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Dun Laoghaire Classics Contender Has Unique Rockall Link

4th July 2017
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The classic yawl Verve in sweet silhouette on Dublin Bay The classic yawl Verve in sweet silhouette on Dublin Bay

With Frank Kowalski’s Safehaven team in Thunder Child in the midst of their challenge for the Round Rockall & Ireland Record, it’s timely to remember that one of the entries in the Classics Division racing for the Kingstown 200 Trophy in this week’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta has a very special link with Rockall writes W M Nixon.

Brian Comerford and his family sail their lovely Arthur Robb-designed 37ft yawl Verve from Dun Laoghaire, and compete regularly in classics events, so naturally they’re entered for the Kingstown 200. But Verve – built by Tyrrell’s of Arklow in 1963 for leading Irish Cruising Club sailor Paul Campbell – was much better known in he early days as a voyager which often took in distant places.

Verve also frequently cruised round Ireland, as her owner was for years the Honorary Editor of the Irish Cruising Club Sailing Directions. But in 1975 with noted cruising man Mickey d’Alton and sailor/mountaineer Willie Dick in his ship’s complement, Paul Campbell undertook an unusual venture which started from Donegal.

verve rockall2Made it! Out at Rockall in the summer of 1975, Willie Dick has made it safely onto the cliff face after a very judiciously-timed leap from the little Avon inflatable rowed by Mickey d’Alton

At the time, Britain had laid claim to the 70ft–high Rockall as being an outlier of Scotland, and to reinforce the territorial claim with its many potential economic benefits, had built a small lighthouse on top. But with all access had been made by helicopter. Although there had been attempts before to land by boat on the isolated rock, all had failed.

But Willie Dick had studied the challenge closely, and reckoned he could see a way up if only the sea was calm enough on the day. It was indeed calm on the summer’s day in 1975 when Verve arrived at Rockall, yet even so the restless ocean seemed to tug endlessly at the battered rock face. But with some masterful boat-handling by Mickey d’Alton (he had, after all, commanded a Tank Landing Craft on D Day), Willie Dick managed to leap cleanly from the little Avon inflatable, and the actual climb to the top was soon completed.

verve rockall2Monarch of all he surveys…. Willie Dick on top of Rockall. He was the first person to succeed in landing from a boat, as the lighthouse had been built with the use of helicopters

Published in Volvo Regatta

 

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Dun Laoghaire Regatta –  From the Baily lighthouse to Dalkey island, the bay accommodates eight separate courses for 25 different classes racing every two years for the Dun Laoghaire Regatta.

In assembling its record-breaking armada, Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta (VDLR) became, at its second staging, not only the country's biggest sailing event, with 3,500 sailors competing, but also one of its largest participant sporting events.

One of the reasons for this, ironically, is that competitors across Europe have become jaded by well-worn venue claims attempting to replicate Cowes and Cork Week.

'Never mind the quality, feel the width' has been a criticism of modern-day regattas where organisers mistakenly focus on being the biggest to be the best.

Dun Laoghaire, with its local fleet of 300 boats, never set out to be the biggest. Its priority focussed instead on quality racing even after it got off to a spectacularly wrong start when the event was becalmed for four days at its first attempt.

The idea to rekindle a combined Dublin bay event resurfaced after an absence of almost 40 years, mostly because of the persistence of a passionate race officer Brian Craig who believed that Dun Laoghaire could become the Cowes of the Irish Sea if the town and the local clubs worked together.

Although fickle winds conspired against him in 2005, the support of all four Dun Laoghaire waterfront yacht clubs since then (made up of Dun Laoghaire Motor YC, National YC, Royal Irish YC and Royal St GYC), in association with the two racing clubs of Dublin Bay SC and Royal Alfred YC, gave him the momentum to carry on.

There is no doubt that sailors have also responded with their support from all four coasts. Entries closed last Friday with 520 boats in 25 classes, roughly doubling the size of any previous regatta held on the Bay.

Running for four days, the regatta is (after the large mini-marathons) the single most significant participant sports event in the country, requiring the services of 280 volunteers on and off the water, as well as top international race officers and an international jury, to resolve racing disputes representing five countries.

Craig went to some lengths to achieve his aims including the appointment of a Cork man, Alan Crosbie, to run the racing team; a decision that has raised more than an eyebrow along the waterfront.

A flotilla of 25 boats has raced from the Royal Dee near Liverpool to Dublin for the Lyver Trophy to coincide with the event. The race also doubles as a RORC qualifying race for the Fastnet.

Sailors from the Ribble, Mersey, the Menai Straits, Anglesey, Cardigan Bay and the Isle of Man have to travel three times the distance to the Solent as they do to Dublin Bay. This, claims Craig, is one of the major selling points of the Irish event and explains the range of entries from marinas as far away as Yorkshire's Whitby YC and the Isle of Wight.

Until now, no other regatta in the Irish Sea area could claim to have such a reach. Dublin Bay weeks such as this petered out in the 1960s, and it has taken almost four decades for the waterfront clubs to come together to produce a spectacle on and off the water to rival Cowes.

"The fact that we are getting such numbers means it is inevitable that it is compared with Cowes," said Craig. However, there the comparison ends.

"We're doing our own thing here. Dun Laoghaire is unique, and we are making an extraordinary effort to welcome visitors from abroad," he added.

The busiest shipping lane in the country – across the bay to Dublin port – is to close temporarily to facilitate the regatta and the placing of eight separate courses each day.

A fleet total of this size represents something of an unknown quantity on the bay as it is more than double the size of any other regatta ever held there.

The decision to alter the path of ships into the port was taken in 2005 when a Dublin Port control radar image showed an estimated fleet of over 400 yachts sailing across the closed southern shipping channel.

Ships coming into the bay, including the high-speed service to the port, will use the northern lane instead.

With 3,500 people afloat at any one time, a mandatory safety tally system for all skippers to sign in and out will also operate.

The main attraction is undoubtedly the appearance of four Super Zero class yachts, with Dun Laoghaire's Colm Barrington's TP52 'Flash Glove' expected to head the 'big boat' fleet. At the other end of the technology scale, the traditional clinker-built Water Wags will compete just as they did at a similar regatta over 100 years ago.

The arrival of three TP 52s and a Rogers 46 to Dun Laoghaire regatta is a feather in the cap of organisers because it brings Grand Prix racing to Dublin bay and the prospect of future prominent boat fixtures on the East Coast.

With 38 entries, the new Laser SB3s are set to make a significant impact although the White Sail Class five almost rivals them numerically. The Fireball is the biggest dinghy class, with 27 entries, while there are 25 entries for the Ecover Half Ton Classics Cup which began on Monday.

Class 0 is expected to be the most hotly contested, if the recent Saab IRC Nationals, Scottish Series and Sovereign's Cup are any indication. Three Cork boats ­- Jump Juice (Conor and Denise Phelan), Antix Dubh (Anthony O'Leary) and Blondie (Eamonn Rohan) - are expected to lead the fleet.

(First published in 2009)

Who: All four Dun Laoghaire Waterfront Yacht clubs

What: Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta

Why: A combined regatta to make Dun Laoghaire the Cowes of the Irish Sea.

Where: Ashore at Dun Laoghaire and afloat at eight separate race courses on Dublin Bay. Excellent views from both Dun Laoghaire piers, Sandycove and Seapoint.

Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2021

The 2021 Regatta runs from 8-11 July

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