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Sailing in Ireland Looks to April 20th for Some Real Clarity

3rd April 2021
Spreading goodwill and mutual understanding…..the Howth YC Biennial Sporting & Cultural Mission to the Sovereign's Cup series in Kinsale, gathered at their shore base to celebrate another successful regatta. This year's O'Leary Insurance Group Sovereign's Cup is scheduled at Kinsale YC for 23rd-26th June 2021
Spreading goodwill and mutual understanding…..the Howth YC Biennial Sporting & Cultural Mission to the Sovereign's Cup series in Kinsale, gathered at their shore base to celebrate another successful regatta. This year's O'Leary Insurance Group Sovereign's Cup is scheduled at Kinsale YC for 23rd-26th June 2021. Photo courtesy HYC Historical & Philosophical Studies Group

How quickly can we hope to return to the carefree style of sailing sociability which reflects the mood displayed above, as seen in the officially-accredited Sporting & Cultural Mission from Howth Yacht Club on its traditional biennial visit to the Sovereign's Cup in Kinsale?

Naturally, we can't go into any personal details or identification - what happens in Kinsale stays in Kinsale. But any contemplation of this display of dynamic camaraderie is a forceful reminder of how the past fourteen months have seen us pushed further and further from everything that makes Irish sailing so effortlessly sociable.

And "effortlessly" is the keyword here, for as you'll deduce, the HYC modus operandi includes taking a block booking in the hotel which is as close as possible to Kinsale YC and its marina, without actually putting the group on conspicuous display in a waterfront establishment.

As various commentators have already pointed out, the official Lockdown Easing pronouncements of recent days seem, on closer examination, to be a series of "definite maybes". But after everything that has been experienced, not to mention what may be yet to come, the sailing community does not at this stage expect its leaders to be setting completely finalised dates.

Ann Kirwan – seen here racing with co-owner Brian Cullen – may be noted for campaigning a Ruffian 23 called Bandit. But as Commodore of Dublin Bay Sailing Club, it is the Bandit skipper who will be clarifying the law-keeping for her many membersAnn Kirwan – seen here racing with co-owner Brian Cullen – may be noted for campaigning a Ruffian 23 called Bandit. But as Commodore of Dublin Bay Sailing Club, it is the Bandit skipper who will be clarifying the law-keeping for her many members

Thus Ann Kirwan, Commodore of Dublin Bay Sailing Club and thereby the actual and spiritual leader of the largest yacht race organisers in Ireland, got the tone just right when she expressed a hope for starts of sorts in mid-May, but made it clear to any thinking sailor that these things are being monitored on a day-to-day basis while we all hope for the best, and of course at every turn social distancing will continue for some time to be a major consideration.

TRAINING ELEMENT PLAYS SIGNIFICANT ROLE

Where training is involved, there is a significant element of school opening allowances in the equation, and Howth YC Commodore Paddy Judge has expressed the hope that training courses will be underway at or soon after April 26th, which brings a resumption of sorts within the almost foreseeable future.

When it was good, it was very, very good. The season of 2021 may have been truncated, but it provided some superb memories before lockdown returned, and one of the best was Howth's last keelboat race is notably warm weather on Sunday 13th September, with Simon Knowles' J/109 seen here chasing down three of the hot HYC Half Tonners. Photo: Judith Malcolm.When it was good, it was very, very good. The season of 2020 may have been truncated, but it provided some superb memories before lockdown returned, and one of the best was Howth's last keelboat race is notably warm weather on Sunday 13th September, with Simon Knowles' J/109 seen here chasing down three of the hot HYC Half Tonners. Photo: Judith Malcolm.

On the more complex question of sailing for everyone, the feeling was that DBSC got it pretty much spot on in the amount and timing of the racing it organized through 2020's truncated season. But if anything, the controlled success of last year puts even greater pressure on the organisers to make the right call and provisions as the new season approaches. For the background factors keep changing.

After all, every day we hear of increased Brexit-induced ferry connectivity with France, yet France has recently seen Pandemic levels rise to such dangerous numbers that they're now into a three-week lockdown in France, and especially in Paris.

April in Paris, yet the City of Light is closed? But in Paris, not all is as it seems. Once upon a time a long time ago, I met a guy in Paris, an American, who was still living off the regular royalties he'd inherited from the fact that his father had, among other popular works, written the song April in Paris.

Yet April in Paris can feel like winter, as is the case at the moment. However, it's nothing new – this man in Paris admitted that the romantic events in Paris which inspired the song that continued to keep him in such comfort had actually occurred in May. But all his father's skills as a songsmith simply couldn't get May to scan with the rest of the lyrics, so he shifted it to April, and blushed all the way to the bank.

April in Paris – rainy but romantic. The outcome of the current three week April lockdown in France may well play a pivotal role in some important aspects of the 2021 sailing season in Europe.April in Paris – rainy but romantic. The outcome of the current three week April lockdown in France may well play a pivotal role in some important aspects of the 2021 sailing season in Europe.

FRENCH LOCKDOWN MAY AFFECT FASTNET RACE 2021

This may all seem irrelevant to the opening or otherwise of the 2021 sailing season. But in fact what happens in Paris over the next three weeks will be of real importance to the sailing hopes of at least eleven Irish offshore racing crews with a taste for the international competition, as this August is scheduled for the first of the new-look RORC Rolex Fastnet Races finishing in France at Cherbourg, and they're entered for it.

But if the supposedly total three week lockdown in France, which started yesterday, goes astray by being ignored with extensive social unrest to compound the problem, and yet another massive COVID surge results thereafter, then events in August will experience a damaging knock-on effect.

It might even see the Fastnet Race organisers forced to revert to the historic finish port of Plymouth in order to keep all the shoreside activity within one national jurisdiction. And we hasten to add that this is not a belated April Fool notion.

The traditional Fastnet Racecourse in gold, with the planned 2021 extension to finish at Cherbourg in red. If the current newly-introduced Three Week Lockdown in France fails to curb the latest major surge of COVID-19, it's possible that the RORC may have to revert to the Plymouth finish in order to keep all shoreside activity connected to the Fastnet Race restricted to one relatively pandemic-free jurisdiction.The traditional Fastnet Racecourse in gold, with the planned 2021 extension to finish at Cherbourg in red. If the current newly-introduced Three Week Lockdown in France fails to curb the latest major surge of COVID-19, it's possible that the RORC may have to revert to the Plymouth finish in order to keep all shoreside activity connected to the Fastnet Race restricted to one relatively pandemic-free jurisdiction.

As it happens, we don't have to look to France for the need for restrained behaviour. Easter in Ireland with imposed social limitations will seem particularly irksome to a people accustomed to make this their great traditional Springtime get-together, especially so after the cancellation for a second year of St Patrick's Day.

Let us hope that it is not blind optimism to expect that the population generally will be carefully regarding the regulations over this long weekend. The nation has barely got things back in an even keel after the huge post-Christmas & New Year surge before this new threat is upon us. And vaccinations are still running at a worryingly low level, yet we find ourselves thrust back into a pressure-cooker situation to keep the virus-spread under control.

APRIL 20TH WILL BE DATE WHEN SITUATION CLARIFIES

All of which means that while we may talk of a significant easing of restrictions around April 26th, it won't be until the days around the 20th April – 14 days after Easter – that we'll have the actual figures and the accurate graphs to tell us the real story about the level of after-effect from any illicit Easter socialising, and what expectations can be realistically expressed about various levels of resumption of activity.

We'll have to accept that it must start quietly and in a restrained and socially distanced way, and all strictly at club level. Admittedly our clubs are of such variety in size and character that "at club level" will have different meanings at different sailing centres. But any sailor of responsibility and goodwill will know the limitations without them having to be rigidly enforced, for as we learned last year, the strength of the Irish sailing club tradition is such that the Commodores and Admirals are expected to quietly clarify the developing situation for their members, and this was done at all main sailing harbours through 2021, with a reassuring level of both thoroughness and rightness.

A moment of real hope. Proper and officially-sanctioned club keelboat racing finally gets underway on a glorious sailing evening at the Royal Cork YC in Crosshaven on July 9th 2020. Photo: Robert BatemanA moment of real hope. Proper and officially-sanctioned club keelboat racing finally gets underway on a glorious sailing evening at the Royal Cork YC in Crosshaven on July 9th 2020. Photo: Robert Bateman

The Pilot. Colin Morehead, Admiral of the Royal Cork YC. In January 2021 he was acclaimed as Cork's "Person of the Month" for the skilled way he had guided his club through the incredibly difficult experience of effectively cancelling his club's long-planned Tricentenary, and then being involved in arranging regulation-compliant events which included the offshore Fastnet 450 Race to optimize his members' severely constrained 2020 season.The Pilot. Colin Morehead, Admiral of the Royal Cork YC. In January 2021 he was acclaimed as Cork's "Person of the Month" for the skilled way he had guided his club through the incredibly difficult experience of effectively cancelling his club's long-planned Tricentenary, and then being involved in arranging regulation-compliant events which included the offshore Fastnet 450 Race to optimize his members' severely constrained 2020 season 

However, the very nature of sailing as a vehicle sport, where crew numbers can quickly rise to threaten the limitations of family or bubble numbers, means that each situation may have to be decided on its own merits. We're told that in the current circumstances, sailing as a sport is grouped in with tennis, golf and cycling, but that obviously creates problems of interpretation.

Naturally the solo-sailing brigade are in something of a category of their own, but there's no escaping the fact that the invisible but very real on-water camaraderie of a fleet of solo sailors can very quickly translate into shoreside social-distancing problems as the group comes ashore in a wave of banter at race's end.

You can of course have two folk from the same bubble racing Lasers of Aero RSs or whatever in match events to their heart's content, though I suppose they'd have to make some sort of allowances for having a rescue boat. But if you want to push the fleet numbers out, it can always be designated as a training and coaching session, for once a certain level of competence has been attained, there is simply no better way of improving someone's solo sailing ability than through racing.

Now there's a real start……In pandemic circumstances, there are few healthier group sporting activities than big-fleet Laser racing – but problems arise when the fleet tries to get organised ashore.Now there's a real start……In pandemic circumstances, there are few healthier group sporting activities than big-fleet Laser racing – but problems arise when the fleet tries to get organised ashore.

Certainly, the charms of match racing can soon wear off, with it becoming a reminder – and here's something you mightn't have known – of the fact that in Scotland, there has never been a complete ban on playing golf throughout the pandemic. But since January 1st, it has been limited to a maximum of two players (and presumably a minimum of one), with the players regulation-compliant in every way, a dour enough situation perhaps, but it must have seemed like a relative paradise to unnecessarily restricted golfers in Ireland.

It's something to think about as we wait to see what the graphs and numbers are like on April 20th. Anyone who thinks otherwise has clearly forgotten about how the balloon went up in the second and third weeks of January. Meanwhile, it's arguable that there's currently no justification for prematurely cancelling any planned local events scheduled from mid-May onwards provided their local credentials are impeccable, and by June who knows, but we may indeed see the national season of 2021 get underway in style with the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race of Wednesday, June 9th, even if it is slightly subdued by shoreside restrictions.

Sacred activity. With the addition of face-masks, these two would have been allowed to continue their sport in Scotland through January, February and March.Sacred activity. With the addition of face-masks, these two would have been allowed to continue their sport in Scotland through January, February and March.

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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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