on Afloat.ie. For we can go for months with little mention of Denmark apart from the occasional reference to the Irish success of some Danish-built X Yacht. Yet in recent days, we’ve carried a story about how the rape and pillage of the Vikings (many of whom were Danish) actually did a world of good for the degenerating Irish genetic line (something which, as the home of the world’s leading equine bloodstock industry, we should truly appreciate), we’ve also carried the story of how gallant little Denmark on behalf of its large island of Greenland has said thanks but no thanks to Donald Trump’s offer to buy Greenland even as our own beloved ketch Ilen of Limerick was port-hopping along the Greenland coast, and now we are reminded again that it is the Danes who are among those who best appreciate the virtues of the Wayfarer dinghy.
In fact, they almost won the Wayfarer Worlds at Greystones in July. Mogens Just and Anders Frils from Kalovig Badelaug in Denmark won the first race, and they logged two more wins and a second and third before being pipped at the post by the legendary sailmaker Mike McNamara of Rollesbury Broad SC in the heart of England’s Norfolk Broads, crewed by Simon Townsend.
Sailing Wayfarers keeps you young – Mike McNamara is reputedly 76, but his performance afloat belies it, and his performance to finish with a final score of 7 points to the 8 of Mogens Just said most things. Yet despite his Irish name, it couldn’t be claimed as a home win, for he operates as the sixth generation of sailmakers in the family firm, and six generations away from the McNamara heartlands around Lisdoonvarna and Ennistymon in north Clare is a very long time indeed.
But at Greystones while McNamara and Townsend may have won by one point from the Danish Just/Fris crew, although two UK helms – Andrew Whitney and Bill Wilson – were next in line, the Danes then took seven places in a row in the shape of Niels Aislev (5th), Bjarne Lindquist (6th), Christian Elkjaer Iverson (7th), Christian Milert Hansen (8th), Christian Milert Hansen (9th), Jan Kjeldsen (10th) and Stephan Nandrup-Bus (11th), making it the most successful yet friendly Viking invasion on the Wicklow coast in a long time which the Irish had to accept gracefully, our best place being first in the Silver Fleet for the host club’s John Turner and Ken Lee, but in a fleet of this calibre that made them 15th overall. Full results here
Just to look back on the photos of the sunlit Wayfarer Worlds at Greystones in July is a real tonic after the cold and heartless weather of August. But for this weekend’s multi-dimensional Greystones Regatta – sponsored by BJ Marine and in association with Taste of Greystones - the seemingly unstoppable Greystones good fortune looks like returning with Indian summer conditions, and everyone is mad keen to make the best of it at this jewel of the Wicklow coast.
It is certainly rating very high with the cruiser-racing crowd, for the success of Greystones’ own Frank Whelan with his young crew on the keenly-campaigned Grand Soleil 44 Eleuthera - for two years and more now - brings heightened respect for the entire Greystones sailing scene. The word is that at least two of the classic Half Tonners associated with Howth – Dave Cullen’s Checkmate XV and Nigel Biggs’ Checkmate XIII - are going to make a proper weekend of it, while ISORA’s time-honoured annual James C Eadie Cup Race is being tailored in such a way that the leaders, having started in Dun Laoghaire at 1000 hrs, should be getting to the finish line at Greystones around 1600hrs this afternoon in an updated version of the ISORA feeder race which last year was won by Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia.
Meanwhile the Dublin Bay Sailing Club fleet will be limbering up towards their usual Saturday starting sequence around 1400 hrs, but in this instance the finish will be at Greystones, bringing upwards of 70 boats from Dun Laoghaire, while additional feeder races from both Clontarf Y & BC and Poolbeg Y & BC will make Greystones Harbour a distinctly busy and convivial place this (Saturday) night.
Tomorrow (Sunday) the hope is to fit in two races with a reasonably early conclusion in five classes under ECHO, making it a hectic weekend for the volunteer element in Greystones SC, for the club’s total membership is around the 360 mark. The demand for the proper Committee Boat starting line means that Daragh Cafferky won’t be able to race his own A35 Another Adventure (just back from a “hugely enjoyable” visit to West Cork and Calves Week), as Another Adventure has to serve as Committee Boat, but needs must.
Last year Pat Kelly’s J/109 Storm from Rush and Howth was top boat overall and winner of Class 1 to win the Taste of Greystones Trophy, with second OA going to sister-ship White Mischief (Tim Goodbody, RIYC), while Dermot Cafferky’s Another Adventure was allowed at the racing in 2018, and was rewarded with third overall.
Class 2 went to Checkmate XVIII, while James Kirwan’s First 36.7 Boomerang of RStGYC and Greystones was second and local boat Virgin Triangle (Graham Noonan) took third. In Class 3, Brendan Foley’s impressively-optimised Impala 28 Running Wild (RStGYC) won out from Barry Cunningham’s Quarter Tonner Quest (RIYC) while Luke Fegan’s Hustler 32 Smokehaze, all the way down from Malahide, was third.
In White Sails Class 4, the Byrne family’s Jeanneau 34 Alphida from Howth was tops with Elantic (C Allen, Arklow SC) second and the Greystones boat Run’n’L8 (C McGuire) third, while in White Sails Class 5 J Raughter’s Chase Me from Bray took the title from E Lynch’s Alfresco from Wicklow, with another Bray boat, Fegan’s Nymadzi, getting third.
The impressive range of the prize winners’ home ports, from Arklow in the south to Malahide in the north while including every sailing centre in between, speaks volumes about what a marvellous celebration of East Coast sailing and its shoreside hospitality the Taste of Greystones has become.
Yet just to show that this weekend’s popularity of Greystones Harbour isn’t a flash in the pan, in a week’s time the Irish Cruising Club will be holding its Annual East Coast Rally at Greystones, while thanks to the foul weather of mid-August, the annual Greystones Junior Regatta originally scheduled for August 18th had to be postponed, and is still something to be keenly anticipated.
And as a continually repeated theme underlying all sailing and boating, there is now the enduring fact that Greystones has become a very useful port of call for cruisers as they make their quiet way up and down the coast. Those of us with a taste for the East Coast for a long time always had to admit that while it was beautiful to look at and sail along, you were distracted from enjoying its beauty by concerns about how far it was to the next safe haven, particularly if the weather was acting up. The arrival of Greystones Marina has been transformative. We can only hope that its success will encourage other currently inadequate East Coast ports to see where their best future is to be found.