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ICRA's Under 25 Scheme is Welcome, But No Substitute for Cruiser-Racer Crew Training on Dublin Bay

15th March 2021
Crew work at a leeward mark in gusty conditions on Dublin Bay Credit: Afloat

The Irish Cruiser Racing Association's (ICRA) Under 25 programme got a good response but more needs to be done to stop the decline in IRC spinnaker racing numbers. That's the verdict from the Dun Laoghaire Harbour waterfront where boats from 30 to 50 feet struggle to find crews for regular racing duty.

Half of all cruiser racers (and maybe more) race 'under crewed', such is the shortage of skilled crew on Dublin Bay, Ireland's biggest yacht centre.

A typical 'Cruiser One' 35-footer needs a crew of nine, and being short of crew impacts performance in two main ways; lack of weight upwind in a breeze and mark rounding manoeuvres - hoists and drops of spinnakers, particularly.

Mark rounding in breeze depends on crew work Photo: AfloatMark rounding in breeze depends on crew work Photo: Afloat

Trying to find crew or race a boat not full crewed can be a frustrating experience, as many owners have been telling Afloat.

Sailing is perhaps the ultimate team sport where it is necessary for each person in a manoeuvre to perform their job exactly right at exactly the right time – especially under spinnaker (above and below) Photo: Afloat

For every 35-footer, you need a crew panel of approximately 20 people to ensure that you are fully crewed for every event in a season, requiring considerable people management.

It's one of the reasons why the IRC spinnaker fleets at the heart of the cruiser racing scene are shrinking as owners are finding alternative ways to race their boats without the hassle of a crew search every time they want to go sailing.

A spinnaker drop on a Cruisers Zero class yachtA spinnaker drop on a Cruisers Zero class yacht

Another reason is the cost of maintaining a full spec IRC racing boat.

Two such alternatives are white sails and coastal racing, where there is either no spinnakers used or fewer manoeuvres meaning less cost and crewing requirements.

Peter Ryan of ISORA, who runs coastal and offshore racing from Dun Laoghaire, has seen an uptake in this form of racing that has been well documented in Afloat. Ryan says, "we don't try to take people away from racing inshore in the Bay; they're just joining us because we offer an accessible alternative."

Coastal racing is growing in popularity in Dublin Racing along the Dublin and Wicklow coast is growing in popularity, one reason is that fewer crew and manoeuvres are needed Photo: Afloat

The problem is not new by any means, but this migration is now seriously affecting IRC spinnaker numbers on the Bay both for club racing and regattas.

ICRA has launched an Under 25 crew programme to introduce more young people to cruiser-racing.

The scheme envisages extending Howth and Sligo Yacht Clubs' experience where the then Commodore of ICRA more or less 'donated' his J24 keelboat or entrusted it to a group of U25s to maintain and campaign it with supervision and some success.

The idea is to try and get other clubs to do the same, e.g. get an old J24 (the cheapest 'cruiser/racer' boat money can buy, even though this is pushing the boundaries of the definition of cruiser-racer) and get the U25s of any given club the chance to raise the 'operating' money and then-campaign the boat as an entrée to the national cruiser-racer fleet.

Unfortunately, its launch coincided with Covid, so it is so far hard to judge the project's success, but ICRA Commodore Richard Colwell told Afloat in February; "We are now seeing the positive result of what started many years ago at Howth Yacht Club in focusing on the Under 25s, which was then taken up by ICRA and by clubs around the country. It is really encouraging."

Afloat took some soundings at Dun Laoghaire and found the concept itself has been enthusiastically received. There are reservations, though, about whether this can tackle the ongoing crew problems on the capital's waters.

After the bloodletting in Irish cruiser-racer administration of some years ago, there is a reluctance in this tight-knit community to criticise the efforts of volunteer committees, especially now that ICRA appears to be back on an even keel. Still, there was no shortage of 'off the record' comments about what is needed to support cruiser-racing activity on the Bay.

A repeated view is that the often mooted crew training programme (going back as far as 2013) should be put in place instead of trying to get under 25-year-olds to buy boats.

ICRA aims to foster young people's partnerships to pitch in together and buy a cruiser/racer boat and eventually campaign. It's a lovely idea, but it is battling with a 'boat ownership' model that is seriously under threat.

The problem is that U25s and young people, in general, have many 'calls' on the purse strings (going out, travelling and a mortgage (if that's even a possibility).

The money behind the scheme or the budgetary 'effort' asked from the participating clubs is geared towards the very low end of cruiser racing. But, on Dublin Bay, sailors of this age group are pretty much spoilt for choice in the lively DBSC five cruiser division scene.

A J109 with a nine man crew on Dublin BayAbove and below) Top Dublin Bay J109s race with a crew of up nine

Dublin Bay J109

Keen U25s have no problem crewing on 'exciting' DBSC boats such as J109s, A35s etc., without making any financial commitment.

Trying to convince such a cohort to 'downsize' to a more basic starter boat and pay for this privilege is one thing but doing so also has the knock-on effect of removing young blood from the - already short - existing crew panels of larger yachts.

A further issue is that the leading clubs at Dun Laoghaire and Howth have either 1720s and J80s already in situ as club sportsboats. However, the 1720s don't comply with the definition of cruiser-racers and J80s, like J24s, only barely meet the criteria.

"A targeted boat closer in spirit should be, say, the Ruffian 23. In ICRA's mind, however, they'd like to see U25s teams at ICRA Nationals, e.g. boats have to be towable", one Dublin Bay sailor told Afloat.

Although Bay sailors are pleased to see some action taken on the matter, there's quite a few who don't think it can work in Dun Laoghaire. "It's tough to see any outcomes", Afloat was told. Another owner went further by saying, "it was like giving out money but addressing nothing".

Some harbour sailing professionals say ICRA might be better served by investing in coaching (including the U25s) who are keen on taking up racing or improving skills.

Equally, though, boat owners also need to up their game and be prepared to invest in such training. It's often the case that those most desperate for crew don't bother to train or create a 'team spirit on board, so in some sense, they have only themselves to blame for the situation.

Successful skippers, on the other hand, have no problem attracting crew. These boats allocate positions based on skills and are models for others to follow.

"People have got lazy", one skipper told Afloat, (admitting he's lazy himself). "To retain new crew, owners need to pay attention to training, welcome crew as a full member of a team and be prepared to promote them. I'm sometimes appalled how some skippers treat crews", he added.

"Until it is fully recognised as a team sport there, will continue to be a shortage of crew.  I don't know why more skippers don't view Tuesday evenings as an opportunity to introduce/train crews away from the full-blooded Thursday racing. How often in sailing do you hear a crew saying we are training that day or evening?", was another comment from an experienced IRC crew member.

While there is ad hoc crew training available, it's a widely held view that the whole cruiser crew coaching area needs to be taken by the scruff of the neck.

It is an opportunity for ICRA - or somebody - to put a system in place and get buy-in from owners.

If successful, it could lead to more people getting more fun from sailing and reverse the decline in IRC numbers to boot.

Covid has changed a lot of things over the past 12 months. People are starting to appreciate what's on their doorsteps a lot more and make the most of outdoor activities.

This attitude has lead to a renewed interest in sailing, racing, and 'socialising' around a joint project. For example, the U25 section of the National Yacht Club has never been as active.

Cruiser racing as part of a crew is a fun team sport Photo: AfloatCruiser racing as part of a crew is a fun team sport Photo: Afloat

ICRA has started the move to drive down the cost of cruiser-racing by fostering partnerships of young people. Cruiser racing is the most popular form of the sport in Ireland. It is now also recognised as a potential Olympic sport. Through its newly forged relationship with Irish Sailing and its access to significant state funding, ICRA has a golden opportunity to improve access and retention.

Published in ICRA Team

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The Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) Information

The creation of the Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) began in a very low key way in the autumn of 2002 with an exploratory meeting between Denis Kiely, Jim Donegan and Fintan Cairns in the Granville Hotel in Waterford, and the first conference was held in February 2003 in Kilkenny.

While numbers of cruiser-racers were large, their specific locations were widespread, but there was simply no denying the numerical strength and majority power of the Cork-Dublin axis. To get what was then a very novel concept up and running, this strength of numbers had to be acknowledged, and the first National Championship in 2003 reflected this, as it was staged in Howth.

ICRA was run by a dedicated group of volunteers each of whom brought their special talents to the organisation. Jim Donegan, the elder statesman, was so much more interested in the wellbeing of the new organisation than in personal advancement that he insisted on Fintan Cairns being the first Commodore, while the distinguished Cork sailor was more than content to be Vice Commodore.

ICRA National Championships

Initially, the highlight of the ICRA season was the National Championship, which is essentially self-limiting, as it is restricted to boats which have or would be eligible for an IRC Rating. Boats not actually rated but eligible were catered for by ICRA’s ace number-cruncher Denis Kiely, who took Ireland’s long-established native rating system ECHO to new heights, thereby providing for extra entries which brought fleet numbers at most annual national championships to comfortably above the hundred mark, particularly at the height of the boom years. 

ICRA Boat of the Year (Winners 2004-2019)


ICRA Nationals 2023

The date for the 2023 edition of the ICRA National Championships is 8th to 10th September at Howth Yacht Club in Dublin.

ICRA Nationals 2024

The date for the 2024 edition of the ICRA National Championships is the 6th to 8th of September at the Royal Irish Yacht Club on Dublin Bay.

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