Clifden Boat Club is the primary sailing and boat sports access point for the picturesque town of Clifden, the natural capital of Connemara, the “Land of the Sea” on Ireland’s far west Atlantic coast. While the club’s history goes much further back, this year it celebrated thirty years of being in its “new” clubhouse with a reassembly of many of those who were there for the grand opening back in 1990.
The building – designed by CBC member Liam Clark, who is in both photos – has matured well, looking very much of our time while successfully blending into the hillside which sweeps upwards to the famous Sky Road. The architectural concept was for both gables to look like a yacht under sail, whether you are coming in from the sea or from the town along the shore of the drying Clifden Harbour.
The space within is such that the small but keen membership are able to let part of their premises for a popular eaterie, The Boardwalk Café which – as the delayed 2020 season gets under way – is now being run by Lukasz Langowski, who served with previous chef Simon Trezise for many years.
With the Clifden Lifeboat station nearby, CBC is the centre of an active maritime focal point, and while its moorings will not all be filled until August owing to the COVID-19 delays, the club already has training programmes underway, and all the other activities are working through the pipeline.
While this year’s celebrations are for the opening of the 1990 clubhouse, the club itself may have its origins as far back as 1907, as a silver cup trophy for “Clifden Bay Regatta 1907” was discovered – neatly in time for its Centenary – in 2007. Then two clubs were in existence later in the 1900s – the Clifden Bay Deep Sea Angling Club, and the Clifden Bay Dinghy Sailing Club – but in 1973 they got their act together, and in time had an organisation of sufficient strength – the Clifden Boat Club – to gather the resources and take on the construction of a multi-purpose clubhouse in 1989, its opening in 1990 being a real breakthrough.
Since then, in addition to its many local activities with the emphasis on junior and adult training, Clifden has hosted events as various as the West of Ireland Offshore Racing Association Annual Championship, which it has staged twice with good turnouts, and the Irish Intervarsities International Championship, the latter – a major dinghy happening – being an event which is noted for choosing out-of-the-way venues of special attraction, so Clifden fitted the bill to perfection.
The club has produced its own top teams, the most successful crew being Jackie Ward with his sons Damian and Barry and their friends who have campaigned the Ron Holland-designed Parker 27 Hallmark to victory all along the western seaboard, with their most noted achievements being class wins in WIORA at Tralee Bay and overall victory in the Dubarry West Coast Superleague.
Clifden being at the heart of a special area which has attracted international visitors who then put down summer roots in the region, Clifden BC also has a significant international membership, and the best-known local connection in cruising is American Nick Kats, who has twice voyaged with his 39-ft ketch Teddy to East Greenland from Clifden.
In top-level offshore racing, another international link is the Gouy family from France, famed father Bernard and his son Laurent, whose determined campaigning of the complete RORC programme with their Ker 39 Inis Mor saw them become RORC Yacht of the Year 2013, while their Irish interest was reflected by Inis Mor listing Clifden Boat Club as her home base for the Round Ireland race from Wicklow, which she contested twice, and won overall in 2012.
Like every other sailing and boatsports club in Ireland, Clifden Boat Club is gradually working its way back to a level of activity which is compliant with the changing regulations, while at the same time providing a programme attractive enough for seasoned members and beginner alike to get people back afloat again. The club is in good spirits, and 30 years down the line, the brave move to build a clubhouse carefully designed for Clifden requirements continues to be a matter of justifiable pride.
In this strange summer with its mixed weather, CBC member Damian Ward’s recent drone footage of the club on a sunny morning with a sailing introduction class getting under way reminds us of what Ireland can be like when all the encouraging factors are in place.