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Irish Yacht & Sailing Club Officers' Determined Enthusiasm Has Brought Us Through Pandemic To This Busiest Weekend

28th August 2021
The J/109 Jelly Baby (Brian Jones) personifies the spirit of Cork sailing, which this weekend is being celebrated with the two-day AIB RCYC Tricentenary+1 Regatta
The J/109 Jelly Baby (Brian Jones) personifies the spirit of Cork sailing, which this weekend is being celebrated with the two-day AIB RCYC Tricentenary+1 Regatta Credit: Robert Bateman

There's something about the last weekend of August which makes it a specially pivotal time in Irish sailing. And in this weird pandemic-emergence period, there's an extra sense of individually-tailored controlled events being added to the programme to meet immediate demand – pop-up regattas, in other words - while established fixtures get an extra jolt of enthusiasm at a time when we still feel we might just know what's going on.

For this sense of a viable restriction-exiting road-map has been given a bit of a bruising with the news coming in that the latest accelerating infection situation in New Zealand is going to cause a complete shutdown on sailing events and other happenings afloat there from September 1st. It is a matter of accentuated pain, as it's their first day of Spring when there's always an extra zest in the air in one of the world's most boat-oriented countries. And it comes at a time when the rest of the sailing world really do owe the Kiwis big time, for they're the country that managed to give us the America's Cup 2021 back in March as a source of hugely welcome distraction when almost all of the rest of us were leading troglodyte-like lockdown existences.

In fact, it's time and more to salute all those who have literally kept the sailing faith going through the dark shutdown, keeping the clubs and classes in good heart whatever pessimists might have thought, and then getting our sport moving again just as soon as possible.

The America's Cup 2021 off Auckland. Having provided the sailing world with visions of exciting sport in March 2021, New Zealand now faces a total pandemic-induced boating shutdown from September 1st. The America's Cup 2021 off Auckland. Having provided the sailing world with visions of exciting sport in March 2021, New Zealand now faces a total pandemic-induced boating shutdown from September 1st. 

We have been living through a period of almost two years now in which a certain steely and determinedly cheerful optimism has been central to the job description of any Irish yacht and sailing club Commodore or Admiral, or whatever designation the senior position carries. People need to aspire to be the top honcho for many years in order to acquire the necessary knowledge of how a club functions through working in more junior roles. And on top of that, they have to willingly accept that for the actual period in the senior position, they have to be physically present almost non-stop in or at the club itself, and with its activities afloat and ashore.

So it takes little imagination to visualize the mental re-shaping which was needed to take with those individuals who had been preparing themelves to fill the lead position, only to find that the environment in which they'd be leading was changing by the minute, and changing very adversely at that.

Admiral Colin Morehead of the Royal Cork YC has kept up his members' spirits through a very challenging period in the club's long and unique history. Photo: Robert BatemanAdmiral Colin Morehead of the Royal Cork YC has kept up his members' spirits through a very challenging period in the club's long and unique history. Photo: Robert Bateman

This was especially the case with the Royal Cork in Crosshaven where they were planning to celebrate their Tricentenary on an massive international basis, and at the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire with its 150th coming up. With lesser men, the disappointment of shutdown would have been almost a knockout blow. But Commodore Martin McCarthy at the NYC and Admiral Colin Morehead at the Royal Cork showed they were of tougher stuff, for if the sheer cruelty of these adverse events ever depressed them, neither of them ever showed it in public.

On the contrary, they were always there, cheerfully chivvying people along as fresh possibilities came over the changing horizon. And in recent weeks, Colin Morehead has been a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, keeping the show on the road in the big-fleet Irish Laser Nationals, while he's making this a very special weekend indeed at Crosshaven and on Cork Harbour and the seas thereof, with the AIB RCYC Tricentenary Regatta starting with a Parade of Sail this (Saturday) morning at 11:30hrs across at Haulbowline, going on into a racing programme which will bring the fleets of keelboats and dinghies across the harbour for a finish towards Crosshaven and re-assembly at the RCYC for a barbecue.

Tomorrow (Sunday) is the RCYC itself as the focal point, with racing in the morning and members invited to bring picnics to sustain them through a long and busily enjoyable day for which, praise be, it looks as though the weather will hold up, although a spot of morning mist may need to be factored into the day's programme before the sunshine burns it off.

Kieran Collins Olson 30 Coracle VI (RCYC), winner of IRC2 in the 2021 Sovereigns Cup in Kinsale. Photo: Robert BatemanKieran Collins Olson 30 Coracle VI (RCYC), winner of IRC2 in the 2021 Sovereigns Cup in Kinsale. Photo: Robert Bateman

Meanwhile, round the corner in Kinsale, in late June Commodore Michael Walsh had led his team in a carefully-managed COVID-compliant Sovereigns Cup Regatta, which gave Irish sailing a real boost just when it was most needed, a shot of confidence to take on new opportunities.

Up in Dublin Bay at the National, Martin McCarthy has now completed his period as Commodore - to be succeeded by Conor O'Regan - after seeing through an outstandingly successful Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race and the launching of Donal O'Sullivan's excellent NYC history, and he left a club in the best possible heart to take on the co-running of the Laser 4.7 Worlds with the Royal St George from August 7th to 14th, the first pandemic-emergent international sailing event in Ireland, and brilliantly-run within regulations utilizing experience which has been accumulating ever since Dun Laoghaire's first regatta in 1828.

It was another former NYC Commodore, Peter Ryan who - in  his current role as Chairman of ISORA - was central to the immediate availability of Yellowbrick trackers when what were in effect pop-up offshore races came on stream in both 2020 and 2021, the outstanding success being the Fastnet 450 of 2020 which provided an outlet for the pent-up energies of both the 150-year-old NYC in Dublin, and the 300-year-old RCYC in Cork, with participation from several clubs and a winner in Nieulargo (Denis Murphy, RCYC).

People who have kept the show on the road – Martin McCarthy when Commodore of the National YC with Ann Kirwan, Commodore Dublin Bay SC.People who have kept the show on the road – Martin McCarthy when Commodore of the National YC with Ann Kirwan, Commodore Dublin Bay SC.

In the Royal St George YC - the lead organiser for the big Laser event - Richard O'Connor succeeded Peter Bowring as Commodore after the latter had skillfully steered the club through the most severe part of the lockdown and into an increased level of activity afloat.

The Royal Irish YC, for its part is in a specially demanding position, as its prime location right on the marina makes it a natural focal point, particularly for big boat events. But in Commodore Pat Shannon, they've a sailing enthusiast whose knowledge of just how the town and the harbour and the bay interact is unrivalled, and he has quietly played a key role in the gradual buildup of Dun Laoghaire's sailing activity, both through and beyond the regular 200-boats-plus weekly programme of Dublin Bay Sailing Club, for which DBSC Commodore Ann Kirwan deservedly took over custodianship of the Mitsubishi Motors "Sailing Club of the Year 2021" trophy a week ago.

Over on the west coast, they've less continuous experience of sailing organisation in Galway, for although the Royal Galway Yacht Club was active in both Galway Bay and Lough Corrib after its formation in 1870, it was wound up in 1940, and it wasn't until 1970 that a club emerged again in the form of Galway Bay SC, with its base ultimately at Renville near Oranmore. Had things been normal, last year would have seen the Golden Jubilee celebrated in style, but like the more senior National YC and the even more senior Royal Cork YC, they've saved what is transferable to celebrate in 2021, and just last weekend – as reported in Afloat.ie – GBSC Commodore John Shorten led his member and visitors in the remarkable 46-boat Lambs Week Cruise in Galway Bay out to the Aran Islands and on to Roundstone, a complex event which included two races, the highlight being an almost perfectly-calculated pursuit race round the Aran Islands.

John Shorten, Commodore of Galway Bay Sailing ClubJohn Shorten, Commodore of Galway Bay Sailing Club

Back on the East Coast, the multi-facilities Howth Yacht Club has successfully re-configured its services and programme to make the best of the changing environment of restrictions under Commodore Ian Byrne and his successor Paddy Judge, and their switched-on reading of the situation was very clearly seen on Saturday, June 12th. The powers-that-be in their wisdom had selected Monday June 7th as the first day on which the most stringent limitations were to be lifted, and almost within minutes Howth YC declared that their annual 119-year-old Lambay Race would be staged as a club-only event on June 12th. For some boats this resulted in a hyper-fast fitout, but on the day 78 keelboats came to the line, an impressive turnout after what - for some - had been a long hibernation, as not everyone had chosen to avail of the brief easings of 2020 

Keeping sailing going…..HYC Commodore Ian Byrne and his successor Paddy Judge demonstrating the Two Metre Social Distance Rule. Photo: HYCKeeping sailing going…..HYC Commodore Ian Byrne and his successor Paddy Judge demonstrating the Two Metre Social Distance Rule. Photo: HYC

As with the key figures in clubs, so too do One-Design Classes have some vital personnel who encourage the show along on the road. And while they tend to be much more invisible than the necessarily conspicuous sailing club Flag Officers, these back-room encouragers have been having as good a pandemic as possible, with the classic local classes finding that the enforced home time encouraged boat restoration, while major milestones in class histories acquired extra significance, with the Centenary Races of the Mylne-designed 29ft River Class on Strangford Lough – the world's first Bermuda-rigged One-Design – attracting deserved attention to a class which normally lives at a certain level of splendid isolation, yet was in the spotlight to see Graham Smyth in Enler taking the coveted Centenary Trophy.

Graham Smyth's Enler, Centenary Champion of the Strangford Lough River Class. Photo: W M Nixon Graham Smyth's Enler, Centenary Champion of the Strangford Lough River Class. Photo: W M Nixon 

Class Associations that function successfully at a nationwide level have proven very effective at coming through the dark times, and the International Dragons, the Flying Fifteens and the GP14s work very well in meeting a more focused demand than the broadly-appealing all-popular Laser, which is always in a win-win situation. 

The GP 14s at one of their club strongholds are a force to behold, and today (Saturday) they've descended in strength on Sutton Dinghy Club for the Annual Regatta which – with sunshine forecast and northeast sea breezes coming over the Hill of Howth – may even provide smooth water suntrap sailing. 

The successful GP 14 Association have one of their Irish strongholds at Sutton Dinghy Club 

There'll be other events looking to avail of this weekend's burst of late summer weather, sometimes at the last minute. But as well, by this time next weekend the ICRA Nationals 2021 will be fully under way in Dublin Bay, hosted by the National Yacht Club with 63 boats lined-up for a series whose results will be scrutinized every which way, as certain teams are hinting at being part of the new wave of a flotilla of Mark Mills-designed Cape 31s which – they say – will feature on both the south and east coasts next year.

Meanwhile, with international travel continuing to be very problematic, it leaves Irish participation in certain rather special Autumn contests overseas as still being a matter of speculation. In the circumstances, it's good to hear that Conor Doyle's Xp50 Freya from Kinsale is safely positioned in the Mediterranean in the countdown towards late October's Middle Sea Race from Malta. And the word is they've already made their mark with a fifth place in the Palermo to Monaco Race.

Published in W M Nixon
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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