If you’re a proper Irish sailing enthusiast and you’re not going crackers at the moment, then there’s something seriously wrong with you. For here we are, in as perfect an early summer for sailing as anyone has seen in a long time, and we’re right in the midst of the weekend when we should all be hedonistically immersed in the Wave Regatta 2020 at Howth. Yet anyone who tries to get any sailing whatever in these Coronavirus times finds that instead, they have to be ever-alert for compliance with social-distancing regulations, shared household bubble requirements, and staying within five kilometres of home, while somehow managing not to sneeze, feel feverish, have a rasping cough or worry that you’re losing your senses of taste and smell.
Nevertheless, the fact that today sees the annual boat lift-in at the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire is something for quiet celebration. Postponed from late March, it will be a carefully-choreographed socially-distanced operation, but while face masks are de rigeur for those on boats, it’s a serious business. A masked ball it is not, but a supply of new masks will be available at the club for those who may have had sourcing difficulties
Next door at the Royal St George YC, the postponed lift-in day is in a week’s time, on Saturday, June 6th, a launching date they share with Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club, while across from the DMYC the Coal Harbour Boatyard lift-in is next day on June 7th, as is traditional even if it is around two months later than usual.
Meanwhile, the Royal Irish YC has been quietly getting on with its phased lift-in since May 18th, and this week it announced that as from Tuesday 2nd June, the boat storage space will be available for those who dry sail and the shore parking of Dun Laoghaire’s rare if not unique classes of classic clinker-built sailing dinghies.
The same situation will have been achieved at the National YC by Thursday, June 4th, resulting in that very Dun Laoghaire display of the hottest dry-sailed offshore racers and inshore keelboats cheek-by-jowl with ancient masterpieces of the classic wooden boatbuilder’s art and craft in a fascinating mini-Boat Show which is taken for granted.
Which is just grand, but what will we able to do afloat? With the technicalities of compliance by sailors with the official guidelines testing some of the finest analytical minds in our sport while the rest of us just nod like car rear-window donkeys as though we fully grasp what’s going on, the ins and out and what we can actually do afloat at the moment are a minefield.
So for those who keep beating the drum about DBSC needing to give a very clearcut lead about actual dates, we can only say that you should cut these guys a bit of slack. The Commodore has a newly-acquired Puma 42 which he is mad keen to race, the Honorary Secretary is a stalwart of the J/109 Class and loves the sport, so you can be quite sure they’ll have racing under way just as soon as the time is right.
Meanwhile, we’re in the situation that if a sailing couple from - let’s say Killiney - decide to go down together to Dun Laoghaire and hop aboard their boat in the marina and go for a sail, it’s fine and dandy if they put out to sea and head for the Muglins. But if instead, they go up Dublin Bay bay towards Poolbeg, they might find themselves being spotted by one of those hawk-eyed observers with which Dun Laoghaire seems to be so well furnished, and the next thing is an official-looking boat with a peaked-cap ship’s complement will have hove into sight to tell them they’re breaking the law, as they’re taking exercise more than five kilometres from home.
Just which statutory or non-statutory body is supposed to be in charge of such patrols still seems to be an open topic, but across in Howth where Commodore Ian Byrne tentatively but successfully inaugurated a regulation-compliant sailing programme last weekend – a sensible programme which will see gentle expansion as time goes by - the see-everythings-and-complain-about-it brigade are rather more pre-occupied by the fact that the local fish & chips trade provided by the Burdock and Beshoff outlets seems to be getting going again.
For sure, it’s not everywhere that you can get from the city centre into the heart of a thriving and picturesque fishing port within half an hour as a day visitor, and once there nonchalantly enjoy fish and chips provided either by a company with direct links to Dublin in the very rare and extremely auld times, or alternatively a company with a direct link back to the mutiny on the Tsar of all the Russias’ battleship Potemkin in Sevastopol in the Crimea in June 1905.
But neither of these historic links brings with it any obligation whatsoever to feed the rapacious herring gulls which strut their stuff around Howth Harbour. During the depths of the lockdown with visitors and fish & chips in extremely short supply, the gulls – normally the very picture of glowing rude health, with “rude” the operative word - actually started to look slightly scrawny.
And then their numbers declined to such an extent, as they sought sustenance elsewhere, that those of us who live in the village and find our rooftops plagued by the breeding super-scavengers dared to hope we might even have missed a complete breeding season. But now, in a sure sign that normality is returning, they’re starting to become more noisily conspicuous again.
Lovely isn’t it when a sure sign of some sort of returning normality is your television signal being interrupted by huge nesting seagulls atop and around the television dish on the chimney stack, just when you want to focus on Miriam O’Callaghan or Emily Maitlis grilling some twisting politico, or savour how the subtleties of Normal People remind you of some episodes in your well-spent youth?
But on the water in our many harbours and anchorages, getting the boats afloat only means that we move into move into a whole new area of quandaries as to what we can do or not do, and how soon we can expand our activities to achieve something like that ‘Freedom of the Sea’ we dream of in the depths of winter.
Key officers in central organizations like Dublin Bay Sailing Club get unduly pestered by people demanding to know when real racing is going to start, when the fact is that to a considerable extent we have to make it up as we go along, for society has never dealt with a pandemic of this scale and aggression while at the same time having access to our modern means of communication and treatment.
Analogies with a war are simplistic, but if you insist on comparing it with a war, you’d do well to study The Master of Warfare, Sun Tzu, who was right there with his study of The Art of War about 500 years BC (and that’s Before Christ, not Before COVID). In it, he places great emphasis on patience and letting the enemy wear himself or itself out, while avoiding destructive battle.
That means with Covid-19 you take all reasonable steps to avoid catching it. This fundamental rule of warfare was blithely ignored with disastrous consequences in our neighbouring island both by the Dear Leader, and his Eminence Grise. But while you avoid destructive direct confrontation with the enemy, equally you have to ensure that he (or it) doesn’t lay waste to your own territory.
This means that in a Lockdown, planning should be continually under way for the minimization of ill-effects, and the earliest reasonable resumption of a civilized, sociable and healthy way of life which - for readers of Afloat.ie - means going sailing or boating as much as possible, just as soon as it is reasonably safe to do so.
Note that we say “reasonably safe” and not “totally safe”. We’re back to Voltaire's notion of perfection being the enemy of the good here. It all comes down to judgment, and while it’s fortunate that we didn’t bet the farm on my prediction that the Coronavirus would be gone “like snow off a ditch” for the time being from Ireland at the end of May, it looks like a notion that won’t be too far off track.
But this week brought a nasty reminder that even if we’re clear for a while, continuing vigilance is essential, as the sudden outbreak in recent days in poster-boy COVID-clearance nation South Korea came about from something as every day as an infected postal package being delivered to an apartment block with a central post room.
The ideal way for sailing through the COVID Conundrum at first glance seems to be through solo boats. But they carry an inevitable close-up-and-personal risk if they require the services of the crash boat. Yet two-handed sailing, with a Corona-compatible crew, is more self-reliant, and Ireland’s Sailors of the Year 2018, Olympic 49er contenders, Sean Waddilove of Skerries and Robert Dickson of Howth, read the developing situation to perfection as they made arrangements to share the same house as the Lockdown loomed, leaving them totally Sailing Ready as we start to come out the other side.
So while there was that little nasty bit of news for everyone from South Korea this week, Irish sailing was much brightened by the news that father-and-son team of Conor and Derek Dillon of Foynes Yacht Club have thrown their hat into the Round Ireland Two-handed ring yet again with their Dehler 34 Big Deal for the re-scheduled SSE Renewable Round Ireland Race from Wicklow on August 22nd.
It’s now all of six years since the Foynes duo won the Round Ireland two-handed division in 2014, but they’ve continued to battle the two-handed scene in what is often the smallest boat in the doubles division in the Round Ireland and other majors, including the Rolex Fastnet and the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle.
To do the Round Ireland from Foynes involves them in sailing in total a distance which is virtually twice round Ireland, but they still carry the enthusiasm which the entire two-handed scene was enjoying back in 2014. For not only did Big Deal make a mighty job in that year’s Round Ireland in getting in ahead of many fully-crewed boats, but in 2013 when the notion of two-handers in major events was even more novel, the world of sailing lit up with the news that the Rolex Fastnet Race had been won overall for the first time by a two-handed crew, the French father-and-son lineup of Pascal and Alexis Loison from Cherbourg racing one of the smallest boats in the fleet, the 33ft Night & Day, which entertaningly had the music of the Cole Porter classic printed over her topsides.
That may in turn have distracted people from noticing that this was history in the making, as Night & Day was one of the new JPK 10.10s. Thus 2013 was Jean Pierre Kelbert making a major mark on the big time offshore racing scene, something which has continued ever since with a very satisfactory circulatory achievement being logged in the 2019 Fastnet, when JPK himself – co-skippered with “young” Alexis Loison – won their class in the new JPK 10.30 Leon.
In our current weird world, it may well be that the two-handed scene is the best way to go to get competitive sailing re-introduced, and with Howth having put its first sailing toe in the water last weekend, so to speak, maybe we’ll see the Aqua Two-Handed Race there coming up as one of the first majors in the truncated season of 2020.
Just don’t count on it getting much publicity. While the popular Aqua Restaurant at the end of the West Pier is currently in shut-down like most other eateries, it holds a special place in Howth sailing hearts, as it was the HQ of Howth Yacht Club until the award-winning design for the new clubhouse was opened in 1987. Thus while a meal there is something special in every way and is the first prize for the Howth Two-handed Race, it seems the locals only want one of their own to win, as the two-handed event is kept very much in-lodge.
Yet for now, all of us are still pretty much in-lodge for most of the time. But be of good cheer. If you can just somehow persuade your mother-in-law’s daughter with whom you share your locked-down residence to give you a modest but much-needed haircut, it feels like immediately shedding about 15 pounds in flab without any extreme dieting or advanced Yoga exercises required at all. It’s wonderful……