Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Hong Kong’s Return To Racing Is A Confidence Boost For Irish Sailing Scene

20th March 2020
Nick Southward’s J109, Whiskey Jack, sailing in last week’s Hong Kong IRC Nationals Nick Southward’s J109, Whiskey Jack, sailing in last week’s Hong Kong IRC Nationals Credit: Takumi Furuichi

In light of the coronavirus situation effecting Ireland, got in touch with Barry Hayes from UK Sailmakers Ireland, who has lived in three continents, to share his experience in Asia and what’s going on with Covid-19 in Hong Kong’s sailing community.

Barry says: “Having lived in HK for so long, I can tell you they have vast experience with viruses! For example, HK has had influenza, swine flu and the SARS virus. They hit very hard in HK and the people responded to it.

“Yes, clubs closed and people lost jobs. Racing stopped for a short time. It returned and they recovered quickly.

This year, Covid-19 really hit home in Hong Kong around Chinese New Year festivities on 24 January. “When HK started to go into lockdown schools were closed, and still are. From there all racing was stopped and the clubs closed.

“But this time the HK government felt it was better to keep the clubs going and get people out sailing. So they didn’t let the clubs stay closed for long — pushing them to reopen as soon as a low in the virus came so people got out and got active in the sun.

Racing in Kowloon Bay at St James’ Place Ladies Helm Day on 8 March (Photo: RHKYC/Guy Nowell)Racing in Kowloon Bay at St James’ Place Ladies Helm Day on 8 March | Photo: RHKYC/Guy Nowell

The upside of this, Barry says, is that “there is light at the end of the tunnel”.

“Last weekend HK returned to full racing. Just eight weeks after the virus hit the hardest. They held the Hong Kong IRC Nationals on 14-15 March.

“This virus will affect us but we will rebound. I am sure, having lived in both countries, we need to work super hard to reduce the contact between humans as much as we can. And Ireland seems to be working hard on doing this.

“I know in the short term it seems impossible, but I can tell you from experience we will be back racing with a delayed season.

One of the boats sailing in last week’s HK IRC nationals was Nick Southward’s modified J109, Whiskey Jack.

Whiskey Jack on day 3 of the Hong Kong IRC Nationals (Photo: ABC/Takumi Furuichi)Whiskey Jack on day 3 of the Hong Kong IRC Nationals | Photo: ABC/Takumi Furuichi

Nick, of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and who will be chartering Imp for Cork Week, said that with border restrictions imposed early on, the infection rate in HK has been very slow.

“The threat now appears to be infections from people flooding back into HK from Europe and the US, but there is now a travel restriction in place and all who arrive have to go into a compulsory fourteen day quarantine at home. This monitored by a smart bracelet, an app and the police to ensure enforcement.”

Beyond that, Alex Johnson, manager of HK’s Aberdeen Yacht Club, reports that life is “sort of normal, but restricted in terms of what you can do”.

“The population is also very clued-up after SARS which really has helped to combat the virus. Everyone wears face masks, liberally uses hand sanitiser and luckily the toilet roll supply is now constant!

“HK is not out of the woods yet but the infection rate on the mainland has dropped dramatically so everyone is hopeful.”  

UK Sails Summer

About the Loft

UK Sailmakers Ireland brings modern professional sailmaking to Irish Sailing.​ Formerly known as McWilliam Sailmakers; the company was started 50 years ago to bring the latest technology to Irish sailors - we continue this mission today.

Under new leadership in 2018; our loft is dedicated to fulfilling the needs of all Irish sailors. ​As sailmakers, we do not just design sails for boats. We design and build sails for your boat. Our extensive and versatile product line allows us to produce sails to suit your requirements and expectations.   

​As a core loft within the UK Sailmakers Group, we are uniquely placed to draw from a worldwide pool of knowledge and experience - these ties have been recently strengthened with the return of Barry Hayes and Claire Morgan from Hong Kong. ​Barry held a key role in our primary production facility on Hong Kong Island for the past fifteen years. With their return comes a renewed focus on technology R&D on Irish waters.  

​With a wide variety of sailing conditions and an impressive pool of talent, the Irish cruiser racing fleet is the ideal testbed for new technologies.​ 

​As with all things in sailing; the secrets will be closely guarded - but for the first time in decades Irish sailors will be at the forefront of sail technology development.​

Although much has changed; some constants remain. The same great sail and customer service we have provided in the past will continue, as does our commitment and passion for growing the sport of sailing all over the country. 

Barry Hayes [email protected]

Contact Information:

UK Sailmakers Ireland

Kilnagary Business Park


County Cork

P43 YR22

Republic of Ireland

Tel: +353 21 4831505

Production: +353 (86) 198 0199

Email: [email protected] Team

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