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In Dun Laoghaire Harbour, the Sailing Show Goes On As the Ghost of the VDLR Haunts Foggy Dublin Bay

10th July 2021
Was your journey really necessary?
"Was your journey really necessary?" "Absolutely!" John Minnis's beautifully-presented First 31.7 Final Call sailed south from Belfast Lough for last weekend's Irish Championship, and won with a clean sweep. This image helps to explain why, as she sets new North Sails, there isn't the usual trailing line to be seen anywhere, and there's two on the steering, as the mainsheet control is every bit as important as the helmsman Credit: Afloat.ie

It has been said here before, but it's worth saying again – on Thursday evenings in normal times in summer, the Dublin Bay Sailing Club programme is so popular that the fleet out racing would be considered a splendid turnout for a major regatta at many other sailing centres.

And even though we're not in normal times, this week's breaking of the 140-plus boats racing barrier on Thursday evening was a remarkable achievement by any standards, and particularly so in a time of uncertainty and shoreside restrictions.

In keeping with the "weekly regatta" theme, in pre-pandemic time the Thursday après sailing spreading across Dun Laoghaire's four yacht clubs had such a unique buzz that it's not surprising that some people with multiple sporting and recreational interests packed their entire weekly sailing experience - and its social aspects - into that one very intense six-hour period on the Thursday evenings when the DBSC programme is almost totally underway.

Normally on Saturdays, it's a different state of affairs. For though there is racing available for most DBSC classes of cruiser-racers, one-design keelboats, and dinghies, modern attitudes and values mean that "quality time with the family" is central to many people's lives on Saturday.

Home winner. Peter Carroll's B211 Yikes! Of the Royal Irish YC is winner of the 2021 B211 Championship – hosted by the RIYC. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'BrienHome winner. Peter Carroll's B211 Yikes! Of the Royal Irish YC is winner of the 2021 B211 Championship – hosted by the RIYC. Photo: Afloat.ie

At least that's what they say is their reason for being unavailable. But those gaining the top of a hill in Wicklow or Kerry might find themselves meeting up with someone they know to be a Thursday night foredeck ace on Dublin Bay, someone who is clearly convinced that a lifestyle of balanced interests and activities is the best way to mental and physical health.

BAY FULL OF SAILS

Yet last Saturday off Dun Laoghaire, you'd have been forgiven for thinking that somehow the Thursday sailfest and the Saturday duty tour had all been run together, for despite a certain amount of fog and as much southeast wind as anyone could want, it was evident the bay was unusually full of sails. In fact, the spookiness of fog wasn't entirely inappropriate, as the Ghost of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta was haunting the bay.

If 2021's programme had gone according to pre-pandemic plan, we'd be in the heart of the VDLR 2021 right now. But as it's a regatta in the great Dun Laoghaire tradition of being divided equally between a seagoing sporting interest and an energetic shoreside socialising focus, even with some restrictions eased there was no way the VDLR could be staged in any meaningful way, and it was rightly cancelled in a timely manner.

Ted, the East Coast SB20 Champion for 2021, showing how it's done – crew weight at optimum position amidships, and all lines neatly tidied away. Photo: Afloat.ieTed, the East Coast SB20 Champion for 2021, showing how it's done – crew weight at optimum position amidships, and all lines neatly tidied away. Photo: Afloat.ie

Yet ever since socially-distanced racing events became permissible in July 2020 as the first COVID-19 wave declined, an enormous amount of experience has been built up in running compliant racing afloat, in tandem with carefully socially-distanced open-air socializing ashore, with crew bubbles becoming all-important.

For some crews admittedly, this was all just too much hassle, and while the more extreme didn't bother with racing at all in 2020, others went racing but then went straight home immediately afterwards, and some have continued that approach this year.

THE MYSTERIOUS DLCC

However, manageable patterns were emerging, and that intriguing body, the Dun Laoghaire Combined Clubs chaired by Barry MacNeaney, did a spot of lateral thinking and combined it with notable diplomacy and persuasion. They came up with the idea that if the four clubs could each be persuaded to take on the hosting of at least two of the major One Design Championships which are such a feature of a normal VDLR, then an ordinary weekend could be turned into a manageable sailing extravaganza. For although the bay would be crowded with sail as DBSC's cruiser-racers would be having a routine outing on Saturday afternoon, in so doing, they'd be over-lapping with seven One-Design Classes continuing their multi-race championship programmes.

Barry MacNeaney of the Dun Laoghaire Combined Clubs. Photo: Michael ChesterBarry MacNeaney of the Dun Laoghaire Combined Clubs. Photo: Michael Chester

To put the whole ambitious project into action, the powers-that-be knew they would be putting even greater reliance on the many experienced on-water administrative volunteers who keep the Dun Laoghaire sailing scene going, but there's nothing like putting up an "impossible challenge" to get people to give of their best.

SEVEN ONE-DESIGN CHAMPIONSHIPS

In such circumstances, the racing area in Dublin Bay can sometimes seem quite restricted, and certainly, there were cases where more boats than was healthy were arriving at some marks together. But generally, a spirit of goodwill prevailed in recognition that it was all a very gallant attempt to provide as much regatta atmosphere as was possible, and as a result, the following events were all involved:

  • Beneteau First 31.7 National Championships
  • Beneteau First 21.7 National Championships
  • Dragon East Coast Championships
  • RS Aero National Championships
  • Ruffian National Championships
  • SB20 East Coast Championship
  • Shipman 28 National Championship
  • DBSC Saturday Series
  • ISORA Offshore Race

To that list, we could reasonably add a "J/109 Saturday Special", as almost all of DBSC Class 1 was made up of that now-vintage J Boats classic which has proven so suitable for Irish needs, and though unlike the other One Designs they'd only their one routine Saturday race, it was a cracker and the Goodbody family added another win with White Mischief.

Cameron Good's Little Fella from Kinsale has now added the 2021 East Coast Dragon Championship to her 2021 South Coast title. Photo: Afloat.ieCameron Good's Little Fella from Kinsale has now added the 2021 East Coast Dragon Championship to her 2021 South Coast title. Photo: Afloat.ie

But with the added appeal of the "Championship" designation and the addition of a programme of several races, four classes – the First 31.7s, the International Dragons with what was named as their East Coast Championship, the SB20s and the RS Aeros – were able to attract travel regulation-compliant entries from elsewhere in Ireland.

VISITORS DO WELL

And in three cases, their journey was well rewarded, with John Minnis's beautifully-presented Final Call (RUYC) taking the First 31.7s (hosted by the National YC) with a clean sweep, while another northerner, Hammy Baker, was tops in the Royal St George YC-hosted RS Aeros, and the Dragons (also hosted by The George) went to Cameron Good of Kinsale with Little Fella, with which he also won the South Coast Championship at Glandore last month.

However, the host fleets managed to take the titles in the Beneteau 21s (hosted by the RIYC and won by their own Peter Carroll with Yikes!) and in the Ruffian 23s, sailing from the National YC and won by DBSC Commodore Ann Kirwan with Bandit, while the DMYC-hosted Shipman 28s were won by John Masterson's Curaglas (NYC).

There was a further element of in-harbour cross-club interaction in the SB20s, now well buoyed up by the prospect of the 2022 Worlds being in Dun Laoghaire, with last weekend's Easterns hosted by the RIYC being won by the RStGYC crew of Michael O'Connor, Davy Taylor and John O'Driscoll.

Despite Saturday afternoon's sometimes difficult weather, the jig-saw puzzle of a pandemic-compliant regatta was put together afloat in Dublin Bay. In fact, being afloat and racing hard was what it was all about, which is distinctly at variance with the classic Kingstown regattas of yore, when a relatively small number of yachts going racing sometimes seemed to be simply the excuse for an across-the-board social gathering ashore, which developed to such an extent that the sailing occasionally appeared almost incidental.

WHEN TURNING MARKS WERE IN THE HARBOUR

Thus it was up to the race officers of that era to devise a course which had a turning mark boat in the harbour – as brilliantly illustrated by Richard Brydges Beechey in 1871 – if the noisily gossiping socialites on the club veranda were going to take the slightest notice of on-water activity. And regardless of the size of the boat, the finish had to be right at the club, even if it involved the finishing racers weaving their way through an anchored fleet of large cruising craft and steam yachts.

The Royal St George YC regatta course of 1871 included a turning mark – in this case one of the large racing cutters – within the harbour for the entertainment of spectators. From the painting by Richard Brydges Beechey, courtesy RStGYC.The Royal St George YC regatta course of 1871 included a turning mark – in this case one of the large racing cutters – within the harbour for the entertainment of spectators. From the painting by Richard Brydges Beechey, courtesy RStGYC.

The Dublin Bay 25 Fodhla winning a Kingstown Regatta in 1900 after threading her way to the finish through an intriguing anchored selection of large Victorian yachts.The Dublin Bay 25 Fodhla winning a Kingstown Regatta in 1900 after threading her way to the finish through an intriguing anchored selection of large Victorian yachts.

This was manageable with smaller boats such as the Dublin Bay 25s, but with larger vessels such as John Mulholland's all-conquering schooner Egeria in the late 1860s and through the 1870s, it could be problematic, and on one long-remembered occasion, Egeria came roaring in the lead through the harbour mouth, and found her course to the finish at the Royal Irish apparently completely blocked by anchored craft.

But Mulholland told his skipper to go for it, so they put down the enormous tiller to head towards the clubhouse, and somehow found a route through the anchored fleet while the crew took in the many and enormous sails at record speed, and the big boat carried her way so well she arrived at the line with only her mainsail and jib still set, but continuing well in the lead. Egeria had just enough steerage way left to cross the line amidst much cheering, following which the spectators returned to their strawberries and cream and champagne and scandal-mongering.

John Mulholland's schooner, the "wonderful Egeria", was built in 1865, and a couple of years later, she became the talk of the town after threading her way through a very crowded harbour to win the Royal Irish regatta when the finish was right in at the clubhouse.John Mulholland's schooner, the "wonderful Egeria", was built in 1865, and a couple of years later, she became the talk of the town after threading her way through a very crowded harbour to win the Royal Irish regatta when the finish was right in at the clubhouse.

When considered against that colourful drama, our current circumstances - with all the sport far at sea, and the outdoor prize-giving ceremonies with their restricted numbers apparently taking place outside the clubhouse boiler-room doors – we are certainly reminded of how totally this pandemic has invaded our lives. But nevertheless, the secret power of the DLCC and DBSC manifested themselves with brilliance last weekend, a brilliance which may well have been part of the inspiration in getting such a splendid turnout on Thursday night.

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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