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Royal Cork Yacht Club is Mitsubishi Motors 'Sailing Club of the Year 2020'

2nd January 2020
Cork Harbour – “Where it All Began”. One of the finest natural harbours in the world, it provided a unique set of circumstances in 1720 to bring the world’s senior yacht club into existence, a pioneering organisation which has influenced the develpment of recreational sailing ever since. Crosshaven – home of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, is centre left Cork Harbour – “Where it All Began”. One of the finest natural harbours in the world, it provided a unique set of circumstances in 1720 to bring the world’s senior yacht club into existence, a pioneering organisation which has influenced the develpment of recreational sailing ever since. Crosshaven – home of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, is centre left

The Royal Cork Yacht Club is the new Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year, both in honour of its Tricentenary in 2020, and in celebration of a busy and successful season in 2019. The hospitable club faces this unprecedented new year with an inspiring serenity, strengthened in awareness of experience gained and achievements attained in the many years of its existence and supported by the global sailing community in its outstanding world status.

Yet even as the special events for the season of 2020 were being planned during 2019 and earlier, 2019 itself has seen some notable sailing achievements by Royal Cork members of all age groups, both at home and abroad. But when a club is operating in the unique timeframe which is the story of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, perhaps we should think in terms of measurable decades of successful club activity to get a more accurate picture of RCYC life afloat and ashore.

yacht club conference cork Paying their respects to seniority. Delegates to the World Forum of the International Council of Yacht Clubs in September 2019 at the Royal Cork YC. Photo: Robert Bateman

And in a longer view, the Royal Cork Yacht Club now tops the leaderboard in the number of times it has been Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year. This informal contest to honour those clubs which best fulfilled the objectives of effectively meeting the needs – afloat and ashore – of members who in turn were active in voluntarism in club activity, while at the same time relating positively to the community in which they were located yet also achieving sailing success at all levels at home and abroad, began modestly in 1979 by being limited to the clubs of Leinster.

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But in 1986 - when Mitsubishi Motors Ireland took over what is now the longest-running sponsorship in Irish sailing - the competition was extended to all Ireland, and the Royal Cork became pace-setters, a benchmark of multiple sailing and sports social activities against which other clubs are inevitably measured.

oleary lyons keane3 The sixth time the Royal Cork became “Club of the Year” was in 2015. At the awards ceremony in the Crosshaven clubhouse were (left to right) Anthony O’Leary ( Sailor of the Year 2014 for his successful captaining of the Irish Commodore’s Cup team), RCYC Admiral Pat Lyons, and Frank Keane of Mitsubishi Motors. Photo: Robert Bateman

Royal Cork Yacht Club has been Mitsubishi Motors Club of Year in 1987, 1992, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2015, and now 2020. With successive Admirals at the awards ceremonies in the clubhouse giving thoughtful acceptance speeches which have helped to define what continues to make a sailing club successful in a rapidly changing modern Ireland in an increasing complex global sailing environment, the RCYC has contributed greatly to the general awareness of what makes a successful club thrive.

Thus it was appropriate that in September 2019, one of the gatherings which recognised and benefitted from the Royal Cork’s unique experience was when Admiral Pat Farnan and the RCYC at Crosshaven welcomed the delegates to the World Forum of the International Council of Yacht Clubs, staged in Cork in honour of the approaching RCYC Tricentenary.

RCYC New Years Eve Ball27 The calming presence…..RCYC Admiral Pat Farnan and his wife Carmel at this week’s New Year’s Eve Tricentenary Gala Ball. After two years of guiding the club through successful seasons and the build-up to the Tricentenary, Admiral Farnan stands down at the AGM on January 20th. His extensive maritime and administrative experience, which has included being Harbour Master of the Port of Cork, has been invaluable for the club at this special time Photo: Robert Bateman

Today, the Royal Cork may have its very effective clubhouse/marina home base at Crosshaven, but over the 300 years and more of recreational sailing, its focus has been at different centres on the magnificent natural amenity which is Cork Harbour, while the founding members kept their boats at the anchorage or quayside which was most convenient to their often-waterside homes.

Thus the original title of The Water Club of the Harbour of Cork was the more accurate description of the club’s nature, and there’s a certain irony in that today, it probably once again describes the club with more precision. Convenient berthing facilities all round Cork Harbour have improved significantly in recent years, the most recent being the construction of a marina at the 101-year-old Cobh Sailing Club on the other side of the harbour. So although Royal Cork YC at Crosshaven has had Ireland’s longest-established coastal clubhouse marina since 1974, marinas and local clubs have since expanded all round the harbour at places as diverse as East Ferry, Cobh, Monkstown and in Cork city itself.

crosshaven aerial5 High summer in Crosshaven, where the Royal Cork’s marina – a pioneering project when it first opened in 1974 – has become an award-winning amenity. While there are now other marinas and developing clubs dotted around the superb natural harbour, the Royal Cork at Crosshaven is thought of as “The Mother Club”. Photo: Robert Bateman

Yet although these neighbourhood clubs have their own active local scene, the fact is they still look to the Royal Cork YC as the Mother Club. And thanks to the diligence of RCYC archivists such as the dedicated Dermot Burns, it is the Royal Cork which is the repository of priceless records and memorabilia, historic trophies, important maritime works of art, and significant portraits, all of which are eloquent testimony to the extraordinary and unrivalled history of recreational sailing in Cork Harbour.

This unique collection enabled the far-sighted publication in 2005 of an impressive and weighty book, the award-winning History of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, written by historian Alicia St Leger using the material so tirelessly organised by Dermot Burns. It was far-sighted to publish this valuable record back in 2005, as that provided plenty of time for the story of the club to fully enter world sailing’s consciousness, such that now that we are in the Tricentenary Year - which was ushered in this week by a Tricentenary New Year’s Eve Gala Ball at the clubhouse - the world sailing community is fully aware of the Royal Cork’s special status, and is giving every fair wind to the celebration of Cork300.

rcyc book6 The History of the Royal Cork, published in 2005, is a massive, detailed and informative work which set the stage and context for the approaching Tricentenary. In addition to its valuable contents, the book’s exceptionally high production values also won specialist awards.

The committee putting it all together for 2020 has been chaired by Colin Morehead, whose dedication to making newcomers welcome in sailing is such that in 2017 he was presented with the Irish Sailing President’s Award as “Volunteer of the Year”. In a bewildering era when much of the world sees a decline in voluntarism and the sense of belonging in clubs and other like-minded groups, the amount of social capital which Irish sailing clubs have in their strong voluntary ethos is incalculable in value, and is something to be encouraged and cherished in every way possible.

coveney morehead7Tanaiste Simon Coveney TD – whose family has long been connected with the RCYC – with Vice Admiral Colin Morehead, who is chair of the Cork300 Committee. Photo: Robert Bateman

Here again, the Royal Cork is a leader, for the voluntary willingness of the members - in what is not a large club numerically speaking - enables it to punch well above its weight and keep its historical traditions alive, while at the same time being in the forefront of national and international sailing development.

Thus although the RCYC has - like other clubs – seen its fleet grow with the introduction of series or mass-produced boats made in remote and anonymous factories, it is the only club in Ireland –and one of the very few in the world – which has initiated new classes in modern times.

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Back in the 1890s and early 1900s, many clubs were in on this sort of project, and the Royal Cork led the way with the introduction of the Fife-designed, locally built Cork Harbour One Designs in 1895. Some of them still sail in beautifully restored form. But since then, Cork sailors have not been content to take in boats created elsewhere, for in 1994 they commissioned the completely new Cork 1720 Sportsboat to designs by the then locally-based Tony Castro (there’ll be maybe as 50 of them racing during the Tricentenary celebrations) and then in 2014 when a completely new Phil Morrison design for the National 18 appeared on Cork Harbour, it emerged that it was the Royal Cork YC which had released vital funds to make the Ultimate’s introduction possible.

chod elsie8The Cork Harbour One Design Elsie, restored by Mark Bushe. The Fife-designed class originated in 1895, and all were built at locations around Cork Harbour. Photo Robert Bateman
1720 sportsboat9The Cork 1720 Sportsboats originated through the RCYC in 1994 to designs by Tony Castro. It is expected that there will be as many as fifty of these now-classic Sportsboats taking part in the Tricentenary Regatta. Photo: O’Brien
national 18s ultimate10Another new design which has originated in modern times with support from the RCYC is the Phil Morrison-designed National 18 Ultimate, which appeared on Cork Harbour in 2014. Photo: Robert Bateman

With this sort of energetic innovation going on with projects which won’t be completed overnight, it’s clear that we should be considering the achievements of at least the past decade in making the Royal Cork the Mitsubishi Motors Club of the Year for 2020, but in truth perhaps we should really be taking a much longer view, and one indicator of the RCYC’s continuing and growing vitality is the number of winners of the All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship which they have provided over the years since its introduction in 1947, the most senior – Teddie Crosbie of 1950 – very happily still being with us. It’s an impressive list of many talents who have proven their worth in a wide variety of boats and sailing;

  • 1950: Ted Crosbie
  • 1955 & 1960: Clayton Love Jnr.
  • 1956 & 1957: Somers Payne
  • 1972: Harold Cudmore
  • 1990 & 1999: Mark Mansfield
  • 2003: Neil Hegarty
  • 2006 & 2012: Peter O’Leary
  • 2007: Stefan Hyde
  • 2008, 2009 & 2010: Nicholas O’Leary
  • 2011 George Kenefick
  • 2014 & 2015: Anthony O’Leary
  • 2016: Alex Barry

The All-Ireland Junior Championship was only established as recently as 1975, but Cork sailors have been in on it from the get-go:

  • 1975: Joe English
  • 1986: Tom McWilliam
  • 1986: Jamie McWilliam
  • 1988: Nicholas O’Leary
  • 2000: Peter O’Leary
  • 2002: Robert Collins
  • 2003: Erica Tate
  • 2004: Katie Tingle
  • 2006: George Kenefick
  • 2013: Seafra Guilfoyle
  • 2014: Harry Durcan
  • 2015: Peter McCann
  • 2016: Johnny Durcan
  • 2018: Atlee Kohl
  • 2019: Chris Bateman

chris and olin bateman 11Chris & Olin Bateman on their way to winning the All-Ireland Junior Championship at Schull in the last weekend of September 2019. Photo INPHO/Bryan Keane
james dwyer matthews12 RCYC’s James Dwyer Matthews, winner in the International Optimist Class of the big-fleet British Spring Opens and the 185-boat Irish Opens. Photo: IODAI

Cork Harbour’s exceptional strength in the Junior Division has never been greater than it is at present, a situation which surely augurs well for the continuing good health of the area’s sailing scene for years to come. In 2019 in addition to Chris & Olin Bateman’s victory in the Junior Championship in September, young Cork sailors had been making their mark ever since March, when Optimist Champion James Dwyer Matthews of RCYC swept the board in the big-fleet British Spring Opens at Lymington, and then in August he went on to become the Irish Open Champion in an even bigger fleet at Howth.

harry durcan13Sailor of many successes. RCYC’s Harry Durcan won the All-Ireland Junior Title in 2014, and he is currently the top Irish Intervarsity Keelboat Helm, seen here with the medal he won in the California Invitationals in March 2019
cit team california14 The CIT Team – many of whom are RCYC – in action in California

Meanwhile in University keelboat racing. it was Cork all the way, with CIT Sailing Club’s team headed by RCYC’s Harry Durcan and Grattan Roberts winning out from University College Cork in a close-fought Irish championship in J/80s, and in a very long-distance challenge to the Invitationals in California for the Port of Los Angeles Trophy, they returned home with the Bronze Medals.

Taking on the special challenge of racing keelboats in America which are of a completely new marque was something which Cork’s adult sailors also took on with enthusiasm, with the Royal Cork team led by Anthony O’Leary (whose contribution to Cork sailing’s international success over many decades is incalculable) throwing themselves into the maelstrom of the 20-team New York YC Invitationals in Newport RI in September.

ic37 asymmetric action15 Corinthian competition to professional standards – Ireland represented by RCYC and captained by Anthony O’Leary milling their way towards a Bronze Medal in the 20-team New York YC Invitationals at Newport RI in September

This was sailed in the new IR37s from Irish-based designer Mark Mills, and though it was a Corinthian event, it emerged that many crews had spent as much time as possible familiarising themselves with these attractive new boats as more of them became available through the summer, whereas the Cork crew arrived in Newport as IR37 virgins.

They put that right very quickly indeed, with their skipper observing that anyone who could make a good fist of racing a Cork 1720 would have a head start in getting to know an IR37, and their learning curve was so successfully upwards that at the final stages a silver medal was a remote possibility, but as it is they came home with the Bronze and a very high level of regard among the opposition.

Meanwhile, at home the RCYC had opened its main 2019 season on a high note by hosting the Irish Sailing Youth Pathway multiple classes event in April. The club’s extremely active Junior Section provides racing for Optimists, Mirrors, Lasers and RS Fevas, while other classes catered for include Nationals 18s, SB20s and Multihulls. Then in August they hosted the first-ever Crosshaven staging of the Mermaid Nationals (won by Darragh McCormack of Foynes) and in September the annual DinghyFest showcased the impressive variety of classes the club caters for.

2019 dinghyfest16RCYC’s DinghyFest 2019 in September attracted an impressive variety of new and long-established classes. Photo: Robert Bateman

But numerically speaking, the great strength of the RCYC is its thriving fleet of cruisers and cruiser-racing, often in a family setting. This past year or two we’ve seen the pace being set by the Murphy family with their Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo, while the J/109 Jelly Baby and the Jones family keep up a family sailing tradition which is bred into Cork’s maritime genes.

jelly baby sailing17The Jones family’s J/109 Jelly Baby in action in typical Crosshaven sailing style. Photo: Robert Bateman

After all, it was Cork’s own Harry Donegan who flew the flag for Ireland in the inaugural Fastnet Race of 1925 with his cutter Gull, a boat which was regarded as an integral part of the family. So much so, in fact, that the late great Denis Doyle, who was to take up the Cork offshore racing standard with Moonduster, could remember as a child going to Sunday lunch in the winter at the Donegan household (for all the Cork sailing families seem to be inter-related) and after lunch as the adults settled down to chat, the many children were put to work sand-papering the dozens of varnished wooden blocks which were essential to Gull’s complex rig. But as Denis wistfully recalled: “We children were never ever allowed to do the actual varnishing - Old Harry did that himself after we’d gone”.

gull1Harry Donegan’s Gull sailing under her decidedly labour-intensive rig. While the Royal Cork’s first offshore race of 1860 will be re-enacted with the ISORA Dun Laoghaire to Cobh Race in July 2020, it was Gull’s participation and third place overall in the inaugural Fastnet Race of 1925 which placed Cork sailing in the heart of 20th Century offshore racing development. Photo courtesy RCYC

This is the way it is with Cork sailing – it is one of the few places in Ireland where going sailing really is regarded as a totally normal and very important part of everyday life. For that alone, the Royal Cork YC deserves to be “Club of the Year” for this year and maybe every year. But this seemingly natural state of affairs is only guaranteed by the continual recruiting of officers, committee and volunteers who quietly keep in place the structures in which sailing is kept as such an integral part of day-to-day life.

It has produced a sailing scene which naturally brought forward sailors of such talent that they moved on into successful professional careers in yacht racing, though it seemed a very big move when Harold Cudmore Jnr took it for the first time in 1974. But since then specialists like Olympian Mark Mansfield and Maurice Prof O’Connell and others have shown that Cork Harbour is a very effective nursery for sailing talent of international quality.

mark and prof18 The Royal Cork’s output of top-class sailors spreads far beyond Crosshaven – Mark Mansfield and Maurice Prof O'Connell are seen here getting the J/109 EuroCarParks up to speed early in the 2016 Round Ireland Race. They were the only Irish boat to win their class that time round. Photo O’Brien

It was only 53 years ago that Clayton Love Jnr, through quiet persuasion and diplomacy, brought about the merger between the Royal Cork YC in its stately but out-dated 19th Century clubhouse in Cobh, and the Royal Munster YC in its developing 20th century base in Crosshaven. Crosshaven much more conveniently provided the facilities to be the main centre for contemporary Cork Harbour sailing, but it took patience and skill those fifty and more years ago to bring about the change which ensured there was an active Royal Cork YC ready to celebrate its Quarter Millennium in 1969-70. Since then it has remained as the focal point of a growing sailing scene which has now filtered back to every corner of the harbour, yet still looks to the Royal Cork YC in Crosshaven as the Mother Club.

It is kept in thriving health by constant attention, skilled management, and sailing success afloat. While the increasing pace of the 2020 planning by Colin Morehead’s Cork300 committee has inevitably drawn growing attention during 2019, it has been doubly important that club life should continue with its own busy programme during this past year.

The calm and frequent presence of Admiral Pat Farnan ensured this, supported by his team of Colin Morehead in his additional role as Vice Admiral, and three Rear Admirals: Brian Jones (Dinghies), Kieran O’Connell (Keelboats) and Mike Rider (Cruising), while Secretary/Treasurer Pat Harte, Membership & Events Sub Committee Chair Annamarie Fegan, and Marina & Facilities Chair Simon Brewitt kept their sections on the chosen path.

Nevertheless, an operation the size and complexity of the Royal Cork’s headquarters ashore and afloat at Crosshaven will need skilled professional input, and the club could have spent vast sums of money-drawing up and implementing the recruitment profile of the ideal person to fill the multi-tasking post of General Manager of the world’s senior yacht club. But fortunately, the perfect candidate was right there so ideally in their midst that an extensive search wasn’t required, such that now it is impossible to imagine today’s Royal Cork Yacht Club without Gavin Deane’s reassuring performance as General Manager.

albert and gavin19Gavin Deane (right) with Prince Albert of Monaco at the ceremony which twinned the Yacht Club de Monaco with the Royal Cork YC in honour of the latter’s Tricentenary. Photo courtesy RCYC
But all these talented and dedicated people would find that much of the beneficial effects their good work might go completely unseen were it not for the ubiquitous presence of photographer Robert Bateman. In some ways the astonishing survival of the Royal Cork Yacht Club for 300 years has at times been a matter of luck. And for many years, the club has never been so lucky as in its enthusiastic photographer. If a good picture says a thousand words, then Bob Bateman has said millions of eloquent words in telling us what a remarkable and continuing story there is at Crosshaven and on Cork Harbour, and everyone is in his debt for his exceptional dedication in recording all sailing, and in particular in recording the sailing and shore life of this unique club.

We congratulate the Royal Cork Yacht Club, very deservedly the Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year for the seventh time in 2020

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WM Nixon

About The Author

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