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Niall O’Toole, the first Ireland world champion in Olympic-class rowing who now runs indoor rowing courses, remembers fondly how he was invited to race in a boat class that goes back over a century.

Cracking the Code of East Coast Skiff Racing

By Niall O’Toole

It was a dreary November night. A green army of St. Patrick’s singlets filed into the room. I wanted to make a good first impression before our first indoor rowing session began. I proceeded to introduce myself. “Hi Guys, I’m Niall O’Toole, three-time Olympian, world champion, former world record holder and multi world medallist”. A deadly silence swept through the room. I didn’t hear any expletives, but their faces said it all.

 Three months passed before there was any glimmer of recovery. Then,  came the request: “Would you like to race skiffs, Niallo?”. I expected to go through a data-driven, seat-racing selection process, but discovered that crew selection was considered more an art form than a science. In quiet corners, canny, skiff insiders decide the fates of crews, as they have done since the late 19th Century, where the tradition of ‘Hobbling’ first began. Back then skiffs raced for piloting rights to cargo ships. Now the tradition of racing skiffs continues. So it was that I joined my first skiff crew and started training.

Niall OToole pic on ergNiall O’Toole

 The first thing I noticed was the beauty of the boats. I was used to brittle carbon fibre Olympic missiles, built to specific weights and criteria, which seem dull and lifeless by comparison. Skiffs are living, breathing works of craft, ever-changing over time and lovingly maintained by obsessive boatmen; men like my late father Jimmy O’Toole. He was a shipwright for Guinness on the Lady Patricia, which brought crates of the black stuff to Liverpool. He built and repaired many wooden boats in his time, including one in the back garden of our terraced house, which turned out to be too big to get out. Fifteen hedges, fences and brick walls later, he slotted it out through a break between two houses.

 Being surrounded by wooden boats again brought back fond memories of my Dad. I’m still none the wiser about what clubs deem a ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ boat’, though.

 Crews grow comfortably accustomed to their skiff’s quirks, and are suspicious of change. A new boat into the club can find itself labelled ‘slow’ and relegated to life on a rack. The mythology around oars is unique too – no two wooden oars are exactly the same. Weight, stiffness, size of blade, handle-width and grip all play into making the perfect oar for any one individual’s taste. It took me weeks to find an oar that gripped the water the way I liked. I marked it with tape to make it easy to find again, but found that tape is easily removed and an oar easily hidden. I’ve seen many a ruckus on the dock over an oar that found itself favoured by two crews.

 My first race for St Pat’s was in Dun Laoghaire. A stalwart of the club, Philip Murphy, whispered in my ear: “It’s rough out there Tooler! Make sure you get water.” I wasn’t sure what he meant. Due to the rise and fall of the boat, it was impossible to adjust your hand position enough to stay in contact with the water. Pulling air doesn’t give you boat speed, but we managed to lead the race into the first turn.

 Prematurely, I saw myself adding another notch to my glittering rowing career, when amidst the whirlwind of cox’s screams, burning lungs, and the strength-sapping manoeuver of trying to use my oar as a handbrake to swing the boat around, we exited the turn in second-last place. We tried to pick up the pace, but the water was just too big to make up any of the ground we’d lost. Then we rounded the second buoy to find a rogue skiff on a bad line coming straight for us. I ducked and heard an almighty crack. ‘Skipper’, my crewmate, was clocked with an oar to the head and knocked clean out, hitting the bottom of the boat with a thud. Stuff like that just never happens at the Olympics!

 I spent the next couple of months learning the subtleties of the sport; learning the craft, culture and code. It’s not all about straight-line speed - you do need to be fit and fast, but it’s also about currents, streams, winds, waves, tides and a little help from lady luck. It’s about your cox finding the fastest racing line and your crew communicating around the turn with their lungs on fire. I came to realise that the physical exertion and pain you feel in skiff racing is every bit as tough as the Olympic sport I know. Most importantly, I learnt that St. Pat’s is truly a community based club; in that humble old Dublin, no-nonsense kind of way. In a club where people truly look out for each another, I found a warm welcome, a sense of place and lifelong friends. In the twilight of my rowing career, I had no idea that was possible.

The All In A Row charity event will be held on the Liffey on Saturday, November 30th. Rowing, kayak and canoe clubs along with private rowing boat owners can be part of a 10-hour row/paddle to raise money for both the RNLI and The Irish Underwater Search and Recovery Unit.  The boats will travel from St Patrick’s Rowing Club at Tom Clarke Bridge (formerly East Link Bridge) to Heuston Station Bridge and to the Grattan Bridge during high tide. During low tide it can be viewed along the banks of the Liffey.

Published in Rowing

#irish49er – Ryan Seaton & Matt McGovern are 12th overall after Day 2 of the 49er World Championships. The Belfast lough pairing were placed 9th, 14th and 5th in the 97 boat fleet. 
For full results and live tracking see http://49er.org/2013-world-championships/

Published in Olympic

Skerries Rowing Club is marching its new coastal rowing skiff down South Strand, Skerries this Saturday afternoon before launching and naming the new clinker built boat at the Slip on Harbour Road, (opposite the sailing club) in Skerries, North Dublin.

The club is also taking the opportunity on Saturday to thank master boat builder Martin O'Toole and Ciaran 'Chopper' McCarthy, a cabinet maker, for their dedication and skill in building what the club claims will be a 'super fast' rowing craft.

Published in Coastal Rowing
Tagged under

#CoastalRowing - News comes from Scotland of an intriguing new coastal rowing craze that sounds like something from a Swedish furniture store!

As the Guardian reports, a traditional Scottish fishing skiff design provided the inspiration for the new flatpack coastal rowing boat, which began life as a prototype project for the Scottish Fisheries Museum four years ago.

Since then the St Ayles skiff concept swept like a wave across the UK and beyond - and examples of the DIY kit row boat, which is handmade in Fife, can be found as far afield as Australia.

Many of those international rowers are expected to converge in Scotland this simmer for the coastal rowing world championships off Ullapool.

The Guardian has much more on the story HERE.

Published in Coastal Rowing

#49er – Ireland's 49er Belfast skiff campaign has ended without the much hoped for medal race participation.

Today's last day of fleet racing was Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern's last opportunity to hold on to a top ten position before next Wednesday's medal race.

The pair were tenth overall heading in to Race 14 but only four points separated them from 13th place. Seaton and McGovern finished in 16th which saw them drop to 11th overall. Sadly Race 15 had an equally frustrating ending, seeing the pairing finish in 16th and 14th overall ultimately ending their dreams of racing in the medal race.

Published in Olympics 2012

#skiffracing – St. Michael's rowing club in Dun Laoghaire will host its leg of the East Coast Rowing calendar on Sunday 24th June. The regatta will take place from the town's West Pier to the North of Seapoint Tower, with teams competing from all over the East Coast. The first race begins at 2pm with the finale at around 6pm.

This year's event, co sponsored by Dun Laoghaire County Council, will see hundreds of men women and children compete over a gruelling circuit in a bid to be crowned 2012 champions in their respective field. Viewing might be best from the beach at Salthill DART station and will be an opportunity to enjoy this traditional form of rowing.

The Dun Laoghaire regatta will see the reintroduction of the East Coast Tug-O-War competition.

Published in Coastal Rowing

#SKIFF – Testing of the production specification RS900, RS Sailing's contender for selection as the new women's Olympic skiff, is underway. It's a sleek looking affair as you might expect that will take women's sailing into a whole new area because it has been designed especially for lighter crew weights.

"We believe that a new generation of elite skiff sailors deserve a purpose designed boat that will excel in the role and stand the test of time" says RS managing director, Martin Wadhams. "After several changes to the women's classes over recent Olympic cycles, the last thing anyone wants is another short term measure. We began the process several years ago believing that the RS800 could be modified to become the women's skiff, but quickly realised that although it was arguably the most suited of the then current bunch, it would never be perfect for Olympic women. So our own RS team of Alex Southon and Nick Peters has worked with Phil Morrison to start from scratch and design the RS900 without compromise."

RSskiff900trio

The RS900 hull is shorter, narrower and has lower freeboard – smaller all round to suit light female teams. The reduced surface area allows a corresponding weight reduction whilst using a similar long lasting, epoxy foam sandwich construction system to the 800.

Fully integrated wide, solid wings and a smooth run-through deck on the RS900 facilitate athletic sailing. RS900 sailors will use techniques matched to those of the 49er men, allowing shared training in many regions, especially helpful for smaller sailing nations. As you can see from the photos, the wings fit smoothly into the hull providing arguably the most flowing platform of any skiff, plus structural integrity and seriously good looks.

Structural engineering has played a major part in the design development of the RS900. RS technical director Alex Southon has significant, hard-won, volume production experience and he has enlisted input from world class composite engineering experts in the USA on this project to help him create a boat that is not only strong and long lasting, but also efficient to build. This will keep costs low for a skiff of this type and the RS900's price will in line with a competitive 470 rather than the similarly high performance 49er!

The rig is matched to wide leverage to produce spectacular performance whilst suiting the110 -130kg crew weight range specified by ISAF. The jib is tacked onto the bow, with the forestay attachment point pushed as far forward of the forefoot as possible to give maximum low-down jib area, without excessive hull length and correspondingly reduced responsiveness. The relatively straight mast and square head mainsail follow the latest skiff design trends and, of course, a masthead spinnaker maximises downwind performance.

RS Sailing has the proven ability to produce a large number of epoxy racing dinghies quickly - last year around two hundred RS100s were built and delivered to destinations across the globe within 12 months of launch. Their international dealer network provides back-up support with parts and sails.

Final testing of RS900 will continue over the coming months in the run up to ISAF's evaluation trials which are expected to be held in March 2012, although as Alex Southon says "We're talking about details now from a development perspective. The 900 works and all the sailors who've been in it so far are really excited – so we'll just keep tweaking the rig and getting miles under the hull until we have to stop!"

Published in RS Sailing
Tagged under

Following ISAF's final choice of sailing events for the 2016 Olympics, including a women's skiff, RS Sailing has announced it plans to develop the RS900 to compete for this role.

While that selection decision is yet to be made by an evaluation team across a range of designs a more immediate issue for Ireland is trying to find an Irish women's crew to campaign such a boat for Brazil.

There is huge interest in the new skiff style sailing internationally but Ireland have not had a double handed women's dinghy crew since Atlanta 1996 so gauging interest here in the new class might be difficult.

The RS900 will be an all-new boat incorporating developments from the highly respected RS800 hull, a new deck, new wings and a new rig. The RS900 will only go into full production if it is selected for the Olympics.

Early testing of a prototype RS900 has shown the performance can be close to a 49er - with optimised handling targeted to suit ISAF's specified weight range for female teams.

 

rs900skiffdinghyafloat

The new RS900 - a new Olympic class?

RS Sailing is also one of the very few companies with proven credentials for the production of one-design race boats in large volumes, plus an established global distribution network – able, therefore, to be a strong partner for ISAF in the successful introduction of a new flagship Olympic event.

"This is a serious project for us" says Martin Wadhams, managing director of RS Sailing. "It will take a great boat to do justice to the Olympic role and a new generation of female sailing athletes. It will also take a significant commitment to work with ISAF on the strategy to launch the new class quickly and effectively if it wins selection. We're up for that."

Nick Peters, head of development at RS Sailing comments "We learned at lot from the initial women's skiff trials at Hyeres four years ago. The RS800 which we took there was perhaps the closest existing class to meet the requirement range of a new Olympic boat – but we understood that the final boat we put forward would need to be more responsive, faster and more challenging to sail. Early sailing of the new RS900 leaves us in no doubt that we have a worthy skiff on our hands. We just need final confirmation of some key evaluation criteria, such as the target sailor weight range, to allow us to confirm we'll undertake the investment needed to compete and then refine the boat to the role."

A number of key features can be seen from the photos, but are liable to change. More technical details will be released as development progresses and all elements are finalised.

Published in Olympics 2012

There was big news yesterday from the ISAF events committee meeting in Athens. The conference blog reports A 'packed session' heard the Events Committee's recommendation on the provisional Olympic events and equipment for 2016. 

The Events Committee recommends:

- Board or kite-board for men and women - equipment evaluation
- One person dinghy men - Laser Standard
- One person dinghy women - Laser Radial
- Two person dinghy (skiff) men - 49er
- Two person dinghy (skiff) women - equipment evaluation
- Second one person dinghy men - Finn
- Two person mixed multihull - equipment evaluation
- Two person mixed dinghy with spinnaker - 470
- Women's keelboat - Elliott 6m

In so doing the committee's voting recommends taking out the men's keelboat. The second one person dinghy for women was the other option not to be selected.

The Committee's recommendations are of course just that. They will go to the ISAF Council for consideration this weekend. After Council vote they are then subject to confirmation at the ISAF Mid-Year meeting in May 2011.

Published in World Sailing

Tomorrow join skiff sailors for some Dublin city centre sailing action as High Performance Olympic 49er Skiffs will be racing on the River Liffey between the East Link Bridge and Samuel Beckett Bridge.
Crews from Ireland and the UK including Olymians, Olympic campaigners and professional skiff sailors will be carving up some tight maneuvers in the confined walls of the River Liffey.

There'll be 4 or 5 short sharp races and all are welcome to view the spectacle from the North Wall Quay and Sir John Rogerson's Quay. Expect to get very close to the events as they unfold. There will be no lay lines... Just walls!!! Event proceeds will go to the Peter Mc Verry Trust.

Published in Boating Fixtures

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