"The seas is for sailing and the lakes are for fishing". Quite. It's a gross over-simplification to put any analysis of the Irish public perception of our use of waterways into such crude terms. But we didn't get where we are today by any highfalutin tendency towards subtlety in the popular optics of waterborne activity. Thus you mightn't be a million miles out in reckoning that Joe Public watches for any transgression of lockdown rules in the inevitably high profile saltwater sailing, but as a result, he and Mrs Joe have their backs turned on the lakes when they focus their critical attention.
Which is a pity, for not only does our high-quality lake racing deserve every bit as much interest as the seaborn version, but the leading lake clubs have been absolutely exemplary to the point of being national trailblazers in showing how to comply with the strictest regulations and still get great sport. And in so doing, they have provided our rather complex vehicle-based activity with a useful template of how to have "sport behind closed doors" within prescribed number limitations.
It has been an emotionally demanding task at Lough Ree Yacht Club, where incoming Commodore John McGonigle took over from Garrett Leech with the club's many good ideas for celebrating its Quarter Millennium in 2020 taking on a distinctly pared-back look, or indeed disappearing altogether as in the case of Garrett Leech's keenly-anticipated ClinkerFest for the long weekend as May became June.
Ireland is a paradise in its variety of clinker-built boats. We have to thank the Vikings for that, even if their memory along the Shannon lakes is not something which is otherwise cherished. But as soon as the brilliant idea of the Clinkerfest was floated, it became a cherished ambition among clinkerfolk of all sorts to take part, and its total cancellation was an action of national significance in sailing, a matter of enormous regret, and a wake-up call – were it needed – of the enormity of the problems being faced.
It's at such junctures that the underlying strength of long-established organisations - structures which have survived and thrived through times good and bad - provide the fallback strength to continue whatever is possible. And of course down Shannon way, no-one would argue other than that that the 1920s vintage Shannon One Designs are the strong golden thread which holds it all together.
To put it in another context, in Dublin Bay the 1884-founded Dublin Bay Sailing Club became the fallback point of reference in difficult times, while for offshore racers the newer Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association played a key role. So much so, in fact, that as 2020's pandemic took hold, an almost unreasonable pressure was put on DBSC Commodore Jonathan Nicholson, his Honorary Secretary Chris Moore and their other officers to make decisions and take actions on behalf of Dun Laoghaire enormous fleet, actions which would define how 2020's season would pan out.
The fact that a busy programme is now under way - with Thursday evenings in Dublin Bay, in particular, seeing keelboat turnouts which would be reckoned as a fine regatta fleet in other locations - speaks volumes of how successfully the DBSC people read the situation and called the shots, and in this they were greatly aided by DBSC's remarkable sense of continuity.
Meantime on the Shannon, while the two main clubs – Lough Ree YC at Ballyglass near Athlone in Westmeath dating back to 1770, and Lough Derg YC at Dromineer near Nenagh in Tipperary with its foundation in 1835 – have their own values and traditions with other classes involved. But nevertheless, they are greatly strengthened by the unifying link of the Shannon One Designs, which in turn reflects each club's strong core of family association and active involvement, handed down and faithfully upheld through many generations.
This confidence of a healthy river-long tradition with local applications has made the very firm imposition of the COVID regulations at the Shannon Regatta Weeks somehow seem less of an arduous duty than has been experienced at other clubs. Maybe this has something to do with the lifting of the spirits that comes for stressed East Coast folk as they approach the great river with its promise of soothing relaxation, but somehow even the strict enforcement of the 200-people limit for the Lough Ree Regatta in the first week of August - with all places taken up in less than a day after going online – was given a more human face when former LRYC Commodores Alan Algeo and Eileen Brown berthed their barges Linquenda and Rud Eile across on the Roscommon shore, thereby freeing up extra approved people-space in the LRYC compound.
As for the racing, thanks to the efficient multi-tasking abilities of the Shannon One Design Association's Honorary Secretary Naomi Algeo and the steady encouragement of Class Chairperson Erica Mulvihill, a Class Newsletter was out in a timely manner after the last race at Lough Derg in mid-August. All the most effective classic classes in Ireland such as the SODs, the Water Wags, the Howth 17s, the Mermaids and even the Lasers – now that they've passed their Golden Jubilee – seem to communicate partially through some sort of telepathy which even WhatsApp can't supplant, thus something clearly delineated is enormously helpful to the outside world.
So we're going to quote shamelessly from this News Letter to give a flavour of how the Shannon sailors coped with both the pandemic restrictions and an increasingly volatile Atlantic weather pattern which in time was to combust itself in Storm Ellen, from which few had fully recovered before Storm Francis came along. But when those two beauties followed each other darkly over the hills, the Shannon One Design Championship 2020 was already decided.
Ian Croxon recounts the story for the Lough Ree Regatta:
Celebrating its 250th year, LRYC certainly proved they can still learn new tricks
After many months of lock-down lethargy, the sheer sound of a sail filling or water rushing off a bow would have been enough for most to call this regatta a week well spent. The organisers went a whole lot further in providing us with a remarkably enjoyable event.
There were no packed-out nights at the bar, no bellowing by the piano, and the rumour mills were fuelled with antics from the water rather than the shadows of the clubhouse. All the same, we got to experience the essentials - sailing, sociability – albeit distanced - and the serenity of the Shannon.
25 Shannon One Designs appeared for the long weekend and with little else to tempt them away, the vast majority remained for the week. For the records, 200 people was the cap set by the government for outdoor meets, and this was strictly adhered to by a very diligent committee. We were in for a regatta that produced a few new precedents, but not all were planned.
No half measures at the Bar – Sean, the shepherd of thirsty sailors, outdid himself this year. Keeping everyone comfortable while constrained is no mean feat. Basil Fawlty would have eaten his hat observing the slick operation of dining every evening, with multiple sittings to ensure as many could get a seat at the table while we remained at a safe distance.
What's the code flag for 'lie-in'? – On Tuesday, many of the fleet were still in bed when they heard the happy news... "No sailing for the day, already decided." It was blowing smoke. The race officer's name was blessed over the eventual breakfast to follow.
A family feud – The top end of the fleet got a lot taller this year. On multiple occasions, it seemed the fleet was watching a feud for first between the two McMullin boats, 151 and 67. Needless to say not a word was whispered as they remained hot on each other's heels. Great Danes never tend to bark I suppose!
Horses for Courses – Generously helping out on the committee boat, Con Murphy and Cathy Mac Aleavey joined Alan Algeo and the team for the first three days and brought with them a common course used in the Water Wags, a sausage with a gate at the leeward end. The shape has other names of course, but all the same, it is a rarity to experience a dead downwind in Shannon One Designs. In the suitable wind strengths we had, it proved hugely beneficial in keeping the fleet tighter together, and on several occasions, more places changed downwind than back up the following beat.
Ironically (against its intention) it also proved to result in considerably more chaos at the leeward roundings with death-defying angles of approach and crash gybes a-plenty.
A sensational showdown – I'd welcome the correction from any reader on the point of stating this was the most competitive championship we have ever seen. Leading into the final race, four boats could have taken gold. They'll each agree however that remaining at the top of the fleet through the week was no mean feat. We had numerous race winners throughout the week and every race proved to be a game of snakes and ladders with a few wings being clipped, and several Lazarus recoveries.
Andrew Mannion in Number 97 came out tops, his crew including subsequent Irish Mirror National Champion Caolan Croasdell who did the Mirror business up in Sligo a week later as reported on Afloat.ie, where for obvious reasons he acquired the nickname of "The Hat".
MOVING SOUTH TO LOUGH DERG
Having put in a determinedly-compliant event at Lough Ree, everyone knew that the complexities of the regulated transference of fleet operations downriver to Lough Derg would see some change in personnel, and though 25 Shannon One Designs raced at Lough Ree and 18 raced at Lough Derg (where general fleet numbers were made up by additional classes such as the Squibs), in all only five SODs managed to do both and thereby qualify for the Delany Memorial Salver.
Stephen Day take up the story of the Week at Dromineer:
Hot off the heels of a successful Lough Ree Annual Regatta, 18 Shannon One Designs turned up for a week's racing on the shores of Lough Derg, but unfortunately, on several occasions the wind did not make it to Dromineer.
Patrick Blaney obliged as PRO, but he and his team had their work cut out all week. Where Lough Ree had a stop-everything gale on the Tuesday, a week later we were held ashore by calm for the morning, and despite best efforts to race in the afternoon, we couldn't.
Instead, we were distracted by the LDYC Commodore Joe Gilmartin water-skiing past the sitting SODs, and sailing turned into a lazy afternoon of swimming and socialising on the lake. On Wednesday every effort was made to sail the famous Belle Isle Plate and St. David's Cup, but they were not to be, sailing was called off for the day, and this time Alan Algeo, who has served two terms as Commodore of LRYC, got suited and booted and went water-skiing for the first time in 15 years. He certainly hasn't lost his balance and only had one fall.
While Alan was entertaining us all, the single-handed race was taking place. Johnny Horgan in the 167 was leading from the first windward mark right through to the finish, having gone back through the starting line, but was closely followed by Rachel Guy in 142 and Simone Hanley in the 118.
The all important Juvenile Race followed, where under 16s take charge of our classic boats. With the breeze dying and a wind shift to boot, it was a fetch home. Oscar Flynn in the 148 was triumphant, with Eoin Keogh in 142 second and Trevor Bolger in 164 third.
As the forecast had promised, Thursday morning had a gentle breeze on the lake, much to the PRO's delight. With two races in the morning Frank Guy in the 142 was in the groove taking both bullets, followed by Alan Algeo in 138.
That afternoon Ian Croxon laid out the course for the Ted Croxon Perpetual Pint. Due to the weather he had to keep it short and sweet, but Laurence Hanley in the 118 had a dream running start and could not be caught, even though Alex Leech and Mary Cox kept him on his toes, with both finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively.
Laurence Hanley in the 118 took one more race on Friday, with Alex Leech in the 164 getting a much deserved bullet (by a country mile, too) in the final championship race of the week. Alex also took home the Milligan Cup – for the youngest helm of the week at just sixteen. You can sail a Shannon One Design before you can drive a car, but a car is definitely easier. Johnny Horgan in 167 rounded off the week with a winning finish through Goose Island in the '54' Perpetual Cup and Lifeboat Pennant – the latter which was awarded to the girls in the 144.
The overall LDYC Championship was very close with Alex Leech finishing a very impressive 3rd in 164, Alan Algeo was 2nd in the 138 and Frank Guy in the 142 taking home the Perpetual Challenge Cup. Frank's crew Rachel Guy and Laura Prentice were both deserving winners of the Bruce Plaque and McNally Knot. The Starters Gun went to Alan Algeo in the 138, with Frank Guy in the 142 2nd, and Johnny Horgan in the 167 in 3rd.
However, Johnny Horgan's dogged determination to do both Lough Ree and Lough Derg while complying with restrictions was rewarded, as 167 was one of the five boats which managed to qualify for the Delany Memorial Salver and he won it, with second place going to DJ and Alan Algeo in 138 while Laurence Hanley was third and the youngest helm in the entire SOD fleet, Alex Leech, was fourth.
In spite of the foregoing few months when there had been a real uncertainty as to whether the event could even take place, LDYC deserved special credit for organising a week's sailing which managed to overcome the shortage of wind. And though Autumn is now increasingly in evidence, it is hoped that experience gained in staging successful regatta weeks at both Ballyglass and Dromineer will enable the Shannon One Designs and other classes on the lakes to get in some more meaningful sailing before winter closes in. And perhaps Lough Ree and Lough Derg will be an inspiration to other centres where some clubs have buckled in face of the challenge of providing total compliance.