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Return of Dublin Bay 21s During Olympics Shows Sailing in Ireland is a Matter of Shared Interests

24th July 2021
The mixed tapestry of Irish sailing – Olympians Finn Lynch and Annalise Murphy winning a race in Dun Laoghaire in a classic Dublin Bay Water Wag
The mixed tapestry of Irish sailing – Olympians Finn Lynch and Annalise Murphy winning a race in Dun Laoghaire in a classic Dublin Bay Water Wag Credit: Con Murphy

The start of the Sailing Olympics tomorrow (Sunday) at Enoshima, fifty kilometres from central Tokyo, may seem to be the beginning of a boat event about as different as humanly possible from the staging next Friday (July 30th) of an informal classics regatta at Dun Laoghaire to welcome home the first three restored Dublin Bay 21s.

The DB21s last raced in Dun Laoghaire in August 1986, and their re-birth - thanks to Fionan de Barra and Hal Sisk, using the brilliant skills of Steve Morris of Kilrush Boatyard – is beyond miraculous. It's something that will be joyously celebrated as they sail into Scotsmans Bay next Friday afternoon, welcomed by a remarkable assembly of classic Water Wags, Howth 17s, and Glens, with the possibility of other boats also involved.

The restored Naneen sailing off Kilrush. She was built in 1905 by James Clancy of Dun Laoghaire for Cosby Burrowes (1856-1925) of Crossdoney, Co Cavan, who was a serial Dublin Bay One Design owner. He had at least one Water Wag, he also owned one of the original Mermaids of 1891, in 1892 he had a One Rater (also built by Clancy), and in 1899 he commissioned the Dublin Bay 25 Nance, the only DB25 built in the boatyard of the designer William Fife III. Like Naneen, Nance still sails, but now in Dutch ownership under the name of Iona.The restored Naneen sailing off Kilrush. She was built in 1905 by James Clancy of Dun Laoghaire for Cosby Burrowes (1856-1925) of Crossdoney, Co Cavan, who was a serial Dublin Bay One Design owner. He had at least one Water Wag, he also owned one of the original Mermaids of 1891, in 1892 he had a One Rater (also built by Clancy), and in 1899 he commissioned the Dublin Bay 25 Nance, the only DB25 built in the boatyard of the designer William Fife III. Like Naneen, Nance still sails, but now in Dutch ownership under the name of Iona.

Departure lounge? Not quite, but for years things didn't look too hopeful for Naneen in this Wicklow farmyard.Departure lounge? Not quite, but for years things didn't look too hopeful for Naneen in this Wicklow farmyard.

Steve Morris and Fionan de Barra in Naneen's restored interior. Despite the sparse comfort and limited headroom, several of the boats were used for cruising in the early years of the class. Photo John Kelly/Clare ChampionSteve Morris and Fionan de Barra in Naneen's restored interior. Despite the sparse comfort and limited headroom, several of the boats were used for cruising in the early years of the class. Photo John Kelly/Clare Champion

Some will be classic or traditional and some not. But either way, they'll demonstrate that, in order to fully savour the Irish sailing experience, you have to be broad-minded in your interests and enthusiasms - you have to see there's a bigger picture involved with inter-connections every which way.

For sure, there won't be anyone present who isn't be accessing the latest Olympic sailing news from Japan now and again. But with the classics, you can take the long view. After all, the Water Wags as a class had already been in being for nine years when the modern Olympics were introduced in in 1896. The Howth 17s had started racing just two years later. And the Dublin Bay 21s were racing five years after that.

The Water Wags shaping up for a start on Wednesday evening this week. In foreground is one of the latest additions to the class, No 50 (Mandy Chambers), which was constructed in the Albeola Boat-Building School in San Sebastian in Spain. Photo by Ann Kirwan (Commodore, DBSC)The Water Wags shaping up for a start on Wednesday evening this week. In the foreground is one of the latest additions to the class, No 50 (Mandy Chambers), which was constructed in the Albeola Boat-Building School in San Sebastian in Spain. Photo by Ann Kirwan (Commodore, DBSC)

With such a vigorous history, all Ireland's local sailing inevitably made an input into our Olympic sailing teams. Of course, the sailors involved had re-configured their skills with training in the relevant Olympic boat. But our first Olympic squad in 1948 was made up of the two-man Swallow sailed by Alf Delany (Dublin Bay Water Wags and Shannon One Designs) and Hugh Allen (IDRA 14), while the Firefly used for the singlehanded contest was sailed by Jimmy Mooney. He'd had a short time to train up with Fireflies in Dun Laoghaire, but before that he'd acquired a formidable reputation racing the classic clinker-built International 12s when the Mooney family lived and sailed in Howth, where his father Billy had been a noted helm in the Howth 17s.

This reliance on skilled potential Olympians emerging from local classes such as the Dublin Bay 21s is a fact of life, because the only two long-term Olympic boats which have achieved significant numbers at Irish clubs are the now Olympically-discontinued International Dragon keelboat, and - since 1996 – the Laser, hugely popular and still seeming as fresh as a daisy after more than fifty years on the scene, a remarkable score underlined by that the fact that the boat's characterful designer, the great Bruce Kirby, died much-mourned this week at the fine age of 92.

A recent photo of the late Bruce Kirby. His inspired design for the Laser created a unique boat which met Olympic requirements while acquiring universal popularity   A recent photo of the late Bruce Kirby. His inspired design for the Laser created a unique boat which met Olympic requirements while acquiring universal popularity   

World-wide, it is the Laser's universality of appeal which gives its Olympic role a special cachet, something intensified in Ireland as our only recent Olympic sailing medal – the Silver in the 2016 Rio Games – was taken by Annalise Murphy in the Women's Laser Radials, and she's defending in Japan.

She's from a family immersed in many aspects of Irish sailing – her mother Cathy Mac Aleavey campaigned the Womens 470 in the Seoul Games in 1988. Yet in current Dun Laoghaire sailing, Cathy and husband Con Murphy, an International Race Officer, are currently best known as stalwarts of the Water Wag Class.

Thus as she's sailing alone, it is Annalise who will most acutely feel the high level of isolation in Japan, with her usually highly-supportive family forced to stay pandemic-separated on the other side of the world. But as this photo taken in the car on the way to the airport to send Annalise on her way to Japan a while back reveals, they're all determined to put a cheerful face on it.

Poignant moment. Cathy MacAleavey, Con Murphy and Annalise Murphy on their way to Dublin Airport and Annalise's departure alone for the OlympicsPoignant moment. Cathy MacAleavey, Con Murphy and Annalise Murphy on their way to Dublin Airport and Annalise's departure alone for the Olympics

Our other hopes closest to home are Sean Waddilove of Skerries and Rob Dickson of Howth in the International 49er skiff. Sometimes known as the Fingal Flyers, they're a reminder that Fingal has had one of Ireland's fastest-growing populations for quite some time now, and with its long coastline and several sailing centres, eventually completely new talent was going to emerge, and that was what happened when Sean Waddilove came out of a Learn to Sail initiative at Skerries Sailing Club.

Rob Dickson by contrast is a cradle sailor from the Howth peninsula, and a grandson of the late great Roy Dickson, thus he and Sean call their Boat of the Moment "Cracklin' Rosie". Rob is well rooted in Sutton and Howth dinghy racing, with the occasional Lough Ree flavouring, so he and Sean – when set into the total Irish Olympic Sailing Squad for Enoshima with Annalise Murphy – provide a truly representative lineup of classic and modern Irish sailing.

Rob Dickson, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Sean Waddilove in Howth Yacht Club after Rob and Sean had won the 49er U23 Worlds in September 2018.Rob Dickson, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Sean Waddilove in Howth Yacht Club after Rob and Sean had won the 49er U23 Worlds in September 2018.

Olympic sailing has now become so highly specialised that, regardless of the diversity of boat backgrounds from which potential Irish Olympians might emerge, when it's one of the two-people boats involved it can be extremely difficult, in a small population like ours, to find a matching talent with the requisite enthusiasm and complete dedication.

This was the problem faced by Saskia Tidey of Dun Laoghaire after she and Andrea Brewster came 14th for Ireland in the 49erfx in 2016. Tidey was keen to go on towards Tokyo, but there was no-one available to match her total ambition in the small pool of Irish performance sailing. So she teamed up with Charlotte Dobson of Scotland and they'll be sailing for GB in Enoshima, and much and all as we'd prefer it if she was sailing for Ireland, it would be a very mean-spirited soul who didn't wish her well.

By the time the first three restored DB 21s are making their way into Dun Laoghaire next Friday evening, the Olympic picture will be clearer despite the intensifying heat haze in Japan, where the good news for sailors is that while the main venues in Tokyo are experiencing temperatures of 35 with a humidity count of 95, down the coast at Enoshima it's all a bit fresher, but nevertheless everyone now knows why the 1964 Summer games – which introduced the Olympics to Japan – were staged in October.

Walking the course……classics enthusiasts Guy Kilroy (left) and Hal Sisk testing the waters of Scotsman's Bay on Thursday of this week on board the former's 24ft 1896-built Boyd gaff sloop Marguerite, restored by Larry Archer. Photo: Ian MalcolmWalking the course……classics enthusiasts Guy Kilroy (left) and Hal Sisk testing the waters of Scotsman's Bay on Thursday of this week on board the former's 24ft 1896-built Boyd gaff sloop Marguerite, restored by Larry Archer. Photo: Ian Malcolm

Meanwhile, in Dublin Bay the re-born DB 21s are arriving in on Friday not to suit some global TV schedule, but because the time was right, the tide to bring them up from Arklow suited, and the good work can go on. For one of the trailers which was used to bring the finished boats from Kilrush returned to County Clare with the very tired hull of the DB21 Geraldine – for years associated with the Johnston family – in order for Restoration 4 to begin.

Published in W M Nixon, Dublin Bay 21
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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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