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Ted Crosbie 1931-2022

15th October 2022
The last hurrah. Ted Crosbie’s X302 No Excuse on her way to victory by one point in the Royal Cork YC IRC Winter League 2017. Just as Ted had encouraged his own father Tom to keep sailing until well into advanced old age, so Ted’s son Tom encouraged his father to keep racing until he was eighty-seven
The last hurrah. Ted Crosbie’s X302 No Excuse on her way to victory by one point in the Royal Cork YC IRC Winter League 2017. Just as Ted had encouraged his own father Tom to keep sailing until well into advanced old age, so Ted’s son Tom encouraged his father to keep racing until he was eighty-seven Credit: Robert Bateman

Ted Crosbie combined so many of the strongest threads of Cork life that he embodied an entire Munster universe of personal positivity. Family was everything to him, but so too was the unique and bustling maritime city of Cork and its county, to both of which he was to make many useful contributions in business, technology, communications and social awareness, while enthusiastically showing that what others might have thought of as hard work could in itself be enjoyable and all-absorbing entertainment.

His usually ebullient image belied his deeply-held but quietly-manifested faith, and his exceptional resilience – combined with his strong family ethos - enabled him to emerge into fresh enthusiasm for everyday life after the losses which every large and loving family of the Crosbies’ size inevitably experiences.

With his distinctively generous build and usually twinkling eyes, inevitably those who knew him slightly might use the word “jolly” to describe this multi-faceted man. But any experience of his piercing yet kindly intellect combined with his remarkable breadth of knowledge, expertise and culture - particularly when engaged in a very dynamic interaction with his beloved Cork – brought the realisation that trite adjectives like “jolly” were totally inadequate to capture the spirit of a very capable man who was also a brilliant raconteur, a man who seldom finished a meeting without some light-hearted exchange in which he was as ready to tell a joke at his own expense as he was to recount a tale which put an acquaintance in an amusing but friendly light.

 The very special place. Ted Crosbie’s attachment to Cork Harbour and all its sailing was total The very special place. Ted Crosbie’s attachment to Cork Harbour and all its sailing was total

His life was quintessential Cork, for throughout it, the family home was Woodlands in Montenotte. Thus he spoke with a distinct variant of the renowned Montenotte accent, which he wasn’t above exaggerating if he felt the company he was with was taking itself unnecessarily seriously. The newspaper-publishing Crosbie family bought Woodlands in 1916 from the Arnott family, who were all that remained of a short-lived but vibrant dynasty descended from John Arnott, a “commercially strenuous” Scotsman who arrived in Cork in the 1830s and pursued several business endeavours – often extending them to other Irish cities – with varying levels of success.

By the 1860s, John Arnott was very much “The Man”, and was as prominent in sailing as he was in horse racing, with his sailing extending to active involvement in yacht club administration and participation in the pioneering Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race, which was first sailed in 1860.

The family of Thomas Crosbie meanwhile were quietly on the rise, having taken over The Cork Examiner and its extensive printing business though the patriarch Crosbie working his way up through the management structure. And while they too were into recreation afloat, their vessel was a “working yacht”, as from time to time she would be sailed seaward to meet ships from America as they passed Cork on their way to some major European port.

Thus in an era of developing but still primitive Transatlantic communication, the Crosbie organisation could be ahead of the entire Continental news system, a notable instance being when they announced and disseminated the word that the American Civil War was finally over in 1865. As a result of this, the Examiner group became one of the media companies involved in developing the Reuter’s international news agency, a shrewd investment which was to stand them to the good in the years ahead, while imbuing the growing workforce in Cork with a sense of the international, and a respect for new technology, although their readers – the majority of them in Munster – saw The Cork Examiner as “De Paper”, focused strongly on their local concerns and interests even if it clearly had its own international outlook, all of it combined with an exceptional interest in sport with a very strong Cork flavour.

Quietly amused and alert to the very end – one of the last photos taken of the late Ted CrosbieQuietly amused and alert to the very end – one of the last photos taken of the late Ted Crosbie

When Ted Crosbie finally took over the senior management role at The Examiner from his father Tom, he was a fourth-generation newspaper publisher. He was also a fourth-generation sailing enthusiast at an increasingly committed level, as his father had moved the Crosbie involvement afloat smoothly upwards with the acquisition of the International 8 Metre If, bought from another pillar of Cork sailing, Aylmer Hall.

The exceptionally beautiful If – designed and built by Bjarne Aas in Norway in 1930 - was one of a distinguished flotilla of classic International 8s based in Cork Harbour through the ’50s and early ’60s. If was not only one of the largest 8 Metres ever built – unusually, she had full standing headroom - she was also one of the most beautiful, and she enabled the Crosbie family to confidently extend their sailing beyond Cork Harbour to Kinsale and further to one of their favourite places, Schull in West Cork, where for many years the annual Schull Regatta – founded in 1884 –would have been unthinkable without If gracing the starting line.

If making a sweet start at Schull Regatta in 1960, when there was very little development along the Colla Road. Photo: Cork ExaminerIf making a sweet start at Schull Regatta in 1960, when there was very little development along the Colla Road. Photo: Cork Examiner 

If racing off Cobh in the late 1950s. One of the most beautiful yachts ever to grace Cork Harbour, she was the first keelboat helmed by the young Ted CrosbieIf racing off Cobh in the late 1950s. One of the most beautiful yachts ever to grace Cork Harbour, she was the first keelboat helmed by the young Ted Crosbie

But by the time his father was campaigning If – aboard which young Tom was to frequently crew and helm - the junior Crosbie was also already carving his own distinctive sailing career, having started as a young schoolboy with one of the clinker-built lugsail-rigged International 12s which dominated the Cork dinghy sailing scene in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.

International 12s racing in Cork Harbour in the 1940s. In Ireland they are now classic collector’s items, but in Belgium and Italy they continue as a popular class, with new boats being built. Photo: Courtesy RCYCInternational 12s racing in Cork Harbour in the 1940s. In Ireland they are now classic collector’s items, but in Belgium and Italy they continue as a popular class, with new boats being built. Photo: Courtesy RCYC

However, by the late 1940s, change was very much in the air, and the then modern-looking new Irish Dinghy Racing Association 14ft Class – designed by O’Brien Kennedy – was experiencing rocket-like expansion, such that when Ted – then aged 17 – acquired his new IDRA 14 Malacadoo in the first of many mutually-beneficial interactions with master boat-builder George Bushe, she was numbered 47, and among Ted’s crews was the young Donal McClement.

We get the flavour of the many nuances of the youthful Cork sailing scene then - and since - from the podcast which Ted recorded with Tom MacSweeney of this parish and was re-posted this week. But in truth, it would take a fully-resourced and very dedicated and well-researched academic study to set Ted Crosbie’s remarkable life in its full perspective.

Despite the fact that he was already showing signs of the ample shape which would be his adult trademark, he was an ace at dinghy racing, and indeed at sailing generally. He was always at one with the boat he was racing, and was somehow transformed into a nautical athlete as soon as he went afloat.

The new IDRA 14s make their debut at Crosshaven in the late 1940s at what was then the Royal Munster Yacht Club. Photo courtesy RCYCThe new IDRA 14s make their debut at Crosshaven in the late 1940s at what was then the Royal Munster Yacht Club. Photo courtesy RCYC 

A personal recollection is of a distinctly breezy Cork Week in the 1990s, when we were racing a hefty boat noted for her heavy weather windward performance and comfort. Near us was Ted Crosbie, racing in a different class in the Dehler Db1 he campaigned so successfully and determinedly in his prime. While our robust machine ploughed remorselessly on past lighter boats, Ted’s racing-optimised boat by contrast worked her way gradually ahead, apparently leaping effortlessly from wave to wave while the unmistakable shape of the helmsman – clearly enjoying every minute of this “damned fine thrash to windward” – remained firmly and confidently perched in the weather rail as though he was glued there, steering brilliantly while shrewdly assessing the varying wind strengths and gauging how best to take each wave, while at the same time keeping a strategic eye on the actions of other boats in his class.

It was ever thus. He was barely into IDRA 14s before he was sufficiently competent to win the Helmsman’s Championship in 1950 at the age of 19. Thus there was an inspiring completeness in his death at the age of 91 last weekend, coming as it did a few hours after the 75th sailing of the Champions’ Cup, today’s version of the Helmsman’s title which he had won all of 72 years ago.

But while winning the Championship of Champions would be enough for many Irish sailors, Ted regarded it as just another step along an exciting sailing road. In the somewhat traditionally-minded world of Cork sailing, he was a restless presence in favour of innovation. It’s unexpected in some ways, yet all of a piece, that his university degree was in chemistry from UCC, and thereafter, far from seeing himself as a nascent newspaper magnate, he preferred to think of himself as “a chemist by training, a shovel engineer by vocation, and a manager by desperation”.

The 505 Worlds at Royal Cork in 2022 were a reminder that, nearly 70 years ago, these great boats were pioneered as a class in Cork Harbour by the likes of Ted Crosbie. Photo 505 InternationalThe 505 Worlds at Royal Cork in 2022 were a reminder that, nearly 70 years ago, these great boats were pioneered as a class in Cork Harbour by the likes of Ted Crosbie. Photo 505 International

So where other IDRA 14 sailors in Cork were moving up to National 18s – which were for all the world just like larger IDRA 14s – Ted was much more excited by the new John Westell-designed 505, which was showing the first signs of being the astonishing travelling circus it subsequently became in Ireland, the Class of Classes for the Irish dinghy elite from each main sailing centre, with all the top boats and crews gathering for regular championships by descending upon 505-only regattas at all sorts of out of the way places, bringing their own race-organising teams with them for mega-hectic events.

It was not a setup for the faint-hearted, but Ted Crosbie seemed fearless. His first 505 was built in Cork by George Bushe in what may have been that multi-talented builder’s first excursion into multi-skin boat-building, and with his cousin Neil Hegarty as crew (my sincere thanks to Neil for his help in compiling this appreciation) they set off on the 505 circuit. And that was grand despite Ted’s build, which only became a real problem if he happened to go overboard, whereupon Neil had somehow to keep the boat upright while hauling his mighty skipper – who might or might not still be wearing his sailing shorts – in over the transom like a captured whale.

The Hegarty-Crosbie connection went much further than sailing, as Neil’s father was the building contractor who put together the enlarged structure which enabled the Examiner to implement modernisations of its printing plant, in which it usually led the Irish newspaper industry. Ted loved everything to do with producing a daily newspaper, and if anything he spent more of his school holidays in and around the Examiner building, with all its fascinating but potentially lethal machinery, than he did in going sailing.

Anyone who has ever been in a traditional newspaper office and works will know well the moment when the mighty hot metal printing machines are switched into action. It started with a mighty shuddering, and then settled into a ruthless rhythm which resonated throughout the building. For some, it was torture, but for enthusiasts like Ted, it was Grand Opera, and the printers became accustomed to finding the proprietor’s eldest son running about in the deep recesses under the machine, enjoying every minute of the whole performance in a location of extreme danger for the uninitiated.

So it was typical that when Hegarty Senior went up one evening to monitor the latest extension and new plant, it was to find the machines already being given a test run, supervised by Ted who looked for all the world like a ship’s engineer as he prowled about with an oilcan, lubricating here and lubricating there until he knew every nut and bolt, and every moving part.

With such an attitude, inevitably he would be looking to ways to move forward with 505 racing, and he and John O’Meara decided to experiment with a couple of new fibreglass hulls from France, but GRP in its infancy was still producing hulls which were too flexible to be tops, but they persisted with another maker, and were back in the crazy 505 hunt, but now with competitive fiberglass boats.

Ted’s first personal keelboat was the Trapper 28 Sundancer, finished in Cork from a bare hull by George & Killian Bushe. Despite the boat’s small size – she didn’t even have standing headroom – Ted Crosbie put in a memorable performance in an offshore race in near-gale conditions from Kinsale to the Fastnet Rock and back to Crosshaven in 1976.Ted’s first personal keelboat was the Trapper 28 Sundancer, finished in Cork from a bare hull by George & Killian Bushe. Despite the boat’s small size – she didn’t even have standing headroom – Ted Crosbie put in a memorable performance in an offshore race in near-gale conditions from Kinsale to the Fastnet Rock and back to Crosshaven in 1976.

In time with domesticity upon him after marriage to Gretchen, a move into a keelboat with lid was signalled, and he was one of a small group in Cork which bought up the attractive but basic little Trapper 28s designed by the Canadian team of Cuthbert and Cassian. Most were finished in the new South Coast Boatyard of Pat Hickey and Barry Burke on the shores of Cork Harbour at Rochestown by George Bushe and his hugely talented son Killian, chiming well with Ted’s enthusiasm for having anything and everything Cork-made or sourced if at all possible.

This loyalty to place meant that when he finally became the boss in the Examiner group, it was an unwritten but scrupulously regarded rule within his own lively branch of the family that all their personal shopping had to be done in Cork. The idea of a retail therapy expedition to Dublin or London – or even Paris – was anathema. But in acquiring new sailing boats, his restlessly researching mind would find only frustration in being strictly Cork-only, though for the time being in the 1970s, his Cork Harbour-finished Trapper 28 Sundancer provided all he needed.

Ultimately his real preference was for One-Design racing, and while he enjoyed long courses and intricate coastal racing where his distinctive way of giving friendly advice to visiting boats just about to hit a rock was part of the Crosbie legend, overnight and rugged offshore racing wasn’t really his thing. Nevertheless, when ISORA Week was held in Cork in 1976 and the programme included an overnight race from Kinsale round the Fastnet and back to Crosshaven with a gale forecast, Ted took the very basic little 28ft Sundancer (she didn’t even have full standing headroom) and slugged it out with the best of them, finishing the race and finishing it well while some larger craft retired.

THE TED CROSBIE BOAT LIST

The total list of his boats, as kindly supplied by Neil Hegarty, tells us as much about Ted Crosbie as it does about the boats he selected:

  1. International 12
  2. IDRA 14/47 Malacadoo built for him by George Bushe in 1947
  3. 5o5 Chuckawalla, also built by George Bushe in 1957
  4. In the early ’60's, Ted and John O'Meara bought the first GRP 5o5 hulls built in France. Not fast because GRPhulls were not yet stiff.
  5. Another stiffer 5o5
  6. Trapper 28 Sundancer, built George & Killian Bushe at Rochestown
  7. Sadler 32 Mariquita.
  8. Dehler DB 1 Chuckawalla.
  9. Peterson 40 Mayhem chartered for a season from John Killeen of Galway. She was originally built in aluminium in Florida for David May for the 1981 UK Admirals Cup team
  10. Dehler 34 Tranquility
  11. X Yachts 332 Excuse Me
  12. X Yachts 302 No Excuse. Final boat, sold to Howth 2018

With the limitations of the Trapper 28 when set against the needs of a growing family, Ted moved into a very capable all-rounder, the Sadler 32 Mariquita, and then as the domestic and local sailing scenes progressed, he was back to sharp-end racing in handicap contests with the Dehler db1.

This was briefly followed by the charter of the Doug Peterson-designed 40ft Admirals Cupper Mayhem for a season from John Killeen of Galway. She was the biggest boat he ever actively campaigned, but after that, he gave an indication of continuing loyalty to Dehler with the new Dehler 33 Tranquility.

Ted Crosbie’s only excursion into big boat campaigning was a season’s charter of the Doug Peterson-designed Admiral’s Cupper Mayhem. Thereafter, he decided that if the boat was too big to be sailed just by family and close friends, then she was too big for himTed Crosbie’s only excursion into big boat campaigning was a season’s charter of the Doug Peterson-designed Admiral’s Cupper Mayhem. Thereafter, he decided that if the boat was too big to be sailed just by family and close friends, then she was too big for him

She seemed a perfect solution, but when he became aware that the attractive range of X Yachts from Denmark were building increasing numbers in Ireland and were sufficiently numerous in the Solent to hold annual championship weeks, the competitive one-design bug returned big time, and with the support of his son Tom he finished his active sailing career with campaigns to Cowes and the regular and successful racing of the X332 Excuse Me and the X302 No Excuses, exiting on a high by winning the 2017 IRC Winter Series at the Royal Cork YC by one point.

Retirement from racing? Not just yet. A period of moderate success with the Dehler 33 Tranquility (as above) ended when Ted was persuaded by his family that he should get back into the cut and thrust of One-Design racing with an X YachtRetirement from racing? Not just yet. A period of moderate success with the Dehler 33 Tranquility (as above) ended when Ted was persuaded by his
family that he should get back into the cut and thrust of One-Design racing with an X Yacht

During all this time he was of course active in many voluntary capacities in Cork and nationally, those in sailing, including being Admiral of the Royal Cork from 1984-1986. Ashore, when he took over the reins at The Examiner group, he was that rare thing in the jungle which is the newspaper industry – he was a genuinely nice guy, liked and indeed loved by all, his frequent visits to the newsroom and printworks until well into his eighties being warmly welcomed.

His relationship with his skilled and dedicated staff was largely one of equals in which humour played a key role, a notable example being in 1984 when the Crosbie family’s fondness of Schull Regatta led to the Schull Centenary Regatta being promoted with enthusiasm.

Thus in the Spring of 1984 there was a preliminary launching in Cork city, and later we all trooped down to Schull for a spot of rocket-assisted re-launching at the venue itself. The organizing “comity” had signed up Ted himself to be the lead speaker as an unrivalled veteran participant of Schull regatta, and the photographer from the Examiner recorded a choice moment during his boss’s speech.

In the photo, Ted is looking aloft as he shapes his next rolling and inevitably droll phrases. The OC Chairman is conspicuously looking at his watch. And the two other OC members on stage are both staring vaguely into the wide blue yonder, present in body but not in mind.

Needless to say it appeared in full prominence in the next day’s Examiner, and when Ted got to the office in the morning and saw it all, he smilingly extolled its virtues of execution and display as splendid newspaper work. For he was a newspaper man to his finger-tips, and he lovingly led the Examiner into new technologies which for a time meant it was the most advanced newspaper production process in the world. But the realities of the limitations of the distribution area it meaningfully covered meant that, in the face of accelerating and ruthless developments right across the world of communications, even the best-produced regional newspaper in the world could not survive the assault of the international big numbers, and the Crosbie family lost control of The Examiner in 2018.

Ted took it stoically as he took everything else, showing more concern for the feelings of others in the larger Examiner family than he did for his own thoughts. Yet underneath it all was a sensitive and creative man who had to allow others to do the writing, yet was well capable of producing beautiful writing himself.

During this past week of remembering Ted Crosbie, Taoiseach Micheal Martin TD particularly remembered this, saying that a formal letter from Ted Crosbie on behalf of the Irish newspaper industry was inevitably so beautifully phrased that you found yourself savouring the sheer style of it before addressing the strong message it contained.

Always interested in meeting interesting people…..at the 2016 Sailor of the Year awards in January 2017 in Dublin, ISORA Champion 2016 Stephen Tudor of Pwllheli (left) with Ted Crosbie, whose grand-daughter Sophie had won a national prize. Photo: W M NixonAlways interested in meeting interesting people…..at the 2016 Sailor of the Year awards in January 2017 in Dublin, ISORA Champion 2016 Stephen Tudor of Pwllheli (left) with Ted Crosbie, whose grand-daughter Sophie had won a national prize. Photo: W M Nixon

It is many years ago now since Ted wrote a privately-circulated piece about the continuing sailing of his close friend Denis Doyle after Mary Doyle had died to leave Denis a widower, following decades of successful functioning as one of Irish sailing and international offshore racing’s most dynamic couples.

Ted made it his business to be quietly out of sight in Crosshaven on the evening when he knew Denis would be returning with Moonduster after his first international season without Mary to support him in foreign ports, or greet him on his return to Ireland. In time, Ted went down to greet Moonduster’s skipper, but for a while, he gave free rein to his thoughts, and the result was a piece - which should remain private - perfectly encapsulating the inescapable realities of a life well lived. And only Ted Crosbie could have written it. He was a universe.

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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