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Sailing in Dublin Bay Area in 2021 Will Be Resuming on a "Gently Does It" Basis

8th May 2021
The spirit of Irish sailing – Ian Hickey's veteran Granada 38 Cavatina (Royal Cork YC) making a perfectly-timed start in the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle race. A successful participant in Fastnet, Round Ireland, Dingle and AZAB races, Cavatina is in the entry list for this year's Dingle Race on June 9th
The spirit of Irish sailing – Ian Hickey's veteran Granada 38 Cavatina (Royal Cork YC) making a perfectly-timed start in the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle race. A successful participant in Fastnet, Round Ireland, Dingle and AZAB races, Cavatina is in the entry list for this year's Dingle Race on June 9th Credit: W M Nixon

The welcome announcement that the National Yacht Club's biennial 280-mile Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2021 will be going ahead on Wednesday, June 9th, is encouraging. But it should not be seen as a clarion call to get the 2021 sailing season into full boisterous swing with all the traditionally noisy bells and whistles, and lively post-racing shoreside celebrations.

On the contrary, it was launched this week by Chairman Adam Winkelmann with a decidedly muffled trumpet, for at the time of his announcement on Thursday confirming all systems go for June 9th, competitive sport afloat will only have been officially permitted since Monday, June 7th, just two days ahead of the D2D start. And for some undefined time thereafter – possibly not until August or even September - it will have to take place without any significant free-movement onshore gatherings.

But even as boat programmes and crew arrangements are being firmed up in the light of that June 7th break-out, yesterday (Friday) the latest Golf Ireland protocols confirmed that from next Monday 10th May, golfers will be allowed (1): Casual-play rounds for handicap purposes for members and visitors, with no restrictions on numbers of household per group, and (2): Club competitions for members.

Thus those members of the sailing community mad keen to get club racing underway just as soon as possible, and who understood that for restriction purposes, sailing was lumped in with golf and alfresco sex and tennis and other comparable sports, well, such folk will understandably feel we're being hard done by with no "All Clear" until June 7th when Golfers Are Go from Monday.

Peter Ryan of the National YC, Chairman of ISORA. He played a key role in maximizing 2020's restricted seasonPeter Ryan of the National YC, Chairman of ISORA. He played a key role in maximizing 2020's restricted season.

That said, here at Sailing on Saturday we should be feeling a certain satisfaction about the Dingle Race going ahead, as we predicted on 19th December and again on 16th January that it would be the D2D which would prove to be the pillar event that launched our sailing in 2021 at full blast.

But "full blast" it definitely is not, and it is only the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race's unique configuration – coupled with the experience gained by the National Yacht Club and ISORA's Peter Ryan in starting last year's season-saver, the Fastnet 450 – which means that the Club and organising committee can confidently undertake the staging of a major yet regulations-compliant offshore event, which next time round in 2023 will be celebrating its 30th Anniversary.

Offshore stars Peter Wilson and Paul O'Higgins – the former was helm on the winning boat in the first Dingle Race of 1993, Richard Burrows' Sigma 36 Black Pepper, while the latter will be defending champion with the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI when the 2021 Race gets underway on June 9th. Photo: W M NixonOffshore stars Peter Wilson and Paul O'Higgins – the former was helm on the winning boat in the first Dingle Race of 1993, Richard Burrows' Sigma 36 Black Pepper, while the latter will be defending champion with the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI when the 2021 Race gets underway on June 9th. Photo: W M Nixon

However, despite the muted tone for 2021, at the core of this low key affair, there is still the one and only Dun Laoghaire to Dingle, a great race by any standards, and defending champion Paul O'Higgins of the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC) – which also won in 2017 – confirmed on Thursday he is definitely going, and will also take in the ISORA training session next weekend.

Start of the 2019 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, with overall winner Rockabill VI being overtaken by line honours record-setter, the SouthWind 95 Windfall (Mick Cotter). Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'BrienStart of the 2019 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, with overall winner Rockabill VI being overtaken by line honours record-setter, the SouthWind 95 Windfall (Mick Cotter). Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

SADNESS OVER VDLR CANCELLATION

Meanwhile, in Dun Laoghaire, the cancellation a week ago of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, scheduled for the first two weekends of July as an already-split event, is still very much a cause of sadness.

"Indeed", says Pat Shannon, Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club in comments which were echoed by other waterfront yacht club officers, "you could say we're in a state of mourning. There is nothing like the VDLR for bringing Dun Laoghaire Harbour collectively to life, and in order to achieve this with such success, the Organising Committee is a continuously functioning body, with the group looking after one Regatta moving almost seamlessly and without a break into becoming the Committee organising the next one".

Pat Shannon, former Commodore and prize winner with Dublin Bay SC, is currently Commodore of the Royal Irish YCPat Shannon, former Commodore and prize winner with Dublin Bay SC, is currently Commodore of the Royal Irish YC

"In such a setup, some people are bound to give longer and more extensive service than others. But in what has always been a very talented group since the Regatta's foundation in 2005, there are few if any who could match the 2021 Chairman Don O'Dowd's commitment, vision, length of service and ability to get things done".

"It says everything about the way in which Don had strengthened the VDLR brand that when the cancellation was announced, the sense of shock in Dun Laoghaire and in Ireland and internationally was palpable. Thus those of us who are directly involved in the running of the clubs are holding back for a few days out of respect before we start confirming possible smaller events and perhaps club regattas which will comply with regulations, even if they won't match the total magic which the VDLR generates".

Dan O'Dowd, tireless voluntary worker on behalf of Dublin Bay sailing.   Dan O'Dowd, tireless voluntary worker on behalf of Dublin Bay sailing

But Commodore Shannon (who also served as Dublin Bay SC Commodore in times past) and his fellow flag officers in the Dun Laoghaire Combined Clubs Committee chaired by Barry MacNeaney need not concern themselves too much that their sailors will be dismissive of the abbreviated season which is now going to be served up in the aftermath of the VDLR cancellation.

For, of all sporting groups, it is the sailing community which has most readily complied with the different Levels of Lockdown, and it is a fact that no-one can think of a single COVID-19 hotspot or outbreak in Ireland which can be traced to a sailing event or yacht club.

And as they're in a sport which for many involves the continuous analysis of data, they can read the pandemic statistics at least as well as any other group of laypeople, with alert sailors well aware that some of the official analyses of the current state of affairs have bordered on the marginally over-optimistic, but as of the last 48 hours, things really do seem to be going the right way.

Thus sailors will be compliant. But where the lines have been drawn and sanctioned, their enthusiasm will be such that they'll push the envelope as far as possible in order to maximize their sport, while being keenly appreciative that, in the event of a sudden deterioration in the situation, everyone may have to return to barracks.

For now, however, it looks as though the news season will arrive in like a steadily rising tide, rather than a sudden giant wave. Junior training and other teaching courses are already underway, but in both Dun Laoghaire and Howth as of now, it looks as though the evening of Tuesday, June 8th will see proper club racing underway for the first time for One Designs. Then on Wednesday, June 9th, the dash to Dingle gets going outside Dun Laoghaire Harbour while in-harbour, the Water Wags start their season with two races, and across in Howth the cruiser classes are in action. Following that, on Thursday, June 10th DBSC, gets fully into its stride with the Cruiser-racer mid-week fixtures which – even in last year's limited season - made Thursday an "almost-regatta" evening afloat.

Peter Bowring, having recently retired as Commodore Royal St George YC, is now giving his full attention to the International Dragon Class.   Peter Bowring, having recently retired as Commodore Royal St George YC, is now giving his full attention to the International Dragon Class 

The feeling among the flag officers is that the staging of any special events will rely heavily on the effectiveness of the different class structures to provide the basis of manageable national and regional championships, this to be done by providing disciplined numbers with which the individual club set-ups can comfortably cope.

Recently-retired Royal St George YC Commodore Peter Bowring is now able to devote full attention to his other passion, the International Dragon Class, which he sees as playing a key role in helping Irish sailing make the best of the 2021 season. They're a compact and cohesive group with a considerable esprit de corps, and with their proposed programme including a South Coast Championship and an East Coast Championship, they offer clubs a very manageable proposition that brings an event of instant style.

The International Dragon Phantom, in which Peter Bowring is one of three owners, is one of the most successful in the Irish fleet.   The International Dragon Phantom, in which Peter Bowring is one of three owners, is one of the most successful in the Irish fleet.  

That said, the fact is that the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta had been scheduled as constituting a major class championship for no less than 16 different One Design Classes suggests there'll be a lot of classes scurrying around looking for welcoming venues as the season's possibilities become more clarified, not least being the IDRA 14s, who are heading into their 75th Anniversary Year and had been seeing the VDLR as central to its celebration.

ANCIENT PANDEMIC-SURVIVING CLASSES

Certainly, it was the strong local One Design classes that provided much of the backbone for 2020's short but very sweet season, and it's fascinating to note that it was two classes so ancient that they have a collective memory of surviving the 1919-1920 Spanish Flu pandemic which provided some of the best sport afloat in 2020, the Dun Laoghaire Water Wags of 1887 and 1900, and the Howth 17s of 1898.

The venerable Water Wags in the thick of their "two-races-on-Wednesdays" programme in Dun Laoghaire. Despite the pandemic restrictions, they were managing turnouts of 25 boats in 2020. Photo: Con MurphyThe venerable Water Wags in the thick of their "two-races-on-Wednesdays" programme in Dun Laoghaire. Despite the pandemic restrictions, they were managing turnouts of 25 boats in 2020. Photo: Con Murphy

Something like 51 Water Wags – some of them very new indeed, but others extremely ancient – currently have registered sail numbers, but their best turnout in 2020 was 25 boats. This reflected the general attitude of the sailing community, where some went sailing just as soon as it was permitted in however limited a form, but others decided there were so many unknown unknowns in the pandemic that they'd simply sit it out ashore as safely as possible until a distinct all-clear sounded, even if it didn't come until 2021.

HOWTH YACHT CLUB MAY NOW HAVE LAMBAY RACE ON JUNE 12TH

In Howth meantime, they seem to think that being on a peninsula gives them extra pandemic protection, as there are around 20 Howth 17s, and at the peak of the brief 2020 season, they were mustering 13 boats - for those who like things decimalised, it's a very healthy 65%. This was in a season in which the class returned to its roots, with at least two races around Lambay which gave everyone such a buzz that they want more.

In fact, when that Monday, June 7th "go sailing" signal was given, most folk could only admire the sheer cunning of the powers-that-be. For of course Monday, June 7th is a Bank Holiday, and Howth normally use that weekend for their all-comers Lambay Race. It would usually be staged on the Saturday, then there might be a shorter race or two on the Sunday, but the holiday Monday is traditionally set aside for recovery and quality family time.

Thus by allowing only the Monday to be used for proper sailing, our Dear Leaders have in effect blanked off the holiday weekend almost entirely. But the indomitable Howth 17s – on confirming that Monday, June 7th is all-clear day – immediately started suggesting that it should be used for the Lambay Race regardless of affronts against tradition, only to be told by HYCs powers-that-be to catch themselves on, as the Lambay Race was already very conservatively pencilled in as a double bill for the first Saturday of Howth's Autumn League in mid-September.

But as of lunchtime yesterday (Friday), the fresh new mood of optimism had seen some lateral thinking in the HYC Sailing Committee, and they're now suggesting a proper Lambay Race for Saturday, June 12th, when the tides are perfect. And though that new out-of-the-blue date still awaits approval at the General Committee meeting on Monday, it could well be a runner.

Lambay bound. The Howth 17s Leila and Anita set off from Howth to race around Lambay in the brief 2020 season. The 123-year-old class's plans to race around Lambay on Monday, June 7th to celebrate the ending of sailing lockdown may now become a full-blown Howth YC Lambay Race on Saturday, June 12th. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyLambay bound. The Howth 17s Leila and Anita set off from Howth to race around Lambay in the brief 2020 season. The 123-year-old class's plans to race around Lambay on Monday, June 7th to celebrate the ending of sailing lockdown may now become a full-blown Howth YC Lambay Race on Saturday, June 12th. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

But meanwhile, unless sailing's restrictions-lifting date is brought forward in light of the golf allowances - thereby providing a whole raft of earlier club racing possibilities – it's natural to conclude that several other clubs and classes might decide to celebrate sailing's proper return with a special race on Monday, June 7th.

Other than complying with the rules and with safety regulations, a Freedom Day Special Race on Monday, June 7th, needn't be too serious. Just let it happen. And let the prizes be distributed by ballot, as they used to do at Cape Clear Regatta. Let there be light…..

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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