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The Irish Cruiser Racing Association's (ICRA) Under 25 programme got a good response but more needs to be done to stop the decline in IRC spinnaker racing numbers. That's the verdict from the Dun Laoghaire Harbour waterfront where boats from 30 to 50 feet struggle to find crews for regular racing duty.

Half of all cruiser racers (and maybe more) race 'under crewed', such is the shortage of skilled crew on Dublin Bay, Ireland's biggest yacht centre.

A typical 'Cruiser One' 35-footer needs a crew of nine, and being short of crew impacts performance in two main ways; lack of weight upwind in a breeze and mark rounding manoeuvres - hoists and drops of spinnakers, particularly.

Mark rounding in breeze depends on crew work Photo: AfloatMark rounding in breeze depends on crew work Photo: Afloat

Trying to find crew or race a boat not full crewed can be a frustrating experience, as many owners have been telling Afloat.

Sailing is perhaps the ultimate team sport where it is necessary for each person in a manoeuvre to perform their job exactly right at exactly the right time – especially under spinnaker (above and below) Photo: Afloat

For every 35-footer, you need a crew panel of approximately 20 people to ensure that you are fully crewed for every event in a season, requiring considerable people management.

It's one of the reasons why the IRC spinnaker fleets at the heart of the cruiser racing scene are shrinking as owners are finding alternative ways to race their boats without the hassle of a crew search every time they want to go sailing.

A spinnaker drop on a Cruisers Zero class yachtA spinnaker drop on a Cruisers Zero class yacht

Another reason is the cost of maintaining a full spec IRC racing boat.

Two such alternatives are white sails and coastal racing, where there is either no spinnakers used or fewer manoeuvres meaning less cost and crewing requirements.

Peter Ryan of ISORA, who runs coastal and offshore racing from Dun Laoghaire, has seen an uptake in this form of racing that has been well documented in Afloat. Ryan says, "we don't try to take people away from racing inshore in the Bay; they're just joining us because we offer an accessible alternative."

Coastal racing is growing in popularity in Dublin Racing along the Dublin and Wicklow coast is growing in popularity, one reason is that fewer crew and manoeuvres are needed Photo: Afloat

The problem is not new by any means, but this migration is now seriously affecting IRC spinnaker numbers on the Bay both for club racing and regattas.

ICRA has launched an Under 25 crew programme to introduce more young people to cruiser-racing.

The scheme envisages extending Howth and Sligo Yacht Clubs' experience where the then Commodore of ICRA more or less 'donated' his J24 keelboat or entrusted it to a group of U25s to maintain and campaign it with supervision and some success.

The idea is to try and get other clubs to do the same, e.g. get an old J24 (the cheapest 'cruiser/racer' boat money can buy, even though this is pushing the boundaries of the definition of cruiser-racer) and get the U25s of any given club the chance to raise the 'operating' money and then-campaign the boat as an entrée to the national cruiser-racer fleet.

Unfortunately, its launch coincided with Covid, so it is so far hard to judge the project's success, but ICRA Commodore Richard Colwell told Afloat in February; "We are now seeing the positive result of what started many years ago at Howth Yacht Club in focusing on the Under 25s, which was then taken up by ICRA and by clubs around the country. It is really encouraging."

Afloat took some soundings at Dun Laoghaire and found the concept itself has been enthusiastically received. There are reservations, though, about whether this can tackle the ongoing crew problems on the capital's waters.

After the bloodletting in Irish cruiser-racer administration of some years ago, there is a reluctance in this tight-knit community to criticise the efforts of volunteer committees, especially now that ICRA appears to be back on an even keel. Still, there was no shortage of 'off the record' comments about what is needed to support cruiser-racing activity on the Bay.

A repeated view is that the often mooted crew training programme (going back as far as 2013) should be put in place instead of trying to get under 25-year-olds to buy boats.

ICRA aims to foster young people's partnerships to pitch in together and buy a cruiser/racer boat and eventually campaign. It's a lovely idea, but it is battling with a 'boat ownership' model that is seriously under threat.

The problem is that U25s and young people, in general, have many 'calls' on the purse strings (going out, travelling and a mortgage (if that's even a possibility).

The money behind the scheme or the budgetary 'effort' asked from the participating clubs is geared towards the very low end of cruiser racing. But, on Dublin Bay, sailors of this age group are pretty much spoilt for choice in the lively DBSC five cruiser division scene.

A J109 with a nine man crew on Dublin BayAbove and below) Top Dublin Bay J109s race with a crew of up nine

Dublin Bay J109

Keen U25s have no problem crewing on 'exciting' DBSC boats such as J109s, A35s etc., without making any financial commitment.

Trying to convince such a cohort to 'downsize' to a more basic starter boat and pay for this privilege is one thing but doing so also has the knock-on effect of removing young blood from the - already short - existing crew panels of larger yachts.

A further issue is that the leading clubs at Dun Laoghaire and Howth have either 1720s and J80s already in situ as club sportsboats. However, the 1720s don't comply with the definition of cruiser-racers and J80s, like J24s, only barely meet the criteria.

"A targeted boat closer in spirit should be, say, the Ruffian 23. In ICRA's mind, however, they'd like to see U25s teams at ICRA Nationals, e.g. boats have to be towable", one Dublin Bay sailor told Afloat.

Although Bay sailors are pleased to see some action taken on the matter, there's quite a few who don't think it can work in Dun Laoghaire. "It's tough to see any outcomes", Afloat was told. Another owner went further by saying, "it was like giving out money but addressing nothing".

Some harbour sailing professionals say ICRA might be better served by investing in coaching (including the U25s) who are keen on taking up racing or improving skills.

Equally, though, boat owners also need to up their game and be prepared to invest in such training. It's often the case that those most desperate for crew don't bother to train or create a 'team spirit on board, so in some sense, they have only themselves to blame for the situation.

Successful skippers, on the other hand, have no problem attracting crew. These boats allocate positions based on skills and are models for others to follow.

"People have got lazy", one skipper told Afloat, (admitting he's lazy himself). "To retain new crew, owners need to pay attention to training, welcome crew as a full member of a team and be prepared to promote them. I'm sometimes appalled how some skippers treat crews", he added.

"Until it is fully recognised as a team sport there, will continue to be a shortage of crew.  I don't know why more skippers don't view Tuesday evenings as an opportunity to introduce/train crews away from the full-blooded Thursday racing. How often in sailing do you hear a crew saying we are training that day or evening?", was another comment from an experienced IRC crew member.

While there is ad hoc crew training available, it's a widely held view that the whole cruiser crew coaching area needs to be taken by the scruff of the neck.

It is an opportunity for ICRA - or somebody - to put a system in place and get buy-in from owners.

If successful, it could lead to more people getting more fun from sailing and reverse the decline in IRC numbers to boot.

Covid has changed a lot of things over the past 12 months. People are starting to appreciate what's on their doorsteps a lot more and make the most of outdoor activities.

This attitude has lead to a renewed interest in sailing, racing, and 'socialising' around a joint project. For example, the U25 section of the National Yacht Club has never been as active.

Cruiser racing as part of a crew is a fun team sport Photo: AfloatCruiser racing as part of a crew is a fun team sport Photo: Afloat

ICRA has started the move to drive down the cost of cruiser-racing by fostering partnerships of young people. Cruiser racing is the most popular form of the sport in Ireland. It is now also recognised as a potential Olympic sport. Through its newly forged relationship with Irish Sailing and its access to significant state funding, ICRA has a golden opportunity to improve access and retention.

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First elected in November 2018, Richard Colwell will continue to lead the Irish Cruiser Racing Association following today's AGM into what is hopefully a busy 2021 summer sailing programme.

Speaking at today's online meeting, ICRA Secretary Denis Byrne announced some changes to the 11-person 2021 committee. 

Colwell paid tribute to the work of Cove Sailing Club's Johanna Murphy from Cork Harbour, the outgoing South Coast Offshore Racing Association (SCORA) Commodore and also to Race Judge Cxema Pico who have both retired from the committee.

Coming onboard is the new SCORA Commodore Daragh Connolly from Royal Cork and also Saoirse Reynolds from the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire Harbour.

John Leech of Lough Derg continues as Treasurer and Dave Cullen of Howth continues in the Communications role.

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The Irish Cruiser Racing (ICRA) National Championships returns to Cork Harbour as part of Cork Week Regatta in 2022.

The venue was announced at this weekend's ICRA 2021 Conference online. 

The cruiser-racer fleet had planned to race in Cork in 2020 as part of Royal Cork's Tricentenary event that was not held due to COVID, so the decision to return in 2022 was an easy one, according to ICRA Commodore, Richard Colwell. 

ICRA Racing returns to Cork Harbour after a six year gap in 2022ICRA Racing returns to Cork Harbour after a six year gap in 2022

The 2022 racing is expected to offer a variety of inshore and coastal courses both inside and outside the harbour.

This year the ICRA Championships races or national honours on Dublin Bay at the National Yacht Club in September.

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Key Irish sailing regattas depend on a Government Level Two status being in place this summer in order to proceed, the Irish Cruiser Racer (ICRA) conference heard yesterday.

Over 100 sailors and regatta representatives gathered online to hear the latest regatta news from the East, South and Southwest coasts.

It was a heartening gathering that revealed how much clubs had achieved despite all the obstacles thrown up by COVID-19.

ICRA's Dave Cullen struck an optimistic note when he noted this weekend's reduction in pandemic numbers and advances in the vaccine roll-out, while each of the regatta organisers who joined the conference via Zoom were bullish about plans yet also spoke of the current 'challenging' situation.

The fate of the competitive sailing season hinges on whether Level Two will be implemented in time or if sailing can be seen by Sport Ireland's Expert Group as a 'low risk, outdoor non-contact activity' deserving of a special case, especially given the view there is no difference in risk in sailing between training and competition mode.

Cruiser racing off Cork in the Elan 333, Artful DodgerCruiser racing off the Cork coast in the Elan 333, Artful Dodger Photo: Bob Bateman

For the moment, the assumption is that 'it's all going ahead'  but there appears to be quite a lot of contingency or 'Plan B' work behind the scenes as Covid-19 impacts the 2021 season too.

It's worth remembering it was only this time last year that few of us had even heard the phrase 'social distancing'. Much of the regatta planning for 2020 was completed before we knew anything about what it was like living with our new best friend. We are more informed going into 2021 and rightly or wrongly, in Northern Ireland, Bangor Town Regatta has already chosen to cancel its June races.

Howth yacht Equinox is a regular Sovereign's Cup competitor at Kinsale Photo: AfloatHowth yacht Equinox is a regular Sovereign's Cup competitor at Kinsale Photo: Bob Bateman

June's Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race and Kinsale's Sovereign's Cup Regatta (where 14 entrants are common to both events) are perfectly timed to feed Dublin boats to the south coast but each event is now awaiting the Government's April 5th advisory in order to firm up arrangements.

Both events have achieved their 50-boat entry limits and are operating waiting lists.

Sovereign's Cup

O'Leary Insurance Sovereign's Cup Chairman Anthony O'Neill from Kinsale Yacht Club told the conference that he remained 'hopeful' and was continuing to plan for the 23rd June but in the event that restrictions were not lifted then, the event would, unfortunately, have to cancel and look to other plans if restrictions permit. The event hit its 52-boat target within three weeks and has eight boats on a waiting list.

Dun Laoghaire Dingle Race

Likewise, Race Chairman Adam Winkelmann, said that the Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race from the National Yacht Club would not be moved to another date this season and if it could not go ahead on June 9th the decision had already been taken to scrub the biennial event and aim for the 2023 edition instead. The 280-miler has achieved its 50-boat limit, 90 days before it starts as Afloat reports here.

Dun Laoghaire Regatta

July's Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta Race Officer Con Murphy outlined contingency plans for his Dublin Bay event that has already been split over two weekends to reduce fleet sizes. Murphy said the fleet could take extra steps to have staggered early start and finish times if needed to further avoid the mixing of boats and crews ashore at Dun Laoghaire Harbour.

ICRA & WIORA

Autumn events such as ICRA's own national championships at the National Yacht Club that has moved out to September 3rd to 5th look the best prospects of being uninterrupted. ICRA's Ric Morris is confident of the Nationals proceeding at this point after the loss of the 2020 event. Likewise, WIORA week that is scheduled for August 25 to 28th at Tralee Bay Sailing Club is also 'cautiously optimistic', but the County Kerry club will initially taking entries without any payment, according to the organiser Liam Lynch.

ISORA

ISORA's Peter Ryan laid out a full season of races for his offshore crews under new sponsor Musto and is planning a 16-race Irish Sea series that, as Afloat previously reported, includes cross-channel races from May 15. Ryan says the series will again be deploying technology to give it the biggest amount of flexibility both in terms of its onboard trackers and its crew manager app. ISORA's approach, Ryan says, is to 'start racing and keep going till we're told to stop'.

Organising clubs, the conference heard, are 'planning for the best and preparing for the worst' as they await next month's Government announcement. As Peter Ryan observed, 'there's a great interconnection of events this season but one trip will upset the whole apple cart'.

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There will be more boats on the water in the season ahead, crewed by young sailors supported by the Irish Cruiser Racing Association's Under 25 programme which has been so successful that ICRA is now working with the national sailing organisation on developing a further stage of the project, to encourage those finishing it to buy their own boats and increase the size of cruiser fleets at clubs around the country.

"We are now seeing the positive result of what started many years ago at Howth Yacht Club in focusing on the Under 25s, which was then taken up by ICRA, by clubs around the country. It is really encouraging," Commodore Richard Colwell told me in advance of the annual general meeting of ICRA on Saturday, March 6.

Despite the unpredictability of the challenges sailing faces due to the continuing Covid 19 pandemic, he is hopeful that the season ahead will be a good one.

ICRA Commodore, Richard ColwellICRA Commodore, Richard Colwell - ICRA is encouraging young crews to buy their own boats and increase the size of cruiser fleets at clubs around the country

"There may still be difficulties early in the season, but later in the Summer I am hopeful that there will be more opportunities and our national championships are well placed in September," he says on this week's podcast, where we follow up on the theme highlighted in last week's edition. This was where Daragh Connolly, the new Commodore of SCORA, the South Coast Offshore Racing Association, described the growing interest of young sailors in cruiser racing and going offshore.

Anthony O'Leary's Antix Beag, from Royal Cork, a customised 1720 sailing Photo: Bob BatemanAnthony O'Leary's Antix Beag, from Royal Cork, a customised 1720 sailing Photo: Bob Bateman

I started the Podcast by asking Richard Colwell how hopeful he is for the season ahead:

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, RTÉ and Met Éireann's Evelyn Cusack will head the line-up of speakers and presentations at the ICRA AGM which the Commodore will start at 10.30 am with an update. The conference will be on Zoom, due to pandemic restrictions and registration for it is open.

This will be followed at 10.40 am by Evelyn Cusack's half-hour presentation on forecasting the weather. And at 11.10 am, international yacht designer Mark Mills will give a brief talk on his line of work.

After a short break, there will be briefings on the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race by Adam Winkelmann, Sovereigns Cup by Anthony O’Neil, Dun Laoghaire Regatta by Con Murphy, ICRA Nationals by Ric Morris and ISORA from Peter Ryan.

Published in SCORA

ICRA will hold its annual conference and AGM online on Saturday 6th March from 10:30 to 13:00 due to COVID restrictions.

The implications of the pandemic on the 2021 cruiser-racer season will be discussed, according to association spokesman, Dave Cullen. 

ICRA has already moved its 2021 National Championships out from May to September and this May's Scottish Series has been totally revamped as a purely on the water event in a bid to stage Scotland's biggest sailing event after 2020's cancellation.

Weather forecasting and sailing

Having ironically been unable to attend last year’s event as Headline Speaker due to the weather, RTE and Met Eireann’s Evelyn Cusack will join ICRA this year covering the topic of “weather forecasting and sailing”.

Evelyn Cusack will speak at March's online ICRA conferenceEvelyn Cusack will speak at March's online ICRA conference

While the event will naturally be shorter due to being online, the conference will have a number of experts offering advice on all aspects of racing and yacht preparation and will be followed by the AGM.

The full ICRA agenda and registration details will be issued shortly and published on Afloat.

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The ICRA/ISA Under 25 Keelboat Support Programme is open for 2021 applications.

The scheme was created as a support programme to help sailing clubs develop their own Under 25 squads and ICRA reported an overwhelming response to the initiative when launched in December 2019.

Seven clubs, from across the country, now have established U25 squads, with another two clubs actively looking for the right platform to start their own programmes. 

The idea behind the programme stems from the belief that while there are a significant number of young sailors that become Irish Sailing instructors and partake in University Team Racing, ICRA says a lot simply drop out of the club racing scene in their 20s. An Under 25 keelboat development programme can offer a place for some of these sailors. Keeping them active in the sport and fostering their commitment as members of their clubs.

In the second of three years of funding for the scheme, successful applicant clubs will be provided with an initial Capital Grant which will assist clubs to buy a keelboat for their U25 squad. The scheme will then continue to provide an annual allowance to assist the club run their U25 programme until it is well established.

ICRA is now inviting Irish Sailing Category 1 clubs to send “Expression of Interest” to apply to join the programme.

Full details about the programme are here

Published in Youth Sailing

With the loss of the key cruiser-racer events in 2020 Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) Commodore Richard Colwell says the association is unable to award its annual Boat of the Year prize.

As well as its own ICRA National Championships, June's Round Ireland Race, July's Cork Week, September's Wave Regatta and WIORA in Tralee were among some of the big casualties in the Irish sailing scene due to COVID. 

ICRA is expected to a new schedule of events for its Boat of the Year Award early in 2021 even though the body has already made a pre-emptive move and rescheduled its 2021 National Championships from May to September as Afloat reported here.

"Hopefully, 2021 will shape up to be a normal season, albeit a "new normal", Colwell says.

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After cancelling its 2020 championships twice, the Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) has now seen fit to move the dates of its 2021 National Championships from May to September next year because of the continuing threat of COVID-19.

In a statement issued this afternoon, Commodore Richard Colwell, said "It is now evident that the continued impact of Covid-19 will be felt well into 2021. With that in mind, ICRA was conscious of a need to provide as much time as possible to try and ensure that a National Championship does take place in 2021".

As such, ICRA says it has worked with Dun Laoghaire Harbour's National Yacht Club, the 2021 hosts of the event, to rearrange the National Championship dates from its original date in late May, to an alternative date in early September 2021.

The change also removes an unfortunate clash with the Scottish Series that occurred with the former date, as Afloat reported here.

The new dates for next year's ICRA National Championships are September 3rd - 5th 2021.

In 2020, it was originally planned to race the ICRA Nationals as part of Cork Week and RCYC's 300th celebrations and when that July date was cancelled, ICRA opted to race as part of Septembers' rescheduled Wave Regatta which in turn was axed at Howth also due to COVID leaving the championships not sailed for the first time in its 18-year-history.

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ICRA Commodore Richard Colwell on the cancellation of the 2020 Championships planned as part of Wave Regatta 2020

It is with a heavy heart that we announce that Howth YC and Fingal County Council have taken the unenviable decision to cancel Wave Regatta 2020 due to the concerns over COVID 19 precautions. ICRA has been involved in these discussions which have explored all possibilities to keep the event alive in some format and we fully support their decision. It means that, at this stage of the season, the ICRA National Championships will not now proceed in 2020.

In discussions with HYC and the main sponsor Fingal County Council, it is clear that due to the current increase in cases and the fact that we have been held at phase 3 for the foreseeable future, the event could not go ahead safely so we fully endorse this decision made on public health grounds. It recently clear that with the numbers involved we simply can’t justify running the event and maintaining social distancing required under the current restrictions.

This is obviously not the news that any of us on the ICRA committee, as avid cruiser racers wanted to hear, as we would all love to get back to what we love and hosting National cruiser racing events.

Having said that, our first and foremost concern has to be the health and safety of all involved in any event.

ICRA will continue to do all we can to support and encourage club cruiser racing for the rest of the year, as well as continuing to support the development of the Under 25 programme and ratings platform development.

We will now work hard on plans for next year's event - at which stage hopefully we will all have learnt how to deal with the virus better and be in a position to back fully to cruiser racing and again run national events.

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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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