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Displaying items by tag: W M Nixon

#classicboat – W M Nixon's latest Irish sailing blog has drawing yachting historians into a facebook debate about historical yacht bow shapes. It started when Scottish reader Donan Raven from the Universtiy of Edinburgh sought further annotations on one of the early yacht racing images used by Nixon to illustrate his story on Dublin Bay Sailing Club and its 130th birthday celebrations this year. Read the comments so far by clicking on the facebook comments tab above. 

As to the name of the clipper-bowed cutter in the RAYC 1888 photo, we haven't got it at the moment, but we'll set enquiries in train once St Patrick's Day has been put astern, says Nixon. Comment on facebook above. Read the full blog here

Published in Historic Boats

#dbsc – Ireland's largest yacht racing organisation is Dublin Bay Sailing Club (DBSC), which administers the regular weekly programme for the entire Dun Laoghaire fleet. It has been such an accepted part of sailing's furniture for so long that it might be too easily taken for granted. W M Nixon salutes one of the great cornerstones of our world afloat.

Dublin Bay Sailing Club is 130 years old this year. Founded in 1884, it shares a birth year with the Gaelic Athletic Association. That's something I'd seldom heard mentioned by anyone, if at all, until the point was made in his foreword to the up-coming DBSC Yearbook 2014 by Commodore Pat Shannon. Yet it's a coincidence which is both incidental and fundamental. The two organisations in their very different ways are central to the areas of Irish life they serve so very well.

Perhaps the shared birth year goes unremarked simply because it's so bleeding obvious. So while we're on statements of fact from the IBO (the Institute of the Bleeding Obvious), might we be permitted another suggestion in that line? Sometimes, people from elsewhere wonder why major championships in GAA headquarters at Croke Park attract such enormous crowds, with upwards of 80,000 people roaring their hearts out. Naturally we'll respond to these outside enquiries with highfalutin lyricism about the sporting expression of Ireland in all her glory, the shared emotions, the rural soul of the nation. But on the other hand, at the end of the day (as they say in stadium sports), is it not something to do with the fact that, in our Gaelic sports, an Irish team always wins?

Be that as it may, there is equally something very Irish but also quintessentially Dublin – south Dublin, to be precise – about Dublin Bay SC. Its success owes much to the three great Ps – population, prosperity, and proximity. While most of the great cities of the world are coastal to some extent, few of them share Dublin's almost unique combination of circumstances which more or less force DBSC to thrive, even if today it is very different from the small boat sailing group which was set up in 1884.

Although the city is superbly situated on a graceful bay, the waters of Dublin Bay lend themselves much better to racing than cruising. You can have yourself a fine little cruise with many different natural mini ports of call within Sydney Harbour, and San Francisco is the same. As for the Solent or New York, or Washington and Baltimore, the choice of desirable sailing destinations within very easy reach is almost bewildering.

But in south Dublin, you have this intensely packed mostly affluent population crowded in along a fairly short bit of coastline, based around a large but entirely artificial harbour at Dun Laoghaire. There's immediate access to a rather open bay, but with no other proper harbours of significance within easy reach of an hour's sail other than Dublin Port itself. In such a location and with only two or three hours of spare time, what else can you do with a sailing boat but go racing?


The veteran Nich 31 Saki is one of the regular participants in DBSC Class 3 racing in Dublin Bay. So eclectic is the Dublin Bay cruiser fleet that Saki is by no means the most hefty boat regularly raced. Photo: David O'Brien

Thus one of the great strengths of DBSC, in its role as the overall racing body for the entire Dun Laoghaire fleet, is the provision of regular racing for large cruiser fleets which include some craft which, at any other port, would not be considered a racing proposition at all. But thanks to the sheer numbers of people wanting to get out and afloat and get a bit of fresh air on a Thursday night or Saturday afternoon or whenever, plus the impressive number of backroom volunteers who are prepared to record and analyse the results when they're provided with the elapsed times from real racing, an accurate picture of performance potential and a meaningful handicap system for just about anything that sails can evolve.

Obviously for this sort of intensely localised sport, a One Design class provides the most immediate return in quality of racing. And not surprisingly over the years, DBSC has been a stronghold and world leader of the One Design ideal. But it is a big enough and generous enough organisation to accept and accommodate a high level of individuality in boats and their owners, and the result at the height of the season is a social, sporting and seafaring phenomenon. People flock wearily homewards from work in the crowded city yet somehow - within minutes – they can be transformed into fully kitted energetic sailors out on the bay, shaping up for a start.

The 'new' Dublin Bay 21s, a contemporary Dublin Bay One design class. Photo: David O'Brien

But one way or another, Dun Laoghaire has a plethora of sailing clubs and organisations. How is it that the little club formed by Richard Fry and Dr W M A Wright and half a dozen friends in July1884 has become so pre-eminent? For, faced with a harbour dominated by the impressive clubhouses of the three established yacht clubs, DBSC's initial ambitions were very modest indeed, the club ethos being stated thus:

"In order to provide as much sport as possible with a minimum of expense, the races are to be strictly limited to open-sea boats with a light draught of water, such as can be easily rowed and beached if necessary".

Certainly as our lead photo from 1886 clearly shows, they fulfilled their original intentions to the letter. Yet within a dozen years, this unassuming little house-less club was promoting classes of substantial one design keelboats, and numbering among its active ordinary membership such social eminences as the Viceroy and other aristocrats who sailed.

At the time, the Royal Alfred Yacht Club, likewise a Dublin-based Corinthian organisation which functioned without a clubhouse, would have been expected to set the racing pace among the upper echelons of society. But the Alfred maybe set its sailing ambitions too high. Since 1870, it had been the lead club in formulating and developing the rules of yacht racing at national and international level. And it had always been a leading player in developing early offshore racing, with its Channel Matches an accepted part of the scene for many years.


A Royal Alfred YC Channel Match gets started in Dublin Bay in 1888. While the RAYC was promoting its ideals internationally and providing challenges for larger craft, Dublin Bay SC was quietly building its strength in their shared home waters with local boats.

Thus the Alfred's sights were set too high to cater for everyday Dublin Bay racing, week after week. Then too, over the years, its name became meaningless. While it meant a lot in 1870, subsequently there'd be those who'd think Royal was a brand of custard, and as for Alfred, wasn't he the dim son of Queen Victoria who'd been named after the guy who burnt the cakes?

But Dublin Bay Sailing there's a brand name to kill for. Whether it's prawns or people or boats or places, Dublin Bay has a zing. Clearcut, instantly recognisable, homely yet stylish, utterly reassuring, and only three very distinct syllables in just nine letters – Dublin Bay is a winner. In fact, you'd need to mess around big time to screw up the performance of an organisation called Dublin Bay Sailing Club. But happily there's never been any chance of that, as Dublin Bay SC dynamically reflects the basically very stable and successful society in which it is located.

An outsider looking at the history of Ireland in the first half of the 20th Century would wonder at this claim of "stable and successful". After all, were there not happenings like the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, and the Civil War crowded one upon the other in a turmoil to which the horror of the Great War of 1914-18 was the ghastly background? Maybe so, but as one of the members of the first Government of the Irish Free State put it, "we are the most conservative revolutionaries who ever lived". Several of these "conservative revolutionaries" lived in solid bourgeois comfort in the prosperous south Dublin community which saw Dun Laoghaire harbour as the centre of its nautical playground. And the private atmosphere of the yacht clubs had provided secure settings for negotiations over some of the key understandings and treaties which ended those troubles.

So south Dublin is used to getting on with it in a civilised way, and this attitude is transferred to its sport afloat. By the 1890s, with the emerging middle classes setting the developmental pace ashore and afloat, Dublin Bay SC was the right organisation in the right place at the right time in the Golden Age of yachting.

The actual Golden Age of sailing lasted only around a dozen years. Many factors contributed to the slowing of the pace, not least the growth of newer and more specialised shore sports. And we should never underestimate the rival attraction of the increasing popularity of the motor car, while aeroplanes also took some noted innovators off the sailing scene.

But for solid sailing enthusiasts, Dublin Bay SC was, and stayed, and still is, perhaps the most effective sailing organisation in the world. As it got into its stride in the 1890s, it blossomed with the promotion of the One Design Dublin Bay 25 in 1898, with the Viceroy Lord Dudley the owner of No 1, Fodhla, bought for him as a surprise birthday present by his wife.

Quantum leap. The plans for the new Dublin Bay 25 in 1898. For a club which had started with small boats only fourteen years earlier, this was a remarkable development.

High society. DBSC member Lord Dudley racing his new Dublin Bay 25 Fodhla against R B MacDermott's sister-ship Acushla. Photo: Courtesy DBSC

Soon after, the Dublin Bay 21s hit the scene in 1902-03, and this underlined the sheer strength of the powerhouse which Dublin Bay sailing was becoming. Like it or not, it was metropolitan muscle, bringing good business to favoured boatyards near and far. There's a whole world in this photo of the Dublin Bay 21 Garavoge about to be launched in 1903 from James Kelly's little boatyard at Portrush on the North Coast.

The new Dublin Bay 21 Garavoge ready for launching in 1903 at Portrush with the DBSC burgee on stemhead, a great moment for owner W R Richardson, who stands proudly on left. Builder James Kelly, who four years later was to build the seven Dublin Bay 17s for DBSC members, is in the group on the right. Photo courtesy Robin Ruddock

Not all Dublin Bay one design and restricted classes were a continuing success. The boats built to the Half Rater rule., startlingly like early Flying Fifteens, proved too hairy and dangerous even for the hard-driving sailors of Ireland's east coast, and they were soon phased out. Then too the Colleens, ballasted centreboarders created by local builder James Doyle, capsized a couple of times too often to be cherished.

But the demise of the Colleens gave further indication of DBSC's steadily increasing power. In 1906 the Club was casting about for an able keelboat to replace the Colleens, and after much discussion they decided to use the design for the Howth 17s, which had been racing happily since 1898 as an able little keelboat one design in the waters of terra incognita way beyond Howth Head.

Herbert Boyd, Commodore of Howth SC from its inception in 1895 until his death in 1948, had designed the Howth 17s himself. But he was so chuffed that DBSC wanted to use his creation that he tidied it up, accepted that south of the Baily it would be known as the Dublin Bay 17, and even designed the option of a slightly larger cockpit, as it was acknowledged that Southsiders tended to be a little more portly than the lean and hungry Eastsiders of Howth.

Plans of the "Dublin Bay 17" as tidied up by designer Herbert Boyd for the new Southside division of the class in 1907. As the Southsiders were better fed, they requested the option of a slightly larger cockpit.

It is now more than forty years since all the boats to the Seventeen foot design were re-grouped in Howth in 1972, yet you will still hear some absent-minded old buffers describing them as the "Dublin Bay 17s". All of which underlines the sheer power of the Dublin Bay brand. It's not that DBSC throws its weight about. On the contrary, it is a world leader in doing good work by stealth. But here it is, this enormous benign presence, and in the final analysis its word is law.

Currently, the classic case in point is the demise in Dun Laoghaire of the 17ft Mermaid Class. Designed by John Kearney in 1932 in response to requests from DBSC members, it became recognised as a class known as the Dublin Bay Mermaid in 1936. In its day, the Mermaid was a huge part of the fabric of Irish sailing, and its strength in Dublin Bay was phenomenal. But Dublin Bay moves on, however gently it may do so. Over the years it has allowed classes to wither and die as nature intended, while its members take up new boat challenges, often playing a key role in their development from the start.

So for the first time since 1936, there'll be no racing for Mermaids in Dublin Bay in 2014. Last year, they could theoretically muster half a dozen boats, but on the water the crucial figure of five boats racing to make the cut often wasn't happening. So now they're gone, to make way for new classes which rapidly achieve astonishing figures and take sailing in a fresh direction, such as the thriving First 211s.

However, part of the strength of DBSC is that the club accurately reflects what's happening afloat. Wooden boat racing may have suffered one blow with the end of Mermaid racing, but the energetic Water Wags seem to go from strength to strength. Originating in 1887, the class set a precedent in 1903 by retaining its class organisation, yet changing its boat type completely from a little double-ender to a much more substantial transom-sterned sailing dinghy, modern in its time, which today musters healthy fleet of more than two dozen.

But in a quietly but relentlessly forward-moving society like south Dublin, some boats inevitably fall by the wayside, and for wooden racing boats in Dun Laoghaire, size seems to be crucial for survival. The Water Wags may thrive, but the Mermaids – three feet longer – require that little bit of extra work, that final additional straw of shoreside man-handling which breaks the camel's back.

As for the Dublin Bay 21s and 25s and 24s, they're long gone. Whether the old 21s, mouldering in a Wicklow farmyard, ever sail again is a moot point. But it's still possible that their newer bigger sisters, the Dublin Bay 24s, will sail again as pampered toys known as Royal Alfred 38s in the South of France.

There's a considerable irony in this, as the pioneering 24s – boats conceived as slightly beefier seagoing Six Metres - were first suggested at a committee meeting of the Royal Alfred YC in 1934. It was a good idea, but the RAYC could carry it no further, so by the late 1930s they'd become the Dublin Bay 24s, and six were being built. World War II from 1939 to 1945 then interrupted their progress, but in 1947 the new Dublin Bay 24s made their debut, and they re-confirmed Dublin Bay SC in its pre-eminent role. They were brilliant boats for racing in the bay and at East Coast regattas, they could cut the mustard in RORC Racing (one of them won the RORC's Morecambe Bay race overall when it went through a gale in 1964), and they were superb fast cruisers, picking up several major ICC awards.

Three of the new Dublin Bay 24s make an impressive sight visiting Howth Regatta in 1953. Offering high quality racing in the bay, with wins offshore in RORC events, and proven cruising ability, in their day they were one of the most successful DBSC classes.

Yet the fact that the 24s are long gone from Dublin Bay is just the way it is. Life moves on, situations change, and DBSC - in successfully reflecting the sailing environment in which it functions - is in its understated way a genuine power in sailing, a thoroughly good thing.

It achieves this through a code of volunteerism which would be emulated by many other organisations, if only they knew the secret of the secret ingredient. It's difficult to pin it down, but the underlying DBSC ethos is found in all the memberships of the Dun Laoghaire clubs. But not necessarily in all the members. Serving Dublin Bay SC is a high calling, a vocation given only to a special few. And the people who run it are a band of brothers and sisters, who also happen to be the best of friends. The Code of the Bay is something that becomes elusive as you try to analyse it, so let's just be happy to enjoy it, savouring the wonderful sport provided by this extraordinary organisation for thousands of sailors in boats of every type.


Mac Lir, one of two fast catamaran style Committee Vessels operated by DBSC on an all year round basis. Photo: David O'Brien

Published in W M Nixon

#cluboftheyear – The Mitsubishi Motors "Sailing Club of the Year" for 2014 will be announced tonight. W M Nixon looks back on a unique inter-club contest with which he has been involved since its inception 35 years ago, and reflects on a challenge to the Royal Cork's position of historic significance as the oldest yacht club in the world.

Is the Royal Cork Yacht Club, descended directly from the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork with its establishment in 1720, really and truly the oldest yacht club in the world? The nautical blogosphere and its comments departments have been busy of late, as folk became exercised about the "new" discovery that the Squadron of the Neva, a potential rival claimant in Imperial Russia, was founded two years earlier in 1718.

We've been here before, thanks to the Mitsubishi Motors "Sailing Club of the Year". This informal contest, completely unique when it first appeared in 1979, has long since become an accepted part of Irish sailing. It has served several useful purposes in that it has more clearly analysed what it is that makes the best of Ireland's remarkably successful yacht and sailing clubs tick, it has given us a template for club development and fulfilment, and it has provided a complete record of an important part of Irish sailing history simply because we now have a list of the many winners going back 35 years.

It started in the weirdest way. Sean O'Shea, a good old-fashioned Dublin PR man, was in his car in a traffic jam outside an antique shop in the city centre in 1978, and while stopped he ran his eye over the items on display, which included a ship's wheel. It was quite some traffic jam, for by the time he was moving along again, his busy brain was developing the notion of using the old wheel as a trophy in sailing. When he'd finally reached his destination, he'd decided that it should be some sort of trophy for sailing which would have the unique feature of somehow being awarded to people who personally might not have actually won some sailing race or other.

In those distant days, all of Ireland's national newspapers (all three of them) carried weekly columns on sailing, acres of newsprint with regular photo usage. I wrote the one for the Irish Independent, so he cast a fly over me as to how this "awarding everyone" concept might best be done, for he could see PR opportunities for one of his client companies in it. We kicked some ideas around (in a classic Dublin pub of course, Sean was a connoisseur of Guinness) and somehow the notion – utterly crazy at the time - emerged of a Club of the Year contest.

Back in 1979, if there was such a contest anywhere else in the world, we didn't know of it. So I went home and bashed out the defining characteristics of a successful sailing club on the little Olivetti typewriter (I produced so much verbiage in those days that a new Olivetti every 18 months was an essential), and soon discovered that there was a lot more to the successful clubs than staging popular and stylish events and having members who won major championships.

The 1980 winner was Malahide YC, and the presentation was a two part ceremony, with the ship's wheel being presented aboard a ship in Dublin port, while the celebration took place in MYC's new clubhouse. Photo shows Frank Cormican (left) of original sponsors Coal Distributors, and MYC Commodore Peter Killen aboard the ship. Peter Killen became the Commodore of the Irish Cruising Club on February 14th 2014.

There was the requirement of having good and pro-active relations within the community of which they were part, which was an odd enough idea in 1979, when most clubs seemed aloof, or at the very least self-absorbed. There was of course the obvious requirement of encouraging newcomers to the sport, while having the good sense to know who would be worthwhile sailors and members, and who would not. There was the cultivation of good use of the media, limited and all as it was in those days. There was the need to foster junior development and sail training programmes for all ages. And most important of all, there was the need to have catered for your members' needs, to have brought them along with you in enthusiastic support of new projects, and to have maintained and developed that spirit of volunteerism within the membership which is the essence of the good Irish sailing club.

While "community" may be an over-used word these days, back in 1979 the idea of applying it to a yacht club was still a novel notion, but we decided we'd try to see how the concept of community manifested itself within the clubs which were emerging at the front line of this new informal contest. In the form in which the Club of the Year competition was to emerge after six years of growth, the system which proved to work best was when we simply included all the 120 clubs in Ireland in it – there was no need for any formal entry, as we reckoned the club staff of those days, most of them voluntary, had quite enough to be doing without having to fill out yet another lot of forms.

A small panel of adjudicators was established, and they only emerged (and even then only if they wished - some preferred to remain anonymous) at the award ceremony. The idea was to cover the country, but under the radar. The adjudicators were active in sailing, and between us we were directly engaged with virtually all of the clubs in the country in any one year. But this adjudication was not done on official visits. On the contrary, the idea that clubs would be aware that they were being assessed at any particular time was anathema to the central notion that it was the club's primary duty to serve their own membership, and you could do this best by managing to have a visit more or less unnoticed, as part of a crowd of participants in some sailing event, or as the attendance at a social gathering, or - sometimes best of all - simply under the guise of a visitor from another club hoping to enjoy the fraternal hospitality of the club being scrutinised. This was how it all gradually developed, but it took time for the requirements for a successful inter-club competition to emerge.

The ground-breaking presentation to the Royal Cork YC for 1992's great season. In the background are Eugene O'Reilly (Mitsubishi Motors) outgoing Admiral Kevin Lane, and incoming Admiral Anthony O'Leary. Twenty-one years down the line, how has it been going for the junior sailors in the foreground? Photo: Bob Bateman

Back in the late 1970s, Irish sailing was a much less vigorous creature than it subsequently became, and the affluence of the country was at a very low level. For the first few years, the sponsor, drawn from Sean O'Shea's decidedly eclectic portfolio, was a conglomerate in the coal importing business. In retrospect, that feels only marginally better than a tobacco company. But they wanted to give themselves a fresher image, we had the vehicle, and the show was on the road.

The first winners in 1979 were Wicklow Sailing Club, who had broadened their scope that year with a family cruising rally initiative. When you consider that in 1980 they inaugurated the Round Ireland Race, it gives you some notion of how quiet the sailing innovation scene was in the 1970s. Back then, the hottest show on the sea throughout the decade was the annual programme of the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association, which at its peak attracted 107 boats to its annual season-long championship.

1993 saw the first dual award, to the National YC of Dun Laoghaire and the St Brendan Sailing Club of Dingle for the successful introduction of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race. At the presentation were (left to right) Brian Barry (NYC Commodore), John O'Connor (Dingle commodore), Frank Keane, Chairman of Mitsubishi Motors, and Barry Rose. As Commodore of ICRA, Barry Rose was himself a winner in 2011 to honour Ireland's 2010 Commodore's Cup victory.

The first awards ceremony was a very low key affair at a small reception in the Gresham Hotel. But by the following year, there came an increased awareness that merely handing out the ship's wheel trophy at a Dublin city centre venue to facilitate the press simply wasn't good enough. Every successful club is at the heart of its own universe, however small, so the only proper way to honour the winning club is with an award ceremony in its premises, which has the additional benefit of making a useful injection into bar and catering turnover.

So in 1980, there was a compromise. The winners were Malahide YC for managing to build their very attractive new clubhouse despite the Irish economy being in its default mode of contraction. But the coal company felt there should be some gesture towards who they were. So one half of the ceremony took place on board a huge bulk carrier unloading coal in Dublin docks, and then everyone – led by those Malahide stalwarts Sam Dix and Jock Smith – went haring up the road to Malahide to celebrate it all in the lovely new clubhouse with very considerable exuberance.

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1995 was Howth YC's Centenary, which was brilliantly celebrated to make them Club of the Year. With the ship's wheel are Eugene O'Reilly of Mitsubishi Motors, and HYC Commodore David Lovegrove

For the first six years, the competition was restricted to clubs on the Leinster east coast, as that was the area covered (in every sense) by the coal company. But in the mid-1980s Frank Keane, that extraordinary bundle of energy and innovation in the motor business, decided that he needed to balance his extremely successful BMW distributorship with a Japanese model aimed at a different segment of the market. So he took on Mitsubishi Motors just as they were launching vehicles which might have been made for Irish roads such as the Pajero. As he was another of Sean O'Shea's clients, in very quick order the Club of the Year award acquired an excellent and enthusiastic sponsor, and it went national.

To honour a remarkably successful season achieved in 1997, Kinsale YC were Club of the Year for 1998. Commodore Pat Pyne accepts the trophy from Eugene O'Reilly.

Becoming an all-Ireland thing with 120 clubs under consideration was a quantum leap, but when you find yourself being encouraged by the top people in the motor business, you're in a different league. They're as tough as old boots, yet utterly human and thoughtful underneath it all. It's difficult to tell sometimes if it's delight in business or shared joy in good cars which motivates them, but it was an eye-opener for the rest of us as the Club of the Year trophy went to all parts of Ireland.

In every corner of the country, however remote, Frank Keane would have as a guest some old customer who'd bought one of the very first BMWs from him many years earlier, and had bought several ever since, some of them on an annual basis not because the cars wore out, but because he was such a pleasure to do business with.

But it was a while before we settled into this successful pattern, and for the first year with Mitsubishi Motors, the ceremony was in the Dublin area in any case, with Howth YC being the 1986 winners, neatly timed as the awards ceremony was one of the first events in their startling new clubhouse in April 1987.

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Kinsale sailors with their trophy in April 1998. Front row includes KYC Commodore Pat Pyne (left), Eugene O'Reilly (centre) and John Twomey, now President of International Federation for Disabled Sailing (right), while on the right in the back row are international yacht designer Ron Holland, and Figaro skipper Damian Foxall, who sailed under the Kinsale burgee.

But through 1987, one club was to be head and shoulders above all others. The Royal Cork, oldest yacht club in the world dating from 1720, was on one of its frequent sprints, achieving in all areas. Yet around that time, yachting historian Hal Sisk was voicing his reservations about Royal Cork being the world's most senior club, pointing out that it was absolutely definite that an organisation called the Squadron of the Neva had been established in Russia by Czar Peter the Great in St Petersburg in 1718 with the express purpose of encouraging the sons of the aristocracy to take up recreational boating.

It was an interesting point, and it had to be addressed. So when at year's end the Royal Cork were announced as the Club of the Year (and they've now won it five times in all), somehow a crazy idea arose. We wouldn't go all the way down to Crosshaven to present them with the trophy. At the best of times, it was a tricky proposition for Mitsubishi Motors and the Irish Independent alike, as it would have taken us into the heart of Ford territory and Cork Examiner land. But instead, we'd see if we couldn't arrange to have the presentation in the Russian Embassy in order to acknowledge our awareness of the claims of the Squadron of the Neva, while highlighting the magnificent achievements in 1987 by the Royal Cork YC.

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1998 saw the Tall Ships visit Dublin in large numbers, and volunteers from all over Ireland converged on the port to assist in the massive logistics support operation afloat in the harbour. Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club in Ringsend was the focal point for his superb exercise in co-operation, and it was celebrated by PY&BC becoming Club of the Year for 1999. At the award ceremony are (left to right) Eugene O'Reilly (MD Mitsubishi Motors), Minister for the Marine Dr Michael Woods TD, James O'Donnell (Commodore, PY & BC) and Frank Keane (Chairman, Mitsubishi Motors).

This was to be done in the early Spring of 1988. It was a tricky proposition. Although Perestroika and Glasnost were becoming evident, the Berlin Wall wasn't to fall until 1989. The Soviet Union may have been creaking and rattling more than somewhat, but the fine house in Dublin's elite ambassadorial belt was still very much the embassy of the USSR – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Calling it the Russian Embassy was getting ahead of the game. This was the eastern bloc's headquarters in Dublin, with the Cold War still very much with us, and no mistake.

Yet they agreed to host the party. So now we'd equally tricky negotiations. Would the Royal Cork YC agree to come to Dublin on such a bizarre mission? God bless them, they came in force. We had the makings of the most unusual party ever staged in Irish sailing.

Our host was the Soviet ambassador himself. If in the 1980s you'd asked for Central Casting to send you an actor to personify the popular conception of a Soviet diplomat, they'd have sent you Gennady Uranov. Though he was qualified as an engineer, in the continuous turmoil and unexpected outcomes of Russian and Soviet history, somehow he'd ended up in the diplomatic service and done comfortably well, as the embassy in Ireland was a very agreeable posting. Fairly heavily built but in trim shape, with well-tamed strong grey hair, the ambassador had presence, with charm and an occasional sense of humour. Nevertheless he was very much on his guard, as this was an unusual event, indeed an unprecedented one, and with turmoil back home the embassy people weren't a hundred per cent certain, for all that they'd got approval from headquarters as to how their actions would be interpreted back in Moscow, let alone who would be doing the interpreting.

Meanwhile, we'd our own little drama to play out. As part of the evening's programme, Hal Sisk outlined in detail the Squadron of the Neva's claims to seniority. It has to be admitted that the faces of the Royal Cork group were not those of happy budgies. Nevertheless they manned up and accepted the ship's wheel trophy with good grace, pleasantries were exchanged between all parties with the ambassador being a sort of amiable Russian bear in the midst of it all, and then I'd to deliver the adjudicators' reasons for the Royal Cork being the Club of the Year.

It was soon done, but the moment was too good to miss. As we'd everyone relevant there, the opportunity to blow the Squadron of the Neva's claims of seniority clear out of the water was taken with enthusiasm. The point was made that the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork established precedents for what a sailing club should be, right from the very start. The first Admiral may have been Lord Inchiquin of Rostellan Castle on Cork Harbour, but his fellow members, while they may have been rich – very rich by Irish standards – were "commoners", joined together in a self-starting society of mutual support and agreement in order to express a shared interest and pleasure in sailing, and adhering to a collection of self-generated club rules which were so effective that many of them are still relevant today, with the rules of Water Club having a contemporary feel despite the fact that they were codified by equals back in the middle of the 17th Century.

The Squadron of the Neva, on the contrary, wasn't a club at all. It was a small unit of the Imperial Russian Navy, imposed by the diktat of an omnipotent Czar who wanted to make his governing classes more sea-minded. There is simply no comparison with the Water Club, which has provided the template for democratic sailing clubs ever since. But the rigid structure of the Russian organisation was something else altogether, and is only of relevance in how to organise a navy, or more accurately – judging by the outcome of the Russian-Japanese War of 1904 – how not to organise a navy.

That historical point having been clarified to the approval of the Royal Cork, the Mitsubishi Motors "Sailing Club of the Year" took off at national level, and when the Royal Cork won it again in 1992, there was no hesitation in venturing into the Indian territory of Fordland and Cork Examiner country for the award ceremony, with the Crosshaven clubhouse's flagpole dressed overall in April 1993 for a monumental party.

Anthony O'Leary had just been elected Admiral, but his predecessor in 1991 and 1992 had been Kevin Lane, whose acceptance speech was distinctly thought-provoking for those of us who might have been treating the Club of the Year business in a light-hearted way. Kevin Lane spoke briefly but forcefully. He said quite clearly that when he became Admiral in advance of the 1991 season, he called his top sub-committee chairmen together, and told them that that the underlying thread of his two years in office would be to fulfil a programme afloat and ashore so through and enthusiastic that there would be no doubt by the Autumn of 1992 that Royal Cork was going to be the new Club of the Year.

The adjudication panel were astonished and silenced for a little while, for we'd known nothing of the Admiral's mission statement in 1991. This was awesome stuff. But with the Royal Cork setting the standard in 1992, and having set the standards back in 1720, the ship's wheel trophy was now part of Irish sailing heritage, and so it has remained ever since, with tonight's announcement being followed in due course by a handover ceremony at the winning club as the new season gets under way.

But as we get this glimpse of the future, spare a thought for those who were there in the Soviet Embassy back in 1988. One outcome was that an unlikely friendship was struck up between Eugene O'Reilly, Financial Controller and later MD of Mitsubishi Motors Ireland, and Ambassador Gennady Uranov. It became more than an exchange of pleasantries and letters. Eugene and his family went to stay with Gennady and his family in Russia, and holidayed with them. The Irishman was disconcerted to find that, in addition to his diplomatic role, his host was a Colonel in the Russian secret service, the KGB. Not to worry, said Gennady, everyone who's anyone in Russia is a Colonel in the KGB – it's like a sort of combination of the Freemasons and the Knights of Columbanus.

With the new Millennium, the competition was expanded to include Class Associations, and subsequent winners have included the Shannon One Design Association. In 2001, the winner was Ireland's (and the world's) oldest One Design keelboat class, the Howth 17s, established 1898. The trophy was presented to incoming Class Captain Marcus Lynch (centre) by Paddy Murphy (left), Marketing Manager, Mitsubishi Motors, with Frank Cruise, outgoing Captain Howth 17 Class Association.

Alas, whichever branch of this secretive organisation he was in, the former ambassador to Ireland proved to be on the wrong side of the rapidly-changing new developments in Russia. He was dropped from the diplomatic service, and sent to the salt mines. That's not quite as dreadful as it sounds. With his qualifications, he became a senior engineer in Russia's vast salt mines. Many would have regarded it as a plum job. But for someone who'd fitted comfortably into life on the Dublin diplomatic circuit and had quietly relished hosting the occasional unusual party for sailing weirdos who used his hospitality to dispute obscure points of history, it must have been grim.

And who knows, but perhaps something which came out of Gennady Uranov's introduction to the Irish sailing community may have hastened his downfall. For he was so taken with it all that he arranged for his two sons to be enlisted in the Royal St George Yacht Club junior training programme in Dun Laoghaire. Quite what the founders of the George – Anglican Ascendancy establishment figures to a man – would have made of their successors accommodating the children of the senior agent in Ireland of Godless atheistic communism heaven only knows, yet it happened.

So perhaps his downfall came about because someone in the Kremlin spotted a celebrated headline which was splashed across an Irish tabloid when an ace reporter discovered that the Russian ambassador's sons were going yachting.

RED SONS IN THE SAIL SET, it said. It may have delighted Dublin journalists, not least in that the song Red Sails in the Sunset was written by Irishman Jimmy Kennedy. But it can't have pleased the heirs of old Joe Stalin.

Published in W M Nixon

#woodenboat – Wood used to be the material of choice for boat-building. But it has long since been superseded by glassfibre and other variations of plastic, while aluminium – for more than two centuries the "metal of the future" - is now widely accepted for small boats which get rough usage but little maintenance. Yet wood still talks to us. It's part of what we are. W M Nixon takes a look at some current Irish wooden boat-building projects.

It's one of the most natural things in the world to feel an affinity for wood, and enjoy working with it. It's right there in our DNA. Back in the mists of time, when early man was emerging from a primitive wandering existence, the ability to make fires and tools and weapons with wood, and even better the ability to create a shelter from wood when no cave was available, could make all the difference between life and death.

Those early humans who saw wood as something beyond the means merely to make a fire had a superior inbuilt survival mechanism. This in time evolved as an instinctive fondness for wood, a positive emotional response to working with it. Even nowadays, when we live in a world dominated by synthesised materials and mass-produced objects, simply going into a traditional woodworking shop or boat-building shed triggers a favourable atavistic response. We feel comfortable. We love to run our hands along the timber, and savour its aroma. Our heads may tell us that plastic and metal work better for many regularly-used objects, but our hearts are still in love with wood.

Any boat-building project in Ireland will always attract a level of interest way beyond the size of the boats involved if the boat is being built in timber. Don't get me wrong, though. Glassfibre is undoubtedly a wonderful boat-building material which – uniquely – is created as the boat is being built. And I've been using a lot of it in the epoxy version in my own boat's re-configuration project. But while you appreciate its excellence intellectually, there are very few people who respond with favourable emotions to the sticky business of working with it, which is something best done as clinically and cleanly and quickly as possible.

Pure working with wood, on the other hand, is just so comfortable, so reassuring. You can happily linger over it. You never find yourself wondering if this is what nature intends you should be doing. On the contrary, in working with wood, we fulfil a natural imperative. And little wooden boats of traditional shape are a special joy.

Larry Archer, best known as one of Ireland's leading glassfibre boat-building pioneers, has particularly enjoyed returning to his earlier skills as a classic wooden boatbuilder in re-creating the Asgard dinghy Photo: W M Nixon

Not least of their special joys is that, as we emerge from recession, building a small wooden boat has all the pleasures of traditional boat-building, yet with manageable expense. Thus a classic ten foot clinker dinghy perfectly fits the bill in these straitened times. And as she has the impeccable pedigree of being to a design by the great Colin Archer of Norway, the excellent value for money is beyond dispute as this little boat nears completion in a hidden shed in the depths of Fingal.

But the actual working with wood can be every bit as important as the classic or modern nature of the design, and equally intriguing is the City One project in Limerick. There, people who otherwise mightn't get a chance to build a boat, let alone sail one, are much involved with building modern dinghies to a design by Theo Rye. This is being done in a project under the Ilen umbrella, the Ilen being the Conor O'Brien ketch of 1927 which the Ilen Trust is restoring with trainee shipwrights.

The new City One performance dinghy for Limerick has been designed by Theo Rye.

Over on the East Coast, a boat with distinctive neighbourhood sailing connections can provide a very tangible focal point where a sense of place is sometimes difficult to discern in the region's increasing urbanisation. In Bray, they're reviving that seaside town's local sailing traditions by building new boats to the 12ft Droleen design, which was designed specifically for Bray small boat enthusiasts by local sailing man W Ogilvy way back in 1897.

Ogilvy's original designs had faded, so quite some time ago the Bray people got the late O'Brien Kennedy to re-create them, and the result is such an attractive and able twelve footer that they've not only built the first new one to acclamation in Bray, but across in Spiddal on the Galway coast that renowned boat-builder Jim Horgan of Galway Boatbuilding School – who has created an astonishing total of 200 wooden boats in his time – has built another Droleen for general use in Connemara. It has proven "such a neat little boat", as he so aptly puts it, that another is likely in the near future.

"A neat little boat". The community-built Droleen nearing completion in Bray. The classic design has also been successfully used for a small workboat in Connemara

The Asgard dinghy is a replica of the little boat which Colin Archer designed and built in 1905 for Erskine and Molly Childers to be the tender for the newly-married couple's wedding present from her father, the 51ft ketch Asgard which became part of Irish history with the Howth gun-running for the Volunteers in July 1914.

Asgard is now conserved, and is the centrepiece of a simple yet very effective display in the Collins Barracks museum in Dublin. But as John Kearon and his team neared the completion of their excellent conservation project, the economic recession struck home, and it became clear that Government funds would not run to fitting any sort of rig to the boat.

However, a new squad of Volunteers emerged from a wide variety of sailing backgrounds in the hope of putting some kind of rig in place in order to give a better idea of what Asgard looked like in her prime, using spars which included the original mainboom. There was no stopping this team, which is not surprising when you consider it included global circumnavigator and former dinghy champion Pat Murphy, Arctic explorer and voyager Paddy Barry, long distance solo sailor Mike Alexander, multiple inshore and offshore sailing champion Neville Maguire, and intrepid sailor/boatbuilder Wally McGuirk and his son Rory.

The "new Asgard volunteers" stepping the mast in Collins Barracks. Photo: Neville Maguire

Even though the rig height is very limited by a shortage of headroom, Asgard as she is now displayed looks much better for having something which shows how she appeared when fully rigged. Photo: W M Nixon

Thanks to their work, despite the limited headroom in the Asgard Museum we now have a much better idea of how this wonderful vessel looked in her prime. But as she is so permanently installed as a national monument in Collins Barracks, there's no way she's going to be readily moved for anything, not even the Centenary of the Howth Gun-Running on July 26th this year. So the new Volunteers began to think of building a replica of the Asgard dinghy, whose basic plans were discovered by John Kearon in the Colin Archer archives in the Norwegian Maritime Museum in Oslo.

Sketch plan of the proposed 10ft dinghy for Asgard as drawn by Colin Archer in 1905. Courtesy John Kearon

Though they'd made a fine job of Asgard's shortened display rig, they didn't see themselves as qualified boatbuilders for the detailed construction of a classic little clinker dinghy. But fortunately Fingal boatbuilder Larry Archer – and no, he's not Colin Archer's great-grandson as some have surmised – has the necessary traditional skills in abundance, even if he is noted as one of the pioneers of glassfibre boat-building in Ireland.

In fact, Larry is the classic illustration of my point that much as we acknowledge the sheer good sense of quality boat-building in fibreglass, there is still nothing so profoundly satisfying as traditional boat-building in wood. So he agreed to build a replica of the Asgard dinghy in a manageable budget, and as the boat nears completion, Pat Murphy has raised the money from Asgard well-wishers, and businesses in the Howth area.

Molly and Erskine Childers with Asgard's dinghy


Asgard as seen from the dinghy during a cruise around 1910 Photo courtesy TCD.

But aside from the historical significance, like the Asgard herself this little boat has a significance all of her own. Nowadays, with the ready availability of inflatables and small RIBS to act as safe cruising yacht tenders which can be stowed on deck, we've forgotten that in times past, cruising people had to make do with dangerously small rigid boats for tenders if they wished to stow them on deck. And if they wanted a high level of safety in their tender, they had to be prepared to tow it.

In fact, in the 1930s, the Clyde Cruising Club had a rule that yachts racing in their annual Crinan to Tobermory Race, which marked the start of the traditional Glasgow Fair fortnight's holiday in July, were obliged to tow their dinghies. Much effort therefore went into designing dinghies which were safe yet sweet of line, and we've a classic photo of the great John B Kearney's 38ft yawl Mavis from Dublin Bay coming in to Tobermory in 1938 after winning the race from Crinan with the little dinghy under tow the whole way.

John Kearney's Mavis coming into Tobermory Bay in 1938 after winning the CCC race from Crinan, and towing the dinghy as required by club rules.

There's a direct link to the team connected with today's building of the Asgard dinghy, as the next photo we have is of Neville Maguire in his schoolboy short trousers rowing the Mavis dinghy in to the pier at Schull after placing second in the Irish Cruising Club's 1945 race from Crosshaven round the Fastnet.

Neville Maguire in 1945, rowing the Mavis dinghy in Schull, with Skipper Kearney amidships.

To work properly, these little dinghies had to be miniature masterpieces, and in re-creating the 10ft Asgard dinghy, Larry Archer had the devil's own job in getting the planking to take on the required twist in under the transom in order to match Colin Archers tightly turned lines, which enabled the little boat to carry weight, yet tow easily and lightly when unladen. In fact, he reckons that the original must have been built with a supple newly-felled tree, whereas he was working with timber left over from the Asgard conservation, and there was one split plank before they got it right for a very fine job.

The Colin Archer-designed Asgard dinghy has a particularly elegant shape Photo: W M Nixon

As the Asgard dinghy nears completion, the tight turn to the planking under the transom is clearly seen. Photo: Pat Murphy

The boat wasn't designed with a centreplate, but she carried a little lugsail, and a rudder was fitted. Anyone who has ever sailed a clinker dinghy with the plate up will know that, from a standing start, she'll simply sail sideways. But if you get forward way built up, it's surprising how well the bit of lateral resistance provided by the rudder and the small amount of immersed hull enables you to make better to windward than just a beam reach, allowing all sorts of attractive little sailing options when the mothership is at rest in a pleasant anchorage. And if you do need to make real progress dead into the wind, she rows a treat.

Windward work will be no problem at all with the new City One dinghies from Limerick. Looking at the workmanlike lines drawn by Theo Rye, who got to know Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Trust when they were working together in the Peggy Bawn publishing team producing the massive history of the work of designer G L Watson, the analogy that springs to mind regarding windward work by the City One is "Rat up a Drainpipe".

Construction under way in Limerick on the first City One. Photo: Gary MacMahon

The emerging hull shape, designed for speed. Photo: Gary MacMahon. Photo: Gary MacMahon

The City One is an impressive example of timber engineering. Photo Gary MacMahon

These will be potent performers, well able to hold up their heads in any race fleet, and it has been a flash of inspiration by the Ilen team to go for this type of boat rather than some sort of conservative option which would provide a maximum number of berths afloat, but a rather dull sailing experience.

By working in wood with the epoxy technique, they're getting the best of both worlds. But the Ilen organisation spreads its tentacles widely, and another of their wooden boat-building project is the re-creation of the classic Shannon and Limerick gandelows, which evolved a flat-bottomed hull shape to be able slither across those acres of mud which are inevitable at low water in the estuary, as Limerick has the biggest tidal range in all Ireland.

The revival of the traditional Shannon Gandelow is another Ilen Trust project. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Having been in the gondola-building boatyard on one of the Venetian islands (it's a marvellous old workshop, redolent with Stockholm tar and the aromas of fine timber), I have to concede that the Limerick gandelows are only a very distant relation of the classic Venetian originals from which they presumably derived their name. But the international brotherhood of traditional boatbuilding is strong, and the Limerick team will be taking their unusual craft to Venice on 30th April this year for racing displays.

Limerick's Liam O'Donoghue is one of those contemplating the prospect of Shannon gandelows going to Venice to link up with local gondolas. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Meanwhile in Bray so many have been involved with the truly community-wide project to re-create the Droleen class that it might be unfair to single out any one individual, but the popular Barracuda restaurant (it's above the Aquarium on the seafront south of the harbour) has been hugely supportive of a project which has already seen the first boat sailing.

She sets a fascinating rig slightly reminiscent of the setup on the first 1887 double-ended Water Wags. But where the Wags had a standing lug, the Droleens are gunter lug, with the foot of the gaff boom attached to a jaws which slides up and down the mast. Yet that startling spinnaker/jib matches the style of the original Wags, and it anticipates more modern concepts in that, in light airs at any rate, if you keep the spinnaker boom in line with main boom, you can continue to carry the "frontsail" with the wind well forward of the beam.

The community group involved with reviving the Droleen class. The first boat will be taking part in Bray's St Patrick's Day Parade.

In the urgency to get the boat sailing before the season had faded away completely, they got a temporary suit of sails stitched up by the fabric shop in Bray's main street, but we're assured that for the season of 2014 they'll have a grown-up suit of sails from noted local sailmaker Harry Sterling. Maybe so, but well done to the fabric shop, their temporary suit looks very well indeed, and the colour is just right to suggest cotton sails of the 1890s.

The new Droleen sailing in Bray Harbour.

The fact that this re-born design has also proven to be an ideal little workboat in on one of the rocky inlets of Connemara is yet another twist in a tale which clearly has legs. And yes, I'm well aware that there are several other wooden boatbuilders in Ireland producing interesting classic and traditional craft each in their own special way. But for now, the Asgard dinghy, the City One performance sailer, the Limerick Gandelow, and the Bray Droleen have given us more than enough to be going along with.

Published in W M Nixon

#cruising – Cruising is the hidden side of sailing, yet it's the choice for the majority of those going afloat. Whether it's day cruising, a longer venture in the annual holidays, or the dream cruise of a lifetime across oceans, this is our sport. Unlike racing, which generates its own narrative even if only through the recorded results, much of cruising would slip under the radar completely were it not for cruising awards. W M Nixon considers the latest annual batch from the Irish Cruising Club.

Cruising under sail seems to be the secret of eternal youth. Last night's Annual General Meeting of the Irish Cruising Club in Dun Laoghaire saw a distribution of awards to voyagers from all parts of Ireland who sailed successfully in many areas of the globe in boats mostly of modest size. Yet any outside analyst would soon have made the point that many of the achievers were of mature – sometimes very mature - years, and fulfilling a retirement dream.

But despite any ICC membership gathering these days being a sea of silver heads, age is the last thing they think about. This club of 550 members has become the mixture of an Active Retirement Association – very active indeed, as it happens – and a sort of seagoing extension of the Men's Shed movement.

If you were looking for an illustration of Ireland's changing demographics, and our very rapidly changing attitude as to what constitutes old age, you need look no further than the ICC. Time was when it was thought quite something when one of the club achieved the Golden Jubilee of their membership. But these days, it's no big deal to have been on the strength for fifty years, as the senior member is Joe FitzGerald of Crosshaven, who this year marks 70 years in the club, and he is closely followed by Douglas Mellon who joined in 1947 from Howth - he now lives on the Scottish Riviera in Kircudbright.


Joe FitzGerald of Cork is the ICC's most senior member, having joined in 1944. He served as Commodore from 1984 to 1987.

All those years ago when they took up their membership, it was thought perfectly normal for young men – married or otherwise - to take off for at least a fortnight's cruising every year, regardless of family demands which these days would be regarded as the prior commitment. In fact, nowadays so much emphasis is placed on family life and families doing just about every last recreational thing together, that younger married sailing people either do extremely short-hop cruising of the type necessitated by catering for the needs of all the members of the family, or else they don't cruise at all in the traditional sense - "Fun For All The Family" effectively rules out proper cruising.

Then too, modern life has so many other distractions - not least of them work demands which involve 24/7 attention - that the old-style easygoing simply-wandering-along holiday cruising is very much a minority activity. This means that at first it seems young people are not taking up traditional cruising at all. But with its deep experience garnered since its foundation in 1929, the Irish Cruising Club has learned to take the long view. It is not unduly concerned by the steadily rising age profile of its membership, and certainly every year there is a significant group of sometimes quite senior yet nevertheless increasingly active cruising enthusiasts joining the club.

They're the embodiment of the slogan that Sailing is a Sport for Life, and it's only politeness which prevents them saying that the subtle pleasures of cruising are wasted on the young. So when you look at the lineup of achievement represented by last night's awards, it's natural to wonder what these people did in earlier life, that they can nowadays afford the time, resources and dedication necessary to complete voyages of this quality.

The adjudication was done by Dave Whitehead of Kinvara on Galway Bay, himself no stranger to the ways of the sea while making long voyages in small craft. He breaks new ground by awarding three trophies at once to Sam Davis of Strangford Lough, whose Cape Horn and Pacific ventures with his Rival 41 Suvretta have been quietly bubbling away in the background of ICC activity for the past three years.

Sam Davis first featured in Afloat magazine in March and April 1981 when we ran his two-part account of his first ocean voyage, an Atlantic circuit from Strangford Lough between 1976 and 1979 with the 34.5ft West Solent Class Suvretta, a former racing boat he'd found in a derelict state and restored to ocean-going condition.

The 34ft West Solent class Suvretta in her offshore racing days in the 1950s when she was based in Belfast Lough. When Sam Davis did the Atlantic Circuit cruise with her in 1976-79, she carried a less loft mainmast, with masthead rig.

But even with Sam's improvements, she was still no more than a slip of a boat, so it says much for his grit and skill that he brought her through the Fastnet storm of 1979 as he sailed the final hundred miles back to Ireland. There was damage aloft, and he'd to get into Dunmore East unaided with jury rigging, but the job was done.

While in the Caribbean, he'd worked in charter yachts between times to make a shilling or two. But after he'd spent time back in Northern Ireland, he went abroad into serious seafaring in offshore service industries, working in places like The Gulf, the North Sea, the Amazon, the Red Sea and Malaysia, becoming a fully accredited Marine Consultant.

Yet if you ask him nowadays what he is and what he was, he'll say he's a farmer and former seaman, as his purchase some years ago of Conly Island in Strangford Lough (you can drive out to it when the tide is down) gives him the little bit of land, and an anchorage too, while "seaman" covers his many experiences in offshore work.

Sam Davis with his newly-acquired Rival 41, re-named Suvretta, in 2009. Photo: W M Nixon

Suvretta in the Beagle Channel in southern Chile. Photo: Sam Davis

Back in 2009 he bought a Rival 41, a hefty and able vessel, a sister-ship of Waxwing in which fellow ICC members Peter and Susan Gray of Dun Laoghaire went round the world 14 years ago. Sam re-named his new boat Suvretta, spent the winter sorting her out, and in 2010 he was gone, sailing south single-handed to eventually round Cape Horn and then spend a long time on the coast of Chile. He was delayed there as a ship broke drift and damaged the boat, but it was well fixed, and he voyaged on into the Pacific to many islands, including Pitcairn and the Tahiti group.

Restless anchorage. Suvretta in Bounty Bay on Pitcairn Island. Photo: Sam Davis

Eventually he fetched up for some time in Tonga, where he became enthused about the 73ft Vakas, the Pacific islanders' contemporary take on the classic Polynesian inter-island vessels (see Sailing on Saturday 11th January 2014). But by November 2012 it was time to head for home, so Suvretta sailed southeast for Cape Horn non-stop, and having rounded it, shaped her course for Port Stanley in the Falklands.

Suvretta rounding Cape Horn for the second time, 21st January 2013. It was only when the Horn was well astern that the weather deteriorated rapidly to make for a challenging approach to Port Stanley. Photo: Sam Davis

However, while rounding the Horn had been simple enough, the passage onwards to Stanley became increasingly fraught, running before rising storm force winds. Conditions were such that it looked for a while as though the lone sailor was going to be swept right past the islands, but he made the cut into shelter to such a nicety that he is awarded the ICC's Rockabill Trophy for Seamanship.

And then when Port Stanley was reached, a very fine passage had been completed from Tonga, so last night for that he was additionally awarded the ICC's Atlantic Trophy for the best voyage with a non-stop leg of more than a thousand miles. And then finally, after they'd spent the mid part of 2013 working their way up the Atlantic with the lone skipper particularly enjoying himself at ports on the Irish coast, Suvretta and Sam returned after three years to Conly Island. And they'd now done more than enough to also be awarded a third trophy - the ICC's premier honour, the Faulkner Cup.

Home again. Sam Davis back in Ireland, August 2013. Photo: W M Nixon

With such a high level of activity by many members, ICC adjudicators always find some final choices to be a very close call, so some years ago the Strangford Cup was inaugurated for the cruise which almost won the Faulkner Cup. This year it has gone to a fine cruise from Portugal to Madeira and through the Azores in detail before returning to Portugal.

John Duggan with his MG CS40 Hecuba in Horta in the Azores

John Duggan originally hailed from Malahide where he sailed, and he also sailed with the college teams while at Trinity College in Dublin. He cruised and raced offshore mostly in the Irish Sea, but having qualified as an accountant he decided to spread his wings internationally, and he became one of those key people who turn up as partners in one of the big four accountancy firms worldwide.

Eventually his career brought him to the company's offices in Lisbon. Living in Portugal suited him fine, so he put down roots and in time bought himself an interesting cruiser. Hecuba is a 1989 Canadian-built Tony Castro-designed MG CS40, a handsome 12m craft with good performance enhanced by an effective wing keel.

During his final years in the day job he gradually improved the boat with a mind to some proper cruising once he retired at 60, something which he planned with all a high-powered accountant's meticulous attention to detail. He remembers the final day at the office, when a friend on the other side of the world sent him an email: "Even the worst day of your retirement will be better than the best day at work".

Azorean whaleboat with Pico beyond seen during one of Hecuba's cruises from Portugal to the Azores. Photo: John Duggan

Maybe so, yet not everyone makes the changeover smoothly, but in John Duggan's case the challenge of planning and executing remarkably civilised yet challenging cruises has proven to be a complete new job in itself, but much more fun than number crunching. He goes to enormous trouble to make sure that his crews have as enjoyable and varied an experience as possible, yet all the time he is quietly keeping the project moving along while noting details and features of ports visited which might be of interest to fellow skippers, a habit which is the hallmark of the true cruising man.

When you live in Cascais with your boat based in the marina nearby, the Azores are the western isles which call you each summer. But unlike Scotland's Western Isles which are just a day's sail away across the Sea of the Hebrides, the Azores involve an immediate ocean voyage from Portugal of at least 500 miles. However, for 2013's cruise west, Hecuba made it a triangle, going first to Madeira before going on nor'west to the Azores which were cruised in detail before returning to Cascais after six weeks away, having logged 2390 miles, with the final tabulation being:
Hours spent close hauled: Zero.
Cross words exchanged: Zero.

Inevitably the two big awards dominate the scoresheet, but the ICC also has a host of trophies which reflect every level of club sailing activity. The Round Ireland Cup, for instance, is for the circuit which produces most information for the club's sailing directions, and in a year in which a goodly number went round, it was Donal Walsh of Dungarvan with his Moody 31 Lady Kate who best filled the bill.

Donal Walsh's Lady Kate anchored at Inishmurray off the Sligo coast during his detailed round Ireland cruise. Photo: Donal Walsh

As the Faulkner Cup was first won in 1931 by the 28ft cutter Marie, the Marie Trophy is for the best cruise by a boat under 30ft, and Mick Delap from Valentia Island with his Tamarisk 24 gaff cutter North Star fits into the size requirement with six feet to spare. He made a fine job of completing a two-summer circuit of Ireland by returning from western Scotland via the Irish Sea and Ireland's south and southwest coasts.

Mick Delap's Tamarisk 24 North Star from Valentia in Lowlandman's Bay in Jura in the Hebrides. Photo: Mick Delap

In all, the ICC has a dozen cruising trophies. But even so not everyone gets one in a typically busy year, so to encourage the newcomers they've the Perry Greer Trophy for first time log-writers, and it goes to Peter Mullan from the Quoile in Strangford Lough for his insightful account of a round Ireland cruise with the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey Sancerre.

Peter Mullan's Sun Odyssey Sancerre in the little harbour at Tory Island with the Donegal highlands beyond. Photo: Peter Mullan

All the logs, including the winning ones, were featured in the ICC's 180-page Annual 2013, which Honorary Editor Ed Wheeler managed to get to the members in time for Christmas. All this is done by voluntary effort, yet the Annual would stand up to professional comparisons, as it includes informative accounts of cruises in just about every part of the world, plus a report on the ICC Cruise-in-Company to the Isles of Scilly which was an outstanding success despite coinciding with some uneven weather in June.

The Irish Cruising Club flotilla in the Isles of Scilly during their successful Cruise-in-Company in June 2013.

Everyone to his taste. ICC member Brian Black went to Greenland for the sixth time, crewing on Aurora. This is Kangertitiatsivaq Fjord in high summer. Photo: Brian Black

There's more to the Club than the Annual, as the ICC's programme of producing constantly up-dated Sailing Directions for the entire Irish coast in two volumes is a continuous progression, with the latest 12th Edition of the North & East Coast Book due next month from Honorary Editor Norman Kean, whose home port is Courtmacsherry.

Thus it's clear that Ireland's cruising club is a truly all-Ireland organisation, and this year it will be celebrating its 85th birthday with a Cruise-in-Company to Glengarriff where it was founded on July 13th 1929. Yet despite its obvious significance, this is a club without premises. In the final analysis, it's a club of the mind, made up of kindred spirits. Heading such a body is a mighty challenge, and the changing of the watch is always a charged moment.

Last night David Tucker of Kinsale stood down after serving his three years as Commodore, and he was succeeded by Peter Killen of Malahide. His experience in club administration is long-lived – he was Commodore of Malahide YC when it became "Club of the Year" in 1980. But it was his cruising CV which next went into overdrive, as in 1993 he voyaged north to Iceland, circled it, and then sailed back in near-record time in an S&S 30. He then moved up to a Sigma 36 which he cruised to Greenland among other places, following which he cruised even further with a Sweden 38, and then in 2004 he took on his dreamship, the Amel Maramu 54 Pure Magic.

Peter Killen seems to have cruised this very special boat just about everywhere. Not least was deep into Antarctica, where he made a memorable arrival in zero visibility with icy conditions into the natural harbour in the extinct volcanic crater on Deception Island. It was all a long way in time and distance from five boats gathered in Glengarrif in the hope of forming a little cruising organisation back in 1929. But that's the way it is with the Irish Cruising Club.

Published in W M Nixon

#sailoroftheyear – W M Nixon reviews the lineup for the Sailor of the Year 2013 for which voting concludes on February 17th, but only after he has considered some oddities and omissions in the annual circus of local, regional, national and global personal sailing awards. And he makes an important point about the history of Irish sailing awards.

It's a curiosity that in the slew of local, regional, national and international individual sailing awards which have been making it across the finish line as 2013 draws to a close and 2014 washes over us, none seem to have been made to anyone who was sailing in the America's Cup.

Maybe the Cup itself is seen as enough award for anyone. We've said it before, but we'll say it again: The America's Cup is the peak of sailing – alas. Yet this global distribution of gongs to anything and everything except the America's Cup tends to suggest that AC people are seen as functioning in some sort of parallel universe. Or maybe it's a compression chamber. Whatever it is, when a sailor goes into this rarefied zone, he ceases to be seen as a being to whom ordinary matelots can relate in any meaningful way.

The fact that AC crews are de-humanised by being kitted out in black crash helmets and the blackest of black uniforms, and sail on boats to which normal boaty terms scarcely apply (you can't really call it a "she" when it's called a platform in the first place), is all part of the oddity with its alien nature.

And when people are in this extreme world, they have attitudes and speak in ways which are at variance with their approach when they're in another sailing environment. But happily, the good news is that when they emerge from the AC hothouse back into the real world, they soon become as soppy and sentimental as the rest of us.

One of the toughest cookies of all when he's in America's Cup mode is Australia's Iain Murray. It has recently been confirmed that he's moved his focus back home to head up Bob Oatley's Hamilton Island YC America's Cup Challenge, a ferociously demanding role as HIYC are the Challengers of Record for the 35th series.

Thus Murray will have to be up to speed with, and indeed faster than m'learned friends as the legal negotiations get up a head of steam. All that and sailing too. Yet when he's outside the AC bubble, he seems to have attitudes to boats and sailing with which any of us can identify.

One of the joys as 2013 drew to a close was watching the unfolding drama of the Sydney-Hobart Race. There were all sorts of exiting new or totally re-vamped boats, for Australia has been by-passed by the global recession. But the popular money was on Bob Oatley's veteran hundred footer Wild Oats IX, a skinny and much-modified yoke which has had more face-lifts than an ageing Holywood star.

But unlike your Holywood star, the more mods she gets, the more people seem to like the gallant Wild Oats. And among those who frequently sail the big events on her – and whose tactical skill was seen at the start of the Hobart Race in Sydney harbour when Wild Oats carried the much-fancied Perpetual LOYAL (ex Rambler 100) above the crucial break line for the first turning buoy - was Iain Murray. After the race was over and Wild Oats had done the business for line honours yet again, Murray gave his heartfelt thoughts:

"Wild Oats is a bit of an old girl now" he said. "For her to stand up and deliver is special really. This boat and the crew have been around a long time and to keep the boat improving is a nice thing to do.

"I'm sure if you started with a clean sheet of paper now, you wouldn't build this boat, but she's a good all-round boat. She isn't great down-wind or a record breaker or a reaching boat; she is a good all-round boat and coupled with that she has a great, consistent crew that generally gets the most out of her.

"I think everyone in the crew was on their game this year. In the nine (Sydney-Hobart) races this boat has done, this was by far the best".

Read that out in sonorous tones with a lone violin in the background, and there wouldn't be a dry eye in the house. It's about as far from the coldly clinical approach that is essential to the modern America's Cup as it's possible to be, and the word is that Bob Oatley is himself nominated for a sailor's award on the strength of his commitment to the old Wild Oats and the Hobart Race, not for his growing involvement with the America's Cup.

The skinny weird thing which is Wild Oats XI. "If you started with a clean sheet of paper now, you wouldn't build this boat, but she's a good all-round boat".

But while the America's Cup may be enough award in itself, in the bigger picture the variety is such that Sailor of the Month and Sailor of the Year awards are helpful in sensing what's going on, and keeping a record of what has been happening. However, you can soon have enough of a good thing, and too much very quickly. So here at we're more than somewhat bemused by this week's announcement by the Irish Sailing Association of its up-coming Sailor of the Year award.

There are times admittedly when the ISA do things that make you think they're on another planet. So if they do something that suggests they're in another country, then maybe it's really no big deal. And perhaps we should gracefully accept that this sudden transformation of their Sailing Achievement Award of a year ago into a full-blown Sailor of the Year award this week is a case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.

Whatever, out of respect for the 336 Afloat "Sailors of the Month" and 28 Afloat "Sailors of the Year" who have enhanced our sport since we inaugurated these awards back in 1996, we feel that due acknowledgement of their achievements, plus the facts of history, and the current situation in Irish sailing, means that we should at least stake our claim as prior users of the Irish Sailor of the Year title.

Enough said. Voting on the latest annual batch closes at 6.0pm on Monday February 17th. We're delighted with the response there has been right across the board, even if it hasn't been on the scale of the good old days before one-vote-per-voter electronic limitation was imposed, when one determined skipper voted for himself 3,000 times at the mad height of the Celtic Tiger years. We know who he was, and where he lives......

The lineup reflects the diversity of our sport. As recent online arguments about the reinstatement of the Star in the Olympics have emphasised, the majority of us sail in boats with keels, while beyond that there's a very large number of us who seldom if ever race, yet we love our boats and sailing. However, racing creates its own narrative, so inevitably the racing names push their way to the fore afloat and ashore.


In the first week of January 2013, ex-Pat Gordon Maguire celebrated 53 straight weeks of exceptional achievement in Australian sailing. The 63ft Reichel Pugh sloop Loki, aboard which he was sailing master, was confirmed as overall champion in the Australian Blue Water Points Score, which is based on a season-long seven race series with no discard, concluding with the 628-mile Sydney-Hobart.

While defending champion Loki may have had to concede the overall Hobart Race handicap win at the end of December 2012 to line honours winner Wild Oats XI, she was a very solid second to augment her overall victory a year earlier. As for conceding that one win to Wild Oats, it was the only time throughout the 2012-13 season that Loki had done so, and in the second-longest race of the series, the 384-mile Sydney-Gold Coast Race, Loki had been in top form for a convincing overall win.

Gordon Maguire's four years of growing success with a mixed amateur-professional crew aboard Stephen Ainsworth's Loki spoke volumes for his exceptional talents as a helmsman, his inspiring ability as a leader, and his high qualities as a team member. Added to his record as a champion round the world racer and a winner in many other events, this peak of achievement in January 2013 marked the latest chapter in a remarkable success story for Irish sailing.


Simon and Nancy de Pietro of Kinsale Yacht Club were the Sailors of the Month for February after their convincing win in Class 1 in the RORC Caribbean 600 Race. With strong family links to North Cork and Sligo, they fly the burgee of the popular club on the south coast of Ireland for their successful international sailing programme.

Lilla, Class 1 winner in the RORC Caribbbean 600 2013

Although their 76ft Philippe Briand-designed Lilla is a much-loved 20-year-old veteran, the high standard of maintenance which is lavished by this enthusiastic sailing couple on their hard-working charter boat shows itself in the consistency of the boat's racing performance in a competitive programme which is fitted around a regular working life on the Caribbean cruise circuit.

The quiet season in the Caribbean is in the summer, and last year saw Lilla avail of summer's opportunity to come north in June and race in the famous biennial Newport-Bermuda Race, which was first sailed in 2006. With Simon as skipper and Nancy as navigator, they won overall in the cruising division. Lilla clearly likes racing to Bermuda, as she has also won overall in another contest to the "onion patch", the annual race from Marion in Massachusetts.

For the start of 2013, Lilla's charter programme was put on hold for a while as she geared up for the new sunshine classic, the RORC Caribbean 600. Although she has relatively shallow draft in order to maximize her cruising choices, she is raced so skillfully that the expected limitations on her windward performance simply don't seem to materialize.


Fergus and Kay Quinlan's three year voyage around the world in their own-built 12m steel cutter Pylades was an inspiration to Ireland's sailing community. And it received international acclamation from the premier global voyaging organisation, the Ocean Cruising Club, which gave the County Clare couple – who sail from Kinvara on Galway Bay – the special OCC Award for those "who have done most to foster and encourage ocean cruising in small craft and the practice of seamanship and navigation in all branches".

Living the dream. Fergus & Kay Quinlan's Pylades resting in Fiji. Photo: Fergus Quinlan

The magical cruise of the Pylades had already been awarded the Irish Cruising Club's senior trophy, the Faulkner Cup (which dates from 1931), for an unprecedented three years in a row. And for the many in Ireland who had been following the cruise, it came as no surprise that the experienced adjudicators in the Ocean Cr C also found the cruise of the Quinlans to be both an informative entertainment, and a realistic encouragement to those who would hope to do something similar.

The O'Learys of Crosshaven have taken the Sailor of the Month title several times over the years with the remarkable achievements of father Anthony, and sons Peter and Nicholas. But the Spring of 2013 clearly demonstrated that there's a new O'Leary on the stage - younger brother Robert, who played a key role in Irish university sailing through March and April.

Previously in the baby brother position as the successful skipper of the family's "cruiserfied" 1720 Antix Beg, young O'Leary made the scene in that hotbed of college development, the University of Limerick. This admired institution's success does more to change public perceptions of the sometimes troubled Shannonside city than a whole raft of government inner city initiatives. But even so, when UL came into being in 1989, it would have aroused incredulity to suggest that, by 2013, it would be the clear pace-setter in the highly competitive and long established world of Irish college sailing.

Robert O'Leary after winning the College J/80 Selection Series. Photo: W M Nixon

Yet such is the case. And what a pace they've been setting. Despite the coldest Irish spring in years, it was the Limerick college sailors who kicked the new season into action by hosting the three day Intervarsity Team Racing National Opens over the St Patrick's weekend in March. Run in Kerry in conjunction with the hospitable Tralee Bay SC, and sailed in Fireflies, the series attracted 26 teams. The logistical demands were such that Robert O'Leary stayed ashore as overall event manager, but UL was on a roll and they won the main title too, captained by Ross Murray.

Then in April O'Leary was very much afloat, skippering the UL crew in the Student Yachting Worlds Irish selection trials raced over three successive Saturdays in April in the ISA SailFleet J/80s, currently based in Howth. The format was demanding, as it involved getting your crew on site three times over a two week period, and then coping with very different conditions on three separate occasions. Yet UL won it in style .


Annalise Murphy (23) of Dun Laoghaire was runaway winner of the "Sailor of the Month" title for May 2013 after her unprecedented tally of two Gold Medals in the month's top international events in Europe.

The venues could have not been more different. The Murphy run of success started at Lake Garda in Italy, racing among the mountains in the Italian Olympic Week 2013, a challenging event in which the Irish helm emerged supreme with just 2 points to the 5 points of next-in-line Tuula Tenkanen of Finland, and Tina Mihelic of Croatia.

Annalise Murphy's race winning form from Weymouth continued in 2013

The competition became even more intense two weeks later in the wide open spaces at Medemblik in The Netherlands for the Delta Lloyd Regatta. The Dutch weather was still giving a fair impression of winter, and the fleet included Olympic Gold Medallist Lijia Xu of China, and Silver Medallist Marit Bouwemester of the host nation.

Ireland's sailor went into the final medal race in third place, two points behind Alison Young (GBR) and Bouwemester. But in a complete reversal of the form shown in the final race of the Olympics in August 2012, it was Murphy who came confidently powering through to win by more than a minute and take the Gold, while China's star Olympic performer had to be content with sixth overall.


Brian O'Sullivan of Tralee Bay was the "Sailor of the Month" for June following his clear overall win by more than an hour and forty minutes in the biennial 280-mile Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race between June 7th and 10th.

It was an outstanding month for Irish sailing achievements at home and abroad. But there was something specially heartening in these difficult times about a skipper from one of our most westerly clubs buying up a 33-year-old cruiser-racer, and showing that with a keen crew, and the right conditions, you can still take on Ireland's best and win.

Brian O'Sullivan's Amazing Grace had a stellar Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race. Photo: Michael Chester

As anyone who followed the ongoing D2D story and subsequent reports on will be aware, the Oyster 37 Amazing Grace has played an important role in Irish sailing at ports such as Crosshaven, Kinsale and Fenit. Completed by Jim Fagan from a bare hull in a Cork farmyard (though to a standard that belies the tag of "home made"), this classic Holman and Pye design was only bought by Brian O'Sullivan from a fellow member of Tralee Bay SC as recently as the Spring of 2013.

But he knew he was getting a good boat with a decent set of sails. The challenge was to fulfill Amazing Grace's potential with a keen crew who could build up their enthusiasm for the big race from Dun Laoghaire, with Tralee providing a small but keen flotilla in the high quality 22-boat fleet. And when conditions fell their way through the race, they were keyed up to finish in the small hours of Monday morning, right in line for a great Kerry victory.

The crewing team on Amazing Grace were Finbarr O'Connell, Fergus Kelliher, Pearse Boyland, Tim Kelliher, Cian O'Donnell, Brendan Culloty and Michael McCormack, while the essential shoreside support and encouragement was provided by Frances Clifford. But ultimately, any successful team needs a capable leader, and aboard Amazing Grace they had that in Brian O'Sullivan, Sailor of the Month for June 2013.


Ballyholme YC teenage helm Liam Glynn was the "Sailor of the Month" for July after his comprehensive victory in a fleet of 102 boats at the Topper International Worlds at Loctudy in France in an intense week of racing at the Brittany venue from July 22nd to 26th.

Glynn arrived at the championship on top form with Silver already notched at the ISA Youth Nationals earlier in the season. But he showed his quality in depth by turning in an even better performance in France, despite very different conditions. The ISA Championship had been raced on the tide-free freshwater location of Lough Derg, but the Worlds were sailed in notably tidal salt water with often flukey breezes, and a sometimes lumpy sea state which was not always warranted by the wind strength.

Yet despite the huge fleet, the young Belfast Lough sailor put in the sort of consistent performance which is the ideal of any top skipper, senior or junior. His first four races were all top three placings, including two straight wins, which meant that as the series progressed he was building towards a comfortable cushion of 13 points over the next boat as the final day's racing arrived.

As it turned out, his work was done. The final day of racing was lost to calm, and Ireland had a new World Champion.


From time to time, we honour sailors from other countries who have achieved outstanding success in Irish waters. But never has our International Award been for anything so extraordinary as French kitesurfer Bruno Sroka's 240 nautical miles voyage on Friday July 19th from L'Aber Wrach in northwest Brittany to Cork Harbour.

In a period of mostly light winds, Sroka was favoured by a beam reach 16 knot nor'easter which he carried with him almost all the way across the mouth of the English Channel, past the Isles of Scilly, and on across the Celtic Sea to a rapturous welcome in to Cork, the feat completed within his aimed time scale of 17 hours, the exact time being 16 hours and 37 minutes, an average of 14.45 knots.

The wind was fading as he neared the Irish coast, but there was just enough bite left in it to bring him to Roche's Point at sunset. A professional kitesurfer, he had already conquered the English Channel, and with his longterm ambition of being the first to get to Ireland from France fulfilled, he is now thinking in terms of the ultimate goal – New York to Brest in 2015.


The summer of 2013 was the season in which world sailing came to Ireland. In addition to two World Championships, events such as the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta and the Sovereigns Cup at Kinsale brought many sailing visitors to our shores. Then too, being a Rolex Fastnet Race year, 2013 saw a fleet of record-breaking size rounding our most famous rock, an event in which a dozen Irish boats took part.

The events which were staged from Irish ports involved an enormous amount of voluntary effort from our own communities, large and small. And skilled effort at that. Well-meaning willing helpers can be a mixed blessing. But when experienced administrators build up their chosen team of specialists as the allotted time of each major event approaches, the effective administrative machinery - virtually guaranteed when Ireland is hosting a big event - slips smoothly into place.

After such a summer of so much success in event management, there are many volunteers whose efforts deserve to be highlighted. So in making John Twomey of Kinsale the "Sailor of the Month" for August, we hope that other organisers will realise that we are applauding their efforts too.

But amongst the elite of organisers, John is the crème de la crème.
An active participant himself to Olympic level, his election in November 2012 as President of the International Association For Disabled Sailing was a well-earned indication of the high regard in which he is held in global sailing. And in bringing the Worlds to his home port and ensuring that it was a success which was popular with the general public too, John Twomey played a unique role, deserving of national recognition and celebration.


The adjudicators in the "Sailor of the Month" award for September were in the happy position of having a proliferation of major achievements to choose from, and they have the bonus of being able to draw on the "Previous Award" clause.

Like everyone else, we agreed that Annalise Murphy's comprehensive sweeping of the board at the Laser Europeans & Worlds at her home club of the National in Dun Laoghaire had been in a league of its own. But we'd already been on the case with the Murphy performance in 2013, as she was SoM in May after taking two gold medals in major European regattas.

Following a sensational debut in 2012, Finn Lynch consolidated his position as a rising star in 2013.

So with the award for Sailor of the Year 2013 now up for consideration, that May success is rated as a double win. But thanks to this bit of prestidigitation, we still had September's gong to give out, and that went to young Finn Lynch of County Carlow. He also counts the National YC as his home club, even if he did start his sailing at the lakeside club of Blessington up in the Wicklow hills.

When Lynch won the Silver at 2012's ISAF Youth Worlds in Dublin Bay, it was the maturity of the 16-year-old's approach which drew the most favourable comment. And in September 2013, at the ripe old age of 17, he was even more emphatically Irish sailing's Captain Cool. He took Gold in the U21 division, Silver in the Europeans, and Bronze in the Worlds. A phenomenal achievement, and a worthy September Sailor of the Month.


The French sailing scene is noted for its continuing national and international programme of encouraging young sailors in their early twenties into the top level of offshore competition. But even by the demanding Gallic standards of youthful participation against hardened veterans in events like the Figaro Solo, Corkman David Kenefick stood out as youngest of them all. He was just 21 when he qualified to become a Figaro 'rookie' mentored by Marcus Hutchinson, and though he turned 22 during June as the 2013 programme accelerated through a demanding season, he continued as the youngest in a schedule which saw him complete almost 7,000 offshore miles, nearly all of them single-handed.

David Kenefick took a mighty leap in the dark with his Figaro involvement, but showed he had the right stuff

As the busy season drew on he also began to acquire a useful smattering of French. And though there were some some big races whose results were eminently forgettable, in October's 1600 mile three stage Generali Solo, the Mediterranean's equivalent of the Figaro Solo itself, he was very much in contention to move towards the coveted "Rookie of the Year" slot.

The Generali Solo reached a climax after its three offshore stages, with three inshore races in perfect yet sometimes quite demanding conditions of 15 to 22 knots of wind. Kenefick's tally of 13,10, and 9th much improved his position on the leaderboard, and he moved into a commanding 12th overall. With the next rookie back in 16th slot, his place was secure, and becoming Figaro Solo Rookie of the Year 2013 made David Kenefick the Sailor of the Month for October 2013.


For many decades, the Straits of Hormuz were one of those potential flashpoints which could have ignited World War III. In an oil-rich region of extreme political and religious turbulence, this narrow channel connecting the The Gulf with the oceans of the world has been just about the last place you would have thought of routing an offshore race.

Yet there are few things more strongly symbolic of peace than a please boat sailing about her business, even if the business is the cut-throat matter of winning an offshore race. In fact, pleasure boating in all its forms is the essence of peaceful pursuits, something well-recognised by those who promoted the building of the Shannon-Erne Waterways right through the middle of a border area which was suffering grievously throughout Ireland's "Troubles" from 1969 to 1998.

And in offshore racing, these days we think it perfectly normal that Harry Donegan of Cork with his cutter Gull should have been one of the seven entrants in the inaugural Fastnet Race in 1925. Yet that first Fastnet Race was not only staged just three years after the Irish Free State had been established, but its course took the contenders right into the territorial waters of the Rebel County's most rebellious region of West Cork. The presence of the Gull in the race was a powerful gesture of peace and reconciliation.

Adrian Lee's Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners sails sweetly and swiftly on her way to winning line honours, the course record, and first overall in the Dubai-Muscat Race

The 360 mile race from Dubai to Muscat in Oman may take place between two states which are receptive to western concepts, but with Iran looming close to the north and Saudi Arabia a huge presence to the south, it's a bizarre enough setting for something so western as modern offshore racing. Yet is has been staged annually for 22 years now, but it is only relatively recently, as the first green shoots of a greater peacefulness spread over the Gulf area, that it has been allowed to achieve the kind of publicity it deserves.

So from being a fleet of local Dubai-based boats which just nipped round the corner to Muscat, it has begun to attract high profile entries to race a course which re-traces part of the ancient spice voyaging routes. But though the local Dubai-based inshore racing sports dhows can reach remarkable speeds, for the demands of a 360 miles offshore in the first weekend of November 2013 it was a tried and tested classic modern offshore racer, the canting-keel Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners, which did the business to take a new course record of 2 days 53 minutes and 40 seconds and the overall win, adding them to her overall victory (as Chieftain) in the 2007 Fastnet Race, and her overall win in the inaugural 2009 RORC Caribbean 600 race.

Skipper Adrian Lee hit a happy moment, as his club, the Royal St George YC in Dun Laoghaire, was at precisely the same time celebrating its 175th anniversary by honouring the 597 members who had won major sailing prizes down the years. The Lee victory brought the total up to 598 before the weekend was over. Lee Overlay Partner's crew for the RORC Dubai-Muscat Race 2013 were James Hemingway, Ilya Lee Paveliev, Scott Wilson, Emmet Kerin, James Gunn, Tim Corney, Neil Harrison, Ruairi Herraghty, Robert Witte and Daniel McKeown, and their skipper Adrian Lee very deservedly became the "sailor of the Month" for November.


With a cut-off date at midnight on Christmas Eve, the lineup for's "Sailor of the Month" title for December provided only three weeks of performance time, but it allowed the adjudicators to spread their net across the entire year's sailing.

And throughout 2013, one sailor was in close contention for the "Sailor of the Month" award more times than anyone else, yet always missed the top title by a hairsbreadth. But when his year-long performance was considered in its entirety, Ireland's resident Kiwi skipper Ben Duncan was in a league of his own. He became Sailor of the Month for December as the sleigh bells started to jingle.

Finishing his season in style. Ben Duncan on his way to winning the All Ireland in a SailFleet J/80. Photo: Aidan Tarbett.

Duncan is best known for his scientific and extremely thorough approach to campaigning his SB20 at home and abroad. He has raised the sailing of these very special boats to a new level. And in October, after a season of success at home and abroad, he was on top of his form to win the concluding championship on Lough Derg.

But the Duncan success path in 2013 didn't end there. The end of October brought a highly specialised challenge to many top helms and Race Officer Neil Murphy. The All Ireland Championship at Howth in the SailFleet J/80s, scheduled as a two day event, had to be put through in just one day's very crisply organised racing as one big storm cleared to the eastward, and another roared in from the west.

To add to the unnerving situation, a weather front with gale force gusts came streaking through at mid-event, requiring everyone to return to the harbour. Yet despite the interruptions, the programme was completed with excellent racing, with sunshine for a bonus. And despite sailing in a boat other than his beloved SB20, Ben Duncan put in the performance of a lifetime for a runaway win to round out a great year.

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#roundireland – With the announcement that Round Ireland Race organisers Wicklow Sailing Club have taken on Dun Laoghaire's Royal Irish YC as Associate Club for this year's race on June 28th, W M Nixon looks back on 34 years of a pivotal event, and suggests that the new twinned arrangement deserves full support and increased participation.

"Mixed feelings" defines the reaction to the announcement that Wicklow Sailing Club have taken on Dun Laoghaire's Royal Irish Yacht Club as a partner in staging the biennial Round Ireland Race. Until now, even though the largest boats tended to be Dun Laoghaire-based before the event, there's no doubting the real scene of the action was twenty-one miles to the south in a characterful little river port where the unique and very special pre-race atmosphere was charged with emotion and tangible memories of previous stagings of this often epic event.

But in the 34 years since the first race was sailed in 1980, boats have got bigger, and media coverage and tracking of the race have become much more sophisticated. Expectations have been raised. Yet Wicklow Harbour has stayed the same. Indeed, the likelihood is it's going to be even more of the same as the pickup in the economy continues and the number of ships using Wicklow – some of them astonishingly large for the place, and many of them discharging or loading decidedly anti-social cargoes – starts to increase again.

In an age when local trade, exports and jobs are more important than ever, a biennial special-interest sporting event which hopes to transform a busy little commercial port into a yacht harbour of international standard, even for only a few days, is going to receive decidedly mixed messages both from the neighbourhood community, and from those who hope to take part in the race.

With proper recreational boat berthing facilities close to the south in Arklow, and northwards at both Dun Laoghaire and now Greystones, the fact that berthing for anything more than a small handful of visiting boats is inadequate in Wicklow by international standards becomes a bigger drawback with every staging of a race which is at the very heart of Irish sailing.

Wicklow Harbour in the summertime, with two substantial ships in port, and visiting yachts rafted up at the outer pier. Photo by Kevin Dwyer courtesy of Irish Cruising Club.

In fact, it was when the peak turnout of 53 boats was achieved twenty years ago that it was clear something needed to be done if the race's growing international stature was going to be maintained. But in 1994, the improvement of facilities in other ports was still at an early stage, so people accepted that being in over-crowded rafted-up berthing in a commercial port setting was part of the Wicklow Round Ireland Race thing.

And of course, the ultimate Wicklow Round Ireland thing was the very fact that a little local sailing club, thanks to one or two key enthusiasts and visionaries supported by loyal teams of clubmates, had been able to pull off the audacious coup of making a non-stop round Ireland race happen, and keep it happening, and successfully too, by making its existence the core tenet of their club's existence.

Other bigger clubs and sailing organisations had made noises about staging a round Ireland race in times past, and there'd been an early three-stage circuit from Ballyholme in 1975. But it was a once off. Yet when Michael Jones of Wicklow announced that his club would be running the first non-stop Round Ireland Race in June 1980, and that come hell or high water they'd stage it biennially thereafter, his sheer determination, and the fact that Wicklow is a significant distance from the then-hidebound Dublin Bay sailing establishment, meant that offshore racing folk with a bit of the rebel in their makeup leapt at the chance to do something completely new.

Pre-start manoeuvring at the first Round Ireland at Wicklow, June 28th 1980. Boats are (left to right) the High Tension 36 Force Tension, Shamrock Orinoco, catamaran Snowball, and the Rival 34 Raasay of Melfort.

The challenge attracted thirteen starters from many parts of Ireland, including two round Ireland junkies who had already done that first three-stage race from Ballyholme in 1975. They were Jim Poole from Dun Laoghaire, who'd come second in 1975 with his Ruffian 23, but now had the Ron Holland Nicholson Half Tonner Feanor, and Brian Coad from Waterford, who'd done the first race "in his own good time" with a Folkboat, but now was skippering the Rival 34 Raasay of Melfort, very much a cruising boat but she was to become a round Ireland regular.

The start. High Tension is already on her way, Brian Murphy's Crazy Jane leads the next bunch from Tony Farrelly's Crystal Clear, Brian Coad's Raasay, and Dave Fitzgerald's Partizan, with Feanor trying to get the right side of the Committee Boat as the tie pushes her south.

The best of a cautious start on Saturday June 28th 1980, in a sluicing ebb and a light to moderate east nor'east breeze, was made by the de Ridder-designed 36ft High Tension-class One Tonner Force Tension, skippered by serial offshore racer Johnny Morris, the boatyard owner from Pwllheli in North Wales. Next across was persistent boat-modifier Brian Murphy from Howth with his own-built David Thomas-designed 28ft Hydro, a boat which was almost permanently in a state of Work in Progress, and eventually became a 31-footer with a needle mast which her ingenious owner was to assemble from bits of scrapped Dragon masts.

After that they came in a rush led by the Cavan doctor-entrepreneur Tony Farrrelly with his Shamrock Crystal Clear (Cavan Crystal was one of his many ventures), closely followed by the Waterford veterinarian Brian Coad with his Rival 34, and then came Galway mining engineer Dave Fitzgerald with his handsome Holman & Pye 41 Partizan, a true cruiser-racer of that era.

Saturday June 28th 1980, and spinnakers set south of Wicklow Head as the fleet of thirteen boats sets off on the first Round Ireland Race.

They'd a spinnaker broad reach for a while after getting past Wicklow Head, but eventually the wind headed them, and in the lead the Welsh team on Force Tension found themselves hard on the wind for 75% of the course. Down in the body of the fleet, a very determined race was being sailed by Jim Poole with Feanor, his National YC crew including Enda O'Coineen who's originally from Galway, so it was ironic that for much of the race the 30ft Feanor was neck-and-neck with the much larger Galway boat Partizan.

Feanor revelling in fair winds off the west coast during the first Round Ireland Race. Photo: Enda O Coineen

Jim Poole on Feanor off Aranmore in Donegal, neck-and-neck with the larger Partizan. Photo: Enda O Coineen

The money shot. Dave Fitzgerald's Partizan from Galway is the first star of the now-traditional image of a boat coming out of the dawn to finish the Round Ireland Race at Wicklow

Force Tension came to the finish in the small hours of the Saturday morning after 5 days 15 hours 2 minutes and 21 seconds, a very leisurely time by today's standards. Partizan was next in two hours later, and as the dawn was breaking the Galway crew were first ever to star in that classic Wicklow photo of a round Ireland finisher coming in with the sunrise. Feanor was in only two hours later, and immediately corrected in to a formidable lead on IOR which she held despite the conditions now favouring slightly lower-rated fast-reaching boats such as the Hustler 35 Red Velvet (Dermod Ryan, RStGYC).

Dave Fitzgerald (fourth right) and his crew aboard Partizan in the early morning in Wicklow shortly after finishing the first round Ireland Race. Partizan competed a number of times during the 1980s, and usually had a bet on with Patrick Jameson's similarly-sized Swan 40 Finndabar.

However, being the first time round, Wicklow SC also had their own handicap system as they'd to include one multi-hull entry, the catamaran Snowball. Under this "Race Handicap", the winner was Brian Coad's Raasay of Melfort, despite the fact that this very comfortable boat didn't get in until the Sunday.

History is made. The first set of published results of the first Wicklow Round Ireland Race 1980

With a retiral rate of only 20% - which reflected very well on Wicklow SC's pre-race qualifying and scrutineering process – the Round Ireland seedling had been properly planted, but now it needed encouragement and nurturing. That came big time with the next race in 1982, when Denis Doyle from Cork turned up with his 1981 Crosshaven-built Frers 51 Moonduster, and his involvement encouraged other noted larger international contenders such as Ciaran Foley's Storm Bird. But while other skippers came and went, The Doyler gave his whole-hearted support to the Wicklow Round Ireland Race for many years, and he was an example to everyone else, as he and his hugely-supportive wife Mary stayed in a B&B near the harbour for the pre-race days, and at every turn ensured that the race team in WSC got the encouragement and credit they deserved.

Moonduster comes to the finish line in 1982 in a brisk nor'easter – a scan from Afloat magazine August 1982.

Moonduster in turn put in stellar performances which gave the event its proper glamour. In 1982 she set a good course record despite a nor'east gale giving the leaders a right pasting along Ireland's north coast. But it was 1984 when she sailed the definitive round Ireland record race in fresh to strong west to nor'west winds which curved at just the right time to enable the big varnished sloop to fly. "We saw off an entire Irish county in every watch" was how navigator John Bourke (later the Commodore of the RORC) was to put it after the finish.

The Fastnet astern, and it still only Sunday.......a carnival atmosphere aboard Moonduster as she shapes her course for Mizen Head in 1984's record-setting race, with Neil Hegarty to lee on the helm, Brendan Fogarty and Grattan Roberts in foreround, and is that Donal McClement behind them?

Moonduster's 1984 record of 3 days 16 hours 15 minutes and 43 seconds was a prodigious time for a mono-hull sailing a circuit course at a pre-ordained time, its quality underlined by the fact that it took a 60ft catamaran – Robin Knox Johnston's British Airways – to shave a bit off it in May 1986 with a designated own-time-choosing challenge. As for mono-hulls in the Round Ireland, it wasn't until Colm Barrington came along with the Volvo 65 Jeep Cherokee that The Duster's time was bettered, and it took a hundred footer to better it yet again with the current record set by Mike Slade's Leopard – helms including Gordon Maguire - in 2008.

But while records by superstars captured the headlines, for the vast majority of sailors the Wicklow Round Ireland Race really has been a matter of taking part personally while doing the best you can. And in its thirty-four years, the event has built up an extraordinary mythology in which the unique and sometimes maddening situation in Wicklow's crowded river has been seen as part of the mix.

But recent years have also seen a real game changer with the Round Ireland Race becoming recognised as part of the RORC Championship, up there with the Fastnet and the Middle Sea Race in terms of points loading.

In times past, every time a big boat was brought in by a sponsored crew, they simply had to be based in Dun Laoghaire, as Wicklow hadn't the space to accommodate them in fully-sheltered berthing, while the business of getting sponsor's guests anywhere near the boat was an unattractive proposition from an old-fashioned and crowded pier.

The start of the Round Ireland Race has become something special. This is 2012's race with the Wicklow scenery briefly in some sunshine in a very poor summer. Photo: W M Nixon

Oddly enough, though, the economic recession continued to preserve the old way of having things essentially based around Wicklow, with Dun Laoghaire only as an add-on. There simply haven't been the big money sponsored large yachts taking part, while the hyper-keen entries from the main body of the international RORC fleet, such as Piet Vroon's Tonnere de Breskens from The Netherlands and the Gouy family's Inis Mor from France (and Clifden!) were so keen to race, and so understanding of local enthusiasm, that they happily went along with the traditional setup.

Closing in for the gybe under the cliffs south of Wicklow town in 2012, round Ireland racers include two contenders in the RORC Championship, the Ker 39 Inis Mor (red gennaker) and the blue-hulled Tonnere de Breskens. Photo: W M Nixon

However, the economy is on the move again, and it's reckoned interest in the Round Ireland Race could blossom much more rapidly and strongly if the RORC support could be backed by the provision of pre-race berthing facilities which approach international standard. But set against that, after so many successful stagings of the race, Wicklow SC's Round Ireland Race experience and database is unrivalled, while the club's commitment to its town and quaint little port is total.

Whether the connection to the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire in the linkup's proposed form is the longterm solution remains to be seen. But if the sheer goodwill which permeated the reception in the RIYC announcing the partnership is anything to go by, then it will work.

And there's no doubt the Royal Irish has the ideal setup for show-casing high profile entries before the race in the sort of scenario top-end sponsors dream about. Yet it's ironic, as it it's all a case of Blessed are the Grumblers, for They Shall Inherit the Earth. It's largely forgotten now, but when Dun Laoghaire Marina was finally installed to become an overnight success after 25 years of struggling by its proponents, some of the most formidable opposition had come from a very old Old Guard within the RIYC membership, largely among the pavilion membership who liked to enjoy the view of boats bobbing about on moorings as they enjoyed their leisurely lunch.

The Royal Irish YC provides the unbeatable combination of an historic clubhouse beside a modern marina. It's ideal for showcasing boats, as demonstrated here by the 70ft classic Hallowe'en, which was line honours winner in the 1926 Fastnet Race. Photo: W M Nixon

Yet now, here is the historic clubhouse with a world standard marina to which they even have their own private secured access. In your wildest dreams, you couldn't have visualised a better setup for allying modern facilities with a traditional clubhouse totally imbued with Irish and international sailing history at the highest level.

At the reception for Wicklow SC's Round Ireland partnership with the Royal Irish YC in the RIYC clubhouse were (left to right, back row) David Ryan, Kevin Johnson, John Harte and John Johnson (all WSC Round Ireland committee), and front row Peter Shearer (WSC Commodore), Theo Phelan (Round Ireland Race organiser) and Paddy McSwiney (RIYC Commodore).

So in choosing the RIYC s their race partner, and in planning to set up an auxiliary race office within the RIYC clubhouse while retaining the start and finish line at Wicklow, the Wicklow SC people have chosen well. In its three decades-plus history, the Round Ireland Race has had only four organising secretaries – Michael Jones, Fergus O'Conchobhair, Denis Noonan and now Theo Phelan. It is the latter who is powering the Dun Laoghaire linkup, and it moves the Round Ireland Race onto a higher plane of development potential, aiming at a hundred entries by 2016, with this year's race on Saturday June 28th seen as the first step in a new stage of the journey.

Theo Phelan, David McSwiney and Sadie Phelan, President Wicklow SC

Peter Shearer, David McSwiney and Theo Phelan at the Round Ireland reception in the Royal Irish YC.

It is up to the rest of the Irish sailing community to support them, and to take part if at all possible. In fact, dare we say it, but you aren't really a proper Irish sailor unless you've at least started one Round Ireland Race, and having a few in your CV is good for the soul.

Do it, and you'll find you care very much indeed that the Round Ireland Race should continue to grow and prosper. Those of us with Round Ireland experience will know only too well what a tricky path it is that the organisers have now set themselves. Let them be encouraged by knowing that, while our heads may be in Dun Laoghaire, our hearts are in Wicklow.

Published in Round Ireland

#dlharbour – Dun Laoghaire's waterfront area and harbour is a hotbed of development and proposed projects. W M Nixon takes an outsider's view of what might be happening around Ireland's biggest sailing centre.

Your heart would go out to Dun Laoghaire. The perceptions which emerge from proposals for developments and new businesses along the waterfront definitely don't chime at all with the image of a place which once was known as Kingstown, and has its origins in the heights of gentility and middle class refinement.

What are we folk from other ports to make of it all? We find sailing in through the entrance to savour Dun Laoghaire harbour's unique style a wonderful experience. There is nowhere quite like it, not just in Ireland, but anywhere else in the world. Yet rumours fly around about changes which could seriously impair the special character of the place. What are those of us who may not have the inside track on the true nature of actual and anticipated developments along the waterfront to make of it all?

Not to pull the punches, it seems that the Dun Laoghaire waterfront area is going to have an enlarged halting site for the Travelling community down towards the west pier. It's going to have an "urban beach" resort amenity for the sort of people who use such places within the harbour on the inner end of the east pier, thereby blocking off a very useful berthing space. And it's going to have the Dublin area's first Wetherspoon's super-pub right bang in the middle of the harbourside.

Set against Dun Laoghaire history and the elegant appearance of its better buildings, this would all seem bad enough. But that is to ignore the most enormous elephant in the room. This is the new public library, which has been put up with astonishing speed to block out much of the sea view from the Royal Marine Hotel. It towers over the entire waterfront with a prow which suggests that at last Ireland has her first aircraft carrier. But unfortunately for any strategic purposes and rapid peace-keeping in distant parts of the world, it happens to be very landbound in the midst of mostly pleasant smaller buildings which now seem utterly dwarfed.


It's behind you!!!........ The new Dun Laoghaire library looms over everything on the waterfront. Yet if you're in the National YC (foreground) and looking out to sea, you don't know it's there. Photo: W M Nixon

It would indeed be wonderful if it were an aircraft carrier and could put to sea and leave the town to nurture something of its own true character. But instead we have to learn to live with it while wondering what it's all about, though in fairness it should be mentioned that the first notions of it were to provide a structure to match the sky-scraping Daniel Liebeskind building (remember that?) which once upon a time was planned for the Carlisle Pier just across the way.

But if this is indeed a public library, then we can only conclude that the good people of Dun Laoghaire must do an awful lot of reading, for it's HUGE. And we can only fear that if they read with the assiduity this building suggests, then they'll have neither time nor energy for anything else, not even the seagoing pursuits which the possession of one of the finest artificial harbours in the world should encourage.

From Dun Laoghaire's traditional promenading area of the East Pier, the new library building towers in particular over the National Yacht Club. Of course, if you're in that most hospitable club and looking out to sea, you're blissfully unaware of this enormous presence behind you. But the effect on people coming in from seaward is distinctly oppressive - it's like that giant black space craft which hovered over New York in the movie Independence Day.

Dun Laoghaire in the rare ould times, when you'd a real sea view from the Royal Marine Hotel, and from the pier could admire that splendid establishment in all its glory. Photo courtesy NYC.

The same section of waterfront today. Is this progress? Photo: W M Nixon

Until this thing appeared, there were still some relics of ould decency and architectural harmony along the Dun Laoghaire waterfront and the streets immediately behind it. Any significant building is a statement in itself, so we're entitled to look at buildings as they are, and respond to them. The central gem of the waterfront is the railway station, designed by John Skipton Mulvany. It's a perfect little jewel of neo-classical design, and to my mind makes a much pleasanter architectural statement than that other exercise in classical work, the Casino at Marino, which was fussily built as an architectural exercise, whereas Dun Laoghaire station is both functional and beautiful, well fulfilling its contemporary role as a stylish restaurant.

Dun Laoghaire's Mulvany-designed station is a gem. Photo: W M Nixon

Dun Laoghaire did very well out of John Skipton Mulvany, as in 1851 he created the design for the Royal Irish Yacht Club building. In terms of Irish history, few buildings are so significant in the very fact and timing of their construction. Originally founded in 1831, the Royal Irish had been overshadowed by its brasher younger sister, the Royal St George YC founded 1838. While the George developed rapidly as the exclusive preserve of the land-owning classes and the most prosperous Protestant business magnates – the offspring of Cromwellian land-grabbers and the Jamesons and Guinnesses, in other words – the RIYC, as a club with some of the older traditions in its makeup, went into a decline which was accelerated by the grievous effects of the Great Famine from 1845 onwards.

Thus when a meeting of several RIYC members – their numbers including Daniel O'Connell the Liberator - was held in a Dublin hotel on 4th July 1846 (American Independence Day by design, one presumes), it was in the hope that the club could be revived as an expression of faith in the future, and they agreed that a new landmark building on the waterfront would be the key to this.

The landward side of the Royal Irish YC. With the undeveloped nature of the waterfront, the architect had to design a building which presented a proper facade on all fronts. Photo W M Nixon

The Royal Irish YC seen across the marina. Built 1851, it is the world's oldest complete purpose-designed yacht club building. Photo: W M Nixon

So in responding to the RIYC's impressive neo-classical pavilion on the harbour, we are looking at both the world's first complete purpose-built yacht club house, and the very symbol of a nation beginning the long road to recovery from both the Famine and centuries of conquest and despoliation.

Along the waterfront, the Royal St George clubhouse by contrast was built through frequent expansions, but as Mulvany was also involved in some of the stages, it has a fine sense of completeness despite its several creators in different eras. Facing up to the challenge of matching these two classical buildings on the waterfront to the west was clearly an insuperable task, so when the National Yacht Club came into being as the Edward Yacht Club in 1870, it went for a much more under-stated architectural style. There's something attractively of the shooting and fishing lodge of the west of Ireland about it, it seems modest by comparison with the other two clubhouses, yet it's surprisingly roomy and stylish within.

Although it was built in several stages, today the Royal St George YC presents a complete appearance, and it preserves its sense of identity despite the encroachment of much taller modern buildings nearby. Photo: David O'Brien

All three of the big waterfront clubhouses are immaculately maintained and each brings its own injection of vitality – and substantial employment – to Dun Laoghaire. And the town in turn has developed in concert with the growth of maritime activity, and the increased communication with Dublin brought about by the historic railway (which was opened in 1834) and frequent road improvements, while summertime excursion steamers sailed to the harbour from Dublin port.

Some would compare the stylish seaside town for Dublin which tried to develop at Dun Laoghaire with Brighton in its relationship with London. But Brighton was purely a seaside resort in which the recent marina is an add-on, it's not a harbour which is central to the place. Dun Laoghaire by contrast is all about the harbour. There was virtually nothing there until this vast asylum and ferry harbour for large vessels (that was its sole original purpose) was built on a totally empty bit of coastline eastward of the old Dunleary harbour, a shallow tidal inlet which it enclosed and whose existence is remembered in the area's local name The Gut.


The coast at Dun Laoghaire before the harbour was built. The harbour of Old Dunleary, in the area still known as The Gut, was a shallow creek in the southwest corner of the new harbour.


First plan for the new harbour in 1817. The entrance was made wider in the finished version, and the West Pier was built further west to enclose the Old Dunleary harbour


The first regatta in the new harbour was sailed on July 22nd 1828, and was won by Liberty (on right, 39 tons, owner Lord Errol) from Medora (45 tons, owner Mr Kelly). The Royal Irish YC emerged in 1831 from this event.

The yachtsman's Dun Laoghaire today, as shown in the ICC Sailing Directions. Courtesy Irish Cruising Club

Thus it may be stretching it a bit, but the most telling comparison for Dun Laoghaire's aspirations might well be Trieste on the Adriatic. In the glory days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Trieste was Vienna-on-Sea. The distance from the capital may have been enormous by comparison with the short hop from Dublin out to Dun Laoghaire. But Emperors – even ancient Hapsburg ones – could move mountains and shorten apparent distance, and they could ensure that the distance to Trieste was no barrier to the place having a Viennese atmosphere, style and sense of place.

Those who find such an idea crazy might like to remember that your man Von Trapp, he of Sound of Music fame, was in real life an officer in the post–imperial Austrian Navy. Trieste was for real. So in a sense if we wanted to see what Dun Laoghaire in its burgeoning Kingstown days was trying to become, just think of it as Official & Ceremonial Dublin-on-Sea. Thus the buildings tried to be slightly miniaturised versions of impressive buildings of government in the city itself, and for a while they succeeded.


The Town Hall gets the attention it deserves. Photo: W M Nixon

The Town Hall, for instance, is a delight – to me it speaks as a restrained exercise in Italianate Victorian, and were it facing onto a proper town square, we really would have a space to celebrate. And just along from it in the town in its glory days was the unsullied façade of the Royal Marine Hotel. French chateau, I would say, and all the better for it. But another enjoyer of architecture was suggesting the other night that there was more than a hint of the south German schloss in it, so we agreed that it was either French or German depending on which country had won the most recent little war over Alsace and Lorraine.


The Royal Marine Hotel has a distinctive style which unfortunately was not replicated in the extension on the right, which was added several decades ago. Photo: W M Nixon

Whatever, the Dun Laoghaire waterfront at the height of the late Victorian-Edwardian era really was quite something. There were several different styles of architecture, but mostly they were good examples of their type, and all respected each other. It had a sense of completeness which harmonised with the harbour. But since then we seem to have lost the plot. Is there an element of disliking the built symbols of the past, and therefore sticking up something which is effectively a deliberate affront?

Perhaps it's just that architects are scared stiff of being accused of producing new buildings, or extensions to buildings, which are merely pastiches of what went before, despite the fact that the general public seem more than happy with a good pastiche. And surely it's better to have a good pastiche than a bad bit of pseudo-modern design which clashes with everything about it?

Thus the harmonious Dun Laoghaire waterfront of a century ago, as seen from within the harbour or down the piers, is now giving out conflicting messages which dampen the sense of welcome for those entering the port. The stately Royal Marine Hotel, a bit pretentious in its day perhaps, but nevertheless true to itself, was given an addition on its western side which, unusually, still hasn't mellowed in – it continues to look like a bad example of architecture from a particularly poor period.

As for that wonderful Town Hall, the office block added down one side is better than the addition to the Royal Marine, but it has lost the opportunity to make a statement of harmony on the building's north side facing across to the railway station. And as for what could have been a town square in front of the Town Hall (for which we argued in favour in several issues of Afloat magazine a very long time ago) that was filled with the Pavilion Development which, while built with quality materials, has never seemed to quite know what it is supposed to be doing. You could scarcely claim it to be a runaway commercial success, and as ever in Dublin, it was the residential part of the project which provided the real motor for the exercise.

But those residential blocks in turn intruded on the vital miniature parkland and garden in front of the Royal Marine Hotel. Now that glorious sea view from the Royal Marine is being further impaired by the new library. In fact, "impaired" is scarcely the word. The Royal Marine doesn't really have a sea view any more at all, in the sense that rooms at the front had a view clear out into the open waters of St George's Channel. Strictly speaking, all that the Royal Marine can now look forward to is a harbour and bay view, which is rather different. Much better than many Dublin hotels, perhaps, but a poor thing by comparison with the wide nautical vistas of the past.

Artists's computerised impression of how the view of the Royal Marine hotel will look once the new library (left) is completed

As for this new library, doubtless in the architectural trade it will be seen as an impressive use of new materials, and it will be pointed out how skilfully it has been fitted into a narrow space. But the computer-generated impressions of the finished building show something a little too like a Belfast peace wall to bring joy to the heart, and on its east side – the hidden side looming over many residential properties – they seem to be utilising rather a lot of nasty red brick, something which is otherwise almost entirely unused anywhere else on the Dun Laoghaire waterfront.

But while the new library may seem to roar at its neighbours and loom threateningly over them, not every new development along the Dun Laoghaire waterfront provokes hostility. For instance, the new Irish lights headquarters is so good of its type that it greatly enhances the area. And as for the Ferry Terminal, "reasonably good of its sort" might be the kindest response. Something had to be provided to give a positive architectural response to the very new-style HSS ferries, and when there's one in port it's sometimes difficult to tell where ship ends and ferry terminal begins, which is as it should be.


It just shows what you can do by really trying, and being brave. The impressive Irish Lights headquarters building. Photo: W M Nixon

But the era of very high speed ferries may be drawing to a close, as the shipping companies gravitate towards a new generation of ships which may not be so utterly fast, but are much quicker than the boats the HSS replaced, and provide a level of on-board comfort which makes the little extra time aboard slip easily by.

With economy measures now totally dominant, the lower berthing prices and much greater available berthing options offered by Dublin Port offset the fact the driving through the hinterland of the Port to the ferry terminals is not really a joyous urban experience. Most car-ferry passengers are prepared to tolerate a level of urban and sub-industrial blight in order to get cheap fares and frequency of service.

But where the ferries move away as they appear to be doing from Dun Laoghaire, it seems the cruise liners want to move in. The cruise liners currently can berth alongside in Dublin Port, but have to lie off in Dublin Bay if they want to send their passengers directly by tender into Dun Laoghaire. But for the cruise liners and their guests, the prospect of Dun Laoghaire becoming a proper cruise liner port is positively mouth-watering.

At the moment, the only access the passengers on large cruise liners have to Dun Laoghaire is via the ship's tenders to this landing pontoon in the Inner Harbour. Photo: W M Nixon

For when it fulfils its potential, Dun Laoghaire is a place of style and fun, an ideal up-market cruise liner destination. Simply being there in a luxurious cruise liner would be enough in itself on a sunny day with the harbour and waterfront alive with people enjoying themselves. And the ready access to Dublin itself, and the Garden of Ireland in Wicklow, is all a bonus.

But such perfection won't come cheap. For sure, if it comes to fruition the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Masterplan of two years ago, indicating a large cruise liner berth to the west of the present ferry terminal, would indeed provide the Harbour Company with a golden source of income. But whether that income can be transferred onwards to traders in the town is another matter.

The initial plan of two years ago for a Cruise Liner berth within Dun Laoghaire Harbour. While it will restrict some sailing and boating space within the harboiur, new space will be created by the removal of the moorings in the East Pier bight. Note the proposed swimming pool indicated at the time at right angles to the East Pier off the National YC (bottom right) with marina berths within a new breakwater.

Cruise liner passengers are notorious for seeking complete packages beforehand. Thus when they arrive in port they expect shore visits to be part of the deal, and they prefer to move in pre-paid groups ashore, rather than move individually and spend some money in the town. So those who would expect across-the-board benefit may be disappointed. They may find that the cruise liner seen as the goose that lays the golden does indeed squat down, almost taking over the entire harbour, and it does indeed lay a golden egg. But that golden egg is only a fat berthing fee for the harbour company and hire fees for some bus company. Beyond that, expenditure can very limited.

Yet there's no denying the real money that be made out of berthing fees, and that of course will percolate into the town in the form of wages for extra waterfront staff. Who knows, they may even have to find a crew for a designated Dun Laoghaire harbour tug or two, though a state-of-the-art cruise liner is computer controlled by a single joystick activating thrusters working every which way, and it's amazing the spaces they can access without tugboat aid. That said, in the event of a rare summertime nor'east gale, you could sell tickets for the end of the pier to watch a giant liner getting out.

But this is all way in the future, though with every step in the economic recovery, that future is accelerating in its approach. For the moment, we can be sure that markers are being put down for future harbour use, and the word is that all the swinging moorings in the east bight of the harbour are going to be cleared, presumably to allow eventual manoeuvring space within that part of the harbour for liners. As that space will be empty when no liner is moving, its possible availability will partly compensate for the inevitable loss of sailing and boating space within the harbour, which is a proper concern of Water Wag sailors, inshore rowing clubs, and the increasing number of sailing schools.

A newer line on the grapevine has it that one of the yacht clubs outside the current marina, currently concerned about members losing those mooring in the eastern bight, has negotiated exclusive rights for its members to the stand-alone marina pontoons in the northwest part of the harbour inside the northern marina breakwater, those berths to be accessed by a regular ferry service from the club in question.

While seeing the logic of this, it would put paid to a crazy little notion of mine. Until this new allocation arose, it had seemed to me that there was potential for a completely new club, with its headquarters way down the West Pier where it meets outer marina breakwater. This new club would have its own direct access to that northwest part of the marina. The wild West Pier – which some would like to se as a kind of nature reserve – has ample room for both a roadway to this new clubhouse, and the existing walkway right out to the lighthouse. It would be one of the few clubs in Ireland to be south-facing, and its location would certainly provide that sense of being away from it all which is supposed to be what going sailing is all about.

The wild West Pier. Were it needed, there is plenty of space for both a walkway and a roadway. Photo: W M Nixon

But that little daydream is now gone with the likelihood of a rapid ferry service from a club to the northwest Marina pontoons. Meanwhile, back in the real world, what is happening to preserve or destroy Dun Laoghaire's unique ambience which will, it's hoped, encourage Cruise Liner Companies to fork out mega-bucks to berth there?

If you look carefully at the Masterplan, you'll see that in front of the National YC there's a blue pool indicated at right angles to the East Pier. At the time, this was envisaged as a swimming pool and lido area in a vast barge, and it seemed a reasonable idea, as within it there were indicated new marina berths within convenient reach of the club.

But a recent planning application by the Harbour Company has put a different spin on all this. The new "urban beach" will be on a floating structure paralleling the East Pier alongside that handy berthing area on the East Pier. A cost of €2.5 million is being quoted as the capital expenditure needed to create this new facility, and the spokesmen for the harbour company are confident it will attract enough high-paying customers to pay off the initial cost while covering the significant running costs.

That's as may be, but this large intrusion into valuable berthing space is also a matter of concern for those who have been campaigning long and hard for the restoration of the nearby disused Dun Laoghaire Baths, which are outside the harbour area and therefore wouldn't reduce any valuable berthing space. But in any case they're in a deplorable state of dilapidation, a danger and an eyesore, so some action is urgently needed. There's a Public Meeting on today (Saturday January 25th) about all this in the Kingston Hotel in Dun Laoghaire at 3.0pm, and it will be interesting to hear what people think about the old baths in relation to the proposed new urban beach.

The English pub chain J D Wetherspoon have indicated their intention of opening in the former Forty Foot premises on the top of the Pavilion. Photo: W M Nixon

We move along the waterfront to the Pavilion, and the former Forty Foot pub. It's as near as certain going to be the Dublin area's first J D Wetherspoon pub. You'll have heard of them as the people in England who already have a chain of 900 pubs, and have just opened the first ever pub at motorway service area, which one would have thought unthinkable, but such seems to be the case. Anyway, big chief Tim Martin and his efficient team running this outfit have decided the time is now ripe to move into Ireland with its many post-Tiger era bankrupted bars.

And they make no secret of their intentions. Their ideal location, they say, is large premises in a strongly working class area. Good for them, you say, but who on earth reckons Dun Laoghaire to be a strongly working class area? Well, 900 successful pubs across England can't be wrong. And it could well be what the Pavilion needs to come to life, even if it's not quite what posh passengers on a cruise liner might expect. But as for resentment that an English pub chain is moving into Ireland, the reality is that your favourite local, after a tricky time emerging from the aftermath of the boom years, is now probably owned by a German bank anyway.

It's one very crowded little spot already. The Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club, the Coastguard, and the Irish National Sailing School are among those crowded into the southwest corner of the harbour where a new Halting Site is also planned. Photo: W M Nixon

Concluding with our third opening point, the proposed new halting site towards the West Pier is a tricky one. That corner of the harbour has a small long-established site, presumably the new one will be much bigger. And things are already very crowded down there with the Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club on the sea side of the little quayside street, and the premises of the Irish National Sailing School, the Irish Coastguard and others across the narrow road.

The business of Traveller Halting Sites is a difficult one, but doubtless Dun Laoghaire can cope in its own way. After all, the harbour area already has several locations which look after the needs of people who have immediate access to unexpectedly large sums of ready money, people who also have a strange taste for drinking alcohol in the open air even when the weather is atrocious, people moreover who enjoy moving about all the time in uncomfortably confined damp spaces in close proximity with like-minded ruddy-faced folk. It's just that they're not called Halting Sites. They're called Yacht Clubs.

Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company CEO Gerry Dunne responds to this article here.

#oga –  For the first time in its 50 years, the Old Gaffers Association has an Irish President. W M Nixon profiles Sean Walsh as he begins a three year term heading up this increasingly international organisation, which raised its profile with 2013's Golden Jubilee celebrations including major events for classic and traditional craft in Dublin, Belfast, and Peel in the Isle of Man.

If you were putting together the dream profile of an ideal person to become the first Irish President of the Old Gaffers Association as that somewhat quirky organisation quietly flexes its muscles on completion of the successful celebration of its Golden Jubilee in 2013, then you'd come up with somebody very like Sean Walsh.

In London last Saturday, he was elected to a three-year term as President of the OGA. In its fifty years, the Association has grown from being an informal organisation based around the Thames Estuary and the Solent into an international body with branches throughout the UK and Ireland, in addition to groups in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, British Columbia, Australia and New Zealand. Yet despite this steady and widespread growth, Sean Walsh, the eleventh President, is not only the first incumbent from overseas, but he's the first one from outside the southeastern half of England.

His fascination with gaff rig and classic design based on proven working boat principles, coupled with his warm enjoyment of the fellowship of the sea, would be impressive qualifications in themselves. But this is combined with high technical ability in boats and their equipment, both ancient and modern. And it's allied to a life experience which has given him the outlook and social skills needed to fulfill a role for which there are few textbooks and precedents.

For sure, there have been, and still are, Irish sailing administrators in major international organisations which are central to mainstream sailing. As a nation, we have punched way above our weight in top roles in the global organisation now known as the International Sailing Federation. And Dun Laoghaire's John Bourke gave unstinting service both as Commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club from 1994-1996, and as Chairman of the Offshore Racing Council, while the RORC has also seen major input from Cork with the late Denis Doyle as a Flag Officer, a role recently filled by Anthony O'Leary while Dun Laoghaire is currently rising in the officer ranks again with Michael Boyd (RIYC) now serving as RORC Vice Commodore.

But the Old Gaffers Association is different. In fact, being different is what it's all about. In some ways, you could say it's the sailing organisation which provides a home for boat enthusiasts who don't feel comfortable anywhere else. Thus it is very accommodating about including people whose boats might happen to be Bermudan rig, provided they're the right sort of people with the right sort of boats, and a sound attitude to gaff-rigged folk.

And it's an organisation which bends over backwards to extend the hand of friendship to sailors in countries where gaff rig never really was in danger of disappearing, such as The Netherlands and Ireland. The continuance of gaff rig as an accepted part of the scene in these places might have meant that something like the OGA would be regarded as a superfluous layer of organisation, almost an impertinence. But the Association's engaging enthusiasm and modest promotion of its ideals has brought the gaffers of Holland and Ireland aboard in harmony. Thus the OGA now has an Irish President, and doubtless in time his successors will include a Dutch skipper, and perhaps further down the line someone from the Belgian and French memberships.

It's all a long way down the line from the early days, when the OGA emerged from tentative beginnings with a very English tinge. It's a somewhat amorphous body, both in its times and places of origin, and despite its simple objectives of promoting gaff rig and traditional craft. The first whisperings came at a small meeting in Winchester in 1957, attended by people such as Mike Richardson of the famous Elephant Boatyard on the River Hamble, who were concerned by the rapid disappearance of gaff rig. They agreed that a race for gaff rigged boats would be the ideal way to launch an association, and they agreed that it would be called the Old Gaffers Association with a pitchfork as its symbol, the pitchfork being traditionally used in rural England by ancient rustics - old gaffers - to toss hay. Thus it isn't a gaff jaws, as is usually assumed. And it certainly isn't a picklefork, despite being so described by some smartass modern sailors.


Mike Richardson's Betty racing in the first gaffers' race of 1959, four years before the OGA was formed. Her owner, who ran the famous Elephant Boatyard on the River Hamble, was a man of many sailing interests – he also was a regular offshore competitor with his S&S-designed fiberglass She 31 Arctic Skua. Photo courtesy OGA

Though the name of the Association and its burgee may have emerged fully formed in 1957, little else did. The first race wasn't held until 1959, off the River Hamble, and it became an annual event of sorts. But it was round on England's east coast in the Thames Estuary that the encouragement of the preservation of gaff rig found its most fertile ground, and on Saturday July 20th 1963 the Old Gaffers Race from the Blackwater to Harwich got going with 30 starters, though only seven finished as a forecast sou'wester became a light easterly.

The winner was one of the oldest boats in the fleet, Fanny of Cowes, and the OGA came formally into being. Despite the frustrations of that first East Coast Race, there were 35 starters the following year, when there was also a race for gaff-rigged yachts at the Royal Gourock YC in the Clyde. So there was clearly a grass roots movement of support for gaff rig at a time when plastic boats and alloy Bermudan masts seemed destined to wipe them out. But as many of the gaffers had eccentricity as their default mode, getting them into any cohesive organization was a slow process.

Yet over the years it has gradually developed, building up area associations, and based almost entirely on an enthusiasm for gaff rig and vintage craft which may be shared and displayed by people who do not necessarily have gaff rigged boats themselves, nor indeed vintage craft of any type. In fact, there's a significant segment of the membership made up of sailing folk who don't quite fit into any specific category, and nor do their boats if they have them, but the OGA provides them with a congenial spiritual home.

There has been a Northern Ireland branch since the late 1980s, while a Dublin Bay branch is of similar vintage, and in times past it was notably active when Dublin port and Howth were home to a vibrant flotilla of restored Galway hookers. But of course the revival of the Galway hookers was something which had been happening independently of similar movements elsewhere in Holland and England.

It was in 1974 that the last commercial cargo of turf was sailed out from Connemara to the Aran Islands on a hooker. Yet some of the old boats were kept going for the annual sailing events in the Land of the Sea, particularly the MacDara's Festival on July 16th. Then in 1976 Johnny Healion of Dublin appeared in Connemara with the magnificently-restored Morning Star, and the show was back on the road. I can vividly remember sailing from Clew Bay down to MacDara's Island in 1978 with the late great Tad Minish on his Finisterre yawl Kiff in order to witness the revitalized gathering of the boats and their racing, and the sense of a new spirit of enthusiasm being allied to a tradition half as old as time was palpable.

The traditional gathering of the Galway hookers at St MacDara's Island in Connemara, July 16th 1978. It was in 1976 that Johnny Healion had inspired the hooker revival with his restoration of Morning Star. Photo: W M Nixon

Thus the idea of an association simply devoted to venerating gaff rig seemed almost absurd in Connemara – what other sort of rig was there? But with goodwill on all sides, the boats of the west in their alternative times as boats of the east around Dublin Bay brought a huge infusion of sailing vitality to the Dublin Bay OGA, and with now-legendary regattas such as that at Portaferry at the entrance to Strangford, the message was spread.

Ironically, when the OGA itself had come into being in 1963, it was the very year that John Kearney was persuaded to oversee the conversion of the Dublin Bay 21s in Dun Laoghaire from gaff to Bermudan. But the Howth 17s have stayed loyal to gaff – complete with jackyard tops'ls – so as the Golden Jubilee of the OGA approached with the festivities planned for Dublin and Belfast, it seemed an ideal opportunity for the 115-years-old Howth 17s and the 50-years-old Old Gaffers Association to get together for the first time, and one of the people who worked behind the scenes on making this happen was DBOGA Committee Member Sean Walsh.

A dream comes true. The Howth 17s arrive in to join the OGA Golden Jubilee celebrations at Poolbeg Y & BC on Saturday June 1st 2013. Although the Howth 17s had been sailing under gaff rig for 115 years, and the OGA had been in being for fifty years, it was the first time the two groups had got together. Photo: W M Nixon

His life-story is a tale for our times. Born in Cork to a family north of the Lee, he was one of eight children, but as siblings appeared on an almost annual basis, he was effectively adopted by his aunt and uncle, who were childless. He cheerfully claims to have been spoilt rotten, but he grew up in a thoughtful household. When we remember that Cork was effectively Ford City in those days, the fact that his uncle drove a Morris Minor tells us much. It tells us even more that, when the little car needed new big-end bearings, his uncle educated young Sean into the ways of engineering and mechanics by having him as helper one Saturday morning while the uncle in his garage at home lifted out the engine, replaced the bearings with Sean to hand him tools and parts as required, and then re-installed the engine, all neatly in time for lunch.

His schooling was with the Christian Brothers at North Mon, where some of the Brothers took it into their heads to acquire an ancient little leaky fishing boat around 25ft long with a seized engine. They made it seaworthy or at least capable of floating, got the engine back to life, and based it at Kilbrittain on Courtmacsherry Harbour for a sort of informal sea training course for those pupils who had helped with the boat's restoration, which naturally included young Sean Walsh.

With his enthusiasm for getting afloat developing rapidly while still at school, having spotted the plans in a DIY magazine for a build-her-yourself 16ft canoe designed by Percy Blandford, he built three of these slim craft through two rooms in his parents' third floor attic. It was a neat building job, an elegant framework skinned by heat-stretching PVC sheet. His successful business plan was to sell two to finance his own ownership of the third. Getting them out of the attic was a hairy business which involved sending a messenger rope over the top of the house to provide a sort of crane, as the boats had to emerge cleanly and horizontally through a window still small despite the removal of its frame. But somehow they were safely lowered to a crowd of helpers far below, and the flotilla was ready to cruise.

And what a cruise they had, starting from the sacred location of Gougane Barra on the headwaters of the River Lee among the mountains away to the west, and spending three weeks descending the valley to Cork using wheels from a cannibalized Silver Cross pram to help them get the canoes through the many portages.

With hessian sacks made only slightly waterproof by a sort of plastic coating to provide a tent, and with eternally damp blankets rather than sleeping bags, it was a hardy life. But they throve on it and fed well with more than a little foraging, reckoning that the farmers owning the riverside potato fields wouldn't begrudge the three hungry young voyagers a feed of liberated spuds each night.

After school, Sean's first fulltime job was on the production line in the Dunlop Tyre plant, a Leeside institution back in the day. But even though with overtime he was soon earning enough to acquire a Triumph Spitfire sportscar, he was restless. In 1960s Cork, the class barriers were harshly drawn. But he yearned for something which provided outlets beyond the skilled manual work which seemed to be his allocation in life. He'd long been interested in radio, electrics and electronics, and the Radio & Electronics Institute in Cork provided a course which could qualify him as a ship's radio officer, so he sold the car to pay for the course.

As for transport, he was able to use his canoe to commute from home down the Lee to the riverside Institute – "I learnt a lot about tides". And in due course he qualified, and then was offered a job, due to start from Liverpool in five weeks time, as a Ships Radio Officer.

He had his new uniform bought and all when his aunt showed him an ad in the paper for electronic technicians up above in Dublin, working for some outfit called IBM. Those who would persuade the Irish to become a seafaring nation one and all should realize that they should be working on the womenfolk and their views on the matter. His aunt was secretly horrified at the thought of her beloved nephew going off to sea. So as he'd the five weeks to put in before he joined his ship, Sean did her the courtesy of applying for an interview, and in those pre-Google days, he went to the local library to learn a bit about IBM.

Anyone who has read the recent Steve Jobs biography will have learnt of the reverence with which IBM is held in the grown-up business community. Back in the 1960s, the company was at the exciting stage of building up its unrivalled reputation. It looked like a stimulating place to work, and young Sean Walsh was so interested by what he'd read about it that he sailed through the interview, within a week he'd been offered a job which in 1969 began his 36 year career with IBM, and the Radio Officer's uniform went into the wardrobe.

But while he may have been working in IBM computers for some of the key companies in Ireland and living in Dublin, if anything his interest in boats increased, and now it encompassed sailing. Having proven his business plan with the success of building three canoes and keeping one for himself, in the front room of his first house (it was in Portmarnock) he built three Fireballs, and after they'd been approved by the class measurer, a young fellow called David Lovegrove, he was able to sell two and keep the third to teach himself to sail on Broadmeadow Water in Malahide, most of which is a safe depth which means you can stand up when you capsize. As he did a lot of capsizing learning to sail a Fireball single-handed, he did a lot of walking around in water up to his chest.

But he learnt to sail too, and got involved with the sailing scene at many levels. Like a lot of men with young sons, he built a Mirror dinghy and did miniature cruises. Then at another stage in life, he was active as an instructor in Glenans. Having been self-taught in sailing, he had much to contribute at the Glenans base on Clew Bay.

However, the more he became involved with boats and sailing, the more he found himself drawn to traditional craft, and gaff rig. Meanwhile his career with IBM was blossoming as the company became world leaders. In a new setup in which, instead of selling products, their philosophy was to provide a total package of solutions, he found himself becoming a project manager. IBM had discovered that with computers, somebody with a technical background talking with genuine enthusiasm about what the machines could do was actually much better at selling to hard-headed executives than the traditional salesman with his shallow patter.

So in this multi-functional role, he went along for a first meeting with the Financial Controller of Readymix Concrete, who'd expressed interest in an IBM system. In preliminary pleasantries, Sean said something about the peculiar weather. The FO agreed, saying it was unusual to get so many sou'easters at that time of the year. So Sean took a conversational flyer:

"What kind of a boat do you have?"

"She's a bit unusual. She's called a Heard 28. She's a gaff-rigged cutter, looks old style but has a fibreglass hull. She's a super boat."

Storming along. Tir na nOg is a Heard 28, designed by Percy Dalton and based on the Falmouth Working Boats which are legally required to dredge for oysters under sail only. The Heard 28 is one of the most successful of the "plastic gaffers" which now form a significant part of the fleet of the OGA. Photo: Dave Owens

Thus did Sean Walsh meet Gerry McEvoy, owner of the Tir na nOg of Howth. They talked boats for a solid two hours, then - the working day being long over - agreed within five minutes the outline of the system IBM would provide for Readymix. And then, once the system Sean designed was installed and working satifactorily, he accepted an invitation to go sailing on Tir na nOg, and now, 22 years later, has been sailing on her ever since.

Sadly, after a number of years of being shipmates together, Gerry was to die cruelly young. But in partnership with another sailing friend, Gerry Murtagh, Sean bought Tir na nOg himself. It was in 2003 that they sailed into Howth Harbour and were invited into an assembly of gaff rigged boats convivially gathered at Howth Boat Club at a Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association event. As the evening went merrily long, a sister-ship of Tir na nOg's came into port and joined the party. It was Englishman Mike Shaw and his son, cruising round Ireland with the Susan J.

The top men. Mike Shaw (foreground) crewing for Sean Walsh (on helm) aboard Tir na nOg during the race for the OGA's Leinster Plate in Dublin Bay Photo: Dave Owens

Mike was a longtime Old Gaffers Association stalwart, so Sean Walsh found himself getting the OGA message both at local and central levels in a big way. He embraced the concepts of the organization with such enthusiasm that, in the eleven years since that fortuitous meeting in Howth, he has served on the Committee of the Dublin Bay OGA, and as its Honorary Secretary and DBOGA President. And he has also been on liaison duties with headquarters where his friend Mike Shaw was being quietly positioned in order to be President when the Golden Jubilee came around in 2013. Thus when the OGA Golden Jubilee Round Britain fleet came west to Ireland in June 2013 for major events in Dublin and Belfast, Sean had the satisfaction of seeing his hopes of the Dublin fleet, well supported by the Howth 17s, make the Riverfest in the Liffey and the two special races in Dublin Bay into one of the outstanding events of the entire Golden Jubilee.

The OGA's fellowship of the sea. Noted Irish explorer and traditional boat sailor Paddy Barry is just visible at the helm of Joe Pennington's 1895-built Manx longliner Master Frank as they prepare to start in the race for the Leinster Plate in Dublin Bay. Photo: Dave Owen

After such a year, the following season might threaten to be a bit of a downer for the OGA, but the new President doesn't see it that way. Though he turns 70 this year, Sean Walsh is full of beans, and while he may have retired from his long and successful career at IBM, he's not he retiring type. From the work point of view, he keeps himself busy as the Yanmar Marine Engines agent for Ireland's east coast, for there's no way he's going to let all that engineering talent and experience go to waste.

And as for the continuing development of the OGA, he's fairly bubbling with ideas. His own lifetime experience is invaluable in helping the Association develop its concepts about the best ways of introducing young people to sailing and traditional boats, and keeping them interested. As for his unrivalled experience in computers, that too is of unique value for an association which, while specializing in traditional craft, relies increasingly on the latest technology to spread its messages and keep its boats and people records up-to-date.

Dutch sandwich. Ainmara (Dickie Gomes, Strangford Lough) seen between Raven (left) Fred Schottman, Makkum, Holland, and Cine Mara (Rik Janssen, Makkum) shortly after the start of the race for the Leinster Plate in Dublin Bay. The Dutch boats made up the largest contingent which went right round Britain for the OGA Golden Jubilee, and in 2014 they will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of their own branch of the OGA with a cruise-in-company in The Netherlands. Raven is a Lyle Hess 28 while Cine Mara is steel built based on the classic Galway hooker design. Photo: Dave Owens

As for life afloat, while 2013 was the Golden Jubilee of the central association, 2014 is the Tenth Anniversary of the lively Dutch branch. The Dutch boats were among the stars when the OGA came to Dublin last June, and their planned cruise-in-company for all interested OGA members through the incomparable waters of the Netherlands in July this year is expected to be the highlight of the season.

So when I met the new President shortly after his return from London this week and considered the demands on his time with the many active local branches, the up-dating of central administrative systems, and the special demands of the Dutch celebrations, I could only suggest that he was going to need a fulltime Personal Assistant.

"I have one already" said Sean Walsh, "I meet him first thing every morning when I look in the mirror".

Sean Walsh, eleventh President of the Old Gaffers Association. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in Dublin Bay Old Gaffers

#catamaran – It's the time of year when any sensible sailor is dreaming of skimming across warm blue water without a care in the world, and feeling at one with the ocean. W M Nixon introduces an organisation which is built around this aspiration, yet has a deeper meaning for Pacific island communities.

An island is both an escape, and a prison. On one side of the coin, it seems to provide the means of getting away from the tedium and pressures of over-crowded mainland life. On the other, you're trapped on it if you don't have some sort of choice and control over your own coming and going.

For most of us around boats in Ireland, the ability to sail to islands is one of the greatest attractions in what we do. Sailing to our small islands is pure joy, truly satisfying in a way scarcely justified by the modest distances involved. And being on small islands is a delight. Yet generally we don't want to live on an island year in, year out.

This may seem absurd to those who write off Ireland itself as no more than a small damp island somewhere out in the Atlantic. But for us living here in reasonable content, Ireland is just the right size. It's a complete place, a proper country – that it's an island is almost incidental. We don't really think of it as somewhere you can drive across in only three hours. It's the size it is, that's the way it is, and anywhere else is just unnaturally large.

Probably we actually think of Ireland as a world unto itself – a small but viable landmass which happens to be surrounded by water. So if you want somewhere distinctly different, it's not the obvious one of great open continental land spaces of tundra or prairies or savannah, with unending mountain ranges or trackless tropical forest. On the contrary, the most complete contrast with Ireland is to be found in the Pacific, where the world is almost totally one of water, with tiny islands dotted about at vast distances, some of them with populations so small and remote that they're barely viable communities.

In such circumstances, the people on the islands have traditionally needed to be truly at one with the ocean, embracing it with a natural affinity which meant they were able to voyage long distances in relative comfort with craft which may seem primitive to us. But those vessels too were in harmony with the sea – they didn't battle it, rather they went with its moods, leaving only the lightest of furrows in the ocean astern.

Despite being 73ft long and able to carry a crew of 16, the working weight of these vakas is only 14 tons, and they are easily driven with a relatively small sail area.

The key to it all is the temperature of the sea. When you have an ocean which isn't going to give you hypothermia within an hour or two of immersion, you can voyage on light boats which skim the water. But in our northestern end of the North Atlantic, despite the tail end of the Gulf Stream washing our shores, here in Irish waters we need boats we can be in, rather than boats we're on. We need boats which provide a genuine level of protection from the sea and its punishing cold almost regardless of how we handle them.

So, much as we like to feel we have an understanding with the sea, in some sort of empathy, in fact we're battling with it. Even the surfers who have been putting in such fantastic performances on the west coast in recent days are more akin to bullfighters than sea creatures. It's all about controlling something which is bigger than they, something which arises mightily but then dies and disappears, yet the surfer remains, banging away with his jetski to hit the right spot.

For sure we respect the sea, but as this week's vids of the Safehaven boats being tested off Cork have shown, we aspire to boats which can continue to go about their business almost regardless of sea conditions, while providing complete protection for those on board. Although we may seem to have experienced some overwhelming weather these past few weeks, underlying our attitude is the notion that we know what's going on, that we're in control. It may seem a fine example of human folly and delusion. But the reality is that for most people in what we used to call the West, life is pretty much under control. We live by the clock. Trains, boats and planes leave and arrive pretty much on time. We build and control the machines, and the machines control the world. When disaster headlines erupt, it's only because this comfortable and mechanical state of affairs has been temporarily upset. But normal service is soon resumed.

Set against this powerful certainty, small and isolated island communities in the vastness of the Pacific become fragile. While the elders may live naturally in the old ways and understand the workings of the sea and the necessary regularity and ordinariness of island life, their younger people know only that in the outside world, life is different. There's more readily available entertainment and excitement. There's a wonderful life of machines and timetables. Anyone who can pay the fare can go when and where they please. And huge numbers of people seem very happy with this state of affairs.

So the island becomes a prison, not a paradise, as the old voyaging skills decay. The young people are no long capable of sailing away to distant places as their ancestors did, yet they lack the money to avail of the air travel which is often the only way to get off the island. And the soul of the community, if not actually lost, is sorely troubled. But there are those who feel that while the islands in the sun certainly have to adapt to the dominating realities of modern consumer-oriented life and global communication, they also reckon there's a way in which the old ocean voyaging traditions can be re-jigged to provide a meaningful experience for modern islanders, young and not-so-young.

When that noted solo sailor Sam Davis of Strangford Lough was cruising the Pacific in recent years with his Rival 41 cutter Suvretta, he met up with a group in Tonga who so enthused him that when he finally arrived in our harbour on his way back to Strangford Lough last August, far from talking of his own remarkable voyages, he was almost completely absorbed by talking of the Tahitian Voyaging Society and their fleet of 73ft catamarans.

Sam Davis with his much-travelled Rival 41 Suvretta in Howth, August 2013. Photo: W M Nixon

That and mung beans. Sam is into mung beans in a big way. He seems to have lived on them for much of his voyage up the Atlamntic back to Strangford Lough. He was so keen to push the case for mung beans that I didn't have the heart to tell him that in our house we eat little else, apart from the occasional potato and some porridge. So he gave his sermon on the beans, and then we got back to the boats.

And what boats they are. Everything about them is seductive – the way they sail, and the places they sail to. These are not brutal boats of the modern world which rely on ballast keels and high tech engineering and large auxiliary engines. Though their hulls are fibreglass, they are as simple as possible, relying on wind and solar power, and leaving no trace as they sail sweetly across the sea for thousands of miles.

The Tahiti Voyaging Society is the inspiration of German sub-aqua film maker Dieter Paulmann, and in 2011 this remarkable initial fleet of seven 73ft catamarans began voyaging. Three years down the line, they've sailed tens of thousands of miles, and now other islands want to get in on this inspirational programme.

This is where Sam and Suvretta get involved. After wandering to many strange places beyond the seas, they fetched up in Tonga and stayed for some time. Another voyager, Christy Butterfield, the woman boss of a Pacific charter ketch operation, introduced him to her crew – most of whom were Tongan - and then when the big catamarans (the Pacific name is a vaka) arrived in port, they brought him up to speed on what the boats were doing, and how they hoped that Tonga would one day have one if its own, just as places like the Cook Islands, Aotearoa, Tahiti, Fiji and Samoa already do.


The simple life for seafaring. Two of the big cats in port in Tonga, November 2012, with Hine Moana next the quay. Photos: Sam Davis


As it is, Tongan sailors have put in many sea miles as visiting crew on other islands' vakas and one of them - Aunofo Havea – was the first woman skipper in command for a long voyage, sailing the Hine Moana from Tonga to New Zealand. So the spirit is there, the ability is there, all they need is support.

In an Ireland which is currently devoid of any sail training ships north or south, it may seem a bit far-fetched to be voicing enthusiasm for what is in effect a traditional sail training vessel for the Pacific islands. But if you happen to see Sam Davis bearing down on you with a determined look about him, be prepared to take on board an impressive load of information about Pacific voyaging and the vaka programme. And a bit of precautionary research on mung beans wouldn't go amiss either.

Published in W M Nixon
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