15 years have passed since a small group of Cork and Dublin sailors met at the Granville Hotel in Waterford to establish the Irish Cruiser Racing Association. In the intervening years, ICRA has had great success co-ordinating Irish yacht racing at home and abroad. Afloat.ie caught up with Ric Morris, the recently elected ICRA strategist, and asked him for the latest on the cruiser-racing body in advance of its – just-launched – National Championships in Galway. In recent years the demands on the association have changed. Irish Sailing too has begun to look to the association to take on a broader role. The association is responding to these changing needs through a refreshed five-year plan. The question now for ICRA is how can it add value to what’s already going on in Irish sailing?
Ric, After a turbulent winter, these are interesting times for ICRA?
I only joined the exec in January and yes it’s been interesting! It’s good to have done an EGM. Everyone felt strongly about that. And that we should hold a formal AGM each year so the exec is held directly responsible going forward. There’s a good mix on the exec now of new and old. Meetings have been good to be involved with. All business.
The question over the winter has been, why should people care about ICRA, is it even needed?
It’s easy to forget what the situation was like before there was an ICRA. Regattas are great but we lacked a championship event that put yacht racing on a level playing field with other forms of sailing. If you look at what ICRA representatives have achieved since in terms of the All Irelands it puts that in perspective. There’s still a strong demand for an ICRAs as a national championship, focused on quality competitive racing. How best to deliver that is getting a lot of thought. Part of having a great competition means everyone being there. That probably needs a different solution depending on where the event is. The link with the All Irelands is something to pay attention too. It’ll be good to see the All Irelands back in a keelboat class soon. There are technical challenges in terms of IRC and ECHO that need looking after where the voice of owners needs to be heard. But I think ICRAs biggest achievement has been as a forum for co-operation, and long may that continue. I should’ve given the short answer first: people should care because everyone with an ECHO/IRC cert is paying an ICRA membership.
That brings its own pressures …
It does. It means ICRA has to deliver for everyone, and that’s reflected in what we’re presenting today. Former Commodore Nobby Reilly started that process with the national crew pool and training grant, and that’s been identified in the strategic review as something to build upon going forward.
We want to expand upon that. Open up the range of initiatives we’ll fund, so long as they are aimed at delivering more tightly defined objectives.
For instance, the evidence shows that well-structured under 25s programs pay dividends for the sport. We supported the club run under 25s teams at the J24 nationals and intend to do so again for Galway.
So where are things up to with this strategic review, a 5-year plan? Is that really necessary?
That comes back to the previous point in terms of agreeing and communicating what ICRA is and what it should be doing. That’s really what today is about. Setting out what ICRA is about, what we should be at, putting that in a relevant context.
Why five years? Given the money people commit to their boats, there’s a need to show how we’re going to deliver sustained value. Any changes need to be flagged well in advance so they can be factored into peoples plans.
'Embracing Yacht Racing'?
Putting our arms around the wide range of members needs, and the passion that people have for the sport. And it rhymes. Can’t go wrong with a rhyming tagline.
There was a discussion about using the word yacht. That it carries an off-putting message. I think that may have changed. For instance one of the biggest parties in the Med each year is called 'Yacht Week' and that’s promoted to a general and youthful audience.
In the end, though we’re not going to change any negative prejudice by hiding. The opposite in fact. Irrespective of what label we put on it, people think we sail yachts. No one knows what a cruiser racer is unless you’re already involved. If we’re looking to bring people into our sport, and we are, then we need to use the language they understand.
"Irrespective of what label we put on it, people think we sail yachts"
When I look at the mission and strategic goals, in particular, it all seems pretty obvious, one person called it dated.
I’d prefer straightforward and common sense but yeh I’ll go with obvious. Over the last couple of months, we’ve taken a step back and looked at what any other class association does, what the best ones focus on and where things are in Ireland. It’s not rocket science. The devil is in the detail. For instance, to run a nationals that’s “the pinnacle of yacht racing” has some implications for where and when you hold it. “Enjoyment and fun” is quite none specific so we’ve looked to express in more detail what people enjoy about yacht racing. And that’s what we’ll focus on.
A series of regional ICRA events?
We’ve already touched on the issue of relevance. ICRA turns up somewhere, runs a nationals and then disappears again. There’s a need to be engaged more regularly so that doesn’t happen; so that ICRA stays connected and has a vested interest in what’s going on. At the same time, there needs to be a boundary to what ICRA should and shouldn’t get involved with. We can’t, and shouldn’t seek to take on everything. Rather play our part working with the clubs, sailing industry and Irish Sailing.
"How can ICRA add value to what’s already there, to support what’s already going on?"
But the calendar is already pretty full…
We’re blessed that there’s already a calendar of established events. The question is more; how can ICRA add value to what’s already there, to support what’s already going on?
The next step is to look to turn this into a workable plan with a view to having a draft to circulate at the Nationals in mid-August. If anyone is keen to be involved they are most welcome.