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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.

Published in Island News
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There are choices in how to respond to maritime difficulties.

With skies darkening, wind and sea rising, the mind focuses on the immediate response to ensure that your yacht can manage what is going to hit it.

I've raced in various situations, pounding through seas, tossed around, wind tearing at the sails and one's clothing, sat on the rail, clinging to it for hours to add human ballast.

Eventually, the worst passes as does the weather system.

If the stomach has been held in place without spewing up, the sense of relief is strong, or so I've felt after encountering such afflictions.

This week I've been thinking about how our pastime of sailing can, perhaps, help us to endure more in the way of overcoming discomfort and physical, as well as mental challenges.

Sailing does provide one with more personal resources to fall back on, or so I believe.

There is overcoming fear. I've felt that at sea as bad weather approached.

I remember a number of Round Ireland Races with particularly bad weather and amongst them particularly the memory of rounding the Mizen and facing into a night where the skies were already darkening, where the forecast indicated unpleasant conditions ahead and it was right, Called up on watch at midnight where I saw the wind speed climbing and waves building as darkness crossed the sky, the sense of fear did permeate through the body. Instinct told me to be afraid of what could not be controlled. That had to be balanced with confidence in the boat and the ability of the crew to respond to what lay ahead.

I have been told that a good sailor must be able to think rationally and calmly when the conditions around are anything but. The conditions around racing in our sport are not great right now. The further restrictions announced this week are another blow to the hopes that had been held for running Winter League events in Cork Harbour and Dublin Bay.

Maintaining positivity is difficult in the prevailing circumstances, but the storms that afflict one at sea pass by and, hopefully, the future for sailing will be brighter next season.

Meantime, Scribbler, my Sigma 33, has been hauled into Castlepoint Boatyard in Crosshaven, her Winter home, tucked away, sails off, gear loaded into the attic to rest until 2021 dawns, hopefully with a new horizon clear of storms.

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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RYA Northern Ireland is giving sailing and boating clubs across the country the opportunity to access support for club membership and development by providing 'Rediscover Sailing Days'.

Following lockdown and a challenging few months, many clubs have seen increased interest and activity from their members, as well as attracting new members.

The Rediscover Sailing initiative will help to support sailing and boating clubs to encourage member activity, retain club membership, recruit volunteers, enhance the boating experience for members and assist with workforce development.

The initiative had been due to take place from May until September under the title of 'Discover Sailing', but due to Covid-19, this, unfortunately, had to be cancelled.

In previous years, the initiative has been a pivotal contributor to increasing the awareness of Sailing and boating in Northern Ireland, offering every one of all abilities the opportunity to try the sport.

This time there will be some added extras with workshops on boat maintenance and volunteer recruitment opportunities on offer, depending on the goals of the club.

RYA Northern Ireland's Active Clubs Co-Ordinator Lisa McCaffrey commented: "I am excited about the Rediscover Sailing initiative. There is still some uncertainty at the minute regarding Covid-19, but at the moment we are planning for the Rediscover Sailing Days, and these will meet all government guidelines. If things change, we will review the situation and adhere to all policies to ensure the safety of our clubs and their members. Clubs must connect with members at this time either to develop their Sailing, whether this is through activities or workshops.
I am looking forward to communicating with clubs again on potential participation opportunities; it is key for the future of our sport and its members."

If your club or centre is keen on organising a Rediscover Sailing Day there is more information here

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"I just want to go sailing and racing. Until we had to slam down the shutters this week, I didn't really realise just how much the ordinary club sailing programme and a special local annual series like the Autumn League means to me and people like me, and to sailing families throughout Ireland."

"I don't think those who advocate such across-the-board moves realise what a damaging effect stopping us going racing has on the physical and mental well-being of Ireland's grass-roots sailors. We never needed our sailing more than we do now."

The speaker is lifetime sailor Darragh Connolly, Rear Admiral (Keelboats) of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, and we were talking a couple of days after he'd had to announce that the remaining races of the Club's popular AIB Autumn League had been cancelled in compliance with Irish Sailing's directive, in light of our National Authority's interpretation of the Government's imposition of Level 3 in the COVID-19 Combat Programme.

Darragh Connolly, Rear Admiral (Keelboats) of the Royal Cork Yacht ClubDarragh Connolly, Rear Admiral (Keelboats) of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, this week had the unenviable task of calling an early close to the RCYC AIB Autumn League. Photo: Robert Bateman

It is clearly arguable that the Government Directive, as interpreted by Irish Sailing, is actually preventing people from doing something which is beneficial to their overall physical and mental health, an activity which in turn is very positive in enhancing their ability to reinforce their natural resistance to contracting COVID-19.

And for Ireland's many club sailors, it is particularly bewildering to have arrived at this situation in this week of all weeks, when Irish Sailing will have played the key role in having our Laser Performance Group and other top potential Olympians taking part (with laudable success) in major events in places like Poland and Austria, countries which - like Ireland - are currently coping with a rising coronavirus rate.

Busy start line in this week's Laser Senior Europeans in GdanskWho's for racing? The busy start line in this week's Laser Senior Europeans in Gdansk

The infection risk which our athletes are taking in travelling across Europe, and then competing in an event which will have numerous supporting officials, is surely significantly greater than a local club sailor has in joining her or his boat in its familiar berth for another two or three hours of healthy racing in a successfully-proven socially-distanced setup.


There are those of wide experience in sailing administration who reckon that it was actually a knife-edge choice as to whether or not Level 3 means that local sailing races were now off-limits. But being a minority sport like sailing, with a possibly problematic image of affluence and elitism, when the directives come down from above our national officialdom has to toe the official line, keeping the head down to go along with the mantra that we're all in this together.

Inevitably in such a situation, the simple hopes of the grassroots get trampled under foot. Yet if we stand back and take a cold hard look at the situation, the variations in the situation between those who would be actively racing in boats afloat if they could, and those who are most at risk ashore, is an enormous chasm. Applying a "one size fits all" approach to the crisis situation may help in terms of a benign public perception of different sports and activities and shared risk, but it flies in the face of reality. And in terms of the well-being of this clearly identifiable sector of the population who want to go sailing, it's actively harmful.

"Once upon a time in West Cork". In order to keep their sport going, the Irish sailing community have had to become accustomed to doing entirely without carefree assemblies like this one in Baltimore."Once upon a time in West Cork". In order to keep their sport going, the Irish sailing community have had to become accustomed to doing entirely without carefree assemblies like this one in Baltimore.

Put crudely, "We're all in this together" is a denial of the facts of the situation. Certainly, we're in the same storm, but we're in some very different boats. The incidence of coronavirus among those who would be regularly sailing actively - if they were allowed - appears to be vanishingly small.

We've been taking an admittedly random sample from a small population, but we know of only two sailors who came down with the bug (and both have recovered). One case is a fearless bow-man (of course) who was right in the thick of it in January on a hectic ski-ing holiday to Coronavirus Central – otherwise Ischgl in Austria - while the other got it on a group golf outing to Spain.


Shoot us down in flames by all means if you have knowledge of significant occurrences of COVID-19 in the sailing population as a result of being sailing. But the fact is that everything in our sport militates against it. For a start, though you can sail almost anywhere in Ireland, the majority of the sailing population lives in coastal districts. And the health benefits of this have been clearly demonstrated with brutal clarity in the Dublin area.

There, the lowest occurrence is in Blackrock in its breezy ozone-filled location on the shores of Dublin Bay, where the level of infection is only a fraction of the levels away up in the crowded northwest of the city, where it's about as far from the sea as you can get within city limits.

Seaside township of Blackrock has the lowest incidence of coronavirus in Dublin"Healthsville, Ireland" – the seaside township of Blackrock has the lowest incidence of coronavirus in Dublin.

Admittedly that's a rather vague and generalising analysis, but this week, much more specific figured were published comparing coronavirus incidence in coastal towns with that of inland towns in England and Wales. As many of the coastal towns have a notably older population than the inland centres, you'd expect a disease-favouring bias in the seaside retirement region. But even with that, the difference in the opposite direction is very marked. 


It's complex to make a full analysis, as the older demographic of most English coastal towns may mean less active socialising, and a greater readiness to cocoon completely. But nevertheless, the figures are quite stark - at this stage of the Pandemic, the COVID-19 death rate in England's large coastal towns is 63 per 100,000, while in inland towns of comparable size, the death rate is 102 per 100,000.

Of course, you can get some benefit from coastal living simply by throwing open the window from time to time (mock not, it is extremely important to do so), and getting outside and absorbing as much Vitamin D as possible in that ozone-laden air, for enclosed spaces are the virus's accomplice, and Vitamin D deficiency - a significant problem in Ireland – is offering Mr COVID-19 a welcoming open door.

You can meet some of the health requirements by taking a solitary or socially-distanced walk down Dun Laoghaire pier. But if you really want to find the optimal conditions for building up resistance to coronavirus, you'll find them as a member of the crew pod aboard a sailing boat racing in an Irish club event.

a busy Water Wag race in the harbourBetter than a spa treatment. While a walk down one of Dun Laoghaire's pier has enormous health benefits, even better for overall physical and mental health is having a busy Water Wag race in the harbour. Photo: W M Nixon

There's social stimulation, mental alertness, thinking and problem-solving of a kind totally different to what's required ashore, and there's exercise, team effort, very fresh air, and the effortless absorption of Vit D.


And we're not a spectator sport. Nobody would pay to watch ordinary sailing, for the only worthwhile way to do so is by actively taking part. Thus sailing does not have crowds of undisciplined supporters and spectators who flout every social-distancing rule and mask-wearing requirements with total abandon when their team has won. In sailing by contrast, while clubs have been taking heroic steps to provide outdoor catering and space to maintain social distance, the reality is that many sailors have simply tidied up their boats at race's end, and gone straight home, having long since become accustomed to doing without the traditional après sailing.

Now all this is denied to us, even with the compliance with all rules, and the extremely low – if at all – incidence of coronavirus in the sailing population. In this situation, sailing administrators have been between a rock and a hard place in the face of the one-size-fits-all restrictions being imposed in pursuit of COVID-19 clamp-down.


The grass-roots sailors want to go sailing and particularly club racing. They know it is good for them. They can see elite international athletes getting in their sailing. They can see people who are learning to sail being allowed to go sailing. Yet in the face of this very blunt instrument, a blanket ban which covers activities of many very different kinds, boats sit unused. Good sailing days go to waste. Sailors go to seed. And our clubs, our remarkable clubs that are Ireland's greatest contribution to the development of sailing worldwide as we know it today, are facing a crisis situation.

You're not only having fun – it's actually very good for you. Paul Reilly and Dave Howard sucking up the Vitamin D and all the right kinds of ions as they race one of Howth YC's J/80s in the annual Aqua Restaurant Two-Handed Race in July. 2020's staging had an entry of 38 boats, the winners were Diane Kissane and Graham Curran in another J/80, and in a compressed season the memories of this special event – which was raced round Lambay – will become ever more preciousYou're not only having fun – it's actually very good for you. Paul Reilly and Dave Howard sucking up the Vitamin D and all the right kinds of ions as they race one of Howth YC's J/80s in the annual Aqua Restaurant Two-Handed Race in July. 2020's staging had an entry of 38 boats, the winners were Diane Kissane and Graham Curran in another J/80, and in a compressed season the memories of this special event – which was raced round Lambay – will become ever more precious. Photo: Lynne Reilly

In the seeming dead-end of this rock-and-hard-place situation, the good news is that Ireland's club administrators – the real backbone of our national sailing infrastructure – have been closely conferring of late to see if they can come up with a more imaginative and visionary way of dealing with the situation in order to get people sailing within sensible limits which takes account of the fact that in face of the virus incidence continuing to rise, the relative death rate continues to fall, or it does as long as supplies of the new medications continue to meet demand.

If all this seems a slightly selfish approach by a relatively fortunate sector of the population, nothing could be further from the truth. If the sailing community thought for a moment that totally giving up sailing would make a real difference to the spread of COVID-19, then they'd stop it today.

But instead, one of those trying to get sailing going again says that much of his motivation has come from meeting people in the front line of the battle against coronavirus who also happen to be keen sailors. He says their shared opinion is that being able to go sailing and get in a spot of racing even once a week is a real morale booster and a fabulous energiser after hours of working in ICU.

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Thank you, September. You did your best to provide us with good sailing as ingenious moves were implemented to run modified pandemic-compliant events which gave proper meaning to the season, and to our sailing traditions. It was neither your fault - nor ours - that in some places a situation beyond everyone's control caused a severe foreshortening of programmes carefully tailored to deal with circumstances which then seemed to change on a daily or even hourly basis.

For sure, some fortunate sailing centres managed to have limited sailing all month, scraping weekly sport out of the last of the daylight as the evenings rapidly closed in, and working the weekends with skill. But in other locations, the guillotine slammed down at mid-month, and people found that whatever good sailing they might have experienced now had to become recalibrated in the memory bank as highlights of their very truncated sailing year.


No club more thoroughly deserved a final full month of good fortune in September than the Royal Cork in Crosshaven, as they emerged battered but unbowed from what should have been their globally-focused Tricentenary. Most appropriately it was that renowned backbone-of-the-club, the National 18s, which saw September out with a flourish on its very last day, racing up and down the Owenabue River off the clubhouse on Wednesday evening as the twilight settled gently until this all-important month of September had only a matter of hours to run.

Twilight for the Gods…..the National 18s at Royal Cork managed their last evening race – an in-river event off the clubhouse – on Wednesday September 30th. The winner was Nick Walsh's Fifty Shades. Photo: Robert BatemanTwilight for the Gods…..the National 18s at Royal Cork managed their last evening race – an in-river event off the clubhouse – on Wednesday, September 30th. The winner was Nick Walsh's Fifty Shades. Photo: Robert Bateman

With some more good luck, the club will be able to continue its Autumn League this weekend, but meanwhile like other sailing centres, Crosshaven and Cork Harbour found that September presented unusually meaningful opportunities to stage events which celebrated the places of sailing and its people, and in Cork Harbour, the come-all-ye event which best does this is Cove SC's annual Cobh to Blackrock Race.

Even though the Royal Cork had experienced its 2020 highlight in being the finish point for the successful pop-up Fastnet 450 Race in August, the Cobh-Blackrock Race is an ancient piece of the harbour's fabric, and September obligingly provided the conditions for a fast race and a real sense of occasion with life going on regardless.

The Golden Oldie comes to town. The restored 1898 Cork Harbour One Design Jap, raced by Royal Cork Admiral Colin Morehead, reaches the finish of the Cobh-Blackrock Race. The CHODs are renowned for their pleasant steering characteristics - even on this gusty day, Jap's tiller is still in a very manageable fore-and-after position.  Photo: Robert BatemanThe Golden Oldie comes to town. The restored 1898 Cork Harbour One Design Jap, raced by Royal Cork Admiral Colin Morehead, reaches the finish of the Cobh-Blackrock Race. The CHODs are renowned for their pleasant steering characteristics - even on this gusty day, Jap's tiller is still in a very manageable fore-and-after position. Photo: Robert Bateman


In Dun Laoghaire, Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club's annual Kish Race is something that should in time be seen as a celebration of Dublin Bay, and in September 2020 is was shaping up that way as other events got the chop because of their inevitably high sociability quotient. Entries were flying up as racing round the Kish became more desirable than ever, but with a couple of days to go, the latest set of regulations wiped the race off the blackboard. That said, now that we know how much it can mean to the Dun Laoghaire sailing community, it's surely an all-comers cruiser-racer event which deserves more oomph in the future.

Meanwhile, as we write this there's still hope that some more racing will be squeezed out of Dun Laoghaire before the year is out. But for now, the image which best expresses the year and September in particular in its own special style is our header photo, which came our way on Thursday, September 17th from Cathy MacAleavey, and showed the finish of the previous evening's Water Wag Race, when 24 boats sailed in what might just turn out to be the last regular official race in Dun Laoghaire in 2020.

Thus what is already a richly atmospheric photo acquires extra meaning as Tim Pearson and his son Marcus in their 1995-built Little Tern cross first, narrowly ahead of Ian & Judith Malcolm in the 1915-built Barbara, while Martin and Triona Byrne in the 2019-built Hilda come in toward a third-place on port tack. There's a whole universe in that photo and it's one of the gifts which September's sailing has given us.

The Goodbody family's J/109 White Mischief was one of the most successful contenders in Dublin Bay SC's compacted but very busy season. Photo Afloat.ieThe Goodbody family's J/109 White Mischief was one of the most successful contenders in Dublin Bay SC's compacted but very busy season. Photo

But another gift in Dun Laoghaire Harbour was the way Dublin Bay SC managed to keep things going from mid-July to mid-September, with evening and weekend racing for cruisers, keelboat and dinghies pushing comfortably over the hundred boat mark in a successfully-controlled operation which was a model of compliance.


Round the corner in Howth meanwhile, although their time-honoured annual race round Lambay was to disappear in the cancellation of the Wave Regatta in which it now plays a central role, when the carefully-monitored Aqua Double-Hander was staged in July with 38 boats, it was raced round Lambay on a day of sublime sunshine which eventually may result in the summer weather of 2020 being remembered as even better than it actually was.

Howth 17's Leila and Anita in the race round LambayThis was September 2020 – the Howth 17's Leila and Anita in the race round Lambay. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

Yet it was back to classic Atlantic westerlies in on some days in September when the heroically curmudgeonly veterans of the 122-year-old Howth Seventeen Class decided they'd race round Lambay on September 5th, with the winning 1907-built Deilginis seeing off the 16 miles course in a record time. This was in a race which was started in sunshine captured by rising photographic star Annraoi Blaney in a striking shot which will now be one of the style-setting photos of this brief but sweet sailing season.

They'd a longer burst of September sunshine in Howth at mid-month when the Autumn League got underway, each weekend's racing spread over both days but only one day of racing for each class, which helped social distancing as they'd 79 boats entered in all for what turned out, alas, to be just one weekend before the chop.

Simon Knowles' J/109 Indian in hot pursuit of the Classic Half Tonners Mata, King One and Big Picture in the first (and so far only) weekend of the Howth Autumn League"Just the best day's sailing ever". Simon Knowles' J/109 Indian in hot pursuit of the Classic Half Tonners Mata, King One and Big Picture in the first (and so far only) weekend of the Howth Autumn League. Photo: Judith Malcolm

If the Dublin Shutdown really does become just a three-week imposition, then it will be everything up and running again after midnight on Friday, October 9th. But we don't see anyone betting on that, and for now, the Howth recollections of September sailing are best summed up by J/24 National Champion Sam O'Byrne, who was racing in Howth with father-and-son superstars Darren and Rocco Wright on the winning Classic Half Tonner Mata in that one opening race, with Sam subsequently commenting: "It was the best and pleasantest day of sailing I've ever had, full stop".


Up on Belfast Lough the celebration of the local sailing waters used to happen on the 12th July, when folk ashore had marching business on their mind, but those afloat at Ballyholme traditionally had a day-long race right round the lough. This was easily done thanks to conveniently placed navigation markers at every corner, such that you'd to face a course which could seem very long indeed if you were racing it in one of the 18ft Waverley Keelboats, or the 22-footers of the Bay Class.

However, that's a classic of the olden days which no longer seems to be sailed, but another Ballyholme tradition which is still going strong to celebrate the local sailing water is the Lufra Cup, which Betty Armstrong of this parish was reporting a couple of weeks ago. Nobody knows when this pursuit race – they called it the Menagerie Race until Howard Finlay presented the Lufra Cup after his 12-ton Watson cutter of that name had won in 1943 to find there as no proper cup – and ever since the Lufra Cup has been Ballyholme YC's September Classic, a race officer's nightmare and a handicapping anorak's dream, with boats streaming across the starting line in an endless procession of different starting times, and the finish seeing half a dozen boats of very different types trying to get across that line first, with a 15-ton gaff cutter winning one year, and an International Cadet winning it the next with the 15-tonner's bowsprit right over her very junior helm as he crossed the line.

the Lufra Cup at Ballyholme, the 1893 Dun Laoghaire-built Marie was designed by Maimie Doyle, who later designed the transom-sterned Water WagsOnce a winner of the Lufra Cup at Ballyholme, the 1893 Dun Laoghaire-built Marie was designed by Maimie Doyle, who later designed the transom-sterned Water Wags. Photo: W M Nixon

This September it was won by Gareth Martel in his Beneteau First 40.7 Pippa, and he found himself the custodian for a year of a trophy which is a significant historical record in itself, for the inscribed list of winners going back 77 years is a history of the development of sailing of the last three-quarters of a century.

Every conceivable boat type seems to have figured at some stage, including Lasers sailed by Chris Boyd and Wic McCready, and the venerable 26ft gaff cutter Marie, designed by Maimie Doyle in Dun Laoghaire in 1893, built by her father J E Doyle, and now owned by Roy Ashton of Groomsport after a lifetime of epic sailing history which included being the first boat to be awarded the Irish Cruising Club's Faulkner Cup back in 1931.


Thanks to September's sailing, we were reminded of such things, but equally, September 2020 brought together past and present and future in dynamic ways, a good example being the Jonny Swan-organised Homecoming Regatta at the 250-year-old Lough Ree Yacht Club which saw cruisers, dinghies, Shannon One Designs and SB20s finding brisk breezes and sunshine.

SB20 racing on Lough Ree with September 2020 Junior Sailor of the Month Ben Graf on the helmSB20 racing on Lough Ree with September 2020 Junior Sailor of the Month Ben Graf on the helm. Photo: Alex Hobbs

Then too, September reminded us that a thriving Flying Fifteen Class continues to develop in the heart of Connemara at Casla, with 27 boats appearing for an on-going league from all the hidden places in that totally inter-twined Land of the Sea, and Ronan O'Briain winning the two last races of September at the weekend.

A new tradition in the heartland of traditional boats? September racing for the growing fleet of Flying Fifteens at Casla in ConnemaraA new tradition in the heartland of traditional boats? September racing for the growing fleet of Flying Fifteens at Casla in Connemara

The Flying Fifteen is not a boat type you would automatically associate with the very traditional waters of Connemara. Yet equally not everybody would think that the International Dragon is a useful youth trainer. But Don Street of Glandore on the south coast is firmly of the opinion that they are, and as Don celebrated his 90th birthday with some style among his beloved Dragons in Glandore at the end of July, his opinions deserve respect, and his programme of youth training with Dragons continued into September with some helms as young as thirteen.

You may see the Dragons racing at Glandore, but veteran skipper Don Street also sees a useful sail training flotillaYou may see the Dragons racing at Glandore, but veteran skipper Don Street also sees a useful sail training flotilla….. Photo: Kathleen Hayes

However, as they lie to moorings off that most picturesque village, the Glandore Dragons have a set season, and last weekend they raced on Saturday morning, and then lifted in the afternoon to bring their season to a close. Meanwhile, for places with marinas, there are all sorts of possibilities of being able to fit in some sailing provided regulations don't become totally strict across the board.

But for now, let's just be very grateful that September has done the business to be such a very valuable part of this difficult 2020 season.

Published in Dublin Bay

Texaco has launched a support for sport initiative which sets aside a fund of €130,000 for distribution to sports clubs on a twenty-six, county-by-county basis, with successful applicants receiving €5,000 each.

At a time when many sports clubs may be experiencing financial strain, the initiative is one that Valero hopes will recognise the important contribution that sports clubs make to communities and throughout Irish society as a whole.

Open to sports clubs across the 26-counties of Ireland – irrespective of sporting discipline, size, membership, age, cultural appeal or gender – it is expected to attract all whose activities, goals and ambitions can, in the view of adjudicators, be materially advanced through the receipt and proper use of funding.

Speaking at the launch of the Texaco Support for Sport initiative, James Twohig, Director of Ireland Operations, Valero Energy (Ireland) Limited, described Irish sports clubs as a unifying element and a focal point for good in our communities. “In our cities, towns and villages, sports clubs are the magnets to which so many of us are drawn, homes-from-home where we meet and enjoy the friendship and camaraderie that sport offers and that all members and supporters share,” he said.

“By offering a new and innovative route to funding, we believe that the Texaco Support for Sport initiative will help uphold the unique values and characteristics that countless numbers of dedicated club members work so hard to preserve, whilst giving new expression to the cherished relationship that exists between the Texaco brand and generations of Irish sports enthusiasts,” James Twohig added.


Leading the adjudication process will be Texaco Support for Sport ambassador, acclaimed broadcaster and former Irish rugby international, Donncha O’Callaghan. “From my knowledge of sports clubs, gained at junior, senior and international level, I know how beneficial the Texaco Support for Sport initiative will be by bringing a much-needed benefit to clubs when it is least expected. Now more than ever, our clubs and volunteers need our support. I am really looking forward to reviewing the online applications, which provides clubs with the opportunity to showcase their importance to their local communities, and then seeing the recipients enjoy the benefit of this great initiative,” he added.


Sports clubs can apply for funding from the Texaco Support for Sport from the 1 October 2020, the only requirement being that they be properly constituted and hold a valid Games & Sports Number (GS Number) issued by the Office of the Revenue Commissioners.

Those wishing to apply are invited to submit full details of their sporting activity, the purpose for which the funding is sought and the use to which it will be put. Full details of the scheme and its operation - together with registration, application, validation, adjudication and terms and conditions - are available to view at

Closing date for applications is the 31 December 2020 with adjudication taking place in January 2021.

Published in News Update
Tagged under

For everyone who gets on board a yacht to go racing as clubs return to competitive sailing, the core issue of a successful resumption is going to be personal responsibility.

That applies to cruiser/racer skippers and to every member of their crews. It also applies to solo sailors in their racing and will impact on race management teams. In sailing, the mantra ‘we are all in this together’ applies very strongly.

There is another aspect of ‘Responsibility’ as racing returns and clubs open and that is of club members in supporting their clubs. There are clubs around the country whose income has been hit by delayed membership renewals. Members have been waiting to see what level of sailing would be possible.

Now the situation is clearer.

Following extensive discussions, the statutory authorities dealing with COVID 19 have accepted that the sport of sailing has shown a lot of responsibility in seeking a return of the sport. Irish Sailing, clubs, individuals and commentators including myself, pointed to the difficulties on a crewed boat of applying social distance requirements. The easing of restrictions allows resumption of racing.

The Chief Executive of the national sailing authority, Harry Hermon, has stressed that personal responsibility is going to be of major importance in a successful restoration of racing.

Renew club membership

He has also warned that, if members don’t support their clubs by renewing membership, there could be a situation ahead, where some clubs won’t be able to continue. “Your clubs need your support now more than ever,” he said.

What does “pods” mean?

He is my guest on this week’s podcast where we discuss - What does the system of “pods” mean? What are the implications for offshore racing, involving overseas boats? What is the new situation for cruising yachts, motorboating and powerboating?

This week’s Podcast here

Published in Tom MacSweeney
Tagged under

Following the Commodore’s Conference on Zoom yesterday (Thursday) evening to analyse the lifting of COVID-19 Lockdown restrictions, the basic reality is that club racing is allowed to resume from next Tuesday (June 30th) provided that crews comply with much-relaxed social distancing requirements, while most clubhouses will be open and functional within the same limitations.

It’s a complex situation, and it’s unreasonable to expect a long list of official does and don’ts as sailing and boating try to get back towards some sort of normality. After all, everything to do with boats and their use is supposed to be ultimately about self-reliance afloat, it’s supposed to be what seamanship is all about. So if people lack the savvy to apply common sense to a changing public health situation and how it affects our sport, then perhaps they shouldn’t be going near boats in the first place.

For ours is a robust and healthy sport, with the action taking place in the brisk open air, just as fresh as fresh air can be, while the sailing population, in general, will surely prove to have been significantly less affected by the Coronavirus than the population at large. So maybe it’s time people just got on with it, and stopped waiting for cast-iron official directives before making any move, showing instead an ability and readiness to apply personal responsibility and a capacity for initiative.

J80 Racing on Dublin BayNow, after three and more completely blank months of negativity and bewilderment and severely constrained existence, it’s time for us to get out and about and sailing again Photo: Afloat

When sailing fans demanded to know when they could go sailing again as the Coronavirus receded and Lockdown was eased through its various phases, it soon becomes clear that there’s much more to their concept of “going sailing” than simply getting into a boat with one or two others who comply for a bubble or pod within COVID-19 regulations, and then just going for a sail within five kilometres from their home port, and returning to it at the end of a mini-voyage.

Yet anyone prepared to accept that as an interim stage in the process back towards normality could have got sailing of sorts. Not perfect by any means, but sailing nevertheless. And if they felt the need for some competition afloat, they could very quickly have arranged informal matches with just one other boat sailed by friends, through the VHF or over a mobile. And they could then talk of having had a “race” as they returned in a social-distance compliant manner to the marina or mooring.

If people had been prepared to accept that as the beginning of the process, they could have been “going sailing” and having had racing of sorts since May 24th. And certainly, the Sailing Schools who are in it for more than simply enjoyment have been organising sailing of the new type for weeks now.

But in today’s very structured world, it seems that the ordinary punters want much more than just “going sailing” in order to tempt them afloat again. The truth is, they want the full monty, with an intense highly-organised racing programme, and hearty socializing afterwards. And even with cruising folk, the freely sociable element is an important part and often essential of the mix.

Either way, this “all-or-nothing” attitude was becoming much too prevalent. So maybe it’s time we grew up. None of us in Ireland among current generations has ever experienced anything remotely like this Lockdown, with its inevitable implementation of what seemed very like a high-powered version of the Nanny State.

For sure, it was necessary at the time, and the nation is to be commended for generally accepting the onerous restrictions which were imposed. But now we have to accept that the threat is receding, and it’s time to become responsible adults again. For, after three months of Lockdown, there are signs of creeping infantilism throughout society, and an expectation of complying with detailed directives at every stage.

That isn’t the way life should be in the real Ireland. We should be showing more spirit. And while it’s clear that the official and governmental authorities are risk-averse as public and semi-public authorities are programmed to be, the yacht and sailing club Commodores are showing a spirit of adventure and entrepreneurship. For in effect, they represent the vital and key private enterprise sector of our sport, and they have to get their clubs back to a level of economically-viable activity just as soon as is humanly possible.

Thus there never has been a time when the yacht and sailing clubs of Ireland have more urgently needed the full, enthusiastic and understanding support and involvement of their members. And there has never been a time when it is essential for everyone to resume sailing – albeit within limits which may in some cases seem niggling – just as soon as possible.

Several clubs are showing commendable initiative in offering significant discounts and the opportunity for late entries in order to get the complicated yet truly remarkable Irish sailing infrastructure back up and running again. The least that the sailing community can do is be supportive in backing their efforts. Sailing is ultimately a complete community activity, and as with all community activities, in the last analysis, you only get as much out of your club and your sailing as you are prepared to put into it.

Dublin Bay Sailing Club Committee Boat FreebirdSailing is ultimately a complete community activity Photo: Afloat

Now, after three and more completely blank months of negativity and bewilderment and severely constrained existence, it’s time for us to get out and about and sailing again. And okay, maybe, for now, it’s not truly sailing as we know and love it in all its full sporting and socially-carefree complexity. But what’s now becoming possible is a massive step in the right direction, and every journey starts with one step.

Each club is providing clearcut guidance towards taking that step in accordance with the special setup and circumstances which obtain at each club. And as I happen to sail from Howth, which has been in the forefront of the process of getting sailing going again, it’s timely to conclude with the letter to members issued by Commodore Ian Byrne this (Thursday) evening:

Howth Yacht Club reopens

Dear Member,

Many of us have enjoyed the recent spell of good weather pottering responsibly in our wonderful sailing area. The Irish Sailing Return to Sailing Phase 3 plan brings us closer to a new normal, and their meeting today gave us guidance on getting back to racing.

Club racing can start from next Tuesday with full crews. In line with the Government strategy the guidelines are relaxed and emphasis has shifted to prioritising contact tracing with a recognition that, where physical distancing cannot be reasonably achieved in a sport, each individual must assess the risks and minimise them whilst trying to follow hygiene, etiquette and distance recommendations. The term ‘pod’ is used to describe a virtual household that is a crew, race committee, safety RIB etc. with each individual pod remaining socially distant from others on the water and ashore.

This also has positive implications for Junior courses and safety boat crews which the Sailing Committee will work on in the coming days.

You will already have received an email announcing that club racing fees are waived for 2020. Online entry is now available on The Fingal League starts on Sat 4th July and our clubhouse will open next Monday with a special menu and our usual array of beverages served by Frank and the team inside or on the balcony in our comfortable, spacious and safe surroundings.

There is plenty of summer left to enjoy your sport through July and August. A perfect lead into Wave, Ireland’s best Regatta this year, on 11th Sep followed by the Autumn League on 19th Sep to 24th Oct. Almost 4 months of top class racing! There are a few good days to get the boat ready for next week so enter online and get racing.

Your class captain will have more details related to your class after the Sailing Committee meeting tonight including keelboat skipper responsibility to email crew and any changes details in advance each race day.

Ian Byrne

If you’re a proper Irish sailing enthusiast and you’re not going crackers at the moment, then there’s something seriously wrong with you. For here we are, in as perfect an early summer for sailing as anyone has seen in a long time, and we’re right in the midst of the weekend when we should all be hedonistically immersed in the Wave Regatta 2020 at Howth. Yet anyone who tries to get any sailing whatever in these Coronavirus times finds that instead, they have to be ever-alert for compliance with social-distancing regulations, shared household bubble requirements, and staying within five kilometres of home, while somehow managing not to sneeze, feel feverish, have a rasping cough or worry that you’re losing your senses of taste and smell.

Dave Cullen’s Classic Half Tonner Checkmate XVIn normal times, Dave Cullen’s Classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV would be defending champion (as seen at Wave 2018) in Day 2 of the Wave Regatta at Howth today (Saturday), racing in weather just like this. But with Covid-19, Wave 2020 has been postponed to 12th to 14th September 2020

Nevertheless, the fact that today sees the annual boat lift-in at the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire is something for quiet celebration. Postponed from late March, it will be a carefully-choreographed socially-distanced operation, but while face masks are de rigeur for those on boats, it’s a serious business. A masked ball it is not, but a supply of new masks will be available at the club for those who may have had sourcing difficulties

Next door at the Royal St George YC, the postponed lift-in day is in a week’s time, on Saturday, June 6th, a launching date they share with Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club, while across from the DMYC the Coal Harbour Boatyard lift-in is next day on June 7th, as is traditional even if it is around two months later than usual.

The National Yacht Club Dun Laoghaire HarbourThe National Yacht Club. This morning (Saturday), it’s social distancing and masks all round as the club implements its annual lift-in, which had been postponed for two months

Meanwhile, the Royal Irish YC has been quietly getting on with its phased lift-in since May 18th, and this week it announced that as from Tuesday 2nd June, the boat storage space will be available for those who dry sail and the shore parking of Dun Laoghaire’s rare if not unique classes of classic clinker-built sailing dinghies.

The same situation will have been achieved at the National YC by Thursday, June 4th, resulting in that very Dun Laoghaire display of the hottest dry-sailed offshore racers and inshore keelboats cheek-by-jowl with ancient masterpieces of the classic wooden boatbuilder’s art and craft in a fascinating mini-Boat Show which is taken for granted.

Which is just grand, but what will we able to do afloat? With the technicalities of compliance by sailors with the official guidelines testing some of the finest analytical minds in our sport while the rest of us just nod like car rear-window donkeys as though we fully grasp what’s going on, the ins and out and what we can actually do afloat at the moment are a minefield.

So for those who keep beating the drum about DBSC needing to give a very clearcut lead about actual dates, we can only say that you should cut these guys a bit of slack. The Commodore has a newly-acquired Puma 42 which he is mad keen to race, the Honorary Secretary is a stalwart of the J/109 Class and loves the sport, so you can be quite sure they’ll have racing under way just as soon as the time is right. 

J/109 sailing action in Dublin BayJ/109 action in Dublin Bay. With Honorary Secretary Chris Moore a keen member of the class, he’s as keen as anyone to start racing, but he and his officers and committee have to steer a careful course between enthusiasm and permitted activity. Photo: O’Brien

Meanwhile, we’re in the situation that if a sailing couple from - let’s say Killiney - decide to go down together to Dun Laoghaire and hop aboard their boat in the marina and go for a sail, it’s fine and dandy if they put out to sea and head for the Muglins. But if instead, they go up Dublin Bay bay towards Poolbeg, they might find themselves being spotted by one of those hawk-eyed observers with which Dun Laoghaire seems to be so well furnished, and the next thing is an official-looking boat with a peaked-cap ship’s complement will have hove into sight to tell them they’re breaking the law, as they’re taking exercise more than five kilometres from home.

Just which statutory or non-statutory body is supposed to be in charge of such patrols still seems to be an open topic, but across in Howth where Commodore Ian Byrne tentatively but successfully inaugurated a regulation-compliant sailing programme last weekend – a sensible programme which will see gentle expansion as time goes by - the see-everythings-and-complain-about-it brigade are rather more pre-occupied by the fact that the local fish & chips trade provided by the Burdock and Beshoff outlets seems to be getting going again.

For sure, it’s not everywhere that you can get from the city centre into the heart of a thriving and picturesque fishing port within half an hour as a day visitor, and once there nonchalantly enjoy fish and chips provided either by a company with direct links to Dublin in the very rare and extremely auld times, or alternatively a company with a direct link back to the mutiny on the Tsar of all the Russias’ battleship Potemkin in Sevastopol in the Crimea in June 1905. 

The Russian Battleship Potemkin doing her bit for the ozone layer The Russian Battleship Potemkin doing her bit for the ozone layer – your fish & chips from Beshoff Brothers in Howth provide an unusual historical link

But neither of these historic links brings with it any obligation whatsoever to feed the rapacious herring gulls which strut their stuff around Howth Harbour. During the depths of the lockdown with visitors and fish & chips in extremely short supply, the gulls – normally the very picture of glowing rude health, with “rude” the operative word - actually started to look slightly scrawny.

And then their numbers declined to such an extent, as they sought sustenance elsewhere, that those of us who live in the village and find our rooftops plagued by the breeding super-scavengers dared to hope we might even have missed a complete breeding season. But now, in a sure sign that normality is returning, they’re starting to become more noisily conspicuous again.

Lovely isn’t it when a sure sign of some sort of returning normality is your television signal being interrupted by huge nesting seagulls atop and around the television dish on the chimney stack, just when you want to focus on Miriam O’Callaghan or Emily Maitlis grilling some twisting politico, or savour how the subtleties of Normal People remind you of some episodes in your well-spent youth?

The herring gulls of Howth“You lookin’ at me?” The herring gulls of Howth seemed to be developing as an instrusive and noisy super-species, a nuisance and menace for everyone, but two foodless months of Lockdown definitely softened their cough

But on the water in our many harbours and anchorages, getting the boats afloat only means that we move into move into a whole new area of quandaries as to what we can do or not do, and how soon we can expand our activities to achieve something like that ‘Freedom of the Sea’ we dream of in the depths of winter.

Key officers in central organizations like Dublin Bay Sailing Club get unduly pestered by people demanding to know when real racing is going to start, when the fact is that to a considerable extent we have to make it up as we go along, for society has never dealt with a pandemic of this scale and aggression while at the same time having access to our modern means of communication and treatment.

Analogies with a war are simplistic, but if you insist on comparing it with a war, you’d do well to study The Master of Warfare, Sun Tzu, who was right there with his study of The Art of War about 500 years BC (and that’s Before Christ, not Before COVID). In it, he places great emphasis on patience and letting the enemy wear himself or itself out, while avoiding destructive battle.

Sun Tzu. His treatise on The Art of War still provides strategic and tactical guidance Sun Tzu. His treatise on The Art of War still provides strategic and tactical guidance in many challenging situations despite being written 2,570 years ago

That means with Covid-19 you take all reasonable steps to avoid catching it. This fundamental rule of warfare was blithely ignored with disastrous consequences in our neighbouring island both by the Dear Leader, and his Eminence Grise. But while you avoid destructive direct confrontation with the enemy, equally you have to ensure that he (or it) doesn’t lay waste to your own territory.

This means that in a Lockdown, planning should be continually under way for the minimization of ill-effects, and the earliest reasonable resumption of a civilized, sociable and healthy way of life which - for readers of - means going sailing or boating as much as possible, just as soon as it is reasonably safe to do so.

Note that we say “reasonably safe” and not “totally safe”. We’re back to Voltaire's notion of perfection being the enemy of the good here. It all comes down to judgment, and while it’s fortunate that we didn’t bet the farm on my prediction that the Coronavirus would be gone “like snow off a ditch” for the time being from Ireland at the end of May, it looks like a notion that won’t be too far off track.

But this week brought a nasty reminder that even if we’re clear for a while, continuing vigilance is essential, as the sudden outbreak in recent days in poster-boy COVID-clearance nation South Korea came about from something as every day as an infected postal package being delivered to an apartment block with a central post room.

The ideal way for sailing through the COVID Conundrum at first glance seems to be through solo boats. But they carry an inevitable close-up-and-personal risk if they require the services of the crash boat. Yet two-handed sailing, with a Corona-compatible crew, is more self-reliant, and Ireland’s Sailors of the Year 2018, Olympic 49er contenders, Sean Waddilove of Skerries and Robert Dickson of Howth, read the developing situation to perfection as they made arrangements to share the same house as the Lockdown loomed, leaving them totally Sailing Ready as we start to come out the other side.

Derek & Conor Dillon of Foynes in 2014, when they won the Two-Handed Division in the Round Ireland raceDerek & Conor Dillon of Foynes in 2014, when they won the Two-Handed Division in the Round Ireland Race, the first of many major event two-handed campaigns

So while there was that little nasty bit of news for everyone from South Korea this week, Irish sailing was much brightened by the news that father-and-son team of Conor and Derek Dillon of Foynes Yacht Club have thrown their hat into the Round Ireland Two-handed ring yet again with their Dehler 34 Big Deal for the re-scheduled SSE Renewable Round Ireland Race from Wicklow on August 22nd.

It’s now all of six years since the Foynes duo won the Round Ireland two-handed division in 2014, but they’ve continued to battle the two-handed scene in what is often the smallest boat in the doubles division in the Round Ireland and other majors, including the Rolex Fastnet and the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle.

To do the Round Ireland from Foynes involves them in sailing in total a distance which is virtually twice round Ireland, but they still carry the enthusiasm which the entire two-handed scene was enjoying back in 2014. For not only did Big Deal make a mighty job in that year’s Round Ireland in getting in ahead of many fully-crewed boats, but in 2013 when the notion of two-handers in major events was even more novel, the world of sailing lit up with the news that the Rolex Fastnet Race had been won overall for the first time by a two-handed crew, the French father-and-son lineup of Pascal and Alexis Loison from Cherbourg racing one of the smallest boats in the fleet, the 33ft Night & Day, which entertaningly had the music of the Cole Porter classic printed over her topsides.

French JPK 10.10 Night & Day“Night and Day, you are the one…..” Anyone racing in the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race near the successful French JPK 10.10 Night & Day who felt inclined to sing the Cole Porter song after which she is named had the musical score provided for their convenience on the topsides
That may in turn have distracted people from noticing that this was history in the making, as Night & Day was one of the new JPK 10.10s. Thus 2013 was Jean Pierre Kelbert making a major mark on the big time offshore racing scene, something which has continued ever since with a very satisfactory circulatory achievement being logged in the 2019 Fastnet, when JPK himself – co-skippered with “young” Alexis Loison – won their class in the new JPK 10.30 Leon.

In our current weird world, it may well be that the two-handed scene is the best way to go to get competitive sailing re-introduced, and with Howth having put its first sailing toe in the water last weekend, so to speak, maybe we’ll see the Aqua Two-Handed Race there coming up as one of the first majors in the truncated season of 2020.

Son and father two-handers Alexis and Pascal Loison with the Fastnet Challenge Cup “Two will do…” Son and father two-handers Alexis and Pascal Loison with the Fastnet Challenge Cup after their overall win of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2013 with the JPK 10.10 Night and Day. It had taken some time to persuade the powers-that-be that there should be a Two-Handed Division allowed in the Fastnet, despite the added challenge of racing short-handed against fully-crewed boats. But few – of any – thought that one of the Two-handers might win overall. In all, Alexis Loisin has now won his class in three Fastnet Races, and the overall win is a bonus. If more could follow the Loison example, it might make emerging from Covid-19 restrictions on sailing races a less problematic process

Just don’t count on it getting much publicity. While the popular Aqua Restaurant at the end of the West Pier is currently in shut-down like most other eateries, it holds a special place in Howth sailing hearts, as it was the HQ of Howth Yacht Club until the award-winning design for the new clubhouse was opened in 1987. Thus while a meal there is something special in every way and is the first prize for the Howth Two-handed Race, it seems the locals only want one of their own to win, as the two-handed event is kept very much in-lodge.

Yet for now, all of us are still pretty much in-lodge for most of the time. But be of good cheer. If you can just somehow persuade your mother-in-law’s daughter with whom you share your locked-down residence to give you a modest but much-needed haircut, it feels like immediately shedding about 15 pounds in flab without any extreme dieting or advanced Yoga exercises required at all. It’s wonderful……

Tagged under

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
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