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Sailing In Ireland Had “Bounce-Back Year” in 2022, What Will 2023 Bring?

26th November 2022
The start of the 2019 National YC Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, with eventual overall winner Rockabill VI (JPK 10.80, Paul O’Higgins RIYC) just ahead of Mick Cotter’s 94ft Windfall, which took line honours and established a new course record. The 30th Anniversary D2D starts in Dublin Bay on June 7th 2023
The start of the 2019 National YC Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, with eventual overall winner Rockabill VI (JPK 10.80, Paul O’Higgins RIYC) just ahead of Mick Cotter’s 94ft Windfall, which took line honours and established a new course record. The 30th Anniversary D2D starts in Dublin Bay on June 7th 2023 Credit: Afloat

Did we really manage it? Did we really cram all those major special and routine regular sailing events into the one season of 2022? And all that despite its three main months afloat experiencing decidedly mixed weather? And also despite the fact that many folk had simply got out of the way of packing lots of active racing and hectic après sailing into an already complicated way of life?

Yes, it was the Bounce-back Summer and no mistake, making up for the Pandemic’s lost time with major international events running back-to-back, and all that in the midst of a crowded programme on the local front, with some clubs finding that – thanks to their prime restriction-compliant place at the heart of the community – they were actually emerging into the new reality with more members than they’d had going into the plague years.

Thus we’re a bit like someone who resumes swimming after an absence, and begins by diving off an excessively high board which leaves them gasping as it is, yet they persist in swimming determinedly on with excessive speed and enthusiasm for fear that some new restrictions will suddenly bring it all to a sudden end.

BREATHLESS WITH ACHIEVEMENT

In other words, at the moment the sailing community is simply breathless with exhaustion and achievement. And it takes an extra effort to contemplate the season of 2023, at a time now - in November/December - when many of the more sociable clubs are still holding frequent functions to celebrate the remarkable amount of sailing – and successful sailing at that – which has been done at home and abroad during 2022.

So in contemplating the 2023 season at this stage, we’ll take a fairly broad-brush approach. What will be the pillar events, and what will be the main underlying themes?

 Secret waters. The usually private Shannon One Desigs went public for their Centenary in 2022Secret waters. The usually private Shannon One Desigs went public for their Centenary in 2022

As ever with Irish sailing’s long history, there’ll be significant commemorations to be marked. 2022 saw the Centenary of the Shannon One Designs, celebrated by that normally rather private class with very public festivities on Lough Ree and Lough Derg during July, following which they were able to go back into their time-honoured closed-shop mode during August’s traditional lake regatta weeks.

SAOIRSE CIRCUMNAVGATION CENTENARY

In 2023, the big One Hundred to be marked is the Centenary of the start from Dun Laoghaire on the 20th June 1923 of Conor O’Brien of Limerick’s pioneering voyage around the world south of the great Capes in his new own-designed Baltimore-built 42ft ketch Saoirse.

Conor O’Brien’s new Saoirse takes her departure for the Great Southern Ocean from “Dunleary” on June 20th 1923.Conor O’Brien’s new Saoirse takes her departure for the Great Southern Ocean from “Dunleary” on June 20th 1923

As Saoirse was to become the first sea-going vessel to fly the ensign of the newly-established Irish Free State, everyone – but everyone – quite rightly feels that they own part of this remarkable achievement. Yet as a consequence, those who have been quietly flying the O’Brien voyaging achievement banner for decades, trying to ensure that it is all properly placed in a national and global context, found that they were in danger of being swamped by new enthusiasts who wanted to make a complete circus out of the entire affair.

 The re-created Saoirse newly-launched at Oldcourt in September 2022 - looking good, but with too much work still to be completed for a full programme in 2023. Photo: John Wolfe The re-created Saoirse newly-launched at Oldcourt in September 2022 - looking good, but with too much work still to be completed for a full programme in 2023. Photo: John Wolfe

However, reality has intervened. The West Cork summer resident who has a Saoirse re-build being created at Oldcourt has indicated that the boat won’t really be in a properly tried and tested seaworthy condition for any Dun Laoghaire celebration planned for June 2023. And in any case he tends to feel that it is more appropriate to keep her in West Cork in celebration of that area’s often-overlooked contribution to the magnificent O’Brien circumnavigation of a century ago, and his subsequent success with the 56t ketch Ilen.

REALISTIC CENTENARY CELEBRATION SAILING ILEN

But as the 1926-built O’Brien-designed 56ft Ilen has been sailing again as a multi-purpose vessel for some years now, thanks to a meticulous restoration programme by Gary MacMahon of Limerick and the Ilen Project working with Liam Hegarty’s boatyard in Oldcourt near Baltimore, a more realistic commemoration scenario has been devised by the Irish Cruising Club in co-ordination with the Ilen Project.

Saoirse’s “big sister”, the 56ft Ilen, has been recruited to take on a celebratory role for the Saoirse Centenary. Photo: Gary Mac MahonSaoirse’s “big sister”, the 56ft Ilen, has been recruited to take on a celebratory role for the Saoirse Centenary. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

The ICC was not founded until 1929, but one of its first acts was to make Conor O’Brien its first Honorary Member. However, during his voyage it had been the 1880-founded London-based Royal Cruising Club which gave him enthusiastic support through the regular award of its premier trophy, the Challenge Cup.

This was done three years in a row in 1923, ’24 and ’25 as his voyage progressed to its successful conclusion in Dun Laoghaire exactly two years to the day after departure. And the RCC’s leading officer was also very encouraging in the promotion of O’Brien’s book of his voyage, Across Three Oceans, which in terms of its genre, became a best-seller.

All this was in a time of political turmoil in Ireland with Dublin/London conflict, when O’Brien, moreover, was entering the international sailing arena with a personal history of having been one of the 1914 gun-runners in favour of Irish Home Rule, along with Erskine Childers and Sir Thomas Myles. Thus it was courageous and generous to come out so openly in London in his support, and in recognition of this, the ICC will be joining the RCC with he Ilen as flagship in a Centenary cruise-in-company from Dun Laoghaire to Madeira and back, while the two clubs will be joining forces in publishing a re-introduced re-print of Across Three Oceans.

Cape Horn pioneer Conor O’Brien as portrayed by his wife, the artist Kitty Clausen, in 1930Cape Horn pioneer Conor O’Brien as portrayed by his wife, the artist Kitty Clausen, in 1930

DUBLIN BAY SAILING CLUB JOINED CELEBRATION

This neat solution to what was shaping up to be a possible clash of viewpoints as to how best the Centenary of the beginning of Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse voyage should be marked is further enhanced by realising that the major celebration should really be on the Centenary of his return, on June 20th 2025. It happened to be a Saturday back in 1925, yet Dublin Bay Sailing Club cancelled its legendary Saturday racing programme in order that its complete racing fleet could welcome Saoirse home.

That in itself was such a totally unprecedented gesture by the 1884-founded DBSC that its Centenary deserves celebration in its own right. So maybe harmony can be maintained by everyone anticipating some special celebration on June 20th 2025, when a sense of completeness might be possible with the more relaxed presence of the re-created Saoirse.

THIRTY YEARS OF THE DUN LAOGHAIRE-DINGLE RACE

Meanwhile, 2023 is already very Dun Laoghaire-focused with the 30th Anniversary staging of the biennial Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race from the National Yacht Club on Wednesday, June 7th, and the all-clubs four day Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta from July 6th to 9th. The Regatta Director this year is Paddy Boyd, whose extensive sailing experience and interaction with Dun Laoghaire and Dublin Bay are so intertwined as to be part of his DNA.

Paddy Boyd is bringing an unrivalled wealth of Dublin Bay sailing and administration experience to the challenge of the VDLR 2023. Photo: Robert BatemanPaddy Boyd is bringing an unrivalled wealth of Dublin Bay sailing and administration experience to the challenge of the VDLR 2023. Photo: Robert Bateman

Nevertheless, it will take all the expertise and enthusiasm of Paddy and his team to get the VDLR machine up and running at full blast again. It’s a formidable setup when it gears fully into smooth action, which made it a doubly-cruel blow when it all had to be pandemic-dismantled early in 2021. Back then, Don O’Dowd (who will continue as Chairman for 2023) was heading the large group of volunteers who finally learned that their already much-worked-at and intensely-sociable VDLR 2021 simply wasn’t going to happen.

SOVEREIGNS AT KINSALE WILL MAKE COMEBACK

In their racing to Dingle, the D2D competitors - with the Murphy family’s Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo of the Royal Cork YC the defending champion, having been welcomed back to Crosshaven after her victory in 2021 with a full gun salute by Admiral Colin Morehead – will be battling past Kinsale, which hosts its own battles with Sovereign’s Regatta on June 21st to 24th.

Every major regatta in Ireland – whether it be Bangor Town on Belfast Lough, Wave at Howth, the VDLR in Dun Laoghaire, Volvo Cork Week in Cork Harbour, the Sovereigns in Kinsale, or Calves Week at Schull – manages to have its own unique character, partly because those seven premier sailing centres somehow all manage to be completely different in character from the other six.

 Kinsale. Every major regatta centre in Ireland is unique, and the special charms of Kinsale are obvious Kinsale. Every major regatta centre in Ireland is unique, and the special charms of Kinsale are obvious Photo: Wikimedia

Yet the Sovereigns at Kinsale - sponsored in 2023 by Simply Blue - will have at least one significant carry-over from 2022’s Volvo Cork Week. The 1720 Euros were the highlight of Crosshaven last July with a crack fleet of 42 boats, many of them with superb restoration and re-spray jobs which belied their class’s 1994 origins. The Crosshaven-Howth team of the English and McDonald talents combined on Atara to come out tops, which means that at Kinsale they’ll be the target boat, while the other target is to push the fleet of these eternally attractive boats through the 50 mark.

Our U25's sending it last week in preparation for the 1720 Nationals in Baltimore!

Posted by Royal Cork Yacht Club on Monday, 22 August 2022

After thirty years, the Cork 1720 Sportsboat is as attractive as ever. They’ll be hoping for a fleet of 50-plus at Kinsale next June for their Euros as part in the Sovereigns Regatta

THE INTERNATONAL SCENE

We’ll be taking a much more comprehensive look at the international prospects for 2023 in a future SailSat, but anyone who thinks that the Irish representation afloat for the 2024 Olympics in Paris (with the sailing at Marseille) will be selected by the end of 2023 might be surprised when some of it goes right down to the wire in April 2024, which has happened in times past.

Be that as it may, on the offshore scene 2023 gets going early with the Caribbean 600 in February – there’s almost invariably Irish involvement, and we’ve collected more than our fair share of its silverware since it was inaugurated in 2009.

The dream of thousands – racing in the RORC Fastnet Race. 2023’s edition - the 50th – will start earlier than usual, on July 22nd. Photo: Kurt ArrigoThe dream of thousands – racing in the RORC Fastnet Race. 2023’s edition - the 50th – will start earlier than usual, on July 22nd. Photo: Kurt Arrigo

But inevitably the focus will mainly be on the Fastnet Race 2023, which unusually for this 50th Edition, will be starting in July, on Saturday 22nd July from Cowes, but taking in the new extended course to finish at Cherbourg. Presumably this timing is partly to allow the heavy brigade to take in Cowes Week itself in August, but meanwhile, looking ahead to the Fastnet Centenary in 2025, we still don’t really know if the old course to finish at Plymouth will be acknowledged and used. But either way, Ireland certainly has skin in the game as the first racing of the new course in 2021 saw Irish Offshore Sailing’s vintage Sun Fast 37 Desert Star from Dun Laoghaire - skippered by Ronan O Siochru - put in an appropriately stellar performance to take a close second in Class IV and an impressive 14th overall in a huge fleet.

Stellar performance – the crew of Desert Star (Ronan O Siochru on right) have a nano-second of relaxation towards the end of the 2021 Fastnet Race, as it becpmes increasingly clear they are second in class and 14th overall in a fleet of hundredsStellar performance – the crew of Desert Star (Ronan O Siochru on right) have a nano-second of relaxation towards the end of the 2021 Fastnet Race, as it becpmes increasingly clear they are second in class and 14th overall in a fleet of hundreds

INSS & THE DUN LAOGHAIRE PHENOMENON

The fact that Desert Star’s success was just one of many achievements being logged by the continually-developing Dun Laoghaire sailing and training scene – both commercial and in the clubs – reflects the new interest that sailing attracted as the first small easings of the pandemic began to apply in the local context.

Ultimately, it’s all about the numbers game. The Rumball family of the multi-function and high-achieving Irish National Sailing School are originally from Malahide, while Ronan O Siochru of IOS took his first serious steps afloat in Kinsale. But in facing business realities, they all realised that the population package right beside good sailing water which Dun Laoghaire and South Dublin offers made it no contest in deciding to base their locations around The Old Granite Pond, and sailing history has proven them right.

“THE HOWTH PRODUCT”

That said, the slightly quirky appeal of Howth Harbour, which prides itself on NOT being part of Dublin Bay, proved to have its new and established adherents in considerable numbers as sailing emerged from the plague years. The modern HYC clubhouse/marina reaches the end of 2022 with 2,173 members when you include all categories, and they look forward to a 2023 season which is fascinatingly book-ended by the National Youth Championship from 13th to 16th April 2023, and the ICRA Nats from 1st to 3rd September.

For those who try to take in all the information they can from developing situations, it w be fascinating in getting an overview of sailing development to see how many juniors who take part in their own multi-class championships in April then reappear in some crewing or helming capacity in the ICRA Nationals at the beginning of September.

HOWTH SEVENTEENS’ 125th ANNIVERSARY TO BALTIMORE

Meanwhile Howth’s eternal 17ft OD Class - founded in 1898 - continues to attract all ages, and they celebrate their 125th Anniversary in 2023 with many events, a highlight being a week’s “one class” regatta visit to Baltimore in mid-June.

They’re no strangers to West Cork, as master-shipwright Rui Ferreira of Ballydehob has done significant work on some of the boats, and back in 2003 no less than 15 of them decamped en masse to the Glandore Classics Regatta, dropping out of the regular programme to take in circuits of the Fastnet Rock and other eccentricities.

The Howth 17 Leila (Roddy Cooper) at the Fastnet Rock during the Glandore Classics 2003. The 1898-built Leila was already six years old when the Fastnet Lighthouse began signalling in 1904. Photo: W M NixonThe Howth 17 Leila (Roddy Cooper) at the Fastnet Rock during the Glandore Classics 2003. The 1898-built Leila was already six years old when the Fastnet Lighthouse began signalling in 1904. Photo: W M Nixon

In fact, when the Howth Seventeens are hunting as a pack, it’s really easier for everyone if they do their own thing, and even then you need to be tuned in to their system of in-class communication, which supposedly relies on a WhatsApp, but in practice seems to be utilizing some form of supernatural telepathy.

So my thoughts are with anyone with a bigger boat with an auxiliary who happens to be detailed off to be the Mother Ship to the Seventeens in June. For as we learned in in 2003, you’re called the Mother Ship because the Mother is always the last to know.

Thus the fleet found themselves on a foggy windy morning in Castlehaven when - just along the coast in Glandore - the rest of the Classics fleet were being confined in-harbour for their racing. But the Seventeens’ race plan for that day was a slightly offshore sprint from Castlehaven to Glandore, with the winner being the first boat to have a crewperson down a pint in Casey’s of Glandore, thereby throwing in a brief but intense bit of hill running to add to the sailing sport.

With the poor visibility and the brisk onshore wind, the Mother Ship was assured that they’d take the more sheltered route inside High Island. But once we’d cleared the entrance to Castlehaven, it was quite clear that the class was determined to face the more challenging seas running outside High Island.

Summertime in West Cork. The Casey’s Pint Race from Castlehaven to Glandore, July 2003, with Aura (1898, left), and Deilginis (1907, right), shaping up to use the breaking Copper Rock off High Island as the weather mark. Photo: W M NixonSummertime in West Cork. The Casey’s Pint Race from Castlehaven to Glandore, July 2003, with Aura (1898, left), and Deilginis (1907, right), shaping up to use the breaking Copper Rock off High Island as the weather mark. Photo: W M Nixon

Moreover, they seemed to have agreed among themselves that it was safe enough to chance going over or inside the submerged Row Rock, and therefore the half-tide Copper Rock southwest of High Island became the weather mark.

When you see a bunch of Howth 17s racing flat out past the Copper Rock as the seas break over it within a metre or two of the boats, you know you’re dealing with a bunch of total free-thinkers. So good luck to whoever is the Mother Ship in June next year, twenty years down the track from that first Casey’s Pint Race.

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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