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Dublin Bay Sailing Club has Navigated with Style Over COVID-19's Challenging Seas

12th September 2020
The Goodbody family of Dun Laoghaire have been remarkably successful in making the best of 2020's shortened season. On Thursday evening their J/109 White Mischief emerged as overall winner of Cruisers 1 in the DBSC Thursday Series under both IRC and ECHO, and they also were champion J/109. Meanwhile in August, Richard Goodbody and his 16-year-old son Max crewed aboard Chris & Patanne Power-Smith's J/122 Aurelia to take line honours and third overall in the Fastnet 450 The Goodbody family of Dun Laoghaire have been remarkably successful in making the best of 2020's shortened season. On Thursday evening their J/109 White Mischief emerged as overall winner of Cruisers 1 in the DBSC Thursday Series under both IRC and ECHO, and they also were champion J/109. Meanwhile in August, Richard Goodbody and his 16-year-old son Max crewed aboard Chris & Patanne Power-Smith's J/122 Aurelia to take line honours and third overall in the Fastnet 450 Photo: Afloat

Even Dublin Bay Sailing Club, with all its remarkable expertise and sheer firepower, has been unable to slow Planet Earth in its daily rotation, let alone alter the steady changing of our little solar satellite's endlessly shifting tilt as it manifests itself through the unstoppable advance of the seasons. In other words, the nights are closing in, Autumn seems to be upon us sooner than ever in the accelerating temporal perceptions of life in this time of coronavirus, and Thursday inevitably saw the last Dublin Bay Sailing Club evening race of this truncated 2020 season.

But it was a gentle Autumn evening of sweet sailing at its best, with a light to moderate sou'westerly to provide smooth sea racing with completed races for a 2020 record of 114 boats. And everything functioned with such experienced competence that Colin McMullen, inventor of much in modern race administration in systems now used worldwide, and longtime DBSC Results Secretary with it, had the multi-class analysis made and posted before many crews had got themselves ashore.

Yet far from being a time of thoughtful reflection on the problems of a truncated season in a country facing multiple troubles, for many involved, it was a time for quiet and socially-distanced yet heartfelt celebration. For not only does regular DBSC sailing continue on Saturdays until 10th October – five busy Saturdays starting today - but by then the gallant band who sally forth under the leadership of former DBSC Commodore Fintan Cairns on one of the club's Committee Boats to provide the regular Turkey Shoot series will have gathered themselves for action, and that will provide sailing-starved aficionados with healthy sport until Christmas. 

The 1884-founded Dublin Bay Sailing Club's motley fleet in 1884The 1884-founded Dublin Bay Sailing Club's motley fleet in 1884. Despite its modest beginnings, by the 1890s, it had already become the key organisation in structuring Dun Laoghaire's race programme and in commissioning new One Design classes, and today it regularly organises racing for one of the world's largest locally-based fleets. 

Beyond that, the same team are also ready and willing to provide another Spring Chicken series in 2021, which in the early months of 2020 was providing Sunday morning races for 50 to 60 boats. They're the visible expression of the Dublin Bay sailing motto that life goes on - life must go on. But when you have an organisation with the size, power and influence of DBSC, the key organisers and administrators have to tread a very careful path between encouraging whatever sailing is possible and permissible, while complying in exemplary style with complex and changing regulations.

With the Club's official and approved racing season not getting underway until Tuesday, July 7th, it has been a case of stacking the programme such that 95% of the races completed in 2019 were raced again in some form in 2020, an achievement made possible by the unique Dun Laoghaire setup. For as we've said here many times before, there is no other sailing venue really comparable anywhere else in the world to Dun Laoghaire Harbour, with its convenient and very focused access to good open sailing water coupled with its notably affluent immediate hinterland

We get an idea of the setup when we realise that many of those who go afloat for racing with DBSC one or two or even three times a week actually live nearer to where their boat is berthed than they do to their place of work in the Greater Dublin area. Quite how much that state of affairs will be continuing after such an extensive experience of home-working remains to be seen. But there are many who have to be physically on the job in some specialized workplace, and there are many who are frankly fed up with working from home – they want the workplace or office to thrive as clearly separate places for sociable productivity and the buzz of ideas, while they want home to be a place of escape from the demands of work.

Chris Moore, Honorary Secretary of Dublin Bay SC Chris Moore, Honorary Secretary of Dublin Bay SC, is owner-skipper of the J/109 Powder Monkey, and a former DBSC Commodore. Although the club has been active for 136 years, he is only the 14th Honorary Secretary

Either way, in Dun Laoghaire there are many workers-in-Dublin who are actually getting nearer to home when they head directly from the office to their waterfront club to get changed for evening sailing, whereas in many other countries, work would be in one place, home was distantly in another, and the boat was at least equally distant in a third location.

Thus Dublin Bay Sailing Club, founded in 1884 and now the overall organisation for all of Dun Laoghaire's regular racing in the open waters of the bay and the spacious harbour itself, was faced not with the problem of how people could get to their boats in a regulation-compliant manner, but rather how soon they could get out of their marina berths or off their mooring and use those boats in a meaningful and competitive yet regulation-compliant way.

Paul O'Higgins' JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI has added the DBSC 2020 Cruisers 0 Thursday Series to her recent overall win in the ISORA 2020 Championship. Photo: O'BrienPaul O'Higgins' JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI has added the DBSC 2020 Cruisers 0 Thursday Series to her recent overall win in the ISORA 2020 Championship. Photo: O'Brien

Dun Laoghaire's capacity to cope with such complex demands is further facilitated by the fact that DBSC acts on behalf of four different bricks-and-mortar waterfront clubs and clubhouses. Thus after racing the infection threat is further diminished by group reduction as people disperse themselves to their clubs, a process aided by the fact that many simply go the short distance directly home after coming ashore.

Everyone who sails in Dun Laoghaire is well aware of this general setup. But we feel that our many readers elsewhere deserve some sort of explanation as to why it is that, for the past two months and more, Dublin Bay Sailing Club has been running a busy programme which has regularly seen turnouts which would be regarded in other places as a very fine annual regatta fleet.

This is despite the fact that a small but significant cohort of the Dun Laoghaire sailing population reckoned that the pandemic challenge, and its endlessly changing frames of reference and limitations, made the business of going sailing just too much of a hassle regardless of the presence or otherwise of risk, and they simply shelved their sailing for 2020.

 Jonathan Nicholson, Commodore DBSCJonathan Nicholson, Commodore DBSC. In 2020, he had to lead his club through the maze of organising racing for all of Dun Laoghaire within the pandemic regulations, while at the same time cementing the new sponsorship relationship with AIB Private Banking

Against that, there were hyper-enthusiastic sailors who felt that some sort of ad hoc racing should have been put in place after the first slight easing of restrictions on May 24th. For DBSC Commodore Jonathan Nicholson and Honorary Secretary Chris Moore and their ready team of volunteers, it was a question of drawing the balance, while carefully complying with the maximum activity that Irish Sailing's interpretation of the different phasings permitted.

With a club as large and complex and as DBSC, any alteration in course to the long-established ways of doing things and their timing is akin to altering the course of a super-taker. But the Commodore - when interviewed in on May 23rd – revealed that he'd really been alerted to the developing realities of the situation in early March, when the world was rudely awoken by the news that the gala launching of the latest James Bond movie had been delayed from April to November because of the COVID-19 threat.

Jonathan Nicholson's reckoning was that although many liked to think that the infectious peaks would be over by Easter, the hard-headed folk who make their billions out of the Bond fantasies were a much more reliable source for the facts than politically-controlled agencies, and he immediately advised his committee that they were heading into real battle stations.

The Alfred Mylne classic Glendun (David Houlton) is the DBSC Thursday Glen Class Champion for 2020The Alfred Mylne classic Glendun (David Houlton) is the DBSC Thursday Glen Class Champion for 2020

Looking back now, we have all become accustomed to the total changes which have been brought about in every aspects of our lives. But in February and early March, things felt very different, as DBSC had just secured a gold-plated three-year sponsorship deal with AIB Private Banking, yet they'd to move very quickly from an up-beat fully-resourced optimism about the coming season into totally unknown territory, where what might be possible - and what was definitely not - had become the dominant topic.

For clubs organising major fixed-duration events at specific times, the choices were more clearcut. The usual course of action was to wait for a month or two, then as the grimness of the picture became clearer, a postponement would be announced, but where a significant shoreside element was involved, in due course cancellation was the only option.

Thus we then got sea-based, virtually shore-free races - such as those successfully organised by ISORA - going ahead provided that they stayed within Irish territorial waters. And then as the annual programme devastation and limitations definitions became more clearcut, pop-up events such as the Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale Race and the Fastnet 450 filled part of the void.

Lasers away! With DBSC dinghy racing brought back within the harbour, the Lasers came into their ownLasers away! With DBSC dinghy racing brought back within the harbour, the Lasers came into their own. Photo: O'Brien

But by the time such events were floated as ideas and quickly converted into successful reality, Dublin Bay Sailing Club's key officers had been working long and hard in devising means of providing as much racing as possible for defined crew pods in a fixed location which, in a sense, was a large covid-free balloon in itself.

Within that Dun Laoghaire harbour balloon, everyone is familiar with the extraordinary esprit de corps and ready volunteerism which is the essence of the success of DBSC. But even within that exceptional group, the effort made by the very hands-on Honorary Secretary Chris Moore and the ever-present Vice Commodore Ann Kirwan played key roles in working out a system whereby the club complied with its obligations to agreements with Dublin Port by having enough marks laid to define courses in reduced race areas, while the basic programme was re-shaped to give more emphasis to the Tuesday evening racing, with much greater use being made of the dinghy racing possibilities provided within Dun Laoghaire Harbour.

It was the second week of July by the time regular club racing in Ireland was permissible within some very strictly defined limitations. And Dublin Bay Sailing Club had to accommodate additional changes afloat, as long-serving Senior Race Officer Jack Roy and his indispensable timekeeper Rosemary were standing down with retirement cruising in mind, but they weren't departing the scene without seeing through the first Thursday race on July 9th.

The diversity of the large DBSC fleet is exemplified by the keen racing among the Beneteau 211 class including Ventuno (pictured above) from the RIYC. This year the overall Thursday winner was James Conboy-Fisher sailing Billy Whizz

Taking over Jack and Rosemary's exceptional role was solved with DBSC having a Race Officer panel, and through the short but very busy main part of the 2020 season, the racing has been managed by selections from a group in which the main participants have been Brian Matthews, Eddie Totterdell, Suzanne McGarry, Harry Gallagher, Neil Murphy, Barbara Conway and Jonathan O'Rourke, while the special Water Wag Racing on Wednesday night (in which a best turnout of 25 classic boats was achieved) has generally been overseen by Con Murphy and Cathy Mac Aleavey.

In talking of turnouts, we're getting ahead of ourselves, for it was on Tuesday, July 7th that the crucial evening had arrived when all could see how the meticulously-constructed DBSC 2020 system would begin to work with the mainly-dinghy fleet focused on the harbour, Yet frustratingly, it was a non-event with a flat calm. So the focus now swung forwards to Thursday, July 9th and the beginning of the main keelboat programme.

If ever anyone writes a history of how Irish sailing lived through the days of COVID-19, Thursday 9th July will be a key date. It's unlikely anyone will wish to write such a thing any more than anyone ever felt inclined to write how sailing came through the Spanish flu of 1919. But let it be said that the evening of Thursday, July 9th 2020 was a real and very welcome milestone.

For sure there'd been some club dinghy sailing and other short notice events in the days and even weeks before that. But Thursday, July 9th was when the big beasts swung into racing action. Down in Crosshaven the Royal Cork cruiser fleet slipped seaward in a light air on a grey evening, but then a brisk nor'wester brought sunshine and great sailing with superb sport, and spirits rose.

Up in Dublin Bay meanwhile, the brighter weather was not to arrive until later, and the racing was in a frustratingly light nor'easter. But 90 boats took their first tentative racing steps of 2020 out in the bay. Ninety boats. This was regatta material….

the venerable Water Wags come within the DBSC remitAlthough they have their own separate programme of racing early on Wednesday evenings, the venerable Water Wags come within the DBSC remit, and their final race of 2020 will be on Wednesday, October 7th to fit in with DBSC's concluding race on Saturday, October 10th. Photo: Con Murphy

Then the following Tuesday, the "dinghy and others" fleet got their first proper chance, and 92 boats took part, with Lasers everywhere in that magic atmosphere which racing within the old granite pond uniquely generates. Suitably encouraged, the cruisers and keelboats stepped out with more confidence on DBSC's Thursday 16th July and mustered an impressive 104 boats.

Thereafter, it was onwards and upwards in an extraordinary season which has seen DBSC functioning successfully afloat and under virtual contact ashore to such good effect that when the National YC's very re-jigged 150th Anniversary Regatta came up on the agenda last Saturday, September 5th, DBSC and the other waterfront clubs were able to out their full support behind it, and in a brisk breeze the NYC Sesquicentennial was an event worthy of the occasion.

Sigma 33 RupertDick & Philip Lovegrove's Rupert is the 2020 DBSC Sigma 33 Thursday Champion Photo: O'Brien

With five Saturday races still in prospect, Dublin Bay Sailing Club already has a very worthwhile sailing year logged in 2020, even if it all happened in the space of just two months. The reflective mood around the harbour on Thursday evening was one of quietly delighted surprise. Despite everything stacked against them, they'd done it, and done it well. And although all will be revealed in its full complex glory at the gala virtual prize-giving in November, we're allowed to reveal the names of the DBSC 2020 Thursday Evening Championship Series overall individual winners in order to underline the variety and calibre of those boats and crews who have contributed their skill and enthusiasm to support the dedication of the DBSC's many volunteers, to whom everyone feels hugely grateful.

Dublin Bay SC Thursday Champions 2020:

Cruisers 0 IRC: Rockabill VI (JPK 10.80, Paul O'Higgins)

Cruisers 0 ECHO: Hot Cookie (Sunfast 3600, John O'Gorman)

Cruisers 1 IRC: White Mischief (J/109, Goodbody family)

Cruisers 1 ECHO: White Mischief

J/109: White Mischief

First 31.7 OD: Prospect (Chris Johnston)

First 31.7 ECHO: Kernach (Power/Russell/Sastre/O'Donnell/Harper/Malin)

Cruisers 2 IRC: Windjammmer (J/97, Linday Casey & Denis Power)

Cruisers 2 ECHO: Peridot (Mustang 30, Jim McCann)

Sigma 33: Rupert (Richard & Philp Lovegrove)

Cruisers 3 IRC Starlet (Kevin Byrne)

Cruisers 3 ECHO: Saki (Nich 31, P.McCormack and B & M Ryan)

Cruisers 5A NS IRC: Persistance (Broadhead/Stuart/Collins)

Cruisers 5A ECHO: Katienua (Dunnne, Grace, Fitzsimons,McGuinness/Fahy).

Cruisers 5B IRC Gung-Ho (G & S O'Shea)

Cruisers 5B ECHO: Gung-Ho

SB 20: Ted (Michael O'Connor)

Sportsboat: Jester (J/80, Declan Curtin)

Dragon: ZinZan (Tim Carpenter & Adrian Masterson)

Flying Fifteen: Frequent Flyer (Alan Green & Chris Doorly)

Ruffian 23: Shannagh (Stephen Gill & Padraig MacDiarmada)

Shipman 28: Jo Slim (Clarke & Maher)

Beneteau 211: Billy Whizz (James Conboy-Fischer)

Beneteau 211 ECHO: Billy Whizz

Glen OD: Glendun (David Houlton)

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

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