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At a time when we’re constantly being warned in public life that we have to mark the current “Era of Centenaries” in a sensitive manner, it’s probably insensitive to respond by pointing out that the Irish sailing community is having quite enough trouble, thank you, in getting used to the fact that some boats we still think of as being modern are actually entering the vintage category and beyond writes W M Nixon.

But that’s the way it is. Perhaps “ageless” is not the word we seek. Maybe we should be veering more towards the all-enveloping category of “timeless”. Whatever it is, there are many among us who simply can’t get our heads around the fact that the always-elegant International Dragon is 90 years old in 2019, while the ever-young, fresh-as-a-daisy Laser is having her Golden Jubilee.

Laser Class Golden Jubilee

Or maybe it will be next year – it all depends on how closely things followed on from the ground-breaking Laser-creating phone call in 1969 (or even earlier) between Canadian boat ideas man Ian Bruce, and fellow-Canadian designer Bruce Kirby, aimed at providing an inexpensive easily-carried single-hander which looked good and sailed well.

The boat as she emerged – finally christened the Laser in December 1970 – closely followed Kirby’s original doodle in the immortal style of the best inventions. And of course, she has become one of the few boats to acquire Olympic status (it was in 1996) while remaining genuinely and hugely popular at club level.

We’re well aware that some global Laser production had been going through such a sticky patch recently that we’re now meant to call the officially-recognised boat the “ILCA Dinghy”. But it’s going to take some doing to get a re-naming to stick in place for a boat with the Laser’s long-standing popularity and brand recognition.

This popularity was very clear at last September’s Laser World Masters in Dun Laoghaire, with more than three hundred sailors from all over the globe, and Ireland getting a star performance from Mark Lyttle of the National Yacht Club. A turnout on this scale really was something else – there were Lasers in abundance whichever way you looked, and more than a few of the helms far out-dated the design concept of their wonderful little boats.

mark lyttle2Mark Lyttle (NYC) training in Dublin Bay for the first Olympics with the Laser in 1996, when he was a race winner. Photo: David O’Brien/
mark lyttle3 Mark Lyttle after winning the Grand Masters Division in the Laser Worlds in Dublin Bay in September 2018. Photo: David O’Brien/

But equally, as the “Masters” categories begin at age 35, there were quite a few helms who had yet to make their debut on the planet when the Laser was already born, so the vintage overall nature of the boat could well match the impressive range of maturity of some of the most senior helms.

This will be in evidence at the Irish Laser Masters this weekend in Howth, where they’ve had a continuous Laser racing programme on the go since 1974. But though Howth’s annual frostbite series for this timeless little boat continue to attract a healthy turnout, as is so often the case the sheer population weighting to be found south of the Liffey means that Dun Laoghaire names pack numbers and success, and defending champion in the Radials is RStGYC’s Sean Craig, who expects strong competition from clubmate Marco Sorgassi, while the home club’s Dan O’Connell, Dave Quinn and Daragh Kelleher are in winning form.

sean craig4Sean Craig, defending champion in the Radials this weekend’s Irish Laser Masters at Howth
These are all sailors to whom the adjective “timeless” could equally apply - living embodiments of the saying that sailing is a sport for youth of all ages. And even if the Laser does get replaced in the Olympic stakes by some newer design – as has been hinted for the French Olympics in 2024 – we only need to look at the story of the International Dragon to realize that Laser sailors will continue to have their sweet little boats as designed by Bruce Kirby playing a very big part of their life afloat well into the foreseeable future and beyond.

Because once upon a time, the International Dragon was very much a part of the Olympic circus. So much so, in fact, that when she got her marching orders after the 1972 Olympics - having been in the lineup since 1948 – there were those who thought it would lead to an inevitable decline in the class.

Dragon Class is Ninety Years Old

But on the contrary, it seems that most Dragon sailor cared a lot more about the joy they got from their boats than they did about the Olympic thing. So much so, in fact, that today the class is facing into year 90 in the very best of health, and its big championship, the 2019 Yanmar Dragon Gold Cup at Medemblik in the Netherlands from the 8th to 14th June, has already attracted more than a hundred boats from 16 nations in four continents, with Jorgen Schonherr from Denmark the defender after the championship in Finland last year.

dragon fleet5So who needs to be an Olympic class? The Dragon Gold Cup ten years ago. The 2019 event in The Netherlands in June has already attracted more than a hundred entries from sixteen countries.

The Dragon first appeared in Sweden in 1929 to a design by Norwegian Johan Anker, and there has been Irish involvement in the class since at least 1936. Certainly what is probably the most senior Dragon still racing – Don Street’s Gypsy in Glandore – is all of 86 years old, and she has been in Ireland a long time. As for her extraordinary skipper, he is one of the keenest advocates of the Dragon as a boat for sailors of all ages even if he himself is 89, but he concedes in the Dragon-sailing longevity stakes to Australia’s champion Gordon Ingate, who this year will be 92.

don street6aThe legendary Don Street – at 89, he races an 86-year-old Dragon with as much enthusiasm as ever

These figures are enough to make anyone dizzy, so to get some idea of the Dragon’s enduring appeal, let’s consider Irish involvement with the Gold Cup, which dates back to 1936. On several occasions, we’ve had a top Irish boat there or thereabouts, but the harsh reality if that it was brought back to Ireland only the once, and it was to Northern Ireland, to the then-thriving Dragon fleet at RNIYC at Cultra on Belfast Lough.

It was 1947, and the winner when the Gold Cup was raced on the Firth of Clyde was Eric Strain of RNIYC helming Billy Barnett’s Ceres. This led in due course to Strain becoming the British Dragon Helm in the 1948 Olympics at Torquay. But as Ceres was just a standard Scandinavian-built Dragon, Billy Barnett – who owned a successful Belfast engineering firm – decided that the exceptional talent of Eric Strain deserved the very best boat that money could buy, so the legendary yacht-building firm of Camper & Nicholson in Gosport were commissioned for the job.

dragon planing8Offshore at Glandore, the Dragons can get up and fly…Photo: GHYC/Richard Harrison
The resulting Ceres II was an exquisite bit of work. Maybe too exquisite. It was suspected that she was slightly heavier and not as fast as the first Ceres, and at the 1948 Olympiad, while Eric Strain and Ceres II did well, it wasn’t quite good enough. They were fourth. In Ireland, we do not need to be reminded of the huge void – a veritable chasm - to be found between the Bronze Medal-winning third and the otherwise commendable but medal-less fourth…….

1948 is now 71 years ago, yet today the International Dragon continues to play a very special role in world sailing. It’s something we take for granted. But what other sport would be continuing to use equipment designs whose unchanged basic concept originated 90 years ago? Boats which - to many of us - still seem well up-to-date.

Historic Ketch Ilen

It brings us back to that concept of timelessness. This weekend, the Limerick ketch Ilen will be on passage from Dunmore East towards Dublin Bay, and when people get to see her at Poolbeg from Sunday evening, and at the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire next Friday, they’ll be in no doubt that they’re looking at a concept of considerable antiquity, as her design of 1926 was evolved from Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse design of 1923, which O’Brien said was in turn inspired to some extent by a notably able Arklow fishing boat which dated from the 1860s.

Whatever the origins, it means that Ilen is only three years older than the International Dragon, and that the Laser has been around for more than half of Ilen’s existence. Truly, ours is one extraordinary sport. And if you really want to point up the oddities of vehicle design which sailing can produce, just consider that some years ago the berth at the RIYC which Ilen will occupy was very elegantly filled by the 70ft Fife designed-and-built cutter Hallowe’en.

Halloween light9A Fastnet Race record setter, the 70ft Fife cutter Hallowe’en (seen here at the RIYC in Dun Laoghaire) was built in 1926. Photo: W M Nixon
ilen kinsale10The 56ft Ilen – seen here in Kinsale this week – was also built in 1926. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Hallowe’en was built in 1926, and she took line honours in that year’s Fastnet Race in a record time which stood for many years. It’s mind-boggling to think that in the same year – and in a boatyard at Baltimore near the Fastnet Rock itself – the unbelievably different Ilen took shape. Yet such is the case, and next Friday we’ll have the opportunity to savour the variety of sailing craft which the special calls of seafaring can produce - and each and every one of them has their devoted adherents.

Published in W M Nixon

Two Irish Finn campaigns are looking for five 2020 Olympic berths available at the European Championships in Athens next week.

Both West Cork's Fionn Lyden and Oisin McClelland of Donaghdee in Northern Ireland are now in the Greek capital ahead of next Monday's first race.

Both are campaigning without grant support from Irish Sailing for their endeavours.

Fionn and Oisin moved their base to Athens when the Princesa Sofia event finished in Palma last month in a bid for one of the last chances for the single Tokyo 2020 qualification place.

Last year, McClelland, the sole participant in the Finn European Championships, in Cádiz, Spain, finished 34th overall in his 91–boat fleet.

In March this year, Lyden of Baltimore Sailing Club reached Gold fleet standard at the Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar in Palma.

The Notice of Race for next week's championships is here and the event website is here

Published in Tokyo 2020

Excitement is building in Weymouth for next week's 49er European Championships (May 13 to 19) where Ireland hopes to make a breakthrough in both the male and female divisions in the quest for Tokyo 2020 qualification.

After the third round of the World Sailing Cup in Genoa last month where all three Irish 49ers ended up in the Silver fleet, as did Annalise Murphy and Katie Tingle in the 49erFX, attention is now focussed on an improvement on the British south coast.

All four crews were "training briefly" at the new Irish Sailing Performance HQ in Dun Laoghaire before "intensive preparations" at the London 2012 venue.

Those preparations have included competition at a Warm-up Regatta at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.

As Afloat readers will recall, Weymouth and Portland is the scene of some past Irish successes for current members of Team Ireland especially Annalise Murphy and Ryan Seaton. Of course, there was Murphy's memorable fourth overall at London 2012 itself and prior to that Seaton's own gold medal at 2013 Going for Gold Regatta in the build-up to Rio 2016.

This month, however, the best result so far from Team Ireland in Weymouth has come from the young Howth duo Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove who scored 15th from 52 at an RYA warm-up regatta, days before the main event and significantly on the same race track.


It's hard to work out just how seriously the regatta has been taken by the fleet as there were a number of international absentees and plenty of DNC's (did not compete) on Irish scoresheets. Nevertheless, team officials will, no doubt, be hoping for improvements from Murphy and Tingle who sailed only four from eight races (best result 13th) and Seaton and Guilfoyle who, although entered, did not compete in the two-day competition. Results are here.

Published in Tokyo 2020
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There was Laser fleet drama for the National Yacht Club's top performing Finn Lynch yesterday when he was disqualified from the second race of the day following a black flag in his 111-boat fleet. So tight are the points at the top of the Laser fleet that even with his super consistency (four results from six in the top ten so far), the race six DSQ result dropped the 22-year-old from third to sixth overall and he is now nine points off the overall lead. 

He described his day on the water as 'mixed' (he had an eighth in his first race) but reaching the top ten of this ultra-competitive gold fleet cut is an achievement in itself.

Three races will be attempted today to determine the top-10 boats to sail in the medal race final on Sunday and Lynch will be determined to keep up his medal race participation after top ten finishes twice already this season in Miami and Palma.

The Carlow veteran of the Rio 2016 Olympics had started the day in the top three of his event and posted two top-10 results. However, he was disqualified for early starting in his final race eight, this meant he had to count his earlier worst score, an 18th place. That dropped Lynch to sixth place overall but just four points from the top three ahead of Sunday’s medal race final.

2017 and 2018 Laser World Champion Pavlos Kontides (CYP) is the model of consistency in the 111-boat Laser fleet. The Cypriot is the only competitor that does not hold a double-digit score and it has resulted in him grabbing the lead.

The Laser pack completed their opening series on Friday and will advance to gold and silver fleet racing on Saturday before Sunday’s Medal Race.

Kontides will carry a four-point advantage over Jonatan Vadnai (HUN) in the gold fleet. Hempel World Cup Series Miami gold medallist Hermann Tomasgaard (NOR) is third overall but there is minimal separation at the top of the pack and with three races to follow, anything can happen.

Gold Fleet for Aoife Hopkins

In the Women’s Laser Radial event, after a poor start, Howth Yacht Club’s Aoife Hopkins overtook Aisling Keller in the stakes to qualify for the Gold fleet. Tipperary sailor Keller will now sail in the Silver fleet final series after narrowly missing out by just two points.

Full results are here. Check out all our Irish Olympic sailing coverage in the build-up to Tokyo 2020 here

Published in Tokyo 2020

A top-five result for Annalise Murphy and Katie Tingle in their first ever international 49erFx event scored yesterday in race two raises some great prospects for the Irish Olympic Sailing Team at the World Cup in Genoa this week. There was another first-day highlight for Ireland in the men's skiff when Howth Yacht Club's U23 World Champions –  and Afloat Sailors of the Year – Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove took a second place.

Lights winds meant only two from three races were completed on the Charlie and Delta courses but, as always, it will be consistency that will be the key to success by Friday. The sole Irish 49erfx crew also counted mid-fleet opening results to leave the girls 26th from 49. In a disappointing first day for double Olympian Ryan Seaton and Seafra Guilfoyle, the Belfast-Cork pairing are 40th with Dickson and Waddilove 27th from 65. Full results are here.

The long-awaited return of the silver medalist to the Olympic circuit plus the added attraction of on-form Finn Lynch today in the Laser is heightening the possibilities of  World Cup medal(s) for the Irish sailing team by the end of this week's important World Sailing event, the third round of the season.

"Nine boats, four disciplines, 13 sailors"

In making her International debut, Murphy completes the team having missed last year's important World Championship Qualifier in Denmark. Murphy, like the rest of her teammates, still needs to make the nation qualification standard later this year making for a challenging 2019 season.

The jury is still out on whether or not it is ideal preparation but what we do know is that with little over a year to the Olympic games it is the first time in the Tokyo cycle that all the Irish team will compete at the same event; nine boats, four disciplines, 13 sailors.

The qualifying series in the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 continues today at 11:00. The Men's and Women's 470, Laser, Laser Radial and the Finn will also start their opening series.

Published in Tokyo 2020

Consistent sailing will be the key if the Irish Olympic sailing team is to make good on promises of a strong peformance on the Bay of Palma this week. While none have yet reached the qualification standard for Tokyo 2020, the group, a mix of male and female Laser and Skiff campaigns, are now launching into a challenging season where securing a berth on the Tokyo startline is the absolute priority and for most of them this starts here at the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofía regatta.

As probably the most popular annual Olympic classes regatta in the world it is no surprise that the 50th anniversary Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofía Iberostar has drawn a record fleet to the Bay of Palma.

Nine of the ten Rio 2016 Olympic gold medal-winning sailors or pairs are racing at the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofía Iberostar.

In action for Ireland are Laser men, Finn Lynch, Liam Glynn, Ewan McMahon as well as 49er skiff team Ryan Seaton and Seafra Guilfoyle. Sailor of the Year Rob Dickson was meant to sail but sailing partner Sean Waddilove is now out due to injury it has been confirmed tonight by the team. Also racing are National Yacht Club brothers Sean and Tadhg Donnelly. 

As previously reported, although Ireland has still to qualify for Tokyo in any class, once the nation is qualified, Irish sailing's trials criteria means finishing in the top half of one of the 2019 qualifying regattas that include Palma. What's more, next week's Spanish regatta has added significance as it is the first of two trial events in the Laser to determine which Irish sailor will attend the Tokyo test event in August.

Dun Laoghaire's Finn Lynch, in particular, will be keen to continue his early season form. In Miami, in January, for example, he became the first ever Irish Laser sailor to qualify for a World Cup Medal Race, a sign perhaps that qualification is on the cards for the Rio veteran later this season?

Unfortunately, however, despite the opportunity for some excellent competition this week Annalise Murphy and Katie Tingle in the 49er FX will not be competing. The Irish Laser Radials are not in action either, due to exams, thus making a challenging qualification season now even tougher. 

Club Nàutic S’Arenal

The golden jubilee regatta has mustered 1,224 sailors, 869 boats in ten classes all from 67 different nations the huge Olympic classes competitions congregate over eight race areas administered from the sailing clubs the Club Nautico S’Arenal and the Club Marítimo San Antonio de la Playa,

As the Princesa Sofía Iberostar reaches its remarkable landmark the celebratory ambience around the boat parks and the clubs gives way Monday to the business of racing.

This annual gathering of the clans and the classes on the Balearic Island of Majorca is always a vital first check in with the rivals, the earliest big fleet opportunity to benchmark improvements after the winter period of training and racing. Or in some cases it is the idea arena to return to Olympic classes competition arena after a more protracted post-Olympic break.

A glittering 50th anniversary gala on Saturday evening was hosted at the Son Termes estate and was attended by Her Majesty Queen Sofïa. It was attended by Spain’s Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, Reyes Maroto, the president of the Government of the Balearic Islands, Francina Armengol, and the president of the World Sailing (International Sailing Federation), Kim Andersen.

Queen Sofia offered a few words of thanks and congratulations "To all those who over these 50 years have made it possible for this regatta to be run in such a wonderful way on the unrivalled waters of the Bay of Palma, setting up this trophy as a national and international reference in the sport of sailing ".

HM Queen Sofía also offered special recognition for Rear Admiral Marcial Sánchez Barcaeiztegui and Jaime Enseñat who are considered the originators of the regatta.

Jaume Carbonell, who was the Trofeo Princesa Sofía event manager over two periods (1988-92 and 2004-11) praised Enseñat, who was president of Mallorca Tourism Promotion in 1968.

“He had the idea of the island benefitting from the promotional value of a major sports event to put Mallorca in the world map as an emerging tourism destination back then”.

Enseñat was, according to Carbonell, a pioneer of sports sponsorship.

“He ensured that for the first time that a private company gave its name to the Trofeo Princesa Sofía and invested some money that enabled thinking big and set the foundations of what today is the best Olympic classes’ regatta in the Mediterranean and probably in the whole world”.

“Thanks to this, the Princesa Sofía changed from being a Club regatta to become Mallorca’s showcase regatta, known all around the world”, said Carbonell.

Nine from Ten

Nine of the ten Rio 2016 Olympic gold medal winning sailors or pairs are racing at the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofía Iberostar.

Since they won the 49er gold medal in Rio in 2016 New Zealand’s Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have won the America’s Cup and competed in the Volvo Ocean Race round the world. As they set out to defend their Olympic title next year in Tokyo Burling and Tuke return to the 49er fleet for the first time since Rio, choosing the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofía Iberostar and the Bay of Palma as their first major event after training at home during the New Zealand summer with a flourishing Kiwi 49er squad. Blair and Tuke will have a fleet of 107 49ers, a class record, to contend with on their return.

“We are here to get back into it. We have had really good training group at home, it has been fun there but it is good to be back into it in Europe. We have a good few blocks of time at home, we feel pretty comfortable in our handling, it is about making sure you get these little details back which will I am sure will come back. It is cool to see the fleet so big and probably reflects a bit what is going on what is happening in the rest of the sailing world. It is looking pretty secure for a while.” Burling, who won the title here with Tuke in 2015 when they were last here, says,

“It is fun sailing here and with the Cup stuff we have on it is good to do some sailing. Andy (Maloney) and Josh (Junior) from our Cup team are doing Olympic campaigns and are here too. It fits in well with our programme and it is quite similar to what we did last time, a good balance some design time, some big boat sailing and some little boats. It is all part of the plan.

Following a similar programme is Great Britain’s Giles Scott, with Ineos Team UK hoping to wrest the America’s Cup from the Kiwis, and looking to defend the Finn gold medal title which he won in Rio. Scott has done three Finn regattas since he won here last year, two lower level regattas in Australia this winter and the Enoshima Japan 2019 World Cup series opener last September where he finished runner up.

“At the end of last year we went to Australia and did a couple of trips there and then came up to Palma in February and have been in and out since then. So I have had some reasonable time in the boat since then which is nice after the last 18 months or so.” Says Scott, “At the moment I can manage the Cup programme and this alongside each other. It will not get any easier from that point of view. It is working fine. I don’t know where I am with regard to the fleet and so that is what we come here for. It is great to have this regatta. Everyone goes off through the winter and it is nice to come back and see what everyone has done. For me the best thing is being properly back into it and feeling good.” Says Scott,

“I do love it here. It is amazing. Formats change, World Cups come and go, and this is the constant. Everyone always comes. Everyone always loves it. They always put on a good regatta here. And so the sailors always respond to that and turn up in their masses.”

Argentina’s Olympic Nacra 17 champion Santi Lange has lost count of the times he has been to the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofía Iberostar.

“It is a lot more than twenty.” Smiles Lange who with crew Cecilia Carranza Saroli finished third in Miami in January and third at last year’s World Championships, “Everyone is so passionate and supportive here it is always great to be here. In the ‘good old days’ everything was brought here by the military and a lot of things were provided free. I once did this regatta when I was working in Southampton and came by train. I remember being at Victoria Station in London at 5am in the morning, travelling with mast, boom, daggerboard, rudder and everything. We were crazy to be here.”

Lange adds: “It has changed a lot but this I am always happy to be here. It is all so much more professional now than it was but this is such a cool place. There are cheap places to stay and it is a great place for training camps. And this is such a good regatta for younger sailors to come and race with the best in the world. That used to be the case in Hyeres, Spa, Medemblik and now it is not and this is what there is. I do think we should keep pushing to have big regattas where newcomers can come and race against the good guys and girls.”

“For us we have come here a little late and so our first thing is to check in with the fleet and see where we are, and then we fix our objectives. We had some good training in Uruguay with a good group. This is a technical class where everyone is learning and improving all the time.

Who’s who?

The 470 Men’s class has 73 entries. Winners here in 2018 were Australia’s Olympic silver medallists Mat Belcher and Will Ryan who return to open their season on the Bay of Palma. The world champions Kevin Pepponet and Jérémie Mion (FRA) finished seventh in Miami in January and are among a 13 strong French 470 mens squad. In Miami it was Spain’s Jordi Xammar and Nicolas Rodriguez who prevailed.

In the 470 Women’s fleet there are 45 entries. Japan’s Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka are World Champions and won here last year. Olympic champion is GBR’s Hannah Mills who sails with Eilidh McIntyre. Germany’s top two 470 crews finished first and second in Miami, Loewe and Markfort winning from Oster and Winkel. Mills and McIntyre were fourth at the Miami World Cup.

In the 45 boat Finn class Giles Scott is the defending Sofia champion and the Olympic champion. Sweden’s Max Salminen won in Miami, was World Championship runner up in Aarhus. World Champion Zsombor Berecz is not entered here.

The 108 strong 49ers see the return of Burling and Tuke, the Olympic champions. World champions 2018 are Croatia’s Sime and Mihovil Fantela. The winners here in 2018 were Yago and Klaus Lange (ARG).

Over 180 Laser standards are entered. Cypriot Pavlos Kontides stands out as world champion in 2017 and 2018 and Olympic runner-up in London 2012 and winner in January in Miami. Olympic champion is Australia’s Tom Burton while Miami’s dominant winner was Norway’s Tomasgaard.

In the Laser Radial there are 120 sailors and favorites Marit Bouwmeester the Olympic gold winner from Rio 2016 and the Belgian Emma Plasschaert, current world champion.

In the 49er FX, Annemiek Bekkering and Annete Duetz (Holland) are looking to defend the title of Sofía Iberostar champions. They are also the current world champions. Winners in Miami were Brazil’s Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze, Olympic champions.

Italy’s Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti are world champions who start as favourites in the Nacra 17 class which has 59 entries. France’s four times World Champions Billy Besson and Marie Riou return to race in Palma after Riou raced on the Volvo Ocean Race last year. Olympic champions are Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli. Australia’s Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin won in Miami.

The RS: X male and female classes see this regatta as a prelude to the the European Championship that will take place at the Club Nàutic S'Arenal immediately after this event, from 8 to 13 April. The current female windsurf world champion, the Dutch sailor Liliana De Geus, who also won the 2018 edition of the Sofía Iberostar, will be the rival to beat the Japanese Peina Chen and the Andalusian Blanca Manchón as main competitors.

On the male windsurfing side, the Spanish sailors such as Canarian Ángel Granda and the Balearic Sergi Escandell at the head, is emerging as one of the main powers in the Majorcan regatta.

Published in Tokyo 2020
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The Olympic Federation of Ireland today announced a significant investment in its member federations, including Irish Sailing, dedicating a fund of €250,000 for 2019 to Olympic focussed projects across the Olympic cycle.

The OFI’s ‘Discretionary Funding’ programme was first introduced in July 2018. The 25% increase in funding for year two of the programme is being provided in addition to scholarship programmes and investments by the OFI to support athlete and team participation in Olympic events.

Olympic Federation of Ireland CEO, Peter Sherrard, announced the 2019 Discretionary Fund increase saying,

“We look forward to contributing 25% more funding this year to support Irish athletes and performance programmes at this important phase of the Olympic cycle. The 2018 applications demonstrated high levels of innovation and focus from our NGBs as well as the strong demand across Irish sport for additional resources.”

The 39 member federations of the Olympic Federation of Ireland will be invited to apply for funding of between €5,000 and €30,000 under one of three headings: ‘Make a Difference’ projects, ‘Performance Coach Support’ or ‘National Federation Olympic Development’ support.”

Member National Governing Bodies will have until April 4th to make applications and these will be reviewed by a five-person panel, including Sport Ireland and independent members in line with weighted criterion set out in the application.

In 2018 the Olympic Federation of Ireland provided grants to 19 projects under this funding stream.

The Discretionary Fund is designed to leverage existing funding going to NGBs from Sport Ireland, Sport Northern Ireland and other sources.

Details of the application process for member National Governing Bodies can be found HERE.

Published in Tokyo 2020
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World Sailing and the IOC have finally concluded the Tokyo 2020 Olympics qualification system, including continental qualification.

The basic qualification system is one spot in each event for the host nation, then 40% of the national spots were awarded at the Aarhus 2018 Worlds.

The final qualification event is the Olympic Classes World Cup event in Genoa, Italy, from 13 to 19 April 2020. World Sailing will then reallocate all unused quota places on the 10 June 2020.

Ireland failed to qualify in any of the five of the ten Olympic events at the Aarhus 2018 Worlds, and thus the fight is well and truly on to secure Irish places at Tokyo 2020. Detail of the Irish team is here.

Once this has been achieved, the focus will be on who will actually represent Team IRL in each sailing event at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Deciding this is a function of trials set out recently by Irish Sailing.

In the meantime, Irish sailing team members are preparing to contest the Trofeo Princesa Sofia in Palma next month. In a hopeful sign already this season, there have been some bright performances by Finn Lynch in the Laser in Miami when he became the first Irishman to make a World Cup Laser Medal Race.

Afloat's Tokyo coverage on this one handy link here

Published in Tokyo 2020
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A woman. A man. Three days and two nights together at sea. Racing in a cramped 30ft boat. Under 24-hour surveillance. It sounds like the latest pitch for a Reality TV show. Arguably, it is. But it’s also the new Olympic sailing challenge writes W M Nixon.

However, the real speculation has only just begun about the eventual planned re-introduction of keelboats to the Olympic sailing lineup in 2024. Behind the social media noise, it’s mainly about bringing proper offshore racing to the five-ring circus. But as soon as it was revealed that the changes would involve bringing in a keelboat and dumping the veteran Olympic Finn, the general fixation seemed to be about the boats rather than the people and the sport and the audience impact.

There has been all the understandable grief inspired by the demise of the single-handed Finn’s Olympic role. Many see her as the ultimate single-hander, best expressed through Olympic status. And as well there has been the throwback from Star keelboat adherents, who still dream of their quaint machines being re-aligned back into the Olympic gallery.

star class2“Quaint machines”. What is it about the ancient yet ever up-dated International Star? As soon as it was revealed that a keelboat would re-appear in the 2024 Olympics boat lineup, there was a clamour of support to bring back the Star

Inevitably, social media seems to have been immediately swamped by people trying to shoot from the hip with instant opinions. Yet they’ve often managed to shoot themselves in the foot instead of hitting any meaningful target.

But despite this tsunami of snap opinions, we should be a bit more patient, and try to get to the real story. Instead of seeing it as a curious attempt to introduce a less athletic type of boat back into the sailing Olympiad, we should realise that it is all part of sailing’s continuing struggle to maintain its position as an Olympic sport in the first place.

Now admittedly with sailing firmly in place for 2020 at Tokyo, and with the 2024 Olympiad in Paris and the sailing events at Marseilles in sailing-mad France, the position is secure for the next two Olympiads. But beyond that…..?

It all comes down to global viewing numbers. If the public worldwide aren’t buying arena tickets or tuning into the images of a particular Olympic sport, then the International Olympic Committee will begin to query whether or not that sport should be in the Olympic Games in the first place.

Other underlying themes include whether or not the sport in question is truly global in its reach, effortlessly transcending national, racial and economic boundaries. But ultimately the key point is the level of human interest and spectator involvement that the sport engenders.

colosseum naval battle3Sailing as a stadium sport in a staged naval battle for entertainment purposes in the Colosseum in Rome. Unfortunately for modern purposes, such encounters involved unacceptable levels of fatality….

Thankfully, we no longer have to rely on sailing reinventing itself as some sort of traditional-style stadium sport. Stadiums develop around athletic contests and team games in a natural organic progression which stems from the immediate human interaction between physically present sportsmen and nearby spectators. But any attempts to make sailing an arena event other than by the electronic means of a virtual stadium seem doomed to failure, for the water and the boats keep getting in the way, and sailing does not lend itself to circuit courses.

That’s how it is for the spectating and viewing public. But as sailors, we start from the opposite end of the spectrum – the boats. We always liked to think the Finn singlehander was the ultimate Olympic sailing experience. There was no doubting this very special boat’s unrivalled athletic demands. And she comes with the kind of special pedigree beloved of boat-nuts.

The story of the Finn is a perfect nugget of sailing history. After World War II, the UK hosted the first post-war Olympics in 1948 in London, with the sailing at Torquay. With the massive disruption of the war, the previous Olympics had been all of 12 years earlier, in 1936 in Berlin, with the sailing at Kiel on the Baltic.

finn dinghy3The O-Jolle was specially designed to be the single-hander for the 1936 Olympics in Germany. There are still about 500 of them sailing in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland, and they feature in the Vintage Olympic Classes Yachting Games

Only four classes had taken part in Kiel, three of them keelboats including the eternal Star. But the singlehander (and only dinghy) was a German design, the una-rigged O-Jolle specially created for the 1936 Olympics, with the Gold Medallist being the Dutch sailor Daan Kagchelland.

A dozen years later, with the world still only partially emerged from the devastation of global conflict, the British hosts accepted that the boat lineup should reflect post-war austerity, but were understandably reluctant to include their recent enemy Germany’s useful O-Jolle. And in face of a demand for an additional two-handed class which was less complex than the Star, they rejected some attractive existing Continental dinghy designs and the International 14 (possibly because it was a restricted class rather than a One-Design), and plumped instead for a slim and attractive new 26ft keelboat, the Swallow.

The other boats reflected established and new trends, as they retained the 36ft International 6 Metre with her crew of five and the International Star with her crew of two, but added the increasingly-popular three-man International Dragon. So keelboats were still very much in the ascendant, as the only dinghy was the new single-hander.

firefly dinghy5The first Firefly. An excellent two-hander, she was less than ideal as the single-hander at the 1948 Olympics at Torbay

At first glance, they made a weird choice, as it was the 12ft sloop-rigged Firefly. This Uffa Fox-designed planing dinghy (first sailed in 1938) was now being mass-produced in a hot moulding process (“baked like a waffle” they used to say) at Fairey Marine, thereby taking up production potential from the former wartime levels at Fairey Aviation. It was a patriotically popular choice in the heartlands of the British marine industry, but as a single-hander, it would have been very few people’s first selection.

Nevertheless, Denmark’s most dedicated dinghy single-hander, a somewhat introverted young man called Paul Elvstrom, won the Gold Medal in the Firefly. And then he went on to win the single-handed Gold Medal in the next three Olympics, but they were to be sailed in a boat which came to epitomize the Olympic sailing ideal.

The 1952 Olympics were scheduled for Helsinki in Finland, and the Finnish organisers and the International Olympic Committee must have gone to work on the challenge of selecting a more appropriate single-hander even as the sailing at Torquay was underway. For by 1949 a Swedish canoe designer called Rickard Saarby had created a 4.5 m (14ft 9ins) powerful yet classic one-sailor hull with a una rig. It came to be called the Finn in honour of the hosts. And when it ceases to be an Olympic Class after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, this admittedly challenging yet much-loved boat will have been the longest-serving Olympic dinghy, having performed at 18 Olympics on the trot.

olympic finn6The Olympic Finn in classic action. For sailors, they were the ultimate Olympic ideal. But for ordinary spectators, for all that you can see of the helmsman’s individuality, they might as well be sailed by robots 

That’s not quite as sensational as it sounds, as the other four classes at Helsinki in 1952 were still keelboats – the inevitable Star, the Dragon, the new International 5.5 Metre, and the International 6 Metre. For modern sailors, and the previous generation too, come to that, this must seem like the lineup for the Jurassic Sailing Olympics. Yet such it was, and it didn’t look so different in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia, when they dropped the big International 6 Metre, and introduced the first two-man dinghy.

But although there were now recognizably modern boats on the international scene, the powers-that-be selected a primitive hard-chine machine called the International 12 Square Metre Sharpie. Originally designed in Germany in 1931, she set a gaff/gunter rig and was usefully popular in certain countries which at the time had considerable influence in the decisions of Olympic sailing.

int 12 sq metre7One of the crazier Olympic choices – the International 12 Square Metre Sharpie was the first two-man “dinghy” in the Olympics. It was used just once – in 1956

It wasn’t until the 1960 Olympics in Rome, with the sailing at Naples, that a modern two-man dinghy made the Olympic lineup. This was the Flying Dutchman, which admittedly was nearly 20ft long, but she was so good she could plane going upwind, and at Naples in 1960 she saw Ireland’s first-ever first place in an Olympic race for Peter Gray and Johnny Hooper of Dun Laoghaire. And then in 1980, she brought Ireland’s first medal, a Silver at the Games in Russia for David Wilkins of Malahide and Jamie Wilkinson of Howth. So there was some sadness in Ireland when the FD’s Olympic career came to an end after the 1992 Games.

flying dutchman8The Flying Dutchman, a two-handed dinghy for real Olympians

This meandering tale of which boats are in or out in the Olympic scramble can be of enormous – indeed, obsessive - interest to sailing folk. But such things are scarcely comprehended by other athletes, who see sailing as primarily a vehicle activity, arguably not a sport really at all, in which the actual vehicle and its colourful history is of little or no interest.

As to what is required to obtain sport in such vehicles, other athletes can become very bewildered, as sailing is a “sport” in which the participants seem to spend much of their time sitting down, albeit in the most uncomfortable possible way. On top of that, they’re often sitting in such a way that you can’t easily see their faces, and it’s the registering and relating to extreme facial expressions which give other athletes - and more importantly the spectators - a proper sense of connection. For although sailors just love the image of a well-trimmed Finn thrashing to windward, most of the time you can only see the back of the helmsman’s head, and as far as spectator human interest is concerned, the Finn might as well be sailed by a robot.

Thus the developing Sailing Olympics seek to emphasise human interest and personal interaction. That, and witnessing extreme physical achievements. As in: Really Extreme Physical Achievements. Consequently, in the sailing community at large, not only have the instant commentators missed the real point of the reintroduction of keelboats, they’ve also missed the fact that the latest decision of World Sailing’s Equipment Committee at the WS Annual Conference in Florida (with a large and busy Irish contingent) has made sure that at the Paris Olympics, the range of sailing machines and boats will go from one extreme of displacement to another.

The extremes of sailing begin with the almost-no-displacement “vehicle” in the Mixed Kiteboarding Event, with a foiling board fitted with RAM-air (foiling kite) certainly providing extreme physical achievement – arguably to stunt level.

foiling kite surfing9Minimal displacement…..foiling kite-surfing rates high on the sailing sports spectacular rankings

Then in between, there’ll be a still-to-be-decided Mixed Two Person Dinghy of non-foiling displacement form with main, jib and spinnaker – Paddy Boyd, one of many delegates from Ireland at the Florida conference, reckons it will keep the 470 in the lineup, for all that the design has been around since 1963.

But then we’re into totally new territory – the inclusion of a Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat. If this seems to be a return of keelboats to Olympic Sailing, perish the thought. For with this particular class it’s definitely not Olympic Sailing as we know it. It’s arguably a new event altogether, as the backbone of this keelboat debut will be an offshore race which will be shaped to fit the prevailing conditions such that it will last three days and two nights, making it far and away the longest continuous event in the Olympic Games.

Heaven help the race Officers at Marseilles in 2024 trying to predict Mediterranean weather with sufficient accuracy to ensure a race of just this length in time but no longer. Yet Cathy MacAleavey – who’s on the Equipment Committee which set the parameters of the new boat – says that is the aspiration.

As to the boat which will be used, the length overall will be between 6 metres and 10 metres, definitely non-foiling, and currently talked of as sloop rig with spinnaker, but Cathy reckons they’ll have settled on a genniker by the time the details are being finalized.

Needless to say, the human interest aspect immediately focuses on the fact that it will be a man and a woman together for 60 hours in the confines of a boat which could be as commodious as a Figaro 2, but equally it could be as cramped as a Minitransat 6.5.

tom dolan 10Tom Dolan with his Ministransat 650. With a proposed size range between 6 and 10 metres, the possibility of this small size of boat in the Olympic offshore race has to be considered

There’ll be miniature cameras everywhere on board, and continuous transmission from all boats while the race is in progress. It may seem intrusive, but that’s the way the Internet is now. The inter-personal chemistry and immediate visual access to interaction with other boats will be everything, and Internet popularity will play a key role in keeping Olympic sailing on the road.

Far from lacking immediate human interest, it will probably have more human interest than most of us can cope with, and running the central communications centre to achieve a cohesive stream will be perhaps the most intensive skills test of all.

It’s certainly an idea whose time has come. Cathy MacAleavey is bubbling over with enthusiasm about it all, and reckons that brother-and-sister or husband-and-wife crews might have an inbuilt advantage – she cites the way that former 49er Gold and Silver Olympics Medallist Nathan Outteridge has teamed up with his sister to race a Nacra 17 towards the Tokyo Olympics, and finds it a fascinating new experience as he moves into his mid-30s.

Cathy and Con10Cathy MacAleavey and husband Con Murphy. Photo: W M Nixon

We suggested to Cathy that, what with Francois Joyon winning the Route de Rhum the other day at the age of 62, and the incredible Jean-Luc van den Heede leading the Golden Globe at the age of 73 despite rigging problems that would have stopped most people half his age, then maybe she and Con would be game to have a go 36 years after she last was an Olympic sailor, and 31 years after they together established a very long-standing Round Ireland record. The idea certainly wasn’t ruled out of order. That said, maturity isn’t essential for stamina, as 20-year-old Erwan le Draoulec proved when he won the Ministransat a year ago in some style.

Over in France meanwhile, Marcus Hutchinson has been watching it all from the standpoint of someone who is right at the heart of the Figaro Solo circuit (in addition to his involvement with IMOCA 60s), and he reckons that whatever the ultimate plan, at present the only real training and testing programmes available globally are with the Figaro setup, which has already been well used by several Irish sailors, most recently with a potential Mixed Crew in Joan Mulloy and Tom Dolan.

mulloy and dolan11Joan Mulloy of Mayo and Tom Dolan of Meath raced against each other in the 2018 Figaro series. Photo Alex Blackwell

Being France, the 2024 Olympics will have an emphatic Gallic emphasis which has already been in evidence. Back in the Spring of 2018, there had been a scheme hatched up between some sections of World Sailing and the French sailing authorities to trial five different boats – some of them new – to fit this new Olympic event. Although various factors conspired to prevent it happening, the groundwork has been done, and the intention has been fairly clearcut, so it will probably happen soon enough.

Currently, the underlying plan is that the host nation should provide the boats. Thus one line of thinking is that existing classes such as the appropriate craft in the J/Boat range, the Figaro 2, or the Sunfast 3200 and several others could be used as one-designs for training and selection trials in the nations where they are found in significant numbers, and then in 2024 the national winning crews will turn up in Marseilles and this limited edition of brand new boats will be there, ready to go and equally unfamiliar to everyone.

But 2024 is so very far away. Now that the idea of an offshore keelboat has passed through the preliminary stages, the idea of Olympic offshore racing as a sort of reality TV show is going to gain traction, and Paddy Boyd (who is on the World Sailing Oceanic & Offshore Committee) revealed that while the idea that there should be a trial offshore event in tandem with the 2020 Olympics to test the format seemed to have died the death, at the Conference in Sarasota the whisper was that it may yet re-emerge.

sarasota florida12Sarasota, Florida - location for the 2018 World Sailing Conference

There’ll be much to-ing and fro-ing before the final decision on boat type for 2024 is made in November 2019’s World Sailing Annual Conference, and by that time it seems quite possible that it will have been agreed that something like a class of Figaro 2s will racing a tandem offshore event at Enoshima on a trial basis.

If it happens, as it looks as though the boats will inevitably be laden down with communications gear, maybe the standard equipment on these proper little offshore racers could also include an air conditioning unit. For the word from Tokyo in July and August 2018 is that that the local climate is so hotly humid as to verge on the putrid. The option of an effective on-board air conditioner could make the trial offshore event the only show in town…….

enoshima japan13The 2020 Olympic sailing venue at Enoshima near Tokyo. In summer, the intense humidity can be a problem

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A Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore Event will feature at the Paris 2024 Olympic Sailing Competition, providing a new dynamic to the Olympic movement, following ratification at World Sailing's Annual General Meeting.

After a week of meetings, the AGM brought the 2018 Annual Conference to a close as they ratified the decisions made throughout the week.

At the 2018 Mid-Year Meeting in London, Great Britain, World Sailing's Council approved the following slate of Events:

Men's Windsurfer
Women's Windsurfer
New Event, Mixed One-Person Dinghy
New Event, Mixed Two Person Dinghy
New Event, Mixed Kite

They joined the following Events and their Equipment on the Paris 2024 slate:

Men's One Person Dinghy - Laser*
Women's One Person Dinghy - Laser Radial*
Women's Skiff - 49erFX
Men's Skiff - 49er
Mixed Two Person Multihull - Nacra 17
*subject to separate equipment re-evaluation

Although the decision was made, World Sailing's Regulations allowed both the Events and Equipment to be amended if 75% of Council members voted in favour of making the change.

A lengthy debate on replacing the Mixed One-Person Dinghy Event with the Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore Event was held before 31 Council members voted in favour of voting on change with eight against and two abstaining. As the 75% minimum was exceeded, Council then voted with 29 members in favour of the Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore with nine against and two abstentions.

World Sailing's Member National Authorities have the power to overturn the regulations approved by the Council.

After ratifying numerous regulation amendments over the last 12-months, a debate on reinstating the Mixed One-Person Dinghy event in place of the Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore event was held.

Members at the AGM voted with 43 voting in favour of retaining the Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore event, 17 were against and four abstained.

This confirmed the slate of Events for Paris 2024 as:

Men's Windsurfer - RS:X*
Women's Windsurfer - RS:X*
Men's One Person Dinghy - Laser*
Women's One Person Dinghy - Laser Radial*
Mixed Kite - TBC
Mixed Two Person Dinghy - TBC
Women's Skiff - 49erFX
Men's Skiff - 49er
Mixed Two Person Multihull - Nacra 17
Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore - TBC

*subject to separate equipment re-evaluation

Further decisions related to the Equipment criteria for the Paris 2024 Olympic Sailing Events were also made on the Men's and Women's Windsurfer, the Mixed Two Person Dinghy and the Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore.

The RS: X will be the equipment for the Men's and Women's Windsurfer events.The Mixed Kiteboarding event will be on a foiling board with a RAM-Air (foil-kite) and the Mixed Two Person Dinghy event will be a non-foiling displacement boat with a headsail, mainsail and spinnaker.

A displacement monohull (non-foiling) with a shorthanded deck layout will be used for the Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore boat. The boat will be between 6-10 metres in hull length, able to perform in 4 to 40 knots with a proper sail inventory for all conditions and be a sloop rig with a spinnaker.

Equipment trials for the Mixed Kiteboarding and Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore Events will follow with the decision on the Equipment to be made at the 2019 Annual Conference.

With regards to the Mixed Two Person Dinghy event, selection of the equipment should be based on evaluation against the specified criteria without equipment trials being required. If the evaluation is concluded by the Equipment Committee well ahead of the 2019 Mid-Year Meeting, then Council will be asked to make a decision by electronic vote.

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!