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Irish Sailing Fixtures for 2021? The Best Plan is to Keep Planning

19th December 2020
The National YC's biennial Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, currently scheduled for June 9th 2021, could become symbolic of the emergence from pandemic. The start of 2019's race shows overall winner Paul O'Higgin's JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (left) showing briefly ahead of Mick Cotter's 94ft line honours winner and new course record-setter Windfall The National YC's biennial Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, currently scheduled for June 9th 2021, could become symbolic of the emergence from pandemic. The start of 2019's race shows overall winner Paul O'Higgin's JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (left) showing briefly ahead of Mick Cotter's 94ft line honours winner and new course record-setter Windfall Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

In normal times, the yearly Irish sailing fixtures list is a reasonably harmonious programme based around annual or biennial pillar events of various types and sizes, an ongoing succession of regattas and championships which slot together in a reasonably meaningful structure which is dictated by traditional times of the year, and the needs of the bigger one design classes – particularly the dinghies – to find a location which will accommodate them for their annual national championship.

In most years, there may also be international championships which bring prestige to the clubs which stage them, while offering Irish sailors a challenge in the big time league without the expense of a foreign campaign, though in truth there are those for whom "going foreign" is part of the attraction as they seek the buzz of international sport.

At the other extreme, we find those dedicated and perhaps rather introverted club and local one-design sailors with a busy and compact home summer programme, who will tend to regard the hosting of a major international event at their club as something of an interruption to a time-hallowed progression of neighbourhood sailing, that sacred golden thread which goes back to their fathers and forefathers (and mothers and foremothers) before them.

It is not entirely unknown for such people to arrive down at the club on the bike with the sailing bag strapped on their back, all set to crew as usual in the weekly evening race, only to discover with annoyance that it isn't happening that week because the club is hosting the Splodge XL dinghy class's European Championship.

Oh happy days of normal times, when there was the remote possibility of such a thing happening……In these pandemic days, some bright sparks bang on ad nauseam about the "New Normal". but for most of us, the notions of normal or new normal or any normal may have long since been allowed to fade away as we try to see a way - any way at all - into the sustainable revival of across-the-board sailing in 2021.

Race Chairman Adam Winkelmann at the prize-giving in Dingle for the 2019 Dun Laoghaire-Dingle RaceRace Chairman Adam Winkelmann at the prize-giving in Dingle for the 2019 Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race. His announcement at the time that the next race would be on June 9th 2021 has acquired an added significance as we hope to emerge from pandemic restrictions.

Admittedly we're much encouraged by the relative success of the abbreviated sailing season of 2020. But with vaccines cascading out of laboratories, stressed club officers and events organisers have felt they're being pushed prematurely into posting dates as the keenest high profile campaigners – people whose lives are apparently defined through spreadsheets - demand something concrete, with mutterings about their "plan for 2021".

But at any time, and particularly in a hyper-fluid time like this, when it comes to plans or The Plan, we are reminded of that noted sailor-soldier Commandant Barry Byrne's comment that a useful point of reference in such situations is through the truly great General Dwight D Eisenhower, who was a genius of heroic apparent ordinariness.

This was a demeanour in which he was sustained by his World War II driver and secretary. In the history books she's recorded as being Kay Summersby, but behind that she was doubly Irish through being Kathleen MacCarthy-Morrogh (1908-1975) of Inish Beg in the Ilen River in West Cork, where she sailed as a child, while her ashes are on the island.

Katherine MacCarthy-Morrogh, the girl from Inishbeg. Better known as Kay Summersby, as General Eisenhower's driver and secretary in World War II she would have seen the effectiveness of his high regard for constant planning rather than adhering to a rigid planKatherine MacCarthy-Morrogh, the girl from Inishbeg. Better known as Kay Summersby, as General Eisenhower's driver and secretary in World War II she would have seen the effectiveness of his high regard for constant planning rather than adhering to a rigid plan

Be that as it may, her boss's attitude to plans was brief but brutal. Eisenhower said he had no time for a General with A Plan. But he had plenty of time and attention for a General who was always planning. So if we outline the shape of the 2021 season, it's in the knowledge that it's all happening in a fluid situation, and though the deservedly revered National Medicine Man has said the best hope is for the beginnings of some real alleviation of the situation is in the second quarter of 2021, it's still just a hope.

In other words, that's from April onwards, but by now we're all resigned to accepting that much will depend on how we come through the rest of what remains of an already scary winter, how efficiently the vaccines are rolled out, and how well they work in what could have become a rather desperate situation after Christmas inter-mingling.

It may well be only two days until the Winter Solstice and its stirrings of hope, but can we really contain ourselves over Christmas? And in looking back at the summer, the peak alleviation period was towards mid-August with things rapidly declining after mid-September, so by rule of thumb January will be a war zone and it would be foolish to set up a Valentine's Day date in February.

Crazy course, crazy race?  The organisers of the RORC Caribbean 600, set for Monday February 22nd 2021 from Antigua, reckon they can be COVID-compliant two months from now.Crazy course, crazy race? The organisers of the RORC Caribbean 600, set for Monday, February 22nd 2021 from Antigua, reckon they can be COVID-compliant two months from now.

However, as we've journeyed through a sailing life we've learned that there are people upon whom serious responsibility sits lightly. For instance, for very many years we've known an owner-skipper who, when sailing his own boat, is something of a wet hen, yet put him in full charge of somebody else's full-powered maxi, and he's absolutely fearless.

So in sailing organisations, there are these broad-shouldered people of notably calm demeanour who can come buzzingly to life when promoting their event, yet remain notably cool if things go awry. Thus while there is never a lack of organisational hurlers on the ditch as the new season starts to take shape, those who actually run events are well aware that sailing has a special position as the healthy activity of a relatively privileged minority, and where it's traditionally an event with turbo-powered associated shoreside socialising, sailing - of all sports - has the added responsibility of behaving with responsible restraint.

In the meantime, for the next two or three months, if you don't mind being a sailing voyeur rather than a voyageur, there's nautical entertainment a-plenty on various screens which we'll look at in concluding this piece.

But for now, how might 2021 shape up for the Irish sailor, knowing – as we've learned recently – that the next GP 14 Worlds at Skerries, scheduled after already being put back a whole year to July 2021 – will not now take place until 2022?

For in complete contrast to the GP 14s' hyper-carefulness, the RORC Caribbean 600 – a happy hunting ground for Irish competitors in several of its iterations – is set to go from Antigua on Monday, February 22nd 2021. In other words, just two months hence.

They're telling us it's going to happen, and doubtless, there are those with arrangements already in place. But when we think of what January 2021 in Europe and North America might be like on the pandemic front, we can only say fair play to them, as Antigua will in effect be a bubble, and there's no doubting the healthy circumstances which the actual sailing will experience.

ISORA GOLDEN JUBILEE

Whether or not the ingenuity of Irish student sailing can come up with acceptably safe solutions to the challenge of staging their annual team racing championship which last year saw upwards of 160 sailors involved remains to be seen, but it was in offshore racing that our sailing found one of its most useful outlets in 2020, particularly through the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association which, as it happens, will be having its Golden Jubilee in 2021.

Peter Ryan, Chairman of the Irish Sea Offshore Racing AssociationPeter Ryan, Chairman of the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association. With a carload of Yellowbrick trackers and other electronic wizardry, he was able to organise a limited hut successful 2020 season.

ISORA's success in 2020 was because all you needed for it was Peter Ryan with a carload of Yellowbrick trackers, a WhatsApp, a list of eligible and interested boats and crews, and away you go, though admittedly with just about zero economic benefit for ports which may have been vaguely associated with the starts and finishes.

In 2020, they kept going by reducing their cross-Channel aspect as Wales became ever more plague and restriction dominated. Initially, this may still be the situation in 2021, for it's not looking good across in Wales at the moment, but nevertheless, by mid-May we can surely expect ISORA races to be under way within Irish waters at the very least.

Normally, the pillar event which kicks off the season is the Scottish Series in the final full weekend of May, and they've gallantly posted it as scheduled for 28th – 31st 2021 May at Tarbert, with more than forty boat names already into the pot. By then there'll be so much pent-up energy coming out of the coronavirus suppression that if it does take place, we might be pleasantly surprised by the Irish involvement, and it is a fact that the defending champion from the last one in 2019 is Dun Laoghaire's Andrew Craig with the J/109 Chimaera.

Andrew Craig's J/109 Chimaera from Dun Laoghaire wins the 2019 Scottish SeriesLast men standing…..Andrew Craig's J/109 Chimaera from Dun Laoghaire wins the 2019 Scottish Series

However, in Howth where they've come to terms with the complete loss of the biennial Wave Regatta in 2020, the first weekend of June is traditionally for the Lambay Race. In recent years with people demanding more challenging courses free of land-influenced winds, the sometimes flukey business of simply racing the 16 miles round Lambay and back slipped down the agenda. But in the special circumstances of 2020's truncated sailing, a straightforward race round Lambay proved to be a winner on at least two successful occasions, and there's a lot to be said for doing it again on Saturday, June 4th as sailing life begins to re-emerge.

DUN LAOGHAIRE DINGLE RACE COULD BRING LIFT-OFF

However, it's on the evening of Wednesday, June 9th 2021 that we might hope to see sailing life return with truly countrywide vigour, as that marks the start of the National YC's Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race. It was in Dingle on the night of Saturday, June 15th 2019 that Race Chairman Adam Winkelmann concluded the boisterous prize giving (remember boisterous prize-givings?) for D2D19 by declaring that the next race would start on June 9th 2021, and during the dark days of 2020 the significance of that date has become a glowing symbol of hope which everyone will do their best to fulfil.

Back in 2019, line honours and a new course record went to Mick Cotter's South Wind 94 Windfall, while Paul O'Higgins won overall for the second time with his JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC), so you wouldn't need to be a clairvoyant reader of the runes to reckon that Rockabill VI will be going for the "threepeat" in 2021, a year which will also see her defend her ISORA title.

JUNE COMPLICATIONS BETWEEN KINSALE & BANGOR

Things start to get a bit complicated in late June, as Kinsale YC have set up their pitch for the O'Leary Insurances Sovereigns Cup at the event's traditional time of June 23rd to 26th, but those who like to take in as many events as possible see that as clashing with Bangor Town Regatta on Belfast Lough from 24th to June 27th.

1720s in action at the O'Leary Insurances Sovereigns Cup at KinsaleNow there's a start – 1720s in action at the O'Leary Insurances Sovereigns Cup at Kinsale Photo: Robert Bateman

Maybe so, but as detailed in Afloat.ie this week, the Kinsale event will be restricted to 50 boats. After the many cancellations of 2020, simply to get sailing at all with any sense of freedom is a bonus, and while the rockstars may be frustrated, just one big event a year set in the midst of a busy club programme is enough to be going on with.

PRUDENT VOLVO DUN LAOGHAIRE REGATTA

That said, we are only guessing as to how pandemic conditions will be by July. Thus it was a prudent move when the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta Committee way back in September decided that their best hope for a successful and manageable event was to divide it into two long weekends with the fleet of 30 classes being split.

The 1898-founded Howth 17s racing at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire RegattaThe 1898-founded Howth 17s racing at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. In 2021 at Dun Laoghaire, their racing will be the One-Design Weekend of 2nd-4th July. In 2020 despite the restrictions, they managed to have thirteen boats out of a fleet of 20 afloat, and one of their best races was round Lambay with all thirteen racing. Photo: VDLR

The One Design Championship will be 2nd to July 4th, and the Open Cruiser Championship will be 8th to July 11th. When you're talking about all fleets combined potentially pushing towards the 400 mark, this division is a healthy move in every sense of the term, and it's definitely user-friendly even if it places extra demands on Chairman Don O'Dowd and his team.

Don O'Dowd, Chairman of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2021Don O'Dowd, Chairman of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2021. Photo: VDLR

OLYMPIC SAILING 2021

The bubbles will have barely settled on Dublin Bay before attention swings to the postponed Sailing Olympics in Tokyo from July 23rd to August 8th. At present Ireland is only definitely in one class, the Women's Laser Radials with Annalise Murphy out to better her Silver from 2016. But there's still a chance that Finn Lynch might get a place in the Men's Lasers, while an even more convoluted falling of the dice could provide a 49er place, even if it all becomes very last minute stuff, too reminiscent of the Brexit negotiations for comfort.

Annalise Murphy at the finish line to win Silver at the Rio Olympics in 2016Annalise Murphy at the finish line to win Silver at the Rio Olympics in 2016. In 2021 after five long years, she'll be re-joining the Olympic fray at Tokyo.

Meanwhile back in Ireland let us hope that by July the pandemic will have become an unpleasant memory, and if that's the case then 2020's experience in staging pop-up regattas can be called on to cater for larger fleets. But as we move into August tradition dictates that 3rd to August 6th should be Calves Week from Schull, while for those into international offshore racing, the new-look RORC Rolex Fastnet Race – with its finish at Cherbourg instead of Plymouth – gets going on Sunday August 8th.

The extra distance hassle for Irish sailors of the Cherbourg finish may be sufficient discouragement for some, though there were times in Plymouth when the existence of a direct ferry back to Ireland would have been a Godsend. Though we may have won the Fastnet overall in 2007 with Ger O'Rourke's Cookson 50 Chieftain, in recent years it's the Roger Justice Trophy for the best-placed sailing school boat which has most frequently come Ireland's way with Irish Offshore Sailing's Ronan O'Siochru with Desert Star getting it in 2015, and Irish National Sailing School's J/109 Jedi (Kenneth Rumball) the tops in 2017.

Irish offshore Sailing's Desert Star at the Fastnet Rock, on the way to winning the Roger Justice Trophy.Irish Offshore Sailing's Desert Star at the Fastnet Rock, on the way to winning the Roger Justice Trophy.

Kenneth Rumball is now more focused on the Figaro circuit where Tom Dolan will be among the proven galacticos with Smurfit Kappa, and beyond that there's the possibility of the new offshore class in the 2024 Olympics in partnership with round Ireland record holder Pamela Lee. But back in Fastnet Race territory, Ronan O Siochru is on for the new longer course toward the Fastnet Race 2021 which will begin on May 29th.

At an altogether different level of sailing on Ireland's West Coast, it was when the wise event chairman Dr Mick Brogan completely and decisively cancelled the major Cruinniu na mBad gathering of the traditional boats at Kinvara at the head of Galway Bay, months in advance of its time-honoured staging in August, that we fully realised the seriousness of the approaching pandemic storm. So at this stage we can only say that if and when the dates for Cruinniu na mBad 2021 are announced, then we'll really know we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Traditional sail in racing action at Cruinniu n mBad at Kinvara at the head of Galway BayTraditional sail in racing action at Cruinniu n mBad at Kinvara at the head of Galway Bay. If it is possible to stage this hugely-sociable event in mid-August 2021, then we'll know the pandemic has been brought fully under control.

Meanwhile, the very barest bare structure of a possible 2021 sailing season as it might interest us can be listed as follows:

  • February 22nd: RORC Caribbean 600
  • May 28th-31st Scottish Series, Troon
  • June 2-6th 1720 Europeans, Dunmore East, Waterford Harbour SC
  • June 4th Lambay Race Howth
  • June 9th Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race National YC
  • June 23rd to 26th O'Leary Insurances Sovereigns Cup Kinsale
  • June 24th to 27th Bangor Town Regatta
  • July 2nd-4th Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta One Designs
  • July 8th-11th Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta Open Cruisers
  • July 23rd-August 8th Sailing Olympics, Tokyo
  • August 3rd to 6th Calves Week
  • August 7th -14th ICLA Laser 4.7 Youth World Championships, Royal St. George Yacht Club
  • August 8th RORC Rolex Fastnet Race
  • Sep 3rd – 5th ICRA Nationals, National YC

Within this structure, there's any amount of space for other major events to stake their claim to a place in the sun, but it is, of course, all entirely dependent on a successful outcome to the pandemic control and national vaccination programme. So as the great man said, forget about The Plan, but Keep Planning. 

WINTER SHOW STOPPERS

As for dutifully getting through the next few weeks in entertained semi-isolation, the America's Cup build-up in New Zealand is developing a crazy head of steam as they speed around with varying degrees of success in boats which look like the outcome of a mating session between the Aviva Stadium in Dublin and some giant tropical spider.

"Like a cross between the Aviva Stadium and a giant spider…." The America's Cup Trial Race on Christmas Day in Auckland promises to add greatly to the seasonal entertainment"Like a cross between the Aviva Stadium and a giant spider…." The America's Cup Trial Race on Christmas Day in Auckland promises to add greatly to the seasonal entertainment

They'll actually be staging a race on Christmas Day, which scarcely chimes with the notions of Yuletide goodwill, but definitely sounds like a must-see.

Then on December 26th, it's the all-singing, all-dancing, all socially compliant start of the tracker-followed Sydney-Hobart Race, by which time defending champions Matt Allen and our own Gordon Maguire will have decided which of the two Ichi Bans they've entered (one is a 52 footer, the other's a 60) will actually be doing the race, as the choice is made nearer the start date as weather predictions firm up. STOP PRESS: The 2020 Sydney Hobart Race has been cancelled (Saturday, Dec 19,10 am Irish time - Ed)

Meanwhile, away to the south, the leaders in the Vendee Globe are sweeping along eastwards down towards Antarctica, sometimes right on the prescribed ice limit. Thomas Ruyant's LinkedOut, managed by Marcus Hutchinson of Kinsale, is very much in the frame, but although it may have been an event-filled race it isn't a fast one, as they're now more than six days behind the pace set by Armel le Cleac'h in 2016.

Vendee Tracker here 

Afloat.ie will continue to carry sailing and maritime stories right through the holiday period, but as the next Sailing on Saturday will appear after the big day, all the very best for a safe and happy Christmas.

Once upon a time……Just in case you've forgotten, this is what life was like in the old days, as seen at the prize-giving concluding the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta.  Photo: VDLROnce upon a time……Just in case you've forgotten, this is what life was like in the old days, as seen at the prize-giving concluding the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. Photo: VDLR

Published in W M Nixon
WM Nixon

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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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