I have taken on board, with interest, many of the recent letters, forums, and discussions on the present state of dinghy racing in Ireland. Whilst generating much food for thought, I would like to avail of the opportunity to mention the very positive input, that a small secondary school situated in the far south-west, contributes to the overall status of dinghy sailing, and, racing, in Ireland.
Schull Community College has 450 enrolled students, 98% of which, would come from a non-sailing background,. The College Sailing Club has 78 members. Introduction to sailing takes place in September when all 1st year students are afforded an opportunity to experience sailing. This would take the form of a fun day out with the goal that all students come back with a smile. Those interested in learning the skills, to whatever level or standard, are invited to become members of the Schull Community College Sailing Club.
The cost for membership is €100 for the year, or €150, for two, or more, family members. This fee covers Saturday sailing throughout the year (weather permitting), with instructors and coaches, and the use of a variety of dinghies to suit all skills.
Beginners are thought the skills of sailing without reference to the SBSS (ISA Small Boat Sailing Scheme). We intentionally do not use this scheme as we have found in the past, that students prioritise attainment of levels over skills.
The goals of each student are different, with some content to sail back and forth with their friends having fun, but using the proper skills to do so, while others are eager to advance to developing Team Racing skills. Progress to this stage can be achieved once the student has demonstrated a good understanding of the 5E's, and can sail around a course with little or no rudder. Saturday sailing, during the year, attracts an average of 30 sailors on a cold day to 50+ on a sunny day Team racing discipline is used at the school as it is an achievable goal with little or no personal resources required, with boats and coach supplied by the FMOEC.
"We intentionally do not use the ISA Small Boat Sailing Scheme as we have found in the past, that students prioritise attainment of levels over skills".
Students learn the advanced skills of sailing, an introduction to racing rules, and team work. A typical Saturday would involve, briefing, boat handling exercises, team racing, and de-briefing, as well as boat maintenance, and seamanship skills, etc. With team racing, students upskill rapidly, as competition for team places is continuous throughout the year. Most of the students would never have sailed outside of Schull Harbour, but, within a few years, clearly demonstrate a skill level, equal to, or above their peers from other clubs. When students reach transition year they have an extra days sailing on Wednesdays. At this stage students are divided into two groups, with one group learning to sail and the other learning the skills required to become a Dinghy Instructor. For instructorship, students attend VHF, First Aid, and Powerboat courses, and their pre-entry. At this stage, none of the students would have any SBSS levels, but, they would have the skills necessary to pass their pre-entry Most of these courses are subsidised by the FMOEC which allows the student to become an Instructor, without the burden of recourse to personal resources. Mainstream costs to fulfill all courses required to become an Instructor approximate in the region of €1,500, which, in my view, is completely ridiculous.
Most of the students who become instructors, are offered summer jobs at the centre, teaching the SBSS to the general public. Our courses run for nine weeks, and it is during this that our instructors see the downfall of the SBSS, with a sizeable percentage of students attending the courses showing more interest in the cert., rather than the skill. This in turn forces sailing clubs and centres to issue certs., as parents believe they have paid for the cert., and not the skills. Our team racing teams participate in many events throughout the year, ranging from the Munster Schools Team Racing Championships to the International Wilson Trophy.
A look at the results from last years 1st team, which consisted of six team members, of which, five came from a non-sailing background, demonstrates the achievement of the FMOEC syllabus. Irish National Champions, British U21 Champions British Schools Champions, Youth Helmsman Champion, Silver Senior Helmsman Championships, 4.7 National Champion and Silver Radial Championships. It would be easy to ascribe this success to 'an exceptional team', but, Schull teams have been Irish National Champions every year, except two, have won the British Schools Championships four times, and been in the top four over the last six years.
One may pose the question....'where do they go after they finish at Schull Community College, and, do they continue sailing?..... Follow up on team-racing participants, whether they go on to 3rd. level, or, otherwise, demonstrates a continuing healthy involvement in sailing activities. In 2011 the ITRA (Irish Team Racing Championships) were held in Schull and over 50% of the helms entered in the event were ex-Schull Community College.
In conclusion, it is my belief that the present state of dinghy racing in Schull (Ireland) is strong, and, demonstrably, getting stronger.
More on this subject of dinghy sailing here