When we remember that Arthur Rumball was one of the definitive backroom boys of the Irish maritime world, it is remarkable and heart-warming to reflect on just how many lives he influenced for the better, and how many young people – aspiring sailors and would-be boatbuilders alike – he helped guide towards sailing and career fulfillment.
In his professional life, his work lives on in Viking Marine, while he was the main force in keeping the Irish National Sailing School’s fleet operational. In any size of business operation functioning within the challenges and restraints of the Irish market and our sometimes decidedly quirky sailing world, that would have been a demanding task. But these days the INSS fleet numbers 250 vessels in all, ranging from tiny dinghies up to 1720s and three fully-fledged offshore yachts. Yet in each case, Arthur could be relied on to assess exactly the right level of maintenance and finish required to keep the boat at the optimum level for the task for which it was required, and he did it with a minimum of fuss utilising sometimes very basic facilities.
He was the younger brother of INSS’s founding father Alistair Rumball by seven years, but as there were only the two siblings in this Malahide sailing family, inevitably they shared many experiences, although their sailing careers were to diverge during the period when the age gap seemed at its widest.
However, after Alistair began operations with the Irish National Sailing School with a sailing dinghy or two launching from the public slip in the Coal Harbour in Dun Laoghaire in 1974, Arthur helped now and again on a part-time basis, but by 1980 he was working with Alistair full-time with the INSS and their retail outlet Viking Marine.
Much and all as the brothers had enjoyed an idyllic Malahide childhood, as they both had business training they readily accepted that the greater density of population and affluence meant that any commercial sailing school, with its supporting shop, would have to be Dun Laoghaire-based. Over the years they have introduced thousands of people to sailing in a friendly, non-fussy way which nevertheless turned out hundreds of competent sailors, and reached a new height in 2016 when the INSS’s Reflex 38 Lynx – skippered by Alistair’s son Kenneth - was the top school boat in the Volvo Round Ireland Race, placing 10th overall in a very competitive fleet of 63 boats.
But that was only the peak of an astonishingly varied range of activities, all of which were supported by the ready availability of a fleet of boats whose maintenance Arthur oversaw and took an active involvement in working with. Indeed, there were few in the Irish boat-building and repair business who could rival Arthur’s breadth of experience and ability. His determinedly can-do approach – a Rumball family characteristic – was as inspiring ashore as his colleagues efforts afloat were in developing a practical “get-on-with-it” attitude to boats among those who benefitted from the INSS experience.
Despite his busy life around boats, Arthur had other interests and a very complete home life with Amanda and their three children, now all in their twenties. When it became known some time ago that he was battling gallantly with cancer, the thoughts of many worldwide were with him. And a shared hope was raised when it was known that the cancer had been cleared, even though a long struggle lay ahead for his weakened body to re-build itself.
Until a week ago, the outlook was promising, but then his condition suddenly deteriorated, and on Sunday, Arthur Rumball slipped quietly from among us all too soon at the age of 55. Our heartfelt condolences are with his family at this great loss which we share with his many friends, whose feelings have been best expressed both by Nick Bendon and his team in CH Marine, and by former colleague and pupil Rory Kelleher in Seattle.
From CH Marine, the message was: “From those early pioneering days of Dublin Boat Shows and Viking Marine, we always enjoyed his friendship and support, and while not wanting to use the word “legendary” too lightly, Arthur was that in our eyes, and a larger-than-life figure in the marine industry. This is the passing of a whole era, and we will miss him very much”.
Rory Kelleher spoke from the heart in a message to Alistair Rumball: “Please understand that he lives on in me, by the skills that he taught me. He is – as you are – one of the stones in the foundation of my life. And for that I am very grateful”.