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Displaying items by tag: Tom MacSweeney

Walking along the riverside in Cork Harbour in the past few days of good weather the harbour waters looked inviting, but as I thought of the pleasure of having the sails up, helm in hand, boat moving through the water, the sound of a bow wave ... the emptiness of the harbour waters told another tale… Along the river walk, I saw boats still lying fenced in.

While Irish Sailing negotiated the difficulties of a return to the water and drafted a plan for discussion with clubs, I pondered over why canoeing had been named as the only waterborne sport included in the initial suggestions for a return of watersports.

So I pursued that with a ‘contact’ of mine, as journalists are wont to have, within the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. That single-handed sailing was not mentioned surprised me. My ‘source’ told me that canoeing had been considered because it was “a safe, individual sport, hence social distancing would not be a problem.”

So, why not single-handed sailing – Lasers, Toppers, Optimists – even giving younger sailors a chance to get on the water … The response was that ‘crewed yachts’ had been the focus of concern, where ‘social distancing’ could not be observed…

Now, the core of deciding to go afloat in sailing is based on a combination of self-assessment - of safety, responsibility and risk and that has been put forward by Irish Sailing. I understand the problems of ‘close quarters’ aboard a racing or cruising yacht. As the national sailing authority has suggested, however, what about enabling double-handed sailing, households, family sailing, solo sailing. They should surely be considered, otherwise, a season of little opportunity is ahead.

"overall decisions about local sailing are on hold depending upon what arises from Irish Sailing’s updated plan"

From clubs around the South this week the only positive indicator was that the annual Cobh-to-Blackrock Race, always a well-patronised event, has the best prospect of going ahead because it is not scheduled until September. Decisions are awaited in regard to Glandore Classic Boats in July, but the present uncertainty may affect overseas entrants. Calves Week is still scheduled for August, but overall decisions about local sailing are on hold depending upon what arises from Irish Sailing’s updated plan.

Chief Executive Harry Hermon told me that “the anticipation is that we will be able to go afloat to some degree in Phase 1 of restrictions.”

Hopefully, that will happen but, while not being critical of canoeing as a sport, I’d like to see to more recognition from the Department of Sport of the strong support for sailing and its widespread opportunities.

Listen to the podcast below:

Published in Tom MacSweeney

What is the most important, challenging and decisive part of yacht racing?

“The start of the race.”

That was what experienced skippers and crews told me - on the start line a race could be won and lost.

So, when I ‘stepped up’ from dinghy racing and what was described to me by the “cruiser class” as “the wet ass brigade” I was well aware of start line importance.

But I found there was one major difference - Language and the force and manner of its expression!

My introduction to this was in my first race in my first cruiser, my first ‘Scribbler’ – a Ruffian 23. Two weeks after I bought her and two days after launching, she was on the start line for the National Quarter Ton Championships raced out of the Royal Cork YC at Crosshaven. It was a heavy weather day, some 30 years ago, so windy that racing was inside Cork Harbour because outside the conditions were too severe.

My experience up to then was of dinghy racing, Mirrors and 12ft. Vagabonds in Monkstown Bay and National 18 crewing. Scribbler’s crew was me on the helm, with my young son and his friend. On the start line over 20 yachts of various sizes and design circled each other in what was then the 10-5-minutes start sequence. Helming 23-feet amongst them was a bit different from 12-foot dinghies as they prowled each other.

When the start gun went they all charged for the same part of the line – as close as they could get to the stern of the committee boat, with roaring and shouting erupting.
Some epithets I never thought I’d hear from the refinements of the RCYC which I had joined only shortly before entering the Championships, were uttered. Wow, the language, the shouts of “Up, Up, Up you….!!” Retorts of: “You’ve no ……..rights…” “Get out of there….” (the moderate comment) and more …

How we got across the line without being thumped or banging into another boat I can never remember.

The course was along the edge of the Aghada shoreline, then a nice freeway before the ESB ruined it by turning it into an obstacle course with their waterborne protrusions associated with the onshore power station. We rounded the weather mark and up went kites. In the days before I became more cautious about spinnakers, we hauled too, for a speedy broad reach - then we came to the gybe mark and, well, that didn’t go too well…a series of three photos appeared of Scribbler afterwards captioned – “going, going, gone... The third showed a hand grasping the portside cockpit edge with quite a lot of the hull visible!

Scribbler came upright into the wind and shook herself, possibly wondering about the idiot on the helm. We scrambled to get the kite off, shook ourselves as well, then carried on after the fleet and finished the race.

Back in the clubhouse one of the other skippers approached me, the ‘newbie’ of the fleet and observed that we had shown a fair turn of speed on the reach… “Haven’t had the boat long?” he queried… “Not long,” I agreed.

That was “courageous,” - I like to think that’s the word he used! - “a three-sail reach in those conditions,” he observed. So I asked what he meant and was told: “you had all three sails up, main, jib, spinnaker…”

“Oh,” I replied. “Should I have taken one down…?”

So I learned a bit more about sailing – and about language…

Those thoughts came to mind this week when I heard a man claim on a national current affairs radio programme that a ‘scientific study’ conducted it appeared in just three days, rather a short timespan for scientific study, had revealed that even speaking was dangerous because COVID 19 could be emitted in speech. Sport, he said, might never be possible again for a very long time. Spectators and players would all have to wear masks because: “Can you imagine how dangerous a place it would be with thousands of spectators roaring and shouting at a match?”

Whatever about that scenario, I thought, if speech has to be controlled, it would make sailing so quiet that racing start lines would never be the same again, not to mind crews full of masked individuals.

At least the skipper might be muted!

Listen to the podcast below: 

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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The shortage of young sailors on racing boats is a universal problem.

That is the opinion of Andy Anderson, President of the International Council of Yacht Clubs. It is one of the issues which clubs need to deal with in a modern world with a different approach to the sport, he says

One of the greatest attractions of sailing for him is that “it brings you in close touch with Nature,” which underlines the importance of sustainability in sailing and its involvement with the environment.

"Sailing for him is that “it brings you in close touch with Nature"

This, he believes, will become “an exponential issue over the next few years.”

He is my guest on this week’s podcast, discussing a wide variety of sailing issues, viewed from his perspective of a lifetime in the sport in New Zealand where he has been Commodore of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Club. He emphasised the importance of club structures in fostering the development of sailing and began the interview by referring to the public perception of sailing.

Listen to the Podcast below

Published in Youth Sailing
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I won’t be challenging Hal Sisk’s confident declaration that he is Chairman of “the world’s oldest cruiser-racer class!”

His offer to anyone to challenge him sounded across Kilrush Boatyard to where I had driven over 400 kilometres from Cork to see a restored Dublin yacht, saved from rotting in a Wicklow farmyard, returned to the waters of Clare on the edge of the Shannon Estuary and which is bound, with others of the same maritime vintage, to be returned to the waters of Dublin Bay, by sail from Arklow after transportation thereto by road from the Banner county.

If all that seems a convoluted story, just add into the mix that it’s all to do with a major error by the same Class which caused controversy, division and dissension amongst its members because the rig of the same boats was changed. That was from gaff to Bermudan, which put too much strain and pressure on the craft, after which they had a sojourn in an Arklow boatyard that closed down, languished for 30 years in a Wicklow farmyard where they nearly rotted totally away, but from which they were recovered and transported to Kilrush for restoration. Next step is a return to an original rig that dates back to the last century, which will be accompanied by modern sails from Cork.

"Those of us present were part of an epoch-making day of Irish sailing history"

If you’re still keeping up with me, this is the story of rebreathing life into the Dublin Bay 21 Class where the canary yellow of Naneen seemed to even dominate the sunshine and the sparkling blue waters of Kilrush as she was launched after her restoration in front of a gathering of sailors from many parts of the country this week, assembled at the invitation of the said Hal Sisk whose request to be present to witness the occasion was not to be turned down. It was, in fact, a great day to be in the Kilrush yard. Those of us present were part of an epoch-making day of Irish sailing history, a day which was a tribute to those whose determination has brought back to life the 114-year-old Naneen and will result in the Class owning the restored Dublin Bay 21s.

Fionan De BaraFionan De Barra at the launch ceremony Photo: Afloat. Listen to the podcast below.

The best way to appreciate what has been done is to listen to my Podcast interview here with the Class Secretary, Fionán de Barra. I recorded so many interviews at Kilrush that they will make a special edition of my programme, THIS ISLAND NATION and my colleague, the estimable WM Nixon, tells me he will provide further elucidation about this project in his blog on Saturday here.

Published in Shannon Estuary

The families of the 50 victims of the Betelgeuse oil tanker tragedy at Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay have decided to take legal action against the State.

The French-Irish Association of Relatives and Friends of the Betelgeuse are applying to the High Court to change the death certificates of those who died to reflect what they claim to be the Irish State’s failure to address multiple unlawful safety failings which, they claim, caused their deaths.

It is forty years since the explosion which blew the tanker apart at the Whiddy oil terminal.

Maritime lawyer Michael Kingston is Vice-President of the Relatives and Friends Association. His father, Tim, was one of those killed. He announced the legal action at the Mother Jones Summer School in Cork, where he said the relatives are also seeking a State apology.

“They were left to die in atrocious circumstances and the State failed in its duty to ensure safe operations and failed to show any compassion, have issued no apology and have ignored the approaches made to them by the Betelgeuse relatives,” he told me.

A public funding appeal has been launched to raise money for the legal action.

Michael Kingston details this and what the relatives want from the Government in this week’s Podcast. I asked him first why the relatives were still so angry over the tragedy forty years ago.

Listen to the podcast (below) and also listen to the powerful letter from Jeanette Ravale (above) – whose husband, Marcel, was killed when the Betelgeuse exploded…She has visited Bantry several times. This letter was read at the 40th-anniversary commemoration in Bantry Cemetery in January by former French Consul in Cork, Francoise Letellier and again at the Mother Jones Summer School.

Published in Tom MacSweeney

I remember when I first saw the Puffin seabirds.

It was my first time sailing along the Kerry coastline and it was off Portmagee, on the appropriately named Puffin Island.

We had closed the small Island south of Valentia which is a wild bird conservancy for a look and it was, for me, a magical moment that I always remember.

Crowded along the cliff face, some in the water, I saw Puffins about which I’d heard so much, up close for the first time. My immediate image association was with clowns I had seen as a youngster at circus performances. The facial expressions, seen close-up through binoculars, their colour from blue to yellow and red striped beaks, the webbed orange-red feet, the waddling gait, and the way they bobbed around on the water.

"As sailors, we should be interested in the welfare of seabirds which can tell us so much about the marine environment"

I’ve seen them since, from a distance around the Skelligs, Horn Head in Donegal, on the Cliffs of Moher and the Great Saltee and why I’m telling you about them is because their hormones are driving them back to Ireland. As their European population has suffered a decline, the shores of our island nation are an important location for them to breed. I’ve been told by BirdWatch Ireland, the national voluntary organisation which protects Ireland's birds and habitats, that this is part of a huge seabird migration underway to Ireland that is hidden from the eyes and ears of most, but sailors may see it and can help. A special website has been set up for the purpose here.

As sailors, we should be interested in the welfare of seabirds which can tell us so much about the marine environment.

For me, the mention of Puffins, so synonymous with the sea, brought back memories of earlier sailing days. There are many other species on the way to our shores. You can hear more about all of this on my Podcast with Niall Hatch of BirdWatch.

• Listen to the Podcast below

Published in Marine Wildlife

The last competitor still at sea of the eighteen yachts which started the Golden Globe Race last July is not expected to finish back in France until the middle of May. Finnish sailor Tapio Lehtinen is in fifth place in the South Atlantic and has reported to Race Control that the hull of his Gaia 36, Asteria, is covered in barnacles, making progress very slow at an average of 50 nautical miles a day.

That means that the result of an investigation into the race, being carried out by the man who won the first Golden Globe, back in 1968/69, Sir Robin Knox Johnston, will not be made public until then.

That investigation began after mounting criticism of the solo race which forced its founder, Don McIntyre, to defend it after several Skippers had to be rescued. Ireland’s Gregor McGuckin was amongst those who were rescued.

“Sir Robin is undertaking a comprehensive investigation into all issues surrounding the storm tactics of GGR entrants, rig designs and the events that have led to dismasting's and three rescues in the Race,” said McIntyre, writing on the Race website. “This very thorough report is widely anticipated and will be released at the conclusion of the race.”

He added that he was “surprised at the outcome of some of these storms and dismastings that have resulted” but defended the race as “very responsible” an “incredible challenge” which should continue and that “no one should ever kill off the human spirit of adventure…”

Response to McIntyre’s defence of the solo race has varied from supporters to critics and indicated mixed views from within and outside sailing. Questions have been raised, however, about the race, including allegations that it is irresponsible, adds nothing to sailing, puts rescuers under pressure and that the consequences of what happened this year will be far-reaching.

Sir Robin Knox Johnston’s investigation report will be eagerly awaited.

• More about this in Tom MacSweeney’s Podcast. Listen here.

Published in Solo Sailing
Tagged under
31st January 2019

Solo Sailing in Irish Waters

I enjoyed watching world sailing history being made this week as 73-year-old Jean-Luc Van Den Heede became the oldest man ever to complete and win a solo non-stop round-the-world race. After 212 days alone at sea he won the Golden Globe Race, finishing in Les Sables d’Olonne in France from where he had started last July and which is also his home port.

I enjoy a little bit of solo sailing myself and, considering the number of top solo sailors from France and the races which start from there, the sport and that section of it get a lot of support.

Watching the big blue spinnaker push Jean Van Den Heede in his 36-foot. Rambler, across the finish line on Tuesday morning in a turbulent sea, accompanied by a flotilla of boats, with hundreds of spectators ashore, I thought - “that should make a point about ageism and underline that sailing really is a “sport for all ages…”

The Golden Globe Race marked its 50th anniversary and the single-handed French Figaro Race, including Irish sailors Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy will mark its golden jubilee in Irish waters this Summer, with the opening leg of the three-race series from Nantes to Kinsale and a start from Kinsale to Roscoff. Other Irish solo sailors have also shown their abilities internationally.

"solo sailing here is still subject to Marine Notice No.24 issued in 2005"

But solo sailing here is still subject to Marine Notice No.24 issued in 2005, thirteen years ago, warning about solo sailing, which is still in effect. At least when I searched the Department’s website this week, I couldn’t find any indication that it had been withdrawn.

Marine notice solo sailingMarine Notice No.24 issued in 2005

It was controversial at the time, being interpreted as imposing a ban on solo sailing,, though it didn’t say exactly that. It warned about the requirement under the ColRegs – the International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions At Sea to “keep a proper lookout by sight and hearing at all times….”

I like a bit of quiet solo sailing myself aboard my Sigma 33 Scribbler in Cork Harbour and I’m very careful to keep a proper lookout, as there are a lot of commercial shipping movements in the harbour which have right-of-way. I’m also careful of insurance warnings I’ve seen about sailing alone. I’ve met like-minded sailors on the water and seen some racing solo when they couldn’t get crew.

Contrasting that with what I heard Tom Dolan describe in his series of club talks, makes me marvel at the ability of solo sailors.

Marine Notice No.24 of 2005 took a stern stance if a proper lookout wasn’t kept. The issue seems to be whether single-handers can do so effectively, especially when needing sleep. But one Coast Guard statement said that venturing to sea or on the water alone was “neither safe nor conducive to good seamanship."

The Marine Notice applied to “all vessels on the high seas and in all waters connected therewith, navigable by seagoing vessels.” That would include inshore waters and Cork Harbour and my Sigma is, potentially, “seagoing…”

Safety on the water must be taken seriously and an accident while alone can result in a dangerous situation.

The regulation is a warning about solo boating, including sailing, in Irish waters.

Are you aware of it?

Listen to the Podcast here

Published in Solo Sailing

Hello and welcome to my weekly Podcast …. Tom MacSweeney here ….

Ireland’s State commitment to maritime safety has been strongly questioned. Safety must not be taken casually and, at the start of a New Year, when most leisure craft are off the water, it is an appropriate time to reflect – and think….

Betelgeuse tragedy at Whiddy Island

The big maritime story this week has been the 40th commemoration of the Betelgeuse tragedy at Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay. It has been the focus of the national media, where maritime tragedy always invokes big coverage, but where regular maritime coverage is sadly lacking.

I focus on it because I was the first reporter, for RTE at the time, on the scene if that tragedy in Bantry and it is one I can never forget.

In my mind’s eye, as I write these words, I can still see that scene in the early hours of the morning of January 8, 1979, between 2 and 3 a,m., as I stood in the town square. Overhead the sky was red. There was a palpable sense of fear as explosions and flames leapt into the sky from nearby Whiddy Island where the huge oil tanker, Betelgeuse had exploded and broken apart. The sky reddened, as local people clustered together, hearing that 50 had been killed.

Later investigations would reveal serious shortcomings in safety issues……which became the renewed focus of attention this week. There have been changes and improvements and safety has become more focussed upon at all maritime levels. I was in Bantry at the commemoration ceremonies and it was clear that there remains a lot of anger about the tragedy and particularly about the safety issues.

I looked out across the flat, calm and pleasant waters of Bantry Bay in the mildest of January weather during the ceremonies and recalled sailing those waters in 12ft.Vagabond dinghies from Monkstown Bay Sailing Club, in company with the Bantry Club, whose premises were just behind me. I sailed there on the Bantry Longboat, part of the Atlantic Challenge, thought of times I spent on Whiddy Island, of boarding huge oil tankers from a pilot boat as they arrived in the Bay, climbing ladders lowered from the deck as I reported on shipping stories… and I recalled that awful early morning 40 years ago…

Access to the water

Access to the water is a wonderful opportunity in Ireland, where there is still a freedom to become involved, but that it must be used wisely. Leisure boating does allow people with no maritime experience or skills of any kind, to go afloat without adequate preparation. It is wise to be prepared, to learn, to be safe. Ashore, people walk the cliffs and the shoreline, fish from areas where they may not realise the dangers inherent in the location they are using. A New Year message from the lifeboats, RNLI is one that everyone should take to heart.

Listen to the Podcast below and why, as an island nation, “WE ARE NEVER TOO FAR AWAY FROM THE WATER” ……. Niamh Stephenson of the RNLI has been telling me why….

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
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On last week’s Podcast I wrote about the great Galway Hookers at the ‘Cruiniú’ – the Gathering of the Boats in Kinvara County Galway, a centre of traditional wooden boats. There are other boats sailing in the waters off Kinvara these days – modern glassfibre dinghies.

This is the fleet of Kinvara Bay Sailing Club, which followed the path of wooden boats when it was formed in 2004 to encourage the development of sailing and associated skills in and around the area. The Heron dinghy was the initial dinghy of choice, because it was wooden, maintained that traditional boating interest and could be built by members. During the following year 12 Herons were built in the village and more purchased by families leading to a healthy fleet of 19 in total which led to the village being regarded as having the biggest local fleet of Herons in one club in Europe, so it was said.

Time has moved on in the sailing world and the club fleet now consists of modern glassfibre boats such as Picos, Fevas, Argos and a mix of other craft.

The club holds twice-a-week sailing on Thursdays and Sundays from Parkmore at the mouth of Kinvara Bay and prides itself on being strongly family-oriented, with a concentration on encouraging participation in the sport. Boat sharing and introductory sailing for adults, as well as coaching for younger and beginner sailors is provided.

On my radio programme, broadcast from Kinvara, in conjunction with Kinvara FM, I had the pleasure of meeting the current Club Commodore, Paul Crowley. He credits a lot of the success of revitalisation in the club to the interest of young sailors in Kinvara. Paul is brother of Peter Crowley of the RCYC in Cork and the ISA and RNLI Council. I also met a former Commodore, Barry Kavanagh, who was involved in the initial development of the club and the building of Herons, one of which he built himself. He is also a broadcaster on Kinvara FM whose strong interest will be a help to the sport in the area.

The first voice you hear on this week’s Podcast is Paul Crowley and then Barry Kavanagh. Listen in below.

Published in Tom MacSweeney
Tagged under
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Fastnet Yacht Race 

This race is both a blue riband international yachting fixture and a biennial offshore pilgrimage that attracts crews from all walks of life:- from aspiring sailors to professional crews; all ages and all professions. Some are racing for charity, others for a personal challenge. For the world's top professional sailors, it is a 'must-do' race. For some, it will be their first-ever race, and for others, something they have competed in for over 50 years! The race attracts the most diverse fleet of yachts, from beautiful classic yachts to some of the fastest racing machines on the planet – and everything in between. The testing course passes eight famous landmarks along the route: The Needles, Portland Bill, Start Point, the Lizard, Land’s End, the Fastnet Rock, Bishop’s Rock off the Scillies and Plymouth breakwater (now Cherbourg for 2021 and 2023). After the start in Cowes, the fleet heads westward down The Solent, before exiting into the English Channel at Hurst Castle. The finish is in Plymouth, Devon via the Fastnet Rock, off the southern tip of Ireland.

  • The leg across the Celtic Sea to (and from) the Fastnet Rock is known to be unpredictable and challenging. The competitors are exposed to fast-moving Atlantic weather systems and the fleet often encounter tough conditions
  • Flawless decision-making, determination and total commitment are the essential requirements. Crews have to manage and anticipate the changing tidal and meteorological conditions imposed by the complex course
  • The symbol of the race is the Fastnet Rock, located off the southern coast of Ireland. Also known as the Teardrop of Ireland, the Rock marks an evocative turning point in the challenging race
  • Once sailors reach the Fastnet Rock, they are well over halfway to the finish in Plymouth.
  • The lighthouse first shone its light on New Year’s Day in 1854
    Fastnet Rock originally had six keepers (now unmanned), with four on the rock at a time with the other two on leave. Each man did four weeks on, two weeks off

At A Glance – Fastnet Race

  • The world's largest offshore yacht race
  • The biennial race is 605 nautical miles - Cowes, Fastnet Rock, Plymouth
  • A fleet of over 400 yachts regularly will take part
  • The international fleet is made up of over 26 countries
  • Multihull course record: 1 day, 8 hours, 48 minutes (2011, Banque Populaire V)
  • Monohull course record: 1 day, 18 hours, 39 minutes (2011, Volvo 70, Abu Dhabi)
  • Largest IRC Rated boat is the 100ft (30.48m) Scallywag 100 (HKG)
  • Some of the Smallest boats in the fleet are 30 footers
  • Rolex SA has been a longstanding sponsor of the race since 2001
  • The first race was in 1925 with 7 boats. The Royal Ocean Racing Club was set up as a result

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