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The National YC's Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race of Wednesday, June 9th – just two days after such things became permissible on June 7th - may have been hailed here as "a spectacular pillar event to launch the 2021 Irish sailing season out of the pandemic penumbra". But the truth is that the season currently getting under way is more like a gentle tide flooding into a winding and shallow creek, rather than a sudden eruption of activity across a wide front.

As with the new tide, if you watch closely and persistently for things happening, you'll see little change. But if your focus switches elsewhere for a while, then look back again and you'll find real signs of things starting to happen, of development taking place and sailing centres coming more vibrantly to life with events which are in themselves a testing of the waters.

This sense of testing of the waters reflects a commendable maturity in the sailing community. Our sport manifests itself in so many ways afloat and ashore that it is simply impossible to devise rules about distancing and so forth which comply precisely with each and every requirement. Thus as each event takes shape, a substantial input of common sense is required to ensure that it optimizes the sport while minimising any infection hazard.

When the going gets tough….overall winner Nieulargo (Denis Murphy RCYC, left) and Pete Smyth's Sun Fast 3600 Searcher (NYC) getting their teeth into the early stages of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race. Photo: Michael ChesterWhen the going gets tough….overall winner Nieulargo (Denis Murphy RCYC, left) and Pete Smyth's Sun Fast 3600 Searcher (NYC) getting their teeth into the early stages of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race. Photo: Michael Chester

Of course we can claim that the hazard is decreasing on a daily basis. But no sooner is this assumed that some new twist arises, and having shared the battle for so long, it would be at odds with the remarkable overall cohesiveness of Irish society to flaunt the rules with blatant disregard, even if some very small sections seem to take a pleasure in doing so.

Thus although the D2D was indeed a spectacular event, it only impinged on landward life at the carefully regulated start and finish. For the rest of the time it was taking place in the very model of a healthy environment, sometimes with more fresh air than even the very keenest were looking for.

For those who don’t feel they have to spend nights at sea in order to get their necessary dose of fresh maritime air, mid-June also brought the Dragon South Coast Championship at Glandore for a cracking fleet of 19 boats, with Cameron Good of Kinsale and Neil Hegarty of Dun Laoghaire’s Royal St George YC on a tie break after six races, the break going in favour of the Kinsale skipper who saw his clubmate James Matthews taking third overall.

Meanwhile, in the upper reaches of Strangford Lough, Newtownards SC hosted the GP 14 Ulster Championship with Ger Owens of Royal St George, crewed by northern sailor Melanie Morris, winning overall, with second going to Ross and Jane Kearney while Shane McCarthy of Greystones was third, with the Silver Fleet topped by James Hockley while the Bronze went to Michael Brines.

Today (Saturday) sees the conclusion of the four day O'Leary Insurances Sovereigns Cup at Kinsale, and while inevitably there has been a shoreside element morning and evening, it has been happening with a manageable fleet – as ICRA Commodore Richard Colwell approvingly put it after considering the close Class 1 results: "It's great to be back in Kinsale, and there's a quiet buzz about the place - as it should be with the restrictions and the smaller numbers."

Jump Juice (Conor Phelan) and Freya (Conor Doyle) make a neat call on the start in Day 2 of the Sovereign's Cup at Kinsale. Photo: Robert BatemanJump Juice (Conor Phelan) and Freya (Conor Doyle) make a neat call on the start in Day 2 of the Sovereign's Cup at Kinsale. Photo: Robert Bateman

This weekend sees the pace continue its incremental increase, with locally emphasized events on all coasts. Across in Connacht, the new popularity of the very ancient Cong to Galway Race down Lough Corrib hopes to see the recent day's better weather of the west continuing. And although defending champion Yannick Lemonnier was reported yesterday as being safe in Lampaul, that extraordinary bay on the west coast of Ouessant, with the mast of his MiniTransat boat down around his ears, it wouldn't surprise us at all if he somehow still turned up for the start, but in his absence his able young son and regular crew Sean might be making alternative arrangements under the radar.

EAST COAST SAILING

Currently, it's largely a question of keeping things local, and there's nothing more utterly local than the Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club's annual At Home on the north shores of Dublin Bay. It's an event that goes back most of the way to the club's founding in 1875, but last year's on-off lockdowns affected Clontarf more than any other club.

This is because their substantial and growing cruiser-racer fleet is entirely dependent on drying moorings in the Tolka Estuary, just across the main shore road from the club. Thus any activity afloat involves much communal to-ing and fro-ing in a decidedly busy neighbourhood. So CY & BC had to take it on the chin, and their cruisers stayed ashore for the entire season last year, even if a spot of dinghy sailing was possible in times of eased restriction.

Sean Langan, Commodore of Clontarf Y & BC, led his cruiser fleet afloat this year at the earliest permitted opportunity. In 2020's lockdown, the Clontarf fleet – all of which lie to drying moorings – had to stay ashore out of commission. Photo: Courtesy CY&BC)   Sean Langan, Commodore of Clontarf Y & BC, led his cruiser fleet afloat this year at the earliest permitted opportunity. In 2020's lockdown, the Clontarf fleet – all of which lie to drying moorings – had to stay ashore out of commission. Photo: Courtesy CY&BC)  

However, this year, as soon as the official signs were favourable, Commodore Sean Langan and his members heaved their fleet afloat in a choreographed operation involving two cranes, and today (Saturday, June 26th) is the Clontarf At Home, with the IDRA 14 dinghies launching into their 75th Anniversary Year, while the Howth 17s race round the Baily from their home port in a precisely-timed race to optimise the day's high water and provide good racing for an ancient class which is pushing towards having twenty boats in full commission.

The 1898-founded Howth 17s – seen here in the Lambay Race on June 12th - are gradually pushing towards their full number of 20 boats for the 2021 season. Photo: Patricia NixonThe 1898-founded Howth 17s – seen here in the Lambay Race on June 12th - are gradually pushing towards their full number of 20 boats for the 2021 season. Photo: Patricia Nixon

LOCAL SAILING CLASSES

In all, it's a celebration of local sailing in local classes, and time was when the Glens from Dun Laoghaire used to come across the bay to Clontarf as well. Who knows, it may happen again, as the 1947-vintage 25ft Mylne-designed Glens are having a revival with some boats undergoing very extensive restorations, a topic to which we'll return in the near future.

Meanwhile, one of the restored boats, Ailbe Millerick's Glenluce, made her re-vitalised debut last Saturday in some style to take a win. Admittedly it was with the formidable imported talent of John Duggan on the helm while the owner sweated away at working the pit, making the mistake of doing it so efficiently that it could well become a regular position……..

The newly-restored 25ft Glen OD Glenluce (Ailbe Millerick) on her way to winning her first race of 2021 last Saturday in Dublin BayThe newly-restored 25ft Glen OD Glenluce (Ailbe Millerick) on her way to winning her first race of 2021 last Saturday in Dublin Bay

Of course, when it comes to 2021's sailing revival, the sheer weight of numbers in the greater Dublin region means that significant fleets can quickly be assembled, and there could well be thirty boats gathering in Dublin's River Liffey today for the final meet of the Cruising Association of Ireland's pop-up East Coast rally, which has ranged between Skerries and Arklow.

The Cruising Association of Ireland rallying in the heart of Dublin. Photo: W M Nixon   The Cruising Association of Ireland rallying in the heart of Dublin. Photo: W M Nixon  

As for competitive sailing, weekly racing numbers in the Dublin Bay Sailing Club programme at Dun Laoghaire regularly chime in at comfortably more than a hundred boats and counting, but in the current climate, that's something to be carefully monitored rather than shouted from the rooftops.

Nevertheless, if you happen to be on a Dun Laoghaire rooftop, every Wednesday evening reveals an increasing fleet of Water Wags out racing. Their best turnout so far this year was 26 boats on Bloomsday, the 16th June, but with 50 boats now registered with racing numbers, it's surely only a matter of time before they manage an evening with 40 boats, as they topped the 30 mark turnout three years ago.

The Water Wag fleet blossoming for Bloomsday, June 16th, with 26 boats racing. They should top the 40 turnout in one race for the fist time ever in 2021.The Water Wag fleet blossoming for Bloomsday, June 16th, with 26 boats racing. They should top the 40 turnout in one race for the fist time ever in 2021.

FOYNES SHOWS THE WAY FOR WEST COAST SAILING

The quiet putting-through of a first racing event was seen last weekend at Foynes, where the J/24s assembled in socially-distanced groups for their seasonal starter, the Southern Championship. That said, trying to be socially-distant anywhere near the notoriously-hospitable Foynes Yacht Club is almost an impossibility – after all, even the family dog goes out on the big committee boat with visiting race Officer Derek Bothwell - but it seems to have been a largely health-compliant happening.

The J24s start their 2021 Irish season with last weekend's Southerns at Foynes, and overall winner Headcase (4547) narrowly getting the best of it. Photo: Foynes YCThe J24s start their 2021 Irish season with last weekend's Southerns at Foynes, and overall winner Headcase (4547) narrowly getting the best of it. Photo: Foynes YC

Thus when we suggested to Cillian Dickson - helm of the winning boat Headcase with all-Ireland crew of Ryan Glynn, Louis Mulloy and Sam O'Byrne - that they might have been over-celebrating on Saturday night with a scorecard of straight wins all through Saturday as against a couple of seconds on Sunday, he earnestly demurred, assuring us that the opposition was just a little bit less rusty on Sunday, and he expects them to be competition-honed by the Nationals in Sligo on August 6th-8th.

Truly, today's young sailors are a very serious lot. Time was when the Enterprise dinghy was all the rage throughout Ireland, and it was a fact of life in the class that the Saturday night leaders in any two-day regional championship simply wouldn't figure in Sunday's racing, so easily would they have been led completely astray by their attentive classmates in celebrating their initial points lead.

At Foynes, everyone rallies round to support the race team. Photo: FYCAt Foynes, everyone rallies round to support the race team. Photo: FYC

Published in W M Nixon

This week the welcome sound will be coming to Scribbler.

The 25-tonne travel hoist boat lift will be manoeuvred into position beneath her at Castlepoint Boatyard and Scribbler will be carried down Point Road, onto the Crosshaven slipway and lowered to caress and enter the waters of Cork Harbour.

I'm looking forward to it and the other welcome sound that, for me, is the real start of each season and that is when my Sigma 33 again catches a breeze and the bow sounds its first engagement with the sails, pushing her through the water.

For the past few weeks, like many boat owners, I've been frequenting the yard and, driving through Crosshaven village, noting what has been happening in the other yards there.

The hoist at Crosshaven Boatyard has been increasingly busy. A crane has appeared for launching boats at Wietze's yard. The movement of boats at all the yards shows that the annual 'launching season' is underway. It has not been happening as early as in other years because of the grim months of Covid, but now the momentum has overcome doubt and migration to the water is well underway. The yards are emptying of their winter populace.

It's been interesting and enjoyable to talk to other owners, discussing the season ahead, how each is getting on with the boat preparations and the big question -, how long before launching.

One of the positive aspects of what might be called 'pre-season' is the level of interest reported from Cork clubs amongst young sailors who've been engaged in training for the past few weeks and of newcomers to the sport.

Youth interest in sailingYouth interest in sailing Photo: Bob Bateman

Cork clubs have been announcing their plans for the restart of racing from next week.

ROYAL CORK YACHT CLUB

At the Royal Cork, National 18s and Mixed dinghies will start racing on Wednesday evening next, June 9. The following night it will be the turn of Keelboats and on Friday night, June 11, non-spinnaker Keelboats will begin whitesail racing. On Saturday, June 12, the Dognose and Miss Betty Trophies are fixed for all Portsmouth Yardstick dinghies and the start of a June league for keelboats is planned. Club facilities will be re-opened and a special weekend is planned for June 19 and 20.

"It is our intention to run the PY1000 Dinghy Race, an Admiral's Chace and we will repeat this theme of special Member's Days in July with the return of the Round The Island Race and then again in August for the Cork300 Tricentenary At Home." This Sunday the Junior Sailing Academy for teenagers starts, with 30 sailors signed up and on Bank Holiday Monday the club is starting 'Try Sailing' a programme to encourage interest in taking up the sport.

The RCYC is also planning to go ahead with its 'Wild Atlantic Cruise' which is scheduled to depart Crosshaven on Saturday, July 10, with the aim to arrive in Bantry the following Saturday.

KINSALE YACHT CLUB

"Competitive sailing is recommencing at KYC is resuming next Wednesday and we have a full calendar of events for the rest of the summer," says Michael Walsh, Kinsale Commodore. "The highlight of our summer will be the Sovereigns Cup from June 23-26. We are hosting the Squib South Coast Championship on July 17/18 and the Dragon Nationals September 2-5/. Our regular Wednesday evening Cruiser racing, Thursday Squibs and Dragons and Friday White Sailing will run in monthly leagues from June through September. We have a full calendar of junior sailing events and we are gearing up to commence the Sailability training in the coming weeks.

MONKSTOWN BAY SAILING CLUB

Monkstown Bay Sailing Club will resume dinghy racing next Tuesday night, June 8. This follows preparatory training series over recent week evenings.

Cork clubs will be getting back racing next week Photo: Bob BatemanCork clubs will be getting back racing next week Photo: Bob Bateman

COVE SAILING CLUB

At Cove SC the club is ready to go with its dinghy racing and cruisers returning to competitive action on the water next week. A lot of work has been done on the marina at Whitepoint and on the club facilities there.

GLANDORE HARBOUR YACHT CLUB

At Glandore Harbour YC fixtures include the Squibs Early League to start on Saturday, June 12 with the Dragon Summer League beginning the following Saturday, June 19. Mixed Dinghy July League Racing is fixed to start on July 4.

BALTIMORE SAILING CLUB

The highlight of the season at Baltimore Sailing Club is Regatta Day on the first Monday in August," according to the club. The 1720s Baltimore Cup is scheduled from July 31 to August 1.

SCHULL HARBOUR SAILING CLUB

Schull Harbour Sailing Club's Cruiser Racing season will start on Saturday of next week, June 12, with the Commodore's Race. Junior Sailing will begin on Saturday, July 4 and run every Saturday morning until late August," according to the club. "Entries for Calves Week from August 3-6 continue to arrive. The event is looking positive."

And that's the best note for the sailing season ahead in Cork – being positive.

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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If evidence that Ireland's 2021 sailing season was about to start next week was needed, it was most definitely on display yesterday on Dublin Bay with dozens of different types of sailing cruisers and dinghies taking on a stiff south-easterly breeze and some great waves in anticipation of next week's 'mini training series' in compliance with the latest COVID regulations.

As regular Afloat readers know, after months of planning and preparations  - and some agony - ' race training' is set to begin next week and competition from June 7th at the country's major sailing centres.

Training group of Lasers, Flying Fifteens, RS Aeros, 29ers along with two-handed and fully crewed J109s, B211s, 31.7s and Sunfast 3600s, all enjoying the ideal conditions on the capital's waters.

Boat programmes and crew arrangements are being firmed up not only for June 7th return to competition but also for this month's training period that precedes it. 

May 'training' series

Some of the big clubs are advertising training mini-series from Monday, May 10th with "sailing considered a safe, non-contact sport with no material difference between training and competition".

  • ISORA Training starting 15th May
  • DBSC Training starting 15th May
  • RCYC Training starting 13th May
  • KYC Training starting 12th May

Dublin Bay

On Dubin Bay, DBSC will begin its mini-series from next Saturday, May 15th and it is planned to run training on club night's of Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the next three weeks or "until DBSC is given the approval to start its AIB DBSC summer series".  

ISORA training for June's Dun Laoghaire Dingle Race is also expected to begin on May 15th with news that the National Yacht Club's 320-mile offshore on June 9th is definitely in 'go mode'.

ISORA is likely to continue its coastal racing on either side of the Irish Sea until cross-channel racing can resume. 

Dublin Bay cruiser racing returns to the bay in JuneDublin Bay cruiser racing returns to Dublin Bay in June

Lambay Race at Howth

In Howth, Afloat's WM Nixon has reported the HYC Sailing Committee is considering staging the club's Lambay Race for Saturday, June 12th, when the tides are perfect. And though that new out-of-the-blue date still awaits approval at the General Committee meeting this week, it could well be a runner.

South Coast Sailing

In Cork Harbour, Royal Cork Yacht Club will run Cruiser-racer training each Thursday (May 13th) and Friday evenings starting this week, "It's great to get back on the water",  the Crosshaven Club's CEO, Gavin Deane told Afloat.

Likewise in Kinsale Yacht Club, Commodore Mike Walsh plans cruiser-racer training at the West Cork Harbour from Wednesday evening, May 12th, as preparations continue for the club's confirmed Sovereign's Cup Regatta on June 23rd.  

Return to racing from June

It is expected that in June that the country will continue to open up after COVID and a full racing season can commence from June 7th enabling the D2D Race two days later on June 9th. 

Racing on the South coast then continues later that month with the Sovereigns Cup on 23rd- 26th of June.

Already plans are being hatched to try and retain some of the 11 national and regional championships that were built into the now cancelled Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta and more news on that as we have it. 

Sources at Schull Harbour Sailing Club say Calves Week is "definitely on" and confirmation of August's big regatta in West Cork (3rd to the 6th of August) is expected soon.

Later that month, WIORA is scheduled at Fenit in County Kerry from 25th to 28th August.

The National Yacht Club will stage its second big event of the season when the ICRA National Championships is hosted by the East Pier club on September 3rd, with details of the three fleet event released here this week.

3rd to the 6th of August
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Golf and Tennis Doubles competition returns on Monday, May 10th in a further relaxation of Government COVID rules that has not extended to sailing.

Sailing clubs had been urging officials to lobby the Government's Sport Ireland's Expert Group to classify sailing with sports such as golf as a non-contact, outdoor and low-risk activity but there has been no such green light for sailing so far.

The latest Golf Ireland protocols confirm that from next Monday 10th May, golfers will be allowed (1): Casual-play rounds for handicap purposes for members and visitors, with no restrictions on numbers of household per group, and (2): Club competitions for members. 

In tennis, Doubles play involving players from different households is allowed from May 10th. Adult coaching can be delivered in pods of six players per court with four players on court at any one time from May 10th.

Sailing may resume training next week but yacht racing is not permitted until June 7.

Training Mini-Series

As regular Afloat readers know, however, clubs are taking advantage of the permission to train from May 10th with the introduction of training mini-series. Most notably in Dublin, series are underway next week by both Dublin Bay Sailing Club and ISORA,

It's been a frustrating time for the sport over the last ten days attempting to grapple with vague guidelines that have led to some inevitable consequences, including the cancellation of Ireland's biggest regatta

It's a theme taken up discussed by Afloat's WMN Nixon here.

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The welcome announcement that the National Yacht Club's biennial 280-mile Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2021 will be going ahead on Wednesday, June 9th, is encouraging. But it should not be seen as a clarion call to get the 2021 sailing season into full boisterous swing with all the traditionally noisy bells and whistles, and lively post-racing shoreside celebrations.

On the contrary, it was launched this week by Chairman Adam Winkelmann with a decidedly muffled trumpet, for at the time of his announcement on Thursday confirming all systems go for June 9th, competitive sport afloat will only have been officially permitted since Monday, June 7th, just two days ahead of the D2D start. And for some undefined time thereafter – possibly not until August or even September - it will have to take place without any significant free-movement onshore gatherings.

But even as boat programmes and crew arrangements are being firmed up in the light of that June 7th break-out, yesterday (Friday) the latest Golf Ireland protocols confirmed that from next Monday 10th May, golfers will be allowed (1): Casual-play rounds for handicap purposes for members and visitors, with no restrictions on numbers of household per group, and (2): Club competitions for members.

Thus those members of the sailing community mad keen to get club racing underway just as soon as possible, and who understood that for restriction purposes, sailing was lumped in with golf and alfresco sex and tennis and other comparable sports, well, such folk will understandably feel we're being hard done by with no "All Clear" until June 7th when Golfers Are Go from Monday.

Peter Ryan of the National YC, Chairman of ISORA. He played a key role in maximizing 2020's restricted seasonPeter Ryan of the National YC, Chairman of ISORA. He played a key role in maximizing 2020's restricted season.

That said, here at Sailing on Saturday we should be feeling a certain satisfaction about the Dingle Race going ahead, as we predicted on 19th December and again on 16th January that it would be the D2D which would prove to be the pillar event that launched our sailing in 2021 at full blast.

But "full blast" it definitely is not, and it is only the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race's unique configuration – coupled with the experience gained by the National Yacht Club and ISORA's Peter Ryan in starting last year's season-saver, the Fastnet 450 – which means that the Club and organising committee can confidently undertake the staging of a major yet regulations-compliant offshore event, which next time round in 2023 will be celebrating its 30th Anniversary.

Offshore stars Peter Wilson and Paul O'Higgins – the former was helm on the winning boat in the first Dingle Race of 1993, Richard Burrows' Sigma 36 Black Pepper, while the latter will be defending champion with the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI when the 2021 Race gets underway on June 9th. Photo: W M NixonOffshore stars Peter Wilson and Paul O'Higgins – the former was helm on the winning boat in the first Dingle Race of 1993, Richard Burrows' Sigma 36 Black Pepper, while the latter will be defending champion with the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI when the 2021 Race gets underway on June 9th. Photo: W M Nixon

However, despite the muted tone for 2021, at the core of this low key affair, there is still the one and only Dun Laoghaire to Dingle, a great race by any standards, and defending champion Paul O'Higgins of the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC) – which also won in 2017 – confirmed on Thursday he is definitely going, and will also take in the ISORA training session next weekend.

Start of the 2019 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, with overall winner Rockabill VI being overtaken by line honours record-setter, the SouthWind 95 Windfall (Mick Cotter). Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'BrienStart of the 2019 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, with overall winner Rockabill VI being overtaken by line honours record-setter, the SouthWind 95 Windfall (Mick Cotter). Photo: Afloat.ie/David O'Brien

SADNESS OVER VDLR CANCELLATION

Meanwhile, in Dun Laoghaire, the cancellation a week ago of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, scheduled for the first two weekends of July as an already-split event, is still very much a cause of sadness.

"Indeed", says Pat Shannon, Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club in comments which were echoed by other waterfront yacht club officers, "you could say we're in a state of mourning. There is nothing like the VDLR for bringing Dun Laoghaire Harbour collectively to life, and in order to achieve this with such success, the Organising Committee is a continuously functioning body, with the group looking after one Regatta moving almost seamlessly and without a break into becoming the Committee organising the next one".

Pat Shannon, former Commodore and prize winner with Dublin Bay SC, is currently Commodore of the Royal Irish YCPat Shannon, former Commodore and prize winner with Dublin Bay SC, is currently Commodore of the Royal Irish YC

"In such a setup, some people are bound to give longer and more extensive service than others. But in what has always been a very talented group since the Regatta's foundation in 2005, there are few if any who could match the 2021 Chairman Don O'Dowd's commitment, vision, length of service and ability to get things done".

"It says everything about the way in which Don had strengthened the VDLR brand that when the cancellation was announced, the sense of shock in Dun Laoghaire and in Ireland and internationally was palpable. Thus those of us who are directly involved in the running of the clubs are holding back for a few days out of respect before we start confirming possible smaller events and perhaps club regattas which will comply with regulations, even if they won't match the total magic which the VDLR generates".

Dan O'Dowd, tireless voluntary worker on behalf of Dublin Bay sailing.   Dan O'Dowd, tireless voluntary worker on behalf of Dublin Bay sailing

But Commodore Shannon (who also served as Dublin Bay SC Commodore in times past) and his fellow flag officers in the Dun Laoghaire Combined Clubs Committee chaired by Barry MacNeaney need not concern themselves too much that their sailors will be dismissive of the abbreviated season which is now going to be served up in the aftermath of the VDLR cancellation.

For, of all sporting groups, it is the sailing community which has most readily complied with the different Levels of Lockdown, and it is a fact that no-one can think of a single COVID-19 hotspot or outbreak in Ireland which can be traced to a sailing event or yacht club.

And as they're in a sport which for many involves the continuous analysis of data, they can read the pandemic statistics at least as well as any other group of laypeople, with alert sailors well aware that some of the official analyses of the current state of affairs have bordered on the marginally over-optimistic, but as of the last 48 hours, things really do seem to be going the right way.

Thus sailors will be compliant. But where the lines have been drawn and sanctioned, their enthusiasm will be such that they'll push the envelope as far as possible in order to maximize their sport, while being keenly appreciative that, in the event of a sudden deterioration in the situation, everyone may have to return to barracks.

For now, however, it looks as though the news season will arrive in like a steadily rising tide, rather than a sudden giant wave. Junior training and other teaching courses are already underway, but in both Dun Laoghaire and Howth as of now, it looks as though the evening of Tuesday, June 8th will see proper club racing underway for the first time for One Designs. Then on Wednesday, June 9th, the dash to Dingle gets going outside Dun Laoghaire Harbour while in-harbour, the Water Wags start their season with two races, and across in Howth the cruiser classes are in action. Following that, on Thursday, June 10th DBSC, gets fully into its stride with the Cruiser-racer mid-week fixtures which – even in last year's limited season - made Thursday an "almost-regatta" evening afloat.

Peter Bowring, having recently retired as Commodore Royal St George YC, is now giving his full attention to the International Dragon Class.   Peter Bowring, having recently retired as Commodore Royal St George YC, is now giving his full attention to the International Dragon Class 

The feeling among the flag officers is that the staging of any special events will rely heavily on the effectiveness of the different class structures to provide the basis of manageable national and regional championships, this to be done by providing disciplined numbers with which the individual club set-ups can comfortably cope.

Recently-retired Royal St George YC Commodore Peter Bowring is now able to devote full attention to his other passion, the International Dragon Class, which he sees as playing a key role in helping Irish sailing make the best of the 2021 season. They're a compact and cohesive group with a considerable esprit de corps, and with their proposed programme including a South Coast Championship and an East Coast Championship, they offer clubs a very manageable proposition that brings an event of instant style.

The International Dragon Phantom, in which Peter Bowring is one of three owners, is one of the most successful in the Irish fleet.   The International Dragon Phantom, in which Peter Bowring is one of three owners, is one of the most successful in the Irish fleet.  

That said, the fact is that the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta had been scheduled as constituting a major class championship for no less than 16 different One Design Classes suggests there'll be a lot of classes scurrying around looking for welcoming venues as the season's possibilities become more clarified, not least being the IDRA 14s, who are heading into their 75th Anniversary Year and had been seeing the VDLR as central to its celebration.

ANCIENT PANDEMIC-SURVIVING CLASSES

Certainly, it was the strong local One Design classes that provided much of the backbone for 2020's short but very sweet season, and it's fascinating to note that it was two classes so ancient that they have a collective memory of surviving the 1919-1920 Spanish Flu pandemic which provided some of the best sport afloat in 2020, the Dun Laoghaire Water Wags of 1887 and 1900, and the Howth 17s of 1898.

The venerable Water Wags in the thick of their "two-races-on-Wednesdays" programme in Dun Laoghaire. Despite the pandemic restrictions, they were managing turnouts of 25 boats in 2020. Photo: Con MurphyThe venerable Water Wags in the thick of their "two-races-on-Wednesdays" programme in Dun Laoghaire. Despite the pandemic restrictions, they were managing turnouts of 25 boats in 2020. Photo: Con Murphy

Something like 51 Water Wags – some of them very new indeed, but others extremely ancient – currently have registered sail numbers, but their best turnout in 2020 was 25 boats. This reflected the general attitude of the sailing community, where some went sailing just as soon as it was permitted in however limited a form, but others decided there were so many unknown unknowns in the pandemic that they'd simply sit it out ashore as safely as possible until a distinct all-clear sounded, even if it didn't come until 2021.

HOWTH YACHT CLUB MAY NOW HAVE LAMBAY RACE ON JUNE 12TH

In Howth meantime, they seem to think that being on a peninsula gives them extra pandemic protection, as there are around 20 Howth 17s, and at the peak of the brief 2020 season, they were mustering 13 boats - for those who like things decimalised, it's a very healthy 65%. This was in a season in which the class returned to its roots, with at least two races around Lambay which gave everyone such a buzz that they want more.

In fact, when that Monday, June 7th "go sailing" signal was given, most folk could only admire the sheer cunning of the powers-that-be. For of course Monday, June 7th is a Bank Holiday, and Howth normally use that weekend for their all-comers Lambay Race. It would usually be staged on the Saturday, then there might be a shorter race or two on the Sunday, but the holiday Monday is traditionally set aside for recovery and quality family time.

Thus by allowing only the Monday to be used for proper sailing, our Dear Leaders have in effect blanked off the holiday weekend almost entirely. But the indomitable Howth 17s – on confirming that Monday, June 7th is all-clear day – immediately started suggesting that it should be used for the Lambay Race regardless of affronts against tradition, only to be told by HYCs powers-that-be to catch themselves on, as the Lambay Race was already very conservatively pencilled in as a double bill for the first Saturday of Howth's Autumn League in mid-September.

But as of lunchtime yesterday (Friday), the fresh new mood of optimism had seen some lateral thinking in the HYC Sailing Committee, and they're now suggesting a proper Lambay Race for Saturday, June 12th, when the tides are perfect. And though that new out-of-the-blue date still awaits approval at the General Committee meeting on Monday, it could well be a runner.

Lambay bound. The Howth 17s Leila and Anita set off from Howth to race around Lambay in the brief 2020 season. The 123-year-old class's plans to race around Lambay on Monday, June 7th to celebrate the ending of sailing lockdown may now become a full-blown Howth YC Lambay Race on Saturday, June 12th. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyLambay bound. The Howth 17s Leila and Anita set off from Howth to race around Lambay in the brief 2020 season. The 123-year-old class's plans to race around Lambay on Monday, June 7th to celebrate the ending of sailing lockdown may now become a full-blown Howth YC Lambay Race on Saturday, June 12th. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

But meanwhile, unless sailing's restrictions-lifting date is brought forward in light of the golf allowances - thereby providing a whole raft of earlier club racing possibilities – it's natural to conclude that several other clubs and classes might decide to celebrate sailing's proper return with a special race on Monday, June 7th.

Other than complying with the rules and with safety regulations, a Freedom Day Special Race on Monday, June 7th, needn't be too serious. Just let it happen. And let the prizes be distributed by ballot, as they used to do at Cape Clear Regatta. Let there be light…..

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The Government's phased easing of some Covid-19 restrictions during the month of April was welcome news but there was also some disappointment expressed in boating circles over a lack of clarity contained in the announcement that makes it difficult to plan the season, especially the staging of major summer regattas.

The Government aims to continue its cautious approach, gradually easing restrictions, while a substantial level of the population is vaccinated during April, May and June, after which, it should be safe to reopen society more widely.

In his address, the Taoiseach used the phrase ‘distance sports' to describe a sporting activity that was permitted but what does this mean for sailing, a low risk, outdoor, no-contact sport?

In a response to a query from Afloat, a Sport Ireland spokesman said 'At present, these are activities that can take place on a socially distanced basis and take place between a maximum of two households'.

SB20 Sportsboat racing on Dublin Bay pre-COVID Photo: AfloatSB20 Sportsboat one-design racing on Dublin Bay pre-COVID Photo: Afloat

Single-handers

An interpretation of this means that single-handers, double handers and crews from two households can go sailing if they can 'distance' themselves.

But 'distance' does not extend to competition at this point, it refers only to private social sailing and it would exclude yachts with large crews from different households. So, Like golf or tennis, two parties can have a social game. Likewise, two individuals can have a recreational sail.

The spokesman said Sport Ireland has been in touch with the various National Governing Bodies, including Irish Sailing, on this matter.

Overall then, what we know is: 

From 12th April

  • travel within your own county or within 20km of your home if crossing county boundaries

From 26th April:

  • Outdoor sports facilities can reopen and sailing clubs may remain open.
  • ‘Distance’ Sailing activities may take place between a maximum of two households
  • School-aged children may resume training using the pod system (pods of 15)
  • No matches or events may take place (other than exempted events)

By any interpretation, this does not appear to allow for cruiser-racer sailing, except for small crew numbers on board. Clearly, this could have a major impact on the most popular aspect of the sport, for early summer at least.

Even though we know that there is little difference between sailing in training and racing modes, the sport is reliant on the not so small matter of lockdown measures easing from Level Five to Level Two (when racing is permitted) but, as widely anticipated, this did not materialise in this week's announcement.

Still, on Dublin Bay, DBSC and ISORA, race organisers are both aiming for May starts in 'some form', subject to guidelines. In June, the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race and the Sovereign's Cup at Kinsale are due to get underway.

Reduced Crews?

It raises the question, that if this situation is to be considered the norm for the next two to three months, then sailing should be looking at reduced crews for racing in the future, as they are doing in the UK? Such a move was previously explored on Afloat here

This weekend, for example, one design keelboats are sailing in the Solent for the first time this year and boats that normally allow five are only taking four crew. Likewise, cruisers crew numbers in the UK are limited. 

The first race starts this weekend, the JOG Race, and below is one of the sailing instructions:

  • 17.1 Crew numbers for this race are limited to a maximum of 6, irrespective of a family group or other considerations. This is a maximum and skippers may limit their own crew in line with social distancing and other requirements.

Coincidentally, the first RORC event also starts this weekend; long coastal day races over three weekends, with a maximum of 80% of normal crew numbers.

By reducing crew numbers it could help to comply with the 'distance sport' ruling and give sailing room to negotiate a return to competition because there is no way nine people sitting out on a 35-foot cruiser will meet these criteria.

Seven sailing clubs in Northern Ireland have been awarded funding totalling £174,343 through the Department of Communities Sports Sustainability Fund.

They are Ballyholme who got the largest sum at £49,138, Carlingford Lough - £3,957, Carrickfergus SC - £29,716, Down Cruising Club -£35,230, Portaferry SC - £105, Quoile YC, £25,258 and Strangford Lough YC - £30,939.

The purpose of the Sports Sustainability Fund is to help address the economic consequences of the COVID 19 health pandemic affecting the sports sector. It provides the financial interventions needed to stabilise and sustain sports core governing bodies of sport, enabling them to withstand the worst impacts of Covid19. It will specifically minimise the financial stress on the sports sector due to lost income due to COVID-19 lockdown and ongoing restrictions to sustain the sector.

Quoile Yacht Club on Strangford Lough were awarded £25,258Quoile Yacht Club on Strangford Lough was awarded £25,258

Applications had to made through the governing body recognised by Sport NI, in this case, the Royal Yachting Association of Northern Ireland.

Thirty-one bodies made the application, ranging from American Football, Cricket, GAA, Golf through Ice Skating and Hockey.

Our header photo is one whose use had not been anticipated for at least another month, and hopefully not at all. For it was optimistically expected that by late January, we'd have evidence the vaccines were beginning to work, with their roll-out accelerating by means of ever-greater degrees of efficiency in a general situation of the pandemic being under control, and thus a sunny escapist image of a magic sailing moment would be superfluous to requirements.

However, writing this a couple of days before Christmas, the abiding thought for now is attributable to Chairman Mao, or so it's said. Admittedly he wasn't exactly a laugh-a-minute merchant at the best of times. But his response to the supposedly uplifting cliché from a follower during The Long March, to the effect that it's always darkest just before the dawn, was well flattened by the Chairman's monotone response: "It's always darkest just before it gets completely black".

A bit OTT even in these straitened times, perhaps. But a week ago just as Sailing on Saturday 19-11-20 was hitting the screens, the news came through that the 2020 Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race had been cancelled for the first time in its remarkable 76 year history, with just a week's notice.

It should not have been such a surprise and so much of a special disappointment, but even the almost unlimited research resources of the vast Nixon Verbiage Industries complex had failed to provide the info that there'd been a new and particularly virulent COVID outbreak in Sydney's northern beach suburbs, while the Tasmanian Diplomatic Corps had completely overlooked its duty to inform us that their authorities – previously noted in the 19th Century for keeping Irish patriots forcibly sequestered on their lovely island – were now taking steps to prevent anyone coming near the place at all.

This should have been this morning's header photo – the start of the Rolex Sydney-Hobart RaceThis should have been this morning's header photo – the start of the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race

That would admittedly have removed the maddening dawdle up the Derwent which has frequently concluded the Hobart Race since 1945, but it has also wiped out the Sydney-Hobart Race completely while it's at it, leaving those of us who rely on it as a Yuletide release valve when all the seasonal pressure dial readings are rising.

This is not helped by the news that, having kept it at bay in exemplary style, Tokyo is now experiencing a COVID surge of unprecedented power, which suddenly makes everyone aware that the supposedly secure Olympics 2020 in their new slot of July-August 2021 may not be such a surefire runner after all.

Yet just across the China Sea, the People's Republic - where it all may or may not have begun – is holding China up to the world as the perfect ideal of how to deal with COVID-19. So the inescapable logic is that if Japan cannot now hold the year-late Olympics, the entire circus should be shifted across that same China Sea to a place where – having put up completely new fully-equipped hospitals from scratch in six weeks - creating half a dozen Olympic arenas in a couple of months should be a doddle.

Finn Class racing at the 2021 Olympic venue of Enoshima near Tokyo. The postponed regatta in July-August – which would have been the Finns last appearance as an Olympic class - is now itself in question with a new pandemic outbreak in JapanFinn Class racing at the 2021 Olympic venue of Enoshima near Tokyo. The postponed regatta in July-August – which would have been the Finns last appearance as an Olympic class - is now itself in question with a new pandemic outbreak in Japan

But as we are now only too well aware of the kind of regimented and highly-disciplined social structures which makes such things possible in China, as a precaution our would-be Olympians would do well to get a copy of the Little Red Book for bedtime reading, while the Olympic Council of Ireland should be exploring ways and means whereby our athletes can gain associate overseas membership of the Chinese Communist Party, as such a link would smooth the way should a Chinese location become the 2021 Olympic Venue of last resort.

Forgive the ramblings, but this morning all over the world Rolex Sydney-Hobart followers should be tuning in to a race already under way, and getting their very necessary dose of Australian summer and sailing culture. It's not quite Mad Max territory, but there's enough in the varied characters who strut their stuff each year in the dash to Hobart to make you realise that it's only from Australia that Max Max could have emerged.

But instead, we have to retreat into a miasma of sailing memories conveyed through preferably sunny photos, and for years this image of the red boat in sunshine has been sitting in a corner of my screen with the notion that bringing it up full screen will blow away any temporary melancholy.

It's a ploy which doesn't always work, as its contrast may only accentuate the downer. But generally, it does the trick. It was taken during ISORA Week in 1991 or thereabouts at Howth, and I'm racing the partnership-owned Doug Peterson-designed 1976-built Contessa 35 Witchcraft of Howth (we bought her at Hallowe'en 1990) with shipmates-for-the-week John MacDonald on left (he's the father of noted sailors Emma and Ross) and Don O'Donnell on the right in the white hat, with the rest of the willing crew assembled from the hiring fair which gathered at the top of the marina bridge each race morning, for in those pre-offshore sailing school days, ISORA Weeks were magnets for people keen to get involved in the offshore game.

The photo is by Patrick Roach, longtime photographer with Yachting Monthly who later branched out freelance, in fact, he may have done so by the time this was taken, for not only did this one appear on the cover of Yachting Monthly nearly thirty years ago, but variants from it provided the cover girl for other sailing publications. It seemed that magazine Art & Picture Editors just couldn't get enough of a bright red boat in vivid sunshine when usually they had to make the best of white-hulled or occasionally dark blue boats in poor light.

The 1912-built Ainmara and the 1976-built Witchcraft together at the Down Cruising Club in Strangford Lough. In 1964, the Round Isle of Man Race was won by Ainmara. Thirty years later in 1994, it was won again under the same command, this time by Witchcraft. The 1912-built Ainmara and the 1976-built Witchcraft together at the Down Cruising Club in Strangford Lough. In 1964, the Round Isle of Man Race was won by Ainmara. Thirty years later in 1994, it was won again under the same command, this time by Witchcraft.

Another plus is that you can see some of the faces. Only John MacDonald can remember Patrick being there in his little RIB, the rest of us were recovering from the challenge of getting our ludicrously large spinnaker up and drawing. But this has been achieved, we're starting to pull away from the next boat in line, and for a nano-second – captured by the photographer – pure existential bliss is the mood of the moment.

The Contessa 35 is a remarkable boat, heavy for her size – she's nearly two tonnes heavier that the large Sigma 38 - and notably comfortable in a seaway, with the weight tending towards amidships, a feature we emphasized in making her a proper cruiser-racer by carrying an over-powered electric anchor winch beside the mast. and having the 83 metres of 7/16" chain in a self-stowing vertical box under it beside the mast, which is well aft.

This midships weight location greatly reduces hobby-horsing to windward, and removes that awful corkscrew steering you get on a breezy broad reach when all the weight of the boat's chain has been stowed right forward because the builders' marketing department won't allow such crude stuff as ground tackle to intrude into the luxury accommodation….

Witchcraft on passage from Kinsale to Glandore during the 1996 Cruise-in-Company, showing the successful slightly luminous topside finish she was given as an experiment by a classic car paintwork expert. Although she carried the heavy ground tackle expected of a 40-footer, as the anchor winch and chainlocker below it were at the mast, there was little or no adverse effect on performance. Photo: Kevin DwyerWitchcraft on passage from Kinsale to Glandore during the 1996 Cruise-in-Company, showing the successful slightly luminous topside finish she was given as an experiment by a classic car paintwork expert. Although she carried the heavy ground tackle expected of a 40-footer, as the anchor winch and chainlocker below it were at the mast, there was little or no adverse effect on performance. Photo: Kevin Dwyer

For about nine years we raced and cruised Withcraft of Howth flat out until the steam began to run out of the partnership (it's rather more difficult than keeping a marriage together), with my own energies then being further deflected by interactions with orthopaedic and other surgeons.

But for those nine years, all things seemed possible in cruising to all sorts of places between the Faroes and Spain, and going round Ireland more times than we could remember, two of them in the race from which we emerged with some silverware, as we did from ISORA racing, the Scottish Series, Cork Week where one morning we woke up to find the boat had somehow provided overnight accommodation for eleven people, and the Dingle Race where we simply cruised on round Ireland afterwards, while a Witchcraft speciality was the Autumn League at Howth, where our crews might include everyone from Arctic veterans who thought racing a bit of a joke, to champion dinghy sailors who though all sailing other than racing was a bit of a joke.

Cork Week, and the fleet's in Crosshaven. Somewhere in the midst of them all is Witchcraft, anticipating Airbnb with sometimes as many as eleven sleeping on board.Cork Week, and the fleet's in Crosshaven. Somewhere in the midst of them all is Witchcraft, anticipating Airbnb with sometimes as many as eleven sleeping on board.

Our biggest problem in racing was that bright red hull colour. As the starting fleet swelled towards the line, there was no way an absurdly conspicuous red stemhead could be hidden in the crowd of white boats in debatable OCS situations, so we erred on caution, knowing that the boat's extraordinary windward performance would soon get us back in the hunt.

This was something which was well demonstrated at Cork Week when a Force 9 suddenly squall swept through the fleet as we were slugging upwind to the Fountainstown Mark. While it seemed as though the entire Sigma 33 fleet were reversing in formation close past us, in fact, they were just about holding their own whereas our old warhorse has simply found her stride, and her powerful streaking to windward though the bulletlike spray was such that the helmsman had experienced a total facial defoliation by the time we finished racing.

The red hull – superbly built by Jeremy Rogers at Lymington when I think the great Bill Green was working with him – fascinated everyone, not least a little guy whose name now eludes me. He used to be intrigued by the developing hull re-spray facility at Malahide Marina, as his own business was in re-spraying cars and particularly classic cars, where he was given free rein to replicate some unusual colours.

He saw something in Witchcraft's hull that invited experimentation, and offered us a virtually free re-spray that, he assured us, would actually make her glow. We were a bit afraid that we'd end up with something like one of those metallic colours you very quickly get tired of, but what the hell, we could always get her re-spayed again. So our little genius went to work and produced a beautiful quality finish with a slightly luminous effect which never faded, proved remarkably hard wearing, and we didn't tire of it – which was just as well, for year after year each Spring it polished up again as good as new.

The true cruiser-racer in proper ISORA long weekend mode. Witchcraft in Lighthouse Cove on Bardsey in Northwest Wales, August 1993. The previous (Thursday) evening she'd arrived across channel from Howth in to Port Dinnllaen for supper at the Ty Coch Inn. Early next morning, down to Bardsey Island for Friday breakfast (mega-feast) in Lighthouse Cove and leg-stretch ashore. Friday lunchtime across to Aberdaron for pub lunch and visit to historic little chapel where Welsh "national poet" R S Thomas is priest. Friday afternoon, super sunny sail to Pwllheli for monumental pre-race party with Squire Jones at Penmaen. Saturday: Pwllheli-Howth Race, which is also RORC event. Sunday in Howth, guests at party for winners in Evora, the Jameson house. Photo: W M NixonThe true cruiser-racer in proper ISORA long weekend mode. Witchcraft in Lighthouse Cove on Bardsey in Northwest Wales, August 1993. The previous (Thursday) evening she'd arrived across channel from Howth in to Port Dinnllaen for supper at the Ty Coch Inn. Early next morning, down to Bardsey Island for Friday breakfast (mega-feast) in Lighthouse Cove and leg-stretch ashore. Friday lunchtime across to Aberdaron for pub lunch and visit to the historic little chapel where Welsh "national poet" R S Thomas is priest. Friday afternoon, super sunny sail to Pwllheli for the monumental pre-race party with Squire Jones at Penmaen. Saturday: Pwllheli-Howth Race, which is also a RORC event. Sunday in Howth, guests at party for winners in Evora, the Jameson house. Photo: W M Nixon

As for our re-spray genius, it was a doubly-useful experience. His experiment was a complete success. He was deservedly pleased with what he'd done, which was much admired. But in working with other regulars in the boatyard, he'd quietly come to the conclusion that if his serious mortgage was going to continue to be paid with little effort, he'd have to stick with the classic cars. And who could disagree with him?

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It would be needlessly painful to look back at the Afloat.ie features of a year and more ago anticipating the coming sailing season of 2020. They exuded optimism, anticipation, energy and enthusiasm for the approaching twelve months. They looked forward to a season at home and abroad which showed every promise of being the greatest Irish sailing year ever in local, national and international terms.

But as it happens, there's now little or no discussion of What Might Have Been. We've been through a lot. And we obviously still have a great deal to get through. But we've learned to cherish the good things that did happen, while the mood of the sport of sailing is clearcut - we're moving on.

Thanks to our sailors and organisers proving so adept at managing to pull some sort of regulation-compliant sport and seafaring out of the severe limitations of a rolling pandemic, we've reached the sensible stage of living for the moment and the future, while enjoying the memories of those sometimes contorted happenings which, in the end, made for an interesting, absorbing and – when it happened – an enjoyable season.

The heart of it all - the Royal Cork YC at Crosshaven.  Photo: Robert BatemanThe heart of it all - the Royal Cork YC at Crosshaven. Photo: Robert Bateman

In achieving this, the Royal Cork Yacht Club set a mature example which encouraged and sustained the rest of the community. 2020 began with the RCYC – acclaimed at New Year for the seventh time as the Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year – facing with justifiable pride and confidence into its Tricentenary Year with an internationally supported programme which reaffirmed its unique historical position going back to 1720.

Yet as the shutters began to come down, the RCYC - calmly led by Admiral Colin Morehead – set an example of mature acceptance which carried valuable influence way beyond the world of sailing. The season the RCYC had planned over several years as they worked towards 2020 had been shaping up to be utterly exceptional in its quality. But the national and global health crisis - faced by us all as February became March - was likewise utterly exceptional. It was unprecedented in a hundred years.

Admiral Colin Morehead of the Royal Cork Yacht Club: His calm and responsible leadership when the pandemic struck his club in its Tricentenary Year was exemplary. Photo: Robert BatemanAdmiral Colin Morehead of the Royal Cork Yacht Club: His calm and responsible leadership when the pandemic struck his club in its Tricentenary Year was exemplary. Photo: Robert Bateman

In this time of need, the inevitably high profile series of cancellations which the Royal Cork had to implement was done in such a considered, reasonable and indisputable way that Admiral Morehead and his team carried not just their club with them in a remarkable display of unity, but they provided an example to others on land and sea which resulted in one of the most gregarious and sports-mad countries in the world sensibly accepting extreme social limitations which, in the long run, have stood Ireland very much to the good.

Sailing may not be a spectator sport, but it is a very visible activity when it does occur, particularly with substantial racing. Thus although many club fleets were approaching full commission as lockdown loomed, the fact that the boats stayed on their moorings or in their marina berths - or indeed didn't launch at all – sent a very strong message in line with national policy.

Before all this, there had been the first achievements for the year's Irish sailing in Australia at Sail Melbourne in January, where the National YC's Annalise Murphy – ultimately selected to be Ireland's Laser Radial Women's representative when the 2020 Olympiad is staged in Japan in 2021 – got herself back in contention while young Eve McMahon successfully took the opportunity to get acquainted with seriously grown-up competition.

But for Ireland, the real star of the show was Optimist sailor Rocco Wright of Howth, who in Melbourne was overnight leader going into the final race in a fleet of 255 boats, and came home with the Silver before going on to avail of the last of unfettered travel in February with the Optimist Euromarina Trophy in Alicante in Spain, where again he took Silver, this time in a fleet of 401 boats.

Rocco Wright (left) takes Silver in the 401-boat Optimist fleet at the Euromarina Cup in Alicante in FebruaryRocco Wright (left) takes Silver in the 401-boat Optimist fleet at the Euromarina Cup in Alicante in February

Back home the sporting lights were going out big time by mid-March, leading into total April lockdown. But then in May when the first wave began to ease as the approaching summer's more benevolent weather began to work its magic, the infection figures began to go the right way and some restrictions were scaled down. It was highly-focused club administrators such as Howth Yacht Club Commodore Ian Byrne who trawled through the sometimes confusing official directives in order to provide a meaningful guide to sailing folk as to what they could do afloat, and when and where.

Such guidance was needed in a time of frustration and bewilderment, for it was becoming increasingly clear that being near or on the sea played a beneficial role in combatting the virus. Yet it would have been irresponsible and selfish for sailing enthusiasts to flaunt their good fortune when a large section of the population was restricted in locked-down isolation in unpleasantly confined spaces.

But equally, there were increasing possibilities for sailing after the first wave of COVID-19 had clearly peaked, and key organisations such as Dublin Bay Sailing Club under Commodore Jonathan Nicholson and Honorary Secretary Chris Moore explored the possibilities and timings while planning the production of a virtual DBSC Yearbook 2020 in co-ordination with Afloat.ie.

Nimbleness, flexibility and shoreside numbers control were pivotal to it all, and in this the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association led by Peter Ryan of Dun Laoghaire, and the South Coast Offshore Racing Association headed by Johanna Murphy of Cobh, were well-placed to deliver the goods, with ISORA in particular providing a remarkably complete programme even though – for Irish sailors - it had to be restricted to our own waters, as a planned expansion to take in cross-channel races to Wales was stymied by more sever restrictions being imposed on the Welsh side in August.

People who get things done – Peter Ryan of ISORA and Johanna Murphy of SCORAPeople who get things done – Peter Ryan of ISORA and Johanna Murphy of SCORA

By late June and early July, restricted club racing programmes were getting under way. But in early July the winds and weather were uncooperative, and it was in the second week of July - on the evening of Thursday July 9th to be precise - that a brisk and sunny northwesterly swept away a period of wet and gloomy calm to provide the Royal Cork cruiser-racer fleet with their first real contest of the year, and they and photographer Bob Bateman grasped the opportunity to make a clear statement that while the sailing season of 2020 was going to be in a very truncated form, there nevertheless was going to be some Irish sailing at its very best.

We're here! The keelboat racing season starts for the Royal Cork on Thursday July 9th.  Photo: Robert BatemanWe're here! The keelboat racing season starts for the Royal Cork on Thursday, July 9th. Photo: Robert Bateman

Up in Dublin Bay the season had been moving gingerly into action at much the same time, and when the fresher more summery weather arrived to bring everyone to life, DBSC found their fleet numbers were pushing towards the 140 mark, while the venerable Water Wags – doing their own thing as usual – managed a best turnout of 24 boats.

Thus if we take the broad view, it means that nationally, somewhere towards a half the people who could have been going sailing chose to do so once it became available in its limited form. Everyone was entitled to their own approach to it amidst the uncertainties and plain horrors of the pandemic, and some clubs chose to function only for junior sailing which came under the heading of teaching and training.

Don Street's secret – live well, live long, and sail a DragonDon Street's secret – live well, live long, and sail a Dragon

But of course there were gung-ho types who raced afloat the minute it became remotely possible, and in Glandore the irrepressible Don Street has his 90th birthday some time around July 24th, and that became the focus of a super summer series for Glandore's famous classic Dragons.

Up in Howth while juniors had been in action from an early stage, the keelboats really got going with the Aqua Two-Handed Race round Lambay on July 18th, with 38 boats racing and Diane Kissane and Graham Curran winning in one of the HYC club-owned J/80s.

Summer perfection – Sutton DC Commodore Ian McCormack and Nobby Reilly on helm, racing a J/80 in the Aqua Two-Hander Round Lambay at Howth.  Photo Lynn Reilly Summer perfection – Sutton DC Commodore Ian McCormack and Nobby Reilly on the helm, racing a J/80 in the Aqua Two-Hander Round Lambay at Howth. Photo Lynn Reilly

Meanwhile, the local classes were coming to life, and eventually, enthusiasts like Ian Malcolm coaxed 13 of the 1898-vintage Howth 17s afloat, with Shane O'Doherty and partners in the 1900-built Pauline winning the annual championship (the "Worlds", would you believe) while the annual Lambay Race went to the Massey-Toomey syndicate in the 1907-built Pauline. As for Howth's Puppeteer 22s which date back to 1978, some have reached the age to make them ripe for restoration, and it was one of these, Puppeteer Number 1 Shiggy Shiggy restored by Paul McMahon & Laura Ni hUallachain, which won.

The 1907-built Howth 17 Deilginis, winner of the 2020 Lambay Race, has undergone many restorations…Photo: W M NixonThe 1907-built Howth 17 Deilginis, the winner of the 2020 Lambay Race, has undergone many restorations…Photo: W M Nixon

…..while the 1978-built Puppeteer 22 prototype Shiggy-Shig has just undergone her first restoration, and it may have helped owner Paul McMahon to win the 2020 Class Championship…..while the 1978-built Puppeteer 22 prototype Shiggy-Shig has just undergone her first restoration, and it may have helped owner Paul McMahon to win the 2020 Class Championship.

The dinghy classes got going properly by mid-August at Crosshaven, and though a storm was to blow out the Lasers competition, the four day AIB Optimist Nationals concluding on the 16th August were if anything plagued by over-light winds. It came down to the wire with Johnny Flynn of Howth snatching it by one point from the home club's Ben O'Shaughnessy, with Howth's Rocco Wright third, while the National YC's Clementine van Steenberge was top girl at fifth.

Cork Harbour's unique (in Ireland) fleet of National 18s had reminded everyone of their exuberant existence when Charles Dwyer's Shark II won the Dognose Trophy over the same August weekend, but their Irish Nationals weren't staged until 12th September when an eight race series saw the title go to Nick Walsh, Rob Brownlow and Eddie Rice in Fifty Shades ahead of Alex Barry in FOMO and Colin Chapman's Aquadisiacs in third.

In Dun Laoghaire, it's the Flying Fifteens which top the listings as the largest One-Design keelboat class, and in August in a final period of easing on travel restrictions, they managed to stage a 16-boat-limit Nationals at Dunmore East, and in a blast from the past, superstar John Lavery was persuaded out of retirement to campaign with Alan Green, and in rugged conditions, they recorded a convincing win.

This was heartening news for the National Yacht Club, for the sheer scale of the Royal Cork Yacht Club's pandemic-induced cancellations had tended to obscure the fact that 2020 was also supposed to see the 250th Anniversary celebrations of Lough Ree YC, the 150th (the Sesquicentennial) of the National YC in Dun Laoghaire, and the 125th of Howth YC.

The fact that all four clubs were managing to get substantial sailing of some kind was – in the circumstances of 2020 – a matter for celebration. But by August and particularly by early September, it was all taking place in the knowledge that thus far, the predictions of the epidemiologists had proven remarkably accurate, and so the expectation of a second wave in September was accepted as highly likely.

Thus sailing levels in August were almost frenetic, but it was sensibly done with a minimum of razzmatazz. They'd a splendid long weekend Quarter Millennial Regatta at Lough Ree, but other than those actively involved, most folk didn't hear about it until afterwards. Equally, the Mirrors had their Nationals at Sligo apparently organized through a system of telepathy, but that enabled them to keep it comfortably compliant in every way.

The SB20 Bango on the way to success at Lough Ree's Quarter Millennial, with junior champion Ben Graf on helm, LRYC Commodore John McGonigle at middle, and owner Kevin Fenton forward. Photo: Alex HobbsThe SB20 Bango on the way to success at Lough Ree's Quarter Millennial, with junior champion Ben Graf on helm, LRYC Commodore John McGonigle at middle, and owner Kevin Fenton forward. Photo: Alex Hobbs

Shannon One Designs helping Lough Ree YC celebrate its Quarter Millennium. The Shannon Class celebrates its own Centenary in 2022. Photo: Con MurphyShannon One Designs helping Lough Ree YC celebrate its Quarter Millennium. The Shannon Class celebrates its own Centenary in 2022. Photo: Con Murphy

The Mirror Nationals at Sligo, venue for the 2021 Mirror Worlds. The winner in the 2020 Nationals was Lough Ree's Caolan Croasdell (foreground). Photo: Con MurphyThe Mirror Nationals at Sligo, venue for the 2021 Mirror Worlds. The winner in the 2020 Nationals was Lough Ree's Caolan Croasdell (foreground). Photo: Con Murphy

And then in mid-August, there was the big one, the Fastnet 450. In the Irish Sea, Peter Ryan with ISORA had shown what could be done with minimum staff and maximized close communications, and by season's end he was to have a completed programme with Paul O'Higgins' JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC) the champion.

On the south coast meanwhile, the first weekend of August saw SCORA run a testing-the-waters Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale race which didn't frighten the horses or anyone else, and had the Murphy family's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo from Crosshaven emerging as winner. So this in conjunction with the quiet success of ISORA saw the Fastnet 450 put together, the "450" being the combined ages of the National YC which hosted the start, and the Royal Cork which hosted the finish.

Legends of sailing. Clayton Love Jnr of the Royal Cork YC and Carmel Winkelmann of the National YC at the NYC before the start of the Fastnet 450. Clayton Love was Admiral of the Royal Cork for its Quarter Millennium in 1969-70, while Carmel Winkelmann was one of the founders of the pioneering NYC Junior Division in 1967, and the IYA Junior Programme.Legends of sailing. Clayton Love Jnr of the Royal Cork YC and Carmel Winkelmann of the National YC at the NYC before the start of the Fastnet 450. Clayton Love was Admiral of the Royal Cork for its Quarter Millennium in 1969-70, while Carmel Winkelmann was one of the founders of the pioneering NYC Junior Division in 1967, and the IYA Junior Programme.

The Murphy family's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo from Crosshaven was winner of both the Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale and the Fastnet 450 races.  Photo: Robert Bateman The Murphy family's Grand Soleil 40 Nieulargo from Crosshaven was the winner of both the Kinsale-Fastnet-Kinsale and the Fastnet 450 races. Photo: Robert Bateman

The course was Dun Laoghaire Pierheads-Fastnet Rock-Cork Harbour entrance. It was a rugged one for a good fleet with the 35ft Red Alert from Greystones dismasted, and in a cracker of a finish, the Murphys with Nieulargo took second on line honours but claimed the CT win from first-to-finish J/122 Aurelia (Chris Power Smith, RStGYC) while the small but high-rated SunFast 3300 Cinnamon Girl (Cian McCarthy Kinsale YC, with Mark Mansfield on board) was third across in an event which, at the time and in retrospect, was a season's highlight.

Tom Dolan's Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa found form in 2020Tom Dolan's Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa found form in 2020

Abroad, Tom Dolan suddenly found his mojo racing Smurfit Kappa in Le Figaro Solo. As he said himself, he was doing nothing with the Figaro 3 that he hadn't done in 2019, yet in 2019 he was in the crab grass, but in 2020 after they finished in St Nazaire he was very much in the frame, and made a speech at the prize-giving which went viral.

Irish Cruising

Any cruising which was taking place was inevitably muted, with attention being drawn to the problems of boats which had been in the Caribbean where the pandemic spread like wildfire, and getting out and back to Europe was the only alternative to being in lockdown for weeks or months and restricted to staying in board.

With flights being cancelled wholesale, crew were unable to get out to join homecoming skippers, and on the shores of Clew Bay, Mayo-based Ocean Cruising Club officers Alex and Daria Blackwell ran a comprehensive guidance system which helped many home. Meanwhile, all Ireland watched nervously as one-armed solo skipper Garry Crothers from Derry with his Ovni 435 Kind of Blue made the long hop from the Caribbean to Lough Foyle singe-handed in absolutely every sense of the term.

Garry Crothers on Kind of Blue with his daughter Oonagh (left), his wife Marie, and daughter Amy in cruising mode in the Caribbean. When the pandemic arrived, the one-armed sailor was alone, and had to sail back to Ireland on his own Garry Crothers on Kind of Blue with his daughter Oonagh (left), his wife Marie, and daughter Amy in cruising mode in the Caribbean. When the pandemic arrived, the one-armed sailor was alone and had to sail back to Ireland on his own

The Quinlan-Owens family's DanuThe Quinlan-Owens family's Danu

He did it, and did it well, and a few weeks later the Quinlan-Owens family with their 43ft steel ketch Danu made their keenly-anticipated homeward landfall in the Aran Islands, having made the best of their homeward voyage by being the first boat to get clearance into the newly COVID-free Azores, which seemed like a different world entirely from the pandemic-plagued Caribbean and Europe.

As for Irish waters, the cleverest move of all was made by the 1926-vintage Limerick trading ketch Ilen, which in late August and early September "between two tropical storms and ahead of lockdown", managed an educational cargo cruise between Kinsale, West Cork, Dingle, Limerick, and the Aran Island carrying consignments of choice artisan products.

The Limerick ketch Ilen in Greenland in 2019. In 2020, she fitted in a Coast and Cargo cruise in Ireland between two tropical storms and a pandemic…..Photo: Gary Mac MahonThe Limerick ketch Ilen in Greenland in 2019. In 2020, she fitted in a Coast and Cargo cruise in Ireland between two tropical storms and a pandemic…..Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

September sailing

The early Autumn saw a revival of the progression towards the 12-month-delayed Olympics, firstly with Kiel Week – where the Irish squad indicated there's work to be done – and then the Laser Europeans in Gdansk in Poland, where Finn Lynch was on form for Ireland and took a personal best.

But it all went a bit sour afterwards, as Danish champion Anne-Marie Rindom came down seriously ill with COVID-19 on her return home, the infection having apparently been brought into the championship by a Portuguese sailor.

While all this wasn't exactly sung from the rooftops, the story spread quickly, and increased the focus in safety in Ireland, where all the Irish squad had test clear on their return. By this time, with the staging of events being decided on an almost day-to-day basis, the marking of the National YC's 150th in Dun Laoghaire with a regatta had become a matter of allocating one of DBSC's Saturday race's for up-grading to all-classes regatta status, and this had taken place in style on September 5th, just in time as the graphs were starting to up again as summer receded.

It became a case of get it done while you can, and after the 1720s found they might be straying outside the limits by going back to Baltimore to complete their nationals, they finished the job at Crosshaven with Rob O'Leary taking the title.

In Cork Harbour itself, meanwhile, the annual Cobh-Blackrock Race is so such a part of the fabric of harbour life in mid-September that not staging it was unthinkable, so they defined the socially-distant limits required and off it went, with Denis Byrne's little T250 Cracker winning out overall to take the Moonduster Trophy from a remarkably diverse fleet.

Denis Byrne's Cracker, winner of the coveted Moonduster Trophy in the Cobh-Blackrock Race.  Photo: Robert BatemanDenis Byrne's Cracker, winner of the coveted Moonduster Trophy in the Cobh-Blackrock Race. Photo: Robert Bateman
The first (and only) race in the Howth Autumn League provided one of 2020's most perfect sailing days for Simon Knowles' J/109 Indian chasing down three of the hot Howth Half Tonners. Photo: Judith MalcolmThe first (and only) race in the Howth Autumn League provided one of 2020's most perfect sailing days for Simon Knowles' J/109 Indian chasing down three of the hot Howth Half Tonners. Photo: Judith Malcolm

But the shadows were closing in. Dublin Bay SC knew it was experiencing its final races even as Howth YC staged its opening (and only) race of its Autumn League in idyllic conditions. The Water Wags pushed the envelope to its limits with their final race – finishing in an appropriately emotion-inspiring sunset – proving to be 2020's last formal race in Dun Laoghaire, for the new rise of the virus saw the planned Laser Masters at the Royal St George YC cancelled at 24 hours notice.

The sun sets on 2020 club racing…..with the next lockdown imminent, the Water Wags see the sun set on Tim Pearson winning from Ian Malcolm, with Martin Byrne coming in on port tack.  Photo: Cathy Mac Aleavey The sun sets on 2020 club racing…..with the next lockdown imminent, the Water Wags see the sun set on Tim Pearson winning from Ian Malcolm, with Martin Byrne coming in on port tack. Photo: Cathy Mac Aleavey

It would have been a depressing note on which to finish the 2020 speed-sailing season, even if club activity has continued with carefully-regulated junior training sessions and events which come in under the radar using the newly acceptable buzzword of "Clinics".

But come October, and 2020's Irish sailing concluded on the most wonderful high imaginable, reinforced by an end-of-month international success. At mid-month, Pam Lee of Greystones and Cat Hunt blasted away southward from the Dun Laoghaire to Kish Lighthouse round Ireland record line in the foiling Figaro 3 Iarracht Maigeanta. Their only ambition was to set a time for a female two-handed Irish circuit, a time which until then didn't exist. So they comfortably did what they set out to do.

Cat Hunt and Pam Lee on the Figaro 3 Iarracht Maigeanta. Their record-making, record-breaking circuit of Ireland in mid-October was a tonic for the sailing community.Cat Hunt and Pam Lee on the Figaro 3 Iarracht Maigeanta. Their record-making, record-breaking circuit of Ireland in mid-October was a tonic for the sailing community.

Yet by whizzing round in just 3 days 19 hours and 41 minutes with all Ireland's sailors following them on the Yellowbrick tracker loaned by Peter Ryan of ISORA, they outperformed all sorts of comparable times going back nearly 20 years, including the existing two-handed record set by a male crew in a Class 40. Now that really was a good note to finish what may have been the weirdest Irish sailing season ever experienced, but it was very definitely a sailing season nevertheless.

Butt before we could finally declare it was all over, there came a last bit of good news from a distant island before October was out. In Malta, the organisers of the annual Rolex Middle Sea Race hung onto the staging of their flagship event on a day-to-day basis even as pandemic numbers surged in Europe. Their monitoring was rigorous, but even so, of the 71 boats entered, only 50 made it on the day, while an international listing of 21 countries had been whittled down to 15 by the start.

But it still had all the makings of a good race – "depleted but not defeated" as they put it - and in Ireland, Nin O'Leary of Crsshaven had gone into self-isolation in order to qualify. Then when he got to Malta, he passed the tests there, and was clear to ship aboard the Dutch-owned Reichel Pugh 72 Aragon. They won their class.

The Reichel Pugh 72 Aragon – first in class in Rolex Middle Sea Race with Crosshaven's Nin O'Leary on board.The Reichel Pugh 72 Aragon – first in class in Rolex Middle Sea Race with Crosshaven's Nin O'Leary on board.

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When I first saw Clochmor, Achill, County Mayo, in the late 1960's it was as if I had walked into a Paul Henry painting. The Famine era pier, built from the local red sandstone, was intact. Currachs and tarred wooden boats were tied alongside or stored upside down. A fleet of old fishing boats called the pier home. The white cottage above the pier, the forlorn, abandoned coastguard station on Darby's point, even the billowing layers of stratocumulus clouds were somehow straight off his canvas from 100-years earlier.

Nowadays it resembles more a scene from the latest 'Mad Max' movie, crossed with a scene from that Kevin Costner 'Waterworld' one.

The tiny pier is still discernible under a pancake of cement. It has been extended in an L shape and covered in a layer of concrete, steel pilings, arc lights, and bulletproof bollards. The hinterland has been bulldozed into an extensive work area and car park which is permanently cluttered with an amazing collection of steel containers, junk, machinery, plastic tubes, anchors, coloured ropes, pallets, trailers, lobster pots, broken down vans, boats, fish cages, fish pumps and fish boxes. Oil storage tanks, nets, trawl winches, abandoned pilot houses, otter boards, chains and one or two yachts.

The new pier is home to a fleet of indestructible workboats built in the fjords of Norway. The extensive sand flats are used, with the help of the tide, to service the giant circular fish pen floats. Hardy fish farm workers, clad in hi-viz suits operate the cranes and loaders, fish pumps and winches in all weathers.

I love it. Happy as that proverbial clam in the mudbank. Having found a spot on the shoreline where I can park my two boats (Accolade and a 14 ft punt). It's not unlike being in an ultra-safe anchorage or a marina, only much safer.

I acquired Accolade, an ageing Jag 22, some years ago in an earnest attempt to interest my two then kids in the joys of sailing. That, unfortunately, did not happen, and she had lain idle on her trailer as we holidayed in foreign parts.

Accolade sits there; trailer well blocked up. I try not to let her get too dilapidated looking. I bail out the rainwater. I keep an eye on the brightwork, try and keep the interior ventilated and attack the green moss and lichen which tends to develop here and there. I make cups of cocoa on the stove, sit in the sun and keep an eye on the industrious fish farm doing its business at the pier, the workboats coming and going.

There is a thriving sailing scene in Clew Bay-based at Rosmoney near Westport. But out Achill way, there are few yachts. It's not a very hospitable location with strong winds, fast currents and few shore facilities. Angling is its main draw and the recreational boaters who do show up tend to be trailing ribs and motorboats of various shapes and sizes.

Achill Yawls racingAchill Yawls racing. Illustration by Pete Hogan

The exception, however, is the Achill Yawls, a thriving fleet of traditional open boats with a dipping lug sail which is based on the working boats of the region dating back to the time of Granuaile. The Achill Yawl Festival / Cruinniú Bádóirí Acla takes place each summer with a series of weekend races based in Achill Sound, Mulranny and Clare Island. Like the hooker races in Connemara, they have their own rules, such as a start from standing with sail down. I don't know if they observe the port/starboard rule, the rock on which international sailing is founded. Don't mention windward-leeward.

The Achill Yawls differ from the traditional boats of the Galway region in that they seem to prefer white sails as opposed to the romantic red. Also, they use aluminium spars which are a big break with tradition. This allows them to carry a huge spread of sail, making the sailing very exciting. The boats are open and use sand and rocks as ballast. Filling them with water in a gust is a distinct possibility.
July this year came, and the Covid lockdown was lifted. I rushed across country from Dublin to check on Accolade. It was looking highly unlikely that I would be invited to sail on my buddies boats in the Med or Galicia this year, so I decided to launch Accolade from its safe resting place. Staycation was the new right thing to do. The resident fish farm is very helpful in the matter of launching. I hitched a ride on a passing hi loader and in no time at all boat and trailer were deposited on the beach beside the pier at low tide. Off we floated on the rising tide and went alongside the pier. One of the local fishermen, with his truck hoist, volunteered to step the mast. All in a day's work and I was sailing. I couldn't believe my luck.

Launching at ClochmorLaunching at Clochmor. Illustration by Pete Hogan

The weather being settled, I betook myself and my boat out to the mooring located off the beach at Achillbeg. And there Accolade stayed for the summer.

There are many interesting cruising destinations within a few hours sail of Cloghmor. The most obvious, easy and handy, is the main harbour of Clare Island. About 5 miles away, it has a good anchorage or moorings, or it is often possible to go alongside. There is refreshment to be had in the hotel or the community centre. There is a beach and the romance of the ancient Granuaile Castle overlooking the harbour. But it is busy, with ferries and fish farm vessels coming and going.

The Harbour,  Clare IslandThe Harbour, Clare Island. Illustration by Pete Hogan

Further south are the harbour of Ronagh and the beach resort of Old Head. Ronagh is a busy ferry port and car park but nothing else. Old Head has a wonderful beach, a drying pier and there is quite a clutter of local moorings and speed boats. It's a fair old walk into the village of Louisberg from either location. On the other side of the bay is Mulranny with a host of facilities. But it can be a bit exposed to the prevailing south-westerlies.

Inner Clew Bay with its famous island archipelago is all very well, but I find that any time I wander in there in a yacht, I invariably go aground. On a falling tide. Then there is the uphill slog to get back west when the tide finally releases the captured vessel.

Lifeboat at anchor in AchillLifeboat at anchor in Achill

Turning to the north from Clochmor there is the small maze-like harbour of Purteen on Achill Island and that gem of a beach, Keem Bay, usually sheltered. Beyond there lies the splendid Achill head and points north.

One might think that Achill Sound itself would be a logical route to the north. But it is shallow and strewn with big clumps of growing seaweed which are difficult to avoid. For obscure reasons, the newly constructed, opening bridge, mid-way along the sound, never opens! If you don't believe me, try it. The body of water to the north of the bridge includes the aptly named Bulls Mouth for which the Admiralty pilot gives a possible spring rate of 8 knots. It is a pity that the route to the north is barred in this way. The large expanse of water in the shelter of Achill Island, including the island of Inishbiggle would make wonderful extra cruising grounds. One could even sail all the way to the rear side of Mulranny.

To the south, the jewel in the cruising crown, the island of Boffin, is an easy days haul from Clochmor. This seems to be the destination of choice for the numerous boats of the Westport fleet. Boffin has everything, a safe harbour, good facilities, beaches and craic. Nearby Inishturk is a bit exposed as an anchorage.

About the same distance from Achill and just as rewarding is the Killary. Relatively few yachts seem to bother exploring its further reaches. Slightly further south is High Island, difficult of access but with a wealth of monastic relics and history to rival the more famous Skelligs. Cleggan and further south, Clifden, complete the range of destinations north of Slyne Head. I have never sailed into either but have always enjoyed visiting the busy Cleggan by road.

Map of Blind SoundMap of Blind Sound

The most unusual jaunt I took this year was to circumnavigate Achillbeg island. Indeed I think I can claim to be the first, and probably the last, proper yacht to achieve this foolhardy honour. My copy of the Irish Coast Pilot dates from 1954. (Tenth Edition) It describes Blind Sound, the channel separating Achillbeg Island from Achill Island as: 'a narrow channel which is navigable by boats with local knowledge' and adds 'except in a heavy sea' My current edition of the Irish Cruising Clubs Sailing Directions for the South and West Coasts, the gold standard for a cruising guide to the west coast, ignores Blind Sound altogether. Rightly so.

I have circumnavigated Ireland, I have circumnavigated the world. I have circumnavigated Dalkey Island, Lambay Island and The Aran Islands. But I had never circumnavigated Achillbeg. The problem lies with Blind Sound, the narrow neck separating Achillbeg and Achill Island. Having traversed Blind Sound many times in a 14-foot punt and by kayak and having perused its layout in all states of the tide and weather countless times over the years, I could claim to have some local knowledge. It is a horrendous place. One should not go anywhere near it in anything claiming to be called a yacht.

There are rocks all over the place and the tide rips through at about six knots. So I have always been tempted to give it a go, but never had the nerve.

But conditions were Ideal. Two guests were staying, Owen, a keen kite surfer and his wife Elaine. Would they like to go for a sail? I asked after brunch one day. We set off shortly after high water and with an, unusual, east wind. Owen steered. The tide was about an hour after high water so would be pushing us through as we approached from the Clochmor side. I stood on the bow and indicated the course direction to Owen on the helm. Elaine on the main sheet.

Past the big red beacon marking the entrance to Achill sound we whizzed, the tide against us but the wind pressing us on. The tide splits, and we picked up the stream ebbing out Blind Sound. Then, under the power cables running across to the lighthouse on Achillbeg. Owen, an electronic wizard, was a bit worried. I assured him that we would have enough room, and luckily we did! Then the serious bit. Standing on the bow, I could see the giant boulders slipping by underwater and the overfalls. Bit of a veer to port and then we were through. One for the record books. We hardened in the sheets and tacked back past the lighthouse. We felt like a group of mountaineers who had just conquered a new route on Everest.

At the end of Summer I hauled Accolade out again with the help of the fish farm, blocked up the trailer, and that was that. The country has gone into lockdown again; my sailing now consists of following the Vendee Globe on the computer. I keep a weather eye on the storms tracking into Achill and hope for the best. I look forward to returning next Summer. Maybe I can circumnavigate Achill. Stay safe.

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About the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is undoubtedly one of the greatest ocean adventures on the planet, also regarded as one of its toughest endurance challenges. Taking almost a year to complete, it consists of eleven teams competing against each other on the world’s largest matched fleet of 70-foot ocean racing yachts.

The Clipper Race was established in 1996 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo, non-stop, around the world in 1968-69. His aim was to allow anyone, regardless of previous sailing experience, the chance to embrace the thrill of ocean racing; it is the only event of its kind for amateur sailors. Around 40 per cent of crew are novices and have never sailed before starting a comprehensive training programme ahead of their adventure.

This unique challenge brings together everyone from chief executives to train drivers, nurses and firefighters, farmers, airline pilots and students, from age 18 upwards, to take on Mother Nature’s toughest and most remote conditions. There is no upper age limit, the oldest competitor to date is 76.

Now in its twelfth edition, the Clipper 2019-20 Race started from London, UK, on 02 September 2019.

 

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