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Displaying items by tag: Laser

At a time when we’re constantly being warned in public life that we have to mark the current “Era of Centenaries” in a sensitive manner, it’s probably insensitive to respond by pointing out that the Irish sailing community is having quite enough trouble, thank you, in getting used to the fact that some boats we still think of as being modern are actually entering the vintage category and beyond writes W M Nixon.

But that’s the way it is. Perhaps “ageless” is not the word we seek. Maybe we should be veering more towards the all-enveloping category of “timeless”. Whatever it is, there are many among us who simply can’t get our heads around the fact that the always-elegant International Dragon is 90 years old in 2019, while the ever-young, fresh-as-a-daisy Laser is having her Golden Jubilee.

Laser Class Golden Jubilee

Or maybe it will be next year – it all depends on how closely things followed on from the ground-breaking Laser-creating phone call in 1969 (or even earlier) between Canadian boat ideas man Ian Bruce, and fellow-Canadian designer Bruce Kirby, aimed at providing an inexpensive easily-carried single-hander which looked good and sailed well.

The boat as she emerged – finally christened the Laser in December 1970 – closely followed Kirby’s original doodle in the immortal style of the best inventions. And of course, she has become one of the few boats to acquire Olympic status (it was in 1996) while remaining genuinely and hugely popular at club level.

We’re well aware that some global Laser production had been going through such a sticky patch recently that we’re now meant to call the officially-recognised boat the “ILCA Dinghy”. But it’s going to take some doing to get a re-naming to stick in place for a boat with the Laser’s long-standing popularity and brand recognition.

This popularity was very clear at last September’s Laser World Masters in Dun Laoghaire, with more than three hundred sailors from all over the globe, and Ireland getting a star performance from Mark Lyttle of the National Yacht Club. A turnout on this scale really was something else – there were Lasers in abundance whichever way you looked, and more than a few of the helms far out-dated the design concept of their wonderful little boats.

mark lyttle2Mark Lyttle (NYC) training in Dublin Bay for the first Olympics with the Laser in 1996, when he was a race winner. Photo: David O’Brien/Afloat.ie
mark lyttle3 Mark Lyttle after winning the Grand Masters Division in the Laser Worlds in Dublin Bay in September 2018. Photo: David O’Brien/Afloat.ie

But equally, as the “Masters” categories begin at age 35, there were quite a few helms who had yet to make their debut on the planet when the Laser was already born, so the vintage overall nature of the boat could well match the impressive range of maturity of some of the most senior helms.

This will be in evidence at the Irish Laser Masters this weekend in Howth, where they’ve had a continuous Laser racing programme on the go since 1974. But though Howth’s annual frostbite series for this timeless little boat continue to attract a healthy turnout, as is so often the case the sheer population weighting to be found south of the Liffey means that Dun Laoghaire names pack numbers and success, and defending champion in the Radials is RStGYC’s Sean Craig, who expects strong competition from clubmate Marco Sorgassi, while the home club’s Dan O’Connell, Dave Quinn and Daragh Kelleher are in winning form.

sean craig4Sean Craig, defending champion in the Radials this weekend’s Irish Laser Masters at Howth
These are all sailors to whom the adjective “timeless” could equally apply - living embodiments of the saying that sailing is a sport for youth of all ages. And even if the Laser does get replaced in the Olympic stakes by some newer design – as has been hinted for the French Olympics in 2024 – we only need to look at the story of the International Dragon to realize that Laser sailors will continue to have their sweet little boats as designed by Bruce Kirby playing a very big part of their life afloat well into the foreseeable future and beyond.

Because once upon a time, the International Dragon was very much a part of the Olympic circus. So much so, in fact, that when she got her marching orders after the 1972 Olympics - having been in the lineup since 1948 – there were those who thought it would lead to an inevitable decline in the class.

Dragon Class is Ninety Years Old

But on the contrary, it seems that most Dragon sailor cared a lot more about the joy they got from their boats than they did about the Olympic thing. So much so, in fact, that today the class is facing into year 90 in the very best of health, and its big championship, the 2019 Yanmar Dragon Gold Cup at Medemblik in the Netherlands from the 8th to 14th June, has already attracted more than a hundred boats from 16 nations in four continents, with Jorgen Schonherr from Denmark the defender after the championship in Finland last year.

dragon fleet5So who needs to be an Olympic class? The Dragon Gold Cup ten years ago. The 2019 event in The Netherlands in June has already attracted more than a hundred entries from sixteen countries.

The Dragon first appeared in Sweden in 1929 to a design by Norwegian Johan Anker, and there has been Irish involvement in the class since at least 1936. Certainly what is probably the most senior Dragon still racing – Don Street’s Gypsy in Glandore – is all of 86 years old, and she has been in Ireland a long time. As for her extraordinary skipper, he is one of the keenest advocates of the Dragon as a boat for sailors of all ages even if he himself is 89, but he concedes in the Dragon-sailing longevity stakes to Australia’s champion Gordon Ingate, who this year will be 92.

don street6aThe legendary Don Street – at 89, he races an 86-year-old Dragon with as much enthusiasm as ever

These figures are enough to make anyone dizzy, so to get some idea of the Dragon’s enduring appeal, let’s consider Irish involvement with the Gold Cup, which dates back to 1936. On several occasions, we’ve had a top Irish boat there or thereabouts, but the harsh reality if that it was brought back to Ireland only the once, and it was to Northern Ireland, to the then-thriving Dragon fleet at RNIYC at Cultra on Belfast Lough.

It was 1947, and the winner when the Gold Cup was raced on the Firth of Clyde was Eric Strain of RNIYC helming Billy Barnett’s Ceres. This led in due course to Strain becoming the British Dragon Helm in the 1948 Olympics at Torquay. But as Ceres was just a standard Scandinavian-built Dragon, Billy Barnett – who owned a successful Belfast engineering firm – decided that the exceptional talent of Eric Strain deserved the very best boat that money could buy, so the legendary yacht-building firm of Camper & Nicholson in Gosport were commissioned for the job.

dragon planing8Offshore at Glandore, the Dragons can get up and fly…Photo: GHYC/Richard Harrison
The resulting Ceres II was an exquisite bit of work. Maybe too exquisite. It was suspected that she was slightly heavier and not as fast as the first Ceres, and at the 1948 Olympiad, while Eric Strain and Ceres II did well, it wasn’t quite good enough. They were fourth. In Ireland, we do not need to be reminded of the huge void – a veritable chasm - to be found between the Bronze Medal-winning third and the otherwise commendable but medal-less fourth…….

1948 is now 71 years ago, yet today the International Dragon continues to play a very special role in world sailing. It’s something we take for granted. But what other sport would be continuing to use equipment designs whose unchanged basic concept originated 90 years ago? Boats which - to many of us - still seem well up-to-date.

Historic Ketch Ilen

It brings us back to that concept of timelessness. This weekend, the Limerick ketch Ilen will be on passage from Dunmore East towards Dublin Bay, and when people get to see her at Poolbeg from Sunday evening, and at the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire next Friday, they’ll be in no doubt that they’re looking at a concept of considerable antiquity, as her design of 1926 was evolved from Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse design of 1923, which O’Brien said was in turn inspired to some extent by a notably able Arklow fishing boat which dated from the 1860s.

Whatever the origins, it means that Ilen is only three years older than the International Dragon, and that the Laser has been around for more than half of Ilen’s existence. Truly, ours is one extraordinary sport. And if you really want to point up the oddities of vehicle design which sailing can produce, just consider that some years ago the berth at the RIYC which Ilen will occupy was very elegantly filled by the 70ft Fife designed-and-built cutter Hallowe’en.

Halloween light9A Fastnet Race record setter, the 70ft Fife cutter Hallowe’en (seen here at the RIYC in Dun Laoghaire) was built in 1926. Photo: W M Nixon
ilen kinsale10The 56ft Ilen – seen here in Kinsale this week – was also built in 1926. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Hallowe’en was built in 1926, and she took line honours in that year’s Fastnet Race in a record time which stood for many years. It’s mind-boggling to think that in the same year – and in a boatyard at Baltimore near the Fastnet Rock itself – the unbelievably different Ilen took shape. Yet such is the case, and next Friday we’ll have the opportunity to savour the variety of sailing craft which the special calls of seafaring can produce - and each and every one of them has their devoted adherents.

Published in W M Nixon

Irish Radial Girl youth sailing champion Eve McMahon continued her top form by winning the first race of the Laser Europa Cup on Lake Garda, Italy yesterday.

Howth Yacht Club's McMahon, who is aiming to represent Ireland this July at the World Sailing Youth worlds is part of the Irish Sailing Academy team competing, along with brother Jamie (pictured above), Tom Higgins, and Micheal O'Suilleabhain.

Eve notched three fourth places to finish at fifth overall at last month's youth nationals at Royal Cork making her a winner of the girls’ division by five clear points and giving her an Afloat Sailor of the Month prize.

More on the Europa Cup here

Published in Youth Sailing
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The 2019 Laser Master Nationals is to be held in Howth Yacht Club on 11th and 12th May, and another very competitive event is in store this year. Masters sailing has been going through a renaissance over the past few years. This growth is partly due to the fact that the laser is a low cost, one design class, with solid club sailing year round and a straightforward boat. It is one of the only classes in the country with club sailing 12 months of the year and comprehensive coaching and training. The success of the Dun Laoghaire fleet is worth noting. A strong sense of inclusion and fun, while offering both competitive and beginner level racing, should be a template for anyone looking to build a fleet in Ireland. The Masters Nationals has benefited from this trend. The event used to be a small affair, with Standard Rigs only and dominated by ex-campaigners who still had time to travel to events.

"The growth of the Masters Fleet has been impressive over the past 2 years, and in particular the Radial Fleet"

The growth of the Masters Fleet has been impressive over the past two years, and in particular the Radial Fleet. Numbers are now almost even between Radial and Standard Rigs, which has opened up options to a whole new cohort of Masters sailors, including female entries and those who may just be too light for the Standard Rig. The sense of fun and comradery among the fleet was particularly noticeable in the lead up to the Masters Worlds in Dun Laoghaire last September, and there was a powerful Masters entry at the Munster Championships this Easter.

In the Radial Fleet, Sean Craig will look to defend his title from last year, with fellow Royal St George Yacht Club sailor, Marco Sorgassi putting the pressure on Sean again this year. Conor Clancy had a strong event at the Munster Championships and looks like he is coming into form ahead of the event also, along with local sailor Darrell Reamsbottom.

Laser Masters radials 2436Sean Craig will look to defend his Radial title in Howth Photo: Afloat.ie

The Standard Rig fleet sees veteran Master Nick Walsh as the highest ranked sailor. Howth Frostbite sailors Dan O’Connell, David Quinn and Daragh Kelleher, are also expected to feature in a very strong fleet with plenty of depth throughout.

This year sees the introduction of onboard trackers. Top-ranked sailor Ronan Wallace is going to debrief sailors on racing in the club after sailing on Saturday which should add greatly to the fun and banter, while also giving some really valuable insights into the races from one of the top laser sailors in the country.

Entry is still open, with the discounted entry deadline this Friday 3rd May. Racing will be held in Howth on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th May, with registration on Friday night and Saturday morning. There are discounts on class membership available for those who just plan to do this event, contact organiser David Quinn for more info (dave at investwise.ie)

Download event poster below

Published in Howth YC
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This weekend saw Laser sailors from 30 clubs around the country converge on Baltimore for the annual Munster Laser Championships sponsored by CH Marine.

Ninety-five sailors took to the water on Saturday morning to a light 4 – 8-knot breeze. PRO Ciaran McSweeney and his team got two races completed for all fleets before heading for home. Overnight leaders were Jonathan O’Shaughnessy in the 4.7’s, Clare Gorman – radials and Ronan Wallace in the standards.

On Sunday morning a blanket of mist shrouded the harbour but fleets launched and racing got underway after a postponement waiting for breeze. The largest fleet racing was the radials with 38 sailors competing for the first regional title of 2019. It was also some great race training for the radials and 4.7’s as many of the young sailors competing will also take part in the Irish Sailing Youth Championships being held in Royal Cork Yacht Club this coming weekend. It was great to see some new faces joining the familiar faces racing this year – one Cork standard sailor was returning after a 10-year hiatus from racing!.

The PRO and his team got two races completed on Sunday under a misty sky with similar breeze to Saturday but without any sunshine. None of the overnight leaders held their spots due to the competitive racing as the results were updated after each race.

Hugh O ConnorHugh O'Connor (left) with Baltimore SC Commodore Niall O'Neill

The 4.7 fleet was won by Hugh O’Connor (NYC) at his first 4.7 event having moved from the topper fleet last Autumn. Jonathan O’Shaughnessy (RCYC) secured 2nd place and club teammate Cillian Foster was 3rd with two bullets recorded on Sunday. It was also Cillian’s first Laser event. First Lady and fifth overall was Alana Coakley (RStGYC).

Jamie McMahonRadial winner Jamie McMahon

The Radial fleet was won by Jamie McMahon (HYC), Rob Keal (RCYC) secured second racing in the radial rig for the first time and Micheal O’Suilleabhain (KYC/RCYC) was third. First Lady and fourth overall was Clare Gorman (NYC). Nine masters raced in this fleet with Sean Craig (RStGYC) securing 1st, Conor Clancy (RStGYC) 2nd and Darrell Reamsbottom (HYC) 3rd master.

rory LynchStandard fleet winner Rory Lynch

It was great to see 26 sailors racing in the Standard Fleet – this fleet was won by Rory Lynch (Blessington/NYC), second overall and first master was Russell McGovern (BYC/RUYC) and third Ronan Wallace (Wexford Harbour Boat & Tennis Club). The second master was Roger O’Gorman (MBSC) and third master – Nick Walsh (RCYC/BSC).

The Baltimore team of volunteers worked their magic again this year to ensure the success of this annual event. Thank you to all who assisted across the various areas – registration, mark laying, committee boat, finish boat, trolley pulling, tally numbers, sandwich making, safety boat cover, results to name just a few of the many jobs!.

Commodore Niall O’Neill presented prizes to the winners at the prizegiving yesterday evening and thanked all the sailors for racing and the Irish Laser Class for hosting the event in Baltimore.

Full Results can be found here.

Published in Laser
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There was Laser fleet drama for the National Yacht Club's top performing Finn Lynch yesterday when he was disqualified from the second race of the day following a black flag in his 111-boat fleet. So tight are the points at the top of the Laser fleet that even with his super consistency (four results from six in the top ten so far), the race six DSQ result dropped the 22-year-old from third to sixth overall and he is now nine points off the overall lead. 

He described his day on the water as 'mixed' (he had an eighth in his first race) but reaching the top ten of this ultra-competitive gold fleet cut is an achievement in itself.

Three races will be attempted today to determine the top-10 boats to sail in the medal race final on Sunday and Lynch will be determined to keep up his medal race participation after top ten finishes twice already this season in Miami and Palma.

The Carlow veteran of the Rio 2016 Olympics had started the day in the top three of his event and posted two top-10 results. However, he was disqualified for early starting in his final race eight, this meant he had to count his earlier worst score, an 18th place. That dropped Lynch to sixth place overall but just four points from the top three ahead of Sunday’s medal race final.

2017 and 2018 Laser World Champion Pavlos Kontides (CYP) is the model of consistency in the 111-boat Laser fleet. The Cypriot is the only competitor that does not hold a double-digit score and it has resulted in him grabbing the lead.

The Laser pack completed their opening series on Friday and will advance to gold and silver fleet racing on Saturday before Sunday’s Medal Race.

Kontides will carry a four-point advantage over Jonatan Vadnai (HUN) in the gold fleet. Hempel World Cup Series Miami gold medallist Hermann Tomasgaard (NOR) is third overall but there is minimal separation at the top of the pack and with three races to follow, anything can happen.

Gold Fleet for Aoife Hopkins

In the Women’s Laser Radial event, after a poor start, Howth Yacht Club’s Aoife Hopkins overtook Aisling Keller in the stakes to qualify for the Gold fleet. Tipperary sailor Keller will now sail in the Silver fleet final series after narrowly missing out by just two points.

Full results are here. Check out all our Irish Olympic sailing coverage in the build-up to Tokyo 2020 here

Published in Tokyo 2020

The National Yacht Club's Finn Lynch is just two points off the overall lead of the 170-boat Laser fleet in a breakthrough performance at Mallorca’s 50th anniversary Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar Regatta.

A 13 and a 5 scored today in changeable conditions by the 22-year-old Count Carlow sailor have put him back into second overall after eight races sailed. 

The result puts Lynch, a Viking Marine Ambassador, firmly into Saturday's top ten medal race final and with it the tantalising prospect of Ireland's first ever Laser medal from Palma.

Howth Yacht Club's Ewan McMahon, the U21 sailor competing in his second ever senior international regatta made the gold fleet and is placed 30th.

Finn Lynch WindwardFinn Lynch (right) in control on the approach to a Windward mark Photo: Jesus Renedo

Keeping his own focus – controlling the controllables as the coaches are fond of saying - and trying not to concern himself with the performance of his selection rivals, is clearly working for the young USA sailor Chris Barnard who stepped to the top of the giant Laser fleet today. His main selection rival is 2016 Olympian Charlie Buckingham who lies eighth after today.

“Key for me today was avoiding the bad race in these crazy conditions. It was about keeping focused and composed and I managed that.” Said Barnard, “I tried to keep going fast and avoid the big risks. Our trials for the test event are Miami and here. I have to make up ten places on Charlie. I am just focused on what I need to do. I can’t control him.”

The trials for the one GBR Laser spot have five serious contenders. At the end of today three are in the top seven, Elliot Hansen vaulting into third overall as Lorenzo Chiavarini – who started the day in second – had a bitterly painful day, scoring a 34th and then a DNF which drop him to seventh overall.

“It was a terrible day. The last race I came off the start line in decent pressure and the left side was then completely cut out of wind. Then I was in a hole for a couple of minutes. It is desperate when these are the trials.” Chiavarani explained.

Past world champion Nick Thompson of GBR won the first race and now lies fifth while young Lynch holds on to second, two points off the lead.

Full results are here Check out all our Irish Olympic sailing coverage in the build-up to Tokyo 2020 here

Published in National YC
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The National Yacht Club's Finn Lynch stays top five overall in the Laser class as the split from qualifying to finals racing arrived yesterday at the Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar.  The strongest breeze of the regatta so far arrived as if on cue. The step up to gold fleet racing can be a blessing or a curse but for Lynch, who is having a stand out performance this week, it is definitely another blessing that follows on directly from a similarly stellar performance last January in Miami.

Norway’s Hermann Tomasgaard still leads the men, rallying to a ninth after 23rd place wobble in the first Finals race. Lynch had a 14th and a 23rd place which he discarded as his worst score to date.

Finn Lynch downwindFinn Lynch is in the to top five of the 170 boat Laser class in Palma Photo: Sailing Energy

Howth's Ewan McMahon Makes Gold Fleet

In another stand out performance for Ireland, Howth Yacht Club's under-21 sailor Ewan McMahon made the gold fleet cut at only his second attempt at senior level. In fact, McMahon was racing alongside Lynch at one stage before finishing in the 20s in their 60-strong gold fleet. The 2016 Laser Radial World silver medalist has embarked on his own Olympic campaign after a string of Laser successes at youth level.

Adding to the strong showing for the British team overall today, Lorenzo Chiavarini won the second contest and lies second. Racing continues today.

Full results are here Check out all our Irish Olympic sailing coverage in the build-up to Tokyo 2020 here

Published in National YC

Is it still the Annalise effect, now morphing perhaps into the Finn Lynch effect? Is it the Laser Master Worlds effect from last September on Dublin Bay writes Sean Craig? Is it the emergence of the Radial rig as what "Afloat" recently described as the "boat for all ages"? Is it just the latest chapter in the local rebirth of a great dinghy, driven on by an inclusive community of enthusiasts? Or is it the realisation, finally, that young and old dinghy sailors CAN and maybe must race together to share resources and give our youth sailors real race practice, rather than just endless hours of drills and theory sessions?

The answer might just be all of the above. Regardless, the end result was a great turnout of 75 Lasers with up to 60 on the water, each Sunday from November to March, comprising 37 Radials (the largest ever locally assembled fleet of the mid-sized rig in Ireland), 19 Full rigs and 18 4.7s. How great it was to also see an equally healthy entry of 40+ PY dinghies, with lots of Fireballs and good pods of RSs and Wayfarers amongst others. Getting the entries in is all well and good but the host club still has to deliver and, as you would expect after 40 odd editions, the famous old DMYC delivered in spades. This is due to superb race management (thank you rising Race Officer star Cormac Bradley) and fantastic organisation (including comprehensive market research on format) spearheaded by Organiser Neil Colin and backed up by dozens of DMYC volunteers. Nor can we forget Bob Hobby who, in between pulling marks up and down for the meticulous RO Bradley, took some fairly exquisite photos for the DMYC Frostbite Facebook page

Plenty of plaudits there already but what really warmed the cockles this winter was seeing the youthful participation of eighteen 4.7s, about a dozen Radials and even a couple of young up and coming Full rig sailors like Peter Fagan and Hugo Kennedy. Dun Laoghaire is a dinghy sailing and racing centre par excellence but for too long the generations have been kept apart on the race course, causing wasteful duplication of efforts and resources. Perhaps this was part stigma, often the dreaded Health and Safety was trotted out as an excuse but it never really made sense and great kudos is due to both DMYC and DBSC for helping local Laser organisers in this area. A real powerhouse in making this happen this winter was Rob Walker of the Royal St George, in concert with Laser class captain Gavan Murphy. Rob put together a very comprehensive youth winter training programme for the combined clubs with top coaches but, crucially, the youths knew the idea was to stop training around midday and join in the Frostbites for some great sport with the, erm, somewhat older guys and gals ! Their coach would also observe the racing for debrief later. It is to the immense credit of these sailors and their parents that they embraced all this so great thanks go to some of the most active DL sailing families like the Gormans, Fahys, Walkers, Flanagans, Coakleys, Simingtons and many others too. Some clans had 3 or 4 family members out there! Kind of amusing - watching Kitty Flanagan carving up her Dad Sean at the leeward mark! Nice also to see something similar in PY with Morgan Lyttle in his 420 and the Thompson lads up from Wexford and storming around in a Fireball.

Results somehow don't seem very important when one has the gut feeling something rather special just took place in terms of the tribe on the water each Sunday. But for those of a statistical inclination, follow this link here What is perhaps noteworthy here is that the famous old Laser Frostbite trophy went to Conor Gorman who held off a strong field in the 4.7 division. By the way, older Laser heads learnt a hell of a lot by watching those guys start! No lining up from 3 lengths out with these racers. Anyway, the point is that this great old trophy (won by Olympians for example) has always been awarded to the Full rigs since the smaller sails simply didn't exist 40 years ago! But the senior sailors were unanimous this year that it should go the 4.7s to recognise their arrival in such good numbers and here's hoping we see 30 or 40 of them next winter! Indeed, the aforementioned DBSC welcome all ages and Laser rigs for their DBSC series (Tuesday nights) starting April 23rd here

Thanks again to the DMYC and all the competitors for turning up. What a fantastic bounceback from a couple of years ago when we were hearing a cruise-liner pier carving the harbour in two was no big deal since dinghy sailing was dying out anyway! Nothing could be further from the truth these days. Frostbiters are joined each Winter weekend by team racing students in Fireflies, Oppie training, Topper training, INSS and SID dinghy fleets and plenty of brand new 29-ers and Waszps, tearing around the harbour. With the brand new IS High-Performance centre on the Irish Lights site as well, you'd be tempted to ask if there's a more vibrant dinghy hub anywhere in the world? And that’s even before thirty Water Wags hit the water for Summertime!

Conor GormanConor Gorman (left) with the famous Laser Frostbite Trophy. Photo; Bob Hobby

Read Afloat.ie's weekly DMYC Frostbite reports here

Published in Dublin Bay
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Royal Saint George Yacht Club and Under 17 sailor Tom Higgins won the Andalusian Olympic Week regatta in the Laser Radial class earlier this month.

Higgins recorded three first places and three-top three finishes overall to secure a five-point net winning margin. Sailed over four days in mixed conditions in the Bay of Cadiz Tom was part of the Academy sailing team of five sailors coached by Sean Evans. Since his return, Higgins was part of the Gonzaga Sailing team which won the Leinster Team Racing Championships held in the RStGYC earlier this month.

As well as some Europa Cup events over the next number of months the team are preparing for the Laser Radial World Championships in Kingston, Ontario. Tom finished second U17 and seventh overall at this event in 2018.

Published in Youth Sailing

Consistent sailing will be the key if the Irish Olympic sailing team is to make good on promises of a strong peformance on the Bay of Palma this week. While none have yet reached the qualification standard for Tokyo 2020, the group, a mix of male and female Laser and Skiff campaigns, are now launching into a challenging season where securing a berth on the Tokyo startline is the absolute priority and for most of them this starts here at the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofía regatta.

As probably the most popular annual Olympic classes regatta in the world it is no surprise that the 50th anniversary Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofía Iberostar has drawn a record fleet to the Bay of Palma.

Nine of the ten Rio 2016 Olympic gold medal-winning sailors or pairs are racing at the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofía Iberostar.

In action for Ireland are Laser men, Finn Lynch, Liam Glynn, Ewan McMahon as well as 49er skiff team Ryan Seaton and Seafra Guilfoyle. Afloat.ie Sailor of the Year Rob Dickson was meant to sail but sailing partner Sean Waddilove is now out due to injury it has been confirmed tonight by the team. Also racing are National Yacht Club brothers Sean and Tadhg Donnelly. 

As Afloat.ie previously reported, although Ireland has still to qualify for Tokyo in any class, once the nation is qualified, Irish sailing's trials criteria means finishing in the top half of one of the 2019 qualifying regattas that include Palma. What's more, next week's Spanish regatta has added significance as it is the first of two trial events in the Laser to determine which Irish sailor will attend the Tokyo test event in August.

Dun Laoghaire's Finn Lynch, in particular, will be keen to continue his early season form. In Miami, in January, for example, he became the first ever Irish Laser sailor to qualify for a World Cup Medal Race, a sign perhaps that qualification is on the cards for the Rio veteran later this season?

Unfortunately, however, despite the opportunity for some excellent competition this week Annalise Murphy and Katie Tingle in the 49er FX will not be competing. The Irish Laser Radials are not in action either, due to exams, thus making a challenging qualification season now even tougher. 

Club Nàutic S’Arenal

The golden jubilee regatta has mustered 1,224 sailors, 869 boats in ten classes all from 67 different nations the huge Olympic classes competitions congregate over eight race areas administered from the sailing clubs the Club Nautico S’Arenal and the Club Marítimo San Antonio de la Playa,

As the Princesa Sofía Iberostar reaches its remarkable landmark the celebratory ambience around the boat parks and the clubs gives way Monday to the business of racing.

This annual gathering of the clans and the classes on the Balearic Island of Majorca is always a vital first check in with the rivals, the earliest big fleet opportunity to benchmark improvements after the winter period of training and racing. Or in some cases it is the idea arena to return to Olympic classes competition arena after a more protracted post-Olympic break.

A glittering 50th anniversary gala on Saturday evening was hosted at the Son Termes estate and was attended by Her Majesty Queen Sofïa. It was attended by Spain’s Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, Reyes Maroto, the president of the Government of the Balearic Islands, Francina Armengol, and the president of the World Sailing (International Sailing Federation), Kim Andersen.

Queen Sofia offered a few words of thanks and congratulations "To all those who over these 50 years have made it possible for this regatta to be run in such a wonderful way on the unrivalled waters of the Bay of Palma, setting up this trophy as a national and international reference in the sport of sailing ".

HM Queen Sofía also offered special recognition for Rear Admiral Marcial Sánchez Barcaeiztegui and Jaime Enseñat who are considered the originators of the regatta.

Jaume Carbonell, who was the Trofeo Princesa Sofía event manager over two periods (1988-92 and 2004-11) praised Enseñat, who was president of Mallorca Tourism Promotion in 1968.

“He had the idea of the island benefitting from the promotional value of a major sports event to put Mallorca in the world map as an emerging tourism destination back then”.

Enseñat was, according to Carbonell, a pioneer of sports sponsorship.

“He ensured that for the first time that a private company gave its name to the Trofeo Princesa Sofía and invested some money that enabled thinking big and set the foundations of what today is the best Olympic classes’ regatta in the Mediterranean and probably in the whole world”.

“Thanks to this, the Princesa Sofía changed from being a Club regatta to become Mallorca’s showcase regatta, known all around the world”, said Carbonell.

Nine from Ten

Nine of the ten Rio 2016 Olympic gold medal winning sailors or pairs are racing at the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofía Iberostar.

Since they won the 49er gold medal in Rio in 2016 New Zealand’s Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have won the America’s Cup and competed in the Volvo Ocean Race round the world. As they set out to defend their Olympic title next year in Tokyo Burling and Tuke return to the 49er fleet for the first time since Rio, choosing the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofía Iberostar and the Bay of Palma as their first major event after training at home during the New Zealand summer with a flourishing Kiwi 49er squad. Blair and Tuke will have a fleet of 107 49ers, a class record, to contend with on their return.

“We are here to get back into it. We have had really good training group at home, it has been fun there but it is good to be back into it in Europe. We have a good few blocks of time at home, we feel pretty comfortable in our handling, it is about making sure you get these little details back which will I am sure will come back. It is cool to see the fleet so big and probably reflects a bit what is going on what is happening in the rest of the sailing world. It is looking pretty secure for a while.” Burling, who won the title here with Tuke in 2015 when they were last here, says,

“It is fun sailing here and with the Cup stuff we have on it is good to do some sailing. Andy (Maloney) and Josh (Junior) from our Cup team are doing Olympic campaigns and are here too. It fits in well with our programme and it is quite similar to what we did last time, a good balance some design time, some big boat sailing and some little boats. It is all part of the plan.

Following a similar programme is Great Britain’s Giles Scott, with Ineos Team UK hoping to wrest the America’s Cup from the Kiwis, and looking to defend the Finn gold medal title which he won in Rio. Scott has done three Finn regattas since he won here last year, two lower level regattas in Australia this winter and the Enoshima Japan 2019 World Cup series opener last September where he finished runner up.

“At the end of last year we went to Australia and did a couple of trips there and then came up to Palma in February and have been in and out since then. So I have had some reasonable time in the boat since then which is nice after the last 18 months or so.” Says Scott, “At the moment I can manage the Cup programme and this alongside each other. It will not get any easier from that point of view. It is working fine. I don’t know where I am with regard to the fleet and so that is what we come here for. It is great to have this regatta. Everyone goes off through the winter and it is nice to come back and see what everyone has done. For me the best thing is being properly back into it and feeling good.” Says Scott,

“I do love it here. It is amazing. Formats change, World Cups come and go, and this is the constant. Everyone always comes. Everyone always loves it. They always put on a good regatta here. And so the sailors always respond to that and turn up in their masses.”

Argentina’s Olympic Nacra 17 champion Santi Lange has lost count of the times he has been to the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofía Iberostar.

“It is a lot more than twenty.” Smiles Lange who with crew Cecilia Carranza Saroli finished third in Miami in January and third at last year’s World Championships, “Everyone is so passionate and supportive here it is always great to be here. In the ‘good old days’ everything was brought here by the military and a lot of things were provided free. I once did this regatta when I was working in Southampton and came by train. I remember being at Victoria Station in London at 5am in the morning, travelling with mast, boom, daggerboard, rudder and everything. We were crazy to be here.”

Lange adds: “It has changed a lot but this I am always happy to be here. It is all so much more professional now than it was but this is such a cool place. There are cheap places to stay and it is a great place for training camps. And this is such a good regatta for younger sailors to come and race with the best in the world. That used to be the case in Hyeres, Spa, Medemblik and now it is not and this is what there is. I do think we should keep pushing to have big regattas where newcomers can come and race against the good guys and girls.”

“For us we have come here a little late and so our first thing is to check in with the fleet and see where we are, and then we fix our objectives. We had some good training in Uruguay with a good group. This is a technical class where everyone is learning and improving all the time.

Who’s who?

The 470 Men’s class has 73 entries. Winners here in 2018 were Australia’s Olympic silver medallists Mat Belcher and Will Ryan who return to open their season on the Bay of Palma. The world champions Kevin Pepponet and Jérémie Mion (FRA) finished seventh in Miami in January and are among a 13 strong French 470 mens squad. In Miami it was Spain’s Jordi Xammar and Nicolas Rodriguez who prevailed.

In the 470 Women’s fleet there are 45 entries. Japan’s Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka are World Champions and won here last year. Olympic champion is GBR’s Hannah Mills who sails with Eilidh McIntyre. Germany’s top two 470 crews finished first and second in Miami, Loewe and Markfort winning from Oster and Winkel. Mills and McIntyre were fourth at the Miami World Cup.

In the 45 boat Finn class Giles Scott is the defending Sofia champion and the Olympic champion. Sweden’s Max Salminen won in Miami, was World Championship runner up in Aarhus. World Champion Zsombor Berecz is not entered here.

The 108 strong 49ers see the return of Burling and Tuke, the Olympic champions. World champions 2018 are Croatia’s Sime and Mihovil Fantela. The winners here in 2018 were Yago and Klaus Lange (ARG).

Over 180 Laser standards are entered. Cypriot Pavlos Kontides stands out as world champion in 2017 and 2018 and Olympic runner-up in London 2012 and winner in January in Miami. Olympic champion is Australia’s Tom Burton while Miami’s dominant winner was Norway’s Tomasgaard.

In the Laser Radial there are 120 sailors and favorites Marit Bouwmeester the Olympic gold winner from Rio 2016 and the Belgian Emma Plasschaert, current world champion.

In the 49er FX, Annemiek Bekkering and Annete Duetz (Holland) are looking to defend the title of Sofía Iberostar champions. They are also the current world champions. Winners in Miami were Brazil’s Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze, Olympic champions.

Italy’s Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti are world champions who start as favourites in the Nacra 17 class which has 59 entries. France’s four times World Champions Billy Besson and Marie Riou return to race in Palma after Riou raced on the Volvo Ocean Race last year. Olympic champions are Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli. Australia’s Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin won in Miami.

The RS: X male and female classes see this regatta as a prelude to the the European Championship that will take place at the Club Nàutic S'Arenal immediately after this event, from 8 to 13 April. The current female windsurf world champion, the Dutch sailor Liliana De Geus, who also won the 2018 edition of the Sofía Iberostar, will be the rival to beat the Japanese Peina Chen and the Andalusian Blanca Manchón as main competitors.

On the male windsurfing side, the Spanish sailors such as Canarian Ángel Granda and the Balearic Sergi Escandell at the head, is emerging as one of the main powers in the Majorcan regatta.

Published in Tokyo 2020
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