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Carmel Winkelmann was Irish sailing’s Spirit of Volunteerism Personified

19th June 2021
An impressive threesome enjoying each other’s company at the National YC in Dun Laoghaire – Olympic Laser sailor Finn Lynch, mentor and motivator Carmel Winkelmann, and Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy
An impressive threesome enjoying each other’s company at the National YC in Dun Laoghaire – Olympic Laser sailor Finn Lynch, mentor and motivator Carmel Winkelmann, and Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy Credit: courtesy National YC

Carmel Winkelmann of Dun Laoghaire, who has died in her 93rd year, was a universe, a force of nature, and an indefatigable and resilient optimist who carved her own unique course through Irish sailing at every level for sixty years and more. She was the very soul of encouragement in making good things happen at the ultimate heights of our sport’s functioning and administration, while at the same time never showing any reluctance to knuckle down at the most basic levels of volunteerism to ensure that the most humdrum and sometimes almost invisible tasks were properly completed.

In the bigger picture, Carmel was a star by any standards, and would have been conspicuous in any setting. But the unique Dun Laoghaire Harbour sailing scene provided the special firmament in which she could shine with the greatest brilliance.

Yet In the final analysis, she was the one who was always ready to fulfill that most basic requirement of any successful human endeavour – she always showed up. But anyone who imagines that all this was performed in a pious atmosphere of do-goodery would be wildly wide of the mark.

For she’d an almost irrepressible sense of humour which could be wickedly funny at times, yet underneath it all was a profound kindness – sustained by a deep faith - which would manifest itself as tough love for sometimes errant sailing kids whose potential she recognized and encouraged.

THE POWER COUPLE

She was a star married to a star, though Franz Winkelmann was the quiet one who shone in a very different manner. His boats were to include a classic Dublin Bay 24, and a partnership-owned Ruffian 23 that was raced and cruised extensively, and his roles included being Commodore of the National Yacht Club from 1974 to 1976. He filled this position with the calm efficiency and style of a highly-regarded Dublin figure who was to be celebrated in an appreciation at his death in 2010 as “Franz Winkelmann, the Treasurer of Trinity College Dublin - a sailor, music lover and investment genius”.

Thus they were a “power couple” long before the term entered popular usage. But with Franz’s talents so clearly defined in sailing and the world of administration, finance and business, Carmel – in addition to raising a family and running a wonderful household - initially devoted herself to the development of junior sailing in the National YC, then in the larger fleet of Dun Laoghaire harbour, and soon on an all-Ireland basis through the newly-formed Irish Yachting Association which had emerged from the Irish Dinghy Racing Association under the Presidency of Clayton Love Jnr of Cork.

When we remember that this was all taking place during the 1960s, it made for an especially memorable moment 55 years later in August 2020, when the pop-up Fastnet 450 offshore race from Dublin Bay to Cork via the Fastnet was quickly arranged in the window of opportunity provided by a temporary easing of lockdown restrictions. Only the smallest possible bubble groups were allowed to assemble ashore, but at the start, the National YC’s group included Clayton Love and Carmel Winkelmann, both of them in their 90s and both continuing to manifest that lively and productive interest in sailing which has done so much to make our sport what it is in Ireland today.

Clayton Love Jnr and Carmel Winkelmann at the National Yacht Club in August 2020 for the start of the Fastnet 450 Race from Dun Laoghaire to Cork Harbour via the Fastnet Rock. Photo courtesy NYCClayton Love Jnr and Carmel Winkelmann at the National Yacht Club in August 2020 for the start of the Fastnet 450 Race from Dun Laoghaire to Cork Harbour via the Fastnet Rock. Photo courtesy NYC

It was when the 40th Anniversary of the 1967 establishment of the National YC’s Junior Programme was being celebrated in 2007 that the international boat-builder Johnny Smullen – originally of Dun Laoghaire but California-based these days with direct links to sailors of the calibre of Dennis Conner – wrote an evocative memoir which takes us back to a time when the concept of junior sailing as an identifiable discipline was still at an early stage of development in Dun Laoghaire, and it was clear – sometimes painfully clear - that the waterfront facilities of the established and historic yacht clubs did not see junior needs as a priority.

JOHNNY SMULLEN REMEMBERS

Remembering it all forty years later, Johnny Smullen wrote:

San Diego, 17th May 2007

The way I saw it.
I am eight years old and my parents are wondering what to do with me for the summer, it went something like this: “Get him out from under our feet”. I was equally happy to stay at home and play in the back garden, invent stuff and dream up ways to frighten my sisters. Chasing them with worms was a good one.

I was enrolled in the adventure of my life.

At first I was lead to believe it was going to be a fun thing with the opportunity to meet new people and friends, maybe making me more sociable as I was quiet child in a world of my own. I bought into this and showed up for the first day. It was great, lots of people all different shapes and sizes, so there we were all sitting around playing with stuff and one-upping on how my father is better than yours, especially at snooker. The chatter fell silent when along came this very tall white-haired lady with an incredibly loud voice. It was at this point I became suspicious as I had just watched Paths of Glory and A Bridge Too Far, I had seen how the enemy rounded up people and put them in trucks and brought to places, unfriendly places.....

We arrived at Sandycove harbour where we were lined up on the pier. I thought this was it, we were then forced to line up at the steps and walk down into the freezing water fully clothed and flail around, there were guards (instructors we were led to believe) everywhere, and just to make sure the torture was effective they made us hold our heads under water for 30 minutes, well 30 seconds, but it felt like minutes. Then we were all forced to walk back to the NYC where our fate was to be determined. Freezing and scared, I was cursing my family and wondering what I had done to them.

We arrived back at Camp NYC and were lined up and made to wear large cumbersome protective coats, some were yellow, purple, some orange, I guessed they were labelling us, something to do with our religion. Some of these jackets had large protective collars probably to help protect us from the beatings to come, I thought. Our names were branded onto the “Life Jackets” as I started to call them, knowing they would play a key role in our protection.

We were divided into groups and led away by the guards into this large damp room with arches and a dank smell of cotton, hemp and mould. This was where we were to remain for all the rainy days to be brain-washed, they started by teaching us knots. I was convinced this was going to be how to tie the very knot that would be the doom of us, I compared it to carrying the cross of Calvary. I decided then to be really bad at it in the hopes that one of my knots would slip open and I could dash to my freedom. We also had to jump up, and hand-over-hand along the light blue steel beam that ran across the dark room, this was to make our arms really strong, they had a plan for strong arms – I will tell you about that a little later.

Food consisted of a march up to Wimpeys for a spice burger and chips all drowned in vinegar to disguise the taste, but if there was good behaviour we got to go to the Miami Café. The day was long (except Thursdays when we had to get out early) and after a week in Boot Camp we were all tired and weary. What had I done to my family to deserve this?

The second week came along and we were introduced to the ships, rather large wooden craft resembling a landing craft with the flat bow (I was always looking for the hinges). This is where the strong arms came into use. We were grouped into six per team, and the guards waited until low tide when we had to carry the ship down a rickety wooden slip (there’s a reason for calling it a slip). Upon its surface there were large wooden rollers but we were forbidden to use those rollers, and to make sure they filed a fat spot on the rollers, deeming them useless.

Primitive times….the first NYC Optimists on the crowded little slip in 1967  

We picked up the incredible heavy boat, all six of us, one on each corner holding a knee, and two in the middle by the oar locks. Later I was to learn the place to be was up at the bow (by the door), it was lightest. I was adapting to this cruel camp. As we descended down to the icy water again fully clothed, we came across a bright green pungent slime. I had what I thought were special sailing shoes, but as soon as I touched the slime I was down. Down hard.

The guards started yelling, I knew I had to get up quickly....remember Calvary!....We reached the bottom and stopped, the guards yelled again and made us wade right into the icy deep, still fully clothed. With the landing craft now floating, we had to master manoeuvring, the craft were lined up alongside the slippy slip, that’s the reason they call it a..................

I stepped on the gunwhale. Now at this point I did not understand the physics like I do today, and when you apply a load to any point of the gunwhale of a flat-bottomed craft two things will happen (once only). The opposing gunwhale will come up as you travel down, and because I am as tall as the craft is wide, somewhere in the middle the two surfaces will meet, your face and the opposing gunwhale. After the initial shock, the second shock comes from the icy cold water. Then I found out what the large collar was for as the guards hauled me out of the abyss semi-conscious. Once inside the craft, we were grouped into two and handed oars. Let the games begin.....

Making progress. The young Johnny Smullen at the National YC with his first boat, the Mirror Class Splinter   Making progress. The young Johnny Smullen at the National YC with his first boat, the Mirror Class Splinter  

After a week of rowing and shipping oars and coming alongside we were all adapting well to boating, there’s nothing to it. Just as we are enjoying ourselves, we are reminded that this is a work camp with launch and retrieval exercise twice a day. The launch and retrieval is carefully timed at 6 and 12 hours intervals to make sure it was low tide and we’d the longest slimiest walk up the rickety slips, observed closely by the guards from the window of the snooker room glaring down at us. Boating is turning out to be challenging but fun, and the new friends are all pitching together to eventually plan an assault on the guards to free ourselves.

The third week came along and there were large wooden poles with white canvas and a stick with notches cut out of it, why on earth did they have to make it harder? It was perfectly simple with the clean decks and oars and oar-locks, now the boats are so heavy with this rig up, my bow lifting position is not that smart as we carry down the slip with the sail pressed hard against my face.

After countless days of theory brainwashing in the damp room, we have to pass a few tests to prove worthy to sail, if called upon, out to the US Aircraft Carrier John F Kennedy anchored out in Dublin Bay. The first test was to take the stick with the notches and stretch out the canvas and hook onto a rope loop, without falling over this was harder than carrying the feckin’ boat, the second was to line up two pins while hanging over the transom full of chips and spice burgers. If it had hair....

Most of us mastered that task after a few tries, and it wasn’t long before we were sailing out to the sterns of the ferry Hibernia or Cambria, whichever was in port at the time. This went on for a few weeks and as we settled into the routine it got easier as we went on.

During the time in the damp boathouse, usually when it was blowing dogs off chains outside and while I was trying to get the batteries out of the loudhailer, I noticed a beautiful varnished clinker planked boat, it was almost new, and a very wise man was looking after it. This Man was tough as the rivets holding it together and knew everything about the seas. I knew if I paid attention he would help get me through the summer, he did and he is almost responsible for what I do today. Thank you Jack!

Johnny Smullen in California with Dennis Connner making a first inspection of the 1925-built Q Class Cotton Blossom II, which they transformed into an award-winning international quality classic restorationJohnny Smullen in California with Dennis Connner making a first inspection of the 1925-built Q Class Cotton Blossom II, which they transformed into an award-winning international quality classic restoration

The discipline of Boot Camp had turned us into great sailors, great card players, snooker players....it wasn’t until the third stage we found flagons. But not on the night of May 17th 1975, I was at home doing my homework that night....

Ah.....the memories, I hope I have stirred a few, it was the most wonderful time of my life and I wish I was there to get drunk with all of you and play cards till the wee hours, but meanwhile thanks

To Carmel, thank you very much; I always have my lifejacket.

To Jack Brennan, I am always thinking of you up there, and thanks for teaching me how to tie my shoelaces.

To all the instructors Paul, Ann, Jimmy, I never believed the story of the rabbit and the tree, but thanks anyway

And to all my dear family and friends

Lots of love, Johnny Smullen

PS It was me that stuck the coke bottle in the cannon at the front of the club....

When Carmel Winkelmann and her small team set out to provide the National Yacht Club juniors with a meaningful training programme 55 years ago, their activities were very much a minor add-on to established club life. Nowadays, the junior sailing is the core of the club’s daytime summer activityWhen Carmel Winkelmann and her small team set out to provide the National Yacht Club juniors with a meaningful training programme 55 years ago, their activities were very much a minor add-on to established club life. Nowadays, the junior sailing is the core of the club’s daytime summer activity

THOSE EARLY DAYS – OTHER ANGLES

Last Sunday, Afloat.ie ran the preliminary notice of Carmel’s sad passing, and on our Facebook page the responses to it with fond memories and heartfelt appreciation are pushing towards the hundred mark, a particularly memorable one being from Bob Sheil:

I’ll be forever grateful to Carmel for accepting me onto the junior section in 1971 aged 6 and a half, when the limit was 7, and for her sustained interest in my family’s sailing exploits in and far beyond the harbour ever since, including my siblings, son, nephews snd nieces. I know my parents Skipper and Hazel were and are huge fans of Carmel. Our condolences to the Winkelmann family.

Olympic sailor Saskia Tidey is another Dun Laohaire sailor who has been expressing her gratitude for Carmel’s support and encouragement.   Olympic sailor Saskia Tidey is another Dun Laohaire sailor who has been expressing her gratitude for Carmel’s support and encouragement.  

Another appreciative response - from the ultimate heights of Olympic stardom - is in from 49erfx sailor Saskia Tidey:

Always and forever will be a legend. Carmel was one of the most supportive figures through my youth sailing days. She gave me a lot of confidence to pursue my dreams. Rest In Peace Carmel x

DUBLIN BAY SAILING CLUB SERVICE

Naturally and inevitably, for longer than anyone can remember Carmel was one of the corps of a hundred or so highly competent volunteers who make possible the continuous smooth running of Dublin Bay Sailing Club, with her salty comments while recording finishers from the hut on the West Pier being something to cherish.

DBSC Commodore Ann Kirwan was one of the earliest participants in the Carmel Winklemann junor programme in the National YC, and in her current role she has been fulsome in her praise for Carmel’s contribution to the functioning of DBSC since the early 1970s.DBSC Commodore Ann Kirwan was one of the earliest participants in the Carmel Winklemann junor programme in the National YC, and in her current role she has been fulsome in her praise for Carmel’s contribution to the functioning of DBSC since the early 1970s.

DBSC Commodore Ann Kirwan has been fulsome in her praise this week for the Carmel contribution, and writes:

Dublin Bay Sailing Club has learnt with profound regret that Carmel Winkelmann, a DBSC stalwart, has sadly passed away. Carmel was a key organiser and volunteer in DBSC for nearly 50 years, as former DBSC Commodore Hal Bleakley had first asked her to come onboard in the early 1970s. Hal recognised Carmel’s extraordinary drive, enthusiasm and organisational skills from her involvement as a founding member of the National Yacht Club’s Junior Section in 1967.

When Carmel joined the DBSC volunteer team, she immediately took to running the hut race management team. As hut Race Timer, her distinctive voice could be heard on VHF channel 72 giving the course and counting down the time to race starts. Until the pandemic hit in 2020, Carmel would meet the race management teams on the balcony of the RIYC every Saturday armed with starters lists, the weather forecast, tidal data and many words of wisdom.

The Voice of DBSC. Carmel Winkelmann on station on one of hundreds of occasions in the DBSC Race Officers’ hut on Dun Laoghaire’s West Pier. The race team could quickly swing into a highly-trained mode of formidable efficiency when their services were required, but between times the mood in the hut could be decidedly convivial, and few items of juicy gossip escaped its close-knit scrutiny.The Voice of DBSC. Carmel Winkelmann on station on one of hundreds of occasions in the DBSC Race Officers’ hut on Dun Laoghaire’s West Pier. The race team could quickly swing into a highly-trained mode of formidable efficiency when their services were required, but between times the mood in the hut could be decidedly convivial, and few items of juicy gossip escaped its close-knit scrutiny.

Carmel gave tirelessly of her time since she first became involved in sailing. Carmel’s ability and many achievements were recognised in 2008 when she was awarded Irish Sailing’s Volunteer of the Year award. Jack Roy presented Carmel with the Irish Sailing President’s Award for 2017 in recognition of her huge commitment to a sport she loved and was involved in for over 50 years.

Carmel, an honorary life member of DBSC, will be sadly missed by all her friends in DBSC as well as the wider sailing community in Dun Laoghaire and throughout Ireland. Our thoughts are with her family, especially Paul, Lucy and Adam at this sad time.

Dear Carmel, there’ll be many a glass of ‘brown milk’ raised in your honour. May you Rest in Peace.

Ann Kirwan

Adam Winkelmann joined 25 other Water Wags on Wednesday evening in observing one minute’s silence in honour of his mother before their weekly raceAdam Winkelmann joined 25 other Water Wags on Wednesday evening in observing one minute’s silence in honour of his mother before their weekly race

This past week, the many sailors of Dublin Bay going racing on Tuesday, the Water Wags on Wednesday (and it Bloomsday too), the cruiser-racers on Thursday, and all classes today, have been marking their respects with a minute’s silence at the Committee boats, while the funeral cortege yesterday morning (Friday) processed past the three waterfront yacht clubs, each of which had benefitted from Carmel’s invigorating attitude and life-enhancing presence.

Carmel Winkelmann’s funeral cortege passing the Royal Irish Yacht Club yesterday (Friday) morning. Photo: Paddy Boyd   Carmel Winkelmann’s funeral cortege passing the Royal Irish Yacht Club yesterday (Friday) morning. Photo: Paddy Boyd  

For there was much to remember. After many years of action in the front line of junior training, Carmel’s sailing interests continued to expand in a logical progression from simply encouraging youngsters to take up sailing, onto a higher level where she was prepared to move heaven and hell with special talents in order to fulfill their potential internationally. 

The Talent Scout – Olympic sailor Finn Lynch with Carmel   The Talent Scout – Olympic sailor Finn Lynch with Carmel  

Saskia Tidey has already mentioned how much Carmel’s encouragement helped her to make the transition to the top level. In fact, while casting her eagle eye over a widely varied new input, or in continuing to mintor risng performances at regional and national level, she was a shrewd talent scout, and another notable example was Finn Lynch, whose transformation from a shy country boy from the depths of County Carlow into a front-line international Laser sailor owed much to Carmel’s encouragement and practical support.

DUN LAOGHAIRE TO DINGLE RACE SUPPORTER

Carmel was always alert to the possibility of new events which would encourage welcome development in sailing, and particularly sailing in and from her always-beloved National Yacht Club. Thus she was an ardent supporter of Martin Crotty and Peter Cullen’s Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race from its earliest days in 1993, her speciality being the encouragement of a something of a carnival atmosphere at both start and finish.

Thus there are those of us who can remember nervously finalising our D2D start details on the day of the race at the National Yacht Cup at a desk operated by an incredibly spectacular and majestically made-up woman with a huge head of ultra-shiny black hair, but few words. And then, after the usual rather tough race, signing off with some relief at a desk in Dingle administered by an incredibly spectacular and majestically made-up woman with a huge head of glossy hyper-blonde hair, only to realise - when the job was done and the clerical pressures eased - that in both cases this mystery woman was Carmel herself, just having a bit of fun…..

Life goes on. The start of the National Y’s Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2021 on Wednesday June 9th was an appropriate pillar event to signal the ending of the strictest stages of Lockdown. Photo: Michael ChesterLife goes on. The start of the National Y’s Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2021 on Wednesday June 9th was an appropriate pillar event to signal the ending of the strictest stages of Lockdown. Photo: Michael Chester

So when Martin Crotty died on it was logical that Carmel’s son Adam should take over the Chairmanship of the Organising Committee, and in 2021’s especially difficult circumstances, he was keeping the show on the road when Carmel was stricken – in her 93rd year – with her final bout of illness. Yet ever the trouper, she insisted that Adam continue to concentrate on the D2D, including the prizegiving in Dingle on the weekend she passed away.

A remarkable end to an extraordinary life. It was a life which touched other lives throughout Ireland with benefit. When the news of Carmel’s death was announced, Pierce Purcell of Galway – a former Commodore and founder member, 51 years ago, of Galway Bay SC – was moved to write to Martin McCarthy, Commodore of the Natonal Yacht Club, and in his eloquent words,the man from Galway speaks for us all:

FROM PIERCE PURCELL, Galway Bay SC

So sad to hear of Carmel’s passing. She was a wonderful warm-hearted member of the National Y.C. who played a nationwide role in the extended family of sailing in Ireland. She always showed a genuine and detailed interest and encouragement for younger administrators hoping to replicate what she had done, and was always supportive when her opinion was sought by anyone trying to implement some change in order to meet the needs of a new situation, bluntly commenting: “Well, if you don’t try something in your club, it just won’t happen at all, so let me know how it goes”.

For years I travelled up to Dublin and Dun Laoghaire from Galway for ISA Junior and Training Committee meetings, when Carmel was the boss with people like Paddy Kirwan and Paddy Blaney in her high-powered team. Galway Bay S.C. was very young then, and we were only feeling our way, thus her support and interest played a huge role in GBSC’s development at a vital stage in its growth .

In recent years if arriving into the National, it was such a pleasure to be recognised by the great lady and called over to join her group to discuss old times, and be introduced to familiar sailing names at the top level of sailing. I will miss this wonderful connection with the National Y.C. and Dun Laoghaire sailing, Carmel had the gift of apparently effortlessly bringing all Irish sailors together in friendship and shared enthusiasm.

Irish sailing has lost a truly wonderful person. Our thoughts and heartfelt condolences are with her family of Paul, Lucy and Adam and with her several extra-close friends in addition to her many friends and colleagues throughout Ireland and Irish sailing.

Pierce Purcell of Galway: “Carmel had the wonderful gift of effortlessly bringing together sailors from all over Ireland in friendship and shared enthusiasm”Pierce Purcell of Galway: “Carmel had the wonderful gift of effortlessly bringing together sailors from all over Ireland in friendship and shared enthusiasm”

Published in W M 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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