“What would The Doyler do?” That was the question we asked here when writing with resigned sadness on 11th April about the pandemic-induced two-month postponement - from 20th June - of the Wicklow start of the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Yacht Race 2020. At that time, some optimism still prevailed, and the majority of us really did hope and expect that the race would start on August 22nd, the question only was how on earth everyone would fit the new date into their beloved hyper-busy schedules.
It seemed a big quandary at the time, so we referred back to our moral compass, the great Denis Doyle of Cork. He may have died all of 19 years ago, shortly after completing his last Fastnet Race at the age of 81 with his beloved Crosshaven-built Frers 51 Moonduster. But his approach to life and sailing and business was a guiding star for all who knew him, or knew of him, and in those harsh circumstances of postponement, we reckoned he would have quietly re-prioritised his events for 2020, and Moonduster would have been there in Wicklow, ready to race on 22nd August
For in Irish sailing at national and international level, Denis Doyle’s most telling single gesture – among many actions whose moral and historical significances have come to be better appreciated with every passing year – was quietly arriving into Wicklow with Moonduster three days before the start of the second Round Ireland Race in 1982, and setting up base with his hugely supportive wife Mary in a nearby B&B in a positive indication of his recognition that the Round Ireland Race was a thoroughly good idea, indeed it was a great idea, and it was Wicklow’s own idea and character to doggedly persist at grass roots level with the concept after other grander places and organisations with vaguely similar notions had fallen by the wayside.
Although Denis was Cork city and the Port of Cork through-and-through, he had a clear perception of just how important it was for smaller places to be closely associated with special happenings. Even in all the pomp and glitter of Cowes Week, from his early visits he appreciated that behind it there was a small and not very prosperous town which was heavily reliant on income from sailing visitors in what was then a relatively short season.
Thus he made a point of ensuring that, when racing Cowes Week prior to the Fastnet or the post-Cowes Week long RORC Race in non-Fastnet years, he and his crew spent well and wisely to the greater benefit of the Cowes economy. This is something which was brought home to me a long time ago when I happened to meet Denis and Mary’s regular B&B landlady in Cowes, and she firmly stated that if there were more people like Denis and Mary Doyle and the crew of Moonduster taking part in Cowes Week, then the town would be a much better place.
This awareness of the benefits of the Doyle Seal of Approval was likewise appreciated as it developed over the years from 1982 in Wicklow. It has been said that in the final analysis in anything, the most important thing is simply to turn up, and over the years Denis Doyle and Moonduster simply turned up in an elegant act of doing good work by stealth, and the race organisation group in Wicklow who kept the round Ireland show on the road were profoundly appreciative of his support.
So in reflecting on what the Doyler would do when faced with Monday night’s unprecedented cancellation of the race in advance of its 21st staging at its 40th anniversary, those of us who were fortunate enough to know Denis Doyle know exactly how he would have reacted. He would have told Wicklow Sailing Club to retain his 2020 entry fee, and set it against his 2022 entry. For Denis Doyle was a man who could implement quick decisions while still taking the long view.
Although very much a man of action and little-known good deeds who said no more words than were necessary, he had extensive experience of all forms of sailing. When he settled on offshore racing as his central focus, it reinforced his international outlook in a way which gave him a special overview of the scene in Ireland, and he was quietly aware that the Round Ireland race is more than just a great sporting event – it is in a sense an act of worship, almost a sacrament, a peaceful acknowledgement of the shared nature of our diverse identity and the special qualities of our island home.
But now for 2020 at least, this special race is gone, cancelled, unavailable - as are most other pillar events. Indeed, in looking back at those events which have taken place, and looking forward to those which might take place, we should count ourselves lucky that there have been some relatively small sailing happenings which have managed to take place without – so far – any reported related spiking of the COVID-19 figures.
Yet Thursday’s very worrying significant national increase of the new infection figures must give us pause for thought. The experts will need more detailed analysis, but the message seems to be that when restrictions are eased beyond a certain point, or people simply flout safety requirements out of frustration and boredom, then the figures after a certain time remorselessly rise.
The more thoughtful among sailing administrators will have noted this, and while the Royal Cork YC under the calm and competent leadership of Admiral Colin Morehead has emerged with just the right level of carefully-monitored club sailing and racing to begin recovery from the enormous communal shock of having to cancel the significantly international parts of the Royal Cork Tricentenary celebrations, the programme for August is quite ambitious, with the Optimist Nationals at mid-month a major happening, and detailed health safety provisions a priority as everyone realizes that the more friendly and familiar a crowd, then the greater its hazards despite the best social distancing efforts.
Small is Safe
So whether we like it or not, the mousy little slogan SMALL IS SAFE seems to be our mantra for the time being. Last night’s (Friday) special offshore race from Kinsale round the Fastnet and back attracted 12 starters at the time of writing, and there may have been more when the start was signalled. But at the risk of seeming wimpish, it could be said that for now a dozen boats in an offshore race is just right, it’s a manageable group at race’s end in current circumstances.
And if it comes to other pop-up events coming up on the radar through August, such as a long race from Dublin Bay round the Fastnet to Cork for the RCYC At Home, then there’s certainly nothing so effective as setting an entry limit to attract participants……
The Fastnet race from Kinsale is enough to be going along with for the minute, what with the special symbolism of its turning mark, and the fact of it happening gives us an opportunity to use yet again this marvellous vid of Cian McCarthy’s new Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl being blasted along with Mark Mansfield on the helm, a boat we’ve drooled over since seeing her unveiled at MGM Boats in Dun Laoghaire way back in pre-history, which is what 6th March now feels like.
Back then, we were talking about this boat being just the job to make Irish sailing fun again. Fun is not something we’ve had much of since, and as for sailing, it has been in decidedly bite-size chunks taken from carefully-controlled portions. You can understand why some people simply can’t be bothered to commission their boats at all, claiming that sailing with so many restrictions in place, and the risk of further lockdowns imminent at any time, is just not free sailing as they know and love it, it’s just – so they say – not worth the hassle.
(Above) Dry sailing, not…..Olympian Mark Mansfield revelling in speed with Cian McCarthy’s new Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl, which is making her competitive offshore debut in the Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale race
Maybe it’s simply not worth the hassle for some. But those who do make the effort have been richly rewarded with their sport, and we can be sure that Denis Doyle and Moonduster would be out and about and sailing, making the best of what’s available and permissible, and doing it without a word of complaint.