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2020 Irish Sailing Fixtures Preview: The Year of the Irish Sailing Club

21st November 2019
The 40th anniversary Round Ireland Race from Wicklow on June 20th will be an “alternative highlight” of the 2020 season, with fresh sponsorship from SSE Renewables. The 2018 winner, Baraka GP (a Ker 43), is seen here sweeping past Wicklow Head shortly after the start. The middle third of the race saw conditions go against her, and at one stage off the north coast of Mayo she was lying 23rd overall. But in the later stages, skipper Niall Dowling (RIYC) and navigator Ian Moore called the tactics to such good effect that Baraka took line honours and won overall. Photo: O’Brien The 40th anniversary Round Ireland Race from Wicklow on June 20th will be an “alternative highlight” of the 2020 season, with fresh sponsorship from SSE Renewables. The 2018 winner, Baraka GP (a Ker 43), is seen here sweeping past Wicklow Head shortly after the start. The middle third of the race saw conditions go against her, and at one stage off the north coast of Mayo she was lying 23rd overall. But in the later stages, skipper Niall Dowling (RIYC) and navigator Ian Moore called the tactics to such good effect that Baraka took line honours and won overall. Photo: O’Brien

Nobody seems yet to have nominated the already very special 2020 as The Year of the Sailing Club, or more accurately as The Year of the Irish Sailing Club. So here in we’re just going to do that very thing right now. Let’s hear it for our Irish sailing clubs, our sometimes crazy clubs in all their wonderful diversity, their huge levels of voluntary enthusiasm, and the remarkable achievements afloat of their members - both at home and abroad - particularly when set against the small population of the island.

Admittedly, in the big picture, 2020 is still primarily the Year of Cork300. But it is the inspiring example set 300 years ago by the pioneering sailors of Cork in establishing what became in time the Royal Cork Yacht Club which means that, in 2020, so many Irish sailing clubs will have their own special anniversaries to celebrate.

cork week racing2In-harbour racing during Cork Week. The inspiration from the founding of the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork in 1720 has filtered through into a tradition of long-lived Irish sailing clubs 

Sports clubs can be very odd organisations. While comparisons can easily find close similarities among them, each is unique in its own way, and those involved can only hope their club – which relies so much on voluntary effort – will continue to develop its own almost self-sustaining vitality to provide the continuity which is a golden thread running through the community in which it aspires to thrive.

Most of us will accept that our beloved clubs are not perfect. But nor is parliamentary democracy as a way of national government. Yet it seems to be more acceptable than any of the alternatives, provided that everyone realizes it is something which won’t run on its own – democracy is hard work, requiring vigilance and the constant monitoring of one’s own mindset. That is easy enough to say, but extremely difficult to maintain on a day-to-day basis.

Equally, a successful sailing club is not just for regatta days. On the contrary, its spirit has to be sustained on a year-round basis. And the fascinating thing about the history of recreational sailing is that Ireland has – almost by accident – been a world leader in the development of the concept of the successful yacht and sailing club.

Three weeks ago, we had a preview here of the 2020 sailing season, which was deliberately structured around the fact that the over-arching reality in 2020 is the Tricentenary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, an anniversary which may trip easily enough off the tongue, but it’s extremely difficult to grasp in all its true meaning.

After all, the Club in Cork had already been actively in existence for 56 years – inspiring masterpieces of maritime art and gems of historical writing – when the United States of America was founded in 1776. For many folk, that’s when history really began. Yet by the time the fledgeling nation across the Atlantic was beginning began to flex its muscles, the Club in Cork had seen its Golden Jubilee, and was functioning as a sporting and social organisation for the benefit of its fellow-minded members in a way which we can easily recognize today.

lough ree yacht club3Summertime at Lough Ree Yacht Club, which has been quietly going about its business of providing boating and sailing for 250 years. Photo: W M Nixon

The celebrations of the Royal Cork will be at their peak throughout the month of July in a mind-boggling programme which continues to be refined, and then in August they’ll be staging at least three major dinghy championships. But while this week’s Sailing on Saturdays may be concentrating on other aspects of 2020’s fixtures list at other venues, no matter how widely we spread the net, it is the long history of Ireland’s sailing clubs which is a recurring theme.

When the US finally emerged in 1776, there’d been another sailing club already functioning Ireland at Athlone on Lough Ree for six years. That club is now Lough Ree Yacht Club, founded in 1770. They’ll be celebrating their Quarter Millennium through 2020, reminding us that while the Water Club may have been founded on the sea in 1720, it was within the notably sheltered harbour of Cork. Thus lakes were to play a prominent role in early sailing development elsewhere in Ireland, with Lough Erne Yacht Club coming into being in 1820 (there’s a Bicentenary there), while Sligo Yacht Club first saw the light of day on the freshwater of Lough Gill in 1821, even if these days the club is so closely associated with Rosses Point on the Atlantic Seaboard.

gp14s lough erne4GP 14s on Lough Erne, where Lough Erne YC has been in existence since at least 1820. The thriving Irish GP 14 Association will be extra-busy in 2020 with the Worlds at Skerries Sailing Club at the end of July. Photo: Andy Johnston

The contribution to the development of Irish sailing on the East Coast by the construction (started 1817) of Dun Laoghaire Harbour on the otherwise rather exposed Dublin Bay is fundamental to the story, and new clubs soon followed, with the first manifestation of the Royal Irish YC in 1831 showing the way for a harbour which – thanks to the proximity of the capital city and its energy and affluence – was soon to play a leading role in national and international sailing development.

The energy and resources of the Great Dublin area quicken the pace, and today the Leinster coastline between Skerries and Wicklow and beyond is home to a variety of clubs all of which seek ways of responding to the demands for forms of sailing to suit the way we live now, and the kind of boats we sail.

Thus for those who were much involved at the time, it doesn’t seem so very long ago that Howth Yacht Club celebrated its Centenary in 1995 with an extensive, entertaining and challenging programme afloat, while ashore there were the likes of Gala Balls and the publication of a comprehensive club history.

Yet although Howth continues to sail its established One Design classes including the 1898-vintage Howth 17s, the Puppeteer 22s, and the Squibs while continuing to support cruiser-racers including Ireland’s premier group of Half Tonners at one end of the size scale, with many notably successful Lasers and Optimists and assorted dinghy classes at the other, things have changed significantly in that many of these boats are now being sailed by new people who weren’t part of the Howth sailing scene a quarter of a century ago – in fact, many of the best of them hadn’t even been born.

howth yacht club5Howth in 1995, when HYC celebrated its Centenary. The clubhouse has since been extended to complete the curve of the “marquee roof”. Photo: Jaimie Blandford

They missed the HYC Centenary in 1995, but they take such a refreshing delight in this place where they now sail that they see no reason why the 125th Anniversary of Howth Yacht Club shouldn’t be celebrated with the same enthusiasm. The rest of the membership have happily allowed themselves to be swept up in this fresh wave of zest in sailing, which will include a celebratory HYC Cruise-in-Company in the Irish Sea in June.

That said, both Lough Ree YC in celebrating their 250th, Lough Erne with their 200th and Howth with their 125th are giving due respect to the Royal Cork YC’s unique position. But while generally allowing that July is mainly Cork-focussed, they will be stepping up their home programmes to accommodate their members’ rising expectations, and an overview of 2020’s highlights across Irish sailing gives some flavour of this.


April 16th – 19th Youth Nationals & Optimist Trials Howth YC

Already very much a major event, it is now even more so with the addition of the 29er to established classes including Laser Radial, Laser 4.7, Int 420, Int Topper and Optimist to provide a high octane regatta to get Howth 125 under way.

April 18th Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association first race

An organisation which skillfully tailors its programme to suit the realities of modern life, ISORA’s first race of 2020 is a coastal on the Welsh side at Pwllheli, then the following weekend there’s the inaugural coastal for the Irish side at Dublin Bay, and then on May 2nd the fleets from both sides of the Channel get together for the Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead Race along a course which has its origins in the 1860s or even earlier.

One of the ISORA highlights for 2020 will be the re-staging of the famous Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race of 1860 on 9th July, bringing the Irish Sea boats to the RCYC Tricentenary in a special event which has a points weighting of 1.2 in the ISORA championship. The annual season-long championship - in which Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI is defending champion – concludes with the Pwllheli to Dun Laoghaire race on September 5th, favourably weighted at 1.3 points to encourage the fleet to stay keen to season’s end.

tarbert loch fyne6Tarbert on Loch Fyne, where the Scottish Series has provided a successful hunting ground for many Irish boat

May 22nd-25th Scottish Series

In 2019, this was a very happy hunting ground for Irish boats, with Andrew Craig’s J/109 Chimaera (RIYC) leading the charge to take the overall prize from Pat Kelly’s sister-ship Storm from Rush, while class wins were also recorded by Jay Colville’s First 40 Forty Licks from East Down and Jonny Swan’s Half Tonner Harmony from Howth, and there was a special award for John and Brian Hall’s J/109 Something Else (NYC)

May 29th – 31st Wave Regatta Howth YC

The main highlight of the many specials in HYC’s 125th Anniversary programme, this unique biennial mixture of old-style regatta, modern rock concert and 21st Century take on Howth’s time-honoured Lambay Race has something for everyone, while the eclectic collection of boats and classes taking it on makes life afloat as diverse as it is ashore – “Wave float, rave ashore” was 2018’s catch-phrase.

Checkmate xv halfton7Dave Cullen’s Half Tonner Checkmate XV on her way to winning the Half Ton Classic Worlds in Belgium in 2018. Earlier that year, she had been overall winner of the inaugural Wave Regatta at Howth

Somehow, even an overall winner was found, in Dave Cullen’s immaculate classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV. In 2020, she and the other four Howth Half Ton Classics will be building their campaigns towards the RORC-hosted Half Ton Classics Cup in Cowes (Checkmate XV is defending champion in this biennial challenge) from 26th to 31st July. It’s a measure of their enthusiasm that all five Howth-based Classic Half Tonners are planning to do the multi-championship Volvo Cork Week from July 13th to 17th, and then their roadies (sometimes the skippers themselves) will be busy to get all five to Cowes in the best spirit of Howth 125 and Cork 300.

May 30th – June 1st Clinkerfest Lough Ree Yacht Club

Lough Ree’s Bicentenary programme ashore will be inaugurated as early as January 4th 2020, and by April they’re sailing. But the scene afloat really gets into top gear with this intriguingly-titled event, which offers infinite possibilities. The elegant clinker-built Shannon One Designs may be the backbone of LRYC, but the likewise clinker-constructed Dublin Bay Water Wags are no strangers to sailing at the hospitable club, and when we add in other qualifying clinker classics such as the Mermaids, the IDRA 14s and the growing numbers of the vintage International 12s just for starters, we’re looking at a really fascinating three day regatta which could easily exceed its target of a hundred classic wooden boats.

June 10th to 14th - Sesquicentennial Regatta National YC

Two evenings and one day of racing is the celebratory programme outlined to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire. Racing will be in association with DBSC and ISORA and include cruisers, one designs, dinghies & Wags.  As befitting the 150th anniversary, NYC Regatta Director Con Murphy says it will be bigger than the traditional Saturday club regatta by being a multi evening/days event from 10-14th June with racing for keelboats on Thursday and Friday evenings as well as the normal racing on the Saturday. Dinghies will have racing on Friday evening and Saturday, Waterwags on the Wednesday and Friday evenings and ISORA boats on Thursday and Friday evenings and all day Saturday. For cruiser and keelboat classes, the races on Thursday evening will be run by DBSC per their standard Thursday courses and be scored in the regatta results.

shannon one design8Classic Shannon One Design in a breeze. The elegant clinker-built hulls are expected to be flexible, and when sailed hard there’s a visible twist, while in a strong wind “they’d turn round and look at you”.

June 20th Round Ireland Race. Wicklow SC 

It’s the 40th Anniversary of this biennial classic. And even here there’s no getting away from the long arm of the Royal Cork YC, for it was the first participation by Denis Doyle of Cork with his beloved Moonduster in the second race of 1982 that set this 704-mile challenge firmly in the Irish and international programme. The race has matured into a “must-do” for many sailors from home and abroad (it’s particularly popular with the French), and the winner in 2018 was the Dutch-origined Ker 43 Baraka GP chartered by Niall Dowling (RIYC) and navigated by the peerless Ian Moore to a win of stylish brilliance. For 2020 the gallant organisers in Wicklow SC are thinking in terms of 60 boats on the line, and they’re expected to include Paul O’Higgins JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI, which in her three seasons in his ownership has twice won the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race and has also added the ICRA Nats and the ISORA Championship to her laurels, but the Round Ireland has until now been frustrating despite two challenges.

June 24th to 27th WIORA Championship Tralee Bay SC

When you’re north of the Blaskets on the mighty Atlantic seaboard, you have to create your own programmes, and this date best suited the men and women of the west, with the McCormack family of Foynes the defending champions.

sigma 33 bangor town regatta9The Sigma 33 Impulz (C D & M Johnston) in Bangor Town Regatta 2018. The 2020 Edition will include the Sigma 33 Championship. Photo: Andrew Gallagher

June 25th – 28th Bangor Town Regatta Royal Ulster YC

This combination of serious championships and traditional township regatta proved to be a winning formula when it was unveiled in 2018, and for 2020 they’re super-tuning a successful menu. It will include key races for the season-long RC35 Championship (in which Pat Kelly’s J/09 Storm of Rush and Howth is champion), and will also feature the peripatetic Sigma 33 Championship, which was a highlight of 2019’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta to celebrate 40 years of the Sigma 33 - the defending champion is from Scotland, Leaky Roof 2 from Cove SC sailed by Alan Harper and Kirsty & Eric Robertson.

July 4th to 11th Laser Radial Youth European Championship, Ballyholme YC

It’ll be busy in Bangor in late June and early July. They’ll have barely tidied up after the Bangor Town Regatta before the focus swings to Ballyholme YC and the massive challenge of staging the Laser Radial Youth Europeans 2020. It’s massive because fleet numbers can go stratospheric – 2019’s in Athens saw Spain’s Ana Moncada top the Girl’s Gold Fleet, while Karim Sofiana (France) was the boys’ champion in a total fleet of 252. The word is that Ballyholme is gearing up for 300-plus, even though this is a high-calibre championship with a restricted entry allocation.

laser radial 2019 youth euros10The Laser radial Youth Euros in 2019 at Athens attracted a fleet of 252 boats, with winners from Spain and France

July 8th Cowes to Cork Race (Morgan Cup) RORC

The RORC are putting their full support behind the Cork 300 celebrations by bringing their fleet to Ireland through making their annual Morgan Cup contest a 324-mile Cowes to Cork Race, and giving it a 1.3 points weighting in their season-long championship. Yje Morgan Cup winner in 2019 was the J/109 Just So, raced two-handed by William McGough and Christian Jeffrey in a result which shows the possibilities of this significant element in the Cork300 celebrations.

j109 just so11The J/109 Just So (William McGough & Christian Jeffrey) may have been in the Two-handed Division in the RORC’s 2019 Morgan Cup Race, but she won overall. Photo RORC/Rick Tomlinson

July 9th Dun Laoghaire to Cork Race, ISORA

This is the re-staging of the renowned contest of 1860, when 16 boats of many sizes – some of them enormous – raced from Dublin Bay to an extremely close light weather early-morning finish off the historic Royal Cork premises on the Cobh waterfront. Surely a “must-do” for anyone who wants to sail with the great yet friendly spirits of Irish sailing history.

With the two big feeder races completed, everyone is in Cork, and the best impression of what’s going to happen is to be found here:

rcys cork300 poster12

While the action in Cork continues until well into August by which time the dinghy fleets have taken over, after the Fleet Review of July 12th the many cruisers from several organisations will start slipping away down towards West Cork, and Glandore is poised to be their first port of call:

July 18th to 24th Glandore Classics Regatta Glandore Harbour YC

The presence of so many cruising clubs and association on the south coast thanks to Cork300 is expected to bring spin-off benefits in numbers to Glandore’s biennial boatfest, and not least of the attractions is that until much nearer the time, we simply don’t know which truly extraordinary historic vessel is going to steal the show.

July 18th – 19th Double Ree Lough Ree YC

In an era when hosting single-handers can easily provide impressive fleet numbers, for some years Lough Ree YC has been promoting a special Regatta aimed solely at two-handed dinghies, and under the umbrella of the Ree 250 celebrations, 2020’s will have a special edge.

gp14s mounts bay13GP 14s racing below St Michael’s Mount in Mounts Bay in Cornwall in their 2018 World Championship in which Katie Dwyer and Michelle Rowley of Sutton Dinghy Club were timed at 10.5 knots.

July 26th to 31st GP 14 World Championship Skerries SC

In Ireland, the GP 14 is not so much a successful Class Association as a benign force of nature, through which they do things their own successful way. The 2020 Worlds at Skerries will be a large turnout high-stakes event. It’s biennial, and in 2018’s in Mounts Bay in Cornwall with a fleet of 119, the winners were England’s Mike Senior and Chris White with Irelands Ross Kearney second. But in 2016 in Barbados, the winner was Shane McCarthy of Greystones, currently on a roll by taking the 2019 Irish Open Nationals at Skerries in August 2019. It’s typical of the enthusiasm of the Association that somehow they’re able to tell you not just who wins the Worlds, but who recorded the best figures in speed bursts, with Neil Marsden and Derek Hill of Fleetwood tops at 10.9 knots, while Ireland’s own Katie Dwyer and Michelle Rowley of Sutton Dinghy Club clocked 10.5.

July 26th – August 8th. Olympic Games Enoshima, Japan

We have a place in the Laser Radials thanks to Aisling Keller of Lough Derg YC, but the sailor filling it is still open to competition among four helms in the first four months of 2020.

rockabill vi schull14Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC) racing in Calves Week at Schull. Photo: Robert Bateman

August 4th to 7th Calves Week Schull Harbour SC

Fun racing with a serious edge - it sounds like an internally contradicting formula, but among the sublime sailing water of Carbery’s Hundred Isles, it certainly works

August 4th to 6th RS200/RS 400 Nats. Rush SC

Late July and early August will by hyper-busy on the Fingal coast as the bubbles settle after the GP 14s Worlds at Skerries, and clubs close to the southward leap to life

August 4th to 6th J/24 Nationals Howth YC

The J/24 is very much the boat of choice among a certain set, and many who sail it as it revives in Ireland are to be found on other boats as well. Defending champion is Headcase helmed by Cillian Dickson of Lough Ree and Howth, sailing with co-owners who come from all over the country.

2019 fireball worlds15The 2019 Fireball Worlds in Canada, in which the first four places went to four different nations. The 2020 Worlds will be at Howth from August 6th to 14th.

August 6th to 14th Fireball Worlds Howth YC

Another major in HYC’s 125th-year celebrations, this lengthy schedule includes the Fireball Irish Nationals and the pre-Worlds. The 2019 Worlds were in Canada at the friendly Point Claire YC in Montreal, and the winners were Ian Dobson & Richard Wagstaff (UK), while Silver went to Heather McFarlane & Chris Payne of Australia with France’s Ludovic Collin and Remy Thuillier taking the Bronze, fourth going to Switzerland’s Claude Mermod & Ruedi Moser.

August 14th to 16th Cruinniu na mBad Kinvara

The great Kinvara celebration of the maritime culture of the west and the magnificent traditional boats which sail there is now in its 41st year and still going strong, developing intriguing new facets with each passing year.

cruinniu na mbad16 Kinvara bound – a majestic Galway hooker heads for Kinvara and Cruinniu na Mbad – the Gathering of the Boats.

August 29th to 30th BJ Marine Taste of Greystones Regatta Greystones SC

Time for Down Home Time. The boats of south Leinster have returned from their voyaging and racing adventures, the Autumn is upon us, and Greystones awaits them with hospitable abundance

September 3rd to 11th Dragon Gold Cup Kinsale Yacht Club

One of European sailing’s most historic trophies brings an international fleet of the elegant and timeless Dragons to one of Ireland’s high-quality sailing venues. Winner in 2019 was Portugal’s Pedro Andrade racing at Medemblik in The Netherlands.

 September 5th James C Eadie Cup Race: Pwllheli-Dun Laoghaire ISORA

We’ve mentioned it before, it deserves mention again as the Irish Sea programme draws to a close in a race which, in 2019, saw the ISORA Annual Championship decided in its last few miles

September 18th to 20th SB20 Nationals Lough Ree YC

The last big event of the LRYC 250th, in 2019 the SB20 representative Michael O’Connor went on to become the All-Ireland Champion racing in Flying Fifteens, so there’s an extra edge here.

September 26th to 27th All-Ireland Junior Championship

The venue is still to be confirmed, but the date is definite. 2019’s Junior Champion Chris Bateman turned 18 in September, but in any case he’s now more interested in 49er racing

October 3rd to 4th All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship Royal Cork YC

A fitting conclusion to the extraordinary Cork 300 celebrations an the 2020 season. It rounded out the Quarter Millennial celebrations back in 1970, and five of the six finalists from that are still happily with us, so we can expect something very special.

greystones marina sunset17The Autumn closes in, and North County Wicklow is ready with the hospitality for the BJ Marine “Taste of Greystones” Regatta hosted by Greystones Sailing Club.

WM Nixon

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WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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