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This weekend’s two-day All-Ireland Sailing Championship at the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire, racing boats of the ISA J/80 SailFleet flotilla, is an easy target for facile criticism. Perhaps because it tries to do so much in the space of only two days racing, with just one type of boat and an entry of 15 class championship-winning helms, inevitably this means it will be seen by some as falling short of its high aspiration of providing a true Champion of Champions.

Yet it seldom fails to produce an absolute cracker of a final. Last year, current defending champion Anthony O’Leary of Cork, racing the J/80s in Howth and representing both ICRA Class 0 and the 1720 Sportsboats, snatched a last gasp win from 2013 title-holder Ben Duncan of the SB20s, thereby rounding out an utterly exceptional personal season for O’Leary which saw him go on to be very deservedly declared the Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Year” 2014.

So this year, with a host of younger challengers drawn from a remarkable variety of sailing backgrounds, the ever-youthful Anthony O’Leary might well see himself in the position of the Senior Stag defending his territory against half a dozen young bucks who will seem to attack him from several directions. And with winds forecast to increase in strength as the weekend progresses, differing talents and varying levels of athletic ability will hope to experience their preferred conditions at some stage, thereby getting that extra bit of confidence to bring success within their reach. It’s a fascinating scenario, and W M Nixon tries to set this unique event in perspective.

When the founding fathers of modern dinghy racing in Ireland set up the Irish Dinghy Racing Association (now the ISA) in 1946, they would have been reasonably confident that the immediate success of their new pillar event, the Helmsman’s Championship of Ireland, gave hope that a contest of this stature would still be healthily in being, and still run on a keenly-followed annual basis, nearly seventy years later.

They might even have been able to envisage that it would have been re-named the All-Ireland Championship, even if their original title of Helmsman’s Championship had a totally unique and clearly recognisable quality, for they’d have accepted its fairly harmless gender bias was going to create increasing friction with the Politically Correct brigade.

anthony OLeary2The Stag at Bay? Anthony O’leary sniffs the breeze last weekend, in charge of racing in the CH Marine Autumn league. This weekend he defends his All-Ireland title in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Robert Bateman

ai3Sailing should be fun, and run with courtesy – invitation to enjoyable racing, as displayed last weekend in Cork on Anthony O’Leary’s Committee Boat. Photo: Robert Bateman

But what those pioneering performance dinghy racers in 1946 can scarcely have imagined was that, 69 years later, no less than a quarter of the coveted places in the All-Ireland Championship lineup of 16 sailing stars would be going to helms who have qualified through winning their classes within the Annual National Championship of a thirteen-year-old all-Ireland body known as the Irish Cruiser-Racing Association.

And if you then further informed those great men and women of 1946 that those titles were all won in an absolute humdinger of a four-day big-fleet national championship staged in the thriving sailing centre and Irish gourmet capital of Kinsale, they’d have doubted your sanity. For in the late 1940s, Kinsale had slipped almost totally under the national sailing radar, while the town generally was showing such signs of terminal decline that there was little enough in the way of resources to put any food on any table, let alone think in terms of destination restaurants.

So in tracing the history of this uniquely Irish championship (for it long pre-dates the Endeavour Trophy in England), we have a convenient structure to hold together a manageable narrative of the story of Irish sailboat racing since the end of World War II. Add in the listings of the Irish Cruising Club trophies since the first one was instituted in 1931, then cross-reference this info with such records as the winners of the Round Ireland race and the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, beef it all up with the winners of the national championship of the largest dinghy and inshore keelboat classes, and a comprehensible narrative of our national sailing history emerges.

ai4The veteran X332 Equinox (Ross McDonald) continues to be a force in Irish cruiser-racing, and by winning her class in the ICRA Nationals in Kinsale at the end of June, Equinox is represented in the All Irelands this weekend by helmsman Simon Rattigan. Photo: W M Nixon

It’s far from perfect, but it’s a defining picture nevertheless, even if it lacks the inside story of the clubs. Be that as it may, in looking at it properly, we get a greater realization that the All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship (or whatever you’re having yourself) is something very important, something to be cherished and nurtured from year to year.

Of course I’m not suggesting that we should all be out in Dublin Bay today and tomorrow on spectator boats, avidly watching every twist and turn as eight identical boats race their hearts out with a variety of helms calling the shots. Unless you’re in a particular helmsperson’s fan club, it’s really rather boring to watch from end to end, or at least until the conclusion of each stage and then the final races.

This is very much a sport for the “edited highlights”. The reality is that no matter how they try to jazz it up, sailing is primarily of interest only to those actively taking part, or directly engaged in staging each event. When great efforts are made to make it exciting for casual spectators, it costs several mints and results in rich people and highly-resourced teams engaged in costly and often unseemly battles to which genuine sporting sailors cannot really relate at all.

But with its exclusion of Olympic and some High Performance squad members, the All-Ireland in its current form is the quintessence of Irish local and national sailing. It’s almost compulsive for its participants, it provides an extra interest for their supportive clubmates, and in its pleasantly low key way it’s a genuine expression of real Irish sailing, the sailing of L’Irlande profonde.

So of course we agree that it might be more interesting for the bright young people if it was raced in something more trendy like the RS400s if they could find sufficient owners to risk their boats in this particular bear pit. And yes indeed, the ISA Discussion Paper and Helmsmans Guidelines of 2012 did indeed hope that within three years, the All Ireland would be staged in dinghies.

But we have to live in the real world. Sailing really is a sport for life, and some of our best sailors are truly seniors who would be disadvantaged if it was raced in a boat making too many demands on sheer athleticism, for which the unattainable Olympic Finn would be the only true answer.

But in any case, if you watch J/80s racing in a breeze, there’s no doubting the advantage a bit of athletic ability confers, yet the cunning seniors can overcome their lack of suppleness and agility with sheer sailing genius.

ai5While they may be keelboats, in a breeze the J/80s will sail better with some athleticism, as displayed here by Ben Duncan (second left) as he sweeps toward the finish and victory in the 2013 All Irelands at Howth. Photo: Aidan Tarbett

ai6Yet a spot of sailing genius can offset the adverse effects of advancing years – Anthony O’Leary (right) with Dylan Gannon (left) and Dan O’Grady after snatching victory at the last minute in 2014. Photo: Jonathan Wormald.

But another reality we have to accept is that Ireland is only just crawling out of the Great Recession. And in that recession, it was the enduring competitiveness of ageing cruiser-racers and the sporting attitude of their owners which kept the national sailing show on the road. Your dyed-in-the-wool dinghy sailor may sneer at the constrictions of seaborn truck-racing. But young sailors who were realists very quickly grasped that if they wanted to get regular sailing with good competition as the Irish economy went into free fall, then they had to hone their skills in making boats with lids, crewed by tough old birds most emphatically not in the first flush of youth, sail very well indeed.

Thus in providing a way for impecunious young people to keep sailing through the recession, ICRA performs a great service for Irish sailing. And the productive interaction between young and old in the ICRA fleets, further enlivened by their different sailing backgrounds, has resulted in a vibrant new type of sailing community where it is regarded as healthily normal to be able to move between dinghies and keelboats and back again.

The final lineup of entries is a remarkable overview of the current Irish racing scene, and if you wonder why the winner of the GP14 British Opens 2015, Shane McCarthy of Greystones, is not representing the GP 14s, the word is he’s unavailable, so his place is taken by Niall Henry of Sligo.

2014 Champion Anthony O'Leary, RCYC
RS400 Alex Barry, Monkstown Bay SC
GP14 Niall Henry ,Sligo Yacht Club
Shannon OD Frank Browne, Lough Ree YC
Flying Fifteen David Gorman, National YC
Squib Fergus O'Kelly, Howth YC
ICRA 1 Roy Darrer, Waterford Sailing Club
Mermaid Patrick, Dillon Rush SC
Laser Std Ronan Cull, Howth YC
SB20 Michael O'Connor, Royal St.George YC
IDRA14 Alan Henry, Sutton DC
RS200 Frank O'Rourke, Greystones SC
ICRA 2 Simon Rattigan, Howth YC
ICRA 4 Cillian Dickson, Howth YC
Ruffian Chris Helme, Royal St.George YC

As a three-person boat with a semi-sportsboat performance, the J/80 is a reasonable compromise between dinghies and keelboats, and the class has the reputation of being fun to sail, which is exactly what’s needed here.

The Sailing Olympics and the ISAF Worlds may be terribly important events for sailing in the international context, but nobody would claim they’re fun events. Equally, though, you wouldn’t dream of suggesting the All-Ireland is no more than a fun event. But it strikes that neat balance between tough sport and sailing enjoyment to make it quite a good expression of the true Irish amateur sailing scene.

Inevitably from time to time it produces a champion whose sailing abilities are so exceptional that it would amount to a betrayal of their personal potential for them not to go professional in some way or other. But fortunately sailing is such a diverse world that two of the outstanding winners of the Helmsman’s Championships of Ireland have managed to make their fulfilled careers as top level professional sailors without losing that magic sense of fun and enjoyment, even though in both cases it has involved leaving Ireland.

Their wins were gained in the classic early Irish Yachting Association scenario of a one design class which functioned on a local basis being able to provide enough reasonably-matched boats to be used for the Helmsman’s, and the three I best remember were when Gordon Maguire won in 1982 on Lough Derg racing Shannon One Designs, then in the 1970s Harold Cudmore won on Lough Neagh racing Flying Fifteens, and in 1970 itself, a very young Robert Dix was winner racing National 18s at Crosshaven.

Gordon Maguire was the classic case of a talented sailor having to get out of Ireland to fulfill himself. His win in 1982 in breezy conditions at Dromineer in Shannon One Designs, with Dave Cummins of Sutton on the mainsheet, was sport at its best, though I doubt that some of the old SODs were ever the better again after the hard driving they received.

ai7Driving force. Gordon Maguire going indecently fast for a Shannon One Design, on his way to winning the Helmsmans Championship of Ireland at Dromineer in 1982. Photo: W M Nixon

Then Gordon spread his wings, and won the Irish Windsurfer Nationals in 1984 - a great year for the Maguires, as his father Neville (himself a winner of the Helmsmans Championship five times) won the ISORA Championship with his Club Shamrock Demelza the same weekend.

But Gordon needed a larger canvas to demonstrate his talents, and in 1991 he was a member of the Irish Southern Cross team in Australia, a series which culminated in the Sydney-Hobart Race. The boat which Maguire was sailing was knocked out in a collision with another boat (it was the other boat’s fault), but Maguire found a new berth as lead helm on the boat Harold Cudmore was skippering for the Hobart Race, and they won that overall.

gordon maguire8A man fulfilled, Gordon Maguire at the beginning of his hugely successful linkup with Stephen Ainsworth’s RP 63 Loki

And Gordon Magure realized that for his talents, Australia was the place to be. More than twenty years later, he was to get his second Hobart Race overall win in command of Stephen Ainsworth’s RP 63 Loki, and here indeed was a man fulfilled, revelling in a chosen career which would have been unimaginable in Ireland.

Harold Cudmore had gone professional as best he could in 1974, but it was often a lonely and frustrating road in Europe. However, his win of the Half Ton Worlds in Trieste in the Ron Holland-designed, Killian Bushe-built Silver Shamrock in 1976 put his name up in lights, and he has been there ever since, renowned for his ability to make any boat perform to her best. It has been said of him when racing the 19 Metre Mariquita in the lightest conditions, that you could feel him getting an extra ounce of speed out of this big and demanding gaff-rigged classic seemingly by sheer silent will power.

ai9
The restored 19 Metre Mariquita is a demanding beast to sail in any conditions…

ai10
...but in light airs, Harold Cudmore (standing centre) seems to be able to get her to outsail larger craft by sheer will-power.

ai11A different scene altogether, but still great sport – Harold Cudmore racing the classic Sydney Harbour 18-footer Yendys

But as for Robert Dix’s fabulous win in 1970, while he went on to represent Ireland in the 1976 Olympics in Canada, he has remained a top amateur sailor who is also resolutely grounded in Irish business life (albeit at a rather stratospheric level). But then it could be argued that nothing could ever be better than winning the Helmsmans Championship of Ireland against the cream of Irish sailng when you’re just 17 years old, and doing it all at the mother club, the Royal Cork, as it celebrated its Quarter Millenium.

It was exactly 44 years ago, the weekend of October 3rd-4th 1970, and for Robert Dix it was a family thing, as his brother-in-law Richard Burrows was Number 2 in the three-man setup. They were on a roll, and how. The manner in which things were going their way was shown in an early race when they were in a tacking duel with Harold Cudmore. Coming to the weather mark, Cudmore crossed them on port, but the Dix team had read it to such perfection that by the time he had tacked, they’d shot through the gap with inches to spare and Cudmore couldn’t catch them thereafter.

ai12
Decisive moment in the 1970 Helmsman’s Championship. At the weather mark, Harold Cudmore on port is just able to cross Robert Dix on starboard………Photo W M Nixon

ai13……but Dix is able to shoot through the gap as Cudmore tacks…..Photo: W M Nixon

ai14…..and is on his way to a win which will count well towards his overall victory over Cudmore by 0.4 points. Photo: W M Nixon

Admittedly both Harold Cudmore and the equally-renowned Somers Payne had gear problems, but even allowing for that, the 17-year-old Robert Dix from Malahide was the star of the show, and the final points of Robert Dix 9.5 and Harold Cudmore 9.9 for the 1970 Helmsman’s Championship of Ireland says it all, and it says it as clearly now as it did then.

ai15
The six finalists in the 1970 Helmsman’s Championship were (left to right) Michael O’Rahilly Dun Laoghaire), Somers Payne (Cork), Harold Cudmore (Cork), Owen Delany (Dun Laoghaire), Maurice Butler (Ballyholme, champion 1969) and Robert Dix (Malahide), at 17 the youngest title holder ever. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in W M Nixon

Only 3.5 points separated the top three sailors after the medal race of the of the junior All Ireland sailing championships off Kinsale this afternoon. Sailed in Topaz dinghies, Peter McCann of Royal Cork Yacht Club won the Championships with Optimist dinghy champion Peter Fagan of Skerries Sailing Club second. Defending champion Harry Durcan, also of Royal Cork Yacht Club, took bronze. Clare Gorman of the National Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire was crowned Junior All Ireland Girls Champion. Full results downloadable below.

Nicola Ferguson Clare Gorman Peter McCann and Jamie Venner

Youth stars: Nicola Ferguson, Clare Gorman, Peter McCann and Jamie Venner

Published in Youth Sailing
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#SafeTrx - Users of the ISA's SafeTrx app are advices that the system will be unavailable tomorrow morning and afternoon (Tuesday 15 September) for an upgrade.

During the planned upgrade from 6am to 3pm, the SafeTrx apps for iOS and Android, as well as the ISA SafeTrx Boater website, will be unavailable.

Following the upgrade, a new version of the app will be available to download for your smartphone, with older versions no longer functioning after tomorrow.

CoastalBoating.net details the changes boaters can expect from the updated SafeTrx app, including a new emergency call feature.

Published in News Update
Tagged under

#sailing –  Irish Sailing Association (ISA) President David Lovegrove on the summer ahead

The sun is finally showing its face on Irish waters, and just in time as the summer sailing season is now in full swing, with boats taking to the water in higher numbers than previous years. I am in regular contact with Clubs across the country and they speak of the positive mood coursing its way through their sailing communities.

Much of this of course has to do with the resurgence of the Irish economy following years of austerity, cutbacks, and a drop in sailing participation. The marine industry now reports that sales of boats coming into the country are on the up; handicap applications are increasing following a lull in requests, and this can only mean one thing – more boats on the water. The Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) Nationals, Sovereigns Week and Dun Laoghaire Week are all benefitting, with buoyant numbers reported as boats come out to compete in what should be a bumper summer season.

This summer will also see DinghyFest hit the shores of Crosshaven, Royal Cork Yacht Club (RCYC) creating a new event - could this herald the resurgence of Dinghy Week? I note the cooperation between the ISA and the dinghy classes, which I hope will lead to an upsurge in the numbers of dinghy sailors, which fits with our policy of growing this area within Irish sailing.

In other positive news, it was great to hear that the ISA has won the National Inclusion Award under the category of National Governing Body of Sport for the commitment and focus displayed in respect to providing sport and physical activity opportunities for people with disabilities.

I am also pleased to announce that SafeTrx, the ISA app that monitors your boat journeys and alerts Emergency Contacts should you fail to return on time, has been shortlisted for the Maritime Industry Awards in the categories of Innovation in Maritime Safety and Innovation in Marine Technology.

On 18 June, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney launched Try Sailing on board the Jeanie Johnston in Dublin. Try Sailing is a national initiative, designed to drive participation in sailing locally through open days and events at centres and clubs across the country. For more information, visit www.trysailing.ie

Spring saw the ISA AGM adopt the Strategic Plan 2015-2020 – the blueprint for the future of sailing in Ireland. This plan is now being implemented across the key areas within sailing. The AGM elected two new officers to the Board, and said goodbye to Mike O'Connor and Phillip Cowman, who both retired after seven years on the ISA Board. I would like to thank them for their service and welcome to the Board Robert Dix, former ISA President and Chairman of the Government Taskforce on Harnessing our Ocean Wealth; and Paddy McGlade, ex-RCYC Admiral and member of the Irish Cruising Club and Cruising Association of Ireland.

On the Performance side of the house, Providence Team IRL has been competing on a number of fronts, notably at the World Cup series and significant international-class regattas, such as the Delta Lloyd, where Annalise Murphy in the Laser Radial claimed a Silver medal in trying conditions amidst a fleet of top sailors, including Olympic Silver and Bronze medallists. I was also delighted to see 16–year–old Aoife Hopkins from my own Howth Yacht Club secure an invite to the World Cup Series event at Weymouth in the Laser Radial class. Aoife has put in a series of impressive performances this year, including a big week at the Delta Lloyd Regatta in late May.

On the Paralympics front, the ISA is working with the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) to lobby the International Olympic Committee to reinstate Paralympic sailing at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

Enjoy your summer sailing.
David Lovegrove
President, Irish Sailing Association.

Published in ISA

#youthnationals – Today saw the first day of racing at the ISA Pathway Trials and Youth Sailing Championships at the Royal Cork Yacht Club writes Claire Bateman. Today's fleets were Laser Radials and 420s. The Principal Race Officer was Alan Crosbie. The morning turned out to be foggy but there was a light south easterly breeze and the sun made an appearance making it into a pleasant day but still retaining some heat haze.

During the day the wind strengthened slightly and went more into the east with Alan Crosbie weaving his magic by sailing the 420s on the outer loop of a triangular course while the Radials sailed on the inner loop. For the next three days the fleets will be joined by the Toppers and the Laser 4.7s.

Meanwhile, not a mile away on the Curlane Bank, Race Officer Anthony O'Leary was performing his style of magic in enabling the IODAI Optimist Trials also to get in three races. There was no doubt he got the best of the wind from his position as it was somewhat stronger on this course and he got in three fine races for the sixty plus competitors and the races were over forty minutes each for two of them with the third being over fifty minutes.

The IODAI Optimist Trials will run over 4 days from today (Thurs) to Sunday. This is a qualifying event for the Optimist sailors to represent Ireland in 2015 - the top five at Optimist Worlds in Wales, next seven at Optimist Europeans in Poland and a number of sailors chosen for a development team that will sail at the French Nationals.

The 420s and Laser Radials are competing in the ISA Youth Pathway Nationals from today (Thursday,) while the Toppers and Laser 4.7s will compete from tomorrow, Friday to Sunday. Normally this is a qualifying event for the Youth Worlds, which are usually in the summer, but the 2015 Youth Worlds are in Malaysia in December which is a little too far away. Still an important event for all the classes as the Lasers compete for the honour of ISA Youth Pathway Nationals Champion, the 420 sailors are qualifying for the Junior Europeans and Worlds, while the Toppers are qualifying for the ISA Summer squads which will build up their skills for the Topper Worlds in Lake Garda. This is an open event for ALL Topper, 420, Laser 4.7 and Laser Radial sailors, which means the young sailors did not have to qualify to enter and it gives ALL sailors a chance to compete against each other on an even playing field.

All in all an excellent, if somewhat long day for the youth competitors but obviously scintillating and provided for plenty of chatter and camaraderie when coming ashore and bringing their boats back to the allotted compounds for each fleet.

Racing continues tomorrow (Friday).

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Published in Youth Sailing

#sailingplan– Changes have been made to the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) Strategic Plan 2015 – 2020 that is to be proposed for adoption at the 2015 AGM in a fortnight. The revision includes the edits made to the original draft to reflect the input from the briefing meetings in Dublin, Cork and Galway. The latest version (downloadable below as PDF file) also takes onboard some of the observations contained in Afloat's original review of the document in January. 

The main changes are:

• The inclusion of an additional pillar titled 'Representation'. This has been done to reflect the importance of this function for ISA members, who look to the Association to make sure that their concerns and aspirations for Sailing are effectively conveyed to decision makers of all types, whether they be at central or local government level, involved in regulation or in a position to support Sailing and increase the level of participation in Ireland.

• The use of the term 'Sailing' in place of 'sport' or 'sport of sailing' in all strategies except those specifically to do with competition. It was pointed out by a number of people that 'sport' implies competition and only covers a limited section of the range of activities that make up 'Sailing'. The remit of the ISA extends to all of the activities that 'Sailing' encompasses and that term has been adopted as being more appropriate.

Apart from the changes flowing from the addition of the 'Representation' pillar, various minor edits have been made throughout the document to correct errors in the consultation draft and state the strategies more clearly. However, none fundamentally changes the direction previously outlined for the Association between now and 2020, as set out in The Way Forward document, and the thrust of the new focus for the Association in providing a better and more relevant service to our clubs and members.

The minor changes include a redesign of the 'Overview' pages (04 and 05) to more clearly express the content, the inclusion of specific reference in the 'High Performance' pillar to Paralympic involvement (previously included in the global 'Olympic' term) and an expansion of the strategies listed for the 'Efficient Management' and 'Communication and Sponsorship' areas.

Published in ISA

#soy – The new stars of the Irish sailing firmament are Anthony O'Leary (57) of Cork and the successful Commodore's Cup team. In a gala ceremony in Dublin this afternoon to celebrate the many achievements of our sailors in 2014, O'Leary and his team mates were applauded as the crème de a crème, reflecting his own insistence throughout the exemplary Commodore's campaign that it was only by a close-knit group effort that success could be obtained.

The sharing of the award - presented in a crowded gathering of Ireland's diverse sailing community in the Royal College of Surgeons by Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney on behalf of the Irish Sailing Association and Afloat.ie - proved to be doubly appropriate, as O'Leary himself could not be present owing to a longterm commitment to a week-long sailing campaign currently under way in Florida.

However, his son Rob – a former Sailor of the Month himself - accepted the Afloat.ie Sailor of the Month award for June 2014 on his father's behalf. That award was to celebrate Anthony O'Leary's success in being the overall winner of the British Open IRC Championship.

But after that, his personal achievements continued at a high level throughout the season, as he became the Helmsmans Champion 2014 early in September racing with the J/80s in Howth, and then later that same month he won through to be the 1720 National Champion racing in Baltimore.

Anthony_OLeary_allireland2014.jpg

Anthony O'Leary (right) and his crew Dylan Gannon (left) and Dan O'Grady celebrate All Ireland victory off Howth in the Helmsmans Champs. Photo: Jonathan Wormald

That this all occurred within weeks of his brilliant leading of the Commodore's Cup team during the last week of July gives some indication of the enormous contribution made by Anthony O'Leary to Irish sailing during 2014.

anthonyoleary_1720-1.jpg

1720 National Champions – Anthony O'Leary's Antix crew in winning form again off Baltimore. Photo: Aedan Coffey

 

But as the Commodore's Cup win also saw the Afloat.ie International Award for July being made to the entire team, the Sailor of the Year 2014 was jointly presented to Rob O'Leary standing in for his father, and to Michael Boyd, recently elected Commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, who was one of the Irish skippers in the superb Commodore's Cup team.

It is the second time the Crosshaven skipper has won the Irish Sailor of the Year title, he lifted it first in 2010.

Published in Sailor of the Year

#irishsailing – After tweeting 'neither Afloat nor the Irish Sailing Association understand the makeup of sailors in Ireland', author Alex Blackwell gives his personal view on this week's ISA Public Meeting in Galway and on the way ahead for Irish sailing.

Sixty people from as far afield as Dun Laoghaire, from sixteen different sailing clubs, and four training centres converged on Galway Bay Sailing Club on Tuesday February 24th for the final Regional Meeting to discuss the ISA Strategic Plan 2015-2020. Chaired by GBSC's Pierce Purcell (ISA Director) and presented by Neil Murphy (ex ISA President and Chairman of the Planning Group which was operational in the final three months of 2014), the first hour was taken up with a detailed explanation of the Draft Plan, with interjections by Neil Murphy of things that have already been decided should be changed. As he put it, there were many good suggestions made at the previous two meetings, as well as in individual submissions. For the attendees, many of whom had come bearing copious notes, this often meant a reduction of what might need to be brought up.

As Neil Murphy explained, the original list of tasks had taken up over forty pages. This had been whittled down to the document at hand. Some things had been cut that should not have been. One such item was Paralympic Sailing, which as we all know has been cut by the International Paralympic Committee. This has now been reinstated in the ISA plan. It can only be hoped that the ISA will indeed take the IPC and the ISAF Disabled Sailing Committee to task on this.

The plan itself, when finalised before the end of March and voted on in the ISA Annual General Meeting on 28/03/15 in Port Laoise, will constitute the working doctrine for the ISA and its staff right through to 2020. Though 'written in stone' after the AGM, changes may of course be decided on in upcoming AGMs or EGMs.

Neil Murphy made a point of explaining that henceforth any discussion would be about "sailing" as opposed to "the sport of sailing", an issue brought up previously that the Committee felt strongly about. The understanding was that by using the term 'sport', a significant segment of the sailing and boating community was potentially excluded. It was also felt that using this term might be felt by some as elitist and infer that sailing is all about racing. Presumably since this turn of phrase is so deeply ingrained in most sailors, he then went on to almost exclusively refer to 'the sport' or 'the sport of sailing'. But there is hope.

He also brought up that, based on previous input, the ISA had started an initiative with regards to diesel fuel availability. The EU has dictated that leisure craft may only use unmarked (taxed) white diesel. However this is simply not and will not be available with the exception of mere handful of harbours, mostly in clusters around Dublin and Cork, or inland service stations which are inaccessible to visiting boats. Another issue was that the junior sailing programmes would be restructured, with greater emphasis placed on two person boats, and less on the current boat classes.

At the end of his presentation he received a warm round of applause. Almost every subsequent commentator remarked on the excellent work the committee had done in producing this document.

The ensuing discussion, during which some impassioned contributions were made, was not without some serious criticism; similar one might add to what actually happened in Cork. The first point raised was the Small Craft Register, where the ISA had suddenly folded to Government pressure without first ensuring that a working replacement was in place. This is an entirely untenable situation. Irish yachts abroad, and those wishing to go abroad are being forced to flag out to Britain, otherwise they face impoundment, either scenario being undesirable.

Another concern raised was that the stakeholders, key to the growth of sailing, had been omitted in creating a document entirely focussed on clubs, access, training, competition (racing), and culminating in the Olympics. These are the actual members and their concerns, the general public, from whom the clubs (and the ISA) draw their members, and last, but by no means least, the Government. It was pointed out that the RYA's primary focus in their manifesto is "...to ensure that legislators, regulators, and other authorities understand, and take account of, recreational boating activity." It had already been brought up in Cork that the ISA needs to be constantly in the forefront as an advocacy body in respect to sailor's freedoms and interests, and this was reiterated in Galway.

A representation was also made by another significant stakeholder group: the Sailing Businesses. Over-regulated and under-supported, these provide the goods and services all sailors and boaters need; not to mention the innovations required to advance design and technology – a 'minor detail' essential to Ireland being in the forefront of High Performance (Olympic and international class) sailing. This also includes high profile events, such as the Volvo Ocean Race, which came to Galway twice in recent years, producing two of the biggest 'sporting' events in Irish history.

A point that was raised at previous meetings and was brought up again was that the draft plan was all about racing, culminating in 'High Performance'. It was argued that racing sailors were in the minority and that this emphasis was inappropriate. According to statistics issued by the RYA (the ISA has published none) the ratio is 6-1 Club Cruisers to Club Racers. Ireland is likely similar to the UK in this regard. Another observation was that in any given club for every boat going out on the race course between five and ten remained at their mooring or in their slip. Mr. Murphy countered this contending that 60% of sailors in Ireland are racers.

A quick informal survey revealed once again that statistics can always be portrayed in a way that underpins a particular argument. Whereas most cruising boat owners who participate in club racing would consider themselves cruisers, and some racing boat owners would indeed do the same, their respective crew members (up to ten per boat), who only race and rarely have an opportunity to cruise, would almost all consider themselves racing sailors.

Perhaps we can agree that the 'Corinthian' approach would be appropriate: to promote 'sailing' and not harp on racing (as in the draft document) or cruising. We are one community with one goal. We all love sailing and wish to help promote it; be it racing around the cans, coastal cruising, adventure sailing, or simply messing about in boats. This is what needs to be reflected in the plan.
Women sailing also made for some interesting discussion between the floor and the head table. The question was raised why there were only two or three women in a room full of men. The ISA had in the past done some initiatives to get more women sailing. However, as they were implemented, these had been so far from the mark that they had in fact put women off. On the day, the women had to take the helm in a regatta without any prior experience. The 'plan' should, it was subsequently suggested, encourage comprehensive women's sailing programmes. This brought many comments about what good skippers women who actively sail do make.

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The attendance at the meeting in Galway Bay Sailing Club included representatives from sixteen clubs in the west and four training centres

Class associations were also represented, and the Mirror was highlighted. Ireland's own Olympian Annalise Murphy 'honed her skills' in a Mirror Dinghy. There are countless Mirrors in sheds and garages nationwide. With the dinghy sailing focus changing to a two person boat, perhaps the clubs could bring these back out into use.

It was also pointed out that more outbound communication (PR) should be done about the high profile events taking place in Ireland, and also the fantastic people we have in the racing, cruising, and adventure sailing scenes. All of these would do a huge job in elevating the public perception of sailing in general and thus also help to promote our ambitions with high profile events like the Olympics.

The bombshell for the majority of those present, not being ISA insiders, arrived when the question of voting rights at the Annual General meeting was raised. Votes are cast en bloc by each club based on their membership (and subscription) levels. The 'Big Six' clubs on the east and south coasts, therefore carry roughly half of the votes, irrespective of who actually attends the meeting.

It is almost impossible for an individual or a small club to have any say. Intentionally or inadvertently, the "block vote" system has the effect of suppressing dissent and perpetuating the status quo. A block vote system like this was used by the trades unions to control the British Labour Party until it was abolished in 1994 in favour of one member, one vote.

Small wonder then, that the smaller clubs, which are the majority of the clubs in the rest of the country, continue to feel under supported and under represented by the ISA. As the main mission of ISA must be to serve its members and to grow interest and participation in sailing in all its forms, the strategic plan must be broadened to encompass all the representative points of view.

Alex Blackwell is an author and sailor who lives on the shores of Clew Bay in County Mayo where he bases his Bowman 57 Aleria.

Published in Your Say

#irishsailing – There are just 17,000 registered leisure sailors in Ireland at present. There has been a decline in sailing, the level of activity has weakened, clubs are losing membership and several marinas have space available for the first time.

The only official participation figure available is for those 17,000 members of clubs registered with the Irish Sailing Association. There are many more sailors who own boats and use them outside of the club structures, so the actual participation levels could be two or three times that number. But there is no doubt about the decline in activity in the sport. The effects of the economic recession, people having less disposable income, loss of jobs, emigration, have all had their effects.

Brian Craig, one of the Directors of the ISA discusses the challenges facing the sport in a frank and direct interview on the current edition of THIS ISLAND NATION, the niche maritime radio programme, which you can hear here. The interview ranges across the still-present perception of the sport as 'elitist' and the methods needed to change this and to increase involvement in the sport.

"There is still a strong core foundation to the sport," Brian Craig says in the interview which discusses the Strategic Plan the Association has drawn up and which has been considered at meetings of ISA members around the country.

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Brian Craig

The plan will be put before the ISA annual general meeting in Portlaoise on March 28 for adoption.

GOVERNMENT THINKS THERE IS AN IRISH LANDBRIDGE!

"We are a funny country. We are surrounded by water. We have a Government that thinks there is a landbridge somewhere, but they don't know where it is."

That was the comment of former seafarer Tom O'Mahony when he spoke to the programme at the annual Remembrance Ceremony for those lost at sea in the town of Youghal on the East Cork coastline. It is a coastal town with a great schooner tradition and memories of seafarers who ranged from the River Blackwater onto the world's oceans in various types of vessels. It is also where the programme is compiled, edited, recorded and transmitted every Monday fortnight at 6.30 p.m. and later each fortnight on Near FM in Dublin, Dundalk FM, Dublin South FM and Raidio Corca Baiscinn in County Clare as well as on this website.

Tom O'Mahony said there was a lack of maritime awareness at Government level and recalled the closure of Irish Shipping and the manner in which ships and crews were stranded overseas and men later left without pensions. "And that was company in which seafarers had gone to sea in ships that would not now pass maritime safety requirements."

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DISABLED SAILING

The RNLI describes a very courageous disabled sailor on the programme in contrast to the decision of the Paralympics Committee to discard sailing from its programme.

NO PLACE FOR BEING POSH OR A FIGUREHEAD

Also discussed on THIS ISLAND NATION is the use of nautical descriptions in everyday language, such as 'posh,' being a 'figurehead' and 'flogging a dead horse."

Published in Island Nation

#sailing – A leading Cork sailing official who praises the reform of the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) has raised concerns over a new initiative to raise €2.7m for Irish Olympic and ISA pathway sailing.  The comments follow a reader piece yesterday: Is Being an Olympic Sport Good for Irish Sailing? 

Barry Rose, a former ISA President, says it is 'incredible' during a period of consultation by the ISA that the sailing community was not asked about the set–up of a 'new quango' called the 'Irish Sailing Foundation'. In a sport that is attempting to navigate its way out of recession, Rose warns If resources are 'sucked out of a limited pot' it will effect the ability of Clubs. The challenge, he says, is to 'regrow in a balanced way'.

Firstly I want to state that I fully support the high calibre current Olympic sailing campaigns that I believe have real chances to produce sailing medals that will lift our sport at the next Rio Olympics. Annalise's fantastic performance at the last Olympics richly deserved a medal and lifted all our enthusiasm for the sport. Watching the medal race in Newenhams in Schull was like watching a Six Nations final. It was great.

The current reform and re–connect with the grassroots of sailing taking place in ISA is admirable and needs to happen. Well done to the team driving this through. It seems incredible to me that in the middle of this process without consultation with the wider sport and seemingly out of the blue an advertisement would appear for a CEO of what appears to be a new quango called ISF (apparently under the auspices of the ISA) whose brief is to raise €2.7m a year from a tight economy for elite and Olympic sailing in addition to funds currently generated.

Where has this come from? If this amount of resources is sucked out of a limited pot will it effect the ability of the grassroots to raise funds for Clubs and the events that form the backbone of the sport on the ground in the form of sponsorship and funding vital support structures to grow the wider sport.

We live in interesting times for our sport. There are green shoots everywhere. Enthusiastic sailors and volunteers on the ground are driving the sport in positive directions. Classes like the National 18s are re inventing themselves with a new boat and double figures ordered in its first year, the well organised RS classes are attracting great sailors back in to dinghy sailing in two man dinghies and are having a blast in cool competitive boats at reasonable cost for all age groups. The dynamic of each Class sailing together Fevas, 200s and 400s has really worked with a fun friendly inter reaction at events. Clubs are developing fleets of 1720s and dinghies to offer opportunities to get on the water without owning a boat and grow the sport.

On the Cruiser Racing front ICRA are promoting the sector enthusiastically despite the economic environment and initiating crew training programmes (with ISA support) and growing ever stronger National Championships. Strong Irish teams have won two Commodore's Cups since 2010 exposing many young and some not so young Irish sailors to the highest level of Competition in this field in what is effectively the World Championship of IRC racing. This has happened with incredible commitment by dedicated owners, sailors and a voluntary support team effort by ICRA who are endeavouring to raise some funding support for these types of Irish International challenges.These teams have brought huge credit to Irish sailing displaying a clinical winning approach to every detail on and off the water in significant International events.

We need at this time to plot a careful course for all our sport to regrow in a balanced way that supports the great enthusiasm and innovation that is driving bringing the fun back in to sailing from the ground up in all aspects of the sport.

The Glass is definitely half full not half empty, let's not knock it over! That's the challenge!

Well done for raising the question! It's healthy to debate and reflect! 

Published in Your Say

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