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New Tack for Dublin Bay Twenty Footers in First DBSC Race in 35 Years

5th August 2021
Competing in the first DBSC Dublin Bay Twenty Footer Race of 2021 at the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire Harbour were from  (L to R) front row: Winifred McCourt. Fionán de Barra. Dean McElree. (Back row) Article author Ronan Beirne, Alastair Rumball, Hal Sisk, Tim Pearson, Jim Foley and Michael Rothschild
Competing in the first DBSC Dublin Bay Twenty Footer Race of 2021 at the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire Harbour were from (L to R) front row: Winifred McCourt. Fionán de Barra. Dean McElree. (Back row) Article author Ronan Beirne, Alastair Rumball, Hal Sisk, Tim Pearson, Jim Foley and Michael Rothschild

Former National Yacht Club Commodore Ronan Beirne, who welcomed three restored Dublin Bay 21s back to Dun Laoghaire Harbour last Friday, accepted an invitation to join a DB21 crew for the first DBSC race in 35 years last Tuesday evening.

I was delighted to join my fellow crew on Tuesday evening, all of whom I have known for many years but I never had the pleasure of sailing with before – the magic of the 21's restoration bringing Dublin Bay sailors together.

Skipper and helmsman Fionán de Barra. Sailing master Jim Foley with 21's in his blood as the son of the late Albert Foley who owned the Twenty-one Estelle. Michael Rothschild, a former 21 sailor, long term crew on the Dublin Bay 24 Fenestra and now part of a 31.7 crew. Dean McAlree, a former crew on Harmony the Dublin Bay 24 and now on a 31.7 and myself a Flying Fifteen crew.

The other DB21 on the evening, Estelle had a similar gathering of various Dublin Bay sailors. And so we boarded the launch and out to Garavogue on her moorings on the East pier where Jim was already on board and had her racing flag aloft, the first sign of how different these yachts are as most modern yachts don't carry a racing flag as there is so much instrument kit on top of the mast.

On approaching the Garavogue, I recalled the only time I had ever been on board Garavogue was probably over fifty years ago when her late owner George Williams brought her alongside the quay in Bulloch Harbour on a high tide and invited us, locals, onboard for a viewing. The 21 seemed massive as we were sailing out of Bulloch in a National 12 at the time. So here I am, over fifty years later climbing on board to go racing. On boarding, there are no guard rails to hang onto.

Dublin Bay 21 Estelle Number 3 Photo: Michael ChesterDublin Bay 21 Estelle Number 3 Photo: Michael Chester

The first task was a discussion on how best to sail off the mooring – no engine, so once the plan decided on up with the main. I was hauling the throat and Dean the peak with Jim coordinating our haul.

It reminded me of the drill onboard Asgard with Captain Eric Healy in command "up throat – not so fast o the peak" then belaying off the halyard tails on the pins on the mast – no clutches on this ship. Then up with the jib, and we are ready to sail off the mooring, which Fionán did as if he does so every week and without the gap of some thirty-five years. Onboard the sails are synthetic fibre butter in colour and have a fabric feel to them.

Dublin Bay 21 Garavogue Number 4 Photo: Michael ChesterDublin Bay 21 Garavogue Number 4 Photo: Michael Chester

The standing rigging and runners are Dyneema, and there are no winches. The runners are lines onto the cleat, with no Highfield levers or rolling drums. There are no electronic instruments to distract from the sails and the working of the yacht. Once sailing, the 21 assumes a lovely powerful motion, and when we got out to the starting area, fellow Dublin Bay sailors gave us a wave in the various cruiser-racer classes. There was circa 9 knots from the S.W. with a considerable wind shadow near the Dublin Bay Sailing Club Box and the last of the flood tide. The Box - I can't remember when I last raced from the Box we have got so used to the flag boats in recent years. Tacking, we had runners, jib sheets and main sheet to attend to, and we soon got into a routine. Michael commented on how roomy the cockpit is in the renovated boat as compared to the former boats.

Dublin Bay 21 Naneen Number 6 Photo: Michael ChesterDublin Bay 21 Naneen Number 6 Photo: Michael Chester

Fionán commented on how easy she was to handle on the helm, and with the new sail plan, the helmsman can see, whereas, with the former Bermudan sloop rig, the big genoa obscured vision. As we were so busy hauling sheets in the cockpit with Dean at the mast and Jim on the counter, advised on slacking off or hardening. The only "modern" piece of kit on board was a handheld VHF to hear the Race Officers instructions. Jim Dolan, Race Officer, welcomed the arrival of the 21s for their first race.

After starting the various classes, the 21's were given a shorter course of Pier (as the other fleets 1st mark) then Merrion, Turning mark and finish, and so we were off. As we were a little early, Naneen got away and to the first mark Pier and just ahead. At Pier mark, we gybed around and off to Merrion. Our courses diverged as Naneen headed out into the Bay as we went straight for Merrion Mark and arrived there ahead of Naneen, and here we rounded up for the return to Turning mark and to the finish. On finishing, we were in company with some white GRP boats who put on their motors to head for the marina. We were sailing into the Harbour in the traditional way and discussed how best to approach our mooring in the East bight and thought perhaps a preliminary practice run might be in order. Not necessary as Fionán sailed Garavogue right up to the mooring buoy as we dropped the mainsail and came to a stop at the mooring buoy - perfection.

We had completed the first race in some thirty-five years in a 34' 9" (10.6 metres, including bowsprit) long keel gaff-rigged yacht without winches, wire rigging (except forestay), engine and electronic navigation or wind instruments. Perhaps these are not necessary for a happy crew to thoroughly enjoy the experience of traditional sailing in these magnificent renovated Dublin Bay Twenty One's – the oldest cruiser-racer class in the world.

Afloat.ie Team

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Dublin Bay 21s

An exciting new project to breathe life into six defunct 120-year-old Irish yachts that happen to be the oldest intact one-design keelboat class in the world has captured the imagination of sailors at Ireland's biggest sailing centre. The birthplace of the original Dublin Bay 21 class is getting ready to welcome home the six restored craft after 40 years thanks to an ambitious boat building project was completed on the Shannon Estuary that saved them from completely rotting away.

Dublin Bay 21 FAQs

The Dublin Bay 21 is a vintage one-design wooden yacht designed for sailing in Dublin Bay.

Seven were built between 1903 and 1906.

As of 2020, the yachts are 117 years old.

Alfred Mylne designed the seven yachts.

The total voting population in the Republic's inhabited islands is just over 2,600 people, according to the Department of Housing.

Dublin Bay Sailing Club (DBSC) commissioned the boat to encourage inexpensive one-design racing to recognise the success of the Water Wag one-design dinghy of 1887 and the Colleen keelboat class of 1897.

Estelle built by Hollwey, 1903; Garavogue built by Kelly, 1903; Innisfallen built by Hollwey, 1903.; Maureen built by Hollwey, 1903.; Oola built by Kelly, 1905; Naneen built by Clancy, 1905.

Overall length- 32'-6', Beam- 7'-6", Keel lead- 2 tons Sail area - 600sq.ft

The first race took place on 19 June 1903 in Dublin Bay.

They may be the oldest intact class of racing keelboat yacht in the world. Sailing together in a fleet, they are one of the loveliest sights to be seen on any sailing waters in the world, according to many Dublin Bay aficionados.

In 1964, some of the owners thought that the boats were outdated, and needed a new breath of fresh air. After extensive discussions between all the owners, the gaff rig and timber mast was abandoned in favour of a more fashionable Bermudan rig with an aluminium mast. Unfortunately, this rig put previously unseen loads on the hulls, resulting in some permanent damage.

The fleet was taken out of the water in 1986 after Hurricane Charlie ruined active Dublin Bay 21 fleet racing in August of that year. Two 21s sank in the storm, suffering the same fate as their sister ship Estelle four years earlier. The class then became defunct. In 1988, master shipwright Jack Tyrrell of Arklow inspected the fleet and considered the state of the hulls as vulnerable, describing them as 'still restorable even if some would need a virtual rebuild'. The fleet then lay rotting in a farmyard in Arklow until 2019 and the pioneering project of Dun Laoghaire sailors Fionan De Barra and Hal Sisk who decided to bring them back to their former glory.

Hurricane Charlie finally ruined active Dublin Bay 21 fleet racing in August 1986. Two 21s sank in the storm, suffering the same fate as a sister ship four years earlier; Estelle sank twice, once on her moorings and once in a near-tragic downwind capsize. Despite their collective salvage from the sea bed, the class decided the ancient boats should not be allowed suffer anymore. To avoid further deterioration and risk to the rare craft all seven 21s were put into storage in 1989 under the direction of the naval architect Jack Tyrrell at his yard in Arklow.

While two of the fleet, Garavogue and Geraldine sailed to their current home, the other five, in various states of disrepair, were carried the 50-odd miles to Arklow by road.

To revive the legendary Dublin Bay 21 class, the famous Mylne design of 1902-03. Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra are developing ideas to retain the class's spirit while making the boats more appropriate to today's needs in Dun Laoghaire harbour, with its many other rival sailing attractions. The Dublin Bay 21-foot class's fate represents far more than the loss of a single class; it is bad news for the Bay's yachting heritage at large. Although Dún Laoghaire turned a blind eye to the plight of the oldest intact one-design keelboat fleet in the world for 30 years or more they are now fully restored.

The Dublin Bay 21 Restoration team includes Steve Morris, James Madigan, Hal Sisk, Fionan de Barra, Fintan Ryan and Dan Mill.

Retaining the pure Mylne-designed hull was essential, but the project has new laminated cold-moulded hulls which are being built inverted but will, when finished and upright, be fitted on the original ballast keels, thereby maintaining the boat’s continuity of existence, the presence of the true spirit of the ship.

It will be a gunter-rigged sloop. It was decided a simpler yet clearly vintage rig was needed for the time-constrained sailors of the 21st Century. So, far from bringing the original and almost-mythical gaff cutter rig with jackyard topsail back to life above a traditionally-constructed hull, the project is content to have an attractive gunter-rigged sloop – “American gaff” some would call it.

The first DB 21 to get the treatment was Naneen, originally built in 1905 by Clancy of Dun Laoghaire for T. Cosby Burrowes, a serial boat owner from Cavan.

On Dublin Bay. Dublin Bay Sailing Club granted a racing start for 2020 Tuesday evening racing starting in 2020, but it was deferred due to COVID-19.
Initially, two Dublin Bay 21s will race then three as the boat building project based in Kilrush on the Shannon Estuary completes the six-boat project.
The restored boats will be welcomed back to the Bay in a special DBSC gun salute from committee boat Mac Lir at the start of the season.
In a recollection for Afloat, well known Dun Laoghaire one-design sailor Roger Bannon said: "They were complete bitches of boats to sail, over-canvassed and fundamentally badly balanced. Their construction and design was also seriously flawed which meant that they constantly leaked and required endless expensive maintenance. They suffered from unbelievable lee helm which led to regular swamping's and indeed several sinkings.

©Afloat 2020

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