Displaying items by tag: Roger Bannon
#irishsailing – Ireland's national sailing authority has been going through turbulent times in recent years. With unprecedented expansion of ISA staff numbers as the country revelled in the boom years of the Celtic Tiger, the arrival of the inevitable and abrupt financial downturn found an Association bloated, unfit to cope, and out of touch with ordinary sailors.
High profile events, top level training and international participation had become so dominant in the ISA's range of activities that many of the ordinary sailors of Ireland already felt the Association was no longer relevant to their own low key personal pursuit of friendly sport afloat.
When the crash came, it led to a marked decrease in active sailing numbers as disposable incomes fell away. People focused on keeping their jobs and businesses afloat rather than their boats sailing, while many promising young sailors were forced to emigrate.
This new reality was reflected by the growing disillusion of club officers, who saw their membership subscriptions decreasing even while the ISA – which is largely reliant on subvention from the clubs for its own income – seemed always to be looking for more money. And at the height of the boom years, when all the major clubs had put through significant expenditure in developing their facilities to international standards, the ISA had shown its lack of contact with the reality of club life by proposing its own stand-alone National Sailing Centre in Galway, a facility which would in effect have been run in rivalry to the main clubs. To the mutterings in the grass roots were added the rumblings from above as major clubs threatened to withhold their annual payment to the ISA unless real reform was initiated. W M Nixon takes up the story.
In a classic grass roots revolution, club sailors Norman Lee from Greystones in County Wicklow and Bryan Armstrong from Sligo were at first rebuffed when they tried to voice their concerns about the ISA's increasing irrelevance to the needs of the vast majority of sailing enthusiasts, people at local level who were doing their very best to keep the sport alive through torrid times.
The Irish sailing community now owes these two men and their supporters a debt of gratitude, for they believed in what they were saying and they refused to be turned aside. Eventually, in November 2013 moves were in place to establish a Review Group for the urgent analysis of all ISA activities, and its personnel drew comprehensively on Ireland's remarkable pool of people with hands-on experience of running successful sailing events and organisations.
It was chaired by Brian Craig of Dun Laoghaire who has headed up the organising team on more major and notably successful international sailing events in Dublin Bay than probably anyone else, and its able personnel included two former ISA Presidents - Roger Bannon of Dun Laoghaire and Neil Murphy of Malahide and Howth - who had both been noted for their skill in running a tight ship when they were in charge. With them was highly regarded International Race Officer Jack Roy of Dun Laoghaire, and renowned sailmaker/activist Des McWilliam of Crosshaven, who each year is inevitably seen in busy involvement afloat in more Irish sailing centres - large and small - than anyone else in the boat world.
Bryan Amstrong of Sligo on the helm for a Mirror race
Also on board was one of the men from the barricades, Bryan Armstrong of Sligo. His background in a relatively remotely-located club which nevertheless has a long and distinguished sailing history made him uniquely qualified to voice the concerns of the grass roots. And we have to remember that all these people were giving voluntarily and generously of their time to this project in a period when Irish life was largely a matter of just getting through each day, while staying economically afloat was something of an achievement.
Primarily, the Review Group's function was to analyse the Association work on behalf of ordinary club sailors, as it was agreed that the Olympic and High Performance Divisions of the ISA's activities – which receive direct Sports Council grants – were in effect functioning as a different entity.
The Strategic Review Group was still work in progress when the ISA acquired a new President in David Lovegrove in March 2014, but by August the SRG published proposals which led to the setting up of a more formal body, the Planning Group. If this seems like a case of kicking the can down the road, it was anything but - these were people in a hurry, they'd got through the first stage of analysing areas where action was required, now they had to be more structured in coming up with clearcut ideas and concrete proposals.
This new Planning Group, which went into action in early Autumn 2014, was chaired by Neil Murphy, and its members included ISA President David Lovegrove, ISA Board Member Brian Craig, Ruth Ennis, Peter Redden, Sean Craig, and ISA CEO Harry Hermon, with noted Dun Laoghaire events administrator Ciara Dowling to provide administrative support.
They had their draft plan ready by mid-December 2014, and on January 21st 2015 Neil Murphy and his group publicly unveiled their analysis and proposals for the first time at a well-attended and very representative meeting in the Royal St George YC in Dun Laoghaire.
Neil Murphy is a former ISA President who, in addition to extensive experience as a Race Officer, is a typical club sailor, racing a Puppeteer 22 out of Howth. Photo: W M Nixon
While those involved in setting the ISA on a healthier course are mostly working on a voluntary basis, it has to be said that the PowerPoint presentation and the printed material was of the highest professional class. In fact, it was much better than many professional shows I've been to, and the level of thought which went into a wide range of questions from the floor answered by Neil Murphy, Brian Craig and David Lovegrove generated a growing level of goodwill which concluded with Norman Lee voicing his congratulations and good wishes for this continuing process in which he and Bryan Armstrong had played such a key role.
So now we move on to the next stage – taking the ideas to the rest of the country. Doubtless you'll have noted the double meaning in titling this piece 'Just Who Do The ISA Think They Are?' In a first interpretation, that question is the one for which, let's hope, we are all now involved in working together in providing and implementing a satisfactory answer.
But equally, as the ISA Road Show gets out of Dublin to take this excellent presentation to a public meeting in Cork next week (it's in the Rochestown Park Hotel on Tuesday, Feb 17th, 7.0 pm to 9.0 pm) and then Galway the week after (Galway Bay Sailing Club, Tuesday 24th February 7.0 pm to 9.0pm), they'll be taking themselves into areas where experience of sailing administration long pre-dates the establishment of organised sailing on Dublin Bay.
Crosshaven in the summer time. When we look at the natural advantages to be found here, it's little wonder that structured recreational sailing on Cork Harbour long-pre-dated any organised sport on Dublin Bay. Photo: Robert Bateman
So you might well ask just just who do they think they are, these people from Dublin, going down to Cork to try to tell them how sailing should be organised? The nerve of them, doing it in a place where they've had organised sailing since 1720, and where the two biggest clubs – the Royal Cork and Kinsale – are both mighty establishments of international sailing repute which would remain so even were the ISA to disappear overnight in a puff of smoke...
And as for going west along the road to Galway, that will take them through Athlone where the Lough Ree Yacht Club dates back to 1770, while on the west coast the Royal Western of Ireland YC at Kilrush traces its origins back to 1828. Equally, further north along the Atlantic coast Sligo YC dates back to 1821, and in Lough Erne the club began in 1820. Yet the first club on Dublin Bay, the Royal Irish, only began as recently as 1831, and even then it barely hung in and had to be revived in 1846, with the pace being set in the meantime by the Royal St George YC, founded 1838.
Kinsale is another harbour which seems to have been designed with sailing primarily in mind. Photo: Kevin Dwyer/courtesy ICC
Kilrush on the Shannon Estuary had a club in being before there were any sailing institutions on Dublin Bay. Photo: W M Nixon
So in terms of sailing administration history, Dublin and Dun Laoghaire are only Johnny-come-lately places by comparison with just about everywhere else in Ireland. Yet thanks to the inevitable dominance of economic development, population growth and the strengthening centres of political power, we now find that sailing administration and decisions of national import are emanating from a place that, in terms of natural sailing advantages, lags far behind the rest of the country.
Oh for sure, Dun Laoghaire Harbour is a fabulous artificial amenity, and the advent of the new marina at Greystones has already been seized upon as greatly increasing the "cruising" options of Dublin Bay. But let's face it, Dublin Bay is really only good for racing, specific day sailing and training, whereas Cork Harbour and Kinsale provide such a variety of opportunities for interesting race courses, mini-cruises with multiple destinations and what have you, that in effect they're not just in a different part of the country – they're a different country altogether.
Dun Laoghaire is a totally artificial facility, and sailing options on Dublin Bay are limited. But it's inescapable that this is the primary point of leisure access to the sea for Ireland's largest and most affluent population. Photo: Kevin Dwyer/courtesy ICC
All of which adds to the difficulties of creating a meaningful national authority with which every sailing person can identify.
This business of Dublin v The Rest is not unique to sailing, of course, but when you have a specialist sport with multiple sub-branches of activity, the problem is exacerbated.
So please bear this in mind if you take yourself along to the meetings in Cork or Galway during the next ten days. This really is a genuine attempt to base the ISA within the sailing community at an everyday level of usefulness to all, with scope for growth while enhancing existing structures, and input from the sailing community at this stage will help in developing the ideas and initiatives proposed.
While the draft ISA Strategic Plan 2015-2020 very definitely puts the emphasis back on to the need for healthy well-run clubs as the basis for the sport, there was initially a feeling at the meeting on January 21st that the new-look ISA is not supportive of commercial sailing schools. In fact, what the new-look ISA hopes to do is encourage training schemes within clubs, while at the same time supporting commercial sailing schools where the demand is such that no club could realistically cope while maintaining its essential club ethos.
Going into this in more detail in a personal meeting this week with Neil Murphy, who is a Chartered Quantity Surveyor, we talked around the fact that a thriving club scene is central to the spirit of Irish sailing, and he was musing on the success of Sutton Dinghy Club where Hugh Gill heads up what is in effect a commercial sailing school within a club setting.
In fact, what Murphy would hope to see emerge at larger population centres is sailing's equivalent of the public golf course. Anyone who has used a public golf course will be aware that the proprietors are usually mustard keen to encourage the formation of a "club" within their customer base, and there is no reason why this shouldn't eventually take root in Irish sailing, providing access to sailing at a fraction of the cost of joining an established club.
It's not something which can realistically be objected to by established clubs trying to protect their own membership, as the people who would use a "public sailing club" would be those who simply couldn't afford to go sailing at all in the current traditional club setup.
Nevertheless support for the established club setup is central to the new Strategic Plan, and the provision of Regional Development Officers to serve clubs directly is very much to the fore in the new thinking. But in looking over the figures published with the report, it's good to note that the ISA works with no less than 80 recognised training centres, while an encouraging statistic is that there are now 24 secondary schools in Ireland which include sailing as a regular part of their curriculum. Admittedly it's a long way from the French setup where every schoolkid is entitled by law to one week of sailing and one week of skiing per year, but in a country where an aversion to being on the water used to be thought inevitable, it's a step in the right direction.
All these considerations of inexpensive sailing are a whole world away from the stories of recent weeks and days about the ISA's High Performance Division seeking a fund-raising executive who will be tasked with finding €2.75 million per annum through philanthropic and other donations in order to help the funding of top level campaigns which we're not allowed to call Olympic campaigns, as apparently that is copyrighted by the Olympic Council, so we call them High Performance instead.
But apparently Government departments aren't restricted by this limitation on the use of the word Olympic, for it was bandied about like nobody's business in this week's news that the government is spending mightily through the Sports Council, with sailing being number three in all Ireland in terms of current Sports Council funding, with a total tag of €1,289,900.
Of course it's not all for specifically Olympic sailing, but it covers 103 sailors from Optimists to the Olympics. Which is fine and dandy for those who are mad keen to race at the highest level, but most sailors in Ireland are much more interested in performing well within their chosen area and boat class, but with sailing being just part of a reasonably civilised and well-balanced life.
And as became evident at the meeting on January 21st, there's an increasing number of people who feel that sailing needs to realise that there's a sizeable population out there of folk who'd like to go sailing, but don't feel the almost religious vocation to own a boat.
With the rapid expansion of sunshine sailing holidays with boats and equipment readily available for hire at the destination, there's a strong feeling there's a real need for more of this in Ireland, even if we can't guarantee the sunshine. The suggestion brings us back to both the "public sailing club" concept, and the growing realisation by established clubs that they have to reach out to potential members by having boats available for sailing on a trial basis.
The Affordable Sailing Team – Norman Lee (right) with his brother Ken beside their campervan at last year's GP 14 Worlds at East Down YC on Strangford Lough. Photo: W M Nixon
With their own very high can-do standards of boat maintenance, Norman and Ken Lee can keep their GP 14 in the competitive frame. Photo: W M Nixon
That said, the need to own one's own boat and tune and tinker with her to your heart's content is what sailing is all about for many of us, and Norman Lee is a classic case in point for this approach. He claims that his sailing costs him just €600 per year, though that of course is after he has paid for his well-tuned GP14, and he has long since written off the cost of the vintage camper-van which is home to the Lee Equipe when they hit the campaign trail.
Nevertheless the entire setup has to be outstandingly good value, and doing it in such economical style is part of the fun of it all. So when someone with Norman Lee's approach to sailing is prepared to get up at the big ISA public meeting in Dun Laoghaire and congratulate the team who have been working on the reforms which he and Bryan Armstrong set in train, then that is approval of a high order.
And as for just who or what is the ISA, can we maybe agree that ideally we all are the ISA, every last one of us who goes sailing or is even just interested in the sport, and it's up to us to keep it in line and encourage it to identify with and serve the ordinary sailor every bit as much as the high-flyer.
Private pleasure.....the 2014 GP 14 Worlds at East Down YC is about as high as many Irish sailors would expect or want to aim, and many are content with much lower-key regular club sailing. Photo: W M Nixon
The Plan is for the period 2015 - 2020 and is based on the views that were put to a 'Strategic Review Group'. The SRG was asked by the Board in 2013 to assess where the Association stood and how it needed to adjust to better serve the sport of Sailing. The Board accepted its Report and tasked a group to prepare a new Strategic Plan for the ISA based on its contents.
This blueprint (downoad the draft plan below as a 2mb pdf file) looks like a positive step forward not least because it makes an attempt to implement measurable targets for the good of grass–roots sailors. That rule was something lacking on a now scrapped 2020 vision document sub–titled 'grow the sport, grow the membership, grow the organisation'. This discredited plan turned out to be boom time folly and like so many other projects around the country at that time, poorly thought out and only half–built.
On foot of it, in 2013 a band of dissenting sailors held the ISA to account for its lack of performance. Back then, association efforts were more focussed on getting the ISA genie back in the bottle than the sport back on track. In a push for change at the National Yacht Club (NYC) in April 2013, the embattled body heard over 300 suggestions for change.
Not least was the fact sailing had lost a quarter of its members in recession and key yacht clubs are still in choppy financial waters. A massive fall off of junior sailors also presented an inconvenient truth that problems lay not with the children but with the paucity of guidance for newcomers.
'The ISA has lost its way over the last few years," Bannon wrote in March 2013, giving his view of a bureaucracy 'detached from the reality of what is going on in the front line'.
Around the same time, County Wicklow dinghy sailor Lee said he wanted 'the ISA focus off elite sailing and the emphasis instead to be on enjoying sailing for fun as per the association's own articles of association'.
Two years on, an independent group of sailors has charted a new course but does this revised game plan satisfy these demands? Will it be a boost for clubs and classes, particularly smaller ones, or is the only comfort for them the fact that the process took place?
The underlying principle of the Plan is moving from a 'governance approach' to one of the principal stakeholders in the Sport working together with goal of encouraging and developing participation. The Association, Clubs, Training Centres, Classes and associated groups working in union to achieve those objectives underlies all of the strategies. There will be a renewed emphasis on utilising the input of volunteers to harness the skills and knowledge of active sailors so that the ISA can evolve and develop and respond to issues that arise.
The approach is in a logically presented format but there is very little that suggests the ISA will support ageing, less popular class associations, preferring rather to put faith in the bricks and mortar of clubs and training centres to strengthen access and participation avenues for current and potential sailors.
While many of the strategies are laudable, there will be difficulties in operating them, particularly where they are dependent on the vigour, enthusiasm and skills of volunteers at club level.
Indeed, there may be some instances where ISA aspirations are in direct conflict with local trends and activities. For example, what will the Optimist and Laser classes say to the strategy of 'encouraging participation of younger sailors in two person boats' or the dinghy classes about the strategy of encouraging crewing in keelboats.
The scenario will create debate about the professional structure required to deliver on its aspirations particularly in the training area. Suitably qualified personnel are necessary to negotiate the tricky waters disturbed by the demands of the multiple agencies with a stake in the sport and its delivery – HSA, Department of Transport, Department of Education.
At the same time it would appear that the working plan appears to validate the ISA's High Performance department as many of the strategies suggested are actually currently operational.
There are a number of curious omissions:
·No mention of Paralympic sailing in the High Performance section
·No mention of Youth Worlds, a fertile ground for ISA recently
·No mention of financing the association, strangely in light of the discussion around its joint membership scheme.
Where does the balance lies when gauging the benefit of an organisation producing a strategic plan – is it the outcome or the process that is the more valuable exercise? Or worse still, is it the creation of a stick to be beaten with further down the road if targets are not achieved.
The ISA has been fortunate in being able to rely on some excellent volunteer directors for the overhaul process. The combination of effectiveness and commitment of the new board has brought the association a long way in a short time but how sustainable is this voluntary effort over time?
One doer maybe better than forty talkers but effective volunteers are hard to find. Finding an ISA President a year ago was not without difficulty in itself. In the absence of such voluntary effort, and with the benefit of experience, can the professional staff see this new plan through or is more help needed?
As a draft, this document will no doubt undergo some change in the process that now follows. And while there have been some changes at the ISA's Park Road HQ, the evolution of the ISA from the Ursula Maguire administered one-person organisation of 20 years ago continues with a relatively minor correction of the set and drift that had crept in in recent years. Are more changes still to come? Will there be a replacement for the recently departed training director? Perhaps too someone is also needed to support the club racing side – maybe in conjunction with the Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA)?
The appointment of Regional Development Officers to assist Clubs and Training Centres has been seen as one of the ISA success stories in recent years and it is proposed to increase their availability to Clubs and Training Centres. The Board has already decided to add a further RDO to the two existing appointments to ensure the local availability of expertise and advice and facilitate greater co-operation and coordination between local Clubs and with Training Centres.
The primary role of the Clubs in growing the sport locally, attracting newcomers and maintaining the interest of both existing and new members is acknowledged. Better linkages between Clubs and Training Centres for their mutual benefit are proposed. This is in the knowledge that most newcomers interested in taking up Sailing feel more comfortable in approaching a Training Centre than a Club but the long term involvement of sailors in the sport is best ensured by them joining Clubs, participating in Club activities and enjoying the benefits - both practical and social - that membership provides.
The over elaborate structure of ISA training courses and the difficulties of qualifying, retaining and upskilling instructors was a widespread complaint when the Review Group conducted their research. Strategies to resolve those problems are proposed.
An often expressed view about the Club Training schemes for Junior sailors is the amount of effort committed to running courses by Clubs and the relatively poor transfer rate from the courses to Club involvement and activity afloat. It is planned to refocus the training courses away from a 'certificate chase' to an emphasis on developing the skills learned. An online sailing passport scheme to supplement the paper based certificate system is proposed. It will be trialled in the coming season and will allow the recording of both course attendance and other time afloat, whether racing or leisure sailing.
A strategy of encouraging the training of young sailors in two person boats, as opposed to single handed craft, is proposed, with a view to improving both their technical and social skills. A renewed emphasis on sailing being a sport for life and avoidance of the risk of sailor burnout by compressing skills acquisition into young sailors' early teens, are envisaged.
The redressing of the perceived imbalance between the support structures for those competing in the non-Olympic area and those involved with the High Performance area - essentially the Olympic arena - is proposed. This will not affect the support for the High Performance sector, which is funded through the good offices of the Irish Sports Council, but will instead propose that the support available to other areas of competition will be enhanced. Better access for Clubs and Classes to coaching at local level is one of the principal strategies envisaged and it is hoped that Clubs and Classes will be able to access both coaches with a High Performance background and those with experience of specific Classes.
It is proposed that the ISA should re-commence the co-ordination of a racing event calendar to facilitate the avoidance of clashes between events and re-establish the balance between local, regional and national events.
Now the process of re-evaluation has begun, the ISA is urging all sailors to play a role to win back participation in sailing. A green light from clubs and classes is key to this plan's success.
The following regional meetings are taking place:
Wed 21 Jan 15 7pm-9pm Dublin, Royal St George Yacht Club
Tue 17 Feb 15 7pm-9pm Cork, Rochestown Park Hotel
Tue 24 Feb 15 7pm-9pm Galway, Galway Bay Sailing Club
Last week's Sailing on Saturday blog about the fate of classic yachts was a revelation about our readership. Although three significant historic vessels in three different and distant locations were involved, it was the news about the re-build of the Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle which drew nearly all the attention. Cork Harbour may indeed be the true capital of Irish sailing, but the sheer size and wealth of the South Dublin population accessing the sea through Dun Laoghaire gives it special power and interest. As someone whose home port is outside Dublin Bay, W M Nixon happily returns to the fray.
It's little wonder that Ireland has won more than her fair share of Nobel Prizes for Literature, yet frequently has to look abroad when boats need to be built. We're great at working words into packages of merchandisable literature or high-flown arguments, but we're maybe not so good at building boats, or even looking after them.
But then, Albert Einstein was a keen sailing man, yet despite his intellectual genius, his boat was always a bit of a mess. So maybe it's all of a piece, that last weekend's story about – among other things – the re-build in France of a classic Dublin Bay 24 of 1948 vintage, has in the space of a few days evoked thousands of beautifully-crafted words in the comment section with enough heat generated to warm a small town. (to read comments scroll to the end of last Saturday's blog here – Ed)
Some of the big beasts of Dun Laoghaire's sailing jungle have enthusiastically thrown their hats into the ring, and already we can imagine some shrewd producer of Cable TV docu-dramas setting out a potential cast list for the likes of Roger Bannon and Hal Sisk, while the mysterious Michael Joseph will be played by The Man In The Iron Mask.
The irony of it all is that all these commentators aspire to the same thing – increased vitality and enthusiasm in Dun Laoghaire sailing. And sometimes, if they would take more time to read each other's detailed comments, they'll find they broadly are advocating the same methods of providing boats which will set the local sailing imagination alight, rather than being just another set of plastic fantastics.
But because of the Irish habit of "wanting nothing to do with that other crowd," a lot of creative diplomacy is needed to harness all this energy. Maybe an intense level of debate is unavoidable. For as we've said of another venerable Irish classic boat class which manages to survive and prosper, it does so by inverting the laws of physics, and relying on friction to create energy.
Let's begin with the most straightforward query – Michael Joseph's first question, posted on Wednesday 15th October, as to why do we think that the setup in Dun Laoghaire is not conducive to the preservation and continuing vitality of a class of 38ft classic wooden yachts, in other words the Dublin Bay 24s?
Well, basically it's because Dun Laoghaire has great difficulty in getting some of its acts together. It's physically a very fragmented sort of place. The relationship of the town with the harbour has always been problematical, and it's difficult to generate a general sense of maritime community which might be conducive to encouraging classic yachts which need to be well loved.
When the plans for the new "Asylum Harbour" were drawn up in 1817, it was seen purely as a shelter facility for shipping caught out in in adverse weather in the Dublin Bay. Although there was a tiny quay at Old Dunleary (the area is still known as The Gut), in the initial plan it was actually shown as being outside the new harbour. The thought that the crews of ships anchored in this new port of refuge might wish to have direct contact with the nearest bit of shore seems if anything to have been actively discouraged.
The proposed pans for an Asylum Harbour in 1817 did not include any suggestions as to possible in-harbour locations for jetties and quaysides, let alone waterfront development, and it actually excluded the small quay at Old Dunleary to the west, though in the final form the West Pier was moved further west to enclose the Old Dunleary pier.
This meant that when the inevitable shoreside facilities began to develop rapidly, it was all on a piecemeal basis. Ideally, when the plan for the harbour was finally agreed, a parcel of property of the same area as the harbour itself should have been secured on the waterfront for the planned development of a complete harbour town. But instead, you got opportunist growth - not really development at all. An unattributed quotation about 19th Century Kingstown, as it had now become, in David Dickson's recently published mighty tome Dublin (Profile Books) tells us much about the official view of the way things had got out of hand in the new seaside town, with speculative developers such as Mr Gresham from the Gresham Hotel putting up terraces of houses every which way:
".....no system whatever has been observed in laying out the town so that it has an irregular, republican air of dirt and independence, no man heeding his neighbour's pleasure, and uncouth structures in absurd situations offending the eye at every turn."
Ouch. For a growing conurbation which prided itself on being called Kingstown, that "republican air of dirt and independence" was a low blow. But as the new railway in 1834 had cut most of the new town off from the sea, an effect which was to become further emphasized by roads running parallel with it, the opportunities for dynamic interaction between town and harbour were restricted. Thus any waterfront space became too valuable to house the workshops of master craftsmen, boatbuilders and shipwrights who might be expected to be readily available to build and maintain local classes of wooden yachts of any significant boat size.
Modern Dun Laoghaire looking northwards, though it should be noted that this photo was taken before the contentious new library was forced into the waterfront between the Royal Marine Hotel and the National Yacht Club. With the water edge's almost exactly marked by the railway and the roads parallel to it, this clearcut division means that, far from the waterfront being part of a shared urban-harbour complex, the complete lack of planning in the early stages has resulted in very little comfortable inter-action between harbour and land, and there is precious little space available for locating specialist small boatyards and marine workshops which would facilitate the continuing good health of substantial wooden classic yachts.
So nowadays, the reality is that basing a cabin sailing yacht of any reasonable size in Dun Laoghaire on a year round basis is too expensive already without the added cost of her being a high-maintenance classic. The best value for money in Dun Laoghaire at the moment is probably provided by a Sigma 33 or a First 31.7 raced as a One Design. Yet in both cases, the necessary membership of one of the waterfront yacht clubs and Dublin Bay Sailing Club, added to the expense of a marina berth and the most basic running costs, means an owner-skipper is shelling out around €10,000 per annum before anything much has been done with the boat.
So although Dublin Bay Sailing Cub works wonders in co-ordinating the racing of hundreds of boats, the survival or otherwise of a class is dictated not by policy decisions on promoting new classes by DBSC, but rather by ruthless market forces, with the sheer expense of sailing from Dun Laoghaire dictating which classes can hang on when times are bad.
The result is that over the years, the surviving classics have become steadily reduced in class numbers, and only the smallest boats survive. With the loss this year of the 17ft Mermaids as an officially recognized Dublin Bay class, as they could no longer guarantee the minimum fleet of five boats, only the 25ft Glens survive from the former serried ranks of several wooden keelboats, and only the 14ft Water Wags survive of the once numerous wooden dinghies.
Yet the growing health of the Water Wags – which can trace their history back to 1887 as the world's first One Design Class - suggests that even in the cut-throat accountancy-led world of Dun Laoghaire Harbour, people still have a natural fondness for classic wooden boats. The current fleet of robust Water Wag dinghies are to a design adopted in 1904, and it adds to their attraction that although they were supposedly designed by local boatbuilder James Doyle, it's generally agreed that the real designer was his talented daughter Maimie.
Mind the gap........ Some of the fleet of a dozen and more classic Waterwags which departed their home waters of Dublin Bay last weekend to race in County Roscommon on the North Shannon's Lough Boderg. Photo: Guy Kilroy
The class have an instinctive sense of their own community, with mutual assistance in maintenance and honing sailing skills a natural part of the healthy mix. One of the factors which has increased their viability is the huge improvement in boat road trailers, for although they remain firmly based in Dun Laoghaire, from time to time you find they've upped and left and gone off for a weekend's racing at some strange and distant location, which might well be described by the management wonks as a bonding exercise
Last weekend, they were having their annual North Shannon Regatta. One of the keenest owners, Guy Kilroy, has a farm in Roscommon on the west shore of Lough Boderg, and the Water Wags descended on him in force. Despite the presence of the great Jimmy Furey building his classic sailing dinghies at Leecarrow on the west shores of Lough Ree, you'd never have thought of Roscommon as a sailing county, but there you go. However, while the coastal Autumn leagues at Crosshaven and Howth saw the seasonal mists soon dispersed, on Boderg in the middle of Ireland it took a long time for the fog to lift. But when it did, the sailing was sublime, and they got in two good races, with four boats level on points, but Ian and Judith Malcolm in the 99-year-old Barbara won on the countback.
Wags-in-a-mist. While the seasonal mists soon cleared at the Autumn Leagues on the coast at Crosshaven and Howth, in the heart of Ireland on Lough Boderg the fog lingered. Photo: Judith Malcolm
Lots of TLC. They may be in the reeds, but the maintenance mustn't be done in a rush.....The high standard of TLC on the Water Wags – the oldest chime in at 110 years – is a wonder to behold. Photo: Ian Malcolm
When all the loving care becomes worthwhile – perfect racing on Lough Boderg last weekend for David McFarland's Moosmie (15) and Vincent Delany's Pansy (3), with Killian Skay's Maureen (29) and Scallywag (44, David Williams and Dan O'Connor) in gentle pursuit. Photo: Guy Kilroy
Maintaining a Water Wag is a very manageable business, but inevitably as the recession recedes, there'll be noises about reviving larger wooden classics, and there's a feeling that the Mermaids aren't completely finished in Dun Laoghaire harbour just yet. There was an interesting twist to this in 2014's Mermaid racing, as the National Championship at Rush was won by Jonathan O'Rourke of Dun Laoghaire's National YC.
Despite being up in Fingal's Rogerstown heartlands where in recent years they've built some supposedly hyper-competitive Mermaids with the clever use of epoxy, Skipper O'Rourke's boat is the 1960 Grieves Brothers built Tiller Girl, which is surely a hopeful sign for the class's future.
The age-defying champion. Mermaid Champion 2014 Jonathan O'Rourke (National YC) with his 1960-built Grieves Brothers boat Tiller Girl. Despite there currently being no racing for Mermaids in Dun Laoghaire, Tiller Girl won the Nationals at Rush even though she was in the area where new supposedly lighter Mermaids, using the exoxy wood system, have recently been built. Photo: W M Nixon
Well, hello Dolly! Named after the world's first cloned sheep, the cloned GRP Mermaid Dolly (white hull) was built in the hope of revitalizing the class, particularly in Dun Laoghaire. But even though she only had a fiberglass hull shell with the rest of her – including the mast – in wood, the new concept was rejected by the class. So Dolly is now based at Sag Harbor in the Hamptons on Long Island in America, where she is much admired, while three of her sisters have proven very to be very durable and effective training boats at a sailing school in West Cork.
Nevertheless, it's at this time of the year that the hassle of maintaining a clinker built wooden boat comes centre stage yet again, and I have to confess that when Roger Bannon produced the fibreglass-hulled Mermaid Dolly, I thought she was a super boat and still do, but the class elders decided otherwise.
Moving on up the size scale, we return to the battleground of the Dublin Bay 21s, still mouldering in a Wicklow farmyard. I only once sailed on one of them under their classic gaff rig complete with jackyard topsail, and despite the enormous spread of cloth, was very impressed by how light and responsive they were on the tiller, but then we were racing in a gentle breeze.
The Dublin Bay 21s await their fate in a Wicklow farmyard
However, this constant refrain about them acquiring dangerous lee helm in strong winds seems to me to be a result of the primitive mainsail arrangement, with the tail of the mainsheet led directly from the counter to cleats on the cockpit coaming. This gave very poor levels of sail control in squalls, and often when the helmsman requested that the mainsheet be quickly but carefully eased to give him better control and keep the boat more upright, it would instead be let go with a run, the mainsail would then be flogging out of control, the close-sheeted headsails would force the bow off, the end of the long mainboom would then hit the water causing the sail to fill with the boat now on a reach, and over and under she'd go.
In a moderate breeze, the Dubin Bay 21s under their original rig undoubtedly carried a small amount of weather helm, and there was no evidence of lee helm at all.
Dublin Bay 21 at full cry in the final short in-harbour run from the Coal Harbour buoy to the finish off the club. For this crucial little leg, instant spinnaker setting was essential. It can be noted that the crewmember on the right in the cockpit is trimming the mainsheet by looking aft, the sheet being cleated to the cockpit coaming. In severe weather, this crude method of sheeting could sometimes see the entire sheet being let go completely out of control, whereupon the boat's bow would be forced off by the still-sheeted headsails, the main would then partially fill on the reach as the hyper-long mainboom had started to trail in the sea, and the risk of sinking became very real.
So it could well be that if a re-built class of Dublin Bay 21s ever emerges, that then they might be given an added safety factor by having the mainsheet led forward, guided close along the underside of the mainboom, and then come down the aft side of the mast to be controlled by a winch on top of the coachroof.
As to whether or not we'll ever see the 21s race again, the odd thing is I think this week's intense exchange here on Afloat.ie may have brought it all a bit nearer. Because if you plough on through the icy politeness of the initial exchanges between Hal Sisk and Roger Bannon, I think you'll discern that they both reckon a cold moulded multi-skin timber hull construction to be a very viable option.
Roger Bannon points out that building a completely new hull on the ballast keel of the original boat is recognized under maritime law as being the continued existence of the same boat, which somehow is an oddly heartening bit of information when you look at the utter dereliction of the DB 21 hulls today.
Could this be the future for the Dublin Bay 21s? Beautiful multi-skin construction under way on Steve Morris's 32ft Harrison Butler designed classic at Moyasta near Kilrush. If it's adopted for the revival of the Dublin Bay 21s, as several of the boats would be buit in one batch construction could be facilitated by the inverted hulls being built on a male mould, thereby making the work easier for newcomer to boatbuilding working on a community basis.
Photo: W M Nixon
And as for Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra, they've been considering seriously the work being done by Steve Morris near Kilrush in building a cold-moulded classic cutter to Harrison Butler's Khamseen design. Steve was the lead builder in constructing the superb gaff cutter Sally O'Keeffe down in West Clare. So when you see his work on his new boat, all things seem possible, particularly if it's agreed that the new Dublin Bay 21s should be cold-moulded in multi-skin timber on inverted hulls in a maritime community project in Dun Laoghaire, as the basic work would be relatively unskilled, and everyone could have a go at it.
For, as the success of the wonderful CityOne dinghy project in Limerick has shown, in sailing the building of the boat can be as much part of the experience as the subsequent time afloat. But if we ever do see the Dublin Bay 21s sailing again, let it please be with the proper rig. Everyone seems to be pussy-footing around the idea of a more easily handled semi-gunter configuration, maybe with just one jib. What's the point of all that? This isn't meant to be Easy Street. Let's have the full jackyard tops'l and cutter rig and all the bells and whistles, or let's not bother at all.
Should the Dublin Bay 21s be re-built, it has been suggested that for ease of handling and project management they might in future use this simpler "American gaff" rig, as seen here on Zanetta which was built on the Clyde in 1918 to the Dublin Bay 21 design.............
,,,,,but here at Afloat.ie, we reckon that would be the wrong approach. If you're going to have a new Dublin Bay 21, then she should have all the classic bells and whistles and more sail than is good for her, just as we see here with the Ringsend-built Innisfallen having a bit of sport with her spinnaker in the 1950s.
#ISAPLAN – The Irish Sailing Association (ISA) is set for a shake–up following a year of controversy over its policies. Last night it was revealed an 'independent group' – that includes some of the association's critics – has been appointed to form a new plan for the governing body.
In framing the terms of reference for the 'Strategic Review Group' (SRG), ISA President Niamh McCutcheon conceded 'events have overtaken it and the ISA needs a new plan'.
A team of six leading sailors will 'establish the policies to be pursued and the actions required to deliver them successfully', according to SRG chairman Brian Craig, a former flag officer of the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire.
Some long standing grievances aired last winter led to revolt when sailors Norman Lee and Bryan Armstrong criticised its dinghy and small boat training at the ISA agm. The points raised received widespread support that manifested itself months later in a vocal 'dinghy conference' for Ireland's 20 small boat classes at the National Yacht Club, resulting in over 300 suggestions for change.
It took perseverance and genuine courage to press for this change and there will be many sceptics and spoiling interests to confront if this first step is to translate into a new blueprint for sailing but in forming the new group, Craig has stressed its impartiality: 'As an independent group, we are ideally placed to seek suggestions".
We want to hear from anyone with a view to offer and I assure you that we will listen', he vowed.
Headquartered in Dun Laoghaire, the ISA has a staff of 14. Its accounts for 2012 show a turnover of €2m, much of it made up of government grants.
Significantly, Craig has included former ISA President Roger Bannon, an outspoken critic of current ISA policies in the line–up. A dinghy and sportsboat champion in his own right, Bannon used his term in office two decades ago to secure the position and financial viability of the association as a national sporting authority by making every member of a sailing club in Ireland also a member of the ISA.
It was a bravo move that unified Ireland's sailing clubs into a stronger whole fit to nurture the talent necessary to challenge the world at the top levels of sailing. But in more recent times that fitness has been called into question, and Bannon is among those who hit out at an authority that has arguably lost its relevance to all bar those at the most elite levels in the sport.
In a call for change on Afloat.ie last March, "The ISA has lost its way over the last few years," Bannon said, giving his view of a bureaucracy "detached from the reality of what is going on in the front line".
Craig has also asked another former president Neil Murphy, along with Olympic race officer Jack Roy, sailmaker Des McWilliam and small boat advocate Bryan Armstrong to join this Group, with the option to add others as the process continues.
Once it has carried out an 'initial examination' the group will move on to recommend 'future strategies'.
Spring 2014 is scheduled as completion date for the Group's assessment of the current position.
'This will be a major undertaking but I am confident that, with the support and engagement of all interested parties, we will chart a course for the Sport suited to this new environment.
It is understood the process will include a zero based budget review on key financial areas along with a review of the association's committee structures.
'The new plan will be critical to the association's ability to provide leadership in satisfying the aspirations of existing members and in attracting new participants to the sport', according to McCutcheon, the outgoing president due to step down in March.
The SRG has set up a dedicated email address and can be contacted by email through [email protected]
In a statement seen by Afloat.ie SRG Members are listed with the following bios as:
Bryan Armstrong lives at Rosses Point County Sligo. Keen if not overly successful dinghy sailor since the late 1960s with an interest in home boatbuilding in wood – Mirrors, GP14 and (for the 2011 Worlds in Sligo), a Fireball.
Committee member of Sligo Yacht Club several times over the years and Commodore 1978. Chaired organising group for 2006 GP14 Worlds in Sligo which was intrinsically linked with the construction of the new Sligo clubhouse. Always interested in junior sailing in Sligo and nationally. Committee member Irish Mirror Class Association 2004 to 2011 and President 2008 to 2010. Currently actively sailing a GP14. Practicing partner solicitor in a Sligo based firm. Bryan can be contacted at [email protected]
Roger Bannon, a member of the National Yacht Club, was President of the Irish Sailing Association when the Joint membership Scheme was established and the current Olympic /Elite model was devised in the mid 90's. He has always been a keen small boat sailor and has won multiple national titles in the 420, Mermaid, Flying Fifteen and J24 classes. He was the first Irish sailor to pioneer racing in the Olympic Star Class and more recently was one of the innovators in the establishment of the SB20 fleet in Ireland. He continues to have an active interest in the sport and still regularly sails his venerable 53 year old Mermaid "Endeavour" and when creaking bones allow, occasionally a J70 or a National 18. Roger can be contacted at [email protected]
Brian Craig, a former flag officer of the Royal St George, a member of the Irish Cruising Club, Lough Derg and Kinsale yacht clubs. Was a keen dinghy sailor competing on the Firefly, Fireball and Team Racing national and international circuits. Currently racing a SOD, he has a motor cruiser on Lough Derg and a cruising yacht based in Dun Laoghaire.
Since retiring from business, he has played a key role in attracting and organising major championships on Dublin Bay. He worked closely with the waterfront clubs and local bodies in Dun Laoghaire to develop the biennial Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta and more recently led the Irish team that ran the ISAF Youth Worlds 2012.
He was a recipient of the 2010 National Award to Volunteers in Irish Sport from the Irish Sports Council. Brian can be contacted at [email protected]
Des McWilliam (Royal Cork Yacht Club and Royal Irish Yacht Club)
A regular participant in Irish and international sailing. He is in constant contact with customers in dinghy and keelboat sailing - racing and cruising.
Des Sailed for Ireland: Admiral's Cup on five occasions, Sardinia Cup twice, the Southern Cross and 1/2 Ton Cup twice. He is the owner of McWilliam Sailmakers Ltd / UK Sailmakers Ireland and President of 50-loft UK Sailmakers International Group 2010-12. Co-owner UK Sailmakers International Group 2012-present and was a member of the Oireachtas Task Force on Small Business in mid '90's He was a guest lecturer in Entrepreneurship UCC late '90's and is still in business after five years of recession. Des can be contacted at [email protected]
Neil Murphy (Howth Yacht Club and Malahide Yacht Club)
Enterprise dinghies and Laser frostbiting (when wet suits were a novelty) were Neil's intro to the sport. Small boats are still his favourites and he races a Puppeteer 22 in Howth. As a National Race Officer, he gets to see and enjoy racing in a variety of Classes.
As one of the ISA's youngest Presidents (1996 to 1998), he launched its first Strategic Plan, which plotted priorities and set out its targets coming into the current millennium. He chaired the 2012 ISA review of the All Ireland (formerly Helmsmans) Championship and, most recently, was Race Officer when Howth YC hosted the 2013 event. Apart from racing, his main area of interest is in increasing participation levels, both by recruiting newcomers and retaining those already involved.
Neil can be contacted at [email protected]
Jack Roy (National Yacht Club, Royal Irish Yacht Club and Kinsale Yacht Club)
Started sailing Mirrors in 1967 from Greystones Sailing Club. Over the years he has raced in 420s, 470s, Flying Fifteens, J24s, Dragons, J109s and Squibs. He has also cruised for many years and currently keeps a cruising boat in Kinsale from where he sails the southwest coast and further afield. When Jack's not sailing he's very involved in race management and has been an International Race Officer since 1998. He was honoured to be the first Irish Race Officer at an Olympic Regatta in the London 2012 Games. Jack Roy is a cuurent board member of the ISA.
When not on the water, he is Managing Director of Fagerhult Irl Ltd, the Dublin office of a Swedish PLC specialising in energy efficient lighting solutions to the commercial sector
Jack can be contacted at [email protected]
For further reading:
#J70 – The recent arrival of the 22.75 foot 'pocket rocket' J70 design into the Royal Irish Yacht Club has been creating quite a stir.
The J70 represents the culmination of several years design effort by the highly regarded J boats firm.
Having recently sold his SB20 sportsboat in which Dublin Bay sailor Roger Bannon had enormous fun over the last five years, the new challenge he says is to find an alternative boat which provides a similarly lively and rewarding performance with perhaps a bit more comfort and security.
Is it the J70? He took a spin in one and his conclusions are here on Afloat Boats for Sale site.
#Sailing - Scuttlebutt Sailing News has highlighted some North American voices adding to the chorus that calls for a renewed emphasis on dinghy sailing and encouraging a broader base of participation in the sport.
Aside from the expense of new boats and the emphasis on single-handers and college sailing that prioritises the most elite athletes, the Canadian sailing hand also believes yacht clubs in North America "have forgotten what they are about... [thinking that] regattas should be a profit centre, rather than the hosting the sailors cheaply as the raison d’etre of a yacht club."
Meanwhile, US Sailing president Tom Hubbell has added his own suggestions for introducing young newcomers to the sport through the one-design classes - via mentoring, networking socially and, very importantly, limiting failure so that young sailors will be encouraged to return again and again for more.
According to Bannon, the "importance of supporting elite and Olympic sailing" must become "a subsidiary focus to the main objective of getting people sailing competently and safely in whatever boat they wish".
#dublinbay21 – Dun Laoghaire sailor and former Irish Sailing Association President Roger Bannon was intrigued by recent correspondence from Paddy Boyd to W M Nixon regarding the Dublin Bay 21s in his recent Afloat.ie Sailing on Saturday Column.
Here Roger recounts his first ever sail on the Dublin Bay 21 Garavogue in 1963 at the ripe old age of 11 and tells of his lifelong passion for sailing borne out of sailing these idiosyncratic elegant boats.
My own father was a regular crew on the Garavogue when she was owned by Des Dobson from the National YC and skippered by the irrepressible Sean Clune.
Paddy's recollections are pretty accurate. They were complete bitches of boats to sail, over-canvassed and fundamentally badly balanced. Their construction and design was also seriously flawed which meant that they constantly leaked and required endless expensive maintenance. They suffered from unbelievable lee helm which led to regular swamping's and indeed several sinking's.
It was very disconcerting in a squall that the boat would violently bear off, even with the sheets eased and bury the lee rail up to the coaming in the brine. While in this vulnerable position any wave coming over the bow would quickly flood the cockpit and create a dangerous situation.
Alfred Mylne came to Dublin shortly after they were built to have a sail. He was appalled at how badly they handled and subsequently submitted a report recommending that the location of the mast step and sail plan be altered to correct the problem. Needless to say the local owners decided that spending £200 was not justified and they ignored his recommendations.
The other shortcoming from which they suffered was the near vertical garboard plank which moved away from the hog when the rig was fully loaded which led to a constant ingress of water, which if not pumped out continuously, would lead to swamping in a very short time. The original steel floors had been badly designed and the rig loads were not properly dispersed throughout the hull. They were undoubtedly elegant but deeply flawed boats, largely because the original owners did not adopt the modifications specified by Mylne shortly after they were built.
ROGER BANNON, 44, resigned yesterday as president of the Irish Sailing Association. The resignation comes three days after the association's a.g.m. Bannon told The Irish Times yesterday that his increasing work load was the main reason for stepping down from the national authority's top job. He now spends three out of every four weeks abroad and, he could not commit sufficient time to the job which looks after the interests of 8,000 sailors. The resignation will come into effect immediately after an extraordinary general meeting of the association at the end of April.
"It is my plan to see out the e.g.m. at end of April for the anticipated imprimaturs for what was agreed at our a.g.m." There was an unsuccessful attempt at the associations a.g.m. last Saturday at Waterford Harbour SC to pass amendments to the operation of the Joint Membership Scheme (JMS) which attempts to make every member of a sailing club a member of the ISA. The amendment was objected to by the country's biggest clubs, including three of the Dun Laoghaire waterfront clubs, Howth YC and the Royal Cork YC. While there was universal support for the JMS there were fears that proposed voting procedures would have made it difficult for clubs to exercise the franchise on behalf of their members.
Agreement for the amendment itself was reached but as there was a risk that it could be challenged legally it required a full 21 day notice period for it to be adopted. An extraordinary general meeting will be held for its resolution within 60 days. Introduced in 1992, the JMS scheme was the brainchild of Bannon, the associations honorary treasurer at that time.
Whitbread veteran Joe English will front a new company to construct and market the new 1720 sports boat following a take over of founding company Virtual Yachting Corporation. Creditors and a group of Cork sailing enthusiasts combined to purchase the assets and liabilities of Virtual Yachting, run by Stephen Hyde since the 26 foot boat came on the market in April 1994. The new company will trade as 1720 Yachts. In December 19, Virtual Yachting claimed to have sold 38 boats worldwide, with 13 racing in Cork harbour. Sailmaker Des McWilliam and John Wallace of Union Chandlery are part of the buy out team.
The mid year meeting of the European Union Sailing Association (EUSA) takes place in Dublin tomorrow and Sunday. EUSA is the co-ordinating body of European National Sailing Governing Bodies who are also members of the International Yacht Racing Union. Presiding at the meeting will be Fernando Bolin (ESP) while Ireland's Tom Fitzpatrick is vice president. The Minister for the Marine Sean Barrett, will host a reception tonight for the delegates at the Coach House, Dublin Castle. Tomorrow the meeting convenes at the Westbury Hotel and on Sunday the meeting reconvenes at Howth Yacht Club Countries attending include Ireland, Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Sweden Greece Austria, Portugal, Spain Netherlands, France and Denmark
Stephen Hyde from Royal Cork YC won the opening pre qualifying Optimist dinghy regatta of the season in light to moderate winds at Swords Sailing Club last's weekend. Daire O'Reilly of Howth took second place with Colin Smith of East Antrim Boat Club rounding off a strong performance with two wins out of the six races to pull himself into third place. The regatta was a selection event for 15 sailors to join the top 25 in the country who have already qualified for the Irish team trials based on the end of season rankings.
The other qualifiers are Andrew George (Malahide YC), Dylan Gannon (Howth YC), Chris Todd Strangford (Lough YC), Jarleth Lennon (East Antrim BC), Conor Byrne (Skerries SC), Richard Leonard (Royal Cork YC), Richard Lane (Royal York YC), Richard O'Callaghan (Dundalk SC), Kevin Crowley (Royal Cork YC), Roy Darrer (Royal Cork YC), James Timoney (National YC) and Niall Dodd (Lough Derg YC).
Further selection trials will be held at Howth YC on April 20th-21st, National YC May 4th-5th (simultaneously with the Leinster championships) and Skerries SC May 11th-12th.