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Look West For Refreshment Of The Spirit Of Sailing In Ireland

23rd July 2022
The 1977 Ron Holland 39ft classic Imp, restored this year by George Radley of Cobh. Imp was winner of the Schull Centenary Regatta in 1984, when owned and skippered by Michael O’Leary of Din Laoghaire, and will be racing in Schull again in August in what is now Calves Week
The 1977 Ron Holland 39ft classic Imp, restored this year by George Radley of Cobh. Imp was winner of the Schull Centenary Regatta in 1984, when owned and skippered by Michael O’Leary of Din Laoghaire, and will be racing in Schull again in August in what is now Calves Week Credit: Robert Bateman

The pace of this first full post-pandemic sailing season in Ireland has been such that when we reached what might be thought of as the mid-point around July 15th, there was a real need for a rapid re-charging of the batteries or whatever it is that keeps your personal boat show energised and on the move.

And yet again the Afloat.ie Spiritual Renewal Service came up trumps with a special rapid-revitalising item. However, we don’t mean the piece about zapping through the tunnel in the Bull Rock under power in a RIB or under sail in a Laser. That certainly stimulated a lively response on an otherwise somnolent day. But it was an outpouring of righteous indignation that we should suggest in our first mistaken version of the story that the Bull Rock is in Kerry, whereas it is the last pinpoint of West Cork in an area where the boundaries between the Republic of Cork and the Kingdom of Kerry are somewhat fuzzy.

The majestic sea inlet of Kenmare – is it a river or is it a bay?The majestic sea inlet of Kenmare – is it a river or is it a bay?

And another line of attack was our reference to the Kenmare River. There may well be a growing movement down in the southwest to revert to that magnificent inlet being re-named Kenmare Bay like all the other rias of West Cork and Kerry. But the fact is that it has officially been the Kenmare River since around 1655, when the remarkable polymath William Petty was the Surveyor-General. 

HAVING THE RIGHT PLACE NAME MAKES MONEY

In travelling through and mapping out Ireland for his comprehensive Down Survey (so named because absolutely every snippet of property information acquired was written down) he came upon Kenmare, aka Neidin – the Little Nest.

He saw that it was good, and he saw that everywhere about it was good, so he promptly allocated vast swathes of the area to himself. And in a stroke of genius he renamed Kenmare Bay as the Kenmare River. For had it remained a bay, he would only have had ownership of the fishery rights close along the shores. But when it was accepted as a river, he acquired exclusive fishery rights the whole way to the open ocean, down towards the dentally-challenged Bull Rock.

The “dentally-challenged” Bull RockThe “dentally-challenged” Bull Rock

It may well be that in the furthest areas of the Beara and Iveragh peninsulas, there is a movement afoot to revert to the Kenmare Bay name in line with a de-colonisation programme. If we accept this, we wouldn’t be obliterating the memory of Sir William Petty in the world of sailing, for by the 1660s he was comfortably set up in the considerable lands he’d also found to allocate to himself in what is now largely Dublin 4.

Eternally curious and energetic, he was experimenting with the catamaran Simon & Jude, built for Petty in 1663 in Arklow, successfully tested that year in Dublin Bay against a couple of representative local craft of renowned performance, and re-created in 1981 by current “International Classic Boater of the Year” Hal Sisk of Dun Laoghaire in the midst of what is now a lifetime of historic maritime projects.

Hal Sisk’s re-creation of the 1663-vintage catamaran Simon & Jude racing against a Bantry Boat in 1981. Photo: W M NixonHal Sisk’s re-creation of the 1663-vintage catamaran Simon & Jude racing against a Bantry Boat in 1981. Photo: W M Nixon

Model of the Simon & Jude. This 17th Century line of development by William Petty came to an end when a much larger version, The Experiment, was lost in stormy weather in the Bay of BiscayModel of the Simon & Jude. This 17th Century line of development by William Petty came to an end when a much larger version, The Experiment, was lost in stormy weather in the Bay of Biscay

WEST CORK FESTIVAL AFLOAT

We could go on for the rest of the day along this line of thought. But invigorating and complex as all these many lines of semi-nautical notions may be, it was a much more straightforward Afloat.ie item that raised the spirits, and that was Bob Bateman’s comprehensively-illustrated preview of the upcoming Calves Week 2022 & West Cork Festival of Yacht Racing from Saturday, July 30th until Friday, August 5th at Baltimore and Schull.

It gets underway with a SCORA day passage race on Saturday, July 30th from Kinsale to Baltimore, where they’ll find the brilliantly revitalized International 1720s and the locally-based Heir Island Sloops already into their three-day Baltimore Bank Holiday Championship.

A 30-year-old idea finds new life. With David Love leading the class organisation, the much-revived 1720s were stars in Cork Week 2022. Photo: Rick TomlinsonA 30-year-old idea finds new life. With David Love leading the class organisation, the much-revived 1720s were stars in Cork Week 2022. Photo: Rick Tomlinson

Heading west for a re-charging of energy levels in the second half of the season has been part of Irish sailing ever since the early days of the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork in the 1700s, and the local regattas the length of the Atlantic seaboard – all the way from Kinsale to Moville in Donegal – are an integral part of our shared sailing experience, with arguably the most characterful being the Cruinniu na mBad – the Gathering of the Boats – at Kinvara in the southeast corner of Galway Bay, which is marked in for the weekend of August 13-14th after two years in abeyance.

The mighty boats of Connemara – Galway Hookers racing at KinvaraThe mighty boats of Connemara – Galway Hookers racing at Kinvara

Nevertheless, it is the bizarre world of West Cork – which is as much a state of mind as a place – where most sailing thoughts will be re-locating as August makes in. There is something about sailing and racing in the waters of Roaring Water Bay and the seas out toward the Fastnet Rock under the eternal presence of Mount Gabriel that gives you the feeling of being at the very heart of existence, with the rest of the cosmos rotating around certain connoisseurs’ bars in Schull.

You can live for the moment or allow the past to intrude. After all, what’s happening at the beginning of August goes back to 1884 and the first Schull Regatta. In doing so, you have to acknowledge a very grim era of Irish history, as Schull was one of the places worst hit by the Great Famine. It arguably wasn’t over until 1854, and its long term ill effects were still much in evidence in 1864, yet just twenty years after that enough life had returned to stage the first Schull Regatta.

We went to the Schull Centenary Regatta in 1984 with the 30-footer I had at the time, getting there after an entertaining cruise to southwest Wales, Lundy, west Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly. And in Schull, there was a real sense of a very meaningful Centenary.

The ultimate summer place – Schul Harbur with Roaringwater Bay and Carbury’s Hundred Isles beyondThe ultimate summer place – Schull Harbour with Roaringwater Bay and Carbury’s Hundred Isles beyond

Admittedly Schull in 1984 wasn’t the hyper-prosperous “Dublin 38” it is now, but it was doing very nicely and was glad to have long since moved on from the horrors of the mid-19th Century. And the very fact of staging the Centenary Regatta was such a quietly joyful occasion that it didn’t really matter that the wind fell away completely at mid-race.

THE ALL-MOVING FINISH LINE

For lo, the Race Officers looked out from the Committee Boat and saw that the legendary Imp – at that time owned and skippered by Michael O’Leary of Dun Laoghaire – appeared to have a handsome lead. So they moved the Committee Boat and the pin mark out to a location about fifty yards ahead of the almost totally stationary Imp, and when the slight tide carried Michael and his Merry Men & Women through this ad hoc finish line, they celebrated this winner of the Schull Centenary Regatta with a fusillade of gunfire.

Imp will of course be back in Schull in August thanks to the restoration by George Radley of Cobh. And in the event of total calm, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect the finish line to be re-located precisely as it was 38 years ago.

Schull from Mount Gabriel, with Cape Clear and the Fastnet Rock in the distanceSchull from Mount Gabriel, with Cape Clear and the Fastnet Rock in the distance

Published in W M Nixon, West Cork
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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