Displaying items by tag: 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.
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:
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These days Dermot O’Flynn, Director of Training in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, does much of his sailing in a classic Water Wag dinghy in Dun Laoghaire and Dublin Bay. But he is a man of wide-ranging nautical experiences and interests, and he has a gem of a story to share with us here:
In life you get some opportunities to do the right thing, and for me this was one of them. In January 2014 my father Dermot O’Flynn, past President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, died suddenly at the wonderful age of 94. A father, a great surgeon, and a yachtsman who enjoyed any opportunity to be out and about near or on the sea, he left me many happy memories. And he also left me an Olympic Gold Sailing Medal from the 1948 London Olympic Games (understandably known as the Austerity Olympics) which was won by Jim Weekes, who had crewed on the winning American 6 Metre Llanoria.
She was designed by Sparkman & Stephens, and owned by Herman Whiton, who was a member of Seawanhaka Yacht Club on Long Island, New York. On the crew registration for the 1948 Olympics, Jim was listed as James Weekes and the rest of the crew from Seawanhaka Yacht Club were Herman Whiton, Alfred Loomis (who was one of the leading sailing journalists of his day), Michael Mooney & James Smith.
The 6 Metres were the largest and most prestigious of the yachts competing in the 1948 London Olympics, which also included Dragons, Swallows, Stars and the 12ft Firefly dinghy. The famous Danish sailor Paul Elvstrom won his first Gold Medal that year sailing a Firefly dinghy, so Jim and the crew were in good company.
My father was gifted the Medal in 1981 by James Weekes’ wife Kay, who had a been a long term patient and friend of my father. In the accompanying letter she wrote:
“This token comes with my deep affection, no other man deserves it better other than the one who won it, there are no sailors in my family, hand it down to one of yours when the time comes”
My father made the decision to hand down the medal to me probably because I survived the Fastnet Race in 1979 in a 30ft racing yacht, sailed across the Atlantic in 35-foot Camper & Nicholson sloop in 1981, managed a second overall in The Middle Sea Race, and loved sailing all types of boats whether they be dinghies, IRC racing machines, or classic cruising yachts. Yet after putting the medal under lock and key for a while, I came to the decision that the medal did not belong to me or my family, but should be returned to Seawanhaka YC, and so my journey started. Very quickly I discovered that there was only one living relative, named Townsend Weekes, who was also – surprise surprise….- a member of Seawanhaka YC, and he was delighted to hear the medal would be coming home.
Townsend informed me that Jim was originally from Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York. He had three siblings, and the family have a long history with Oyster Bay, dating back to 1653 when Francis Weekes settled there. Jim’s grandfather was one of the earliest members of Seawanhaka Yacht Club, and both his brother Arthur and brother in-law Porter were Commodores of this yacht club.
Jimmy - as the family called him - was a terrific athlete who loved sailing and was the best rifle shot of his three brothers. Like his brothers, he had a distinguished career in the American Navy in World War 2, becoming an Executive Officer on a battle cruiser in the Pacific.
Nobody can remember how Jimmy got selected to sail on Llanoria for the Olympics in 1948 but obviously Herman Whiton liked the ‘cut of his jib’, and the Gold Medal sealed the success of their mutual respect.
James Weekes married Kay in 1962, and they moved to Dublin as they wished to live in Ireland, but sadly Jim died suddenly in 1977 at the age of 65. Kay and James had no family, however Kay had family from her first marriage, and they and other Weekes relatives in America had always wondered what happened to the gold medal, so they were intrigued – to say the least - to hear where it had ended up.
Having discovered the background to Jim Weekes, naturally my attention was drawn to the great Llanoria US 83, and what might have happened to her. My journey started by accident when I was delivering an Alden 54 called Tara from St Petersburg to Stockholm via the Finish Archipelago. We happened to spend two wonderful nights on the marina of Helsinki Yacht Club and the club has a half model of Llanoria, plus a photo of her winning the Seawanhaka Cup, for Llanoria had also won the 6 Metre Class in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki – she is the only yacht to have won two Olympic Gold Medals.
My next port of call was the famous yacht designers Sparkman & Stephens in New York. They very kindly went through their records and found a line drawing of the yacht designed by Olin Stephens which they sent to me, however at that time they had no record of Llanoria’s present location.
But I kept digging for more information, and finally got in touch with Matt Cockburn, secretary of the Puget Sound 6 Metre Association in America’s Pacific Northwest, who gave me the great good news that Llanoria had been totally refurbished by her current owner Peter Hofmann, whose family had purchased her in 1980, and that she had just won the 6 Metre 2015 World Championships (Classic Division) at La Trinite Sur Mer on France’s Biscay coast, helmed by Eric Jespersen.
I then contacted Peter Hofmann who was fascinated by the story of the Medal, and he kindly agreed to me joining him and the crew of Llanoria for a sail as they prepared for the 6 Metre European Championships on Lake Lucerne in July 2016. What a joy it was to sail with a crew who knew their yacht so well, and to watch them tune the rig, adjust the sheets, move the mast and create the perfect sail shape for 6 Metre sailing in 8-10 knots of breeze.
Now it was time to move on to the next stage of the Gold Medal’s journey home. In memory of James Weekes I agreed with the Seawanhaka Yacht Club Commodore, Vice Commodore and Committee, through a Deed of Gift, to present the Medal to the Club as ‘The James Weekes Olympic Gold Memorial Trophy’
The trophy represents the coast line of Torbay on England’s south coast, venue of the 1948 Sailing Olympiad, in Irish Silver, with the Gold Medal suspended in the centre of the 1948’s 6 Metre racing area. It is placed on a piece of Irish Bog Oak which is more than 800 years old, chosen for the very personal reason that on the day my father died, his parish priest said to me on hearing the sad news: “Dermot, a great oak has fallen”
At the beginning of October, it gave me and my family great pleasure to present this Memorial Trophy to Seawanhaka Yacht Club, and l look forward over my lifetime to hearing about the sailors who win this trophy, and their successes both on and off the race course.
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