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Alf Delany - Ireland's dinghy legend

15th December 2006
"A fast boat makes a chap look good" was always an Alf Delany dictum. The veteran Olympian who died on Wednesday, December 13 was in more ways than one the sage of Irish dinghy sailing.

He knew a thing or two about how to make a boat go fast and and as recently as 2004, the 96-year old was winning races in Pansy the 14 foot dinghy he first sailed in 1925.

He had just completed his 81st sailing season and had packed Pansy away for the winter, the clinker Waterwag dinghy he had owned since he was 17.

A committed small boat sailor for 80 years, Alf was an honorary member of the Royal Saint George and National Yacht Clubs in Dun Laoghaire.

Pansy had won races every single year since she was built in 1906 and while it's no news that Pansy and Alf were waterfront legends in their home port the real story is that there has never been any better advertisement for sailing as a life long sport than this hardy pair.

Alf, a retired General Practitioner, celebrated Pansy's 100th birthday this summer at a special party in the Royal St.George club house that was attended by his close friends and family.

A competitor in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics and the winner of over a dozen Irish national championships in many classes. Alf was a top sailor and administrator of Irish sailing. He served on the Irish Olympic Council representing sailing for more than 10 years.

As a former class president of the Irish Waterwag class (reputedly the oldest one design class in the world), Alf's forceful promotion of the class put most other dinghy associations to shame. His careful stewardship is one of the reasons the class, with a fleet of as many as 22 boats, remains so strong today.

Alf married in 1942 and throughout his sailing career his wife Pat was also his loyal crew until her death in 1988.  Alf is survived by his five children and it comes as no surprise that not only his children but his grandchildren are all active and successful sailors.

Curiously, the highlight of his sailing career was not his double Olympic games participation (racing against such legends as Denmark's Paul Elvstrom) or any of his national championships wins. It was
instead a third overall at the 1963 British Firefly National Championships because – the Clontarf helmsman maintained – the competition there was the toughest he had ever experienced.

During an interview for the Irish Times sailing column in 1993 this reporter asked Alf, then aged 82, would he ever consider retiring from the rigours of dinghy sailing? "Only when I have to" he replied with a tenacious grin.

His funeral takes place this morning at 10.30am (Saturday, December 16th) at St Gabriels church, Dollymount, Clontarf. Team

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