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Get Pfull of Pfizer & Sail for Ireland

10th April 2021
A new season beckons. The 55-year-old S&S Classic Sarnia (Michael Creedon) gets ready for the splash at the National Yacht Club, with the underside of her keel getting its lick of anti-fouling before taking to the water
A new season beckons. The 55-year-old S&S Classic Sarnia (Michael Creedon) gets ready for the splash at the National Yacht Club, with the underside of her keel getting its lick of anti-fouling before taking to the water Credit: Michael Chester

Welcome to Nautical Limbo Land. This weekend may see the annual start-of-season lift-ins – with masked-up socially-distanced protocols - at the Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club, the National YC, and the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire. But as was discussed here a week ago, it will be somewhere around the 20th April before it's clear whether or not the inevitable behind-doors socialising of the Easter Weekend has led to a fresh peak in the currently almost-plateaued pandemic infection rate. And officially it's 26th April before limited activity will be permitted in specialised outdoor sports such as tennis, sailing and golf.

There are those – particularly lone sailors of every hue from paddleboarders to top Laser performers – who have been pushing their particular envelopes to the absolute limit afloat. But equally, there are those for whom sailing simply isn't worth resuming until it re-emerges – if it ever does – as the carefree sociable activity of yore, in which skills of seamanship and sailing techniques are as important as ever, but you no longer find your activities hampered at every turn by considerations of social distancing and bubble maintenance.

Out on his own - the lone kite-surfer in Dublin Bay is at much less risk of COVID infection than the passengers on the cross-channel ferryOut on his own - the lone kite-surfer in Dublin Bay is at much less risk of COVID infection than the passengers on the cross-channel ferry

A crisp email from a sociable skipper sums it up: "Whatever other crews may be doing, our lot aren't going racing again until we're all Pfull of Pfizer". Now that's telling it like it is. But the ultimate nationwide logistical challenges in fulfilling its demands scarcely bear thinking about.

Nevertheless "Get Pfull of Pfizer and Sail for Ireland" has quite a ring to it, and it makes for an inspiring aspiration. But as we've learned through the long and dreary unwinding of the Great Pandemic Experience, predictions of when and how we can resume specific activities are very difficult to make with any real accuracy, mainly because they involve the future. And it emerges that the supposedly smooth-running roll-out is neither smooth nor rolling, as yet another glitch emerges somewhere along the line in the supply chain and the supply train moving it.

There they are – gone…..Today (Saturday's) lift-in at the National YC is one of three similar club operations this weekend in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Afloat.ie   There they are – gone…..Today (Saturday's) lift-in at the National YC is one of three similar club operations this weekend in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Afloat.ie  

Time was when trains were a matter of romance and song, but this has all become so deadly serious that's it's just not on to envisage The Vacc-Supply Train as a topic for a hypnotically rhythmic railroad song on the lines of The City of New Orleans (Willie Nelson your only man), or the Rock Island Line, and even less so with The Orange Blossom Special.

So we keep the head down and plod on towards late April, sustained and encouraged by the knowledge that in the brief suspensions of Lockdowns last summer, Ireland was indisputably a world leader in providing local racing and offshore challenges which stayed within guidelines, and yet managed to keep our sport and many of our clubs alive and active, albeit in an often decidedly muted way.

Sister power…..the Murphy family's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo – with one of the sisters on the helm – cutting a dash in the first evening race of the truncated 2020 Royal Cork YC Club Programme on Thursday July 9th. In addition to club racing, Nieulargo won both the Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale and the Fastnet 450 Races to be "Boat of the Year". Photo: Robert BatemanSister power…..the Murphy family's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo – with one of the sisters on the helm – cutting a dash in the first evening race of the truncated 2020 Royal Cork YC Club Programme on Thursday, July 9th. In addition to club racing, Nieulargo won both the Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale and the Fastnet 450 Races to be "Boat of the Year". Photo: Robert Bateman

This was done through quiet and thorough behind-the-scenes planning and organisation in order to minimise the shore-crowd element of any event, sometimes to the point that a compliant event might be taking place afloat, but there wasn't a soul to be found ashore, with Dublin Bay SC setting the pace by moving their entire race administration activity aboard their Committee Boats.

Thus in the current febrile national sporting mood, with recreational control freaks ready to leap on anyone making plans for some sporting activity that starts to explore the limits of what's possible, we wouldn't dream at the moment of contacting those who successfully organised special events last year and will be expected to do the same this time round. And equally in the current fluid situation, now is not the time to challenge those who have flagged significant events for the early to mid part of the hoped-for season to confirm definitely whether or not those events will actually happen.

By moving their entire Race Administration operation aboard their Committee Boats, Dublin Bay SC succeeded in running a comprehensive COVID-compliant programme in 2020 which resulted in the club's acclamation as the Mitsubishi Motors Club of the YearBy moving their entire Race Administration operation aboard their Committee Boats, Dublin Bay SC succeeded in running a comprehensive COVID-compliant programme in 2020 which resulted in the club's acclamation as the Mitsubishi Motors Club of the Year

That said, from last year we have some knowledge of what can be made to work. Other things being equal, keep it local and keep it on the water – offshore if need be – and you're half way there. Beyond that, keep it young. We know that sailing is always reaching out to more senior age groups for introductory courses, but the fact is the potential infection rate tends to decline with a younger cohort, and young people have a greater need to be shown how to be doing something than older folk who, having reached a certain stage in life, should have sufficient reserves of character to think and act for themselves in a regulation-compliant way.

Even when a limited amount of post-race shoreside socializing was permitted last year, it was found that there were many who were more than satisfied to go quietly afloat, have their race, then stow the boat afloat or ashore, and simply go straight home again.

VOLVO DUN LAOGHAIRE REGATTA HITS THE SPOT

VDLR Chairman Don O'Dowd was ahead of the curve in leading his Committee into organising a re-structured two-part regatta to cope with post-pandemic conditions   VDLR Chairman Don O'Dowd was ahead of the curve in leading his Committee into organising a re-structured two-part regatta to cope with post-pandemic conditions

So in trying to move what's implicit in this behavioural pattern on to a larger scale, the clear message is that "local-ness" is the essence of it all, and the biennial Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta – while having a significant international element in its eclectic entry list – must be unrivalled in the number of participants who live right beside or within easy distance of Dun Laoghaire Harbour.

With the regatta being served by four club and forecourt complexes - three of which are notably spacious - together with the shore space at the marina, any crowd pinch-points can be easily controlled, and yet you're dealing with overall crowd numbers which would swamp many a smaller venue in a non-compliant way.

The Water Wags and other One-Designs will have their Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta from July 2nd to 4thThe Water Wags and other One-Designs will have their Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta from July 2nd to 4th

Beyond that, Chairman Don O'Dowd and his Organising Committee put themselves even further ahead of the curve more than a year ago, when they announced a pandemic-induced re-framing of the regatta format into two extended weekends, one devoted to One Designs (2-4th July) and the other to Cruiser-Racers (8th to 11th July).

In these difficult times, classes have leapt at the convenient opportunity to make the VDLR one of their regional championships, or even the national championship itself. Overall, entries are already running beyond the 300 mark, and with Early Bird Entry still available until April 16th, this has a refreshing air of certainty about it, a classic case of a problem situation being turned into an opportunity to create something exciting and new.

Cruiser-Racer action in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta – this year, their Regatta will be the long weekend of July 8th to 11th. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien   Cruiser-Racer action in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta – this year, their Regatta will be the long weekend of July 8th to 11th. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien  

Nevertheless we'd argue that in mid-April with some disturbing international pandemic statistics emerging, it is pointless and indeed irritating to constantly chivvy organisers of other proposed events as to whether or not their fixture is going to take place.

You'll know the events we mean. And we'd argue that any owner-skipper who – in the current exceptional circumstances – finds it beyond his or her capabilities to firm up a challenge crew at just three weeks notice (or perhaps even less time) may well be somewhat out of their depth in the first place. Meanwhile, others find their way as best they can through a changing sea of circumstances. 

Once upon a time…..in times past, as at the Kingstown Harbour Centenary VDLR Regatta in 2017, social distancing was unknown, but for 2021 things will have to be done differently. Photo: VDLROnce upon a time…..in times past, as at the Kingstown Harbour Centenary VDLR Regatta in 2017, social distancing was unknown, but for 2021 things will have to be done differently. 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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