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Derek Martin 1928–2017

20th November 2017
Derek Martin. He was the personification of Dublin’s interaction with the sea, having at various times been Chairman of Dublin Port & Docks Board, Commodore of Dublin Bay Sailing Club, and Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club Derek Martin. He was the personification of Dublin’s interaction with the sea, having at various times been Chairman of Dublin Port & Docks Board, Commodore of Dublin Bay Sailing Club, and Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club

Derek Martin enjoyed his sailing. In fact, he enjoyed his sailing so much that he regarded those who crewed with him as extended family. And in his readiness to put in much voluntary work on behalf of sailing organisations, he regarded the clubhouses associated with boats and sailing as extensions of the family home.

Family was everything to him, and when his 64 happy years of marriage to Oonagh ended with her death in June, it was the conclusion of an exceptional romance in which she had been fully supportive of him in all his endeavours in the public sphere, yet they were never happier than when away together on holiday all over the world including the Far East and Caribbean and also in the West of Ireland.

But the working focus of their life was to be found in Dublin, where he was the scion of one of the city’s longest-established families in business and commerce, with a historic tradition in several areas including ship-owning. And among many positions of distinction in the upper echelons of business and commerce, he served as Chairman of Dublin Port & Docks Board.

However, for sport and recreation, Dun Laoghaire was the centre of his sailing life. There, the Royal Irish YC may have been his sailing home, but he was ready and willing to undertake responsibility for administration in a wider area involving other organisations.

Derek Martin served as Commodore of Dublin Bay Sailing Club from 1967 to 1971, which now seems a very long time ago, but he was already 39 when he assumed office. Then he went on to become Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club from 1976 to 1980, at a notably young-seeming age of 48. Both of these senior positions naturally involved many years of service beforehand in junior officer posts and on committees, so in all, his years of voluntary work on behalf of sailing was being cheerfully undertaken for several decades. With the RIYC in particular, he was on the committee for a number of years before serving on the officer board for a total of twelve years up to 1980.

derek martin2In their exuberant younger days, the Martin brothers were very much part of the extremely lively Dublin Bay 24 Class in its prime, and here they are seen putting Adastra through her annual “How Far Can She Heel Without Taking Water Into The Cockpit” test...

He had immediately become Rear Commodore RIYC on completing his term as Commodore of DBSC. With the RIYC, an exceptional institution which can trace its history back to 1831, special talents were needed as it continues to function very successfully in a purpose-designed clubhouse of 1851, the oldest in the world. Yet Derek Martin’s relative youth, together with charm, diplomacy and longterm dedication, combined with Oonagh’s happy willingness in giving full support to enable a venerable organisation to be relevant in a changing sailing environment, while remaining true to its roots.

In tandem with his wide-ranging shoreside networking and decision-making, he relished even more his sailing and the world of boats in general. For many years, the name of Martin was synonymous with the Dublin Bay 24ft OD Class, where the family boat was Adastra, which their father Cyril owned with three sons Derek, Kenneth and Clive, and they sailed with enormous style and well-celebrated success. A famous photo of Adastra at an absurd angle of heel, and the brothers not even wearing oilskins let alone lifejackets, captures the slightly crazy spirit of the class in its prime.

But when serious seagoing was on the agenda, Derek Martin undertook it in the finest traditions of seamanship. He had been elected a member of the Irish Cruising Club in 1954 (making him probably the club’s most senior member) on the basis of early cruises with Adastra, and there were many more cruises – and sometimes extensive ones at that - over the years as he graduated into more comfortable craft.

When he accepted that the future of most boats lay in glassfibre construction, he embraced the new developments with enthusiasm, becoming an early supporter of developing French companies and starting with L’Etoile, a Dufour 35 which the brothers owned in partnership with Bobby Barr and Fred Morris. After the Dublin Bay 24, she was an exceptionally roomy vessel, and the sight of her sailing in a sunny Dun Laoghaire regatta with brothers and ownership-partners and children and many friends aboard was the very embodiment of Derek Martin’s notion that longterm shipmates should be seen an extension of your own family.

derek martin3The Dufour 35 L’Etoile provided the space to develop the Martin philosophy that your shipmates and ownership partners are your extended family

L’Etoile was followed for a few years in the late 1970s by the Noray 38 Estrellita in the same five-way ownership partnership. Spanish-built in glassfibre, she was a near sister-ship of a boat which, twenty years later, would achieve several Round Ireland Race successes in the form of Eric Lisson’s Cavatina from Cork.

But by the time Cavatina was featuring in prize lists, Derek Martin has long since moved, now as a sole owner, back to French builders. He’d found a developing marque of GRP-built boats which particularly appealed to him with the Beneteau range, and he established a fruitful relationship with their Irish agents BJ Marine which continued for the rest of his life.

It’s a remarkable linkup which goes back to 1982, a time when many dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists were still mixed in their views on glassfibre. But Derek Martin led the way with his purchase of the Beneteau First 42 Lovely Lady, a handsome German Frers design which had first appeared in 1981, and is still reckoned one of the best-looking products of the Frers/Beneteau partnership.

Certainly there’s no doubt he was swayed by the First 42’s “modern classic” good looks, for he unhesitatingly named the new boat Lovely Lady in honour of Oonagh, and in celebration of being sole owner for the first time. His ownership of this handsome Frers 42 in Dun Laoghaire really was a game changer for trend-setting in the upper reaches of the Irish sailing scene, but for Derek Martin and his family and friends, it was the hugely enjoyable sailing itself which was the key in the many years of happy ownership with this boat.

derek martin4The Frers 42 Lovely Lady of 1982. This notably handsome yacht was very effective in promoting larger glassfibre cruiser-racers in Dublin Bay, and in introducing Irish sailing to the design genius of German Frers
Although many years had passed since his long period of active administrative service to sailing, his enthusiastic involvement afloat was as great as ever, and with his sons Rodney and Keith now actively involved, Lovely Lady was finally replaced by a more modern cruiser-racer with a stronger racing emphasis, the Bruce Farr-designed First 40.7 which he named Final Fling.

It tells us much about Derek Martin’s good sense in boat selection, plus the excellent advice and service he was given by BJ Marine, that some of the most fulfilled of his sailing years should have been enjoyed with two of the most definitive and successful yachts in the extensive Beneteau history. And it tells us everything about the underlying strength of his commitment to sailing and the sailing community that much of this took place long after he had served his time as Commodore of the DBSC and then the RIYC.

But now it was strength of family which showed through. He may have named the First 40.7 Final Fling, but as he observed to his sons, there was life in the old boy yet, and in time they moved on to the Beneteau First 44.7 Lively Lady, a graceful naming acknowledgement going back to the now distant time of the First 42.

Derek himself was seen on board and could take the helm, but now the racing was increasingly under the joint command of his two sons, with Keith and Rodney alternating as boat captain and helmsman, while the commendable Martin tradition of shipmates being seen as extended family continued in campaigning a boat type which, when it first appeared in 2004, was seen as having a certain cruiser emphasis, but has since proven to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Lively lady Royal Irish Yacht The First 44.7 Lively Lady – her comfortable style and accommodation disguise a potent performer. Photo David O’Brien/Afloat

Certainly in Dublin Bay and ISORA racing, Lively Lady is never a boat to be underestimated, and of course in her sister-ship Lisa, skippered by fellow RIYC member Michael Boyd, we have the 2017 RORC Overall Points Champion and “Boat of the Year”.

Having sailed with the Martins, father and sons, on the pioneering Lovely Lady and latterly on the all-of-a-piece Lively Lady, this writer can attest to the genuine nature of a family heritage in a truly seagoing outlook. Each generation of Martins has comfortably taken on board the assumption that living on the island of Ireland, and particularly if living within easy reach of Dublin Bay, means that sailing is a normal, central and healthy part of family life. They are the personification of a truly maritime outlook without in any way beating a drum about it.

derek martin sailingFinal Command – Derek Martin, in his eighties, aboard the First 44.7 Lively Lady

The death of Derek Martin at the age of 89 has concluded one particularly important episode in the Martin sailing saga, but thanks to his qualities as a father and sailor, the story and its traditions goes on. Nevertheless a very special chapter in sailing and in Irish life has definitely ended with the deaths of Derek and Oonagh Martin, and our thoughts are with their daughter Sally, their sons Rodney and Keith, their ten grandchildren, their recently arrived great-grand-daughter Hazel, their very extended family, and their many, many friends and shipmates.


Published in News Update Team

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