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2022 – An Irish Sailing Season Like No Other

12th November 2022
Stars of the Show – the 1994-founded International Cork 1720 Sportsboats found a new lease of life in 2022, and mustered 42 boats for their European Championship within Volvo Cork Week in July
Stars of the Show – the 1994-founded International Cork 1720 Sportsboats found a new lease of life in 2022, and mustered 42 boats for their European Championship within Volvo Cork Week in July Credit: Rick Tomlinson

Sailing sport has previously been halted within personal memory, both by world wars and more locally-based hostilities. And we don’t have to go very far beyond living individual recollection to gauge how the lingering effects of Spanish Flu in 1919 hampered the revival of sailing at the time, which already had its key active crewing numbers severely depleted by the appalling losses of World War I from 1914 to 1918.

Yet in assessing how Irish sailing emerged in 2022 after more than two years under the severely restricting regulations of the COVID Pandemic, it may seem almost frivolous to be drawing comparisons with the longterm ill-effects of total war on the resumption of recreational activity of any kinds.

But in doing so, we remind ourselves that even the most limited sporting and recreational activity can play a vital role in any community’s general well-being and morale. This was particularly so in 2019 to 2022, for the Lockdowns came in the midst of what had been our Era of Plenty. We had become accustomed to total freedom of movement, with a widespread choice of active and often very sociable participant sports . Yet we found ourselves being restricted, in multiple and often tiresome ways, with the hidden but very real added risk of serious infection needing to be considered at every turn.

When Pandemic restrictions were eased from time to time, the well-organised setup under the Dublin Bay SC umbrella enabled racing to take place. Although parts of their programme were curtailed, the Water Wags were able to continue much of their traditional racing within Dun Laoghaire Harbour.When Pandemic restrictions were eased from time to time, the well-organised setup under the Dublin Bay SC umbrella enabled racing to take place. Although parts of their programme were curtailed, the Water Wags were able to continue much of their traditional racing within Dun Laoghaire Harbour.

TOKYO OLYMPICS 2020 BECAME A 2021 EVENT

Oh for sure, sailing – some of it international - went on in limited form. Sometimes indeed, there even seemed to be quite a lot of it. The Tokyo Olympics - postponed for a year – were held in 2021, albeit in rather joyless circumstances. 2021 also saw the Fastnet Race - with its new finish in Cherbourg - being run on schedule, even if the best thing about it was being at sea instead of at the start or finish, for at either end health certification was required and movements ashore were restricted.

The annual Sydney-Hobart Race, however, was cancelled, but the yearly Middle Sea Race from Malta simply blattered on without missing a beat, although at one of the heights of the pandemic, international travel restrictions saw participant numbers on the start line being halved despite the boats already being in Valetta.

Few events signalled a return towards normality more joyously in 2022 than the 78-strong Squib Championship at Kinsale in June. Photo: Robert BatemanFew events signalled a return towards normality more joyously in 2022 than the 78-strong Squib Championship at Kinsale in June. Photo: Robert Bateman

The international high performance programmes – with the next Olympics in Paris in 2024 their goal – continued in a confined form and brought Ireland successes. And at home as restrictions were eased – and then re-imposed, sometimes quite hurriedly – the clubs, classes and organisations proved adept at optimizing the amount of sport possible, with the pace being set by standard bearers like Dublin Bay Sailing Club and the Royal Cork Yacht Club. Nevertheless quite a significant cohort of sailing folk decided that, on balance, they’d rather just sit it out until the full all clear was clearly signalled.

ALL CLEAR SIGNALLED FROM MARCH 2022 ONWARDS

That full all-clear came with increasing rapidity from March 2022 onwards. Yet it soon became evident that a two years-plus gap is an eternity when you’re trying to keep on-water racing systems running smoothly, with their substantial demands on able and sometimes numerous support teams. Thus in Scotland, it was reluctantly decided that the early season Scottish Series – a very popular cobweb-clearer for many Irish crews – simply didn’t have the time to recruit, train and assess on-water support teams, and it was cancelled.

But as the progress into the new full-on season accelerated, so too did the available personnel with an administrative appetite for getting everything in place and up and running, such that at Afloat.ie we’ve had the feeling that things took off with rocket-boosted assistance around May 25th, and only returned to earth as the evenings really closed in at the beginning of September.

ROUND IRELAND RACE FROM WICKLOW PEAK OF THE PILLAR EVENTS

An unprecedented number of major pillar events gave Ireland’s 2022 sailing season its unique character. Top of the pyramid was Wicklow SC’s SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race on Sunday, June 18th, with an excellent international fleet. If anything had been needed to bring home to our sailing community the realization that the Pandemic was a very real and present danger, it was the fact that – after some postponements – the keenly-anticipated 2020 Round Ireland race simply hadn’t happened at all.

Thus the revival in 2022 gave us what was quite simply the most important Round Ireland race since it was founded in 1980. And it ended with an appropriate cracker of a finish.

 The J/99 Snapshot (Mike & Richie Evans, HYC) under the steep slopes of Wicklow Head at the start of her successful Round Ireland Race, her first major offshore challenge. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien The J/99 Snapshot (Mike & Richie Evans, HYC) under the steep slopes of Wicklow Head at the start of her successful Round Ireland Race, her first major offshore challenge. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

For much of the Friday afternoon, the pavilion leaders were the seasoned crew of Laurent Charmy’s J/111 SL Energies Groupe Fastwave from France. Well down the line was Mike & Richie Evans’ little J/99 Snapshot from Howth. Though a noted regatta success boat, this was her first offshore major, and though she’d shown ahead at various stages, by Friday afternoon, it looked as though she’d do well to get on the podium.

Yet somehow through the afternoon, Snapshot never put a foot wrong, despite it being a beat against the tide to the finish. She got clear of the group of mostly higher-rated boats she’d been dicing with, and wriggled close along the beach to such good effect that she began taking serious bites out of SL Energies’ clearance margin. So much so, in fact, that Charmy and his crew felt they were very lucky to still have five minutes in hand when Snapshot nipped through the finish, still pushing tide, to get a second overall and their class win, a solid building block in their eventual emergence this past week as the ICRA “Boat of the Year” 2022.

FOUR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

With Finbarr O’Regan’s J/109 Artful Dodjer from Kinsale taking third, this celebratory Round Ireland of 2022 had been a great race for dedicated club crews, an inspiring symbol of revival for everyone. And by the time this special happening in our sailing occurred, things were swinging as Ireland became fully embroiled in a hyper-active season. We hosted four Worlds – the International GP 14s with 106 boats at Skerries, the International Fireballs at Lough Derg, and the International SB20s at the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire. We hosted the J/24 Europeans at Howth. And at Kinsale in June the ever-hospitable KYC hosted a star happening, the Squib Championship with 78 boats from Ireland and Britain, and an atmosphere of sheer enjoyment in reasonable weather which raised the spirits of the entire sailing community nationwide.

The GP 14s at Skerries may have been won by England’s Ian Dobson & Andy Tunnicliffe for the fifth time, but Irish hopes were particularly well carried by Skerries’ Colman Grimes and Ross Gingles, who were tops of the home fleet at 5th - an achievement set in added perspective when we remember that Colman Grimes also headed the organising team for an event which came through to triumph despite two postponements since 2020.

 Local boy makes good…..Colman Grimes and Ross Gingles come tops of the Irish at the GP14 Worlds at Skerries. Colman Grimes was also the event’s lead organiser. Local boy makes good…..Colman Grimes and Ross Gingles come tops of the Irish at the GP14 Worlds at Skerries. Colman Grimes was also the event’s lead organiser

"The sort of weather that only the waters off Cork Harbour at their best seem able to provide" - America's Stuart McNay and Caleb Paine on their way to victory in the 505 Worlds 2022 at Royal Cork YC"The sort of weather that only the waters off Cork Harbour at their best seem able to provide" - America's Stuart McNay and Caleb Paine on their way to victory in the 505 Worlds 2022 at Royal Cork YC

505 WORLDS AT CROSSHAVEN

It may be sixty years and more since the International 505 Class were the kings of the Irish dinghy sailing scene. But these timeless classic super-perforance boats showed they'd lost none of their glamour and ability to attract the best sailors when they gathered at the Royal Cork in August for a global contest which was initially frustrated by sparseness of wind, but concluded with the sort of weather that only the waters off Cork Harbour at their best seem able to provide.

Stuart McNay and Caleb Paine of the US emerged stylishly triumphant from a truly international fleet, with Ewan Barry & Charles Dwyer the best of the home fleet in 12th overall.

LIVELY LOUGH DERG

The Fireball Worlds on Lough Derg produced some of the most attractive images of dinghy sailing in 2022’s decidedly mixed sailing weather (“volatile” was an adjective which got done to death) and Ireland had a look-in at the front of the fleet with Andy Thompson – originally of Larne and now international crewman to many stars - helping Tom Gillard to the overall win, with Barry McCartin & Conor Kinsella best of the Irish at fourth.

Perfect sailing for the Fireball Worlds on Lough Derg. Photo: Con Murphy Perfect sailing for the Fireball Worlds on Lough Derg. Photo: Con Murphy 

A podium place for the home squad was also narrowly missed in the SB20 Worlds on Dublin Bay with the Royal Irish YC, Michael O’Connor of the Royal St George YC (a notably active club in 2022) taking fourth in Ted with Davy Taylor and Edward Cook, the Gold going to Portugal’s Jose Paulo Ramada.

Wind pressure in abundance at the SB20 Worlds 2022 in Dublin BayWind pressure in abundance at the SB20 Worlds 2022 in Dublin Bay

SUCCESS FOR “KINSAILOR” J/24 PROGRAMME

As for the veteran J/24s with their very international Euros at Howth, it was something of a triumph for Kinsale YC’s U25 Kinsailor Team. For although the overall winner was Greece’s Stelios Sotitiou, Kinsailor helmed by Micheal O’Suilleabhan simply got better and better as the series went on, and ended within a point of the win.

 Fresh winds afloat, drought ashore – the J/24 Euros in action off the Fingal coast. Photo: Annraoi Blaney Fresh winds afloat, drought ashore – the J/24 Euros in action off the Fingal coast. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

Back at Kinsailor’s home port in June meanwhile, the big Squib championship saw Wales’s Tom Jeffcoats and Mark Hogan take the title, with Ian Travers and Keith O’Riordan best of the home fleet.

Kinsale had led the way into the rapidly accelerating 2022 season with its inaugural Inish Tearaght Race from KInsale round the only Blasket island with a lighthouse, and back to Kinsale. It was a rugged proposition for May, yet the smallest boat – Cian McCarthy’s Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl, two-handed with Sam Hunt, won overall.

LIVELY NOR’EASTERLY WINDS ON EAST COAST

The mixed weather of 2022 saw two of the majors on the East Coast – the GP 14 Worlds at Skerries in August preceded by the Wave Regatta at the beginning of June at Howth – contending with decidedly lively onshore nor’easters, but Race Officers Bill O’Hara at Skerries and David Lovegrove at Howth got the programme – or most of it – put through in challenging conditions, with Wave in particular living up to its name in a multi-class series in which the overall winner was Dermot Skehan’s veteran MG 34 Toughnut.

 John Minnis’s A35 Final Call II (RUYC), seen here in action in Wave Regatta at Howth, was successful both in Wave and in Bangor Town Regatta, as well as winning the RC Championship. Photo: Annraoi Blaney John Minnis’s A35 Final Call II (RUYC), seen here in action in Wave Regatta at Howth, was successful both in Wave and in Bangor Town Regatta, as well as winning the RC Championship. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

Before June was out, it saw some more mixed weather for Bangor Town Regatta, a four day event run by RUYC on Belfast Lough, with John Minnis’s potent Archambault 35 Final Call II managing to win overall, even if they finished the final race with the mast only just staying aloft. Despite that, they finished the season as over RC Champions as well, and meanwhile the Bangor Town Regatta organisers are faced with the fact that their coastal metropolis is now officially the City of Bangor, which mean as sure as Godd made little apples that their next staging of this popular event in two years time will enjoy the acronym of COBRA.

VOLVO CORK WEEK CATCHES UP ON ROYAL CORK TRICENTENARY

July was very much Volvo Cork Week, aka Royal Cork YC Tricentenary Plus Two. It included the ICRA Nationals with several class titles up for grabs, and it included the Inter-Services Beaufort Cup, won by the Crosshaven RNLI racing the Murphy family’s hot-shot Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo.

 Denis & Annemarie Fegan of Nieulago receiving the Beaufort Cup on behalf of the Crosshaven Lifeboat Team at Volvo Cork Week. Photo: Rick Tomlinson Denis & Annemarie Fegan of Nieulago receiving the Beaufort Cup on behalf of the Crosshaven Lifeboat Team at Volvo Cork Week. Photo: Rick Tomlinson

Yet despite all those glamour championships and podium toppers, the real stars of the week were the 1994-founded Cork 1720 Sportsboats. They’ve been led in a new revival by many enthusiasts, with Class Chairman David Love in the hot seat for 2022 as 42 gleaming 1720s – there have been some gorgeous re-spray jobs - gathered for their 2022 Euros in the heart of Cork Week, with Ross McDonald, Aoife English & Rob English leading the charge in a combined Howth-Crosshaven campaign with Atara to take the title every which way, and the “Boat of the Week” trophy with it.

Supreme Champions – the Atara crew at Volvo Cork Week with the historic “Kinsale Kettle”. Photo: Rick TomlinsonSupreme Champions – the Atara crew at Volvo Cork Week with the historic “Kinsale Kettle”. Photo: Rick Tomlinson

Meanwhile on the secret waters of the Shannon’s mighty lakes, the normally self-contained Shannon One Designs were celebrating their Centenary by going very stylishly public in July with major regatta weekends at Dromineer on Lough Derg and Lough Ree YC at Ballyglass, Frank Guy and his family emerging as overall SOD Centenary Champions after some pretty ferocious competition.

Centenary Regatta sunshine for the Shannon One Designs on Lough DergCentenary Regatta sunshine for the Shannon One Designs on Lough Derg

TOP INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS

While all this sort of thing was going on at home, every so often news would come of some truly remarkable international achievements by Ireland’s established and rising stars, and mid-July saw Howth’s Eve McMahon and Rocco Wright both win Gold at the Youth Sailing Worlds in The Netherlands. All of this will be a story in itself when we come to review the distinguished roster of Sailors of the Month nearer the end of the year, for restrictions on space mean we stick mainly to the home front as July morphs into August and everyone seems to look west, though the reality is that August sees hyper-activity on all fronts and all coastlines and sailing lakes, but it just seems to have a different flavour as the peak of the season passes.

Thus although Calves Week at Schull had not totally disappeared for the entire duration of the pandemic, there was something vividly re-born about its 2022 iteration, with the little Round Ireland star Snapshot adding further laurels to continue to propel her along the path to becoming the ICRA Boat of the Year 2022, while across the water in the Solent, Pat Boardman’s Classic Half Tonner King One from Rush SC was well on her way to winning the Half Ton Cup 2022.

SUCCESS FOR GALWAY IN WIORA AT KILRUSH

Northward along the west coast, the WIORA Championship was staged by RWIYC at Kilrush, and defending champion Tribal, Liam Burke’s Farr 31 from Galway Bay Sailing Club, showed that she and her youthful crew weren’t for shifting from the top slot, despite an array of conditions which ranged from the benign to the super-brisk.

Liam Burke’s Farr 31 Tribal from Galway won the WIORA Championship at Kilrush. Photo: Robert BatemanLiam Burke’s Farr 31 Tribal from Galway won the WIORA Championship at Kilrush. Photo: Robert Bateman

ISORA GOLDEN JUBILEE

That had also been the season-long experience with ISORA on the East Coast as they put through their Golden Jubilee Programme in 2022. It’s being celebrated this evening (Saturday, November 12th) with the ISORA 50th Anniversary Dinner and Prize-Giving in the National YC in Dun Laaoghaire, and though the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association is noted for going quietly about its business afloat, celebration is well-merited tonight as the J/109 Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox, Pwllheli SC) becomes the ISORA Golden Jubilee Champion.

ISORA Golden Jubilee Champion: The J/109 Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox, Pwllheli SC)ISORA Golden Jubilee Champion: The J/109 Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox, Pwllheli SC)

BUSY TRALEE BAY

The biggest one-class national dinghy championship of the season – and indeed of any season – was of course the ILCA/Laser Nats, staged for 2022 by the hospitable Tralee Bay SC. And within it, the biggest division was the ILCA 6 section, won by Fiachra Geraghty-McDonnell in another of the RStGYC’s 2022 achievements.

JUNIOR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

He further added to them at the end of September by winning the Junior National Championship at Schull in the TRS 3.6s crewed by his sister Caoilinn. And then in October the RStGYC’s “finish with a flourish” conclusion to the 2022 season continued with Sean Craig taking Bronze in the ILCA Euro Masters in Spain, while Ger Owens retained the title in the 75th Anniversary Champions Cup, formerly the Helmsman’s Championship, raced in GP14s at Sutton DC with Mel Morris of Newtownards SC as his crew.

The David Harte-developed TR3.6s racing in the Junior Nationals in SchullThe David Harte-developed TR3.6s racing in the Junior Nationals in Schull

75 YEARS OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP OF CHAMPIONS

It was quite a moment as this popular north-south crew of Owens & Morris held the familiar trophy aloft, for although this supreme event may now have been given the catchier title of the Champions’ Cup, it was still the familiar vintage silver salver which symbolized it all in this major 2022 contest, which saw the GP14 Association’s Andy Johnston lead his team in providing a flotilla of top class race-ready boats.

 The thriving GP14 Association of Ireland provided ten top boats for the new-look 75th Anniversary Champions Cup 2022 at Sutton Dinghy Club. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien  The thriving GP14 Association of Ireland provided ten top boats for the new-look 75th Anniversary Champions Cup 2022 at Sutton Dinghy Club. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien 

MIDDLE SEA SUCCESS

Meanwhile, clubs on all coasts were staging well-supported Autumn Leagues, with some idyllic warm weather slipped under the radar at a time when the Atlantic was generally in a very restless mood. And before October was out, the Middle Sea Race brought further achievement with the only Irish entry, Conor Doyle’s Xp 50 Freya from Kinsale - crewed by all the Irish talents from Kinsale and Crosshaven and Malta - winning ORC 3.

Mid-November may seem slightly early to be taking a selective overview of the year, but with Turkey Shoots and Brass Monkeys and long-running Frostbite series already upon us, now is when the time is right.

A VERY GOOD YEAR

It was a good year – a very good year. And maybe now we better understand how it is that, much and all as the Spanish Flu Pandemic combined with the after-effects of World War I to have a very adverse effect on sailing in 1919-1920 and beyond, you very seldom saw it mentioned afterwards in sailing reports once a year or two had passed. For that’s the abiding impression that sailing life in 2022 has left us with. Given the slightest chance, it just goes on, as does life itself. And the many great events that happened in 2022 soon obliterated the unhappy memories of those numerous events in the two year Pandemic period that had failed to make it to the starting line.

Published in W M Nixon
WM Nixon

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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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