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Mainstream Sailing In Ireland Is Beginning To Get Back Up To Speed

30th April 2022
The accelerating season of 2022 – the first “proper” sailing season for three years – has revealed even greater enthusiasm for Ireland’s classic classes, arousing hopes that even the Dublin Bay 24s might be brought back to life as a class. One of the highlights of their later years was the Dun Laoghaire Woodenboat Regatta of 1997, with the mood captured aboard the leading DB24 Harmony (Johnston brothers, left & right), with Dr Barbara O’Hanlon, widow of former owner Dr Rory O’Hanlon, in the hatchway, while the late Cass Smullen trims the sheets, and Tim Pearson supervises the Universe from the afterdeck.
The accelerating season of 2022 – the first “proper” sailing season for three years – has revealed even greater enthusiasm for Ireland’s classic classes, arousing hopes that even the Dublin Bay 24s might be brought back to life as a class. One of the highlights of their later years was the Dun Laoghaire Woodenboat Regatta of 1997, with the mood captured aboard the leading DB24 Harmony (Johnston brothers, left & right), with Dr Barbara O’Hanlon, widow of former owner Dr Rory O’Hanlon, in the hatchway, while the late Cass Smullen trims the sheets, and Tim Pearson supervises the Universe from the afterdeck

We hear so much about the “New Normal” in everyday life ashore that it’s becoming difficult to remember what the Old Normal was like, as employers resort to bribery (“Special Bonuses” if you insist) to entice WFH employees back into the office. Equally in sailing, while there were always hyper-keen types who made sure that all compliance was in place to enable racing to be possible within the pandemic limits - with Dublin Bay SC setting the pace with weekly turnouts of 142 boats in times of lockdown lifting - there were those who felt that a restrained involvement was the only way to go.

So after two to three years of control at varying levels, it’s welcome to notice a growing and familiar buzz in the new season’s sailing scene as we finally approach May. And equally, it was reassuring to note that God is clearly in his heaven and results were as they should be in last weekend’s two major cruiser-racer happenings on the east and south coasts, with Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC) winning the brisk opening race from Dublin Bay of the Golden Jubilee season of the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association, while in Kinsale Denis & Annamarie Murphy’s Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo likewise did the business in robust breezes and offshore conditions in Classes Zero and 1 in the Axiom Private Spring Series, which concludes today.

Both Nieulargo and Rockabill VI are quite hefty boats which enjoy a breeze, which means that in somewhere like Long Island Sound they’d be regarded as distinctly under-canvassed. But in Ireland, they’re just about spot-on for most of the time, even if the idea that Ireland always provides good sailing breezes is a rose-tinted fantasy.

The Vice Admiral Royal Cork YC shows the way off Kinsale. The Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo (RCYC Vice Admiral Annamarie Fegan & Denis Murphy) on the way to success at Kinsale in the Axiom Private Spring Series. Photo: Robert BatemanThe Vice Admiral Royal Cork YC shows the way off Kinsale. The Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo (RCYC Vice Admiral Annamarie Fegan & Denis Murphy) on the way to success at Kinsale in the Axiom Private Spring Series. Photo: Robert Bateman

Be that as it may, another example of a return to normality of sorts was in evidence with the 1898-vintage Howth 17s starting their 122nd season on Tuesday with current champion, the 1907-vintage Deilginis (Massey, Toomey & Kenny) still on the pace with 2022’s first win.

EVERY CLASS NEEDS A DILIGENT RECORD-KEEPER

Those with the ability for instant calculations might wonder how we come up with the figure of 122 seasons, but some racing seasons were lost during the Great War of 1914-1918, and for years the Howth 17s’ Keeper of the Records was TCD engineer-mathematician Gerald FitzGibbon, who typically insisted that the class’s 75th Anniversary be celebrated in 1972. This was even though they weren’t 75 years old until 1973, for in Gerald’s precise class recording terms, the season of 1898 was Year 1, and thus last night’s Howth 17 Annual Dinner, hosted in HYC by Class Captain David O’Shea and the first to be held for a couple of years, was also the Golden Jubilee of the 75th Anniversary.

It may seem pernickety, but every venerable local one design class needs its Gerald FtzGibbon. For among other things, such folk keep the history in proper order, and as things settle down and it becomes clear that to maintain cross-class enthusiasm, a parallel set of results based on performance handicaps is required, when the FitzGibbons of this world become indispensable for its successful implementation.

For those who would argue that handicaps are against the spirit of OD racing, I’d reiterate that it’s a parallel system, not a scratch-racing replacement, which is used. And as for it being un-Irish, I’d suggest you reflect on where local golf would be without it, and remind you that the very idea of golf handicaps was first floated globally in 1897 by George Combe, Honorary Secretary of the Golfing Union of Ireland.

Thus by Gerald’s fastidious standards, the Shannon One Designs should actually be celebrating their 101st Anniversary this year, but as it happens Centenaries and Anniversaries are two different things, and when the Howth 17s’ Centenary came up in April 1998, a flotilla of the class was in Carrickfergus to celebrate. The first five boats to the design (there are now 20) were built by Hilditch of Carrickfergus, who four years earlier had built what is now Hal Sisk’s award-winning 36ft G L Watson cutter Peggy Bawn

AN EXCESS OF HISTORY UP NORTH

There was an excess of history going on up north at the time of the Seventeens’ return to Carrickfergus, as the Good Friday Agreement was being signed on the same day in Belfast. So while everyone was watching that, the Seventeens - having visited various places around Belfast Lough – cheekily took advantage of a strong and very cold nor’easter to sail overnight along the 90 miles to Howth, as one does.

Ian Malcolm’s 1898-built Howth 17 Aura off Carrickfergus Castle, celebrating her Centenary at her birthplace in April 1998. Photo: Damian CroninIan Malcolm’s 1898-built Howth 17 Aura off Carrickfergus Castle, celebrating her Centenary at her birthplace in April 1998. Photo: Damian Cronin

Some of the 22 Dublin Bay Water Wags which mustered for their first race of the 2022 season on Wednesday. Photo Wag AssociationSome of the 22 Dublin Bay Water Wags which mustered for their first race of the 2022 season on Wednesday. Photo Wag Association

Ian & Judith Malcolm’s 1915-vintage Water Wag Barbara winning the first race of the 2022 seasonIan & Judith Malcolm’s 1915-vintage Water Wag Barbara winning the first race of the 2022 season

A fondness for classic boats and yachts can become multiply-addictive, for one of those boats making the scene back in Carrickfergus in 1998 was Ian Malcolm’s Aura. While he may have been bested in Tuesday’s race at Howth by Deilginis, on Wednesday evening this week he and Judith were across Dublin Bay racing their 1915-vintage Water Wag Barbara in Dun Laoghaire in the 22-strong turnout (a record for the Wags’ first race of the season), and they duly won, with second place going to Guy Kilroy with Swift. He’s another classics multiple-enthusiast, as he also owns the 26ft 1896 Herbert Boyd jackyard topsail gaff cutter Marguerite, restored by Larry Archer.

WATER WAGS ATTRACT THE STELLAR SAILORS

In fact, it rather looks as though cutting the mustard with an immaculate Water Wag of whatever vintage (the current design goes back to 1900) is increasingly expected for stars from other classes, for the word is that tomorrow (Sunday), former Helmsmans Champion, Laser ace and RSAero winner Sean Craig is going to be arriving in Dun Laoghaire with his recently-acquired Water Wag.

Laser Masters Champion and former Helmsman’s Champion Sean Craig is the latest star helm to join the Water Wag classLaser Masters Champion and former Helmsman’s Champion Sean Craig is the latest star helm to join the Water Wag class

What with folk like the Craigs involved with the Wags, and the Hal Sisk/Fionan de Barra restoration of the Dublin Bay 21s moving steadily along, the classics scene in Dun Laoghaire is looking much rosier. So who knows, it may yet be the case that in the fullness of time the historic Dublin Bay 24s may find their way back from their various projects on both sides of the Atlantic involving Boat Building Schools, but at present the only one in full sailing trim in Dun Laoghaire is Periwinkle (David Espey & Chris Craig).

At moments of optimism all things seem possible, but even in sunny places they’re finding a challenge in restoring normal rhythm. Thus in the Caribbean, there has been no Antigua Week for three years, but this morning they’re having a re-launch, starting today with the Round Antigua race. In the big winds of this time of year, it can be quite a challenge, so to make it more user-friendly there’s an alternative race partially round Antigua.

HOW CAN YOU HAVE A SHORTER VERSION OF RACE ROUND AN ISLAND?

But quite how they’ll organize that remains to be seen, for a race or voyage round anywhere inevitably reaches a Point of No Return – for instance, if you’ve sailed from Dublin and you pass the decidedly obtuse Slyne Head in Connemara, you’re almost inevitably going to sail round Ireland whether you meant to or not.

Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia (RStGYC) has been entered for Kinsale YV’s new Inishtearaght race on May 20th. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’BrienChris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia (RStGYC) has been entered for Kinsale YV’s new Inishtearaght race

Whatever, the feeling is that if you can somehow temporarily compartmentalise the current events in Eastern Europe, then the prospects for the 2022 Irish sailing season are looking good. The news that Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia (RStGYC) has signed up for Kinsale YC’s new Inishtearaght Race on May 20th is adding spice to an already intriguing challenge, as for the dedicated offshore types, the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race from Wicklow a month later has now broken comfortably through the 40 entry mark with the latest batch led by RORC Commodore James Neville with his HH42 INO XXX. For regatta racing both inshore and offshore there’s the Wave at Howth at the beginning of June and Bangor Town Regatta at the end of the Month, and then in July Volvo Cork Week is spreading its wings with the addition of a Classics Division.

GP14s at Sligo in times past – Curly Morris chasing Ger Owens. The GP 14s are in Sligo this weekend as the countdown to their 2022 Worlds in Skerries in Augst gets under wayGP14s at Sligo in times past – Curly Morris chasing Ger Owens. The GP 14s are in Sligo this weekend as the countdown to their 2022 Worlds in Skerries in Augst gets under way

There are at least three World Championships, with the countdown towards the GP 14 Worlds in Skerries (from 14th to 19th August) getting under way today with the season’s first Open Meeting at Sligo, and then in a week’s time at Dromineer on Lough Derg, the Fireball 2022 Worlds there on 20th to 26th August are being anticipated on May 6-7th with an intensive training weekend by Thomas Chaix for the growing Irish class.

ILEN FOLLOWS THE MONEY IN LONDON

Meanwhile in London, the Ilen from Limerick berthed at St Katharine Dock yesterday, having overnighted on Thursday at a handy pier in Gravesend in a place which, despite the modern installations across the river, had something of the flavour of the scene-setting in a Conrad novel.

It could be the setting for the start of a Conrad novel – Ilen finds a handy overnight berth in the River Thames on Thursday nightIt could be the setting for the start of a Conrad novel – Ilen finds a handy overnight berth in the River Thames on Thursday night

Then yesterday (Friday) it was a case of follow the money, as inevitably her long bowsprit - with sails set – found itself pointing at the finance machine which is Canary Wharf as the flood tide swept her up the Thames. And for those who have been wondering on Afloat.ie’s Facebook page about how Ien could be described as “a Limerick ketch” despite being built and then restored in West Cork, having spent her working life in the Falklands, the explanation is that by “Limerick” we incorporate the entire Shannon Estuary, Ilen was designed by Conor O’Brien of County Limerick in a cottage on Foynes Island (as had her small predecessor-sister Saoirse), and she is of course owned and run by the Gary Mac Mahon-directed Ilen Marine School of Limerick, all partially in celebration of the comparable sailing traders of the Shannon Estuary, which used to depart from Limerick city with each ebb tide, laden with goods for all the small ports on both sides of the estuary as far west as Ballylongford and Kilbaha.

A long way from Ballylongford and Kilbaha……Ilen’s long bowsprit headed for the money-towers of Canary Wharf yesterday (Friday).A long way from Ballylongford and Kilbaha……Ilen’s long bowsprit headed for the money-towers of Canary Wharf yesterday (Friday).

Outward voyage completed - Ilen at Tower bridge yesterday (Friday evening)Outward voyage completed - Ilen at Tower bridge yesterday (Friday evening)

 Job done - Ilen below Tower Bridge in St Katharine Dock Waiting Berth Job done - Ilen below Tower Bridge in St Katharine Dock Waiting Berth

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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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