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What was it with last weekend's weather? As the pandemic restrictions against activity afloat are ever-so-gradually eased, not only was there some sort of sailing going on almost everywhere, but the mood was that of late August. Yet it was the weekend nearest the Autumn Equinox, the very essence of September, when by tradition we should have been battling nasty gales coming out of decaying tropical storms. But instead, we were revelling in sunshine and balmy breezes while remarking that such clouds as were about – mostly soft and fluffy on the east coast – reminded us of a gentler Paul Henry skyscape.

But of course, the special radiant nature of the sunshine was totally seasonal, as has been noted in every year of the forty-seven that have elapsed since Autumn Leagues began with the opening of the first stage of the Royal Cork Marina in 1974, augmented by the arrival of the Laser Class and its regular autumn-winter programmes at a growing number of sailing centres. Thus last weekend in terms of time precision was pure late September, even if – in terms of attitude - we thought it was August and seemed to have lost an entire month somewhere along the way.

The cotton-wool clouds of a sunny morning on Dublin Bay as the fleet runs eastwards for the KishThe cotton-wool clouds of a sunny morning on Dublin Bay as the fleet runs eastwards for the Kish

But then quite substantial parts of August deserved to be lost, notwithstanding those folk who claimed to have been in remote parts of the country where they had nothing but blazing sunshine and drought conditions for six days in a row.

Maybe so. But the way that boats and crews leapt to life as it began to become evident that the weather last weekend was going to be better than expected was such that it was worthy of notice, and it certainly brought the DMYC's Kish Race centre stage in sailing people's perceptions of Dublin Bay.

Heaven knows but we've been suggesting for long enough that the Kish Race should have the same position in the Dublin Bay sailing fixtures hierarchy as the Cobh-Blackrock has in Cork, and the Lambay Race holds north of Howth Head. But the fact that the Kish Race has had to be held in late September because the Dublin Bay programme at season's height is already well filled with events going back at least a hundred years means that the Kish Race has acquired the image of being distinctly Autumnal, unlike last Sunday's iteration, which was pure joy with a healthy fleet of 41 boats.

Queen of the Bay – Kish Race winner Kaya of Greystones. Photo: Afloat.ieQueen of the Bay – Kish Race winner Kaya of Greystones. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

And the fact that it was won by the Queen of Greystones, Frank Whelan's J/122 Kaya sailed by Patrick Barnwell, gives it all an added significance. For until the new harbour and marina was built at the North Wicklow port, Greystones had a unique and visible link with the project to replace the Kish Lightvessel with a vast fixed lighthouse embedded in the Kish Bank.

It was all done on a foundation structure of an enormous reinforced concrete cylinder which was constructed in the Coal Harbour in Dun Laoghaire and then towed the eight miles out to the lighthouse site on a calm day. Except that it wasn't quite calm enough at the first attempt, some cracks appeared in the big concrete floating wheel, and the Irish Lights engineers demanded a replacement.

Few things go to waste in Ireland, and some bright sparks in Greystones reckoned that the rejected first base for the Kish LH would provide an excellent end-piece to lengthen their tiny pier. It did the job very well, and for years no visit to Greystones was complete without a walk to the end of the pier "to stand on the Kish Lighthouse….".

The old harbour at Greystones – the circular end to the main pier was salvaged from the failed first attempt at pre-fabricating the Kish Lighthouse.The old harbour at Greystones – the circular end to the main pier was salvaged from the failed first attempt at pre-fabricating the Kish Lighthouse.

And though at first glance the new harbour has changed the waterfront almost out of all recognition, it looks perfectly possible that some of the Kish LV Mark I is still in there somewhere, which means that every time Kaya and her marina neighbours put out to sea, they're going close past the Kish…….

All of which has taken us some way from the sheer delight of contemplating last weekend's experience of healthy Atlantic weather working its way gently across Ireland. We like to think that this is our standard weather, but in recent years there seem to have been increased though very different inputs from Siberia or Sahara, and if they're otherwise occupied the Arctic isn't above chucking some unpleasantness towards our green island, which is really at its emerald best when the wind is in the west.

RS Aeros off Dun Laoghaire on Sunday, revelling in the best kind of Irish weather. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'BrienRS Aeros off Dun Laoghaire on Sunday, revelling in the best kind of Irish weather. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

There's no need to enumerate the horrors of the Beast from the East when the weather's coming from Siberia except to point out that Arctic air is cleaner. But when we've had a prolonged soporific airflow from the Sahara, you find all sort of peculiar little bugs around the house and garden which make you wonder if it's safe to breathe, and it may well be that only safe place to be is out on a sailing boat.

We'll dream of sailing like this all winter – SB20s showing the colours on Lough ReeWe'll dream of sailing like this all winter – SB20s showing the colours on Lough Ree

Thus it's time and more simply to celebrate sailing, and we do so with photos from Edel Kellegher, Joanne Leavy and Gilly Goodbody. Last weekend effortlessly produced sun-filled sailing images which it would take forever to set up if you were trying to organise it according to a fixed schedule. It's something which Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra have been trying to arrange in order to do justice to their superbly-restored Dublin 21s Naneen, Garavogue and Estelle, but to get it right you need at least eleven factors to come into alignment, so at this stage it's just the happy coincidence of Gilly Gooodbody being in the right place at the right time aboard her family's J/109 White Mischief in the Royal Irish YC end-of-season Pursuit Race which produced the first images which do justice to the challenge of the showing the DB 21s looking their best in their home waters.

The restored DB21 Naneen of 1905, the only boat of the class actually built in Dun Laoghaire, is flying the house flag of her first owner, Cosby Burrows (1856-1925) of County Cavan. Photo: Gilly GoodbodyThe restored DB21 Naneen of 1905, the only boat of the class actually built in Dun Laoghaire, is flying the house flag of her first owner, Cosby Burrows (1856-1925) of County Cavan. Photo: Gilly Goodbody

Dublin Bay twilight racing at its sweetest for the restored DB21 Garavogue. Photo: Gilly GoodbodyDublin Bay twilight racing at its sweetest for the restored DB21 Garavogue. Photo: Gilly Goodbody

All of which makes you realise what a genius was sailing photographer Frank Beken of Cowes. His famous 1911 photo of the big Fife schooner Suzanne is now so iconic it has more or less entered the public domain as it's the ultimate essence of Beken. The photo was ordered and Frank Beken looked at the weather, arranged the day, and the skipper and large professional crew sailed Suzanne away down the west Solent to Lymington to get all the sails up and drawing as they ran back at ever-increasing speed.

In those generally pre-radio days, it was up to Beken to be in station off Egypt Point at Cowes at the right time in his launch – Suzanne's target - ready with his huge glass plate camera in which the shutter was activated by a bulb in his mouth in order that both hands could hold the camera steady. There was only one nano-second in which everything was perfect, and he captured it. Afterwards, his most memorable comment was that as Suzanne was rolling slightly, he and his launch driver had to duck to avoid being carried off by the main boom as she swept past………

Is this the ultimate sailing portrait? The Fife schooner Suzanne in 1911 with all eight sails filled to perfection. Photo through Pinterest courtesy Beken of CowesIs this the ultimate sailing portrait? The Fife schooner Suzanne in 1911 with all eight sails filled to perfection. Photo through Pinterest courtesy Beken of Cowes

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You might say it's unnatural. Normally at this time of year, we'll be talking of the evenings and the season closing in together to facilitate a gently easing pace. But last weekend in Cork, they seemed to have so many things going on at once it was sometimes difficult to tell where one began and another ended. Meanwhile, in Dublin, it was equally hectic with the ICRA Nats building to a climax at Dun Laoghaire with the National YC, while across Dublin Bay on the Howth peninsula, it was a flurry of activity at both Howth and Sutton.

Yet this weekend, if anything the Dublin events lineup is even more tightly packed. This morning the ISORA Pwllheli-Dun Laoghaire Race gets underway to reinforce the sense of gradually returning normality, even though the pandemic limitations have meant it's only the second cross-channel race of the 2021 season.

On the Howth peninsula meanwhile, today and tomorrow see the Sutton Dinghy Club GP14 Autumn Open and Youth Championship, while across the hill (newly inhabited by Old Irish Goats from Mayo) at Howth Harbour, the first race of the annual six weekends Beshoff Motors Autumn League comes into action, with the entry of 90-plus showing an encouraging increase of interest from other clubs along the Fingal coast as far north as Skerries.

The almost nonexistent entry input from the south side of Dublin Bay reflects the fact that the line of the Liffey and the Dublin Port shipping lane bisecting the bay constitute the Great Divide. The only southside entrant is Flor O'Driscoll's J/24 Hard on Port, and as a Corkman originally (Cobh to be precise), the great Flor would probably be indignant at being described as a Southsider, as he competes under the Bray Sailing Club colours, which puts him into an entirely different ethnic group.

Veteran skipper Flor O'Driscoll's vintage J/24 Hard on Port (Bray Sailing Club) is returning to Howth today for the first race of the six weekend Beshoff Motors Autumn League. Photo: AfloatVeteran skipper Flor O'Driscoll's vintage J/24 Hard on Port (Bray Sailing Club) is returning to Howth today for the first race of the six weekend Beshoff Motors Autumn League. Photo: Afloat.ie

You'd think today's action was enough for Howth, but tomorrow they've both their annual Junior Regatta and the visit by the three newly-restored Dublin Bay 21s which have been busy this week, as they raced on Thursday evening in the NYC's traditional end-of-season with Hal Sisk at the helm of Estelle winning, and last night they were manifesting their presence at the Royal Irish YC's 190th Anniversary Pursuit Race.

All this is going on while in both the Royal Cork YC in Crosshaven and HYC in Howth, the thoughts of those who think beyond the local horizon are with their teams in the New York Yacht Club Invitational Inter-Club Event being raced from this morning at Newport, Rhode Island in the red-hot Mark Mills-designed Melges ILC 37s, which constitutes a mighty challenge in themselves for newcomers to the event.

This hot ticket is not for the faint-hearted. The NYCC Invitational raced in Mark Mills-designed ILC 37s is notoriously competitive. In this photo, Royal Cork helmed by Anthony O'Leary is sail number 3, in prime positionThis hot ticket is not for the faint-hearted. The NYCC Invitational raced in Mark Mills-designed ILC 37s is notoriously competitive. In this photo, Royal Cork helmed by Anthony O'Leary is sail number 3, in prime position

For the Royal Cork team, with an impressive lineup of O'Learys, this is the seventh stab at the challenge. And in last year's first staging in the ILC 37s, they got the Bronze against 20 other clubs, so they start this morning as one of the favourites. But for the Howth squad led by Darren Wright, as they start for the first time in this decidedly stratospheric event, it already seems quite an achievement to have got there and passed all the tests, including a rigorous crew weigh-in.

With so much going on it takes an effort to think back even five days to the final overall results for the ICRA Nats, but as ever they provide something of a statistician and trend analyst's dream, for as one critical observer of the developing Irish sailing scene has trenchantly observed: NO CLASS WAS WON BY A BOAT STILL IN PRODUCTION.

Equally relevant is the other inescapable conclusion: ONLY TWO CLASSES WERE WON BY A BOAT REGISTERED AS SAILING FROM ONE OF IRELAND'S SIX FRONT LINE CLUBS.

And all for the honour of Rush Sailing Club…..Keeping a vintage J/109 in race-winning trim is not something to be undertaken lightly. Towards the end of Autumn each year, the Kelly's family's J/109 Storm disappears into their big shed in Lusk in the heart of Fingal. She reappears each Spring, immaculate after much family, crew and community effort. Photo: Afloat.ieAnd all for the honour of Rush Sailing Club…..Keeping a vintage J/109 in race-winning trim is not something to be undertaken lightly. Towards the end of Autumn each year, the Kelly's family's J/109 Storm disappears into their big shed in Lusk in the heart of Fingal. She reappears each Spring, immaculate after much family, crew and community effort. Photo: Afloat.ie

The habit of continually up-dating an older boat to keep her competitive under IRC is a quintessentially Irish thing, and our long history of sailing means that our concept of "old" in boats is different from the rest of the world. And the fact that we're discovering that quality fibreglass construction seems to have an almost unlimited lifespan only adds to the possibilities for successful ageing in the Irish fleet.

But against that, a significant cohort of Irish sailors have an increasing appreciation of innovation in boat design and equipment. And the reality that maintenance, and major boat up-grade project costs, are rocketing at our limited waterfront boat service facilities means that simply renewing one's boat every three years is an increasingly attractive proposition, particularly among those working in the huge IT and Research complexes in Dublin and Cork where continuous up-dating is as natural as breathing.

The trouble is that the manufacturers who rely on this increasing trend in favour of planned obsolescence don't always get it right. Years ago, the J/35 must have been seen eventually as a complete pain in the neck by the directors of J Boats, as the damned thing just kept on winning despite the alternative attraction of new temptations which the company kept bringing to the marketplace.

Lets hear it for Wexford! The Quarter Tonner Snoopy brought the ICRA Class 3 Honours home to Courtown Sailing Club. Photo: AfloatLets hear it for Wexford! The Quarter Tonner Snoopy brought the ICRA Class 3 Honours home to Courtown Sailing Club. Photo: Afloat.ie

Over at Beneteau, they must have come to think of the endlessly successful First 40.7 as a millstone around their neck in trying to progress the company. But meanwhile back in the world of J/Boats, I'll never forget seeing the Tyrrell family of Arklow's very new J/109 Aquelina emerge at the head of the fleet in the Lambay Race of 2004, and thinking that there would be a boat of ideal size, type and provenance to become a hugely successful new One Design cruiser-racer class for Dublin Bay and its immediate area.

It took some years for it to happen, but then the class took off in Dublin Bay, and in a week's time, the Royal Irish YC will be hosting the annual J/109 Championship to give us a take on the class's health in the post-pandemic circumstances. However, the ICRA Championship meanwhile was much as expected, with the Kelly family's J/109 Storm winning the 24-strong Class 1 (biggest in the fleet) from sister-ship White Mischief (Goodbody family).

It was a totally typical regatta outcome in many ways, as Storm now clearly sails as a Rush SC boat, reflecting the growing muscle power in the sailing world of clubs on the Fingal coast, while White Mischief is "old establishment" with the RIYC.

The overall list of topliners under IRC says it more clearly:

ICRA Nats 2021

  • Class 0 (and overall champion) Kaya (J/122, Frank Whelan, Greystones SC)
  • Class 1 Storm (J/109, Kelly family, Rush SC)
  • Class 2 Checkmate XVIII (Classic Half Tonner, Nigel Biggs, Howth YC)
  • Class 3 Snoopy (Classic Quarter Tonner, Joanne Hall & Martin Mahon, Courtown Harbour SC).
  • Class 4 (non-spinnaker) Gung-Ho (Super Seal F/K, Grainne & Sean O'Shea, RIYC).

With seventeen clubs in all represented in the ICRA Nats fleet, the assumed overall success of the Big Six clubs was inevitably going to provide added motivation for those who were enabling their own small home or childhood clubs to punch above their weight. It can only be healthy for little clubs to be putting one over on the biggies from time to time, and it certainly happens on the south coast with Baltimore SC sometimes functioning as an "alternative" Royal Cork YC, while it was quite a thing at the ICRA event, as another conspicuous contender was Shaun Douglas's First 40.7 Game Changer from Belfast Lough, which lists Cockle Island Boat Club as the home base.

Shaun Douglas's First 40.7 Game Changer is clearly home-ported at CIBC – where's that? Photo: Afloat.ieShaun Douglas's First 40.7 Game Changer is clearly home-ported at CIBC – where's that? Photo: Afloat.ie

Cockle Island is the rocky islet protecting the shoal natural harbour at Groomsport on the south shore of Belfast Lough, and the reality is that Game Changer can only get within convenient distance of the clubhouse (it's an attractive conversion of the old Lifeboat House) at high water. But it was CIBC's encouragement of the youthful Shaun Douglas which set him on his successful sailing path, and this is remembered every time Game Changer goes racing.

Groomsport on the south shore of Belfast Lough is home to Cockle Island Boat Club. Cockle Island is the rocky islet sheltering the harbour, but as it is shoal, CIBC's best-known boat Game Changer can only visit at High WaterGroomsport on the south shore of Belfast Lough is home to Cockle Island Boat Club. Cockle Island is the rocky islet sheltering the harbour, but as it is shoal, CIBC's best-known boat Game Changer can only visit at High Water

Yet typically of the Irish fleet, the First 40.7 Game Changer is of a notably successful marque (nearly 700 built) of which the last one was produced more than five years ago, while that other favourite the J/109 has also been taken out of production. Certainly, they can now offer a very attractive proposition for anyone game to take on an end-of-season bargain with all its maintenance challenges, but as our world resumes its fast-moving mode, there's an increasing line of thought whose proponents reckon that everyday working life already provides enough in the way of hassle, and when they go sailing they want to do so in a new and immediately competitive boat which represented the latest design thinking and comes adorned with warranties which immediately make any concerns somebody else's problem.

Of course, they cost an immediate fortune. But suddenly the money seems to be there, and when you've a useful boat available to a design created by a genius of global repute who happens to have his design studio in a remote and beautiful valley in the Wicklow Hills, what's not to like?

Thus although there's still quite a bit of sailing to be done before 2021 is finally out of the way, the advent of a new Irish class of Mark Mills-designed Cape 31s in 2022 is already top of the agenda.

The Cape 31 can get a move on when given the chance. Photo: Rick TomlinsonThe Cape 31 can get a move on when given the chance. Photo: Rick Tomlinson

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Let's hear it for coloured sails. On a grey day on a grey bay, every last spinnaker or asymmetric or gennaker or whatever with a splash of colour was more than welcome yesterday morning (Friday) to help bring the grimly monochrome scene to life as a raw easterly – From Russia With Malice as you might well say – livened up the seas off Dun Laoghaire to help the Irish Cruiser Racing Association get its 2021 Championship underway on Dublin Bay.

The hosts at the National Yacht Club, with Paul Barrington as Race Director, had pulled out all the stops, and a goodly fleet of around 80 boats has gathered for battle. In normal times this would be regarded as a distinctly so-so turnout. But these are not normal times. Thus it's a very good entry in a stop-go period of mixed pandemic responses, for there are those who have decided to sit it out completely until a very clear all-clear is sounded. However, other more gung-ho types have been reckoning for some time now that it's all systems go, even if they have to keep themselves reined in when ashore.

And though we've only the first day's racing of a three-day programme to go on, on the basis of home club location we've a useful and varied spread of sailing centres large and small getting their name up in lights, though a quick scan of the Class 2 outcome suggests that the Howth sailors' occasional habit of racing around some unusual natural marks does no harm at all in training for orthodox turning points in Dublin Bay.

With weather marks like this at home, Howth boats find orthodox race marks in Dublin Bay a straightforward proposition. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyWith weather marks like this at home, Howth boats find orthodox race marks in Dublin Bay a straightforward proposition. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

Either way, 2021 has seen great sport on the water in contrast to a sense of restriction on already limited socialising the minute you step off the boat. This is constraining for everyone, for as we've suggested before, sailors are so weird that their's is the only sport in which the participants administer performance-enhancing drugs after the event.

It means that when leaving the boat, you may be well aware that you've had an indifferent race. But even a couple of socially distant pints ashore is enough to modify the recollections to having been placed in the top half of the fleet.

In theory, there should be no greater difference in mood than that between the pre-racing and the après-sailing, but it has to be said that in offshore racing in particular, the fact that its participants are a minority within a minority sport used to mean that they simply had to celebrate meeting each other before the event, regardless of the detrimental effect it may have on their performance when the big race began next day.

Even the great ocean-racing pioneer Captain John Illingworth was prone to this, and during the RORC Channel Race of 1947 - his first major race with the new and hugely innovative 40ft Myth of Malham – he was pleased to observe that the Myth was out-performing everything once they'd started turning to windward in a Force 5 to 6, "even though my head was regularly in a bucket, as I'd over-indulged at the pre-race dinner the night before".

John Illingworth's innovative Myth of Malham was the super-star boat of 1947, '48 and '49.John Illingworth's innovative Myth of Malham was the super-star boat of 1947, '48 and '49.

You didn't need to go to the English Channel to witness this sort of thing. The great Leslie Kertesz of the National YC, who introduced the ultimate Dehler DBS Lightning to ISORA racing back in the 1970s, had started his competitive life afloat with the austerely dedicated rowing clubs on the Danube in Budapest, and he found the Irish Sea's pre-race approach of those convivial days distinctly odd.

Before there was a marina at Pwllheli, the season concluded with the Abersoch-Rockabill-Howth Race, and the first time Lightning's skipper witnessed the pre-race Bacchanalia in the notably hospitable South Caernarvon Yacht Club in Abersoch the night before what everyone knew was going to be a heavy weather race, he was briefly rendered speechless, and then gasped out:

"My God" said he, "and these people like to think of themselves as athletes…."

Stretching the season – sunset sailing for one of the Howth J/80s on Wednesday. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyStretching the season – sunset sailing for one of the Howth J/80s on Wednesday. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

Of course, it's all changed now, nutritionists rule is total, and there are those who modify their diet in all sorts of beneficial ways as the race approaches. For even if you've found a cure for seasickness or aren't prone to it in the first place, anything that improves the chances of being in top condition at sea is very welcome.

Time was when the greatest hazard of all was what amounted to an unofficial competition between owner-skippers as to who could host the best dinner in Cowes the night before the Fastnet Race. This usually had the makings of a perilous experience, so there were those of us who'd find an excuse to skive off to the outskirts of Cowes, where we knew of an unpretentious little café with good home cooking and the chance of a light but nourishing booze-free meal to set us up for the morning's inevitable wind-over-tide slog westward.

The memories of all that came back in full colour this week when our Offshore Sailors of the Month for August – the entire ship's company of the mighty successful Fastnet veteran Desert Star of Irish Offshore Sailing – sent along some more photos of as nearly perfect a sailing experience as anyone is ever likely to have. For if a boat of Desert Star's age and style, and crewed moreover by trainees, had done any better in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2021, there'd have been rioting in the streets of Cherbourg by those who have spent squillions in trying to achieve a comparable performance.

The Last Supper…..the crew of Desert Star having a restrained and sensible meal in Cowes the night before the Fastnet Race – skipper Ronan O Siochru on right.The Last Supper…..the crew of Desert Star having a restrained and sensible meal in Cowes the night before the Fastnet Race – skipper Ronan O Siochru on right.

The fact is the Desert Star did everything right from beginning to end. And with skipper Ronan O Siochru's Fastnet experience now covering four good races, the show was properly on the road the night before, when he and his team had somehow arranged a quiet meal together – The Last Supper as they call it – in what must have been one of the few peaceful corners of Cowes, and you don't need to be hawk-eyed to note that every glass is filled with water, but there's not a bottle of wine to be seen.

It's now all filed away under Special Memories. But meanwhile, with continued restriction-lifting promised in the weeks and months ahead, there are several significant late-season fixtures in prospect. And it has to be said that when the ICRA Nats were announced as the first weekend of September, it brought a soothing vision of balmy Indian Summer weather, and sailing on a sea which will continue to get warmer until mid-September.

Twilight sailing as we dream of it – the Gore-Grimes family's successful Dux arriving at the weather mark on Wednesday evening. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyTwilight sailing as we dream of it – the Gore-Grimes family's successful Dux arriving at the weather mark on Wednesday evening. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

But whatever we're experiencing today, nobody would talk of Indian Summer weather, so they'll be relying on the heat of competition to keep the temperature at tolerable levels for late-season fixtures and Autumn Leagues.

Another item which comes up the agenda at a time like this is Twilight Sailing, an evocative name whose promise is seldom fulfilled unless you're based in a place where daytime temperatures are such that Hoagy Carmichael's "cool, cool, cool of the evening" is the local anthem. We should be so lucky. This persistent easterly which has plagued us in recent days with its thin but seemingly impenetrable skein of cloud cover gets plain cold at night.

 Mind the gap…..Paddy Kyne's Maximus negotiating the turn at Gannet City off Howth. When the tide is ebbing southward, there's a helpful north-going eddy to the south of The Stack, close in under the cliffs if you can manage to carry the wind. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyMind the gap…..Paddy Kyne's Maximus negotiating the turn at Gannet City off Howth. When the tide is ebbing southward, there's a helpful north-going eddy to the south of The Stack, close in under the cliffs if you can manage to carry the wind. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

Now and again it breaks enough for a final glimpse of the sun just before it sets, and in the evening races at Howth this week, Anraoi Blaney was on hand to capture some brief golden moments and also to wonder anew at the fact that, effectively within city limits, boats are racing close under rugged stack rocks which are home to one of the most vibrant gannet colonies in the world.

Those gannets are what they'd called "runners" in Howth. The first breeding pair settled on The Stack off the northeast corner of Ireland's Eye as recently as 1989. Now they're everywhere. That first pair have a lot to answer for.

Golden sunset, Silver Shamrock. Conor Fogerty's 1976 Half Ton World Champion is bathed by the elusive orb on Wednesday evening. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyGolden sunset, Silver Shamrock. Conor Fogerty's 1976 Half Ton World Champion is bathed by the elusive orb on Wednesday evening. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

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The National YC's Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race of Wednesday, June 9th – just two days after such things became permissible on June 7th - may have been hailed here as "a spectacular pillar event to launch the 2021 Irish sailing season out of the pandemic penumbra". But the truth is that the season currently getting under way is more like a gentle tide flooding into a winding and shallow creek, rather than a sudden eruption of activity across a wide front.

As with the new tide, if you watch closely and persistently for things happening, you'll see little change. But if your focus switches elsewhere for a while, then look back again and you'll find real signs of things starting to happen, of development taking place and sailing centres coming more vibrantly to life with events which are in themselves a testing of the waters.

This sense of testing of the waters reflects a commendable maturity in the sailing community. Our sport manifests itself in so many ways afloat and ashore that it is simply impossible to devise rules about distancing and so forth which comply precisely with each and every requirement. Thus as each event takes shape, a substantial input of common sense is required to ensure that it optimizes the sport while minimising any infection hazard.

When the going gets tough….overall winner Nieulargo (Denis Murphy RCYC, left) and Pete Smyth's Sun Fast 3600 Searcher (NYC) getting their teeth into the early stages of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race. Photo: Michael ChesterWhen the going gets tough….overall winner Nieulargo (Denis Murphy RCYC, left) and Pete Smyth's Sun Fast 3600 Searcher (NYC) getting their teeth into the early stages of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race. Photo: Michael Chester

Of course we can claim that the hazard is decreasing on a daily basis. But no sooner is this assumed that some new twist arises, and having shared the battle for so long, it would be at odds with the remarkable overall cohesiveness of Irish society to flaunt the rules with blatant disregard, even if some very small sections seem to take a pleasure in doing so.

Thus although the D2D was indeed a spectacular event, it only impinged on landward life at the carefully regulated start and finish. For the rest of the time it was taking place in the very model of a healthy environment, sometimes with more fresh air than even the very keenest were looking for.

For those who don’t feel they have to spend nights at sea in order to get their necessary dose of fresh maritime air, mid-June also brought the Dragon South Coast Championship at Glandore for a cracking fleet of 19 boats, with Cameron Good of Kinsale and Neil Hegarty of Dun Laoghaire’s Royal St George YC on a tie break after six races, the break going in favour of the Kinsale skipper who saw his clubmate James Matthews taking third overall.

Meanwhile, in the upper reaches of Strangford Lough, Newtownards SC hosted the GP 14 Ulster Championship with Ger Owens of Royal St George, crewed by northern sailor Melanie Morris, winning overall, with second going to Ross and Jane Kearney while Shane McCarthy of Greystones was third, with the Silver Fleet topped by James Hockley while the Bronze went to Michael Brines.

Today (Saturday) sees the conclusion of the four day O'Leary Insurances Sovereigns Cup at Kinsale, and while inevitably there has been a shoreside element morning and evening, it has been happening with a manageable fleet – as ICRA Commodore Richard Colwell approvingly put it after considering the close Class 1 results: "It's great to be back in Kinsale, and there's a quiet buzz about the place - as it should be with the restrictions and the smaller numbers."

Jump Juice (Conor Phelan) and Freya (Conor Doyle) make a neat call on the start in Day 2 of the Sovereign's Cup at Kinsale. Photo: Robert BatemanJump Juice (Conor Phelan) and Freya (Conor Doyle) make a neat call on the start in Day 2 of the Sovereign's Cup at Kinsale. Photo: Robert Bateman

This weekend sees the pace continue its incremental increase, with locally emphasized events on all coasts. Across in Connacht, the new popularity of the very ancient Cong to Galway Race down Lough Corrib hopes to see the recent day's better weather of the west continuing. And although defending champion Yannick Lemonnier was reported yesterday as being safe in Lampaul, that extraordinary bay on the west coast of Ouessant, with the mast of his MiniTransat boat down around his ears, it wouldn't surprise us at all if he somehow still turned up for the start, but in his absence his able young son and regular crew Sean might be making alternative arrangements under the radar.

EAST COAST SAILING

Currently, it's largely a question of keeping things local, and there's nothing more utterly local than the Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club's annual At Home on the north shores of Dublin Bay. It's an event that goes back most of the way to the club's founding in 1875, but last year's on-off lockdowns affected Clontarf more than any other club.

This is because their substantial and growing cruiser-racer fleet is entirely dependent on drying moorings in the Tolka Estuary, just across the main shore road from the club. Thus any activity afloat involves much communal to-ing and fro-ing in a decidedly busy neighbourhood. So CY & BC had to take it on the chin, and their cruisers stayed ashore for the entire season last year, even if a spot of dinghy sailing was possible in times of eased restriction.

Sean Langan, Commodore of Clontarf Y & BC, led his cruiser fleet afloat this year at the earliest permitted opportunity. In 2020's lockdown, the Clontarf fleet – all of which lie to drying moorings – had to stay ashore out of commission. Photo: Courtesy CY&BC)   Sean Langan, Commodore of Clontarf Y & BC, led his cruiser fleet afloat this year at the earliest permitted opportunity. In 2020's lockdown, the Clontarf fleet – all of which lie to drying moorings – had to stay ashore out of commission. Photo: Courtesy CY&BC)  

However, this year, as soon as the official signs were favourable, Commodore Sean Langan and his members heaved their fleet afloat in a choreographed operation involving two cranes, and today (Saturday, June 26th) is the Clontarf At Home, with the IDRA 14 dinghies launching into their 75th Anniversary Year, while the Howth 17s race round the Baily from their home port in a precisely-timed race to optimise the day's high water and provide good racing for an ancient class which is pushing towards having twenty boats in full commission.

The 1898-founded Howth 17s – seen here in the Lambay Race on June 12th - are gradually pushing towards their full number of 20 boats for the 2021 season. Photo: Patricia NixonThe 1898-founded Howth 17s – seen here in the Lambay Race on June 12th - are gradually pushing towards their full number of 20 boats for the 2021 season. Photo: Patricia Nixon

LOCAL SAILING CLASSES

In all, it's a celebration of local sailing in local classes, and time was when the Glens from Dun Laoghaire used to come across the bay to Clontarf as well. Who knows, it may happen again, as the 1947-vintage 25ft Mylne-designed Glens are having a revival with some boats undergoing very extensive restorations, a topic to which we'll return in the near future.

Meanwhile, one of the restored boats, Ailbe Millerick's Glenluce, made her re-vitalised debut last Saturday in some style to take a win. Admittedly it was with the formidable imported talent of John Duggan on the helm while the owner sweated away at working the pit, making the mistake of doing it so efficiently that it could well become a regular position……..

The newly-restored 25ft Glen OD Glenluce (Ailbe Millerick) on her way to winning her first race of 2021 last Saturday in Dublin BayThe newly-restored 25ft Glen OD Glenluce (Ailbe Millerick) on her way to winning her first race of 2021 last Saturday in Dublin Bay

Of course, when it comes to 2021's sailing revival, the sheer weight of numbers in the greater Dublin region means that significant fleets can quickly be assembled, and there could well be thirty boats gathering in Dublin's River Liffey today for the final meet of the Cruising Association of Ireland's pop-up East Coast rally, which has ranged between Skerries and Arklow.

The Cruising Association of Ireland rallying in the heart of Dublin. Photo: W M Nixon   The Cruising Association of Ireland rallying in the heart of Dublin. Photo: W M Nixon  

As for competitive sailing, weekly racing numbers in the Dublin Bay Sailing Club programme at Dun Laoghaire regularly chime in at comfortably more than a hundred boats and counting, but in the current climate, that's something to be carefully monitored rather than shouted from the rooftops.

Nevertheless, if you happen to be on a Dun Laoghaire rooftop, every Wednesday evening reveals an increasing fleet of Water Wags out racing. Their best turnout so far this year was 26 boats on Bloomsday, the 16th June, but with 50 boats now registered with racing numbers, it's surely only a matter of time before they manage an evening with 40 boats, as they topped the 30 mark turnout three years ago.

The Water Wag fleet blossoming for Bloomsday, June 16th, with 26 boats racing. They should top the 40 turnout in one race for the fist time ever in 2021.The Water Wag fleet blossoming for Bloomsday, June 16th, with 26 boats racing. They should top the 40 turnout in one race for the fist time ever in 2021.

FOYNES SHOWS THE WAY FOR WEST COAST SAILING

The quiet putting-through of a first racing event was seen last weekend at Foynes, where the J/24s assembled in socially-distanced groups for their seasonal starter, the Southern Championship. That said, trying to be socially-distant anywhere near the notoriously-hospitable Foynes Yacht Club is almost an impossibility – after all, even the family dog goes out on the big committee boat with visiting race Officer Derek Bothwell - but it seems to have been a largely health-compliant happening.

The J24s start their 2021 Irish season with last weekend's Southerns at Foynes, and overall winner Headcase (4547) narrowly getting the best of it. Photo: Foynes YCThe J24s start their 2021 Irish season with last weekend's Southerns at Foynes, and overall winner Headcase (4547) narrowly getting the best of it. Photo: Foynes YC

Thus when we suggested to Cillian Dickson - helm of the winning boat Headcase with all-Ireland crew of Ryan Glynn, Louis Mulloy and Sam O'Byrne - that they might have been over-celebrating on Saturday night with a scorecard of straight wins all through Saturday as against a couple of seconds on Sunday, he earnestly demurred, assuring us that the opposition was just a little bit less rusty on Sunday, and he expects them to be competition-honed by the Nationals in Sligo on August 6th-8th.

Truly, today's young sailors are a very serious lot. Time was when the Enterprise dinghy was all the rage throughout Ireland, and it was a fact of life in the class that the Saturday night leaders in any two-day regional championship simply wouldn't figure in Sunday's racing, so easily would they have been led completely astray by their attentive classmates in celebrating their initial points lead.

At Foynes, everyone rallies round to support the race team. Photo: FYCAt Foynes, everyone rallies round to support the race team. Photo: FYC

Published in W M Nixon

This week the welcome sound will be coming to Scribbler.

The 25-tonne travel hoist boat lift will be manoeuvred into position beneath her at Castlepoint Boatyard and Scribbler will be carried down Point Road, onto the Crosshaven slipway and lowered to caress and enter the waters of Cork Harbour.

I'm looking forward to it and the other welcome sound that, for me, is the real start of each season and that is when my Sigma 33 again catches a breeze and the bow sounds its first engagement with the sails, pushing her through the water.

For the past few weeks, like many boat owners, I've been frequenting the yard and, driving through Crosshaven village, noting what has been happening in the other yards there.

The hoist at Crosshaven Boatyard has been increasingly busy. A crane has appeared for launching boats at Wietze's yard. The movement of boats at all the yards shows that the annual 'launching season' is underway. It has not been happening as early as in other years because of the grim months of Covid, but now the momentum has overcome doubt and migration to the water is well underway. The yards are emptying of their winter populace.

It's been interesting and enjoyable to talk to other owners, discussing the season ahead, how each is getting on with the boat preparations and the big question -, how long before launching.

One of the positive aspects of what might be called 'pre-season' is the level of interest reported from Cork clubs amongst young sailors who've been engaged in training for the past few weeks and of newcomers to the sport.

Youth interest in sailingYouth interest in sailing Photo: Bob Bateman

Cork clubs have been announcing their plans for the restart of racing from next week.

ROYAL CORK YACHT CLUB

At the Royal Cork, National 18s and Mixed dinghies will start racing on Wednesday evening next, June 9. The following night it will be the turn of Keelboats and on Friday night, June 11, non-spinnaker Keelboats will begin whitesail racing. On Saturday, June 12, the Dognose and Miss Betty Trophies are fixed for all Portsmouth Yardstick dinghies and the start of a June league for keelboats is planned. Club facilities will be re-opened and a special weekend is planned for June 19 and 20.

"It is our intention to run the PY1000 Dinghy Race, an Admiral's Chace and we will repeat this theme of special Member's Days in July with the return of the Round The Island Race and then again in August for the Cork300 Tricentenary At Home." This Sunday the Junior Sailing Academy for teenagers starts, with 30 sailors signed up and on Bank Holiday Monday the club is starting 'Try Sailing' a programme to encourage interest in taking up the sport.

The RCYC is also planning to go ahead with its 'Wild Atlantic Cruise' which is scheduled to depart Crosshaven on Saturday, July 10, with the aim to arrive in Bantry the following Saturday.

KINSALE YACHT CLUB

"Competitive sailing is recommencing at KYC is resuming next Wednesday and we have a full calendar of events for the rest of the summer," says Michael Walsh, Kinsale Commodore. "The highlight of our summer will be the Sovereigns Cup from June 23-26. We are hosting the Squib South Coast Championship on July 17/18 and the Dragon Nationals September 2-5/. Our regular Wednesday evening Cruiser racing, Thursday Squibs and Dragons and Friday White Sailing will run in monthly leagues from June through September. We have a full calendar of junior sailing events and we are gearing up to commence the Sailability training in the coming weeks.

MONKSTOWN BAY SAILING CLUB

Monkstown Bay Sailing Club will resume dinghy racing next Tuesday night, June 8. This follows preparatory training series over recent week evenings.

Cork clubs will be getting back racing next week Photo: Bob BatemanCork clubs will be getting back racing next week Photo: Bob Bateman

COVE SAILING CLUB

At Cove SC the club is ready to go with its dinghy racing and cruisers returning to competitive action on the water next week. A lot of work has been done on the marina at Whitepoint and on the club facilities there.

GLANDORE HARBOUR YACHT CLUB

At Glandore Harbour YC fixtures include the Squibs Early League to start on Saturday, June 12 with the Dragon Summer League beginning the following Saturday, June 19. Mixed Dinghy July League Racing is fixed to start on July 4.

BALTIMORE SAILING CLUB

The highlight of the season at Baltimore Sailing Club is Regatta Day on the first Monday in August," according to the club. The 1720s Baltimore Cup is scheduled from July 31 to August 1.

SCHULL HARBOUR SAILING CLUB

Schull Harbour Sailing Club's Cruiser Racing season will start on Saturday of next week, June 12, with the Commodore's Race. Junior Sailing will begin on Saturday, July 4 and run every Saturday morning until late August," according to the club. "Entries for Calves Week from August 3-6 continue to arrive. The event is looking positive."

And that's the best note for the sailing season ahead in Cork – being positive.

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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If evidence that Ireland's 2021 sailing season was about to start next week was needed, it was most definitely on display yesterday on Dublin Bay with dozens of different types of sailing cruisers and dinghies taking on a stiff south-easterly breeze and some great waves in anticipation of next week's 'mini training series' in compliance with the latest COVID regulations.

As regular Afloat readers know, after months of planning and preparations  - and some agony - ' race training' is set to begin next week and competition from June 7th at the country's major sailing centres.

Training group of Lasers, Flying Fifteens, RS Aeros, 29ers along with two-handed and fully crewed J109s, B211s, 31.7s and Sunfast 3600s, all enjoying the ideal conditions on the capital's waters.

Boat programmes and crew arrangements are being firmed up not only for June 7th return to competition but also for this month's training period that precedes it. 

May 'training' series

Some of the big clubs are advertising training mini-series from Monday, May 10th with "sailing considered a safe, non-contact sport with no material difference between training and competition".

  • ISORA Training starting 15th May
  • DBSC Training starting 15th May
  • RCYC Training starting 13th May
  • KYC Training starting 12th May

Dublin Bay

On Dubin Bay, DBSC will begin its mini-series from next Saturday, May 15th and it is planned to run training on club night's of Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the next three weeks or "until DBSC is given the approval to start its AIB DBSC summer series".  

ISORA training for June's Dun Laoghaire Dingle Race is also expected to begin on May 15th with news that the National Yacht Club's 320-mile offshore on June 9th is definitely in 'go mode'.

ISORA is likely to continue its coastal racing on either side of the Irish Sea until cross-channel racing can resume. 

Dublin Bay cruiser racing returns to the bay in JuneDublin Bay cruiser racing returns to Dublin Bay in June

Lambay Race at Howth

In Howth, Afloat's WM Nixon has reported the HYC Sailing Committee is considering staging the club's Lambay Race for Saturday, June 12th, when the tides are perfect. And though that new out-of-the-blue date still awaits approval at the General Committee meeting this week, it could well be a runner.

South Coast Sailing

In Cork Harbour, Royal Cork Yacht Club will run Cruiser-racer training each Thursday (May 13th) and Friday evenings starting this week, "It's great to get back on the water",  the Crosshaven Club's CEO, Gavin Deane told Afloat.

Likewise in Kinsale Yacht Club, Commodore Mike Walsh plans cruiser-racer training at the West Cork Harbour from Wednesday evening, May 12th, as preparations continue for the club's confirmed Sovereign's Cup Regatta on June 23rd.  

Return to racing from June

It is expected that in June that the country will continue to open up after COVID and a full racing season can commence from June 7th enabling the D2D Race two days later on June 9th. 

Racing on the South coast then continues later that month with the Sovereigns Cup on 23rd- 26th of June.

Already plans are being hatched to try and retain some of the 11 national and regional championships that were built into the now cancelled Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta and more news on that as we have it. 

Sources at Schull Harbour Sailing Club say Calves Week is "definitely on" and confirmation of August's big regatta in West Cork (3rd to the 6th of August) is expected soon.

Later that month, WIORA is scheduled at Fenit in County Kerry from 25th to 28th August.

The National Yacht Club will stage its second big event of the season when the ICRA National Championships is hosted by the East Pier club on September 3rd, with details of the three fleet event released here this week.

3rd to the 6th of August
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Golf and Tennis Doubles competition returns on Monday, May 10th in a further relaxation of Government COVID rules that has not extended to sailing.

Sailing clubs had been urging officials to lobby the Government's Sport Ireland's Expert Group to classify sailing with sports such as golf as a non-contact, outdoor and low-risk activity but there has been no such green light for sailing so far.

The latest Golf Ireland protocols confirm that from next Monday 10th May, golfers will be allowed (1): Casual-play rounds for handicap purposes for members and visitors, with no restrictions on numbers of household per group, and (2): Club competitions for members. 

In tennis, Doubles play involving players from different households is allowed from May 10th. Adult coaching can be delivered in pods of six players per court with four players on court at any one time from May 10th.

Sailing may resume training next week but yacht racing is not permitted until June 7.

Training Mini-Series

As regular Afloat readers know, however, clubs are taking advantage of the permission to train from May 10th with the introduction of training mini-series. Most notably in Dublin, series are underway next week by both Dublin Bay Sailing Club and ISORA,

It's been a frustrating time for the sport over the last ten days attempting to grapple with vague guidelines that have led to some inevitable consequences, including the cancellation of Ireland's biggest regatta

It's a theme taken up discussed by Afloat's WMN Nixon here.

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The welcome announcement that the National Yacht Club's biennial 280-mile Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2021 will be going ahead on Wednesday, June 9th, is encouraging. But it should not be seen as a clarion call to get the 2021 sailing season into full boisterous swing with all the traditionally noisy bells and whistles, and lively post-racing shoreside celebrations.

On the contrary, it was launched this week by Chairman Adam Winkelmann with a decidedly muffled trumpet, for at the time of his announcement on Thursday confirming all systems go for June 9th, competitive sport afloat will only have been officially permitted since Monday, June 7th, just two days ahead of the D2D start. And for some undefined time thereafter – possibly not until August or even September - it will have to take place without any significant free-movement onshore gatherings.

But even as boat programmes and crew arrangements are being firmed up in the light of that June 7th break-out, yesterday (Friday) the latest Golf Ireland protocols confirmed that from next Monday 10th May, golfers will be allowed (1): Casual-play rounds for handicap purposes for members and visitors, with no restrictions on numbers of household per group, and (2): Club competitions for members.

Thus those members of the sailing community mad keen to get club racing underway just as soon as possible, and who understood that for restriction purposes, sailing was lumped in with golf and alfresco sex and tennis and other comparable sports, well, such folk will understandably feel we're being hard done by with no "All Clear" until June 7th when Golfers Are Go from Monday.

Peter Ryan of the National YC, Chairman of ISORA. He played a key role in maximizing 2020's restricted seasonPeter Ryan of the National YC, Chairman of ISORA. He played a key role in maximizing 2020's restricted season.

That said, here at Sailing on Saturday we should be feeling a certain satisfaction about the Dingle Race going ahead, as we predicted on 19th December and again on 16th January that it would be the D2D which would prove to be the pillar event that launched our sailing in 2021 at full blast.

But "full blast" it definitely is not, and it is only the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race's unique configuration – coupled with the experience gained by the National Yacht Club and ISORA's Peter Ryan in starting last year's season-saver, the Fastnet 450 – which means that the Club and organising committee can confidently undertake the staging of a major yet regulations-compliant offshore event, which next time round in 2023 will be celebrating its 30th Anniversary.

Offshore stars Peter Wilson and Paul O'Higgins – the former was helm on the winning boat in the first Dingle Race of 1993, Richard Burrows' Sigma 36 Black Pepper, while the latter will be defending champion with the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI when the 2021 Race gets underway on June 9th. Photo: W M NixonOffshore stars Peter Wilson and Paul O'Higgins – the former was helm on the winning boat in the first Dingle Race of 1993, Richard Burrows' Sigma 36 Black Pepper, while the latter will be defending champion with the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI when the 2021 Race gets underway on June 9th. Photo: W M Nixon

However, despite the muted tone for 2021, at the core of this low key affair, there is still the one and only Dun Laoghaire to Dingle, a great race by any standards, and defending champion Paul O'Higgins of the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC) – which also won in 2017 – confirmed on Thursday he is definitely going, and will also take in the ISORA training session next weekend.

Start of the 2019 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, with overall winner Rockabill VI being overtaken by line honours record-setter, the SouthWind 95 Windfall (Mick Cotter). Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'BrienStart of the 2019 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, with overall winner Rockabill VI being overtaken by line honours record-setter, the SouthWind 95 Windfall (Mick Cotter). Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

SADNESS OVER VDLR CANCELLATION

Meanwhile, in Dun Laoghaire, the cancellation a week ago of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, scheduled for the first two weekends of July as an already-split event, is still very much a cause of sadness.

"Indeed", says Pat Shannon, Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club in comments which were echoed by other waterfront yacht club officers, "you could say we're in a state of mourning. There is nothing like the VDLR for bringing Dun Laoghaire Harbour collectively to life, and in order to achieve this with such success, the Organising Committee is a continuously functioning body, with the group looking after one Regatta moving almost seamlessly and without a break into becoming the Committee organising the next one".

Pat Shannon, former Commodore and prize winner with Dublin Bay SC, is currently Commodore of the Royal Irish YCPat Shannon, former Commodore and prize winner with Dublin Bay SC, is currently Commodore of the Royal Irish YC

"In such a setup, some people are bound to give longer and more extensive service than others. But in what has always been a very talented group since the Regatta's foundation in 2005, there are few if any who could match the 2021 Chairman Don O'Dowd's commitment, vision, length of service and ability to get things done".

"It says everything about the way in which Don had strengthened the VDLR brand that when the cancellation was announced, the sense of shock in Dun Laoghaire and in Ireland and internationally was palpable. Thus those of us who are directly involved in the running of the clubs are holding back for a few days out of respect before we start confirming possible smaller events and perhaps club regattas which will comply with regulations, even if they won't match the total magic which the VDLR generates".

Dan O'Dowd, tireless voluntary worker on behalf of Dublin Bay sailing.   Dan O'Dowd, tireless voluntary worker on behalf of Dublin Bay sailing

But Commodore Shannon (who also served as Dublin Bay SC Commodore in times past) and his fellow flag officers in the Dun Laoghaire Combined Clubs Committee chaired by Barry MacNeaney need not concern themselves too much that their sailors will be dismissive of the abbreviated season which is now going to be served up in the aftermath of the VDLR cancellation.

For, of all sporting groups, it is the sailing community which has most readily complied with the different Levels of Lockdown, and it is a fact that no-one can think of a single COVID-19 hotspot or outbreak in Ireland which can be traced to a sailing event or yacht club.

And as they're in a sport which for many involves the continuous analysis of data, they can read the pandemic statistics at least as well as any other group of laypeople, with alert sailors well aware that some of the official analyses of the current state of affairs have bordered on the marginally over-optimistic, but as of the last 48 hours, things really do seem to be going the right way.

Thus sailors will be compliant. But where the lines have been drawn and sanctioned, their enthusiasm will be such that they'll push the envelope as far as possible in order to maximize their sport, while being keenly appreciative that, in the event of a sudden deterioration in the situation, everyone may have to return to barracks.

For now, however, it looks as though the news season will arrive in like a steadily rising tide, rather than a sudden giant wave. Junior training and other teaching courses are already underway, but in both Dun Laoghaire and Howth as of now, it looks as though the evening of Tuesday, June 8th will see proper club racing underway for the first time for One Designs. Then on Wednesday, June 9th, the dash to Dingle gets going outside Dun Laoghaire Harbour while in-harbour, the Water Wags start their season with two races, and across in Howth the cruiser classes are in action. Following that, on Thursday, June 10th DBSC, gets fully into its stride with the Cruiser-racer mid-week fixtures which – even in last year's limited season - made Thursday an "almost-regatta" evening afloat.

Peter Bowring, having recently retired as Commodore Royal St George YC, is now giving his full attention to the International Dragon Class.   Peter Bowring, having recently retired as Commodore Royal St George YC, is now giving his full attention to the International Dragon Class 

The feeling among the flag officers is that the staging of any special events will rely heavily on the effectiveness of the different class structures to provide the basis of manageable national and regional championships, this to be done by providing disciplined numbers with which the individual club set-ups can comfortably cope.

Recently-retired Royal St George YC Commodore Peter Bowring is now able to devote full attention to his other passion, the International Dragon Class, which he sees as playing a key role in helping Irish sailing make the best of the 2021 season. They're a compact and cohesive group with a considerable esprit de corps, and with their proposed programme including a South Coast Championship and an East Coast Championship, they offer clubs a very manageable proposition that brings an event of instant style.

The International Dragon Phantom, in which Peter Bowring is one of three owners, is one of the most successful in the Irish fleet.   The International Dragon Phantom, in which Peter Bowring is one of three owners, is one of the most successful in the Irish fleet.  

That said, the fact is that the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta had been scheduled as constituting a major class championship for no less than 16 different One Design Classes suggests there'll be a lot of classes scurrying around looking for welcoming venues as the season's possibilities become more clarified, not least being the IDRA 14s, who are heading into their 75th Anniversary Year and had been seeing the VDLR as central to its celebration.

ANCIENT PANDEMIC-SURVIVING CLASSES

Certainly, it was the strong local One Design classes that provided much of the backbone for 2020's short but very sweet season, and it's fascinating to note that it was two classes so ancient that they have a collective memory of surviving the 1919-1920 Spanish Flu pandemic which provided some of the best sport afloat in 2020, the Dun Laoghaire Water Wags of 1887 and 1900, and the Howth 17s of 1898.

The venerable Water Wags in the thick of their "two-races-on-Wednesdays" programme in Dun Laoghaire. Despite the pandemic restrictions, they were managing turnouts of 25 boats in 2020. Photo: Con MurphyThe venerable Water Wags in the thick of their "two-races-on-Wednesdays" programme in Dun Laoghaire. Despite the pandemic restrictions, they were managing turnouts of 25 boats in 2020. Photo: Con Murphy

Something like 51 Water Wags – some of them very new indeed, but others extremely ancient – currently have registered sail numbers, but their best turnout in 2020 was 25 boats. This reflected the general attitude of the sailing community, where some went sailing just as soon as it was permitted in however limited a form, but others decided there were so many unknown unknowns in the pandemic that they'd simply sit it out ashore as safely as possible until a distinct all-clear sounded, even if it didn't come until 2021.

HOWTH YACHT CLUB MAY NOW HAVE LAMBAY RACE ON JUNE 12TH

In Howth meantime, they seem to think that being on a peninsula gives them extra pandemic protection, as there are around 20 Howth 17s, and at the peak of the brief 2020 season, they were mustering 13 boats - for those who like things decimalised, it's a very healthy 65%. This was in a season in which the class returned to its roots, with at least two races around Lambay which gave everyone such a buzz that they want more.

In fact, when that Monday, June 7th "go sailing" signal was given, most folk could only admire the sheer cunning of the powers-that-be. For of course Monday, June 7th is a Bank Holiday, and Howth normally use that weekend for their all-comers Lambay Race. It would usually be staged on the Saturday, then there might be a shorter race or two on the Sunday, but the holiday Monday is traditionally set aside for recovery and quality family time.

Thus by allowing only the Monday to be used for proper sailing, our Dear Leaders have in effect blanked off the holiday weekend almost entirely. But the indomitable Howth 17s – on confirming that Monday, June 7th is all-clear day – immediately started suggesting that it should be used for the Lambay Race regardless of affronts against tradition, only to be told by HYCs powers-that-be to catch themselves on, as the Lambay Race was already very conservatively pencilled in as a double bill for the first Saturday of Howth's Autumn League in mid-September.

But as of lunchtime yesterday (Friday), the fresh new mood of optimism had seen some lateral thinking in the HYC Sailing Committee, and they're now suggesting a proper Lambay Race for Saturday, June 12th, when the tides are perfect. And though that new out-of-the-blue date still awaits approval at the General Committee meeting on Monday, it could well be a runner.

Lambay bound. The Howth 17s Leila and Anita set off from Howth to race around Lambay in the brief 2020 season. The 123-year-old class's plans to race around Lambay on Monday, June 7th to celebrate the ending of sailing lockdown may now become a full-blown Howth YC Lambay Race on Saturday, June 12th. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyLambay bound. The Howth 17s Leila and Anita set off from Howth to race around Lambay in the brief 2020 season. The 123-year-old class's plans to race around Lambay on Monday, June 7th to celebrate the ending of sailing lockdown may now become a full-blown Howth YC Lambay Race on Saturday, June 12th. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

But meanwhile, unless sailing's restrictions-lifting date is brought forward in light of the golf allowances - thereby providing a whole raft of earlier club racing possibilities – it's natural to conclude that several other clubs and classes might decide to celebrate sailing's proper return with a special race on Monday, June 7th.

Other than complying with the rules and with safety regulations, a Freedom Day Special Race on Monday, June 7th, needn't be too serious. Just let it happen. And let the prizes be distributed by ballot, as they used to do at Cape Clear Regatta. Let there be light…..

Published in W M Nixon
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The Government's phased easing of some Covid-19 restrictions during the month of April was welcome news but there was also some disappointment expressed in boating circles over a lack of clarity contained in the announcement that makes it difficult to plan the season, especially the staging of major summer regattas.

The Government aims to continue its cautious approach, gradually easing restrictions, while a substantial level of the population is vaccinated during April, May and June, after which, it should be safe to reopen society more widely.

In his address, the Taoiseach used the phrase ‘distance sports' to describe a sporting activity that was permitted but what does this mean for sailing, a low risk, outdoor, no-contact sport?

In a response to a query from Afloat, a Sport Ireland spokesman said 'At present, these are activities that can take place on a socially distanced basis and take place between a maximum of two households'.

SB20 Sportsboat racing on Dublin Bay pre-COVID Photo: AfloatSB20 Sportsboat one-design racing on Dublin Bay pre-COVID Photo: Afloat

Single-handers

An interpretation of this means that single-handers, double handers and crews from two households can go sailing if they can 'distance' themselves.

But 'distance' does not extend to competition at this point, it refers only to private social sailing and it would exclude yachts with large crews from different households. So, Like golf or tennis, two parties can have a social game. Likewise, two individuals can have a recreational sail.

The spokesman said Sport Ireland has been in touch with the various National Governing Bodies, including Irish Sailing, on this matter.

Overall then, what we know is: 

From 12th April

  • travel within your own county or within 20km of your home if crossing county boundaries

From 26th April:

  • Outdoor sports facilities can reopen and sailing clubs may remain open.
  • ‘Distance’ Sailing activities may take place between a maximum of two households
  • School-aged children may resume training using the pod system (pods of 15)
  • No matches or events may take place (other than exempted events)

By any interpretation, this does not appear to allow for cruiser-racer sailing, except for small crew numbers on board. Clearly, this could have a major impact on the most popular aspect of the sport, for early summer at least.

Even though we know that there is little difference between sailing in training and racing modes, the sport is reliant on the not so small matter of lockdown measures easing from Level Five to Level Two (when racing is permitted) but, as widely anticipated, this did not materialise in this week's announcement.

Still, on Dublin Bay, DBSC and ISORA, race organisers are both aiming for May starts in 'some form', subject to guidelines. In June, the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race and the Sovereign's Cup at Kinsale are due to get underway.

Reduced Crews?

It raises the question, that if this situation is to be considered the norm for the next two to three months, then sailing should be looking at reduced crews for racing in the future, as they are doing in the UK? Such a move was previously explored on Afloat here

This weekend, for example, one design keelboats are sailing in the Solent for the first time this year and boats that normally allow five are only taking four crew. Likewise, cruisers crew numbers in the UK are limited. 

The first race starts this weekend, the JOG Race, and below is one of the sailing instructions:

  • 17.1 Crew numbers for this race are limited to a maximum of 6, irrespective of a family group or other considerations. This is a maximum and skippers may limit their own crew in line with social distancing and other requirements.

Coincidentally, the first RORC event also starts this weekend; long coastal day races over three weekends, with a maximum of 80% of normal crew numbers.

By reducing crew numbers it could help to comply with the 'distance sport' ruling and give sailing room to negotiate a return to competition because there is no way nine people sitting out on a 35-foot cruiser will meet these criteria.

Seven sailing clubs in Northern Ireland have been awarded funding totalling £174,343 through the Department of Communities Sports Sustainability Fund.

They are Ballyholme who got the largest sum at £49,138, Carlingford Lough - £3,957, Carrickfergus SC - £29,716, Down Cruising Club -£35,230, Portaferry SC - £105, Quoile YC, £25,258 and Strangford Lough YC - £30,939.

The purpose of the Sports Sustainability Fund is to help address the economic consequences of the COVID 19 health pandemic affecting the sports sector. It provides the financial interventions needed to stabilise and sustain sports core governing bodies of sport, enabling them to withstand the worst impacts of Covid19. It will specifically minimise the financial stress on the sports sector due to lost income due to COVID-19 lockdown and ongoing restrictions to sustain the sector.

Quoile Yacht Club on Strangford Lough were awarded £25,258Quoile Yacht Club on Strangford Lough was awarded £25,258

Applications had to made through the governing body recognised by Sport NI, in this case, the Royal Yachting Association of Northern Ireland.

Thirty-one bodies made the application, ranging from American Football, Cricket, GAA, Golf through Ice Skating and Hockey.

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