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“For everything to stay the same, everything must change….” It’s an enduring and profound thought from the classic Italian novel The Leopard. And it applies to Irish sailing at least much as it does to most other aspects of Irish life writes W M Nixon.

We might think our sailing changes little from year to year, yet it moves along, and certain very significant dates come steadily up the calendar with increasing presence. So although we’re currently looking ahead to 2019, there’s no escaping the magnificent reality that 2020 is the Tricentenary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, and as if that weren’t enough, Lough Ree YC is 250 in 2020, while the National YC in Dun Laoghaire will be 150 years from a foundation date in 1870.

In the background of such great events, Irish sailing moves along determined to make each year both new yet recognisably familiar, with major pillar events providing the basic structure of the year’s programme, often in a biennial and comfortable rhythm. And then, just as a little too much benevolent ennui starts to creep in, something unexpected and exciting will occur.

Such unexpected excitement might be provided by the sudden appearance of a new sailing star of genuine depth and talent. But as 2018 revealed, it is equally guaranteed by setbacks such as illnesses or injury among our aspiring Olympic sailors, or the cruel rig damage experienced by Tom Dolan just after the start of the Figaro Solo 2018.

And then there was the double-roll of Gregor McGuckin’s veteran Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance in September in the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe solo round the world race, resulting in his heroic rescue attempt under jury rig on the likewise dismasted but also seriously injured fellow-competitor Abilash Tomy.

That was rather more excitement than most of can live with for any great length of time. But as 2019 actually begins and we digest the showing by the Irish connections in the latest Rolex Sydney Hobart Race which will have started on December 26th 2018, the Golden Globe 50th Anniversary Solo Round the World 2018-2019 re-enactment will be entering its final chapter for those relatively few boats still in the challenge.

It’s an event of which – if making predictions - you can say “barring accidents” with real meaning. At the time of writing, the great Jean-Luc van den Heede is clear in the lead in his Rustler 36, with New Zealand well astern and Cape Horn next up. He now has “only” 10,500 miles to the finish, so we could be looking at a February return for the tough 73-year-old to Les Sables d’Olonne.

jean luc van den heede2The veteran Jean Luc van den Heede is well in the led in the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe with “only” 10,500 miles still to sail – and that includes rounding Cape Horn

In France itself, Tom Dolan meanwhile finished his season as third overall with Smurfit Kappa out of 14 Figaro rookies in 2018 in their season-long championship, and he expects to take delivery of a new foiling Figaro 3 at the end of January in the hopes of continuing his upward spiral in the Figaro racing programme, one of the most demanding on the planet.

That will mean at least two of the new Figaro 3s will be of direct Irish interest, as current “Sailor of the Year” Conor Fogerty of Howth will also be taking delivery of one of these flying machines in 2019, though not until late April at the earliest.

portrait tom dolanTom Dolan finished third overall in the Fiagro’s14-strong Rookie (Bizuth) Division in the season-long series

So although the annual “Sailor of the Year” awards at the RDS (2019’s is on Friday February 8th) will mark the end of focus on 2018 and launch us into concentration on the coming season, there’s won’t be quite the same targeted and successful attention turning almost immediately to the RORC Caribbean 600, which in 2019 is on Monday February 18th.

In 2018, Howth YC took a first and second in class, but in 2019 the Michael Wright-led team who took second in Class 2 in the Caribbean 600 of 2018 are aiming instead for a charter in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race on December 26th, while Conor Fogerty – winner of Class 4 in the Caribbean in 2018 – will be involved in the development of the new “Formula Foiler Academy”.

That will be very much work in progress during 2019, as the new Beneteau Figaro 3 offers the most immediate access to a state-of-the-art foiling offshore racer. But priority of supply for the new machine is initially dominated by the needs of the official Figaro Solo fleet as it changes over to the foiler to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Figaro Race in 2019, whereas Conor Fogerty’s interest will be in racing with a minimum crew of three in order to identify rising talent who will be poised for full-on involvement tin a foiler racing programme in tandem with RORC events in 2020.

Thus if the new boat does arrive in late April, she may almost immediately be seen in ISORA events in the Irish Sea (the ISORA programme starts on April 27th), as Fogerty plans to be drawing on Irish-based talents and conveniently-accessed events to set his programme into action.

figaro three4The new foiling Figaro 3 – Tom Dolan will be racing his in the Figaro Solo programme, but Conor Fogerty will be racing his with a crew in the new Foiler Training Programme in tandem with ISORA and RORC events

Meanwhile in the south of England, RORC Rear Commodore Stewart Greenfeld (from whom incidentally Fogerty bought the classic 1976 Half Ton World Champion Silver Shamrock) will be seeing how a Foiler Programme can be run in tandem with the established RORC fixtures, and while there will of course be Figaro 3s and other mono-hull foilers in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet race on August 3rd, it could well be that the new concept will be most ready for a proper debut at the RORC Caribbean 600 in February 2020, which is definitely a Fogerty priority.

All this takes us a long way from the everyday realities of the 2019 Sailing Programme in Ireland, so at this stage an early outline of the pillar events best shows the structure in which our new sailing year will take shape, knowing that 2019 will also be a major part of the final “make or break” period for Ireland to secure a place or places at the 2020 Tokyo Sailing Olympics. But as all that will be happening at events far away – sometimes very far away – it’s a topic for another day, while for now we concentrate mainly on the home scene.

laser sailingLaser sailing in some of the “mixed weather” experienced in the 2018 Youth Pathway Championship at Dun Laoghaire at the beginning of April 

2019 Main Sailing Events Programme

February 18th RORC Caribbean 600 Antigua

April 25th-28th Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Champ Royal Cork YC

April 27th First ISORA Race Irish Sea ORA

May 23rd – 27th Silvers Scottish Series Clyde Cruising Club

June 1st Lambay Races Howth YC

June 7th to 9th ICRA National Champs RStGYC

June 12th Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race National YC

June 26th to 29th Sovereign’s Cup Kinsale YC

July 11th to 14th Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta Dun Laoghaire

July 21st to 26th Wayfarer Int Championship Greystones SC

July 24th to 27th WIORA West Coast Championship Foynes YC

August 3rd Rolex Fastnet Race Cowes RORC

August 6th to 9th Calves Week Schull Harbour SC

August 9th to 12th Welsh IRC Championship Pwllheli SC

August 9th to 12th Cruinniu na mBad Festival Kinvara

August 15th to 19th Optimist Nationals Howth YC

September 2nd to 13th Flying Fifteen Worlds National YC

In 2018 it was still winter in April, but the Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Championship 2019 – now the biggest event in our Junior Sailing - is aiming for the final weekend of that unpredictable month, Royal Cork is taking on the major challenge of hosting it - and there isn’t a more useful predictor of the coming season’s performance potential than this very special sailfest.

420 start6The 420s continue to play a key role in Irish junior sailing

Cruiser-racing inevitably makes greater demands on crew numbers, so it’s not surprising that in this currently very basic calendar for 2019, cruiser-racer events have had to be very quick out of the traps in setting their dates to guarantee their place in the sun in a crowded programme.

It has already been commented several times that the seven weeks from the Scottish Series getting under way on May 23rd to the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta concluding on Sunday July 14th could get very busy indeed for the keenest cruiser-racers. But most events have been cut down to a minimum number of days – “You’ve only to take one day off work at most” we’re assured – so in theory a boat with a large and willing crew panel could contemplate doing much racing in home waters after going in late May to Scotland, where Pat Kelly’s Storm is defending overall champion from 2018, having won the growing RC 35 class from John Hall (Something Else, NYC) while the Douglas brothers with the J/133 Jacana (Carrickfergus SC) won Class 1 from the Ker 36 Jump Juice (Conor Phelan, Royal Cork).

storm scotland7Pat Kelly’s Storm making knots on her way to the overall Championship at the Scottish Series 2018. Photo Marc Turner

Back home, the programme takes them immediately to Howth’s Lambay Races (June 1st), then a week later there’s the businesslike ICRA Nationals starting Friday June 7th at Royal St George in Dun Laoghaire, and that’s barely settled before the biennial Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race gets going from the National YC on June 12th. But its timing at least allows the hyper-keen to do this long one and still get back to Kinsale for the popular Sovereign’s Cup series from June 26th to 29th.

That timing in turn then allows a weekend’s break before the big one arrives, Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2019 from July 11th to 14th. 2017’s staging of this still-developing multi-class mega-fleet event came so near to perfection that it will be a real achievement to get anywhere near it in terms of sport and enjoyment, but we can be sure the various committee are already well advanced in plans to give 2019 even more oomph.

That said, a repeat of the perfect regatta weather of 2017 is in the lap of the Gods, but steps can be taken to make the programme more interesting regardless, and it’s expected that the RC 35s will be making their first proper stab at having a real impact in Dublin Bay.

first 36.7 animal8Busy at the windward mark – the First 36.7 Animal was the 2018 RC35 Class Overall Champion.

This is the initially Scottish development which puts that large cohort of 32ft to 38ft LOA boats found within the relatively narrow 1.015 to 1.040 IRC rating band into a group, and has them racing as a separate class. It accommodates the large numbers of J/109s, but equally it accommodates lonelier craft like First 36.7s - the 2018 champion is the First 36.7 Animal (Kevin and Debbie Aitken).

In its way, it’s a case of everything having to change in order for everything to stay the same, but in carving out this class, a new sense of active cohesion has been provided in a significant but previously “invisible” natural grouping, and Dublin Bay in July may well prove to be ideal place and event to demonstrate how effective it can be.

After the intensive period from late May to mid-July, there’s a sense of the pace changing, and the focus moving elsewhere. Those who are doing the Fastnet will already be into their countdown with its new earlier date of August 3rd, and sailing schools, in particular, will be bringing their Fastnet programmes into the final stages.

As well, the professional yacht preparation organisations will be doing final tuning with their special chartered high-performance craft. There’s no doubt that for cash-rich time-poor yachties, this is a very effective way to go. But those involved in the time-honoured traditional owner-campaigned Fastnet Race shouldn’t be too ready to write off their own chances. They should remember that the last three Fastnets have all been won by owner-skippered largely amateur-crewed craft, though for Irish skippers and crews, perhaps it’s better for 2019 to forget that those three previous winners have also all been French……..

rounding fastnet rock9Derry Nash’s Catalpa rounds the Fastnet Rock during Calves Week. In 2019, the fleet from Schull may be sharing the turn with competitors in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Photo: Robert Bateman

Meanwhile back in Ireland the sailing will have be going merrily along with those multi-purposed Wayfarers having their International Championship at Greystones in late July. In calling them “little-raced” we’re reflecting their popular image, but some are raced very keenly indeed, and will already have availed of the class’s access to racing in Dun Laoghaire Regatta. But nevertheless the Wayfarer’s image persists as an able boat suitable for all forms of sailing, of which racing is only one.

wayfarers racing10The Wayfarers will have the possibility of racing in Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta in Dublin Bay from July 11th to 14th, and then competing in their own International Championship at Greystones from July 21st to 26th

That same late-July period sees hospitable Foynes YC on the Shannon Estuary come even more vibrantly to life as it hosts the WIORA Championship, and then in early August there’s double focus on West Cork, as the participants in Calves Week at Schull may find themselves sharing the Fastnet as a race mark with the tail-enders in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Either way, Calves Week (2019’s is from August 6th to 9th – a “week” is whatever you’re having yourself in West Cork) has built itself a deserved reputation with the neat balance between moderately serious racing and fun times with it - long may it continue.

Well up the West Coast, at Kinvara in the southeast corner of Galway Bay, it’s the 40th Anniversary of Cruinniu n mBad from August 9th to 11th, the annual gathering of the boats founded in 1979 by the late Tom Moylan. The traditional Galway hookers in all their many sizes will be at their immaculate best as this special edition is staged, and with some interesting newly-restored craft also setting traditional rig these days, the fleet is expected to be larger and more varied than ever before.

cruinniu na mbad11Vision of the West….Galway Hookers racing at Kinvara, where the 40th Anniversary of Cruinniu na mBad will be celebrated in 2019

The following week sees yet more four-sided sails dominate the scene, but this time it’s on the East Coast and the sails are white, as it’s the Optimist Nationals at Howth. Ever since the Youth Pathway Championship at Crosshaven in April, the competition will have been developing, and the only word for the pace will be intense, but the kids thrive on it.

September seems to have become a favoured month for World Championships in Ireland, and 2019 will see a real zinger, the Flying Fifteen Worlds at Dun Laoghaire hosted by the National YC sponsored by Subaru, with the fleet limited to 85 boats to which Ireland is automatically entitled to only seven. They may have been around for some time, but the Flying Fifteens continue to be a white-hot class, and the eventual overall winner could come from any one of half a dozen countries in an event which will be seen as part of the 150th Anniversary celebration of the much-admired National YC.

FF 2905Dublin Bay looking its best for the Flying Fifteens, which will hold their World Championship here in 2019

We cannot leave the sailing scene as it will be in Ireland in 2019 without reference to the growing good health of our classics. Any One Design Class goes through various inevitable periods of life, and a crucial stage is when extinction threatens. If they can survive that, then they tick over in a sort of limbo for some time (its length varies), but after that, there’s every chance they begin to be seen as classics, and their future become much more healthy.

The Howth Seventeens have successfully come through the limbo, and so too have the Mermaids, while all sorts of things are possible for the Dublin Bay 21s and their newer larger sisters, the Dublin Bay 24s. But way before either of them, the Water Wags emerged, and now their classic status has been recognised such that some time in 2019, they will pass through the threshold of 50 boats having been built to Maimie Doyle’s 1900 design. Their example is so inspiring that the old International 12s are now showing similar signs of a promising new life, though they’ve a very long way to go before they can match the Water Wags or the Shannon One Designs.

water wags lough ree13Dubin Bay Water Wags on Lough Ree – the class was originally founded in 1897, and in 2019 it will see the 50th boat built to this version, which was introduced in 1900

All this world of traditional and classic timber construction seems a different planet entirely to that of Safehaven Marine in Cork, where Frank Kowalski and his team build some of the most advanced powerboats in the world. Yet somehow in the midst of an exceptional work-rate, they found the time to establish a new Round Ireland and Rockall Powerboat Record two years ago. Now for 2019 their ambition is a crack at the Transatlantic Record by the northern route. It’s a fascinating project from any angle, and it’s just one of dozens of intriguing things that will be happening afloat in Ireland in 2019.

thunder child two14A computer impression of Safehaven Marine’s new Atlantic Record Challenger Thunder Child 2 in the ice of South Greenland. The plan for 2019’s record challenge by the northern route envisages a re-fuelling stop near Cape Farewell in Greenland

Published in W M Nixon

Anyone who claims to comprehend every nuance of Ireland’s sailing story during 2018 is living in a state of happy delusion writes W M Nixon. For sure, much that happened followed the set path of the annual programme at home and abroad, as it has developed down the years. And as the season unfolded, it often produced results that were broadly in line with expectations.

But equally, there were bizarre twists of fate which found the sailing community and their supporters avidly following events afloat of a kind they’d never seen before, while time-honoured annual fixtures produced unprecedented outcomes.

It started almost immediately in January, when the traditional boat community in Ireland found its numbers growing and its international interest greatly increased with focus on Oldcourt in West Cork, where the restoration of the historic 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien trading ketch Ilen reached a crucial phase for the combined efforts of Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt, and their partners in the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick directed by Gary MacMahon.

In an eleven-year project which has had to stretch resources very thinly indeed at times to keep going at all, the task in January 2018 was to get the Ilen safely out of the ancient Top Shed at Oldcourt and into a re-fit berth where the complex work could be completed in order to have her available for sea trials and certification during the summer.

ilen at beacon2The restored 1926 ketch Ilen sails past the famous Baltimore Beacon in September. But back in January, there was still much work to do, including delicately-balanced boat moving operations in a very confined space. Photo: Ilen Network

In a modern fully-equipped yard this manoeuvre would be straightforward. But Oldcourt is a time capsule of ancient equipment, and a crowded one at that. So the fact that, despite occasional winter storms, in January there were halcyon days of complete calm when the moves were safely completed, clearly revealing that Ilen’s Guardian Angel was at work.

February by complete contrast was a month of glitzy happenings, with the style being set by the annual Volvo Sailor of the Year awards at the RDS in Dublin on Friday, February 9th. No other crowded and cheerful nautical happening gives a better overview of the Irish sailing and boating community in all its extraordinary diversity in a mood of happy celebration, and the applause rose to the rafters as Howth YC’s Conor Fogerty was announced as having emerged from a competitive field to be Sailor of the Year on the strength of his victory in the storm-tossed Single-Handed Transatlantic Race 2017.

He’d barely had time to digest that before he and a Howth team were off to race two boats in the RORC Caribbean 600 from Antigua, a notably heavy-weather event of torn sails in the Caribbean sunshine. Yet Fogerty won his class in his Sunfast 3600 Bam! for the second time, while clubmates Michael Wright and Kieran Jameson and their team on the chartered Lombard 46 Pata Negra took second in their class.

conor and annalise3Conor Fogerty, who became Sailor of the Year in February, with his predecessor in the role, 2016 Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy. Photo Brian Turvey
Back home, February also saw the annual early season gathering of the Optimists in force at Baltimore, when the hospitable West Cork port leaps out of any winter torpor to fill the harbour with small white four-sided sails in a mixture of competition and training. But then, just as February was morphing into March and we might have hoped for surer signs of spring, the Beast from the East in the form of Storm Emma arrived, and while the whole country was affected, the East Coast took a battering in storms hitting Force 11.

Even the mighty ramparts of Dun Laoghaire Harbour suffered on March 2nd with the base for the DBSC West Pier Starter’s Hut swept away, though the hut itself is fortunately removed in winter for safe keeping. But across Dublin Bay in Howth, the effect was more substantial with a boat storage shed on the East Pier so seriously damaged that it was feared the seven historic Howth 17s stored therein – some dating from 1898 - might all be lost.

But a remarkable community effort saw the damaged boats retrieved as soon as the weather had eased. Only one was a write-off, and as her ballast keel was saved, she is now being re-built according to international classic rules and through the good offices of Ian Malcolm at a French boat-building school in Douarnenez. This is part of an informal yet very real international movement to strengthen Ireland’s classic fleets, with new Dublin Bay Water Wags seemingly always coming along. In West Cork too, several specialist yards are turning out work of international standard. And new Mermaids have been built at Foynes, while across the Shannon Estuary at Kilrush, Steve Morris is re-building Dublin Bay 21s in a fascinating project inspired by Hal Sisk.

kilrush harbour4Thanks to the lock gates for the Marina, Kilrush Creek has ample space for closely fought university racing, and it is also home to high-standard boat-building projects.

Kilrush was the setting for an event which set everyone on the road to recovery from Storm Emma when good sailing weather arrived on the weekend of March 9th to 11th for the annual Irish Universities Team Championship, jointly staged by NUI Galway and University College Cork. A remarkable 194 students turned up to provide a huge diversity of teams, and from the midst of it University College Cork - captained by Brendan Lyden - emerged as the 2018 Champions.

The presence of Olympic hopeful Fionn Lyden of Baltimore in the successful Cork team was particularly encouraging. Since winning the All-Ireland Championship 2017 at Mullingar in October, Fionn Lyden’s training programme for the Olympic Finn had been seriously set back by a mysterious virus which saw him out of condition and losing weight.

Thus his appearance at Kilrush was good news, and he revealed later he’d been persuaded to go as part of a recovery plan, candidly admitting that being part of a team helped restore his mojo – the Olympic trail can be a lonely, exhausting and sometimes unhappy experience.

This proved to be the harbinger of other reminders that though Irish Sailing may seem - by comparison with other sports in this country – to get a very generous Sports Ireland grant for its Performance Sailing Squad currently aiming at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, by international standards it is minuscule. The Dutch Olympic sailors, for instance, have to “get by” on €18 million a year, with full support teams to match.

Irish Olympic hopefuls by contrast often seem to be on a solo run, despite the support of their families and friends and coaching setups stretched to the limits and beyond, and the stress can show. The dependence of a successful Olympic programme on avoidance of injury and illness was brought home to us all during 2018 not only by the virus which halted Fionn Lyden’s progress, but also by the many weeks lost by Aoife Hopkins’ plans in her Laser Radial campaign through a persistent infection of tonsillitis. And then the need for everything to be just right was underlined when the new Annalise Murphy/Katie Tingle 49erFX campaign was de-railed when Katie sustained a broken arm in a training accident in Dublin Bay.

annalise and katie5Not for the faint-hearted….Katie Tingle and Annalise Murphy training in their demanding 49erFX. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

But before all this began to slot into place, Irish sailing had a very special happening at the beginning of April, when Enda O’Coineen returned to Les Sables d’Olonnne to complete his inspirational round the world Vendee Globe in his own inimitable style. He may have done it in two parts instead of the Vendee Globe’s one, and he may have done it in two different boats after a dismasting and other damage, but he did it nevertheless in the well-established unsinkable Kilcullen style. And it’s arguable that he and his unique approach are now better remembered than the actual winner of what had begun as the 2016-2017 Vendee Globe.

enda ocoineen6The unsinkable Enda – thanks to his indomitable spirit, Enda O’Coineen is now probably the best-remembered of the participants in the Vendee Globe 2016-17
Back in mainstream Irish sailing, even with the structural timing changes imposed by the Volvo Ocean Race schedule, the Irish programme was busy, with the inaugural Wave Regatta at Howth at the start of June, sponsored by Wright Hospitality with a longterm planned biennial staging, building itself successfully round the traditional Lambay Race.

And by the time the Wave Regatta had arrived, so too had summer. But until the beginning of June, it had been a little uncertain about asserting itself. The Beast from the East at the beginning of March had ushered in an extended period of weather so cold and miserable that it became known as “the longest winter ever”. It went on through April, and though May had occasional bursts of good weather which increased as the month went on, it wasn’t until June that that summer really did arrive. And having done so, it overdid itself completely, giving two months of total sunshine which eventually became serious drought.

But despite the developing odd weather which may in fact be the New Normal under Climate Change, Irish sailing had been increasingly active in time-honoured style since April both at home and abroad, with Meathman Tom Dolan going on from his good placing in the Minitransat in November 2017 to take the First Rookie placing in the Figaro Two-Handed Transat in late April to the Caribbean, - a good omen for the big one itself, the URGO Figaro Solo in September when he’d be sailing Smurfit Kappa single-handed.

In a different area of sailing entirely, early April saw the annual Volvo Irish Sailing Youth Pathway National Championship at Dun Laoghaire, four days of racing slipped in under the weather radar with style to provide racing for a record fleet. It was hot racing in a cold climate which saw Jack Fahy of the co-hosting Royal St George YC (with NYC) win the Lasers from clubmate Tom Higgins in second and Jamie McMahon of Howth in third, while in the 420s Nicola and Fiona Ferguson of the National won from Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher of Malahide, with RStGYC’s Grace O’Beirne and Kathy Kelly third.

A tidy turnout of 78 Optimists – the biggest class – saw another Justin Lucas win which he shares between two clubs - Royal Cork and Tralee Bay – second slot going to Johnny Flynn of Howth and the George, whiles James Dwyer Matthews of Royal Cork and Kinsale was third.

justin lucas7Justin Lucas was winner of the Optimists, the biggest class at the Youth Pathway national in Dublin Bay. Photo Afloat.ie/David O’Brien
The Laser 4.7s provided an excellent result for the Royal Cork who took first and third with Atlee Kohl and Cathal O’Regan, while Alana Coakley of RStGYC was undoubtedly top girl at second overall. And in the Toppers, it was again the Royal Cork which showed itself to be as much as club of the future as it is of the present and a very long and distinguished past, as they took first with David Jones in a fleet of 35, with Erin McIlwaine of Newcastle second and top girl, while Hugh O’Connor of the National was third.

It was the same Hugh O’Connor who was to go on in early August to take second in the Topper Worlds in China in a record fleet plagued by light airs at Shenzen. But by that time, Irish sailing at home was already looking back on the most fascinating season, with late April seeing club sailing coming to life with the usual incalculable input by enthusiastic volunteers. Meanwhile, towards the horizon the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association was also swinging into action, with Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia from the Royal St George YC showing signs that she’d a good season ahead to challenge the dominance of the Welsh-based Mojito.

Aurelia J122 chris power smith8Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia – seen here at the start of the Round Ireland Race at Wicklow – was one of the most consistent performers in 2018. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien
From north of Dublin Bay, Pat Kelly from Rush and his family with the J/109 Storm – 2017 Irish J/109 Champions – spent May campaigning in Scotland, where they’d been attracted by the new RC 35 class for boats between 32ft and 38th LOA in the IRC rating band of 1.015 and 1.040, and they’d a fine old time of it, with two major regatta wins already recorded by the time they got to the Silvers Scottish Series at the end of the month.

That rounded out the Scottish raid in high style, with Storm winning the RC 35 Class and the top title, while John Hall’s J/109 Something Else (NYC) was second in the RC 35s, and in Class 1 the Douglas brothers from Carrickfergus won with their J/133 Jacana while second went to Conor Phelan’s Ker 36 Jump Juice from Royal Cork.

So the Irish returned to the Howth Wave Regatta the following weekend – June Bank Holiday - in fine form. After a dampish start on the Friday, summer was there to greet them big time on Saturday for a genuine fun event, with 164 boats at the core of the regatta. Some of them were determined to make sure that the victors of Scottish racing were brought down a peg or two, for although Storm had the special satisfaction of winning the 114-year-old Lambay Race itself, Andrew Algeo’s Juggerknot won the J/109 Class overall, while the Regatta Supreme Champion was Dave Cullen of HYC’s immaculately-prepared Half Ton Classic Checkmate XV, which then went on to win her class in all the Dun Laoghaire regattas in June and July.

checkmate howth9Dave Cullen’s classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV in the summery perfection of Howth Wave Regatta, which she won overall in a season-long string of successes which concluded with the overall victory in the Half Ton Classics International Championship in Belgium.

Late June meanwhile had seen two very different events. Towards the end of the month, Gregor McGuckin departed the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire in his beefed-up vintage Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance to get to the start of the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe Race from Les Sables d’Olonne on July 1st, a boat-size-and-equipment-restricted re-enactment of Robin Knox-Johnston’s pioneering non-stop global circumnavigation in the 32ft ketch Suhaili fifty years ago.

In its strict boat and equipment limitations, it provides probably the slowest way of getting round the world by boat in 2018, so it was quite a contrast to find that in late June, round Ireland unrestricted powerboat record holder John Ryan of Arklow was in Cork awaiting suitable conditions to establish a new Cork-Fastnet-Cork record.

all black cork powerboat10John Ryan’s Allblack SL44 created a new Cork-Fastnet-Cork record of 100.99 kph in June. Photo: Robert Bateman

They didn’t need a very big weather window as their boat Allback SL44 is capable of incredible speeds on mirror-like water. But by any standards the average speed they established of 100.99 kph – despite “moderate to rough” conditions - in a time of 2 hours 6 minutes 47 seconds is going to take some beating, and in its honour the Irish Powerboat Club inaugurated the FPT Allblack Trophy for challengers to aim for, giving it for safe keeping to the Royal Cork Yacht Club – the world’s oldest yacht club has 298 years of experience of looking after trophies…..

Around the time Allback SL44 record was being set, the fleet was gathering for the 20th staging of the Round Ireland Race from Wicklow, the biennial 704-mile classic which is now such a central part of the entire Irish sailing scene that almost everyone wants to have done it at least once, and many are “persistent offenders”.

High summer was on Wicklow Bay and Ireland generally as the fleet sped away in a brisk nor’easter, but it emerged that off the west coast, that brisk nor’easter was blowing old boots, and making north in the open Atlantic made for hard pounding.

round ireland fleet11The Round Ireland fleet started their 704 mile race in the peak of summer weather

Round Ireland map12The combined tracker charts reveal that some boats took real flyers to try to deal with the strong headwind conditions off the West Coast

Initially, this favoured the smaller boats which were making better time in the shelter of the south and southwest coasts, so much so that Niall Dowling (RIYC) with the much-fancied Ker 43 Baraka GP was lying in 24th overall as they battled against the Class 40 Corum for line honours along the north coast of Mayo. But as the rest of the fleet of 54 boats got into the full adversity of the Western Ocean, Baraka - with ace navigator Ian Moore on the strength - never put a foot wrong, and steadily worked her way up until she was out of sight ahead, taking line honours and the overall win.

Meanwhile, the coast of Donegal once again played havoc with hard-earned placings through flukey winds and localised calms, and those who did well, such as Chris Power Smith’s Aurelia and the J/109 Joker 2 (John Maybury, RIYC, skippered by Barry Byrne), did very well indeed, while others – it wouldn’t even be fair to mention them – found Donegal to be a complete gluepot, they were well stuck for hours.

In the end, it became a battle for the coveted Corinthian Trophy between Aurelia and Joker 2, and although at the finish Aurelia was briefly reckoned the winner, a re-appraisal of ratings gave it to Barry Byrne and his crew, a remarkable performance. Equally remarkable perhaps, but in a very different way, was the completion of the race by the classic 43ft 1937 Tyrrell-built gaff ketch Maybird (Darryl Hughes) the first time the race was ever sailed by a gaff rigged boat, and she was also the oldest ever to complete the course.

Joker 2 Defence forces13The J/109 Joker 2 (John Maybury) won the Corinthian Division in the Volvo Round Ireland Race, and successfully defended the Beaufort Cup in Volvo Cork Week, with a Defence Forces crew skippered by Commandant Barry Byrne. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

As the Round Ireland drew to its close, the four day Bangor Town Regatta on Belfast Lough – a joint venture between Royal Ulster YC, Ballyholme YC, and the local council - was getting into its stride in mostly superb sailing conditions. It was the successful modern revival of an ancient event, and attracted a fleet pushing towards a hundred, with the RC 35s over in strength from Scotland to promote their cause, so naturally, Pat Kelly and his team with Storm were there to take them on.

Storm missed the win by just one point, coming in a very close second to Kevin and Debbie Aitken’s First 36.7 Animal, which by season’s end was the 2018 RC 35 Champion. Storm meanwhile was saving her energies through the rest of July for a vigorous campaign at the Welsh IRC Nationals at Pwllheli and Abersoch in August, from which she emerged as overall winner, and also the winner of the RC 35s’ Celtic Championship for the combination of her results in the Scottish Series, Bangor Town Regatta, and the Welsh Championship.

Volvo Cork Week then came up on the radar, and inevitably its highlight is the Beaufort Cup series for Services Crews which is a very all-encompassing category, as it included, for instance, the formidable talents of Youen Jacob with the Baltimore Lifeboat crew racing a J/109. Defending champion, in a large and varied fleet in which J/109s were the boat of choice, was Commandant Barry Byrne and a Defence Forces crew with Joker 2 once more. At the series end, he was winner again after a mixture of inshore and offshore racing in which his results reminded some observers of a certain noted skipper who cheerfully admitted that he’d rather be lucky than thought of as good. Commandant Byrne is good as a helmsman too, but his ability to take wins when other boats seemed to be nearer the finish line was demonstrated in the 2018 Beaufort Cup series to a magical level.

miss whiplash14John & Ronan Dowling’s Half Tonner Miss Whiplash had a flawless final day at Volvo Cork Week to take the class victory. Photo: Robert Bateman

One of the best features of Volvo Cork Week generally was the way in which many classes went to the final day before results were decided, with John and Ronan Downing’s Half Tonner Miss Whiplash (RCYC) taking the overall win in style after overnight leader Harmony (Johnny Swann, HYC) got herself in a bit of a knot, despite having been the overall winner of the 92-strong Harbour Race on the Wednesday.

On up the size scale, and Frank Whelan’s Grand Soleil 44 Eleuthera from Greystones likewise put in a barn-storming final day’s performance with two wins, providing a well-deserved overall win for a recently-assembled yet rapidly-bonding crew who are prepared to put in the elbow grease on getting their boat in prime racing condition.

eleuthera spinnaker15Frank Whelan’s Grand Soleil 44 Eleuthera from Greystones was one of 2018’s star performers on both the east and south coasts. Hoto; Afloat.ie/David O’Brien
Eleuthera was featuring strongly as the popular four day Calves Week got under way in Schull as August took hold. But as August took hold, for Ireland at least the total summer weather seemed to have come to an end except along the south coast, where at places like Schull and Kinsale in August they’ll tell you that the very occasional drop of rain is no more than liquid sunshine anyway…..

As it happens, while the underlying weather pattern may have been deteriorating, Schull was largely blessed by its own micro-climate, the coast of that most purely West Cork part of West Cork was looking its loveliest, and they’d some splendid sailing, with Eleuthera the Boat of the Show in an event which perfectly captures the holiday mood of the moment.

However, as the prizes were being liberally distributed at Schull, another event came centre stage down at Cowes with the four-yearly 1800 miles RORC Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race getting underway, with Conor Fogerty and Simon Knowles pitching for Ireland in the two-handed division in Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 Bam.

At first, they were doing mighty well, but as the race progressed it became clear that all the two-handers were totally out-classed by two Volvo Ocean Race veterans from the successful Dongfeng. These super-tough guys were racing a Figaro 2 which just went faster and faster.

By the time they got to the west coast of Ireland where a westerly gale made in upon the fleet, the two Volvo tough men were in a race of their own, and it stayed that way to the end, so much so that it was almost irrelevant that Fogerty and Knowles had to retire after their last spinnaker halyard broke somewhere between Donegal and St Kilda.

Their frustration was not the only Irish disappointment caused by that very prolonged westerly gale. At the same time, it had been hoped to stage the Irish Cruiser Racer Association Nationals from Galway Harbour for the first time, but the fleet were stuck in port behind the harbour lock-gate as wind and waves came howling up Galway Bay, and the ICRA Nats 2018 became a non-event.

mermaid innocence16A popular success – Darragh McCormick won the mermaid nationals in his own-built Innocence at his home port of Foynes.
It was frustration in spades, but as ever, Irish sailing had an alternative story or three to cheer everyone up. Already in August we’d had the marvellous tale of how Darragh McCormick of Foynes had finally succeeded in winning the Mermaid National Championship in his beautiful own-built boat Innocence, and at his home port too, in a great week of racing. Darragh has shown he can race it with the best of them in J/24s and other newer boat types, but for him the Mermaid is everything, and this win was beyond everything.

Then even as things were being sadly packed up at Galway Harbour, the veteran GP 14s arrived in strength at Rosses Point in Sligo for their Irish Nationals. The weather relented at last, they got in a full programme, and ex-Pat Geep sailor Ross Kearney (RNIYC), having taken second overall at the Worlds in Cornwall a fortnight earlier, took the win though at times seriously veteran oldies like Curly Morris were giving him a hard time.

And then there’s the story of how the two little Half Tonners Checkmate XV (Dave Cullen) and Harmony (Johnny Swann) road-trailed their way from Howth to Belgium for the Half Ton Classics at Nieuwpoort, and how they came home a week later with the big cup and the second prize too, despite having very different management styles. Dave is a management perfectionist, with everything planned weeks and months and even years in advance, whereas Johnny tends to wing it – he’s not called Swann for nothing. Either way, it worked, and gave observers much enjoyment.

As for Olympic sailing, while the Hempel Sailing World Championship in August at Aarhus in Denmark (a fleet of 1,100 boats – can you even begin to imagine it?) was disappointing for the Irish contingent, with no place as yet secured for Tokyo, 2018 ended on something of a high, as the big-fleet Laser Nationals on Lough Derg in August showed rising talents, none more so than Aisling Keller of the host club, who won the 48-strong radial fleet in very convincing style.

dickson waddilove17Gold Medallists! Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove in the 49er

And then in September out of the blue, there came a Gold Medal from Marseille in the 49er Under 23 Worlds for Robert Dickson of Howth and Sean Waddilove of Skerries. This determined duo have been quietly building their campaign and racing skills for some years. But now, suddenly and in sometimes very breezy conditions in the south of France, it all clicked - they put together a text-book performance, and the Gold was well won.

September saw a rush of events, particularly in its first fortnight. Abroad, La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro in France, still known to every as the Figaro Solo, had added Irish interest with Tom Dolan of Meath in Smurfit Kappa and Joan Mulloy of Mayo in Taste the Atlantic taking part. It was first time for both in the 49th staging of a classic which next year, for its Golden Jubilee, will go foiling with the new Figaro 3 (Conor Fogerty has already ordered one), but for 2018 the versatile Figaro 2 continued to give great service.

In two weeks with four stages on the coasts of France and Spain, with the conclusion at St Croix on France’s Biscay coast, both Irish rookies had their moments, but although Joan Mulloy’s gallant challenge attracted much goodwill at home and abroad, despite times when she was in the frame, her overall placing showed what she was up against, and a month after the event was over, she announced that it as no longer possible in the time available to muster the resources for her Vendee Globe aspirations.

For Tom Dolan, a rigging failure which fortunately was saved from being a broken mast in the first leg put paid to his overall chances, and it wasn’t until the third stage, from Portosin in Spain across Biscay to St Croix, that he found form to be figuring among the top twelve, and finishing the leg as first rookie was good going by Figaro standards – the eventual overall winner, Sebastien Simon who already has a Vendee Globe 2020 campaign in place, was finally taking the Figaro’s top prize at his fifth attempt.

Back home, that first half of September saw Dublin Bay come centre stage on the international scene with the International SB20 Europeans staged by the Royal Irish YC, followed almost immediately by the daddy of them all, the World Laser Masters hosted in a remarkable exercise of logistics by the Royal St George with the support of the National YC and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council.

In the SB 20s, the competition was both truly international and very demanding, but three Irish boats managed to get into the top ten at the finish. And though the Russian Vis Sailing crew led by Artem Basalkin set the pace to take the Gold, that meticulous preparer of campaigns, Michael O’Connor of Royal St George crewed by Davy Taylor and Edward Cook put in a solid performance to take the bronze.

With more than 300 boats taking part with helms including many of world sailing’s legends of dinghy racing past and present, the utterly international Laser Masters World Championships 2018 was one of 2018’s megafests of global sailing, and Dublin Bay served up mostly quite brisk mainly westerly breezes to keep these seniors on their toes for a week of sailing.

For outsiders, there seemed an almost bewildering range of categories, but a day’s familiarity was all that was required to appreciate the difference between the Apprentice Masters and the Legends, with the many gradations between. Irish attention soon focused on the Grand Masters – sailors between 55 and 65 – and our 1996 Olympic Laser Representative Mark Lyttle of the National Yacht Club, who soon showed himself among the front runners in this category, but saved it until the last race to finally clinch the title, a very popular win.

mark lyttle sailing18The ultimate winning feeling – Mark Lyttle after taking the title in the Laser Grand Masters Worlds on the final day. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

The scale of the event, and the extraordinary variety and multi-faceted sailing stories of those taking part, would comfortably fill several books. But as ever, Dun Laoghaire’s historic harbour and waterfront stylishly welcomed the enormous fleet back to shore after each day’s racing, and many friendships were renewed or established among an exceptional group of people.

Yet even as these notable international championships dominated the headlines, more local series were drawing to a close, with the 2018 ISORA Championship going right to the wire in the last race in September with the James Eadie Cup, and once again Pwllheli’s J/109 Mojito (Vicky Cox and Peter Dunlop) pulled off the Wolf’s Head Trophy for overall winner by the smallest of margins.

On the inshore racing front, the elegant International Dragons took themselves to beautiful Glandore in considerable numbers for their four day Irish National Championships, and the winner in brisk conditions was Phantom (Neil Hegarty RStGYC, crewed by David Williams and Peter Bowring), but they’d to fight right to the end of the last race to snatch the title from Martin Byrne’s Jaguar (RStGYC) and Cameron Good of Kinsale’s Little Fella.

dragon phantom19Neil Hegarty’s Phantom became the 2018 Irish Dragon Champion at Glandore in September.

While the Dragon racing was at times rough going off Kinsale, it was beyond the bounds of comparison to draw any analogy with the wild wastes of the Southern Indian ocean, where the leaders in the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe Solo Round the World Race were at times battling survival conditions. Ireland’s Gregor McGuckin had been showing well overall with his veteran Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance, sailing along in third or fourth place, when on Friday September 21st he and his nearest competitor, Abilash Tomy of India who was 90 miles distant, were struck by the perfect storm. Both were rolled and lost their rigs, but while Tomy’s single roll was enough to leave him mastless and personally disabled with a fractured spine, it took two 360 degree rolls to complete the dismasting of McGregor’s boat.

Both boats were as far as possible from any significant land-based rescue and Tomy’s condition was potentially fatal, so despite the appallingly rapid rolling motion of a mastless boat in a chaotic sea, McGregor erected his jury rig with dogged persistence, and set off under sail and power to get to Tomy. He’d to hand steer all the way as nearly all systems on the boat were down, and had got to within 30 miles of the casualty when – unexpectedly early – help arrived in the form of the French Fisheries Patrol vessel Osiris, whose crew successfully rescued Abilash Tomy and then went to the Irish skipper, as it had been agreed that his total remoteness and limited resources pointed to a controlled evacuation of the Irish boat as the most seamanlike decision.

mcguckin boat jury20Gregor McGuckin's Hanley Energy Endurance under jury rig in his gallant attempt to help Abilash Tomy

The two solo sailors were taken to Amsterdam Island where Tomy – a serving naval officer – was retrieved by the Indian Navy and was soon undergoing spinal surgery, while McGuckin was collected by the Royal Australian Navy with HMAS Ballarat and taken to Perth to discover that his selfless act in performing superhuman feats of ingenuity in providing his crippled boat with the means to head towards Tomy had made him into a hero, and rightly so.

After this epic incident, it was a relief to return to the steadily unfolding pattern of the established Irish sailing season, and the final weekend of September saw the Flying Fifteen National Championship hosted in Dublin Bay by the National YC, an event of added significance as the same setup will be staging the 2019 Flying Fifteen Worlds. But that added importance didn’t upset the convincing style of Dave Gorman and Chris Doorly, who went into the final breezy day with such a good lead that they need only one more top six result to give them the title, and they duly delivered.

That same weekend, the All-Ireland Junior Championship in Dun Laoghaire was hosted by Royal St George and raced in classic style in Firefly dinghies. There was enough westerly wind around on the second day – as the Flying Fifteens were discovering out in the bay - for Race Officer David Lovegrove to move the racing into Dun Laoghaire’s capacious harbour, and if anything the competition heated up. But regular Dun Laoghaire sailing experience didn’t prove to be any advantage, as the Cork juniors were making hay, the overall win being taken by 16-yeat-old Atlee Kohl of Royal Cork YC, a top 29er and Laser 4.7 sailor, crewed by 14-year-old Jonathan O’Shaughnessy.

junior champs21Cut and thrust…..racing for the All Ireland Junior Title, which was won by Atlee Kohl of Royal Cork. Photo Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

Thus the junior title was won by a crew from the world’s oldest yacht club, so there was a certain symmetry when, a week later in the first weekend of October, the senior title, the time-honoured All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship, was staged for its 71st occasion by Ireland and the world’s second-oldest yacht club, the 1770-founded Lough Ree YC near Athlone.

Last year, it was raced in GP 14s on Lough Owel near Mullingar, and again in 2018 it was a strong class association - in this case the SB 20s - which stepped up to the plate to provide the boats for an intensive weekend of competition in sometimes hectic sailing.

Theoretically, the SB 20s are a compromise boat which can suit dinghy or keelboat helms. But experience with the class was no drawback for former Olympian Peter Kennedy of Strangford Lough, who had won the SB 20 Nationals at the NYC in June crewed by Stephen Kane and Hammy Baker, and Kane was aboard with him at Lough Ree to ensure that his skipper added the historic silver salver to his trophy collection for 2018.

peter kennedy and salver22Peter Kennedy and Stephen Kane with their prizes at the All Ireland Championship at Lough Ree. Photo: Irish Sailing/David Branigan

On the same weekend, the Dublin Bay J/109s sent their finest to Howth for the Irish Nationals, and though after early racing in strong breezes Tim Goodbody (RIYC) in White Mischief was narrowly the overnight leader, the final day’s racing saw Juggerknot (Andrew Algeo & partners, RIYC) showing the excellent form she’d demonstrated all season to win overall with White Mischief second and Pat Kelly with Storm from the host club third.

j109 juggerknot23Irish J/109 National Champions 2018 – Juggerknot (Andrew Algeo & partners, RIYC) Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

October can be the sweetest sailing month if a gentle Autumn settles in, and there was a special spirit to the KBC Autumn League at Howth, where the vintage Howth 17s showed they’d almost completely recovered from their setback in Storm Emma at the beginning of March, and were out racing in strength throughout the season and especially in September, with fourteen boats – including four of the original five 1898-built ones - coming to the line every Saturday.

howth seventeens24The indestructible Howth Seventeens are well advanced in their recovery from the damage of Storm Emma, and fourteen have been regularly racing in the KBC Autumn League at Howth, with Isobel, Sheila and Deilginis seen here at the weather mark on a perfect September day. Photo: W M Nixon

Conditions have been more varied on the south coast where the Royal Cork has been mustering a godly turnout for its Autumn League with a notably modern-looking fleet, but far to the west on the Shannon Estuary, classic gaff rig resumed a certain prominence, with the fully-restored and sea-certified Ilen returning at last to her home port of Limerick after 92 years away, her rapturous welcome including a charming visit to the ship and a meeting with her crew and restorers by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina.

On down the Shannon Estuary at Kilrush, which is where our narrative of Ireland’s 2018 sailing seems to have begun, they had some of the best late season weather of all for their Autumn League. And there was a very special success when the community-built Shannon cutter replica Sally O’Keeffe, built by a group in Querrin out towards Loop Head under the direction of Steve Morris to a design by Myles Stapleton, was the winner of the non-spinnaker class in the opening race.

So having begun in Kilrush with 194 sailing students descending on the place for their annual Irish Universities Team Racing Championship in early March, we end our story back in Kilrush in October with a significant race win by a locally-built gaff cutter of a type nearly two hundred years old. In between these two place-related occurrences, it seems that quite a lot of things have happened. But that’s how it is in Irish sailing, and especially in 2018.

sally okeeffe25Local talent. The traditional cutter Sally O’Keeffe won the first race of the Autumn League at Kilrush

Published in W M Nixon
26th September 2018

What is the Future of Sailing?

Hello and welcome to my weekly Podcast …. Tom MacSweeney here …..

Sailing is at a “tipping point” across the water in the UK – with the future coterie of potential sailors, the “Millennials” as they are described, taking a different view of participation in the sport to the existing, though older age group.

Those differences include attitudes towards the purchase of boats and membership of clubs.

It seems that the modern way of living - easier and immediate access, renting rather than purchase and less tolerance of structures and regulations - are motivating forces.

A year-long research study for the British Marine Federation concluded that, in contrast to the “older age group” which traditionally and still – buys and maintains boats and holds club memberships, the “Millenials” want easier and instant access to sport and will go for those sports which provide it – “pay and play” – was the preferred approach…

The national body, Sport England, has identified less interest amongst young people in the established practices of race-style training, with more interest in the social aspects of sailing. An online platform, called Tendrr, has been set up connecting sailors, crews, boat owners and clubs and says that new paths are needed into sailing.

"The belief that they will return after marriage and early family development is not any longer quite so sure across the water"

Those are interesting trends and findings, which also point to cruising as more popular than racing, but question whether sailing needs to change its approach to attracting more people into the sport, indicating what is also an on-going concern here - the loss of the age group from the teenage years into the mid-30s from the sport. The belief that they will return after marriage and early family development is not any longer quite so sure across the water.

That’s an intriguing picture of the future of sailing as the end of the season approaches with the Autumn Leagues gearing up here, after which there will be the wind-down to hauling out into boatyards or marina berthage to wait out the winter, during which annual club meetings, may give a picture of the strength of sailing here and its future.

Published in Tom MacSweeney

Welcome to my weekly podcast…. That question – where is sailing going? - has been in my mind since Emirates Team New Zealand media information came to me this week about the yacht they intend to race at the next Americas Cup in 2021.

With foiling increasing, it makes me wonder where and what the sport will be like when the youngsters preparing this week for sailing’s primary talent-spotting competition next week in Dun Laoghaire – the Youth Sailing Pathway Championships – reach mature sailing age.

I’ve never seen anything like this new boat. Most sailors won’t have.

The Kiwis have described it as “a flying monohull….” and Afloat.ie reported previously on it here

A boatbuilding acquaintance said: “I hope it’s made from strong stuff otherwise it will be like flying a plane with a wing missing,”

Instead of a keel, it has two canting, ballasted T-foils, will tack and gybe on the foils and be self-righting in the event of a capsize, the Kiwis say.

It has taken the only other fully-funded and confirmed team for 2021, Ben Ainslie’s British Land Rover BAR, by surprise, but they’ve described it as “a good call in the spirit of the Cup.”

The Kiwis maintain that they have kept faith with their stated intention to move the Cup back from catamarans to monohulls, bringing together the best features of multlhull high speed with traditional monohull sailing, to be raced by a crew of 12.The challenger of record, Luna Rossa, has partnered in the design which, according to ETNZ “promises to open up another immense new chapter in foil development and sailing technique.”

Grant Dalton, New Zealand Team CEO says the Cup in Auckland in 2021will be an exciting place….

That seems very likely….listen to the podcast below: 

Published in Tom MacSweeney

Every cruiser-racing enthusiast dreams of a perfect boat which doesn’t have the inevitable whiff of diesel about her, has minimal maintenance, enjoys the benefit of a genuinely lifting keel, and yet with keel down, she sails like a real zippy performance cruiser writes W M Nixon.

Well, Rory Staunton – who has links with Mayo in general and Clew Bay in particular – became convinced that this was the only way to go. And after further study, he discovered that many of the leading international builders had closed down their research and development departments during the recession, and didn’t plan on working on anything really revolutionary until business was well up again, and staying up.

He felt there was a gap in the market, and went to designer Guy Whitehouse and renowned marine innovator Jo Richards (both specialists of considerable repute) to get the design for a boat around 34ft long which would be trailerable yet have a real keel when it’s lowered, and would be powered by an electric motor relying for range on the latest in battery technology.

In addition, she would naturally have twin rudders but with the luxury of wheel steering with a moveable wheel which can be hauled to whichever side of the cockpit suits. She would have a virtually wood-free and easily-cleaned yet luxurious interior, complete with electric cooker. And in general, she would be an impressive amount of good new-concept things all in one package.

mayo boat2 The adjustable steering wheel position is just one of many unusual features, all in the one boat. Photo: Teresa Cowley

It may sound too good to be true. But the prototype was sailing in Clew Bay last month. She’s been back to the workshops for further adjustments, and this weekend she’s on display and available for appraisals, tyre kicking, test sails and whatever at the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire.

So if you’re interested, do please go along - and let us know what you think in the comments section below. There’s so much fancy technology in this w1Da as she’s called (we gather it’s something to do with the Wild Atlantic Way) that all and any expert opinion (and non-expert too) will be very welcome.

As for someone who unveils a new sailing cruiser in the very last weekend of November with snow forecast, we couldn’t possibly comment on that…

Published in Marine Trade

In his poem Sailing to Byzantium (1928), William Butler Yeats immortalised the vision of Ireland as “no country for old men”. Expressed so well, the idea took hold and has been re-used internationally in novels and films, even if in Ireland itself some of our most influential decision makers – or perhaps more accurately decision-deferrers - were long past any official retirement age, making Ireland seem the ideal place for old men.

Yet for many ordinary folk, Ireland was certainly no country for old men – or women. Indeed, in the 1950s it had degenerated into somewhere that was no country for almost everyone. In today’s nearly-too-vibrant Ireland, it is difficult to visualize such a state of affairs. But it existed, even if now we live in a frenetic era in which Ireland seems to be playing a key role in the invention of new products in many areas of research and manufacture, with regular access to something fresh and completely new regarded as a birthright, whether we like it or not.

But surely we all like fresh and new products? Well, maybe in some areas of life we do. But in sailing, we really do seem to be in a place which is no country for new boats. We’ve an almost unhealthy veneration for old, traditional and classic craft. And if we accept that no-one is a hypocrite in their pleasures, then that’s the way it genuinely is. W M Nixon reflects on a central aspect of Irish sailing.

Originally, this was going to be a piece on how to cope with the enthusiasm of the incoming administrators of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta for the success, in 2017’s event, of the newly-introduced Classics and Traditional Class racing for the Kingstown 200 Trophy to celebrate the Bicentenary of the harbour.

vdlr after racing2Boats of all kinds at the end of the day’s racing in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017, with the engine-less classic Myfanwy on tow between cruiser-racers in the foreground, and Mermaids and Flying Fifteens beyond. Photo: W M Nixon

slip at nyc3“Sundry boats” – the slip at the NYC with Flying Fifteens, a Wayfarer, International 420s, a classic Royal Anglesey Fife OD, and cruiser-racers beyond Photo: W M Nixon

fife in crowd4Somehow there was a way through for everyone, but patience was required. Photo: W M Nixon

After the conclusion of VDLR 2017, in his first statement as the new Regatta Chairman, Don O’Dowd expressed the hope that the Golden Oldies – berthed in their special area off the National Yacht Club and highly visible to other competitors and the public alike – would become a regular feature in future stagings of the mighty biennial urban sailfest.

That caused a certain intake of breath here in SailSat Towers. We were peripherally involved in hunting down some of the more exotic and remotely-located classics, and persuading them to come to Dun Laoghaire for early July 2017. But it was done with a certain dogged enthusiasm, for we were reassured that this would be a one-off, and the suggestion was that it wouldn’t be repeated in future years. That was fine by us, as it was all just about as easy as herding cats at a cross-roads.

Then, when it all got started, the weather was perfect, mostly summery southeast round to nor’west breezes, offshore winds for the most part. Thus that temporary long pontoon over towards the Carlisle Pier, which was the making of it all, remained well sheltered, yet it would have had to be vacated pronto if strong onshore nor’easters arrived.

colleen peggy bawn5Ideally gentle conditions for a crowded event with in-harbour finishes – a Colleen and the 1894-vintage Peggy Bawn, to which owner Hal Sis had fitted a set of cotton sails originally preserved by longtime owner James McAsey. Photo: W M Nixon

A crazy idea we’d come up with – back in the March 25th 2017 Afloat.ie, but we’d been plugging it before then – was that in the absence of any commercial shipping, there should be in-harbour finishes for selected classes as another part of the Kingstown 200 celebrations.

But decision-maker Con Murphy acted quicker than anyone expected. He made all keelboat finishes in the harbour - and on a short line at that - and it reached its apotheosis on the Saturday, when a summery south to southeast blew gentle and warm. The East Pier became a peninsula which was a shore part of the course, as a weather mark well into Sandycove/Scotsmans Bay brought a very mixed fleet together for the run down to the end of the East Pier, then they’d to tack up the harbour to the finish in towards the National YC, and the regatta atmosphere was total.

Yet had there been foul onshore weather, this scenario would have been impossible, even if racing of some sort could have been arranged. So in looking back at the experience with the Kingstown 200 Classics, there’s an impulse to say that we were lucky, we mightn’t be so lucky in 2019, so let’s make it a one-off, celebrate what was achieved, and leave it at that. After all, a Bicentenary only occurs just the once.

howth seventeens vdlr6Anarchists from across the bay – Howth Seventeens (founded 1898) at the Classics Pontoon in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Ian Malcolm

But now there are those from elsewhere who say that if they’d only known how good it was going to be, then they’d have come too. Yet perhaps most tellingly of all, there was the response from people doing the regatta in modern boats. Despite regularly sailing in the place, they hadn’t been fully aware of Dun Laoghaire’s extraordinary sailing history, and a heritage which would have been almost lost were it not for the Water Wags.

They happily now go from strength to strength, with a good chance that next Wednesday evening’s racing for the Captain’s Prizes (Hal Sisk is current captain) will see the turnout top the 30 mark for the first time since the “new” Wag design was introduced in 1900.

periwinkle woodwork7The re-born Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle had some of the finest woodwork we’ve ever seen. Photo: W M Nixon

And back at Kingstown 200 in July, the restored Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle turned up to wow everyone, and now there’s a fairly reliable whisper that a re-born version of the Dublin Bay 21s will appear next year. As for the assorted classics and traditional boats which did appear in 2017, seeing them as a little fleet had an impressive effect, and any increase in numbers will improve only improve that impression.

So old boats – and the more classic the better – are all the rage. And it’s not just limited to wooden boats. This week in Afloat.ie, it seemed perfectly normal that former Olympic sailor and four times Irish Helmsmans Champion Mark Mansfield of Cork should be writing very informatively and with enthusiasm about the classic Half Tonners at Kinsale. The great man is undoubtedly very into this class. Yet what he has been doing is writing about how you might best optimise the racing in boats which are thirty years old and more, and all of them from a former development class in which the newest boats were generally the fastest.

swuzzlebubble lyster8Swuzzlebubble in Bruce Lyster’s ownership in 1980, coming in to the finish of the Pwllheli to Howth race to win, and win the Irish Sea ORA Championship too, with Bruce Lyster (left) Robert dix on helm and Drewry Pearson and Des Cummins on right. Photo: W M Nixon

For anyone who would deny the Half Tonners classic status, I would defy you not to look at the gloriously individualistic and all-conquering Swuzzlebbble, and not be moved. I fell for her when Bruce Lyster first brought her to Ireland in the late 1970s. Since then, there has been the fairy story of how she was saved when just about to be dumped on a landfill in Greece. And now she is faced with having to get her rating down by 0.25 points if she is to stay within the proposed new Half Tonner rating band.

swuzzlebubble kinsale9The restored Swuzzlebubble at Kinsale. Photo: Robert Bateman

Let’s hope it is an Irish owner who takes on this worthy challenge. But involvement at this level is not for the financially-challenged. Yet in looking at today’s Irish racing fleet of all sizes, the abiding impression is of a lack of totally new boats. The wounds of the financial crash have not yet full healed, and they may never heal in some cases. But there’s no doubting the fact that we’ve become very adept at sniffing out deals in second-hand boats, and with the huge slightly-used boat cornucopias so accessible in the south of England and France, it’s a happy hunting ground.

Thus of the current Queens of the Fleet in Dublin Bay, the thriving J/109 Class, only one or at most two were bought new. Before that, second-hand boats were the case with the rapid expansion of the Sigma 33 class. And across the bay and beyond the headland in Howth, the J/80 class continues to strengthen thanks to a ready second-hand supply which always grows towards Autumn, for simply keeping a boat in the main French and English sailing centres through the winter months can be one very expensive little hobby.

j109s dublin bay10The J/109 Class in Dublin Bay Photo: Afloat.ie

Of course, there’ll always be those who hanker after the unique feeling of a brand new boat, and who want to be at the cutting edge of development. But with Dublin Bay and Cork Harbour’s special combination of a reasonably affluent population within easy reach of good racing waters, there’s great value to be had either in acceptance of the limitations imposed by the One-Design discipline, or the patient optimising of an older boat to maximize her rating advantage for handicap racing.

The problem is that as the years pass and the second-hand boats coming on stream for modification possibilities become more technically advanced in their construction, we move from the world of the skilled amateur to the competent and much-in-demand professional. Thus the less affluent boat owners with some DIY capabilities find their options becoming more limited, and they seek an outlet for their talents and limited resources in older craft with comprehensible technologies.

master frank11The 1895 Manx longliner Master Frank – bought derelict for £1, and self-restored by Joe Pennington And some are attracted to very old craft indeed, and often for historical reasons. Thus although in Dun Laoghaire we were bowled over by the sheer quality of the re-born DB 24 Periwinkle, there was no doubting it was a professional job of the highest calibre. So at a human level, it was much easier to be attracted to Joe Pennington’s restored 1895 Manx longliner Master Frank, for he restored her himself after buying her from the dithering Isle of Man government for £1 after an impassioned plea – while still wearing his working clothes as a carpenter – from the floor of the House of Keys in Douglas.

Then there was another star of the show, Rob Mason’s 1897-built Myfanwy from Milford Haven, self-restored and a very timely reminder in Dublin Bay of the largely-forgotten Liverpool naval architect Alexander Richardson, who was the toast of Kingstown Harbour back in 1884 when he created the design for John Jameson’s all-conquering cutter Irex.

periwinkle myfanwy12The originally-1947 DB 24 Periwinkle, with the 1897 Myfanwy giving her a run for her money. Photo: W M Nixon

You feel you’re in touch with a deeper reality when you’re in the company of guys who have done their own major restorations and maintenance jobs, and one of my most memorable evenings was at the Peel Traditional Boat Festival in the Isle of Man a couple of years ago, when the mood was vibrant with the presence of Joe Pennington, Dickie Gomes, and Adrian Spence, who between them kept characterful boats of age total 361 years merrily sailing the seas.

pennington gomes spence13Joe Pennington, Dickie Gomes and Adrian Spence in the Isle of Man a couple of years ago, and full of opinions. At the time, the total combined age of their three boats was 361 years, Photo: W M Nixon

As a boat bodger of decades of experience, I can usually trade horror stories with the best of them, and indeed have shared some special moments – I was once hurled right across a shed in company with Dickie Gomes one winter’s night, when we were trying to fit a replacement plank in round the curve of the counter in Ainmara, and the replacement plank – of vintage salvaged pitchpine to match the timber in the boat – decided it preferred its lifelong straight shape.

The same can-do approach was evident in Rob Mason of Myfanwy. After the article about his mostly single-handed restoration of her appeared in Classic Boat magazine, we sent him off an email towards Christmas suggesting that as he was just across the channel, albeit in the long southeasterly direction in Milford Haven, he might like to bring Myfanwy to Dun Laoghaire.

myfanwy peggy bawn14Invitation accepted from Australia…Myfanwy berthed inside Peggy Bawn in Dun Laoghaire, after owner Rob Mason had accepted the invitation to come with persuasion from his son Max in Australia. Photo: W M Nixon

The email found him in Australia on holiday with his son Max, and when Max heard about it, he said he’d come home for a holiday to race Myfanwy on Dublin Bay for the Kingstown 200. So with mates Andy Whitcher and Gus Stott, they brought Myfanwy across and sailed so fast with her that the Progressive ECHO system proved to be the Aggressive ECHO for the team from Milford haven. They ended racing with a handicap nearly as high as Periwinkle, which seemed absurd, as Periwinkle won overall yet Myfanwy seldom got near the podium.

It seemed to me to be rather a weird sort of hospitality to be extending to such a special visitors, but the Myfanwy lads weren’t in the least bit fazed by it, in fact they were having a ball. And in bantering with them on the club balcony, I got to talking with Rob about how, in some jobs with restoring boats, you have no option but to do some risky undertaking with an angle grinder, which in a confined space can become a lethal weapon.

I showed him a now-faint scar across my thumb, a scar which looked quite a mess when it was fresh, while the thumb didn’t really deserve to be still attached to the hand at all. But the great restorer of Myfanwy put me in my place. Rob simply hauled up his T-shirt, and there on his midriff was the unmistakable imprint of an angle-grinder, but now so neat it’s like a tattoo. These are the kind of people who keep the really interesting old boats going.

myfanwy crew15Classic people and classic celebration (left to right)– Max Mason, his father Rob Mason who restored Myfanwy, Andy Whitcher and Gus Stott. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in W M Nixon

The sailing season is taking off in Cork Harbour, with good weather this week writes Tom MacSweeney. Cove Sailing Club will announce its racing programme at a pre-season launch on Friday, which will include a joint programme for whitesail cruiser events with neighbouring Monkstown Bay.

Weekly cruiser racing begins tomorrow night at the RCYC and the first of the whitesail evening league races is scheduled for Friday. Dinghy racing is on Wednesdays and at weekends.

JOHN AND JUDY MOYNIHAN MBSCJohn and Judy Moynihan - stalwart dinghy sailors at MBSC prepare for the first night's racing

Monkstown Bay Sailing Club had eleven boats on the water, racing in two classes for the opening night last night. A steady south-easterly, flat water and sunshine made a good start to the season in the harbour.

Published in Cork Harbour

Could British sailing’s own difficulties with maintaining the ‘fun factor’ to attract more racers and fans have repercussions for the ISA’s recent efforts to rejuvenate the sport in Ireland?

David Henshall writes for Yachts and Yachting about measures that can be taken to ensure the ‘f in fun’ isn’t lost from the British sailing scene.

And his conclusions would surely be just as pertinent on this side of the Irish Sea.

One issue identified is time, or the use of it. The article cites Finn Olympic medallist Luca Devoti as one helm at the pinnacle of the sport who sees that as more racing is compressed into the available time, “the more it favours the elite sailors that increasingly are dominating our sport”.

Indeed, it’s not difficult to see why amateurs might be dissuaded from prepping their boats for any weekend meet where the fleet will be ruled by more aspirational professional or semi-pro sailors on the elite track, for whom the results are all.

What can British clubs do to make inroads? Henshall suggests more midweek and after-work sailing meets — something Irish sailing clubs are already making efforts to do this summer season.

But it’s not just about scheduling, it’s also about creating the conditions for more fun on the water. That means considering what the majority of participants want from their races, not what the principal of peak competition demands.

Sailing weeks — combining on-the-water races on unorthodox courses, eschewing the standard windward/leeward runs, with a shoreline festival atmosphere — are cited as one way to buck the trend and maintain a sense of fun.

Open meets in the junior classes like Oppys and Toppers remain successful in the UK and Ireland alike, and fresh thinking at governing-body level is encouraging a new greater sense of ensuring the fun is in taking part, not just winning and striving climb the ladder of success.

 What’s more, classes like the lighting-quick Moth, while bringing a new sense of excitement to sailing for competitor and spectator alike, are also fuelling a revival of their non-foiling classic brothers 

The shake-up of the ISA-up of the ISA in recent years has seen a push for one-design classes, where the potential for fun is greater than in handicaps — after all, everyone sailing the same boat levels the playing field and reduces that sense of frustration lower-level sailors must feel when higher performance vessels leave them in their wake. 

mixed dinghies royal corkMixed dinghies compete at Royal CorkYacht Club's PY 1000 event in Crosshaven Photo: Bob Bateman

Things aren’t helped by a proliferation of new designs driven by the high-performance level, writes Henshall, which are “fragmenting the scene” and ultimately mean little to grassroots club sailors — the equivalent of trying to sell sports cars to commuters.

Can there be a balance between fun and performance? Henshall suggests the D-Zero design in Britain as a prime example, where neither is sacrificed for the other. The question is, is there a similar mid-range dinghy class that offers the same in Ireland?

What else can be done in the Irish sailing scene to ensure the ‘f in fun’ isn’t lost? Have your say in the comments below!

Published in Irish Sailing Classes

After decades of expansion, many participant sports which are at the heart of our way of life have in recent years seen the numbers actively involved becoming static at best, and in many cases contracting. This is particularly the case with non-spectator sports, and sailing is very far from being immune to the trend. W M Nixon takes a look at a developing situation, and how it might develop in the future.

The acute economic recession of 2007-2009 certainly had a damaging effect on amateur recreation generally, and particularly on costly vehicle and equipment sports, of which sailing is a prime and high profile example. But as well, the way that people live now, with increased consumer choices in sport as in other areas of recreation, means that the traditional Irish club sailing model, with its attendant clubhouse and facility costs, has to undergo change if it is to achieve some new level of dynamic equilibrium to function successfully in the future, and attract new membership.

The recent sad death of Arthur Rumball, who had played a significant role in the expansion of the Irish National Sailing School in Dun Laoghaire, inevitably poses the question of why the INSS could report such impressive numbers of newcomers giving sailing a try, with many of them going on to more active involvement, yet it is no secret that sailing clubs sharing Dun Laoghaire Harbour were in some cases seeing alarming fall-offs in activity and membership.

With the inspiring leadership of its founder Alistair Rumball, the INSS had come through the recession by quickly adjusting to the deteriorating situation, severely reducing its costs, and utilizing other sources of income to maintain the momentum to put it in a strong position to revive after the recession. Now it has a more active and larger training fleet than ever, it has put thousands of people through its courses, and in 2015 it even founded its own sailing club within its own structure in order to enable its alumni to enter major events without the significant personal cost incurred in being members of one of the historic yet inevitably expensive Dun Laoghaire yachts clubs

sail school2Alistair Rumball at the modest premises of the Irish National Sailing School in Dun Laoghaire, where he and his dedicated team have introduced thousands to sailing. Photo: W M Nixon

sail school3The first meeting of the committee of the newly-formed Irish National Sailing Club in the INSS premises, May 2015. Photo: W M Nixon

With a commercial marina at its heart, the Dun Laoghaire sailing establishment faces the challenge of people being involved in sailing on Dublin Bay without being involved in the traditional membership of the waterfront clubs. It was an issue which was addressed here on November 22nd with a discussion inaugurated in a thoughtful article by David O’Brien which highlighted the problems facing the existing Dun Laoghaire sailing setup.

In such a situation, there’s a tendency to think that local solutions must be found to what is perceived as a local problem, but in fact it’s a worldwide matter. The reality is that in Europe, boat numbers and major sailing events are tending to shift southwards towards sunnier climes and warmer seas, and the northern countries such as Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, the places where recreational sailing has a much longer history, are seeing a sometimes small but always significant decline.

Thus in The Netherlands – which I would tend to view as Europe’s premier maritime nation – the national sailing authority is anticipating a fall-off in boat numbers of 25% by 2050. But whether that means a fall-off of 25% in participating sailors is another matter altogether, as the reckoning is that boat-sharing is going to rise, and inevitably with it the professional management of group-owned boats.

This may well be the biggest longterm problem facing Irish yacht and sailing clubs. In the final analysis, the private yacht owner is the backbone of any club, for an owner who wishes to get the best possible value from his boat will usually see his club as an important adjunct of the total package, a backup service to provide facilities for the socialising of his crew. This is particularly so in the case of top racing boats, which will need a crew panel of perhaps as much as three multiples of the actual racing crew in order to ensure that a full racing crew is always available.

That said, I do realize that there are owners who keep their boats in Dun Laoghaire marina and yet are able to get an active racing programme thanks only to their membership of Dublin Bay Sailing Club. And equally I realise that there are cruising enthusiasts who operate out of Dun Laoghaire marina without being a member of any club at all. That is their right and privilege, but for the rest of us, membership of a club with its unique history, traditions of voluntary service, shared enthusiasms, and pooling of resources is an integral part of the entire sailing experience.

But as the already old clubs become even older with every passing year, how do they continue to appeal to newcomers who see sailing as just another experience in life’s rich tableau? Something to be tried for one weekend perhaps? But the next weekend, you might try something entirely different? And who knows what you might be tasting the weekend after that?

Surprise us, just surprise us - that’s what they demand. For a significant sector of the population, modern leisure life is a sort of tasting menu of recreational experiences. If we acknowledge that this is the case, then we should be happy that the growing number of sailing schools can cater for newcomers whose longterm involvement in sailing may range from just one weekend around boats per year, to the almost obsessional involvement and enthusiastic participation in every possible moment by the people who give their hearts and soul to serving the sailing clubs to which in the end they give their total loyalty.

sail school4Normally we associate the INSS’s Reflex 38 Lynx with high-profile racing, but for much of the time she has to earn her keep introducing newcomers to cruiser sailing, as seen here on passage through Dalkey Sound.

The problem for clubs in trying to accommodate such a range of involvement is that if they distort their true character too much in order to attract casual newcomers, they will offend their established membership. But if the old guard totally rule the roost, newcomer will be immediately put off. Underneath it all is the ever-present problem of money, for we may have had as much as an entire lost decade of static or reduced income.

Even though the national economy itself is improving, that economy is in the here and now. At a personal level, there are lasting legacy issues for people who were particularly hard hit during the recessionary years, and whose personal finances may never fully recover. Club managements have to accommodate such people who have given much in time and energy, and have much still to give, to the club which they see as central to their sailing.

But those who would adopt a more brutalist approach will suggest that the most ruthless market forces be allowed to operate, and if for instance a club’s catering can no longer match the hospitality package of nearby restaurants and pubs with food, then it should either put its entire restaurant out to contract and public use, or else diminish the service and acknowledge the fact that people go elsewhere.

As to direct waterfront facilities for servicing boats, the brutalists would sometimes suggest that they too should look to professional sourcing rather than expect them to be organised on an ad hoc basis by the clubs, as is largely the case in the Dublin area. Yet the fact is it works – if it ain’t broke, then why try and fix it?

The irony of all this is that the leading providers of professional sailing introduction and instruction through the sailing schools of Dublin and Cork Harbour are themselves products of established yacht clubs. The late Arthur Rumball as a kid used to spend almost every waking hour in and around Malahide Sailing Club “messing about in boats”, such that - as a former officer of the club put it this week - no matter who you were, if you really wanted to know what was going on about the place, Arthur was the most reliable source of all information. And in adult life, he was married to the daughter of a former Commodore of one of the premier Dun Laoghaire yacht clubs.

As for his older brother Alistair, seen by many as Irish sailing’s ultimate maverick and cage-rattler, the fact is that for many years he has been a member in good standing of another of the historic waterfront clubs. It’s a place of which he is so fond that he has said of it with pride that you either get it, or you don’t, and if you don’t get it – that is, comprehend its deeper meaning almost immediately through some sixth sense - then there’s no point in anyone trying to explain to you what it’s all about.

sail school5Eddie English of SailCork

Equally in Cork, the great Eddie English of SailCork is a pillar of one of Cork Harbour’s leading sailing families. Yet he, like the Rumballs, became impatient with the yachting establishment’s reluctance to welcome total newcomers to the sport with complete enthusiasm, and so since 1974 he has been running an expanding operation which has introduced many to sailing.

Some of them enjoy the experience of sailing with Eddie English so much that they return year after year to make the learning of sailing their hobby, but others go on to themselves become central to the club-based Cork Harbour sailing scene. As for Eddie’s mission in life, it has long included an international dimension, as charter cruises with SailCork crews in the Caribbean have become a staple of the annual programme. But so too is active co-operation with local clubs – in the New Year, SailCork will be running a course within the Royal Cork YC membership in Crosshaven.

One of the factors in the current difficult situation is that sailing has become newly high profile thanks to Annalise Murphy’s Silver Medal in the Rio Olympics, and the generally high standard of results being achieved both by the rest of the Olympic sailing team, and the top sailors in the ISA’s High Performance squad.

sail school6It lifted everyone’s spirits – junior sailors at the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire celebrate their clubmate Annalise Murphy’s Silver Medal in Rio, August 2016. Photo: Michael Chester

This may be fine and dandy for those who wish sailing to be seen in a good light by the general public, with all that might mean in improved government grants. But it meant that at grass roots level, your everyday sailor of average achievement has felt distinctly left out, and that in turn was leading to a fall-off of interest in ordinary club activity.

But there are encouraging signs that a realization of the unhealthy nature of a sailing scene overly skewed towards excessive interest in superstars is leading to a reaction in favour of looking after the needs of ordinary sailors. A significant sector of our sport would like to see less of the spotlight totally focused on racing, and club managements are taking notice of this.

sail school7“Just get them afloat and sailing, and the interest and involvement will take off from there”. SailCork’s motley fleet does sterling service on Cork Harbour.

sail school8 Graduate level. SailCork’s First 36.7 Holy Grounder regularly cruises to West Cork and beyond.

One of the questions raised in the discussion on the 22nd November think-piece was brought up by cruising guru Norman Kean, who noted that just about everything being discussed related to racing matters, whereas those who really do prefer simply messing about in boats may well be the majority.

But racing produces its own flow of publicity with a narrative simply by publishing results, whereas for many, proper cruising is a blind spot except where log competitions have been introduced. Yet the cruisers are there. One of the interesting points to emerge from this week’s AGM of Howth YC was the news that HYC’s Cruising Group, founded with the opening of the new clubhouse in 1987 at the instigation of Commodore Tom Fitzpatrick with Gary McGuire as the first convenor, is now a gathering of like-minded souls who number around 120, and they meet regularly and frequently to share and develop their non-competitive interest in boats and sailing.

This is an important part of what a healthy yacht club’s life - week in, week out - should be all about. But providing it at an affordable cost is a matter of sound management and the readiness of the membership to come forward to fill essential voluntary roles. The yacht and sailing clubs of Ireland have been through a torrid time in recent years. But the signs are that an increasing number of people are now realizing that in the constant flux of modern life, the clubs are an important anchor in our maritime life.

sail school9Howth YC and its marina - the clubs are an important anchor in our maritime life. The HYC Cruising Group has 120 members who meet regularly and frequently, and racing is most definitely not on their agenda.

Thus it’s the duty of every member to contribute to this improved mood. Your club should not be seen as some commercial service to be criticized as a matter of course, Rather, you should see your club as something of which you are part, and to which you should contribute in a positive way, and to which you should welcome newcomers. Ultimately, you’ll only get out of sailing and club life what you put into it in the first place.

Published in W M Nixon

Combining efforts and pooling resources are key to securing the future of yacht racing from Dun Laoghaire’s legacy waterfront clubs, writes David O’Brien

Welcome to Dun Laoghaire, the cradle of world yacht racing. It's here that the modern rules for the sport were written in the 1870s. And today, the location still boasts the top sailing waters of any capital city, plus the finest Georgian yacht clubs anywhere in the sailing world, with not one but three world class clubhouses in a row on the waterfront — namely the Royal St George, now in its 178th year; the National Yacht Club, which celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2020; and the Royal Irish, the eldest of the three at 185. Celebrating over fifty years on the West Pier is the more recent Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club.

Though they developed individually, this year and last these clubs have had a joined purpose, focused on saving sailing from the perceived threat of a giant cruise liner berth in Dun Laoghaire Harbour.

But ironically, the real threat to the sport lies elsewhere. A decline in sailing numbers and a change in sporting trends are putting a strain on these ancient yacht clubs, leaving them shorn of membership, marooned in their own harbour.

These clubs have at their heart a dedicated and hard-working membership who are passionate about sailing. It is far removed from the recent view in the Sunday Independent, quoting an unnamed source to describe their different ethoses in unflattering terms: “The one nearest the city, the Royal Irish Yacht Club, is for protestants, the one furthest, the National Yacht Club, is for Catholics, and the one in the middle, the Royal St George, is for Catholics who think they're protestants.”

Anyone involved in sailing will tell you that’s rubbish from a bygone era. Unfortunately, it hints at what those outside the sport might still think of it.

Added to this, recession and austerity have been tougher on equipment sports such as sailing, where the running costs are relatively high. It's not only an Irish problem, but it has caused great cracks in Dun Laoghaire's historic sailing lines.

Their stuffy Victorian image, too, hasn't helped to recruit new members, as participation continues to drop. The number of sailors that remain in Dun Laoghaire may total up to 5,000 but not all are yacht club members, and many are getting on in years.

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 25% reduction in their national fleet by 2050.

Unique propositions

Dun Laoghaire clubs have traditionally enjoyed two unique selling propositions for well over 100 years, but both have disappeared over the last two decades.

Firstly, the clubs once enjoyed an unmatched reputation for first-class, exclusive dining, but this has been eroded to such an extent by the emergence of quality high-street restaurants that some clubhouses no longer offer a daily service. The clubs have lost their social cachet.

Secondly, the clubs once controlled access to the water through harbour moorings and the slipway. However, since the opening of the country’s largest public marina in 2001, boat owners no longer need to be yacht club members to go boating.

It's not all doom and gloom; there are parts of sailing in rude health, especially in Olympic-style youth competition. Yet crucially, this has not transferred to senior fleets who are more inclined to take out yacht club memberships at approximately €1,500 per annum.

If we don't respect our past then we'll find it harder to build our future. Dun Laoghaire's institutions have survived many crises including two world wars and countless recessions. It's proof of the enduring love of sailing in the capital's waters.

An Irish Sailing Association (ISA) task force has been charged with finding a way to link its high performance sailing initiatives to domestic classes. In 2006, the ISA had 22,000 members; 10 years on and numbers are back down to 1996 figures at around 17,500.

ISORA RacingFun Racing in DBSC's Winter Turkey Shoot series and offshore racing with ISORA has flourished in recent years

A new model for the sport – SAILING is the real USP

Ironically, the club that first coined the yacht racing rules, the clubhouse-less Royal Alfred Yacht Club (RAYC), was wound up last year and incorporated into the much larger Dublin Bay Sailing Club (DBSC). The move is symbolic because it presages a much bigger need to rationalise other aspects of the sport in the harbour.

Dun Laoghaire – or Kingstown as it was in the Victorian era – is where the racing rules were first drawn up and the modern sport of yacht racing was born. If a new regeneration plan can be hashed out, it may well become the place where a new model for the sport is born, too.

Critical to the solution is to bring SAILING to the forefront, make the sport more accessible and reduce the cost of taking part.

In the good times, everyone helped themselves to a slice of the yachtsman pie to the extent that between various membership and berthing fees, it still costs upwards of €10,000 per annum to campaign one of the harbour's standard keelboats, equivalent in some cases to the purchase price of the boat.

Sailors themselves have already worked out ways to circumvent the rules to keep their own costs down. Anecdotally, we know some have ditched the boat altogether and are crewing on other boats. Others are competing only at events and not participating in club sailing, the heart of the sport. Often sailors are going directly from the marina without joining a club at all. In some cases, one sailor from a crew of 10 is nominated to join a club, just to comply with racing rules.

In order to maintain these trappings of yesteryear, while unable to generate it from a dwindling sailing membership, the club administrations have gone after other revenue streams. Currently weddings and corporate events are the order of the day.

In many ways, this redirection compounds the problem for the sport, because in order to compete for such business against more established operators in the hospitality sector, the clubs have to gear up on staff and senior management to run these events successfully. Currently the waterfront wage roll is approaching €3 million per annum. The question is, how much of this money is going to run sailing, and how much to run weddings? Is it the case that neither are being served well?

This is not the fault of current committees, who are merely custodians of these protected structures and are charged with the not insignificant upkeep of these historic buildings but if you do what you always do you will get what you always get.

So how can we keep what we have and bring 'Sailing' to the forefront?

Surely rather than to look inward we should look for a solution that can grow the sport to benefit everyone and chart a future for not just the clubs but all the stakeholders in Dun Laoghaire and the Sport. This is not to throw out what we have but to develop that new extra dimension to Dun Laoghaire sailing that is missing. It is to recognise that life is different for the younger generations and unless we change tack we are making it very difficult for interested sailors to enjoy the sport through club membership.

Other marine sports like SUP, kayaking, kite surfing are growing immensely in popularity. They don’t require a club, a boat and a bar tab or a marina berth so there is competition coming from all sides.

Surely there could be a collective solution to fix the problem of making sailing less expensive? Hard choices need to be made, not only to save the clubs per se but the sport itself.

A collaboration of the stakeholders would rationalise costs and could bring–in a much larger public element that would sustain the sailing scene. With Dublin city on the doorstep surely there is a market to provide the capital's population with simple sailing and shore facilities? If the clubs could tweak the existing offering, the scene could be much more embracing.

And there are examples where 'tweaks' have already borne fruit. New initiatives for offshore sailing under ISORA and winter racing via DBSC's impressive Turkey Shoot are positive signs that sailors respond well to new ideas when they combine leadership, fun racing and shoreside craic. And every two years the clubs combine to produce Ireland's largest regatta at Dun Laoghaire a fleet that has, at times, topped 500 boats.

Dun LaoghaireEvery two years since 2005 Dun Laoghaire's waterfront clubs combine to produce Ireland's biggest sailing regatta that attracts as many as 500 boats

Addressing the core issues

If Dun Laoghaire’s clubs can get the sailing right, everything else can flow from there. This is a big question but a good start would be to focus the combined efforts of the stakeholders to address how they adapt to the changed environment. Because if they don’t, everyone will suffer in the long term. A start would be to recognise that:

  • Combined membership of the waterfront clubs has been static over past two years and is still 30% below 2006 levels.
  • Racing fleets are declining and high costs are fuelling a move to access the water from outside the club networks.
  • The clubs are all running active junior programmes, but have poor conversion to membership.
  • The clubs are struggling to keep the young adult group (ages 25–40) actively involved.
  • The clubs are failing to attract significant newcomers or ‘try sailors’ into club membership.
  • Clubs need to direct more resources to support existing sailing members and to attracting new sailors.

Right ingredients

As a centre of sailing, not just for Ireland but for Europe, and even the world, Dun Laoghaire has all the right ingredients to be successful.

A population of over one million is right at its doorstep, while the town itself boasts a large and firmly established club network and race organisation, a sizeable public sailing school with excellent facilities and easy access to the sailing area, plus a supportive county council and harbour authority.

So why are Dun Laoghaire’s clubs still struggling? One problem is that they are too focused on senior membership and trying to use the ‘old model’ to address this new environment.

Time (or the lack of it) and costs (higher than they ought to be) are key deterrents for the young adult group. Participation requires a disproportionate financial commitment, and organised racing as it stands often doesn’t fit with family and work commitments.

Maintaining club facilities, meanwhile, requires an ever larger proportion of available financial resources, leaving less for sailing.

What’s more, a duplication of resources in sailing across the waterfront is forcing up costs for all sailors. The end result is that existing structures are not conducive to attracting newcomers to the sport.

An alternative approach

The setup in Dun Laoghaire would likely be very different if one were starting afresh today. There would be far less duplication and a more joined-up approach between the key stakeholders.
Rather than working to their combined strengths, each are driving their own individual agendas, overlaying more levels of costs that have brought sailing to a prohibitive level and isolated the sport from younger sailors and newcomers alike.

While it is not realistic to look at a new direction in terms of a clean sheet, it is possible to consider developing a more combined approach, and look at areas that can be changed and which will have an impact thus allowing development using the existing structures across the waterfront.

Rather than be thinking of a one-club/joint-club approach and compromising the individual club identities, or working in isolation, why not think about playing to the combined strength that exists and has been proven to work. There are many opportunities to share resources from boatyard services to back office administration to combine activities to help address the current situation but a good area to start would be sailing itself.

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

Bringing the cost of sailing down

Current costs of racing in Dun Laoghaire are too high, and there is no real benefit to being a member of one of the waterfront clubs. The clubs need to look at reducing the cost of racing and perhaps finding ways of including DBSC boat membership into the club subscription, for example.

Waterfront club members could also be offered a discounted entry to regattas if paid as part of an annual subscription. Meanwhile, DBSC could charge a premium for those wishing to race who are not members of the waterfront clubs or the INSS.

The clubs need to look at altering the membership structures to reward boat ownership by discounting members with boats parked on their forecourts, or negotiate a discount — or even lease a section of berths — from Dun Laoghaire Marina for their members’ yachts.

New membership structures can be introduced to cater for those transitory 25–40–year–old sailors struggling with time and money pressures to keep them linked with the club and giving them the opportunity to charter club boats for racing.

Creating a more complete ‘race offering’

Racing in Dublin Bay is organised to a high or ‘championship’ standard and works very well for the keen keelboat boat owners. But these are not a growing fleet and this comes at a cost – it is expensive to run, can intimidate the beginners/fun sailors and doesn’t embrace all the potential constituents. There is a need for both ‘fun club racing’ and the more serious ‘championship style’. Maybe the focus could be shifted to embrace both elements to grow the appeal and the clubs integrate social activities and prizegivings for sailors on the less demanding fun club racing days.

Club racing that appeals to the full spectrum of club members should be provided – from junior, through college, and to seasoned campaigners in both dinghies and keelboats.

The waterfront clubs could introduce a new additional format of racing directed at young adults and those using club-owned boats, at a time and frequency that suits, such as multiple short races in the harbour area on evenings and Saturday mornings.

Inter-club and business leagues are also a potential direction, as is a low-cost team racing league directed at students.

In addition, junior racing could be included with dinghy racing in the annual race programme and then everyone looking to race in Dun Laoghaire would be catered for, boat ownership encouraged and memberships increased.

DBSC Junior sailing september seriesThe popular combined DBSC Junior September series. If other junior activities were combined it would provide critical mass for a common ‘class policy’ and to enable streaming of sailors into like-minded groups

Create a stronger, more cost effective, open junior sailing model:

The importance of getting sailors involved at an early age is known to all, and is borne out by a recent British Marine Federation survey that found some 40% of sailors started as a child, while 30% were introduced to the sport by family or friends.

Dun Laoghaire has a unique opportunity to pool resources for a dynamic junior and youth sailing training environment. That is, if the clubs can come together with, for example, the INSS and DLRCoCo to form a combined organisation to run the club junior sections, and develop a public or newcomers element – the focus here being on combining the on-the-water elements:

  • Run one programme in which everyone participates (no change in location of boats, etc).
  • Use common instructors.
  • Combine the sailors afloat at the various levels.
  • Pool RIBs and equipment.
  • Hire professional administration to ensure continuity and maintenance of standards.

The potential benefits of this approach are many. Elimination of duplicated costs, the increased scale would enable the employment of a high-calibre instructor to focus on the fun aspects of getting involved in sailing, as well as a specialist coach to focus on the most talented sailors and stream the best prospects for competition.

Combining the junior sections would provide critical mass for a common ‘class policy’ and to enable streaming of sailors into like-minded groups, which will be more enjoyable for the sailors, and bolster clubs’ membership retention efforts.

A single organisation would be more cost-effective than the existing stand-alone operations, and would also create a structure to enable newcomers to become more integrated into Dun Laoghaire’s sailing community, again resulting in stronger club membership.

The goal is a ‘Dun Laoghaire culture’ among future members, rather than unnecessary club rivalries. At the same time, there should be no loss of individual club identity; there hasn’t been a problem combining for DBSC racing, after all.

A united waterfront would put Dun Laoghaire in a strong position nationally to attract top young sailors and national training squads.

Such a move would also demonstrate the right ‘joined-up thinking’ to DLRCoCo, and provide a platform to develop schools and community programmes in conjunction with them.

In late August, the harbour's first Olympic medal brought the yacht clubs, the town marina, the local sailing school, the boatyard, the town council and the harbour company together in celebration like never before. Maybe all we need is Annalise Murphy–style determination? Is it possible that her Olympic Silver could be the inspiration to put Dun Laoghaire on a new tack?

Modern communications, and in particular social media's 'electronic word–of–mouth', means no other generation has had the same chance to shape the future like we do. It's up to us how we do it but surely it is better to bake a bigger pie than fight over the remaining crumbs?

A definitive plan for 'Dun Laoghaire Sailing Inc' must be the first step. As all sailors will tell you, it is the set of the sails not the direction of the wind that determines which way you will go.

Let's Make Dun Laoghaire Sailing Great: We are keen to hear from readers on this very pertinent subject. All ideas and proposals welcome. Please let us have your comments below.

Published in Dublin Bay
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