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Where is Dun Laoghaire Sailing's Strategic Plan?

24th January 2017
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Dun Laoghaire Harbour is the biggest sailing centre in the country but there is no dedicated strategic plan for marine leisure interests Dun Laoghaire Harbour is the biggest sailing centre in the country but there is no dedicated strategic plan for marine leisure interests Photo: Afloat.ie

Last November's Afloat.ie article about why Dun Laoghaire yacht clubs needed to put on a united front got a swift – and largely positive – reaction writes David O'Brien. It dealt with some of the fundamental impediments for sailing in the capital’s waters and why the old sailing model no longer works. Stena paid for the harbour and cheap credit put boats in it but with those days over the challenge is to come up with a new way to keep sailing afloat. That article with proposals for change is here.

One criticism was that the piece merely skirted around the real issues; namely the necessity to consolidate some of the clubs and increase public access to the water through publicly-funded initiatives. Others asked for 'practical solutions, with a pathway and timeline'.

Somewhat perplexingly, however, as much as the article put the issue into the public domain, it does not seem to have even made the agenda on the various waterfront clubs’ General Committees.

In one sense, that's no surprise because these voluntary committees are so much under pressure it is sometimes hard for them to get a glimpse at the big picture. One former Commodore tells how he was so buried in human resources, banking, catering and clubhouse issues that 'sailing' per se rarely surfaced as an agenda item at all in his three years at the helm.

So who is in charge of plotting a course for sailing in Dun Laoghaire? Unfortunately, when everyone is in charge, then no one is in charge.

Since 2008, Irish sailing has lost a quarter of its members and the result on sailing in the capital's waters is dramatic. While individual clubs may well have adapted to these changed circumstances, others are still happy to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Spike Milligan always maintained: “We haven't got a plan, so nothing can go wrong!” but that's not going to get us out of this jam. In short, without an overall plan for the future, sailing in Dun Laoghaire will be left behind.

Why have we lost a quarter of our fleet? Where did those sailors go? How do we get them back? And most importantly, how do we leave sailing in good shape for the next generation?

Deciding what tack Dun Laoghaire sailing should be on should involve all stakeholders. If club committees are too busy, then it is up to the rest of us to work out a plan. This must be a document that transcends traditional boundaries.

The stakeholders here are not just the waterfront clubs – all the stakeholders have a part to play:

  • The waterfront clubs: National Yacht Club (NYC), Royal Irish Yacht Club (RIYC), Royal St George Yacht Club (RSGYC) and Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club (DMYC).
  • The Irish National Sailing and Powerboat School (INSS) and other schools
  • Dublin Bay Sailing Club (DBSC), the racing organisation for the waterfront clubs
  • Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (DLRCoCo) and Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company (DLHC)
  • Dun Laoghaire Marina
  • Other Dun Laoghaire based groups such as Sailing in Dublin (SID)

The challenge will be for all these stakeholders to put individual agendas aside and to work openly together seeking ways to:

  • Bring the cost of sailing down
  • Create an additional racing ‘offering’ that is less time-consuming, less expensive and more attractive for young adults
  • Reduce duplication of resources to create a stronger, more cost-effective junior sailing model that is open to newcomers
  • Focus the clubs on sailing as much as club facilities

Dun Laoghaire Sailing's master plan

As a first step, a sailing blueprint would provide direction and focus for all sailors at Dun Laoghaire. A plan would point to specific results that are to be achieved and establish a course of action for achieving them. A DL sailing strategic plan will also help the various club/classes within DL sailing to align themselves with common goals. A think–tank of stakeholders could take a first 'look see' at what DL sailing might be like in twenty years time. First they need to:

  • determine where we are
  • identify what’s important
  • define what we must achieve
  • determine who is accountable

Is there an appetite for this? Based on some of the feedback from November's article, maybe not. Some traditionalists like to think the blame lies purely on the economic downturn: “It's the economy, stupid”.

The view is that sailing will be back when the economy improves. The clubs in Dun Laoghaire have survived the Great Famine, Civil War, two World Wars and many recessions so the correct course of action is to sit and wait.

Unfortunately, today's world offers so many competing leisure opportunities that sailing no longer has the monopoly on water it once enjoyed.

laser dun LaoghaireA Laser sailor enjoying the freedom of the capital's waters off Dun Laoghaire. A Strategic Plan for Dun Laoghaire Sailing could provide direction and focus for marine leisure activity in the harbour

Lives and society have changed to such an extent it has become corrosive to traditional club models. Nowadays, people are not signing up for club memberships. Instead, 'The Playstation Generation' is opting for 'low maintenance' sport. An annual yacht club subsciption has the same outlay as five years of kayaking, kiteboarding or paddleboarding, for example.

Afloat.ie Reader Ed Boyle commented:  There are changing times in how people's relationships work. No longer can a partner go sailing on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Weekends are family time, swimming lessons, football training etc. You get one sail, two if you are lucky per week. Getting crew is a nightmare. The Investment compared to time on the water does not add up.

Reader Frank Miller told us: the DMYC has completely changed its operating model and ramped up the voluntary input of members and managed to greatly reduce membership fees for all (to about a third of the "typical club membership fee" quoted in the piece. This drop in fees, and the dedicated volunteerism of members, has breathed new life into the club and membership and activity is on the rise again. Two other institutions worth noting are the INSS "club" scheme which seems very successful and SID who go from strength to strength with an enthusiastic membership of sailors who don't want the hassle and expense of owning a boat.

The neighbourhood has overtaken us but surely it is possible to change from old to new without letting go of the past?

Insiders says there’s a window here for about five years while the domestic sailing classes still have a good turnout. After that, it’s feared the whole scene could disappear — not helped by a lack of cash among thirty–to–fifty–somethings. 

It’s a problem throughout Northern Europe. The Dutch, for example, foresee a further 25% reduction in their national fleet by 2050.

What's eye opening in all of this is the fact many Irish sailing clubs clearly hadn't an idea about what was going on outside their doors.

Ironically, these clubs come together every two years to successfully stage Ireland's biggest sailing regatta – and the biggest in the Irish Sea area too. Unfortunately, such a powerful symbol belies a waterfront that is also divided. But if they can organise the country's biggest sailing event, then surely contributing to a meaningful plan is not beyond them?

A plan would make the most of available resources. And in terms of resources, Dun Laoghaire has an embarrassment of riches. But it would need to be a real plan not just some corporate box ticking exercise.

Apparently, the leading cause of business failure is not having a strategic plan that’s being well implemented. If a business has little idea where it’s headed, it will wander aimlessly with priorities changing constantly and employees confused about the purpose of their jobs. Lets not forget that combined sailing in the harbour has an estimated turnover of €5m per annum. That's a reasonable business by any yardstick.

November's article outlined some proposals to rationalise overheads from junior sailing to senior racing. Read those proposals here. There are many more reasons for cohesion too.

Not least that when the waterfront clubs interact with the harbour company or the local council, it would make business sense for these clubs to offer a united front. |nstead, county officials are so often confronted with 'Don't listen to them, listen to me' arguments. The idea of the county manager being told several different versions of the same story means sailing loses credibility. It moves us backwards, not forwards.

Given the town’s own local area plan might yet have a major impact on how sailing continues at the port, surely it is incumbent on the sailors to map out a vision for sailing?  

There would be many benefits to such a plan not least the fact that it would give the sailing community the opportunity to demonstrate why the towns major asset – described by some as a 'white elephant' – is in fact a blessing rather than a blight.

It is the love of the greatest sport in the world that unites us so we should not let shoreside rivalry divide us. This is a time to build bridges not walls. Most of us just want to go sailing and enjoy the freedom of the capital's waters. With all the things that divide us, forgetting what unites us is lethal.

If it's our duty to the next generation to leave the place better than we found it, the first step to achieving that future is a strategic plan for Dun Laoghaire sailing from 2020 to 2050.

Should Dun Laoghaire Sailing Have A Strategic Plan?
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