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Ireland's Developing Sailing Season of 2021 Is Like a Gently Rising Tide

26th June 2021
Ding-dong at Foynes – Gala Racing (Simon McGibney, Foynes YC) and Lola (Luke McBride, Sligo YC) trying their own side of the beat in search of success in last weekend's J/24 Southerns at Foynes on the Shannon Estuary. Alas, it was not to be – this wasn't the win move that seems to be promised here
Ding-dong at Foynes – Gala Racing (Simon McGibney, Foynes YC) and Lola (Luke McBride, Sligo YC) trying their own side of the beat in search of success in last weekend's J/24 Southerns at Foynes on the Shannon Estuary. Alas, it was not to be – this wasn't the win move that seems to be promised here Credit: Foynes YC

The National YC's Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race of Wednesday, June 9th – just two days after such things became permissible on June 7th - may have been hailed here as "a spectacular pillar event to launch the 2021 Irish sailing season out of the pandemic penumbra". But the truth is that the season currently getting under way is more like a gentle tide flooding into a winding and shallow creek, rather than a sudden eruption of activity across a wide front.

As with the new tide, if you watch closely and persistently for things happening, you'll see little change. But if your focus switches elsewhere for a while, then look back again and you'll find real signs of things starting to happen, of development taking place and sailing centres coming more vibrantly to life with events which are in themselves a testing of the waters.

This sense of testing of the waters reflects a commendable maturity in the sailing community. Our sport manifests itself in so many ways afloat and ashore that it is simply impossible to devise rules about distancing and so forth which comply precisely with each and every requirement. Thus as each event takes shape, a substantial input of common sense is required to ensure that it optimizes the sport while minimising any infection hazard.

When the going gets tough….overall winner Nieulargo (Denis Murphy RCYC, left) and Pete Smyth's Sun Fast 3600 Searcher (NYC) getting their teeth into the early stages of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race. Photo: Michael ChesterWhen the going gets tough….overall winner Nieulargo (Denis Murphy RCYC, left) and Pete Smyth's Sun Fast 3600 Searcher (NYC) getting their teeth into the early stages of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race. Photo: Michael Chester

Of course we can claim that the hazard is decreasing on a daily basis. But no sooner is this assumed that some new twist arises, and having shared the battle for so long, it would be at odds with the remarkable overall cohesiveness of Irish society to flaunt the rules with blatant disregard, even if some very small sections seem to take a pleasure in doing so.

Thus although the D2D was indeed a spectacular event, it only impinged on landward life at the carefully regulated start and finish. For the rest of the time it was taking place in the very model of a healthy environment, sometimes with more fresh air than even the very keenest were looking for.

For those who don’t feel they have to spend nights at sea in order to get their necessary dose of fresh maritime air, mid-June also brought the Dragon South Coast Championship at Glandore for a cracking fleet of 19 boats, with Cameron Good of Kinsale and Neil Hegarty of Dun Laoghaire’s Royal St George YC on a tie break after six races, the break going in favour of the Kinsale skipper who saw his clubmate James Matthews taking third overall.

Meanwhile, in the upper reaches of Strangford Lough, Newtownards SC hosted the GP 14 Ulster Championship with Ger Owens of Royal St George, crewed by northern sailor Melanie Morris, winning overall, with second going to Ross and Jane Kearney while Shane McCarthy of Greystones was third, with the Silver Fleet topped by James Hockley while the Bronze went to Michael Brines.

Today (Saturday) sees the conclusion of the four day O'Leary Insurances Sovereigns Cup at Kinsale, and while inevitably there has been a shoreside element morning and evening, it has been happening with a manageable fleet – as ICRA Commodore Richard Colwell approvingly put it after considering the close Class 1 results: "It's great to be back in Kinsale, and there's a quiet buzz about the place - as it should be with the restrictions and the smaller numbers."

Jump Juice (Conor Phelan) and Freya (Conor Doyle) make a neat call on the start in Day 2 of the Sovereign's Cup at Kinsale. Photo: Robert BatemanJump Juice (Conor Phelan) and Freya (Conor Doyle) make a neat call on the start in Day 2 of the Sovereign's Cup at Kinsale. Photo: Robert Bateman

This weekend sees the pace continue its incremental increase, with locally emphasized events on all coasts. Across in Connacht, the new popularity of the very ancient Cong to Galway Race down Lough Corrib hopes to see the recent day's better weather of the west continuing. And although defending champion Yannick Lemonnier was reported yesterday as being safe in Lampaul, that extraordinary bay on the west coast of Ouessant, with the mast of his MiniTransat boat down around his ears, it wouldn't surprise us at all if he somehow still turned up for the start, but in his absence his able young son and regular crew Sean might be making alternative arrangements under the radar.

EAST COAST SAILING

Currently, it's largely a question of keeping things local, and there's nothing more utterly local than the Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club's annual At Home on the north shores of Dublin Bay. It's an event that goes back most of the way to the club's founding in 1875, but last year's on-off lockdowns affected Clontarf more than any other club.

This is because their substantial and growing cruiser-racer fleet is entirely dependent on drying moorings in the Tolka Estuary, just across the main shore road from the club. Thus any activity afloat involves much communal to-ing and fro-ing in a decidedly busy neighbourhood. So CY & BC had to take it on the chin, and their cruisers stayed ashore for the entire season last year, even if a spot of dinghy sailing was possible in times of eased restriction.

Sean Langan, Commodore of Clontarf Y & BC, led his cruiser fleet afloat this year at the earliest permitted opportunity. In 2020's lockdown, the Clontarf fleet – all of which lie to drying moorings – had to stay ashore out of commission. Photo: Courtesy CY&BC)   Sean Langan, Commodore of Clontarf Y & BC, led his cruiser fleet afloat this year at the earliest permitted opportunity. In 2020's lockdown, the Clontarf fleet – all of which lie to drying moorings – had to stay ashore out of commission. Photo: Courtesy CY&BC)  

However, this year, as soon as the official signs were favourable, Commodore Sean Langan and his members heaved their fleet afloat in a choreographed operation involving two cranes, and today (Saturday, June 26th) is the Clontarf At Home, with the IDRA 14 dinghies launching into their 75th Anniversary Year, while the Howth 17s race round the Baily from their home port in a precisely-timed race to optimise the day's high water and provide good racing for an ancient class which is pushing towards having twenty boats in full commission.

The 1898-founded Howth 17s – seen here in the Lambay Race on June 12th - are gradually pushing towards their full number of 20 boats for the 2021 season. Photo: Patricia NixonThe 1898-founded Howth 17s – seen here in the Lambay Race on June 12th - are gradually pushing towards their full number of 20 boats for the 2021 season. Photo: Patricia Nixon

LOCAL SAILING CLASSES

In all, it's a celebration of local sailing in local classes, and time was when the Glens from Dun Laoghaire used to come across the bay to Clontarf as well. Who knows, it may happen again, as the 1947-vintage 25ft Mylne-designed Glens are having a revival with some boats undergoing very extensive restorations, a topic to which we'll return in the near future.

Meanwhile, one of the restored boats, Ailbe Millerick's Glenluce, made her re-vitalised debut last Saturday in some style to take a win. Admittedly it was with the formidable imported talent of John Duggan on the helm while the owner sweated away at working the pit, making the mistake of doing it so efficiently that it could well become a regular position……..

The newly-restored 25ft Glen OD Glenluce (Ailbe Millerick) on her way to winning her first race of 2021 last Saturday in Dublin BayThe newly-restored 25ft Glen OD Glenluce (Ailbe Millerick) on her way to winning her first race of 2021 last Saturday in Dublin Bay

Of course, when it comes to 2021's sailing revival, the sheer weight of numbers in the greater Dublin region means that significant fleets can quickly be assembled, and there could well be thirty boats gathering in Dublin's River Liffey today for the final meet of the Cruising Association of Ireland's pop-up East Coast rally, which has ranged between Skerries and Arklow.

The Cruising Association of Ireland rallying in the heart of Dublin. Photo: W M Nixon   The Cruising Association of Ireland rallying in the heart of Dublin. Photo: W M Nixon  

As for competitive sailing, weekly racing numbers in the Dublin Bay Sailing Club programme at Dun Laoghaire regularly chime in at comfortably more than a hundred boats and counting, but in the current climate, that's something to be carefully monitored rather than shouted from the rooftops.

Nevertheless, if you happen to be on a Dun Laoghaire rooftop, every Wednesday evening reveals an increasing fleet of Water Wags out racing. Their best turnout so far this year was 26 boats on Bloomsday, the 16th June, but with 50 boats now registered with racing numbers, it's surely only a matter of time before they manage an evening with 40 boats, as they topped the 30 mark turnout three years ago.

The Water Wag fleet blossoming for Bloomsday, June 16th, with 26 boats racing. They should top the 40 turnout in one race for the fist time ever in 2021.The Water Wag fleet blossoming for Bloomsday, June 16th, with 26 boats racing. They should top the 40 turnout in one race for the fist time ever in 2021.

FOYNES SHOWS THE WAY FOR WEST COAST SAILING

The quiet putting-through of a first racing event was seen last weekend at Foynes, where the J/24s assembled in socially-distanced groups for their seasonal starter, the Southern Championship. That said, trying to be socially-distant anywhere near the notoriously-hospitable Foynes Yacht Club is almost an impossibility – after all, even the family dog goes out on the big committee boat with visiting race Officer Derek Bothwell - but it seems to have been a largely health-compliant happening.

The J24s start their 2021 Irish season with last weekend's Southerns at Foynes, and overall winner Headcase (4547) narrowly getting the best of it. Photo: Foynes YCThe J24s start their 2021 Irish season with last weekend's Southerns at Foynes, and overall winner Headcase (4547) narrowly getting the best of it. Photo: Foynes YC

Thus when we suggested to Cillian Dickson - helm of the winning boat Headcase with all-Ireland crew of Ryan Glynn, Louis Mulloy and Sam O'Byrne - that they might have been over-celebrating on Saturday night with a scorecard of straight wins all through Saturday as against a couple of seconds on Sunday, he earnestly demurred, assuring us that the opposition was just a little bit less rusty on Sunday, and he expects them to be competition-honed by the Nationals in Sligo on August 6th-8th.

Truly, today's young sailors are a very serious lot. Time was when the Enterprise dinghy was all the rage throughout Ireland, and it was a fact of life in the class that the Saturday night leaders in any two-day regional championship simply wouldn't figure in Sunday's racing, so easily would they have been led completely astray by their attentive classmates in celebrating their initial points lead.

At Foynes, everyone rallies round to support the race team. Photo: FYCAt Foynes, everyone rallies round to support the race team. Photo: FYC

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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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