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Volvo Cork Week 2022 Is The Exuberant Expression Of The Spirit Of Cork Sailing

9th July 2022
Cork has a long history of regatta hospitality at the top level. It’s 1896, and the Royal Cutter Britannia with Willie Jameson of Dublin as Sailing Master is seen here chasing the giant Fife thoroughbred Ailsa down Cork Harbour. Yet at the same time, smaller more accessible craft were beginning to take part – the RCYC Regatta of 1896 was the first time that the new Cork Harbour One Designs appeared as a class
Cork has a long history of regatta hospitality at the top level. It’s 1896, and the Royal Cutter Britannia with Willie Jameson of Dublin as Sailing Master is seen here chasing the giant Fife thoroughbred Ailsa down Cork Harbour. Yet at the same time, smaller more accessible craft were beginning to take part – the RCYC Regatta of 1896 was the first time that the new Cork Harbour One Designs appeared as a class Credit: courtesy RCYC

It may seem a bit odd to talk about Volvo Cork Week 2022, which gets going this weekend, as being “the exuberant expression of the spirit of Cork sailing”, when any detailed study of the hugely-varied entry list eloquently affirms the global interest which this “especially special” event is attracting. But the fact is that part of the reason people are coming from far and wide - in addition to many ports nearer the venue - is because the international sailing community was very impressed by the dignified, exemplary and innovative way in which the Royal Cork Yacht Club under Admiral Colin Morehead dealt with the seemingly total setback of not being able to stage their long-planned Tricentenary in 2020. The supportive feeling is such that with some semblance of normality being restored, there is a real desire to show profound appreciation for Tricentenary+Two.

Since the lockdowns, the RCYC – now with Kieran O’Connell as Admiral - has been among the national and international leaders in heading the slow emergence from the pandemic, in the full and responsible awareness that we’re not out of the woods yet. Post-pandemic, it seems there’s a significant cohort of people in all sports who have become distinctly picky in making their personal programme decisions, and organisers of other sailing events have shared the awareness that the long-term weather forecasts may play the final role in determining whether or not to contemplate taking part.

The home place. Royal Cork YC at Crosshaven successfully balances its international role with being an integral part of its local community. Photo: Robert BatemanThe home place. Royal Cork YC at Crosshaven successfully balances its international role with being an integral part of its local community. Photo: Robert Bateman

This may seem a weak-minded approach to those who still live by the “We’ll go, come hell or high water” attitude of previous generations. But people today running major clubs and their top events have to live in the real world, and in the circumstances it seems to this observer that a healthily-varied entry list of 200 craft comprised exclusively of keelboat classes is very good going in the circumstances of 2022.

And with any luck, summer is at last arriving to greet them, even if too much good weather poses the problem of calm. It’s one demanding sport for sure, this crazy little sailing game of ours….. Yet for 302 years now, the Royal Cork Yacht Club in its various manifestations has adapted to altering circumstances by changing in order to stay the same.

Unique heritage. One of the two Peter Monamy 1738 paintings of the fleet manoeuvres of the founding Water Club of the Harbour of Cork. Courtesy RCYCUnique heritage. One of the two Peter Monamy 1738 paintings of the fleet manoeuvres of the founding Water Club of the Harbour of Cork. Courtesy RCYC

Despite its grand status, there has always been this genuine element of the local club about it. It may be a local club whose trophy cabinet has regatta silverware dating back to 1825 and beyond, it may be a club whose art collection includes two maritime masterpieces of its fleet sailing from 1738 by the highly-regarded Peter Monamy, and it may be a yacht club whose very name elicits international recognition in every corner of the sailing world. Yet at its home port of Crosshaven, the Royal Cork, in its slightly eccentric and healthily organic headquarters, is very much an integral part of the community.

But while being community-based, the club has never been reluctant to send forth international racing challengers, so much so that for many years it had the habit of giving any returning winner a nine gun salute as she sailed past the club battery. For although there used to be an impression that racing played no role in early club activity, in fact a detailed study of the monumental club history (published 2005) reveals that a form of racing – preferably with a significant purse of money involved – was part of club activity from at least 1765.

Britannia arriving into Cork Harbour for the 1896 RCYC Regatta with her topmast housed for offshore sailing. Photo courtesy RCYCBritannia arriving into Cork Harbour for the 1896 RCYC Regatta with her topmast housed for offshore sailing. Photo courtesy RCYC

Thus if RCYC boats were also going abroad for competitive sport, it naturally followed that they were keen to extend the hand of friendship for visiting racing boats, and last weekend a pioneering race from Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour in 1860 was re-sailed as the K2Q – the Kingstown to Queenstown.

Back in 1860, the hope was that the boats coming to Cork would have a few days of local racing, as they’d just completed a week of racing in Dublin Bay, but energy was running out. Nevertheless Royal Cork events were part of the established regatta circuit by the 1890s, and as this poster from 1898 reveals, the idea of “the weekend” being event-friendly was still in its infancy. The regatta was staged on a Monday and Tuesday in late July, and in those less programmed times, plenty of members of the public could take the train out from Cork city to watch the racing from the Cobh
waterfront.

In the less formally time-structured 1890s, it was perfectly acceptable to stage the Annual Regatta on a Monday and Tuesday. Photo courtesy RCYCIn the less formally time-structured 1890s, it was perfectly acceptable to stage the Annual Regatta on a Monday and Tuesday. Photo courtesy RCYC

But with other sports and interests challenging for people’s leisure time, and with the scheduled working week becoming increasingly mainstream, the idea that sailing expected a spectator element receded, and personal participation became the priority.

Thus it was the growth of offshore racing which led to Cork Week as we know it now. Through the 1950s and 1960s, the number of RORC races and suchlike finishing in Cork increased, and when the plans for celebrating the RCYC Quarter Millennium in 1969-70 were taking shape, with 1970 in particular providing a whole slew of Cork-finishing races, it was suggested again – as it had been in 1860 – that once they were in Cork, the visiting boats might enjoy a few days of racing.

FIRST CORK WEEK IN 1970

In fact, the take-up for that first modest Cork Week on July 1970 was only about thirty boats, because pure offshore racing was still seen as the supreme sport. But after the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association came into being in 1972, a biennial Race Week became part of their programme, and in 1976 they brought it to Cork with considerable numbers.

Not surprisingly, their hosts said this is ridiculous, we should be organizing this ourselves, and in 1978 under RCYC Admiral Archie O’Leary, the first Cork Week in its recognisably modern form was staged.

Having done quite a few since that first tentative one in 1970 in three different boats ranging from 35ft to 50ft, I’m inevitably of that cohort which reckons the glory days were in some nonexistent golden era in the remote past. That’s the way it is, and I’ve no doubt that many racing from Crosshaven next week will reckon this is the greatest Cork Week ever.

The One and Only – the legendary Imp returns to the water on Thursday this week. Photo: Des Corbett(Above and below) The One and Only – the legendary Imp returns to the water on Thursday this week. Photo: Des Corbett

The One and Only – the legendary ImpPhoto: Barry Hayes

Certainly, the stage is being set with the one and only George Radley adding to the excitement of the countdown by launching the completely re-furbished Ron Holland-designed 39ft masterpiece Imp of 1977 vintage, in order to have her first sail in years as recently as yesterday. This is all in a very rapid countdown towards readiness for charter for Volvo Cork Week by two knights of the realm from the Royal Yacht Squadron, heavy hitters who also happen to be taipans of Hong Kong.

ICRA CHAMPIONSHIP A CENTRAL FEATURE

The successful J/109 Mojito will be racing for Pwllheli SCThe successful J/109 Mojito will be racing for Pwllheli SC

Nearer home, the J/109 Mojito from Wales (Vicky Cox & Peter Dunlop) has got herself to Crosshaven by winning the K2Q, but in her class in Volvo Cork Week she’ll be up against the current miracle boat, Mike & Richie Evans’ J/99 Snapshot from Howth for titles including the big one, the ICRA Championship. Snapshot won last year’s Sovereigns at Cork when just out of the wrappers, and then this year in their first tilt at an offshore major, the brothers placed second overall - by just five minutes – in the tough SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race from Wicklow, an achievement which included taking this slip of a racer successfully through the boat-breaking 40 knots-plus headwinds and maelstrom of seas out beyond the Skelligs and the Blaskets.

“The Born-Again Boats” - 1720s at full chat in Cork Harbour. Photo: Robert Bateman“The Born-Again Boats” - 1720s at full chat in Cork Harbour. Photo: Robert Bateman

It’s a matter of real regret that John Minnis’s champion A35 Final Call II can’t make it after serious rig damage in the recent Bangor Town Regatta, but in any case perhaps the real story is in the large turnout of Sportsboat 1720s, celebrating their 30th Anniversary at their birthplace. With competition at this level and all within a very manageable financial proposition, it’s being suggested that the 1720 has taken thirty years to become an overnight success. That completely overlooks their turnout of 60 boats for their Euros in Cork Week 2000, but with the way the world is in 2022, history is being reinvented every week.

This gives a small idea of what a fleet of 40-plus 1720s will look like – there are 26 boats in this image. Photo: Robert BatemanThis gives a small idea of what a fleet of 40-plus 1720s will look like – there are 26 boats in this image. Photo: Robert Bateman

And history is also being revered with the introduction of a diverse Classics Division, in which the star turn is the 1971 Sparkman & Stephens-designed Opposition, ex-Morning Cloud, surely one of the most attractive boats ever built, and defying her 51 years with lasting elegance.

The Sparkman & Stephens-designed Opposition – seen here in 1971 as Morning Cloud – is still looking superb at 51 years.The Sparkman & Stephens-designed Opposition – seen here in 1971 as Morning Cloud – is still looking superb at 51 years.

Full entry list here

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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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