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Displaying items by tag: Royal Cork Yacht Club

Royal Cork Yacht Club is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to stage next week's Laser dinghy National Championships, one of the flagship events of its tricentenary celebrations in Cork Harbour.

With the postponement of Phase 4 COVID 19 restrictions, the hosts are not in a position to locate all sailors in the proposed format of three fleets.

In order to ensure that they can hold a safe event, the AIB Sponsored Nationals will, therefore, be split into two events, according to an update from the Laser class.

The position now for the event is that the Radials and Standards will be based in Crosshaven, while 4.7s will be based in Ringaskiddy, where a new slip will give easy access to the lower harbour.

  • Standard and Radial Nationals hosted by the RCYC
  • Laser 4.7 Nationals hosted by Monkstown Bay Sailing Club (MBSC)

It is expected further details will be available in the next few days. The event starts on August 20th.

Published in Cork Harbour

Excitement is building in the Royal Cork Yacht Club for this week’s AIB Optimist dinghy Nationals 2020 in Cork Harbour.

It will be the first time the Irish Optimist fleet will compete this year due to COVID and participant numbers at the event have been limited by organisers.

The event starts on Thursday but there has already been some pre-championship tuning going on at Crosshaven.

Photo slideshow below by Bob Bateman

Published in Optimist

A win for Michael McCann in tonight's fifth and final race of the Union Chandlery July League at Royal Cork Yacht Club gives him the overall win of the IRC Spinnaker Division. McCann sailing the Etchells, Don't Dilly Dally had a single point lead over Annamarie and Denis Murphy's Grand Soliel 40, Nieulargo in a 14-boat fleet.

In a 12-boat White Sail division, the Grand Soliel 37 Prince of Tides (Frank Caul and John Molloy) wins by two points overall from the Sun Light 30 Expression.

Full results are here. Bob Bateman's Photo slideshow is below

Published in Royal Cork YC

The National 18 crew of Colin Chapman, Owen O'Keefe and Eddie Rice were yesterday's winners of the AIB sponsored PY 1000 cash Prize at the Royal Cork Yacht Club in Cork Harbour.

With only the lightest harbour breeze available Race Officer John Crotty set the mixed dinghy fleet off on a course that involved all points of sailing from a beat,a run and reaches before heading home for refreshments on the RCYC lawn at Crosshaven.

Royal Cork Race Officer John Crotty had to contend with some fickle winds for the 2020 PY RaceRoyal Cork Race Officer John Crotty had to contend with some fickle winds for the 2020 PY Race Photo: Bob Bateman

The PY1000 2020 dinghy course set in Cork Harbour covered all the angles Photo: Bob BatemanThe PY1000 2020 dinghy course set in Cork Harbour covered all the angles Photo: Bob Bateman

Other cash prizes went to second overall to Tom, Cloe and Patrick Crosbie. Third place went to Andrew Crosbie, all sailing National 18s.

AIB PY 1000 Winners AIB PY 1000 Winners - Colin Chapman, Owen O'Keefe and Eddie Rice Photo: Bob Bateman

Chris Bateman won the Lasers and Shane Collins, the Topper division.

Knox Kohl was the youngest sailor and first female home was Sophie Crosbie.

The youngest crewed boat was sailed by Ethel and Olin Bateman and the oldest combined Crew was Tommy Dwyer and Willy Healy

RCYC AIB PY1000 Photos

See the full slideshow of images from the event below by Bob Bateman

Published in Royal Cork YC

At times of sadness, we are helped by ceremonial. For sure, no-one would dream of comparing the enormous grief visited upon those who have been and will be bereaved by COVID-19 with the quiet sense of loss caused the absolutely correct and timely decision to cancel Volvo Cork Week 2020. Yet it was to be the high point of the Club’s keenly-anticipated international Tricentennial celebrations. So at the beginning of the week in which it should all have been happening, something was needed to mark the moment, some small but poignant ceremonial to signal that the club and its members, while saddened by the cancellation, are capable of moving on, and are indeed moving on.

It happened at noon on Sunday. Key figures in the running of the club and the planning of the Tricentenary assembled in a small enough group on the club lawn to maintain social distance, and with them were two young Optimist sailors to symbolise the class whose National Championship at Crosshaven on August 13th to 16th will see the club return to national action after a month and more in which down-home club activity has been steadily building following the total Lockdown.

Daragh Connolly, Rear Admiral Keelboats, fired three cannon shots, and the Optimist sailors sent aloft the flags ’N’ over ‘A’ to signal that Volvo Cork Week 2020 was cancelled. It said everything that needed to be said. And then Admiral Colin Morehead and George Mills of Volvo Car agents Johnson & Perrott signalled the announcement that Volvo Cork Week 2022 will be staged from July 11th to 15th 2022. The Crosshaven tradition of superb events run ”by sailors, for sailors” is very much alive and well. And in the days and weeks ahead, the club will see a steady but measured continuing resumption of activities to mark the Tricentenary in a heartfelt yet subdued manner in keeping with the current circumstances.

RCYC Admiral Colin Morehead and George Mills of Johnson & Perrot launch the futureLong live Volvo Cork Week 2022. RCYC Admiral Colin Morehead and George Mills of Johnson & Perrot launch the future. Photo: Robert Bateman=

Published in Royal Cork YC

Royal Cork's weekly league racing is underway with some fine sailing breezes to get the first races of the season underway last Thursday and Friday.

Among the fleet of mixed keelboats is a 'Cork300' branded RCYC 1720 sportsboat marking 300 years of club activity in Cork Harbour.

As Afloat's WM Nixon points out here the sheer joy of sailing re-asserting itself in Cork Harbour is a tonic for all involved at Crosshaven.

As well as sportsboats, other one-design keelboats that included an Etchells, there was a good turnout of cruisers for the round the cans racing format.

Photos below by Bob Bateman

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Published in Royal Cork YC
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There are three Royal Cork Yacht Clubs. One is the globally-recognised historic institution which is directly descended from the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork founded three hundred years ago, the oldest yacht club in the world. The second is a remarkably successful competitive sports organisation which produces sailing and offshore racing athletes to Olympic standard. And the third is a friendly neighbourhood sailing club in a charmingly extended clubhouse, a club which is integral to its community of Crosshaven, and a quietly important part of the everyday life of its ordinary sailing members, while at the same time being the flagship expression of the Harbour of Cork in its recreational mode.

Ron Holland 44 Big Apple (Clayton Love, Hugh Coveney & Ray Fielding RCYC)The second element in the Royal Cork’s makeup is its creation of world-class sailors, as seen here in 1977 as the Ron Holland 44 Big Apple (Clayton Love, Hugh Coveney & Ray Fielding RCYC) slices her way to success in the Solent in the Admiral's Cup with Johnny McWilliam on the helm, Harold Cudmore beside him, and Killian Bushe and Ron Holland among those on the rail. Although built by the Irish-born Joyce Brothers in Southampton, Big Apple was designed in Crosshaven, and her McWilliam sails were made there too. Photo courtesy John McWilliam

This year, the globally-recognised historic institution was naturally taking world centre stage as the focal point of a major international celebration of its seniority in our sport. But as that has been largely cancelled in a timely, mature and exemplary response to the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus, the other steady, rocklike and ever vital third version of the Royal Cork has emerged, gallant and unbowed, to continue the Club’s time-honoured role of serving its own people and place, playing the key role in providing the people, the boats and the enthusiasm for Crosshaven sailing to resume in a carefully-planned way at an area level.

The club and its antecedent organisations may have had several homes over the centuries. But ever since the Royal Munster Yacht Club moved from its up-harbour Monkstown base to quietly take over the new premises of the Cork Motor-Boat Club at Crosshaven in 1923, a location has developed where sailors of all levels and ages – from young absolute beginners to seasoned international campaigners – can get in their sport from a base which is secluded from the many other busy activities of this magnificent harbour, yet at the same time provides speedy and convenient access to the great sheltered stretch of water and the open sea off it, with fine coastal cruising areas within easy reach.

Clayton Love Jnr led the amalgamation of the Royal Cork YC and the Royal Munster YCClayton Love Jnr led the amalgamation of the Royal Cork YC and the Royal Munster YC in 1967 to create today’s international sailing hub at Crosshaven

The centralisation at Crosshaven became complete with the amalgamation – led by Clayton Love Jnr - of the Royal Munster at Crosshaven and the more senior Royal Cork from Cobh, in 1967 at Crosshaven in time for a two year Quarter Millennial Celebration in 1969-70. And while the more recent development of new marina and berthing facilities all round Cork Harbour have seen additional organisations moving into the mainstream of sailing provision, the Royal Cork at Crosshaven continues to be in a league of its own in the breadth of its activities, influence and leadership role.

It is something which Irish sailing at large tends to take for granted as being the way things in Cork harbour - and particularly Crosshaven - have always been within living memory. So it can be salutary to hear the views of perceptive visitors when they first discover the vibrant Crosshaven mixture of international sailing centre and down-home community-focused training and sailing centre.

Crosshaven – the ideal location for the creation of an international sailingCrosshaven – the ideal location for the creation of an international sailing hub with a solidly home-based maritime community

Once such was world sailing pioneer Robin Knox-Johnston, who first became acquainted with the Crosshaven scene when it was a stopover on a five-stage two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race. Having done several such events involving a number of ports in different countries, he was accustomed to the fleet in which he was racing being the complete focus of attention in each visited port.

But while Crosshaven was tops in warmth of welcome and efficiency during their 2-3 day stopover there, his abiding impression is of a second parallel club which burst into life each morning as shoals of RCYC junior sailors in a variety of classes from Optimists upwards went afloat in waves of sail for a day’s training and racing. The young crews did take in the wonder of the fleet of internationally-renowned ocean-racing specials which were visiting their club. Yet they were equally determined to get out and get sailing themselves regardless of the sailing Gods in port, and that was what particularly impressed Robin Knox-Johnston.

This flurry of the junior trainees going afloat each weekday summer morning is of course repeated at many clubs throughout Ireland. But it is the Royal Cork’s comprehensively organic and evolving waterfront along the Owenboy River which gives the many aspects of a classically healthy sailing club such a special dynamic, with a natural interaction between the different levels of interest and ages of those involved.

It is this easy continuation and interaction between the generations and the different levels and types of sailing and boating interest which gives the Royal Cork a formidable core strength. That strength has withstood whatever adverse events have come the club’s way over three centuries, and provided it with the inner confidence to face the demands which the Tricentenary would pose.

Colin Morehead, 42nd Admiral of the Royal Cork YCColin Morehead, 42nd Admiral of the Royal Cork YC, at last weekend’s gathering in the harbour which clearly declared that despite the current international limitations, the Tricentenary of the RCYC is being celebrated with enthusiasm. Photo: Robert Bateman

For although Cork Harbour and the socio-economic circumstances around it in 1720 were ideal for the highly-innovative creation of the world’s first yacht club, the times have moved on. Other places have found that their own success enabled them to move sailing development ahead, and there has been an undoubted tendency for the centre of gravity of the international sailing scene to move away from sometimes wet and windy islands off the northwest coast of Europe, towards places with a warmer and more reliable climate.

Yet despite that, while it may have been through thin times, the spirit of sailing never went from Cork, and as the sport in its modern form developed through the 1900s, the Water Club evolved into the Royal Cork Yacht Club, acknowledged in its ultimate seniority by organisations as venerable and distinguished as the Royal Yacht Squadron and the New York Yacht Club, and gallantly sailing on among the clubs of the world as “neither the biggest nor the wealthiest, but simply the oldest and the best”.

RCYC core members head for the “Admirals Chace” in Cork Harbour “Simple the oldest and the best….” RCYC core members head for the “Admirals Chace” in Cork Harbour last weekend to mark the start of the Tricentenary Celebrations. Photo: Robert Bateman

Richard Leonard’s very fully-crewed Bolero Class BanditBasically always a family affair – Richard Leonard’s very fully-crewed Bolero Class Bandit at the Chace represents several generations of Crosshaven sailing. Photo: Robert Bateman

Thus as the countdown of five years and more to its Tricentenary in 2020 took shape, the RCYC faced its year in the global sailing spotlight with quiet confidence and thorough planning. The way that other leading international clubs responded favourably, supportively and co-operatively to its proposals augured well for a very special year indeed, and with Colin Morehead installed as the 42nd Admiral at the AGM on January 21st 2020, everything was settling into place as planned.

And then came COVID-19. It took some time for some major administrators and indeed for many governments to grasp the totality of what was happening as the pandemic spread. But the Royal Cork Yacht Club gave both the sailing community and the world at large a clear example in its precise response. Just two months after its anticipation-filled AGM in January, on March 27th the RCYC confirmed that as indicated on March 15th, all events in June and July relating to the Tricentenary – which included some very major international events in July – were cancelled.

Socially distanced and a family bubble – for many participants, the Admirals Chace was the first tentative step afloat in the new Covid worldSocially distanced and a family bubble – for many participants, the Admirals Chace was the first tentative step afloat in the new COVID world. Photo: Robert Bateman

In business administration, they say that any decision - even a wrong decision - is better than no decision at all. But there were many who reckoned the RCYC, through its senior officer board of Admiral Colin Morehead and Vice Admiral Kieran O’Connell (Chairman of the pillar event, Volvo Cork Week) were being hasty. Yet they were proven right twice over both in making a timely decision, and in making what has proven to be absolutely the right decision.

The fact that the Royal Cork took this momentous step, this highest of high-profile decisions so soon, made it much easier for other sailing clubs and organisations to follow suit. And as the rightness of what was an extremely painful but very necessary decision at the time becomes ever more apparent, the Royal Cork’s unique local, national and international positions makes its emergence from the Lockdown of greater relevance than other clubs.

For although clubs and organisations more inherently nimble than the Crosshaven club may have seemed to pioneer the lockdown exit in a speedier fashion, the RCYC’s status as a role model is unrivalled, and any action it takes in these extraordinary circumstances has to be carefully considered.

Thus it’s reassuring to know that as soon as the clampdown had been imposed, the club’s decision-makers were closely monitoring developments, with the Admiral setting the tone with his clear belief that whatever happens, 2020 is still the Tricentenary year - you simply cannot postpone such a thing - and it is their clear duty to do their very best for whatever visitor-involving events that might still possible in August and September.

RCYC Vice Admiral Kieran O’ConnellRCYC Vice Admiral Kieran O’Connell. Photo: Robert Bateman

But meanwhile, as local Lockdowns ease, their first duty is to their own members and the gradual restoration of the RCYC programme of junior training and club events, particularly club racing, and this has been under way at a quietly-accelerating socially-distance conscious pace since June 9th, with the pace accelerating at the end of June such that as of this weekend the club has already staged seven races for adult classes, while the juniors have had less formal contests as part of their curriculum.

The calm competently managerial style of Colin Morehead has been at the heart of it all, and when we remember that he had spent three years and more in detail planning of the Tricentenary before becoming Admiral on January 21st this year, it’s clear that here is a strong and able character capable of a heroically philosophical approach to a major setback, yet the description of him as “stoical” seems somewhat inappropriate, for he has accepted and dealt with the change in the RCYC’s plans with a good-humoured attitude which has helped to cheer up everyone.

The famous 17-ton cutter Gull in Cork HarbourThe famous 17-ton cutter Gull in Cork Harbour. Her owner-skipper Harry Donegan was Colin Morehead’s great grandfather

But then, Colin Morehead is Cork sailing blueblood through and through, and calmness in the face of sailing administration adversity is bred into him. His grandfather married Alice Donegan, daughter of the quintessential Cork sailing polymath Harry Donegan (1870-1940) of the legendary inaugural Fastnet Race veteran Gull, while the Morehead's themselves were a long-established sailing family. Colin’s father Robert raised his family in a Lee-side house in Blackrock where boats were never far away, while summer holidays with the grandparents in Currabinny meant total involvement with the Crosshaven sailing scene, in Mirror dinghies, a Laser later, and crewing in his father’s Sadler 25 Blue Jay, those he raced against including one Robert Bateman, racing the David Thomas Quarter Tonner Robin, which became Irish Quarter Ton National Champion (ECHO) before her owner-skipper started to devote all his time afloat to sailing photography.

As for young Colin Morehead, in the summer after leaving school he spent three months Solent-based as a crewman on the mighty former J Class Velsheda, which in those distant days of the 1980s was a long way from the immaculately restored classic she is today. Her then-owner was Terry Brabant, a Southampton scrap-metal merchant who was gallantly obsessed with getting the long-decommissioned Velsheda sailing again, and the result was mixed - to say the least - but she was definitely fully-rigged, and a colossal sailing challenge.

The 1933 J-Class Velsheda as she is today – a classicThe 1933 J-Class Velsheda as she is today – a classic. When Colin Morehead crewed on her in 1985, her restoration was of a decidedly more primitive quality.

Yet Colin Morehead emerged unscathed and toughened from an experience with left him with some extraordinary memories, and he went on to work with AIB in a number of posts which took him to Dublin for several years – he crewed with Harry Byrne at Howth in the successful Club Shamrock Rapparee and with a colleague who had a GRP Folkboat based in Dun Laoghaire - and he’d a period with the bank in the Channel Isles where he met his future wife, Irene McEvoy from Clare, and they now have two children, Robert (16) and Katie (11) – while he kept up his sailing with crewing on a Contessa 32. Then after the mandatory stint with the AIB outpost in the Isle of Man, he found his way back to AIB in Cork around the turn of the Century (he now manages the Cobh Branch) and made a gentle return to Crosshaven sailing by buying George Bushe’s last boat, a GRP Seamaster 23 to which the great yacht-builder had added many super-useful extras, making an already good little boat very good indeed…

But the boom times were rolling, like everyone else he up-graded – in Colin Morehead’s case to a Bavaria 33 – and found himself Captain of the Whitesails Class. It was now that the Royal Cork became fully aware of his infectious and effective enthusiasm, which saw him introducing all sorts of imaginative handicap systems which gave everyone a chance. This was soon resulting in unprecedented regular turnouts of more than thirty boats, and an annual prize-giving dinner which filled the club with just this one class alone, for everyone picked up a gong of some sort or other.

But then came 2008 and the economic crash, and everyone had to pause for breath. Boat-less for a while, as the first green shoots appeared Colin Morehead got himself a little Orkney motor-boat just to get afloat. But he craved sailing, and as his “Recession Buster” he traded across to the 1991-vintage First 210 Bene Bebe. She was meant to be a stop-gap sailing cruiser, but as anyone who has sailed this long-lived Beneteau marque in one of its many manifestations will know, this is one big-hearted little boat, and for a Cork harbour enthusiasts she meets all your needs, so he still has her and is well content.

The perfect small performance cruiser for Cork Harbour – Colin Morehead racing his immaculate 29-year-old First 210 Bene Bebe The perfect small performance cruiser for Cork Harbour – Colin Morehead racing his immaculate 29-year-old First 210 Bene Bebe past Roche’s Point. Photo: Robert Bateman

But his imaginative work with the White Sails Class had been noted, and he was asked by RCYC Admiral Pat Lyons to take on the Royal Cork’s implementation of the of the Irish Sailing Association’s Try Sailing initiative, which he did with such success that for 2016 he was the recipient of the ISA President’s Award. Yet by the time he received that at the ceremony in Dublin in February 2017, he was already well-drawn into chairing the RCYC Cork300 Committee, and plans for 2020 with many international ramifications were well in place with considerable detail and commitment when he became RCYC Vice Admiral in 2018, on line to become Admiral for the Tricentenary in 2020 with its huge and complex international and national programme centred around Crosshaven.

For the rest of us, the sheer random destructiveness of the pandemic in this year of all years in the Royal Cork Yacht Club is still almost impossible to grasp, yet for those right at the eye of the storm, an almost preternatural calm seems to have taken over. They’ve led the way in accepting that the international aspect of the celebration simply won’t take place - for it’s something that just can’t be postponed for a year or even two years - and almost immediately they’ve re-focused on the core of the club with the clear message that the Tricentenary is still very much being celebrated, there’ll be major events such as the Optimist Nationals and the Laser Nationals in August, and in the meantime, all energies are being devoted to getting the club racing and home events programme running smoothly with numbers steadily building up as people adjust to the new circumstances.

The National 18s had three races at Crosshaven on WednesdayGetting back in the groove. The National 18s had three races at Crosshaven on Wednesday, with Fifty Shades scoring best with 2,1 & 2. Photo: Alex Barry

Thus as of today (Saturday) the Royal Cork at Crosshaven has already completed the Admirals Chace in Cork Harbour last Saturday, and eight significant club racing days and evenings too, while the junior programme has been under way in controlled form since June 9th.

Naturally, it was all being done in a tentative sort of way initially, but Wednesday and Thursday of this week have clearly crossed a threshold, with Wednesday seeing the National 18s racing with relish in three contests, albeit in grey conditions so of course the winners on a scorecard of 2,1,2 was 50 Shades, sailed by Nick Walsh, Eddie Rice and Rob Brownlow.

it was great sailing on Thursday nightSuddenly, it was great sailing on Thursday night, after many days of cloud and rain and calm, and the mood changed completely Photo Robert Bateman

As for Thursday, for a while, it looked like an evening of calm air ghosting as the fleet went out. But a brisk a brisk and sunny nor’westerly swept in, and suddenly everyone found they were sailing again without a care in the world other than the immediate concerns and demands of boat racing, with Bob Bateman’s photos saying it all.

Michael McCann’s Etchells 22Michael McCann’s Etchells 22 was the overall winner on Thursday night. Photo: Robert Bateman
Sailing at Royal Cork Yacht Club

Sailing Cork Harbour Sigma 33

Sailing 1720 Cork Harbour

Sailing Roches Point

The White Sail fleets were at it last night, both at Crosshaven and across the harbour at Cobh, so club sailing is rapidly getting up to speed in Cork Harbour. And there is indeed a Royal Cork Yacht Club Tricentenary Celebration under way, even if tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon will see a brief occasion of some formality at Crosshaven to send up the signals at RCYC that Volvo Cork Week 2020 is cancelled.

At the beginning of this week, that such an event was scheduled to take place at all seemed a matter of some solemnity. But since then, we’ve had the sheer joy of sailing re-assert itself in Cork Harbour. Life very much goes on, albeit in a modified form such that we conclude with a video issued by the RCYC on Thursday and fronted by Admiral Colin Morehead himself, guiding us through the new ways of using that much-loved clubhouse.

Published in W M Nixon

Royal Cork Yacht Club in Cork Harbour has retained its An Taisce Blue Flag, one of ten Irish marinas to fly the environmental award flag in 2020/2021.

As Afloat reported previously, another County Cork marina at Kinsale Yacht Club was also awarded the standard.

The programme aims to raise environmental awareness and promote sound environmental management of beaches, marinas and inland bathing waters around the world.

The 80 Irish beaches and 10 marinas that have achieved this accolade in 2020 must adhere to specific criteria related to water quality, information provision, environmental education, safety and site management.

Royal Cork's Blue Flag for 2020 flies at the clubhouse in Cork HarbourRoyal Cork's Blue Flag for 2020 flies at the clubhouse in Cork Harbour

"The award is really important to the Club as it is a vital part of our overall sustainability strategy", Gavin Deane, RCYC General Manager told Afloat.

On the West Coast, Kilrush Marina on the Shannon Estuary, and facilities in County Kerry at Fenit and Portmagee were also Blue Flag winners.

Other Blue Flag marinas for 2020/21 are:

  • Greencastle Marina 
  • Rathmullan Marina 
  • Fenit Marina
  • Kilmore Quay Marina
  • New Ross Marina
  • Quigleys Marina, Killinure Point, Co. Westmeath
Published in Marine Wildlife

Time was when fifty years seemed a long time in the life of any sports organisation, and indeed in life itself. Golden Jubilees were a big deal, to be celebrated with much fanfare. In fact, even 25 years of organisational continuity were worthy of festivities. But then, the general mindset was programmed by the fact that many sports only became properly codified towards the end of the 1800s, while the organisations which grew from them were generally only finding their feet around the turn of the century in 1900.

The new Century was barely under way before it was riven by two World Wars, in 1914-1918 and again in 1939-1945. In between them, in Ireland in the period 1919 to 1922 we managed to fit in a War of Independence, Partition and a Civil War. None of this was remotely comparable in scale to the major geopolitical changes and industrial carnage of the global conflicts, but they caused major disruption and tragedy at a local and personal level, such that just one decade of civilised life and gentle progress began to seem like a long time, a major achievement.

Yet despite the Troubles in Ireland between 1969 and 1998, the general mood since the end of World War II in 1945 has been one of peace and progress, however deceptive that may become under close analysis. The effect of all this – allied to markedly increased longevity until too many people started getting obese in recent years – is that fifty years no longer seems such a very long time.

Willem van der Hagen’s 1736 painting of Cork HarbourAn unrivalled heritage afloat. Willem van der Hagen’s 1736 painting of Cork Harbour with the then-unextended though fortified Haulbowline Island at centre, showing at last seven yachts of the Water Club in the group of vessels heading towards the channel past Cobh. Courtesy RCYC

We see it in Irish sailing in particular by noting the number of people around us who can remember participating in the Quarter Millennial Celebrations of the Royal Cork Yacht Club in 1969-1970, and were looking forward to being involved in the RCYC’s Tricentenary this year.

Back in 1970 – which after all was only 25 years after the end of World War II - fifty years still seemed a very considerable length of time, making the Royal Cork’s 250 year of existence all the more remarkable. That was something which was underlined ten years later, when much fanfare accompanied the Irish Cruising Club’s Golden Jubilee Cruise-in-Company in 1979, with a large international fleet sailing westward from Crosshaven to the incomparable cruising grounds of southwest Ireland, made popular over the years by the key ICC founder, Harry Donegan of Cork.

The 1895-designed Cork Harbour OD Imp The 1895-designed Cork Harbour OD Imp making full speed seawards in the 1950s. When the new Class Association was formed in 1896, Harry Donegan – the very personification of Cork sailing enthusiasm - was its first secretary. He also was a formidably successful helmsman in a CHOD, he took part and placed third in the first Fastnet Race in 1925 in his 17-ton cutter Gull (becoming a founder member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club), and in 1929 he played the key role in founding the Irish Cruising Club, starting with a cruise-in-company westwards from Cork Harbour, and concluding with the formation of the ICC in Glengarriff. In addition to his many achievements afloat and ashore, he was a talented painter of marine subjects. Photo: Tom Barker

But nowadays, fifty years is something we just take in our stride. And perhaps it is this modern compression of the half-century which has helped us to cope with the unbelievable reality that the visionary and meticulous plans for the Tricentenary of the RCYC have been up-ended by a worldwide pandemic, a lethal disease which originated in a wet market in the depths of China, and has spread so totally and ruthlessly across the world that we will probably never really know the true extent of its fatal effects.

Preventing those dreadful effects from being even worse has become a national project. Yet before the need for this became totally clear, even the most utterly pessimistic observer could not have imagined how totally the necessary safety measures would effectively wipe out the RCYC celebrations.

Sailing is of itself a very healthy sport, and the people who participate in it are usually from a vigorous cohort of the population. But that in turn means that our post-sailing socialising is unusually intense. So we know that the resumption of sailing is requiring a complete re-set of the way we go about our activities afloat, and how we access them. But meanwhile, the thoughts of the sailing community are very much with the sailors of Cork, and the way that their hopes and plans were caught precisely in the target cross-hairs of the spreading pandemic.

Yet the way that the Royal Cork YC has responded to this unbelievable reversal of fortune has been an inspiration to us all. The inevitable cancellations have been timely and efficient, and the members have rallied round in a spirit of mutual support, while Admiral Colin Morehead has been the very model of calm philosophical acceptance and example as he leads his members in handling this extraordinary challenge.

Colin Morehead, Admiral of the Royal Cork Yacht ClubColin Morehead, Admiral of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, whose calm and philosophical acceptance of the effects of Lockdown, after he had devoted three years to planning the Tricentenary, has been much admired in sailing. His sense of the continuity of Cork sailing is emphasized by the marine artwork he has chosen to be photographed with – it is one of Harry Donegan’s paintings of a Cork Harbour OD. Courtesy RCYC

Colin Morehead himself had been working on the plans for the Tricentenary for three years and longer, and while he was doing that, it was Pat Farnan as Admiral who led the club to such good effect through the busy countdown years that RCYC entered 2020 already feted as “Club of the Year”.

It was all systems go, and then it was all systems on hold as the grim news came from the east, and then with gruesome inevitability, it was all crowd-gathering events on cancellation. Yet it was done with a dignity and graceful acceptance which set the standard not just for Irish clubs, but for world sailing generally.

It is impossible to overestimate the beneficial effect which the gallant –indeed noble – manner in which the RCYC has dealt with the circumstances has contributed to the general good. Then too, the broad benefit of the community spirit within the club has manifested itself in many ways, with the National 18 class leading the charge in the full development of eRacing, while members with a real feeling for the extraordinary history of the club have got together to produce an online series - Way Back When – which features on the RCYC website, and explores many areas of club activity and Crosshaven history, all with an attractive personal touch.

Limited club sailing has of course finally resumed this week in controlled circumstances with emphasis on the juniors, while family sailing – always central to the Cork scene – has been returning as the restrictions are eased, though there’s still a long way to go, and everyone is mindful of the need for careful monitoring at every stage.

The History of the Royal Cork YC was published in 2005, when it was honoured as “Irish Book of the Year”. The History of the Royal Cork YC was published in 2005 when it was honoured as “Irish Book of the Year”. Written by historian Alicia St Leger, it was based on the club’s unrivalled collection of artefacts, documents, memorabilia and sailing records curated by Honorary Archivist Dermot Burns

What with the fresh look at the club’s past through the Way Back When series, coupled with the fact that the Club’s monumental history - based by historian Alice St Leger on RCYC archivist Dermot Burns’ unrivalled collection of records and artefacts going back to 1720 and beyond - was published to several awards and much acclaim in 2005, provides an enduring base of shared awareness. This, when combined with the eRacing, the Webinars, and now the ordered resumption of sailing in gradual socially-distanced steps, tells us all that the RCYC is very much alive and well.

In fact, nothing has become the Royal Cork Yacht Club so much as its graceful acceptance of the inevitability of cancelling much of its Tricentenary celebrations. It tells us much about how the Club and its members have matured and thrived over the centuries into the unique institution which has been a club for long enough to be planning a Tricentenary in the first place. As sailing resumes on a broader scale, the RCYC will find that their standing in world sailing is greater than ever.

As it is, they should take every encouragement from the progress that they and their magnificent harbour have made in terms of facilities and activity since 1970, which becomes abundantly clear from most of 1970’s monthly editions of Irish Yachting & Motorboating, Afloat.ie’s direct predecessor, which in 1970 was dominated by the RCYC Quarter Millennium.

Irish Yachting & Motorboating, featuring Denis Doyle and Sir Francis Chichester Lead page from the June 1970 Irish Yachting & Motorboating, featuring Denis Doyle and Sir Francis Chichester inspecting the new Gipsy Moth V under construction in Crosshaven Boatyard

Denis Doyle and Francis Chichester considering Gipsy Moth V’s new-style fin-and-skeg configurationTwo men of the sea in serious mood – Denis Doyle and Francis Chichester considering Gipsy Moth V’s new-style fin-and-skeg configuration, with the 7-ton keel cast in Dublin. At such moments when cameras were about, Chichester was obliged to look serious, but in fact he regarded Crosshaven as one of his favourite places to relax and enjoy.

We really started to roll with the May issue, in which the lead item in Seascape, the opening collection of stories of particular interest to the Editor, led with the building of Francis Chichester’s 53ft Robert Clark-designed Gipsy Moth V in Crosshaven Boatyard. I hadn’t forgotten just how much Chichester had loathed the committee-designed Gipsy Moth IV in which he circled the world in 1966-67 with one stop at Sydney, but I had forgotten - until re-reading the story fifty years down the line - that he’d been so impressed with the improvements Sydney yacht designer Warwick Hood had made to the boat during the Sydney stopover that he at one stage contemplated getting Hood to design Gipsy Moth V.

However, in the end he went back to Robert Clark, designer of Gipsy Moth III which had been built by Tyrrell of Arklow, and as Clark by this stage had formed a working relationship with Crosshaven Boatyard through Denis Doyle, that’s where Gipsy Moth V was built.

Crosshaven built, and looking well: Gipsy Moth Crosshaven built, and looking well. Gipsy Moth brought a refreshing simplicity and clarity of design with a notably good sailing performance after the complications and problems of Gipsy Moth IV

When we all went back to Crosshaven in July through various offshore races finishing in Cork Harbour, Gipsy Moth V was afloat and Francis Chichester was in the village and having himself a fine old time among the crews who took part in the week-long Quarter Millennia Offshore Regatta which followed the feeder races.

This relaxed state of affairs came to an end when Mary Doyle took the nautical knight up to Cork Airport to meet an incoming flight with the formidable Sheila Chichester on board. The plane pulled up on the apron outside the Terminal Building, and almost immediately a distinctive red trouser leg emerged from the opening door. Chichester whispered to Mary: “Oh dear. That’s the trouser suit we were knighted in at Greenwich. I think the fun is over for a day or two.”

Meanwhile, everyone else continued to have much sport and fun throughout the Cork summer of 1970, but in looking back at those magazines of the time, the abiding impression is of the greyness of it all, mainly because black and white photos were still totally dominant, but also there’s the primitive nature of the facilities.

The Royal Cork Yacht Club's clubhouse in 1970The Royal Cork YC’s clubhouse in 1970, with the long sloping jetty across the mud in the foreground. Photo: W M Nixon

The Royal Cork clubhouse was only a tiny hint of what it has become today, though I do rather miss the old bar – originally from the time of the Royal Munster YC – which was in the shape and spirit of the great aft cabin of a mighty ship from the Golden Age of sail, but it wasn’t remotely commodious enough for today’s level of business.

As to getting afloat, it had been by a long jetty across mud – incredibly adhesive mud, as revellers would learn from time to time - and then by dinghy or club launch to your moored yacht out in the Owenboy River. However, by the time of the special regattas of 1969 and 1970, a large floating pontoon had been assembled at the club, and there was limited -though for many boats tide-sensitive - rationed berthing there.

first partially tidal RCYC pontoon was in place for the Quarter Millennium in 1969-70The beginnings. This first partially tidal pontoon was in place for the Quarter Millennium in 1969-70, but it wasn’t until 1974 that the RCYC had the beginnings of its marina, yet it was the first club marina in Ireland. Photo W M Nixon

Yet it wasn’t until 1972 that Ireland saw the first salt-water marina, and that was a local council amenity at Coleraine on the estuary of the River Bann on the North Coast.

But then 1974 the Royal Cork installed the beginnings of its marina, a new-fangled and very popular Autumn league followed that same year as a consequence, and since then progress has been taking place on almost every coastline - despite what some still-deprived areas might think - and it is Cork Harbour which has been leading the way.

This has been fulfilling an historic tendency. After all, the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork came into being partially because the landowners around the harbour sometimes found the most convenient way to get about his complex area of water and into the city was by boat, and it didn’t take long for working boats used for personal transport to be developed into something more luxurious.

Then the age of steam brought a new wave of harbour transport, with routes criss-crossing the harbour, and steamer piers and landing stages being installed at strategic locations, with many of them – or the remains of them - still in evidence. Local railways did provide an alternative, and so too did roads and cars as both improved, but the steamers survived for a remarkably long time.

When John G Sisk, who recently featured here as the first owner of Sarnia, was a schoolboy in Cork during the upheavals and dangerous strife of the early 1920s, for his safety he lived in his parents’ house in Myrtleville, travelling home by the harbour steamer to Crosshaven each evening and then continuing by pony and trap the two miles to the house.

Being John G Sisk, he optimised this situation. He knew that he would spend some time on the early morning steamer going back up to Cork city next day, so he was able to spend his evenings roaming freely in boyish adventures in the fields and beaches of Myrtleville, knowing he’d a clear time-slot for his homework on the morning ship to school.

Cork Harbour Paddle Steamer in the Port of CorkCork Harbour Paddle Steamer in the Port of Cork. They gave convenient access to piers and landing stages strategically located all round the harbour

All round Cork Harbour you can see the remains of the old steamer call-points, and there are many other little local ancient harbours too, some so old their original uses are forgotten. For a while, indeed, it seemed that the great days of Cork Harbour as an amenity, every bit as much as it’s a commercial asset, had been forgotten too.

But that has changed in the past fifty years, and particularly the past twenty. The Port of Cork and the Council have been beavering away installing landing and berthing facilities at key locations through this myriad island-filled harbour, transforming it for mini-cruising, for although there are real beaches in some choice locations, elsewhere mud is still king, and getting neatly and cleanly ashore at a safe berth makes all the difference in visits to the islands and remote locations.

Cork Harbour 1970, when there were very few officially-recognised berthing and landing facilities. Cork Harbour 1970, when there were very few officially-recognized berthing and landing facilities

Cork Harbour 2020 landing and berthing facilitiesCork Harbour 2020 is very much work in progress, with most years seeing significant additions to landing and berthing facilities. 2020’s big breakthrough will be Cove Sailing Club’s new marina at Cobh which is currently being installed, thereby bringing the Harbour’s marina total up to six - or seven if you count the extensive berthing facilities available in Cork City itself, and eight if you add in the Naval Yacht Squadron’s berthing in Haulbowline. Imaging: Jack O’Keeffe

The two people who lead the movement in making the best possible use of everything that Cork Harbour now has to offer are Monkstown’s Jack O’Keeffe, who’s busy with Drascombes when he’s not busy with kayaks when he’s not on some project involving Meitheal Mara (with it sometimes being a combination of all three), and Eddie English of Cobh. Eddie’s webinar this week, providing a guide to every hidden corner of this fantastic history-laden harbour, was required viewing, an eye-opener for anyone whose knowledge of Cork Harbour is restricted to biennial participation in Cork Week.

Cork Harbour guru Jack O’Keeffe in his DrascombeThe Drascombe that gets to places the locals didn’t even know existed – Cork Harbour guru Jack O’Keeffe racing single-handed in the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Bicentenary Regatta in 2017. Photo: W M Nixon

Eddie English’s First 36.7 Holy Grounder at Blackrock Castle Eddie English’s First 36.7 Holy Grounder at Blackrock Castle in the upper harbour

Jack O’Keeffe put together the remarkable “Corkumnavigation” of Cork city by kayaks and paddleboards last weekend, a real adventure which took the participants from crowded city-centre quaysides with visiting naval vessels looming over them, right into what seemed like the deepest heart of the countryside with trees closing overhead above clean narrow and winding waterways, while at other times they were going through a cityscape which might have been Venice.

Cork City directly accessed from the sea by last weekend’s CorkumnavigationIt mightn’t quite be Venice, but who’d have thought this was an area of Cork City directly accessed from the sea by last weekend’s Corkumnavigation. Photo: Jack O’Keeffe

Cork Harbour which seem very distant indeed from the open seaThere are parts of Cork Harbour which seem very distant indeed from the open sea, and this is one of them, reached in Cork City during last weekend’s Corkumnavigation. Photo: Jack O’Keeffe

Next weekend, Jack is leading a Drascombe flotilla around the harbour, and he’s to give an illustrated talk on the Inner Harbour to Meitheal Mara shortly, so it was time to update available data. It’s thanks to him that we have the interim gazetteer of landing and berthing facilities around Cork Harbour, for it’s such a complex place with so many small local developments taking shape that it needs constant monitoring by people like Jack just to keep up.

No better man. On Wednesday evening, I was supposed to be phoning him at home to discuss how this was all coming together, the idea being that he’d be comfortably at his desk slurping a cup of tea or something stronger, and comfortably able to take the ideas forward. But while there was a semi-liquid noise when I got through, it was a squelching rather than a slurping, and he seemed slightly breathless.

The lost harbour of Carrickgremman on Little IslandDrascombes are the Heineken boats – they reach the places the others can’t. This is the “lost” harbour of Carrickgremman on Little Island. Photo: Jack O’Keeffe

“Don’t mind me” he said. “I’ve just heard about a tiny hidden Cork Harbour beach I didn’t even know about, and I just had to go and see for myself. I’m nearly there, and I think I can see a little patch of sand. If you don’t get some photos from me later tonight, you’ll know it was quicksand….”

The photos arrived. But what with Jack boldly going where no skipper had ever gone before, and the unquenchably enthusiastic Eddie English taking his First 36.7 Holy Grounder into places where most of us wouldn’t take a paddleboard, we’ve serious Cork Harbour information overload. So you’ll just have to go and see for yourselves, confident that if Lockdown continues in some limited form, there’s already an entire cruising universe within Cork Harbour without having to even think about going out to sea.

landing pontoon on Spike IslandA convenient facility to provide access to a fascinating place - the landing pontoon on Spike Island, with Cobh resplendent beyond. Photo: Jack O'Keeffe

And in all its glory, the place is another expression of the continuing spirit of the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork as expressed through the Royal Cork Yacht Club and all the other clubs around this unique area of sheltered scenic water. In this time of travail, we wish them well, and thank them profoundly for the fine example they’ve set for sailors everywhere.

Paddy’s Point along the causeway towards Haulbowline Calm morning in a busy harbour. The aerial view from above Paddy’s Point along the causeway towards Haulbowline with the Naval Base complete with Yacht Squadron marina, and Cobh beyond with a cruise liner in port. Photo: Port of Cork

Published in Cork Harbour

The postponed date of Friday, July 31st is being considered as a feasible time to think of starting the ISORA-organised 160-mile Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race, which was originally planned for July 9th to link this summer’s celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Dun Laoghaire’s National Yacht Club with the massive Tricentenary Celebrations of the Royal Cork Yacht Club.

The COVID-19 lock-down and its aftermath may have wiped out or changed much of 2020’s keenly-anticipated major fixtures, with the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race on 20th June from Wicklow postponed to August 22nd, while all the main Royal Cork regatta and championship events for July have been cancelled.

But now that the analyses of the disease and its treatment and progress are developing positively on a daily business, it has become a question of “when” rather than “if” on whether or not there can be a meaningful start of the 2020 sailing programme in the best of the summer months, while still adhering to nationwide health guidelines.

A port-to-port offshore race by its very nature involves much less shoreside infrastructure than a major regatta, and Dun Laoghaire’s Peter Ryan of the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association, a key player in its renewed vitality in recent years, reckons ISORA can thus play a leading role in getting sailing going again, as the Association operates flexibly, and may even offer the slight possibility of a couple of shorter races earlier in July.

2 peter ryan2In addition to his successful longtime involvement with ISORA, Peter Ryan was Commodore of the National Yacht Club when it won the Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year Award for 2011.

Talking to Sailing on Saturday late this week, while Peter Ryan emphasised that his thoughts were speculative and entirely his own, he reckoned that thinking in terms of starting what would have been ISORA’s big one in 2020, the historic re-sailing of the path-finding 1860 offshore race from Dublin Bay to Cork, could be on the cards by Friday, July 31st.

“It gives a modern connection to such an extraordinarily historic event that running it would cheer everyone up after a period in which we’ve lost so much in so many ways,” says Ryan. “And it would fit in neatly with getting the Irish Sea fleets to Cork to be conveniently on station for the beginning of the four-day Calves Week at Schull on Tuesday, August 4th.

“Then too, it would still leave plenty of time for those who wish to return to the Irish Sea for the Welsh IRC Championship at Pwllheli from August 14th to 16th August. And it would provide a very useful qualifying race for those who need to build up their sea time for the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race on August 22nd. So everything points to being ready to think in terms of the Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race on Friday, July 31st”.

mojito J109ISORA pre-start manoeuvres off Dun Laoghaire, with the successful Pwllheli-based J/109 Mojito (Peter Dunlop & Vicky Cox) in foreground. With a minimal requirement for shoreside infrastructure and organization, ISORA can be very flexible in modifying its programme. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien
This is encouraging stuff, with the reassuring sense of quiet but thoughtful leadership at a time when it’s most needed. That said, the simple basic nature of ISORA’s functioning enables it to be nimble in adapting to changing circumstances. Yet in highlighting the significance of the Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race, Ryan definitely is associating his organisation and its revival of the sailing programme with sailing events of exceptional historical significance.

It was June 23rd 1861 when a distinctive 95ft schooner with markedly raked masts slipped into Cork Harbour and came to anchor off Cobh. She’d the look of a vessel which had recently sailed many offshore miles, but her congenial ship’s company were sailing under the burgee of the Royal Victoria Yacht of Ryde on the Isle of Wight, and they flew a well-used British ensign. So despite the absence of a properly-maintained ship’s log, the officials of this naval port accepted the schooner’s bona fides of being on an easygoing family cruise from the Solent to southwest Ireland, and accorded them the privileges which this conferred in terms of the waiving of harbour dues, while the Cobh-based Royal Cork Yacht and Royal Western of Ireland Yacht Clubs both made them welcome.

At the time Cobh – or Queenstown as it then was – was very much the hub of Cork Harbour sailing. For although there was a nascent club across on the western shore at Monkstown, it was 1872 before it became the Royal Munster Yacht Club, while Crosshaven was a tiny fishing port, with one of the few yachts about the place being the Newenham family’s 25-ton cutter Mask, lying to her moorings upriver on the Owenabue River.

4 sirius arts centre4The Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh. Originally the 1854-completed Royal Cork YC clubhouse, it was here that the first Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race of 1860 finished, and where the crew of the mysterious schooner Camilla were made welcome on June 23rd 1861.

But Queenstown was buzzing, for in July 1860 the Royal Cork Yacht Club, under the enthusiastic guidance of its 80-year-old Admiral Thomas G French, had led the way in the inspiration for the first proper offshore race in British and Irish waters. The Royal St George Yacht Club in Dublin Bay had organized a week of regattas in early July, and after they’d concluded, no less than 16 boats – of very varied size and type – had accepted Admiral French’s challenge of racing the 160 miles to Cork, and it started on the 14th July.

5 kingstown queenstown5The Entry List for the second race of 1861 was very much an ad hoc affair, with RCYC Admiral Thomas French encouragingly visiting each boat pre-start in Kingstown, and confirming their entry and the fee paid on this list, believed to be written in his own hand. Image courtesy RCYC
6 entries 1860 race6Printed version of the entry list for the first race of 1860 as it appeared in H P F Donegan’s History of Yachting in the South of Ireland, published 1908. Sir John Arnott certainly hedged his bets – he had two entries, and one of them, Sibyl helmed by the amateur Capt. Henry O’Bryen, was the winner

Much of it was raced in rugged windward conditions, but light airs prevailed at the finish off the Cobh waterfront for a real knife-edge conclusion, with Sir John Arnott’s 39-ton cutter Sybil – designed and built on Cork Harbour by Joseph Wheeler of Lower Glanmire – winning line honours and the race by three minutes from J.W.Cannon’s 40-ton cutter Peri, with Cooper Penrose’s 90-ton schooner Kingfisher another two minutes astern of Peri.

Sybil was skippered by the amateur ace Captain Henry O’Bryen, who had reputedly relinquished the helm for a total of only one hour during the race, a triumph for Corinthianism before it had became profitable or popular, if we may mix metaphors for a moment.

7 race instructions7The hand-written Race Instructions for 1860 were also on a “make it up as you go along” basis. It reads: “Ocean Race. A flag boat will be moored off the harbour, and no yacht may pass between her and the Light House on the East Pier until 11 am, when a gun will be fired from “Urania” as the signal for starting. The yachts may lie where they please provided they do not pass between the Light House and flag boat before the gun fires”.

But Sybil’s owner Sir John Arnott (1814-1898) was something else, a real go-getting Scottish-born entrepreneur who’d arrived into Cork in 1837 aged 23 and launched himself into a sometimes rocky commercial career which at various stages involved heavy investment in department stores in Ireland and Scotland, horse racing both as an owner of thoroughbreds and of noted race courses, steamship companies, railways, and for a while the inevitable newspapers, in his case The Northern Whig in Belfast and The Irish Times in Dublin.

8 john arnott8Victorian entrepreneur Sir John Arnott, who had two yachts entered in the first Kingstown to Queenstown Race of 1860

Arnott was always a man in a hurry, so it’s possible that he thought the distinguished flag officers of the Royal Cork were a bit conservative in their management. Thus he was one of a bunch of shaker-uppers who set up a new club in Cobh, the Queenstown Yacht Club, which they cleverly up-graded by taking on the tattered-remains of the old Royal Western of Ireland YC, founded in 1828 in Kilrush by Maurice O’Connell and his nephew Daniel of Derrynane among others, but wandering more or less homeless after the horrors of the Great Famine of 1845-47 had wiped out fripperies like yachting on Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard.

After a vague period in Dublin, suddenly the old Royal Western emerged re-born in 1861 in Cobh with Sir John Arnott as Commodore, and for their first season under this new arrangement, they showed nimbleness of foot by organising - at very short notice - a regatta to provide a race for this strange schooner which had suddenly arrived in their midst.

For although the schooner had the name of Camilla across her shapely transom, the dogs in the street in Queenstown knew that this was the one and only America, the 1851-built New York flyer which, by convincingly winning a rather hastily-assembled race round the Isle of Wight on the final day of Cowes Week 1851, had won a silver cup worth one hundred pounds sterling for her New York Yacht Club syndicate of owners.

9 america wins9America wins, Friday, August 22nd 1851. Almost everything about her was different, including her notably flat-setting cotton sails, but she was soon being imitated
10 americas cup notice10The poster for Cowes Week 1851. The social pace was so hectic that they only had time for three races, and in the notice for Friday 22nd August, the inclusion of “yachts of the Clubs of all nations” was actually aimed at expected entries from the Imperial Yacht Club of St Petersburg in Russia. They failed to arrive, but in the meantime the schooner America had turned up, though she had to wait through the week until she could finally race on the Friday. From these only semi-planned beginnings, there emerged The America’s Cup.

In 1861 when the schooner was briefly in Cork, this rather unlovely cup – ewer is the technical name - was yet to become known as The America’s Cup, and there wasn’t to be a challenge to take it from the Americans until 1870. But ten years after her famous victory round the Isle of Wight, the myth and mystique of the schooner America was well established as part of world sailing lore, and the Young Turks in Cork sailing associated with John Arnott made the most of it, with this special schooner race quickly organised by the Royal Western of Ireland for June 28th, Camilla/America’s opposition being W D Seymour’s 85-ton La Traviata, W Wyse’s 140-ton Urania, and C H Smith’s “little” 66-ton Echo.

Camilla/America’s sails were tired and so were her crew, yet she still managed to take line honours in this slightly mysterious race. But it was by only one minute from the much-smaller La Traviata, which had been amateur-helmed by W D Seymour’s son to a clear handicap victory. After the finish, young Seymour was borne ashore shoulder-high by the cheering waterfront crowds to achieve a Cork Harbour sailing and sporting eminence to match that of Henry O’Bryen who – in a shrewd bit of window-dressing worthy of Arnott’s at their best - had been drafted in as Vice Commodore of the Royal Western of Ireland.

However, all these seemingly-rebellious Young Turks in the re-born RWIYC had retained their membership of the Royal Cork YC and would in time become part of its establishment lineup. But if they’d hoped to promote their “new” club by persuading the Camilla/America to take part in 1861’s staging of the Kingstown to Queenstown Race, they were disappointed, for as we shall see, the famous schooner had serious business elsewhere, and was soon gone.

11 royal st george yacht club11The Royal St George Yacht Club hosted the start of the first Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour race in 1860. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

As it is, the 1861 race was started in Dublin Bay on 19th July, and once again mustered 16 starters with the winner being Colonel Huey’s slippy 62-ton cutter Osprey, with designer-builder Joseph Wheeler’s own 48-tonner Avalanche having to make do with second despite having led into Cork Harbour in light airs, while E J Saunderson of Lough Erne YC was third with another even smaller and slippy craft, the 34-ton cutter Phasma.

Admiral French’s own 61-ton yawl Spell took part this time (see first name on written entry list above), but although he was to continue as RCYC Admiral until his death in 1866, he’d already been 77 when he took over as Admiral in 1857, and his enthusiastic promotion of the Kingstown-Queenstown race’s first staging in 1860 suggested an old man in a hurry to promote an idea which he’d been carrying for some time.

Certainly, at its third staging on July 11th 1862, there’s a clear impression that others had taken it over, as the host club on Dublin Bay has become the Royal Irish YC from their impressive 1851-completed clubhouse, while the trophy is an expensive bit of silver plate presented by the Royal Western YC.

12 royal irish yacht club12The Royal Irish Yacht Club hosted the start of the third and final Kingstown to Queenstown Race in 1862
For anyone seeking abstruse historical connections, it’s of interest that The Liberator, Daniel O’Connell of Derrynane (1775-1847) had been present at both the foundation of the Royal Western in Kilrush in 1828, and the meeting in Dublin on July 4th 1846 when the 1831-founded Royal Irish YC had been revived. Meanwhile, in 1862, the Kingstown-Queenstown Race once again attracted 16 starters (though there’s no note of any entry limit), and they ranged in size from three 35-ton cutters – Ariadne (G Higgins), Coolan (G Robinson) and Glance (A Duncan – to two 130-ton schooner, Galatea (T Broadwood) and Georgiana (Capt Smith Barry).

The clear winner was the 50-ton cutter Phosphorous owned by W Turner - who is doubtless immortalized in modern Cork by Turner’s Cross - while C J Tennant’s 90-ton cutter Clutha was second on the water, but Galatea won the schooners and was reckoned second on handicap.

They arrived into the finish at Cobh where the Royal Western of Ireland was now well-established as the second club with premises at Westbourne Place next the Queen’s Hotel, and a membership which by 1863 included the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Carlisle, as well as Sir Robert Peel, at that time Chief Secretary for Ireland. So heaven only knows what politicking was going on behind the scenes, for the Royal Cork, still with T G French as Admiral, had been well settled into its purpose-designed new clubhouse (now the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh) since 1854, and no-one doubted its claim of seniority in its descent from the Water Club of 1720.

As it happened, 1863 was probably the high point of the RWIYC’s time in Cobh, for the rest of the decade saw a period of economic decline, and the Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race wasn’t staged again. While the Royal Cork came through the thin times as it had come through many others, in 1870 the Royal Western of Ireland YC was quietly wound up at Cobh. But in the west of Ireland, and particularly with the Glynn family of Kilrush and The Knight of Glin across the Shannon Estuary, enough of its memorabilia, artefacts and records survived for it to be revived with the opening of Kilrush Marina, with the club’s greatest modern success being Ger O’Rourke’s overall victory with the Cookson 50 Chieftain in the RORC Rolex Fastnet Race 2007.

This may all seem to be something of an impenetrable maze of history, but it’s perfectly straightforward by comparison with the story of the schooner America, and how she came to be in Cork.

Everyone knows that she was hurriedly built early in 1851 in New York by Brown’s Shipyard, to the designs of the 31-year-old George Steers, for a swashbuckling syndicate of New York Yacht Club members led by John Cox Stevens. The project was to send a challenger across the Atlantic to race the English in Cowes Week at a time when the Great Exhibition in London was signalling the global achievements of the British Empire and its worldwide commercial success and dominance.

13 america profile13America as she was rigged when she won on August 22nd 1851. The boom on the jib broke during the race, which lost her about 15 minutes in repairs, but she was still well ahead at the finish.
14 round isle of wight14 The 57-mile course for August 22nd 1851 – the Isle of Wight was rounded clockwise

Not one of the top British racing yachts looked remotely like America, with her low rig and its raked masts, and her extremely hollow waterlines forward. But after she’d made her mark in a very distinctive fashion in just one race round the Isle of Wight on Friday, August 22nd 1851, several English racers were very expensively altered to take on board some of her ideas.

As for her American owners, they were gamblers to a man, so they collected their winnings, and celebrated mightily in New York, supported by their fellow-citizens to such an extent that grinchy Manhattan lawyer George Templeton Strong confided to his diary: “Newspapers crowing over the victory of Stevens’s yacht, which has beaten everything in the British seas. Quite creditable to Yankee shipbuilding, certainly, but not worth the intolerable, vainglorious vaporings that make every newspaper I take up now ridiculous. One would think yacht building were the end of man’s existence on earth”.

Quite so. Henry James would have been pleased with that. But as for America’s owners, they dropped ideas of sailing her home, and sold her in the Solent for 25,000 dollars to an Irish army officer of French Huguenot extraction, John de Blaquiere, who was soon to become the fourth Baron de Blaquiere of Ardkill in County Derry, where the family had thousands of acres acquired through their skills in tax gathering for the government, while the title came from supporting the Act of Union in 1801.

America 15An amazingly well-balanced hull, with a rudder more like a trim tab. In her original form, America was steered by a small tiller, and the fact that her rudder stock had a very small rake forward may have helped her lightness of helm

Despite these links, de Blaquiere never brought America to Ireland, but did some remarkable cruising to the Mediterranean, with the famous racing boat demonstrating her seagoing credentials by coming through a very severe storm off Malta in February 1852, while her legendary lightness of helm was eulogised by an experienced guest sailor: “Many yachtsmen will remember the almost mop-handle diminutiveness of her tiller, I steered her when going seven knots close-hauled and in some Bay of Naples swell, standing to leeward of the tiller and pressing against it with my little finger only”.

America’s hull was so sweetly balanced that her slim rudder was little more than a trim tab, but it was a trim tab made as effective as possible by being so vertical that the stock is almost inclined forward, unlike the unhealthy measurement-rule induced rudders of a later era, with their excessive and inefficient aft-raking of the stock.

Yet with all her virtues, as John Rousmaniere has commented in “The Low Black Schooner”, his brilliantly succinct account of this remarkable vessel, in the mid-1850s: “America was neglected because she had succeeded to the ambiguous status that is reserved for all trend-setters past their time.” However, in 1856 she was bought by yet another Irish peer from the north, this time Lord Templeton whose lands were in County Antrim, but he never brought America to Ireland either. In fact, he scarcely used her, though he did re-name her Camilla, and it was under this name that she was sold to ship-builder Henry Pitcher, who did extensive re-build work at his yard on the Thames.

16 america brailed16America’s rig underwent various forms in later life, and at one stage she had topmasts on both the main and fore masts, with the mainsail and the boomless foresail brailed up to their gaffs, the foresail’s gaff boom being left aloft. A retractable addition was also fitted to the bowsprit.

He then sold her in 1860 to a “mysterious character” called Henry Edward Decie, supposedly a 28-year-old former officer in the Royal Navy, where they’d been obliged to let him go, as they say in HR circles, because he’d been excessively zealous in chasing pirates on the coast of South America, and had knocked lumps out of a Brazilian warship by mistake.

Maybe so. At least that was his story, but we’re into murky waters here, and things were becoming even murkier in the USA with the Civil War looming. A dodgy character like Decie with a super-fast boat like Camilla ex-America - with her proven transatlantic capacity - was just what the Confederate States were looking for in assembling a fleet of fast blockade runners.

Henry Decie seems to have been Captain Cool, and he certainly loved sailing. Family cruising too. In August 1860, having won a race in a regatta at Plymouth, Camilla sailed away with Henry Decie and his wife or maybe she was his mistress and her six children and a crew of thirteen (nothing superstitious about our Henry), and after calling at several places including Lisbon and the Cape Verde Islands, on April 21st 1861 she fetched up on the other side of the Atlantic at Savannah, Georgia. There, the rebel Confederate Government had her bought within a month for 60,000 dollars on condition that Decie remained in charge, and undertook a voyage to Europe with a mission to purchase armaments and organize the building of warships.

So the former schooner America set off back to Europe still under the command of Henry Decie on the 25th May 1861 for her third Atlantic crossing, and on board with Decie and his shipmates were two Confederate Agents with Bills of Exchange to the tune of 600,000 dollars, plus Letters of Credit for much more. This was serious stuff. Yet on June 23rd it was as a light-hearted cruising vessel that she arrived into Cork Harbour, claiming the immunity and privileges conferred by her Royal Victoria Yacht Club burgee and British ensign, with Decie saying that he’d just strolled over from Cowes for a little competition.

17 savannah port17 The modern port of Savannah in Georgia, USA. The schooner Camilla ex-America departed Transatlantic from here on 25th May 1861, but when she arrived in Cork Harbour on June 23rd, her skipper Henry Decie claimed they’d just sailed over from Cowes.

That was duly arranged in jig time by the Royal Western Yacht Club of Ireland in Cobh. We can only guess as to who really knew what was going on. The two Confederate agents soon disappeared into the bustle ashore and onward on their mission, and Henry Decie and the Cork Harbour schooners went yachting, but then he had to depart again within a day or to rendezvous with the agents.

In time, Camilla reverted to being America, and she finished the Civil War serving on the Union side. In various ownerships and eventually, in the charge of the US Navy, she survived until 1945. But the 100,000 dollars which President Franklin D Roosevelt had allocated for the maintenance of the old girl never reached her in the hectic end-of-war period, and in 1945 the roof of the shed she was housed in collapsed under a freak fall of snow, and that was the end of the wonderboat of 1851 which had briefly been a sensation when she sailed into Cork Harbour in 1861.

Published in Dublin Bay
Page 1 of 42

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