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Sails of the century

14th May 2008

Celebrating sailing centenaries have been joyful occasions on Dublin bay recently, seen as opportunities to reflect on the capital's rich sailing tradition.

Not so a sad scene of seven vintage yachts rotting in a farm yard.

But the misfortune of the Dublin Bay 21 foot class represents a far bigger problem for Bay sailing than just the loss of this historic boat because it highlights bad news for the future of Ireland's yachting heritage.

Dun Laoghaire has, over the past 20 years, turned a blind eye to the plight of one of the oldest keelboat fleets in the world.

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Under full sail, a twenty one in 1963

Few sailors today remember that around the world, the modern sport of sailing is governed by rules that were formulated here in Ireland in the 1870s, when the clubs in Dun Laoghaire established the bay as one of the world's key sailing centres.

But a century later, for all the talk of the port's rich sailing history, when it comes to getting behind a project to save its own unique Dublin Bay 21 class there is only lip service.

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In spite of ninety years hard sailing, an Irish hurricane and an increasing financial burden, the dream of restoring the vintage class to original condition has been kept alive by a group of owners who have struggled to get a restoration project underway.

As far back as 1993 - in a Christmas sailing column - The Irish Times published details of plans to create a working museum of these antique yachts.

In the absence of a commercial sponsor to commit £150,000, the class pressed ahead with a group scheme. It was a notion to provide the nation with a working sailing exhibit estimated at the time to cost £20,000 per boat before the class centenary in 2003.

Sadly, it never happened.

If Ireland is to enhance its reputation as one of the founders of yacht racing it must at least be able to preserve its roots.

It took interest from abroad to see the potential in another vintage Irish fleet and just before Christmas another famous class, the Dublin Bay 24 fleet, left for France and salvation on the back of a truck.

But in spite of the age of mass produced glass fibre boats Irish sailing still has the capacity to look after its old designs - however, it also needs the will.

Traditional boat building skills are still to be found here. The Water Wag dinghies; the Howth 17s; the Cork Harbour One Design, Mermaid and Glen fleets are testament to a love of wooden boats.

If it is not feasible to restore the entire fleet surely a consortium of Dun Laoghaire clubs and business interests can set sail in at least one or two?

A change of attitude is all that is needed to put these boats back on the bay again. It's a lovely idea - much more lovely than rotting hulks in a Wicklow farmyard.

Below: Afloat's video of the rotting DB21 fleet.

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